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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Three Midshipmen - Chapter 25. In Desperate Condition
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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 25. In Desperate Condition Post by :Satish Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :3055

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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 25. In Desperate Condition

CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE. IN DESPERATE CONDITION


The Malay pirates surrounded the fort, uttering the loudest shrieks and cries, in the hope of terrifying the defenders, but they did not know what British seamen were made of; and in spite of the fierce and terrific looks of the enemy, Jack and his little band stood fast, prepared to receive the onslaught. Poor Harry Bevan had sunk to the ground, not through fear, but weakness; and Jack had placed himself over his body, determined to defend him as long as he himself had life or strength. He felt and looked not a little like a lion prepared to do battle for her young. Jack had now grown into a very strong fine young man. He was not very tall, but he had broad shoulders and an expansive chest; and now, as he stood cutlass in hand, with a profusion of light hair streaming back from his honest sunburnt countenance, he was the picture of a true British sailor, and might well have been likened to the noblest type of the king of beasts. Adair was not a whit behind him in courage, though his physical powers were not so great. What hope was there though for them and their gallant men? At that moment there appeared but very little. Both of them knew that braver savages than the Malays were not to be found. Jack, as he stood there, with his muscular arm bared and his sharp weapon in his hand, did not put his trust in either. He knew and felt that the arm of One alone who is mighty to save could preserve him and his companions; and with deep earnestness and perfect faith he lifted up his heart to heaven, and prayed that assistance might be sent them. The British seamen returned the shrieks of the Malays with shouts of defiance, and kept up a rapid fire as they came on. Now their weapons cross. There is the loud sounding clash of steel, the sharp crack of muskets and pistols, the shouts and shrieks of the combatants. There is the thick smoke from the firearms mixed with the mist, rapid flashes of flame, and all the other sounds and appearances of a desperate struggle. Still, though the pirates hemmed them closely round, the seamen stood as before, boldly at bay, and no impression was made on their front.

"Jack," cried Adair, in the middle of the fight, "I don't think Polly came here for nothing. Hold on for a short time, and we shall be relieved, depend on it. She and the monkey have been talking away together, and Master Queerface looks as if he knew all was right."

I rather suspect that Adair was allowing his imagination to run away with him, or that he spoke thus to keep up the spirits of his men. Still the appearance of Polly was very extraordinary, and could only be accounted for by supposing that the frigate was not far off; or that she had accompanied Mr Cherry, and that his boat was in the neighbourhood. The idea might have encouraged the seamen to still further resistance, but the Malays pressed them hard; and, overwhelmed with numbers, it appeared as if their fate was sealed. Even Jack began to fear that this was the case. He saw that the fire of his men began to slacken, and the dreadful report ran round among them that their ammunition was almost expended.

"What is to be done, Rogers?" said Adair in Jack's ear.

"Trust to Heaven, Terence," answered Jack, warding off a blow which a Malay who had leaped forward made at his head. The next moment the savage rolled over, a lifeless corpse, down the embankment. For another minute the desperate struggle continued with unabated fury. Then a sound was heard which made the hearts of the British seamen leap within their bosoms--it was the loud report of a heavy gun which echoed among the rocks. The seamen answered it with a hearty cheer, for no guns but those of their own ship could give forth that sound. Another and another followed. At the same time the breeze which the frigate had brought up blew away the mist; and just above the rocks her topsails could be seen as she stood after the Malay prahus. The pirates saw her too. If they would save their vessels and their lives, they knew that there was not a moment to be lost. At a sign from their chiefs, as if a blast of wind had suddenly struck them, before the English knew what they were about, they rushed away like a heap of chaff before the gale. Jack and Terence, knowing their cunning nature, and fancying that they might rally again, hesitated to follow, and kept back their men.

"They are off," at length cried Terence. "Hurrah, my lads. Let's after them!"

Jack did not spring forward at once. He had not forgotten for a moment his young charge. He knew that, driven to desperation, the Malays were very likely to run amuck, and, if they found him, to kill him. He felt sure that he would only be safe if he had him with him. Stooping down, therefore, he seized the little fellow in his arms, and, holding him as much as possible behind his back, he sprang on, and overtaking his companions, made chase after the retreating Malays. The other wounded men, in the excitement of the fight, had forgotten their hurts, and were pursuing with the rest. Queerface and Polly had, therefore, no fancy to be left behind, so off they set also, though they took care to keep in the rear of their friends.

The Malays had reached the beach, and some were swimming and others wading off to their boats, when the two midshipmen and their followers got up with them. All were too eager to escape to attempt to offer any resistance. Jack had to recollect that they really were most atrocious robbers, or he could scarcely have brought himself to allow his men to fire on them. Not many shots, however, were fired, for the last cartridge in their pouches was expended. Happily, the Malays were in too great a hurry to be off, to turn and let fly at them. The frigate, under all sail, was coming round the point on the left hand, while the prahus were endeavouring to get away out of the range of her shot to the right or south side of the island. They were catching it, however, pretty severely, and more than one appeared to be in a sinking condition. The midshipmen were now eager to try and get their own boats afloat, but they were in an utterly unfit state for launching, so all they could do was to make signals to the frigate that she might return and take them off, after she had destroyed the pirates. This there was very little doubt she would do. In the eagerness of the chase, however, Jack bethought him that those on board would very likely not observe their signals.

"Never mind," cried Adair, as a bright thought struck him; "we'll send Polly off; she'll carry our message." A note was accordingly written on the leaf of a pocket-book, and being secured under Polly's wing, Adair lifted her up, and showing her the frigate, gave her a shove off towards it. She seemed to know exactly what was expected of her, for, giving one glance only round at her friends, away she darted towards the ship. They watched her anxiously till she was lost to sight. Still, they had little doubt about her reaching her destination, and in the course of a very few minutes their anxiety was relieved by their seeing a flag run up to the mast-head of the frigate, while a gun was fired to leeward. She, however, passed before them, and soon disappeared again on the other side of the island. A rapid and continuous fire told them what she was about. Jack and Adair would gladly have gone round to see what was occurring, but the distance was considerable, over hot burning sand and rocks, and they would not leave their wounded and tired men to gratify their curiosity. They very soon remembered, after the excitement of the work in which they had been engaged was over, that they had not breakfasted; so all hands who could move about set to work to collect sticks to light a fire. It soon blazed up, and speedily coffee and cocoa were boiling, and bits of meat were roasting away at the ends of ramrods and sticks. The poor wounded men, when the excitement was over, began to feel not hunger, but the pain of their hurts, and several sank to the ground unable to move. Their shipmates did their best for them, and rigged an awning with the boats' sails, under which they were placed. Some of the men wandered away, and brought back a supply of cocoa-nuts, the milk of which afforded a deliciously cooling beverage to the poor fellows. Jack, meantime, was tending his young charge with as much care and tenderness as a mother would a child. At length he was rewarded by seeing Harry come to himself. The boy looked up in his face, and the first words he uttered were--

"We've beat them, Rogers, have we? Hurrah! hurrah!"

"Yes, Harry," answered Jack, "it is all right. The enemy have taken to flight, and we shall soon, I hope, be on board the frigate. But here, you will be the better for some cocoa. Take this."

Jack sat down under the shade of the sail, and Needham having brought him a mug of cocoa, he broke some biscuit into it, and stirring it up while the boy's head rested on his knee, he fed him as he would have done a baby. Harry, who had soon again relapsed into apparent unconsciousness, opened his lips and ate a little with a dreamy expression of countenance, as if he himself fancied that he was still a baby being fed by his nurse. The food, however, Jack saw was doing him good, for the colour slowly returned to his cheeks, and his pulse began to beat more regularly.

"He will be all right soon," exclaimed Jack to Adair. "It is wonderful what Nature will do if we don't play tricks, and take liberties with her."

Harry Bevan, though delicately nurtured, was of a sound constitution, which he had not injured by either drinking or smoking, or by any other means, as many poor silly lads do, thinking they are behaving in a manly way by so doing. Had he been inclined to do so, Jack Rogers would have taken very good care to prevent him. Thus it was, however, that he did not succumb to the fearful injury he had received. Still Jack was very anxious to get him safe on board, and under the doctor's care. Time went on, and still the frigate did not appear. Adair proposed starting off to the other side of the island to ascertain what had become of her, when a boat was seen rounding the point. "She is Mr Cherry's boat," was the cry. "Hurrah! hurrah!" With hearty cheers, Mr Cherry was welcomed on shore. He had had a severe struggle, and had lost two of his men killed, and three wounded, but had succeeded in putting the pirates to flight. His boat was not large enough to carry all the party, but he had one of the carpenter's crew with him, and some tools; and, after a little examination, Tom Gimlett declared that he could patch up one of the boats so as to make her in a fit condition to launch. All hands helping, and with the aid of some planks from the other boat, this was done, and at length the two boats were on the water, on their way to look for the frigate. When Mr Cherry heard how long it was since she had passed the island, he began to be somewhat anxious about her. The boats, however, were so heavily laden, that they could not make much speed to satisfy themselves as to what had happened. The men did their best, and it was wonderful how they kept up their spirits under the hot broiling sun, which, as Paddy observed, "was roaring away like a furnace, right over their heads." No sooner had they rounded the island than the sound of a gun, booming over the smooth waters, reached their ears. At slow intervals another and another followed. "The ship is in distress," observed Adair to Jack. "What can have happened?"

"Give way, lads," cried Jack, seizing the stroke oar, and bending his back to it with a will. It was the only answer he made to Adair's remark. Little Harry looked up at him with admiration and affection, and the men exerted themselves more than ever. On they pulled, hour after hour. No one proposed resting, even to take any refreshment, except a piece of biscuit, which the men chewed during the intervals that they were relieved at the oars.

"There she is at last," cried Jack, standing up on the stern-sheets. He took a steady look at her through his glass. So did Mr Cherry through his. Her sails were set, but with heavy hearts, they both agreed that, from her appearance, she must be hard and fast on shore, and if on a coral reef there was too great a probability that she might not be got off again.

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