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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Three Midshipmen - Chapter 27. Chasing The Pirate Fleet
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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 27. Chasing The Pirate Fleet Post by :Aragon2005 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2504

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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 27. Chasing The Pirate Fleet


Adair had just come on deck when Jack jumped overboard to save Murray, and he was on the point of jumping in after him, when his arm was seized, and he found himself held back by Captain Grant.

"You would uselessly risk your life, Adair!" exclaimed the captain. "Lower that gig; be sharp about it: you may go in her."

Several men with Adair had instantly flown to the boat nearest them, and, under the direction of the captain, were lowering her, when the after-fall gave way, and up she hung by the bows, most of her gear falling into the water, as did one of the two men in her. He was a good swimmer, and struck out boldly to keep up alongside the ship, but the current was too strong for him, and before a rope could be heaved to him, he gradually dropped astern. The fall had been injured by one of the enemy's shot. Another boat was now lowered, but in consequence of the darkness, and the disarrangement incidental to the work in which the men had been engaged, more delay than usual occurred. At last the boat was lowered and manned, and Adair and Mr Cherry jumping into her, away they pulled to pick up, in the first place, the poor fellow who had just fallen into the water. They shouted out his name: a faint cry reached their ears. He had already got a long way from the ship; it took some time before they could find him. He must have sunk once, and they caught him just as he came up again; he was insensible when they hauled him into the boat. Adair wanted to go on, but Mr Cherry said that he feared the man would die if they did, and that it was his duty to carry him on board.

"I fear, too, that there is but little chance of our picking up the other two poor fellows," he observed. "They must have drifted a long way by this time, and can scarcely have kept afloat."

"You don't know, sir, what a superb swimmer Jack Rogers is," exclaimed Adair: "he will keep up for an hour or more; I have no fear on that score. Let us get this man on board, and we will soon find him."

Terence had never in his life felt so deeply anxious as he now did. The boat rapidly returned to the ship, the nearly drowned man was hoisted on deck, and then once more they shoved off, and fast as the men could bend to their oars, they pulled in the direction it was supposed Murray and Jack must have drifted.

The fire-ships were still blazing away as the boat approached them. "I think that they cannot be far from here," said Mr Cherry. "Steady now, lads; paddle gently; keep a look out on either side, all of you."

Terence however thought that they might have drifted farther on.

"Rogers, ahoy!" he stood up and shouted; "Jack Rogers, where are you?"

Just then, one of the fire-ships which had been burning most furiously, and concealed everything on the other side of her, blew up with a loud explosion, scattering her burning fragments far and wide around her. Several pieces of blazing timber fell into the boat among the men. One or two were much hurt, and they had enough to do to heave the bits overboard to prevent the boat herself catching fire.

Terence was in an agony of fear for the sake of his friends. A single fragment of the burning ship falling on them would have sent them to the bottom. Still he would not give up all hope, but continued searching. Mr Cherry now agreed that, if they still were on the surface, they must have drifted farther on; so on they pulled slowly, looking out as before. They had gone a little way, when the man in the bows said he saw a boat in the distance.

Mr Cherry made her out also: "Perhaps they may have reached her," he observed. This was very little consolation to Terence, because he did not think it probable, if, as there was little doubt, she was a pirate's boat, her crew would let them live. Still he was eager to go in chase.

Mr Cherry, who was more calm, thought that it would be wiser to look about on every side, to ascertain if Jack was still floating near. Again and again they called to him, but there was no answer.

"Either they have been picked up or are drowned," said the lieutenant.

Terence's heart sank within him. Mr Cherry now agreed to go in chase of the Chinamen's boat. Away they dashed; their shouts of course had given notice of their approach, and the boat was evidently pulling on rapidly before them. Bright sparkles of light fell from the blades of their oars, and in their wake appeared a long fiery line, as the boat glided over the dark smooth water.

Two of the fire-ships were still burning, and their position, with the distant signal-lights of the frigate, enabled them to keep in the direction they believed the two midshipmen had drifted. The Chinamen's boat pulled fast, and they appeared to be very slightly gaining on her. Adair believed that the only chance of saving his old companions' lives was to overtake her. Mr Cherry already gave them up as lost, still he was determined, if possible, to overhaul the boat. The crew bent manfully to their oars.

It did not occur to any one for some time that they had left the ship unarmed; except that two of the men had pistols in their belts, and one had still his cutlass, while Mr Cherry had jumped into the boat without unbuckling his sword.

"Never mind; the boat's stretchers must serve those who haven't better weapons. Very likely the Chinamen in the boats are no better off," exclaimed Terence, in his eagerness. The lieutenant agreeing with him, on they went.

"We shall have her at last," cried Adair; "we are gaining on her, I am certain of it. But hillo! what are those lights there, ahead of us?" he added after some time. The question was soon answered, for looming through the darkness appeared a long line of large war-junks, behind which the boat of which they were in pursuit rapidly glided. They must have been seen from the junks, for directly afterwards they were saluted by a thick shower of jingall bullets, while several round shot came whizzing past them. Terence, in the impulse of the moment, was for dashing on and attacking the nearest junks, but, as Mr Cherry had discretion as well as valour, he ordered the men to pull round their starboard oars, and to get out of the range of the shot as fast as they could. It was rather too much for even six British seamen and two officers to do, to attack a whole fleet of war-junks. Terence was of the same opinion. With heavy hearts they pulled back against the current to the frigate, fully believing that Rogers and Murray were lost to them for ever. As soon as they made their report, Captain Grant expressed his wish to make an attempt, at all events, to ascertain the fate of the two midshipmen. If the frigate was got under weigh with the strong current which was then making, she would most certainly be drifted on to the reefs. A boat expedition was the only means left for doing anything. Immediately all the boats of the ship were manned, with guns in their bows, and this time the crews went well-armed. Away they pulled, resolving, if they did not find the two young officers, to make the pirates pay dearly for their loss. The rest of the fire-ships had burnt out, so it was now quite dark. The men were in their usual spirits when fighting was to be done, and were highly pleased at the thoughts of getting alongside the villains with whom they had hitherto been playing at long bowls--a game to which Jack had a great dislike. Terence had Needham in his boat. They had pulled for a considerable distance, and Adair thought that they ought to be up with the enemy.

"Can you manage to make out the junks, Dick?" he sang out.

"No, sir, I can see nothing ahead whatever," was the unsatisfactory answer.

So they pulled on yet farther. Still no junks were to be seen. On proceeded the flotilla, till they had considerably passed the spot where Mr Cherry and Adair had fallen in with the enemy. Mr Cherry considered that it was not prudent to separate, so kept the boats together. After again pulling some way to the east, they first took a northerly course, and then swept round again towards the south, but not a trace of a boat or vessel of any sort could they discover. Just before dawn, very considerably disappointed, the expedition returned to the frigate. As the sun rose, a breeze sprang up, and once more the anchor was weighed, the sails were let fall, and the frigate stood out of her perilous position. A steady hand in each of the main chains kept the lead going, while the master, with anxious countenance, stood on the bowsprit issuing his orders as to how the ship was to be steered.

"Starboard!" he cried.

"Starboard!" was the answer, with a long cadence.


"Port it is!" sounded from aft.


"Steady!" the seeming echo answered.

Now the ship was tacked; now she cut into the wind's eye; now she was kept away; now coral rocks rose up close to her; now the channel was so narrow that it seemed as if there was not room for her to pass through it. Everybody breathed more freely when she was at last in clear water again. What had become of the junks it was impossible to say. Not a sail was to be seen from the mast-head. Altogether the affair in which they had been engaged had been disastrous, and an unusual gloom was cast over the ship's company. The frigate stood round the group of islands; a complete archipelago, with numerous intricate passages between them. Sometimes she brought up, and the boats were sent away, and strict search was made for the piratical fleet; indeed no trouble or exertion was spared, but all was without result. No tidings could be gained either of the brig or the fleet of piratical junks. At length the frigate entered the Chinese waters, and anchored off Canton.

One Chinese city is very much like another. They are surrounded by castellated walls, some thirty feet in height, and coated with blue brick, which gives them a very toyshop appearance. The wall is about twenty feet at the base, diminishing by the inclination of the inner surface to about twelve feet. The thin parapet is deeply embattled with intermediate loopholes, but there are no regular embrasures for artillery. The Chinese till lately have seldom used cannon, but have usually stuck to the bow and arrow. At each gate there is a semicircular enclosure, forming a double wall. Over the two gateways are towers of several stories, in which the soldiers who guard them are lodged. Also, at about sixty yards apart along the whole length of the wall, are flanking towers projecting about thirty feet from the curtain. Some of the cities have ditches before the walls. The interiors of most Chinese cities are also very similar. The houses are very low, and the streets, which are narrow, are paved with flag-stones, suited however only for the passage of people on foot, or for sedan-chairs. The road is often crossed by ornamental gateways, with square openings in the centre, one on each side, not an arch. These have been erected to the memory of distinguished individuals. Another feature in the streets are the slabs of stone covered with inscriptions, about eight feet high, and placed on the back of a tortoise carved out of the same slab. The plan of the houses is very similar in all respects to that of those discovered in Pompeii, with open courts and rooms opening out of them. They have more lattice-work and paint, and the ornaments and designs are of course very different. The shops are generally open to the street, those of one description being placed together, as is very much the custom in Russia, Portugal, and other European countries. Suspended high above, like a banner over each shop, is a huge varnished and gilded signboard, with a description of the style of merchandise to be sold within. As these boards hang at right angles from the walls, they contribute much to the gay appearance of the street.

The Chinese delight in placing quaint inscriptions over their shops. Many of the streets are dirty in the extreme, while the shops are dark and dismal, and the shopkeepers far from urbane and accommodating: people these narrow streets, with their signboards and gateways, with an ever-moving crowd of yellow-faced, turn-up nosed, pig-eyed beings in blue and brown and yellow cotton dresses, wide trousers, loose jackets, and thatch-shaped hats, carrying long bamboos with boxes or baskets hanging at each end, or hung over with paper lanterns or birdcages, and all sorts of other articles, and here and there a sedan-chair with some mandarin or lady of rank inside, borne by two stout porters; and we have a fair idea of a Chinese city. Then, of course, there are public buildings of larger dimensions, and temples and towers of porcelain, pictures of which everybody has seen; and then outside the walls are canals and lakes, and curious high-arched bridges, and summer-houses and pagodas.

In the suburbs of Canton, where the foreign factories are situated, the shops are open, and the streets are not so much ornamented as in the city itself, but the plan of the houses and the general arrangements are similar.

No other ship of war was at Canton when the _Dugong arrived. Captain Grant had fully expected to find the _Blenny there, and was much disappointed at her non-appearance. He waited anxiously for several days, but she did not appear. At length he determined to sail in search of her.

"To lose our consort, and those two fine young fellows, Rogers and Murray, is very trying," he observed to Lieutenant Cherry, as they walked the deck together, while the ship was standing away from Canton.

"As to the _Blenny_, sir, she'll turn up before long, depend upon it, unless she is hard and fast somewhere on a rock," answered the lieutenant. "Hemming has been routing out some of those piratical scoundrels, and they probably have given him a longer chase than he expected."

Still Captain Grant was not satisfied. As the frigate cruised along she brought to all the vessels of every sort she fell in with, and made inquiries at every island and place where anything like a truthful answer could possibly be procured. They had an interpreter, a Chinese, who spoke English, though rather of a funny sort, and as it required a good deal of cleverness to comprehend it, it may be supposed what he professed to wish to communicate was not always very clear. The man who might most have assisted them, Hoddidoddi, had been missing ever since Rogers' and Adair's battle on the island, and it was supposed that he must have concealed himself for the purpose of returning home. The _Dugong had been three days at sea, when a clipper schooner, with dark hull, square yards, and a most rakish look, hove in sight early in the morning, and approached the frigate.

"On the coast of Africa, I should say that the fellow was not honest," observed Mr Cherry, who had the morning watch, to Adair; "I wonder what he wants."

"A very pirate or slaver," replied Adair, "but she is only, I suspect, an honest opium-smuggler."

"Honest, do you call her?" exclaimed the lieutenant. "If because a vile system is carried on openly it is to be considered honest, then slaving is honest, and piracy, and highway robbery, for that matter. See, however, her gallant skipper is not afraid of us. Look, with what a self-satisfied air he walks the deck with his gold-lace cap, and glass under his arm. They are preparing to lower a boat, and he'll come to pay his respects as one captain does to another."

In a short time the master of the schooner made his appearance on the deck of the frigate. Captain Grant got up to receive him. He was an intelligent, dashing-looking young man.

"I am glad that I have fallen in with you, sir," he began. "Last night, just before sunset, I heard some firing, and standing in the direction from which the sound came, I observed a brig-of-war apparently almost surrounded by junks not far from the land, to the southward of this--out there. I made sail, hoping to render her assistance; but so large a force of sailing and row junks sallied out from behind a point of land and made towards me, that, as I have lost half my crew with sickness and a former battle with a squadron of the villains, I was compelled to up stick and run for it. I shall be glad, however, to return with you, and assist in piloting you to the spot."

"Thank you, captain--thank you," answered Captain Grant, extending his hand. He wisely never denied nominal rank to masters of vessels, however employed. "I most gladly accept your offer."

"Hudson is my name--my craft is the _Flying Fish_; and when you see her in a good breeze, you'll acknowledge that she does fly along," answered the master, looking with pride at his trim and beautiful craft.

She and the frigate instantly made sail to the southward. In a few hours the sound of an occasional shot saluted their ears and gave them hopes that the _Blenny was still afloat and able to defend herself. As they got nearer, they could make her out from the mast-head, amid a wide circle of junks which were keeping up a distant fire at her. It at this critical juncture fell perfectly calm. Captain Hudson, who had come on board the frigate and gone aloft, now returned on deck.

"I know the trick of those fellows, sir. They hope to make her exhaust her ammunition and then to board her. They seem pretty well to have done that already. You must go to her relief in the boats, or the villains may have cut the throats of all on board before you can get up to them."

This seemed too probable. All the frigate's boats were now lowered, armed with guns in the bows, manned, and sent away under the command of Mr Cherry, without a moment's delay.

"Poor Jack!" exclaimed Adair to young Harry Bevan. "It was only the other day that he and I were pulling along just as we are now doing. And now--who can say where he is? Still, do you know, Harry, I have an idea that he'll turn up somehow or other. He always has done so, and I can't help hoping that he and Murray may yet be found."

"I hope and pray so, I'm sure I do," said Harry, almost crying, "but I'm afraid there's very little chance of it. Even if the Chinese picked them up, they would be sure to murder them."

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