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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Three Midshipmen - Chapter 28. The Midshipmen In Prison
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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 28. The Midshipmen In Prison Post by :Aragon2005 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :3044

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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 28. The Midshipmen In Prison

CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT. THE MIDSHIPMEN IN PRISON

Who would have ventured to believe that the fate of the brave, true-hearted Jack Rogers, and the gallant, high-minded Alick Murray, was to be cruelly murdered by a set of ill-conditioned, barbarous Chinese pirates? Yet such has been unhappily the lot of many of the finest fellows in the British navy and army. When Jack, supporting Murray with one arm, looked up and saw half a dozen hideous Chinese faces, with flat noses, grinning mouths, and queer twisted eyes lighted up by the flames of the burning fire-ships, gazing maliciously down on him, he gave up all for lost. Had Murray not been still insensible, he would have swum away, defying the sharks till he could have got hold of something to support him, or he would have attempted to climb into the boat and had a desperate battle for his life. As it was, without sacrificing Murray, he could do neither. A savage was standing up, lifting a large battle-axe, the bright steel of which glittered in the glare of the burning ships, and was on the point of letting it fall with a crushing blow on his head, and already Jack felt the horrible sensation of having his skull crushed in and cleft asunder, when another man sprang forward and seized the wretch's uplifted arm. He could only turn the blow aside, for the axe came down, and the blade dug deeply into the side of the boat. Jack seized it, for it formed a convenient handle on which to rest, and afforded him a support he much required. He fully expected to have another hack made at him, and was considering how best he might avoid it, when the pirates seized him and Murray, and dragged them into the boat. Still he did not feel much more secure than he had been in the water, as he expected that, as they might treat a useless fish, they would throw him overboard again when they had glutted their revenge by knocking the life out of him.

"If poor Murray does not revive, he will be spared much of the unpleasantness," he thought to himself. It is extraordinary how coolly he took matters. He was rather surprised himself at his own indifference to his approaching fate. The Chinese were all chattering and vociferating together over him and Murray, as their bodies lay along the thwarts, for he was so exhausted that he could scarcely move, when he heard a voice say, "Don't fear, English officer. I take care you no hurt."

"Very much obliged to you, whoever you are," answered Jack. "But I say, friend, I wish that you could get me put into a more comfortable position, and lend a helping hand to my poor companion here, who will be suffocated, I fear, if something is not done to him."

"All right, by and by," answered the voice. "Let dese men hab dere palaver out; dey no talk of kill 'ou now."

"That information is satisfactory, at all events," thought Jack. "Well, I must have patience; that never hurt any one, and has saved many a life. Only I do wish these fellows would bring their palaver to an end, and let me find out who my friend is."

The pirates at last brought their conference to an end. They probably came to the conclusion that, as a live donkey is of more value than a dead one, and as profit more than revenge was their object, it would probably better answer their purpose to keep the young officer? alive, and endeavour to obtain a ransom for them, than to kill them, and in consequence be hunted down with even more pertinacity than before. As to being influenced by any feelings of humanity, such an idea never for a moment crossed their brains.

Jack and Murray were now carried to a platform in the afterpart of the boat, when the former was allowed to sit up with his friend's head in his lap, and to apply such means of restoring him to animation as he could devise. He turned him round on one side, so that the water might run out of his mouth, and was rubbing away as briskly as he could, when he heard the same person who had before addressed him say, "All right, I told you; I come and help you now." On looking up, who should he see, but one of the crew of the frigate, the Malay who spoke English, who went by the name of Jos Grummet, and his friend Hoddidoddi, who, it now appeared, had deserted with him on the island. It was Jos who had saved his life from the man with the battle-axe, and Hoddidoddi who had advised the pirates not to kill them at all, but to keep them for the more satisfactory object of obtaining a ransom.

After a little time, by their united exertions, Murray recovered, and was able to sit up and understand what had occurred. Jack was now much happier as to the future. "Well, thank you heartily, Jos, for what you have done for us," said he. "And I can assure you, that if you go back to the frigate, you will not be flogged, or even have your grog stopped."

"Tankee, sare," answered Jos. "But spose me no go back, no hab fear of floggie at all."

"Please yourself," said Jack. "Remain a wandering Malay, or become a civilised British seaman, with Greenwich in prospect. However, you have done me a great service, and I wish to recompense you to the best of my power."

"Really, Alick, I think that there ought to be a fund for pensioning those who assist in preserving midshipmen's lives; we do run so many risks of losing them," he observed to Murray, who fully agreed with him.

"I say, Jos," he exclaimed, after a little silence, "do just hint to these polite gentlemen, that we shall make the amount of our ransom depend on the condition in which we are returned to our friends, and that if we are starved, they will not give much for us. I am getting very peckish; are you, Alick? I thought it was just as well to make those remarks in time; besides, it is always wise for people in our circumstances to put a good face on matters; it shows the villains that we are not cast down or afraid of them."

Jos told Hoddidoddi, who interpreted their request in his own fashion, and the reply was, that they should have some food when they got on board the junk. At that moment the sound of oars was heard, and an English boat hove in sight. Some of the pirates were for fighting, but Jos represented that the British sailors were such desperate fellows, that they would not hesitate to attack a big junk, and would take her and make mincemeat of every one on board; and that such a boat as theirs would be treated with still more scant ceremony. So, much to the midshipmen's disappointment, they wisely pulled away as hard as they could go, till they go under shelter of the fleet of junks.

The boat belonged, it appeared, to one of the smaller junks, on board which Jack and Alick were at once carried.

The piratical squadron now instantly made sail, and a favourable breeze having sprung up, they steered for the northward. Their notable scheme for destroying the English frigate having failed, the fleet separated, some taking shelter among the neighbouring islands, others standing out to sea in quest of prey; but the greater number returning to their accustomed haunts in the neighbourhood of Canton, localities most frequented by traders in the China seas.

The vessel on board which Jack and Alick found themselves formed one of the latter fleet. Their captors were, Jos explained to them, great diplomatists. They argued that if they gave them up at once, a small sum only would be offered for them; but if they kept them for some time, and made their friends suppose they were lost, they would be ready to pay any amount demanded for their ransom. They were not treated with much ceremony or civility, but Jack's hint about their condition when reckoning for ransom had one good effect; and somewhat for a similar reason that an ogre or a slave-dealer would sufficiently feed his captives, they were amply supplied with rice and other provisions. Sometimes the dishes had a very suspicious look.

"They don't eat babies, do they?" said Jack, dipping his chop-stick into the tureen placed before them, and producing a limb of some creature which certainly had a very odd appearance.

"No, I fancy not," answered Murray, "but we had better not ask questions."

They agreed that it was in all probability only a monkey which had been seen on board, but was no longer visible; and as the captain and his officers partook of the same dish, they had no cause to complain. They soon learned to relish lizards and snakes well stewed with curry powder and rice; and they came to the conclusion that a dish of snails was not in any way to be despised. As they could take no exercise except a walk up and down the curious little narrow cabin in which they were confined, they both declared they were growing so fat that perhaps the pirates would, after all, demand a higher ransom than Captain Grant would be able or willing to pay.

"I am really afraid that we are caught in our own trap," said Jack. "I thought that pig-tailed, pig-eyed skipper of ours, when he looked in on us just now, smiled very complacently at our sleek skins. We must get Jos to tell him that if we grow too fat we shall be worth very little. There is nothing like moderation in all things."

"There is nothing like honesty and telling the truth," said Murray.

"We should have starved if we had strictly stuck to it in this case," answered Jack.

"No matter, we should probably have been much sooner liberated," answered Alick. "Depend on it, whenever a person tells an untruth he sets a trap to catch his own feet."

"You are always right, Alick," said Jack, with honest warmth. "And suppose all this time they have been giving us stewed babies and young alligators to eat, how doubly punished we should be."

The junk on board which the midshipmen were prisoners was a curious piece of marine architecture. She was flat-bottomed, flat-sided, flat-bowed, and flat-sterned. She was of course narrower at the bow than at the stern, where indeed she was very broad. The rudder was wide and fixed in a hollow in the stern, to which it was hung by ropes or hawsers, so that it could with perfect ease be lifted out of its place and slung alongside. There was no stem, but a huge green griffin or dragon, or monster of some sort, projected over the bows, on each side of which were two large eyes--Chinaman's eyes in shape: and as Jos remarked about them, "Ship no eyes, how see way?"

The sides, though flat, extended gradually outward as they rose, so that on deck there was considerable beam. The deck was composed of loose planks easily removed. At the poop and forecastle were a succession of little sloping decks, gradually narrowing as they rose in height, and enclosed to form cabins. The bulwarks were high and surrounded with large round shields of wood, and leather, and brass knobs, and curious devices painted on them. The anchors were curious contrivances, made of some hard wood, very large and cumbrous, the flukes only being tipped with iron. Outside at the bows was a wonderfully awkward-looking winch for getting up the anchor; and as Jack observed, when he came to be made Lord High Admiral of the Chinese fleet, there were a good many things he saw that he should have to alter. The sails were made of matting, with laths placed across them. When it was necessary to reef or lower the sails the seamen climbed up these laths, and standing on the upper yards pressed them down, no down hauls being necessary. Bowlines, however, were used to stretch them out. Had Jack and Murray not been prisoners, with the possibility of the pirates changing their minds and cutting their throats, they would have been excessively amused at watching the proceedings of the crew, and rather enjoyed their cruise on board the pirate. On deck there was an erection like a diminutive caboose, but which was a temple or joss-house. The sailors were constantly making offerings before it, apparently as the caprice seized them, by burning gilt paper, or thin sticks, or incense.

One day the junk was caught in a calm, and as a sail appeared in sight in the distance which the Chinamen thought might be an enemy, they were very anxious for a breeze to make their escape. The midshipmen saw that they were very busy about something, and soon every man appeared with a model junk, which he had constructed of gilt paper. A boat was lowered and these frail barques were carefully placed on the surface of the deep, the men endeavouring to blow them away, so that they might be clear of the ship.

Jack was much amused, and asked Jos the meaning of the ceremony. Jos answered--

"For why you don't know? Dere is one great lady, queen, they call her, lives up in de sky, and she like to see dese paper junks; and so when she see dem, den she send breeze to blow junk along."

Jack was highly amused at this account.

"Well, I never thought much of a Chinaman's wit," he observed; "but I did not think he was such a goose as to fancy that a breeze would be sent merely because he put some twisted-up bits of paper on the water."

Jos, who understood some of these remarks, looked at him, and remarked--

"When I 'board English ship I hear sailors whistle, whistle, whistle when dere is calm. I ask why dey do dat? Dey say, `Whistle for a wind.' Now, I tink Chinaman just as wise as English sailor. Anybody whistle, cost nothing. Chinaman spend money, buy gold paper, make junk, much trouble. Dat please Chinaman's lady-god more dan empty whistle can Englishman's fetish, or whatever he whistle to."

"Excellent," exclaimed Murray. "The Malay has hit us very hard. That whistling for a breeze is, in most cases, merely a foolish trick, but it is too indicative of unsound principles to be witnessed without pain. If we really considered the matter rightly, we should feel that every time we whistle for a breeze, we are offering a senseless insult to the Great Ruler of the universe. It is a remnant, I suppose, of some superstition of our Scandinavian ancestors, who thought by whistling they were addressing some demon or spirit of the elements."

"That is taking the matter seriously, Alick; but I suppose you are right," said Jack.

"Nothing that leads to error, or that encourages superstition, or that leads a person to rely on any other power or influence than that of God's merciful providence, can be treated too seriously, my dear Jack," answered Murray. "Here have we, worthless fellows, had our lives providentially preserved; and we ought to do our utmost in every way to employ them in His service, and to do His will and to make known His truth. Depend on it that it is a very useless sort of religion, or seriousness, which a man adopts only when he is on the point of death or feels himself too ill to enjoy life."

"Well, well, Alick, I will do my best to log that down in my memory and stick to it," answered Jack, who always felt the force of Murray's remarks, which had already had a very considerable influence on him for good; more, probably, than Murray himself was aware of. However, he went on in faith, speaking faithfully to his friend, assured that he was doing his duty.

Jack and Murray did their best to make out in what direction they were going, and from the very rough calculation they were able to form, they conjectured that they had arrived at a group of islands within some hundred and fifty miles of the latitude of Canton. They were not allowed to go on shore, but were permitted occasionally to quit their little cabin in the stern and to walk about the deck; but the crew had communication with the land and brought off all sorts of provisions, by which they benefited.

Once more the fleet, consisting of about a dozen junks, put to sea. The next morning it was almost a calm; and as daylight came on a brig was seen, apparently a merchantman, with her foremast gone and otherwise much disabled. There could be little doubt that she had got into her present condition from having encountered one of those partial squalls which occasionally occur in those seas. A long consultation was held among the captains of the pirate fleet, in which the crews as well as the officers took considerable part. There was an immense amount of talking and gesticulation, and flourishing of creeses, and daggers, and swords, and various other weapons; and at last the sweeps were got out, and the junks began to move in a body towards the devoted brig. Jack asked Jos, the Malay, what the Chinamen were about to do.

"Cut de troat of ebery moder's son of dem, take de cargo, and burn de brig, den no one get away to tell news," was the answer.

"Kind and pleasant intentions, but what do they think we shall do?" observed Jack. "I don't like the look of affairs. They will be for cutting our throats, to prevent our giving an account of their doings."

"Perhaps the Malay is mistaken," answered Murray. "They may not intend to murder the people; or if they do, they will keep us shut up in the cabin while the operation is going forward, or they will make us swear before they set us at liberty not to give information. I have no fears about our safety."

"Nor have I in reality," said Jack; "but I wish that we could render some assistance to the poor people on board the brig. We might warn them of the fate intended for them; but even if we got Jos and Hoddidoddi to stand by us, I am afraid we could not do much in the way of fighting."

"I am afraid not, indeed," said Murray; "we must be prepared for any emergency. It is impossible to say what will occur."

"I like the feeling," said Jack. "I wish that we were on board the brig though, we would have a fight for it. But we are drawing near. Had the pirates intended much mischief they would have sent us into our cabin, I suspect."

The pirate junks had now completely hemmed in the helpless brig. She was American, for just then the stars and stripes of the United States flew out from her peak. Two men, apparently the captain and his mate, were seen to come on deck with revolvers in their hands. They turned round, and shouted in English and Spanish, and Malay down the hatchway, to the crew to come up on deck, and defend themselves and the ship and passengers like men. No one appeared.

"Cowards, wretches, brutes, will you have your throats cut like sheep without an attempt to defend yourselves? Take that, then!" cried the captain, and in his rage he hove his pistol at their heads and stood prepared for his fate. The mate threw his overboard, which was a wiser proceeding, and then, folding his arms, stood ready to bear whatever might occur.

"Those are brave fellows," cried Jack; "we must try and save their lives at all events."

The pirate crews now burst forth into the most terrific and unearthly shouts, and, urging on their junks, dashed up to the brig, and simultaneously threw their grappling irons on board her. At the same time those nearest to her hove fire-balls, and stink-pots, and stones, and bits of iron, and missiles of all sorts on board, and then reiterating their shrieks, sprang on to her deck. The captain and his mate, who had hitherto undauntedly stood at their post, were borne down; and the pirates, throwing themselves on them, seized their arms and bound them to the mainmast. There seemed to be a hundred or more pirates from the different junks: their persons garnished with pistols and daggers of all sorts stuck in leathern belts, and their heads surmounted with red turbans, which increased the natural hideousness of their countenances. Some of the savage crew joined hands and leaped and danced round and round the deck, with the most violent contortions of the body, shrieking all the time at the top of their voices, while others, flourishing their daggers and shrieking louder than ever, rushed below. At that instant a cry very different from that of the pirates ascended from the cabin. Jack and Alick heard it.

"It is the voice of a lady, or a female at all events," cried Jack. "Alick, we must go and assist her. Jos, my boy, come along. Tell Hoddidoddi he is wanted. The Chinamen won't stop us, they are all too busy."

"I am with you," answered Murray, as they picked up two Chinese swords, several of which lay about, and, followed by the Malay, leaped unopposed on the deck of the brig.

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