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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Three Midshipmen - Chapter 31. On Board The Junk
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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 31. On Board The Junk Post by :Aragon2005 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1283

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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 31. On Board The Junk

CHAPTER THIRTY ONE. ON BOARD THE JUNK


While the French lady and her daughter, with Mr Hudson, the American mate, one seaman, and Hoddidoddi were carried off by one junk, the two midshipmen, Captain Willock, and Jos, with the remaining seamen, found themselves stowed away on board another.

"I say, Alick, we must try and help those poor ladies somehow or other," observed Jack; "I hope the pirates will not hurt them."

"I hope not, though I am afraid they will frighten the poor mamma out of her wits," said Murray. "But without being selfish, we must first consider how we are to get free ourselves."

"Something may turn up in the wheel of Fortune," returned Jack. "We very nearly effected our escape; perhaps the next time we shall be more fortunate; at present I cannot say that I see any opening by which we may bring about that desirable event."

As he spoke he looked round the little cabin in which they were shut up with a disconsolate yet half-ludicrous air. The prisoners were sitting with their backs to the bulkheads, and their feet towards the centre of the chamber. The door was locked, and there was no lookout except through the chinks between the bamboos which formed the sides. They discovered by the motion of the vessel, that there was a stiff breeze, and that they were sailing along very rapidly. In vain they tried to ascertain in what direction they were sailing. They looked through the chinks, but all they could see were the figures of the crew as they moved about the deck, and the inner part of the bulwarks and the back of the shields which hung up above them. Hunger is a strong motive to exertion. It had the effect, when after a time the party began to feel its pangs, of making them somewhat less quiet than at first. Some of the men were for trying to break out of their prison, but Captain Willock assured them that the attempt would be useless, and suggested that Jos should try the power of his eloquence in softening the hearts of their captors. Jos expressed his approval of the proposed plan, and forthwith began a loud chaunt, which he informed his fellow-prisoners was descriptive of their present forlorn and famished condition, of the prowess of the warriors of Queen Victoria, and of the certainty that they would revenge any injury inflicted on any of their fellow-subjects, as also of their custom of rewarding those who treated them well.

"I say," observed Jos, "Queen Victoria knock on de head any one hurt us--give plenty money any one give us plenty food--make us fat."

"That's it," cried Jack, "sing away in that strain; they understand that sort of reasoning better than any other argument."

On went Jos again with his chaunt, the commencement of which sounded very like--


Hi fum diddle eye, ho fol lol,
Tittle-bats cats-call, tol de rol lol.


It is not necessary to give the whole of the song. Jos assured his companions that it was very pathetic, and that if it did not move the hearts of the pirates he would not believe that they had any hearts at all. Whether the pathos, or the threats of vengeance, or the hopes of reward held out had most effect is uncertain, but in a short time the door of the cabin was opened, and a Chinamen appeared with a big copper bowl or pot in his hands, full of a hot savoury mess. He looked at Jos and nodded, as much as to say, "We heard you," and then placed the bowl in the middle of the cabin. There were some chop-sticks in the bowl, but no spoons, or knives, or forks. Captain Willock looked at them with a puzzled air.

"If those are toothpicks they are whoppers, and I must say I would rather they were not there," he observed, as he tucked back the cuff of his coat. "However, I suppose we mustn't be particular, and as I guess we're all equal just now, here goes."

Saying this he plunged his fingers into the bowl, and drew forth a suspicious-looking mass. He gazed at it for a time, then shut his eyes, and plunged it into his mouth.

"A wise proceeding," observed Jack, as he and Alick, following his example, did the same.

The rest of the party were not so particular, and only opened their eyes rather wider than usual as odd-looking particles of food were fished out of the bowl. It was very soon emptied, for as everybody was hungry, they were all eager to get their due portions. Most of them at first fancied that they could have eaten twice as much; however, when Jack and Alick leaned back again against the bulkheads, they were soon convinced that they had had enough. In a little time, the door again opened, and another man, who looked from his richer clothes and manner like an officer, popped in his head and beckoned to Captain Willock and the two midshipmen to come out of the cabin. They, happy to have the opportunity of stretching their legs, jumped up with alacrity, and followed him on deck.

Jack's first impulse was to look out for the junk which had Miss Cecile and her mother on board, but she was nowhere to be seen. Their junk was, however, standing down towards a fleet of considerable size. As there was a stiffish breeze, they were soon among them, and from the hailing, and talking, and chattering, and the way in which they themselves were pointed at, the junks had pretty evidently not met for some time. Jos, who was shortly after this allowed to come out of the cabin, told them that they were right in their conclusions. The whole fleet now made sail together, and stood to the eastward. The night, when they were all shut up again in the same cabin, was not over pleasant. When daylight broke, the door was opened, and they were allowed to go out. It was a perfect calm, and the pirates were propelling their huge junks, so unwieldy in appearance, with long oars, or rather sculls, through the water at no inconsiderable rate. There was evidently an object in this speed, for the Chinamen are not given to exert themselves without a cause.

"Perhaps they are pursued by an enemy, and if so, we have a a chance of being rescued," observed Jack, as he first went on deck.

"No, I think not. See, the whole fleet are steering for the same point," answered Murray. "Ah! look ahead; what do you see there?"

"A brig, and I do believe a brig-of-war," exclaimed Rogers. "I shouldn't be surprised if she proves to be the _Blenny_. If she is, the pirates will find that they have caught a Tartar."

"She is not unlike your little brig, certainly, but at this distance it is impossible to say," remarked Murray. "But even a brig-of-war in a calm, surrounded by this host of junks, will have great odds against her; still, our fellows will do their best--of that I am very certain."

"That they will, there's no doubt about it," observed Captain Willock. "You Britishers fight well, I guess, and no wonder, when you've had us to practise with."

"I wonder, captain, that you do not declare that the Yankees taught us to fight," said Jack, laughing.

"And so we did, I guess," quickly answered the skipper. "We taught you a trick or two, at all events."

"What was that?" asked Jack.

"To keep awake," answered Captain Willock. "It is the first thing for a soldier or a sailor to do, you'll allow, and before that time you were apt to go to sleep now and then I calculate."

"Perhaps you are right, captain," said Murray; "but what was the other trick you taught us?"

"Not to despise your enemies, I guess," answered the skipper. "You despised us, and we beat you; you did not despise the French, who were ten times better soldiers than the Americans were, and had fifty times better generals than we had, and you beat them. There was the difference. Never think meanly of the people with whom you are fighting. Believe that you will drub them in the end--that's all right; but only fancy you can do so with a great deal of trouble and hard fighting, and always believe that they are about to play you some trick or other. That's my philosophy about fighting. I'd advise you to take up the same and stick to it. And this brings me to that brig of yours out there. You make sure that she'll drub the junks. Just take care that the junks don't drub her; not but that I know what your people are made of, and next to our people there ain't any people who fight better in the world when they're put to it, that I'll allow, but--"

"All right," exclaimed Jack, who did not wish to discuss the subject. "But see what these cunning rogues are about."

While the above discussion was going on, the fleet of junks had separated into four divisions. One led, keeping away so as to give a respectful berth to the brig, two others branched off on either side, and one, which was the junk which bore the midshipmen and their fortunes, gave up sculling and remained stationary. It was very evident that the intention of the pirates was completely to surround the brig. After a time, the last-named division began once more to creep slowly on, and, the circle being formed, the whole advanced, decreasing it by degrees, till they got within range of the brig's guns. So eager were the pirates that they paid little attention to their prisoners, who all, therefore, assembled on the deck to watch proceedings.

"She is the _Blenny_, there is no doubt about it," cried Jack. "Our fellows will not knock under as long as a man remains alive on the deck to fight her guns."

The Chinese knew that their shot would not fly across the brig so as to hit their friends on the other side of her, so as they closed in their circle became complete, with short distances only between each junk. The prisoners also watched proceedings with such intense interest, that they totally forgot the danger to which they themselves were exposed.

"I wish that the brig would open her fire, and give it these scoundrels well," cried Jack; "I wonder that they don't begin." He had scarcely spoken when there was a flash and a report from one of the brig's guns, and a shot struck the junk just astern of them. Several of the Chinese fired in return, but their shot scarcely reached the brig. The pirate admiral or commodore, on seeing this, threw out signals to close in still more, and as the junks began to move the _Blenny let fly both her broadsides at the same moment, several of the shot striking the junks, and ripping open their sides.

This in no way daunted them. They seemed resolved on the destruction of the brig. The sculls were still more vigorously plied, and they advanced rapidly, till they had got her well within range of their guns. And now from every side they opened on her, while, she replied in the most spirited way, firing her guns as rapidly as they could be hauled in, loaded, and run out again. The shot from the pirate's junks told, however, with very considerable effect on her, and the midshipmen had too much reason to fear that many of their friends must have lost the number of their mess. The pirates all seemed to aim at the hull of the brig. They expected, apparently, that the calm would continue, and all they wanted was to kill as many of the Englishmen as they could before they attempted to board her.

"I say, I guess your friends aboard there will be getting the worst of it if this sort of fun lasts much longer," observed the Yankee captain to Murray.

"I am afraid so, indeed," answered Alick, with a deep sigh and a sinking of the heart; "I wish we were aboard to help them."

"I guess, now, we should have a better chance of helping them by being aboard here," answered the captain. Alick thought so likewise. He and Jack were glad that they were not compelled to fight against their countrymen.

The larger number of the junks had placed themselves ahead and astern of the brig, and kept pouring in a raking fire on her. To avoid this as much as she could, she got out her sweeps; but they continued to change their positions as often as she got her head round, so that the English had not a moment's respite. The pirates shouted with delight as they saw the success of their plan. They, of course, thought it would be a great thing to cut off an outer Barbarian man-of-war, and anticipated no small amount of valuable plunder as their reward. They, however, were all this time not escaping scot-free, for the brig's shot went through and through the hulls of their junks, and several of them were reduced to a sinking condition; while the musketry of the marines told with no little effect on their decks. Still they had the advantage of an immense superiority in numbers, and although they might lose twice as many men as the crew of the brig numbered, they might still come off victorious. Nearer and nearer crept the junks. For some time no people were killed on board the one which had captured the midshipmen. This made her captain and crew grow bold, and approach still nearer to the _Blenny_.

"They would be wiser if they kept at a distance," observed Rogers; "they'll catch it to a certainty."

"Perhaps they hope to bring the combat to a conclusion," remarked Murray.

"They'll not do that, let me tell them, in a hurry," exclaimed Jack; "they little think what sort of a fellow they have to deal with in Hemming. He'll give them more than they expect."

While Jack was speaking, several shots came crashing on board the junk, killing five men, wounding others, and knocking away part of the bulwarks. The wounded men set up the most terrific cries, and their shipmates, anxious to avoid a second edition of the same dose, put about, and sculled off to a more respectful distance. Another junk, the next in the line, was not so fortunate. The greater part of a broadside struck her. The midshipmen saw her reel with the shock, and immediately she began to sink lower and lower, till down she went, and the water washed over the spot where she had just before floated. Numbers of her crew went down with her or followed her to the bottom. Very few of the neighbouring junks took the trouble of lowering their boats to pick up the remainder, and numbers were drowned in sight of their countrymen, by whom, with a little exertion, they might have been saved.

The engagement had now lasted several hours, and neither side had gained any material advantage. Some junks had been sunk, and a good many Chinamen killed; but as a set-off against this, there could be no doubt that the brig had lost several men. Jack, too, observed that she now only fired when the junks pressed very close round her, and he could not but suspect that she was running short of ammunition. The evening was drawing on. It was a question whether darkness would favour the crew of the brig, or make her enemies bolder. She at length ceased firing, and manning all her sweeps, she began to move forward, very clearly with the intention of fighting her way out from among the pirates.

"She is coming towards us. Hurrah!" cried Jack. "Now if we could but knock the fellows aboard here on the head, we might render her some help."

"Don't be trying that on," said Captain Willock. "We shall only lose our lives if we make the attempt."

"But I must get on board her somehow or other," answered Jack, as he spoke, kicking off his shoes and throwing off his jacket. It had now grown very dark, though the constant flashes of the guns kept the scene well lighted up. The _Blenny could be seen, though she had ceased firing, gliding on towards them. The pirates had been taking no notice of their prisoners for some time. The brig had got within a cable's length of them.

"Now or never," cried Jack. "Alick, in case I am drowned, you'll do all I have asked you." And without waiting for a reply, he sprang over the side of the junk, and catching hold of a rope, let himself down into the water without a splash, and struck off towards the brig. The pirates did not understand what he was doing till he had reached the water; at first they thought he was in despair going to drown himself, but when they saw him swimming away they began to fire at him with the jingalls. Favoured by the darkness, he was soon out of their sight. To avoid the sweeps, he had to make a wide circuit, and he was pretty well tired when he got under the stern of the brig.

"Brig ahoy. Heave a rope here, and help me aboard," he sang out.

"A man overboard!" exclaimed some one from the afterpart of the deck.

"Pass a rope here; be smart now. Heave!"

"Who is it? who is it?" cried several voices.

"It's I, Jack Rogers. Be quick, now, for I've had a long swim," cried Jack. He soon got hold of the rope which was heaved to him, and was hauled on board over the stern.

"What! Rogers, my dear fellow, is it you?" exclaimed Captain Hemming, as he grasped his hand. "Where have you come from?"

Jack told him, and urged that they should immediately board the junk he had left, and rescue the rest of the prisoners.

"My only doubt is, whether we can get alongside her," answered Captain Hemming. "However, we will try. I am glad to engage in any work with cold steel; but, Rogers, I am sorry to say that our ammunition is almost expended, and though we will not yield as long as a man remains alive to fight, I look with apprehension to what may occur." The brig was now approaching the junk, which fired away furiously at her, but this did not stop her progress, and before the pirates knew what was going to happen, she dashed alongside.

"Lash her to the junk. Boarders, follow me." Jack had seized a cutlass, and, dripping with wet, he sprang on board by the side of his commander. "Alick, Captain Willock, friends, all get on board the brig as fast as you can," he sang out.

Murray and the rest of the prisoners were ready enough to follow his advice. Seizing what weapons they could lay hands on, they cut down or knocked over all the pirates who opposed them, and soon gained the deck of the brig. The boarders in the meantime cleared the junk, the greater number of her crew who escaped their cutlasses jumping overboard and perishing in the sea. The seamen then hove overboard all the guns of the junk, and returned to the brig. They would have set her on fire, but had they done so, they would very likely have got burnt themselves.

"That's one enemy less, my lads," cried Captain Hemming in a cheerful tone, though he felt anything but cheerful. "We must treat the rest in the same way."

The pirates on board the other junks, discovering what had occurred, took very good care to keep out of the way of the brig.

Captain Hemming, therefore, spent the whole night in trying in vain to get alongside some more junks, and when morning dawned they appeared formed in a close circle round her as on the previous day. Those on board the _Blenny had passed an anxious and harassing night; the prospect for the following day was gloomy indeed. The second lieutenant, a midshipman, and eight men had been killed, and twenty were wounded, many of them put out of fighting trim. Jack and his companions afforded, therefore, a very welcome addition to their strength. With daylight the pirates began to fire away as on the previous day.

Rogers and Murray, however, now felt very differently to what they had done on the previous day. Then all the shots they saw fired were against their friends; now the few Captain Hemming ventured to let fly were against their enemies. At length only three rounds remained on board. The brig ceased firing. The pirates thought that the time for boarding her simultaneously had arrived, and gliding up closed their circle round her.

In vain all on board looked out for the sign of a breeze. Not a cloud was in the sky--the sea was like glass. The sweeps were therefore again manned, and she advanced as fast as they could urge her towards the approaching line. The pirates came on, thinking that she would fall an easy prey into their hands.

"Reserve your fire, my lads, till we are close to them," cried the captain. "Now give it them." The broadsides of the brig were poured into the junks, which had ranged up on either beam, with terrible effect. One junk went down, and another was left without a scull to impel her, and with a third of her crew killed or wounded.

Still the pirates were undaunted. On they came, again to receive another broadside. But one now remained. The junks moved away to a short distance, to hold a consultation, it seemed. The result was to renew the attack on the brig.

"We'll give our last dose, lads, to that big fellow, who is, I suppose, their admiral," cried Jack, who had taken command of the guns on one side, in place of the lieutenant who was lolled.

With a cheer, the men obeyed, and the big junk reeled from the effect of their fire. The opposite broadside was discharged at the same time. And now the brig was unarmed; but she had still stout hearts and sharp cutlasses on board, and, grasping the latter, the crew prepared to defend her to the last.

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