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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Three Midshipmen - Chapter 34. Promoted
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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 34. Promoted Post by :Aragon2005 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2206

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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 34. Promoted

CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR. PROMOTED.


The frigate and the brig which had the honour of conveying the three midshipmen between them, with the south-west monsoon blowing gently aft, proceeded northward among the numberless islands which stud the China seas, looking for the admiral and the rest of the fleet. They were surprised, as they sailed along the mainland, to observe the great number of towns and villages on the shores and vast tracts of country under cultivation. Several times they fell in with small squadrons of large government war-junks, with heavy guns, gaudy flags, flaunting vainly like peacocks' tails, and stout mandarins sitting on their decks. Some tried to escape, and succeeded, but others were caught, and the stout mandarins either were or pretended to be very much astonished that their vessels were lawful prizes to the squadron of Her Britannic Majesty. They received very little commiseration, for it was well-known that they were in league with the pirates who infested those seas, and that when any grand piratical expedition was about to take place, they invariably kept out of the way. Sometimes they passed among whole fleets of tiny fishing-boats, to be counted by thousands, like shoals of fishes, themselves engaged in procuring food for the teeming multitudes on shore, and giving an idea of the vast numbers of the finny tribes which inhabit those seas. Frequently, too, there glided by one of those roguish, rakish, wicked-looking craft--an opium clipper, fleet as the sporting dolphin, and armed to the teeth, for she has foes on every side; the pirates long to make her their prey, and the mandarin junks ought to do so, but dare not.

For several hours the frigate and the brig lay becalmed close together. Alick and Terence went to pay Jack a visit. While they were on board the surgeon sent to tell Jack that Pigeon was very much worse, and desired to see him. Jack hurried into the cabin where he lay; when he heard that his other two old schoolfellows were on board, he begged to see them also. They saw that the stamp of death was already on his countenance.

"I am glad you are come," he said in a very faint voice, trying to lift himself up. "I wish to tell you that I have at last discovered that I have lived a life of folly. I thought myself very clever and very wise, but I now know that I was an arrant fool. I have often said things which might have done you a great deal of harm, but my earnest prayer is that you did not listen to them. What I wish you to do is to point to me, and to guide all your friends or acquaintances against the horrible doctrines which I took up. They only brought me pain and suffering from the first, and wellnigh destroyed my soul at the last; indeed, I feel that it is only through God's grace and mercy that I have been preserved."

The three friends endeavoured to assure the poor dying man that his pernicious doctrines had in no way made any permanent impression on them, though Terence owned that he had often thought over what he had said, and that it had for some time raised all sorts of painful doubts in his mind which he could not get rid of. Their assurance seemed alone to bring him any satisfaction. The interview was short, for he was very weak, and that evening he died. His schoolfellows felt somewhat graver than usual for a short time; but as he had never gained their love they could not pretend to regret him.

Shortly after this they fell in with the admiral, and the whole fleet sailed to the southward. Once more they were off Hong Kong. It was ascertained that large numbers of Chinese war-junks were collected, keeping out of the way, as they fancied, of the outer barbarians, in the various creeks and channels which run into the Canton river. These channels were narrow and shallow in some places, and guarded with forts and booms, and natural as well as artificial bars. Nevertheless the admiral determined to proceed up them with such part of his force most fitted for the work.

The ships of war had congregated in the Blenheim passage of the Canton river. The steamers, which had gone up to explore, had reported that there was a high hill with a strong fort on the top of it on the left of the channel, and other forts on the opposite side, and that above these forts there were no less than seventy large war-junks. The Chinese evidently believed that their hill fort could not be taken. Had they read the history of the battles of the English, they might have had some unpleasant misgivings on the subject.

It was pitch dark as the various boats of the flotilla collected round the steamer on board which the admiral had hoisted his flag. The screw steamers towed up the boats. The three midshipmen managed to keep close to each other. In silence they glided over the smooth water, some small lights on buoys showing the passage up. It was hoped that they might surprise the enemy, but first a rocket on one side and then one on the other, answered by the fleet behind, showed that they were wide awake.

"The dawn is breaking, we shall soon be in the thick of it," observed Jack. Soon after this, just through the grey twilight, a bright flash burst forth high up the hill, followed by a report, and a shot pitched into the water right ahead of the steamer, and sent its spray flying over her. With unabated speed on she went, and now flash after flash burst forth from the hill, and the shot came hissing and bounding on every side round the steamer: still no one was hit. The steamer was making directly for the fort; suddenly she came to a full stop; she had run on a bar formed by the Chinese for the defence of the positions. The boats ran in one upon another; but the oars were got out, and they were soon clear. The order was then given to land, and storm the fort. A steep side of the hill was left unprotected. The simple Chinese were under the impression that no human being could clamber up it. On went the marines and bluejackets in beautiful style, about to show the Chinamen a thing or two. They reached the foot of the hill. Up they climbed, as if it was no impediment whatever; but the Chinamen did their best to stop them. It was no child's work; jingall balls and round shot came crashing down on the assailants, and stink-pots and three-pronged spears; and heads and arms and legs were shot off, and many a tall fellow bit the dust. Post-captains and commanders and lieutenants went ahead of their men, and the midshipmen followed quickly after.

"This puts me in mind of old days on the coast of Syria," observed Murray to Rogers as he thought; but getting no answer, he looked round, and to his dismay discovered that Jack was not by his side.

"He is hit," thought Alick, and it went to his heart that he could not go back to help him; but duty pointed the way to the top of the hill, while the glance over his shoulder had shown him his old schoolfellow rolling down it. Terence, who was a little to the right, also saw what had occurred.

"Oh, we must go and help him," he cried out; but at that instant up jumped Jack again, and began to scramble up the hill with such energy that he was very soon abreast of his friends.

"I am all to rights," he shouted out. "I put my foot on a rolling stone, and over I went."

Terrific was the noise, the shouting and shrieking, loud above all which arose the British hurrahs, as they clashed up the steep ascent. The Chinese happily could not sufficiently depress their guns, or a shower of grape would have made sad havoc in the ranks of the assailants. Now the marines and bluejackets were near the top. A huge Chinaman stood there, pointing his matchlock at Jack. Murray fired his pistol at him, but missed him. The matchlock hung fire, so he dashed it at Alick's head, and then hurled at them a couple of heavy shot. Terence was springing on, when the Chinaman seized a long spear, and was hurling it at him with an accuracy which might have been fatal, when Jack leaped to his friend's aid, and with his pistol shot their enemy dead. The rest of the defenders of the fort, seeing the death of their brave, grinned horribly, and, whisking round their tails, walked leisurely down the opposite side of the hill. More than one volley from the marines was required to make them run. They were braves selected for this post of honour and of danger. Perhaps they had suspicions that their heads might be cut off when they got back to their friends. The English flag was hoisted on the fort, and some of the guns turned down on the fleet of junks below, with whom not very injurious shots were exchanged. The marines occupied it, while the greater part of the bluejackets descended to their boats, the three midshipmen being among the number.

On screwed the steamers, and on dashed the boats. They were soon up with the seventy junks, which began firing away, most furiously, round shot and grape and langrage; the latter, scraps of old iron, they were fond of using, and terrible are the wounds caused by it. The steamers and the boats returned the compliment. Faster and more furious grew the fire from the twelve guns on board each of those seventy big junks; but one, larger than the rest, lay across the channel: the midshipmen dashed at her; a terrific fire of grape saluted them, but they were already close under the guns when they went off, and the shower of missiles passed over their heads. As the Chinamen were looking out, expecting to see their mangled limbs and the fragments of their boats scattered far and wide, the jolly tars, unharmed, were climbing up the side of the junk, and a few pokes with their cutlasses soon sent every mandarin and seaman leaping overboard. Scarcely had the victors time to look about them, than the prize was found to be on fire, fore and aft. "To the boats! to the boats!" was the cry. The seamen had barely time to obey the order and to shove off than up went the junk into the air with a loud roar, and very soon afterwards down came her fragments rattling around the boats, very nearly swamping them, and wounding several poor fellows among their crews. As the boats emerged from the smoke, the rest of the junks were seen in full flight in different directions, but a great number were overtaken, and as the British got alongside the crews deserted them. In many of them the flames immediately burst forth, and one after the other as they drifted on the shore, they blew up. Some were deserted by their crews before they had time to set them on fire. Several, however, escaped, and vanished up some of the unknown creeks to the left. Meantime, the steamers grounded, and at length the boats alone, with the gallant commodore leading, dashed away up the river in hot chase of the fugitives.

Numbers of junks were passed, deserted or stranded. For four miles they pulled on till they reached a fort on an island in the middle of the stream. There was a passage on each side, but so narrow that two boats could not pass abreast. Above it appeared a fleet of junks. Again the shot came rattling furiously among them. Several boats were struck. Many fine fellows, officers and men, were killed. The commodore's boat sank under him, and barely had he time with his crew to leap out of her, than away she drifted with the body of his coxswain, who had been killed, and a favourite dog who would come with him towards the enemy. Several times was the passage attempted, till at length the boats retreated. Their gongs began to sound, and trumpets to bray forth notes of victory; but the Chinese braves were rather premature in their rejoicings. The boats' crews went to dinner, and while thus pleasantly engaged, notice was given that the enemy's junks were getting afloat. The crews sprang to their oars. "On, lads, on!" shouted their gallant leader. Fierce was the fire they had to pass through, more men were killed, and another boat sank. Still enough remained with which to follow the enemy. The narrow passage was passed, and away in hot pursuit after the still flying junks, manned by a hundred rowers, they go. The junks move swiftly, but the shot and shell go faster. One after the other the junks were deserted, but five were still seen ahead. "We must have them all, lads," shouted the commodore. On they went. Suddenly they found themselves with the junks ahead in the centre of a large town with a vast population. "We must get the junks," again shouted the commodore. The crews cheered in response to his appeal. Their shot find out the junks, and they follow. The wise Chinamen leap overboard and swim on to shore. There were plenty of spectators, many thousands looking out of windows, and doors, and balconies, and thinking that those outer barbarians had become rather bold and impudent. But there was a general in the city, and for his military credit he turned out his army to annihilate the invaders. Seeing this, the commodore landed his marines, whose steady fire on the braves sent them to the right about, and made them march back again in double-quick time. The five junks were then taken in tow, and, very much to the enlightenment of the minds of the citizens, were carried away in triumph down the river. Altogether, upwards of eighty war-junks were destroyed or captured, though for each junk thus disposed of the British lost a man killed or wounded.

The three friends met again in the evening. Greatly to their mutual satisfaction none of them had been hit.

"We have had a pretty sharp day's work," exclaimed Jack; "but there's one thing I hope we shall get for it--our promotions."

"And good luck to the wish," cried Adair, who had just filled a glass with wine. "It's little else I have got to look to to keep me in food and clothing. The last letter I got from my dear friends at home gave me the pleasant information that all the family estates have been knocked down, and that it would be rather worse than useless for me to draw any bills in future on my agents. What the knocking down means, I don't quite know; but the matter of the not drawing bills sufficiently elucidates the subject to my mind."

"Oh, that is a trifle," answered Rogers and Murray in a breath. "We are over well supplied, and so you can't want, you know; and then the chances are that, before long, we pick up a good store of prize-money."

"I know, I know, my dear fellows; I never should doubt you," said Adair, warmly; "but--Well, I'll come on you when I am hard up. But perhaps I shall be settled for some other way."

"If it is a pleasant and satisfactory way, I hope so," observed Murray, pretending not to understand him.

The conversation very soon came to an end by Paddy himself falling asleep, an example which the rest of the party, looking out for a soft plank, were not slow in following. After this the three midshipmen and their men returned to their ships, which sailed away on a cruise to the northward.

The _Dugong one day had sent two of her boats, under charge of Murray and Adair, up a river to obtain fresh provisions. Their comprador, or Chinese purchaser, who acted also as interpreter, having landed to make arrangements, the boats proceeded higher up the river on an exploring expedition. At length they reached a pretty, peaceful-looking village, and were induced by its tempting appearance to go on shore. They strolled about for some time, looking into the houses, the natives treating them with perfect civility. At last Murray suggested that it was time to return.

"A few minutes more. See, there is a curious pagoda, let us go and visit it."

The pagoda was explored; and the priests of Buddha were seen burning paper matches before the altar.

"We have had a pleasant trip. These Chinamen are really good sort of fellows," observed Terence; but scarcely had he spoken, than they discovered a strong body of soldiers drawn up between them and their boats. Not a word was said; but as they advanced the troops opened fire with their jingalls and darted their pronged spears at them.

"We must cut our way through the villains," cried Murray. "If we let them press on us we are done for."

"I'm with you," exclaimed Adair. "Charge, lads."

With loud shouts the British seamen dashed on; but the Chinese outnumbered them as twenty to one, besides being all armed with jingalls, matchlocks, or spears. Even Murray more than once thought that it was all up with them. He was slightly wounded, a ball had gone through both of Adair's legs, and he was bleeding much, while four of their men were killed, and two others so desperately hurt that they were unable to walk without the aid of their companions. Every moment they were growing weaker and weaker. Adair, too, was suffering dreadfully from his wounds. "I can stand it no longer," he exclaimed, at last sinking on the ground. "Go on, Alick. Leave me to my fate. If you attempt to stop you will be cut to pieces. See, there are more of the fellows gathering round us."

"Leave you, Terence? I hope not," cried Murray. "Come on, lads; we'll soon put the villains to flight."

Lifting up their wounded companions, the seamen made another dash at the enemy. The treatment which the dead bodies of their comrades met with showed them that they had death alone to expect, unless they gained the victory. The moment the bodies were left the Chinese rushed forward, and cutting off their heads, stuck them on the ends of their spears, shouting in triumph.

There is something particularly dreadful in seeing the head of a comrade, who but a few short moments before was full of life, thus exposed. Poor Adair looked up. "Will my head be soon thus placed?" he said to himself. There seemed too much probability of it. Another man was so desperately wounded that he could not walk. The party, thus reduced in strength, could no longer push on towards the boats. When they halted, the Chinamen became more daring. Back to back they stood, forming a hollow square, like brave men, with their wounded comrades in the centre, resolved to sell their lives dearly if they could not drive back their assailants. Murray was again wounded. He felt himself fainting through the loss of blood. Another man sank to the ground, and several more were hit. Still, loading and firing as fast as they could, they kept the enemy at bay. Yet even Murray believed that it was only a matter of time, and that every one of them would soon be numbered among the dead. Still, by voice and example, he endeavoured to keep up the courage of the men with him. At last he had to tell one of them to hold him up, for he could scarcely see the enemy crowding round them. It was a bad sign, the courage of some of the seamen began to waver, and they looked wistfully towards the boats, as if they would make a rush at them. Great was their dismay to see a body of Chinese hurry down to the bank and begin to fire at the men in them. Their only chance of escape appeared destroyed. At that moment a shout was heard, followed by a rapid fire of musketry; and then came the sound of a big gun, and the peculiar rattle and crash of grape. The Chinese attacking the boats wavered and fled, followed by those between the English and the river; and a party of bluejackets and marines, headed by Jack Rogers, was seen hurrying up from the water. There was no time to be lost. The Chinese might recover from their panic; so lifting Adair and Murray on their shoulders, with the other wounded people, his men carried them to the boats. The Chinamen looked with astonishment at What had occurred, and then, recovering their senses, rushed down again towards the boats; but, though they were too late to get back their prey, they got more than they expected; for Jack Rogers, ordering the boats once more to pull round so as to present their bows to the enemy, a rattling fire of grape was thrown among them, which once more very rapidly sent them to the rightabout.

Considering the number of wounded, Jack very wisely pulled down the river as fast as he could go. He meantime had the hurts of the wounded men bound up. Murray soon recovered, but Adair continued so weak that his friends became very anxious for his safety. Jack told Murray that the _Blenny had come in directly after the expedition had started--that he had been sent up to obtain provisions at the village where they had landed the comprador, and that from that personage he had received so alarming an account of the disposition of the natives higher up, that he had hurried on in case they might be attacked. Jack was heartily glad when he got his wounded friends on board the frigate. The doctor looked grave when he saw Adair. Murray, he said, was in no danger. No one could have been better nursed than was poor Terence, and he at length gave signs that he was recovering his strength, and the doctor looked brighter when he spoke of him.

Some weeks had passed, when the frigate and brigs were standing in for the land, a steamer hove in sight, and a signal was made that she had the mail-bags on board. It was the first day Terence had been able to sit up in the midshipmen's berth. Jack had come on board to see him. A long, official-looking letter was handed to each of them, "On Her Majesty's Service." One was addressed to Lieutenant Jack Rogers, another to Lieutenant Alick Murray, and a third to Lieutenant Terence Adair. There was a general shout, and warm congratulations were showered on them. I ought to have said that, when last in England, they had all passed their examination for navigation, having before that passed for seamanship. They were in reality, what were then called master's mates, a rank to which the more satisfactory title of sub-lieutenants has been given. They were appointed to different ships on the station; when in their new rank they performed a number of very gallant acts, which may some day be chronicled for the benefit of my friends. However, as they now belong to a higher rank, I must bring to a termination the adventures of my old schoolfellows, the Three Midshipmen.


(THE END)
William H. G. Kingston's novel: Three Midshipmen

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