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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJames Braithwaite, The Supercargo - Chapter 15. Pirates
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James Braithwaite, The Supercargo - Chapter 15. Pirates Post by :spearce000 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1908

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James Braithwaite, The Supercargo - Chapter 15. Pirates


My host, in spite of his annoyance, did not forget the duties of hospitality, and warmly pressed our unwelcome visitor to take some refreshment. The young officer, however, declined, on the plea that the day was already far spent, and that he had no time to spare. On going round to the front of the house, I found two led horses under the charge of a soldier. They were absurdly small for cavalry, and would have been quickly ridden over by any one of our heavy regiments.

I was about to bid Mynheer Van Deck farewell.

"No, not yet, my friend," he answered. "I purpose accompanying you to Cheribon, that I may render you any service in my power. I have a horse, and will follow immediately."

The officer made a sign of impatience, so I mounted one of the steeds, and Jack sprang on the back of the other, where he sat very much as a big monkey would have done, fully resolved, it seemed, to enjoy any fun which might be forthcoming. As the French soldiers treated him kindly, and spoke in a good-natured tone to him, though he could not understand what they said, his fears quickly vanished, and he was speedily "hail fellow well met" with them all.

The officer I found a very gentlemanly young man. He rode up alongside me after we had proceeded a little way, and seemed eager enough to talk about La Belle France and Paris; but when I endeavoured to draw any information from him respecting the proceedings at the west end of the island, he closed his mouth, or gave only vague answers. From this I argued that affairs had not gone with the French in quite as satisfactory a manner as they wished. I asked him at last whether he thought that I should be detained or be otherwise inconvenienced by the commandant at Cheribon.

"We shoot spies," he answered laconically, at the same time shrugging his shoulders as a Frenchman only can do. "C'est la fortune de la guerre."

"But, my dear sir, I am no spy," I answered. "The governor, or native chief, purposed to seize my vessel, and I was left on shore while she made her escape. I am but a supercargo anxious to sell the goods entrusted to me."

The young officer gave a smile of incredulity, yet with an air of so much politeness that I really could not be angry with him; indeed it would have done me no good if I were. We were in a short time joined by Mynheer Van Deck, who came galloping up on a much finer horse than any possessed by the French soldiers. I found from my captor that the journey would be far longer than I had expected, as we had to make a considerable _detour to visit a native chief, or prince, to whom he had a message. My belief was that he was beating up for native recruits to oppose the British force, which, if not arrived, must have been hourly expected. We had several natives with us, armed with long spears and daggers, a few only having firelocks. Van Deck told me that we should soon have to pass a river, rather a dangerous spot, on account of the number of tigers which came there to drink, and which had already carried off several natives.

"But surely they would not venture to attack so large a body of men as this," I remarked.

"Not if we could keep together, unless they happen to be very hungry," he answered. "Unfortunately, however, the path in some places is so narrow that we have to proceed in single file, and as there are fallen trees and other impediments in the way, travellers are apt to get separated, when, of course, they are more liable to be picked off. I always keep my pistol cocked in my hand, that I may have a chance of shooting my assailant."

"But I came on shore unarmed, and have no pistols," I answered.

"Then keep ahead of me, and if I see a tiger spring at you I will fire at him, and do my best to save you."

"But the poor boy who is with me--he has a poor chance, I am afraid," I observed, after I had thanked my friend for his offer.

"Oh, he is safe enough if he keeps close to the soldiers; the clatter of their arms frightens the beasts."

While the Dutchman was speaking we came in sight of the river. It was fordable, though rather deep, and as the leading men on their small horses plunged in the water was up to their saddle-girths. I naturally looked out on either side for our expected enemies. Three or four large animals sprang off just as the leading horses reached the opposite bank. I thought they were tigers.

"Oh, no, they are only wild cats," said Van Deck. "Rather unpleasant to be caught by one of them asleep, but they are easily frightened."

I thought to myself, If those creatures are Java wild cats, what must Java tigers be like? We all passed across the stream without any accident, a small body of half-clad natives bringing up the rear. They were climbing up the somewhat steep bank, when a fearful shriek, followed by loud shouts and cries, made me turn my head, and I caught sight of a monster bounding along the bank, with the writhing, struggling body of a human being between his huge jaws. The poor wretch's _sarong_, or plaid, had become loose, and dragged after him. Already several natives were setting off in chase, while others were discharging their firearms at the animal, though at the risk of killing the man. The French officer called out to them to desist, and seizing a lance from one of the people, gallantly dashed after the tiger. I naturally wished to join in the chase, but Van Deck entreated me to stop, telling me that I should very likely, if I went, be picked off by another tiger on my return. As it would have been folly to disregard his advice, we pushed on as fast as we could to get out of the narrow defile. We could for several minutes hear the shouts of the natives still in pursuit of the tiger. After some time they rejoined us, but they had not saved the poor man, and had, moreover, lost another of their number, who had been carried off by a tiger just as the first leaped over a cliff fifty feet above the valley, with the man still in its mouth. It was followed triumphantly by its companion.

"This is not the country I should choose to travel in, still less to live in," I said.

"It cannot be helped," observed the Dutchman. "I am well off here, a great man among small people. I should be a beggar elsewhere. This is not, however, the country in which a man of education and mind would choose to pitch his tent."

Torches were lit for the latter part of our journey. It will be remembered that so nearly under the equator as we were the days and nights are of equal length all the year round; we therefore did not enjoy the delightful twilight of a northern clime.

Notice had been given of our proposed visit to the chief, or prince, who was, I was told, of Malay descent. Preparations were therefore made for our reception, and very handsome they were. Though a prisoner, I was treated like the rest of the guests. The house was much in the style of those I have before described. But I was not prepared to find a table elegantly set out and spread with fine linen and beautiful silver plate. It was lighted by four large wax flambeaux in massive silver candlesticks. The provisions were dressed in the Malay fashion, many of the dishes being very palatable, and toasts were drunk with three times three, the Malays of inferior rank, who sat round the room on the ground against the walls to the number of thirty, joining in the huzzas. It was altogether a curious scene of barbaric splendour. The prince escorted us to our rooms, where we found capital beds, beautiful linen, and very fine mosquito-nets, ornamented with fringe. The Malay servants slept under the beds on mats, or in the corners of the rooms, to be in readiness if required. Breakfast was prepared at daybreak, that we might continue our journey in the cool of the morning.

We rested under the shade of some trees during the day, the soldiers keeping up a fearful din to scare away any wild beast who might chance to be prowling about in search of a dinner. The young officer had fortunately a French cook among his men, who very soon contrived to place before us a capital dinner, though of what it was composed I could not discover. I rather think that hashed monkey formed one of the dishes. As, towards night, we approached Cheribon, my kind Dutch friend did his best to keep up my spirits, assuring me that he would spare no pains to prove that I was not a spy. He was not quite sure that the accounts received of the defeat of the English were correct; and the French commandant would scarcely venture to hang me without very strong proofs of my guilt, and with the possibility of being made a prisoner himself by my countrymen ere long, should they have been victorious. Still it was with no very pleasant feelings that I was formally conducted into the fort as a prisoner.

The forts of Cheribon had been allowed to fall into decay by the Dutch, but since the French occupation of the island had been repaired and considerably strengthened. I was told that the commandant boasted that he could hold out against any force likely to be sent against him, even should my countrymen gain the day. I was taken at once before him and examined, but though he had no evidence to prove me guilty, as I was accused of being a spy he would not take my parole. I was by his orders accordingly locked up in a cell with iron bars to the windows, a three-legged stool, and a heap of straw in a corner for a bed. Mr Van Deck had not entered the fort. In a little time Jack was thrust into the cell with very little ceremony. He brought me a message from my Dutch friend, saying that there had been a battle, and he suspected that the French had been defeated. I heartily hoped that he was correct. I had reason to believe that my prison, bad as it was, was the best in the fort, for Jack told me that he had seen guards going round with messes of food which they had put into wretched dark holes, and in one, as he was led along, he saw a miserable gaunt man, with long matted hair, put out a lean yellow hand to take the food. This information made me hope more than ever than Van Deck was right in his suspicions, for I had no fancy to be shut up in a dark cell for months in such a climate, with the possibility of being taken out and shot as a spy. Had I been a naval or military man I should not have been thus treated. Several very unpleasant days and nights passed by, a scanty allowance of coarse food only being brought to me and my young companion.

At length, one day the sergeant threw open my prison door, and Van Deck appearing, took me by the hand and led me out of my noisome dungeon, followed by Jack, who gave a shout of joy as he found himself in the open air.

"I sent to Batavia, where your ship has arrived, and where your statement was fully corroborated, and the commandant had therefore no further excuse for keeping you a prisoner," said my friend. "But there is another reason why he would not venture to do so much longer. Look there!"

He pointed seaward where several large ships were seen approaching the land. He handed me a glass. I examined them eagerly; they were frigates, with the flag of Old England flying at their peaks. Jack, when he heard this, gave a loud huzza, and threw up his cap with delight, jumping and clapping his hands, and committing other extravagances, till I ordered him to be quiet lest the French soldiers should put a sudden stop to the exhibition of his feelings.

The frigates approached till they had got just within long gunshot range of the fort, when after some time a boat put off from one of them and approached the fort, bearing a flag of truce. That was, at all events, pleasant. There was a chance of a battle being avoided, yet the commandant had so loudly sworn that nothing should make him yield to the English that I was afraid he might be obstinate and insist on holding out. We were on the point of hurrying down to meet the boat, when a sergeant with a guard stopped us and told us politely enough that we must stay where we were, or that Jack and I must go back to prison.

"We must obey orders," observed Van Deck. "The fact is, that the commandant is aware that you are acquainted with the weak points of the fort, that the gun-carriages are rotten, and many of the guns are themselves honeycombed or dismounted."

We were conducted out of the way when the officer with the flag of truce entered the fort. Looking from the ramparts, however, we could see the boat and the people in her through Van Deck's glass, and a young middy was amusing himself, so it appeared to me, by daring some little Dutch, or rather native boys to come off and fight him, which they seemed in no way disposed to do, for whenever he held up his fists they ran off at a great rate. Of one thing I was very sure, that if the French commandant did not yield with a good grace he would be very soon compelled to do so. That squadron of frigates had not come merely to give a civil message and to sail away again. We walked up and down, impatiently waiting to hear what was to be done.

At length, after an hour's delay, the officer who had brought the message--Captain Warren, of the _President_--issued from the commandant's house with his coxswain bearing a flag under his arm. Down came the tricolour of France, and up went the glorious flag of England. Jack was beside himself on seeing this, and I could scarcely refrain from joining in his "Hurra! hurra!" as I hurried forward to meet the English captain, whose acquaintance I had made at the Mauritius. The French commandant intimated, on this, that I was at liberty; but as I felt it would be ungrateful to leave my friend Van Deck abruptly, I resolved to remain on shore for the present with him.

In a very short time the marines came on shore to secure the thus easily acquired possession, but scarcely had they formed on the beach than it was ascertained that a large body of the enemy had entered the town. The order was given to charge through them, and, taken by surprise, the French and Dutchmen threw down their arms, and several officers and others were taken prisoners. Among them was General Jumel, second in command to General Janssen, and Colonel Knotzer, aide-de-camp to the latter, who with others were at once carried off to the ships.

Cheribon I found to be a much larger place than I at first supposed; the streets are narrow but numerous, and in the outskirts especially the houses of the natives are so completely surrounded by trees and bushes that it is impossible to calculate their number. I heard that the _Phoebe was one of the squadron, and soon had the satisfaction of shaking hands with my brother William, Toby Trundle, and other officers belonging to her. From them I heard a full account of the engagement which had given the greater part of the magnificent island of Java to the English. I was the more interested as my military brother had taken part in it, and distinguished himself. I hoped to meet him when I got to Batavia.

The army which was commanded by Sir Samuel Auchmuty, consisting of 11,000 men, half being Europeans, disembarked on the evening of the 5th of August at the village of Chillingchin, twelve miles north of Batavia. Colonel Gillespie advanced on the city of Batavia, of which he took possession, and beat off the enemy, who attempted to retake it. A general engagement took place on the 10th at Welteureden, when the French were defeated and compelled to retire to the strongly entrenched camp of Cornells. It was supposed to contain 250 pieces of cannon. Here General Janssen commanded in person, with General Jumel, a Frenchman, under him, with an army of 13,000 men. Notwithstanding this, the forts were stormed and taken, and the greater number of the officers captured. The commander-in-chief, with General Jumel, escaped--the latter, as I have mentioned, to fall very soon afterwards into our hands.

An expedition, consisting of marines and bluejackets, was now organised to meet a body of the fugitive army said to be marching from Cornells. As William was of the party, I got leave to accompany it. That we might move the faster, horses had been obtained, and both marines and bluejackets were mounted--that is to say, they had horses given them to ride, but as the animals, though small, were frisky and untrained, they were sent very frequently sprawling into the dust, and were much oftener on their feet than in their saddles. Our force, as we advanced, certainly presented a very unmilitary appearance, though we made clatter enough for a dozen regiments of dragoons. We were in search of the military chest said to be with the fugitives. We fell in with a large party, who, however, having had fighting enough, sent forward a flag of truce and capitulated. We got possession, however, of some waggon-loads of ingots, but they were ingots of copper, and were said to be of so little value in the country as to have been fired as grape-shot from Cornells. The moon shone brightly forth for the first part of the march, but no sooner did it become obscured than a considerable number of the marines were seized with a temporary defective vision very common within the tropics, called, "Nyctalopia," or night blindness. The attack was sudden; the vision seldom became totally obscured, but so indistinct that the shape of objects could not be distinguished. While in this state the sufferers had to be led by their comrades. With some it lasted more than an hour, with others not more than twenty minutes, and on the approach of day all traces of it had disappeared.

On our march, during the heat of the day, we passed through a wood, every tree in which seemed to have been blasted by lightning. Not a branch nor leaf remained to afford us shelter from the scorching rays of the sun. Had I not known that the story of the noxious effects produced by the upas-tree was a fiction, I might have supposed that the destruction had been caused by a blast passing amid the boughs of one of those so-called death-dealing trees in the neighbourhood. Probably the forest had been destroyed partly by lightning and partly by the conflagration it had caused.

On returning to Cheribon, I found that my friend Van Deck was anxious to proceed to Batavia, and I was fortunate in being able to procure him a passage on board the _Phoebe_, which was going there at once.

"Well, Braithwaite, I shall never despair of your turning up safe!" exclaimed Captain Hassall, shaking my hand warmly as I stepped on the deck of the _Barbara_. "You saved the ship and cargo by your promptness, for had I not got your message by young Jack there I should have been captured to a certainty. Garrard, Janrin and Company have reason to be grateful to you, and I have no doubt that they will be so."

Everybody knows that Batavia is a large Dutch town built in the tropics--that is to say, it has broad streets, with rows of trees in them, and canals in the centre of stagnant water, full of filth, and surrounded by miasma-exuding marshes. But the neighbourhood is healthy, and the merchants and officials mostly only come into the town in the daytime, and return to their country houses at night. Some seasons are worse than others, nobody knows why. Captain Cook was there on his first voyage round the world during a very bad one, and, in spite of all his care, lost a number of people. We were more fortunate, but did not escape without some sickness.

Captain Hassall had disposed of most of that portion of our cargo suited for the Batavian market, so that I soon got rid of the rest. I then made arrangements for the purchase of sugar, tea, coffee, spices, and several other commodities which I believed would sell well at Sydney, to which place we proposed to proceed, touching at a few other points perhaps on our way.

The articles had, however, first to be collected, as the army had consumed the greater portion in store at Batavia. Part of the purchase I made from a brother of my friend Van Deck. He was on the point of sailing in a brig he owned along the coast to collect produce, and invited me to accompany him. I gladly accepted his offer, as the _Barbara could not sail till his return.

In those days, as well, indeed, as from the memory of man, these seas swarmed with pirates, many of whom had their headquarters on the coast of Borneo. Among them was a chief, or rajah, named Raga, notorious for the boldness and success of his undertakings. We, however, believed that with so many British men-of-war about he would seek some more distant field for his operations. The harbour was full of native craft of all sorts. Of the native prahus alone there are many varieties, some built after European models, and carrying sails similar to those of our English luggers. Others are of native construction, with lateen sails; and many, built with high stems and sterns, have the square mat-sail, such as impels the Batavian fishing prahus. Of course, among so many craft a pirate chief could easily find spies ready to give him information of all that was going forward. However, we troubled our heads very little about the pirates.

By-the-bye, I have not said anything about the alligators of Java, which are, I believe, larger than in any other part of the world. The Government will not allow those in the harbour of Batavia to be disturbed, as they act the part of scavengers by eating up the garbage which floats on the water, and might otherwise produce a pestilence. I often passed them floating on the surface, and snapping at the morsels which came in their way, quite indifferent to the boats going to and fro close to them. Captain Beaver, of the _Nisus frigate, described to me one he saw in another part of the island when on an exploring expedition. It was first discovered basking on a mud-bank, and neither he nor the officers with him would believe that it was an animal, but thought at first that it was the huge trunk of a tree. At the lowest computation it was forty feet in length. The circumference of the thickest part of the body seemed nearly that of a bullock, and this continued for about double the length. The extent of the jaws was calculated to be at least eight feet. The eyes glistened like two large emeralds, but with a lustre which nothing inanimate could express. The officers examined it through their glasses, and came to the conclusion that it was asleep, but the native guides assured them that it was not. To prove this, one of them fearlessly leaped on shore and approached the creature, when it glided into the water, creating a commotion like that produced by the launch of a small vessel.

I bade farewell to William and my friends of the _Phoebe_, not without some sadness at my heart. In those time of active warfare it might be we should never meet again. Of my soldier brother I got but a hurried glimpse before he embarked on an expedition which was sent to capture Sourabaya, at the other end of the island. A few words of greeting, and inquiries and remarks, a warm long grasp of hands, and we parted. Directly I stepped on board Van Deck's brig the _Theodora_, the anchor was weighed, and we stood out of the harbour with a strong land breeze. The easterly monsoon which prevailed was in our teeth, so that we were only able to progress by taking advantage of the land and sea-breezes. The land breeze commenced about midnight, and as it blew directly from the shore, we were able to steer our course the greater part of the night; but after sunrise the wind always drew round to the eastward, and we were consequently forced off the shore. The anchor was then dropped till towards noon, when the sea-breeze set in. Again we weighed, and stood towards the shore, as near as possible to which we anchored, and waited for the land breeze at night.

We had thus slowly proceeded for three or four days, having called off two estates for cargo, when, as we lay at anchor, a fleet of five or six prahus was seen standing towards us with the sea-breeze, which had not yet filled our sails. Van Deck, after examining them through his glass, said that he did not at all like their appearance, and that he feared they intended us no good. On they came, still directly for us. We got up all the arms on deck and distributed them to the crew, who, to the number of thirty, promised to fight to the last. Then we weighed anchor and made sail, ready for the breeze. It came at last, but not till the prahus were close up to us. Under sail we were more likely to beat them off than at anchor. They soon swarmed round us, but their courage was damped by the sight of our muskets and guns. Of their character, however, we had not a shadow of doubt. After a short time of most painful suspense to us they lowered their sails and allowed us to sail on towards the shore. Here we anchored, as usual, to wait for the land breeze. Had there been a harbour, we would gladly have taken shelter within it, for the merchant, the elder Van Deck, said that he knew the pirates too well, and that they might still be waiting for an opportunity to attack us. There was, however, no harbour, and so we had to wait in our exposed situation, in the full belief that the pirates were still in the offing, and might any moment pounce down upon us. The Van Decks agreed that we might beat them off, but that if they should gain the upper hand they would murder every one on board the vessel. "We might abandon the vessel and so escape any risk," observed the merchant--not in a tone as if he intended to do so. "You, at all events, Mr Braithwaite, can be landed, and you can easily get back to Batavia." Against this proposal of course my manhood rebelled, though I had a presentiment, if I may use the expression, that we should be attacked. "No, no! I will stay by you and share your fate, whatever that may be," I replied. Night came on, and darkness hid all distant objects from view.

We were in the handsome, well-fitted-up cabin, enjoying our evening meal, when the mate, a Javanese, put his head down the skylight and said some words in his native tongue, which made the Dutchmen start from their seats, and, seizing their pistols and swords, rush on deck. I had no difficulty, when I followed them, in interpreting what had been said. The pirate prahus were close upon us.

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