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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Cruise Of The Dainty - Chapter 6
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The Cruise Of The Dainty - Chapter 6 Post by :65587 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2432

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The Cruise Of The Dainty - Chapter 6

CHAPTER SIX.

We had now obtained a fair amount of cargo, and I would have returned to Brisbane well satisfied with our voyage; but Harry, being anxious to get as many pearls as could be procured, resolved to wait on as long as they came in freely and he had goods to pay for them.

Trading was just over for the day, when, looking towards the entrance to the harbour, I saw the topsails of a brigantine appearing over a point to the westward, but as the point was covered with trees, the masts of the schooner could not have been seen from her deck. Her appearance showed us that the island was not so completely unknown as Tom had supposed. I immediately told Harry, who at once proposed sending a boat to assist in piloting her in, and pointing out a good anchorage should she be a stranger. Tom offered to go, and I agreed to accompany him. As we got round the point, we saw that the brigantine was shortening sail, and before we were up to her she had dropped her anchor in mid channel, as if she were not aware of the existence of a harbour, or at all events had no intention of entering it. She was tolerably secure where she lay, and had the advantage of being able to get out again with less difficulty than if she had come into the harbour. We, however, went alongside. She was a rakish-looking craft, and there appeared to be a good many men on board. As we went up her side we saw a swarthy fellow with big whiskers standing to receive us.

"Hulloa, I did not know any other vessel was in here," he said, as we gained the deck. "Where have you come from? What are you about?"

"We hail from Brisbane; we are engaged in trading with the natives," I answered. "And may I ask you in return where you come from, and what is the object of your voyage?"

"We come from Callao, and are engaged as you are," he answered.

I did not like the tone of his voice or manner, and thought it useless asking any further questions. As I looked round the deck it struck me that the people I saw were as ruffianly a crew as I had ever set eyes on, and that the sooner we took our leave the better. I therefore merely observed that on seeing his vessel coming up the channel, supposing that he intended to enter the harbour we had pulled out to offer him our assistance, but that as he did not require it we would wish him good evening.

"I don't like the looks of those chaps," observed Tom, as we pulled away. "They're after no good."

"I do not suppose that they will interfere with us," I remarked.

"I'm not so sure of that," said Tom. "They'll interfere with the natives and spoil our trade; at all events it would be as well to keep a watch on them, and the sooner we are out of their reach the better."

Old Tom was not generally an alarmist; but I did not fancy that even out in the Pacific, in the middle of the nineteenth century, any crew could be found who would venture to commit an act of violence on an English trader when they would be so surely discovered and brought to justice. Still, I fancied that Harry, who was always prudent, would take all necessary precautions. On hearing the account we gave of the trader he, however, to my surprise, laughed at my apprehensions.

"She may not be altogether honest, and I daresay her crew would not scruple to ill-treat the natives; but they will not venture to interfere with us, or to misbehave themselves while we are here to watch them," he observed.

He, however, afterwards, having had a conversation with old Tom, instead of the usual anchor watch at sunset, ordered half the crew to remain on deck, the guns to be loaded, and the small arms placed in readiness for instant use. Sam Pest was in the first watch, and as I walked the deck I spoke to him as I frequently did.

"I have been hearing about the strange craft which came in this evening, sir," he said, "and from what they say I think it's more than likely she's the one I was aboard of some time ago. Strange pranks she played. Her skipper was a regular rough one, never minded what he did, and thought no more of a man's life than that of a dog. I mind what happened once when we were away to the westward after sandal-wood, where the black men of one island are always at war with those of another, and when one side gains the victory never fail to kill and eat their enemies. We had gone to one island where the natives were friendly, and had got them to cut down and bring aboard a good quantity of the wood. When they had cut down all that was to be found in that part of the island, and we had shipped the best part of it, the skipper told them to bring off the remainder in their canoes and he would pay them handsomely. No sooner were they on board than he invited them down into the hold to receive their payment, when he had the hatches clapped on over them, and casting their canoes adrift made sail. He then told them that he was going to take them to another island where there was plenty of sandal-wood, and that when they had cut it down for him and shipped it he would take them back to their own country. This quieted them, though it seemed strange that they should have believed him. In three or four days we got to the island he spoke of, when about half the crew well armed landed with the black fellows, and soon set them to work on the sandal-wood trees, which were some way from the coast. We were on the watch all the time to prevent them or ourselves being attacked by the natives, who kept at a distance, for they dreaded our firearms, as we had shot three or four of them for coming too near. We made our prisoners carry the sandal-wood on their shoulders down to the harbour, when our boats took it on board. We went on in this fashion till we had got a full cargo, notwithstanding which the skipper said he must have the remainder of the wood cut down, and ordered our prisoners to go and fetch it. As they knew the way they trudged on as they had done for several days past. As soon as they were out of sight the skipper told us to give them the slip and return to the boats. On getting aboard he ordered the anchor to be hove up, and sail made, and stood out of the harbour. Just then we saw the sandal-wood cutters come rushing back waving and shouting to us.

"'You must shout louder for me to hear you,' cried the skipper. 'I cannot stop for you.'

"Presently we saw a whole army of natives with spears and clubs come rushing out of the wood. They soon overtook the runaways, every one of whom was struck down or speared through before they reached the beach.

"That's an easy way of paying our debts," says the skipper, and that was the only remark he made about the unfortunate wretches who were killed; and as the people in those islands are all cannibals I have no doubt were eaten by the next day.

"This will give you, sir, some notion of the sort of man the skipper was, and if the same man commands the brigantine out there, it's just as well to be on our guard against him."

When I went below to get some supper I told Harry what Sam had said.

"I cannot take more precautions than we are now doing," he answered; "and as soon as we get a breeze to carry us out of the harbour, we'll put as wide a distance as we can between him and ourselves."

It appeared after all, when morning came, that our precautions were unnecessary, not a canoe nor a boat was seen in the harbour; indeed, Harry said that even supposing the crew of the brigantine were the greatest ruffians afloat it was very improbable that they would venture to attack us. Only a few canoes came alongside bringing pearls or oyster-shells. The natives said that if we would wait for a few days they would procure a further supply from some beds at the other end of the island. Harry, however, determined to sail as soon as possible. We now only waited for a fair wind, without which it would have been dangerous to attempt the passage between the reefs.

Breakfast was just over when a boat was seen pulling towards us; she evidently belonged to the brigantine. The guns had been secured, the small arms placed out of sight, and the awning having been rigged, Mary and Fanny were on deck seated with their work in their hands. Presently the boat came alongside, and the skipper whom we had seen the previous evening stepped on deck. Harry received him politely, and begged to know the cause to which he was indebted for a visit from him.

"Just come to learn what you are about, here," answered the skipper in a gruff tone. "I am Captain Samuel Myers. My vessel is the _Wasp_, now belonging to Callao."

"I am happy to see you, Captain Myers; but I thought that my brother, who visited you yesterday evening, had told you that we were on a trading voyage, and about to return immediately to Brisbane."

"What have you been trading in?" asked Captain Myers. "I should not have thought there was much to be got in these islands."

Harry frankly told him, adding, "We have, I believe, obtained all the pearls the natives had collected."

"Where those came from, others may be got," observed the skipper. "I know a trick or two to make the natives work for me; and I should be obliged to you, captain, if you'd show me some of those you have got, that I may see whether they are worth having."

Harry, not liking to refuse, as it would have shown want of confidence in his visitor, told me to bring up one of the cases, as also some specimens of the oyster-shells. I did not think it necessary to select the finest. When Captain Myers saw them his eyes glittered.

"I did not think there were such pearls to be got in these parts," he observed. "Have you many of them, captain?"

"Enough to satisfy me," answered Harry. "Indeed, as I said before, I do not think there are many more to be procured at present."

"We shall see about that," remarked Captain Myers, glancing his eyes round the deck. They fell, I observed, on the guns, and he evidently noted each man of our crew, who had come up to have a talk with the strangers alongside. Harry had not invited any of the latter on board, and I guessed had no intention of doing so.

Captain Myers waited, as if expecting to be asked below to take something, as is usual when one skipper visits another; but Harry, who did not like his appearance more than I had done, apologised by saying that, as the cabin was devoted to the use of the ladies, he could not invite strangers into it; but not wishing altogether to be inhospitable, he ordered the steward to bring up some wine and spirits and biscuits, which were placed in a tray on the companion-hatch. Our visitor, without ceremony, poured out for himself half a tumbler of rum, to which he added a very small quantity of water.

"I like a nip neat at this time of the morning," he observed, as he gulped it down. "It sets a fellow up. Well, as you have got ladies aboard, I won't trouble you with my company any longer," he added, taking another look round the deck. "Good morning to you," and without more ado he stepped back into his boat.

I saw him surveying the schooner as he pulled away. As soon as he was gone, Sam Pest came aft.

"He's the very chap I thought he was, and as neat a villain as ever lived," he said. "I knew him at a glance, but I do not know if he knew me. If he did, he did not show it; but that's just like him, for he is as cunning as need be, and, depend on it, will be up to some trick or other if he thinks he can play it to his own advantage."

I repeated to Harry what Sam Pest had said.

"He must be very cunning to play us a trick while we are on our guard," observed Harry.

We noticed that the brigantine's boat pulled for the shore, her skipper having apparently no fear of the natives. We were now waiting anxiously for a breeze to get out of the harbour, but not a breath of wind stirred its smooth surface. As we were not likely to be able to sail at all events till the evening, when there might be a breeze, some of the men asked leave to go on shore; but Harry, suspecting their object was to have a talk with the boat's crew of the brigantine, refused, and told Tom Platt to find work for them on board.

Captain Myers did not pay us another visit during the day, but we saw his boat pulling back to the brigantine in the afternoon. What he had been about on shore we could not tell, but no more natives came alongside with pearls or oyster-shells, though we saw several canoes paddling out as if about to proceed to the _Wasp_.

"If I was your brother I'd keep a look-out for any trick Captain Myers may be inclined to play," said Sam Pest to me. "He may think that the shortest way of getting a cargo of pearls will be to rob this here schooner, and send her to the bottom."

"You don't mean really to say that you think he is capable of so black a deed," I said.

"I tell you there's nothing he would stick at," answered Sam in a positive tone. "I ain't very particular myself, but I've seen him do things, besides the one I told you of, which made my blood curdle, and heartily wish I was clear of him. I have seen him heave shot into canoes, and sink them alongside the vessel, just to get rid of the natives; and another time when we had some aboard who were somewhat obstreperous when shut up in the hold, he shot them down as if they had been a parcel of rats, and threw some overboard with life still in them. If he does not meddle with us, he'll treat the natives in this place in a way which will make them turn against all white men. For you see they cannot distinguish one from the other; and we shall find it unpleasant, to say the best of it, to remain here."

I heartily thanked Sam for the warning, and assured him that my brother would not forget his good intentions, even though Captain Myers might not act as he thought possible. Of course I repeated what Sam had told me to Harry, when the ladies were not within hearing, for it might have made them unnecessarily anxious. Although my brother was inclined as before to laugh at the idea of Captain Myers attacking us, he took the same precautions as on the previous night. Tom Platt and I had the first watch, with Dick Tilston, Tubbs the New Zealander, and three other men; a couple of hands, besides the officer, would have been sufficient on an ordinary anchor watch. We kept a look-out, by Tom's advice, not only in the direction of the brigantine, but also towards the shore.

"You cannot tell what dodge those chaps may be up to," he observed. "They may come in their own boats, or just as likely aboard a number of canoes, to make us fancy that they are only a party of natives coming off to trade."

Harry and Charles Tilston, with the rest of the men, had gone below, but did not intend to take off their clothes, so that they might be ready to spring on deck at a moment's notice. With all the precautions we had taken I cannot say that I felt particularly anxious; indeed, I must own that I should not have been very sorry if Captain Myers had made an attempt to overpower us. I continued walking the deck, talking to Dick, and occasionally exchanging a word or two with old Tom. The night was calm, and the bright stars shining down from the clear sky were reflected as in a mirror on the surface of the harbour. The only sound heard was the low dash of the sea on the distant reefs, and occasionally some indistinct noise from the shore. My watch was nearly over, and I felt that if my head was on the pillow I should in a moment be fast asleep. Suddenly, as I stopped in my walk, I fancied I heard the splash of oars, but so far off that I could not be certain. I listened, leaning over the bulwarks, with my hand to my ear. Again I heard the sound, more distinctly than before, but though I peered into the darkness I could see nothing. I went across the deck to tell Tom, but he had not heard the sound.

"It may be one of the _Wasp's boats, but that's no reason why she's coming here," he answered. "However, we'll be on the watch for her, and take precious good care that she does not come alongside for the purpose of doing us harm."

After this I listened, but could hear no sound, and at length fancied that I must have been mistaken. It was just on the point of striking eight bells, and I was leaning over the bulwarks, when I thought I saw two objects through the gloom. I kept my eyes fixed on them. Dick was close to me.

"Look out, and tell me if you see anything," I whispered to him.

"Yes; two boats, and I fancy there's another astern," he answered.

"You're right," I said. "Run and tell the captain, and rouse up the men for'ard; they're not coming at this time of night with any good intentions."

The men were prepared, and every one was on deck in less than a minute, with cutlasses at their sides, pikes in their hands, and the guns cast loose, ready for firing. Three boats now came in sight.

The moment Harry saw them, he shouted at the top of his voice, "Keep off, or we fire and sink you."

Instead of dashing on, as they might have done, the crews of the boats ceased pulling: the threat had had a good effect. They were near enough even now to enable us to send a shot among them; but unless they had given stronger evidence of their intentions of attacking us than they had done, Harry was unwilling to fire. Still it was a critical time; and from the number of men on board the brigantine, we knew that they might possibly overpower us; at the same time, if our men behaved with courage, it was more probable that we should beat them off. Still, it might not be done without bloodshed, if they attacked us with resolution. We had the guns in readiness pointed at them to fire, should they again approach. Harry again shouted--

"We know what you are about; if you come on it will be at your own peril."

No answer was given; still the boats remained on the same spot without advancing.

"Let us give them a shot or two, sir," shouted Tom at the top of his voice. "It will show them we are in earnest."

Scarcely had he spoken when the dark objects receded, becoming less and less distinct, till they disappeared in the darkness. Tom very seldom indulged in a chuckle, but he did so on this occasion.

"I thought as how it would have a good effect," he observed. "They expected to take us by surprise, and had no stomach for fighting. Maybe their skipper wanted them to come on, for he is ready for anything, but the men would not. It's my opinion they are cowards at heart, though boasting knaves when there's no danger."

"What you say, Mr Platt, is very true," I heard Sam Pest remark.

"Well done, Platt," said Harry. "Your words had a good effect. I don't think they'll trouble us again to-night."

"We must not be too sure, sir, of that," said Tom. "Perhaps the skipper will think that towards morning we shall not be keeping so bright a look-out, and may try to steal alongside to surprise us; but he'll find himself mistaken."

As I was very sleepy I went below and lay down, but heard old Tom say that he should remain on deck till daylight. Next morning Harry told me that the boats had appeared, but being hailed to keep off, they had not come nearer, and that he had not thought it necessary to call up all hands as he had done before. Being in the neighbourhood of a pirate, as she was nothing else, was very disagreeable, to say the least of it. Indeed, she in a manner blockaded us, for we could not venture to tow the schooner out to sea lest her boats might attack us in some critical position. Still Harry determined that should we get a leading breeze to sail past her, taking the opportunity of doing so while her boats were away. We saw them passing to the eastward, apparently going to compel the natives to dive for oysters. The calm continued the greater part of that day; but although towards the evening a breeze sprang up, it was too light and not sufficiently favourable to enable us to run out of the harbour. We therefore had to pass another anxious night.

The ladies were not by this time entirely ignorant of what had occurred, but Harry made as light of it as possible; saying that the fellows would not really venture to annoy us, however willing they might be to get possession of our pearls if they could do so without fighting. The third night began; about the middle of the first watch the breeze increased so much, that Harry, who had come on deck, consulted with Tom whether we should get the schooner under weigh, and run past the brigantine in the dark.

"If there was a lighthouse at the end of the reef, and we had a pilot aboard, I would not mind trying it, sir," said Tom. "But you see it would be an awkward job if we were to run ashore; besides, it's just possible that the _Wasp's boats may be on the look-out for us, and hope to catch us napping this time, though they were wrong before."

Harry said he felt pretty sure of the channel, but the last objection was of more importance, and he determined therefore to wait till daylight. It was settled, accordingly, that as soon as the _Wasp's boats were seen going in the direction of the oyster-beds, we were to heave up the anchor, and make sail. At the same time, as there might be hands enough left on board the brigantine to attack us, we were to have the guns loaded, and be prepared to defend ourselves if necessary. The remainder of the night passed quietly away; we were thankful to find in the morning a steady and favourable breeze still blowing, which would enable us to run out of the harbour and pass the brigantine without making a tack.

We had just breakfasted, when we saw three boats cross the mouth of the harbour, and, after pulling in to the shore and waiting for some time, continue their course, accompanied by a number of canoes, to the oyster-beds. As soon as they were out of sight, we hove up the anchor and made sail, as had been arranged. Getting outside, we saw the brigantine lying directly in our course.

"With so many of her crew away, her skipper will not attempt to interfere with us," said Harry.

We were under all plain sail, and, as there was a good breeze, we ran quickly through the water as before, with men on the look-out forward, and the lead kept going. We could almost have thrown a biscuit aboard the brigantine as we passed her. Besides the captain, there were very few men on her deck.

"Good day, Captain Myers," said Harry. "We'll report your whereabouts at Sydney. Have you any message there?"

I need not repeat the answer the skipper gave. It was such as might have been expected from so thorough a ruffian. The next moment, stooping down, he lifted up a musket and presented it at us.

"If you fire so will I," I shouted; but before I could pull my trigger a bullet whistled past my ear. Providentially no one was hit. My bullet also flew wide of its mark; indeed, I was too much hurried to take aim.

"Don't fire again," cried Harry. "The man must be mad."

Probably no other musket was at hand, as the captain of the _Wasp did not again fire. In a short time we were out of range, and we had too much to do in attending to the navigation of the schooner to think just then much about the matter. From the number of rocks close to which we passed, I was thankful that we had not attempted to run out during the dark. At length we were in the open ocean, and, with a fair breeze, we steered to the westward.

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CHAPTER SEVEN. The breeze fell before we had entirely lost sight of the Pearl Islands, and, indeed, from aloft I could still make out the masts of the brigantine as she lay at anchor. It crossed my mind that Captain Myers might even now follow us; but I saw no indication of the vessel getting under weigh; still, daring ruffian as he appeared to be, he might be tempted to try and possess himself of the rich freight we carried. I did not mention the idea which had occurred to me to Harry, as there would be no use
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CHAPTER FIVE. We had now a continuance of fine weather, and day after day sailed over the calm ocean, the surface just rippled by a gentle breeze, generally so much in our favour that we were able to rig out our big square sail, and to carry a topmast studding-sail. Though it was near the line the heat was not very oppressive, unless when the wind fell altogether, and then it was hot. Though I speak of the ocean being calm, there was always a perceptible swell, more perceptible when we were on the weather-side of a coral reef,
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