Chapter 12 | Repairing Damages | Blue Jackets

Chapter Twelve.

For some moments I could not believe it true, and I stood on the thwart and gazed carefully round, scanning every fragment of the wreck in the expectation of seeing some trick to deceive us—men lying flat with only their faces above the surface of the water, and holding on by sweep or bamboo with one hand. But in a very short time we were all certain that not a living being was near; of the dead there were several, as we found on rowing here and there. One, as he was turned over, seemed to be perfectly uninjured, but the others displayed ghastly wounds in face, neck, and breast, showing how horribly fierce had been the encounter in which they had been engaged.

Satisfied at last that our task was at an end, the word was given, and the men began to row back to the Teaser, which still lay so transformed in appearance, as seen from a distance, that I was thinking that it was no wonder that the pirates had been deceived, when one of the men, forgetful of all the horrors through which we had passed, of his wounded comrade, and the dangerous prisoners under his feet, burst out into a merry fit of laughter.

“Say, lads,” he cried, “we shall have a nice job to-morrow, to wash the old girl’s face.”

The rest of the crew laughed in chorus, till the boatswain sternly bade them give way.

“I doubt it,” he said in a low voice to me. “I should say that the captain will do a little more to make her less ship-shape, ready for the next lot.”

“But you don’t think there are any more pirates, do you?”

“More!” he said, looking at me in surprise. “Why, my lad, the coast swarms with them. We never hear a hundredth part of the attacks they make. It is not only European vessels they seize, but anything that comes in their way. It strikes me, Mr Herrick, that we have only just begun what may turn out a very successful cruise.”

Ten minutes later we were nearing the Teaser, and I saw the reason why we could not see either of the other boats. They were swinging to the davits, and we were therefore the last.

Just then Mr Reardon hailed us.

“How many men hurt?” he shouted between his hands.

“Only one, sir; Barr—coxswain.”


“Oh no, sir,” shouted the sufferer. “Bit of a scrat on the back.”

“How many prisoners?”

“Four, sir.”

Then we were alongside, the boat was run up, and, after our wounded man had been lifted out, I stepped on board, eager to know the result of the action on the part of the other boats, and to learn this I went below, and found Barkins alone.

“Well,” I cried, “how many prisoners?”

“Round dozen,” he cried.

“Any one hurt?”

“Round dozen.”

“I know, twelve prisoners,” I said impatiently. “I asked you how many were hurt.”

“And I told you, stupid,” he replied, “a round dozen.”

“What! a man wounded for every prisoner?”

“That’s it; and we shouldn’t have taken any, the beggars were game for fighting to the last, if Mr Brooke hadn’t given the word for them to be knocked on the head first with the thick end of the oars.”

“To stun them?”

“Yes; and our lads got so savage after seeing their mates stabbed when trying to save the brutes’ lives, that they hit as hard as they could. They killed two of ’em, or we should have had fourteen.”

“How horrid!”

“Horrid? Why, I enjoyed it,” said my messmate. “When I saw poor old Blacksmith—”

“What!” I cried excitedly, “he isn’t hurt?”

“Not hurt? why, one yellow-faced savage, when poor old Smithy held out his hand to pull him aboard, took hold of his wrist, and then reached up and stuck his knife right through the poor old chap’s arm, and left it there.”

“Poor old Smithy!” I cried huskily, and a choking sensation rose in my throat. “I must go and see him.”

“No, you mustn’t. I’ve just been, and they sent me away.”

“But where is he?”

“Doctor’s got him, and been mending him up. He has gone to sleep now.”

“Was he very bad?”

“Stick a stocking-needle through your arm, and then square it, cube it, add decimal nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, and then see how you feel.”

“Poor old boy!” I said; “I am sorry.”

“Well, so am I,” said Barkins sourly; “but I don’t keep on howling.”

“Did they take the blackguard prisoner?”

“Well, they did, and hauled him aboard, but he was no good, and they pitched him overboard again.”

“Why?” I said wonderingly.

“Why! because he was dead. Bob Saunders, that red-haired chap, was in the stern-sheets helping to catch the beggars with hitches, and as soon as he saw the big yellow-faced wretch stick his knife into poor old Blacksmith, he let drive at the brute with the boat-hook, twisted it in his frock, and held him under water. He didn’t mean to, but he was savage at what he had seen, for the lads like Smithy, and he held the beggar under water too long.”

I shuddered, and thought of the man being bayoneted from our boat, and Mr Grey’s narrow escape.

“Your fellows behaved better, I s’pose?” said Barkins.

“Not a bit,” I said. “We’ve got a man stabbed just in the same way—” and I told him of our adventures.

“They’re nice ones,” said Barkins sourly. “I don’t think our chaps will want to take many prisoners next time. But I say, what a crusher for them—all four junks, and not a man to go back and tell the tale.”

“It’s glorious,” I cried, forgetting the horrors in our triumph.

“For you,” said Barkins sourly.

“Why for me? You and poor old Smith did your part. Don’t be so jolly envious.”

“Envious? Come, I like that,” he cried. “If you felt as if something red-hot was being stuck in your leg you’d feel envious too. You’re the luckiest beggar that ever was, and never get hurt or anything.”

“No more do you,” I said, laughing.

“Oh, don’t I? What do you call that, then?” he cried, swinging his legs round, for he was sitting with one of them under the table.

To my horror and astonishment, I saw that his leg was bandaged, and a red stain was showing through.

“Why, Tanner, old chap,” I cried, catching his hand as my eyes were blurred; “I didn’t know you were hurt.”

He looked quite pleased at my weakness, and the emotion I showed.

“Oh, it ain’t much,” he said, smiling and holding on to my hand very tightly; “but it pringles and sticks a bit, I mean stingles—no, I don’t! My tongue’s getting all in a knot, it tingles and pricks a bit. I say, Gnat, old chap, you don’t think those chaps carry poisoned knives, do you?”

“What, like the Malays? Oh no.”

“I’m glad of that, because it made me feel a bit funky. I thought this stinging might mean the poison spreading.”

“Oh no, don’t think that,” I cried; “and some one told me a Malay prince said it was all nonsense about the knives being poisoned.”

“He did?”

“Yes; he laughed, and said there was no need to poison them, they were quite sharp enough to kill a man without.”

“That depends on where you put it in,” said Barkins grimly.

“Yes,” I said; “but what did the doctor say?”

“What about?”

“Your leg.”

“He hasn’t seen it yet.”

“Why, Tanner,” I cried, “you haven’t had it properly bandaged.”

“No; I felt so sick when I got on board, that I sneaked off here to lie down a bit. Besides, he had poor old Blacksmith to see to, and the other chaps.”

“But didn’t he see the bandage when you went there?”

“No; there was no bandage then. It’s only a bit of a scratch; I tied it up myself.”

“How was it?”

“I don’t hardly know. It was done in a scuffle somehow, when we had got the first prisoner in hand. He began laying about him with a knife, and gave it to two of our lads badly, and just caught me in the leg. It was so little that I didn’t like to make a fuss about it. Here, stop, don’t leave a chap. I want to talk to you.”

“Back directly,” I cried, and I hurried on deck so quickly that I nearly blundered up against Mr Reardon.

“Manners, midshipman!” he said sharply. “Stop, sir. Where are you going?”

“Doctor, sir.”

“What, are you hurt, my lad?” he cried anxiously.

“No, sir, but poor Barkins is.”

“Bless my soul, how unfortunate! Mr Smith down too! Where is he?”

I told him, and he hurried with me to the doctor, who was putting on his coat, after finishing the last dressing of the injured men.

“Here, doctor,” cried Mr Reardon sharply, “I’ve another man down—boy, I mean.”

“What, young Smith? I’ve dressed his wound.”

“No, no; Barkins has been touched too.”

“Tut, tut!” cried the doctor, taking up a roll of bandage. “Are they bringing him?”

“No, sir; he’s sitting by his berth. He tied up the wound himself.”

Without another word the doctor started off, and we followed to where Barkins sat by the table with his back leaning against the side of his berth, and as soon as he caught sight of us he darted a reproachful look at me.

“Oh, I say, Gnat,” he whispered, “this is too bad.” For the doctor had raised the leg, and, after taking off the handkerchief, roughly tied round just above the knee, made no scruple about slitting up the lad’s trousers with an ugly-looking knife, having a hooky kind of blade.

“Bad?” said Mr Reardon anxiously.

“Oh dear, no,” replied the doctor. “Nice clean cut. Sponge and water, youngster. Ha, yes,” he continued, as he applied the cool, soft sponge to the bleeding wound, “avoided all the vessels nicely.”

“Gnat, old chap,” whispered Barkins, as I half supported him, “pinch me, there’s a good fellow.”

“What for?” I whispered back.

“Feel sicky and queer. Don’t let me faint before him.”

“Here, hallo! Barkins, don’t turn like a great girl over a scratch—lower his head down, boy. That’s the way. He’ll soon come round. Ever see a wound dressed before?”

“No, sir,” I said, repressing a shudder.

“Don’t tease the boys, doctor,” said Mr Reardon sharply; “get the wound dressed.”

“Well, I am dressing it, arn’t I?” said the doctor cheerily, and as if he enjoyed his task. “I must draw the edges together first.”

He had taken what seemed to be a pocket-book from his breast and laid it open, and as I looked on, feeling sick myself, I saw him really put in three or four stitches, and then strap up and bandage the wound, just as Barkins came to and looked about wonderingly.

“I didn’t faint, did I?” he said anxiously.

The doctor laughed.

“There, lie down in your berth,” he said. “Let me help you.”

He assisted my messmate gently enough, and then said laughingly—

“One can dress your wound without having three men to hold you. I say, Reardon, isn’t it waste of good surgical skill for me to be dressing the prisoners’ wounds, if you folk are going to hang them?”

“I don’t know that we are going to hang them,” said the lieutenant quietly. “Perhaps we shall deliver them over to the Chinese authorities at Wanghai.”

“What? My dear fellow, go and beg the captain to hang ’em at once out of their misery. It will be a kindness. Do you know what a Chinese prison is?”


“Then I do. It would be a mercy to kill them.”

“The Chinese authorities may wish to make an example of them so as to repress piracy.”

“Let ’em make an example of some one else. Eh? Bandage too tight, my lad?”

“No, sir,” said Barkins rather faintly. “The wound hurts a good deal.”

“Good sign; ’tis its nature to,” said the doctor jocosely.

“But—er—you don’t think, sir—”

“‘That you may die after it,’ as we used to say over cut fingers at school. Bah! it’s a nice clean honest cut, made with a sharp knife. Heal up like anything with your healthy young flesh.”

“But don’t these savage people sometimes poison their blades, sir?”

“Don’t people who are wounded for the first time get all kinds of cock-and-bull notions into their heads, sir? There, go to sleep and forget all about it. Healthy smarting is what you feel. Why, you’ll be able to limp about the deck with a stick to-morrow.”

“Do you mean it, sir?”

“Of course.”

Barkins gave him a grateful look, and Mr Reardon shook hands, nodded, and left us to ourselves for a moment, then the doctor thrust in his head again.

“Here, lads,” he said, “Smith’s all right, I’ve made a capital job of his arm. Your turn next, Herrick. Good-bye.”

This time we were left alone.