Chapter 15 | A Disappointment | Blue Jackets

Chapter Fifteen.

“Very jolly for you,” said Barkins, as we cast anchor off Tsin-Tsin a couple of mornings later. “You’ll be going ashore and enjoying yourself, while I’m condemned to hobble on deck with a stick.”

“I say, don’t grumble,” I cried. “Look how beautiful the place seems in the sunshine.”

“Oh yes, it looks right enough; but wait till you go along the narrow streets, and get some of the smells.”

“Hear that, Smithy?” I said to our comrade, who was lying in his berth. “Grumbles because he can’t go ashore, and then begins making out how bad it is. How about the fox and the grapes?”

“If you call me fox, my lad, I’ll give you sour grapes when I get better. Where’s your glass?”

I took down my telescope, adjusted it for him, and pushed his seat nearer to the open window, so that he could examine the bright-looking city, with the blue plum-bloom tinted mountains behind covered with dense forest, and at the shipping of all nations lying at the mouth of the river.

“S’pose that tower’s made of crockery, isn’t it?” said Barkins, whose eye was at the end of the telescope.

I looked at the beautiful object, with its pagoda-like terraces and hanging bells, and then at the various temples nestling high up on the sides of the hills beyond.

“I say,” said Smith, “can’t you tell Mr Reardon—no, get the doctor to tell him—that I ought to be taken ashore for a bit to do me good?”

“I’ll ask him to let you go,” I said; but Smith shook his head, and then screwed up his white face with a horrible look of disgust.

“Oh, what a shame!” he cried. “He gets all the luck;” for a message came for me to be ready directly to go ashore with the captain in the longboat.

It meant best uniform, for the weather was fine, and I knew that he would be going to pay a visit to some grand mandarin.

I was quite right; for, when I reached the deck a few minutes later, there was Mr Brooke with the boat’s crew, all picked men, and a strong guard of marines in full plumage for his escort.

The captain came out of his cabin soon after, with cocked hat and gold lace glistening, and away we went for the shore soon after; the last things I saw on the Teaser being the two disconsolate faces of my messmates at the cabin window, and Ching perched up on the hammock-rail watching our departure.

I anticipated plenty of excitement that day, but was doomed to disappointment. I thought I should go with the escort to the mandarin’s palace, but Mr Brooke was considered to be more attractive, I suppose, and I had the mortification of seeing the captain and his escort of marines and Jacks land, while I had to stay with the boat-keepers to broil in the sunshine and make the best of it, watching the busy traffic on the great river.

Distance lends enchantment to the view of a Chinese city undoubtedly, and before long we were quite satiated with the narrow limits of our close-in view, as well as with the near presence of the crowd of rough-looking fellows who hung about and stared, as I thought, rather contemptuously at the junior officer in Her Majesty’s service, who was feeling the thwarts of the boat and the hilt of his dirk most uncomfortably hot.

“Like me to go ashore, sir, to that Chinesy sweetstuff shop, to get you one o’ their sweet cool drinks, sir?” said one of the men, after we had sat there roasting for some time.

“No, thank you, Tom Jecks,” I said, in as sarcastic a tone as I could assume. “Mr Barkins says you are such a forgetful fellow, and you mightn’t come back before the captain.”

There was a low chuckling laugh at this, and then came a loud rap.

“What’s that?” I said sharply.

“This here, sir,” said another of the men. “Some ’un’s been kind enough to send it. Shall I give it him back?”

“No, no!” I cried, looking uneasily shoreward; and at that moment a stone, as large as the one previously sent, struck me a sharp blow on the leg.

“They’re a-making cockshies of us, sir,” said Tom Jecks; “better let two of us go ashore and chivvy ’em off.”

“Sit still, man, and—”


“Oh, scissors!” cried a sailor; “who’s to sit still, sir, when he gets a squad on the back like that? Why, I shall have a bruise as big as a hen’s egg.”

“Oars! push off!” I said shortly, as half-a-dozen stones came rattling into the boat; and as we began to move away from the wharf quite a burst of triumphant yells accompanied a shower of stones and refuse.

“That’s their way o’ showing how werry much obliged they are to us for sinking the pirates,” growled Tom Jecks. “Oh, don’t I wish we had orders to bombard this blessed town! Go it! That didn’t hit you, did it, sir?”

“No, it only brushed my cap,” I said, as the stones began to come more thickly, and the shouting told of the keen delight the mob enjoyed in making the English retreat. “Pull away, my lads, and throw the grapnel over as soon as we are out of reach.”

“But we don’t want to pull away, sir. They thinks we’re fear’d on ’em. There’s about a hundred on ’em—dirty yaller-faced beggars, and there’s four o’ us, without counting you. Just you give the word, sir, and we’ll row back in spite o’ their stones, and make the whole gang on ’em run. Eh, mates?”

“Ay, ay!” said the others, lying on their oars.

“Pull!” I cried sharply, and they began rowing again; for though I should have liked to give the word, I knew that it would not only have been madness, but disobedience of orders. My duty was to take care of the boat, and this I was doing by having it rowed out beyond stone-throwing reach, with the Union Jack waving astern; and as soon as the stones fell short, and only splashed the water yards away, I had the grapnel dropped overboard, and we swung to it, waiting for the captain’s return.

The men sat chewing their tobacco, lolling in the sun, and I lay back watching the crowd at the edge of the water, wondering how long the captain and his escort would be, and whether the prisoners would be given up.

“Hope none o’ them pigtailed varmint won’t shy mud at the skipper,” said one of the men, yawning.

“I hope they will,” said Tom Jecks.

“Why, mate?”

“’Cause he’ll order the jollies to fix bayonets and feel some o’ their backs with the p’ints.”

The conversation interested me, and I forgot my dignity as an officer, and joined in.

“Bayonets make bad wounds, Jecks,” I said.

“Yes, sir, they do; nasty three-side wounds, as is bad to get healed up again. They aren’t half such a nice honest weapon as a cutlash. But I should like to see them beggars get a prod or two.”

“It might mean trouble, Jecks, and a big rising of the people against the English merchants and residents.”

“Well, sir, that would be unpleasant for the time, but look at the good it would do! The British consul would send off to the Teaser, the skipper would land a lot on us—Jacks and jollies; we should give these warmint a good sharp dressing-down; and they’d know as we wouldn’t stand any of their nonsense, and leave off chucking stones and mud at us. Now, what had we done that we couldn’t be ’lowed to lie alongside o’ the wharf yonder? We didn’t say nothing to them. Fact is, sir, they hates the British, and thinks they’re a sooperior kind o’ people altogether. Do you hear, mates?—sooperior kind o’ people; and there ain’t one as could use a knife and fork like a Chrishtian.”

“And goes birds’-nestin’ when they wants soup,” said another.

“Well, I don’t fall foul o’ that, matey,” said Jecks; “’cause where there’s nests there’s eggs, and a good noo-laid egg ain’t bad meat. It’s the nastiness o’ their natur’ that comes in there, and makes ’em eat the nest as well. What I do holler at, is their cooking dog.”

“And cat,” said another.

“And rat,” cried the third.

“Yes, all on ’em,” said Jecks; “and I don’t want to use strong language afore one’s orficer, who’s a young gent as is allers thoughtful about his men, and who’s beginning to think now, that with the sun so precious hot he’ll be obliged to order us ashore soon for a drop o’ suthin’ to drink.”

I laughed, and Tom Jecks chuckled.

“But what I do say about their eatin’ and cookin’ is this, and I stands by what I says, it’s beastly, that’s what it is—it’s beastly!”

“Ay, ay,” was chorussed, “so it is;” and then there was silence, while we all sat uneasily in the broiling sun.

“Wish I was a gal,” growled one of the men at last.

“Ain’t good-looking enough, matey,” said Jecks. “Why?”

“’Cause then I s’ould have a sunshade to put up.”

“Ay, ’tis warm—brylin’, as you may say. Any on you know whether the Chinese is cannibals? You know, sir?”

“I have heard that they cook very strange things now and then,” I said, laughing.

“Then they is,” said Jecks; “and that being so, they’ll have a fine chance to-day. Hadn’t you better send word to some on ’em to lay the cloth, sir?”

“What for?”

“’Cause I’m nearly done, sir; and Billy Wakes looks quite. Billy ought to eat nice and joocy, messmates.”

“And old Tom Jecks tough as leather,” cried Wakes.

“That’s so, matey,” growled Jecks, who began to pass his tongue over his lips, and to make a smacking sound with his mouth.

“My hye, matey, you do seem hungry,” said one of the others. “Look out, Billy, or he won’t leave John Chinaman a taste.”

“Get out!” growled Jecks; “that don’t mean hungry, messmate—that means dry. Beg pardon, sir, we won’t none on us try to slope off; but a good drink o’ suthin’, if it was on’y water, would be a blessin’ in disguise just now.”

“Yes, Jecks, I’m thirsty too,” I said.

“Then why not let us pull ashore, sir, and get a drink at one o’ them Chinee imitation grog-shops yonder?”

“Because it would be a breach of discipline, my man,” I said, trying to speak very sternly. “I should look nice if the captain came back and found me with the boat and no men.”

“Hark at that now!” cried Jecks. “Just as if we’d be the chaps to get a good-natured kind young orficer into a scrape. Look here, sir, put Billy Wakes ashore to go and fetch some drink. My hye, what we would give for half-a-gallon o’ real good cool solid old English beer.”

“Ha!” came in a deep sigh, and I could not help feeling that a glass just then would be very nice.

“Will you give the order, sir?” said Jecks insinuatingly. “Billy Wakes is a werry trustworthy sort of chap.”

“Yes,” I said; “but he’d forget to come back, and then I should have to send you to find him, and then the others to find you. I know. There, you can light your pipes if you like.”

“And werry thankful for small mussies,” said the old sailor, taking out his pipe. “You won’t want no matches, lads. Fill up and hold the bowls in the sun.”

They lit up, and began smoking, while I watched the long narrow street down which the captain and his escort must come.

“Think we shall have to land the prisoners, sir?” said Jecks, after a smoky silence.

“I suppose so,” I replied. “I expect that is what the captain has gone ashore about.”

“Don’t seem much good, that, sir. We takes ’em, and they’ll let ’em go, to start a fresh lot o’ plundering junks.”

“Thundering junks, matey?” said Billy Wakes.

“I said plundering, Billy, and meant it. Your eddication ain’t what it oughter be.”

“No, Jecks,” I said; “if the pirates are given up, they’ll be executed for certain.”

“Who says so, sir?”

“First lieutenant,” I said.

“Well, he ought to know, sir. Been on the Chinee station afore. P’raps it’s best, but I don’t want ’em to be hung.”

“Don’t hang ’em here, Tommy,” growled one of the two silent men.

“What do they do, then, old know-all?”

“Chops their heads off, I’ve heerd.”

“Oh, well, I don’t want ’em to have their heads chopped off. How should we like it if we was took prisoners?”

“Oh, but we arn’t Chinees,” growled Billy Wakes.

“Nor arn’t likely to be, mate; but we’ve got heads all the same. I know how I should like to be executed if it was to-day.”

The others looked up, and I could not help turning my head at the strangely-expressed desire.

“I’ll tell yer,” said Jecks, looking hard at me. “I should like it to be same as they did that young chap as we reads of in history. They drowned him in a big tub o’ wine.”

“Grog would do for me,” said Billy Wakes.

“Or beer,” cried the others.

“Ask the captain to let you have some tea,” I cried, “Quick, haul up the grapnel! Here they come!”

Pipes were knocked out on the instant, the grapnel hauled up, and oars seized; but, in spite of urging on the men, I saw to my vexation that the captain had reached the landing-place first, and I kept him waiting nearly five minutes in the broiling sun.

He did not say anything, only glared at me as he stepped in, followed by his escort. The oars were dropped, and, as we began to row back to the Teaser, I saw that his face was scarlet with the heat, and he looked in a regular temper.

“I shall catch it,” I thought to myself; but the very next moment my attention was taken to the shore, where a yell of derision arose from the crowd gathered to see the officers embark.

“Brutes!” muttered the captain; and then he sprang up in a rage, for a shower of stones came pattering into the boat, and splashing up the water all round.

He was so enraged by the insult, that he ordered the marines to load, and a volley of twelve rifles was fired over the people’s heads.

The result was that they all ran helter-skelter, tumbling over each other, and by the time they returned and began throwing again we were out of their reach, but they kept on hurling stones and refuse all the same, and shouting “Foreign devils!” in their own tongue.