Chapter 28 | Ching Has a Note | Blue Jackets

Chapter Twenty Eight.

I suppose that Mr Reardon thought better of his threat, or probably he came to the conclusion that the expectation of punishment would prove as effective as the punishment itself. At all events nothing was said, and the routine of the ship went on as usual. The decks were scrubbed, the guns polished, and the marines drilled, till, as Barkins said, they could walk up to the top of a ladder and down the other side without touching.

The Jacks, too, had their gun drill and sword exercise, till their cutlasses flashed about with an exactness that promised to shave a head without cutting off an ear—promised: the performance might have been another thing.

As soon as I had an opportunity I started to go below and see Ching, but before I was half-way there I ran against Smith.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?”

“To see how Ching’s getting on.”

“Did you put on a clean shirt?”

“No,” I said innocently. “I can’t stand one every day.”

“Oh, come, this won’t do!” cried Smith. “Here, hi, Barkins!”

“What’s the row?” said our messmate, coming up.

“Row enough. Look here, this won’t do. The Gnat’s going below to see His Excellency Ching Baron fancee shop, and Knight of the Tow-chang, without putting on a clean shirt.”

“Go and report him to the captain. Why, worse and worse, he hasn’t shaved!”

“No, that he hasn’t.”

“Well, I haven’t got any razors like you fellows have,” I retorted. “I say, Tanner, have you stropped yours up lately? Smithy’s are getting rusty with the sea air.”

“You’re getting rusty with the sea air,” grumbled Smith, who was very proud of the possession of a pair of razors with Sunday and Monday etched on the blades. He had once or twice shown them to me, saying that they were a present from his father, who was going to leave him the other five, which completed the days of the week, in his will.

I remember how I offended him at the time by saying—

“Well, that will be quite as soon as you want them.”

“Look here,” said Smith rather haughtily, after a look at Barkins; “we’ve been talking this business over, and it is time it was stopped.”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“Oh, you know well enough. You came on board the Teaser to take your place as an officer and a gentleman, and we your seniors received you in a gentlemanly way.”

“Yes, you were right enough,” I said. “A bit cocky and bounceable at first, till you found that I wouldn’t stand it, and then you were both civil.”

“Well, I am blessed!” cried Barkins, blowing out his cheeks and looking down at me. “Of all the impudent little cockboats of boys you are about the most cheeky. Pretty strong turn that for a Gnat, Smithy.”

“Yes; we shall have to put him down, and the sooner the better. Will you speak to him, or shall I?”

“Oh, I’m just in the humour for it,” said Barkins; “so I’ll give him his dose at once. Look here, young fellow: as aforesaid, when you interrupted, we received you as gentlemen should, and have taken great care of you, and tried to smooth you down into something like a budding officer.”

“Thank you,” I said humbly; “I’m so grateful.”

“And so you ought to be, sir. But look here, what in the name of thunder do you mean by forsaking us and taking to bad company?”

“Who does?”

“Why, you do, sir. Smithy and I talked it over last night, and we both agreed that you’re never happy unless you’re along with the forecastle Jacks, or sneaking about with old Ching.”

“Get out!” I said indignantly.

“None of your impudence, sir, because that won’t do. It’s come to this: either you’ve got to give up low society, or high.”

“Which is which?” I said.


“I said which is which? Do you mean you two fellows are high society?”

“Do you hear this beggar, Smithy?”

“Oh yes, I hear him. Isn’t it awful to find so much depravity in such a small body? But keep him to it, and make him speak. He has got to choose.”

“Yes, you’ve got to choose, Gnat. We can’t have a brother officer always associating with the low Chinee.”

“Do you mean that I oughtn’t to go and see the poor fellow now he’s below ill?”

“Something of the sort: you’re not a doctor. Of course he ought to visit the men.”

“So ought an officer when his men are in trouble.”

“Yes; but not to make friends of them. It won’t do, Gnat, and we’ve made up our minds not to stand it. That will do now. You have heard what I had to say, and I hope you will profit by it.”

I burst out into a roar of laughter, for Barkins’ assumption of dignity was comic.

“What do you mean by that, sir?” he cried in an offended tone.

“Second-hand captain’s rowing!” I cried. “Why, I heard him say those very words to you.”

“Hi! stop!” cried Smith, as Barkins turned red with annoyance. “Where are you going, sir?”

“Down below to see Ching,” I replied coolly; and I descended the companion-ladder to where the man lay.

He was looking very yellow and gloomy, but as soon as he caught sight of me his face lit up.

“You come along see Ching?” he said in his high voice; and upon my nodding— “Velly glad. Doctor say stop along, velly much, not gettee up to-day.”

“But you are ever so much better?”

“Yes, quite well. Not velly wet now. Captain velly closs Ching tumb’ overboard?”

“No, he hasn’t said anything.”

“Ching velly glad. You go tell captain something?”

“What about?” I said.

“Ching get lettee flom fliend.”

“That’s right,” I said. “How is he?”

“Velly glad you catchee pilate.”

“Oh, he is, is he?”

“Yes, velly muchee glad, and send lettee.”

“Yes, you said so.”

“Allee ’bout pilates.”

He took a piece of paper from somewhere and handed it to me.

“You no lead lettee?”

I shook my head as I glanced at the queer Chinese characters.

“No; what does he say about the pirates?”

“Say two muchee big junk in river going to sail, catchee tea-ship, lice-ship, silkee-ship.”

“Going to sail from here?” I cried.


“But how does he know?”

“Know evelyting. Muchee big man. Wantee catchee more pilate.”

“But do you mean your friend knows of these junks sailing?”


“When did you get the letter?”

“Chinese coolie bling lettee in flesh-vegetable boat.”

“What, this morning?”

“Yes, bling lettee.”

“When are the junks going to sail?”

“No know. Keepee watchee and catchee.”

I sat thinking for a few moments, and I made up my mind to go and tell the first lieutenant, but found the Chinaman looking at me smiling the while.

“You likee this?” he said, holding out a tiny thin stoppered bottle, covered with Chinese characters.

“Like it? No. What for?”

“Velly good. Headache: lub lit’ dlop here. Toothache: lub lit’ dlop there. Got pain anywhere, lub lit’ dlop.”

I took out the stopper and smelt it.

“Smell velly good; all nicee.”

“Why, it smells of peppermint drops,” I said carelessly.

“Yes, smell beautiful, all peppimint. Velly gleat stlong. Muchee lit’ dlop, so.”

He took the bottle, drew out the stopper, and covered the neck with one finger, turned the vial upside down, and then rubbed the tiny drop of moisture upon his temples, replaced the stopper, and gave it back to me.

“Thank you, Ching,” I said, placing it in my pocket, but without valuing the gift in the slightest degree. “I’m going now to tell the first lieutenant what you say.”

“Yes, tell Mr Leardon watchee watchee, killee allee pilate.”

“Yes,” I said; and I hurried away, muttering, “Watchee watchee, killee. What stuff they do talk! Any one would think they were all big babies, who had been taught to speak English by a nurse.”

As I reached the deck I saw Barkins and Smith standing by the first lieutenant, and he was nodding his head.

“Why, they’ve been telling him about me,” I thought as I went aft. “No; they wouldn’t be such sneaks.”

But all doubt was at an end directly, for they came down to meet me, and Smith cried—

“Mr Reardon wants to speak to you directly, Herrick;” while, as I looked up and caught Barkins’ eye, he coloured a little, and hurriedly avoided my gaze.

“Thank you, tale-bearer,” I said to Smith.

“Don’t you be insolent, sir, unless you wish me to give you a severe thrashing.”

“With fists?” I said.

“Yes, sir, with fists. I suppose the rules of the service will not allow us to use such weapons as officers are accustomed to.”

“Do you mean officers like you?” I said contemptuously.

“Yes, sir; officers like me.”

“Oh, you mean knives and forks, then,” I said carelessly. “I say, Barkins, I didn’t think you could have been such a jerry sneak.”

He turned upon me with an apologetic look, but his lips began to bluster.

“What do you mean, sir?”

“Oh, nothing; I am not going to quarrel with old Barkins. He wouldn’t have done this, if it had not been for Blacksmith.”

“Go and obey the first lieutenant’s orders, sir,” said Smith haughtily. “We will talk to you later on.”

“You go and show Doctor Price your arms and legs,” I said contemptuously and spitefully; for, to use a common phrase, my monkey was up. “Fight? With fists? Where are your muscles? Why, I could upset you both with a swab.”

I hurried aft, and ran up the steps to the quarter-deck in time to encounter the first lieutenant, who was coming from the wheel with an angry look upon his face.