Chapter 3 | Cutting it Close | Blue Jackets

Chapter Three.

My messmate uttered these words close to my ears in a despairing tone as we dashed on, and now I saw Ching strike to his right, while I made a cut or two at my left, as men started from the sides and tried to trip us up.

I was growing faint with the heat down in that narrow, breathless street, my clothes stuck to me, and Barkins’ heavy telescope banged heavily against my side, making me feel ready to unfasten the strap and let it fall. But I kept on for another fifty yards or so with our enemies yelling in the rear, and the waterside seeming to grow no nearer.

“Keep together, lads,” cried Barkins excitedly. “It can’t be far now. We’ll seize the first boat we come to, and the tide will soon take us out of their reach.”

But these words came in a broken, spasmodic way, for, poor fellow, he was as out of breath as any of us.

“Hoolay! Velly lit’ way now,” cried Ching; and then he finished with a howl of rage, for half-a-dozen armed men suddenly appeared from a gateway below us, and we saw at a glance that they were about to take sides with the rest.

“Lun—lun,” yelled Ching, and, flourishing his sword, he led us right at the newcomers, who, startled and astounded by our apparent boldness, gave way, and we panted on, utterly exhausted, for another fifty yards, till Ching suddenly stopped in an angle of the street formed by a projecting house.

“No lun. No, no!” he panted. “Fight—kill.”

Following his example, we faced round, and our bold front checked the miserable gang of wretches, who stopped short a dozen yards from us, their numbers swelled by the new party, and waited yelling and howling behind the swordsmen, who stood drawing up their sleeves, and brandishing their heavy weapons, working themselves up for the final rush, in which I knew we should be hacked to pieces.

“Good-bye, old chap,” whispered Barkins in a piteous tone, his voice coming in sobs of exhaustion. “Give point when they come on: don’t strike. Try and kill one of the cowardly beggars before they finish us.”

“Yes,” I gasped.

“Chuck that spyglass down,” cried Smith; “it’s in your way.”

Gladly enough I swung the great telescope round, slipped the strap over my head, and as I did so I saw a sudden movement in the crowd.

In an instant the experience we had had upon the river flashed across my brain. I recalled how the crew of the great tea-boat had dropped away from her high stern when Barkins had used the glass, and for the first time I grasped why this had been.

My next actions were in a mad fit of desperate mischief more than anything else. For, recalling that I had a few flaming fusees in my jacket pocket, I snatched out the box, secured one; then, taking off the cap, which hung by a strap, I pulled the brass and leather telescope out to its full extent, presented the large end at the mob, uttered as savage a yell as I could and struck a fusee, which went off with a crack, and flashed and sparkled with plenty of blaze.

The effect was instantaneous. Mistaking the big glass, which had been a burden to me all day, for some terrible new form of gun, the swordsmen uttered a wild yell of horror, and turned and fled, driving the unarmed mob before them, all adding their savage cries of dread.

“Hoor-rah,” shouted Barkins. “Now, boys, a Yankee tiger. Waggle the glass well, Gnat. All together. Hurrah—rah—rah—rah—rah!”

We produced as good an imitation of the American cheer as we could, and Ching supplemented it with a hideous crack-voiced yell, while I raised and lowered the glass and struck another match.

As we looked up the street we could see part of the mob still running hard, but the swordsmen had taken refuge to right and left, in doorways, angles, and in side shops, and were peering round at us, watching every movement.

“No’ laugh!” said Ching anxiously. “Big fool. Think um bleech-loader. Now, come ’long, walkee walkee blackward. I go first.”

It was good advice, and we began our retreat, having the street to ourselves for the first minute. My messmates supported me on either side, and we walked backward with military precision.

“Well done, gun carriage,” panted Barkins to me. “I say, Blacksmith, who says the old glass isn’t worth a hundred pounds now?”

“Worth a thousand,” cried Smith excitedly. “But look out, they’re coming out of their holes again.”

I made the object-glass end describe a circle in the air as we slowly backed, and the swordsmen darted away to the shelters they had quitted to follow us as they saw us in retreat. But as there was no report, and they saw us escaping, they began to shout one to the other, and ran to and fro, zig-zagging down the street after us, each man darting across to a fresh place of shelter. And as the retreat went on, and no report with a rush of bullets tore up the street, the men gained courage; the mob high up began to gather again. Then there was distant yelling and shouting, and the danger seemed to thicken.

“Is it much farther, Ching?” cried Barkins.

“Yes, velly long way,” he replied. “No’ got no levolvers?”

“No, I wish I had.”

“Fine levolver bull-dog in fancee shop, and plenty cahtlidge. Walkee fast.”

We were walking backwards as fast as we could, and the danger increased. In place of running right across now from shelter to shelter, the big swordsmen stopped from time to time on their way to flourish their weapons, yell, indulge in a kind of war-dance, and shout out words we did not understand.

“What do they say, Ching?” asked Smith.

“Say chop all in lit’ small piece dilectly.”

“Look here,” cried Barkins, as the demonstrations increased, and the wretches now began to gather on each side of the street as if threatening a rush, “let’s stop and have a shot at ’em.”

“No, no,” cried Ching, “won’t go off blang.”

“Never mind, we’ll pretend it will. Halt!”

We stopped, so did our enemies, and, in imitation of the big gun practice on board ship, Barkins shouted out order after order, ending with, Fire!

Smith held the flaming fusees now, and at the word struck one with a loud crackle, just as we were beginning to doubt the efficacy of our ruse, for the enemy were watching us keenly; and, though some of them moved uneasily and threatened to run for shelter, the greater part stood firm.

But at the loud crackle and flash of the fusee, and Smith’s gesture to lay it close to the eye-piece, they turned and fled yelling once more into the houses on either side, from which now came an addition to the noise, in the shrill howls and shrieks of women, who were evidently resenting the invasion of all these men.

“Now, walkee far,” cried Ching. “No good no mo’. Allee fun lun out. No be big fool any longer.”

We felt that he was right, and retreated as fast as we could, but still backward, mine being the duty to keep the mouth of our sham cannon to bear upon them as well as the blundering backward through the mudholes of the dirty street would allow.

That street seemed to be endless to us in our excitement, and the feeling that our guide must be taking us wrong began to grow upon me, for I made no allowances for the long distance we had gone over in the morning, while now it grew more and more plain, by the actions of our pursuers, that they were to be cheated no more. The dummy had done its duty, and I felt that I might just as well throw it away and leave myself free, as expect the glass to scare the enemy away again.

“We shall have to make a rush for it,” said Barkins at last; “but it is hard now we have got so near to safety. Shall I try the telescope again, Ching?”

“No, no good,” said our guide gloomily. “Hi, quick all along here.”

He made a dash for the front of a house, which seemed to offer some little refuge for us in the shape of a low fencing, behind which we could protect ourselves; for all at once there was a new development of the attack, the mob having grown during the last few minutes more daring, and now began to throw mud and stones.

Ching’s sudden dash had its effect upon them, for when he ran they set up a howl of triumph, and as we dashed after our guide they suddenly altered their tactics, ceased stone-throwing, and, led by the swordsmen, charged down upon us furiously.

“It’s all over,” groaned Smith, as we leaped over the low fence and faced round.

And so it seemed to be, for the next minute we were stopping and dodging the blows aimed at us. It was all one wild confusion to me, in which I saw through a mist the gleaming eyes and savage faces of the mob. Then, above their howlings, and just as I was staggering back from a heavy blow which I received from a great sword, which was swept round with two hands and caught me with a loud jar on the side, I heard a familiar cheer, and saw the man who had struck me go down backwards, driven over as it were by a broad-bladed spear. As I struggled to my knees, I saw the savage mob in full flight, chased by a dozen blue-jackets, who halted and ran back to where we were, in obedience to a shrill whistle. Then—it was all more misty to me—two strong arms were passed under mine; I saw Smith treated in the same way; and, pursued by the crowd howling like demons, we were trotted at the double down the street to the wharf, which was after all close at hand, and swung down into the boat.

“Push off!” shouted a familiar voice, and the wharf and the crowd began to grow distant, but stones flew after us till the officer in command fired shot after shot from his revolver over the heads of the crowd, which then took to flight.

“What are we to do with the prisoner, sir—chuck him overboard?”

“Prisoner?” cried the officer in charge of the boat.

“Yes, sir, we got him, sword and all. He’s the chap as come aboard yesterday.”

“Yes,” I panted as I sat up, breathing painfully, “it’s Ching. He’s our friend.”

“Yes, flend, evelibody fiend,” cried Ching. “Wantee go shore. Fancee shop.”

“Go ashore?” said the officer.

“Yes, walkee shore.”

“But if I set you ashore amongst that howling mob, they’ll cut you to pieces.”

“Ching ’flaid so. Allee bad man. Wantee kill young offlicer.”

“And he fought for us, Mr Brown, like a brick,” said Barkins.

“Then we must take him aboard for the present.”

“Yes, go ’board, please,” said Ching plaintively. “Not my sword—b’long mandalin man.”

“Let’s see where you’re wounded,” said the officer, as the men rowed steadily back towards the Teaser.

“I—I don’t think I’m wounded,” I panted, “but it hurts me rather to breathe.”

“Why, I saw one of the brutes cut you down with his big sword,” cried Smith.

“Yes,” I said, “I felt it, but, but—yes, of course: it hit me here.”

“Oh, murder!” cried Smith. “Look here, Tanner. Your glass has got it and no mistake.”

It had “got it” and no mistake, for the blow from the keen sword had struck it at a sharp angle, and cut three parts of the way through the thick metal tube, which had been driven with tremendous force against my ribs.

“Oh, Gnat!” cried Barkins, as he saw the mischief, “it’s quite spoilt. What a jolly shame!”

“But it saved his life,” said Smith, giving him a meaning nod. “I wouldn’t have given much for his chance, if he hadn’t had that telescope under his arm. I say, Mr Brown, why was the gun fired?”

“To bring you all on board. Captain’s got some information. Look, we’ve weighed anchor, and we’re off directly—somewhere.”

“But what about Ching?” I said to Barkins.

“Ching! Well, he’ll be safe on board and unsafe ashore. I don’t suppose we shall be away above a day. I say, Ching, you’ll have to stop.”

“Me don’t mind. Velly hungly once more. Wantee pipe and go sleepee. Velly tire. Too much fightee.”

We glided alongside of the gunboat the next minute, where Mr Reardon was waiting for us impatiently.

“Come, young gentlemen,” he cried, “you’ve kept us waiting two hours. Up with you. Good gracious, what a state you’re in! Nice addition to a well-dishiplined ship! and—here, what’s the meaning of this?” he cried, as the boat rose to the davits. “Who is this Chinese boy?”

“Velly glad get ’board,” said the man, smiling at the important officer. “All along big fight. Me Ching.”