Chapter 35 | Mr Brooke’s Error | Blue Jackets

Chapter Thirty Five.

“I did not see either of those craft with sails,” I said to Tom Jecks, as we stood watching the following boat, which was evidently making every possible effort to come up with us.

“No, sir, ’twarn’t neither o’ them. I see ’em put off from a bit higher up,” said Jecks. “My hye! they are in a hurry, sir. You’d better tell Mr Brooke he must shake out a reef instead o’ taking one up.”

“No; leave it to him, he doesn’t like interference.”

“No, sir, orficers don’t, and it is their natur’ to. But I say, sir, what a—murder!—what a wrench I give my shoulder.”


“Hitting one o’ them pudding-headed Teapots, sir. Didn’t hurt my knuckles, because his head was soft. Just like punching a bladder o’ lard, but the weight on him wrenched the jynte.”

“Wait till we get on board,” I said, “and Mr Price will soon put you right.”

“Bah! not him, sir,” said the man scornfully. “I shouldn’t think o’ going to a doctor for nothing less than losing my head. It’ll soon get right. Exercise is the thing, sir, for a hurt o’ that sort. You and Mr Brooke give us a good job at them pirates out yonder, and I shall forget all about my shoulder.”

“We’ll try,” I said laughingly. “But what were you going to say just now?”

“I, sir? nothin’, sir.”

“Oh yes; when you broke off.”

“I broke off, sir?”


“To be sure. Yes, sir, I was going to say what a lesson it is for you, sir, as a young orficer, not to go pickling and stealing other folkses’ boats. This here all comes o’ taking boats as don’t belong to you.”

“Better than sitting in another till she sinks, Tom Jecks.”

“Not so honest, sir.”

“Rubbish! We haven’t stolen the boat; only borrowed it.”

“Ah, that’s what them heathens don’t understand, sir; and I don’t know as I blames ’em, for it is rather hard for ’em to take hold on. S’pose, sir, as you was in London town, and a chap was to take your dymon’ ring—”

“Haven’t got one, Tom Jecks.”

“Well, s’pose you had one, and he took it and sailed away as hard as he could go, sir. It wouldn’t be very easy for you to tell whether he’d stole it or borrowed it, eh, sir?”

“Oh, bother I don’t ask riddles now, we’re so busy. Here: over we go.”

“Lie to the windward, all of you,” shouted Mr Brooke, who was now at the tiller. “More aft there; that’s better.”

For the boat had careened over to so great an extent that she had taken in a little water, and I felt that we were about to be capsized.

But she rose again and skimmed along rapidly for the mouth of the river, and I crept close to my officer again.

“Shall I take the tiller, sir?” I said.

“No, Herrick, I’ll keep it for the present. I want to get all I can out of the boat, and keep up as much sail as possible without capsizing. It’s wonderful what these clumsy things can do.”

“Yes, sir, we’re going pretty fast, but I’m afraid the one behind goes faster.”

“She does, my lad, for her crew know exactly how to manage. I don’t want any more fighting if I can help it, but if they do overtake us I think we can soon send them back again. Men seem much hurt? Do they complain?” he whispered.

“Only about bruises, sir. They seem to treat it as so much fun. I say, how that boat does sail!”

“Yes, and we can do no more here but keep steadily on. Yes, we can. Take a pull at that sheet, my lads, and flatten out the sail a bit.”

“Ay, ay, sir;” and the sail was hauled a foot higher, and the sheet tightened, with the effect that we raced along with the water parting like a broad arrow before our prow, so that we seemed to be sailing along in quite a trough, and at times I wondered that we were not swamped.

But it was very exciting, and, like the others, I forgot all about a few contusions in the intense interest of the chase.

I went forward again to where Tom Jecks sat on the port gunwale, which was formed of one bamboo carefully lashed on with strips of the same material, and as there was nothing else to do, I shaded my eyes from the nearly level rays of sunlight, and had a good look at the distant junks.

“Yes, sir, that’s them, sure enough,” said the coxswain. “Wish we was twice as many, and had a good-sized gun in the bows.”

“Why, it would kick the boat all to pieces, or sink her,” I said.

“Oh, that wouldn’t matter, sir.”

“But it’s some one else’s boat that we’ve borrowed,” I said, with a laugh.

“Ay, so it is; I forgot, sir. But we ain’t got a gun, and I’m afraid we can’t take them two junks alone.”

“So am I, Tom Jecks,” I said; “but we can follow them.”

“Arter we’ve had another naval engagement, sir. I say, look astern; I do like the impidence of these here savages, chasing on us like this, and they’re gaining on us fast.”

“No; only just holding their own.”

“Gaining, sir.”


“Yes, sir.”

I took a long look back at the boat, and counted the black caps and flattened limpet-shaped straw hats of the blue-jacketed men on board.

“Seven of ’em,” I said half aloud.

“Eight, sir; I counted ’em twice. One on ’em is a-lying down now, but he was a-setting up a little while ago. Afraid we shall open fire, I expect.”

“And that’s what we shall have to do,” I said. “A rifle bullet or two sent over their heads would make them give up.”

“But they arn’t pirates, sir, and you mustn’t fire at ’em. Look at that now.”

The pursuing boat was about two hundred yards behind us, and one of the Chinamen now stood up in the bows, holding on by a stay, waving his straw hat and gesticulating furiously.

“All right, Mr Shing po Num, or whatever your name is,” said the coxswain in a low voice, “can’t stop this time, we’re in a hurry.”

The man kept on gesticulating.

“Can’t you hear what I say?” continued Jecks in a whisper. “We’re in a hurry. Say, sir, that’s the chap as belongs to our boat—I mean his boat, and he’s getting wilder and wilder now to see us carry it off. Say, sir, arn’t it a bit—what you may call it—to take it away?”

“A bit what?”

“Well, sir, what do you grand folks call it when some one does what we’re a-doing on?”


“No, sir; it arn’t an un-anything.”


“No, sir. Cause you see a boat arn’t a beast.”

“Oh, I don’t know what you mean,” I said impatiently.

“Yes, it is an un-something; I forgot, sir. I meant undignified—that’s the word.”

“He shall have his boat when we’ve done with it, and be paid for it too,” I said. “English officers don’t do undignified things.”

“But it strikes me, sir, as there won’t be no boat to pay for when the pirates have done with us. If we go alongside, do you know what they’ll do?”


“No, sir; pitch ballast into us, and sink us, as sure as we’re here.”

“Don’t talk so much,” I said impatiently. “Why, they’ve got another sail up, and are coming on faster.”

“Yes, sir, that’s right; and they’ll be alongside on us in another ten minutes. Shall I pass the word along to the lads to spit in their fists?”


“I mean, sir, I s’pose it won’t be cutlasses but fisties, sir, eh?”

“Mr Herrick, you had better come and take the tiller,” said Mr Brooke just then. “Don’t attend to anything else. Your duty is to keep the boat running; we’ll do what fighting there is.”

“Very well, sir,” I said, and I felt disappointed as I took the tiller, but felt better a minute later as I felt how I could sway the racing boat by a touch.

“Now, my lads, cutlasses and rifles under the thwarts. You take the oars to these men. Don’t attack them, they are ignorant of our power. Only keep them off with a few blows.”

The men eagerly responded to the words of command, and stood and sat about in the boat, each man armed with a stout, strong ashen blade, a blow from which would have sent any one overboard at once.

The chase, with our boat playing the part of hare, was exciting enough before, but it grew far more so now, for the men in the other boat were evidently determined, and two of them stood up with clumsy-looking hooks, and another with a coil of rope ready to lasso us, as it seemed to me. And as I sat there I felt how awkward it would be if the man threw a loop over my head or chest, and dragged me out of the boat.

Naturally enough, the thought of this alone was enough to produce in me an intense desire to stand up, instead of crouching down there holding the tiller, and forced into a state of inaction, wherein I was forbidden to move or raise a hand in my defence.

“I hope they’ll give a thought to me,” I said to myself, as I felt that in a very few minutes they would be alongside trying to leap on board, and from my position I knew that I must be in the thick of the fight, perhaps trampled upon, and pretty sure to receive some of the blows which came flying about.

I gazed firmly forward, knowing how much depended upon my keeping the boat’s head straight, and determined, as I set my teeth, to do my duty as well as possible, but I could not help turning my head from time to time to look back at the pursuers, who began shouting to us, and jabbering in their own tongue, as they were evidently now at the highest pitch of excitement.

Not many yards behind now, and gradually lessening the distance. All was ready on board, and I saw Mr Brooke looking stern, and the men as they grasped their oars grinning at one another, and then looking aft at the enemy.

And as we raced, the water foaming behind, the bamboo mast creaking and bending, the mat-sail cracking and making curious noises as the wind hissed through the thick stuff, the trough we ploughed through the water seemed deeper, and my temples throbbed and my heart beat, while from time to time the water lipped over the bows, but not enough to warrant any change of course. And nearer and nearer the enemy came, their boat literally skimming over the water, six feet to our five, and I felt that the time had arrived.

One more quick glance over my shoulder at the eager faces of the Chinamen as they uttered a loud shout, another at the men ready for action; another over my left shoulder to see that the enemy was close upon us, and then I uttered a strange cry, and, bearing hard upon the tiller, threw the boat right up into the wind, the sail easing as we formed a curve in the water, our speed checked, and then we lay nose to wind, with the boat seeming to quiver and pant after her heavy run.

“Are you mad?” roared Mr Brooke, rushing at me, thrusting me aside so that I went down upon my back, and he was about to seize the tiller, when I shouted out, half-choking with laughter, panting too with triumphant delight—

“Don’t, don’t, don’t! Can’t you see—it is Ching!”