Chapter 41 | After the Typhoon | Blue Jackets

Chapter Forty One.

The repugnance and horror gave way to a sensation of joy. Here was another companion in misfortune, alive and ready to share the terrible trouble with us, but who was it?

I tried to withdraw my left hand from Ching’s grasp; but as soon as he felt it going, he clung to it spasmodically, and it was only by a sharp effort that I dragged it away, and turned to the side of my other companion, and began to touch him. There was the bare arm, but that was no guide; the face helped me no more; but the torn remnants of his clothes told me it was not Mr Brooke, and my heart sank. I felt again, and my hand encountered a drawn-up leg, and then I touched a bandage. It was Tom Jecks, who had been wounded by the fire from the junk.

I could learn no more. I tried to speak; I shouted; but he made no sign, and I could not even hear my own cries. The darkness remained profound, and the deafening roar of the wind kept on without cessation.

But, feeling more myself at last, I determined to crawl about a little, and find out whether any more of our crew were near us. Then I hesitated; but, summoning courage, I crept on my hands and knees, passed Ching, and then crouched down nearly flat, for I had crept to where the shelter ceased, and to have gone on would have been to be swept away.

To test this I raised one hand, and in an instant I suffered quite a jerk, and each time I repeated the experiment I felt more and more that to leave the shelter meant to die, for the power of the blast was appalling.

Crawling back, I proceeded in the other direction, and found that I could go what I guessed to be quite a dozen yards, feeling more and more in shelter. Then all at once I reached a point where the wind came through what afterwards proved to be a narrow pass between two masses of rock, and I shrank back disheartened at the barrenness of my search.

In that black darkness it was very difficult to find my former position, even in so confined a space, and I found myself completely going wrong, and into the rushing wind, the effect being horribly confusing again. But, after lying flat down on the sand, which kept flying up and nearly blinding me, I grew more composed, and, resuming my search once more, found where my two companions lay; and, after touching our wounded sailor, and finding him lying as I had left him, I began to think of what I could do to help him, but thought in vain. To give help was impossible in the midst of that awful storm, and, utterly exhausted now, I sank back and reached out my left hand once more to try and touch Ching.

He was on the alert, and caught my hand in both his, grasping it firmly, as if, boy as I was, he would gladly cling to me for protection; while I, in my horror and loneliness, was only too thankful to feel the touch of a human hand.

Then, amid the strange confusion produced by the roar of the wind and thunder of the waves whose spray hissed over our heads, I lay wondering what had become of Mr Brooke and the others—whether they had reached the land, and were screened behind the rocks as we were; then about the Teaser—whether she had been able to make the shelter of the river before the typhoon came down upon them in all its fury.

I seemed to see the men at their quarters, with the spars lowered upon deck, the boats doubly secured, and everything loose made fast. I fancied I felt the throb of the engines, and the whirr of the shaft, as it raced when the stern rose at some dive down of the prow; and the sharp “ting-ting” of the engine-room gong-bell struck on my ears above the yelling of the storm, for wild shrieks at times came mingled with the one tremendous overpowering roar.

Then I began thinking again about Mr Brooke, and whether, instead of lying there in shelter on the sand, I ought not to be striving with all my might to find him; and all at once the roar over my head, the thunder of the breakers somewhere near, and the hiss and splash of the cutting spray, seemed to cease, and I was crawling about the shore, over sand and rocks, and through pools of water, to find Mr Brooke, while Ching followed me, crying out in piping tones, “Velly long of you. Windee blow allee way.” But still I toiled on, lying flat sometimes, and holding tightly to the rocks beneath me, for fear of being snatched up and sent whirling over the sea. Then on again, to come to a mass of rock, up which I climbed, but only to slip back again, climbed once more and slipped, and so on and on till all was nothingness, save that the deafening roar went on, and the billows dashed among the rocks, but in a subdued far-off way that did not trouble me in the least. For my sleep—the sleep of utter exhaustion—had grown less troubled, the dreamy crawl in search of Mr Brooke died away, and I slept soundly there, till the sun glowing warmly upon my face made me open my eyes, to find Ching’s round smooth yellow face smiling down at me, and Tom Jecks nursing his leg.

I started up in wonder, but sank back with a groan, feeling stiff and sore, as if I had been belaboured with capstan bars.

“You feel velly bad?” said Ching.

“Horribly stiff.”

“Hollibly ’tiff; Ching lub you well.”

Before I knew what he was about to do, he seized one of my arms, and made me shout with agony, but he moved it here and there, pinching and rubbing and kneading it till it went easily, following it up with a similar performance upon the other. Back and chest followed; and in ten minutes I was a different being.

But no amount of rubbing and kneading did any good to my spirits, nor to those of our companion in misfortune, whose wound troubled him a good deal; but he sat up, trying to look cheerful, while, with my head still confused, and thought coming slowly, I exclaimed—

“But the storm—the typhoon?”

“Allee blow way, allee gone,” cried Ching, smiling; “velly good job. You feel dly?”

I did not answer then, for I felt as if I could not be awake. I had been lying in the lee of a huge mass of rock, amid stones and piled-up sand, upon which the sun beat warmly; the sky overhead was of a glorious blue; and there was nothing to suggest the horrors of the past night, but the heavy boom and splash of the billows which broke at intervals somewhere behind the rock.

At last I jumped up, full of remorse at my want of thought.

“Mr Brooke—the others?” I cried.

“We were talking about ’em, sir, ’fore you woke up,” said Jecks sadly; and I now saw that he had received a blow on the head, while he spoke slowly, and looked strange.

“And what—”

“I’m afraid they’re—”

“Allee dlowned; velly much ’flaid.”

I groaned.

“I don’t know how we managed to get ashore, sir,” said Jecks faintly. “I think it was because there was so little undertow to the waves. When the boat struck, it felt to me as if I was being blown through the shallow water, and I shouldn’t have been here if I hadn’t come up against Mr Ching, who was pulling you along.”

“Then you saved me, Ching?” I cried.

“Ching takee hold, and pullee here. Velly pull wolk. Him get hold of tow-chang, and pullee him both together.”

“That’s right, sir. I snatched at anything, and got hold of his tail, and held on. But you don’t mind, Mr Ching?”

“No; mustn’t cut tow-chang off.”

“Let’s try if we can find the others,” I said; and, taking the lead, I walked round the mass of rock which had sheltered us, to gaze out at the heaving sea, which was rising and falling restlessly; but there was no white water, all was of a delicious blue, darker than the sky, and not a sail in sight.

To right and left extended a low cliff, at whose feet lay huge masses which had fallen from time to time; then an irregular stretch of sand extended to where the waves came curling over, the swell being very heavy, and the only trace of the storm to be seen was the way in which the sand had been driven up against the cliff, so as to form quite a glacis.

We could see about half a mile in either direction, but there was no sign of our companions, and my heart sank again. There were, however, here and there, ridges of rock, running down like breakwaters into the sea, and about which it fretted and tossed tremendously; and, in the hope that one of these ridges might hide our friends from our view, I climbed to the top of the highest piece of rock I could reach, and took a long and careful survey.

“See anything, sir?” said Tom Jecks.

“No,” I replied, “nothing. Yes; about a quarter of a mile on there’s a spar sticking up; it may be the boat’s mast.”

I came hurriedly down, and my announcement was enough to set my companions off, Jecks limping painfully through the loose sand, climbing rocks, and finding it no easy task to get over that so-called quarter of a mile, which, like all such spaces on the sea-shore, proved to be about double the length it looked, while the nearer we got the higher and more formidable the ridge seemed to grow, completely shutting out all beyond, where it ran down from the cliff at right angles into the sea.

All at once, as I was helping the coxswain over an awkward stone, the poor fellow being weak and rather disposed to stagger, but always passing it off with a laugh and an “All right, sir, I shall be better after breakfast,” Ching uttered an ejaculation, and pointed to something that the sea had washed up, and was pouncing upon again like a cat to draw it back.

My heart seemed to stand still, but a horrible fascination drew me to the spot along with the Chinaman, for my first thought was that it was the body of Mr Brooke.

“Not jolly sailor boy,” said Ching; and I felt a peculiar exaltation. “Not Mis’ Blooke. Pilate man dlowned. Ching velly glad.”

We turned away, and continued our route, for I shrank from going into dangerous breakers to try and drag the man out, and my companion was too weak. As to its being one of the pirates, it seemed possible, for I knew that one, if not two, had gone overboard in the fight, and it was probably one of these.

We trudged on and reached the ridge at last, to find it bigger and more precipitous than I had expected. It ran out evidently for hundreds of yards, its course being marked by foam and fretting waves, and I was just thinking what a fatal spot it would be for a vessel to touch the shore, when I reached the top and uttered a startled cry, which brought the others to my side; for there was the explanation of the presence of the drowned Chinaman! Spreading away for a couple of hundred yards, the shore was covered with timbers, great bamboo spars, ragged sails, and the torn and shattered fragments of some large Chinese vessel; while, before I could shape it in my mind as to the possibilities of what vessel this could be, though certain it was not the Teaser, Ching said coolly—

“That velly good job. That big junk blow all to pieces, and allee bad pilate man dlowned. No go choppee off poor sailor head now. No ’teal silk, tea, allee good thing, and burnee ship. Velly good job indeed; velly bad lot.”

“You think it was the junk which cheated us?”

“Yes, velly muchee same. Look, allee paint, lacquee, gold. Allee same junk; no use go find um now. No get head chop off for killee sailo’. Allee bad pilate allee dlowned.”

“Hold hard there, sir,” whispered Tom Jecks. “I can hear people talking. Quick! squat, hide; there’s a lot on ’em coming down off the cliff.”

We had just time to hide behind some rocks, when a party of about twenty Chinamen came cautiously and slowly down on to the sands, and Ching whispered as he peeped between the fragments of rock—

“Not allee pilate dlowned. Come along look at junk; take care; choppee off allee head; must hide.”

Ching was quite right, and I was awake to the fact that we three were prisoners on a little desert island, and in company with a gang of as savage and desperate enemies as man could have.