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   Chapter 5 No.5

Among Malay Pirates By G. A. Henty Characters: 19638

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


So far, nothing had been seen of the rajah's prahus. When questioned on the subject, he replied that they were all down on the coast, trading with the natives; but it was so improbable that they should have been sent away while the rajah was in fear of an attack by his neighbors that no credence was given to the assertion. The ship's boats often went out for long rows on the river, ostensibly-as the captain told the rajah, who inquired suspiciously as to the meaning of these excursions-for the sake of giving the crews active exercise, but principally in order to take soundings of the river, and to investigate the size and positions of the creeks running into it. One day the gig and cutter had proceeded farther than usual; they had started at daybreak, and had turned off into what seemed a very small creek, that had hitherto been unexplored, as from the width of its mouth it was supposed to extend but a short distance into the forest. The master's mate was in command of one boat, the second lieutenant of the other; Harry Parkhurst accompanied the latter. After pushing through the screen of foliage that almost closed the entrance to the creek, the boats rowed on for some distance. For half a mile the width was but some fifteen yards, and the trees met in an arch overhead, then it widened considerably.

"This is just the sort of place," the lieutenant said to Harry, "where the rajah's prahus may be hidden away. We had best go along as noiselessly as possible. If we were to come upon them suddenly they might fire upon us, and that would bring on a general row. If we should catch sight of them, it would be best to take the news to the captain, and let him act as he thinks fit."

He ordered the men to cease rowing until the gig came alongside.

"Mr. Morrison," he said, "it seems to me that this is a likely place for the prahus to be hidden. We had better try and discover if this is the case, without being ourselves seen; therefore have all the oars, except four, laid in, and let the men muffle those with their stockings, and be most careful to dip them into the water without making a splash. Let absolute silence be preserved in the boat. I will lead the way as before, and if I hold up my hand stop rowing instantly."

"Aye, aye, sir!" the mate replied.

The same precautions were taken by the cutter, and the boats proceeded noiselessly. Presently the stream narrowed again, until it seemed that they were approaching its termination, and the boat stopped rowing.

"I fancy we have come to the end of it, Mr. Morrison," the lieutenant said in a low voice.

"I am afraid so too, sir; there is no room for the oars, and we shall either have to punt the boats, or to drag them by the bushes."

The lieutenant was about to give the order to turn when Harry said, suddenly, "There is a current, sir. I have had my eye upon that root, and we have drifted backwards a couple of feet since we lost way, so there must be a stretch of water above us."

The lieutenant watched the root of the tree to which Harry had pointed, for a minute in silence, then he said, "You are right, my lad, there is a current, and, as you say, there must be a stretch of water above us. Lay in your oars, lads; stand up, and pull her along by the boughs and bushes, but don't make the slightest sound."

Twenty yards farther the creek widened, and the oars were again got out.

"Take your place in the bow, Mr. Parkhurst, and hold up your hand the instant you see anything unusual, and do you, men, be ready to hold her up the instant I give the order."

They proceeded for a quarter of a mile, the gig following close behind. Suddenly, at a bend in the stream, a glare of light was seen ahead. Harry held up his hand, and passed the word down in a whisper that just ahead the creek widened into a broad sheet of water. The lieutenant stopped the gig by holding up his hand, passed the order for the men to lay in their oars noiselessly, and told the coxswain to keep in well under the bushes on the left hand side; then he made his way forward, and joined Harry, telling the men to pull the boat forward by means of the branches overhead which were well within reach, but to avoid breaking even a twig.

In a minute or two the bow of the boat arrived at the end of the screen of bushes, and a low exclamation broke from the lieutenant and Harry simultaneously; they were looking out on to an almost circular pool some two hundred yards in diameter. In the center were moored six prahus. Two of them lay broadside on to the creek, the other four were in a line behind these, and it seemed that their broadsides were directed to the opposite side of the pool, for the other two boats were in the way of their firing at the creek. They were long, low vessels, rowing some twenty oars on each side. Each carried a number of small brass guns, and they were evidently full of men, for numbers could be seen on deck, and boats were passing to and fro between them and a small village at the edge of the pool. Having taken in all the details of the scene, the lieutenant passed the word for the mate to leave his own boat and join him. When he did so, he whispered to him: "I thought it was as well that you should have a view of these fellows' position too, Morrison, as it would be of use to you if you have to take a boat in to attack them."

Two minutes later the boats were drawn back again to the open water in their rear, and rowed as noiselessly as before down the creek, no word being spoken until they were half a mile away from the pool.

"That is a snug hiding place, Mr. Morrison," the lieutenant said.

"It is indeed, sir. Who would have thought the scoundrels were so close to us, or that they lay up this narrow creek, which I have passed half a dozen times and never thought worth examining? I should not have dreamt that one of those craft could have passed through."

"I doubt whether they did pass through. They hardly could have done so without breaking down a good many of these branches, and we must have seen signs of that. I think they must have got into that pool by some creek coming in on the opposite side. You see four out of the six boats were anchored in line so as to bring their broadsides to bear on some point opposite to them, while the other two guarded them against any attack from this side. Naturally, they thought it unlikely that any boat would come up here, and so directed their main attention to the other opening. The next thing to find out will be where the other stream joins the river, otherwise, as soon as we make our appearance, they will escape that way, and there is not the least doubt that they could row away from our fastest boats. However, it is a great thing that we have discovered their whereabouts without their having the least notion that we have done so, and I am sure the captain will be very pleased when he hears that we have found them. It will give him the whip hand over that lying rascal Sehi."

Captain Forest smiled grimly when the lieutenant made his report of the discovery that he had made.

"Thank you, Mr. Hopkins; that is a very valuable discovery. Just at present matters have not come to a point when we can turn it to account. The next thing will be to find out where the other passage comes out. It will be a serious business to attack them in the boats alone; these prahus carry a tremendous lot of men, and the Malays will fight desperately. I do not say that we might not succeed, but we should lose a lot of men in the attempt; it would be hot work even with the ship, attacked by six of these fellows at once. If it was in the night, we might fail to see any of them before they were upon us, and we should have hard work to beat back four or five hundred of them if they all came swarming on deck together. However, we can wait, and the first time the rajah shows any signs of treachery we can pounce upon his fleet. He will not dream that we have discovered their hiding place, and will therefore let them hide there without movement. However, we must try to find the ether end of the entrance to the creek.

"Please impress upon Mr. Morrison and young Parkhurst that it is of the highest importance no words shall be spoken about it; and it might be advisable, also, to give notice to the men who were in the boats, to keep their mouths shut. I have no reason to believe that the interpreter is not faithful to our interests, but it is just as well not to trust anyone. Moreover, it may be that some of these Malays who come on board with fruit may have been for a time at Singapore or Penang, and picked up a little English, and a chance word might let them know that we have discovered the prahus."

"I wonder why our friend Hassan has not turned up," Dick Balderson said to his chum one day, after they had been lying for a month opposite the town.

"I expect something has occurred to keep him," Harry said. "I am quite convinced that he would have come if he could. He may be in trouble himself with some of his neighbors, or he may have tried to exert himself too soon and done himself damage. I am quite convinced that he meant what he said. At any rate, till this business here comes to a head, we are not likely to be able to go up and pay a visit to him."

"No, I am quite sure that the captain would not let us go now, and indeed, I would not ask him, even if I were sure he would, for we may get to blows with the rajah any day; he cannot put off giving a final answer much longer. I wonder the captain stood his shilly shallying so long as he has."

It was but two evenings after this that, as the two midshipmen were leaning against the bulwarks, watching the reflection of the stars in the sluggish stream, a native sampan stole silently out from the shadow of the

shore and dropped down alongside the Serpent. So noiseless was the movement that the two men on the lookout in the bow did not notice it, and the midshipmen thought it was a shadow of some dark object floating down stream, when it came alongside and a man stood up.

"Hello!" Harry said, "you must not come alongside like this: what do you want?"

"Dick, Harry, Doctor; come from Hassan."

"Oh, that is it; all right, come on board," and, leaning over, he stretched out his hand to the native, who seized it, and in a moment stood by his side on the deck, holding the head rope of his sampan in his mouth.

"Davis," Harry said to the sailor who was standing two paces away, "just go down to the wardroom, and tell the doctor, with my compliments, that I shall be obliged if he will come on deck at once. Say that it is something particular."

A minute later the doctor appeared. "I was just in the middle of a rubber, Dick, and if you have not an uncommonly good reason for calling me up I will make you smart for it, the first time you get under my hands. Whom have we got here?"

"He is a messenger from Hassan; he mentioned our names and yours."

"Ah, I am glad of that," the doctor said, rubbing his hands together; "they have been chaffing me in the wardroom about it, and prophesying that I should never hear of him again. Well, what does he say?"

"He has not said anything except our names, Doctor, and that he comes from Hassan. I don't suppose he knows any more English, and I thought we had better consult you, whether it would be best to send for Soh Hay; he may have brought some message of importance."

"Right, lad. I think the most prudent thing will be to tell the captain first. It may only be a message to say why he has not come, or it may be a matter of some importance. I will go to him at once."

Two or three minutes later he returned. "You are to bring him to the captain's cabin. Here, Davis, pass the word forward that the captain wants to see Soh Hay in his cabin."

Harry touched the native, who had been standing quietly by his side, and signed him to accompany them, and with Dr. Horsley and Dick went direct to the cabin.

"So your friend has sent a message at last, lad?" Captain Forest said. "I am glad of that, for I own that I had doubts whether we should hear any more of him."

"You come from the chief Hassan?" the captain, who had been working at the Malay language, with the interpreter, since he had arrived at the mouth of the river, asked in that tongue. The man's face brightened.

"Yes, my lord," he said.

"Is he well?"

"The chief is quite well."

"I wish I knew enough to question him without Soh Hay's interference, but I shall only make a mess of it, and, perhaps, get a wrong idea altogether of his message. Now, Soh Hay," he broke off as the interpreter entered, "you will ask this man the questions exactly as I put them, and tell me his answer word for word. It may be of importance. Now ask him first what message he brings from his chief to the officers."

The question was put, and the native, speaking slowly and quietly, and evidently repeating a lesson that he had learned by heart, said, "The chief sends his greeting to his three friends, Harry, Dick, and Doctor, also to Captain. He is well in body; he is cured, and can throw a spear and lead his men to battle. He has sent four messengers one after another, but none have returned with an answer; they have no doubt been krised. Now he sends me."

"Tell him that no messenger has arrived until now," the captain said, when this was interpreted to him.

The man nodded. "All krised. I travel at night, hide in trees all day, float down at night in shadow of bushes, and have got through safe. Chief Hassan says not been able to come down. Other chiefs very angry because English warship come. Send message to Hassan to join them. When he say no, they threaten to kill him and destroy tribe when warship go away. Two of Rajah Sehi's prahus go up and down river; stop all boats. Sehi send message to all chiefs; say that English war boat here. English come take his country, and after they done that take the countries of the others; make themselves kings of the river. He ask them to join him in killing English, every man, then he would have no more quarrel with them, no trouble trade any more; be good friends with all neighbors. Some chiefs say one thing, some another. Some more afraid of rajah than of English; some think better have English here than rajah.

"Hassan says must take great care. Sehi very treacherous; attack when they do not expect it. He thinks his prahus can easily take English ship; but Hassan says Sehi wants the other chiefs to aid, so that if the English send up more ships, then, can all join him in fighting them. Hassan says he will do what he can. He has eight war canoes, but no good against prahus-they run at canoes, and cut them in half; but will come to help if English attack. He does not know where prahus are. Begs Captain to attack these first; it is they that make Sehi master of the river. If they destroyed, other chiefs not afraid of Sehi, and he might get some of them to join against him. Hassan said tell Harry, and Dick, and Doctor he does not forget their kindness, and will do what he can to watch over them. Such is Hassan's message."

"Ask him when he is going back to his chief," the captain said.

"He go now," the interpreter said, after asking the question. "He get as far as he can before morning. He sure many eyes watch ship night and day to see that no message comes, or any word of what rajah is doing. He float down stream in sampan some distance, then paddle to opposite bank, then keep in shadow of bushes up the river, and hide away till night comes again."

"Very well, then, tell him that he is to thank his master for sending us warning; that we had already found out that what he told us before he went away was true, and that Sehi is a very bad man. Say that we are not afraid of prahus, and will make short work of them when we get a chance. Tell him we will take great care, and not let ourselves be surprised, and that when we have finished with this fellow here, the ship will come as far up the river as she can go, and show the chiefs that the English have no evil intentions against them, and will send his three friends with a strong boat party to pay him a visit. By the way, ask the man if he knows this part of the country."

"Yes, Captain; he says that he has been since his boyhood a boatman, and has worked for some years with a trader, who used to go up the creeks, and trade with the villagers."

"Ask him if he knows a creek that turns off from the river four or five miles above this; it is a very small one, but it leads into a pool on which is a large village."

The man nodded at once, when the question was put, then spoke for a minute or two.

"He says, Captain, that he knows the pool and village; but he has never been up the small creek that you speak of. Did not know that a boat could get through. He has been there by a large creek that runs into the other branch of the river, the one that turns off twelve miles below this; from that river it is an hour's paddle in a sampan to the pool."

"How should we know the entrance?" the captain asked.

"Entrance difficult to find," the native replied; "strip of land runs out from both sides, covered with trees. One goes a little beyond the other, so that anyone who did not know it would pass the entrance without noticing it. It is just wide enough for a large craft to go in and out. There is a village stands a hundred yards below the entrance; it would be known by a big tree that grows before a large house close to the bank. The water is deep on that side. You have only, after passing the village, to keep close in shore, and you will then see the entrance to the creek. It is called Alligator Creek, because, more than any place, it swarms with these creatures."

"Thank you," the captain said. "Will you tell the chief that I say you have rendered me a valuable service?"

He opened a case in which he kept presents intended for the chiefs, and took out a brace of handsome pistols, a powder flask, and a bullet mold.

"Take these," he said, "in token of the service you have rendered. When I see your chief, you shall be well recompensed for the risk that you have run in bearing me his message."

The Malay looked longingly at the pistols, and then said, "I came by order of my chief, and not for reward."

"Quite so. I understand that, and am not offering you a reward for that service, but for the information that you have given me, which may be of value if I have trouble with the rajah here."

The man bowed and took the pistols offered. "I will use them against your enemies," he said warmly; "but all of us know the creek, for it is that which renders it so difficult for us to fight against Sehi. He is master of the water, and we cannot attack him without first crossing that creek. We should have to carry canoes with us, to do it, for the creek is too full of alligators for anyone to swim across, and our small canoes would have no chance of passing the creek when his war boats were there."

The captain nodded when this was translated to him.

"Sehi's place, in fact, stands upon an island formed by the two branches of the river and this creek. As soon as he became master of the river, he could hardly be assailed, while at any time he could sally out and fall upon his enemies. Ask the man if he will take any refreshment before he goes."

The man declined. He had, he said, sufficient fruit and dried fish for his journey back. A few minutes later he took his place in the little canoe and drifted away into the darkness, and was soon lost to sight.

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