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   Chapter 9 No.9

Among Malay Pirates By G. A. Henty Characters: 18310

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The party landed at the village the next morning, but found it entirely deserted.

"It is most important that we should take a prisoner, Ferguson," the captain said, as he and the first lieutenant paced up and down the quarterdeck; "we must catch the two prahus if we can. At present we don't know whether they have gone up or down the river, and it would be absolutely useless for us to wait until we get some clew to their whereabouts. After we have finished with them, we will go up the other branch, and try to find the two we know to be up there. I should not like to leave our work unfinished."

"Certainly not, sir. I am afraid, though, it is of no use landing to try to get hold of a prisoner. No doubt the woods are full of them. There are the townspeople and those who came to help them; and though many of those who tried to swim ashore from the sunken boats may have been taken by the alligators, still the greater portion must have landed all right."

"I should think, Mr. Ferguson, that it would be a good plan to send a party of twenty men on shore after nightfall and to distribute them, two men to a hut. Possibly two or three of the Malays may come down to the village before morning, either to fetch valuables they may have left behind, or to see whether we are still here. They may come tonight, or they may come some time tomorrow, crawling through the plantations behind the houses. At any rate, I will wait here a day or two on the chance."

"Whom shall I send with the men, sir?"

"You had better send Parkhurst and Balderson; they will have more authority among the men than the younger midshipmen. The men better take three days' cooked provisions on shore and ten small kegs of water, one for each hut. I will give Parkhurst his instructions before he lands."

"Now, Mr. Parkhurst," he said, when the boat was lowered soon after dark, "you must bear in mind that the greatest vigilance will be necessary. Choose ten huts close together. One man in each hut must be always awake; there must be no talking above a whisper; and during the daytime no one must leave his hut on any account whatever. After nightfall you and Mr. Balderson will move from hut to hut, to see that a vigilant watch is kept. You must, of course, take watch and watch, night and day. You must remember that not only is it most important that a native should be captured, but you must be on your guard against an attack on yourselves. It is quite conceivable that a party may come down to see if there are any of us in the village.

"In case of attack, you must gather in one hut, and fire three shots as a signal to us; a musket shot will be fired in return. When you hear it, every man must throw himself down, for the guns will be already loaded with grape, and I shall fire a broadside towards the spot where I have heard your signal.

"As soon as the broadside is fired, make down to the shore, occupy a house close to the water, and keep the Malays off till the boats come ashore to fetch you off. Your crew has been very carefully picked. I have consulted the warrant officers, and they have selected the most taciturn men in the ship. There is to be no smoking; of course the men can chew as much as they like; but the smell of tobacco smoke would at once deter any native from entering a hut. If a Malay should come in and try to escape, he must be fired on as he runs away; but the men are to aim at his legs."

The instructions were carried out. A small hole was bored in the back of each of the huts, so that a constant watch could be kept up unseen by the closest observer in the forest, a hundred yards behind. The night passed off quietly, as did the next day. The men slept and watched by turns. On the afternoon of the second day, a native was seen moving cautiously from tree to tree along the edge of the forest. As soon as it was dark, Dick, whose watch it was, crawled cautiously from hut to hut.

"That fellow we saw today may come at any moment," he said. "If one of you see him coming, the other must place himself close to the door, and if he enters, throw himself upon him and hold his arms tightly till the others come up to help. Keep your rope handy to twist round him, and remember these fellows are as slippery as eels."

Having made the round, he returned to the hut in the center of the others that he and Harry occupied. Half an hour later, they heard a sudden outcry from the hut next to them, and rushing in, found the two men there struggling with a Malay. With their aid he was speedily bound; then the men were called from the other huts, and the whole party ran down to the water's edge, where Harry hailed the ship. A boat put off at once, and they were taken on board. The prisoner was led to the captain's cabin, and there examined through the medium of the interpreter. He refused to answer any questions until, by the captain's orders, he was taken on deck again and a noose placed round his neck, and the interpreter told him that, unless he spoke, he was to be hauled up to the yard's arm. The man was still silent.

"Tighten the strain very gradually," the captain said to the sailors holding the other end of the rope. "Raise him two or three feet above the deck, and then, when the doctor holds up his hand, lower him at once again."

This was done. The man, though half strangled, was still conscious, and on the noose being loosened, and Soh Hay saying that, unless he spoke, he would be again run up, he said, as soon as he got his breath, that he would answer any question. On being taken to the cabin, he said that the prahus had gone down the river, and had ascended the other arm. They had only gone a few miles above the town, for one had been so injured that there had been difficulty in keeping her afloat, and it was necessary to run her into a creek in order to repair her before going up farther.

Half an hour later steam was up, and before morning the Serpent lay off the mouth of the creek which the Malay pointed out as the one that the prahu had entered. The second officer was this time placed in command of the boats, he himself going in the launch, the third officer took the first cutter, the two midshipmen the second. No time was lost in making preparations, for it was desirable to capture the prahu before she was aware that the Serpent had left her position in the other river. For a mile the boats rowed up the creek, which narrowed until they were obliged to go in single file. It widened suddenly, and as the launch dashed through, a shower of balls tore up the water round her; while at the same moment a great tree fell across the creek, completely barring their retreat, and narrowly shaving the stern of the midshipmen's boat, which was the last in the line. Fortunately the launch had escaped serious injury, and with a shout of "Treachery," Lieutenant Hopkins drew his pistol to put a ball through the head of their guide, but as he did so, the man sprang overboard and dived towards the shore.

"Row, men; we have all our work cut out for us. There are three prahus ahead; steer for the center one, coxswain."

With a cheer the men bent to their oars, and dashed at the prahu which, as was evident by patches of plank freshly fastened to her side, was one of those that had before escaped them.

"Follow me," the lieutenant shouted to the boat behind; "we must take them one by one." The three boats dashed at the pirate craft, which was crowded with men, regardless of the fire from the other two vessels. The launch steered for her stem, the first cutter for her bow, while the midshipmen swept round her, and boarded her on the opposite side. A furious contest took place on her deck, the Malays being so confused by being assailed at three points simultaneously that the midshipmen's party were enabled to gain a footing with but very slight resistance. The shouts of the Malays near them brought many running from the other points, and the parties there gained a footing with comparatively little loss. Then a desperate struggle began; but the Malays were unable to withstand the furious attack of the British, and ere long began to leap overboard and swim to the other craft, which were both coming to their aid.

The launch's gun had not been fired, and, calling to Dick, Harry leaped down into the boat. The two midshipmen trained the gun upon the nearest prahu, and aiming at the waterline, fired it when the craft was within twenty feet of them. A moment later its impetus brought it against the side of the launch, which was crushed like an eggshell between it and the captured prahu, the two midshipmen springing on board just in time. It was the Malays' turn to board now, that of the British to prevent them; the musketry of the sailors and marines for a time kept the enemy off, but they strove desperately to gain a footing on board, until a loud cry was heard, and the craft into which the midshipmen had fired sank suddenly, and a loud cheer broke from the British.

The two midshipmen were engaged with the other pirate, from whom a cry of dismay arose at seeing the disappearance of their friends.

"Now, lads,

follow me," Harry shouted as the Malays strove to push their craft away. Followed by a dozen sailors, they leaped on to her deck; but the efforts of the Malays succeeded in thrusting the vessels apart. In vain the midshipmen and their followers fought desperately. Harry was felled by a blow with a war club, Dick cut down with a kris; half the seamen were killed, the others jumped overboard and swam back to their vessel. Lieutenant Hopkins shouted to the men to take to the boats, and the two cutters were speedily manned. One, however, was in a sinking condition; but Lieutenant Hopkins with the other started in pursuit of the prahu, whose crew had already got their oars out, and in spite of the efforts of the sailors, soon left them behind. Pursuit was evidently hopeless, and reluctantly the lieutenant ordered the men to row back. On returning to the scene of combat, they saw sunk near the bank the fourth of the prahus. "The spy was so far right," the second lieutenant muttered-"this fellow did sink; now we must see that she does no more mischief." He brought the captured prahu alongside the others, whose decks were but a foot or two below the water, and fired several shots through their bottoms. Then he set the captured craft on fire and took to the boats, which with great difficulty forced their way under the fallen tree and rowed back to the ship.

The third lieutenant had been shot dead, twelve men had been killed, ten of the midshipmen's party were missing, and of the rest but few had escaped without wounds more or less serious.

Harry was the first to recover his senses, being roughly brought to by a bucket of water being dashed over him. He looked round the deck. Of those who had sprung on board with him, none were visible save Dick Balderson, who was lying near him, with a cloth tightly bound round his shoulder.

As he rose into a sitting position a murmur of satisfaction broke from some Malays standing near. It was some time before he could rally his senses.

"I suppose," he thought at last, "they are either keeping us for torture or as hostages. The rajah may have given orders that any officers captured were to be spared and brought to him. I don't know what his expectations are," he muttered to himself; "but if he expects to be reinstated as rajah, and perhaps compensated for the loss of his palace, he is likely to be mistaken; and in that case it will go mighty hard with us, for there is no shadow of doubt that he is a savage and cruel brute."

He had now shaken off the numbness caused by the blow that he had received, and he managed to stagger to where Dick was lying, and knelt beside him and begged the Malays to bring water. They had evidently received orders to do all they could to revive the two young officers, and one at once brought half a gourd full. Harry had already assured himself that his friend's heart still beat. He began by pouring some water between his lips. It was not necessary to pour any over his head, for he had already received the same treatment as himself.

"Dick, old chap," he said sharply and earnestly.

The sound was evidently heard and understood, for Dick started slightly, opened his eyes and murmured, "It's not time to turn out yet?"

"You are not in your hammock, Dick; you have been wounded, and we are both prisoners in the hands of these Malays. Try and pull yourself together, but don't move; they have put a sort of bandage round your shoulder, and I am going to try and improve it."

"What is the matter with my shoulder?" Dick murmured.

"Chopped with a kris, old man. Now I am going to turn you on your side, and then cut the sleeve off the jacket. Take another drink of water; then we will set about it."

Dick did as he was ordered, and was evidently coming back to consciousness, for he looked round, and then said, "Where are the other fellows?"

"I don't know what has become of them. I think I went down before you did. However, here we are alone. Now I am going to begin."

He cut off the sleeve of the jacket and shirt at the shoulder, ripped open the seam to the neck, first taking off the rough bandage.

"It's a nasty cut, old man," he said, "but nothing dangerous, I should say. I fancy it has gone clean through the shoulder bone, and there is no doubt that it will knit again, as Hassan's did, if they do but give you time."

He rolled the shirt sleeve into a pad, saturated it with water, and laid it on the wound.

"You see I know all about it, Dick," he said cheerily, "from having watched the doctor at work on Hassan. Now I will tear this cloth into strips."

He first placed a strip of the cloth over the shoulder, crossed it under the arm, and then took the ends of the bandage across the chest and back, and tied them under his other arm. He repeated this process with half a dozen other strips; then he placed Dick's hand upon his chest, tied some of the other strips together, and bound them tightly round the arm and body, so that no movement of the limb was possible. One of the Malay's knelt down and gave him his assistance, and nodded approvingly when he had finished; then he helped Harry raise him into a sitting position against the bulwark.

"That is better," Dick said, "as far as it goes. How was it these fellows did not kill us at once?"

"I expect the rajah has ordered that all officers who may fall into their hands are to be kept as hostages, so that he can open negotiations with the skipper. If he gets what he wants, he hands us back; if not, there is no manner of doubt that he will put us out of the way without compunction."

The men were still working at the oars, and for four hours rowed without intermission through a labyrinth of creeks. At last they stopped before a small village, tied the prahu up to a tree, and then the man who seemed to be the captain went ashore with two or three others. The lads heard a loud outburst of anger, and a voice which they recognized as that of the rajah storming and raging for some time; then the hubbub ceased. An hour later the rajah himself came on board with two or three attendants, and a man whom they recognized as speaking a certain amount of English. The rajah scowled at them, and from the manner in which he kept fingering his kris they saw that it needed a great effort on his part to abstain from killing them at once. He spoke for some time in his own language, and the interpreter translated it.

"You are dogs-you and all your countrymen. The rajah is sending a message to your captain to tell him that he must build up his palace again, pay him for the warships that he has destroyed, and provide him with a guard against his enemies until a fresh fleet has been built. If he refuses to do this, you will both be killed."

"Tell him," Harry said, "that if we are dogs, anyhow we have shown him that we can bite. As to what he says, it is for the captain to answer; but I do not think that he will grant the terms, though possibly he may consent to spare the rajah's life, and to go away with his ship, if we are sent back to him without injury."

The rajah uttered a scornful exclamation. "I have six thousand men," he said, "and I do not need to beg my life; for were there twenty ships instead of one they could never find me, and not a man who landed and tried to come through the country would return alive. I have given your captain the chance. If, at the end of three days, an answer does not come granting my command, you will be krised. Keep a strict watch upon them, Captain, and kill them at once if they try to escape."

"I will guard them safely, Rajah," the captain, who, from the rich materials of his sarong and jacket, was evidently himself a chief, said quietly; "but as to escape, where could they go? They could but wander in the jungle until they died."

By night both lads felt more themselves. They had been well supplied with food, and though Harry's head ached until, as he said, it was splitting, and Dick's wound smarted severely, they were able to discuss their position. They at once agreed that escape was impossible, and would be even were they well and strong and could manage to obtain possession of a sampan, for they would but lose themselves in the labyrinth of creeks, and would, moreover, be certain to be overtaken by the native boats that would be sent off in all directions after them.

"There is nothing to do but to wait for the captain's answer," Dick said at last.

"We know what that will be," Harry said. "He will tell the chief that it would be impossible for him to grant his commands, but that he is ready to pay a certain sum for our release; that if harm comes to us, he will make peace with the chiefs who have assisted Sehi against us, on condition of their hunting him down and sending him alive or dead to the ships. But the rascal knows that he could hide himself in these swamps for a month, and he will proceed to chop off our heads without a moment's delay. We must keep our eyes open tomorrow, and endeavor to get hold of a couple of weapons. It is a deal better to die fighting than it is to have our throats cut like sheep."

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