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Blue Jackets: The Log of the Teaser

George Manville Fenn

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  Blue Jackets; or, The Log of the Teaser, by George Manville Fenn.


  Another very exciting nautical novel by this author, who is a master ofsuspense. HMS Teaser, a clipper-gunboat, is patrolling the China Season the lookout for pirates. At the time of the story she has proceededup the Nyho river, and is at anchor off the city of Nyho. The tellerof the story is one of three young midshipmen, Nathaniel Herrick. Amost important character is Ching, the Chinese interpreter, who wouldlove to be much more important than he is. The boys and Ching findthemselves in various situations which look pretty terrifying at thetime, but the author manages to slip them out of these situations justin the nick of time. One particularly well-drawn scene is where theboys beg Ching to take them to a Chinese theatre, and he decides uponsomething that he thinks will really interest them. Unfortunately it isa public beheading of some pirates whom the Teaser has brought tojustice, but the boys do not enjoy the scene. They realise that if theytried to walk out they would most probably be beheaded themselves, sothey have to sit tight.

  It's a full-length novel with a great deal of suspense, so there'splenty to enjoy here.NH________________________________________________________________________




  "Come along, boys; look sharp! Here's old Dishy coming."

  "Hang old Dishipline; he's always coming when he isn't wanted. Tumbleover."

  We three lads, midshipmen on board HM clipper gunboat the _Teaser_, did"tumble over"--in other words, made our way down into the boatalongside--but not so quickly that the first lieutenant, Mr Reardon,who, from his slightly Hibernian pronunciation of the word disciplineand constant references thereto had earned for himself among us thesobriquet of "Dishy," did catch sight of us, come to the gangway andlook down just as Double B had given the order to shove off, and wassettling the strap of the large telescope he carried over his shoulder.I ought to tell you our names, though, in order of seniority; and itwill make matters more easy in this log if I add our second handles ornicknames, for it was a habit among us that if a fellow could by anypossibility be furnished with an alias, that furnishing took place.

  For instance, Bruce Barkins always went by the name of "Double B," when,in allusion to the Bark in his family name, he was not called the"Little Tanner," or "Tanner" alone; Harry Smith, being a swarthy,dark-haired fellow, was "Blacksmith;" and I, Nathaniel Herrick, wasdubbed the first day "Poet"--I, who had never made a line in my life--and later on, as I was rather diminutive, the "Gnat."

  One can't start fair upon any voyage without preparations, so I must putin another word or two to tell you that there were two logs kept onboard the good ship _Teaser_--one by the chief officer, and in which thecaptain often put down his opinion. This is not that, but my ownprivate log; and I'm afraid that if the skipper or Lieutenant Reardonhad ever seen it he would have had a few words of a sort to say to me--words which I would rather not have heard.

  It was a gloriously fine morning. We had been dodging about the coaston and off for a month on the look-out for piratical junks and lorchas,had found none, and were now lying at anchor in the mouth of the Nyhoriver, opposite the busy city of that name. Lastly, we three had leaveto go ashore for the day, and were just off when the first lieutenantcame and stood in the gangway, just as I have said, and the Tanner hadtold the coxswain to shove off.

  "Stop!" cried our tyrant loudly; and the oars which were being droppedinto the pea-soupy water were tossed up again and held in a row.

  "Oh my!" groaned Barkins.

  "Eh?" cried the first lieutenant sharply. "What say?" and he lookedhard at me.

  "I didn't speak, sir."

  "Oh, I thought you did. Well, young gentlemen, you are going ashore forthe day. Not by my wish, I can assure you."

  "No, sir," said Smith, and he received a furious look.

  "Was that meant for impertinence, sir?"

  "I beg pardon, sir; no, sir."

  "Oh, I'm very glad it was not. I was saying it was not by my wish thatyou are going ashore, for I think you would be all better employed inyour cabin studying navigation."

  "Haven't had a holiday for months, sir," said Barkins, in a tone ofremonstrance.

  "Well, sir, what of that? Neither have I. Do you suppose that thediscipline of Her Majesty's ships is to be kept up by officers thinkingof nothing else but holidays? Now, listen to me--As you are going--recollect that you are officers and gentlemen, and that it is your dutyto bear yourselves so as to secure respect from the Chinese inhabitantsof the town."

  "Yes, sir," we said in chorus.

  "You will be very careful not to get into any scrapes."

  "Of course, sir."

  "And you will bear in mind that you are only barbarians--"

  "And foreign devils, sir."

  "Thank you, Mr Smith," said the lieutenant sarcastically. "You neednot take the words out of my mouth. I was going to say foreigndevils--"

  "I beg pardon, sir."

  "--In the eyes of these self-satisfied, almond-eyed Celestials. Theywould only be too glad of an excuse to mob you or to declare that youhad insulted them, so be careful."

  "Certainly, sir."

  "Perhaps you had better not visit their temples."

  Smith kicked me.

  "Or their public buildings."

  Barkins trod on my toe.

  "In short, I should be extremely guarded; and I think, on furtherconsideration, I will go to the captain and suggest that you havehalf-a-dozen marines with you."

  "Captain's ashore, sir."

  "Thank you, Mr Herrick. You need not be so fond of correcting me."

  I made a deprecatory gesture.

  "I should have remembered directly that Captain Thwaites was ashore."

  "Beg pardon, sir," said Barkins, touching his cap. "Well, Mr Barkins."

  "I hope you will not send any marines with us."

  "And pray why, sir?"

  "We should have to be looking after them, sir, as much as they would belooking after us."

  "Mr Barkins, allow me to assure you, sir, that the dishipline of themarines on board this ship is above reproach."

  "Yes, sir. Of course, sir. I only thought that, after being on boardthe ship so long, sir, they might be tempted, sir."

  "I hope that the men of Her Majesty's gunboat _Teaser_ are above alltemptations, Mr Barkins," said the lieutenant harshly. "There, uponsecond thoughts, I will not send a guard. You can go."

  The oars dropped with a splash on either side, and away we went amongthe hundreds of native boats of all kinds going up and down the river,and onward toward the crowded city, with its pagodas, towers, andornamental gateways glittering in the morning sunshine, and lookingwonderfully attractive to us prisoners, out for the day.

  "Don't speak aloud," I whispered to Smith, who was gathering himself upfor an oration respecting the first lieutenant's tyranny.

  "Why not?"

  "Because the men are listening, and one of 'em may report what you say."

  "He'd better," said Smith defiantly. "I'm not afraid to speak. It wasall out of his niggling meddlesomeness, so as to show off before themen." But all the same he spoke in a low voice that could only be heardby our companion who held the lines.

  "There, never mind all that bother," cried Barkins. "I say, how wouldyou like to live in one of those house-boats?"

  "I call it pretty good cheek of the pigtailed humbugs to set uphouse-boats," cried Smith. "They imitate
us in everything."

  "And we don't imitate them in anything, eh?" said Barkins. "Hi! lookout, old Chin-chin, or we shall run you down," he shouted to a man in asampan.

  "My! what a hat!" cried Smith. "Why, it would do for an umbrella.Port, Barkins."

  "All right; I won't sink him. Pull away, my lads."

  "I say," I cried, as we rowed by an enormous junk, with high poop andstern painted with scarlet and gold dragons, whose eyes served forhawseholes; "think she's a pirate?"

  "No," said Barkins, giving a look up at the clumsy rig, with the hugematting-sails; "it's a tea-boat."

  As she glided away from us, with her crew collected astern, to climb upand watch us, grinning and making derisive gestures, Barkins suddenlyswung round the telescope, slipped the strap over his head, adjusted itto the proper focus, as marked by a line scratched with the point of apenknife, and raised it to his eye, when, to my astonishment, I saw allthe Chinamen drop down out of sight.

  "Yes, she's a tea-boat," said Double B decisively, "and heavily laden.I wish she had pirates on board."

  "Why?" cried Smith. "They'd kill all the crew."

  "And then we should kill them, make a prize of the junk, and have a lotof tin to share. Bother this glass, though! I wish I hadn't broughtit."

  "Why?" said Smith; "we shall have some good views from up yonder, whenwe get to the hills at the back of the town."

  "Ain't got there yet. It's so heavy and clumsy, and the sun's going tobe a scorcher."

  "I'll carry it, Tanner," I said.

  "You shall, my boy," he cried, as he closed it up, and rapidly slippedthe strap off his shoulder again. "Catch hold. Mind, if you lose it, Ivalue it at a hundred pounds."

  "Say five while you're about it, Tanner," cried Smith. "Why, it isn'tworth twopence--I mean I wouldn't give you a dollar for it. But I say,my lads, look here, what are we going to do first?" continued Smith, whowas in a high state of excitement, though I was as bad. "Start off atonce for a walk through the city?"

  "Shouldn't we be mobbed?" I said, as I slung the heavy glass over myshoulder.

  "They'd better mob us!" cried Smith. "If they give me any of theirnonsense, I'll take tails instead of scalps. My! what fools they dolook, with their thick-soled shoes, long blue gowns, and shaven heads!"

  "That fellow in the boat is grinning at us, and thinks we look fools, Isaid."

  "Let him!" said Barkins. "We know better."

  "But what are we going to do?" I said. "I hate being in a crowd."

  "Oh, they won't crowd us," said Barkins contemptuously. "Here, hi! yousir; mind where you're going. There, I thought you'd do it!"

  This was to a young Chinaman, in a boat something like a Venetiangondola, which he was propelling by one oar as he stood up in the bowswatching us, and was rowing one moment, the next performing a somersaultin the air before plunging into the water between the port oars of ourboat with a tremendous splash.

  I did not say anything, thinking that it was a case of running upagainst a man, and then crying, "Where are you shoving to?" but leanedover the side, and caught at the first thing I saw, which happened to bethe long black plaited pigtail, and, hauling upon it, the yellow,frightened face appeared, two wet hands clutched my arm, and, amidst atremendous outburst of shouting in a highly-pitched tone, boats crowdedround us, and the man was restored to his sampan, which was very littledamaged by the blow inflicted by our stem.

  "Give way, my lads," cried Barkins, and we rowed on towards thelanding-place, followed by a furious yelling; men shaking their fists,and making signs suggestive of how they would like to serve us if theyhad us there.

  "I'm sorry you knocked him over," I said.

  "Who knocked him over, stupid?" cried Barkins. "Why, he ran rightacross our bows. Oh, never mind him! I daresay he wanted washing. Idon't care. Of course, I shouldn't have liked it if he had beendrowned."

  Ten minutes later we were close in to the wharf, and Smith exclaimed--

  "I say, why don't we get that interpreter chap to take us all round theplace?"

  "Don't know where he lives," said Barkins, "or it wouldn't be a badplan."

  "I know," I cried.

  "How do you know?"

  "He showed me when he was on board, through the little glass he wantedto sell you."

  "Why, you couldn't see through that cheap thing, could you?"

  "Yes, quite plain. It's just there, close to the warehouses, with asignboard out."

  "So it is," cried Smith, shading his eyes; and he read aloud from a redboard with gilt letters thereon--

  Ching Englis' spoken Interpret Fancee shop

  Just then the boat glided up against the wood piles; we sprang out on tothe wharf, ordered the men back, and stood for two minutes watching themwell on their return for fear of any evasions, and then found ourselvesin the midst of a dense crowd of the lower-class Chinese, in their bluecotton blouses and trousers, thick white-soled shoes, and every man withhis long black pigtail hanging down between his shoulders.

  These men seemed to look upon us as a kind of exhibition, as theypressed upon us in a semicircle; and I was beginning to think that weshould end by being thrust off into the water, when there was a burst ofangry shouting, a pair of arms began to swing about, and the owner ofthe "fancee shop," whose acquaintance we had made on board, forced hisway to our side, turned his back upon us, and uttered, a few words whichhad the effect of making the crowd shrink back a little.

  Then turning to us, he began, in his highly-pitched inquiring tone--"Youwantee Ching? You wantee eat, dlink, smoke? Ching talkee mucheeEnglis'. Come 'long! hip, hip, hoolay!"