Stan Lynn: A Boy's Adventures in ChinaGeorge Manville Fenn
Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England
Stan Lynn, by George Manville Fenn.
________________________________________________________________________STAN LYNN, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
"CAN YOU USE A SWORD?"
"Yes! What is it?"
"Hist, boy! Jump up and dress."
"Oh, it's you, father!" said the newly aroused sleeper, slipping out ofbed--or, rather, off his bed, for the heat of an Eastern China night hadmade him dispense with bedclothes.
He made a frantic dash at his trousers, feeling confused and strange inthe darkness, and hardly knowing whether he was dreaming or awake, as hewhispered:
"Is anything the matter?"
There was no reply, and the lad became conscious of the fact that hisfather had passed out of the room after awakening him.
Dressing in the darkness is not pleasant. Buttons have a habit ofmaking for the wrong holes, socks and collars and ties of slipping offthe bedside chair and hiding underneath anywhere; while if it is verydark, elbows come in contact with pieces of furniture, and the back ofthe hair-brush is liable to come rap against the skull, instead of theyielding, bristly front.
Stanley Lynn went through divers experiences of this kind as he hurriedon his clothes, wondering what was the matter the while, and coming tothe conclusion that Uncle Jeff must have been taken ill and wanted thedoctor.
The lad had just come to this decision when a faint click told him thatthe door had been reopened--proof of which came in the shape of awhisper:
"Yes, father. Is Uncle Jeff ill?"
"Hi? No, my boy. But be very quiet; they don't know that we arestirring."
"Who don't, father?"
"Bah! Don't ask questions, boy," said his father in an impatientwhisper. "There, there! of course you want to know. Here, Stan, canyou fight?"
"A little, father," said the boy in a tone full of surprise. "I had twoor three sets-to at school."
"Pooh! Absurd! Look here, boy; your uncle Jeff was alarmed by soundsdown by the warehouse entry, and looking out cautiously, he saw men atwork by the big doors."
"Robbers, father?" said the boy excitedly.
"Yes, robbers--river pirates."
"And you want me to go for the police?"
"No, boy; I want you to help us to keep the wretches at bay. We shallbe only three with you, and we can't afford to reduce our numbers totwo. Can you load and fire a pistol?"
"Yes, father; Tom Dicks and I used to go rabbit-shooting with one--"
"Then you ought to be able to hit a man if you can shoot rabbits."
The thought flashed across the boy's brain that, though he and hisfellow-pupil had gone shooting on the Clovelly cliffs times enough, theyhad never once hit a rabbit; but there was no time to communicate thisfact to his father. "And besides," he thought, "I dare say firing thepistol will be enough; the noise will frighten the men away."
"Can you use a sword, Stan?"
"Yes, father. You know I had fencing lessons."
"Bah!" muttered his elder impatiently. "Poking about a square skewerwith a leather-covered button at the end! I mean a service sword--cutand thrust. There! you must try. Catch hold and come along. Loaded,mind."
The last words were uttered as the boy felt the butt of a revolverthrust into one hand, the handle of a sword into the other.
"Tread softly, boy," whispered his father. "This way."
Stanley Lynn felt more confused than ever, for he had only returned fromEngland two days before, after six years' absence and work at a bigschool; and the home he had now come to in Hai-Hai was a very muchlarger and more important place than that he had quitted at Canton yearsbefore. Everything had seemed strange, even by day, in the big, roomy,lightly built place connected with the great warehouse and wharf, whilethe lower part of the former building was used as offices andsampling-rooms. He had not half mastered the intricacies of the placeby the previous evening, while now in the darkness--woke up from a deepsleep--everything seemed puzzling in the extreme.
"Got him?" said a familiar voice out of the darkness.
"That's right. Don't be alarmed, Stan. The rascals are breaking intothe office, but I think if we keep up a little revolver-shooting they'llsoon go back to their boats."
"Eh?" cried Stanley's father. "Then they came in boats?"
"I've not seen them; but of course they came in boats. Hist!"
There was no need for the warning, for all held their breath andlistened to a low, scratching, tearing noise suggestive of some toolbeing used to break open a door.
"They're at the big side-entry," said Stanley's father.
"No; it's the little office door, I'm sure," said the gentleman whomStanley's father addressed as Jeff. "Now then, what shall we do? Godown and fire through the door, or give them a dose out of one of thesewindows?"
"It all comes of building a place so far from help," said Stanley'sfather, ignoring his brother's question.
"Don't grumble, man," was the reply. "Why, in another year we shall bequite shut in."
"Will that save us now?" said Stanley's father bitterly.
"No, Noll, old fellow," said his brother cheerfully. "We shall have tosave ourselves this time--independently.--Like fighting, Stan?" hecontinued, turning to the boy.
"No, uncle; hate it," said the lad laconically.
"Ha! I dare say this is not the only time you will be called upon to dothings you don't like.--Now, now, what is it to be--downstairs, and afew shots through the panels?"
"I suppose so--Take care, Stan; they are savage beasts to deal with."
"Yes, the brutes!" said Uncle Jeff; "but he need not expose himself.We'll do the work if he hands us the tools."
"That I shan't!" muttered the boy, gripping sword and pistol tightly."Father doesn't wish me to do that."
"Come along," said Uncle Jeff. "Shall I lead, Noll?"
"Yes; go on.--Take care how you come, Stan. And mind this, boy: if theenemy do begin to fire, throw yourself flat on your face at once."
"Yes, father," was the reply; and the next minute, as Stan judged, theywere standing in a wide passage, listening to the scraping, tearingnoise, which sounded dull and smothered, till all at once, after a faintrustling which indicated that Uncle Jeff had unlocked, unbarred,unbolted, and thrown open a door, the cracking and tearing sounded quiteloud.
"Bless 'em!" whispered Uncle Jeff, "they mean silk. Never mind; we'llgive them lead instead. Be ready! Silence! They don't know we'rehere."
As he spoke Uncle Jeff moved towards the spot from which the noise came,and Stan felt his arm grasped above the elbow by his father and guidedin one particular direction till he touched his uncle in the dark.
In the brief moments which ensued, Stan, now fully awake not only towhat was going on but to the danger of his position, seemed to see agroup of rough-looking, semi-savage Chinese--with whose stolid,half-cunning, half-treacherous countenances he had become acquaintedduring his short sojourn in port--standing just outside the office door,looking on while three or four were plying crowbars and trying to priseopen the stout door, which seemed to be bravely resisting their efforts,till all at once there was a sharp crack and the falling inside of apiece of wood.
As the wood fell with a soft, clattering sound all became silent, theattacking party evidently listening for the occupants of the house toraise an alarm, or at all events to make some sign.
But no one inside stirred until, after quite ten minutes--which seemedto Stan like sixty--the cracki
ng and breaking of wood was heard again.
Then Uncle Jeff turned to his brother and whispered:
"Hold your hand. I'll try what a shot by way of warning will do. If wefire and wound the wretches they will be furious, and we are very weak."
Stanley's father whispered back two words which did not in the leastaccord with the position of the listeners, for he said:
The next moment Stan saw a bright flash of light cut the darkness,showing by its diagonal direction that the pistol had been fired towardsthe ceiling.
The report sounded loud, and was followed once more by perfect silence.
The lad's heart gave a leap, and a feeling of profound relief andsatisfaction came over him.
"Frightened them away!" he said to himself; and the horrible thoughtswhich had attacked him like a nightmare, of the atrocities of which themarauding Chinese were reported to have been guilty, were dying slowlyaway, when the lad's spirits sank again to zero, and he felt as cold,for all at once a savage burst of yells arose, followed by a fierceattack upon the door. All attempt at concealment was now at an end, andthe attempt became perfectly open.
"Won't this bring help, father?" said Stan in a voice that soundedrather choking.
"No," said Uncle Jeff shortly. "People will think it is some Chineserow, and by the time the right sort of help comes it will be too late ifwe don't take care.--Now then, Oliver, it means business. We must holdthe place till help does come. Make ready, and let's give them threeshots through the door. I don't suppose it will do any harm to them,but it may scare them off. Now then!--You will fire too, Stan?"
"Quick, then! Aim straight at the spot where the noise is loudest.Ready!--Fire!"
Three revolver-shots sounded almost like one, and this was followed by alow, fierce snarl. The beating and breaking of the woodwork ceased, andthere was an angry, passionate cry, with a deep, hurried growling as ofmany voices.
"Some one hit," said Stanley's father.
"And serve the wretch right!" cried Uncle Jeff fiercely. "Come, Oliver,old fellow, it is no time for being squeamish; it's our lives ortheirs."
"Yes," said Stanley's father firmly. "Forgive me if I had a fewminutes' hesitation. We must fight, Jeff, and do our best. Help mustcome at last."
"But can't I go and fetch help, father--uncle?"
"No, boy--no," said his uncle impatiently. "Do you want to be hacked topieces?"
"No, uncle. They wouldn't see me in the dark."
"Perhaps not, boy, but they'd feel you. There are dozens of them, andyou may rest assured that they have surrounded the place. Help mustcome from without. All we can do is to hold out and fight as savagelyas they do."
"Hush! what's that?" said Stanley's father sharply.
"I can hear it: hammering somewhere at the back," said Stanleyexcitedly.
"It's what I expected," said his uncle. "They are trying to break inthere. Let's give them a couple of rounds, and then get out of here andbarricade the door."
"I don't like giving up till they force a way in," said Stanley'sfather; and the lad felt that he was right, until his uncle spoke.
"Are we fit to meet such an onslaught as they will make?" he saidangrily. "They'll rush in with spear and sword--you know their recklessway. We should be overpowered at once. Come, Oliver, leave all to me.Firing is our only chance."
"Yes," said Stanley's father. "Give the word."
It was given, and another little volley was delivered, filling theoffice with light for a moment, and the dense, dank smell of burntgunpowder for long enough.
This volley did more mischief, for much of the woodwork of the panelshad been cut away; but the result was only to enrage the attacking partymore and more, making them hack furiously at the door, and with sucheffect that the proximity of the sounds indicated that it could not belong before it was broken right away.
"Be ready for the retreat," said Uncle Jeff. "Can you find your way,Stan?"
"Then, when I give the word, pass through first and stand aside while Ibolt and bar the inner door.--Ah! it's time to move. Now then, fire,and then dash through into the lobby."
It was none too soon, for all at once, after a thundering crack or two,the remains of the door gave way. The marauders rushed in with a yell,but to be met with another little volley; and as they came on, yellingsavagely, and making a rush for the position occupied by the defenders,as indicated by the flashes of the revolvers, yet another volley wasfired, checking them for the moment, and giving Uncle Jeff time to slamthe inner door in their faces, and to lock and bolt it rapidly in theblack darkness.
"There!" he said; "that will take them some time to get through, andevery minute is of value now."
Stan could hear the enemy raging round the office they had just quitted;and then, after a little shouting, the shape of the door became visible,marked out as it was by faint lines of light, while from the keyholecame a vivid ray which cut through the black passage and formed a dullspot upon the wall at the end.
"Let's go up now," said Uncle Jeff, "and do a little firing from one ofthe upstair windows."
"Do you mean to come down here again?" asked Stanley's father.
"Not while these ruffians are near.--What do you say, Stan?"
"It would be like throwing our lives away, uncle."
"Quite right, my boy. No; we will lock the door at the top of thestairs and then barricade it. We shall be pretty safe then from attackmade below."
"They will try to reach us by one of the first-floor windows."
"Yes; but they will only be able to come up one at a time, and so longas the ammunition lasts I think we can keep them back.--Why, Stan, mylad, this is a queer experience for you," continued Uncle Jeff as,taking everything quite coolly, he helped his brother to lock andcarefully secure what was literally the front-door of their dwelling,although it was entered by means of a flight of steps, and was on thefirst floor of the newly built house.
"Yes, uncle, it is strange," said the boy quietly: "but it seems veryhorrible for you and my father."
"Eh?" said Uncle Jeff dryly. "Well, yes, it is rather horrible, butmostly so for the Chinamen. There! let's get to one of the windows,and--"
"Yes, uncle--quick! That one to the left. Oh, pray make haste!"
"Why?" said Stan's father, impressed by his son's sudden display ofexcitement.
"I saw the top of a ladder faintly showing against the sky."
As the lad finished speaking, proof of his assertion came in the shapeof a little shower of splintered glass driven out of one of thewindow-sashes to fall tinkling into the dark room.
Almost at the same moment Stan obeyed the first dictates of hiscommon-sense as called forth by the emergency; for, without waiting tobe told, he raised the pistol he held and took a quick aim in what heconsidered to be the right direction.
A loud yell was the result, and as Stan's father rushed to the window tofollow up the shot with another, he held his hand, and stood lookingdown into the dimly seen group below. He was just in time to make outfaintly the top of a ladder describing an arch above the crowd beneath,while, clinging to it and crying for help, there, like a bundle ofclothes, was the figure of the man who had first attempted the escalade.
Stanley caught a glimpse of the figure too, and rushed to the window,just in time to see the crowd in motion and the luckless, alreadywounded Chinaman come heavily down among his friends.
"Will they try again, father?" whispered Stan, as if in fear of hiswords being heard through the broken window.
"Unless help comes," was the reply, given in a tone which seemed toStanley to suggest that the enemy would be sure to return, and beforelong.
"But if they do try to raise the ladder again, Stan, my boy," said UncleJeff cheerily, "why, you must show your skill with the pistol once more.Why, boy, I couldn't have shot like that!"
"Jeff," said Stan's father hurriedly, "I can hear them busy
"Trying to get up? Well, they have got their work cut out. But, hullo!what's that? Smashing up the office furniture."
"Yes; that's it, uncle. Listen; you can hear it quite plainly."
"Poor, child-like beggars!" said Uncle Jeff contemptuously. "How Ishould like to have the lot trapped by a company of foot, and then seethem thoroughly caned like schoolboys! Yes, they are smashing things uppretty well. Bad job, Oliver, for we shall have to furnish the wholeoffice again, and rebuild it, too, with the rest of the place."
"Oh, not so bad as that, Jeff!" said Stanley's father.
"Yes, my lad; you may make up your mind for the worst. Don't you graspwhy they are breaking up the things?"
"Fire?" cried Stanley excitedly.
"Right, my lad. They're going to burn us out."
Stanley's father stamped heavily upon the floor in the impotent rage hefelt.
"What's to be done, Jeff?" he said. "They'll beat us now."
"Fire for fire, brother Oliver," said Uncle Jeff through histeeth.--"Here, Stan, my lad, don't you begin thinking that your uncle isa bloodthirsty wretch, because all he asks for here is to be let aloneto make his living and a bit to spare.--Do you hear, sir?"
"Yes, uncle," said Stan, who had more ears for the sounds below than forhis uncle's words.
"That's right, then. The Chinese can run away if they like, but if theydon't they must take their chance of getting bullets through them.--Now,Oliver, old lad, set the example. We can't stand here to be roasted todeath, for it would be very unpleasant; so shoot as many of the wretchesas you can.--And you, Stan, my boy, help him. Ah, look out! They'reraising the ladder again."
Both Stan and his father saw the peril at the same moment, and theyrushed forward, Stan following his father's example and beating out apane of glass with the butt of his revolver so as to make room to fire.
They were invisible to the attacking party, but the noise made by thefalling glass directed the attention of the mob to their presence, andthey were saluted by a savage burst of yelling and a shower of missiles,which did no more harm than to destroy a pane or two of glass.
It was different with the fire the enemy drew: for, feeling that theywere regularly fighting for their lives, and growing desperate, Stan andhis father watched the moving ladder, whose end came with a sharp rapagainst the sill of the window. As soon as the upper part was darkenedby the figure of a man, Oliver Lynn fired, there was a yell, and the manstood fast. But another rushed up to his support, and this time Stanleyfired. The new arrival let go his hold of the ladder-sides, jerkedhimself back, and fell headlong on to the people watching his progress.
But the sight of their falling friends only enraged the attacking party,and another man or two rushed up the ladder, just as Uncle Jeff seizedand threw the window wide-open, waited his time, and feeling more thanseeing that the men were crowding up, stepped out on the sill, seizedthe top of the ladder, and raising it up a little, made one tremendousheave and thrust, forcing it outward till it was perfectlyperpendicular. Then he gave a final thrust and sent it outwards, themob below yelling, and some of those on the rungs of the ladderbeginning to leap off before it went over backwards with a loud crash,but unfortunately taking Uncle Jeff with it, for he found it impossibleto recover his balance.