Blue Jackets: The Log of the Teaser, Page 2George Manville Fenn
A PIECE OF CHINA.
Ching flourished his arms to right and left, forming a lane for us topass along, and we followed him for the few dozen yards between thelanding-place and his place of business; but it was like passing throughso much human sand, which flowed in again behind us, and as soon as wewere in the shelter of the lightly-built bamboo place, crowded round thedoor to stare in.
But Ching had regularly taken us under his protection, and, steppinginto the doorway, he delivered himself of a furious harangue, which grewlouder and louder, and ended by his banging to the door and fasteningit; after which he turned to us with his little black eyes twinkling,and crying--
"Allee light. Ching light man light place."
We all laughed, of course, and the Chinaman joined in. Then, growingserious directly, he looked from one to the other.
"You likee dlink?"
"No, no, not yet," cried Barkins.
"No likee dlink?" said the Chinaman wonderingly; and then in a voicefull of reproof, "Sailor boy likee dlink."
"Oh yes, by and by," cried Smith.
"Ah, you wantee buy fan, shawl, ivoly? Fancee shop."
"No, no, we don't want to buy anything now," cried Barkins. "We'll payyou--"
"Allee light," cried the man, brightening up, for he had lookeddisappointed, and he held out both hands for the promised pay.
"Oh, come, wait a bit," I said. "We want you to take us and show us theshops."
"No, no. Shop no good. Bess shop--fancee shop, Ching."
"Oh yes; but we want to see the others too, and the streets."
"Stleet allee full dust--allee full mud. No good."
"Never mind," said Barkins; "we want to see them, and the temples andmandarins' houses."
"Pliest shut up temple. Want muchee money. Mandalin call soldier manmuchee, put all in plison. No good."
"They'd better," cried Smith; "why, the captain would blow all the placedown with his big guns."
"No blow Ching fancee shop down. Englis' spoken. Good fliend."
"Look here, Ching. Shut up shop, and come and take us all round thetown to see everything, and we'll each give you a dollar."
"Thlee dollar?" cried the man, holding his head on one side, and raisingthree fingers.
"Yes," we cried, and once more his hand went out.
"What can't you trust us?" cried Smith.
"No tlust. All pay leady money. Go 'board. Fo'get."
"Oh no, we shan't," I cried. "And look here, Ching, after we've beenround the town we want to go to the theatre."
"'Top flee day to go to fleatre?" he said.
"Three days! no. We must be back on board at sundown."
"No go fleatre--no time."
"Never mind the theatre, then," cried Barkins. "Now then, off we go.And I say, boys, let's have something to eat first."
"Wantee something eatee?" cried Ching, making for a canister upon ashelf.
"No, no," cried Smith, "not that. We want a good dinner. Do you knowwhat a restaurant is?"
The Chinaman shook his head.
"Wantee good din': eat muchee soup, fis', cakee?"
"Yes, that's right; come along."
The yellow-faced man went softly to the door and listened, while weglanced round at the collection of common Chinese curios, carvings,lanterns, sunshades, stuffed birds, bits of silk, and cane baskets whichfilled the place, till he came back to us with a cunning look, and hiseyes twinkling, as Smith said, "like two currants in a penny bun."
"Too muchee men all wait," he whispered. "No talkee talkee;" and,making a gesture to us to be very silent, he led us through the back ofhis shop into a smaller room, closed and fastened the door, and then ledus through another into a kind of yard full of boxes and old tea-chests,surrounded by a bamboo paling.
There was a gate at the end of this, and he led us through, fastened it,and, signing to us to follow, led us in and out behind houses, where wesometimes saw a woman or two, sometimes children at play, all of whomtook refuge within till we had passed.
"Big clowd outside, wait long time," said Ching, with a laugh; anddirectly after he led us along a narrow alley and out into a busystreet, which was crowded enough, but with people going to and fro,evidently on business, and though all stopped to look, and somefollowed, it was not a waterside crowd of loafers, but of respectablepeople, moved by curiosity to watch the barbarian sailors passing alongtheir street, but paying most heed to me with the heavy glass.
I'm getting an old man now, my lads--the old boy who is writing thislog; but it all comes back as clear to my mind's eye as if it were onlyyesterday: the narrow, busy street, with men shuffling along carryingpackages, baskets of fruit and vegetables or fish, cages too containingbirds, and all in the same way slung at the ends of a stout bambooplaced across the bearer's shoulder, and swinging there as if the manwere carrying curious-looking pairs of scales.
The shops were as bright and gay as paint and gilding laid on theirquaint carvings could make them, while on their fronts hung curiouslanterns, banners, and signs covered with Chinese characters, all ofwhich I longed to decipher, and at which I was ready to stop and stare,till Ching bade me imperatively, "Come 'long."
"Chinaman no fond love English sailor allee same Ching. Don't knowbetter. Come 'long."
This drew my attention to the fact that among the faces full ofcuriosity there were plenty which greeted us with a heavy, dull scowl,and, recalling the fact that we were only "foreign devils," according totheir teachings, it seemed better to obey our guide, though we were allbitten by the same desire to stop and inspect the various shops andstores we passed.
Ching led us farther and farther away from the riverside, and pastenclosures at whose gates stood truculent-looking, showily-dressed men,who carried swords hung from a kind of baldrick, and scowled at us frombeneath their flat, conical lacquered hats. And I noticed that ourguide always hurried us past these gateways, peeps through which werewonderfully attractive, showing as they did glimpses of gardens whichlooked like glorified, highly-coloured representations of our oldfriends the willow-pattern plates.
One in particular was so open that Smith stopped short, heedless of thepresence of three fierce-looking Chinamen, with showy robes and longpendent moustachios.
"Look here, boys," he cried. "What a game! Here's the old bridge overthe water, and the cannon-ball tree, and the gold-fish pond, and--"
"Come 'long," whispered Ching hurriedly; and he caught our comrade bythe arm, forcing him onward as the guards scowled at us fiercely.
"Here, what are you up to?" cried Smith, resenting the interference.
"Take velly much care of Englis' offlicers. Big mandalin live there.Men sword velly sharp--cut off head."
"Bosh!" said Smith shortly; "they'd better."
"Oh no, they hadn't," cried Barkins. "We don't want to take you onboard without any head."
"But they daren't hurt us," cried Smith bumptiously. "We're Englishmen,and our gunboat is in the river. I'm not afraid. Why, there'd be a warif one of these men interfered with us. Our people would land and burnup the place."
"No," said Ching quietly. "Send letter to mandalin. Why you men cutoff little offlicer head?"
"Here, who are you calling little officer, Pigtail?" cried Smithindignantly.
"Mean young offlicer," cried Ching hastily. "Say, Why you men cut chopyoung offlicer head off? Mandalin say, Velly solly. He find out whoblave was who chop young offlicer head, and give him lichi."
"You mean toco?" said Barkins.
"What's lichi?" I said.
"Tie blave up along post, and man come velly sharp sword, cut him all in'lit pieces while he live."
"And do they do that?" I asked, in horror.
"Neve' find out blave who chop off head," said Ching, with a queertwinkle of the eyes. "No find blave, no can give him lichi."
"Sounds pleasant, Poet, don't it?" said Ba
"Horrid!" I cried, with a shudder.
"Moral: Don't try to peep into mandarins' gateways, Blacksmith,"continued Barkins.
"Bosh! it's all gammon. I should like to see one of them try to cut myhead off."
"I shouldn't," I cried, laughing; "and he wouldn't."
"No," said Ching perfectly seriously. "Velly bad have head chop off.Head velly useful."
"Very," said Barkins mockingly. "Well done, Chinese Wisdom. I say,Herrick, why is a mandarin like the Grand Panjandrum?"
"Because he plays at the game of catch, catch, can and can't catch theman who cuts off the English fellow's head," said Smith.
"Wrong!" cried Barkins. "Now you, Poet."
"Because he's got a little round button on the top."
"Good boy, go up one," cried Barkins.
"Hallo! what place is this?"
"Velly good place, eatee drinkee. All velly nicee nicee."
"Here, I say, Ching," cried Smith, "gently; any one would think we werebabies. Stow some of that nicee nicee."
"Yes! Stow all along inside, like ship. Allee good. Come 'long."
For we had reached a showy-looking open-sided building, standing alittle way back in a well-kept garden, with rockeries and tinyfish-ponds, clipped trees and paved walks, while the large open housedisplayed tables and neat-looking waiters going to and fro, attendingupon well-dressed Chinamen, whose occupation was so much in accordancewith our desires, that we entered at once, and Ching led the way to atable; one of the waiters coming up smiling as soon as we were seated.
"Now then," cried Barkins, who was full of memories of hard biscuit andtough salt beef, "what are we going to have to eat?"
"I don't know," I said, looking round uneasily. "What have they got?"
"Here, let's make Ching order the dinner," cried Smith. "Look here, oldchap. We can have a good dinner for a dollar apiece, can't we?"
"Velly good dinner, dollar piecee," he replied.
"That's right," said Barkins; "we don't have a chance every day to spenda dollar upon our dinner. Go it, Ching. Tell the waiter fellow, andorder for yourself too. But I say, boys, we must have birds'-nestsoup."
"Of course," we chorussed, though Smith and I agreed afterwards that werather shrank from trying the delicacy.
Ching lost no time in giving the orders, and in a very few minutes theman bustled up with saucers and basins, and we began tasting this andtasting that as well as we could with the implements furnished to us forthe purpose, to wit chopsticks, each watching the apparently wonderfulskill with which Ching transferred his food from the tiny saucers placedbefore him, and imitating his actions with more or less success--generally less.
We had some sweet stuff, and some bits of cucumber cut up small, andsome thick sticky soap-like stuff, which rather put me in mind of meltedblancmange with salt and pepper instead of sugar, and when this wasended came saucers of mincemeat.
"'Tain't bad," whispered Barkins, as we ate delicately. "Peg away,lads. We're pretty safe so long as we eat what Pigtail does."
I did not feel so sure; but I was hungry, and as the food did not seemto be, as Barkins said, bad, I kept on, though I could not helpwondering what we were eating.
"I say, Ching," said Smith suddenly, "when's the birds'-nest soupcoming? Oughtn't we to have had that first?"
"Eat um all up lit' bit go," replied Ching.
"What, that sticky stuff?" I cried.
"Yes. No have velly bess flesh birds'-ness for dolla'; but all vellygood. Nicee nicee, velly nicee."
"Don't!" cried Smith excitedly.
"Let him be, Blacksmith," said Barkins; "it's only his way. Ah, here'ssomething else!"
I looked at the little saucers placed before us, in which, neatlydivided, were little appetising-looking brown heaps, covered with richgravy, and smelling uncommonly nice.
"What's this?" said Barkins, turning his over with the chopsticks.
"Velly good," said Ching, smiling, and making a beginning.
"Yes; don't smell bad," said Smith. "I know: it's quails. There's lotsof quail in China. 'Licious!"
I had a little bit of the white meat and brown gravy, which I hadseparated from a tiny bone with the chopsticks, and was congratulatingmyself on my cleverness, when it dropped back into my saucer, for Ching,with his mouth full, said quietly--
"No, not lit' bird--lat."
"What's lat?" said Barkins suspiciously.
"No lat," said Ching smiling; "lat."
"Well, I said lat. What is lat?"
Smith put down his chopsticks. I had already laid down mine.
"What's the matter?" said Barkins, who kept on suspiciously turning overthe contents of his saucer.
"He means rat," whispered Smith in an awful tone.
"What!" cried Barkins, pushing himself back with a comical look ofdisgust upon his face.
"Yes, lat," said Ching. "Velly good fat lat."
Our faces were a study. At least I know that my companions' were; andwe were perfectly silent while our guide kept on making a sound with hismouth as he supped up the rich gravy.
"Here, hold hard a minute," said Smith. "I mean you, Ching."
"Yes?" said the Chinaman, with a pleasant smile; and he crossed hischopsticks, and looked at our brother middy inquiringly.
"What was that we were eating a little while ago?"
"Clucumber; velly good."
"No, no; before that."
"Birds'-ness soup; velly cost much. Not all birds'-ness. Someshark-fis' fin."
"I don't mean that, I tell you," cried Smith in an exasperated tone ofvoice. "I mean that other brown meat cut up small into the brown sauce.It was rabbit, wasn't it?"
"Oh no," said Ching decisively; "no labbit. Lit' mince-up pup-dog.Nicee nicee."
Smith turned green, and his eyes rolled so that he actually squinted;while Barkins uttered a low sound-like gasp. As for me, I felt as Iremember feeling after partaking meekly of what one of my aunts used tocall prune tea--a decoction made by boiling so many French plums alongwith half an ounce of senna leaves.
"Oh gracious!" murmured Barkins; while Smith uttered a low groan.
"You both likee more?" said Ching blandly.
"No!" they cried so unanimously that it was like one voice; and in spiteof my own disgust and unpleasant sensations I felt as if I must laugh atthem.
"Oh, mawkish morsels!" muttered Barkins.
"You feel you have 'nuff?" said Ching, smiling. "Oh no. Loas' suck-pigcome soon. You eat velly much more."
"Not if I know it," whispered Smith to me. "I don't believe it'll bepig."
"What then?" I whispered back.
"Well, kid's nice."
"Get out! I meant baby."
"It's too late to say don't," groaned Smith. "We've done it."
"Hold up, old chap," I whispered. "Everybody's looking at you."
"Let 'em," he groaned. "Oh, I do feel so ill!"
"Nonsense! Look at Tanner."
He turned his wild eyes upon Barkins, whose aspect was ludicrous enoughto make him forget his own sensations, and he smiled a peculiarlysaddened, pensive smile; for our messmate was leaning towards Ching.
"Don't eat any more of that," he said faintly.
"Eat um all up; velly good."
"Can one get a drop of brandy here?"
"Dlop blandy? No. Velly nicee 'lack."
"No, no 'lack! lice spilit."
"'Rack!" I said--"arrack?"
"Yes, allack," said Ching, nodding.
"Let's have some--a glass each," said Barkins; "and look sharp."
Ching summoned one of the smiling waiters, and the order was given.Then for the first time he noticed that we had not finished the contentsof our little saucers.
"No eat lat?" he cried.
I shook my head.
"We're not quite well," said Smith.
br /> "Been out in the sun too much," added Barkins.
"Ah, sun too much bad! Lit' dlop spilit make quite well. No eat lat?"
"No, no!" we cried in chorus.
"Velly good," said our guide; and in alarm lest such a delicacy shouldbe wasted, he drew first one and then the other saucer over to his side,and finished their contents.
Long before this, though, the attendant had brought us three tinyglasses of white spirit, which we tossed off eagerly, with the resultthat the qualmish sensations passed away; but no recommendations on thepart of our guide could induce us to touch anything that followed,saving sundry preparations of rice and fruit, which were excellent.
The dinner over, Ching took us about the garden to inspect the lilies inpots, the gold and silver fish, fat and wonderfully shaped, which glidedabout in the tanks and ponds, and then led us into a kind of arbour,where, beneath a kind of wooden eave, an instrument was hanging from apeg. It was not a banjo, for it was too long; and it was not a guitar,for it was too thin, and had not enough strings; but it was something ofthe kind, and evidently kept there for the use of musically-disposedvisitors.
"You likee music?" said Ching.
"Oh yes," I replied dubiously, as I sat using the telescope, gazingright away over the lower part of the town at the winding river, withits crowds of craft.
"Why, he isn't going to play, is he?" whispered Smith. "We don't wantto hear that. Let's go out in the town."
"Don't be in such a hurry," replied Barkins. "The sun's too hot. Isay, our dinner wasn't such a very great success, was it?"
Smith shook his head, and just then Ching began to tune the instrument,screwing the pegs up and down, and producing the most lugubrious sounds,which somehow made me begin to think of home, and how strange it was tobe sitting there in a place which seemed like part of a picture,listening to the Chinese guide.
I had forgotten the unpleasantry of the dinner in the beauty of thescene, for there were abundance of flowers, the sky was of a vivid blue,and the sun shone down brilliantly, and made the distant water of theriver sparkle.
Close by there were the Chinese people coming and going in their strangecostume; a busy hum came through the open windows; and I believe that ina few minutes I should have been asleep, if Ching had not awakened me byhis vigorous onslaught upon the instrument, one of whose pegs refused tostay in exactly the right place as he kept on tuning.
Then a little more screwing up.
_Peng_, _peng_, _pang_--_pong_.
Ching stopped, nursed the instrument upon his knee as if it were a baby,pulled out the offending peg as if it were a tooth, moistened the hole,replaced the peg, and began again--screw, screw, screw.
Just a quarter of a tone out still, and he tried again diligently, whilemy eyes half closed, and the Tanner and Blacksmith both nodded in theheat.
Right at last; and Ching threw himself back so that his mouth would opento the widest extent, struck a chord on the three strings, and burstforth with celestial accompaniment into what was in all probability apassionate serenade, full of allusions to nightingales, moonbeams,dew-wet roses, lattice-windows, and beautiful moon-faced maidens, butwhich sounded to me like--
"Ti ope I ow wow, Ti ope I ow yow, Ti ope I ow tow, Ti ope I ligh."
The words, I say, sounded like that: the music it would be impossible togive, for the whole blended together into so lamentable a howl, thatboth Barkins and Smith started up into wakefulness from a deep sleep,and the former looked wildly round, as confused and wondering heexclaimed--
As for Smith, he seemed to be still half-asleep, and he sat up, staringblankly at the performer, who kept on howling--I can call it nothingelse--in the most doleful of minor keys.
"I say," whispered Barkins, "did you set him to do that?"
I shook my head.
"Because--oh, just look! here are all the people coming out to seewhat's the matter."
He was right as to the people coming, for in twos and threes, as theyfinished the refreshment of which they had been partaking, first onepath was filled and then another, the people coming slowly up andstopping to listen, while Barkins stared at them in blank astonishment.
"Here Nat--Poet," he whispered, "look at 'em."
"I am looking," I said. "Isn't it just like a picture?"
"It's like an old firescreen," he said; "but I don't mean that. Look!Hang me if the beggars don't seem to like it. Can't you stop him?"
"No, of course not."
"But how long will it be before he has run down?"
"I don't know," I whispered. "But look, aren't those like some of themen we saw by the gates?"
I drew his attention to about half-a-dozen fierce-looking men in showycoats and lacquered hats, who came up to the garden, stared hard at us,and then walked in. Each of them, I noticed, wore a sword, and a kindof dagger stuck in his belt, and this made me at once recall theiroffensive looks and contemptuous manner towards us, and think of how farwe were away from the ship, and unarmed, save for the ornamental dirkswhich hung from our belts, weapons that would have been, even if we hadknown how to use them, almost like short laths against the Chinamen'sheavy, broad-bladed, and probably sharp swords.
"I say, Gnat," whispered Barkins, "those must be the chaps we saw at themandarin's gate. Never mind; we'll ask them to have something as soonas old Ching has finished his howling."
But that did not seem likely to be for some time, and I began to think,as I sat there noticing how the men were gradually closing in upon us,that our position was not very safe, right away from the landing-place,and that we had done wrong in stopping so long where we were. I knewthat the Chinese were obsequious and humble enough so long as they wereface to face with a stronger power, but if they had the upper hand,cruel and merciless to any one not of their own nation, and that it waswiser to give them a wide berth.
Then I began to think that the captain had been too ready to believe inour prestige in giving us leave to go, and that we should have beenwiser if we had stayed on board. Finally, I had just come to theconclusion that we ought to stop Ching in his howling or singing, whichgrew more and more vehement as he saw that his audience was increasing,when Smith jogged my elbow.
"I say," he whispered, "let's get away from here."
"Why?" I said, to get to know what he thought.
"Because I'm afraid those chaps with the swords mean mischief."
"I say, lads," said Barkins, leaning towards us, "aren't those chapscrowding us up rather? What do they mean? Here, I'm senior, and theskipper said I was to take care of you youngsters. We'll go back to thewharf at once."
"What's the good?" said Smith. "The boat won't be there to fetch us offtill sundown."
"Never mind, let's get away from here," said Barkins decisively; "wedon't want to get in a row with the Chinese, and that's what they want."
"But they're quiet enough," I said, growing nervous all the while.
"Yes, they're quiet enough now," whispered Barkins; "but you look atthat big fellow with the yellow belt, he keeps on making faces at us."
"Let him; that will not hurt us."
"I know that, little stupid," he cried, "but what follows may. Look athim now."
I looked up quickly, and saw the man turn away from looking at us, andsay something to his fierce-looking companions, who glanced towards usand laughed.
"There," said Barkins, "I'm not going to be laughed at by those jollyold pigtailed heathens. Here, Ching, old chap, we want to go."
As he spoke he gave our guide a sharp nudge, which made him turn roundand stare.
"Do you hear? We want to go!"
"Ti--ope--I--ow!" howled Ching, beginning again.
"Yes, we want to go," I said anxiously.
"Ti--ope--I--ow!" he howled again, but as he gave forth his peculiarsounds he suddenly struck--purposely--a false, jarring note, lowered
theinstrument, seized one of the pegs as if in a passion, and began talkingto me in a low, earnest voice, to the accompaniment of the string hetuned.
"Ching see now,"--_peng_, _peng_, _peng_--"bad men withswords,"--_pang_, _peng_--"look velly closs,"--_pang_, _pong_--"wanteefightee,"--_pang_, _pang_--"you no wantee fightee,"--_pung_, _pung_.
"No," I whispered anxiously; "let's go at once."
"No takee notice,"--_pang_, _peng_, _peng_. "All flee, walkee walkeeround one sidee house,"--_pang_, _pong_--"Ching go long othersidee,"--_peng_, _peng_. "No make, hully--walkee velly slow over lit'blidge,"--_ping_, _ping_, _ping_, _ping_, _pang_, _pang_.
The little bridge was just behind us, and I grasped all he said--that wewere to go slowly over the bridge and walk round the back of the house,while he would go round the front and meet us on the other side.
_Bang_, _jangle_, _pang_, _pang_, _ping_, _ping_, _peng_, _peng_, wentthe instrument, as Ching strummed away with all his might.
"Wait, Ching come show way," he whispered. And as I saw that themandarin's men were coming nearer and evidently meant mischief, Chingraised his instrument again, and, after a preliminary flourish, beganonce more, to the delight of the crowd. My messmates and I slowly leftour places and walked round the summer-house towards the little bridgeover one of the gold-fish tanks, moving as deliberately as we could,while Ching's voice rang out, "Ti--ope--I--ow!" as if nothing were thematter.
The little crowd was between us and the mandarin's retainers, but it washard work to appear cool and unconcerned. Above all, it took almost asuperhuman effort to keep from looking back.
Smith could not resist the desire, and gave a sharp glance round.
"They're coming after us," he whispered. "We shall have to cut andrun."
"No, no," said Barkins hoarsely. "They'd overtake us directly. They'dcome down like a pack of wolves. We must be cool, lads, and be ready toturn and draw at the last. The beggars are awful cowards after all."
We went on over the bridge, and, in spite of my dread, I made believe tolook down at the gold-fish, pointing below at them, but seizing theopportunity to look out for danger.
It was a quick glance, and it showed me that the crowd from theeating-house were taking no notice of us, but listening to Ching, whohad left his seat, and, singing with all his might, was walking alongone of the paths towards the front of the low building, while we wereslowly making for the back, with the result of crowding the mandarin'smen back a little, for the whole of the company moved with our guide,carefully making room for him to play, and thus unconsciously theyhampered the movements of our enemies.
The distance was not great, of course--fifty yards altogether, perhaps,along winding and doubling walks, for the Chinese are ingenious overmaking the most of a small garden, but it was long enough to keep us inan intense state of excitement, as from time to time we caught sight ofthe men following us.
Then we saw that they had stopped to watch which way we went, anddirectly after we knew that they were only waiting for us to be behindthe house to go back and hurry round and meet us.
At last we had passed to the end of the maze-like walk, and weresheltered by the house from the little crowd and our enemies, with theresult that all felt relieved.
"I say," said Smith, "isn't this only a scare?"
"Don't know," said Barkins. "P'raps so; but I shan't be sorry to get onboard again. They think nothing of cutting a fellow to pieces."
"Let's make haste, then," I said; and, nothing loth, the others hurriedon past the back of the house, where the kitchen seemed to be, andplenty of servants were hurrying to and fro, too busy to take any heedof us. Then we turned the corner, and found that we were opposite to agateway opening upon a very narrow lane, which evidently went along bythe backs of the neighbouring houses, parallel with the main street,which was, however, not such a great deal wider than this.
"Here's a way for us to go down, at all events," said Barkins, after wehad listened for a few moments for Ching's song, and the wiry notes ofhis instrument.
"Yes, let's cut down at once," said Smith.
"Where to?" I said excitedly. "We can't find our way without Ching."
"No; and those beggars would hunt us down there at once," said Barkins."Won't do. I say, though, why don't they give us better tools thanthese to wear?"
"Hark!" I said; "listen!"
We listened, but there was nothing but the murmur of voices in thehouse, and not a soul to be seen on our side, till all at once I caughtsight of something moving among the shrubs, and made out that it was thegay coat of one of the men from whom we sought to escape.
"Come on!" said Smith excitedly, and he threw open the gate leading intothe narrow lane, so that in another moment we should have been in fullretreat, had not a door behind us in the side of the house been opened,and Ching appeared.
He did not speak, but made a sign for us to enter, and we were hardlyinside and the door thrust to--all but a chink big enough for our guideto use for reconnoitring--when we heard the soft pat-pat of the men'sboots, then the rustle of their garments, and the tap given by one oftheir swords as they passed through the gateway and ran down the narrowlane.
"All gone along, catchee you," whispered Ching. "Come 'long other way."
He stepped out, made us follow, and then carefully closed the door.
"Now, come 'long this way," he said, with his eyes twinkling. "Nowalkee fast. Allee boy lun after."
We saw the wisdom of his proceedings, and followed him, as he took us bythe way our enemies had come, straight out into the main street, down ita little way, and then up a turning, which he followed till we came toanother important street parallel to the one by which we had come, andbegan to follow it downward toward the waterside.
"Muchee flighten?" he said.
"Oh, I don't know," growled Barkins, who had the deepest voice of thethree. "It was startling. Did they mean mischief?"
"Mean chop chop. Allee bad wick' men. No catchee now. Ching vellymuch flighten."
He did not look so, but chatted away with open, smiling face, as hepointed first on one side then on the other to some striking-lookingshop or building, though he never paused for a moment, but kept on at agood rate without showing a sign of hurry or excitement.
"How are we to get on board when we get to the river?" I said, as wewent on. "There'll be no boat till sundown."
"Ching get one piecee boat low all aboard ship."
"Can't you keep us in your place till our boat comes?"
The man shook his head. "Mandalin boy come burn um down, makee all lunout. So velly hot. No stay. Get boat, low away."
"How far is it, do you think?" asked Smith.
"I don't know," said Barkins. "We seemed to be walking for hours in thehot sun coming up. How far is it, Ching?"
"Velly long way. No look at garden now."
He pointed to one of the handsome gateways about which a party of armedretainers were hanging, and, whispering to us not to take any notice, hewalked us steadily along.
But we were not to get by the place without notice, for the loungers sawus coming, and strode out in a swaggering way--three big sturdy fellowsin blue and scarlet, and pretty well blocked the way as they stoodscowling at us.
"Look out," whispered Barkins, "ready with your toasting-forks, and thenif it comes to it we must run."
"You'll stick by us, Gnat," whispered Smith in a hasty whisper.
"I'll try," I said.
"Keep velly close," whispered Ching. "No takee notice. No talkeecloss. Ching speakee."
He said something in Chinese to the men, and led us in single filebetween the two most fierce-looking, our prompt action taking themsomewhat by surprise, and, as we gave them no excuse for taking offence,they only turned to gaze after us.
There were plenty of people in the street ready to stand and look at us,and we met with no interruption from them, but I could not help seeingthe anxiety in Ching's face, and how from time to time he wiped hisstream
ing brow. But as soon as he saw either of us looking at him hesmiled as if there was nothing the matter whatever.
"No velly long now," he said. "Lot bad men to-day. You come walkeewalkee 'gain?"
"It's not very tempting, Ching," I said. "Why can't they leave usalone?"
He tightened his lips and shook his head. Then, looking sharply beforehim, he hurried us along a little more.
"Wish got ten--twenty--piecee soldier man 'longside," he whispered tome, and the next minute he grasped my arm with a spasmodic snatch.
"What's the matter?" I said.
He did not speak, but looked sharply to right and left for a means ofescape. For, in spite of the cleverness of our guide, the mandarin'smen had been as cunning. They had either divined or been told that wehad made for the other street, and had contrived to reach the connectinglane along which we should have to pass. Here they had plantedthemselves, and just as we were breathing more freely, in the beliefthat before long we should reach the shore of the great river, we caughtsight of them in company with about a dozen more.
We were all on the point of halting, as we saw them about fifty yards infront, but Ching spoke out sharply--
"No stoppee," he said firmly. "Lun away, all come catchee and choppeeoff head. Go 'long stlaight and flighten 'em. Englis' sailor foleigndebil, 'flaid o' nobody."
"There's something in that," said Barkins. "Right. Show a bold front,lads. Let's go straight by them, and if they attack, then out with yourswords and let's make a fight for it."
I heard Smith say, "All right," and my heart was beating very fast as Isaid the same.
Frightened? Of course I was. I don't believe the boy ever lived whowould not feel frightened at having to face death. For it was death wehad to face then, and in the ugliest shape. But Smith's words sent athrill through us.
"I say, lads," he said, "we've got to fight this time. If we begged forour lives they'd only serve us worse; so let 'em have it, and recollectthat, if they kill us, the old _Teasers'll_ come and burn their townabout their ears."
"'Fraid, Ching?" I whispered; for he and I were in front.
"No 'flaid now," he whispered back. "Plenty flighten by and by."
He smiled as he spoke, and led us straight on to where the fourmandarin's men and the rough-looking fellows with them blocked the road,and if for a moment we had shown any hesitation, I believe they wouldhave rushed at us like wolves. But Ching kept his head up as if proudof acting as guide to three British officers, and when we got close uphe nodded smilingly at the men in the mandarin's colours, and then, asif astounded at the little crowd standing fast, he burst out into afurious passion, shouting at them in a wild gabble of words, with theeffect of making them give way at once, so that we passed through.
Then I heard him draw a panting breath, and saw that he was ghastly.
"Walkee walkee," he whispered. "Not velly fast. 'Top I say lun, andlun fast alleegether."
At that moment there was a loud shouting behind, then a yell, and,turning my head, I saw that the mandarin's men had their great bladesout, and were leading the men after us, shouting to excite themselvesand the little mob.
"Now lun!" cried Ching. "I showee way."
"No!" shouted Barkins. "Draw swords and retreat slowly."
We whipped out our weapons and turned to face the enemy, knowing fullwell that they would sweep over us at the first rush, while a feeling ofrage ran through me, as in my despairing fit I determined to make thebig fellow opposite to me feel one dig of English steel before he cut medown.
Then they were upon us with a rush, and I saw Ching dart in front andcleverly snatch one of the clumsy swords from the nearest man. The nextmoment he had whirled it up with both hands, when--
There was the report of a heavy gun, whose concussion made the woodenhouses on each side jar and quiver as it literally ran up the narrowstreet, and, to our astonishment, we saw the little mob turn on theinstant and begin to run, showing us, instead of their fierce savagefaces, so many black pigtails; the mandarin's men, though, last.
"Hooray!" we yelled after them, and they ran the faster.
"Now, velly quick," panted Ching. "Come back again soon."
We uttered another shout, and hurried along the lane to the principalstreet, turned at right angles, and began to hurry along pretty rapidlynow, Ching marching beside us with the big sword over his shoulder.
But the scare was only temporary, the tremendous report was notrepeated, and before a minute had elapsed, our guide, who kept glancingback, cried--
"Now, lun velly fast. Come along catchee catchee, and no big gun goshoot this time."
He was quite right, and we took to our heels, with the yelling mob closeat hand, and so many people in front, that we felt certain of being rundown long before we could reach the waterside.
"And no chance for us when we do," muttered Barkins from close behindme. "Oh, if a couple of dozen of our lads were only here! Why didn'tthey send 'em?" he panted, "instead of firing as a signal for us to goback on board."