Stan Lynn: A Boy's Adventures in China, Page 2George Manville Fenn
"KEEP UP THE FIRING."
"Gone!" gasped Stan as he looked down into the seething darkness.
"Don't stand talking, boy!" cried his father angrily. "Fire--fire tokeep the enemy off. Be careful--be quick!"
He set the example, keeping up a steady delivery of shots from hisrevolver, Stan giving shot for shot, but with his hand trembling so thathe could not take aim. Then all at once, to his intense delight, thefiring seemed to be answered from out of the darkness below, but againstthe enemy, it being plain after the first shot that Uncle Jeff hadregained his feet and had joined in the pistol practice with such effectthat for the moment the enemy took to flight.
"Keep up the firing," shouted Uncle Jeff from out of the darkness; andhis order was obeyed, while the speaker seized the ladder lying upon theground and succeeded in raising it erect and then letting the top leanagainst the window.
In another minute the sill was reached; and this time, being more uponhis guard, Uncle Jeff succeeded in maintaining his balance as he thrustthe ladder away again, for it to fall with a heavy, splintering crashwhich broke it quite in two, just as the mob of assailants came rushingback again, ready to attack the besieged with all their might.
"Howl away, you ruffians!" cried Uncle Jeff as he climbed in again, forjust then a yell of disappointment arose from the enemy as they foundthe ladder broken. But directly after they had seized the longer pieceand reared that up, to begin mounting afresh; but, to the great reliefof the attacked, it was too short, and the first man could only hold onby the window-sill and try to drag himself up.
He managed to get a good hold with one hand, while with the other, fromwhich a great knife hung by means of a piece of cord, he, after grippinghis weapon, smashed in the lower panes of glass, and then began hackingat the window-bars.
"Stand back, Stan," cried Uncle Jeff, "or he'll get a cut at you withthat knife. Do you hear?"
Stan heard, but too late, for in his excitement he had seized hisrevolver by the muzzle so as to use the butt like a club, and rushedforward to the rugged opening.
He could see the big Chinaman as he hacked away, but for the moment theman did not see him. Then, with an angry snarl, he threw back the bladeof his heavy knife till the top of it touched his shoulder, and struckwith all his might at the lad's unguarded head.
For the moment it seemed as if Stan's career was at an end. But firstblow in fighting means a great deal, and certainly it did here, for thebutt of the pistol came down with a crash on the fingers of theChinaman's left hand, which was snatched away completely numbed. Thecut from the knife fell short, its deliverer dropping sharply downwardon to the man close below him, making him give way in turn, and sendingthe weight of two men upon the third, who involuntarily joined inloading the fourth, who in turn helped to sweep the fifth from theladder, which the next moment was quite clear.
"Bravo, Stan!" cried Uncle Jeff.--"Now, Oliver, old lad, let's get thedining-table up edgeways against the window and fire from behind it--Quick!--That's the way; let it rest with its legs sideways on thefloor."
The heavy wood table made a splendid breastwork, though as soon as itwas reared up across the window it shut out half the dim light, whichwas just enough to enable the defenders to see their way. And now, inobedience to Uncle Jeff's hurriedly issued command, exhaustedcartridge-cases were withdrawn, and the barrels rested upon the edge ofthe table so as to steady the aim the next time a head appeared.
"What's to be the next thing?" said Uncle Jeff.
"Fire," said his brother grimly.
"I hope not," whispered Stan; "but they're chopping again below. Hark!you can hear them plainly."
"Yes, it sounds bad, my boy; but help must come soon. I say, Stan."
"I thought you were done for, and I hardly know now how you managed toescape."
"It was close, uncle; but I'm afraid I must have crushed the man'sfingers horribly."
"Poor fellow!" said Uncle Jeff dryly.
"Here, Jeff," said his brother hoarsely; "do you smell that?"
"Oh yes, I can smell it; I did a minute ago. Look! that's smoke risingpast the window."
"Yes, I thought it was," said Stan huskily; "but I was in hopes that itwas from our firing."
"No," said Uncle Jeff; "it's from their firing, my lad; and with such anally we shall be done for.--Oliver, old fellow, we must beat a retreat."
"How can we? The wretches are at back and front."
"Yes, it is awkward, Oliver, but we shall not be able to stay herelong."
"We must make for the next floor."
"All the farther to jump when the bad time comes."
"Look out, father!--They're coming up again, uncle."
The table proved invaluable now, for as the enemy made a fresh attack,swarming up the broken ladder, shots were delivered steadily, and theblows struck by the savage wretches fell vainly upon the stout, hardwood.
Three men fell headlong, but their places were taken directly by others,who were maddened by disappointment, and made the table quiver with theblows they managed to strike with the clumsy axes and swords they bore,till the sharp crack of one of the revolvers tumbled the savage wretchesback upon their comrades below, who uttered a chorus of savage yells andthreats at every fresh mishap.
But still they came on, till after four final discharges there was asharp, cracking sound below; glass had evidently been shivered in one ofthe lower windows, and a rush of flame illumined the smoke that nowfloated up thickly, while for the first time the besieged had a view oftheir fierce enemies who paused from their attack and stood backwatching the progress of the mischief they had done.
"Don't show yourselves in the light, either of you," said Uncle Jeff,doing at once that which he had forbidden.
"Then don't you!" cried Stan's father. "Keep back, man--keep back!"
"Directly, old fellow," said his brother. "I only want to see what theyare about to do next. They're busy about something."
"I can see," cried Stan excitedly from where he crouched with one eyeover the edge of the table. "They're carrying the men who have fallenaway out of the light."
"What!" cried Uncle Jeff. "Why, so they are--thirty of them at least,hard at work. Well, they have some humanity in them after all."
"It's almost too good to be true, Jeff," said Stan's father, "but Ibelieve they are giving us up for a bad job."
"You're right, Oliver," was the excited reply. "That's it; they find ustoo hard nuts to crack."
"They feel that the fire will bring help, and that it is time to be off.Come and help to remove the barricade; we must escape before the firetakes a firmer hold."
"Wait a moment, both of you," cried Uncle Jeff. "Yes. Hurrah in awhisper. Don't shout. It's all right; they are making off, and we aresaved."
"You forget the fire, Jeff," said Stanley's father sadly.
"Not I. Let's hurry down and see what mischief has been done."
"No, no," cried Stan excitedly as the glow from beneath increased; "theyare coming back again."
"What!" cried Uncle Jeff. "No, you are wrong this time; it is a freshmob from the busy part of the town, coming to see what plunder they canget from the fire."
"Yes, I think you're right," said Stanley's father--"come to see ourruin."
"Who's that talking about ruin?" said Uncle Jeff scornfully as, withStan's help, he took down the barricade and unfastened bar and bolt."Let's see what mischief the fire has done before we talk of that."
"Think of saving our lives," said Stan's father excitedly. "Never mindthe rest."
"But I do mind the rest," cried Uncle Jeff. "Come along, Stan. Neversay die! I don't believe the fire has had time to take much hold."
"What are you going to do?" cried Stan's father.
"Make a dash for the outer office, where the buckets hang. They're allfull."
"For heaven's sake take care! Don't run any risks."
Uncle Jeff did not seem
to hear him, but ran down the stairs, to findthe lobby full of smoke. His first act was to dash out the panes ofglass in a fanlight to admit the fresh air, while directly after hethrew open the door, whose fastenings Stan had by his instructionsloosened.
"Keep back," cried Stan's father; "it is madness."
"Bah!" said Uncle Jeff, who had a better view of the state of affairs."Take a long breath and follow me."
In his excitement Stan had just one glimpse of the office interior,where towards the window a great bonfire-like heap was blazing away,licking the side about the opening, and forming a column of fire andsmoke which went wreathing and darting out, many-tongued, to rise highin the night air, spreading out towards the wharf, and making the waterof the river beyond gleam, while a busy hum of many voices greeted themfrom beyond the flame and smoke.
"We can do nothing, Jeff," cried Stan's father; "only escape for ourlives. It is madness to try and do anything."
"Then let's be mad, old fellow.--Bah! Nonsense! The draught carriesall the fire from us, and we can breathe easily. Rouse up, man!"
"I am roused up," cried Stan's father angrily; "but I must think of myboy."
"Don't!" roared Uncle Jeff; "he's big enough to think for himself.--Now,Stan, out through this door and get a bucket of water. Do as I do.--Come on, Oliver."
"But the ceiling's catching. The place will be all in flames directly."
"Of course it will if we stand still and watch it. Come on."
He led the way through the door before him, making a sudden rush pastthe blazing heap, and the other two followed, each lifting down a bucketof water from the dozen hanging in a row on the pegs where Uncle Jeff'sforesight had had them placed ready for such an emergency. As soon ashe had seized his pair of buckets he stepped back through the brightlyilluminated door; and as Stan quickly followed him, the two stoodtogether, the boy feeling the scorching glow of the flames upon hisface.
"Let me do the throwing, Stan," said Uncle Jeff calmly, as he set onebucket on the floor. "Stand back, and look out for the choking steam."
Then, with a clever whirl of the bucket, he sent its contents in acurve, spreading as it were so much golden liquid metal over the flames,a good sprinkling striking the woodwork on both sides of the window; andin an instant the sharp hissing of the encounter between fire and waterwas accompanied by a change, the fire still blaring furiously, but agreat cloud of steam being formed, the odour of which struck Stan asabominable.
"Bravo!" cried Uncle Jeff. "Smell the hydrogen, my lad?"
As he spoke he set down his empty bucket, took up the full one at hisfeet, and scattered its contents in the same way and with a similareffect to that which had preceded it.
"Now," he cried, "set down your two buckets, my lad; take back my emptyones, and bring two more.--Set yours down too, Oliver," he continuedcoolly, "and do as the boy does--unless you want to play fireman."
"No, no; go on," said Stan's father. "Splendid, my dear boy! Go on."
"Yes, I'll go on," said Uncle Jeff coolly; "only one mustn't waste adrop."
As he spoke he scattered the contents of both Stan's buckets, and thenthose of his brother, so deftly over the blazing woodwork that by thetime the first six had been emptied the heart of Stan's father rose withrelief, for the change was wonderful. Then, as the second sixbucketfuls were being thrown, the first two right upward to the ceiling,whence they began to drip in a steady shower whose drops hissed andcrackled where they fell, it became evident that very little furthereffort would be needed to master the flames. In fact, now that thetwelve buckets were nearly all exhausted, Stan found himself able tothrow out the empty ones to some of the men who had gathered outside,plenty of willing hands being ready to catch them; and under thedirections given in English by a loud voice outside, the men--coolies,most of them--hurried down to the edge of the wharf where the river ranmuddily, and a second dozen buckets nearly finished the task.
"Stitch in time saves nine--eh, Stan?" cried Uncle Jeff merrily; "and atumblerful of water at the beginning of a fire is better than a hogsheadat the end.--H'm! there's plenty of help now, Oliver. We're not ruinedyet, old man."
"Thank heaven, no, Jeff!" said his brother. "I wish I had your coolnessand nerve."
"And I wish I had your nous, old fellow," replied his brother quietly."But there! we won't have the place flooded. I'll scatter about acouple of dozen more buckets over the smoking and charred wood; andthen, as the mob gathering out there must be thirsty, we will distributea few strings of copper money among them to make up for the chance ofplunder that they have missed."
Friendly voices by the score were now heard making inquiries; the helpwas plentiful, and in less than an hour clever carpenters were hammeringaway, replacing the broken and burned windows with a lattice-work ofbamboo. Soon after a late-arriving party of the city guard werepursuing the marauders, while a certain number were posted about theoffices and warehouse to protect the rich stores within from "friendly"and unfriendly attack.
But there was no sleep for the Lynns that night, and daylight made sucha display of the effects of the night's business that Stan's firstdisposition was to burst out laughing in his uncle's face.
"Eh? What is it? Why are you grinning at me, sir?" said the object ofStan's mirth.
"I couldn't help it, uncle," said the lad apologetically. "Go and havea wash, and just look at your face."
"Blackened a bit? Well, it does smart."
"Why, Jeff," cried Stan's father, "your eyebrows, eyelashes, and beardare completely burned away."
"What!" cried Uncle Jeff angrily. "My beautiful great beard? Oh! thatcomes of trying to save this wretched old house and store.--Why, youheartless young ruffian," he roared as he met his nephew's mirthfuleyes, "you are laughing at my misfortune. Do you know what a loss likethis means to me?"
"Yes, uncle," replied Stan: "waiting until it grows again."
Uncle Jeff's countenance was a study as he stood staring at his nephew,his forehead all in wrinkles, eyes screwed up, and lips compressed, tillall at once the muscles relaxed, his eyes opened widely, and a frank,pleasant smile of satisfaction began to make him look genial and sunny.
"Why, of course!" he cried. "I was going to put it down as a dead loss.I never thought of that, Stan. To be sure, it's only a bit of waitingfor it to grow again. Here, I can't go out in this state. Call Sin theWicked, Stan."
"Yes, uncle," was the reply, and Stan hurried out.