Frank Nelson in the Forecastle. Or, The Sportman's Club Among the Whalers
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Being satisfied at last that there was but one way to accomplish his object, Chips made himself perfectly at home on the island, acted quite contented, and finally succeeded in making the natives believe that he had no desire to leave them. He became a savage to all intents and purposes. He took part in their dances and pow-wows, joined in their debates, tried to teach them the use of the fire-arms they found on the vessels that fell into their hands, and so won their confidence that they permitted him to take part in the attack on the Tycoon. Watching his chance, while the fight was in progress, he slipped into the hold, and there he was among his own kind once more.
"And now I hope you'll lend a hand to them poor fellows I left behind, sir," said Chips, in conclusion. "It can be easy done now, but to-morrow it'll be too late. There ain't more'n a hundred fighting men on the island, but to-night they'll send off canoes after help, and in the morning, if you're here, you will have an army of 'em howling about you."
"How far is it to the village?" asked Mr. Gale.
"O, you'll not have to go back to the principal town, sir," answered Chips. "There's a little fishing village right here on the beach, and the natives will all be there to-night, holding a grand pow-wow and waiting for the help that's coming to-morrow. If we can get close to them and give them a volley before they know it, they'll run like deer!"
"Why I thought you said they had fire-arms," exclaimed the mate.
"So they have, sir, but it would make you laugh to see them use them," said Chips. "They take the butt of a gun under their arms, shut their eyes and turn away their heads before they pull the trigger. They seem to think it is the noise that does the damage. All we want, you understand, sir, is to drive 'em at the start. They won't run far before they'll turn on us, and then they'll fight; but by the time they do that, the prisoners will have had a chance to take care of themselves, and we can be back to our boats. I know just where the village is, and can lead you to it in ten minutes after we touch the beach."
"I suppose you don't know anything about those boats' crews that went ashore?" said the mate.
"No, sir. Those who were not killed are prisoners, and we'll find them at the village."
The man's proposition was well worth thinking over, the mate told himself. He felt that he had a duty to perform toward the prisoners in the hands of the savages, and he was not the one to shrink from it. True, he had a small force to work with, but if he acted with promptness and decision when the time for action arrived, much might be done. "Boys, turn to and straighten up here," said he, after a moment's reflection. "Let's make the old Tycoon look a little more like herself. Nelson, come with me."
The men went to work with a will – all except Lucas, Barton and Chips, who disappeared in the forecastle for a few minutes. When they came on deck again Chips could hardly have been told from the rest of the crew, his tattooed body being clothed in a full sailor's rig, and his matted hair covered with a new tarpaulin.He lent a hand with the rest, and soon proved that he had not forgotten how to do a seaman's duty.
Frank followed Mr. Gale to the quarter-deck. "What do you think of this?" asked the mate. "Shall we risk it?"
"By all means," answered Frank, quickly. "How would you and I feel if we were held captives by these heathen, and some of our own countrymen should come here, and, after learning our situation, go off without making an effort to help us? We may be able to rescue the captain or some of his men, if they are still alive."
Mr. Gale looked at his companion a little doubtfully.
"O, I mean it," said Frank, who knew what was passing in the officer's mind. "I have no reason to like Captain Barclay, and if I could once bring him before a court of justice he would suffer for what he has done. But this is a different thing. If I get the chance, I'll try just as hard to help him as I would to help you."
"Well, I suppose that is the right sort of feeling," said the mate, "but it isn't my style, I am free to say. A man who has the heart to turn a boat's crew adrift on the ocean, doesn't deserve any help when he's in difficulty. It's the others I want to work for, but here's the trouble: I don't know anything about this fighting business."
"I've had a little experience in it," said Frank, "and so have Lucas and Barton. They are old men-of-war's men, and I know you can depend on them. I'll give you all the help I can."
"Won't you boss the job?"
"No, I'd rather not. The men will yield you more prompt obedience."
"I know a story worth two of that, sir. I ain't blind or deaf, either."
After some more conversation it was decided that the Tycoon's crew could not leave the island with clear consciences unless they made some sort of a demonstration in favor of the captives, and Frank was finally prevailed upon to take command of the expedition. This being settled, the first thing the young sailor did was to call Chips aft. He and Mr. Gale spent an hour in conversation with him, and when the man went forward again Frank held in his hands a map of the island, on which the position of the fishing village, the situation of every hut in it, the shape of the jungle that surrounded it, and the location of all the paths that led to it were plainly marked. Frank also had a short consultation with Lucas, who, when it was over, made his way forward again, winking and nodding as he always did when he had anything on his mind. His companions tried hard to find out what had passed between him and the captain, as everybody called Frank now; but Lucas, while he seemed to grow in size under the pressure of the secret that had been committed to his keeping, remained as dumb as a tar-bucket.
Everything had now been done that could be done before dark – except getting the boats and weapons in readiness – and Frank recollected that he had been at sea for twenty-four hours in an open boat without anything to eat, and that he was very hungry. Perhaps the savory odors that now and then came from the galley recalled this fact to his mind. At any rate they brought his appetite back to him, and he did ample justice to the abundant meal that was soon served up. The captain was not there now to superintend the drawing of the provisions, so the doctor went into the store-room and helped himself. The consequence was that some articles which rightfully belonged to the men, but which they had never tasted since leaving port, such as beans, flour, dried apples and molasses, found their way into the forecastle. Each man got an extra cup of coffee – strong coffee, too – an extra tablespoonful of sugar in it, and all he wanted to eat besides. Mr. Gale and Frank dined in the cabin and the captain's steward waited on them.
"That's all right," said Lucas, when the steward told him of it afterward. "Cap'n Nelson's a cap'n just as much as Cap'n Barclay, and just as good a one, too. Don't I know? He belongs in the cabin and at the head of the table, and he's got to stay there now. He shan't never come into this forecastle again!"
After dinner two of the boats were overhauled and put in readiness for the expedition, which was to leave the ship as soon as darkness settled down to hide her from the watchful eyes of those on shore, the muskets and pistols were loaded, and a dozen rounds of cartridges provided for each man. Of course these preparations did not escape the notice of the sailors, who knew by them that there was work to be done. It soon got abroad that Frank was at the head of the affair, and that set Lucas and Barton in ecstacies. This made them think of old times; and so eager were they for the fight, that they almost got up a row with Boson and Tully just to get their hands in. They did not neglect, too, to make sundry little arrangements with their companions in regard to the treatment the captain and first mate were to receive in case they were found among the prisoners. They would do their best to rescue the friends of Chips, but Captain Barclay should not come back to the ship, no matter what happened. All this, however, was upset by a simple order from their wide-awake leader, who seemed to see everything, know everything and who neglected nothing.
The boats and weapons being in readiness, all the crew were ordered below to rest and sleep, except a boatsteerer's watch, who remained on deck to look out for the ship. Even these were permitted to lie down on deck, with the exception of one man, whose duty it was to keep an eye on the shore, and report anything suspicious that he might see going on there.
The men were allowed to sleep until nine o'clock, when they were called on deck to prepare for action. An abundant and well-cooked supper was served up and eagerly devoured by the grateful foremast hands, who told one another that if Captain Nelson and Mr. Gale were the officers of the ship, they'd never have any trouble with their crew, but they wouldn't catch much grease. They'd feed their men so high that they would get too fat to see a spout or pull an oar.
Supper over, the men were mustered on the quarter-deck to listen to Frank's plan of the campaign. He had made up his mind what ought to be done and assigned each man a particular duty, giving him his orders so plainly that there was no possible chance for a misunderstanding. One order was, that every hut in the village was to be set on fire – they wanted a light to fight by – but it must first be searched to make sure that it contained no prisoners. Some of the boats' crews might be bound or severely wounded and unable to help themselves; and such unfortunates needed especial care and must be looked after by trustworthy men. If any wounded were discovered, they must be turned over to Lucas and Barton, who would assist them back to the boats and remain there to guard them. The men thus designated raised their hands to their caps and said, "Ay, ay, sir!" but when Frank turned to another sailor to give him his orders, they looked at each other and scowled fiercely.
"Now here's a go," muttered Barton. "Suppose we find the first mate with a lance or something through his leg! Eh?"
"Or the cap'n," whispered Lucas, in great disgust.
"Must we bring him to the boat, carry him like he was a blessed little baby, and then watch to see that the niggers don't slip around and send him to Davy's Locker, where he belongs?" added Barton.
"Them's the orders."
"I don't care. I won't do it."
"Avast, there! Better not go agin orders when they come from him," whispered Lucas, jerking his thumb towards Frank. "Besides, didn't he say we was men as could be trusted?"
"Ay, so he did," answered Barton, after thinking a moment. "So he did. We can't go back on him after that."
Having given his instructions in the plainest language he was master of, Frank went back to the head of the line and made each man repeat what he had said to him, to make sure that he fully understood what was required, and then he distributed the weapons and ammunition. The Kanakas, although as eager for the fight as their white companions, declined to accept the muskets that were offered them, preferring to use the lances and war-clubs the natives had left behind them. It was a motley-looking company altogether, Frank told himself, after they were all armed and stood awaiting his orders – very unlike the well-provided and well-disciplined bluejackets he had been accustomed to command on expeditions similar to this.
Everything being in readiness, Frank nodded to Mr. Gale, who ordered the boats to be lowered away and the crews to tumble into them. Frank took every man, knowing that the natives would not attack the ship while their homes were in danger. When every one was in his place he clambered down into one of the boats, Mr. Gale having charge of the other, and led the way toward the beach. Arriving within a few rods of it the boats were brought to a stand still, and Chips slipped noiselessly into the water and struck out for the beach, accompanied by Lucas, who carried a blubber-knife between his teeth. Chips might have been astonished to know that Lucas had orders to use the blubber-knife at the very first sign of treachery. This was the secret the old boatswain's mate had been carrying all the afternoon. Frank believed the story Chips had told him, but he was so wary that he neglected no precautions to insure the success of the expedition and the safety of the men composing it.
At the end of half an hour the two men made their appearance again, coming alongside so silently that Frank did not see them until they laid hold of the gunwale. They reported the coast clear. The natives, not dreaming of danger, were all at the village, going through some sort of a ceremony intended to bring them success in the next attack they made on the ship, and which Chips said would not be delayed longer than daylight. Frank breathed easier now. Chips was not trying to lead him into an ambush, and that was one thing off his mind.
Slowly and noiselessly the boats approached the shore, and when their bows touched the sand the crews disembarked. The two men selected to guard them promptly took their positions, and the rest fell in behind Chips, who led them along a narrow path through darkness so intense that Frank, who followed close at his heels, was obliged to take hold of his clothing in order to keep track of him. Ten minutes' walk brought them within sight of a bright fire, which they could see shining through the trees in front of them. There they stopped. Frank whispered to the men as they came up one after another, showed them the position of the village, and they lost no time in taking up the positions he assigned them. When they had all moved off to the right and left, Frank, Mr. Gale and Chips were left alone. They waited and listened for a few minutes, and then moved down the path until they obtained a view of the fire. It was a large one, and threw out so much light that every hut in the village could be distinctly seen. There were about two hundred of the natives in sight, men, women and children, and some were seated in a circle about the fire, while others stood erect, looking intently toward the jungle where Frank knew the right of his line was taking up its position. Their quick ears warned them of the approach of an enemy.
At this moment Frank caught the gleam of a bayonet on the extreme left of the line. That told him that some of his men were in position, and he decided to begin operations at once. He nodded to his companions, and instantly three muskets were levelled and belched forth their contents in quick succession. This was the signal for the attack, and it was promptly obeyed. Muskets and pistols roared all along the line, and such a chorus of hoarse voices arose from the jungle that Frank, had he not known just how many men he had at his command, would have supposed that there was a small army hidden there.
The natives behaved just as Chips said they would. The most of them took to their heels at once, while the bravest among them lingered long enough to fire their muskets. But they discharged them any how – just as they happened to pick them up – and Frank saw that the muzzles of the most of them were pointed into the air. No sooner were the weapons emptied than the owners threw them down and ran for life.
In two minutes' time the sailors were all in the now deserted village, and two of the huts had been fired by Chips, who showed himself as active as a cat. He ran about with a fire-brand in each hand, calling loudly on the captives to make all haste to reach the beach, telling them they would find boats there and men to protect them.
Frank remained in the centre of the line, so that he could see all that was going on and direct the movements of his men, and it was with no little satisfaction that he noted the care with which each member of his small company took to carry out the instructions given him. Frank did not see that any of the natives were killed, but he did see one prisoner rescued. He did not get a glimpse of his face or of his clothing, but a remark Lucas made as he and Barton carried him by in their arms, told him who it was. "This ain't such a nice piece of business as it might be, sir," said the former, touching his cap.
"It's the captain," thought Frank. "That was a lucky thought of mine, appointing two of his worst enemies to take care of him, for they wouldn't injure him now for the world. He's badly hurt, too. Will he act more like a man now, or be a worse tyrant than ever?"
In a very short space of time the whole village was in a blaze. The huts being built of bamboo and their cone-shaped roofs thatched with dry grass, they burned like so much tinder. There was nothing more to be done now – nothing more they could do. They had rescued one prisoner, given the others a chance to run if they were able to do it, and now he must take care of his own men before the natives turned on them. The signal to retreat, a long, shrill whistle, was as promptly obeyed as the signal to attack. The men hurried toward him, and throwing their weapons on their shoulders fell in behind Chips, who led the way toward the beach at a dog trot. Frank ran his eye over the line as it moved passed him to see if there was anybody missing, and found to his delight that not only were the men all there, but also two more rescued prisoners, the captain's harpooner and bow-oarsman, who saluted him as they went by. When the last man was in the path, Frank and Mr. Gale fell in and brought up the rear. A few minutes' rapid run brought them to the beach, and after seeing the wounded captain stowed away as comfortably as circumstances would permit, Frank ordered the crews into the boats, which were pushed off toward the ship. There was no pursuit attempted, the natives being too badly frightened to rally immediately. By the time their expected reinforcements arrived, the Tycoon was safe out of their reach.