Middy and Ensign
by G. Manville Fenn
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9
Home - Random Browse

This was tantalising, but he concluded directly after, that the second cry might be that of another bird answering the first.

They were now in amongst a number of low bushes, which gave them cover, while it made the surrounding country less black than when they were in the jungle-path. There they could only grope their way with outstretched hands; here they could have gone on at a respectable foot pace without danger of running against some impediment in the path.

The doctor cocked both barrels of his gun, after opening the breech and making sure that the cartridges were in their place, and, in momentary expectation of setting a shot, he kept close behind the Malay.

Coo-ow! came the cry again, this time a little to the left; and the Malay stretched out a hand behind him to grasp that of the doctor as he went cautiously on.

Coo-ow! again, but a little farther off, and with his nerves throbbing with excitement, the doctor kept up the chase, now seeming close to the bird, then being left behind, but never once getting within shot.

It was very provoking, but the guide was in earnest, and the doctor would have gone through ten times the trouble to achieve his end.

And so they stole on through the thick brushwood, with the bird repeating its cry so near from time to time as to make them feel that they must get a shot directly; but still the hope was deferred.

A lighter patch in front showed that the forest was a little more open, and the Malay loosed the doctor's hand for a moment to clamber over a block of stone—when there was a rushing noise, what seemed to be a heavy blow, a hoarse cry, and then silence, broken directly after by a low deep growling, just in front of where Doctor Bolter stood—petrified and unable to move.

He was too much taken aback by the suddenness of the incident to comprehend for a time what had taken place; but directly after, with his hands wet with excitement, and his heart seeming to stand still, he realised that some great animal had been stalking them, as they had been stalking the Argus pheasant, and, waiting for its opportunity, had sprung upon and seized the Malay.

There was the low snarling growl not two yards from where he stood, just the noise upon a larger scale that a cat would make when crouching down over the rat that it had seized; and the doctor felt that there could be only one creature in the jungle that would seize its prey in such a manner—the tiger.

In spite of his bravery and the strength of nerve that had often made him face death without a tremor, Dr Bolter felt a cold shiver pass through him as he realised how near he was to a terrible end. The tiger might have seized him instead of the Malay—in fact, might spring upon him at any moment; and as he felt this, he brought the barrels of his gun to bear on the dark spot where the tiger lay crouching upon its victim, and with his fingers on both triggers stood ready to fire at the first movement of the beast.

That first movement, he knew, might be to spring upon him and strike him down; and nature bade him flee at once for his life—bade him drop his gun, run to the first tree, and climb into its branches—escape as a timid beast, a monkey, might have done.

Education, on the contrary, bade him stay—told him that it would be the act of a coward and a cur to run off and leave the poor fellow lying there to his fate, the horrible fate of being torn and half devoured by the tiger—bade him be a man, and do something, even at the risk of his own life, to save the Malay who had been stricken down in his service; and as these thoughts came to Doctor Bolter his eyes dilated in the darkness, and he strove to make out the positions in which tiger and man were lying.

It was some time before he could make this out, and then it seemed to him that the tiger had struck the Malay down upon his face, and was lying upon him, with his teeth fixed in his shoulder.

Just then the unfortunate man uttered a loud cry, when the tiger gave an angry snarl, and Doctor Bolter was able to assure himself of their relative positions. In fact there was the side of the tiger's head not six feet from him, and, dare he fire, it was almost impossible to miss.

But the gun was loaded with small shot, and even at so close a range he might injure the unfortunate Malay, if he were not beyond the point when a fresh blow would do him harm.

Doctor Bolter stood unable to move. He did not feel very much alarmed now, the danger was too near, but he could not for the moment act.

At last, though, his nerves seemed to become more set, and setting his teeth he held his piece ready, and with one motion advanced his left foot and went down on his right knee, at the same time raising his gun to his shoulder.

It was done in a moment—the tiger raising its head from the victim with a savage roar; when with the mouth of the piece not eighteen inches from the creature's head, Doctor Bolter drew the triggers, almost together.

There was a brilliant flash in the darkness, which showed him the glistening teeth of the savage beast and its glaring eyes—a double report—and with a furious roar the monster sprang forward, crashing into some bushes, and then all was still.

Quick as lightning the doctor threw open the breech of his piece, and inserted this time a couple of ball-cartridges, closed the gun, and stood ready for the monster's attack, knowing though that it must be sorely wounded, for he had aimed straight at its eye, and the small shot would, at that distance, have the effect of a bullet.

A minute—two minutes, that seemed like hours, did the doctor stand there, expecting to hear some movement on the tiger's part, either for attack or retreat; but it did not stir, and he dared not fire again at random.

Just then there was a low groan, and a faint movement at his feet.

The doctor's piece swung round involuntarily, but directly after, he recalled that it must be the Malay, and with dry throat and lips he spoke to him.

"Are you much hurt?"

There was a few moments' pause, and then the Malay spoke.

"My shoulder is gnawed; I can't use my arm."

"Can you crawl behind me?" said the doctor, hoarsely.

For reply the Malay rose to his feet, and staggering slightly, he made his way behind where the doctor stood.

"I dare not move," said Doctor Bolter. "The beast may spring upon us again."

"No," said the Malay, whose voice sounded stronger; "he is dead. Have you a light?"

The doctor held his gun with one hand and pulled out his match-box with the other, when, in spite of his wounds, the Malay knelt down, drew a piece of dammar from the fold of his sarong, stuck it in a cleft stick, and then striking a match he fired the dry grass and lit the dammar, which made an excellent torch.

With this advanced he took a couple of strides forward, and holding the light down, there lay the tiger on its side, the white under fur showing plainly, the doctor seeing that the creature's neck and legs were stretched out, and that it was indeed dead.

"Thank heaven!" he muttered, fervently: and standing his gun against a tree he set to work piling up dead wood and dry canes to make a fire, when by its light and that of the dammar-torch the doctor proceeded to roughly dress the Malay's wounds.

The tiger had seized him by the muscles of his left shoulder and clawed the upper part of his arm—terrible wounds enough, but not likely to prove fatal; and when the doctor had done all he could to make the poor fellow comfortable, the Malay lay down, gazing up at him as he trickled a little brandy from his flask between the poor fellow's lips.

"You are good," he said at last. "You saved my life. Now I shall save yours."

"Save mine?" said the doctor. "Well, I hope we shall have no more tigers to face."

"No," said the man, "not from tigers, but from men. You did not eat blachang to-night?"

"No," said the doctor. "Why?"

"Sultan Hamet had toobah put in it to-night: same as to make fish sleep."

"What? I don't understand you!" cried the doctor excitedly.

"Sultan Hamet means to have all the English krissed to-night while they sleep," said the Malay; "but you have saved my life: shall save yours."



Doctor Bolter felt as if the place was swimming round him, and the fire-light seemed to dance as he heard these words. Then, as he recovered himself somewhat, he gazed full in the Malay's eyes, to see that the man was looking up at him in the calmest and most unruffled way.

"Are you mad?" exclaimed the doctor.

"No," said the Malay. "I say what is right. Sultan Hamet joins with Rajah Gantang to kill off all the English—the sultan here; the rajah there, with his prahus."

"It is impossible!" cried the doctor. "You are deceiving me."

"No, no, I tell the truth," said the man; "but you shall not be hurt. Let them kris me first. You shall live."

"Let us get back," cried the doctor, seizing his gun; and the tiger with the beautiful skin, which he had meant to have for a specimen, was forgotten.

"No, no," said the man, "you must stay in the jungle. The tigers are better than Hamet."

"Can you walk?" said the doctor, quietly.

The man got up for answer.

"Can you find your way back?" said the doctor.

"Yes," said the other, with a scornful look. "I could find the way with my eyes blinded."

"Then start at once. Here, take some more of this."

He gave the injured man another draught from his flask, for the poor fellow seemed terribly faint.

The few drops of brandy gave him new life, and he displayed it by throwing himself on his knees before Doctor Bolter, and clasping one of his legs with his uninjured arm.

"Don't go back, master," he cried piteously. "You have been so good to me that I could not bear to see you krissed. Stay away, and I will keep you safely. My life is yours, for you saved it; and I am your slave."

"My good fellow," said the doctor, sadly, as he laid his hand upon the Malay's shoulder, "you do not understand Englishmen."

"Yes, yes, I do," cried the Malay. "I like—I love Englishmen, I was servant to the young chief Ali before the sultan had him krissed."

"Young Ali krissed?" cried the doctor.

"Yes, he was too much friends with the Englishmen, and made the sultan jealous."

"And the wretch had that brave, noble young fellow killed?"

"Yes," said the Malay, sadly. "His father, the Tumongong, prayed upon his knees that the brave boy's life might be spared, and offered to send him out of the country. But the sultan laughed, and said that the young chief would come back again with a swarm of English soldiers, and seize the jewels, and put him to death, and make himself sultan. Then the Tumongong swore an oath that Ali should never come back, and went down on his face before Sultan Hamet; but the sultan drew his kris and pricked him with it in the shoulder, and told him that he should die if he named his son again."

"The villain! That brave, noble young fellow, too!" said the doctor, excitedly.

"Yes; he was so brave and handsome," cried the Malay. "I loved him, but I was obliged to hide it all, for if I had spoken one word they would have krissed me, and thrown me into the river. So I had to be silent; but when they wanted some one to go with you I offered, and they said 'Yes' because I could speak English, and the sultan gave me my orders."

"And what were they?" said the doctor, sharply.

"To wait till to-night, and then lead you out of the jungle if you did not want to go, and stab you with my kris."

"And you did not do it?"

The Malay smiled, and drew his kris in its sheath from out of the folds of his sarong, handing it to the doctor.

"I am not a murderer," he said.

"But suppose the sultan had asked you why you did not kill me," said the doctor, "what then?"

"I should have told him a lie. He is a liar, and full of deceit. We do not think it wrong to deal with such a man in the coins he gives. I should have said you kept me back with your gun."

"Take your kris, my lad," said the doctor, quietly. "I trust you. Now lead me back to the camp."

"No, no," cried the Malay. "I dare not. I cannot take you back to death."

"I—must—go," said the doctor, sternly; and the Malay made a deprecating gesture, indicative of his obedience.

"My people may have proved too strong for Sultan Hamet and his treacherous gang."

"Yes—yes—they may," cried the Malay, eagerly.

"They may have given him such a lesson as he will never forget."

"I hope they will make him forget for ever," said the Malay in a sombre tone. "He is not fit to live. My kris is thirsty to drink his blood."

"Forward, then!" cried the doctor, "and tell me when you feel sick. Find water if you can, first thing. Does your wound pain you?"

"It feels as if the tiger kept biting me," was the reply; "but I do not mind. Shall we go back?"

"Yes; and at once," cried the doctor, and, following his companion, they rapidly retraced their steps through the dark jungle, the guide, as if by instinct, making his way onward without a moment's hesitation, seeming to take short cuts whenever the forest was sufficiently open to let them pass.

As he stumbled on over the creeper-covered ground, the doctor had many a narrow escape from falling, and he could not help envying the ease with which his guide passed the various obstacles around them. The chief thought that occupied the doctor's mind, though, was that which related to the drugging of the party's food that evening.

The Malay had mentioned what drug was to be used, namely toobah, a vegetable production—in fact the root of a plant which the doctor knew that the Malays used to throw in the pools of the rivers and streams, with the effect that the fish were helplessly intoxicated, and swam or floated on the surface of the water. This plant he had several times tried to obtain and examine, while he made experiments upon its power; but so far he had been unsuccessful. Would it have the same effect upon the human organisation that it had upon a fish? That was the question he had to solve in his mind; but no matter how he turned the subject over, he could extract not the smallest grain of comfort.

The only hope he could derive from his thoughts was that the English discipline, with its regular setting of sentries and watchfulness, might be sufficient to defeat the enemy's machinations, and a sufficiency of the officers and men be unaffected by the poison to make a brave stand until the rest had recovered.

That might happen; and slightly roused in spirit by this hope, he kept steadily on. One thing was fixed in his own mind, and that was that it was his duty to get back to his party, either to fight with them, to help the wounded, or to share their fate.

"Not that I want to die," muttered the doctor. "There's that collection of butterflies unpinned; no one but me could set up all those birds, or understand the numbering; and then there's that boa-constrictor wants dressing over; and worse than all, I've killed my first tiger, and have not saved its skin."

"Humph!" he exclaimed directly after, "it seems as if I am to have a hard job to save my own skin."

Just then the Malay reeled, and caught at a tree they were passing, when the doctor had only just time to catch him and save him from a heavy fall.

Laying his gun aside, he eased the poor fellow down upon the tangled grass, trickling a few more drops from his flask between his lips, and then giving the flask a bit of a shake to hear how much there was left.

"Better now," said the Malay, trying to rise. "The trees run round."

"Yes, of course they do to you," said the doctor. "Lie still for a while, my good fellow. Is there any water near here?"

"Little way on," said the Malay, pointing. "Listen!"

The doctor bent his head, and plainly enough heard a low gurgling noise. Following the direction in which the sound seemed to be, he came upon a little stream, and filled, by holding on with one hand to a little palm, and hanging down as low as he could, the tin canteen slung from his shoulder. From this he drank first with avidity, then, refilling it, he prepared to start back.

"And I always preach to the fellows about not drinking unfiltered water," he muttered. "I wonder how many wild water beasts I've swallowed down. Well, it can't be helped; and it was very refreshing. Let me see! Bah! How can I when it's as dark as pitch! Which way did I come?"

He stood thinking for a few moments, and then started off, cautiously trying to retrace his steps; but before he had gone twenty yards he felt sure that he was wrong, and turning back tried another way. Here again at the end of a minute he felt that he was not going right, and with an ejaculation of impatience, he made his way back to where the stream rippled and gurgled along amidst the reeds, canes, and beneath the overhanging branches.

It was not the spot where he had filled the canteen, but he knew that he must be near it; and he started again, but only to have to get back once more to the stream, where there was a rush, a scuffling noise and a loud splashing, that made him start back with a shudder running up his spine, for he knew by the sound that it must be a crocodile.

Worst of all he was unarmed, having left his gun beside the fainting Malay.

All he could do was to back as quietly as he could into the jungle, with canes and interlacing growths hindering him at every step; thorns tore and clung to his clothes, and he felt that if any creature gave chase to him it must overtake him directly. His only chance of safety then was in inaction; and fretting with annoyance he crouched there, listening to the shudder-engendering crawling noise made by evidently several loathsome reptiles about the bank of the stream.

After a while this ceased, and he made another attempt to get back to the Malay, going on and on through the darkness, and from time to time shouting to him. He knew that he must be crossing and recrossing his track, and blamed himself angrily for not being more careful. His shouts produced no response, and the matches he lit failed to give him the aid he had hoped; and at last, utterly exhausted, he sank down amidst the dense undergrowth to wait for daylight, with the result that nature would bear no more, and in spite of the help he knew his companion needed, the danger of his companions, and the perils by which he was surrounded from wild beasts, his head sank lower and lower upon his breast, and he slept.

Not willingly, for he kept starting back into wakefulness, and walked to and fro; but all in vain, sleep gradually mastered him; and he sank lower and lower, falling into a deep slumber, and, as he afterwards said, when talking about the adventure, "If I had been in front of a cannon, and knew that it was to be fired, I could only have said—Just wait till I am fast asleep, and then do what you please."

The sun was up when he started into full wakefulness, and his clothes were drenched with dew.

"If I don't have a taste of jungle fever after this, it's strange to me," he said, hastily swallowing a little white powder from a tiny bottle. "A stitch in time saves nine, and blessed is the salt quinine."

"Humph! that's rhyme," he grunted. "Only to think that I should go to sleep. Ahoy-oy!" he shouted.

There was no reply, and his heart smote him as he felt that he had neglected the poor Malay. Then he felt that he was lost in the jungle; but that did not trouble him much, for he was sure that if he followed the little stream he should find that it entered a larger, and that the larger would run into one larger still, probably into the Parang, whose course he could follow down. But that would be only as a last resource.



Doctor Bolter's was a painful position, and he could not help feeling how utterly weak man is in the midst of nature's solitudes. He could have stood meditating for long enough, but he had to find his companion; and after shouting for some time and getting no answer, he listened for the rippling noise of the stream, and heard it sounding very faintly far-off on his right.

Making for it as a starting-place, he found the tracks he had made, the grass being trampled down in all directions. What was more, he found his trail crossed over and over again, and even followed by that of crocodiles, whose toes were marked in the mud wherever it was laid bare.

Twice over he startled one of the reptiles, which fled before him with a rush into the stream, which was little better than an overgrown ditch, and the doctor hastily backed away.

He soon found that all endeavours to hit upon his way back by the trail were useless, and once more he began to shout.

To his great delight his cry was answered, and on making for the sound he heard directly after, the rustling of bushes being thrust aside, and soon after stood face to face with the Malay.

"I have been sleeping," said the latter, smiling. "My arm is better now."

"If our English fellows could stand injuries like these!" muttered the doctor, who looked with astonishment at the light way in which the Malay treated the terrible injury he had received.

"Do you feel as if you could lead the way back?" he said, after halting and rebinding the Malay's wound.

"Oh, yes," the Malay said cheerfully; and he at once set off.

"But my gun?" cried the doctor. "I have left it behind."

The man led him back to the place with the greatest ease, and after wiping the wet and rust from lock and barrel, they set off through the dripping undergrowth, and had been walking about half an hour, the doctor's excitement growing each minute as they drew nearer the camp, when his guide suddenly stopped and laid his hand upon the other's arm.

"Listen!" he said; and as he spoke there was the distant sound of a shot, then another, and other.

"Thank heaven!" cried the doctor, "they are making a fight for it. Get on quickly."

They went on along an old overgrown track, with the sound of the firing growing each minute nearer; and the doctor's heart beat joyfully as he made out that a pretty brisk engagement was going on.

Soon, however, the firing began to drop off, to be renewed from time to time in a straggling manner; and to his great joy the doctor found that those who fired were coming along the track he was upon.

"Yes," said the Malay, who seemed to read his countenance; "but they may be enemies."

Yielding to the latter's solicitations, they hid themselves amidst the dense undergrowth a few yards from the track, and waited patiently.

It was not for long. Soon after they had taken their stand they could hear voices; and directly after, the doctor hurried out as he saw an advance guard of the men of his regiment under a lieutenant.

The men gave a hearty Hurrah! as they saw him, and the lieutenant caught him by the hand.

"Glad to see you, doctor; we thought you killed."

"Yes; and I did you," cried the doctor. "How are you all?"

"They'll tell you behind," said the lieutenant. "Forward, my lads."

The guard moved on, and the doctor came upon the little force, firing going on again in the rear.

He met Major Sandars directly, and their greeting was warm in the extreme.

"The scoundrels tried to poison us," said the major.

"Yes, yes, I know," cried the doctor; "but is any one hurt?"

"A few scratches there in the dhoolies," said the major.

"No one killed?"

"Not a soul, thank heaven," cried the major. "But we shall have our work cut out. Ah, here's Horton. All right in the rear?"

"Yes," was the reply; "we are keeping them back. Ah, doctor, I am glad to see you again. You know what's happened?"

"Partly," said the doctor; "but tell me."

They were moving forward as he spoke, and he learned now that the little force was working to hit the river higher up in its course, and from thence try to communicate with the island and the steamer.

"You had not been gone above a couple of hours before, as we were sitting smoking and chatting, and thinking of turning in, first one and then another began to complain of pain and drowsiness.

"The major there was the first to take alarm, thinking it was cholera; but it was Mr Linton who saved us. He no sooner realised what was the matter than he slipped out of the tent, and without waiting for orders made his way to the sergeant's guard, and got the fellow on duty to collect all the men he could to come up to the tent. How many do you think he got?"

"Twenty—thirty—how should I know?" said the doctor impatiently. "Go on."

"Four," said the captain. "All the others were down and half delirious. Fortunately my Jacks had escaped, and thirty of them seized their rifles, and followed Mr Linton at the double to the hut.

"They were just in time. That scoundrel Hamet had given an order and withdrawn from the tent; at one end of which about a hundred of his cut-throats had gathered, kris in hand, and were only waiting for us to get a little more helpless before coming upon us to put us out of our misery.

"Bless your heart, doctor! it would have done you good to see the Jacks clear that tent at the point of the bayonet! And then, while half of them kept the enemy at bay, the other half brought in the sick men, and laid 'em side by side till they were all under canvas.

"It was horrible, I can tell you," continued the captain. "We were all in great pain, but the dull sleepy sensation was the worst, and it seemed no use to fight against it. We all, to a man, thought that we were dying, and so did the sailors, who had not touched the horrible stuff. And yet we could hear every word as plainly as if our power of hearing had been increased, though we could not speak.

"'Give them water,' I heard the sergeant say.

"'No, no,' said my boatswain; 'you get the rum keg in, my lad, and give 'em a strong dose apiece o' that.'

"The Jacks fetched it in under fire, and they gave us a tremendous dose apiece, and I believe it saved our lives!"

"I'm sure it did," said the doctor. "It set up a rapid action of the heart, and that carried off the poison."

"I dare say it did," said the captain, "but it gave me a beautiful headache. However, the sergeant and the boatswain lost no time, but took matters in their own hands, cut the ropes, and let the tent go by the board, for fear the enemy should set it on fire, and then made the best breast-work they could all round us, a little party charging out every now and then and bringing in boxes, cases, tubs, everything they could lay hold of, to strengthen our position. One time they fetched in half-a-dozen spades, another time the axes; and little by little they formed such a defence, that tipped as it was by our fellows' bayonets, the Malays dare not try to force.

"We soon found, though," he continued, "that they were furious with disappointment, for spears began to fly till our lads searched the nearest cover with some bullets, when the enemy retired a little farther, and then the boys got in the spears and made an abattis with them.

"In spite of the danger and the sudden surprise, our fellows enjoyed it, for they had the pleasure of driving the scoundrels out of their own camp, and they had to put up with the shelter of the trees all night. They made four savage attacks upon us, though, and the first time, from too much ground having been covered by the breast-work, the enemy nearly carried all before them, and it came to bayonetting and the spears getting home; but our brave lads drove them back, and then a few volleys sent them in to cover.

"The next time they attacked, the major and a dozen of the soldiers were ready to help a little. They were too ill to do much, but they held their pieces and made a show of bayonets, and the major managed to take the command.

"The next time we all of us managed to make a show of fighting; while a couple of hours after, when the enemy made their last and most savage attack, they got such a warm reception that they let us have the rest of the night in peace."

"And this morning, then, you began to retreat!"

"Yes," the major said, "there was nothing else for it."

"But why not have retreated by the way we came?" said the doctor.

"Because, my dear fellow, the whole country's up, and this was the only way open. If we had gone by the track our fellows would have been speared one by one, for the jungle is too dense to skirmish through. But here's Linton; he will tell you better than I can."

As the retreat continued, the rear-guard being always closely engaged with the Malays, who pressed upon them incessantly, Mr Linton came up, begrimed with powder, and shook hands.

"This is a horrible affair, doctor!" he said sadly.

"Don't say horrible," said the other, cheerfully. "We shall fight our way through to the river."

"I hope so," said Mr Linton. "But we have scarcely any provisions. Not more, certainly, than a day or two's rations. That is bad enough; but you do not understand my anxiety. We have let ourselves be drawn into a trap, and the whole country rises against us."

"Let it rise," said the doctor, sturdily; "we'll knock it down again."

"But the residency, man—the steamer!"

"Phew!" whistled the doctor. "I had forgotten them."

"I had not," said Mr Linton, sadly, "and I fear the worst."

"Keep up your spirits, man. There are those on the island, and aboard that steamer, who will keep every Malay in the country at bay."

"If they are not overcome by treachery, as we nearly were."

"We must hope then," said the doctor; "hope that those in charge will be more on the alert. I say, though, Linton, did you give these people credit for such a trick?"

"Yes; for I have had more experience of them than you; and I blame myself most bitterly for not being more cautious."

"Regrets are vain," said the doctor. "Let's do all we can to make up for our lapse—if lapse it has been."

"We will," said the resident. "Would to heaven, though, that I could feel more at ease about those we have left behind. If we only had a guide on whom we could depend, matters would not be so bad."

"I have one for you," said the doctor, joyfully.

"Who? Where is he?" exclaimed Mr Linton.

"Here, close at hand," he said.

And hurrying on to where he had left the Malay guide in charge of a couple of soldiers, he found that he had arrived only just in time; for feeling was very strong just then against every one wearing a dark skin, and the men were looking askance at one whom they believed likely to betray them at any moment.

"A Malay!" said Mr Linton, doubtfully.

"Yes, and a trusty one," said the doctor, decisively. "I will answer for his fidelity."

"That is rather bold, doctor," said the major, who just then came up; "but these are times when we must not be too particular. Can he understand us?"

"I was the young chief Ali's servant, and I speak English," said the Malay, quietly.

"That is no recommendation," said Captain Horton, sharply. "That young chief deserted us, like the rest."

"No," said the doctor; "he was assassinated for taking our part; and this man nearly shared his fate."

This decided matters in favour of the Malay being retained as guide; but there was still a difficulty, and that was, would the poor fellow, injured as he was, be able to undertake the duty?

He said he could, however; and as soon as he understood what was wanted, he went to the front, and the retreat was continued.



It was a strange country to struggle through, for roads hardly had any existence. The rivers were the highways, and upon the banks the villages or campongs of the Malays were invariably placed. There were a few narrow tracks, such as the one the retreating party hurried along, but all else was dense jungle, the untrodden home of wild beasts. So dense was it that there was fortunately nothing to fear from attack on either side. It must come from the front, or else from the rear. Neither friend nor foe could penetrate many yards through the wall of verdure that shut them in to right and left. To have tried to flank them without literally breaking a way through the canes and interlacing plants was impossible.

On being asked how long it would take to march to the river and strike it high up, the Malay replied, three days of hard walking; and the hearts of his hearers sank as they thought of their position, with scarcely any provender, no covering against the night dews or heavy rains, and only the earth for their resting-place, while a virulent enemy was always on their track, striving hard to cut off all they could.

There was no other course open, however, but to face it, for it would have been madness to have tried to fight their way through the hostile country; and every one bent manfully to the task.

As they struggled on through the steamy bush the rear-guard was changed again and again, a fresh party of defenders taking up the task of keeping the pursuers at bay, and to each man in turn was the warning given that no shot must be fired unless it could be made to tell; consequently the fire was less fierce, but, as the Malays found to their cost, more fatal.

The end of the third day was approaching, and the progress of the party had grown slower and slower, for their guide's strength had failed. The poor fellow had fought on bravely in spite of his wounds, insisting that he was well enough to walk, when all the time he was suffering intense agony; and this was not to be without its result.

During the day the Malays had attacked far more fiercely than usual, and though always repulsed, it had not been without loss. Several men had fallen, while others were wounded, increasing terribly the difficulties of the case, for the injured men had to be carried by those who found that their task of fighting their way through the jungle in the midst of the dense heat was already as much as they could bear.

Still no one murmured. The pleasure-trip had turned out to be one of terrible misery, but each man, soldier or sailor, had a cheery word for his neighbour; and whenever an unfortunate received a spear or bullet wound, the doctor was on the spot directly, tending him; while a couple of his comrades deftly cut a few canes and bound them together, making a light litter, upon which the wounded man was placed, and carried on the shoulders of four men.

The wounded made a terrible demand upon the sound; and now, to add to their trouble, men began to fall out of the ranks stricken down by disease.

It was no more than the doctor anticipated; but it was terrible work.

Captain Horton was one of the first—after fighting bravely in the rear—to go to the doctor and complain of his head.

"I can't get on, doctor," he said. "The giddiness is dreadful, and the pain worse. Give me something to ease it all."

The doctor said he would, and prescribed what he could from the little case he had with him, but he knew what was coming. Captain Horton had taken the jungle fever, and in an hour he was strapped down upon a litter, raving with delirium.

Then another, and another, went down, the officers falling one after another, till Major Sandars was left alone with the doctor, who had to divide his time between attending to his many patients and handling a rifle to help in their defence.

The consequence was that on the third night, instead of being near the river, they were halted in the dense jungle, with their outposts on the alert, and the rest throwing themselves beside the sick and wounded, too much exhausted even to care for food.

Major Sandars and the doctor stood talking together beneath the shade of a silk-cotton tree, whose leaves seemed to keep off a portion of the heavy falling dew, and the former was waiting for an answer from his companion, who, however, did not speak.

"Come, say something, doctor," exclaimed the major; "what do you think of affairs?"

"What can I say?" replied the doctor, sadly; "we can go no farther."

"But we must," exclaimed the major, impatiently. "The river must be reached, and a message sent down to the steamer."

"There is only one way," replied Doctor Bolter.

"How is that?"

"Leave the sick and wounded behind, and push on. The poor fellows can carry them no farther."

"Then we'll stop where we are," said the major, sharply, "for I won't leave a man behind."

"Of course you will not. I knew you would say so. Then all I can recommend is that we stay as we are for a few days, and try and recruit."

"With bad water, and hardly any provisions," said the major. "Ah, Bolter, this is a terribly bad business."

"Yes," said the doctor, holding out his hand, which was eagerly grasped, "it is a terrible business. But you know what the foreigners say of us, Sandars?"

"No: what do you mean?"

"That the English never know when they are beaten. We don't know when we are beaten, and our lads are like us. God bless them, poor fellows, for they are as patient as can be!"

"What do you advise, then?" said the major. "It is your duty to advise."

"I did advise," said the doctor, laughing. "I proposed lopping off the bad limb of our little party, so as to leave the rest free to hobble on."

"And suppose I had consented to it," said the major; "made the sick and wounded as comfortable as we could, and pushed on with the rest, what would you do?"

"Do?" said Doctor Bolter; "I don't understand you."

"I mean, of course you would have to come with us; for the Malays would butcher the poor fellows as soon as they came up."

"Come with you, major? Are you mad? Why, who would tend the poor boys, and see to their bandages? No, my dear Sandars. Your place is with the sound, mine is with the unsound. Go on with your lot—poor fellows—and see if you can reach the river. You might perhaps send help in time to save us. If you didn't, why, I should have made them comfortable to the end, and done my duty."

"My dear doctor," said Major Sandars, holding out his hand.

"My dear major," said the doctor. "Good-bye, then; and God bless you!"

"What!" cried the major. "And did you think I was going?"

"Of course!"

"More shame for you, then, for thinking me such a cur. Leave you and these poor fellows here in the midst of the jungle, to be murdered by those cowardly pirates? Not I. Why, the men would mutiny if I proposed such a thing. No; we'll wait a few hours, and then get on a few miles and rest again, the best way we can."

"But you will only get the poor fellows killed if you stay," said the doctor.

"Well, hadn't we all better be killed like men doing our duty, than go off and live like cowards and curs?"

"Of course you had," said the doctor, speaking huskily. "But I felt that it was my duty to leave you free."

"Doctor," said the major, laying his hand upon the other's shoulder, "there's nothing like trouble for making a man know what a deal of good there is in human nature. You're a good fellow, doctor. Hang it, man, you've made me feel as soft as a girl!"

He turned away his face, that staunch, brave soldier, for a few moments, and then the weakness was past, and he turned sharply round to the doctor.

"Now," he said, "you shall see what stuff our soldiers and sailors are made of. Come here."

He led the doctor back to the rear, where the guard, sun-blackened, haggard fellows, with their clothes hanging in rags from the thorns, were on the watch, and this being out of earshot of the sick and wounded, who were all ranged side by side beneath a couple of shady spreading trees, he gave the order for the men to fall in, when, with the precision that they would have shown upon a parade ground, the soldiers fell in, making one line; the sailors another in the rear.

"Face inwards!" cried the major, and he turned first to the sailors. "My lads," he said, "your officers being all down, the duty of commanding you has fallen upon me, and I thank you for the ready way in which you have obeyed my orders. You have been as willing and as trusty as my own boys here, and that is saying a great deal."

There was a little shuffling of feet at this, and the men looked uncomfortable.

"I am sorry to say," continued the major, "that matters have come to such a grievous pass with us, that I have to make a statement, to which I want to hear your reply. I have no occasion to speak to you, for I know that you will to a man obey my orders to the last; but I want to hear what you will say."

There was a pause here, and then the major went on,—

"Matters have come to this, my lads, that I see you can stagger on no longer with the loads you have to bear. In fact, two more poor fellows are down, and it will take every fighting man to carry the others. So I have been talking the matter over with the doctor, and it has come to this, that our only chance is to leave the sick and wounded, and push on, make for the river, in the hope of getting help, and coming back to save them. What do you say?"

"Lord love you, sir," cried one of the sailors, "why, afore to-night them niggers would have sarved every one of our poor mates like the doctor, there, sarves the black beadles and butterflies—stuck a pin or a kris through 'em."

It was a grim subject to jest upon, and it was a serious thing; but there was a roar of laughter from the men, and the doctor chuckled till he had to hold his sides, and then wipe his eyes.

"I hope not so bad as that," said the major, when he had called Attention! "It is, however, I fear our only hope. Will some man among you speak?"

There was a shuffling and a whispering at this, and every man nudged his neighbour to begin, but no one spoke till the sergeant felt that it was his duty, and going along the front of both ranks he had a few words with the soldiers and the jacks. After this he retook his place and saluted.

"Men seem to be all of one opinion, sir," he said gruffly.

"And what is that opinion?" inquired the major.

"They say, sir, as I say, that they wouldn't like their mates to desert them in a time of trouble like this."

"That's right, sergeant," shouted a sailor.

"Yes, that's a true word," shouted another.

"Attention, there!" cried the major, sharply. "Go on, sergeant."

"And if so be as our officer don't order us different, we'll all stick to one another, sick and sound, to the end."

"Hear, hear; hurray!" cried the men, as with one voice.

"Do I understand, my lads, that you will stand by the sick and wounded to the last?"

"Yes, sir, all on us!" shouted the men in chorus.

"Yes, sir," cried the joking sailor, "and we'll all carry one another till there's only one left as can carry; and he'll have a jolly hard time of it, that's all."

The stern discipline was for a moment forgotten, and a hearty roar of laughter followed this sally.

"Attention!" cried the major after a few moments, and he spoke as if he was deeply moved. "It is only what I expected from my brave lads; and I may tell you now that this is what Doctor Bolter and I had determined to do—stand together to the last."

"Only we won't have any last, my lads," cried the doctor.

"I hope not," said the major. "We'll go on more slowly and take longer rests, for I must have no more of you men down with sickness. Let us hope that we may win our way safely to the ship and the island yet. I would send out a little party to try and fetch help, but I fear they are beset at the residency already, and I do not think a detachment could succeed. I propose then that we all hold together and do our best."

"That we will, sir," cried the men, and a voice proposed three cheers for the major.

These were hardly given before he held up his hand, and in a few words thanked them, while the doctor was called away.

"And now, my lads, we will go forward once more, and do the best we can. If we can only get a mile a day it is something, and every man will lend a hand. We will march at once. Yes, doctor? More bad news?"

"Yes," said Doctor Bolter, bluntly; "our guide has broken down."

"Broken down?"

"Yes, he is quite delirious."

"And," muttered the major, "we are worse than helpless without a guide."



The night passed on board the steamer without any alarm, and at daybreak steam was up, and with the men at their quarters and every gun loaded, they set off on their return journey.

As the lieutenant said, it was no use to murmur about their misfortune; all they could do was to try and make the best of matters by getting back as soon as possible.

He could gladly have gone on at full speed, but caution forbad it. There were mudbanks and turns innumerable; and even going slowly, the length of the vessel was so great that again and again they were nearly aground upon some shoal, or brushed the overhanging trees with their bows.

Of one thing the lieutenant felt certain—that they had not been led into this narrow river without some plans being made for keeping them there. Therefore every man was on the alert for an ambush, or something that should stop their further progress towards the mouth of the sluggish stream.

It was terribly slow work, and Lieutenant Johnson stamped with impatience as he saw how poorly they progressed, speaking snappishly to Bob Roberts when the latter ventured upon some observation.

This went on three or four times, when, feeling hurt by a sharp remark on the lieutenant's part, Bob exclaimed,—

"You needn't be so hard upon me, captain; it was not my fault."

Lieutenant Johnson turned upon him angrily, and was about to say something severe, but Bob's injured look disarmed him, and he held out his hand.

"I'm hipped, Roberts," he said, and hardly know what I say. "Steady, there; steady!"

This to the man at the wheel as they were rounding a point; but the order had a contrary effect to what was intended; it flurried and unsteadied the sailor, who took a pull too much at the spokes, and before anything could be done to check the steamer's speed, her sharp bows had cut deeply into the muddy bank of the river, and she was aground.

"Was anything ever so unlucky?" cried the lieutenant; and then he gave order after order. Guns were swung round so as to sweep the bows should the Malays try to board them from the shore; the engines were reversed; the men tramped from side to side of the deck; everything possible was done: but the steamer remained fixed in the mud without a possibility apparently of getting her off.

The jungle was of the densest all around, and the men approached the bows with caution, for the head of the steamer was right in amidst dense foliage, and it was quite probable that any number of the enemy might be concealed and ready to hurl spears at the slightest chance.

Neither seeing nor hearing signs of the enemy, the lieutenant at last ordered Roberts to try and land and see if the Malays were near. "It's a risky job, Roberts," he said kindly, "but you must take it. I cannot leave the steamer."

"Oh, I'll take it," said Bob, coolly, and examining his revolver, he drew his sword, and telling the men to follow, ran forward, scrambled over the bows, and leaped ashore, the men imitating his example, for the bank was only some six or eight feet below the bulwarks.

But though they were landed, there was little more to be done, unless they had been provided with billhooks to clear the way. The undergrowth was nearly as dense as a hedge, and after trying in half-a-dozen different ways, and only penetrating some twenty or thirty yards, they were obliged to give up, drenched with perspiration, their flesh full of thorns.

"I've got something biting my legs horribly," cried Bob, turning up his trousers, and then giving a shudder of disgust, for half-a-dozen leeches were busy at work making a meal upon him, and several of the sailors were in the same predicament.

"There, my lads, we may as well get on board," said Bob, grimly, "I don't like shedding my blood in the service of my country after this fashion. We can do nothing here, and it would puzzle a cat—let alone a Malay—to get through."

So they returned on board, satisfied that there was no fear of an attack from that quarter, and the rest of the day was devoted to trying to get the steamer out of her unpleasant predicament.

Night fell with the men utterly wearied out, and, in despair, Lieutenant Johnson was taking himself to task for his bad management, as he termed it, when Bob Roberts suddenly seized him by the arm.

"What is it, Roberts?"

"A shot off yonder in the jungle," he exclaimed.

"I did not hear it," was the reply; and they stood listening; but there was nothing but the hum of insects and the distant splash of some reptile in the muddy river.

"If we could have only heard some news of those poor fellows, I would not have cared," said the lieutenant after a pause. "Perhaps at this time they are anxiously hoping that help may come, and wondering why we have not sent in search of them; while we, with men and guns, are lying here helpless as a log. Oh, Roberts, it's enough to make a man jump overboard and—"

"There it is again," cried Bob.


"A shot!" he cried excitedly. "I'm sure I heard a rifle-shot."

"Any of you men hear a shot?" said the lieutenant to the watch.

"No, sir; no, sir."

"I heard nothing, Roberts," said the lieutenant. "You are excited with exertion. Go below and have a glass of sherry, my lad, and put in a dose of quinine. I can't afford to have you down with fever."

"No, thanky," said Bob; "I could manage the glass of wine, but I'm not going to spoil it with the quinine, I'm—There now, what's that? If that isn't a rifle-shot I'm no man."

"Then it isn't a rifle-shot," said the lieutenant, grimly. "I heard nothing."

"Beg pardon, sir, I think it was a shot."

"There's another!" cried Bob, excitedly. "It's our fellows somewhere."

There were a couple of distant shots, faintly heard now by all.

"You're right, Roberts," said the lieutenant, hastily; "but it is not obliged to be our fellows."

"They couldn't have followed up from the island, sir," cried Bob; "so it must be."

"Unless it is a party of Malays shooting."

"Then they are shooting our men," cried Bob. "They wouldn't be hunting when it's getting dark."

"There's another shot," said the lieutenant, now growing as excited as his companion. "What shall we do?"

"Fire a big gun," said Bob.

"That would be letting our enemies know where we are," said the lieutenant.

"Well," said Bob, sturdily, "let 'em know. It will show 'em that we are not afraid of them."

"You are right, Roberts," said lieutenant Johnson, quickly. "Unshot the bow gun there."

The gun was opened; the shot cartridge drawn out, a blank one substituted; and directly after, the black darkness that had seemed to settle down over them was cut by a vivid flash, and the utter silence that was brooding over the river was broken by the deep-mouthed roar of the great breech-loading cannon.

The report seemed to roll off into the distance and echo amongst the mountains; and then, as it died away, they all listened with strained senses for some reply.

It came, just as they expected—three rifle-shots in succession. Then a pause, and three more rifle-shots.

There was a pause then, and the silence seemed awful, for the report of the great gun had driven every living thing near at hand to its lair.

"Three marines," said the lieutenant, sharply, "fire as I give the order. One—two—three!"

The three shots rang out at stated intervals, and the men reloaded and fired as before.

Then they waited again, and the signal was answered in a peculiar way that left no doubt whatever in the minds of those on board, and a murmur of satisfaction ran through the little crew.

And now, for the first time, Lieutenant Johnson began to wonder whether he had doubted the Malay guide without cause. He might have been swept overboard after all, and the hunting-party be really hemmed-in at some stockade.

A few moments' consideration, however, showed that this could not be the case, for they had journeyed back many miles before the steamer ran aground; and though the river winded a great deal, it was impossible that the stockade could have been higher up. The firing certainly came from quite another direction, away from the river; and shots that were evidently not signals were now heard again—one or two, then three or four together, as if men were skirmishing, and then came several volleys.

There was a fight going on, that was evident; and as the two officers realised this, they felt half-maddened at their helplessness.

They wanted to go to the aid of those who were fighting, but it would have been utter madness to have attempted to land with a detachment in the dark and try to hack a way through the jungle. They might have fired signals and had them responded to, but it would have been a helpless, bewildering piece of folly; and with pulses beating rapidly with excitement, and every nerve on the stretch, they felt themselves bound to a state of inaction, still they felt that they could fire signals to guide those who might, perhaps, get nearer, or, if shut in some place, fight the better for knowing that help was so near.

They did all they could, sending up a rocket from time to time, and twice, at intervals of about an hour, firing a big gun, each signal eliciting a reply from the distance; and then, at intervals of ten minutes, a rifle was fired, while, when six, seven, and eight bells were sounded, the same number of rifle-shots were heard.

It was a night of general watching on board the steamer, no man seeking shelter, though about seven bells the rain began to pour down with all the violence of a storm in the tropics, accompanied by thunder and lightning of the heaviest and most vivid description.

For about four hours this kept on, guns being fired in the intervals, when the thunder ceased for a few moments; but no answering shots had been heard for some time.

One thing was very evident—the party engaged were entrenched somewhere, and defending themselves, for their answering shots had been no nearer; in fact, all felt that travelling through the dense jungle was impossible until daylight set in.

The night was about half gone when the storm ceased as suddenly as it had come on; the clouds were dispersed, and the moon shone out clearly, showing them that the sluggish river was sluggish no longer, but running fast, and threatening to fill up to the top of its high banks, the water coming down evidently from the mountains.

This revived the hopes of all on board, and not without reason, for the steamer was gradually shifting her position; and hardly had a boat been lowered, and a hawser made fast to one of the big trees ashore, before she lifted more and more; and in a few moments more, to the delight of all, they felt the branches sweeping the rigging, and the steamer moving free and clear.

The men, forgetting discipline, and the need perhaps for silence, gave an involuntary cheer; which ceased on the instant as, from somewhere lower down the stream, there came a faint, "Ship ahoy!"

"Ahoy!" was answered.

And after a brief colloquy a boat was lowered down, with half-a-dozen marines as well as the crew, Bob Roberts taking command, and cautiously steering her towards where the man who hailed seemed to be.

The boat was allowed to descend the stream stern foremost, the men dipping their oars occasionally to keep her head right, and to prevent her being swept down too swiftly.

The next minute, at the word, they gave away, and the cutter was run in beneath the branches to where one of the crew stood in the moonlight, with a soldier by his side.

"Why, it's Parker!" cried Bob, catching the man's hand.

"Parker it is, Mr Roberts, sir," said the man faintly. "I thought we should never have done it, what with the storm and the thick cane. We've about cut our way here."

"And the captain and Major Sandars?" cried Bob.

"'Bout a mile away, sir, through the jungle, wanting help badly."

"Can we get there to-night?" cried Bob. "But jump in my lads, and we'll hear what the lieutenant says. Come: why don't you jump in?"

"I'm bet out, sir, and my mate too," said the sailor. "We're a bit wounded, sir. We volunteered to come for help when we first heerd the dear old 'Startler' speak out, but it's been a long job. Will you help us aboard, mates?"

Half-a-dozen willing hands soon had the two poor, drenched, wounded, and exhausted men on board the cutter, and five minutes after they were on the deck being questioned by the lieutenant.

"I told the captain, sir, as I'd ask you to fire two guns if we got here safe. He's down with fever, sir, and it would cheer him up if he heard the old gal say—begging your pardon—as she was close at hand."

The word was given, and a couple of heavy roars from the "old gal," as the sailor affectionately called his ship, bore the news to the captain; and then, in answer to the lieutenant, both of the messengers declared that it would be impossible to get to the helpless party that night.

"I wouldn't say so, sir, if I didn't feel," said Parker, "that the lads would only go losing theirselves in the wet jungle, and do no good. If you'd start at daybreak, sir, and take plenty of rum and biscuits, as well as powder and shot, you might get them aboard."

Then by slow degrees those on board learned from the worn-out messengers the whole of their experience, and how that since Major Sandars had appealed to the men, and they had sworn to stick together to the last, they had only made journeys of about a mile in length through the dense jungle. The guide was still delirious, and half the men down with sickness or wounds. Food they had had of the most meagre description, and that principally the birds they had shot. Their ammunition was fast failing, and the time seemed to have come that evening to lie down and die, so weak were they, and so pertinacious were the attacks of the enemy—when a thrill of joy ran through every breast as they heard the signal shots, and knew that there was help at hand.



Never was daylight looked for with greater anxiety than that night on board the steamer.

With the first flush she was allowed to float lower down, till abreast of the spot where the two men were taken on board, and then every available hand was landed, under Bob Roberts' command, to try, by firing signals and listening for the reply, to reach the place where the worn-out party were making their last stand.

The two poor fellows who had come on board were in too pitiable a plight to move, and, even if they had gone, they could not have guided the relief party, who, only twenty strong, leaped ashore, eager to reach their friends, and inflict some punishment on the Malays, while the others retreated towards the ship.

Every man was laden heavily with food and ammunition, Lieutenant Johnson's difficulty being to keep the brave fellows from taking too much, and hindering their fighting powers, as, with a hearty cheer, they plunged in amidst the interlacing canes.

The task was hard, but less so than they expected—resolving itself as it did into hacking the canes and forcing their way through; for before they had gone far they could hear firing before them, and it was kept up so vigorously that there was no occasion to fire a single signal.

Hour after hour did they toil on, till the firing suddenly ceased, and they were for a moment at fault; but Bob Roberts and Old Dick, who were leading, suddenly heard voices close at hand, where the forest growth was thinner; and hacking and chopping away, they had nearly reached the spot when the firing suddenly began again furiously for a few moments, and then once more stopped.

The next minute the way was clear, and Bob Roberts, with his twenty blue-jackets and marines, went in at the double to an opening in the jungle where the remains of the hunting-party were making a desperate stand against a strong body of Malay; who, spear against bayonet, were pressing them home.

The middy took it all in at a glance, and saw that in another minute the weak helpless wielders of rifle and bayonet would be borne down, and they, and the sick and wounded lying in the long grass, massacred to a man.

Major Sandars said afterwards that the oldest colonel in the service could not have done better; for, with his sun-browned face lighting up with excitement, and waving his sword, Bob Roberts shouted his orders to the men, sprang forward, giving point at a great bronze-skinned Malay who had borne the major down and was about to spear him, while with a hearty British cheer the marines and blue-jackets dashed up, poured in a staggering volley amongst the thronging enemy, and followed it up with a bayonet charge along the beaten-down jungle alley, till, dropping spear and kris, the Malays fled for their lives.

Others were hurrying up to be present at the massacre; for the news had spread that the English had fired their last cartridge and were weak with starvation; but as they met their flying comrades the panic spread. The reinforcements were magnified a hundred times; and it wanted but Bob Roberts' quick sharp halt, form in line two deep, and the firing in of a couple of volleys, to send all to the right-about, a few of the hindmost getting a prick of the bayonet before they got away.

Pursuit would have been in vain, so Bob left a picket of five men under Old Dick to keep the narrow path, bidding them fell a tree or two so that their branches might lie towards and hinder an attack from the enemy, before hurrying back with fourteen men to the little jungle camp.

He tried hard, but he could not keep back his tears as the gaunt bleeding remains of a fine body of men gathered round him to grasp his hands and bless him; while, when one strange-looking little naked object came up and seized him by the shoulders, he felt almost ready to laugh.

It was hard to believe it was Dr Bolter standing there, in a pair of ragged trousers reduced in length to knee breeches, and nothing else.

"Bob, my dear boy," he said, "I can't tell you how glad I am; but give me some rum, biscuits, anything you have, for my poor lads are perishing for want of food."

The men's wallets were being emptied, and food and ammunition were rapidly distributed, for not a scrap of provision nor a single cartridge was left with the major's party.

"Why, you are laughing at me, you dog," cried the doctor, as he came back for more provisions; "but just you have forty patients, Bob Roberts, many of them wounded, and not a bandage to use, Bob, my lad! My handkerchiefs, neck and pocket, went first; then my Norfolk jacket, and then my shirt. Poor lads! poor brave lads!" he said piteously; "I'd have taken off my skin if it would have done them good."

"Ah, doctor," said Bob, in a voice full of remorse, "I'm only a boy yet, and a very thoughtless one. Pray forgive me. I meant no harm."

"God bless you, my lad; I know that," cried the doctor, warmly. "You've saved us all. Boy, indeed? Well, so you are, Bob; but as long as England has plenty of such boys as you, we need not trouble ourselves about the men—they'll all come in time."

It was a pitiful task, but every one worked with a will; and now that they were refreshed with food, reanimated by the presence of twenty fresh men, supplied with ammunition, and, above all, supported by the knowledge that not a mile away, through the newly-cut path, there lay a haven of rest in the shape of the steamer—men who had been fit to lie down and die, stood up, flushed, excited, and ready to help bear the sick and wounded towards the river; while, to make matters better, the Malays had had such a thrashing in this last engagement that they made no fresh attack. The consequence was that half-a-dozen weak men under Major Sandars made a show in the rear, and all the strong devoted themselves to helping to carry the invalids to the steamer.

More help was afforded too from the steamer itself, as soon as Lieutenant Johnson found that there was no fear of attack, and in the end all were got safely on board; and long before night Dr Bolter, clothed and comfortable, had all his sick men in berths and hammocks, well tended, already looking better, and he himself walking up and down the deck chuckling and rubbing his hands.

The losses had been severe, but far less than might have been expected, owing to the devotion of the men, who had struggled on till they could get no farther, and would have perished one and all but for the timely succour brought by the middy, and indirectly by the emissary of Rajah Gantang, who little thought when he took the steamer, by his clever ruse, up the solitary river, that he was leading them where it would be the salvation of the hunting-party, who were doomed to death.

Not a moment had been lost, and as soon as all were on board, the steamer recommenced her downward course towards the residency, where all felt that help must be urgently needed, by the little party who had its defence.



In truth help was urgently needed at the little fort; but had its defenders been compelled to wait for that which the steamer would afford, every one would have been either butchered or taken off into a terrible captivity.

Captain Smithers, when he looked round, had seen the enemy coming on in such strength; and with a demonstration so full of clever plan, backed up by determination, that he could not help feeling that the critical moment had come, and that they must either surrender or meet death like men.

If he surrendered, the probabilities were that they would all be massacred, save the women; and as he thought of them he raised his eyes, and found those of Private Gray fixed upon him, as if reading his very soul.

"You know what I was thinking, Gray," he said, resentfully.

"Yes, sir," said Gray, sharply; "you were debating within yourself whether you should strike the Union Jack in token of surrender."

"I was," said Captain Smithers, angry with himself at being as it were obliged to speak as he did, to this simple private of his regiment. "And you advise it?"

"Advise it, sir? For heaven's sake—for the sake of the ladies whom we have to defend, let us fight till the last gasp, and then send a few shots into the magazine. Better death than the mercy of a set of cut-throat pirates."

Captain Smithers was silent for a few moments, and then he said quietly,—

"I should not have surrendered, Gray. You are quite right." He hesitated for a moment or two, and then said hoarsely,—

"Gray, we hate each other."

"This is no time for hatred, sir," said Gray, sternly.

"No," said Captain Smithers, "it is not. In half an hour we shall be, in all human probability, dead men. Rank will be no more. Gray, I never in my heart doubted your honesty. You are a brave man. Now for duty."

"Yes, sir," said Gray, in a deeply moved voice—"for duty."


There was a sharp ragged volley from the enemy at that moment as a body of them advanced, and a shriek of agony from close by, followed by a fall.

"Some poor fellow down," said the Captain, hoarsely. "Who is it, Sergeant Lund?" he said, taking a dozen strides in the direction of the cry.

"Private Sim, sir. Shot through the heart—dead!"

The captain turned away, and the next minute the fight on all sides was general, the enemy winning their way nearer and nearer, and a couple of prahus sending a shower of ragged bullets from their brass lelahs over the attacking party's heads.

"Stand firm, my lads; stand firm. Your bayonets, boys!" cried Captain Smithers, as with a desperate rush the Malays dashed forward now to carry the place by assault, and in sufficient numbers to sweep all before them—when boom! boom! boom! boom! came the reports of heavy guns, and the fire from the prahus ceased.

"Hurrah! my lads; steady!" cried Tom Long, waving his sword. "The steamer! the steamer!"

"No," cried Captain Smithers, "it is from below. It is a heavily-armed prahu."

"No," cried Tom Long; "a steamer! a steamer!"

He was right, for a little gunboat was rapidly ascending the river, and one of the prahus began to settle down in front of the fort, while the other used her sweeps to get away.

Another minute, and just when they had won an entrance, beating back the defenders of the barricaded gateways, a panic seized upon the Malays, for shell after shell was dropping and bursting in their midst; and before Captain Smithers and his brave little party could realise the fact, the enemy was in full retreat.

A quarter of an hour later, and the gunboat was moored abreast of the fort, and congratulations were being exchanged.

He had said nothing, not daring to hope for success; but Ali had, as soon as he could, sent a fisherman in his boat to try and convey word of the danger to the Dindings. The message had been faithfully borne, and the little gunboat sent to help to keep the enemy at bay, till the steamer could come from Penang with a detachment of infantry on board.

The heavy guns were too much for the Malays; and just as it had been decided that the gunboat should ascend the river in quest of the "Startler," the latter came slowly down the river with her rescued freight.

In a couple more days the Penang steamer had arrived with a battalion of foot, under Colonel Hanson; and the next thing heard was that the Sultan Hamet, with Rajah Gantang, had fled up the country, the minor chiefs sending in their submission to the British and suing for peace.

Doctor Bolter became almost the greatest man at the station after this, and he went about laughing as he kept—to use his own words—"setting men up," speaking of them as if they were natural history specimens. First he had to be thanked by Rachel Linton for saving her father's life; then he found Captain Horton blessing him for his recovery; and one way and another he had a very proud time of it, though, to his great regret, he had no chance of pursuing his favourite hobby.

The Malay who acted as his guide was recovering fast from the tiger's clawing, and had attached himself to the doctor as servant when matters settled down; and it was affecting to see the poor fellow's delight upon encountering Ali alive and well.

Matters were soon arranged, and a busy party were at work rebuilding the residency, a number of Chinese joiners being enlisted for the task.

Meanwhile the fort and barracks had to be the general dwelling; and Bob Roberts and Tom Long were looked upon as heroes.

It so happened, that one day Colonel Hanson entered the mess-room, where Captain Horton, Major Sandars, Captain Smithers, and the other officers, were grouped about. Mr Linton and the ladies were present; and on one side stood a group of soldiers, foremost among whom were Sergeant Lund and Private Gray.

Major Sandars advanced to meet the governor's messenger, and he was about to make some remark, when Colonel Hanson turned round, caught sight of Private Gray, and started with astonishment.

The next moment he had gone forward to where Gray stood, looking very stern and troubled, and caught him by the hands, dragging him forward, and evidently forgetting all the stiff etiquette of the army.

"Why, my dear old Frank," he cried, shaking his hands, and seeming as if he could hug him, "this is a surprise! this is a meeting! Why, where have you been? Soldiering too, and wearing the scarlet! My dear old Frank," he cried again, with his voice shaking with emotion, "I feel as weak as a child; upon my word I do."

"Colonel Hanson," said Gray, quietly, but evidently very much moved, as he saw that they were the centre of every gaze, "this is indeed a strange meeting. I little thought it was you. But you forget; we belong to different circles now."

"Forget? Different circles? Do we indeed?" cried Colonel Hanson, whose face was flushed with excitement. "I forget nothing. Come here," he cried, and dragging Gray's arm through his, he faced round to where the astonished officers and the resident were standing.

"Major Sandars, Mr Linton, gentlemen, this is my very dear old friend, Francis Murray. We were schoolfellows together at Eton, and—and—and— I can't tell you now all the good brave things he has done for me. For years he has been missing; that wretched Overend and Gurney smash broke him, and he disappeared. And, Frank, you foolish fellow, I have been searching for you high and low to tell you that that cantankerous old lady, your aunt, was dead, and had changed her mind at the last moment, quarrelled with that lot who had got hold of her, sent for her solicitor, and left Greylands and every farthing she had to you. Thank goodness I have found you at last. Now sign your application to buy out at once. I will forward it home, and take upon myself to consider it accepted, pending the official discharge."

While this was going on, Captain Smithers, whose heart felt like lead, had gazed from one to the other. Now his eyes were fixed with bitter jealousy upon Private Gray, and now upon Rachel Linton, though she saw him not, but, pale and flushed by turns, she was gazing at Gray.

He was a true gentleman at heart, and in spite of his misery and disappointment, that which he had just heard gave him some satisfaction. It had been one of his bitterest griefs—one with a poisoned sting— that feeling which always haunted him, that Rachel Linton should prefer a private soldier to him, an officer and a gentleman. For that she did love Gray he had long felt certain. Gray, or Murray, then, was a gentleman, who, like many other gentlemen, had enlisted, and served as a very brave soldier. Yes, he was, Captain Smithers owned to himself, a very brave soldier, though he had felt that he hated him; while now— now—

"I'll fight it down," said Captain Smithers to himself.

"Heaven helping me, I'll be a gentleman as well as an officer. He has won, and I have lost. I ought to like him for her sake, and I will."

It was a brave effort, and it required all his strength—but he did it. He looked first at Rachel Linton, and then at the sweet sympathising face of her cousin, and went up close to them.

"Rachel," he said, holding out his hand and speaking in a low voice only heard by her and Miss Sinclair, "I give up. Let me be a dear friend, if I can be nothing more."

Miss Linton held out her hand frankly and cordially, and he held it a moment in his. Then dropping it, he walked straight across to where Colonel Hanson was standing with Murray in the midst of a group, and holding out his hand, he said,—

"Mr Murray, I am your debtor for my life. Henceforth let us, too, be very dear friends."

The two young men clasped hands in a firm strong grip, each reading the other's thoughts, and they instinctively knew that henceforth all enmity between them was at end. It was all Frank Murray could do to stand firm, for he knew how great an effort this must have cost his rival, and he mentally vowed to repay him all.

"Well," said Major Sandars, laughing, "this is a surprise indeed. Gentlemen all, Private Gray was so good and true a man in the private's mess, that I for one am quite sure he will be a welcome addition to ours."

"Mr Murray will grant that I have always looked upon him with respect," said Mr Linton, cordially. "I owe him too deep a debt," he said, holding out his hand, "not to feel intensely gratified at this change in his position."

The other officers warmly shook hands, Tom Long amongst the number; while, when it came to Bob Roberts' turn, he said with his eyes sparkling,—

"I say, Mr Murray, I am glad, 'pon my word." Bob Roberts and Tom Long strolled out together on to the parade ground, crossing it to get under the trees where a group of soldiers and Jacks were standing.

"I say, Tom Long, this is a rum game, isn't it?" said Bob.

"I call it beastly," said Tom. "Well, there's one consolation, young fellow, your nose is out of joint in a certain quarter."

"No," said Bob, "it's yours. I've long enough given up my pretentions. Miss Linton and I are the best of friends; but I'm sorry for you."

"Bother!" said Tom Long. "I wish I hadn't been such a fool. Why, whatever are they talking about?"

"I always knew he was a gentleman," said Sergeant Lund, authoritatively. "The way he could write out a despatch was something wonderful, that it was. Ha! I'm sorry he's gone!"

"Tell you what," said old Dick, "its about my turn now. What would some of you say if I was to turn out to be a mysterious orphan, and be a skipper or an admiral?"

"That's quite right, my lads," said Bob Roberts, sharply. "Old Dick is a mysterious orphan, and if you open his shirt you'll find he's marked with a blue mermaid."

"That's a true word," said old Dick, grinning. "But, Master Roberts, sir, don't you think you might pass your word for us to say a half dollar down there at the canteen? What's just took place has been hard on our emotions, sir, and the consequence is as we are all werry dry."

"I think you're more likely to turn out a fish, Dick—a shark, than anything else," said Bob. "But I don't mind. Will you be half, Tom?"

Tom Long nodded; and the men went off laughing to the canteen, to drink the health of Frank Murray, late Private Gray, and ended by saying, through their mouthpiece, Dick, that,—

"This here is a werry strange world."



There is not much more to say about the various people who formed the little world at the jungle-station.

Despatches were sent home, in which Major Sandars and Captain Horton dwelt most strongly upon the bravery of the young officers serving respectively beneath them. Captain Horton said so much respecting Bob Roberts, that poor Bob said he felt as red as a tomato; while Tom Long, instead of becoming what old Dick called more "stuck-upper" on reading of his bravery, seemed humbled and more frank and natural. Certainly he became better liked; and at a dinner that was given after the country had settled, and Colonel Hanson and his force were about to return, that officer in a speech said that from what he had heard, Mr Midshipman Roberts and Mr Ensign Long would become ornaments of the services, to which they belonged.

And so they did, and the truest of friends, when they did not quarrel, though really their squabbles only cemented their friendship the stronger.

They both visited Mr and Mrs Frank Murray at their pretty bungalow at Parang, where Rachel was settled down so long as her father retained his post at the residency; but their most enjoyable visits were, as years went by, to their friend the sultan, who was fast improving the country, and encouraging his people to become more commercial, in place of the arrant pirates they had been. For in a very short time in the settlement of the country under British protection, the rank of sultan had been offered to the Tumongong, who refused it in favour of his son Ali, and this was ratified by the Governor of the Straits—Sultan Hamet dying a victim to excess, and the piratical Rajah Gantang of his wounds.

Which was, so said old Dick in confidence to the two young officers, "a blessing to everybody consarned, for that there Rajah Gantang was about the wussest nigger as ever suffered from the want of soap."

The last the writer heard of Dick was, that he was the oldest boatswain in the service, and that he was on board that rapid gunboat the "Peregrine," commanded by Lieutenant Robert Roberts, RN.

It need only be added that Captain Smithers got over his disappointment, and two years later married Mary Sinclair, who makes him an excellent wife. So that none of those concerned had cause to regret the trip up the Malay river in HMS "Startler."


Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9
Home - Random Browse