Sunday, August 24, 2008

Chinese Command Tchen-voun-hien

The Su-chen was about five miles away when the fort first came into view, and for about a quarter of an hour she steamed ahead without any sign of life or of alarm becoming perceptible in the vicinity of the pirates' head-quarters. Frobisher was beginning to hope that fortune was so far favouring him that perhaps the freebooters might have set out on some buccaneering expedition inland upon this particular morning, and that he might thus be able to land, seize and destroy the junks, and occupy the fort during their absence; at the same time preparing an unpleasant little surprise for the pirates when they returned.
But his hope was doomed to disappointment. Still keeping his eye glued to the telescope, he suddenly observed a flash and a puff of white smoke leap out from a corner tower of the fort, and a few moments later the dull "boom" of a fairly-heavy gun made itself heard. At the same moment a tiny ball soared aloft to the head of the flagstaff on the battlements, which ball presently broke abroad and revealed itself as a large yellow flag of triangular shape, the apex of the triangle, or fly, being circular instead of ending in a point. There was also a design of some description embroidered on the flag in the favourite Chinese blue, but what the design represented Frobisher could not imagine. He had never beheld anything like it in his life, so he turned to Quen-lung, who was, as usual, standing alongside him, and, handing him the telescope, told him to take a look at the piece of bunting and say what the decoration on the flag was intended to represent.
Quen-lung obediently placed the eyepiece to his eye, and a few seconds later Frobisher observed the man turn pale and stagger backward, almost dropping the telescope as he did so. The man's eyes were dilated, his face turned the colour of putty; his lower lip had dropped, and his hands were trembling as though palsied. He presently recovered himself, however, and the colour gradually returned to his face. Frobisher asked what ailed him.
"Oh, sir," he answered, "turn back; turn back before it is too late. I have read the design on that flag, and know we can never hope to succeed against those who fight under its folds. I may not say--no man who knows may tell what those characters signify; but the men who belong to the Society that flies that ensign have never been conquered, and not a single one among them has ever been captured, although troops have been sent against them time after time. No one has ever returned alive to tell what happened; and we can only guess. They have sworn enmity against the whole human race, and their numbers are always being increased by the addition of men who have wrongs to redress, or believe themselves to have been injured by their fellows; and it is said that they always put their captives to death in an unspeakably horrible manner, although no witness has ever returned to tell the tale. I am sure that, if the admiral had known who the people were whom he wants to destroy, he would never have sent the expedition at all."
Frobisher looked the man up and down for a few seconds, as though he thought that the fellow's mind had given way. Then he said, sternly:
"What child's talk is this, Quen-lung? Do I hear a man speaking, or is it a boy, frightened by a bogy? What are you dreaming about, that you tell me I had better return without attacking these pirates? I am most certainly going to attack them, and my orders are to exterminate the whole crew of them; so you will very soon be able to disabuse your mind of the belief that they are invulnerable, as you seem to suppose. You say that no man has ever escaped them; but there are two men on board now to contradict that statement--the men we rescued from the junk. No, no, my good man; you've been listening to some old woman's tale and allowed it to frighten you. You'll see that you will be quite all right as soon as the fighting begins; you will do your part as well as the best of us."
This he said in the hope of infusing a little backbone into the man, who was shaking like a leaf; but his words had no effect. Quen-lung was terrified, there was no doubt of that, and it seemed to Frobisher that his terror arose not so much, from fear of the pirates themselves as from some supernatural power which he appeared to attribute to them.
"Well, master," he said resignedly, "if you insist on attacking them, you must; but you will not win. I know it; I can see it!" And without another word he walked to the other side of the deck and leant over the bulwarks, his chin resting on the palms of his hands, staring moodily down into the muddy water.
By this time the Su-chen had approached to within a distance of about a mile from the fort and the small bight in the river, inside which lay the five junks, and Frobisher determined to try a sighting shot at the building, to accustom the men to a changing range. He therefore ordered the men to load the four-inch gun forward, bring it to bear on the square tower from which the pirates' signal-gun-had been fired, and discharge it when ready.
The gun was loaded and trained, and the gunner laid his finger on the firing key; there was a deafening report, the boat quivered from truck to keelson, and Frobisher, watching, saw the shell strike and burst full on the centre of the tower, in which a ragged hole immediately afterwards appeared.
"Good shot!" he ejaculated, laying down his telescope. "Let us try a few more of the same kind, men. That will soon show those fellows that we mean business. Where's their invulnerability now, Quen-lung--eh?"
His words were drowned by a terrific discharge from the fort, the whole eastern front of which seemed to break out into flame and smoke, while a perfect storm of shot, shell, and small-arm missiles swept the ship, striking down men, ripping up planking and bulwarks, cutting rigging, and generally doing a tremendous amount of damage.
From all over the decks came the cries and groans of wounded men, mingled with execrations from the unwounded who had seen their friends shot down. Frobisher himself, when he had wiped the blood out of his eyes which had flowed into them from a small wound on his forehead caused by a flying splinter, was astounded to observe the amount of damage and the number of casualties that had resulted from that one discharge. The pirates had somehow managed to get the range to a nicety, and every shot had come aboard. There were no less than nine men killed and wounded, and the crew of the four-inch gun were all down. Unconquerable or not, the pirates were certainly marvellously clever gunners, and their weapons must be both heavy and modern.
At the same moment Frobisher observed a movement among the masts of the junks; and presently, to his amazement, he saw that they were coming out from behind their shelter, evidently with the intention of fighting him from the river as well as from the shore. Well, he would make short work of them, anyway. They were only made of wood, and a few well-directed shots between wind and water should send the whole fleet to the bottom in short order. With this end in view, he ordered every gun that could be brought to bear to be fired at the junks, meaning to clear them out of the way before turning his attention entirely to the fort; for he could see that they were crowded with men, and it might be rather awkward for his ship's crew if they managed to get alongside. The gunboat's sides were low, and it would be an easy matter to board her from craft standing as high out of the water as those junks.
The men sprang to their posts with alacrity, and soon the duel was in full swing. The junks were, like the fort, very heavily armed--much more heavily than Frobisher had in the least anticipated--and their accurately-aimed shot came ripping and tearing through the Su-chen's wooden bulwarks and sides with terrible effect. In addition to solid shot the pirates were using shell, and the air was soon full of flying pieces of metal, which struck men down in every direction. Only inside the iron casemates did there seem to be any protection from that deadly storm, and there the Chinese sailors were serving their guns coolly and with excellent aim. Shot after shot struck one or other of the junks, and Frobisher could see them actually reel under the impact; but so far no shot had been lucky enough to strike below or on the water line, and so sink any of them.
The Su-chen was now, he considered, quite close enough to both fort and junks; he therefore rang for half-speed, at which the vessel just held her own against the current, the junks themselves having anchored in order to avoid being swept down under the Su-chen's guns.
So the battle went grimly forward. Frobisher soon discovered that his big body was being made a target for small-arm fire, and was shortly obliged to leave the bridge, in order to avoid being shot. He therefore took up his post in the forward starboard casemate, from which position he could observe the enemy and at the same time encourage his crew to greater efforts. This he was obliged to do by signs, for at the beginning of the battle Quen-lung had vanished, and Frobisher was unable to catch a glimpse of him anywhere. He had doubtless sought the seclusion of his cabin, in the hope that there he might find safety, oblivious of the fact that the enemy were using such large and powerful guns that the wooden sides of the gunboat offered little more protection than he would have obtained out on deck. Frobisher determined to go and find him, when he could spare a moment or two from the matter in hand, bring him up on deck, and thus teach him, by the most practical of methods, how to stand fire without flinching.
At present, however, he had more than enough to occupy him, without thinking of Quen-lung. The fort had brought all its guns to bear on the Su-chen directly the gunboat became practically stationary, and it, as well as the junks, was making such excellent practice that Frobisher at length began to realise that he was in a very warm corner indeed, out of which it would tax his skill to the utmost to extricate himself, to say nothing of carrying out his expressed intention of destroying the pirate stronghold. There was, of course, still time to retire, to return to Tien-tsin and bring reinforcements, explaining to the admiral that one small gunboat was utterly inadequate to undertake so important an enterprise as this was proving to be; and this would doubtless have been his wisest plan. But this particular Englishman happened to be one of those who do not know when they are beaten, and the mere idea of retreat never so much as entered his mind.
He therefore went about from gun to gun, cheering and encouraging the men, sometimes training one of the weapons himself, and all the while impressing upon the crew--as well as he could by signs--the necessity for holing and sinking the junks as speedily as possible, and so reducing to some extent the severe gruelling to which the Su-chen was being subjected.
At last his constant exhortations began to have their effect. A well-directed shell from the four-inch gun--laid, as it happened, by Frobisher's own hands--struck the junk at the end of the line nearest to the gunboat full upon the water line, and exploding, blew a hole in her nearly a yard square; while from the interior of the smitten junk arose a chorus of screams, groans, and yells, proving that the flying splinters of the shell had done other work as well. Those on board the Su-chen saw the water pouring into the pirate vessel in a very cataract; she heeled farther and farther over, and in less than a minute after the shell had struck, righted herself for a second, and then plunged below the surface, carrying with her the greater portion of her crew.
"Hurrah, boys!" shouted Frobisher, "that's one gone. Repeat the dose with the next fellow, and we'll soon put the whole crowd of them out of business!"
The rousing cheer with which his men responded to words which they could not possibly understand, but the meaning of which was sufficiently clear, was answered by a yell of rage and defiance from the pirates, accompanied by another furious bombardment from their guns and small-arms; and Frobisher, gazing at the havoc caused by the discharge, and the bodies with which his decks were strewn, realised that the destruction of that one junk had but animated the pirates to fresh exertions, and that the victory was not yet even half-won.
Realising that it was imperative to silence the fire from the junks if success was to be obtained at all, he signed to the gunners to load and direct all their pieces upon the next junk, firing together, in the hope that the combined discharge might effect the desired result. And so it did. The missiles all struck the craft almost on the same spot, and a few minutes later she, too, took herself and her crew to the bottom, leaving only three junks to deal with--and the fort, which was blazing away merrily and doing a good deal of damage, though not so much as the junks, the gunners on board which appeared to be specially-trained marksmen.
The enthusiasm of the Chinese sailors at this second stroke of luck was immense, and they threw themselves into their work with unabated energy, despite the fact that fully a quarter of their comrades were lying dead or wounded around them.
The cries of the wounded for water were dreadful, despite all that could be done to help them. Frobisher had already told off as many men as he could spare to carry water, but it seemed impossible to quench the poor wretches' thirst; their cry was always for more, even though they had drunk but a moment previously. The unwounded men appeared to be quite indifferent, however, both to their own comrades' sufferings and their own chances of death or mutilation, and went on serving the guns as calmly as though they were at target practice. Frobisher realised then, as numbers of white men have realised since, that the Chinese soldier and sailor, properly trained and properly led, constitutes some of the finest fighting material in the world; and that, if a leader ever arises, capable of drilling and controlling the vast mass of material which China contains, it will be a very bad thing indeed for the white races. A properly-drilled, well-trained, well-armed, and capably-led army of perhaps fifty million fighting men would be invincible; an invasion of Europe by such a force could not possibly be withstood. That dreadful day is, however, far in the future, let us hope.
Frobisher now turned his attention to the third junk, still carrying out his plan of sinking them one at a time, and determined to lay and fire the four-inch gun again himself, in the hope of repeating his former successful shot. The shell and cartridge were rammed home and the breech closed and screwed up, and having trained the gun, he pressed his finger to the firing key, springing back directly afterward to avoid the recoil. But to his astonishment there was no report: the weapon did not discharge. He therefore set and pressed the key again, but once more there was no result. It was evidently a miss-fire. The young man knew, of course, that sometimes a cartridge will "hang fire", and that many a gun's crew have been blown to pieces by prematurely opening the breech, but he forgot all about that now in his anxiety, and unscrewed and opened the breech-piece immediately. Nothing happened. There were the marks of the percussion-pin upon the primer of the cartridge, but the ammunition had failed to explode.
Hastily calling for another cartridge, he withdrew the faulty one and thrust in a fresh one, closing the breech and repeating his first operation; but again the cartridge failed to explode. Something was seriously wrong somewhere--but what? Was it the powder that was faulty or damp, or the primer that was ineffective? It was impossible to say without examination. Another cartridge and still another were tried, and every time the result was the same, until Frobisher began to feel seriously alarmed.
Encouraged by the cessation of fire from the Su-chen, the junks had redoubled their own, and the gunboat was rapidly becoming as riddled as a sieve, while men were falling fast in every direction. The ship's funnel was as full of holes as a cullender, the shrouds of the foremast were cut to pieces on both sides, the mainmast had long since been shot away, and the wooden deck-houses were mere heaps of splintered wood, while the bulwarks were in a perfectly ruinous condition. Clearly something must be done, and done quickly, or the Su-chen would be sunk beneath their feet.
Ordering his men to leave the four-inch for the time being, and to blaze away with the smaller pieces and machine-guns, Frobisher ran below to the magazine to try to discover what was wrong. He found the men there passing out shell and cartridge quite calmly, unaware that there was anything wrong on deck, and of course taking no precaution to examine the stuff before sending it up the hoist.
Frobisher's first action when he got to the magazine was to examine the outside of the brass cases, and he soon saw--or thought he saw--what was the matter. When the Su-chen's ammunition had been overhauled at Tien-tsin, cartridge for the four-inch was one of the sizes of which there was a shortage, and Frobisher had had a fresh supply put on board. That fresh supply, he had observed at the time, was stencilled with Chinese characters in red paint, while the old stock had been stencilled in black; and he now observed that all the cartridge being passed up carried the black stencil, and was therefore old stuff--how old he did not care to think. He at once told the men by signs not to send up any more black-marked cartridge, but to use only the red-marked; and then, for the second time that day, he received a shock.
The four-inch gun had been fired more frequently than any other gun, and the whole of the fresh supply of cartridge of that size had been exhausted. There was not a single charge left! How bitterly he blamed himself for not having hove every scrap of the ship's old ammunition overboard, and filled up entirely with new! But it was no time for regrets now; the only thing to do was to rectify matters, if possible; and if not, to make the best of them. Perhaps it might be the primers that were faulty, he thought, and if so, the situation might yet be saved, for there was a supply of new primers on board.
Seizing one of the cases in his arms, he rushed on deck with his load, and there, under cover of one of the casemates, drew the load, exercising the utmost care, that the powder might not be exposed to any flying sparks. Then, springing to the gun, he thrust in the empty case, slammed the breech shut, and pressed the key.
There was a loud, smacking report, and a little thread of smoke curled up from the muzzle of the gun. The primers, then, were in good order, so--good heavens!--it must be the powder that was wrong, and Frobisher felt the beads of sweat gather on his forehead. He would make quite sure, though.
Running back to the casemate, he snatched a handful of powder, spread it thinly on deck, well away from the load, and placed a lighted match to it. There was no flame or puff of smoke, no explosion--nothing! The match simply burnt up and went out. Then the Su-chen's captain took a pinch of the stuff between his fingers and put it in his mouth, tasting it. A moment later he spat it out on deck with a cry of horror and amazement, for what had passed for powder in all those old cartridges was nothing but granulated charcoal! Then Frobisher recollected Wong-lih's accusation of peculation on the part of mandarins and other high officials who filled their pockets at the expense of their country, and how the admiral had said that it would be a bad thing for China if she had to go to war under conditions such as then obtained.
This, then, was one of the results of such peculation. Some contractor or official had been paid to provide powder, and he had provided charcoal, pocketing the difference.
Frobisher ground his teeth and muttered several very bitter things. Here he was, engaged with a vastly superior force, handicapped most horribly for want of ammunition--for possibly the rest of the supply, intended for the smaller guns, was in the same condition. What would have happened if he had not had the forethought to examine superficially the contents of the magazine at Tien-tsin, and order a fresh supply on his own responsibility, he hardly dared to think. There would undoubtedly have been not a single cartridge capable of being discharged, and the Su-chen and her crew would by this time undoubtedly have been the prize of the pirates. And all this that some pampered mandarin or contractor might have a supply of unearned money wherewith to buy luxuries that he neither deserved nor needed. It was disgraceful!
But there was nothing to be gained by repining, he reminded himself. Fortunately the cartridge for the smaller guns seemed to be holding out satisfactorily; and while Frobisher had been investigating the matter of the larger cartridge his men had made so good practice with them and their rifles that the third junk was already in a sinking condition. Even as he looked she disappeared like her consorts to the bottom, in a swirl of broken water, dotted with the forms of struggling pirates.
The one big gun being now useless, and the Su-chen herself in a very parlous condition, it was obviously out of the question to think of attempting to conclude the fight by means of the light guns and small-arms alone; the ship would not float long enough for that. Some other plan of action must therefore be adopted, and Frobisher gave his attention to the idea for a few minutes. Then he resolved upon a scheme which, though extremely hazardous, seemed to offer the best, if not the only, hope of success. It was a case of either destroying the pirates or being destroyed himself together with his crew; and of the two he naturally preferred that the sufferers should be the pirates. To explain his intentions it would be necessary, however, to call in the assistance of the interpreter, otherwise he could never hope to make the men comprehend exactly what was required--and his every hope of success hinged upon this.
He therefore went in search of Quen-lung, whom he eventually found, after a prolonged hunt, hiding, in an almost fainting condition, underneath the bunk in the first lieutenant's cabin, and dragged him forcibly on deck. He was obliged to give the terrified man a stiff dose of raki to bring him to a condition to understand what was being said to him; then, the fellow finally coming in some degree to his senses, Frobisher explained to him the plan of campaign, and ordered him to translate it to the men.
There being now but two junks left, it was the Englishman's intention to run the Su-chen up stream and in between them, firing as she went. Then boarding parties, headed respectively by himself and the first lieutenant, were to leap on to the decks of the junks, drive the crews overboard--not below--cut the cables, fire the vessels, and send them adrift down stream with the current. The Su-chen would then be free to turn her entire attention to the fort. She would anchor in the berth vacated by the junks, and endeavour to silence the fire of the fort with her remaining guns. If this could be done, a landing-party was to be thrown ashore who would carry with them a number of powder-bags for blowing in the gates; after which the idea was to enter the fort and carry it by storm. If the guns could not be entirely silenced, then as much damage as possible was to be done, and the assault was to be attempted in any case.
The men signified their comprehension of the plan with a cheer; then rifles were loaded, bayonets fixed, cartridge-pouches refilled, and cutlasses brought up from below and belted on. Frobisher gave the word, and the Su-chen went ahead at full speed for the junks. The men on the latter at once understood the move, and did their utmost to prevent it coming off, but all to no purpose. The gunboat crashed in between them, grapnels were hove aboard each junk, and the two parties of boarders, with Frobisher and the lieutenant at their head, scrambled up on the decks of the junks, where a desperate hand-to-hand struggle at once commenced.
The pirates, knowing that they could expect no mercy, showed none, and no quarter was given on either side. Frobisher, at the head of his men, strove to cut his way forward, driving the pirates ahead of him and overboard; but he soon realised that this was going to be an exceedingly difficult task. The desperadoes were splendidly armed, and seemed not to know the meaning of the word fear. Men found revolvers flashing in their very faces, and spoke no more in this world; the air scintillated with the gleam of whirling steel and vibrated with the hoarse shouts of the combatants and the cries of wounded men; while, to add to the horror and confusion of the scene, the guns of the fort opened fire murderously upon friend and foe alike.
Twice the pirates had given way slightly, but each time they had recovered their ground, and however many of them were killed, others seemed to appear from nowhere to take their places; and so the fight raged with unabated fury. Frobisher picked out a man who appeared to be one of the chiefs, and made herculean efforts to reach him; but time and again a whirlwind of men swept in between him and his prey, so that the fellow seemed unapproachable.
Then, suddenly, there arose a roar of exultation from the pirates, and, turning, Frobisher saw the other boarding party give way, and, seemingly struck with panic, go tumbling back on board the Su-chen, defeated. Frobisher, forgetting that he would not be understood, shouted to his men to redouble their efforts, and to those on the gunboat to go back and try again.
But there was worse to come. The Englishman was at the head of his men, plying his cutlass with terrible effect, when he felt a slight jar, and looked round just in time to see a man on board the Su-chen throw off the last grapnel, and the gunboat begin to gather sternway down the stream. He uttered a shout of rage, and strove to hew his way to the side of the junk; but even as he did so, he realised that he was too late. There were already fathoms of water between junk and steamer, and the bitter conclusion was forced home upon him that he had been deserted by his crew, and left alone with a mere handful of men in the midst of a crowd of howling, murderous pirates. The end of all things for him seemed very close at that moment.

Chinese Command The Pathway Of Glass

Desperate as the situation undoubtedly was, Captain Frobisher was not the man to yield without a struggle. He was cornered, and he knew it. Nothing short of a miracle could extricate him from the position in which the momentary panic of the other boarding party had placed him by the withdrawal of the Su-chen; but he determined that, if he was to die, he would not die alone.
With this resolution, he renewed the fight with even greater desperation than before, if that were possible; and so formidable a foe did he become that, for a few seconds, the pirates in front of him wavered and all but broke. His tall, strong figure, as he advanced bareheaded, with set teeth and gleaming eyes, and that long ruddily-gleaming strip of steel which played here, there, and everywhere with the swiftness of light, made up a spectacle sufficiently awe-inspiring to terrify any man, one would have thought; but many of the pirates were themselves almost as big and strong as Frobisher, and were thoroughly accustomed to desperate, hand-to-hand fighting. Their hesitation was therefore but momentary, and the next instant they had closed round him like a pack of hungry wolves, snarling and spitting curses at him, and even striving to pull him down with their hands.
Gaining the opportunity of an instant's breathing space, Frobisher glanced quickly behind him to discover how many of his men were left to him, and was horrified to find that, out of the forty men who had followed him on to the deck of the junk, but ten remained on their feet, while of those ten, fully half were bleeding from more or less severe wounds which would quickly put them hors de combat. There was therefore not the smallest possibility of cutting a way through the dense throng that surrounded them and leaping over the side into the water, as he had at first thought of doing; and there seemed nothing to be done but to sell his life and the lives of his followers as dearly as possible--for he was quite resolved to die rather than fall alive into the hands of the pirates, having already heard something of the tender mercies of the Chinese to their prisoners.
Unhappily for Frobisher, however, he was unable to control circumstance, and, not having eyes in the back of his head, he was unaware of what was happening behind him. He did not know that a few seconds later his followers were all cut down and slain, and that he remained fighting alone, without a single protector at his back, and with his enemies swarming all round him. Neither did he observe the chief, whom he had been trying to reach unsuccessfully ever since the beginning of the fight, made a brief signal to his men not to strike.
Consequently he was not a little astonished when he suddenly felt himself seized round the neck and body by half a dozen pairs of arms, which pinioned his own and left him helpless. In an instant his cutlass was wrenched from his grasp and he was hurled to the deck, where more men immediately flung themselves upon him, holding him firmly down, so that he found it utterly impossible to move a limb.
Thereafter the business of binding him was comparatively easy, and he presently found himself swathed from head to foot in coils of rope, until he resembled a mummy rather than a living man.
His captors then rolled him contemptuously out of the way against the shot-riddled bulwarks, and proceeded to take account of their casualties. Where Frobisher had made his final stand the dead lay thickest, and he noticed with grim satisfaction that there were very few wounded men to be seen. His men and he had fought well, and he had nothing with which to reproach himself. The pirate chief scowled heavily as he scanned the result of the fight; but although he had unquestionably paid dearly in men for his victory, he had no compunction in ordering the more severely wounded to be hove over the side. Probably there were no facilities for doctoring them, and the chief perhaps thought they might as well die now as later on, and so save him a good deal of trouble in transporting them to the shore.
Just then the other junk bumped heavily alongside, and her men came aboard, reporting that their craft had been so badly damaged that she was in a sinking condition. Indeed her crew had hardly transferred themselves before she disappeared beneath the muddy waters.
The fourth junk safely accounted for, Frobisher comforted himself with the assurance that, with any sort of luck at all, the Su-chen ought to be able to make her way back to Tien-tsin, short-handed though she must undoubtedly be; and, once there, he knew a report of the failure of the expedition would be speedily carried to Wong-lih, provided the admiral happened to be still there. The latter would then be quite certain to send a rescue expedition up the Hoang-ho to recover any prisoners the pirates might have taken, or to avenge them if slain. Happily for the Englishman's peace of mind, he did not know that, although the Su-chen did eventually reach Tien-tsin in safety, she arrived too late to catch the admiral, who had left to visit some of the Southern Chinese ports and inspect the men-of-war on that station, and was not expected back, unless specially sent for, for at least a couple of months. And it was certain that none of the Chinese officials at Tien-tsin would consider the fact of Frobisher's capture and probable murder at the hands of the pirates as sufficient to justify the exertion of dispatching a messenger to recall Wong-lih, or even to give him news of the result of the expedition. So, although he did not know it, there was little prospect of rescue for Murray Frobisher, for some time, at all events.
The business of disposing of the dead and badly wounded men having been completed, the pirate chief, whose name--from the number of times the word was used when he was being addressed--Frobisher guessed to be Ah-fu, issued a few brief orders in barbarous-sounding, up-country Chinese; and the survivors of the fight got up the anchor, and slowly poled the junk back to her berth behind the small headland where the fleet had been lying on the arrival of the Su-chen. Observing that, in his bound condition, nobody seemed to consider it necessary to stand on guard over him, and being anxious to learn as much as possible respecting his present surroundings--with a view to future escape if he were left alive long enough--Frobisher contrived to bring himself into a kneeling position, after which he had not much difficulty in struggling to his feet, and was thus able to look over the side and see what was going on.
By the time that he had executed this manoeuvre the junk had left the main stream of the river and had entered the bight where the pirate fleet was accustomed to be concealed; and, at the far end of this, about a quarter of a mile from their present position, Frobisher distinguished a small wharf, some two hundred feet in length by about thirty wide, and standing about eight feet out of the water, toward which the junk was being steered. This was no doubt the jetty where the pirates unloaded the loot stolen from captured prizes, and whence they took aboard their own stores of ammunition, provisions, and water. There was quite a number of bamboo and thatch huts scattered about at the shore end of the jetty--evidently store-houses--while a stream of flashing, sparkling, crystal-clear water, tumbling down a narrow gully and cutting a tiny channel for itself across the sand to the river, was without doubt the source of the pirates' water supply.
Frobisher noticed that at the end of the jetty a number of the men from the fort had collected, apparently awaiting the arrival of their comrades of the maritime department; and as the junk came alongside, these individuals clambered aboard, and a vociferous conversation ensued, during which fierce glances and threatening gestures were directed toward the Englishman, who knew instinctively that the new arrivals were strongly urging that he should be put to death, as some sort of a sacrifice to the memory of the dead pirates, in whose destruction he had played so large a part. Indeed, it seemed at one moment as though he were to be slaughtered as he stood there, bound and helpless; for the new-comers surged forward, knives and swords gleaming in their hands, pushing the junk's crew backward until the whole crowd had gathered in a circle, with Frobisher in the centre. Frobisher expected death at any moment, and he was at a loss to understand why the junk's men seemed reluctant to let the others have their way, seeing that they themselves had been eager enough to put an end to him but a short time previously. Presently he noticed that Ah-fu had disappeared from the deck, and guessed that the men were merely waiting for him to return before allowing the people from the fort to have their way.
Presently the pirate chief reappeared, and was immediately surrounded by an eager, gesticulating crowd, who pointed to Frobisher and handled their blades in sanguinary anticipation. But, holding up his hand for silence, Ah-fu said a few words to his followers which produced an immediate and remarkable effect. Sheathing their weapons, they broke out into shouts of laughter, and began to discuss with one another the details of what they evidently considered an excellent joke; and Frobisher, knowing something of the Chinese pirates' idea of amusement, felt that he would infinitely have preferred being killed on the spot to being kept alive to provide sport for these barbarians. Quen-lung had certainly been right when he had prophesied disaster as the result of attacking the "Unconquerable"--as Frobisher afterwards found was indeed the name of the sect to which the pirates belonged--although what reason the man had had for being so sure, the young Englishman was utterly unable to guess.
The matter having evidently been settled entirely to the pirates' satisfaction, Frobisher's legs were unbound, so that he could walk, and, closely guarded by two men carrying long, broad-bladed knives, he was led down the sloping gangway to the wharf, followed by the rest of the crowd talking and laughing hilariously. Thence he was taken up the hill, a distance of a quarter of a mile, to the fort.
On reaching his destination he was amazed to note the enormous strength of the building, and the consequently small amount of damage that had been done by the fire of the gunboat. With the exception of the hole in the tower, and a few splintered and starred "splashings" where the missiles had struck, very little actual injury seemed to have been inflicted, notwithstanding the excellent practice of the Su-chen's gunners. The walls, he decided, must be enormously thick, thicker even than those of the fortress of Asan, which were stout enough to withstand anything less than heavy gun fire.
He was not permitted to examine the appearance of the building very closely, for, observing his hesitation, the two guards prodded him vindictively with the points of their knives, and pushed him before them through the massive stone gateway, which was protected by a strong portcullis at either end, as well as an iron double door between, strong enough to turn rifle bullets. Frobisher now realised that even if he had succeeded in sinking all the junks and reaching the gate of the fort his difficulties would only have begun, and that his plan of blowing in the gates with powder would have been completely frustrated by the existence of the outer portcullis. These men certainly knew how to protect themselves, and were determined not to be captured if human ingenuity could prevent it.
Once inside, Frobisher found himself in a spacious courtyard, round which the fort was built. The windows of the different chambers looked inward, thus allowing the outer walls to be entirely used for gun embrasures, rifle loopholes, and even arrow-slits, so varied were the weapons to be found in this robber stronghold.
Still in charge of the two guards, at a command from Ah-fu the prisoner was marched through a doorway in the wall exactly opposite the main gateway, and was hurried through corridor after corridor--all of them only dimly lighted by small openings in the outer wall--until he became utterly confused and lost even the remotest idea of his bearings. After a walk of about five minutes the guards halted before an iron-bound door, which, upon being opened, disclosed a flight of steps. Down these steps he was hurried, finding himself, when at the bottom, at the entrance to another long passage, which looked as though it had been hewn out of the solid sandstone, for there were no joints visible in its walls.
Removing a lantern from a hook, one of the men lighted it, and the journey was continued for quite ten minutes in a perfectly straight line, thus confirming Frobisher's impression that he was in an underground passage leading from the fort to some other structure at a considerable distance, probably constructed to afford a means of escape in the extremely unlikely event of the fort ever being captured. At the far end of this passage there were several iron-bound doors--a circumstance which Frobisher noted for future reference; and it was through one of the middle ones that he was conducted, arriving at once at the foot of another flight of stairs, similar to those at the other end, and finally at a large, square, stone cell, lighted on three sides by very small windows, high up in the walls--a most dismal-looking prison. There was a low plank bench covered with straw and presumably intended for a bed, two stools, and a bucket, these few articles constituting the entire contents of the chamber.
Frobisher's arms were now unbound, and he was thrust inside, the guards holding themselves in readiness to frustrate any attempt at escape. But the prisoner was by this time far too stiff and numb after the constriction of the ropes to make any such attempt; it was as much as he could achieve to stagger to the apology for a bed, upon which he flung himself at full length. He was utterly exhausted, and his body had scarcely touched the straw before he was fast asleep, in which condition he remained for nearly twenty-four hours.
When he awoke he found that a coarse meal had been left for him, while the bucket had been filled with water; so he made a hearty meal, and then proceeded to examine his cell by the light of the declining sun. His search, however, was fruitless: there was nothing out of which he might construct a key, as he had done at Asan; the windows were scarcely six inches square; in short, escape appeared an impossibility.
And now many days dragged out their slow length in dreary monotony; day after day his custodians brought him a supply of food; but, strangely enough, the time passed without his being subjected to indignity and torment for the amusement of the pirates, as he had fully expected might be the case. Possibly they were absent on some foray, and had postponed their entertainment until their return. Whatever might be the reason, however, the days slid past, without molestation to him, and lengthened into weeks, until, by the notches which he scored every morning on the edge of his bed, Frobisher found that he had been just thirteen weeks in confinement. Thirteen weeks!--And, so far as he could tell, no attempt had been made by the Chinese authorities to rescue him or obtain his release; at any rate, there had been no sounds of fighting, no report of guns from the river; and he was being slowly forced to the conclusion that his very existence had been forgotten, or else that it was thought not worth while to throw away any more valuable Chinese lives in order to effect the rescue of so unimportant a personage as an English mercenary.
Then, one morning, when Frobisher awoke and commenced to dress--for he had made a practice of undressing at night, that he might feel the cleaner and more refreshed next day--he discovered, to his astonishment, that his boots had mysteriously disappeared during the night. He searched everywhere for them, but they were nowhere to be found. For whatever reason--and he puzzled himself to think of a satisfactory one-- his foot-gear was undoubtedly missing, and there was an end of the matter. The curious happening vexed him considerably. It seemed such an idiotic trick to play; and the more he thought about the matter the more convinced he became that this joke, or whatever it was intended to be, had a deeper significance than he had at first imagined.
Since his arrival in China he had contrived to acquire a fragmentary knowledge of the language, and by its means he endeavoured to ascertain from the man who nightly brought him food the reason for the apparently senseless prank; but the fellow either could not or would not understand, and Frobisher was obliged to give up the attempt.
The jailer had hitherto been in the habit of closing the iron-bound door behind him with a slam, rattling the lock after him to make sure that it was fastened, when he brought the prisoner's food; and this circumstance had come to be so expected by Frobisher that when, on the evening of the day on which his boots had disappeared, the man simply pulled the door to gently behind him and went off about his business without even trying the lock, the omission immediately attracted the Englishman's attention.
The man had never before been so careless, and Frobisher could not decide whether he had been thinking of something else at the moment, and had succumbed to an attack of absent-mindedness, or whether he had suddenly recollected something that he had forgotten, and intended to pay another visit to the cell. Whichever it might be, Frobisher believed he saw in the circumstance a possibility of escape of which he instantly determined to avail himself.
With stealthy footsteps he crept across the stone-flagged floor, scarcely daring to breathe lest his movements should attract some inconvenient person's attention. He had, it is true, heard the jailer walk away down the corridor; but perhaps, playing some stupid joke, the man had crept back noiselessly, and was even now outside the door, listening and chuckling to himself at the prisoner's foolishness in imagining that he would be careless enough to go away leaving the door unfastened. The mere idea caused the beads of sweat to start out on Frobisher's forehead; disappointment would be too terrible!
But he swiftly pulled himself together, and, with fingers that trembled in spite of himself, he touched the old-fashioned latch and slowly, very slowly, raised it, pulling the door gently toward him as he did so.
The door opened, and, scarcely daring to credit his senses, Frobisher pulled it still wider open, and a moment later was able to look out into the corridor. There was an antiquated oil lantern hanging at the foot of the stone stairway, placed there for the jailer's convenience, and by its light the prisoner was able to see that the corridor was empty. Then the incident of the door was no trick, after all, and the man had really suffered a lapse of memory. Twenty-four hours would elapse before he returned, and Frobisher's absence was discovered, and the latter hoped by that time to be far away, if he could but find some mode of escaping undetected from the building. The first and most serious obstacle in the way, the cell door, was overcome; now to find whether his luck would still hold, and if he could find another unguarded gate leading to freedom.
First of all, however, he must have some covering for his feet. He knew that he could not walk far barefooted over rough ground; and, if pursued under such circumstances, capture would be certain and speedy. He therefore removed his shirt and undervest, and tearing them into strips, he swathed the wrappings round his feet somewhat after the manner followed by the Spanish mountaineers. This done, he next had to ascertain whether the remaining doors between himself and freedom were locked or unlocked.
The first door he came to was the one at the foot of the stairs, and, as might have been expected, this was closed; but it was not locked. The pirates had clearly pinned their faith on the stanchness of the cell door. Close to this, in the opposite wall of the passage, were the other doors which Frobisher had observed when being conducted to his prison; and it was through one of these that he must pass if he was to escape at all. The passage itself, he remembered, simply communicated with the main building of the fort, and to travel by that path was tantamount to running into the arms of his captors.
With infinite care he tried the latch of the door on the left. It was locked.
Then he turned the handle of the door on the right. That also was locked; and his heart sank at the thought of the tremendous amount of labour that would be needed to overcome this obstacle--if it were possible to overcome it at all, of which he was more than doubtful.
While he was considering what to do first, his eye caught a faint glimmer of light shining on something on the wall, and he eagerly stretched out his hand to it. As he touched it his heart leaped, for the object was a key--obviously the key of one, or both, of the doors.
He fitted it cautiously into the lock of the right-hand door and turned it gently, and with a soft click the wards fell back and the door jarred slightly open.
Without wasting a moment, Frobisher pulled it wide and stepped outside, exulting in his new-found liberty. But, alas! his exultation was only momentary. An instant later he realised the cruel hoax that had been played on him, for extending over a distance of many yards in every direction was a sort of pavement of broken glass, pointed and keen-edged as a forest of razors. The glass had been so firmly fixed in the ground that it was impossible to remove it; and Frobisher instantly realised that his escape that way was most effectually barred. Even with strong boots on, it would have been a difficult enough matter to traverse that glass-strewn patch without cutting one's feet to pieces; and with feet merely protected by thin wrappings of wool and linen, the thing was an impossibility.
This, then, was the meaning of the removal of his boots; and, as he realised the sardonic cruelty of the men who could invent such a device for tormenting a prisoner, his heart almost failed him. It seemed as though he were doomed to remain for ever immured in this horrible place.

Chinese Command Pursued By Bloodhounds

With a smothered ejaculation of bitter disappointment Frobisher recoiled a few steps in sheer despair, bringing up rather sharply against the iron-plated door through which he had just emerged; and the next instant he realised that he was doubly trapped. Escape was cut off in front of him by that broken glass, and he had been in such haste to get away from his prison that he had never thought of removing the key from the inside of the door, or of taking precautions to prevent the door from closing behind him and cutting off his retreat, as it had done.
Retreat, after he was once clear of the walls, had naturally never entered his mind. But now he would have been glad enough to have been able to return to his cell unobserved. It would be intensely humiliating to be obliged to wait there, in the small space between the door and the glass-sown path, until his jailer arrived, some twenty-four hours later, to release him. Yet there seemed to be no alternative.
How careless, how criminally foolish he had been to allow himself to be trapped by so transparent a device! thought Frobisher. He ought to have suspected a trap directly he discovered that his boots had been removed, and he might have known that such jailers as he was dealing with do not leave cell doors unlatched by accident, or leave keys to open other doors hanging on walls in conspicuous places, just where an escaping prisoner would be most likely to see them. How those pirates would laugh and jeer at him on the morrow, when they arrived and found him there, shivering with the bitter cold of night in that climate, at that time of year! The mere thought of such humiliation caused Frobisher to grit his teeth with anger, and he had almost made up his mind to chance a quick dash across that cruel barrier, trusting that he would not injure himself so severely as to make escape absolutely impossible, when something occurred which caused him quickly to change his mind, and made him shrink back into the shadow of the door, pressing himself up into one of the corners, to avoid observation and consequent discovery, if possible.
He had caught sight of the figure of a Chinaman emerging from the shadow of the jungle which surrounded the fort on its landward side. The man's figure stood out plain and clear-cut in the moonlight, which was so bright that Frobisher could easily distinguish his every movement, could even see how the man was dressed; and he wondered what the fellow could be doing there at that time of night.
In that part of northern China, especially at that season, men do not wander about in the jungle at night, or indeed at any other time, if they can help it, having a very natural objection to being caught and eaten by prowling, hungry tigers; and it was therefore not a little strange that this man should arrive at the fort by that way, particularly as it could be reached much more easily by the road which the pirates had constructed for their own convenience. It would almost appear as though the man bad come by this route in order to avoid the pirates' observation; and the longer Frobisher considered the matter, the more certain did he become that this was actually the case, and the more he wondered what the reason might be.
The man had only stood in full view for a few brief seconds, just long enough to convince the Englishman that he was real, and not a figment of his own heated imagination. Then he had stepped back quickly into the shadow of the jungle, crouching down beside a clump of bamboo, where he was so well concealed from observation that Frobisher could just distinguish the outline of his stooping body. Indeed, had he not kept his eyes on the man the whole time, it would have been impossible to detect his hiding-place, so well did the colour of his clothing blend with the vegetation which formed his background.
The Englishman's heart began to beat with excitement and hope, for a thousand possibilities at once presented themselves to him. It was morally certain that the hiding man could have no connection with the pirates, or he would have come forward boldly and demanded admittance; and if not a friend of, or connected with the outlaws, he must necessarily be opposed to them. Ah! if it were only possible to attract the man's attention without also attracting that of the pirates, escape should be a simple matter, thought Frobisher. He was already practically as good as outside the walls, and all that was necessary was that something should be laid down on the top of the glass over which he could walk without cutting his feet, and the thing was done; he could be miles beyond the possibility of pursuit before morning broke, if only the preliminaries could be put in hand immediately.
It did not take him long to decide that he would make the attempt to attract the man's attention. If the latter were a friend, and the attempt were crowned with success, all would be well, and he would be free within an hour; while if the man should after all prove to be an enemy--well, he might as well be discovered and taken back to prison now, as wait all night in the cold. One thing was quite certain-- without outside assistance escape was impossible; so he decided to put his fortune to the test and risk his freedom, if not his life, upon the turn of the die.
With this idea, he drew his handkerchief from his pocket and was about to step forward and wave it, when he saw a movement among the clump of bamboo, and the next instant the Chinaman rose to his feet and ran like a deer toward the very part of the fort in which Frobisher's cell was situated. He ran noiselessly, on his toes, and bent almost double in the effort to make himself as small as possible. And he did not slacken speed until he had reached the walls of the fort, where he again crouched down in the shadow, almost directly under the window of Frobisher's cell, about twenty yards away from the spot where the Englishman himself was concealed.
The latter, in the face of this new move, determined to watch a few minutes longer before revealing himself, and kept his eyes on the crouching figure with the greatest interest. Was the man going to prove friend or foe, rescuer or would-be assassin? Scarcely the latter, the Englishman thought, for there seemed something strangely familiar in the man's movements and in his whole appearance; and Frobisher experienced the sensation of having met, or seen, this man somewhere before, though under what circumstances he could not for the life of him recall. He was something of the same build as Ling; but Ling, he knew, was dead, for he had seen the man's body. Then, again, he might pass at a distance for Quen-lung, the interpreter; but from what Frobisher had already seen of that person, he did not for a moment believe that Quen-lung was at all the kind of man to risk his skin on a midnight excursion to a pirate stronghold.
Suddenly Frobisher's attention was disturbed by the sound of a very low whistle, undoubtedly proceeding from the Chinaman. That whistle was beyond question a signal of some sort, and was just as certainly intended for himself. To hesitate longer would have been the height of folly, for the longer the delay now, the greater would be the danger of discovery; so, putting his fingers in his mouth, Frobisher replied with another whistle in exactly the same key and tone as the Chinaman's. The latter leapt to his feet, took a few steps backward, and looked up at the window; but seeing nothing there, he proceeded to glance round him anxiously.
Frobisher gave another low whistle, and, as the man now turned his head in his direction, fluttered the white handkerchief. The Chinaman instantly caught sight of the movement, and commenced to run toward the prisoner, coming to a sudden standstill as he encountered the outer edge of the carpet of broken glass. A low exclamation of "Phew!" escaped him as he understood the meaning of the obstacle, followed by a subdued execration in English; and on hearing this, Frobisher at once knew who it was that was risking his life in an endeavour to save him. The man was none other than Captain Drake!
How the little skipper had come to hear of his friend's predicament, and how he had contrived to travel some three hundred miles in disguise undetected, Frobisher could not guess. All he knew was that at last he had again a stanch comrade by his side--one who would not forsake him, even in the last extremity; and in his relief he could scarcely help shouting aloud for very joy. But fortunately he remembered in time the absolute necessity for strict silence, and contented himself with calling in a low voice:
"That's you, Drake, surely?"
"It is that same," responded the little man, in a tone as subdued as Frobisher's own; "but where the dickens are you? I saw something move just now, but I'm hanged if I can see a thing now."
"I'm here, just beside this door," replied Frobisher. "I should have been away an hour ago, if it had not been for this confounded glass."
"But couldn't you manage to get across, if you take it coolly and walk slowly?" whispered Drake. "If you plant your feet carefully and balance yourself well before each step, you ought to be able to do it. But watch you don't slip; that's where the danger comes in."
"D'ye think I should not have done that long ago, skipper, if it had been possible?" Frobisher whispered. "The thing is impossible, because they have taken away my boots, and the thin wrappings I have round my feet would be cut to ribbons in half a dozen steps."
"I might have known," replied Drake. "That's an old game of theirs. Well, you must be got across somehow, that's clear, and quickly. There's nobody on guard up above us as yet, but there's no knowing when they may take it into their heads to post a sentry. H'm!" pulling at one of the pieces of glass, "the stuff's stuck in too securely to move, so it's no use thinking of trying to get over the difficulty that way. And there's neither time nor opportunity to collect anything to lay down on top of it. There's only one way that I can see, and so let's try it."
Without waiting for Frobisher to ask his plan, the little man commenced the dangerous voyage across the pavement of glass. He had a thick stick in his hand, and Frobisher saw that he was wearing thick, wooden-soled Chinese boots. Thus provided, Drake succeeded in making the journey in safety, and in a few minutes stood unharmed by his friend's side, shaking his hand as though he meant to pull his arm from its socket.
"I'm glad, glad indeed to see you again, laddie," he murmured heartily; "and more than glad to see that those yellow-skinned pirates have not deprived you of any of your limbs. That is quite a common trick among the Chinks."
"And," returned Frobisher heartily, "I don't think I need tell you how glad I am to see you again. But how did you get to know I was here? I understood from the admiral at Tien-tsin that you had gone to England for a cargo of arms and ammunition for the Chinese Government."
"So I did," replied Drake; "and I carried out my contract, too. I've only been back in China a couple of weeks. But we must not stay here yarning; this is much too dangerous a place to be swapping experiences in. These will keep until later, when we are out of this mess."
"That's so," agreed Frobisher. "But the question is, how are we to get away? You saw for yourself what a ticklish matter it is to cross that glass, even with stout boots on your feet and with the assistance of a thick stick to help you to keep your balance; and upon my word I fail to see how I am going to manage the business. You don't propose to carry me, I take it?" he concluded, chuckling, and giving the little man a sly dig in the ribs.
"I would even try that, and succeed too, perhaps," was Drake's reply, "if there was no other way out. But we can do better than that. I thought of a scheme directly I came to the edge of the glass-sown patch and understood the game that the Chinks had been playing off upon you, but I wasn't such a born fool as to stand there and shout it across to you, with the chance that some yellow-skin might be up aloft there and hear me. Besides, I wanted to see for myself whether or not the scheme would work. And it has, for here I am, safe and sound, and not a penny the worse for the passage.
"Now, here it is, just as simple as ABC. You are a thundering big chap, I know, while I'm a little 'un; but I noticed long ago that your boots and mine are pretty much of a size, while these that I'm wearing now are a bit big for me, though they're the best I could get hold of. I just slip these boots off, and you slip 'em on; then, with the help of this stick, you make the passage of the glass, same as I've done, while I stand here to watch you do it, and at the same time keep a look-out. Then, as soon as you're across, you chuck me back the boots and the stick, one at a time, and I'll catch 'em--I haven't been a cricketer all these years for nothing. The rest'll be all plain sailing, and I'll be alongside you on the right side of the glass in two shakes of a lamb's tail. Savez?"
"Excellent!" returned Frobisher in a whisper; "and, as you say, perfectly simple. Only, you must go first. You surely do not suppose that I am going to make good my escape, leaving you here to run the risk of being taken in my stead--"
Drake kicked off his shoes, with a muttered sailor's blessing on Frobisher's head at what he termed the latter's "tomfoolery", and, going down upon one knee, seized first one and then the other of Frobisher's feet, removed the bandages from them, and then thrust on the boots.
"Capital fit!" he murmured, as he rose to his feet and put the stick into his companion's hand. "Now, off you go, my buck, and look sharp about it, or the pirates will have two prisoners to amuse themselves with instead of one."
Recognising that the little skipper was determined to have his own way, Frobisher forbore to protest further. He stepped carefully out upon the broad area of broken glass, and, creeping along close under the wall, was able so effectually to steady himself by it and with the help of the stick that in a few minutes he had safely negotiated the passage which a short time before had appeared practically impassable. Then, running far enough round the outer margin of the glass-sown ground to secure a clear shot in through the doorway, he threw back to Drake first one boot, then the other, and finally the stick, and had the satisfaction of seeing his friend deftly catch each of them. Five minutes later the little skipper was safely beside him.
"Thank God we are both out of that hole!" piously ejaculated Frobisher under his breath, as the pair crept along in the deep shadow of the rear wall of the fort. "Where away to now?"
"Into the jungle first, where we can't be seen by any chance look-out up aloft," answered Drake. "Then, as soon as we are safely hidden, I'll explain."
They made the passage across the open and reached the cover of the jungle in safety, whereupon Drake replaced his boots, while Frobisher swathed his feet again in the strips of underclothing which he had brought away with him. These were serviceable enough as foot-gear, and Frobisher found that they protected his feet much better than he had anticipated, lasting quite a long time before needing to be replaced by other strips.
Having readjusted their clothing, the two men were ready to begin their long and perilous journey back to civilisation, which Drake gave his companion to understand would have to be made overland. But before starting, Frobisher requested Drake to cut him a heavy cudgel, similar to the one he himself was using, so that, in the event of their encountering an enemy, they might have something, at least, to defend themselves with. Drake did so, and, as he handed it to his friend, plunged his hand into one of his pockets and brought out something which he also passed over to Frobisher.
"Why," exclaimed the latter in astonishment, "that's one of my own brace of revolvers! How in the name of fortune did you get hold of it?"
"And here's the other," said Drake, showing the butt. "I got them out of your cabin aboard the Su-chen--she got back safely to Tien-tsin, I may tell you; but how I came to be aboard her, or to get up here, is too long a yarn to spin now. Let it wait until we are in less danger than we are in at present."
"Right you are, skipper!" answered Frobisher; "the yarn will be interesting enough, I'll be bound. I'm glad you found these revolvers and brought them along, for they are good barkers, and a man feels a certain sense of security with one of them in his hand. Now, lead the way, since you probably know it best."
Drake took a comprehensive glance at the stars, and then plunged along a narrow and apparently seldom-trodden path through the jungle, seeming to find his way by instinct, for the forest was so dense that the moon's rays seldom succeeded in penetrating it.
They had been jogging along at a steady four miles an hour for about an hour and a half, when the fugitives were startled by hearing the distant boom of a heavy gun, proceeding apparently from the spot which they had recently left. They at once guessed what it meant, and realised the danger in which they still stood. Evidently Frobisher's escape had somehow been prematurely discovered, and that gun had been fired as an alarm. Instead of having, as they had confidently anticipated, about eighteen or twenty hours in which to make a good start, they had gained but an hour and a half; and the pirates would be already on their track. True, it might take them some time to discover in which direction the fugitives had headed; but they would assuredly make the discovery sooner or later, and then it would be purely a question of speed.
"By Jove, Drake!" exclaimed Frobisher, "we must hurry now. Those fellows have discovered my absence; and they will lose no time in taking up the pursuit, you may depend. Do you know of any hiding-place that we can make for?"
"I thought of just this thing on my way here," answered Drake, breaking into a run, "and picked out a spot which will suit us to a T, if we can but reach it in time. It's an old ruined town, goodness knows how ancient; nobody lives there now, and there are thousands of ruined houses and plenty of underground passages where we can hide, if we can only get there unseen."
Breath being precious, the pair wasted no more in talk, but saved it all for the long run before them. Side by side they dashed along at top speed, sometimes colliding with trees, or stumbling over stones and creepers, until they were bruised from head to foot, but never once halting.
When they were beginning to hope that they might be out-distancing the pursuit, a deep, bell-like note floating down the wind warned them that the pirates possessed bloodhounds, and that the dogs were hard upon their trail. Frobisher took out his revolver and spun the cylinder to satisfy himself that it was loaded, and then thrust it back into his pocket. If those dogs came within shot, he would take care that they hunted no more prisoners.
"How far ahead now?" he panted, when they had been running for another half-hour at top speed.
"About five miles," grunted Drake, who was feeling the strain even more than Frobisher. "We should be there in about half an hour at this pace--if we can keep it up. Hope I shall be able to hold out. I'm not in such good form as I once was. Getting old, too. If I can't keep up, you push on, lad; and I'll try to keep 'em back with my pistol."
"Likely, isn't it?" replied Frobisher ironically. "If you can't hold out, of course I shall stay and face it out with you: but do all you can; we must not give in at the last moment."
On and on they plunged, and at last they began to find the jungle thinning out, so that the going was a little easier, and their pace consequently increased; but they could tell by the frequent, deep-throated baying that the dogs were gaining on them steadily. They dashed out of the forest altogether at last; and away in front of them, on the right bank of the mighty Hoang-ho, its houses gleaming spectrally in the moonlight, stood the ruined city that Drake had referred to, not more than two miles distant--a very haven of refuge, as Frobisher could easily imagine, if they could but reach it; for it was of considerable extent, and, once lost in its labyrinthine streets or underground passages, the pirates might search for them in vain.
They had not heard the dogs for some minutes, and, hoping that the pursuit had perhaps been abandoned, Frobisher glanced round. It was well that he did so. The dogs had also left the forest, and, seeing their prey in front of them, were running in silence. They were not more than fifty yards distant, and, grasping his revolver, Frobisher called to Drake, and together the two men turned to face the beasts.

Chinese Command Genghiz Khan's Hoard

Hideous brutes the dogs were, quite unlike the usual breed of bloodhound, for they were fully as large as young leopards and every whit as powerful and ferocious. They certainly possessed the drooping ears and heavy loose jowl of the bloodhound, but their hides were not smooth-haired, like the Cuban dog's, but rough and shaggy like a wolf's, with which animal it is quite possible their forebears had been crossed. Their legs were extremely long, but very massive and powerful, giving them the power of covering great distances at high speed; and altogether the appearance of the beasts was sufficient to inspire a very wholesome terror in any unfortunate person on whose track they were placed. There were, fortunately, only three of them, and as their masters had not yet appeared in sight Frobisher and Drake hoped to be able to settle them with their clubs and revolvers, and reach the shelter of the ruined city before the pirates could overtake and recapture them.
No time was to be lost, however, for they were still at a considerable distance from the nearest buildings on the outskirts of the city, while the dogs' owners would probably be not very far behind, since they would be certain to have come on horseback, so as to keep in reasonably close touch with the hounds.
Drake drew his revolver from a fold of his voluminous Chinese jacket, ranged himself alongside his friend, and, without a word, fired his weapon at the first of the dogs, which by this time was almost upon them. In his excitement, however, or perhaps because of the strain upon his muscles from the long and fatiguing flight, he missed; and before he could fire again the animal had sprung full at his throat, knocking him down and sending the revolver flying out of his hand. In another second Drake's throat would have been torn open by the savage, slavering beast, but Frobisher was either cooler or more fortunate. Whirling himself round right on top of the dog, he thrust his revolver's muzzle into its ear and fired, at the moment when the terrible jaws were in the very act of closing on his companion's throat.
He had no time to assist Drake to his feet, for the other two brutes were in the very act of springing as he turned away from the dead dog and cocked his weapon for a second shot. Strangely enough, this couple entirely ignored Drake, and confined their attentions to Frobisher, who only saved himself by making a rapid leap backward, and so avoiding their first charge. Baulked in their spring, they seemed, like almost all other savage animals, dazed for a moment, as though they could not understand why they had missed their prey; and that momentary hesitation gave Frobisher an opportunity to pull the trigger of his revolver, while Drake, who had caught sight of his own weapon, half-buried in the sand a few yards away, executed a quick roll in that direction, and in a second had the revolver in his hand. Frobisher's bullet struck the creature he aimed at in the upper part of the near fore leg, and, the heavy missile shattering the bone like a pipe stem, the brute collapsed upon the ground with a deep, raucous howl of pain.
At the same moment Drake raised his revolver and fired as he sat; and this time his aim was excellent, the bullet striking the hound Frobisher had just lamed full in the spine, severing the backbone and killing the creature instantly. The other dog, apparently cowed by the death of its mates, stood motionless, in a crouching attitude, glaring at each man in turn, and seemingly undecided which to attack first; and its hesitation or cowardice was fatal. The two men fired almost together, one bullet drilling a hole in its skull, and the other smashing in at one side of its body and out at the other. It did not live long enough to raise even a whimper, but dropped dead where it stood, a pool of blood immediately welling out from beneath the carcass.
"By Jove, Drake!" exclaimed Frobisher, "that shot of yours finished him off in fine style. But what in the world are you using in that pistol?" he went on, as he turned the body over and curiously examined a great hole in the brute's side. "I've seen wounds like this in a man who has been hit with a piece of `pot-leg' or a handful of nails, but never with an ordinary bullet."
Drake winked. "That", he remarked, "is a little device of my own. I have often noticed that it is a very difficult matter to bring down a man, especially a fanatical savage, with an ordinary bullet; it goes in at one side and out at the other so cleanly that the man whom it hits does not know that he is hit until he is dead, and he frequently manages to do a lot of damage before he dies. So I invented a little dodge which I call the `man-stopper'. It consists in simply `rymering' a hole in the nose of the bullet, with a file tang or anything else that comes handy; then, when the bullet strikes, the edges of the hole expand and become `mushroomed', and the man who is hit knows all about it, I assure you. Of course that sort of thing is not permitted in civilised warfare, but when fighting savages the trick is used quite frequently. Indeed, this is the only kind of missile that will effectually stop a rushing savage. I would advise you to treat your bullets in the same way as soon as you have time. But these dogs' masters may appear in sight at any moment; and if they do, before we leave this spot, and happen to be mounted--as I feel sure they are--they will catch us easily before we can possibly reach shelter, yonder. And we're scarcely prepared to fight a crowd."
"You're right, skipper," agreed Frobisher; "let's get along as fast as we can." And the two men, thrusting their revolvers into their pockets, set off at top speed toward the ruined city, not a little refreshed by their brief halt while fighting the dogs.
"I wonder," Drake jerked out as they ran, "how the pirates managed to set those dogs after us? They hadn't any garments of yours, had they? And I'm sure they had none of mine by which they could lay them on the scent."
"They had my boots, confound them!" returned Frobisher, "as I am beginning to realise to my cost. These wrappings are about worn through, and my feet are almost as sore as though they had been skinned."
"By Jove, yes! I had forgotten them," said the little skipper.
The two men pounded along over the sand in silence once more, the walls and buildings of the ruined town standing out more and more clearly every moment. Only another half-mile or so, and they would be safely hidden from view among the maze-like streets of the place. But could they do it in time? Would their pursuers sight them before they could get under cover? These were the questions which haunted them both.
"See," Drake presently panted, pointing in front of him, "we are pretty nearly there now. That opening in the walls is the site of one of the city gates; and once inside that, we are safe."
Frobisher took a hasty glance behind him, but the pursuers had not yet put in an appearance. There was nothing in sight but the three black dots on the sand, where the fight with the dogs had taken place.
"Nothing in sight as yet," he gasped encouragingly to Drake, on whom the pace was again beginning to tell. "Keep it up a little longer; we are nearly there now."
A couple of minutes more of hard running placed them almost in the shadow of the walls, and Frobisher was congratulating himself on their escape, when suddenly something whizzed past his ear with a shrill, whining sound, and starred itself out in a splash of metal on the stones of the gateway, plainly visible in the moonlight. A moment later the crack of a modern rifle made itself heard.
"Confound it!" growled Frobisher, looking round, "half a minute too late, by all that's annoying! Buck up, Drake! Those fellows are in sight and have spotted us," he shouted. "It will be touch-and-go now, and no mistake."
Drake nobly responded to the call, and a few seconds later the two men plunged through the gateway and were under cover. But, unfortunately, their pursuers had seen where they had gone, and would not now be at all likely to give up the chase until they had examined every possible hiding-place inside the walls.
Along the first street that the fugitives came to they dashed, then down a turning to the left, and along another street leading out of it, only to find that this was a blind alley, and that their way was stopped.
"Quick--back again!" gasped Drake. "We cannot get out this way. Hurry, or they'll catch us at the other end."
"No time," replied Frobisher, breathing heavily. "We must of necessity go forward now. Here, into this open doorway! This will give us shelter for the moment, and if they do not sight us they may not try this street at all."
Accordingly they dashed into the house indicated by Frobisher, and vanished from view just as a chorus of yells at the mouth of the street indicated the arrival of their pursuers, while the clatter of horses' hoofs told only too plainly that the pirates, even if they had not actually sighted their quarry, had decided to search that particular street, at all events.
"Here they come," whispered the skipper. "We mustn't stay here, or we shall be caught like rats in a trap. Up this staircase for your life! We'll get out on the roof, and make a stand there if they decide to search the house."
Taking the stone steps two at a time, the fugitives dashed upward, presently coming to a kind of landing from which several stone-flagged passages radiated; thence they climbed up another narrow staircase which led to the flat roof. They went up this last so quickly that Drake, who was leading, had popped his head up above the level of the parapet before he realised what he was doing. Luckily, none of the pirates happened to be looking upward at that particular moment; they were all riding helter-skelter down the street, evidently determined to see what lay at the end. Drake counted them before getting under cover again, and found that there were thirty of them; and that there might possibly be others searching elsewhere, was a contingency to be kept in mind.
Frobisher had now also crept out on to the roof through the small opening, or trap-door, at the top of the stairs, and both men cautiously peeped over the low parapet. And as they watched, they saw the horsemen come to a halt opposite the identical house they were in, evidently discussing matters. Some appeared to think that the men they wanted had not come that way at all, while others--these the majority--believed differently, and seemed to want to search every house in the street. At any rate they had certainly made up their minds to search this particular dwelling, for they began to dismount outside the doorway.
"We're bottled at last, I'm afraid," said Frobisher. "What do you say to our opening fire on 'em now?"
"Not yet," whispered Drake. "Let's see first if there isn't another way down. If once they discover our presence here, they will get us for certain; for we have only six shots left between us. I couldn't bring any spare cartridge for reloads."
"Phew!" whistled Frobisher under his breath. "That's bad. We are in a tight place indeed, then. Come, let's see if there's any other way down."
They crept silently away from the parapet toward the back of the house, and, to their intense gratification, discovered a flight of ruined stone steps leading down the outside of the wall to a narrow alley in the rear. Down these steps they at once made their way, then ran at top speed up the alley and out of the end of it into one of the broader streets of the city. They had now got a good start, for it would take some little time for the pirates to ride round, even if they should chance to catch sight of the fugitives. But no shouts were raised behind them to indicate that they had been seen, and they sprinted along over the rough cobbles for all they were worth. There was a large and very handsome building at the end of this road, and they determined to make for it, since a structure of that size would surely afford greater facilities for concealment than a smaller house.
From its extent, which became more apparent as they drew nearer, Frobisher conjectured that it was probably the ruins of some ancient mandarin's palace, or possibly the summer palace of one of the petty kings of China who ruled in the far-off days when the place was built; for he could see at a glance that the city had been abandoned for centuries, and that the buildings themselves were doubtless fairly ancient at the time of the abandonment.
So absorbed were both men on the goal they had set themselves that they dashed past the ends of sundry streets without even glancing down them, and so failed to realise that they were still in considerable danger until they heard a series of yells proceeding from one of them. The enemy had divided forces, and one of these had passed ahead and, searching the side streets, had seen the Englishmen run past. The clatter of horses' hoofs told Drake and Frobisher that their pursuers were close behind, and it did not seem possible now to get clear away. Without consultation, they at once determined to sell their lives as dearly as possible, and looked round them for some favourable place where they might make a last stand. Then, with a muttered exclamation, Frobisher seized Drake's arm and dragged him into a narrow passage between two houses, just as the pirates swept into the street. The passage was in deep shadow, and with one accord both men threw themselves down at full length, hoping that they would not be seen, and that the pirates would pass on, imagining their quarry still in front of them.
And, luckily, this was just what happened. The pirates never thought of examining the narrow passage--perhaps they never even saw it. At any rate they dashed past and turned down another street, which they evidently considered to be the road the fugitives had taken. The instant they were out of sight Drake and his companion rose to their feet and continued their run toward the palace, only a few hundred yards away now. But they were not yet at the end of their troubles.
The horsemen, as soon as they had turned down the side street alluded to, had seen that the fugitives were certainly not in it, or they would have been in full view, unless indeed they had taken refuge in one of the ruined houses thereabouts. Some of the pirates suggested searching these before looking elsewhere, while others insisted that they had overrun the pursuit, and advised going back at once. The whole band were noisily discussing the pros and cons when Drake and Frobisher darted past the end of the street; and, seeing the fugitives, the pirates wheeled their horses and, with a savage whoop, started in pursuit again.
One circumstance, however, gave the Englishmen a little advantage-- sufficient, indeed, as a matter of fact, to save their lives. While talking, the horsemen were all bunched together in a little crowd, and as it happened to be one of the men on the far side of the group who had been the first to catch sight of the fugitives, he galloped his horse right through the knot of his companions without a moment's hesitation or warning, thus throwing the whole company into momentary confusion, one man being unhorsed, while in another instance horse and rider went down together. Before the remainder could extricate themselves from the melde and make a fair start, Drake and Frobisher had obtained a full fifty yards' lead; and by the time their pursuers had reached the main street, the fugitives were more than half-way to the palace.
Once on the straight, however, the horsemen had the advantage, and overhauled them so rapidly that when the Englishmen were still twenty yards from the palace steps the foremost of the pirates were so close behind that Frobisher knew they would be cut off unless something could be done. He therefore gave a warning cry to Drake, and instantly darted to one side; and as the first man dashed past, unable to rein up his horse, the Navy man fired point-blank into the animal, bringing it and its rider to the earth with a tremendous thud. Drake accounted for the next two men in quick succession, while Frobisher dropped a fourth; then, the others having reined up, the better to use their rifles, the two men took to their heels again and reached the long and broad flight of steps leading up to the palace entrance in the midst of a hail of bullets, none of which, fortunately, took effect.
The pirates wasted no time in reloading, but came on again to the foot of the steps. Here they were of course obliged to dismount, and some handed over their horses to others of their number to hold, so that they were only beginning to mount the steps as Drake and Frobisher reached the top and darted in through the great doorway. Drake was by this time dreadfully out of breath, and gaspingly protested that he had come to the end of his tether; nevertheless he managed to muster sufficient strength to jog along close behind his friend. At their last hiding-place they had sought concealment aloft, but Frobisher decided now to take refuge below, since the palace appeared to be the kind of structure that would afford a better prospect of escape from the vaults or cellars.
Accordingly the younger man kept his eyes open for a flight of steps leading downward, and, as the pirates were close behind, darted down the first that met his eyes. This was a narrow, winding, stone staircase that led downward so far that they appeared to be reaching to the very bowels of the earth; but the pair eventually came to the bottom, finding themselves in a long, stone-flagged corridor, extending a considerable distance, and very dimly lighted by small gratings which evidently communicated with some chamber above.
They seemed to have come to the end of their tether at last, however, for nowhere could they find an opening leading out of the corridor. And already they could hear the pirates descending the stairs.
"Come, Drake!" whispered Frobisher; "we dare not remain here. Let's try to the left; there may be a door concealed somewhere among the shadows. I wish we had a little more light."
The other end of the passage was reached without a single exit being discovered, and there was no time to run back and try farther in the other direction.
"This is the end, I guess," said Drake, as the approaching footsteps sounded nearer. "It's `backs against the wall and fight to the death' for us now, my friend."
Suiting the action to the word, the little skipper grasped his cudgel by the thinner end, took his revolver--with only one shot remaining--in his other, and flung himself backward against the wall.
Then a curious thing happened. The solid wall at the end of the passage yielded to the pressure of the skipper's body, and Drake, still leaning against it, fell farther and farther backward, until at last he found himself in a reclining position on the now sloping wall. Then, to Frobisher's unbounded amazement, the little man disappeared from view, a dull thud from below announcing the fact that he had dropped a distance of several feet. In an instant the younger man realised what had happened. The corridor had a purpose, after all; and the door at the end was probably secured by a concealed spring of some sort which Drake must have unwittingly pressed when he flung himself back against the wall.
Without losing an instant Frobisher knelt down at the edge of the dark opening, then turning, allowed himself to slip downward gradually, for it was obvious that there were no steps; and as his feet touched bottom he was barely in time to remove his fingers from the sill when the door swung to above him with a muffled "click."
The pirates had not reached the foot of the stairs when the door closed, so that, unless they knew or guessed at and found the secret of opening it, the fugitives were safe from them, at any rate. But the thought occurred to Frobisher when the door closed behind him: now that they were in, how were they to get out again?
He called softly to Drake, and soon found that that worthy was much more startled than hurt, although even yet hardly able to realise what had happened to him. As soon as the little skipper had recovered his faculties a little he listened, and hearing nothing of their pursuers, struck a match, a box of which he had fortunately concealed in his robe, and looked to see whether there was a spring inside the door. He failed to find one, however, and he and Frobisher exchanged glances full of apprehension. They seemed to have escaped a swift death for one of lingering starvation.
But they had no time to spend in dismal forebodings. They could now faintly hear the uproar above them in the passage as the pirates hunted for the door by which their quarry had escaped, and crouched down together, wondering whether their pursuers would hit upon the spring. Minute after minute passed, however, and the door still remained closed; and after about a quarter of an hour the pirates were heard to take their departure, probably convinced that the fugitives had not gone down the stairs, after all.
With a sigh of relief Frobisher turned to Drake and asked him to strike another light, so that they might get some sort of notion where they were. Drake did so; and the first thing the light revealed was a great bundle of torches, evidently placed there in the bygone days for the use of people whose business took them into this underground chamber. The two men eagerly lighted one each, and then, taking a few more as a stand-by, proceeded to explore.
The enormous chamber which the light revealed appeared to contain nothing whatever; but there were several passages leading from it--seven in all, as the explorers counted--and they tried the first they came to, to ascertain where it led.
It extended for a distance of about a hundred feet, and then terminated; nor did there appear to be any door, concealed or otherwise, at the end of it. Two more passages were explored with the same result; but the fourth, or middle passage of the seven, was different, in that, at the end, they came to a massive iron door. Drake stretched out his hand and made an attempt to twist the iron handle, but it would not budge. Again he tried, and this time it seemed to move a little; and as it did so Frobisher thought he caught a slight grinding, whirring sound, like rusty machinery reluctantly moving.
What it was that prompted him to act he did not know, but suddenly becoming possessed with a suspicion of that door and a sense of danger in its vicinity, he dragged Drake quickly away from the handle, and himself retreated a few steps.
It was well that he did so, for at that moment the grinding sounds became quite perceptible, waxed louder, and then--like lightning from a cloud, a row of curved swordblades shot out of slots in the stone-work which the men had not previously noticed, and swept together for all the world like a pair of calliper legs. Any person standing by the door must have infallibly been stabbed through and through by that deadly device. Then, just as suddenly, the blades sprang back into the wall and the door swung back on its hinges, revealing another and smaller chamber beyond.
"By all the Powers," gasped Drake, wiping the perspiration from his forehead, "what a fiendish invention! Mr Frobisher, that's the second time this night that you've saved my life. I shall not forget."
"Pshaw!" answered Frobisher; "what about the times you've saved mine? But, Drake," he continued excitedly, "I've got an idea that we are on the point of discovering something. The man who owned this palace must have had something very well worth guarding, or he would never have taken the trouble to instal such an elaborate arrangement as that to destroy possible thieves, for that's what it was intended to do, without a doubt. Let's get along and see what there is to see; but be careful, for goodness' sake. There may be more of these man-traps about, and we don't want to be left dead in this hole."
So saying, Frobisher stepped slowly and cautiously through the door-way, holding his torch high above his head, and at once found himself in a small, circular chamber, which was almost completely filled with ironbound cases and chests of every description.
"Great Caesar's ghost!" almost shouted Frobisher to Drake, who was standing just inside the door, with mouth wide open and torch almost dropping out of his hand; "we have dropped right into somebody's treasure-house, and no mistake. If those chests do not contain valuables, my name is not Murray Frobisher. Bring your stick, and let us see whether we can wrench off one of the locks. It should not be very difficult, for the wood looks so rotten as almost to be crumbling to powder."
No sooner said than done. Drake eagerly placed the end of his stout cudgel under the hasp of the nearest of the boxes and, using it as a lever, soon sent the iron flying, the nails drawing out of the soft, "punky" wood as easily as though they had been set in putty. Next they swung the lid back; and then--what a sight met their astounded eyes!
The box contained neither gold nor silver, but was full to the brim with jewels of the most magnificent description, unset, every one of them, and all flashing and scintillating in the glare of the torches like a boxful of the most exquisitely coloured liquid fire. The sight was so extraordinarily beautiful that it fairly took the beholders' breath away, and for quite a minute neither of them could speak a word; they simply stood still, gasping with wonder and delight.
Another chest, and then another was opened, both of
Missing pages 223 and 224.
Missing page.

Chinese Command Mutterings Of War

The single, and scarcely original, exclamation of "Oh!" was all that Captain Drake appeared to be capable of uttering for the moment. His eyes continued to bulge from their sockets, and he looked like a suddenly-awakened somnambulist. He was trying to realise the meaning of what Frobisher had just told him, and was finding it altogether too much for him.
At last Frobisher said, with a laugh: "Well, skipper, the money's here, sure enough; but so are we, and it remains to be seen whether or not we can get out."
"We'll get out all right, don't you trouble," returned Drake confidently; "but"--unable as yet to detach his mind from the subject of his suddenly-acquired fortune--"just now you mentioned the name of the gentleman who collected all this stuff--Jenkins Can, I think you said he was called. Who was he, and how did he come to pouch such a pile of loot? Was he one of those old buccaneers, like Morgan and Kidd, that we read about?"
"Well," replied Frobisher, "he was not exactly a buccaneer, for he was not a sailor, but a landsman; and he operated in a much larger way than either Morgan or Kidd. As a matter of fact he was a Tartar chief in his young days, many centuries ago, who gradually drilled and armed his own tribe, then other tribes, and still others, until he came, in course of time, to have an enormous army under him. The idea then occurred to him to make use of this vast army; and he determined upon no less a task than that of conquering Asia. He did it, too; there's hardly a square mile of this continent that has not echoed to the tread of his troops. Everywhere he went he was victorious. He took and sacked cities, destroyed them, and sowed the ruins with salt; and it is said that, to this day, no grass will grow where Genghiz Khan's armies trod. Naturally, in the course of time, he accumulated a vast booty from the cities he captured, and it finally became too large and cumbersome for him to carry about with him, so he determined to alter his tactics for once, and, instead of destroying, to build a city for himself where he could bury his hoard, and which he could make his head-quarters.
"It is well known that he actually did this--various records state it, but those records do not say exactly where. The city, it is said, was founded somewhere in northern China--on the banks of a mighty river, is the wording, I believe; but there are several rivers in China answering that description, so the place might be almost anywhere. Then, years afterward, this man determined to conquer Japan. He fitted out a great armada and sailed for Nippon; but, as in the case of the famous Spanish Armada, a storm arose, and the entire fleet was wrecked. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese lost their lives, and Japan was saved. From that time onward, Genghiz Khan and the records relating to his treasure disappeared; and the city he founded, as well as the treasure, gradually passed into legend, the story being handed down from father to son by word of mouth. The man himself is supposed to have been cast ashore in Japan, where he adopted the dress and customs of the Japanese, in course of time becoming one of themselves, and winning great renown under another name--which I forget for the moment. But antiquarians insist that the name he assumed was but the Japanese rendering of his own former one of Genghiz Khan.
"At any rate, he never returned to China to recover his treasure; and legend has it that it still remained where it had been originally hidden. From time to time, expeditions have been formed for the purpose of searching for this legendary deserted city; but it has remained for us, Drake, to discover it, and to secure Genghiz Khan's millions. This must be the town, this must be the treasure; for not otherwise can such an enormous hoard be accounted for. Nobody but the conqueror of Asia could ever have amassed so much."
"That's very interesting, Mr Frobisher," said Drake, who had been listening intently; "and it's a very comforting thought that all this belongs to us, if we can only get out. I suppose, in any case, we had better fill our pockets, lest we should not be able to get back here?"
"It would not be at all a bad idea, skipper," returned Frobisher; and the two men slipped a few handfuls of the jewels into their pockets, as coolly as though they had been so many pebbles instead of gems worth several thousands of pounds.
"And now," said Frobisher, "we had better turn our attention to getting out of this. I shall not feel comfortable until I have satisfied myself that this place is not going to prove a living tomb for us."
They closed the lids of all the chests, and passed through what Frobisher called "the door-way of swords", carefully closing the door behind them by means of a stick, lest the closing should again set the swords in motion. But it did not; the mechanism was evidently so arranged as only to operate upon the opening of the door.
"I do not think we need fear burglars here," said Drake with a smile, as the door clanged shut.
The two men then decided to explore the remainder of the corridors, for unless an exit from one of them could be found there was little doubt that the treasure would prove as useless to them as it had been to Genghiz Khan himself.
The first passage they explored ended in a blank wall, as the three others had done; but in the next, to their great relief, they found another passage branching away to the left. This they followed for some distance, until they reached a spot where it branched into two. As there was no knowing which, if either, was the right one, they took the one on the left, as the previous opening had been on the left of the corridor, and followed it for a considerable distance. But they were doomed to disappointment; the corridor led nowhere. It simply came to what seemed to be a dead end, like the others. Frobisher felt the drops of sweat forming on his forehead, for it was beginning to look remarkably as though there was but one entrance to the vault--that through which they had come--and that all these other passages were either natural, or had been cut simply with the idea of mystifying and misleading possible intruders.
"Never say die" was, however, Frobisher's motto, and Drake's too, for that matter, so they tried back and entered the right-hand branch. But no better success attended them here, this ending in a blank wall also. There was now only one corridor untried, and with sinking hearts they proceeded to explore it.
No exit of any sort rewarded them here either, and hardly daring to look each other in the face, from fear of what they might see there, they returned to the main chamber, into which Drake had fallen headlong in the first instance. Here they could still hear the distant shouts and trampling of the pirates, who were evidently moving about in the chamber directly overhead, continuing the search for their prey; but even the thought that they were safe from those barbarous savages was now hardly sufficient to cheer them. It would have been almost better to have met death in the open, fighting, than to be compelled to watch his slow approach in this dismal place, far below the level of the ground.
Unable to remain still, Frobisher again most carefully examined the inside of the secret door in search of a hidden spring, but no sign of it could he discover. It seemed evident that, unless the door were actually propped open by the person entering the vault, there was no getting back by that way; and Frobisher could not help thinking that surely some other exit must have been provided. The people accustomed to using the vault could not be expected always to remember to prop the door open when they entered; and it did not seem reasonable to suppose that the place had been so constructed that a mere lapse of memory would be tantamount to a person signing his own death-warrant. An emergency exit must have been made for use in case the main door became closed accidentally or otherwise; but the question was, where was it situated?
Drake suggested that there must undoubtedly be an opening somewhere, because the air in the vault was comparatively pure and fresh; at least it had not the dead, stale, stuffy smell of air confined in a hermetically-sealed chamber. But Frobisher pointed out that the door by which they had entered, although an excellent fit, did not butt up against the jambs so closely as to exclude the air altogether; yet he acknowledged that the air in the vault certainly seemed sweeter than might have been expected, had the main door been the only channel through which it could filter in.
Under the stimulus of the new glimmer of hope thus caught, every corridor was once more explored, even more closely than before, but with no other result than that Frobisher completely satisfied himself that there was most certainly no exit from any of the passages. Even a concealed door, opened by a spring, could hardly have evaded the close scrutiny of the two men; and it became more and more apparent that they had been caught in a trap from which there was no escape. Both were feeling famished for want of food, and were parched with thirst; and Frobisher could not help wondering how long the agony of death from starvation and thirst would be prolonged before blessed unconsciousness came to their relief.
Suddenly--they had both been sitting dejectedly on the floor--Frobisher jumped to his feet.
"Look here, Drake," he exclaimed, "there is just one place that we never thought of searching, and that's the treasure chamber itself. We were too deeply interested in the valuables we found to think of looking for an exit in there. Who knows?--the very thing we are hunting for may be in there all the time."
The two men fairly raced down the passage leading to the chamber, opened the latch, with all due caution, and re-entered the vault. At first sight there appeared to be no semblance of a second door, and their hopes dropped to zero once more. Then Drake proposed that, as a last chance, they should remove the chests to the centre of the room and see whether, possibly, there might be a door concealed behind any of them. They set to work feverishly, and in doing so spilled the jewels and coins in heaps on the floor. But what did that matter? Unless they found a way of escape from their prison, jewels and coin would be of far less value to them than a loaf of bread and a jar of water.
Then, at the very end, when their hopes were practically extinguished, the last chests removed disclosed a little oaken door set into the wall, not more than four feet high by three feet broad. Drake was about to open it impulsively when Frobisher restrained him. He did not want either of them to be killed on the very threshold of success by some other hidden and fiendishly ingenious piece of mechanism. But when cautiously opened with the aid of one of the sticks, nothing happened in this instance, and they crawled safely through into another passage, being careful to close the door behind them.
This passage looked a good deal more promising, there being no less than four other corridors branching off it at right angles, each, curiously enough, leading away to the left. But they determined to go straight ahead in the first instance, exploring the corridors afterwards, if not successful in their present direction. They traversed so long a distance in a perfectly straight line, the ground rising gently all the way, that they soon became convinced that they were at last on the right track, as the passage must, some distance back, have passed from under the foundations of the palace itself, and be leading, undoubtedly, to some exit at a considerable distance from the building. It seemed probable that it might have been constructed with a view to providing a means of escape, should the palace ever be attacked and stormed.
That they were correct in their surmise was proved shortly afterward when, a little distance ahead, Frobisher caught sight of a pin-hole of light. This presently resolved itself into sunlight shining through the keyhole of another door; and they realised that, since it was now broad daylight, they must have spent several hours in Genghiz Khan's treasure-house. The door did not open with a handle, as the others had done, and there was no key hanging handily on the wall, as there had been when Frobisher escaped out of the pirate fortress; so that, after all, there was still a rather formidable obstacle to be overcome before they could actually stand in the blessed light of day again.
"We must not let this stop us, Drake," exclaimed Frobisher; "though I don't yet quite see what we are to do. If we had a big stone we could burst the lock off, or out; but there isn't so much as a pebble to be seen anywhere about."
"How far are we away from the palace, do you think?" asked Drake. "If we are out of earshot of the pirates, I can easily manage it."
"A good quarter of a mile, I should say," replied Frobisher. "You could fire a rifle in here and they would never hear it."
"I mean to do something like that," returned the other. He produced his revolver, the muzzle of which he thrust against the keyhole, and pulled the trigger, turning his face aside at the same time.
The explosion in that confined space sounded like the roar of a twelve-inch gun, and dust and splinters flew in clouds; but when the air cleared the lock was gone, and in its place a ragged hole appeared, through which a clenched fist could easily be thrust. One or two strong pulls, both together, while gripping the edges of the hole, sufficed to loosen the whole affair, and presently, with a rattle of falling pieces of broken iron and springs, the door grated open, and they once more beheld the blessed light of day.
On stepping outside, they found themselves in the midst of a thick clump of bushes and vegetation which completely concealed the door from outside, and which had evidently not been disturbed for centuries, so thick and matted was the growth. Through this they pushed and broke their way, coming out a few moments later into what was evidently the remains of a once-spacious and magnificent garden. There were still traceable the outlines of old walks and lawns; ruined fountains and marble basins for gold-fish were scattered about; and there were even the remains of marble seats and couches whereon the warriors of Genghiz Khan's retinue had been wont to take their ease during their all-too-brief respites from fighting. Sundials, beautifully modelled in bronze, and statues, in bronze, copper, marble, and in some cases even solid silver, were to be found in many of the corners. A few were still on their pedestals, but most of them lay broken on the ground, though all gave evidence of the high level to which Chinese art had advanced, even in those far-off days.
A quarter of a mile away was to be seen the palace the pair had recently vacated, and, peering cautiously from behind a screen of brushwood, they were able to make out the figures of some of the pirates, still apparently searching industriously; while the smoke of a fire, a little distance away, showed that they had by no means given up the pursuit, but were cooking a meal preparatory to instituting a fresh search of the palace precincts. They had not yet, apparently, thought of looking in the gardens.
"Think we dare risk it?" enquired Drake, voicing the idea uppermost in both their minds, and pointing toward the groups of unconscious pirates.
"Yes," replied Frobisher. "They seem to be pretty fully occupied with their own concerns just now, and are evidently under the impression that we are still hiding somewhere in the building, so I think we could not hope for a better opportunity. They must, without fail, eventually discover that we are nowhere in the building, so we had better get away before they take it into their heads to start searching in this direction. I expect both groups have joined forces by this time, to participate in that meal they are preparing, so we should be able to get clear of the town without being seen."
This point settled, the pair made their way cautiously out of the gardens, and soon gained the streets, which they traversed slowly, to save themselves as much as possible in case the pursuit should again be taken up. And in about half an hour, during which they had perceived no cause for alarm, they realised, by the gradual thinning of the houses, that they were approaching the outskirts of the city on its eastern side.
They were proceeding carefully, conversing, and noting the interesting relics of a bygone civilisation, when, without a word, Drake suddenly seized his companion's arm and hastily dragged him behind a convenient wall. Frobisher, too much astonished for words, could only look round, wonderingly, imagining that the pirates were after them again; and as he did so, he perceived the cause of the skipper's alarm.
The danger was not behind, but in front. The pirates had proved to be wider awake than either of the Englishmen had anticipated, and had posted a sentry at the eastern gate. Fortunately for them, the man happened to be looking in another direction at the moment when they turned the corner, or discovery would have been inevitable. As it was, the question arose--how was this fresh obstacle to be overcome? They might possibly avoid the man by making a long detour to some other gate, but this plan appealed to neither of them, for even should they succeed in escaping by some other outlet, the ground outside the walls was so bare that the man must inevitably see them. The alarm would be raised, when of course the pursuit would at once be resumed, and their capture become certain.
A few words between the two Englishmen sufficed to show that the same plan--the only practicable one--had occurred to both; and, avoiding the main street, they made their way through side lanes and back alleys until they emerged at a spot only a few yards distant from the unsuspecting sentinel. Then, watching through a convenient cranny until his back was turned, they ran swiftly forward and concealed themselves behind a low stone wall which the man was passing and repassing on his beat.
The next time he passed that wall the sentry experienced the unpleasant sensation of being jumped on from behind by two men, one small and the other very large and heavy; the latter kneeling on his chest and squeezing his windpipe, while the other securely lashed his wrists and ankles together with strips torn from his own robe, their operations being completed by thrusting a gag made of the same material into his mouth and securing it there firmly. The Englishmen then carried him between them into one of the adjacent ruined houses, took him to an upper room, and left him there for his companions to find, if fate should so decree.
As a matter of fact, fate evidently decreed against the unhappy man, for several months afterwards the remains of a gagged and bound Chinaman were found in that very house by a party of travelling nomads; but it was a case of the pirate's life or those of the Englishmen, and it did not take them long to decide which the world could best spare.
The sentry having been thus disposed of, Drake and Frobisher struck off across the desert, by the margin of the river, at a good round pace; for since the pirates had posted a guard, it was probable that they would visit him sooner or later, and the Englishmen wanted to be well out of sight before anything of that sort should occur.
A little later on they were fortunate enough to come to a village, most of the inhabitants of which were away, as it happened, probably hunting, or fishing, or otherwise engaged upon their usual occupations. Here they secured a hearty meal of rice, bread, cheese, and goats' milk; after which they found themselves marvellously refreshed, and thought the meal cheap at the price of one of Genghiz Khan's gold pieces, specially cleaned up for the purpose of payment.
It is unnecessary to relate in detail the incidents of the journey of the fugitives back to Tien-tsin, for nothing in the way of real adventure occurred after they had once left the ruined city behind. On the way Drake explained to Frobisher how he had come to attempt his friend's rescue; and, in a few words, this is how it came about.
Drake had returned in the Quernmore from England with his cargo, which he duly delivered. Then, as China was purchasing steamers for use as transports, and he was offered about twice his ship's actual value, he sold her, and so found himself at a loose end, without employment. He regarded this as a favourable opportunity to commence enquiries respecting Frobisher, whom he believed to be still a prisoner in Korea; and, happening to encounter Wong-lih--who had by that time returned from his visit to southern China--he heard the whole of Frobisher's history, from the moment when the admiral found and rescued him at Asan, to that of his expedition up the river after the pirates. He was also informed that the expedition had failed, and that his friend was either dead or a prisoner. Wong-lih, said Drake, was greatly cut up at losing so promising an officer, a man, too, of whom he had made a friend; but he could not be induced to send a rescue party. He was altogether too busily occupied with matters of moment to his country, and war was so imminent, that, as a matter of fact, the admiral found himself absolutely unable to spare a ship or a crew for such a purpose. Drake therefore determined to ascertain for himself if Frobisher were still alive, and, if so, to attempt his rescue. And as he happened to be a good Chinese linguist, and possessed in a high degree the art of disguising himself, the attempt proved, as has been seen, completely successful.
It was exactly two months after Frobisher's escape from the pirates' fortress when two very weary, very ragged Englishmen arrived in Tien-tsin; and so bronzed and disreputable did they appear that they could obtain accommodation nowhere until they had proved, by the exhibition of some of their gold, that they were not up-country robbers, but solvent citizens, of merely a temporarily unattractive exterior.
This condition was soon altered, with the assistance of a few baths, a shave, and new drill suits; and, having made their toilets, Frobisher proposed starting immediately to report himself to Wong-lih, or whatever admiral happened to be on the spot at the moment. Drake insisted on accompanying him; and accordingly the two men sauntered off toward the Navy Buildings, where they were told that Admiral Wong-lih might be found at the dockyard, busily superintending the fitting out for sea of several repaired and re-boilered cruisers.
Upon enquiring the reason for all the bustle and confusion that were everywhere apparent, and the quite unaccustomed businesslike air of the port, Frobisher was informed by the officer to whom he applied for information that Japan had, a few days previously, perpetrated an act which could hardly be interpreted otherwise than as meaning war; and that consequently all possible preparations were being hurriedly made to meet the contingency. Guns were being mounted, ships were being dry-docked, scraped, and painted, nucleus crews were being brought up to fighting strength, and, in short, everything that could be done was being done to place China in a position to send her Navy to sea to encounter the Japanese squadrons; for it was plainly to be seen, said the officer, that, since the first acts of hostility had taken place, a formal declaration of war was merely a matter of a few days, and there was a great deal to be done in the time. Frobisher thanked the man for his information, and then he and Drake hurried on their way toward the dockyard. Truly, the air was full of mutterings and rumours of war.