Guy Boothby.

The Beautiful White Devil online

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He shook me by the hand, picked up his hat and umbrella, and
disappeared down the staircase, while I returned to my room to pack.



The last stroke of twelve was just booming out on the muggy night when
I stepped on to the landing-stage to await my mysterious employer. The
hotel servant who had carried my bag put it down, and having received
his gratuity left me. The soft moonlight flooded everything, threw
quaint shadows upon the wharf planks, shone upon the sleeping sampans
beside it, and gurgled in oily wreaths on the placid water in the
depths between them. Very few people were abroad, and those who were
had no attention to spare for me. The Sikh policeman, who passed and
repassed, alone seemed to wonder what a white lord could be doing in
such a place at such a time. But doubtless he had had experience of
the curious ways of Sahibdom, and, being a wise man, if he possessed
any curiosity, he refrained from giving me evidence of the fact.

Suddenly the patter of naked feet behind me caught my ear. A Chinese
chair, borne by two stalwart bearers, was approaching. Very naturally
I settled it in my own mind that it contained the man whom I was to
meet, and turned to receive him. But when the conveyance was set down,
it was not the respectable Englishman I had seen before who stepped
out of it, but a portly Chinaman of considerable rank and dignity. He
was gorgeously clad in figured silk; his pigtail reached halfway to
his heels and was adorned with much ornamentation; and I noticed that
he wore large tortoiseshell spectacles which, while they completely
hid his eyes, gave a curious effect to his otherwise not unhandsome
countenance. Having descended from his equipage, he dismissed his
bearers, and began to stump solemnly up and down the landing-stage,
drawing closer and closer to me at every turn. Presently he summoned
up courage enough to accost me. To my surprise he said:

"What for you come here one piecee look see?"

Not being an adept at pigeon English, I simply answered -

"I'm afraid I don't understand you."

"What for you come here look see?"

"I'm waiting for a friend."

"Your friend allee same Engleesman?"

"Yes, I believe he's an Englishman."

"You go 'way look see chop-chop?"

"You'll excuse me, but that's my own affair, I think."

"Allee same smallee pox, I think!"

"You may think what you please."

"S'posing you say, smallee poxee, allee same one piecee thousan'

"I'm afraid I can't continue this conversation. Good evening."

I turned on my heel, and was about to leave him, when he stopped me by
saying in excellent English:

"Thank you, Dr. De Normanville. I'm quite satisfied."

"Good gracious, what's all this?"

"Why, it means that I have been trying you, that's all. Forgive the
deception, but the importance of our mission must be my excuse. Now we
must be going. Here is the boat."

As he spoke, a large sampan shot out from among its companions and
came swiftly towards the wharf.

"Two cautions before we embark. The first - remember that I am a
Chinaman, and speak only pigeon English. The second - if you are armed,
be careful of your revolver. The men who work the junk we are going
down to meet are not to be trusted; hence my disguise."

He left me and descended the steps. The sampan by this time had come
alongside; a woman was rowing and a vigorous conversation in Chinese
ensued. When it was finished my companion beckoned to me, and picking
up my bag I went down to him. Next moment I was aboard and stuffed
away in the little pokey rat-hole of a cabin amidships. My friend took
his place beside me, a small boy took the helm, and we pushed off. Not
a word was spoken, and in this fashion for nearly an hour we pursued
our way down the harbour, passed a flotilla of junks, threaded a
course between the blue and red funnel boats, and finally swept out
into the clear space that stretches away from Port Victoria as far as
Green Island.

For hours we seemed to be imprisoned in that stuffy little cabin. Like
most sampans, the boat smelt abominably, and as we could only see the
mechanical rowing of the women in the well forrard, and hear the
occasional commands of the tiny boy steering aft, our enjoyment may be
placed on the debit side of the account without any fear of

At length my companion, who had not uttered a word since he stepped
aboard, began to show signs of impatience. He rose from his seat and
peered out into the night. Presently he appeared to be a little
relieved in his mind, for he reseated himself with a muttered "Thank
goodness," and gave himself up to a careful consideration of our
position. Through a slit in the tarpaulin I could just see that we
were approaching a big junk, whose ample girth almost blocked the
fairway. Her great, square cut stern loomed above us, and round it our
coxswain steered us with a deftness extraordinary.

As we came alongside one of the women rowing drew in her oar and said
a few words to my companion. In answer he stepped out of the shelter
and called something in Chinese. A voice from the junk replied, and
the answer being evidently satisfactory we hitched on and prepared to
change vessels. A rope was thrown to us, and when it had been made
fast my guide signed to me to clamber aboard. I did so, and the next
moment was on the junk's deck assisting him to a place beside me.

Two or three men were grouped about amidships watching us, and one,
the owner, or skipper of the boat I presumed, entered upon a
longwinded conversation with my conductor. As they talked I heard the
sampan push off and disappear astern. Then our crew fell to work - the
great sails were hoisted, a hand went aft to the tiller, and within
five minutes we were waddling down the straits at a pace that might
possibly have been four knots an hour. All this time my companion had
not addressed me once. His whole attention seemed to be concentrated
upon the work going on around him. He treated me with the
contemptuous indifference generally shown by Chinamen towards
barbarian Englishmen, and this I was wise enough not to resent.

I will not deny, however, that I was nervous. The mysterious errand on
which I was bound, the emphatic, but not reassuring, warning of my
astute companion, and the company in which I now found myself, were
calculated to have this effect. But as we left the land behind us and
waddled out to sea, my fears began in a measure to subside, and I
found myself gazing about me with more interest than I should at any
other time have thought possible.

The junk was one of the largest I had ever seen, and, like most of her
class, appeared to be all masts, sails, and stern. The crew were as
usual very numerous, and a more evil-looking lot no one could possibly
wish to set eyes on; the face of one little pock-marked fellow being
particularly distasteful to me. That this individual, for some reason,
bore me no good will I was pretty positive, and on one occasion, in
passing where I stood, he jolted against me in such a fashion and with
such violence that he nearly capsized me. At any other time I should
have resented his behaviour, but, bearing in mind my companion's
advice, I held my peace.

By this time it was nearly two o'clock. The wind was every moment
freshening and a brisk sea rising. The old tub began to pitch
unpleasantly, and I found repeated occasion to thank my stars that I
was a good sailor. Sharp dashes of spray broke over her decks at every
plunge, soaking us to the skin, and adding considerably to the
unpleasantness of our position. Still, however, my companion did not
speak, but I noticed that he watched the men about him with what
struck me as increased attention.

Seeing that I had had no sleep at all that night it may not be a
matter of much surprise that I presently began to nod. Stowing myself
away in a sheltered corner, I was in the act of indulging in a nap
when I felt a body fall heavily against me. It was my companion who
had dropped asleep sitting up, and had been dislodged by a sudden roll
of the ship. He fell clean across me, his face against my ear. Next
moment I knew that the catastrophe was intentional.

"Keep your eyes open," he whispered as he lay; "there is treachery
aboard. We shall have trouble before long."

After that you may be sure I thought no more of sleep. Pulling myself
together I slipped my hand into the pocket that had contained my
revolver, only to find, to my horror and astonishment, that it was
gone. My pocket had been picked since I had come aboard the junk.

My consternation may be better imagined than described, and as soon as
I could find occasion I let my companion know of my misfortune.

"I gave you fair warning," he replied calmly, "now we shall probably
both lose our lives. However, what can't be cured must be endured, so
pretend to be asleep and don't move, whatever happens, until you hear
from me. That little pock-marked devil haranguing the others forrard
is Kwong Fung, the most notorious pirate along the whole length of the
coast, and if we fall into his hands, well, there will not be two
doubts as to what our fate will be."

He tumbled over on to his side with a grunt, while I shut my eyes and
pretended to be asleep. It was growing cold; the wind was rising and
with it the sea. Already the stars in the East were paling
perceptibly, and in another hour, at most, day would be born.

It's all very well for people to talk about coolness and presence of
mind in moments of extreme danger. Since the events I'm now narrating
took place, I've been in queerer quarters than most men, and though
I've met with dozens who could be brave enough when the actual moment
for fighting arrived, I've never yet encountered one who could lie
still, doing nothing, for three-quarters of an hour, watching his
death preparing for him, and not show some sign of nervousness.
Frankly, I will admit that I was afraid. To have to lie on that
uncomfortable heaving deck, a big sea running, and more than a capful
of wind blowing, watching, in the half dark, a gang of murderous
ruffians plotting one's destruction, would try the nerves of the
boldest of men. Small wonder then that my lower limbs soon became like
blocks of ice, that my teeth chattered in my head, and that an
indescribable sinking sensation assumed possession of my internal
regions. I could not take my eyes off the group seated frog fashion on
the deck forrard. Their very backs held an awful fascination for me.

But, as it soon turned out, my interest in them was almost my undoing.
For had I not been so intent upon watching what was before me I should
perhaps have heard the rustling of a human body outside the bulwarks
against which I had seated myself. In that case I should have detected
the figure that had crawled quietly over and was now stealing along
the deck towards where I lay. In his hand he carried a thin cord at
the end of which was a noose just capable of encircling my head.

Suddenly I felt something touch my throat. I lifted my head, and at
the same instant the truth dawned upon me. _I was being strangled._
How long a time elapsed between the cord's touching my neck and my
losing consciousness I could not say, but brief as was the interval, I
can recollect seeing my companion half raise himself. Then came a
flash, a loud report, a sudden singing in my ears, and I remember no

When I recovered my wits again my companion was bending over me.

"Thank God," he said piously, "I began to think the brute had done for
you. Now pull yourself together as fast as you can, for there's going
to be serious trouble."

I looked round me as well as I could. By my side lay the body of the
man, with the cord still in his hand, and from the way in which one
arm was stretched out and the other doubled under him, I gathered that
he was dead. Amidships the crew of the junk were assembled, listening
to the excited oratory of the little pock-marked devil against whom my
companion had warned me. He held in his hand a revolver - mine, I had
no difficulty in guessing - and, from the way in which he turned and
pointed in our direction, I understood that he was explaining to the
others the necessity which existed for exterminating us without delay.
I turned to my companion and warmly thanked him for the shot that had
saved my life.

"Don't mention it," he answered coolly. "It was fortunate I saw him
coming. You must remember that besides saving you it has put one of
our adversaries out of the way, and every one against odds like this
counts. By the way, you'd better find something to lay about you
with - for from all appearance we're in for a big thing."

Under the bulwarks, and a little to the left of where I sat, was a
stout iron bar some two feet six in length. I managed to secure it,
and having done so, felt a little easier in my mind.

As I crawled back to my station another report greeted my ears, and at
the same instant a bullet bedded itself in the woodwork, within an
inch of my left temple.

"That's the introduction," said my imperturbable friend with a grim
smile. "Are you ready? He's got the only weapon among them and five
more cartridges left in it. Keep by me and give no quarter - for
remember if they win they'll show you none."

Bang! Another bullet whizzed past my ear.

Bang! My companion gave a low whistle and then turned to me.

"Grazed my forearm," he said calmly, and then raising his pistol shot
the nearest of our assailants dead. The man gave a little cry, more
like a sob, and with outspread arms fell on his face upon the deck.
The next roll of the vessel carried him into the lee scuppers, where
for some time he washed idly to and fro. Never in my life before had I
seen anything so coolly deliberate as the way in which he was picked
off. It was more like rabbit shooting than anything else.

"Two cartridges gone!" said my comrade.

As he spoke a bullet tore up the deck at my feet, while another grazed
my right shoulder.

"Four. Keep steady; he's only two left. Look out _then_, for they'll
rush us to a certainty! I wish I could get another shot at them

But this wish was not destined to be gratified. The scoundrels had had
sufficient evidence of his skill as a marksman, and being prudent,
though precious, villains they had no desire to receive further proof
of it. They therefore kept in shelter.

Minute after minute went slowly by, and everyone found the night
drawing further off the sky, and the light widening more perceptibly.
But still no sign came from those in hiding forrard. To my mind this
watching and waiting was the worst part of the whole business. All
sorts of fresh horrors seemed to cluster round our position as we
crouched together in the shelter aft.

Suddenly, without any warning, and with greater majesty than I ever
remember to have observed in him before or since, the sun rose in the
cloudless sky. Instantly with his coming, light and colour shot across
the waters, the waves from being of a dull leaden hue became green and
foam-crested, and the great fibre sails of the junk from figuring as
blears of double darkness, reaching up to the very clouds, took to
themselves again their ordinary commonplace and forlorn appearance.

Our course lay due east, and for this reason the sun shone directly in
our faces, dazzling us, and for the moment preventing our seeing
anything that might be occurring forrard. I could tell that this was a
matter of some concern to my companion, and certainly it was not to
remain very long a matter of indifference to me.

The sun had been above the sky line scarcely a matter of two minutes
when another shot was fired from forward, and I fell with a cry to the
deck. Next moment I had picked myself up again, and, feeling very sick
and giddy, scrambled to my companion's side. He was as cool and
apparently as unconcerned as ever.

"The other was the prologue - this is going to be the play itself. Keep
as close to me as you can, and above all things fight to the
death - accept no quarter, and give none."

The words were hardly out of his mouth before we heard a scampering of
bare feet upon the deck, and a succession of shrill yells, and then
the vessel paying off a little on her course showed us the ruffians
climbing on to the raised poop upon which we stood. To my horror - for,
strangely enough, in that moment of intense excitement, I was capable
of a second emotion - I saw that they were six in number, while a
reinforcement, numbering three more, waited upon the fo'c's'le head to
watch the turn of events.

As the head of the first man appeared my companion raised his pistol
and pulled the trigger. The bullet struck the poor wretch exactly on
the bridge of the nose, making a clear round hole from which, an
instant later, a jet of blood spurted forth. A second bullet carried
another man to his account, and by this time the remaining four were
upon us.

Of what followed in that turmoil I have but a very imperfect
recollection. I remember seeing three men rush towards me, one of whom
I knew for Kwong Fung, the little pock-marked rascal before mentioned,
and I recollect that, with the instinct of despair, I clutched my bar
of iron in both hands and brought it down on the head of the nearest
of the trio with all my force. It caught him on the right temple, and
crushed the skull in like a broken egg-shell. But the piratical
scoundrels had forgotten the man lying on the deck. In their haste to
advance they omitted to step over his body, caught their feet and fell
to the ground. At least, I am wrong in saying they fell to the ground,
for only the pock-marked rascal fell; the other tripped, and would
have recovered himself and been upon me had I not sprung upon him,
thrown away my bar, caught up his companion's knife, which had fallen
from his hand, and tried my level best to drive it in above his
shoulder-blade. But it was easier said than done. He clutched me
fiercely and, locked hard and fast, we swayed this way and that,
fighting like wild-cats for our lives. He was a smaller man than I,
but active as an acrobat, and in the most perfect training. Up and
down, round and round we went, eyes glaring, breath coming in great
gasps, our hands upon each other's throats, and every moment drawing
closer and closer to the vessel's side.

Though the whole fight could not have lasted a minute it seemed an
eternity. I was beginning to weaken, and I saw by the look in his
hateful almond eyes that my antagonist knew it. But he had bargained
without his host. A heavy roll sent the little vessel heeling over to
the port side, and an instant later we were both prone upon the deck
rolling, tumbling, fighting again to be uppermost. From the manner in
which I had fallen, however, the advantage now lay with me, and you
may be sure I was not slow to make the most of it. Throwing myself
over and seating myself astride of him, I clutched my adversary by
the throat, and, drawing back my arm, struck him with my clenched fist
between his eyes. The blow was given with all my strength, and it
certainly told. He lay beneath me a bleeding and insensible mass. Then
staggering to my feet I looked about me. On the deck were four dead
bodies; two on the break of the poop lying faces down, just where they
had fallen, one at my feet, his skull dashed in and his brains
protruding, a horrible sight, - another under the bulwarks, his limbs
twitching in his death agony, and his mouth vomiting blood with
automatic regularity. My companion I discovered seated astride of
another individual, admonishing him with what I knew was an empty
revolver to abstain from any further attempt to escape.

"I think we have got the upper hand of them now," he said as calmly as
if he were accustomed to going through this sort of thing every day of
his life. "Would you be so good as to hand me that piece of rope? I
must make this slippery gentleman fast while I have him."

"Surely it's the leader of the gang," I cried, at the same time doing
as he had asked me. "The man you pointed out to me, Kwong Fung?"

"You're quite right. It is."

"And now that you have him, what will his fate be?"

"A short shrift and a long rope, if I have anything to do with the
matter. There! That's right, I don't think you'll get into much
mischief now, my friend."

So saying he rose to his feet, rolled the man over on to his back, and
turned to me.

"My goodness, man, you're wounded," he cried, spinning me round to
find out whence the blood was dripping.

And so I was, though in my excitement I had quite forgotten the fact.
A ball had passed clean through the fleshy part of my left arm, and
the blood flowing from it had stiffened all my sleeve.

With a gentleness one would hardly have expected to find in him, my
friend drew off my coat and cut open my shirt sleeve. Then bidding me
stay where I was while he procured some water with which to bathe the
wound, he left me and went forrard. I did not, however, see him
return, for now that the excitement had departed, a great faintness
was stealing over me. The sea seemed to be turning black, and the deck
of the junk to be slipping away from under me. Finally, my legs
tottered, my senses left me, and I fell heavily to the ground.

When I came to myself again I was lying on a pile of fibre sails under
the shelter of an improvised awning. My companion, whose name I
discovered later was Walworth, was kneeling beside me with a
preternaturally grave expression upon his usually stolid face.

"How do you feel now?" he inquired, holding a cup of water to my lips.

I drank eagerly, and then replied that I felt better, but terribly

"Oh, that's only to be expected," he answered reassuringly. "We ought
to be glad, considering the amount of blood you must have lost, that
it's no worse. Keep up your heart. You'll soon be all right now."

"Has anything happened?"

"Nothing at all! We're the victors without doubt. As soon as you can
spare me I'm going forrard to rouse out the rest of the gang, and get
the junk on her course again. We've no time to waste pottering about

"I'm well enough now. Only give me something to protect myself with in
case of accident."

"Here's your own revolver, of which I relieved our pock-marked friend
yonder. I've refilled it, so, if you want to, you can do damage to the
extent of six shots - two for each of the three remaining men!"

After glancing at his own weapon to see that it was fully charged, he
picked his way forrard and called in Chinese to those in hiding to
come forth, if they wished to save their lives. In response to his
summons three men crawled out and stood in a row. After he had
harangued them, I noticed that he questioned them eagerly in turn, and
was evidently much perturbed at the answers he received. When he had
said all that he had to say he searched for something, and, not
finding it, left them and came back to me. Before making any remark he
turned over the bodies on the deck, and, when he had done so, seemed
still more put out.

"What's the matter?" I inquired. "Are we in for any more trouble?"

"I'm afraid so. That rascally captain, seeing how the fighting was
going, and dreading my vengeance, must have jumped overboard, leaving
no man save myself capable of navigating the junk. Added to which the
food and water supply - which, had this trouble not occurred, and we
had got further upon our way, would have been ample for our
requirements - will only last us, at most, two more meals. However,
it's no good crying over spilt milk; we must do our best with what
we've got, and having done that we can't do more. Let us hope we'll
soon pick up the boat of which we're in search."

"And what boat may that be?"

"Why, the vessel that is to take us to the island, to be sure. What
other could it be?"

"I had no idea that we were in search of one."

"Well, we are; and it looks as if we shall be in search of her for
some time to come. Confound those treacherous beggars!"

As he said this he assumed possession of the tiller, the vessel's head
was brought round to her course, and presently we were wobbling along
in a new and more westerly direction.

Hour after hour passed in tedious monotony, and still we sailed on.
The heat was intense - the wind dropped toward noon, and the face of
the deep then became like burnished silver - almost impossible to look
upon. But no sign of the craft we were in search of greeted our eyes;
only a native boat or two far away to the eastward and a big steamer
hull down upon the northern horizon.

It was not a cheerful outlook by any manner of means, and for the

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Online LibraryGuy BoothbyThe Beautiful White Devil → online text (page 2 of 19)