Once upon a time there was a little Power, the half-bankrupt wreck of a once great empire, that lost its temper with England, the whipping-boy of all the world, and behaved, as every one said, most scandalously. But it is not generally known that that Power fought a pitched battle with England and won a glorious victory. The trouble began with the people. Their own misfortunes had been many, and for private rage it is always refreshing to find a vent in public swearing. Their national vanity had been deeply injured, and they thought of their ancient glories and the days when their fleets had first rounded the Cape of Storms, and their own newspapers called upon Camoens and urged them to extravagances. It was the gross, smooth, sleek, lying England that was checking their career of colonial expansion. They assumed at once that their ruler was in league with England, so they cried with great heat that they would forthwith become a Republic and colonially expand themselves as a free people should. This made plain, the people threw stones at the English Consuls and spat at English ladies, and cut off drunken sailors of Our fleet in their ports and hammered them with oars, and made things very unpleasant for tourists at their customs, and threatened awful deaths to the consumptive invalids of Madeira, while the junior officers of the army drank fruit-extracts and entered into most blood-curdling conspiracies against their monarch; all with the object of being a Republic. Now the history of the South American Republics shows that it is not good that Southern Europeans should be also Republicans. They glide too quickly into military despotism; and the propping of men against walls and shooting them in detachments can be arranged much more economically and with less effect on the death-rate by a hide-bound monarchy. Still the performances of the Power as represented by its people were extremely inconvenient. It was the kicking horse in the crowd, and probably the rider explained that he could not check it. So the people enjoyed all the glory of war with none of the risks, and the tourists who were stoned in their travels returned stolidly to England and told the Times that the police arrangements of foreign towns were defective.
This, then, was the state of affairs north the Line. South it was more strained, for there the Powers were at direct issue: England, unable to go back because of the pressure of adventurous children behind her, and the actions of far-away adventurers who would not come to heel, but offering to buy out her rival; and the other Power, lacking men or money, stiff in the conviction that three hundred years of slave-holding and intermingling with the nearest natives gave an inalienable right to hold slaves and issue half-castes to all eternity. They had built no roads. Their towns were rotting under their hands; they had no trade worth the freight of a crazy steamer; and their sovereignty ran almost one musket-shot inland when things were peaceful. For these very reasons they raged all the more, and the things that they said and wrote about the manners and customs of the English would have driven a younger nation to the guns with a long red bill for wounded honour.
It was then that Fate sent down in a twin-screw shallow-draft gunboat, of some 270 tons displacement, designed for the defence of rivers, Lieutenant Harrison Edward Judson, to be known for the future as Bai-Jove-Judson. His type of craft looked exactly like a flat-iron with a match stuck up in the middle; it drew five feet of water or less; carried a four-inch gun forward, which was trained by the ship; and, on account of its persistent rolling, was, to live in, three degrees worse than a torpedo-boat. When Judson was appointed to take charge of the thing on her little trip of six or seven thousand miles southward, his first remark as he went to look her over in dock was, ‘Bai Jove, that topmast wants staying forward!’ The topmast was a stick about as thick as a clothesprop; but the flat-iron was Judson’s first command, and he would not have exchanged his position for second post on the Anson or the Howe. He navigated her, under convoy, tenderly and lovingly to the Cape (the story of the topmast came with him), and he was so absurdly in love with his wallowing wash-tub when he reported himself, that the Admiral of the station thought it would be a pity to kill a new man on her, and allowed Judson to continue in his unenvied rule.
The Admiral visited her once in Simon’s Bay, and she was bad, even for a flat-iron gunboat, strictly designed for river and harbour defence. She sweated clammy drops of dew between decks in spite of a preparation of powdered cork that was sprinkled over her inside paint. She rolled in the long Cape swell like a buoy; her foc’s’le was a dog-kennel; Judson’s cabin was practically under the water-line; not one of her dead-lights could ever be opened; and her compasses, thanks to the influence of the four-inch gun, were a curiosity even among Admiralty compasses. But Bai-Jove-Judson was radiant and enthusiastic. He had even contrived to fill Mr. Davies, the second-class engine-room artificer, who was his chief engineer, with the glow of his passion. The Admiral, who remembered his own first command, when pride forbade him to slack off a single rope on a dewy night, and he had racked his rigging to pieces in consequence, looked at the flat-iron keenly. Her fenders were done all over with white sennit, which was truly, white; her big gun was varnished with a better composition than the Admiralty allowed; the spare sights were cased as carefully as the chronometers; the chocks for spare spars, two of them, were made of four-inch Burma teak carved with dragons’ heads (that was one result of Bai-Jove-Judson’s experiences with the naval brigade in the Burmese war), the bow-anchor was varnished instead of being painted, and there were charts other than the Admiralty scale supplied. The Admiral was well pleased, for he loved a ship’s husband—a man who had a little money of his own and was willing to spend it on his command. Judson looked at him hopefully. He was only a Junior Navigating Lieutenant under eight years’ standing. He might be kept in Simon’s Bay for six months, and his ship at sea was his delight. The dream of his heart was to enliven her dismal official gray with a line of gold-leaf and, perhaps, a little scroll-work at her blunt barge-like bows.
‘There’s nothing like a first command, is there?’ said the Admiral, reading his thoughts. ‘You seem to have rather queer compasses though. Better get them adjusted.’
‘It’s no use, sir,’ said Judson. ‘The gun would throw out the Pole itself. But—but I’ve got the hang of most of the weaknesses.’
‘Will you be good enough to lay that gun over thirty degrees, please?’ The gun was put over. Round and round and round went the needle merrily, and the Admiral whistled.
‘You must have kept close to your convoy?’
‘Saw her twice between here and Madeira, sir,’ said Judson with a flush, for he resented the slur on his steamship. ‘She’s—she’s a little out of hand now, but she will settle down after a while.’
The Admiral went over the side, according to the rules of the Service, but the Staff-Captain must have told the other men of the squadron in Simon’s Bay, for they one and all made light of the flat-iron for many days. ‘What can you shake out of her, Judson?’ said the Lieutenant of the Mongoose, a real white-painted ram-bow gunboat with quick-firing guns, as he came into the upper verandah of the little naval Club overlooking the dockyard one hot afternoon. It is in that club, as the captains come and go, that you hear all the gossip of all the Seven Seas.
‘Ten point four,’ said Bai-Jove-Judson.
‘Ah! That was on her trial trip. She’s too much by the head now. I told you staying that topmast would throw her out.’
‘You leave my top-hamper alone,’ said Judson, for the joke was beginning to pall on him.
‘Oh, my soul! Listen to him. Juddy’s top-hamper. Keate, have you heard of the flat-iron’s top-hamper? You’re to leave it alone. Commodore Judson’s feelings are hurt.’
Keate was the Torpedo Lieutenant of the big Vortigern, and he despised small things. ‘His tophamper,’ said he slowly. ‘Oh, ah yes, of course. Juddy, there’s a shoal of mullet in the bay, and I think they’re foul of your screws. Better go down, or they’ll carry away something.’
‘I don’t let things carry away as a rule. You see I’ve no Torpedo Lieutenant aboard, thank God.’
Keate within the past week had so managed to bungle the slinging-in of a small torpedo-boat on the Vortigern, that the boat had broken the crutches on which she rested, and was herself being repaired in the dockyard under the Club windows.
‘One for you, Keate. Never mind, Juddy, you’re hereby appointed dockyard-tender for the next three years, and if you’re very good and there’s no sea on, you shall take me round the harbour. Waitabeechee, Commodore. What’ll you take? Vanderhum for the “Cook and the captain bold, And the mate o’ the Nancy brig, And the bo’sun tight” [Juddy, put that cue down or I’ll put you under arrest for insulting the lieutenant of a real ship, “And the midshipmite, And the crew of the captain’s gig.”’
By this time Judson had pinned him in a corner, and was prodding him with the half-butt. The Admiral’s Secretary entered, and saw the scuffle from the door.
‘Ouch! Juddy, I apologise. Take that—er—topmast of yours away! Here’s the man with the bow-string. I wish I were a Staff-captain instead of a bloody lootenant. Sperril sleeps below every night. That’s what makes Sperril tumble home from the waist upwards. Sperril, I defy you to touch me. I’m under orders for Zanzibar. Probably I shall annex it!’
‘Judson, the Admiral wants to see you!’ said the Staff Captain, disregarding the scoffer of the Mongoose.
‘I told you you’d be a dockyard-tender yet, Juddy. A side of fresh beef to-morrow and three dozen snapper on ice. On ice, you understand, Juddy?’
Bai-Jove-Judson and the Staff-Captain went out together.
‘Now, what does the old man want with Judson?’ said Keate from the bar.
‘Don’t know. Juddy’s a damned good fellow, though. I wish to goodness he was on the Mongoose with us.’
The Lieutenant of the Mongoose dropped into a chair and read the mail-papers for an hour. Then he saw Bai-Jove-Judson in the street and shouted to him. Judson’s eyes were very bright, and his figure was held very straight, and he moved joyously. Except for the Lieutenant of the Mongoose, the Club was empty.
‘Juddy, there will be a beautiful row,’ said that young man when he had heard the news delivered in an undertone. ‘You’ll probably have to fight, and yet I can’t see what the old man’s thinking of to——’
‘My orders are not to row under any circumstances,’ said Judson.
‘Go-look-see? That all? When do you go?’
‘To-night if I can. I must go down and see about things. I say, I may want a few men for the day.’
‘Anything on the Mongoose is at your service. There’s my gig come over now. I know that coast, dead, drunk, or asleep, and you’ll need all the knowledge you can get. If it had only been us two together! Come along with me.’
For one whole hour Judson remained closeted in the stern cabin of the Mongoose, listening, poring over chart upon chart and taking notes, and for an hour the marine at the door heard nothing but things like these: ‘Now you’ll have to lie in here if there’s any sea on. That current is ridiculously under-estimated, and it sets west at this season of the year, remember. Their boats never come south of this, see? So it’s no good looking out for them.’ And so on and so forth, while Judson lay at length on the locker by the three-pounder, and smoked and absorbed it all.
Next morning there was no flat-iron in Simon’s Bay; only a little smudge of smoke off Cape Hangklip to show that Mr. Davies, the second-class engine-room artificer, was giving her all she could carry. At the Admiral’s house the ancient and retired bo’sun who had seen many admirals come and go, brought out his paint and brushes and gave a new coat of pure raw pea-green to the two big cannon balls that stood one on each side of the Admiral’s entrance-gate. He felt dimly that great events were stirring.
And the flat-iron, constructed, as has been before said, solely for the defence of rivers, met the great roll off Cape Agulhas and was swept from end to end, and sat upon her twin screws, and leaped as gracefully as a cow in a bog from one sea to another, till Mr. Davies began to fear for the safety of his engines, and the Kroo boys that made the majority of the crew were deathly sick. She ran along a very badly-lighted coast, past bays that were no bays, where ugly flat-topped rocks lay almost level with the water, and very many extraordinary things happened that have nothing to do with the story, but they were all duly logged by Bai-Jove-Judson.
At last the coast changed and grew green and low and exceedingly muddy, and there were broad rivers whose bars were little islands standing three or four miles out at sea, and Bai-Jove-Judson hugged the shore more closely than ever, remembering what the lieutenant of the Mongoose had told him. Then he found a river full of the smell of fever and mud, with green stuff growing far into its waters, and a current that made the flat-iron gasp and grunt.
‘We will turn up here,’ said Bai-Jove-Judson, and they turned up accordingly; Mr. Davies wondering what in the world it all meant, and the Kroo boys grinning merrily. Bai-Jove-Judson went forward to the bows, and meditated, staring through the muddy waters. After two hours of rooting through this desolation at an average rate of five miles an hour, his eyes were cheered by the sight of one white buoy in the coffee-hued midstream. The flat-iron crept up to it cautiously, and a leadsman took soundings all round it from a dinghy, while Bai-Jove-Judson smoked and thought, with his head on one side.
‘About seven feet, isn’t there?’ said he. ‘That must be the tail-end of the shoal. There’s four fathom in the fairway. Knock that buoy down with axes. I don’t think it’s picturesque, some how.’ The Kroo men hacked the wooden sides to pieces in three minutes, and the mooring-chain sank with the last splinters of wood. Bai-Jove-Judson laid the flat-iron carefully over the site, while Mr. Davies watched, biting his nails nervously.
‘Can you back her against this current?’ said Bai-Jove-Judson. Mr. Davies could, inch by inch, but only inch by inch, and Bai-Jove-Judson stood in the bows and gazed at various things on the bank as they came into line or opened out. The flat-iron dropped down over the tail of the shoal, exactly where the buoy had been, and backed once more before Bai-Jove-Judson was satisfied. Then they went up-stream for half an hour, put into shoal water by the bank and waited, with a slip-rope on the anchor.
‘’Seems to me,’ said Mr. Davies deferentially, ‘like as if I heard some one a-firing off at intervals, so to say.’
There was beyond doubt a dull mutter in the air.
‘Seems to me,’ said Bai-Jove-Judson, ‘as if I heard a screw. Stand by to slip her moorings.’
Another ten minutes passed and the beat of engines grew plainer. Then round the bend of the river came a remarkably prettily-built white-painted gunboat with a blue and white flag bearing a red boss in the centre.
‘Unshackle abaft the windlass! Stream both buoys! Easy astern. Let go, all!’ The sliprope flew out, the two buoys bobbed in the water to mark where anchor and cable had been left, and the flat-iron waddled out into midstream with the white ensign at her one mast-head.
‘Give her all you can. That thing has the legs of us,’ said Judson. ‘And down we go.’
‘It’s war—bloody war! He’s going to fire,’ said Mr. Davies, looking up through the engine-room hatch.
The white gunboat without a word of explanation fired three guns at the flat-iron, cutting the trees on the banks into green chips. Bai-Jove-Judson was at the wheel, and Mr. Davies and the current helped the boat to an almost respectable degree of speed.
It was an exciting chase, but it did not last for more than five minutes. The white gunboat fired again, and Mr. Davies in his engine-room gave a wild shout.
‘What’s the matter? Hit?’ said Bai-Jove-Judson.
‘No, I’ve just seized of your roos-de-gare. Beg y’ pardon, sir.’
‘Right O! Just the half a fraction of a point more.’ The wheel turned under the steady hand, as Bai-Jove-Judson watched his marks on the bank falling in line swiftly as troops anxious to aid. The flat-iron smelt the shoal-water under her, checked for an instant, and went on. ‘Now we’re over. Come along, you thieves, there!’ said Judson.
The white gunboat, too hurried even to fire, was storming in the wake of the flat-iron, steering as she steered. This was unfortunate, because the lighter craft was dead over the missing buoy.
‘What you do here?’ shouted a voice from the bows.
‘I’m going on. Sit tight. Now you’re arranged for.’
There was a crash and a clatter as the white gunboat’s nose took the shoal, and the brown mud boiled up in oozy circles under her forefoot. Then the current caught her stern on the starboard side and drove her broadside on to the shoal, slowly and gracefully. There she heeled at an undignified angle, and her crew yelled aloud.
‘Neat! Oh, damn neat!’ quoth Mr. Davies, dancing on the engine-room plates, while the Kroo stokers beamed.
The flat-iron turned up-stream again, and passed under the hove-up starboard side of the white gunboat, to be received with howls and imprecations in a strange tongue. The stranded boat, exposed even to her lower strakes, was as defenceless as a turtle on its back, without the advantage of the turtle’s plating. And the one big bluff gun in the bows of the flat-iron was unpleasantly near.
But the captain was valiant and swore mightily. Bai-Jove-Judson took no sort of notice. His business was to go up the river.
‘We will come in a flotilla of boats and ecrazer your vile tricks,’ said the captain, with language that need not be published.
Then said Bai-Jove-Judson, who was a linguist: ‘You stayo where you areo, or I’ll leave a holo in your bottomo that will make you muchos perforatados.’
There was a great deal of mixed language in reply, but Bai-Jove-Judson was out of hearing in a few minutes, and Mr. Davies, himself a man of few words, confided to one of his subordinates that Lieutenant Judson was ‘a most remarkable prompt officer in a way of putting it.’
For two hours the flat-iron pawed madly through the muddy water, and that which had been at first a mutter became a distinct rumble.
‘Was war declared?’ said Mr. Davies, and Bai-Jove-Judson laughed. ‘Then, damn his eyes, he might have spoilt my pretty little engines. There’s war up there, though.’
The next bend brought them full in sight of a small but lively village, built round a white-washed mud house of some pretensions. There were scores and scores of saddle-coloured soldiery in dirty white uniforms running to and fro and shouting round a man in a litter, and on a gentle slope that ran inland for four or five miles something like a brisk battle was raging round a rude stockade. A smell of unburied carcases floated through the air and vexed the sensitive nose of Mr. Davies, who spat over the side.
‘I want to get this gun on that house,’ said BaiJove-Judson, indicating the superior dwelling over whose flat roof floated the blue and white flag. The little twin-screws kicked up the water exactly as a hen’s legs kick in the dust before she settles down to a bath. The little boat moved uneasily from left to right, backed, yawed again, went ahead, and at last the gray, blunt gun’s nose was. held as straight as a rifle-barrel on the mark indicated. Then Mr. Davies allowed the whistle to, speak as it is not allowed to speak in Her Majesty’s service on account of waste of steam. The soldiery of the village gathered into knots and groups and bunches, and the firing up the hill ceased, and every one except the crew of the flat-iron yelled aloud. Something like an English cheer came down wind.
‘Our chaps in mischief for sure, probably,’ said Mr. Davies. ‘They must have declared war weeks ago, in a kind of way, seems to me.’
‘Hold her steady, you son of a soldier.’ shouted Bai-Jove-Judson, as the muzzle fell off the white house.
Something rang as loudly as a ship’s bell on the forward plates of the flat-iron, something spluttered in the water, and another thing cut a groove in the deck planking an inch in front of Bai-Jove-Judson’s left foot. The saddle-coloured soldiery were firing as the mood took them, and the man in the litter waved a shining sword. The muzzle of the big gun kicked down a fraction as it was laid on the mud wall at the bottom of the house garden. Ten pounds of gunpowder shut up in a hundred pounds of metal was its charge. Three or four yards of the mud wall jumped up a little, as a man jumps when he is caught in the small of the back with a knee-cap, and then fell forward, spreading fan-wise in the fall. The soldiery fired no more that day, and Judson saw an old black woman climb to the flat roof of the house. She fumbled for a time with the flag halliards, then, finding that they were jammed, took off her one garment, which happened to be an Isabella-coloured petticoat, and waved it impatiently. The man in the litter flourished a white handkerchief, and Bai-Jove-Judson grinned. ‘Now we’ll give ’em one up the hill. Round with her, Mr. Davies. Curse the man who invented these floating gun-platforms! When can I pitch in a notice without slaying one of those little devils?’
The side of the slope was speckled with men returning in a disorderly fashion to the river-front. Behind them marched a small but very compact body of men who had filed out of the stockade. These last dragged quick-firing guns with them.
‘Bai Jove, it’s a regular army. I wonder whose,’ said Bai-Jove-Judson, and he waited developments. The descending troops met and mixed with the troops in the village, and, with the litter in the centre, crowded down to the river, till the men with the quick-firing guns came up behind them. Then they divided left and right and the detachment marched through.
‘Heave these damned things over!’ said the leader of the party, and one after another ten little gatlings splashed into the muddy water. The flatiron lay close to the bank.
‘When you’re quite done,’ said Bai-Jove-Judson politely, ‘would you mind telling me what’s the matter? I’m in charge here.’
‘We’re the Pioneers of the General Development Company,’ said the leader. ‘These little bounders have been hammering us in lager for twelve hours, and we’re getting rid of their gatlings. Had to climb out and take them; but they’ve snaffled the lock-actions. Glad to see you.’
‘Any one hurt?’
‘No one killed exactly; but we’re very dry.’
‘Can you hold your men?’
The man turned round and looked at his command with a grin. There were seventy of them, all dusty and unkempt.
‘We shan’t sack this ash-bin, if that’s what you mean. We’re mostly gentlemen here, though we don’t look it.’
‘All right. Send the head of this post, or fort, or village, or whatever it is, aboard, and make what arrangements you can for your men.’
‘We’ll find some barrack accommodation somewhere. Hullo! You in the litter there, go aboard the gunboat.’ The command wheeled round, pushed through the dislocated soldiery, and began to search through the village for spare huts.
The little man in the litter came aboard smiling nervously. He was in the fullest of full uniform, with many yards of gold lace and dangling chains. Also he wore very large spurs; the nearest horse being not more than four hundred miles away. ‘My children,’ said he, facing the silent soldiery, ‘lay aside your arms.’
Most of the men had dropped them already and were sitting down to smoke. ‘Let nothing,’ he added in his own tongue, ‘tempt you to kill these who have sought your protection.’
‘Now,’ said Bai-Jove-Judson, on whom the last remark was lost, ‘will you have the goodness to explain what the deuce you mean by all this nonsense?’
‘It was of a necessitate,’ said the little man. ‘The operations of war are unconformible. I am the Governor and I operate Captain. Be’old my little sword!’
‘Confound your little sword, sir. I don’t want it. You’ve fired on our flag. You’ve been firing at our people here for a week, and I’ve been fired at coming up the river.’
‘Ah! The Guadala. She have misconstrued you for a slaver possibly. How are the Guadala?’
‘Mistook a ship of Her Majesty’s navy for a slaver! You mistake any craft for a slaver. Bai Jove, sir, I’ve a good mind to hang you at the yard-arm!’
There was nothing nearer that terrible spar than the walking-stick in the rack of Judson’s cabin. The Governor, looked at the one mast and smiled a deprecating smile.
‘The position is embarrassment,’ he said. ‘Captain, do you think those illustrious traders burn my capital? My people will give them beer.’
‘Never mind the traders, I want an explanation.’
‘Hum! There are popular uprising in Europe, Captain—in my country.’ His eye wandered aimlessly round the horizon.
‘What has that to do with——’
‘Captain, you are very young. There is still uproariment. But I,’—here he slapped his chest till his epaulets jingled—‘I am loyalist to pits of all my stomachs.’
‘Go on,’ said Judson, and his mouth quivered.
‘An order arrive to me to establish a custom-houses here, and to collect of the taximent from the traders when she are come here necessarily. That was on account of political understandings with your country and mine. But to that arrangement there was no money also. Not one damn little cowrie! I desire damnably to extend all commercial things, and why? I am loyalist and there is rebellion—yes, I tell you—Republics in my country for to just begin. You do not believe? See some time how it exist. I cannot make this custom-houses and pay so the high-paid officials. The people too in my country they say the King she has no regardance into Honour of her nation. He throw away everything—Gladstone her all, you say, hey?’
‘Yes, that’s what we say,’ said Judson with a grin.
‘Therefore they say, let us be Republics on hot cakes. But I—I am loyalist to all my hands’ ends. Captain, once I was attaché at Mexico. I say the Republics are no good. The peoples have her stomach high. They desire—they desire—Oh, course for the bills.’
‘What on earth is that?’
‘The cock-fight for pay at the gate. You give something, pay for see bloody-row. Do I make my comprehension?’
‘A run for their money—is that what you mean? Gad, you’re a sporting Governor!’
‘So I say. I am loyalist too.’ He smiled more easily. ‘Now how can anything do herself for the customs-houses; but when the Company’s mens she arrives, then a cock-fight for pay-at-gate that is, quite correct. My army he says it will Republic and shoot me off upon walls if I have not give her blood. An army, Captain, are terrible in her angries—especialment when she are not paid. I know too,’ here he laid his hand on Judson’s shoulder, ‘I know too we are old friends. Yes! Badajos, Almeida, Fuentes d’Onor—time ever since; and a little, little cock-fight for pay-at-gate that is good for my King. More sit her tight on throne behind, you see? Now,’ he waved his free hand round the decayed village, ‘I say to my armies, Fight! Fight the Company’s men when she come, but fight not so very strong that you are any dead. It is all in the raporta that I send. But you understand, Captain, we are good friends all the time. Ah! Ciudad Rodrigo, you remember? No? Perhaps your father then? So you see no one are dead, and we fight a fight, and it is all in the raporta, to please the people in our country; and my armies they do not put me against the walls, you see?’
‘Yes; but the Guadala. She fired on us. Was that part of your game, my joker?’
‘The Guadala. Ah! No, I think not. Her captain he is too big fool. But I thought she have gone down the coast. Those your gunboats poke her nose and shove her oar in every place. How is Guadala?’
‘On a shoal. Stuck till I take her off.’
‘There are any deads?’
The Governor drew a breath of deep relief. ‘There are no deads here. So you see none are deads anywhere, and nothing is done. Captain, you talk to the Company’s mens. I think they are not pleased.’
‘They have no senses. I thought to go backwards again they would. I leave her stockade alone all night to let them out, but they stay and come facewards to me, not backwards. They did not know we must conquer much in all these battles, or the King, he is kicked off her throne. Now we have won this battle—this great battle,’ he waved his arms abroad, ‘and I think you will say so that we have won, Captain. You are loyalist also? You would not disturb to the peaceful Europe? Captain, I tell you this. Your Queen she know too. She would not fight her cousin. It is a—a hand-up thing.’
‘Hand-up thing. Jobe you put. How you say?’
‘Yes. Put-up job. Who is hurt? We win. You lose. All righta!’
Bai-Jove-Judson had been exploding at intervals for the last five minutes. Here he broke down completely and roared aloud.
‘But look here, Governor,’ he said at last, ‘I’ve got to think of other things than your riots in Europe. You’ve fired on our flag.’
‘Captain, if you are me, you would have done how? And also, and also,’ he drew himself up to his full height, ‘we are both brave men of bravest countries. Our honour is the honour of our King,’ here he uncovered, ‘and of our Queen,’ here he bowed low. ‘Now, Captain, you shall shell my palace and I will be your prisoner.’
‘Skittles!’ said Bai-Jove-Judson. ‘I can’t shell that old hencoop.’
‘Then come to dinner. Madeira, she are still to us, and I have of the best she manufac.’
He skipped over the side beaming, and Bai-Jove-Judson went into the cabin to laugh his laugh out. When he had recovered a little he sent Mr. Davies to the head of the Pioneers, the dusty man with the gatlings, and the troops who had abandoned the pursuit of arms watched the disgraceful spectacle of two men reeling with laughter on the quarter-deck of a gunboat.
‘I’ll put my men to build him a custom-house,’ said the head of the Pioneers gasping. ‘We’ll make him one decent road at least. That Governor ought to be knighted. I’m glad now that we didn’t fight ’em in the open, or we’d have killed some of them. So he’s won great battles, has he? Give him the compliments of the victims, and tell him I’m coming to dinner. You haven’t such a thing as a dress-suit, have you? I haven’t seen one for six months.’
That evening there was a dinner in the village—a general and enthusiastic dinner, whose head was in the Governor’s house, and whose tail threshed at large throughout all the streets. The Madeira was everything that the Governor had said, and more, and it was tested against two or three bottles of Bai-Jove-Judson’s best Vanderhum, which is Cape brandy ten years in the bottle, flavoured with orange-peel and spices. Before the coffee was removed (by the lady who had made the flag of truce) the Governor had given the whole of his governorship and its appurtenances, once to Bai-Jove-Judson for services rendered by Judson’s grandfather in the Peninsular War; and once to the head of the Pioneers, in consideration of that gentleman’s good friendship. After the negotiation he retreated for a while into an inner apartment, and there evolved a true and complete account of the defeat of the English arms, which he read with his cocked hat over one eye to Judson and his companion. It was Judson who suggested the sinking of the flat-iron with all hands, and the head of the Pioneers who supplied the list of killed and wounded (not more than two hundred) in his command.
‘Gentlemen,’ said the Governor from under his cocked hat, ‘the peace of Europe are saved by this raporta. You shall all be Knights of the Golden Hide. She shall go by the Guadala.’
‘Great Heavens!’ said Bai-Jove-Judson, flushed but composed, ‘That reminds me that I’ve left that boat stuck on her broadside down the river. I must go down and soothe the commandante. He’ll be blue with rage. Governor, let us go a sail on the river to cool our heads. A picnic, you understand.’
‘Ya—as: everything I understand. Ho! A picnica ! You are all my prisoner, but I am a good gaoler. We shall picnic on the river, and we shall take all the girls. Come on, my prisoners.’
‘I do hope,’ said the head of the Pioneers, staring from the verandah into the roaring village, ‘that my chaps won’t set the town alight by accident. Hullo! Hullo! A guard of honour for His Excellency, the most illustrious Governor!’
Some thirty men answered the call, made a swaying line upon a more swaying course, and bore the Governor most swayingly of all high in their arms as they staggered down to the river. And the song that they sang bade them, ‘Swing, swing together, their body between their knees’; and they obeyed the words of the song faithfully, except that they were anything but ‘steady from stroke to bow.’ His Excellency the Governor slept on his uneasy litter, and did not wake when the chorus dropped him on the deck of the flat-iron.
‘Good-night and good-bye,’ said the head of the Pioneers to Judson. ‘I’d give you my card if I had it, but I’m so damned drunk I hardly know my own Club. Oh yes! It’s the Travellers. If ever we meet in town, remember me. I must stay here and look after my fellows. We’re all right in the open, now. I s’pose you’ll return the Governor some time. This is a political crisis. Good-night.’
The flat-iron went down-stream through the dark. The Governor slept on deck, and Judson took the wheel, but how he steered, and why he did not run into each bank many times, that officer does not remember. Mr. Davies did not note anything unusual, for there are two ways of taking too much, and Judson was only ward-room, not fo’c’s’le drunk. As the night grew colder the Governor woke up, and expressed a desire for whisky and soda. When that came they were nearly abreast of the stranded Guadala, and His Excellency saluted the flag that he could not see with loyal and patriotic strains.
‘They do not see. They do not hear,’ he cried. ‘Ten thousand saints! They sleep, and I have won battles! Ha!’
He started forward to the gun, which, very naturally, was loaded, pulled the lanyard, and woke the dead night with the roar of the full charge behind a common shell. That shell, mercifully, just missed the stern of the Guadala, and burst on the bank. ‘Now you shall salute your Governor,’ said he, as he heard feet running in all directions within the iron skin. ‘Why you demand so base a quarter? I am here with all my prisoners.’
In the hurly-burly and the general shriek for mercy his reassurances were not heard.
‘Captain,’ said a grave voice from the ship, ‘we have surrendered. Is it the custom of the English to fire on a helpless ship?’
‘Surrendered! Holy Virgin! I go to cut off all their heads. You shall be ate by wild ants—flog and drowned! Throw me a balcony. It is I, the Governor! You shall never surrender. Judson of my soul, ascend her inside, and send me a bed, for I am sleepy; but, oh, I will multiple time kill that captain!’
‘Oh!’ said the voice in the darkness, ‘I begin to comprehend.’ And a rope-ladder was thrown, up which the Governor scrambled, with Judson at his heels.
‘Now we will enjoy executions,’ said the Governor on the deck. ‘All these Republicans shall be shot. Little Judson, if I am not drunk, why are so sloping the boards which do not support?’
The deck, as I have said, was at a very stiff cant. His Excellency sat down, slid to leeward, and fell asleep again.
The captain of the Guadala bit his moustache furiously, and muttered in his own tongue ‘“This land is the father of great villains and the step-father of honest men.” You see our material, Captain. It is so everywhere with us. You have killed some of the rats, I hope?’
‘Not a rat,’ said Judson genially.
‘That is a pity. If they were dead, our country might send us men, but our country is dead too, and I am dishonoured on a mud-bank through your English treachery.’
‘Well, it seems to me that firing on a little tub of our size without a word of warning when you knew that the countries were at peace is treachery enough in a small way.’
‘If one of my guns had touched you, you would have gone to the bottom, all of you. I would have taken the risk with my Government. By that time it would have been——’
‘A Republic. So you really did mean fighting on your own hook! You’re rather a dangerous officer to cut loose in a navy like yours. Well, what are you going to do now?’
‘Stay here. Go away in boats. What does it matter? That drunken cat’—he pointed to the shadow in which the Governor slept—‘is here. I must take him back to his hole.’
‘Very good. I’ll tow you off at daylight if you get steam up.’
‘Captain, I warn you that as soon as she floats again I will fight you.’
‘Humbug! You’ll have lunch with me, and then you’ll take the Governor up the river.’
The captain was silent for some time. Then he said: ‘Let us drink. What must be, must be, and after all we have not forgotten the Peninsular. You will admit, Captain, that it is bad to be run upon a shoal like a mud-dredger?’
‘Oh, we’ll pull you off before you can say knife. Take care of His Excellency. I shall try to get a little sleep now.’
They slept on both ships till the morning, and then the work of towing off the Guadala began. With the help of her own engines, and the tugging and puffing of the flat-iron, she slid off the mud bank sideways into deep water, the flat-iron immediately under her stern, and the big eye of the four-inch gun almost peering through the window of the captain’s cabin.
Remorse in the shape of a violent headache had overtaken the Governor. He was uneasily conscious that he might perhaps have exceeded his powers, and the captain of the Guadala, in spite of all his patriotic sentiments, remembered distinctly that no war had been declared between the two countries. He did not need the Governor’s repeated reminders that war, serious war, meant a Republic at home, possible supersession in his command, and much shooting of living men against dead walls.
‘We have satisfied our honour,’ said the Governor in confidence. ‘Our army is appeased, and the raporta that you take home will show that we were loyal and brave. That other captain? Bah! He is a boy. He will call this a—a—Judson of my soul, how you say this is—all this affairs which have transpirated between us?’
Judson was watching the last hawser slipping through the fairlead. ‘Call it? Oh, I should call it rather a lark. Now your boat’s all right, captain. When will you come to lunch?’
‘I told you,’ said the Governor, ‘it would be a larque to him.’
‘Mother of the Saints! then what is his seriousness?’ said the captain. ‘We shall be happy to come when you will. Indeed, we have no other choice,’ he added bitterly.
‘Not at all,’ said Judson, and as he looked at the three or four shot blisters on the bows of his boat a brilliant idea took him. ‘It is we who are at your mercy. See how His Excellency’s guns knocked us about.’
‘Senor Capitan,’ said the Governor pityingly, ‘that is very sad. You are most injured, and your deck too, it is all shot over. We shall not be too severe on a beat man, shall we, Captain?’
‘You couldn’t spare us a little paint, could you? I’d like to patch up a little after the—action,’ said Judson meditatively, fingering his upper lip to hide a smile.
‘Our storeroom is at your disposition,’ said the captain of the Guadala, and his eye brightened; for a few lead splashes on gray paint make a big show.
‘Mr. Davies, go aboard and see what they have to spare—to spare, remember. Their spar-colour with a little working up should be just our freeboard tint.’
‘Oh yes. I’ll spare them,’ said Mr. Davies savagely. ‘I don’t understand this how-d’you-do and damn-your-eyes business coming one atop of the other, in a manner o’ speaking! By all rights, they’re our lawful prize, after a manner o’ sayin’.’
The Governor and the captain came to lunch in the absence of Mr. Davies. Bai-Jove-Judson had not much to offer them, but what he had was given as by a beaten foeman to a generous conqueror. When they were a little warmed—the Governor genial and the captain almost effusive—he explained quite casually over the opening of a bottle that it would not be to his interest to report the affair seriously, and it was in the highest degree improbable that the Admiral would treat it in any grave fashion.
‘When my decks are cut up’ (there was one groove across four planks), ‘and my plates buckled’ (there were five lead patches on three plates), ‘and I meet such a boat as the Guadala, and a mere accident saves me from being blown out of the water——’
‘Yes. Yes. A mere accident, Captain. The shoal buoy has been lost,’ said the captain of the Guadala.
‘Ah? I do not know this river. That was very sad. But as I was saying, when an accident saves me from being sunk, what can I do but go away—if that is possible? But I fear that I have no coal for the sea-voyage. It is very sad.’ Judson had compromised on what he knew of the French tongue as a medium of communication.
‘It is enough,’ said the Governor, waving a generous hand. ‘Judson of my soul, the coal is yours and you shall be repaired—yes, repaired all over, of your battle’s wounds. You shall go with all the honours of all the wars. Your flag shall fly. Your drum shall beat. Your, ah!—jolly-boys shall spoke their bayonets! Is it not so, Captain?’
‘As you say, Excellency. But those traders in the town. What of them?’
The Governor looked puzzled for an instant. He could not quite remember what had happened to those jovial men who had cheered him overnight. Judson interrupted swiftly: ‘His Excellency has set them to forced works on barracks and magazines, and, I think, a custom-house. When that is done they will be released, I hope, Excellency.’
‘Yes, they shall be released for your sake, little Judson of my heart.’ Then they drank the health of their respective sovereigns, while Mr. Davies superintended the removal of the scarred plank and the shot-marks on the deck and the bowplates.
‘Oh, this is too bad,’ said Judson when they went on deck. ‘That idiot has exceeded his instructions, but—but you must let me pay for this!’
Mr. Davies, his legs in the water as he sat on a staging slung over the bows, was acutely conscious that he was being blamed in a foreign tongue. He twisted uneasily, and went on with his work.
‘What is it?’ said the Governor.
‘That thick-head has thought that we needed some gold-leaf, and he has borrowed that from your storeroom, but I must make it good.’ Then in English, ‘Stand up, Mr. Davies! What the Furnace in Tophet do you mean by taking their goldleaf? My——, are we a set of hairy pirates to scoff the store-room out of a painted Levantine bumboat. Look contrite, you butt-ended, broad-breeched, bottle-bellied, swivel-eyed son of a tinker, you! My Soul alive, can’t I maintain discipline in my own ship without a hired blacksmith of a boiler-riveter putting me to shame before a yellow-nosed picaroon! Get off the staging, Mr. Davies, and go to the engine-room! Put down that leaf first, though, and leave the books where they are. I’ll send for you in a minute. Go aft!’
Now, only the upper half of Mr. Davies’s round face was above the bulwarks when this torrent of abuse descended upon him; and it rose inch by inch as the shower continued, blank amazement, bewilderment, rage, and injured pride chasing each other across it till he saw his superior officer’s left eyelid flutter on the cheek twice. Then he fled to the engineroom, and wiping his brow with a handful of cotton-waste, sat down to overtake circumstances.
‘I am desolated,’ said Judson to his companions, ‘but you see the material that they give us. This leaves me more in your debt than before. The stuff I can replace’ [gold-leaf is never carried on floating gun-platforms, ‘but for the insolence of that man how shall I apologise?’
Mr. Davies’s mind moved slowly, but after a while he transferred the cotton-waste from his forehead to his mouth and bit on it to prevent laughter. He began a second dance on the engine-room plates. ‘Neat! Oh, damned neat!’ he chuckled. ‘I’ve served with a good few, but there never was one so neat as him. And I thought he was the new kind that don’t know how to throw a few words, as it were.’
‘Mr. Davies, you can continue your work,’ said Judson down the engine-room hatch. ‘These officers have been good enough to speak in your favour. Make a thorough job of it while you are about it. Slap on every man you have. Where did you get hold of it?’
‘Their storeroom is a regular theatre, sir. You couldn’t miss it. There’s enough for two first-rates, and I’ve scoffed the best half of it.’
‘Look sharp then. We shall be coaling from her this afternoon. You’ll have to cover it all up.’
‘Neat! Oh, damned neat!’ said Mr. Davies under his breath, as he gathered his subordinates together, and set about accomplishing the long-deferred wish of Judson’s heart.
. . .   . .
It was the Martin Frobisher, the flagship, a great war-boat when she was new, in the days when men built for sail as well as for steam. She could turn twelve knots under full sail, and it was under that that she stood up the mouth of the river, a pyramid of silver beneath the moon. The Admiral, fearing that he had given Judson a task beyond his strength, was coming to look for him, and incidentally to do a little diplomatic work along the coast. There was hardly wind enough to move the Frobisher a couple of knots an hour, and the silence of the land closed about her as she entered the fairway. Her yards sighed a little from time to time, and the ripple under her bows answered the sigh. The full moon rose over the steaming swamps, and the Admiral gazing upon it thought less of Judson and more of the softer emotions. In answer to the very mood of his mind there floated across the silver levels of the water, mellowed by distance to a most poignant sweetness, the throb of a mandolin, and the voice of one who called upon a genteel Julia—upon Julia, and upon Love. The song ceased, and the sighing of the yards was all that broke the silence of the big ship.
Again the mandolin began, and the commander on the lee side of the quarter-deck grinned a grin that was reflected in the face of the signal-midshipman. Not a word of the song was lost, and the voice of the singer was the voice of Judson.
‘Last week down our alley came a toff,
Nice old geyser with a nasty cough,
Sees my missus, takes his topper off,
Quite in a gentlemanly way’—
and so on to the end of the verse. The chorus was borne by several voices, and the signal-midshipman’s foot began to tap the deck furtively.
‘“What cheer!” all the neighbours cried.
“Oo are you goin’ to meet, Bill?
’ave you bought the street, Bill?”
Laugh?—I thought I should ha’ died
When I knocked ’em in the Old Kent Road.’
It was the Admiral’s gig, rowing softly, that came into the midst of that merry little smoking-concert. It was Judson, with the beribboned mandolin round his neck, who received the Admiral as he came up the side of the Guadala, and it may or may not have been the Admiral who stayed till three in the morning and delighted the hearts of the Captain and the Governor. He had come as an unbidden guest, and he departed as an honoured one, but strictly unofficial throughout. Judson told his tale next day in the Admiral’s cabin as well as he could in the face of the Admiral’s gales of laughter; but the most amazing tale was that told by Mr. Davies to his friends in the dockyard at Simon’s Town from the point of view of a second-class engine-room artificer, all unversed in diplomacy.
And if there be no truth either in my tale, which is Judson’s tale, or the tales of Mr. Davies’ you will not find in harbour at Simon’s Town today a flat-bottomed, twin-screw gunboat, designed solely for the defence of rivers, about two hundred and seventy tons displacement and five feet draught, wearing in open defiance of the rules of the Service a gold line on her gray paint. It follows also that
you will be compelled to credit that version of the fray which, signed by His Excellency the Governor and despatched in the Guadala, satisfied the self-love of a great and glorious people, and saved a monarchy from the ill-considered despotism which is called a Republic.