The Penang Pirate

John C. Hutcheson
The Penang Pirate
by John Conroy Hutcheson
"Aye, aye, bo!"
"Guess this'll be a rum v'yage, mate."
"Why, old shellback?"
"'Cause I can't make out why we are wasting our time here, with the
cargo all aboard and the wind fair."
"Don't you fret yourself about that, Jem Backstay. The skipper knows
what he's a-doing, and has got a heap o' 'sponsibility on them shoulders
o' his'n--a fine ship and a valuable cargo to get home safe to old
h'England with a short crew, and a lot o' murderin', blood-suckin'
pirates all over the h'Indian seas!"
"Pirates, Bill!"
"Ay, pirates! I spoke plain enough, didn't I? But you needn't shiver in
your skin like one of them white-livered Lascars we've got aboard in
place of honest sailors, worse luck! You needn't have no cause to fear
for the number o' your mess, bo; the cap'en--God bless him!--will see
us safe through, you may be sure."
"Right you are, Bill; you know the old man better nor I, and I s'pose
he's taking cautions like?"

"No fear, mate. He's got his head screwed on right enough, my bo."
"And that's the reason, p'raps, he'd that long palaver with the admiral's
flagship afore we come up the river?"
"Ay," said Bill sententiously; "may be so."
"Well, Bill, if so be there's pirates about, they might do a'most as they
likes wi' us, for I don't think there are three cutlasses aboard, and ne'er a
musket as I can see, and only powder enough to fire off that little
popgun there to summons a pilot."
"Aye," answered the other nonchalantly.
The Hankow Lin was lying in the Pearl River, off Whampoa, some
twelve miles below Canton, to which anchorage all sailing vessels
having business at this port of the Celestial Empire are restricted by the
mandarins, only steamers being permitted to ascend the reaches of the
river to the city proper and anchor in front of Shah Mien, the English
The vessel had shipped all her tea and silk, which formed a valuable
cargo; and, with her anchor hove short, so that she seemed to ride just
over it, and her topsails loose all handy to let fall and sheet home, she
appeared ready to start at a moment's notice on her homeward
voyage--down the ugly Canton River and across the pathless Indian
seas and the miles of weary ocean journey that lay between her and her
final destination, "the tight little island," with its now historical "streak
of silver sea," supposed to guard it from Continental invasion.
What delayed the Hankow Lin?
Ah! her captain could tell perhaps, for it might be taken for granted that
there was some urgent reason for his remaining here with no possible
object to gain when his cargo was stowed and the ship homeward-
bound. The seamen could make nothing of it, however; and there was
much grumbling forwards at this unlooked-for hitch in their departure
from the land of "chin chins" and "no bony Johnny."

Jem Backstay, who was a stalwart, able-bodied seaman, and as smart a
"hand" as could be found in a day's cruise, did not appear at all
convinced by what his chum Bill, the boatswain, had said, for he
returned again to the conversation after the latter had apparently ended
it with his monosyllabic "aye."
"Lor', mate!" said he, "I thinks your old brains are wool-gathering
about pirates. I've been sailing in these here China seas since I were no
higher than your thumb and I never see none."
"Haven't you?" muttered the other disdainfully.
"No, never a one."
"And you've never seen none of 'em h'executed, as I have, at Canton, in
batches of a dozen or more?"
"No, Bill; how does they do it?"
"Why, mate, they makes the beggars all kneel down in a row, with their
hands tied behind them so that they can't put 'em up. Then a chap
comes along--I s'pose he's called their Jack Ketch--and he carries a
sword that's partly made like a cutlass and partly like a butcher's
cleaver, with which he slices off all their heads like so many carrots."
"Yes, bo; and the funny thing is to see this executioner chap going
along behind all the kneeling figures, afore he knocks their heads off,
and pulling this one here and a-shovin' that one theer, so arrangin' on
'em that he can have a clean stroke when he ups with his sword."
"Lor'!" exclaimed the other on hearing this description.
"Yes, bo, it's all true as gospel what I'm a-tellin' on you. The hangman
chap don't seem to make no more account of them poor devils than if
they wos so many wooden dummies, like them `Quaker guns' as they
call--cos they
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