MacHassan Ah - Talbot Mundy - ebook

MacHassan Ah ebook

Talbot Mundy



This was not until they left their right front and went to a narrow, single-track road that lay under the wall and was securely guarded. Suddenly there appeared an awkward Asian gentleman, who once was the image of a Biblical shepherd.

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Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5


Waist-held in the chains and soused in the fifty-foot-high spray, Joe Byng eyed his sounding lead that swung like a pendulum below him, and named it sacrilege.

“This ‘ere navy ain’t a navy no more,” he muttered. “This ‘ere’s a school- gal promenade, ‘and-in-’and, an’ mind not to get your little trotters wet, that’s what this is, so ‘elp me two able seamen an’ a red marine!”

From the moment that the lookout, lashed to the windlass drum up forward, had spied the little craft away to leeward and had bellowed his report of it through hollowed hands between the thunder of the waves, Joe Byng had had premonitory symptoms of uneasiness. He had felt in his bones that the navy was about to be nose-led into shame.

At the wheel, both eyes on the compass, as the sea law bids, but both ears on the more-even-than-usual-alert, Curley Crothers felt the same sensations but expressed them otherwise.

“Admiral’s orders!” he muttered. “Maybe the admiral was drunk?”

The brass gongs clanged down in the bowels of H.M.S. Puncher and she gradually lost what little weigh she had, rolling her bridge ends under in the heave and hollow of a beam-on monsoon sea.

“How much does he say he wants?” asked her commander.

Joe Byng in the chains and Curley Crothers at the wheel both recognized the quarter tone instantly, and diagnosed it with deadly accuracy; every vibration of his voice and every fiber of his being expressed exasperation, though a landsman might have noticed no more than contempt for what he had seen fit to log as “half a gale.”

“He says he’ll take us in for fifty pounds, sir.”

“Oh! Tell him to make it shillings, or else to get out of my course!”

It is not much in the way of Persian Gulf Arabic that a man picks up from textbooks but at garnering the business end of beach-born dialects – the end that gets results at least expense of time or energy – the Navy goes even the Army half a dozen better. The sublieutenant’s argument, bawled from the bridge rail to the reeling little boat below, was a marvel in its own sweet way; it combined abuse and scorn with a cataclysmic blast of threat in six explosive sentences.

“He says he’ll take us in for ten pounds, sir,” he reported, without the vestige of a smile.

“Oh! Ask Mr. Hartley to step up on the bridge, will you?”

Two minutes later, during which the nasal howls from the boat were utterly ignored, the acting chief engineer hauled himself along the rail hand over hand to windward, ducking below the canvas guard as a more than usually big comber split against the Puncher’s side and hove itself to heaven.

“It beats me how any man can keep a coat on him this weather,” he remarked, and the sublieutenant noticed that the streams that ran down both his temples were not sea water. “Send for me?”

His temper, judging by his voice, would seem to be a lot worse than could be due to the pitching of the ship.

“Yes. There’s a pilot overside, and our orders are to take a pilot aboard when running in, if available. There are three men bailing that boat below there, and the sea’s gaining on them. They’ll need rescuing within two hours. Then we’d have a pilot aboard and would have saved the government ten pounds. Point is, can you manage in the engine-room for two or three hours longer? Three more waves like that last one and the man’s ours anyway!”

“He might not wait two hours,” suggested Mr. Hartley. “He might get tired of looking at us, and beat back into port. Then where would be your strategy?”

“Then there wouldn’t be a pilot available. I’d be justified in going in without one. Point is, can you hold out below?”

“Man,” said Mr. Hartley, “you’re a genius.” He peered through the spray down to leeward, where the pilot’s boat danced a death dance alongside, heel and toe to the Puncher’s statelier swing. “Yes; there are three men bailing, and you’re a genius. But no! The answer’s no! The engines’ll keep on turning, maybe and perhaps, until we make the shelter o’ yon reef. There’s no knowing what a cherry-red bearing will do. I can give ye maybe fifteen knots; maybe a leetle more for just five minutes, for steerage way and luck, and after that–”

Even crouched as he was against the canvas guard he contrived to shrug his shoulders.

“But if we go in there are you sure you can contrive to patch her up? It looks like a rotten passage, and not much of a berth beyond it.”

“I could cool her down.”

“Oh, if that’s all you want, I can anchor outside in thirty fathoms.”

Curley Crothers heard that and his whole frame stiffened; there seemed a chance yet that the Navy might not be disgraced. But it faded on the instant.

“Man, we’ve got to go inside and we’ve got to hurry! Better in there than at the bottom of the Gulf! Put her where she’ll hold still for a day, or maybe two days–”

“Say a month!” suggested the commander caustically.

“Say three days for the sake of argument. Then I can put her to rights. I daren’t take down a thing while she’s rolling twenty-five and more, and I’ve got to take things down! Why, man, the engine-room is all pollution from gratings to bilge; if I loosened one more bolt than is loose a’ready her whole insides ‘ud take charge and dance quadrilles until we drowned!”

“You won’t try to make Bombay?”

“I’ll try to give ye steam as far as the far side o’ yon reef. After that I wash my hands of a’ responsibility!”

“Oh, very well. Mr. White!”

The sublieutenant hauled himself in turn to windward. Curley Crothers gave the wheel a half-spoke and looked as if he had no interest in anything. Joe Byng in the chains bowed his head and groaned inwardly; his sticky, spray- washed lead seemed all-absorbing.

“Tell that black robber to hurry aboard, unless he wants me to come in without him.”

The little boat had drifted fast before the wind, and the sublieutenant had to bellow through a megaphone to where the three men bailed and the ragged oarsmen swung their weight against the storm. The man of ebony, who would be pilot and disgrace the Navy, balanced on a thwart with wide-spread naked toes and yelled an ululating answer. With his rags out-blown in the monsoon he looked like a sea wraith come to life. The big gongs clanged again, and the Puncher drifted rather than drove down on the smaller craft. A hand line caught the pilot precisely in the face. He grabbed it frantically, fell headlong in the sea, and was hauled aboard.

“He says he wants a tow for that boat of his,” reported the sublieutenant. “Said it in English, too – seems he knows more than he pretends.”

“Missed it, by gad, by just about five minutes!” said the commander aloud but to himself. “Well – the bargain’s made, so it can’t be helped. That boat’s sinking! Throw ‘em a line, quick!”

The pilot’s crew displayed no overdone affection for their craft, and there was no struggle to the last to leave it. One by one – whichever could grab the line first was the first to come – they were hauled through the thundering waves and their boat was left to sink. Then, before they could adjust their unaccustomed feet to the different balance of the Puncher’s heaving deck, the gongs clanged and the destroyer leaped ahead like a dripping sea-soused water beetle, into her utmost speed that instant.

All conscious of his new-won dignity, and utterly regardless of his boat, the pilot had found the bridge at once. He clung to the rail there and braced one naked foot against a stanchion. To him the ship’s speed seemed the all- absorbing thing, for either Mr. Hartley had forgotten just how many revolutions would make fifteen knots or else he had underestimated his engine-room’s capacity. The Puncher split the waves and spewed them twenty feet above her, racing head-on for the reef, and Curley Crothers was too busy at his wheel to pass the pilot the surreptitious insult he intended.

The gongs clanged presently, and the Puncher swallowed half her speed at once, giving the pilot courage.

“This exceedingly damn dangerous place, sah!” he remarked.

“No bottom at eight!” sang Joe Byng in the chains.

Three words passed between the commander and Crothers, and the Puncher hove a weed-draped underside high over the crest of a beam-on roller as she veered a dozen points, ducked her starboard rail into the trough of it, and sliced her long thin nose, sizzling and swirling, into the welter ahead. It was growing weedier and dirtier each minute.

“No bottom at eight!” chanted Joe Byng.

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This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.