The Boy Fortune Hunters in China - L. Frank Baum - ebook

The Boy Fortune Hunters in China ebook

L. Frank Baum

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The fourth in a series, „The Boy Fortune Hunters in China” appeared in 1909, published by Reilly & Britton under Baum’s pseudonym, Floyd Akers. Unlike most of L. Frank Baum’s work, the series is told in first person narrative by the protagonist, 16 year-old Sam Steele. Sam’s father is a sea captain who was reported killed in a shipwreck. After being cheated of his inheritance, he finds his uncle and they set sail in the Pacific. Here, Sam Steele and his two pals, Joe and Archie, have fished a wounded Chinese Prince out of the ocean. Prince Kai Lun Po rewards the boys with detailed directions on how to plunder his family tomb of its treasure and he gives them his blessing to do so. All the boys have to do is get to China, hoodwink the palace staff, and get past Fo-Chu, the Sacred Ape that guards the treasure! Come adventuring with young Sam on one of his most exciting and dangerous adventures in China!

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Contents

FOREWORD

CHAPTER I. A SEA TRAGEDY

CHAPTER II. PRINCE KAI LUN PU

CHAPTER III. SMILING AT DEATH

CHAPTER IV. A STARTLING PROPOSITION

CHAPTER V. THE HALLS OF HIS ANCESTORS

CHAPTER VI. “OLD DEATH’S-HEAD.”

CHAPTER VII. WE BECOME CONSPIRATORS

CHAPTER VIII. DR. GAYLORD’S PROPOSAL

CHAPTER IX. WE OUTWIT MAI LO

CHAPTER X. AN UNHEEDED WARNING

CHAPTER XI. AN UNEXPECTED DESERTION

CHAPTER XII. MAI LO MAKES A DISCOVERY

CHAPTER XIII. THE ELEPHANT TRAIN

CHAPTER XIV. THE CHIEF EUNUCH

CHAPTER XV. THE ROYAL HOUSE OF KAI

CHAPTER XVI. THE GOVERNOR SHOWS HIS TEETH

CHAPTER XVII. WI-TO PROVES FAITHFUL

CHAPTER XVIII. THE SACRED APES OF KAI

CHAPTER XIX. THE PEARL OF KAI-NONG

CHAPTER XX. “THREE LITTLE MAIDS FROM SCHOOL.”

CHAPTER XXI. AN UNLAWFUL INTERVIEW

CHAPTER XXII. THE SECRET PASSAGE

CHAPTER XXIII. THE TREASURE OF THE ANCIENTS

CHAPTER XXIV. THE ROYAL CABINET

CHAPTER XXV. THE TRAP IS SPRUNG

CHAPTER XXVI. A FEARFUL ENCOUNTER

CHAPTER XXVII. THE BATTLE IN THE CORRIDOR

CHAPTER XXVIII. THE VENGEANCE OF THE RUBY SCIMITAR

CHAPTER XXIX. THE SEVERED HEAD

CHAPTER XXX. THE POOL OF THE DEVIL-FISH

FOREWORD

Those readers who have penetrated far into the Chinese Empire, as has the author, will be quick to discover that he has substituted for the name of the Thibetan Province one that will not be recognized.

The reasons for this are evident. Ancestor worship is still the prevailing creed of the most numerous class of Chinese, and a violation of the sanctity of any ancestral chih, or underground tomb, would naturally be resented if it disgraced a family so important as that of a royal prince of the realm.

The Chinese characters presented in the story are drawn from life. Prince Kai Lun Pu is a well-known type of the liberal-minded, educated young men who are the best guarantee of the future expansion of the Celestial Empire. The rule of the Chief Eunuch still dominates every palace in China, and even the efforts of the late Dowager Empress could not restrain the encroaching powers of these masterful creatures.

The manners and customs herein described will serve to acquaint those who have not visited China with some of the most curious traditions of that ancient race, while the adventures related, startling as they are, are fully within the bounds of possibility.

CHAPTER I. A SEA TRAGEDY

The sinking of the first-class passenger steamship Karamata Maru in the neighborhood of Hawaii on June 17, 1908, has been the subject of so much newspaper comment that doubtless the reader imagines he knows all the circumstances connected with the fatal affair. But I have carefully read these newspaper reports and am astonished to find them quite perverted and unreliable, the result of carelessness or ignorance on the part of correspondents, the desire of officials to shield themselves from blame and the tendency of editors to amplify scant material into three-column articles with numerous “scare heads.”

I may well speak with authority in this connection, because it was our ship, the Seagull, which first arrived at the scene of the disaster and rescued the passengers and crew of the ill-fated Karamata Maru from their imminent peril So I shall tell you the story in my own way, as it has an important bearing on the extraordinary events that afterward took place–events which have led me to write this book, and place on record a series of adventures so remarkable as to have been seldom if ever equalled.

To begin with, I beg to introduce myself as Sam Steele, of Chelsea, Massachusetts, eighteen, years of age and filling the responsible position of purser and assistant supercargo on the trim little merchantman yacht, the Seagull. Indeed, I am one of the three owners of our ship, the others being my father, Captain Richard Steele, and my uncle, Naboth Perkins. My father is a seasoned and experienced seaman, who has sailed in nearly every navigable part of the world. My uncle is an expert trader and an honest man–a combination that accounts for his great success in his profession.

Circumstances placed me on shipboard at an early age, and in the course of several long and eventful voyages I have encountered many adventures and queer happenings that have made me richer in experience than most young fellows.

One may remain modest and unassuming, I think, and still bear witness to the truth of adventures in which he has participated. It is not because I love to speak of myself that I am telling my own story, but because I have full knowledge of those events in which I bore a personal part, and so am qualified to relate them. And you will discover, when I have finished the tale, that I have not posed as a hero, but merely as a subordinate actor in the drama–what, I believe, is called a “walking gentleman” or “general utility man” in theatrical parlance. The theatre being, at its best, a reflection of real life, the illustration is permissible.

It will be necessary to tell you something about the company assembled aboard the Seagull when she began her voyage from San Francisco early in May to carry a cargo of mixed merchandise to Canton, China.

The Seagull has no regular itinerary, but sails a free lance in any sea and to any country where it may be profitable for her to go. Both my father and Uncle Naboth have adventurous natures, and prefer to let fate direct their future rather than attempt to plan a succession of tedious and uninteresting voyages which might mean surer gain but would afford less excitement. This has resulted, however, in a neat fortune for each of the Seagull’s three owners, and our success has encouraged us to persist in our eccentric methods. In the merchant service our beautiful ship is dubbed a “tramp,” and I and my chums are called “the Boy Fortune Hunters,” Uncle Naboth “the Yankee Trader” and Captain Steele “crazy old Peg-leg,”–because poor father has really a wooden leg, which in no way, however, renders him less able as a skipper. But we laugh at this harmless raillery and, well knowing that we are envied by many who thus banter us, pursue our own way with unconcern.

So it happened that after a prosperous voyage around the Horn, to deliver a valuable cargo of tin-plate to the great canning factories of Oregon and Washington, we had barely anchored in the bay at San Francisco before we received a commission to sail to Canton with a cargo of merchandise. This suited us all; but none better than me, for I had long desired to visit China, Japan and the Philippines. Also it suited Joe Herring, our cabin boy and my particular friend; and it suited Archie Ackley, a well-to-do young fellow who had sailed with us on a former voyage and passed as my chum. Archie was a reckless, adventurous sort of chap, and had made the trip around the Horn on the Seagull to give a broken leg time to knit perfectly, the said leg having been damaged in a foolish wrestling bout.

I am sure you would shake your head dubiously if I were to recount all of the characteristics of this youth which had endeared him to our little ship’s company. I should be obliged to say, for instance, that Archie was stubborn as a mule, conceited as a peacock, reckless of all conventionalities, and inclined to quarrel and fight on the slightest provocation. But I should hasten to add that he was brave as a lion and tender as a woman to those he loved. His loyalty had been fully proven on the occasion of that former voyage to which I have referred, when he accompanied us to Egypt and won our hearts completely.

Archie was about my age; but Joe, our cabin boy, was a little younger, and as staunch a friend and queer a character in his way as you will ever be able to find on this astonishing earth.

Joe is rich. He could purchase a mate to the Seagull and never feel the expenditure. He could sail on our craft, if he chose, as an honored guest; but he prefers to remain a cabin-boy. Yet, in truth, there is little caste among us, and if Joe prefers to have duties to occupy him during a voyage, and fulfils those duties admirably, no one admires him less for that reason. Captain Steele slaps him on the shoulder as fondly and familiarly as he does Archie or me, and fat little Uncle Naboth locks arms with Joe and promenades the deck with him for hours.

A slight, stooping lad, is Joe, with great dark eyes, steady and true, and a faint smile always curling his lips. His face is sensitive and expressive, and in his slender frame lurk strength and agility that are positively amazing when they are called into action. Yet he is a silent fellow, though by no means unsociable, and when he speaks you are inclined to pay attention, for you know that Joe has something to say. We three boys were inseparable comrades at the time of which I am writing, although perhaps Joe and I were a little closer to each other than we were to Archie.

The ship’s crew were staunch and able-bodied seamen, carefully selected by my father, and our engineers were picked men of proven ability. But I must not forget to introduce to you two important characters in the persons of our chef and steward. The former was a South Sea Islander named Bryonia, and the latter another South Sea Islander named Nux. I say “named” advisedly, for Uncle Naboth named them in this queer way when he rescued the poor natives from an open boat years ago and restored them to life by liberal doses of nux and bryonia–the only medicines that happened to be in his possession at the time. They were, of course, unable to speak English, at first; but they learned rapidly and were devoted to Uncle Naboth, and afterward to me. Indeed, I had come to regard both Nux and Bry as my own personal followers, and well had they proven their claim to this title. They were nearly as dark as Africans, but very intelligent and faithful in every emergency. In addition to these qualities Bry was a capital cook, while as a steward Nux was unsurpassed, and looked after our comforts in a way so solicitous that he really spoiled us.

We were about ten days out of the Golden Gate and had left Honolulu well on our starboard quarter, when one evening we ran into a dense fog that could almost be felt. It set the deck hands all coughing and wetted them to the skin; so we all shut ourselves up aft in the cabin and Captain Steele slowed the Seagull down to half speed and kept the fog-horn blowing every half-minute. We believed there was little danger in this part of the broad Pacific, although every sailor dreads a fog as he does a ghost and is uneasy until it lifts.

Uncle Naboth and Archie played checkers on one end of the cabin table while Joe and I had a quiet game of cribbage together. Father smoked his pipe and darned stockings under the light of the swinging lamp, for Ned Britton, the first mate, was in charge of the deck, and no better sailor than Ned, or one more careful, ever was born.

So we passed the evening of the 16th of June pleasantly enough, in spite of the drenching fog outside, and when the watch changed all of us save Captain Steele turned into our bunks and fell asleep without minding the weird wail of the fog-horn in the least. It is the kind of noise you forget to listen to when you get used to it.

I was roused from my slumbers by the agitated shuffling of feet on the deck overhead, the violent ringing of the engine bells for the ship to go astern and a medley of shouts and orders through which my father’s clarion voice could be distinctly heard.

Before I was fully awake I found myself standing on the floor and fumbling with my clothes, instinct guiding me rather than knowledge of what was impending. Danger there was, I realized, and I noticed that my cabin was dimly lighted, as though by the break of day. A moment later I rushed on deck, to find all crowding at the starboard bulwarks and peering out into the mist.

Suddenly–scarce a boat’s length away, it seemed–there came a terrific crash and a grinding of timbers, followed by shrieks and cries so heartrending that I found myself shuddering with horror. Yet not a man of us moved. We stood as if turned to stone. For it was not the Seagull that had struck; but behind the impenetrable curtain of the fog a tragedy of the sea was being enacted that was terrible enough to curdle the blood in our veins; for we realized that Death was claiming his victims from the men and women of some unknown vessel.

Then, by one of those marvelous transformations wrought by Nature, the fog instantly lifted and dissipated, and there before us was a sight that wrung moans, curses or shouts from our very hearts, so awful was it.

A big liner–the Karamata Maru, we afterward learned–had driven her bow straight into the broad side of a great freighter, a derelict known as the Admiral Swain, which had been abandoned in a storm a month earlier.

The Karamata Maru had crushed through the sides of the derelict and then her bow had lifted and slid high and dry across it, plunging the stern of the liner deep into the sea. In this terrible position the great liner trembled a moment and then broke in two. Her steel plates buckled and crumbled like tin, and the crash that followed as she splintered and tore asunder was greater than that when she struck. Again we heard the screams and terrified cries of the poor victims and as the sea rushed madly into the gaping compartments and the escaping steam hissed from the open seams, scores of men and women threw themselves into the water in an effort to escape what seemed a more horrible fate than drowning.

We saw and heard all this, for the Seagull had lost headway and floated gently a short distance from the scene of the tragedy. But the next moment we awoke to action. Every life preserver and rope’s end we could muster flew overboard and our boats were manned and lowered in a twinkling. Big Ned Britton, the mate, was the first to put off in the cutter, and was picking the struggling forms from the sea long before the whaler was on the scene and assisting in the work of rescue. I took the gig myself and at once found my task so arduous that I had little time to mark what the other boats were doing. I only know that we all accomplished wonders, and every man, woman and child that managed to float until we reached them was rescued. Fortunately the sea was calm, and the light breeze that had dissipated the fog merely rippled the waves.

At last, as I looked around for more survivors, someone hailed me from the wreck of the Karamata Maru and I bade my men row swiftly to her side. Already the great liner rode so low that the little group awaiting me was almost on a level with my head, and I realized that I was in a dangerous position in case she sank. The freighter also was filling rapidly.

First those on the Karamata Maru lowered an injured man into the gig, and two attendants–one the ship’s doctor, I afterward learned–came with him.

“Hurry, gentlemen,” I called to the others; but they shook their heads and retreated from the side.

“It’s no use, sir,” growled the doctor. “They’re ship’s officers and won’t leave their charge. Cast off, for God’s sake, or we’ll follow her to the bottom when she sinks!”

I obeyed, seized with a sudden panic at the warning words, and my men rowed lustily from the dangerous neighborhood of the wreck.

We reached the side of the Seagull just as Ned had assisted the last of his rescued passengers up the ladder, and I made haste to get my own aboard. The injured man had fainted. I noticed that he was a Chinaman, although dressed in European costume, and that he was an object of great solicitude on the part of his attendant and the doctor. We put him in a sling and hoisted him up the side, and after the others had followed and I was preparing to mount the ladder myself a mighty shout from our deck arrested my attention. I turned quickly, just in time to see the awful climax to this disaster. The derelict and the liner sank together, and the sea gave a great gasp and closed over them, whirling and seething about the spot as if a thousand sea-monsters were disporting themselves there. The suction was so great that had we not already caught the davit falls the gig would have assuredly been drawn into the whirlpool, while the ship to which I clung trembled in every beam, as if with horror at the sight she had witnessed.

CHAPTER II. PRINCE KAI LUN PU

When I gained the deck of the Seagull an affecting sight met my eyes. It was crowded thick with despairing and agitated men and women, for all had lost their possessions and many their friends and relatives within the preceding half hour. Bry had brewed huge pots of coffee, for the morning air was still chilly and the rescued ones had nearly all been pulled from the water; so, our hearts full of pity for the poor wretches, we tried to comfort and cheer them as well as lay within our power.

The collision happened at twenty minutes after five in the morning; by six o’clock all the rescued were on the deck of the Seagull. We found we picked up two hundred and eighteen out of the three hundred and twenty-seven who had constituted the passengers and crew of the ill-fated Karamata Maru. One hundred and nine, including the Japanese officers, who deliberately went down with their ship, had perished.

It was nine o’clock before the steamship Nagasaki Maru hove in sight, and eleven when she came alongside us. I make this positive statement despite the inaccurate newspaper reports to the effect that the Nagasaki Maru was at the scene of the collision and assisted the Seagull to rescue the survivors.

Of course the Nagasaki Maru, belonging to the same line as the lost Karamata Maru, promptly transferred all the rescued ones to her own decks; and that was just as well, because our ship was too small to carry them all in comfort, and we were really under no obligations to do more than we had already done. The Karamata Maru had been bound for Japan, so the Nagasaki Maru, being on her way to San Francisco, undertook to leave the passengers and crew of her sister ship at Honolulu until they could be picked up by some other west-bound ship.

As they steamed away from us the poor survivors who swarmed upon her decks saluted us with a hearty cheer of gratitude for our services, and this appreciation fully repaid us.

As I stood leaning over the rail and watching the fast receding Nagasaki Maru, Joe touched my elbow.

“Lunch is ready, Sam.”

Then I remembered that I had eaten nothing except a cup of Bryonia’s coffee since early morning, and I quickly went below. Already we had steamed away upon our course and the midday sun was shining brightly overhead.

I found all our ship’s officers assembled in the saloon except the second mate, old Eli Trent, who had the deck watch, and during the meal we naturally discoursed at length upon the exciting events of the morning.

I had nearly finished luncheon when our steward, Nux, whispered over my shoulder:

“Chinaman wants to see you, Marse Sam.”

“What Chinaman, Nux?” I asked in surprise.

“Hurt man, Marse Sam. He in front stateroom.”

I looked inquiringly at my father.

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