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In the grip of the Mullah

Posted by ploymeesin in Books & Reference | June 5, 2013 | 0 Comments

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“Perim!” shouted Colonel Hubbard, placing his hand to his mouth, and his lips close to the ear of his friend Major Bellamy. “The island of Perim, or I am much mistaken. It lies in the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, and has proved the destruction of more than one fine vessel. I can tell you that, on this dark night and with this fierce gale blowing, we are lucky to have caught even a glimpse of the light, and still more fortunate to have slipped by in safety. Now we leave the Red Sea, and run into the Gulf of Aden, where we shall feel the full force of the wind and waves. However, what does that matter? Better plenty of water all round, even though it is lashed into frenzy, than a lee shore close at hand, a dark night, and no bearings to steer by. Halloa, there’s the flash of the light again!”

Clinging with one hand to the rail which ran round the saloon, the speaker pointed eagerly into the darkness. Aided by the faint gleam of the electric lamp which was suspended from the spar deck above their heads, his comrade, Major Bellamy, followed the direction of his finger, and having watched for a few seconds, suddenly exclaimed:

“Yes, colonel, you’re right! I could have sworn that there was nothing but inky blackness over in that direction. But there’s no doubt about the matter. The light is flashing in that quarter, I’ll stake my word upon it. Won’t our skipper be joyful! I heard him saying, an hour or more ago, that our safety depended upon his sighting the island; and there it is, sure enough. Well it’s a great relief, and now I can turn in with some degree of assurance. I’m not nervous, you know, colonel, but, by Jove, a storm like this, and a pitch dark night such as we are experiencing, make one a little anxious in spite of one’s self. Now, if it were on land, and we were in an enemy’s country, I should feel far more at my ease. I’d double the pickets, of course, so as to give the boys a little more courage, don’t you know; for even a soldier feels queer when posted a couple of hundred yards away from his fellows, especially if he knows that a score or more of niggers are probably crawling round like ghosts, ready to fall upon him at any moment. Yes, I’ve had experience of that, and I well remember how fidgety I was, for we were fighting on the West Coast, and knew well that the natives of Ashantee were as cruel and as cunning as they make ‘em. So I’d double the pickets, colonel, and I’d make a point of going round to inspect them, and at the same time to encourage them, every quarter of an hour. Depend upon it, nothing like letting Thomas Atkins know that his officer is at hand, taking an interest in him, and ready to help him at any moment.”

“Just so,” responded the colonel, clinging the while with all his strength to the rail, for the steamer was rolling and plunging heavily. “Quite right, Bellamy; I’d do the same. But what can our poor skipper do? He can’t send out sentries, and if he could they would be useless on a night like this. He must just trust to his eyes, and to his skill as a navigator. But, thank Heaven, we are out of the Red Sea and well on our way for India. Heigho! I’m sleepy, and, like you, want to turn in. Good-night! Let’s hope the sea will have gone down by morning.”

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