In the Hands of the Malays
by George Alfred Henty
On the 1st of May, 1669, a man was standing at the edge of the shore of
a rocky island, one of a group of a dozen or so similar in character,
lying off the south-western portion of Sumatra. It would have been
difficult to fix his nationality. The outline of the face was Arab; the
colour of the skin showed that though one or other of his parents had
been white, the other had been either Arab or Malay. He stood looking
after a Dutch vessel, carrying guns, like all those engaged at that time
in the Eastern trade. His hands were clenched, and he was regarding the
ship with an expression of malignant hate.
Close by where he stood, a roughly-made grave piled with rocks, with a
wooden cross standing at its head, showed that a Christian had been
buried there. Any seaman of the time who had seen the man would have
rightly concluded that he had been marooned for some crime committed on
board the ship that was sailing away, and their judgment would have
been a correct one.
The Dordrecht, a Dutch merchantman carrying sixteen guns, was
chartered by a dozen rich citizens of Holland, who had sailed in her,
determined to take up land, to settle, and to cultivate the plants that
grew in the island of Java on a large scale. Some were traders, others
had been tempted by the tales of the wealth of the island, where the
Dutch had, fifty years before, acquired a settlement by conquest. The
ship had touched at the Cape to take in a fresh supply of water and fill
up with provisions. They had lost their cook overboard in a storm, and
thought themselves fortunate in engaging in his place a man who had
served with the governor there, and who was recommended as thoroughly
understanding his work, whose only drawback was that he possessed a
passionate and revengeful disposition, which had led to his dismissal
from his office. This, in a vessel carrying a strong crew and some fifty
soldiers, was not considered of any importance, and the man speedily
justified his recommendation in other respects.
"I don't like the fellow," the lieutenant in command of the troops said
to his subaltern one day, when they were a month out from the Cape. "I
grant you that he is a good cook, but if I offended him I should not
care to touch any food he handled. The fellow is capable of poisoning a
whole crew to get his revenge on one of them."
The other laughed. "I grant he has an evil face, Van Houten, but I think
that you are a little prejudiced. I own, though, that I felt inclined to
knock him down myself this afternoon, when he stood at the door of the
galley staring at Fraulein Meyers through his half-closed eyes. He put
me in mind of a cat watching a mouse."
"Yes, I have noticed it myself several times," the other said hotly. "It
is hardly a thing one can take up. The fellow might declare that it was
not her that he was looking at, but that he was merely meditating; and
to tell you the truth, although I am no coward, I would rather not make
a mortal enemy of that man. I have no fancy for being stabbed to the
heart while I am asleep. If he said or did anything insolent it would be
another matter. I would have him ironed and sent down below, and kept
there till we got to Batavia."
The other laughed again. "You would get into hot water with all the
passengers, Van Houten; the fellow cooks so well that they are always
singing his praises."
"Yes, there has been a great improvement in the diet since we left the
Cape; but still, even at the risk of displeasing the worshipful
passengers, I would put the fellow in irons did he give me the shadow of
an excuse. I should not be surprised if he did so, for of late I have
observed a malignant look on his face as his eyes fell upon me. It is
absurd to suppose that the hound feels any ill-will towards me because I
am a good deal with Fraulein Meyers. The assumption is too monstrous,
but I really don't see any other reason for him to dislike me. I have
never spoken to him since he came on board."
"Perhaps the matter will be taken out of your hands altogether," the
other said. "I heard the mate having a row with him this morning, and
certainly he is not likely to put up with any nonsense; and he is strong
enough to pick the Arab, or whatever he is, up with one hand and throw
"I am not quite so sure about that, Erasmus. He looks small beside the
mate, I acknowledge, but I should say that what there is of him is all
sinew and muscle, and it would be like a fight between a panther and a
A week later the passengers were down at dinner. They were in high
spirits, for the hills of Sumatra were dimly visible on the port side,
and another two or three days' sail would take them to Batavia. Suddenly
a shout was heard, and then a sudden uproar. The captain and Van Houten
ran up. On the deck lay the mate stabbed to the heart, while the cook,
with a knife in his hand, was struggling in the grasp of half a dozen
"How did this happen?" the captain asked as he came up to the group.
"I don't know how it began," one of the crew said, "but the cook was
standing at the door of his galley, the mate said something to him, and
the cook burst into a volley of curses. The mate knocked him down, but
he was up in a moment. With his knife in his hand he flung himself upon
the mate, and the latter fell, as you see. Two or three of us who were
close by threw ourselves on the cook, but it was hard work to hold him,
for he fought like a wild cat, and he had slashed some of us before we
could get hold of his wrists."
"Drop that knife!" the captain said sternly; but the man was half-mad
with passion and continued to struggle desperately. Van Houten caught up
a belaying pin from its place and struck him heavily on his fingers. The
knife dropped to the deck, and one of the soldiers snatched it up. The
man instantly ceased struggling and stood impassive, although his breast
still heaved with his exertion; then he said in a quiet voice to the
young officer: "That is another I owe you, Van Houten, but I will get
even with you one day."
"Your threat is an idle one," the captain said. "At sunset you shall
swing from the yard-arm. Tie him up tightly, men, and fasten him to the
mast. Carry the mate's body forward, and throw a flag over it. We will
bury him after we have done with this fellow."
Going below, the captain briefly stated what had occurred.
"But you will not hang him, captain, will you?" one of the lady
passengers said. "It is awful that the mate should have been killed, but
you see he gave the most terrible provocation. It would be a sad ending
to our voyage if a man were hanged on board. Could you not hand him over
to the authorities when we get to Batavia?"
"No, madam. I certainly might do so, but the chances are that the fellow
would make his escape long before his trial was concluded. I know that
he speaks Malay, and he would find some means to get some natives
outside to help him, and I do not care to run the risk of the fate that
has befallen the mate. I should hardly think that Van Houten would care
about it either. I fancy that he would be the first victim, by the look
that the fellow gave him."
An hour later the captain went up to Van Houten.
"The women have been begging me not to hang that fellow. As it is
evident that I shall gain much ill-will if I do, for he has well
satisfied them, and as I have no mind to risk my life and yours if he
should get free at Batavia, I have a good mind to land him on one of the
islets ahead. I might heave the ship to for an hour, land the poor mate
and bury him, and leave the scoundrel there. It will amount to the same
thing in the end, for as the rocks are thirty miles from the coast there
would be no chance of his getting off, for it would be very improbable
that any native craft will come along this way: they always keep close
inshore. That way one would avoid a scene with the women; and I own that
there is something in what they say. The deed was done in a moment of
passion, and under great provocation, for Werter was a strong fighter
and a hasty man, and a blow from his fist was no joke."
"Just as you think fit, captain. It will give him time to think over
his misdeeds, which no doubt are pretty numerous, for I dare say his
career has been a black one. It certainly has, if his face does not
belie him greatly. Still, I would much prefer to see him hung."
Accordingly an hour later the vessel was hove to. The remains of the
mate, covered with a flag, were placed in a boat; the cook, still bound,
was made to descend into it; and the second mate and eight well-armed
sailors, with picks and shovels, took their places in it. The ship's
carpenter had made a rough cross, which he handed to the second mate.
When they reached the shore, two men were left there with the cook; the
others dug a shallow grave, laid the body in it, refilled it, and heaped
great stones upon it, and then stuck the cross in the sands at its head.
The Arab was brought ashore, and the ropes that bound him were
unfastened. The crew and second mate took their places in the boat and
rowed off to the ship, which was put on her way again as soon as they
reached it. As far as they could make out the figure of the man on
shore, he was standing where they had left him, gazing at the ship. On
the following day there was a heavy gale offshore, and the ship was
blown some little distance out of her course.
In two days, however, the wind fell, and the Dordrecht arrived five
days later at Batavia. The passengers landed at once, and the captain
went ashore on the following day with his log-book. "Is there any
special item to which you wish to call my attention?" the official
"This is the only one, sir." And he pointed to the last page. "Cook
stabbed the mate."
"And you marooned him on one of the rocky islands off the coast of
Sumatra. Why did you not hang him?"
"Well, sir, we had a good many lady passengers on board, and they all
rather took the man's part, on the ground that the mate had knocked him
down, and that he stabbed him in the heat of passion; but really I think
it was because they had been highly satisfied with his cooking during
"What nationality was the man?"
"A mixture. He spoke Dutch perfectly well, but his features were Arab
rather than European."
The official did not speak for nearly a minute. "What height was he?"
"About the average height," the captain said with some surprise in his
tone; "broader than Arabs generally are, but lithe and sinewy. I used
to think there must be some Malay blood in him."
The official got up and took down a book from a shelf. "How long had he
been at the Cape before you hired him, do you know?" he asked as he
turned over the leaves.
"I did not question him. He said that he had been six months cook at the
governor's house, and that was good enough for me."
"Had he any particular mark on his face?" the official asked, as he
found the entry for which he was in search.
"He had a scar on one cheek," the captain said, "a white line, as if it
had been a clean cut with a knife."
"That is the man, then. Your first description at once struck me. I will
read to you what is written here. 'Middle height; age about thirty-five;
clean shaven; very strong and active figure. Nationality uncertain,
believed to be Arab on the father's side by Dutch or Portuguese woman,
probably some Malay blood. Long thin scar across one cheek.'"
"That is the man to a T."
"Well, captain, you have missed five hundred pounds and the great credit
you would have gained if you had brought in that man dead or alive. He
was the boldest and most savage of the pirates who infest these seas,
and is feared by the native traders as much as by the Dutch merchants
who trade with the East. He never spared a man, white or brown, that
fell into his hands. Sometimes he would sail alone, sometimes with a
score of native craft. With these he would land on one of the islands or
on the mainland, burn, plunder, and murder, and carry off into slavery
the young men and women. The last we heard of him was two years ago. A
boat was picked up with two men still alive in her; they were the sole
survivors of one of our vessels that had been captured by him. He had
transferred the greater part of his own crew to her. Every soul on board
our ship had been murdered, with the exception of these two men, who
managed to conceal themselves among the cargo, and had, while the
pirates were carousing, dropped into a boat that lay alongside, and
escaped. In the morning they could see their own ship bearing west while
the original pirate was making for the north-east.
"From that day nothing was heard of the Arab. It was supposed that he
had intended to cruise near the Cape. There his appearance would enable
him unsuspected to approach ships. Six months later, however, a ship
arriving here brought news that the Heldin, which was the name of the
vessel that they had taken, had been lost with all hands some forty
miles from the Cape. The natives had brought down a story of a wreck
having occurred near their village, and a craft was despatched to the
spot, and found the shore strewn with timber. Among the wreckage was the
stern of a boat bearing the Heldin's name, and an empty keg also
stamped with it. That seemed to settle the question, and the wreck had
taken place just about the time that the pirate would, had she held on
the course on which she was last seen, have arrived off the Cape. There
is not much doubt now that the "Sea Tiger", for so he was always called,
managed to reach the shore and make his way to the town, and when he
found that he was the sole survivor, and no suspicion existed that the
ship had changed hands before she was wrecked, found some sort of
employment until, by means no doubt of forged testimonials, he obtained
a position in the household of the governor. I must at once inform the
council, who are now sitting, of what has taken place."
An hour later a government craft, with twenty soldiers on board, sailed
from Batavia, taking with it the second mate of the Dordrecht to point
out to them the island upon which the pirate had been landed and the
spot where they had set him on shore. She returned a week later. No
traces of the man they sought had been found; but on the shore was a
deep mark, evidently caused by a native boat having been pulled up there
during the storm. The sand around was greatly trampled, there were chips
of wood as if some repairs had been done; and there was little doubt
that after the storm had abated and the craft been sufficiently
repaired, the whole party had sailed away. The news that the famous
pirate known as the "Sea Tiger" had escaped and was again at large,
caused great consternation among the merchant community of Batavia.
The captain of the Dordrecht was severely censured by the authorities,
and was so overwhelmed with reproaches by the merchants that he was glad
indeed when he had discharged his cargo and taken in another, and left
the island behind him. The female passengers, whose intercession had
saved the pirate's life, came in for some share of the unpopularity of
the captain, and were made to regret bitterly the part they had taken in
the affair. Three months later reports were brought by natives of the
doings of a piratical fleet, who had taken and sunk numbers of native
craft, had landed at various points on the coast of Sumatra, and
destroyed Dutch factories. The natives who had escaped from these
massacres all agreed in stating that the leader of this fleet was the
dreaded "Sea Tiger" of whom nothing had been heard for so long. Then
three Dutch ships which were due did not arrive, and one which came in
reported that they had seen a glow of light in mid-ocean. It could have
been caused only by a ship on fire very many miles away.
The ship had been headed in this direction, but the wind was contrary
and the light had disappeared suddenly. They, however, kept on their
course, and although the next morning they came upon some wreckage of
charred timber, and had cruised for some hours in the neighbourhood,
they had seen no signs of boats. Then rapidly came in the news that
descents had been made upon various points on the mainland, and one
morning a horseman rode in, saying that a landing had been effected at a
point about thirty miles from Batavia. Plantations had been destroyed,
all the white colonists killed, and able-bodied natives carried off as
slaves. There was only one vessel of war at Batavia, but the governor
and council took up two merchantmen that happened to be there, and put
on board of each fifty soldiers, together with a strong crew to work
the guns. Lieutenant Van Houten was in command of the soldiers on one of
these vessels. His engagement to Fraulein Meyers had now been announced.
Her father was settled on a plantation that he had purchased from a
colonist whose health had suffered from the climate, and who was now
returning home. It was twelve miles to the east of the town, and
situated near the sea-shore.
He had been appointed to the command at his own request. He had more
than shared in the general consternation at the pirate's escape. He was
not one, however, to blame the captain. Certainly the Arab had acted
under great provocation, and he knew that had he been in the captain's
place he would have yielded to the solicitations of the ladies,
especially as it seemed that the death of the culprit was as certain as,
if slower than, that by the rope. He himself would vastly have preferred
to have seen the man hung. He recognized how dangerous an enemy he was;
and as soon as he heard of his escape he became anxious about the safety
of his betrothed, remembering as he did the evident admiration that this
scoundrel had felt for her. He had even begged her father to move into
the town until the depredations of the pirates had been arrested. But
Mr. Meyers had scoffed at the idea. "It is just the time for nutmeg
picking. It is quite absurd. There is no other plantation within three
miles, and even if they came along here, it would not pay them to land
for the plunder of a solitary house."
His daughter was very tearful when she heard that her lover was going
out in search of the pirate. "There is no occasion for you to go," she
said. "Why should you have volunteered for such dangerous service?"
"Because I have a particular wish to capture or kill this pirate. I have
no doubt that he has a strong enmity against all connected with the
Dordrecht, and I shall never feel comfortable so long as he roves the
sea. Even putting our own case aside, see the frightful destruction that
he is causing. He is depopulating islands, massacring peaceable natives,
capturing ships, and murdering all on board. There is not an officer
here but is burning to take part in his capture. Besides, I feel he has
a particular animosity against me. How it arises does not matter. I know
that he has that feeling, and so long as he is abroad and powerful my
life is not safe, even in the streets of Batavia."
After this, his betrothed had no further objection to his going. It was
known that the pirate's rendezvous was on the east coast of Sumatra,
where he had made an alliance with a tribe at war with its neighbours,
and had aided in conquering the latter; and it was in that direction
that the three ships steered their course, hoping to encounter the
pirates as they came down the Straits of Malacca on one of their
expeditions. They cruised backwards and forwards for a week without
seeing a sail, save a few native boats creeping along close to the
shore. One morning, however, the look-out at the mast-head saw a number
of sail in the distance. Among them were two vessels much larger than
the others. These were doubtless the Dutch ships that had been captured;
the others were native craft, most of them rowing, as could be seen as
the sun flashed on their oars. Preparations were at once made for
battle, for there was no change in the direction of the pirate flotilla
after it was certain that they must have seen the Dutch fleet.
"It almost looks", Van Houten said to Erasmus, his young subaltern, who
was again with him, "as if they had received information as to our
starting in pursuit of them, otherwise there would surely have been some
hesitation when they first saw us, some consultation whether they should
attack us or not. Unless I am greatly mistaken one of the ships is the
Dordrecht. She was only three weeks at Batavia. The fellow must have
lost no time in getting allies among the native princes in order to
waylay her when she came out again. She would be the first object of his
"She certainly looks like her," the other agreed. "Well, if so, there is
one more debt to be paid off. The captain was a good old fellow, and I
liked the second mate very much. I hope both of them fell before the
vessel was seized, for we may be sure that they would not have had an
easy death if they were captured. It will be a tough fight, for I have
no doubt that the boats are crammed with men. There is one thing which I
do not expect they have—many guns, except in the two ships; but
counting only fifty men a boat—and no doubt many of them carry a
hundred—we shall be tremendously outnumbered if they get alongside."
"Yes. It is a little unfortunate that there is not more wind; then we
might keep away from their boats, and pepper them hotly. As it is, they
can move three feet to our one."
As soon as the pirates were within range, the three Dutch vessels opened
fire. They were unanswered for a short time, for the two pirate ships
had been outstripped by the prahs. But several of the latter now took
them in tow, and presently they began to return the fire with their
bow-guns. Although several of the prahs were sunk, and some so badly
damaged that they had to drop behind, the others pressed on.
At a signal from the commander of the ship of war his consorts now
brought their heads round so that they lay nearly in a line, with their
broadsides to the pirates.
With loud shouts, beating of drums, and the blowing of horns, the prahs
came along at racing speed. Instead of using round-shot, the guns were
now crammed to the muzzle with bags of bullets, and these did terrible
execution. But the Malays did not relax their efforts, and presently
dashed alongside of the Dutch ships. Soon a desperate fight took place.
The soldiers kept up an incessant musketry-fire as fast as they could
load; the sailors cut down those who attempted to board; and the Malays
threw showers of spears, stink-pots, and missiles of all kinds.
For half an hour the fight continued, and the result was still in doubt,
when there was a crash, and the decks were swept by a storm of bullets.
Scarce noticed while the struggle was going on, the two pirate ships had
come up, passed ahead of the Dutch vessels, and had sailed close up on
the opposite side to that on which the fight with the prahs was taking
place. The pirates had shifted all their guns so as to bear on the Dutch
vessels. Each mounted sixteen cannon, and these poured in their contents
simultaneously. The effect was terrible! More than half the defenders
were swept away, and a minute later the pirate ships were alongside; and
as the Dutch turned to repel the storm of figures leaping on to their
decks, the men in the canoes crowded up on the other side. The Dutch
soldiers and sailors fought with desperation. They knew there was no
quarter, and held out to the last. But in five minutes the ship of war
and the one next to her had been captured, and the last of the defenders
The ship that carried Van Houten was at the end of the line, and had up
to now been only attacked by the natives. A few of the sailors were
withdrawn from their work of the defence of the bulwarks, and were
ordered to haul on the sheets so that the sails might catch what wind
there was. If she could escape from the attack of the two ships, she
might yet beat off the natives. But it was too late; the pirates threw
off the grapnels that attached them to the ships they had captured, and
again some of the canoes took them in tow. Several of these were sunk,
but the way given was sufficient, and the leading vessel ranged
alongside the merchantman.
The exultant shouts of the Malays rose high in the air as the men from
the pirate ship and prahs swarmed on deck. The Dutch soldiers held
together and fought steadily, but their numbers lessened fast as the
spears of the Malays flew among them. Few of them had time to reload
their muskets and fire a second shot. Erasmus fell by Van Houten's side
when the latter had but a dozen men left around him. The leader of the
pirates, whom he now recognized, shouted: "Do not touch that white
officer! Make him prisoner—I want him!"
A moment later there was a general rush of the Malays. Three of them
sprang upon Van Houten and dragged him to the ground, and soon a yell of
triumph told that the last of the defenders had fallen. Van Houten was
now allowed to rise to his feet, his arms still clasped by his
assailants. "Why don't you kill me, you scoundrel, the same as the
others?" he said to the pirate.
"You will be killed soon enough," the Arab said; "but I want to keep you
for a while just to have the pleasure of showing you that girl in my
hands. I was not good enough to look at her, you thought. Good or not,
she shall be mine! I settled on that the first moment that I saw her.
Bind him tightly and take him below. Be sure that his cords are tight.
No!—tie him to the mast; we shall have the pleasure of looking at him
and talking to him sometimes."
Then he gave a number of orders. Prize crews were told off to the three
captured vessels; the remaining prahs took the five ships in tow, and in
a body they moved away. Six hours' rowing brought them to a narrow
inlet. Here was a native village. Two of the men were placed as guards
over Van Houten, and the work of emptying the ships of their valuables
then began and continued until late at night, everything being taken
ashore by the boats. Three days passed in feasting and rejoicing. The
prisoner's arms were unbound, so that he could eat the food given him at
regular intervals. His guards were changed every two hours, and the
pirate came round each day to taunt his captive. Even had the guards
been removed, the latter could not have freed himself, for the ropes
round his legs and chest were all tied round the other side of the
mast, and he could not therefore possibly get at the knots.
On the third evening Van Houten saw that one at least of the two men who
came on guard was the worse for liquor. He grumbled loudly at being
brought off from the pleasures on shore to look after this white
"However," he said, "I have brought off my gourd."
"You had better be careful," the other said. "If the captain came off
and found you drunk, he would shoot you like a dog."
"Bah! He went into his hut half an hour ago, and he won't be out again
to-night. Besides, I am not going to get drunk; I am just comfortable,
that is all."
Nevertheless, the warning had its effect, and the man only took small
sips from his gourd. Van Houten let his chin drop on his breast as if
asleep, and presently the man, as he passed in front of him, lurched
against him. In a moment Van Houten snatched one of the knives from his
girdle and hid it beneath his coat. The other guard was standing a few
paces away watching the shore, and the action was unnoticed. Feeling for
the first time since he had been captured that there was some hope, the
young soldier now went off to sleep, a thing he had not been able to do
before owing to the tightness of his bonds. When he woke, the sun was
just rising, and his guard had been twice changed. The day passed as
before, but that evening the boats pushed off to their various ships.
Early the next morning these were towed out of the inlet. The boats that
were not to accompany them returned to the village. Slowly and clumsily
the sails were hoisted, and the five vessels, each crowded with Malays,
set sail. Van Houten had been carried the evening before to the warship
of which the pirate captain had taken the command. He was, as before,
tied to the mast, but was fastened in a sitting position on the deck
instead of a standing one.
"I do not wish you to die yet," the man said, giving him a kick. "I
don't want you to be so sleepy that you will be stupid. I want you to be
able to take it all in."
The change was an intense relief. For five days he had been kept
standing; at times his legs refused to bear his weight, and he had been
supported entirely by the ropes round his body. He dropped almost
instantaneously asleep when the pirate left him, and the sun was high
next day before he awoke. For a time his neck was so stiff from the
position he had slept in that he almost cried out from the pain as he
lifted it. He had been dreaming that he was in the dungeon of the
Spanish Inquisition, and that he was being tortured, and for a moment he
could scarce understand where he was, for the pain of the tightly bound
ropes seemed to be part of his dream.
Four days passed. He was no longer strictly guarded, for escape in
mid-ocean was impossible; nevertheless, the knots of his ropes were
examined two or three times a day, as had been the case all along. He
was liberated from his bonds for five minutes four times a day, four of
the Malays keeping close to him to prevent him from jumping overboard.
Early one afternoon the western extremity of Sumatra was made out, and
after the fleet had passed through the narrow straits between that
island and the island of Banca, they headed south, keeping close
inshore, towards the Straits of Sunda. As Van Houten, when he had taken
his last walk before it became dark, saw the ships' heads were pointed
south, he thought that from the course they were taking they would
strike the island of Java early next morning some thirty miles to the
west of Batavia.
"I have no doubt you are thinking," the pirate said to him coldly, "that
the people on shore will see us in the morning and take the alarm. There
is no fear of that. Before it is light, the two ships I had before will
make their way to sea again. We shall have the Dutch flag flying, and
shall sail along two miles or so from the coast. Of course we shall be
recognized as we pass Batavia, and the authorities will suppose that
their fleet has not come upon the vessels they were in search of, and,
having obtained news that they were likely to attempt a landing on the
island farther to the east, are now coasting along in hopes of falling
in with them.
"A bold plan, is it not? By evening we shall be back again off the
Meyers's plantation, and by nightfall I shall have my beauty on board.
We shall have been already joined by our consorts, and shall sail
together to Batavia. The artillerymen in the fort will think we have
made a capture during the night, and we shall get in without a shot
being fired at us. At the same time the party that have landed will
attack the place on the land side. Then we will sack and burn the town,
attack the forts from the land side, where they are weak, kill the
artillerymen, and carry off such guns as we choose. After that, we
shall have a wedding, which you shall witness. If we cannot get a
minister to perform it, we will manage to do without one. She shall then
be taken on board my ship while I superintend your roasting on a
bonfire. That is my programme, what do you think of it?"
Van Houten had stared stolidly astern while the pirate was speaking. The
latter, apparently not expecting any answer to his question, with a
mocking laugh turned away. As soon as it had become quite dark a boat
had been lowered, and the pirate had gone on board the other vessels to
give his orders. The prisoner listened eagerly for his return. If the
boat were pulled up it seemed to him that the last chance of escape was
gone, for, cramped as he was by his long confinement, he felt sure he
would not be able to swim ashore. He almost held his breath as he heard
it returning to the ship's side. There were no such appliances as now
exist for raising boats, and to get one of the clumsy and heavy boats on
deck was a work of no small labour.
The pirate sprung on deck and gave an order to the men in the boat. As
the prisoner did not understand Malay he was ignorant of its purport;
but when the four men who had been rowing her came on deck, and one of
them, holding the boat's painter in his hand, walked astern with it, he
felt sure that she was to be allowed to tow there, at any rate till
morning. After the ships had been put on their course, parallel with the
shore, there was soon silence on board. There was no moon, but the stars
were bright, and the vessels moved along with a gentle breeze, about
three knots an hour. That evening the guard of two men had again been
posted over the prisoner, for, certain as the captain felt that escape
was impossible, he thought it would be as well to neglect no precaution
now that land was near. The Malays themselves seemed to consider that a
guard was altogether unnecessary, and, after some talk between them, one
lay down between the guns, while the other took up his place by the mast
and leant against it, close to Van Houten.
The latter waited for half an hour until he felt that the other guard
was asleep, then, taking out his knife, he cut the cords. The slight
noise as these fell aroused the sentry on guard, half-asleep as he leant
against the mast, and he stooped down so as to assure himself that all
was right. Van Houten seized his throat with one hand, and with the
other drove his knife up to the hilt into him. There was no need to
repeat the blow. It had been driven through the heart. Noiselessly Van
Houten lowered him to the deck, then, moving a little on one side,
propped up the body against the mast in the attitude in which he himself
had been bound. After taking off his shoes he made his way astern. The
Malays were lying thickly between the guns on either side, but all were
sound asleep. Reaching the ladder up to the lofty poop he climbed it.
There were no Malays here except the man at the wheel, and he was so
intent on his work that he did not notice Van Houten as he crept past.
He found the boat's rope, which was tied to the rail, and lowered
himself till he was in the water. The boat was some ten yards astern,
and, severing the rope, he was soon alongside her. Keeping his hand on
the gunwale, he worked along it till he reached the stern; this he
grasped and hung on. The boat soon lost her way, and the ship receded
fast. He made no effort to climb into the boat until the latter had
quite disappeared from his sight, for had he, in climbing on board,
moved one of the oars in her, the rattle might have been heard by
someone sleeping lightly on the ship. Once assured that she was well
away, he cautiously raised himself and clambered over the stern, using
the utmost care in each movement so as to avoid touching anything
movable. He waited a quarter of an hour, then he crept forward; took off
his coat, cut off one of the sleeves, fastened this round one of the
heavy oars and put it out over the stern, so that the cloth was in the
groove made for the purpose of enabling one man to scull her when near
shore. This would prevent the slightest chance of the pirates hearing
him at work.
He found it terribly hard at first, so sore was his body from the
pressure of the ropes. Gradually, however, as he warmed to his work, he
became able to put out his strength, the stars being a sufficient guide
to enable him to make his way straight to shore. He had no fear of being
overtaken even if his escape were speedily discovered, for they would
not be able to tell how long a time had elapsed since he got away. He
thought it probable, however, that the escape would not be discovered
until morning. The other Malay would have slept till he was roused by
his comrade, and would not be likely to wake until day broke, when he
would discover the change that had been effected.
The heavy boat moved but slowly, and it was not until a good hour after
leaving the ship that he made out the shore. Fortunately the breeze
during the afternoon had been a good one, and so the pirates had passed
the Straits of Sunda at nine o'clock, and had then changed their course
to the east. What wind there was, was from the north, and so helped him,
and two hours after leaving the ship he reached the shore. He had fifty
miles to go to Batavia, but there would be plenty of time. It was
certain that the attack at the station could not take place till the
following night. He knew a plantation where a colonist with whom he was
acquainted lived, and this could not be more than two or three miles
away. His strength, weakened by suffering and mental torment, was
greatly diminished, and after walking for a mile he felt that it would
be better for him to rest till morning broke, when he would be able to
ascertain exactly where he was, and find his way to the plantation.
Accordingly he lay down, but would not permit himself to doze, as, worn
out as he was from want of rest, if he did so he might sleep far into
the day. He soon found that, lying down, it would be impossible for him
to keep awake, and accordingly sat down by a large rock in the position
to which he had become accustomed. The hours passed slowly, but he had
now no difficulty in keeping awake. He was filled with exultation at his
escape and at the prospect of turning the tables upon the pirate. As
soon as day broke he struck inland, for he knew that a road ran east and
west, by which the various products of the land were taken to the town.
In half an hour he came upon it, and after following it for a mile came
upon the plantation fence. Arriving at the gate, he entered and made his
way up to the house. There was already movement there. A group of native
labourers were receiving orders from an overseer, who looked in
astonishment at the appearance of an officer, haggard, and blistered by
the sun, and whose uniform was still wet, and one sleeve altogether
"This is the station of Meinheer de Koning, is it not?" Van Houten
"It is, sir; but he is not up yet."
"I am the bearer of important news and must see him at once. Will you
order one of the servants to arouse him, and tell him that Lieutenant
Van Houten desires to see him instantly on a matter of the most pressing
In five minutes the planter came down. Philip had met him several times
in Batavia. The latter gazed at him in surprise, failing at first to
recognize the figure before him as the smart young officer of his
"It is I, just escaped from one of the ships of the 'Sea Tiger', who,
with four vessels beside his own, is on his way to attack Batavia, and
unless I can arrive there in time to warn them, he will do terrible
"Which way were the ships going?" De Koning asked in consternation.
"They were going east. The five ships are crowded with Malays, and they
reckon upon destroying the town and overrunning the whole country. I beg
of you that you will at once lend me a good horse."
"You don't look fit to ride five miles much less fifty. I will have two
horses put into my vehicle and drive you myself. In the meantime, come
in and take a glass of wine and some bread. I will have a basket of
provisions put in the trap for you to eat as we go along."
In a quarter of an hour a light vehicle drawn by two horses drew up to
the door. Philip, who felt refreshed and strengthened by the wine, at
once clambered up. The planter took the reins, and they started.
On their way Philip told the story of the events he had gone through.
"And so the scoundrels captured the ship of war and her two consorts? No
wonder they think that, with five ships crowded, as you say, with men,
they can take Batavia."
The basket contained a good supply of provisions and fruit, and Philip
was able to make a hearty meal after the diet of bread and water on
which he had lived for the last ten days. The planter had lent him a
doublet, which he had put on in place of his uniform coat, and they
therefore attracted no attention when, after six hours' drive, they
arrived at Batavia and went straight to the governor's house. The
latter, on hearing Philip's story, summoned the members of the council
and the military commander. After some discussion the plan of action was
decided upon. All the troops in garrison were to march to Meyers's
plantation. They were to take with them six light guns. The crier went
round the town summoning all the inhabitants to gather in the
Here the governor told them the news that he had received, and then
explained the plan of operations. "The artillery are to remain here to
man the guns of the fort in case the pirates should change their plan,
and one company of soldiers is also to stay behind to oppose any
landing. In the first place, I beg that all having vehicles will place
them at our disposal—they will be used to carry the troops out to
Meyers's station. Then if the troops hear firing here, they will know
that the pirates have changed their plans, and will be brought back to
the town with all speed, so that in a little over an hour after the
first gun is fired they will be here ready to help in the defence. In
the next place, it is all-important for the safety of the island and the
town that a heavy blow shall be dealt these pirates. There are now four
merchant ships in the harbour and a number of native boats. I trust that
every man capable of bearing arms will volunteer to man them. I myself
shall remain here, but all the members of the council have decided to go
in the boats. I think it probable that by far the greater portion of the
Malays will land and attempt to capture Meyers's plantation, with the
intention of afterwards marching upon the town and attacking it on the
land side. If they do this their ships will naturally be but feebly
manned, and we have decided to adopt the suggestion made by Lieutenant
Van Houten, who has been in the hands of the pirates and has escaped
from them, that as soon as the fight begins on shore, and the attention
of the pirates on board is fixed on the struggle, they shall be attacked
on the other side by the flotilla of boats.
"This attack shall be chiefly directed against the ship of war, which, I
am sorry to say, they have captured. She carries heavier guns than the
others, and is a fast sailer. Therefore, when she is once taken, her
guns can be turned on the others, and I hope these will all be
recaptured. The officers and crew of the merchant ships here will aid in
the attack. They have as great an interest as we have in their
destruction, and will be able to work the guns. If we are successful, we
shall at one blow destroy the power of this terrible pirate, the
'Sea-Tiger', and render the sea open again to commerce. Captain Smidt,
one of your council, who is, as you know, a distinguished naval officer,
has volunteered to take the command of the expedition, and will lead the
boats to the attack.
"He will also arrange the crews of each boat. I beg that you will all
inscribe your names as ready to fight for your homes, families, and
possessions, all of which will be in grievous danger unless these
pirates are crushed. At seven o'clock this evening those who have
volunteered will assemble at the fort. The boats will be in readiness
with a number painted on each, so that when you are told off you will be
able each one to take his place without confusion in his allotted boat,
or in one or other of the ships. The pirates will make their landing
about eleven o'clock. The boats will row till within three miles of
them, then they will be taken in tow by the ships. The sounds of the
boats' oars would be heard for a long way on a still night. You will
probably get quite close to them before you are seen. The moment the
alarm is given, the tow-ropes must be thrown off. The ships will fire a
broadside into the man-of-war, and at once range alongside her, and the
boats will attack the other pirates."
The speech was received in silence, save that a hearty shout arose when
the governor called upon them to volunteer.
"Captain Smidt is already at the town-hall," he said. "Go there and
register your names, in order that he may know how many boats will be
required, and will be able to make his arrangements accordingly. A
cordon of troops has been placed round the town, and no one will be
allowed to leave without a permit. Some of the natives might, if they
knew the preparations that have been made, make off, and swim to the
pirate ships with the news."
As he ceased speaking, the little crowd moved off towards the town-hall.
Mounted men were at once despatched to all plantations within fifteen
miles, calling upon the planters to drive in instantly with their arms
for the defence of the town, which was menaced by an attack from
At four o'clock in the afternoon the three vessels that had left there
ten days before were seen sailing past the town. They should have been
sighted some hours earlier, but shortly after daybreak the wind had
fallen, and the calm had lasted till midday. All were flying the Dutch
flag, which they hauled down in salute to those flying on the fort, but
proceeded on their way without changing their course. Everything was
apparently quiet in the fort, and the salutes were duly returned. Boats
sufficient to carry the number of men available had by this time been
drawn up close to the shore, each bearing its number painted on her bow.
At half-past six the townspeople began to gather. All were armed with
muskets or rifles, pikes or swords, and quietly and without confusion
they took their allotted places, some on the boats, some on the two
The troops had marched an hour before, joined by between forty and fifty
men who came in from the plantations. Van Houten had gone with them.
They halted half a mile from the station. It was desirable that they
should not come up until the native labourers were all asleep. Van
Houten himself rode on, and it was nearly nine o'clock as he entered. He
was greeted by a cry of joy and surprise from the planter's daughter.
"Why, Philip!" she exclaimed. "How have you got here? We saw your three
vessels come along just as it became dark, an hour ago. I suppose you
must have landed as they passed Batavia. But what is the matter? you
look strangely ill. Have you been wounded in a fight with those
"You do look strange," her father added, "and you are not in uniform."
"Things have gone badly," he replied. "Our three vessels have all been
captured, and I am the sole survivor of the crews. I have been a
prisoner, and only escaped last night."
"Then what are the three ships we saw?" the planter said. "I could have
sworn to the man-of-war Leyden. I was not sure as to the other two
"They were full of pirates, meinheer, and have probably been joined by
two more ships by this time. They are going to land at about eleven
o'clock to burn this place down and carry your daughter off, and after
that they will storm and sack Batavia."
"Are you in earnest, Van Houten, or dreaming? If your news is true,
there is not a moment to be lost. We must have the horses and trap round
at once and drive inland or to Batavia. The town can successfully
"I should certainly advise Elise to retire at once to a station a mile
or two away. There will be a battle fought here. Two hundred soldiers
and forty or fifty planters, with six guns, halted a mile away. They
will be here in an hour's time, and will give the Malays a reception
that they do not dream of. As soon as the fight begins, their ships will
be attacked by two merchantmen and a flotilla of boats manned by every
available man in Batavia, with the exception of the governor himself and
a small garrison, who will remain in the fort to protect the town should
the pirates change their plans. Captain Smidt is in command of the
flotilla, Colonel Stern is with the troops."
"This is startling news indeed," the planter said after a moment's
silence. "You say they will not attack till eleven. I will have the
horses put in at once. I will take Elise to my neighbour Rogen, whose
house is three miles inland. I shall be back again in plenty of time to
take my part in the affair. Or, no—you shall drive her there, Van
Houten. I dare say that you would like to do so."
"Thank you, sir!"
"But can I not stay here?"
"No, dear," her father said decisively; "you might be hit by a chance
shot, and I don't want to be in a state of anxiety about you while I
have other things to do."
He rang the bell standing on the table. A servant entered. "In the first
place, go and tell Domingo to put the horses into the carriage at once
and to bring it round to the door, then bring in glasses and a bottle of
Ten minutes later Van Houten started with Elise, the native driving. On
the way he gave her a sketch of all that had happened since he went
away, and told her of the plans of the "Sea Tiger". The girl shuddered.
"From what a fate have you saved me!" she murmured; "but it would not
have been so, for I would have killed myself."
"I do not think that he would have given you much opportunity for doing
that. He said that he would take good care that no weapon should be put
in your way. However, thank God that his schemes have been thwarted by
his own folly in torturing me by telling me of his intentions! You need
have no fear of the results of this fight; taken wholly by surprise as
they will be, and bewildered by the attack on their ships, we are
certain to defeat them on land, and I trust that we shall capture all
their ships; and the lesson will be so terrible that it will be a long
time before any other is likely to follow the 'Sea Tiger's' example."
On arriving at the planter's house he found that he and his son had
ridden into Batavia at four o'clock in obedience to the governor's call.
His wife and daughter were glad to have Elise with them, and, leaving
her to tell the story, Philip drove back to her father's.
The column arrived three minutes after his return, and the colonel went
round the ground with Van Houten and the planter. The house stood some
three hundred yards from the shore, the ground slanting gradually down
from it; there were plantations on either side. Four of the guns were
placed under the broad verandah, with the five-and-twenty men who were
to work them. The rest were distributed among the shrubberies on either
side of the open space running down from the house towards the water,
where they would take the pirates, as they advanced, in flank. Van
Houten offered to take ten of the planters down to destroy the boats
when the Malays had left them.
Ten of the colonists volunteered for the service, and were provided from
the storehouse with axes for staving in the boards. They posted
themselves in a clump of bushes close to the shore. A quarter of an hour
passed, and then they heard five loud splashes and a confused noise, and
knew that the pirate's ships had anchored. Then came a creaking of
pulleys and grating sounds, and they knew that the boats had been
lowered. The lights in the house had all been extinguished, and perfect
silence reigned. Presently there was a sound of many oars and the beat
of paddles, and five minutes later ten large boats crowded with men
appeared, making for the shore, and in a few minutes the grating of the
keels was heard on the sand, and dark figures could be seen making their
way up the beach.
"There must be three hundred of them at least," Van Houten said to the
man who was standing next to him, "and I fancy that about the same
number remain on board. As far as I can make out, there are only one or
two men left on guard at each boat. We will creep up as quietly as we
can, directly the firing breaks out; each of you will pick off his
man—the noise will not be noticed in the row that will be going on up
above. Then let two go to each boat and stave in a couple of planks, and
then go along and do the same with the others, but see that it is done
thoroughly. Directly all the boats are damaged hurry back here and open
fire upon the pirates as they return. Traces have been fastened to the
guns, and the artillerymen will run them down towards the water's edge,
and the soldiers will advance and surround the scoundrels as they strive
to push the boats off; not one of them should be able to regain their
The pirates were led by a man whose white dress showed up clearly in the
darkness, and who Van Houten was sure was the "Sea Tiger" himself. They
advanced towards the house in an irregular line, the two flanks rather
in advance. No sound was heard among them. It was evident that they had
been ordered to preserve silence until the house was surrounded. They
went on and on until they could be no longer seen by the watchers.
Suddenly a voice shouted "Fire!"
Six guns loaded to the muzzle with bullets spoke out, and the musketry,
in a semicircle, flashed from the shrubbery. "Now is our time!" Van
Houten cried. The ten men went forward at a run. Within twenty yards of
the nearest boat they halted and poured in their fire, and more than
half the men standing together on the beach fell. Then they dashed
forward. Two minutes sufficed to do the work, and they ran back to the
bush from which they started. The din above was terrible. The Malays,
for a moment staggered by the terrible and unexpected fire, had run back
a few paces; but the voice of their leader encouraged them, and with
loud yells they again rushed forward.
The cannon were silent, for loading was a long operation in those days;
but by the colonel's orders only half the soldiers had taken part in the
first volley, and the others now poured in their fire.
The Malays pushed on recklessly, and were within twenty yards of the
house when they paused, as two broadsides were fired in quick succession
out at sea. The Dutch vessels had passed behind the pirates, and, having
delivered their first broadside, had tacked and laid themselves
alongside the ship of war, pouring in their other broadside as they did
so. At the same moment a musketry-fire opened from the whole of the
pirate ships, answered more loudly from the boats, for comparatively
few of the Malays carried firearms.
This unexpected attack did what the fear of death could not effect. With
a yell of alarm and rage they turned and ran down towards their boats.
Then the soldiers poured out from their concealment. Those by the guns
seized the traces and ran them down to a distance of fifty yards from
the shore, and poured their contents into the crowded mass. The Malays
leapt into their boats and pushed them off, but before they were fairly
afloat they were full of water to the gunwale. Most of them jumped over
and started to swim towards the ships; others leapt ashore, and, drawing
their krises, rushed at the troops and fell there, fighting fiercely to
the end. Then the guns were run down to the shore and poured showers of
grape among the swimmers. In the meantime firing had ceased on board the
ship of war and two of the pirates, and the cheers of their captors rose
loudly. On the others fighting was still going on, and the yells of the
Malays and the cheers of the Dutch could be plainly heard.
In one the fighting presently ceased, but in the other the Malays were
apparently successful. The sounds grew fainter, and the direction showed
that the Malays had beaten off their opponents, cut their cable, and
were under sail. Three minutes later there was a flash of guns, and
their light showed the warship also under sail, evidently in pursuit.
Answering guns came back, and these grew farther away. Of the Malays who
had landed, some twenty unwounded had alone been taken prisoners. These
were placed under a strong guard. The colonel hailed the ships to send a
boat ashore. It presently arrived, and they heard, as they supposed,
that four of the ships had been recaptured and that the Leyden was in
pursuit of the other.
They also heard that only some twenty of the men of the naval expedition
had been killed, for so completely were the Malays taken by surprise
that their assailants had gained a footing on their decks comparatively
without opposition. Sails had been at once hoisted when the boat had
rowed ashore, and the vessels made for Batavia, where, at noon next day,
the Leyden arrived with her prize. Not a man had fallen of the Dutch
force on shore, though a few had been wounded by the Malays, who,
finding their retreat cut off, had rushed at them.
Directly the fight was over, Philip drove over in the trap that had been
kept waiting on the other side of the house, and told Elise and the
Rogens that all was over, that the former's father and he were both
unhurt, and that the dreaded pirate had fallen, shot through the head,
within twenty yards of the house.
"Your father requests that you will stay here till morning, Elise," he
said, "then he will drive over and take you into Batavia, where he will
join you, and you will stay there until all signs of the fight have been
Batavia went wild with joy at the news of the capture of the whole of
the pirate fleet, and the destruction of the "Sea Tiger" and his
followers. No quarter had been given on board the vessels first
captured, and thirty Malays alone survived the fight of the vessel
brought in by the Leyden. All the prisoners were tried and shot three
days later. Van Houten was the hero of the occasion, and received
immediate promotion. All felt that, had he not warned them, the town
would almost certainly have been captured and every soul in it
A month later the whole of Batavia and the neighbourhood thronged to the
church to witness the marriage of Captain Van Houten and Elise Meyers.