Part 2 out of 4
"There's my knife!" yelled Petrak. "That's it, just as I said, and Bucky
found it in my bunk where I said it was, strike me blind!"
Captain Riggs was nonplussed for a second at this, and he hesitated. Then
he looked at Buckrow, who was trying to get past Harris into the passage
"Buckrow! Wait a minute, my man! Where's your knife?"
"My knife?" said Buckrow in amazement. "My knife?"
"Yes, the knife you had when you were here first. Where is it now? It
ain't in your belt."
Buckrow reached to his hip, and consternation pulled his face into
varying expressions as he found his sheath empty. But we knew his
astonishment was simulated.
"Damme if it bain't gone! Some of them cussed chinks must 'ave a tooken
it. It was--"
"That's all very well," said Riggs. "The redheaded one is our man."
"Where's that bleedin' knife?" said Buckrow, fumbling at his belt.
"Never mind that," put in Riggs. "That's your knife there in the red
fellow's sheath, and this is settled until it is turned over to the
judge. Put this man Petrak, or whatever his name is, in irons, Mr.
Harris; and you, Buckrow, you know more than you'll tell. Mind what
you're about or you'll be clapped in irons, too, along with your mate
here. Have the body wrapped with some firebars, Mr. Harris, to be buried
in the morning. That's all. Double irons, Mr. Harris."
"I never done for him, and that gent knows it," wailed Petrak, as Harris
put his hand on his shoulder to take him away. To my amazement, Petrak
pointed his finger at me.
"What's that?" said Riggs sharply.
"Tell all you know, my good man," said Meeker despite the caution Riggs
had given him about interfering.
"The gent in the white suit knows all about it. I done for this chap,
and the writin' chap, that I brought his bag aboard, paid me for it. Said
he would, and gave me some of the money on deck to-day. You saw him,
cap'n--you saw him hand-in' me the silver, sir. He's in it, too, and--"
"Why, my dear Mr. Trenholm!" exclaimed Meeker, getting to his feet,
aghast at the accusation of the little red-headed man. "My dear sir, I
could hardly believe such a thing of you! And we dined with you--"
"Here, you hold up," shouted Riggs. "What does this mean, Mr. Trenholm? I
remember now that I did see this man taking money from you and I told you
not to be tipping the crew. What have you to say?"
"He was to give me ten pound--"
"Shut up!" roared Harris to Petrak.
"What have I to say?" I gasped, astounded at the turn of affairs and
hardly able to believe what I heard from Petrak. "I know nothing about
it! The man must be crazy!"
"I am not so sure of that," retorted Riggs. "I must confess, Mr.
Trenholm, that I was somewhat surprised to find that you carried two
pistols, and you must admit that you brought this man on board with you.
You seem to know him."
"Know him! The little rat has been following me about Manila all day! I
thought I was to be rid of him until you took him as a member of the
"Ten pound I was to get for a killin' of that chap there," shrieked
Petrak. "That's what he was passing me the silver for this day, sir.
They'll hang me now--they'll hang me!"
"It looks very awkward for you, Mr. Trenholm," said Meeker, sadly.
I was about to denounce the missionary and tell him how I had seen him
and Petrak together much in Manila, but I was so angry for a minute that
I thought it better to hold myself in check for the time.
I stood before them for a few seconds, wondering what I should do, and
then my rage got possession of me, and I reached for a pistol, intending
to hold Meeker under the muzzle of it and make him confess his true
character and admit that Petrak was his friend rather than mine.
As I threw my hand back, my wrist was seized and I turned to see Rajah
behind me, holding my arm in a firm grip. He menaced me with his kris
and grinned calmly.
"My dear Mr. Trenholm," said Meeker, smiling blandly. "One crime should
serve your purpose for this evening, it seems to me."
Captain Riggs stepped up and relieved me of my pistols, and I knew that I
had made a fool of myself by attempting to draw the weapon.
"I am very sorry about this, Mr. Trenholm," said the captain.
I TURN SPY MYSELF
Meeker stood with folded arms and grinned at me as he saw my pistols
taken by the captain; and for the first time since I had seen him he
dropped his sanctimonious pose and looked anything but the decrepit old
missionary which he had always seemed. His shoulders were squared and his
head thrown back, and there was mockery in his eyes.
But it was not so much his insolent and triumphant look which took my
attention as the manner in which he stood upon the heaving deck of the
saloon; his knees had that limp sea-bend of the sailor and his out-turned
toes seemed to grasp the uncertain rise and fall of the carpet beneath
his feet; he was a mariner now, not a preacher, for no landsman could
hold himself so easily in a vessel which pitched and rolled in the long
swells of the China Sea.
I looked at him defiantly, and his eyes seemed to dare me to speak out
and say the things which were in my mind. He seemed to understand that I
was trying to frame a denunciation, for I was white to the lips with rage
"You seemed determined to sail in the _Kut Sang_, Mr. Trenholm," he said:
"So your insistence to be a passenger was to slay a fellow-man, was it? I
am shocked beyond measure!"
"You hound!" I screamed. "You have played your cards well, you and your
little red-headed scoundrel! If you think I am a spy you will find--"
"Tut, tut, Sally Ann!" said Captain Riggs. "We can't have any of that.
Hold your tongue, sir, or I'll have you in irons."
"If you'll give me ten minutes privately, captain, I'll tell you who this
"I'm a man of the cloth, and I will not countenance such language!"
shrieked Meeker in an attempt to check me; but I could see that I had
cut him deeply, for he whitened and stepped toward me with closed fist.
"Don't you call me devil! You know nothing of me--tell it if you
will--what do you know? Where did you get that name?"
"Gentlemen! Gentlemen!" said Riggs, still holding one of my pistols in
his hand, and keeping an eye on the bulkhead door for the return of the
"He's a Japanese spy," I said. "He's no missionary at all, but a spy, and
the fool believes that I am in the Russian service. He tried to hold me
in Manila, and when I would not listen to his lies he has taken this way
to discredit me, probably have me hanged! It's all a plot--"
"That will do," commanded Riggs. "You have not been tried yet, Mr.
Trenholm. You can tell all that to the judge. If you go on this way I
will be compelled to make a prisoner of you. I am not taking that red
chap's word for what he says about you, but if you go on like this I will
have to put you in confinement. Otherwise, you will simply be restricted
to your cabin until we reach Hong-Kong. I will have to make sure that you
have no more arms, and if you will promise to remain in your room, that
will do until this matter is turned over to the courts, and then you may
state your case."
"Are you not going to put this man where he can do no more harm?" asked
Meeker. "You can see for yourself that my life will be in danger unless
this man is made a prisoner. I protest against his being allowed his
liberty--I have no desire to be found in my bed as poor Mr. Trego was
found here a few minutes ago."
"You will be protected," said the captain. "Mr. Harris, is that you? Take
Mr. Trenholm here to his room, and remove all his luggage and see that he
has no more arms, even so much as a pocket-knife. Then lock him in his
"I protest against such treatment, Captain Riggs. If you will give me ten
minutes so that I may tell my story I will willingly obey any order you
may give, even to becoming a prisoner in my room; but I think that it
will be better for you to know the facts about this case, and what I have
learned about this Mr. Meeker in Manila."
"And what is it you have learned?" cried Meeker, advancing on me again in
a menacing manner, and plainly surprised at what I had said.
"A few things about you and Petrak that Captain Riggs should know," I
"Mr. Harris, take Mr. Trenholm to his room," and the mate took me by the
arm and led me down the passage. As I went out Meeker grinned after me
and whispered something to Captain Riggs behind his hand.
Harris opened the door and thrust me before him into the dark stateroom
and commanded me to light the gimbal-lamp, passing me a match. When I had
the lamp lit he took a quick glance inside.
"That man Meeker is a spy," I began. "It was for him that Petrak killed
Trego, and all day in Manila he and that little fellow were at my
"Stow that," said Harris. "Take what you need out of yer gear, and hand
the rest of it out, and mind that thar's no gun-play about it. I'm well
heeled, and if ye make a move I'll let daylight through yer innards. Look
I took a pair of pajamas and a few toilet-articles from my bag. He
would not let me have my razors, or any of the packets of papers or my
money belt. When he had taken my grip he demanded my clothes, and left
me in my pajamas and locked the door, with a growl of caution about
"We hain't takin' no chances with gents like ye be," he said. "And mind
that ye stick close here, 'cause we've got a watch outside, and the first
time we ketch ye up to any didoes we'll have ye below with brass
bracelets on with yer pal Petrak, where ye belong."
At this he slammed the heavy oak door and turned the key in the lock.
My first emotions were anger and the sense of humiliation. I was beaten,
outwitted, captured by Meeker, and by my own stupidity. But I realized
that the battle had but just begun, and my first task must be to attempt
some defence, some counter move against the old fraud who had drawn his
plot about me for his own mysterious object.
I berated myself for my conceit in imagining that I could play with such
a dangerous man as Meeker proved himself to be, especially since I had
seen through his disguise almost from the first. One of two things in
Manila would have saved me from my position--either I should have told
Meeker at once that he was mistaken in thinking me a spy and warned him
to keep clear of me, or I should have told the police that I was being
annoyed by a suspicious character. I had had grounds enough for making a
complaint against Meeker and Petrak when I found the little red-headed
man sneaking outside my door in the hotel, and the supposed missionary
blocking my pursuit on the stairway.
Even if the police had given me no satisfaction, I could have warned
Meeker that I would not submit to his espionage--a hundred ways of
protecting myself from the fellow came into my mind as I sat there on my
berth and reviewed what had taken place in Manila before I ever went on
board the _Kut Sang_.
But that was all past, and it did me no good to go over the mistakes I
had made. I was bitter at myself for allowing Petrak to bring my bag on
board, for I had thus given him an opportunity to claim me as an ally in
The best that I could make of the whole affair was that Meeker took me
for a spy, as I had suspected from the first, and in order to prevent me
from going to Hong-Kong for some purpose opposed to the plans of his
masters, had done his best to keep me out of the steamer.
Then, when he found that he could not block me in going, he did the next
best thing and came with me. To further embarrass me and prevent me from
accomplishing the object of my supposed mission in Hong-Kong, he had got
me involved in a crime from which I knew I would have a great deal of
difficulty in getting myself free, especially as Petrak seemed willing
enough to testify against me even though he should hang for the murder.
It seemed beyond reason that they should kill Trego simply to have
something of which I might be accused; it seemed to me that my own death
would have been an easier way to get rid of me.
I began an analysis of every event which entered into the total of the
mystery, seeking for some key which would aid me in assorting the tangled
bits that only needed to be arranged properly to bet the solution, much
as a jig-saw puzzle is worked out. If I had a proper beginning it would
all be easy enough.
The killing of the boatswain in the Flagship Bar seemed significant,
although I could not connect it with Meeker's plot against me, and I had
to lay that episode aside until I saw it in its proper relation to the
Standing near the lamp, I wrote down on a scrap of paper each event in
its proper order, from my first sight of Meeker that morning as I arrived
at the mole from Saigon. When I had made a note of the delivery of the
letter to the Russian consul at the bank, I found Trego and Meeker
together--the spy disguised as a missionary seeking alms, and Trego
driving him out of the room.
It was obvious enough to me that in delivering the letter I had walked
into some sort of a plot of which I had no knowledge, for Meeker was not
only spying upon me, but he was spying upon Trego or the bank.
The next time that Trego entered the list was when I was introduced to
him in the bank, of little importance in itself, but worth a great deal
when connected with the fact that Trego left Manila in the _Kut Sang_
and in charge of the ship, to the amazement of even Captain Riggs.
"Trego killed." As I put that down it flashed upon me that he had been
struck down before he had told Captain Riggs why he had papers as
supercargo--and a few minutes after he had shown that he was suspicious
I was baffled and realized that it was a waste of effort to attempt to
theorize about the snarled web in which I found myself enmeshed. One
thing was apparent enough, and that was Meeker did his best to keep me
out of the _Kut Sang_, as he said, and I reached the conclusion that it
was not me so much as the steamer which concerned him when he sought to
divert my path from the vessel. If I had taken his broad hints in Manila
I would have cancelled my ticket and probably never seen him again.
There was little comfort in proving that my own blunder had led me into
such a mess. I threw the pencil down and sat on the edge of the lower
berth. My anger was giving way to alarm. I began to realize that perhaps
being a prisoner was the safest for me while on the steamer, for if
Meeker had brought about the death of Trego because the supercargo
suspected him, why should he not attempt to kill me after what I had said
about him to Captain Riggs?
I remembered that he had shown concern when I offered to tell Riggs about
him--he was ready to strike me down on the spot, and his plea that I
might attack him was made more for the purpose of having me put out of
reach of the captain than for his own protection. I was still a
passenger, even though confined to my room, and he knew that I might find
an opportunity to tell my story to Riggs.
At least I was safe for the night, and I knew nothing could be done in
the way of explaining things to Riggs before morning. I decided that I
would ask for paper and write a brief account of Meeker and Petrak for
him and let him judge for himself.
I blew out the lamp and opened the port, but hooked it so that the heavy
brass-rimmed glass acted as a shield for me as I lay in the upper berth.
I had no desire to have a pistol thrust through the port while I was
asleep, and after what had happened I was ready to see danger in
The steamer was well to sea, and there was a stiff breeze blowing, which
made her pitch and roll heavily. Her beams and joints groaned every time
she bucked into a sea, and the wash at her freeboard and the spray
breaking on the deck outside made a great racket. Her old engines jolted
and jarred and vibrated every inch of the _Kut Sang_, and I could hear
the whir of the propeller as it lifted out of the water when her head
plunged into a swell.
But although I tried to put everything out of my mind and get some
sleep, my imagination conjured up possible situations for the next
day conferences with Captain Riggs, fights with Meeker, a confession
forced from Petrak that he had lied when he charged me with complicity in
I tumbled and tossed in my berth and counted a million sheep jumping a
fence, worked at the multiplication table, and resorted to other devices
to get into a doze, but every new creak, every groan of the straining
timbers, kept me wide awake.
One of the most irritating noises was the grating of some object hanging
on the bulkhead close to my head. I could not hear it when the vessel
pitched, but when she took a long roll to starboard it rattled a second
and then rasped along the board. Locating the sound in the dark, I groped
along the planks to find the loose object, and my fingers came upon a
small metal rod. I seized it and lifted it from a hook, and with the tips
of my fingers found it to be a key!
Bounding out of my berth, I went to the door with it, certain that it
was a spare key to the stateroom. Cautiously I tried it in the large,
old-fashioned lock, and it turned back easily. I tried the knob, and the
door swung inward.
I closed it again and debated for a minute what I should do, and,
deciding that anything could not be worse than lying idle in a cell, made
up my mind to venture out and call upon Captain Riggs if I could find
him, or do a little spying on my own account to learn of any new
development since I had been dismissed from the saloon and imprisoned.
I held the door open a few inches for several minutes and listened for
some suspicious sound in the dark passageway. I remembered that Harris
had said something about a guard at the door, but although I strained my
eyes, in the darkness I could see no one. Each end of the passage was
capped by a penumbra of dim light, for although the sky was overcast, the
open air was not so dark as the intensified gloom of the passage.
My courage grew as I stood in the doorway, and I stepped out, closing the
door silently and not locking it, but knotting the key in the string of
I listened for a minute at Meeker's door but heard nothing. His room was
next to mine, but further aft, with one or more doors between his and
where the passage gave on the open after-deck, Captain Rigg's room was on
the same side, but away forward, under the end of the bridge, close to
the open ladder which led down to the fore-deck.
In my bare feet I made no noise, and slowly made my way forward to see if
there was a light in Captain Riggs's room. Before I had gone far I
heard a murmur of voices, and then saw a sliver of light from the jamb of
a door. There was a conversation going on in the captain's room, but I
could not distinguish the voices. I went on to the forward end of the
superstructure and discovered a port-hole in the captain's cabin partly
open, and by going up three steps of the bridge-ladder I had a partial
view of the room.
Captain Riggs was fully dressed, and sat at a shelf which dropped from
the wall. He was sorting out papers, and Harris, the mate, was standing
over him, talking.
"You must be mistaken, Mr. Harris," I heard the captain say.
"Make me third cook if I be!" exclaimed Harris, who seemed to be in an
irritable mood. "I know what I'm talking about, cap'n! I run my thumbnail
along the edges of it."
"Sally Ann's black cat, Mr. Harris!"
"All I ask ye to do, cap'n, is come down and have a look at it for
yerself. That's what this is all about I'm tellin' ye! We got somethin'
on our hands, I tell ye! We've got to do somethin' about it right away
or we'll have more trouble. What if the crew smells a rat?"
"You got a little too excited about that murder, Mr. Harris. I'd know all
about that. The owners wouldn't send me to sea with such as you say, and
say nothing to me, nor the charter party, either. They'd use a liner and
about forty men for anything like that. I'm crazy enough now, what with
this murder and mess, without getting myself stirred up over anything
like that. You better get some sleep. We'll find in the morning that you
made a mistake."
"But I had a light on it!" insisted Harris. "It's thar, I tell ye, and I
made sure. I don't come botherin' of ye with no cock-and-bull story like
this unless I know. I held a bull's-eye light on it and it showed plain
as Cape Cod Light. One of them chists got sprung, and I thought maybe I'd
made a mistake when I put the light on it, but when I rubbed my thumbnail
on it I knew I was right. I know the feel, I tell ye. Every cussed one of
'em is the same, too."
"I tell you, Mr. Harris, I've had tomfoolery enough for one night, and
I ain't going down in the hold and dig around in cargo and get the crew
suspicious. They are stirred up enough as it is with what's gone on
to-night, and I guess that's what ails you."
"Cuss it all, Cap'n Riggs!" exclaimed Harris in exasperation. "Ye ought
to know I don't get gallied for a little blood spilled. I slep' in a bunk
all one night in the _Martha Pillsbury_ with a man what didn't have any
head and never turned a hair. Ye know that old barkentine whaler that
Cap'n Peabody sold. Dang it all, cap'n, that is what this man Trego come
aboard as he did--that's what he was here fer. It come down at the last
minute and he bossed the job of gettin' it aboard.
"Wouldn't let a man touch it, but had his own chinks from shore-side get
it aboard with slings from the davits, and watched 'em stow it in the
storeroom. It ain't in the hold. When I come across the key to the room I
made up my mind I'd have a look at it. Tinned milk! Marked tinned milk! I
say tinned milk hell! I wash my hands o' the whole cussed mess if ye
don't look at it and see for yerself.
"I don't want the responsibility, and we've got to take some precaution.
That's what the killin' was for, and I'll bet a clipper-ship to a
doughnut-hole that writin' chap Trenhum knows about it, and he ain't no
writin' chap, neither. Thar has been bad business, and there'll be more
from what's below, mark my words. Come below and look at it."
"You looked it over in good shape with a light," said Captain Riggs,
evidently in doubt as to what he should do. "It ought to be on the
manifest, you know, Mr. Harris."
"Cuss the manifest! It's down as machinery and marked tinned milk. What
more ye want? They got things switched somehow, and that's plain as
the nose on yer face. I had my thumb on it, I tell ye."
"Then, if that is true, it explains why Mr. Trego was so mysterious, and
why he wanted to be a passenger to the others. That's what he was aboard
for, right enough, and like as not he would have told me if he had been
left alive long enough. It don't strike me reasonable that he'd keep
anything like that from me--not with the way things are going these days.
The master of the vessel ought to know in a case like that, and a
scraped-up crew." Riggs began to button his coat.
"Of course that was what he was so close-jawed for, and that's why the
owners was so close-jawed. Like as not they didn't know--charter was for
cargo, and they didn't bother their head about that part of it. Some sort
of a sneak game about it, of course, but we've got to mind our P's and
"The owners nor the charter party can't help us none with it now, say I,
and as master ye're got to do as ye see fit. All this monkey-business
to-night comes from it. I don't like the passengers and I don't like
these new whites in the crew. They know one another, I'm tellin' ye. The
long chap and Buckrow sailed with Petrak. They pretend they don't know
one another--all bosh--thick as fleas when no one is a watchin' of 'em.
"See how Buckrow was so smart handin' over his knife to the red chap when
he got in a jam? I say, where did we git them three jewels--the writin'
chap brought the little red killer, and the parson brought the long
fellow and Buckrow. Looks funny to me, cap'n--and we don't want no
Devil's Admiral aboard of us."
"Mr. Harris!" exclaimed Captain Riggs getting to his feet, "you are not
fool enough to believe stories about the Devil's Admiral, are you? That's
all newspaper talk and water-front gossip."
"I ain't so doggone sure about that, cap'n--bein' gossip. Of course, I
don't suspect nothin' like that aboard here, but from what Chips Akers
told me before he died, after the loss of the _Southern Cross_, I'm not
so sure this devil's-admiral talk is all folderol. Chips couldn't tell
much before he went under, but the _Southern Cross_ was boarded by the
Devil's Admiral sure enough--didn't they find a sextant out of her in a
store in Shanghai?
"Ships that go down in typhoons don't have their chronometers pop up in
Shanghai a year later, I'm tellin' ye. There ain't nobody ever saw this
here Devil's Admiral, sure enough, that lived to tell it, but ships don't
always go down in deep water and never a boat got off or a life-preserver
or a spar or a door found on the beach.
"Thar's been bloody work in the last three or four years in these
waters--look at the _Legaspi_; never a man jack out of her, and sailed
from Manila, as we did, for Hong-Kong, and never heard of. Steamer she
was, too, right in the steamer-lanes. They say the Devil's Admiral got
her, and I more'n half believe it."
"Sally Ann! Sally Ann!" said Captain Riggs. "I guess I better go down,
Mr. Harris, and look this thing over and get it off yer mind, or ye'll
be fretting yerself and losing sleep with such yarns running wild in
yer top-piece. I don't like this night prowling a mite, but take the
bull's-eye along, and never a bit of light until we are in the storeroom.
"I don't want the crew hugging our heels on this trip below, 'cause ye
may be right about it, at that. Be sure the slide is shut in that
lantern, and call the boy to watch for us. Be sure that glim is doused--I
don't want anybody to know about this."
I slipped off the ladder and clung to the superstructure out of the range
of the light which spurted from the open door as Harris came out. He went
aft for Rajah, and when he returned in a minute Captain Riggs was
standing at the head of the fore-deck ladder waiting for them. Harris
whispered something, and I saw the three figures descend to the fore-deck
and heard them enter the companionway to the lower deck. I followed them.
MR. HARRIS HAS A FEW IDEAS
Clutching the iron hand-rail of the ladder leading to the fore-deck, I
went down as quickly as I could. For half a minute I stood on the wet
plates of the deck, drenched by the spray which swept the head of the
vessel every time she lurched forward into the seas. Above me I could
make out the dim shape of the bridge and superstructure, and I could hear
the wind slatting the storm-apron lashed along the bridge-rail and the
singing of the funnel-stays, but it was so black overhead that I could
not distinguish any figure on the bridge.
The forecastle-head could barely be made out, and the winch-wheels and
ventilators on deck were inchoate masses which took shape only when they
were within reach. The green starboard-light threw a sickly glare over
the surges which rose to the rail. I had to feel my way along and not
release my grip until I had found a hold on something else.
If it was dark on deck, the appalling gloom below was terrifying, and
nothing seemed stable--there were times when I mistook the bulkhead for
the deck, when the vessel took a long roll and laboured to right herself.
I found myself in a maze of stanchions below, and after I had passed
under the hood of the companionway lost my bearings for a time, until
I discovered that I had to turn aft to make any progress. Everything
seemed to be making as much of a clatter as possible between decks, and
I seemed to be directly over the engines. Fire-doors were clanging close
at hand, and the Chinese firemen were bawling behind a bulkhead; so my
difficulty was not so much to keep silent myself as to recognize sounds
which would give me a clue as to where Captain Riggs and the others had
For a time I was on the point of getting back to the deck above, for it
was a foolhardy business with nothing to gain that I could see, and no
end of trouble if I should be caught stalking Captain Riggs on his
mysterious expedition to the storeroom. My silk pajamas, now thoroughly
wet, clung to me, and the salt water began to sting, and my wet stockings
were sticky and uncomfortable and formed bunches under my toes, but I
kept them on for the little protection they afforded my feet.
But I kept crawling aft until I came squarely against a solid wall, and
knew it for the bulkhead of the forward part of the superstructure. As I
was in some sort of a passage, it must lead to a door, and I fumbled to
find its outlines.
I found the knob, although it seemed to be on the wrong side, as things
will in the dark, and I tried the door, but it was fast. Just as I was
about to turn away I detected the sound of voices behind it, and knew
that Riggs and the mate were inside, and that I had found the room which
contained the mysterious cargo.
Bound to know what they were talking about, I made another effort to open
the door a little. I did not succeed, but I found a big key protruding
beneath the knob, and drew it out so I could hear better and even get a
glimpse of the interior. All was dark inside, except for a small circle
of light thrown against the bulkhead in such a way as to illumine a box
which was braced against the wall.
I knew this light came from the bull's-eye lantern, and that if I opened
the door an inch or so those inside could not detect it; but when I tried
the key I found that the door was unlocked but hooked inside, so I took
the key out again and put it down on the deck, and took another survey of
the limited portion of the room visible to me. I could hear Harris
talking in a low tone, and Captain Riggs asking questions, and by putting
my ear to the keyhole I heard enough to get the drift of their
conversation, although in this position I could not see what they were
"Tinned milk," said Harris, and he laughed.
"Let the boy hold the light," said the captain. "Pry it open a bit more,
Harris, and let me have a good, square look at it. I don't believe
there's more than one box, at that--which wouldn't be no great trouble
"Make a devil of a racket to git it broke open," said Harris, using some
sort of a tool on a box. "Thar's two chists here, to tell the truth about
it. One is heavier than t'other and bound with iron strips, and this
outside one is cleated with tin. I'll rip the whole works open, cap'n, if
ye say the word."
"No, no, Mr. Harris! Sally Ann, not that! Just enough so I can see and
have no doubt about it--I don't want no guesswork."
"They made it fast right enough," growled Harris. "I never see no
tinned milk nursed so particular as this, blow me if I did! But when I
started this side so's I could get my thumb in, I was Jerry Smith--here,
cap'n--quick while I hold this side out--put your thumb in there and
feel the aidge."
"It feels like it. Take the light from the boy and hold it down so I can
get a look at it--no, let him keep it, Mr. Harris--you hold the board out
so I can see it in good shape--down, Rajah, down low, so."
I tried to see what they were doing, but all I could make out was Captain
Riggs as he bent low between me and the object on which the light was
turned. I put my ear back to the keyhole.
"Sally Ann! Sally Ann!" I heard Captain Riggs exclaim, and then he
whistled. "Blast me if ye ain't right, Mr. Harris!"
"I knew I was right," growled Harris. "Can't fool me with that--it felt
like it and looked like it, and that man Trego fits into the game to a T.
I thought he was a mighty shady customer from the first look I got at
him, when he come alongside and bossed things. When he got that knife
throwed in him I thought I'd come down here and have a look around on my
own hook, and thar ye be, cap'n."
"But Sally Ann! What are we going to do with it? We can't leave it here,
"Maybe it would be better, at that," said Harris. "But I look at it this
way, cap'n--somebody knows it's here, that's what. Maybe the parson;
maybe that Mr. Trenhum; maybe Petrak knowed about it; maybe Buckrow and
Long Jim knows; but, anyhow, whoever had that knife hooked into Trego
knowed, and ye can put that in yer pipe and smoke it."
"But I don't believe anybody would broach cargo. We can keep the door
locked, and bury this under a mess of stuff, say spare chain and a lot of
old heavy gear."
"Broach Tophet!" snorted Harris. "Ye call this cargo, Cap'n Riggs? Wal,
if ye do, I don't! Broach cargo! Think a man that would kill Trego,
or get him killed, would stop at broaching cargo to git his paws on
"That's true enough," said Riggs. "It's bad business to have it aboard,
Mr. Harris. I hope nobody in the ship knows about it. If they find out it
may lead to trouble, and I'm too old to have trouble with my ships now.
I've had trouble enough this night as it is--"
"That ain't the idea at all, cap'n," said Harris, entirely out of
patience. "Ye've had trouble already, and all over this, and ye'll have
more of it, and ye can't avoid it. We got some pretty fancy passengers
aboard, and I'll bet my shirt the parson and Mr. Trenhum knows; and
what's more, that parson ain't no more a parson than I be--if he's
a parson I'm a bishop. Now, them two brought a bad lot aboard with
'em--Petrak, thar in irons, and this Buckrow, and Long Jim."
"It does look queer," admitted Riggs.
"Trego had his suspicions all the time, cap'n. They got him before he
could tell ye what he guessed. Trego never liked the both of 'em. When ye
come to look this thing over in yer mind, a little at a time, it gits
plain to me. Ye see, the parson brought Long Jim and Buckrow; and Tryhum,
or whatever his name is, brung Petrak to do his part of the dirty work.
"Now, look what I'm sayin', cap'n. We got short-handed quick thar in
Manila, didn't we? I been turnin' that over in my mind, too. Somebody
cut the boatswain, didn't they? The police got that Lascar quartermaster
who we had for lampman, didn't they? That's two men gone, ain't it?
"Look a here. The police come aboard lookin' for a little red-headed
sailor they said done the killin', and I told 'em they was dreamin'; but
they said the lampman, who they took for the murder, blamed it on a
little red-headed sailor. I just told 'em I guessed the lampman was their
man, and they said a parson told 'em he done the killin', but they wanted
to find this little red-headed sailor 'cause he had some hand in it, so
some witnesses said.
"See what I'm drivin' at? I didn't know about no red-headed man, and I
didn't want to. We had to get out of Manila, and I didn't want to be
monkeyin' around with no courts nor judges, and I let the police have
their own say, and agreed with 'em when I saw a chance to keep clear, and
disagreed when I saw it would delay us to get tangled up in the killin'
of the bos'n."
"Well, I don't see what all that has got to do with this," said Captain
"Ye don't? Look a here! One of our men cut up; a red-headed little sailor
has a hand in it of some sort; a parson tells the police our lampman done
it, and thar goes another of our hands. Who do we git in their place? A
parson for a passenger and two men of his own he brings aboard. Looks
like he made room for 'em, cap'n."
"You've been reading books," said Captain Riggs. "What I need is a mate,
not a detective. But go on, Mr. Harris--maybe ye're right--I'm getting
old and trustful."
"That ain't my main p'int, either," continued Harris. "What I mean is
this--come to think it over, the lampman didn't leave the ship's side
until after the Greek was cut up ashore. It was the parson who put the
police on to the lampman."
"This same parson, Mr. Harris? Ye ain't sure about that?"
"Oh, shucks! Think thar's fourteen thousand parsons runnin' around Manila
with a red-headed sailor that's too handy by far with a knife? Ain't I
got brains in my head? He had to make room for his pals aboard here,
didn't he? It's plain as Cape Cod Light to me, cap'n."
"Well, what does it all mean? You suppose this is what they want?"
"Ye don't guess they killed the bos'n and this Trego just for friendship
sake, do ye? If ye want to know what my personal, private feelings are,
it looks like we've been boarded by the Devil's Admiral."
"Sally Ann's black cat!" said Riggs. "That story was started by some
sea-lawyer full of gin, and the newspapers took it up for fun. There
ain't no more a Devil's Admiral than there is a _Flying Dutchman_."
"Wal, didn't I see the _Flying Dutchman_ off the cape with my own eyes
when I was second in the brig _Peerless_? Ye can't tell me thar ain't no
_Flying Dutchman_, and ye can't make me believe thar ain't no Devil's
Admiral--I've been told some things about both of 'em, and dang me for a
blue-nose fisherman if I don't believe in 'em both!"
"Who is your Devil's Admiral aboard here, then?"
"You're full of hashish! You been bothered lately with your head, Mr.
"That's all right, cap'n. When a man looks overside and says ten knots
and better, and the log says ten knots and a shade, he ain't no landsman.
He spits to looward like a commodore, that parson, and I've had my
suspicions right along."
"All buncombe. You been readin' too many Manila newspapers."
"Yes, and I see a few things on deck, too, that ain't got nothin' to do
with newspapers. Petrak, Buckrow, and the long lime-juicer was all pretty
thick when no one was lookin' at 'em. And they don't let on to know each
other, neither. Askin' one another their names when I was standin' by,
and soon as my back was turned thick as flies at a molasses-barrel,
sneakin' round and whisperin'.
"'Who's the red chap?' asks Long Jim from Buckrow, when he knows I can
"'Says he's out of a collier,' says Buckrow, speakin' loud a purpose so I
"The next I know, cap'n, Reddy was tellin' Long Jim that Buckrow never
paid him that two bob for a round of drinks in the Flagship Bar before
the cuttin'. Don't that sound funny? Then when Petrak takes the wheel I
asks him if he knows Long Jim, and he says not afore he come aboard, and
Buckrow says the same.
"They all lied; and ye remember how Buckrow helped Petrak with a knife
when he was in a tight jam thar at the door. I put two and two together,
and I'm here, Ezra Harris, your mate, to tell ye that they make four, and
ye can't git away from it--and what's more, this Trenjum is in with the
parson and the other three. Devil's Admiral or no, it don't look nice to
"Do you think Buckrow and the other two know about this, Mr. Harris?"
"It ain't clear to me, so far as that goes, but Trenjum and the parson
do. I looks at it this way--they knowed ye didn't know, and that Trego
might tell ye; so they ups and lets a knife into him before he can tell,
and then we're up in the air. If I hadn't found it they'd keep us
guessin' until they was ready to get in some more fancy work, the Lord
"That Trenjum is a slick customer--I don't believe he ever writ anything
for a newspaper, anyway--he's too tall and strong-lookin' to make his
livin' with a pencil. This Trenjum and the parson is in together for all
of their lettin' on they don't like one another. What business has a
writin' chap with his breeches full of pistols like he had in the saloon?
Ye can't tell me writin' chaps eats their meals with guns enough in their
clothes to arm a landin'-party, no, sir!"
"A pretty pickle! Sally Ann, but I've got a nice mess aboard me, and I'm
hanged if I know what it's all going to come to! I've half a mind to
throw the whole lot in irons and work the ship with the chinks."
"Now ye're talkin' like somebody," said Harris. "But go slow and git 'em
one at a time when it's convenient, so they won't suspect nothin'. If ye
go after the whole gang at once I'll bet ye have a fight on yer hands.
Grab one and then the other so ye'll git 'em separate: and keep 'em
separate, so they can't talk it over, or ye'll have a peck of trouble
on yer hands."
"It's no small matter to put passengers in irons, Mr. Harris. They would
make trouble for me when they get into port."
"They'll make a cussed sight more trouble for ye aboard here, is my way
of lookin' at it. We got Petrak, anyway, for a start. He said Trenjum got
him to do it, and Trenjum told ye Meeker had a hand in it. Just say one
accused the other, and when ye come to find this aboard ye had to put 'em
in irons 'cause it looked like they was hatchin' mutiny in the crew. Then
we'll slam the other two in irons on suspicion, and they bein' crew, ye
got a right to do that.
"What's the good o' bein' master if ye can't protect yerself and yer
ship? Trenjum is safe enough, as it goes for now, but I'd make him fast
below when we have the others, and see what sort of a talk he puts up. If
we git 'em to tellin' on one another, then we've got the whole yarn out,
and ye won't have no trouble with the port authorities. Don't that sound
sensible to ye?"
"I don't see any other way out of it," said Riggs. "I suppose the best
thing to do is to go up and take the parson. His room being next to Mr.
Trenholm's, the two of 'em will know what's going on, but we don't care.
Then we'll take Buckrow and Long Jim."
"I guessed ye'd see it that way, cap'n. I'm willin' to stand double
watches and take the wheel myself, and, with the Dutchman doin' the same,
we'll manage to get the old packet to port right enough."
"We'll go right up," said Captain Riggs, and I heard them move toward the
"Blow out that stinking lantern," said Riggs.
For an instant I had a wild idea of taking the key and locking them in,
and then making terms with the captain, and arguing him out of the
conviction that I was in league with Meeker, and offering my services in
capturing the others. But I knew Harris could not be convinced that I was
not in whatever plot was afoot, and that I could put no faith in any
agreement Captain Riggs might make while the mate was with him.
Besides, I had borne out the mate's suspicions by being below spying upon
them, and the wiser course would be for me to get back to my stateroom
and let them find me there. Then I might be able to discuss the whole
affair with them and prove that I was the victim of a plot myself.
As it was, I had lingered at the door too long, and Harris lifted the
hook inside and nearly stepped on me as he stumbled into the dark
passage. I crawled out of his path so that when the three of them came
out they were between me and the companionway to the upper deck.
"Where's the cussed key?" whispered Harris. "I thought I left it in the
"Light a match," said Riggs, and he began to move his feet along the
deck. "Sure you didn't put it in your pocket, Mr. Harris?"
"Who's that?" cried Harris suddenly, and I was sure he had seen me
crouching against the bulkhead. I was about to surrender myself and
explain my presence below when I heard the patter of feet and somebody
bounded up the ladder and crashed into a ventilator as he gained the deck
"Somebody been listening I'll bet my hat!" said Harris. "I've got the
key--it dropped out."
He locked the door and they hurried down the passage, Riggs telling Rajah
to "go get him," and then I heard them running forward toward the
forecastle as they got on deck.
I ran for the ladder as best I could, glad of the chance to get out of
the black hole and wondering who could have been down there with me. I
stepped upon something which slipped from under me, and I went down
sprawling, sure that I had gashed my foot, for I had felt a sharp edge as
I fell. I found that my stocking was not cut, and was getting to my feet
again when my hand came in contact with the object which had tripped me.
I had stepped upon a large shell crucifix.
A FIGHT IN THE DARK
Dazed for a minute by the discovery that Meeker had been lurking in the
passage while I was listening to Captain Riggs and Harris in the
storeroom, I leaned against the companionway and fingered the shell
crucifix, wondering how near Meeker had come to making an end of me. Of
course, the finding of the crucifix down there, and the man who ran up
the ladder when surprised by Riggs, meant nothing else but that Meeker
had been below either before or after I followed the ship's officers
The fact that he was between me and the companionway was proof enough
that he had come after I had taken my position at the keyhole of the
storeroom, but if I was inclined to make theories and draw conclusions
about Meeker, there were other things going on to distract my attention.
There was much shouting and running on deck, and, before going up, I
listened in the hopes of learning what was taking place, but the roar of
the sea, the throb of the engines, and the thumping of my own heart
prevented me from making any sense of the tumult above. I had a fear that
Riggs had discovered that I was missing from my room, and that he had
found Meeker likewise absent from his quarters.
No matter what had come about, I was in peril as long as I remained where
I was, both from Riggs and Harris and from Meeker and his assassins.
And no matter which side won above, whether Meeker was taken, or Riggs
and Harris killed, I would be regarded as an enemy by the victors.
The best thing for me to do was to surrender to Riggs at once, and secure
my pistols that I might get into the fight with him against Meeker and
That seemed to be an easy solution of my troubles until I considered that
Riggs and Harris were certain that I was the most dangerous man on board.
Before I could say a word I might be seized and ironed, if not shot on
sight. Perhaps the wiser course would be to get to my room and barricade
myself until affairs were more settled, or until we had the light of day
and I could know with whom I was dealing.
With one hand on the rail of the ladder and the other clutching the
crucifix, I debated with myself about what I should do, while above me I
could hear Riggs and Harris yelling to one another, although I could not
make out what they were saying. I heard Harris say something about "the
parson," and there were shouts from the bridge, and all hands seemed to
be running over the main-deck like madmen.
I started up the ladder, bent upon learning what was happening and
watching my chance to slip back to my room through the darkness. Before I
had gone three steps I was halted by a terrific noise between decks in
the direction of the storeroom. Several heavy blows were struck in rapid
succession against a bulkhead, followed by a rending crash and
splintering timbers. An iron bar rang on the deck-plates as it was thrown
down, and there was a rattle of chains.
Going down the ladder again, I crouched in a corner, for I was sure that
the racket below would attract the attention of Riggs and Harris, and
that they would be down to investigate. I would have wagered that some
one had broken into the storeroom containing the mysterious cargo.
Whispers reached my ears from the end of the passage, and then I heard
Petrak yell in his fretful, whining way:
"Hold it down, Bucky! Hold it down, ye beggar! It's my bleedin' hand ye
got, will ye mind?"
"Dry up about the paw," said a voice. "Lucky for ye it's not yer neck in
a rope. Can't break the chain, can I, 'thout givin' ye a twist, ye fool!
There it is now--right aft and on deck, Red, and follow me close! We'll
git 'em off right enough when ye git above decks. What's matter if yer
flippers are clear?"
Something rushed toward me in the dark, and again I heard the musical
tinkle that made me think of chain-armour. I pressed my body against the
boarding to be clear of the ladder, and made out the figure of a man,
crouched down and feeling his way along the passage. He stumbled up the
ladder, and then I heard Petrak close behind him, panting and cursing,
and the broken chains on his hands rasping along the bulkhead.
"Wait for me, can't ye? Bucky, wait for me! Stop a bit and give me a hand
"Oh, come along and stow the gab," called Buckrow from the head of the
companion, but in suppressed tones. "Keep yer lip shut, the afterguards
are on deck here and I don't know where Thirkle is. Slip along and give
us a hand with a knife or a gun. Looks like we'll settle the business
Petrak went up the ladder, his progress over each iron step plain to me
by the jingle of the chains dangling from his wrists, and before I had
settled in my mind what had happened the pair of them were gone. Buckrow
had rescued the little red-headed man from the ship's brig.
I crawled up the ladder, still holding the crucifix, for it was the only
thing in the form of a weapon I possessed, and the manner in which I
gripped it improvised it into a hilted dagger, although I remember
keeping it more for evidence against Meeker than for any other purpose.
If the sly rascal was still making a fool of Riggs, or denied that he had
been below, I felt that his crucifix would be proof against him which he
could not deny.
When I emerged from the hood of the companionway I found a high wind was
drenching the deck with spray and everything was black and wet and
slippery. The vessel was labouring, and, although there was nothing that
could be called a storm, she was bucking into head-swells that rattled
her from stem to stern, and the gusts of wind whipped the tips of the
waves across her fore-deck spitefully and without warning.
There were probably twenty feet of open well-deck between me and the foot
of the ladder leading to the saloon-deck, and, then, I had the dark
passageway to traverse for another thirty or forty feet aft before I
could gain my room.
I braced myself between the hood of the companion and a thrumming
ventilator and listened for some hostile sound. I was conscious of dim
forms all about me, although I could not see them, and I felt as if I had
blundered into a desperate game of hide-and-seek.
Thrusting my hands before me into the darkness, I stumbled toward the
ladder. As I was about to grasp it I encountered a wet jacket, and the
next instant I found myself gripped in a pair of arms. The fingers of my
enemy shut on the light fabric of my pajama-jacket. I struck at him with
the point of the crucifix and landed a glancing blow in his face, for the
knuckles of my hand brushed his jaw.
The sharp edge must have cut him, for he uttered a stifled groan, and as
he recoiled from me, partly from my blow and partly as the result of a
deep roll of the vessel, I wriggled out of my jacket and ran forward. In
my flight I bumped into ventilators, stumbled over a hatch-coaming and
pulled myself along the swaying rail-chains toward the bow of the vessel.
In the scuffle I had lost the crucifix, but I had also escaped from the
man who had grabbed me, and, while I was in a panic and did not know
where I was going, I hoped to be able to regain the ladder on the port
side and get back to my room once I had thrown my assailant off my track.
I reached the break of the forecastle head, but did not go into the bows,
because I knew I could not hope to escape from them if I did not keep
open some means of retreat. I halted at the closed scuttle of the
forecastle, for from there I could have my choice of getting aft again
along either rail. I clung to the wooden hood, naked to the waist, and
swept continually by the spindrift from the seas which met the vessel.
As my eyes grew more accustomed to the darkness I could distinguish the
outlines of the machinery on deck, the foremast and the companionway
forward of the superstructure. I could make out the bridge and the funnel
well enough to see a figure moving over the rim of the storm-apron. The
vessel rolled and the side-lights threw red and green glares over the sea
on either side.
As I stood there waiting for some sound which might tell me the position
of the mysterious man who had attacked me, eight bells was struck on the
bridge, and I knew it was midnight. I expected that there would be some
answer from the bows, as there should be a man on lookout there, and the
faint double notes of the bell in the wheel-house should have been
repeated from the ship's bell near to where I stood.
I had about decided to make another sortie toward the ladder, when I
heard a commotion on the bridge, and then a yell as a man might give who
had been stricken suddenly with death. It chilled my blood, for I knew
that another blow had been struck which took another life on board the
_Kut Sang_, and I realized that the striking of the bells had been a sort
of signal for the assassin.
After a minute I heard Harris bawl: "The Dutchman has been killed! Ho,
cap'n--the Dutchman has been knifed on the bridge!"
"The devil and all ye say!" shouted Captain Riggs from the fore-deck, and
I heard him clamber up the ladder and knew it must have been he who
grabbed me as I was about to gain the upper deck.
"Who was it, Mr. Harris? What in God's name is this, Mr. Harris? Mutiny?
Is this mutiny aboard me?" He was mounting to the bridge.
"They got the Dutchman," repeated Harris. "They done for him--he's dead
as a red mackerel!"
"It's mutiny, Mr. Harris," said the captain.
"Ye know cussed well what it is," shouted Harris, as loudly as though
Captain Riggs were still below. "I come up to take the watch and find the
Dutchman hangin' over the port ladder bleedin' like a dead goose! More
work of yer fine passengers, that's what it is, and ye know why."
A lantern flickered above the storm-apron and then swung in the break of
the bridge-rail at the ladder-head, and I saw Harris moving something
which hung limply as he dragged it behind the canvas.
There was a wrathful conference as the two of them inspected the body of
the second mate, and as I watched I saw a lancelike tongue of fire,
outside the halo of light cast up from the lantern, followed by the
report of a pistol shot, which reached my ears after I had seen the
flash, for the wind checked the sound.
On top of this came a ripping, rending noise and the figure of a man
swung to the lower deck, carrying with him a portion of the storm-apron,
which volleyed in the wind for a minute and then was swept away as he let
go of it.
"There they go!" bellowed Harris. "Come on, cap'n, we'll git the hounds
now," and he led the captain down the bridge-ladder, Riggs still carrying
the lantern, which swung crazily as he dropped three steps at a time.
"W'ere the bloody 'ell be ye, Bucky?" called a voice which I knew to be
that of Long Jim. "W'ere be ye, I s'y! Ye missed 'im, ye fool. Missed 'im
dead. Jolly nice mess ye made of it! Were be ye, Bucky?"
"Shut yer bloomin' face," growled Buckrow. "What if I did miss him? It
was you that spoiled my aim, falling against the lashings as ye did, so
the blasted thing carried away with me and like to mashed my head. What,
with a fall like that. Dropped my gun, too, and it's broke or jammed."
"Likewise I couldn't 'elp it," said Long Jim. "Caught my blasted foot in
a lashin'--rotten sailcloth, that, Bucky. Make a stand of it 'ere as they
come on an' we'll git the two of 'em, Bucky."
"My gun is jammed, I say," said Buckrow. "Come on below for now and find
Thirkle and Red. We'll get another gun."
They were coming toward me all the time, and behind them were Captain
Riggs, still with his lantern, and Harris, uttering terrible threats of
"Throw that cussed light away," said Harris. "Throw it away, cap'n, or
they'll wing us sure. Cuss it all, cap'n, they'll blow yer head off if ye
pack that 'round with ye. Throw it, can't ye?"
"I can't see!" wailed Riggs, who seemed to be confused. "I can't see,
"'Course ye can't see with it shinin' in yer eyes! Throw it away, will
ye? Here--now keep after me."
Harris wrenched the lantern from Riggs's hand and hurled it into the sea,
and, as the briny spume closed over it, it went out with a spiteful,
"'Ere's w'ere we bloody well get the two of 'em," said Long Jim, who was
within a dozen paces of me. "Give 'em the knives as they come along in
the black, Bucky."
"No knife-play for me with Harris--he's got a gun," said Buckrow. "Come
along below, Jim, and let 'em go for now. Quick, or the mate'll have
ye. Thirkle said he'd have the fo'c's'le by now. He run the chinks out,
him and Petrak. Scuttled 'em aft. Come below."
"Not till Mr. Mate 'as this in 'is ribs," said Long Jim.
"Ye fool--here they be, on us, and Harris with a couple of guns. Run for
it, Jim, I tell ye," and Buckrow rose up out of the dark within reach of
my hand and thrust back the slide of the forecastle-hood and swung below.
Long Jim came after him, chuckling with the joy of battle. I wanted to do
something, to have some hand in the fight, to capture one of the
murderers, and so prove to Riggs that I was not in league with them. This
impulse to aid the captain's side of the fight came to me swiftly, and I
put it into action at once by jumping directly in Long Jim's path at the
head of the forecastle ladder. I planned to grab his arms and hurl him
back, yelling at the same time to Harris not to shoot, that it was I,
Trenholm, and that I was holding Long Jim.
It was a foolish enough thing to do, for in the excitement of the minute
Harris would have undoubtedly shot me and Long Jim, too, and with good
reason, for he would have suspected a trap if I had asked him to hold his
fire and approach us in the dark.
As it happened, Long Jim was throwing himself forward in a sort of dive
beneath the hood of the scuttle, just as I thrust my body against the
opening. His shoulder caught me in the stomach, and my head and feet flew
out and we grabbed each other and went tumbling down the old wooden
companion together and rolled into the black forecastle.
"Blime me, I thought ye was down afore me, Bucky," gasped Long Jim,
recovering himself and stumbling over me. I rolled to one side and found
myself under a bunk.
"I was down," said Buckrow. "What ye trying to do--make a Punch and Judy
show of yerself? Ye come down like a lubberly farmer, and then blame it
on me. What made ye tumble like that?"
"I thought ye was down."
"I was down--well clear of ye and waiting for ye."
"Then how come ye under my bleedin' feet. Mind yer eye now, or the two of
'em'll be down on us. That mate is a bad un, I tell ye, Bucky--bad as the
nigger in the _Southern Cross_. No end of trouble with him, if ye
remember as I do."
"Aw, stow the gab," whispered Buckrow, "We're working now. Mind what yer
about. I've got another gun from Thirkle."
"Thirkle here?" asked Long Jim. "W'ere be ye, Thirkle?"
"Standing by," was the whispered reply. "Shoot if they come down, but
keep still a minute. Fire up before they have a chance to drop on you,
and stand clear, with the gun around the bulkhead at that side, while I
let go at them from this side."
"Below thar!" called Harris down the scuttle. "All hands on deck and look
lively, or I'll make a tailor's dummy of the last up."
"Don't say a word, but let him have it when he gets well down," whispered
the man who had been addressed as Thirkle, which mystified me.
"Below thar! I want the man as killed the Dutchman! All hands up and one
at a time, or I'll let daylight through ye all. Hear me below?"
"Don't say a word," cautioned Thirkle.
Riggs and Harris were talking together, but we could not make out what
they were saying. I lay under the bunk at the very feet of Buckrow, dazed
and bruised from my fall, yet keenly aware of the situation and strangely
cool, thrilled and fascinated with the drama being played about me.
I knew that I had small chance of escaping with my life if my presence
should be discovered by the men who lay in wait for Harris and the
captain; but it was not fear which kept me an auditor when I might well
have been an actor to good purpose. I desired to see what would be the
end of the act, and, far from being terrorized as I should have been, I
enjoyed the invisible scene. It was not that I was unmindful of the
danger, but that I was surprised at myself for feeling no fear.
"I'll give all hands a minute to get up, and if they ain't, I'll be
down," thundered Harris. "I know yer down thar, Buckrow, along with Jim
and the red chap, and I know yer game. If I have to go down I'll kill a
couple of ye, lay to that; so ye can come up and save yer necks, or take
yer chances if I go below."
"Pass him some insolence," said Thirkle. "We've got to get out of here.
Give him lip, Buckrow, so he'll come down, or he'll batten down on us
until morning, and ye know what that means."
"What ye want of me?" called Buckrow.
"Ye stabbed the Dutchman, ye murderin' hound," said Harris. "Ye know what
I want ye for well enough, and if ye don't come up I'll see that Jim and
Petrak swing with ye."
"I didn't kill nobody," said Buckrow. "Ye want to blame it on me, don't
ye, ye big monkey."
"It was you that stabbed him and then took a shot at me. I know ye,
Buckrow, and I'll have the life of ye if ye don't come up."
"Petrak was the one what killed the mate," said Buckrow. "It was Petrak
done for the Dutchman, sir. I ain't no murderer, sir, Mr. Harris, but a
sailorman what does his duty as he sees it, sir."
"Come on deck then and we'll see about that," said Harris, who seemed to
think that Buckrow's play of fear of him was genuine.
"Come down and get me. Ye don't dare come down, ye big bucko. I know the
likes of ye! Come down and get me, if ye dare."
"Is this mutiny? I'll have the lot of ye hanged! I don't stand for no
such business aboard me," cried Captain Riggs, and the trio below stifled
"Naow let me handle this, cap'n," we heard Harris say. "I'll go down and
break this myself. This ain't no time to argue 'bout mutinies; this
"Give him a dirty insult, Bucky," whispered Thirkle. "Give it to him hard
or the old master will argue him out of coming down."
"Come down, ye swine! Come down ye low-born coward and take me if ye can.
That's what I say to ye. It's me, Buckrow, foremast hand that's talkin'
to the mate of the _Kut Sang_, who's a dog."
This brought a cry of rage from Harris, and we heard him enter the
scuttle, while Captain Riggs begged him not to go down.
"Stay up here, Mr. Harris, and let the murdering dogs stay there. We'll
fix 'em fast enough when day comes."
"Leggo me, cap'n! I say I'll break that spawn's neck! Let me down!"
"I can't let you risk your life this way, Mr. Harris. I can't, I say.
Where will I have officers if ye get hurt down there? Let 'em stop for
"Leggo my arm!" shrieked Harris. "Cap'n, if ye don't leggo my arm I can't
say what I'll do. I never let no man talk to me like that!"
"But, Mr. Harris! Ye know what it means! Ye know I can't work the ship!
Ye know what's below and what they want! Mr. Harris! Mr. Harris!"
"Now, will ye let go?" demanded Harris, and then he crashed down the
wooden ladder. The forecastle was illumined by a flash, and Buckrow's
pistol boomed, and then a second flash on the other side of the
forecastle showed me the face of the Rev. Luther Meeker at the entrance
to the forecastle behind a pistol which had sent a second bullet at the
mate. And the Rev. Luther Meeker was the man who had been addressed as
Thirkle, and who seemed to be in command of the others.
Something rolled into the smoke-laden hole and sprawled on the planks
near me, and I could hear it gasping and choking.
"Leggo my coat, cap'n. Leggo my coat!" said the form, and I knew it was
Harris wounded to death. In a minute he was still, and then the scuttle
above rattled peremptorily.
"Mr. Harris! Be ye hurt, Mr. Harris? Oh, Mr. Harris!"
"We got him all right," whispered Buckrow. "That settles Mr. Matey, well
and good. Hey, Thirkle?"
"Good, clean job," replied Thirkle. "Good, clean job, Bucky, and smart as
could be the way you drew him down. See what you can do with the skipper
"Anything wrong, Mr. Harris?" called the captain from the scuttle. "Good
Lord! ain't I to have no officers? What's to become of my ship with such
a crew aboard me? Sally Ann! Sally Ann!"
"Come on down, cap'n," said a voice startlingly like Harris's. It was
Meeker, or Thirkle, as his men called him, imitating the high-pitched
nasal twang of the dead mate.
"That you, Harris?" cried Riggs hopefully. "What's the matter, Mr.
"I hurt myself, cap'n. Come on down," pleaded Thirkle in a constrained
voice like a man in pain. "I done for Buckrow, but I hurt my ribs. Why
don't ye come down? I can't navigate this way--I'm hurt."
"Who was my mate in the _Jennie Lee_?" demanded Riggs. "Tell me that, Mr.
Harris, and I'll come down, and not before."
"We'll have to go up and get him," whispered Thirkle. "He's too wise an
old crab to be caught that way. I'll take the lead, Bucky, and Long Jim
last, and we've got the ship. We can let the fire-room chinks and the
nigger go until morning. We'll take the bridge and keep the old tub going
until day and then pick out a good place to drop her when we've got what
we want. Petrak's got the wheel now, and we can do for the chinks, come
day. Blessed if I know what has become of Trenholm, but we'll find him in
time and attend to him proper. Remember: make for the bridge once we've
got the skipper. Quick now!"
The three of them sneaked up the companionway.
THE DEVIL'S ADMIRAL
For several minutes I listened breathlessly, waiting for some sound which
would indicate that Captain Riggs had been killed or captured by the
three who had gone up the companionway after him. But when I heard no
cry, or shot, or sounds of a struggle, I began to formulate plans for
getting back to my room or finding the captain and begging him to let me
help him fight against Thirkle and his men.
Lying huddled under the bunk in the bilge-water, which swung from side to
side as the vessel rolled, I must admit that I would have presented a
sorry spectacle to any one who could have seen me, clad only in the
trousers of my pajamas, and suggesting anything but a fighting man.
But, in spite of the poor part I had taken so far in the fighting, I had
no fear of an encounter with the men who seemed likely enough to take
possession of the _Kut Sang_ and murder all on board. I told myself that
it was not my fault that I had been stripped of my arms and made a
prisoner, and blamed Captain Riggs for allowing Thirkle--in the character
of the Rev. Luther Meeker--to throw all the suspicion of the murder of
Trego on me and hold his own liberty and good-standing as a passenger.
I fully realized the danger which confronted me and the ship, and as I
crawled from under the bunk in the forecastle I had little hope of ever
escaping from the vessel alive. It was no time to go over past mistakes,
no time to moan over what had happened. I longed for action, but, with
both Captain Riggs and Thirkle and his men against me, it looked as if I
would have little chance, no matter which side was victorious in the
battle that was being fought for the ship.
I had to crawl over the body of the mate in order to get clear of the
tier of bunks, and, thinking it possible that Harris might have a pistol
in his clothing, or had dropped one as he fell into the forecastle, I
examined his pockets. I got no pistol, but did find a box of matches,
and, standing with my back to the scuttle to protect the flame from the
wind, and also to shade the light from the open scuttle, I struck a match
and hurriedly looked over the littered deck of the forecastle.
I struck several matches at intervals in this way, waiting between lights
to make sure that no one had seen the flashes from the upper deck. If
Harris had had pistols his murderers must have taken them. I did find a
dozen or more cartridges of heavy calibre loose in the side-pocket of his
coat, but those and the matches were all that resulted from my ghoulish
In the brief illuminations of the forecastle I had seen clothing of the
crew hanging from nails, and I dressed myself in light-blue nankeen frock
and trousers which had belonged to a Chinese sailor, for the jacket
buttoned in the back and smelled strongly of opium, as did the whole
The ports were all fast, but leaked, and what little air came in
descended through the scuttle, so the place still reeked with acrid
powder-smoke that bit the throat and eyes. The deck was strewn with
panniers and cups, that clattered to and fro with the motion of the ship.
The water under foot, and the accumulations of refuse, rice, and food,
made it difficult to keep a footing without clinging to the bunks at
There was a slush-lamp swinging from a string, and I had a mind to light
its rope wick and search through the chests for a weapon; but I did not
want to remain too long below, although I could not bring myself to leave
empty-handed the only place which offered a weapon.
Making a hasty search in the dark, I found a broken knife and an iron
belaying-pin. The knife-blade was broken within a couple of inches of the
handle, but diagonally from the point, so that it presented an end that
might be dangerous at close quarters.
Ten minutes were probably spent in my exploration of the forecastle,
although in my nervous haste it seemed an hour, and I stopped frequently
to listen for intruders, and for some indication of how the fight was
going on deck.
With the handle of the belaying-pin gripped in one hand, and the knife in
the pocket of my nankeen jacket ready for an emergency, I felt my way
along the port side toward the foot of the companion, determined to get
out of the stinking hole and try my chances in the open. My plan was to
find Riggs, if I could, and, if he were besieged, attack Thirkle and his
men from the rear, although I knew full well my disadvantage against
them, armed as they were with plenty of pistols.
But I trusted to the darkness, and hoped that I might outwit them by a
bluff that I, also, had firearms. Unless I could outmanoeuvre them before
daylight and join forces with Riggs I knew we had small chance against
them in daylight, if, indeed, they had not already eliminated the captain
from the fight.
I had a gleeful picture of myself challenging Thirkle in the dark, and
urging him and Buckrow, Long Jim, and Petrak, to come and take me,
telling them at the same time that I would give them shot for shot, and
cautioning my imaginary force to hold fire until the enemy was close at
hand. I imagined that a bold manner, and the surprise they would
receive at my appearance in the fight would diminish their confidence and
give them a wholesome respect for me until I could gain the saloon-deck
and ally myself with Riggs.
Then all my brave plans went to smash as I heard some one sneaking down
the companionway. For an instant I was in a panic of terror and chagrined
that I had lingered long enough to give the enemy time to return. But I
determined that I might as well fight there as anywhere else, and,
bracing myself against the bunks, I drew my knife and raised the
belaying-pin, prepared to begin the attack as soon as my visitor got
I could hear him breathing gently as he came down one step at a time, and
from the light "smack" on each succeeding board I knew that he was
barefooted. He was feeling his way along, as if in strange territory, and
I knew that it could be neither one of the Chinese crew nor one of
As I stood there waiting for him to come within reach I heard a
peculiar fluttering which puzzled me, until my memory served me, and I
remembered that this queer swishing sound belonged to Rajah, the dumb
Malay mess-boy. I knew it must be Rajah, probably seeking for Riggs; but
I also knew that he would have his deadly kris, and I shivered for myself
at the prospect of being dealt a blow from that awful, irregular blade
which he could wield so expertly.
Now, I did not want to kill or wound Rajah, for, if Riggs were still
alive, the boy would be a valuable member of our party; and, if Riggs
were dead, I hoped that I might win the boy to my side. I could have
struck him down with the heavy iron pin as he groped his way out of the
companion; but there would be small satisfaction in killing him, for it
would simply be doing a job which would please Thirkle and make his task
of taking the ship all the easier.
Neither did I expect to be able to explain to the Malay that I was not
his enemy, for he could not make any reply to my pleadings, and the only
answer I might get would be the awful kris.
I thought of crouching in his path and adopting football
tactics--tackling him low as soon as he stumbled upon me. But that
way had its dangers, for he would undoubtedly have his knife and
would make short work of me before I could overpower him.
As it happened I had no choice in the matter, and we came together
suddenly and unexpectedly with a lurch of the vessel. He was nearer to me
than I imagined, and as he threw up his knife-arm toward the bunk the
blade clanged against the boarding, and his shoulder struck me.
I grabbed for his wrist, and at the same time dropped the pin, which must
have fallen on his foot. Twisting his arm, I made him drop the kris;
and then, as I flung him backward over a chest, went with him, and,
startled by the attack, I had him pinioned to the deck and helpless
before he knew what had happened.
"Rajah! Rajah!" I whispered frantically as he attempted to squirm out of
my grasp. "Number Four! Number Four! Good man--no fight Number Four!"
That was my number at the saloon-table, and I thought he must recognize
me by that. He hissed in the manner which he had to convey that he
understood an order, but I held him as gently as I could for a minute and
tried to demonstrate to him that I meant him no harm, and spoke the
peace-language of pidgin-English, common enough in the Orient.
He lay quiet and made no resistance, hissing, and I let go of him and
fumbled for his kris. I found it, and then patted his head as he still
lay upon the deck, and he patted my hand in turn and kissed it; and then
I gave him his blade, at which he was overjoyed.
I struck a match then, that he might see me, and by sign-language tried
to make him understand that we should go on deck and search for Thirkle
and the others.
Before we had finished our silent parley I heard a noise at the scuttle,
and then Riggs whispered: "Rajah! Rajah!"
I was wondering what I should say to him, afraid that I might frighten
him away again, or that when he recognized my voice he would be all the
more convinced that I was against him, or make some startled exclamation
which would betray his presence to Thirkle, and also give him the
information of my whereabouts. Before I made any sound Rajah had rapped a
signal to him, and I heard him coming down.
Rajah scratched my hand and felt for the matchbox in my pocket, and as
Captain Riggs reached the foot of the companion I struck a match and held
it before my face, between Rajah and myself.
"Good God!" cried Riggs, and he backed toward the companion, holding up
his hands in terror as he thought that I had captured Rajah.
"Captain," I called as the match went out, "it's Trenholm, ready to fight
with you. I'm not with that murdering crew. I didn't kill Trego. Don't
be a fool, but give me a chance to help you."
"Didn't kill Trego!" he said, amazed. "I know you didn't kill Trego, but
you had the red chap do it for you."
"No, I didn't. The money I gave that little devil was for bringing my bag
on board, and he told you that I paid him for killing Trego so that
Meeker, or Thirkle, would get me out of the way. I tell you that I am not
with that gang. Give me a gun, and I'll help you in this fight."
"Who's that dead man on the deck?" he asked. "How come you down here?"
"That's Harris. Thirkle and Buckrow killed him."
"Thirkle! There's no Thirkle aboard here. Thirkle! Why, that's--"
"Thirkle," I said, "is the Rev. Luther Meeker. He is the head of the
"Then poor Harris was right," he moaned, feeling for a chest and sitting
down upon it. "Harris was right." I could hear despair in his voice--he
was master no longer, but a broken, dispirited old man.
"Cheer up, captain; we'll beat them yet," I said as cheerily as I could.
"We're lost," he moaned. "Light the slush-lamp,--they won't bother us
"But let's get on deck and give them a fight," I said. "It won't do any
good to stay down here--"
The board at the scuttle rattled, and we listened. I stooped and groped
for the belaying-pin.
"They got below," growled Buckrow. After a minute he slammed the
scuttle-board shut, and we heard a heavy, thumping sound and the
clanking of a chain.
"We're lost!" moaned Riggs. "They are making the scuttle fast with
rail-chains. All hands lost, and the Lord have mercy on us! Light the
slush-lamp, Mr. Trenholm--we're dead men!"
"What is their game?" I asked, in doubt as to the meaning of what he said
about the rail-chains, although I was dismayed by the ominous sounds at
the scuttle and knew that we must be prisoners in the forecastle.
"There is no escape from here," said Riggs. "They hold the ship now, and
they'll scuttle her before day comes."
I struck a match and lit the swinging slush-lamp, which made a dismal,
smoking flame and added to the heat and the multitude of smells which
made the forecastle a hole of torture. But the light was comforting,
and Rajah crept to his master's side and clung to his arm, the boy's
mouth open and his eyes full of questions.
"So they got poor Harris," said Riggs, still sitting on the chest and
gazing at the body of the mate. "I told him not to come down, but he
would have his way. I thought I could get down here and find one of his
"They are gone," I told him. "I made a search for them, and was about to
get out of here when I heard Rajah coming down. It is lucky I didn't
kill the boy--or that he didn't kill me. But that's all done and over,
captain, and we ought to begin to plan for our escape. Is there no way
out of here?"
He put his pallid face in his hands and shook his head, and it was then
that I realized his age and his helplessness. He had given up the fight.
"You don't realize our situation, Mr. Trenholm, or what all this
means, or the men we are against. That forecastle bulkhead is lined with
sheet-iron on the other side to keep the crews from broaching cargo, and,
even if we should cut through it, we would come against cargo in the
hold, and would be no better off. I admire your pluck, but you don't know
the odds against us. They'll loot her and scuttle her before the sun is
well up, and we'll go down in this trap. Help me lift poor Harris into a
We stowed the body of the mate in a lower bunk and covered it with straw
and some of the clothing of the Chinese. Riggs sat down again and stared
at the littered deck.
"But we must fight to the last minute," I said. "We can't give up like
this, even if we are trapped. You certainly do not intend to surrender
now. I know, captain, that the odds are great; but we can fight, can't
"You don't know!" he almost wailed, beating his knees with his hands.
"You don't know what it all means, of course. I tell you they'll loot her
and scuttle her when they have done their work aboard, and we're doomed
"But what is there to loot in this old tub?" I asked, preferring to have
him tell me of the mysterious cargo than to take the time of explaining
how I had followed him and Harris below.
"That's what they want," he said, talking to himself more than to me.
"Harris was right, but we found out too late. They got Mr. Trego before
he could warn us. And it's not my fault if I die for it. Me, J. Riggs,
master of sail and steam for thirty years, and never a ship lost nor a
dishonest dollar in all my life, not to know what's in my ship!
"It's not me that lost her, God knows; but that's what the owners will
say, and that's what everybody will say--if they don't say something
worse when the truth comes out. 'Riggs gone, and his ship gone,' they'll
say, and then others will wink and whisper: 'And you know the _Kut Sang_
was ballasted with gold,' and who's to know I never stole it?"
"Gold!" I said. "You say there is gold aboard?"
"Yes, gold!" he almost shouted at me. "Chests of gold coin, a dozen or
more! That's what they're after, and that's what they'll get, and that's
what it is all about--Trego and all the rest of it!"
"And you never knew?" I asked, more to take his mind off his troubles and
rouse his fighting spirit than for the information, for the details
mattered little to us now.
"Mr. Trenholm," he began with fervor, "if I had known there were any
dangers I could have met them. I've faced death enough in my day not to
fear it, and I'm no weakling if I am an old man. But a master should know
what's in his ship and what's before him, and not be caught in a mess of
lies and sneaking. But perhaps the owners didn't know--the ship's in
charter for the voyage, and Mr. Trego took charge at the last minute.
"Looking back now, I'm minded to think they were afraid I'd turn pirate
at the sight of a few chests of gold. They thought they were slick; but
there were others just as slick, laying lines to beat 'em; and here I am,
without officers or crew or ship, and jailed in my own fo'c'sle. Doggone
it! I guess all hands knew about that gold but me!
"What do they do? Kill my bos'n ashore, take the lampman for it, and make
me so short-handed that I ship a gang of pirates as passengers. It was
understood that there were to be no passengers this trip; but the owners
saw a chance to make a few dollars extra, and the charter party says all
right. I heard that much, and then the banker, who acted for the charter
party, says to another: 'It will make it look more ordinary to carry
passengers if there is some care exercised.'
"Some care! They give me a parson that's a pirate, and he makes me
suspect you of a murder; and you bring one of his very men aboard--and
me, like a fool, ship him--and the other two he brings with his organ."
"But the gold--why should they ship so much gold in this manner?"
"For the Russians," he said. "I went through Trego's papers, and the
best I can make out of a lot of foreign writing is that it is going to
Hong-Kong to buy coal for the Baltic fleet. At first they were going to
make their headquarters in Manila and do the business there; but the most
of the tramps--colliers--are British, and they found it easier to do
business out of Hong-Kong, I suppose, because the Japanese could keep
close watch of suspicious vessels making Manila a port of call.
"Ye see, all the banks out here are full of spies---Chinese clerks and
all hands--and they are watching day and night. The masters of the
colliers and the blockade-runners into Port Arthur won't take checks or
other money--they want it slap down in solid gold before they will sail,
and this gold had to be landed in Hong-Kong.
"The Japs might send a couple of cruisers for it if they shipped it
openly, so they try to sneak it through like this, and with all their
hiding and lying and sneaking there was a leak somewhere, and these
fine chaps aboard us laid lines to git it--and here we are."
"And still fighting, captain," I said.
"Did you ever hear of the Devil's Admiral, Mr. Trenholm?"
"I never did. Who is the gentleman?"
"I never believed in the stories myself, but Harris did; and now I am
sure that he is right. Two years ago a ship left Singapore for Bombay,
and never was heard from until her chronometer turned up in Swatow or
somewhere. A Portuguese Jew had them in a pawnshop, and he said he bought
them from a chink for seven Mex dollars. They never found the chink; but
there was the ship's name, or the captain's name written in the case with
"Then last year the steamer _Legaspi_ left Manila for Hong-Kong with
cattle and Christmas goods and passengers, and never was heard from. Some
said she went out to run the blockade before Port Arthur, and the Japs
sunk her, but the others said the Devil's Admiral got her; and then the
stories began, and when a ship was overdue or never heard from, people
began to say the Devil's Admiral had her."
"But who is he, captain?"
"That's it, Mr. Trenholm. Nobody knows. He never leaves a man alive to
tell the tale. Some say he's a big chink, some say he's a big black man
from the African coast who was mate in a whaler, some say he was an
officer in the British navy.
"They found a man dying from starvation and wounds in a boat that got
away from him, and the poor chap told a crazy story that they couldn't
make head or tail of, and he died before he told enough to help any, but
he said it was the Devil's Admiral and his crew that got 'em.
"Pearlers he went after first, and then he got bolder and went after
sailing-ships; and now they say he went after steamers and got the
_Legaspi_, and, Mr. Trenholm, I believe he's aboard here now."
We heard heavy blows struck against a bulkhead, and the shriek of a door
as it was torn from its hinges.
"They are breaking into the storeshold," explained Riggs. "They have got
the gold, and the next move will be to get away with it in the boats
after they have opened her sea-valves, and down we'll go with the old
"But what makes you think we have this Devil's Admiral aboard?" I asked.
"Thirkle is supposed to be the name of the Devil's Admiral."
"And Thirkle is--"
"Our Rev. Luther Meeker, Mr. Trenholm. We are dead men."
A COUNCIL OF WAR
"We are dead men," repeated Riggs, smiling grimly. "We'll never see
another day. This slick devil will be back in Manila or up the China
coast, praying his way out of the country with the gold cached somewhere
to wait until he comes for it. He can take enough of it with him to buy a
schooner--part of it is in Bank of England notes--but the Rev. Luther
Meeker will never be heard from again, because _he_ sailed in the
"He won't!" I raged, testing the weight of the belaying-pin. "I'll batter
my way out of here and take him by the throat if it's the last act of my
life! If you won't fight, I will!"
I braced my feet on the plunging deck of the forecastle and shook my head
like a maddened animal. The seas outside assailed our bows, and
their fury thrilled me, and seemed a part of my desire to slay. I tore
off my jacket and started for the scuttle with the belaying-pin gripped
in my hand, bent on battering down the barrier which kept us from the
"Not that," said Riggs, seizing me. "You'll have them down upon us, or
they'll turn the firehose down the scuttle and drown us like rats. I've
broken too many mutinies, Mr. Trenholm. You can't do that."
"But let's do something," I pleaded. "We might as well be planning
something as to be sitting here weeping over what has happened."
We stopped to listen as the hammering between decks grew louder. The
pirates were smashing the chests that held the gold, and to us in our
prison the noise of their work was ominous--as if they were building a
gallows and we were condemned men.
"They've got it," said Riggs. "When they've stowed the boats with it
they'll open her sea-valves, and down we'll go. If there was a chance in
the world, Mr. Trenholm, I'd fight; but, being a landsman, you don't
understand how these things work out. They are probably driving her
toward the coast now--we've been making an easting, as I can tell from
her roll, and, as they'll be well off the steamer-lanes by daylight, they
may wait until they can see where they will make their landing.
"But, if we give them trouble, they'll make sure of putting us out of the
way before they abandon ship. Take it calm, and we may see a way out of
it; but there is nothing to gain by opening the fight again, fixed as we
"It's a dismal outlook," I confessed, impressed by his coolness in spite
of his surrender to the situation.
"You may be right, but if you will put your wits to work you may see a
"If I had any cartridges--"
"Cartridges! Have you a pistol?"
He drew a heavy revolver from his pocket and dropped the empty cylinder
into his palm, and I gave a roar of joy at the sight of it, for I knew
that it would take the bullets I had found in Harris's pocket.
"A forty-four! Here! These will fit!" and I plucked a handful of the
precious cartridges which were suddenly transformed from so much useless
lead and powder into deadly missiles which might yet save our lives and
"Our luck has turned!" I cried, slapping him on the back and putting six
of the greasy slugs into the cylinder and snapping it back into position.
"We can fight them now, captain. Only let me get sight on one of those
murderers and I'll drill him--Thirkle and Buckrow and the whole lot of
"You won't get the chance," he said. "They are too wise to come prowling
around if there is a chance of getting a bullet, and they won't bother
their heads with us now--it's the gold they want--there they go again."
There was a shot on deck, and then we heard heavy shoes pounding over the
deck and a wild yell over our heads as a man got a bullet or jumped into
I ran up the companion to the scuttle-hood and listened, and, with
the pistol ready, tried to make out what was going on. I could hear
Thirkle calling to Petrak, and then the screaming of Chinese, shots in
rapid succession, and the patter of bare feet scampering on the iron
In a few minutes the battle seemed to be transferred to the
superstructure and the after-deck, and from then until the ports of the
forecastle became gray disks in the false dawn there was scarcely a
quarter of an hour that was not marked by a pistol-shot or the death-cry
of a victim. We knew it was a ruthless slaughter, and that Thirkle was
working out the ancient creed that dead men tell no tales.
I lingered in the scuttle, and tried my luck on it with the broken knife,
hoping that I might cut an aperture which would admit the muzzle of the
pistol, or my hand, so that I might grasp the chains on the outside and
pull them free. After an hour or more of labour I managed to split away a
small piece of board, but in the dim light from the swaying slush-lamp I
made slow progress.
In my cramped position I had to hold fast with one hand, and, swaying
with the motion of the ship, work away splinters from the thick panel
which moved from right to left in an iron groove. The scuttle was built
on an iron frame, securely bolted to the deck, and I knew it could resist
any attempt we might make to break it off by working in the narrow
companion, which was not wide enough for two men.
It was weary work, for the smoke below sought an outlet up the passage
and made my eyes ache; the wind that whirled through the cracks of the
hood brought spray with it and the water dripped constantly, and the
thunder of an occasional sea as it swept the forecastle-head made such a
dreadful noise that I was sure each visitation meant that we were
Captain Riggs crawled up to where I was, and asked me if I had solved the
problem of getting out.
"I don't guess you'll make much of a job of it," he whispered. "It's an
even bet they've got a ton of chain lashed over the hood; and, if ye dug
through the wood, ye'd need a file after that. Come on down and have a
bite. I found a sack of old sea-biscuit and a bottle of water stowed in
one of the spare bunks."
I went below with him, and we made a sorry meal of mouldy biscuit that
had been in the forecastle a year or more; and shared the water, which
was satisfying--even though warm, greasy, and unpalatable. Rajah had gone
to sleep in an upper bunk, and we ate in silence for a few minutes.
I was on the verge of despair as I saw that Riggs had given up, in spite
of my efforts to hearten him. After the stories he had been telling that
very evening about mutinies and wrecks and fights against odds, it seemed
unbelievable that he should submit so tamely to Thirkle and his men. As
he sat opposite me on the sea-chest and ate mechanically of the broken
bits of biscuits, I observed him closely, and it seemed that he had aged
twenty years in the last few hours.
His hair seemed whiter, his face grayer, the lines in his cheeks and
forehead deeper, and his chin and jaw had lost their firm set which
proved him a commander of men. As I considered all these things and saw
the pity of it I forgot his age and was angered. I was bound to make him
do something--put my youth and strength and hopefulness and fighting
spirit with his experience and knowledge of ships and find a way out.
I determined to make him do something, anything, rather than mope and
whine, even if I had to threaten him with his own pistol, which I had
taken from him without so much as asking him for it. He didn't want it,
"Now, Captain Riggs," I began, "I know you have been a fighter all your
life, and I know you can suggest something better than--"
"That's right," he broke in, raising his hand to stop me. "I've lived too
long, and my fighting days are over. My years have come upon me all at
once, and they are a burden--too much of a burden to bear and fight, too.
I am weary from fighting. I'm older than I thought I was. I have been in
these waters too long, and these latitudes take the mettle out of a man
when he has reached my age.
"I never felt it as I do now, and I guess the owners knew it, and that's
why I didn't get one of their new boats. But this ain't my fault, Mr.
Trenholm. Don't you see it ain't my fault? I should have known what was
aboard, and then I could have been prepared. As it is, this thing is too
big for me now, and I'm ready to strike my colours. It's my honour that
frets me now."
"Your honour! It wouldn't be the first ship that's been lost, captain,
even if it is the first one you have lost, and--"
"I know what you are thinking of, boy. You think I'm afraid. Well, I'm
ready to die--that's nothing. If I thought I could save you and Rajah
here, I'd do it--it is my duty. I've been in harder places than this, and
I was a hard man to handle; and I've had my battles and mutinies and
worse, some of 'em before ye were born, lad. They all weigh me down now,
and it's not what's ahead of me that's fretting me now; but what's after
me--the things they'll say, some of 'em who don't know me well. Don't you
see, they'll think I made off with the gold?"
I hadn't considered the case in that light; but now I saw that he was
worrying of what would be said, while I was thinking only of my life--he
considered that he would lose life and honour; and, as he still had his
New England conscience, honour weighed deeper in his scales. I felt
ashamed that I had planned to make his last hours harder.
"I know how it will go," he said. "It's been done and told of before, and
the master is always blamed; and this is no decent end for me. I'm known
from Saddle Rocks to Kennebunkport as a brave man and a capable master,
even if old.
"I stayed out here because I had a good billet with the Red Funnel people
up to the time the Japs bought their ships. Then I took the _Kut Sang_,
only for a year it was to be; but I held on longer, waiting to get a big
ship to take back home, and then quit.
"My boy is a lawyer in Bangor--and smart, too--and I've got a daughter a
schoolma'am in Boston, and they've both been begging me to come home; but
somehow I hated to go back since my wife died.
"Mr. Trenholm, I don't want to bother you with all this now; but it's no
decent end for me, I say. All the men scattered over the globe to-day,
some that went as boys with me, will have to hear old man Riggs turned
pirate at the last and scuttled his own ship. That's how it will go, boy,
and you can't understand. Fight! I'd walk into hell in my bare feet, with
never a thought of the way back, if I could die with an honest name--but
this ain't no way for me to go, along with a passel o' gold!"
"Then, if you are concerned about what will be said of the mystery of the
loss of the _Kut Sang_, there must be a way to let the world know of our
end and the fate that overtook the ship, and at the same time a chance of
making trouble for our Mr. Thirkle after we are gone."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Some message," I said, more to find something to interest him and
brighten him. "The story of the _Kut Sang_ and the Rev. Luther Meeker,
Thirkle, the Devil's Admiral, or whatever he is called, should be told;
and, as it is my business to deal in information, I can write it all
down, and we will seal it in this bottle and set it adrift. How's that,
"A good scheme," he said, smiling at me. "The very thing, Mr. Trenholm. I
have some papers and envelopes here in my jacket, and a stub of
pencil for the log-book, and while you are at your writing I'll fashion a
stopper for the bottle and a buoy."
We poured out the last of the water in a pannikin and kept it for Rajah,
and I ripped open a couple of envelopes and set to work on them with a
stub of pencil, while Captain Riggs took my knife and began to whittle a
piece of board.
I put down briefly but clearly the story of how the Rev. Luther Meeker,
and Buckrow, Long Jim, and Petrak came aboard the _Kut Sang_, giving
their descriptions as well as I could remember. Then I told of the
killing of Trego, and all that had happened aboard the steamer, and about
the gold and the plight we were in, "skeletonizing" the narrative, much
as if it were to be filed as a news-cable.
Then I put down the names and addresses of my relatives, and those of
Captain Riggs. It was a queer job, writing one's own obituary in the
forecastle of the old _Kut Sang_, putting down the names of streets in
Boston and Bangor and San Francisco, and making our wills--which we did
when we found the space at our disposal getting scant, although I had
little enough to give or bequeath, chiefly a pair of Chinese jingals and
a good pair of riding-boots with silver spurs.
It took a deal of time, for I wrote in the smallest possible characters,
and was careful to make them legible--no small task, considering that the
vessel was still rolling and pitching, although it grew calmer toward
We did not have any method of measuring the time, for no bells were
struck--at least, none that we heard--and Captain Riggs did not have his
watch with him, for he had not been back to his cabin from the time I saw
him leave it with Harris to explore the mysterious cargo in the