Part 3 out of 4
As I wrote I was hammering my brains for some solution of the problem
before us; for, although I took pains to make the story complete, I was
hoping that Captain Riggs would finally hit upon some scheme which would
release us from the forecastle and give an opportunity to do battle with
I took a measure of pride in writing the story, too, for I knew there was
a good chance that it might be my last, and I had visions of it being
printed in the newspapers some day.
"I'll cut a little pennant from Rajah's _sarong_," said Riggs with a
grin, and he reached up to the sleeping boy and hacked off a bit of his
skirtlike garb. "We'll make a fancy job of it, Mr. Trenholm, while we're
at it. The backs of those sheets, with the stamps and postmarks and the
address to me, will be good proof that it is not a hoax.
"Folks don't put much stock in bottles washed up by the sea these days,
and we'll have to offer a reward for having it forwarded, say to my son,
and then he'll be sure. I guess he'd give a hundred dollars to know what
become of his old daddy--and the girl, too. Put that in, Mr. Trenholm."
"And I'll put in as a sort of P.S. that Captain Riggs intends to make a
fight for his ship as soon as he has signed this," I said.
"You better not put that in," he said wearily. "It ain't so, and I'm
something of a churchman, even if it was only to please the wife. I'm no
hypocrite, and I don't want to have anything in that sounds like a brag.
Just sign it and let it go at that."
"No, I'll put that in," I insisted, looking at him seriously. "I won't
have them say after getting this that you gave up and took your fate too
easily, which they might. You have been a fighter all your life, and I
know you don't intend to quit now.
"Here is what I'll say: 'Captain Riggs wishes it understood that, after
setting this message adrift, he and Trenholm and Rajah determined to die
fighting rather than go to their doom at the pleasure of Thirkle and his
men. As this is launched upon the waters of the China Sea, the whole
story is not told, and we are confident that the Devil's Admiral and some
of his men will yet die.'"
"Oh, that sounds like a boy, Mr. Trenholm--you better leave it out."
"No, sir. This is my story, and you will please sign it now for what it
"It isn't the truth," he demurred.
"But it is," I said; and he signed it, and I knew that he was taking new
He unscrewed one of the ports to leeward, and, although we let much water
into the forecastle, he threw the bottle out at an opportune moment,
and then slammed the port shut again.
"Mr. Trenholm," he said, as he climbed down from the top bunk,
dripping and smiling, "I guess you were right about what you wrote there
last--I calculate that there's a bit of a fight left in Captain Riggs
yet, although I don't for the life of me see what chance I've got of
fighting anybody. But, if you're ready to try, I'm ready to see what can
"I knew it, captain!" I cried, taking his hand, "If you'll do the
planning I'll do the work, and we'll beat them yet."
THE BATTLE ON THE BRIDGE
Now, it was all very well for Captain Riggs and me to sit down there in
the forecastle of the _Kut Sang_ and consider ways and means of saving
ourselves and the steamer from the Devil's Admiral; but, although we made
many plans, we had to drop them all. There was no way out of the place
except through the scuttle, and we worked at that and schemed about it;
but the wooden frame was bound inside with steel ribs, and on the outside
with chains, and we had no tools equal to the task. Nothing but a
jack-screw could wrench the covering from the deck.
When the starboard ports turned gray with the light of morning we had
given up. There was nothing to do but wait for something to happen, and
all we could foresee was our doom in the vessel.
The sea had calmed, and Captain Riggs unscrewed one of the ports and
looked out just as the sun popped up over the hills of the Philippine
"Land!" shouted Captain Riggs, as he opened the port, and I climbed up on
the bunks and opened a port for myself. "That's the Zambales coast of
Luzon, and they have been making a good easting all night; but we are
running north now--see that point ahead? It's really an island--the
Little Sister, I am sure--and Dasol Bay lies to the north up the channel
between the island and the mainland. He's running to get into that
channel behind the island and scuttle her there--he knows his business."
In a few minutes the island stood clear of the coast, and I could make it
out, low and green and fuzzy, with a rim of white sand running back to
the fringe of the jungle and a ruffle of combers on the shingle. We could
hear the boom of the waves ashore, beating at the base of the barren
brown hills of the coast.
"He's well off the track of the steamers here," said Riggs, "but he won't
delay much longer now, unless he can get in behind the island and then he
can take his own time, because he can pick up a sail before he is sighted
through the ends of the channel. That island caps a little bay, and he'll
be snug as a bug in a rug to do his work. Let's have a look on deck and
see what's up."
Rajah leaped out of his bunk, and, after looking around for a minute in
confusion at his strange quarters, drank the water we had saved for him
in the pannikin, and then put his face to a port-hole and surveyed the
I took the lead up the companion with the pistol ready, hoping that one
of the pirates might be close to the tiny slit I had cut in the board and
would offer a target. I applied my eye to the hole.
The Rev. Luther Meeker, still in his suit of duck and pongee shirt and
battered pith helmet, just as I had seen him on the mole in Manila, was
pacing the bridge in the calm, commanding way that marks the man
accustomed to command. He was puffing contentedly at a cigar, and there
was something amusing in the manner in which he cocked his head to one
side to survey the sea and then the land with a critical eye.
From side to side he tramped, swinging on his heel at each end of the
bridge like a grenadier sentry, and giving Petrak, who had the wheel, a
stern look as he passed. Buckrow was at the port end of the bridge, with
a glass to his eyes scanning the rim of the sea; but Meeker, or Thirkle,
kept aloof from his men, and he might well have been an admiral on the
bridge of his flagship--the Devil's Admiral, indeed!
"Take a look at them," I whispered to Riggs, and made way for him at the
"Blast him!" raged Riggs as he saw the scene on the bridge. "I never
thought I would live to see the like of that!"
"But how does he keep her engines going? The fireroom crew must know what
has happened," I said.
"What's left of 'em do," said Riggs. "He's likely got a few men below who
think they will get a share of the loot if they keep up steam. Perhaps
the Filipino chief is at his post keeping the chinkies going--leave that
to the devil on the bridge--he knows his game."
He drew back into the companion, and I looked out again. I could see a
pair of shoes sticking out past the donkey-engine, just abaft the
foremast; but the machinery hid the man from me. Presently a strip of
canvas fluttered in the breeze, and Long Jim stood up, with a sail-needle
and a length of sail-twine in his teeth, and cut out a square of
tarpaulin on the deck.
"Look at the cockney," I said to Riggs. "I can't make out what he is up
He studied the sailor for a minute, and then drew back and whispered:
"Sewing sacks to carry the gold away. They are getting ready to scuttle
her. The starboard boats are hanging in the davits, ready to lower away
when we are behind the island. There is a channel a mile wide in there,
and deep soundings. He may find an anchorage until night and then get
away in the dark, but I'm afraid he won't take that long, because he
knows a coast-guard cutter is liable to spy him out. This coast is being
watched pretty close by the navy and the Japs and the customs, because
there is so much blockade-running."
"It may be that he is planning to maroon us on the island."
"That wouldn't be his way. The Devil's Admiral never leaves a man alive.
Four men will get out of the _Kut Sang_, and you know who they are. He
ain't the man to take a chance of meeting you or me, or even letting us
tell about him. It's 'Dead men tell no tales' with him, you may be sure
I took my turn at the little window, which was not wide enough to let the
muzzle of my pistol through, or I would have fired upon them. They
each wore a pair of pistols, big, black, long-barrelled weapons.
Thirkle's were quite plain, for he swung them from a belt over his white
jacket, as I could see when he approached the openings at each end of the
bridge where the ladder-heads ended.
"It will take about an hour at this clip to have the island abeam," said
Riggs, after he had gone below and looked through the ports. "They are
driving her again. Likely he has an agreement with the black gang to
stick to the fireroom; but whatever it is he won't keep his word. It's
death for every man Jack of 'em when he has finished with 'em."
Long Jim was plying the needle again, and Buckrow and Thirkle were
holding a conference at the wheel and studying a chart. I could see the
red head of Petrak nodding to them as they submitted some point to him;
but he kept his eyes ahead of the steamer, evidently steering for some
point of land. Thirkle finally folded up the chart and tucked it in
his pocket; and Buckrow took his post again at the port end of the bridge
and studied the western horizon.
I saw a Chinese in blue nankeen come out of the starboard passage below
the bridge and cautiously look up at the bridge. He did not see Long Jim,
so intent was he on looking up; but when the cockney drew a pistol he
screamed shrilly and fled into the passage, his long queue sticking out
behind like an attenuated pennant, so swift was his flight.
Thirkle and Buckrow came down to the fore-deck and gathered the sacks
which Long Jim had fashioned. Before they went down the 'tween-decks
companion Thirkle looked forward toward the forecastle and hesitated a
minute, as if he were in doubt about our being secure enough. But he went
down after the others, and we heard hammering behind the bulkhead again.
Petrak remained at the wheel, a jaunty figure with a white canvas cap on
his flaming head and one of Captain Riggs's best Manila cigars between
his teeth. He managed the wheel with one hand, holding a pistol ready
with the other, and looking the ship over from time to time.
"They are steering to pass in behind the island," said Riggs, as I went
below. "It is about four miles ahead now, and they are at half steam
again, because the reefs are bad in here--coral-banks and ledges running
out from the mainland. When they get her in the lee of the island they'll
make a quick job of her, and us, too."
"If I don't make a quick job of them with the pistol," I said.
"You keep three bullets--you'll need them when the green water is
spilling in here," and he gave me a significant look.
Despair was upon him again, but I could not bring myself to feel that
death awaited us. Weak and hungry and thirsty, life was still strong, and
the desire to live, if only to have vengeance on Thirkle and his men,
kept up my courage.
"There is some way out--some way we can get the upper hand. When the
water comes in I'll be ready to give up, but not until then."
He smiled sadly and shrugged his shoulders, looking pityingly at Rajah,
who was playing at some sort of a game with grains of rice in a pannikin.
We went up the ladder again to see what the pirates were about, for it
was quite still in the hold, and silence seemed more ominous than a
Buckrow and Long Jim came up with a bulging sack slung in a rope. Thirkle
gave them a hand up the ladder to the boat-deck, but he let them do the
Petrak slipped a lashing over the wheel and leaned over the bridge-rail,
grinning down at them, and made some remark which caused Buckrow to laugh
so inordinately that he dropped his end of the rope, and the sack fell on
the head of the ladder. He pulled it up on the deck, and, thrusting his
hand into his trousers-pocket, drew out a handful of gold coins and
hurled them up at Petrak.
They struck the remnant of the storm-apron and rattled to the fore-deck,
some of the glittering disks pelting Thirkle, who was halfway up the
ladder. Petrak threw out his hand to catch the coins, and I saw that his
wrists were still encircled by steel bands.
Thirkle reprimanded them, and Petrak went back to the wheel, and Buckrow
and Long Jim hoisted the sack into the boat and stowed it. While Petrak
held the spoke of the wheel with one hand, he rasped at the iron upon it
with a file, cutting away the heavy manacle.
Riggs and I took turns at the scuttle, and saw Thirkle and Buckrow and
Long Jim carry up a dozen or more sacks. Some were put in the second
boat, farther aft and out of the range of our vision, hidden as it was
from us by the corner of the superstructure.
During the time they were below we could hear them smashing the
treasure-chests. While they were busy in the storeroom I hacked away at
the scuttle-board, which was thick and of hard wood, well seasoned by
continual wetting and drying in the tropic sun.
To make matters worse, I found that it was full of brass nails driven in
from the outside, and Riggs told me some sailor had put a border of nails
round the board and made a crude nameplate by spelling out the name of
the vessel with nail-heads. The blade of my knife encountered these
nails, and I made slow work of cutting a hole large enough to admit the
muzzle of our pistol.
When they had all the gold up they stowed the boats with tinned goods and
casks of water. Then they opened a bottle of wine and drank its contents,
and Thirkle hurled it toward the forecastle, and it smashed on the iron
plates within a few feet of us. Buckrow and Long Jim disappeared in the
saloon after this, and Thirkle looked his chart over again and motioned
to Petrak to alter the helm.
"He's heading her in for the strait," said Riggs. "He had better allow
for that tide-rip that comes down through, or she'll have her head swung
round at this speed before he knows where he is at."
The steamer seemed to be gradually losing headway, and the throbbing of
her engines was becoming less pronounced. I observed, also, that the
smoke from her funnel was beginning to hang over her and curl down upon
the bridge. But, in spite of her slowing down, the musical ripple at her
bow increased, and Riggs said it was due to the set of the current
against us, which came through the channel very strong, as the island cut
out a deep current and brought it to the surface of the sea in the narrow
passage between the island and the mainland.
"It's a bad hole in there," he said. "He needs more speed to handle her
right in there and--"
"Something is up!" I told him, as I saw Thirkle listen a second and step
quickly to the engine-room telegraph and throw it over.
I could hear the sharp clang of the bell; but the next instant there was
a terrific roar, and the superstructure began to vomit steam through the
engine-room skylight just abaft the little wheel-house.
"The boilers!" yelled Riggs. "She's blowing off, and there is a
steam-pipe gone, or somebody below has opened her whole insides up."
The _Kut Sang_ was a white volcano amidships, and I saw Thirkle yelling
frantically, and Buckrow and Long Jim appeared in the passage below and
yelled to Thirkle, waving their arms, and then dashed up the ladder to
Suddenly they started back and grouped themselves about Petrak at the
wheel with drawn weapons, and the next instant I saw a half-dozen forms
emerge from the welter of steam and dash at the pirates.
They were Chinese and Filipino stokers, but one of them seemed to be the
leader, and he wore an engineer's cap and was stripped to the waist. I
saw the puffs of smoke from the pistols of the four pirates--Petrak put
his back to the wheel and fired over Thirkle's shoulder--but the awful
racket of the steam-pipes drowned the reports.
Two of the Chinese fell at the first volley, and a third, evidently
wounded, turned in his tracks and jumped over the rail. Another hacked
viciously at Thirkle with a long knife, but he could not reach him.
Thirkle stood with his feet wide apart, and his helmet on the back of his
head and fired coolly and swiftly.
The Filipino in the engineer's cap dropped the iron bar with which he had
advanced in the rush, and put both hands to his stomach, and stood within
six feet of Thirkle, looking at him in a surprised way, and finally threw
up his hands as if he had lost his balance and curled over backward to
A Filipino toppled over the bridge-rail and struck in a heap on the
fore-deck, and lay still, but I could not tell whether it was the fall or
a bullet that had killed him.
One Chinaman slid down the ladder-rail whirling like an acrobat in the
air before he landed, and another followed him, but they were the two
last, and Buckrow and Long Jim started after them. The first started for
the forecastle and began to throw off the chains, standing between me and
the deck, so that I could not see what was happening for a minute. He
worked frantically, jabbering all the while, and, as I thought, calling
to his companion.
He couldn't have been at work more than a minute, but to me it seemed an
hour or more, and I prayed that he might succeed in opening the scuttle,
and I wondered at his surprise if he should throw back the sliding-board
and see me come out with upraised pistol.
But a pistol spoke close at hand, and the narrow slit in the board let in
the sun again and I saw the Chinaman fall just outside. Buckrow and Long
Jim were running back to the bridge. Thirkle yelled something to them and
they nodded and went through the starboard passage.
The uproar of the escaping steam was dying out, and I told Riggs what I
had witnessed. The Filipino in the cap was the chief engineer, and we
knew that he had led a last sortie against the pirates, determined to die
in a last effort to defeat them rather than be shot down or left to
"Sally Ann!" said Riggs. "If that chinkie had cleared away the chains
there we might have got out of here and put in a hand's work, too. He
won't have steerage way on her--her engines have gone dead now. Feel her
swing with that current?"
"They've started again," I said, feeling a tremor in the vessel.
"Here we go!" cried Riggs. "They've opened her sea-valves!"
We listened and stared at each other for a minute while the water sucked
and gurgled and the _Kut Sang_ began to vibrate from the flood pouring
into her. Gradually her head began to swing to seaward away from the
island, as the current caught her, and, as I looked out I saw Thirkle and
Buckrow in the forward boat, lowering away.
"There they go!" I yelled, and we dashed below, hoping that we would have
a shot at them as they got clear of the vessel, but, as the ship was
swinging outward, and our ports were so far forward, we were kept
swinging away from them, and all we had was a bare glimpse of the two
boats pulling away from the ship, one of them being towed.
The island was close at hand, a half-mile or more, although it seemed
almost within reach, but we lost sight of that in a minute as the head of
the _Kut Sang_ stood toward the open sea, and her stern began to settle.
"They had to get out of her when Pedro cut her engines out and
lowered her boilers. It rushed their game, because he wanted to hide
her in behind the island, but it won't make much difference now, Mr.
Trenholm--hear that? She's filling rapidly."
We were drifting broadside in the current now, sweeping down the coast
and sinking at the same time.
I ran up the companion and began to struggle with the scuttle-board
again, hoping that the Chinaman who was seeking shelter from the pirates'
bullets had made it possible for us to escape. The board was looser, and
I slipped it to one side nearly an inch, and then it jammed again.
"Trenholm! Trenholm!" yelled Riggs frantically from below.
"What is it?" I called, hating to lose a second in my efforts to get the
He did not answer, and I called to him again. Before the words were out
of my mouth I was sprawling on all fours on the deck below.
WE PLAN AN EXPEDITION
I had been thrown down the companion by an appalling crash and a sudden
lurch of the steamer as she careened to port. It seemed to me that the
bottom plates were being ripped out of her and she was settling on her
side with a succession of thumps which I took to be her last effort to
keep afloat. The sea was almost to the open ports on the port side; and,
as I tried to gain my feet on the tilted deck of the forecastle, I fell
against the outboards of the line of bunks.
"She's aground!" screamed Captain Riggs at me. "She's gone smash flat
into a bed of coral! See that green streak running away from us to
seaward? That's a reef running out from the mainland and we've piled up
on it, and if we don't slip off we're safe until it comes on to blow."
He ran to the starboard side and climbed the bunks to look through the
"It's all around us! Hear her settling? She's making a bed for herself in
the coral-patch and she's not taking any more water. She's safe as a
church, Mr. Trenholm. If the tide don't lift her off enough to pull her
into deep water, or the current swing her, she'll hold until the sea
comes up; but she's pretty deep and lays steady. She'll break up right
"That's small comfort for us," I said, nursing my bruises.
"They've gone in behind that point and made a landing," said Riggs, still
looking through the port. "We'll be out of here in jig-time now. Where be
my matches? Here! You and Rajah fish for water with these tins on a
string, and wet down all these rags. Pull all the water in here you can."
He lit the slush-lamp again, and I wondered what he was about. I was not
quite sure whether he knew of a way to get out of the forecastle, or had
lost his reason. He was all bustle and business in a minute.
"I thought we wanted to keep the water out," I remarked.
"Stow that talk and obey orders," said Riggs sharply, digging grease out
of the can of the lamp with his fingers and picking the wick to make it
burn better. "Look lively now with that water and I'll show you a trick
or two now that they've abandoned ship. I'll take a hand in this business
"What's the plan?" I asked.
"Burn the cussed scuttle off a mite at a time. Grease a bit of the board
and then hold the flame of the lamp on it, and, when it gets too lively,
heave some water on and put it out and begin again. Haul a couple of
barrels of water in here and spill it under the bunks so we can git at it
with the pans if the fire starts to git away from us. Clap on, man;
we need every minute now."
Rajah and I rigged them with strings and set to drawing water through the
port-holes on the port side, which was not a hard job, for the swells
came within a couple of feet of our hands as we held the tins outside. We
filled sea-chests, the rubber crowns of a couple of old sou'westers, and
dumped water through the slats of the tiers of bunks so that it lodged in
the angle between the side of the ship and the deck.
While we were at this task Riggs was up in the scuttle, and from time to
time we could hear the crackle of flames, and then the hissing of the
water as he extinguished the burning planks. The thick smoke came down
the companion and burned our eyes and nostrils as it escaped through the
Riggs came down every few minutes to get a supply of water. He was black
as a chimney-sweep, but he reported good progress and grinned at our
discomfort from the smoke and heat.
Finally we heard Riggs hammering at the charred board with the
"I've got it through!" he yelled to us from a smoking shower of black
fragments of the board, and I ran up to him and saw the sun through the
chains around the frame of the scuttle. The links were glowing with heat
and we dashed water on them. In a short time we had wrenched them apart
so Rajah could get through the strands. Then he threw off the bars of our
prison, and Riggs and I gained the hot plates of the sloping fore-deck,
crawling over the body of the dead Chinese, which we rolled into the
"They are clean gone," said Riggs, crawling up to the starboard side and
scanning the island and the channel. "They went in behind that point, and
it's a good chance they'll be back if they see she's still afloat."
"Let them come," I said. "Are there any more weapons in the ship?"
"I've got a few guns stowed where even Thirkle couldn't find 'em, or at
least Harris hid some away. Always afraid of mutiny, he was, and he got
one with a vengeance, poor chap. It's my ticket to a penny whistle we'll
find Thirkle and his men on the island."
"Then you'll go after them, captain?"
"Well, I'd rather guess so," he said vehemently. "I'm on fair ground now,
and if they don't come back to burn the ship I'm the man to hunt them out
of their holes ashore. But what I'm afraid of is they will hide the stuff
and make for the mainland, or put off to the north in the boats to see if
they can't be picked up by some steamer for the north coast.
"They'll report the _Kut Sang_ lost, and Thirkle'll figure on getting
back here before folks are suspicious. Of course the people who shipped
that gold may smell a rat and keep tab on him, but he'll see that he
gets clear. He'll report her foundered far from here--leave that to him.
I doubt if he'll quit this place as long as he sees a foot of the
_Kut Sang_ above water. Are you game to go after him, Mr. Trenholm?"
"I'm with you to the end of the whole game--I want to see it played out
now, win or lose."
"I knew you would. I suppose I've been a bit of an old woman, Mr.
Trenholm, but I never looked for the likes of what was aboard last night.
There I was, alone, you might say, blind as an owl on what was going on
around me, and when things began to go bad they had you mixed in it so I
took you for one of 'em. They had me flat aback for a time there--I
didn't know my own name from Sally Ann's black cat. It looked like the
whole ship was against me, and, when I saw Harris go, I was clean
out of soundings."
I told him that he had realized the danger better than I did, and that I
had not been hampered by the sense of responsibility or the possibility
"Oh, I lost my wits for a time there, and we can't get away from it--I
was all fuddled, but I'll show ye I've got more fight in me than ye look
for, if ye'll see me through with it."
"All or nothing," I said. "We'll give him a gamble for the whole pot now,
and I think it's time they got a run for their money. In my way of
thinking they have had it too easy."
"That's business," said Riggs. "Doggone my cats, but we'll give 'em some
lead to go with the gold or my name ain't Riggs! We'll find out if this
Devil's Admiral, or Thirkle, or the Rev. Luther Meeker, or whatever he
calls himself, is so bad as he makes out to be--eh, Mr. Trenholm?"
We shook hands on the compact, lying there on the sizzling iron
deck-plates that reflected the rays of the sun in shimmering heat-waves,
making our exposed position intolerable after the thirst and smoke and
hunger we had endured in the forecastle.
"Then that's settled, Mr. Trenholm. Now we'll have to step careful until
I look up what's left of the weapons, and we can't know what traps
they've laid for us about here. Come on, and keep close."
We scrambled along the port side, taking care of our footing, for the
rail-chains were stripped off the stanchions, and with the deck at an
awkward angle there was danger of slipping into the water. Captain
Riggs led the way up the saloon-deck ladder and we entered the passage.
The captain and Rajah went to his cabin, the first door, and I ran aft to
my stateroom, hoping to find my pistols. The room was ransacked and my
bag empty and the pistols gone. Some of my garments were thrown into the
passage, and I got a duck suit, a pair of deck-shoes, and a cap.
"Here are my guns," said Riggs. "Had 'em stowed down back of the
chart-locker--three of 'em--and you'll find a canister of ammunition
for that big gun of yours in Mr. Harris's room. That gives us two guns
apiece, and I guess we can give 'em some lively times if we come across
their bows again."
We belted on the weapons and hurried into the saloon, which we found a
wreck. There were bundles of tinned meat on the table and a litter of
ropes and bits of canvas. Bottles of mineral water had been hurled at
the bulkheads and into the sideboard mirror. Curtains were torn down,
table-covers gone, and the pivot-chairs smashed and the fragments piled
in a corner, partly burned.
"They were going to fire her," said Riggs, "but that trouble with the
black gang and the loss of steam made 'em change their minds. They were
afraid the smoke would attract the attention of some passing ship. That's
once Thirkle made a mistake--we never would have got out of her if he
had left this fire going."
We gathered tins of biscuits and bottles of mineral water, and had a
feast out of what the pirates had discarded. Rajah had his kris in the
forecastle. While Captain Riggs and I enjoyed our cigars, Rajah went
out on an exploring trip through staterooms and galley and in the bridge
"It's near noon now, Mr. Trenholm, and we ought to get away in an hour
or so. The boats they left are smashed, but I can rig a raft with
hatch-covers good enough to take us to the island.
"We'll take plenty of grub and water, and if they don't give us a fight
from shore before we land, we can cache our supplies and take our time
looking for that sweet gang. We'll keep out of sight as much as we can
before we leave, and we might wait until dark, but I'm for getting off in
jig-time, unless we see them coming back."
"I would like to see Thirkle and the others rowing out here," I said,
having a mental vision of an ambuscade for them as they drew alongside in
"It's ten to one they will if they ain't too busy hiding the gold or
having a fight over it. All I'm afraid of is they'll get away from us in
their boats; but before they leave it's a sure thing they'll take a look
at the _Kut Sang_ to see if she's topside yet, and then come out to burn
her--which means stand by to repel boarders for us.
"Likely they've got their eyes on us now, or on the ship, but we'll keep
a sharp lookout, and if they come snooping back we'll blow 'em out of the
water. If Thirkle sees the steamer ye can leave it to him to come back
and see how we are and make a clean job of it. I'm not so sure he didn't
plan that, anyway. Devil of a fine joke we'll make of it for him, if he
does come out and thinks we're still cooped up in the fo'c'sle."
We set about the work of getting ready to leave the ship, keeping to the
starboard side, which was low in the water and away from the island.
Rajah was posted in the chart-room on the bridge with an old spy-glass
Riggs dug up, and the black boy kept steady watch on the island and the
channel, with an occasional turn to the open sea in the hope of raising
The chronometers were gone, along with the other navigating instruments,
the log-book, and manifests. The cabin clock was stopped at twelve, and
Captain Riggs's watch, which had hung over his bunk, was missing.
We found two dead Chinese in the galley, bullet-splintered woodwork,
dried blood, and empty shells and burned rice on the galley stove.
The ship's carpenter had barricaded himself in his workshop, a little
deck-house on the after-deck. The door was open, and we gathered that
he had deserted his stronghold when he heard the water rushing into the
hold, but whether he had been shot or drowned we had no way of knowing.
He had provided himself with a bucket of rice and bottles of water,
evidently with the intention of preparing for a siege. Spent cartridges
at the head of the stoke-hole ladder told of a desperate fight there,
probably before the attack on the bridge by the engineer and his men.
But we wasted no time over these signs of what had happened during the
night, simply observing them as we went over the vessel to see if any of
the crew were in hiding, and seeking such things as might be of use in
building the raft.
All the tools were carried forward, and I helped the captain get off the
hatch-covers of the forehold, and he nailed them together with planks
from the top of the cargo. In this way we made a rude catamaran some
twenty feet long and five feet wide. A plank was put on its edge all
around, making a low freeboard to hold our provisions and to serve as a
protection against bullets in case the pirates should fire upon us while
Life-lines were fastened to the sides, so we could take to the water in
an emergency, and, with our bodies partially submerged, use our pistols
to good advantage and offer poor targets. Captain Riggs seemed to foresee
every possible danger, and went about his preparations to meet the
pirates as calmly and methodically as if he were fitting out to go on a
Thirkle had taken every precaution to make the _Kut Sang_ another mystery
of the sea, without so much as a life-buoy being found with her name on
it. We found the ring-buoys hacked to bits, especially that section of
them which had the steamer's name painted on the side. The name painted
on the two smashed boats had been ripped from their sterns, and
everything that would float was locked securely in cabins or made fast.
Captain Riggs fashioned a sail out of a tarpaulin, and stepped a mast
well forward, and with other things we took signal-pennants and a British
ensign, and from the foremast of the _Kut Sang_ he flew a signal of
distress and a message in the international code about pirates or some
such thing, so that, in case Thirkle should get away in the boat and be
picked up, he would have a great deal of difficulty in explaining about
himself if the same vessel should sight our coloured flags.
"Take a look and see that the boy ain't busy up there at a nap," said
Riggs, and I mounted to the bridge, keeping well covered and to the
seaward side of the chart-house. Rajah was wide awake, lying just inside
the coaming of the chart-room door, chewing contentedly at his _betel_,
and holding the spy-glass over the brass doorplate directed toward
the island. He grinned at me as I entered through the door on the port
I took the glass and searched the horizon of the sea, but there was no
sign of a sail or a smear of smoke; neither could I find any trace of the
pirates on the island, which had a pile of volcanic rock rising out of
its northern end. I sought for some sign of human habitation on the
brown, bare hills of Luzon, baking in the sun, but that part of the coast
was a wilderness, desolate and forbidding.
The _Kut Sang_ was lying secure as if in a dock, sprawled out on the
coral floor of the sea like some dead thing, her stern completely under
water, and her port rail, almost to the break of the forecastle head, at
the crests of the gentle swells. The island gave us a lee from the strong
current, but at the first sign of heavy weather she would break up.
A school of small sharks scouted around her, and one big fellow, with his
fin out of water like a trysail, loafed at a distance, as if sure of his
prey. The combers purred on the shining stretches of beach, and the
ripples of the current whispered at the side of the vessel, and in the
peace that surrounded us Riggs's hammer made a terrific clatter.
"Keep a sharp lookout, Mr. Trenholm," he called up to me. "I've got a job
for'ard which must be attended to now, and I'll call for you in a bit of
He went down the forecastle ladder with his arms full of new canvas, and
by the time I had finished another cigar he was up again, beckoning to
us. I went below to him, and he took me into the forecastle, and I saw
what I knew to be the body of Harris sewed up and ready for burial.
"I know he'd want to go into the sea, rather than be buried ashore or be
left here, so I've done the best I could for him," said the captain.
"We'll take him along to deeper water, and, if you don't mind, we'll
drop him away from the cattle that have gone down hereabout, and nothing
will ever disturb him. I'll say some sort of a prayer."
We carried the body up and got the catamaran over the side and stowed
with food and water and cigars and such things as Riggs knew we would
need if we had to make a camp on the island.
I also wrote out a brief account of what had befallen us since leaving
Manila, closing with the explanation that we were going after the
pirates. We left this message between the covers of an old book, and
nailed to the saloon table, with chalk arrows drawn on the floor and
about the ship pointing toward it. There any person who should board the
vessel in our absence would find directions to come to our assistance.
But about the gold we said nothing, simply stating that there had been a
mutiny and that pirates had looted the ship, and offering a reward of ten
pounds to each man in the party who should come to our rescue, and a
thousand pounds, or five thousand dollars, in general to the man who
should direct the party to seek us--this to be claimed either by the
master of the vessel or the owners of the vessel which furnished the
Before embarking we had a hasty meal and drank a toast to our success and
the confusion of the Devil's Admiral and his men. We looked to our
pistols and ammunition, and, thrilled with the prospect of battle, felt
better than we had since the death of Trego.
As the ship was listed over so far, we had little trouble in getting the
raft into the water. As it floated alongside I felt like giving a cheer,
but as Captain Riggs had done most of the work and had gone about his
tasks as dispassionately as if he were building a hencoop, I stifled my
emotions and held her off while Riggs stepped aboard.
We caught the breeze from the land as soon as we cleared the steamer, and
we rounded her bows and headed for the island, steering to pass the point
of rocks which jutted out from the island into the channel. Riggs said
that he would cut her in toward shore, or the coast of the mainland,
before reaching the point, unless the pirates showed themselves.
"We'll make a northing up the channel," he said, "If they think we are
getting away they may take after us in a boat, or fire from the shore;
but if we show we are going to land they will keep hidden and take us by
surprise. If we should head straight in now they would likely hide in the
brush and pot-shot us as we land when we are in the surf; but you watch
old Cap Riggs, and if we don't give this Devil's Admiral the fight of his
life before this little party is wiped out, I'll go back on the farm in
Maine. He can't come aboard me and perform like that without getting paid
for it--Bloody Thirkle, Devil's Admiral, nor nobody else. You watch my
smoke, young man."
The leg-o'-mutton sail pulled steadily and we slapped along through the
water at a merry pace, with the water bubbling at the lee rail and the
ripples frothing up through the seams in the planks. It was a wet craft,
but we were in our bare feet, with our trousers rolled up.
Rajah was in the bow with his _sarong_ twisted into a belt, and his black
shoulders and arms bare to the sun, his head swathed in a turban made
from a faded green port-curtain, giving him an outlandish aspect,
reminding me of a pilgrim returning from Mecca.
"We've got Johnny Sharkee for an escort," said Riggs, pointing aft, and I
saw the fin of the big man-eater cutting the water in our wake. "If he
don't sheer off by the time we are ready to make a landing, we may have
to give him a bullet or two, but I want to get in without any racket if I
We were soon in deep water, and Riggs made fast his tiller while he read
a burial service out of a pocket-testament, and we dropped the body of
Harris over the side. It was a brief enough ceremony, and I was inclined
to believe that Captain Riggs made it altogether too much a matter of
little account, until I saw there was a tear in his eye, and he hastily
used the binoculars on the island.
"Put your helm to starboard," he directed. "I want to keep screened
behind the point and gradually work in toward shore. Then we'll make a
quick run for it in near the point, if they don't show by the time we
have the inlet on this side of the rocks abeam. They probably went around
the point, and we'll hunt for 'em on that side if we can make a safe
We slopped along for another while, and slowly worked in until we had the
beach less than five hundred yards away.
"Swing her for the open sea again," said Riggs. "I'll trim the sail, so
if they are watching us they'll think we are making a board to run out.
Keep low, all hands, and at the first shot drop to the deck and keep
covered, and we'll manoeuvre out of reach until dark. If they press us,
we'll let 'em get up close, so they'll think we have no weapons, and then
we'll open up on 'em at close range and settle it."
The raft went about clumsily on the other tack and heeled over so that
her port side was deep in the water, which afforded us good protection
from the island. We kept close watch on the edge of the jungle, but
nothing menaced us, although the tangle of brush and creepers might have
been full of men and we little the wiser.
"Over with the helm now, but not too quick, and hold her steady when she
stands for the land and don't get scared at a little surf. Keep her head
on until she grounds, and then take to the water and rush ashore with
some of the gear while I get the rigging down.
"See that you keep your pistols out of the water, and dump the gear in
the brush. Rajah will hold her steady while we lighten her a bit, and
then we'll drag her in with the swells."
The raft turned in a great circle and plunged for the rollers straight
before the breeze. The captain cut away the stays just before she struck
and we went into waist-deep water on a hard, sandy bottom. The heave of
the incoming swells threatened to break her open in the middle as she
swung broadside against the hard shingle.
We lost a few things which didn't matter much, but, as our matches and
biscuits and spare ammunition were sealed in oil cans, along with salt
and cigars, most of such stuff as broke loose floated ashore and we saved
it. Our chief difficulty was in saving the small casks of water and the
sack full of cooking utensils and camp tools.
I danced a lively jig as I ran into the burning sand, and Riggs had to
laugh at me as I retreated out of it and put on my shoes while standing
in the water, but he took the same precaution. When we had hidden our
stores just inside the fringe of the jungle, we sank the raft close under
the ledge of rocks by filling her with big stones; and, while we were
busy at this work, Rajah went up on the point and concealed himself among
the boulders in a position where he could get a view of the beach beyond.
We kept our pistols slung about our necks on shortened belts, and,
whenever the opportunity offered, watched the beach and jungle. We were
kept on the alert, for we could not shake off the disconcerting
feeling that we were being watched from the brush by the pirates, getting
ready to ambush us at their leisure the minute we relaxed our vigilance.
"Look at Rajah," I said to Riggs. "He looks like a big red and green and
black lizard crouched up there in the rocks."
"That black boy is a big help," said Riggs. "The lad has more savvy than
ye'd think. He seems to know just what to do in any emergency. And
fight! A mad Arab that I shipped in Aden made for me one day in the Red
Sea. I didn't mind the chap till he was 'most on me, and a bit more and
he'd had me. Rajah got him with the kris.
"Lucky for Thirkle the boy had lost it last night when they had me going
over the bows! He was after Thirkle then, when a sea come over and upset
him, and away went his knife and--"
A pebble hit the water near us, and we looked up to see Rajah wildly
waving his arms to us. He had spied something on the other side of the
THE PURSUIT ASHORE
Seizing our pistols we hurried ashore, and, when Rajah saw us coming, he
turned his attention to the beach again and levelled the glass in the
direction in which he had found danger.
The ledge was covered with loose fragments of soft volcanic stone, and
Riggs and I had to be careful in making the ascent to the top of the
ridge, for every time we sought a foothold we threatened to bring down an
avalanche of debris, and, not knowing what Rajah had seen, or how close
the pirates might be, we were afraid of giving the alarm with a crash
of loosened rocks.
I gained the top first, and bracing myself between a couple of boulders,
took a careful survey of the beach on the other side before crawling over
to Rajah. The point was an angle in the shore, and the beach ran off
sharply to the left, five hundred yards away.
The glare of the sun bothered me at first, and I thought the black boy
had given us a scare for nothing, until I detected a movement in the
fringe of the jungle close to where the shore line merged with the
water of the channel. I watched it closely for a minute and made out the
figure of a man moving cautiously.
Rajah wriggled himself over to me and I took the binoculars; and, when I
had put them on the man in the distance, I saw Buckrow walking slowly in
our direction with his head bent to the ground, as if searching for some
object. He was so close in the glass that I could see the stripes in his
cotton shirt and the buttons down the sides of his navy trousers.
"What is it?" gasped Riggs, breathing hard after his climb, and testing
the rocks before he climbed up to where I was perched between two
pinnacles of slatey stone.
"Can you see anything, Trenholm?"
"It's Buckrow. He's acting queerly, and I can't make out just what he is
doing. Take a look and see if you can tell."
He took the glass and studied the pirate, who was loafing along in an
aimless fashion, stopping every few steps to scan the hills of Luzon.
"He's taking bearings on that mountain-peak or some other beacon," said
the captain. "He's got a small compass."
Without the glass I could see Buckrow get down on his knees in the sand
and put something down before him. Then he stretched at full length, with
his hands raised from his elbows to shade his eyes from the sun.
"He's taking sights on the big peak," said Riggs. "It looks to me as if
they got a bearing on it from where they have stowed the gold, and
Buckrow wants to get the same bearing from the beach and leave a marker
as a middle point and a guide to where the treasure is concealed. The
opposite reading of the compass from the bearing of the peak would be a
leader to the cache. The bearing he takes, extended behind him, will run
pretty near to where the gold is hidden. He's particular as a Swede
skipper with that sight he's taking."
Finally, Buckrow crawled into the jungle again and disappeared. We waited
for a quarter of an hour, keeping close watch on the beach, but we saw
him no more.
"He made a little beacon with three stones," explained the captain. "I
ain't sure just what it means, but Thirkle ain't the man to leave such
work to Buckrow. You can bet Thirkle will know how to find the gold again
without asking Buckrow for the bearings. There is some deviltry afoot,
and my best guess is that the pirates ain't getting along none too well
among themselves with that treasure.
"We'll have to scout along the beach and pick up their trail and run 'em
down carefully. Anyway, I'm glad they are here, but we'll have to hustle
along now or they'll be cutting out of this, and if they get the boats
into the water, we'll have to let 'em go without a shot. That'll give us
a hard job, because we'll have to take a chance of leaving the gold to
get help and having them come back for it while we're gone."
We were well satisfied to know that the pirates were on the island and
that we had found them before they were aware of our escape from the
_Kut Sang_. Now we had a good opportunity to stalk them and give them a
We scrambled down from the burning rocks, and filled our pockets with
extra ammunition and biscuits, and each took a small bottle of water. Our
clothes were well dried, and, altogether, we found ourselves ready for
"If we can crawl up on 'em while they are all together and turn loose
with our pistols from cover, we've got 'em," said Riggs. "The three of us
ought to lay them out before they know what's up."
"We ought to even the numbers before our pistols are empty," I said. "Two
of them ought to drop at the first volley."
"It's no quarter, either, Mr. Trenholm, unless we have one of 'em, so he
can't do any damage, and then we might give him a chance to live so he
can hang. But they'll have no mercy on us if they get the upper hand."
"I'd like to take Thirkle back to Manila alive just to get at his
"I'd like to get Thirkle myself, Mr. Trenholm; but it's Thirkle we'll
have to get first of all, if we can. He's more dangerous than all the
others, and, as you're the best shot, keep plugging at him until you
get him. But I'm afraid it ain't going to be so easy as we figure out.
"One thing is in our favour: they don't know we got out of the
_Kut Sang_, and it's likely they've been so busy burying the gold they
don't know the steamer is above water; but if they get a sight of her
before we drop on 'em, then we'll have a pretty pickle on our hands."
The backbone of the point ran back into the jungle and we found it a hot
and hard climb through the tangled vines and thick shrubbery. After we
had reached the other side we crawled out on the beach and made a careful
reconnaissance to the north.
We progressed slowly along the rim of sand, where the brush was sparse,
allowing us to keep a good lookout ahead. We went along a few yards at a
time, stepping out occasionally to reconnoitre the sand-reaches ahead. We
found that the northern end of the island was higher than we supposed at
first, a labyrinth of ravines sloping down to the sea.
"We ought to pick up the trail before long," said the captain. "We'll
probably find the boats in some of these gullies where the water comes
close up; but they couldn't very well cover their tracks if they pulled
the boats out, and they wouldn't be minded to be so careful, not looking
for anybody to be after them this early."
The captain and I kept close together, sneaking along with our pistols
cocked, quiet as possible. Rajah brought up the rear, and in this
formation we marched along, alert for danger. At times the rustle of a
bush in the breeze put us on our guard, and we crouched down with muscles
tense and pistols raised; or the flutter of a bird over our heads, or the
shrilling of an insect, or the creak of a tree sounded an alarm which
would delay us. But Rajah's sense of hearing was very keen, and whenever
we stopped from such sounds he would grin at us and push on ahead. We
trusted a great deal to his woodcraft, for he was at home in the jungle.
Riggs was a few yards ahead of me when I saw him stop abruptly and motion
me forward with a gesture of caution. He pointed through the bushes, and
as I crept up I saw a white patch through a tangle of green leaves.
"It's a boat," he whispered. "It's here they made their landing and we'll
have to go slow now. Maybe Buckrow or some of the others are about,
sleeping or keeping watch."
We crawled up carefully, letting Rajah go ahead to scout. We found both
boats hidden in a patch of _colgon_ grass, screened from the sea by a
rank growth of vines and young bamboo. The boats were covered with
freshly cut palm-leaves and a litter of dead, dry vines pulled from an
uprooted tree. There was a little inlet running right up into the jungle,
so the pirates had had little trouble in getting the boats ashore, using
a block and tackle on a convenient cocoanut-palm.
The grass and bamboo thicket were well trampled, and we could see the
marks in the moist ground where the sacks of gold had been piled. One of
the sacks had evidently burst, for we picked up several gold coins in the
mud, and found a sail-needle in a loop of twine where they had repaired
"Now," whispered Riggs, when we were sure none of the pirates was lurking
about, "we'll take the plugs out of the boats and hide them and the
oars, and take a look around to see where our lads have gone. It's no
easy job to go very far with that gold, and they won't hurt themselves
with work, knowing they have plenty of time and thinking there is nobody
to be after them."
We took the oars and boat-plugs quite a distance away up the beach and
buried them in the sand opposite a tree of peculiar formation, and then
began to skirt the territory around the boats to pick up the trail of the
pirates. We found where several bamboo poles had been cut close to the
dry, rocky bed of an old stream, and the remnants of ropes.
"They cut these poles to pack the sacks away," said Riggs. "Their cache
can't be far away and we'll have to work like cats now."
The old water-course led back into high ground through a canon, and there
were unmistakable signs that the pirates had followed the waterway.
Patches of sand where pools had formed during the rainy season were full
of tracks in both directions, and we knew they had made several trips
from the boats up the canon, and we set out upon the trail.
We let Rajah take the lead this time, for he had a way of getting through
the overhanging branches silently, and his bare feet moved among the
loose stones and sand with as little noise as a snake might make. Bent
nearly double with his kris gripped in his right hand he kept in advance
of us. We might easily have been taken for pirates ourselves as we
skulked along, with our pistols raised, crawling under low bushes,
dodging behind tree-trunks, and peering ahead into the dim places of the
In spite of the shade it was hot in that ravine. Labouring under the
excitement of the man-hunt, and suffering from loss of sleep and the
weariness of the siege we had undergone in the steamer, the heat
The bed of the stream, full of dead twigs and loose stones, in places a
succession of steps where there had been cascades in the torrential
little river, was a hard road. It would have been hard enough to
travel with no efforts at caution, but we were forced to pick every step,
and keep bent low or fall flat to avoid a fall and racket.
Captain Riggs made hard going of it, and had to stop every few yards to
regain his breath. Although he made no complaint, I suspected that his
heart was troubling him, for he kept putting his free hand to his side,
and when he got out of breath his face took on a purplish tint.
"I'm afraid I'll have to rest a bit," he whispered to me during one of
these attacks. "I'll be all right in a little while, but I'm too old to
keep up to the pace of you and the black boy there."
He crawled into the brush a few feet and lay down, and I saw he had about
reached the limit of his efforts for the day. He was more exhausted than
I had realized. We called Rajah back, and while Riggs was resting I went
ahead a way, with the idea of watching for the pirates to return and
preventing them from surprising us.
"Don't go too far or stay too long," cautioned the captain, as I set out.
"We ought to keep close together, Mr. Trenholm, and fight together."
Assuring him that I had no intention of leaving him with Rajah, I went up
the trail a few rods, and as I was about to turn back I saw a level
stretch ahead, where the trail of the pirates led away from the bed
of the stream into a patch of high, thick grass. Thirkle and his men had
cut a narrow lane through this grass by trampling down the stalks, and my
curiosity got the better of my caution, and I decided to explore a little
Stooping low, I ran through this open space and gained the jungle on the
other side and found myself near a ledge or low, rocky cliff that was so
overgrown with rank weeds and vines and giant ferns it was hardly
noticeable until I was close against the wall.
The cliffside was damp and green with mosses, and the ground was moist
and springy. The cool of the place was grateful after the heat of
our climb up the rocky bed of the creek, I was about to return and urge
Captain Riggs to press on to this place when I heard the subdued murmur
of voices away to the right and the swishing of foliage.
I was puzzled and alarmed to discover that the voices were in the
direction I had come from, or back across the trail. Fearing that the
pirates were returning to the boats by some short route which might take
them to where Riggs was hidden, I ran through the grass lane again, and,
finding that the persons I was stalking were still farther away, I left
the trail and sneaked some twenty yards into the foliage, anxious to see
who they were and what they were about.
They were making slow progress, seemingly going a few yards, and then
stopping to talk in low tones, when they would go on again, and, by
moving ahead while they were pushing through the brush and proceeding
with caution while they stopped, I rapidly overtook them, although they
were a good distance off the trail.
"Keep over to port," I heard Long Jim say. "Mind them brambles, or ye'll
have the eyes of me bloomin' well knocked out! I'm all skinned about
the neck from 'eavin' away at these poles. Drop it a bit, Red."
TWO THIEVES AND A FIGHT
There was a metallic thud as they let down a burden, which I knew must be
a sack of gold. I lay quiet for a minute, and then began to wriggle
through the brush to get a glimpse of them, and, in case it proved to be
the camp, learn what might be the most advantageous method for our
"My back is broke," I heard Petrak whine. "What with packin' the whole
blasted cargo into the hills and this jaunt now. Why couldn't he leave it
close to the beach, I want to know? Who wants to be packin' it out again
some day like a coolie? Snug enough, I say, close down to the water, and
who's to know? Think we was buryin' of it for Kingdom Come! Fine job he's
makin' of it!"
"'E's no bloody monkey, Thirkle ain't," said Long Jim. "It's us that's
the bloomink idiots! 'My last 'aul,' says 'e. 'Your last haul, 'ell!'
says me to him. I tells him to mind the rest of us 'as a 'and in the gold
as well as in the gittin' of it. Ye think 'e's goin' to let us in on
this? Not Thirkle, Reddy.
"It's every bloody man for 'imself now, and the devil take the 'indmost,
which he will, I say. Thought 'e'd 'ave the whole of it all to himself,
did he? I knowed 'e'd give us dirt when it come to some big cut like
this, and that's why I'm for gittin' mine and goin' on with it this wise.
'Eave up, Reddy, and skip for it."
I crawled up and peered through the bushes just as they were shouldering
a bamboo pole from which was slung the sack of gold. They went on, and I
followed them, confident that they would lead me to Thirkle's camp,
although the direction of their march puzzled me; and I could make no
sense of their complaints other than that they disliked the labour of
transporting the gold.
As I fell in behind them, following almost in their tracks, I discovered
that they were following no trail, but were making a new way to the
beach. And when they came to where the going was easy they rushed ahead
in such a panic that I suspected they were in flight from Thirkle, and
when they began to argue over the direction they should take I realized
that they were running away from Thirkle. They were stealing a sack of
the gold and making for the boats to escape with it.
"Bear to port, I say!" said Long Jim. "Keep off the old road, or ye'll
have the beggar after us. Keep to port if ye know what's good for us."
They let down their burden again, and I saw Long Jim stoop to peer back;
but I was off on their flank again, and kept well concealed.
I was in a quandary now as to what to do. It might be better for us to
let them escape, for then we would have only Thirkle and Buckrow to
fight, and a sack of gold mattered but little. Yet I knew that they might
take both boats; and then Captain Riggs and I and Rajah would be marooned
on the island, except for the raft, which was not a fit craft to put to
We would be but little better off on the mainland, and it would be weeks,
probably months, before we could be rescued by a vessel, or could reach a
native town on the coast. I had a mind to fire on them; but I did not
know where Thirkle was, and I was afraid of Captain Riggs getting lost if
he set out in search of me on hearing the shots.
"Told ye that, did he?" asked Long Jim. "Told ye to do for me, hey?"
"That was the lay," said Petrak. "Told me he'd send ye down the trail
with me, and to keep drawed up close to ye; and when I see my chance to
hook a knife into ye, and be sure and make a clean job of it.
"But I'm no man for that, Jim. Mind when ye split a bob with me in
Riccolo's boardin'-house in St. Paul's Square? I don't do for no man what
split a bob with me, and we was shipmates before we ever knowed Thirkle;
and we'll be shipmates again, Jim."
"With this 'ere?" asked Long Jim. "Ye think I'd look at a bloody ship
short of bein' owner myself, when we get away with this sack of guineas?
It's a pub for the two of us in Liverpool, down near the Regent Docks,
like gentlemen, or I'm a beggar."
"Blow me if I didn't forget about the gold!" said Petrak, laughing. "But
I meant it the way of shipmates, Jim: and that's why I couldn't do for no
such as he said. 'Hook yer knife in him, quick and sharp, under the
kidneys,' says Thirkle to me. He says he'll make a gent of me, being as
there would be only himself and Bucky and me left. There'd be upwards of
ten thousand pounds, man and man, share and share alike, and all the
"That's Thirkle for ye, Jim--that's Thirkle. It was all fine long as we
didn't make no great hauls, just enough for a bit of a good time ashore;
but now we're rich, and he wants to shut us honest chaps that helped get
it out of the cup, up.
"I'll take this sack for mine and split fair with ye, Jim; and it's
better than Thirkle would give the two of us, and I ain't savin' as how
he wouldn't slit our throats in the bargain to get back again what little
he give. We best give him a wide berth, and he'll do for Bucky, too; mind
what I say."
"That 'e will," said Long Jim. "'E's thick with Bucky now, but mind yer
eye when 'e gits Bucky close hauled goin' 'ome. Think Bucky'll ever
find 'is way back to this place? Thirkle'll do for 'im--right ye are,
Red--just as 'e'd done for the two of us, Red."
"Bucky was a good sort, too."
"We was all good sorts," said Jim. "We was all good sorts and fine men,
Reddy, when the bloomink loot was coming and there was windpipes to slit,
and 'e had to 'ave 'ands to do the work for 'im. Ye mind what he told me,
"What was it Thirkle told ye, Jim? I'd give a bob to know. Was it about
"Tells me the same bloody thing 'e told ye," said Jim, shutting one eye
and making a grimace to impress Petrak.
"What's that, Jim? I don't remember of what ye mean."
"Tells me to do for ye down the trail."
"The beggar!" said Petrak.
"Gawd strike me blind if 'e didn't! 'Take a walk for yerself down the
trail with Petrak,' he says. 'Mind when ye get a chance and 'ook a knife
in his kidneys, and do it neat and clean; and then there'll be only three
of us to cut this pile 'ere three ways--me, Bucky, and yer own self,
"That's what 'e said, Reddy; strike me blind! Like you did, I says I'll
do it. Ye see his gyme? We'd do for each other in a fight, and so take
the job off 's 'ands. Buckrow and 'im think it's done now; but 'e'll get
Bucky at the last, too, or I'm a beggar.
"That's 'is gyme, Red--do for all of us and 'ave the gold all to
'imself--and no sailormen what know what 'e's been up to out 'ere coming
around to tap on 'is window of a night when 'e's asleep and ask for the
price of a drink, or 'e'll have the police down on 'im and tell Scotland
Yard' e's the Devil's Hadmiral. He wants the pile to 'imself, and never a
bit more does 'e care for the likes of us than for the throats we've cut
for 'im for the gettin' of it all."
"Sure," said Reddy. "He wants it all for himself, to be a fine gentleman
and a church member and have his tipple and fine eatin'. We better move
on a bit now, Jim, or they'll be after us."
They shouldered the pole again and went on, and I followed them for a
time, trying to estimate the position of Captain Riggs on the trail from
where I was; but in the excitement of following Petrak and Long Jim I had
lost my bearings.
Their course through the jungle had been devious and without much
clearness as to a general direction, for first one would advise one way,
and then the other another; and there were times when they had been
compelled by the brush and gullies to go out of their way.
But I had a general idea that by turning sharply to the right I might
come across the trail, and, even if it happened to be below where the
captain and Rajah had stopped, I could soon come up with them.
There was nothing to gain by keeping after Reddy and Long Jim, now that I
was sure they were running away from Thirkle's camp rather than toward
it. I thought it would be much better to let them go than to fire upon
them, and so either alarm Captain Riggs or warn Thirkle and Buckrow that
there were others they had not counted upon on the island.
Even Petrak and Long Jim might not get away very easily when they found
the oars and boat-plugs gone. I reasoned that if we could come upon
Thirkle and Buckrow, and make short work of them, we might even overtake
the pair of thieves and capture or kill them.
As we went along the jungle thinned, and we came into a forest where the
trees were sparse and there was little underbrush; and, as there was an
open space ahead, I concluded not to cross it, but to wait and see them
go out of sight, and then try to pick up the trail. When they entered the
clearing they dumped the sack and fell upon the ground, and as they lay
looking in my direction there was nothing for me to do but drop behind a
convenient shrub and wait for them to go on before I moved.
They lit cigars and fell to gossiping, evidently in some argument, for
their gestures betrayed their vehemence, although I could not make out
what they were saying. They continued the conversation until I lost my
patience, and began to begrudge the time I was wasting to no advantage,
while Captain Riggs was probably fretting about me, and might go away to
search for me. I waited another ten minutes; but they showed no
disposition to go on, and I stealthily began to draw out of the bushes.
We had come through a grove of wild hemp-trees, and, keeping the bush
that had concealed me between me and the pirates, I crawled to one of
these wide-spreading bunches of gigantic leaves drooping to the ground,
and managed to get behind it. But as I rolled under the stalks a bird
rose near me and screamed shrilly in long-drawn cries of alarm, and
several of its young, hunting for cover, set up a racket in the dead
leaves on the ground.
I lay still for a minute, hoping that the two pirates would not think
anything amiss; but the mother bird wheeled above me, screaming and
darting down, and I heard Petrak and Long Jim cursing and running toward
me. I jumped up behind the tree, and, looking through the big leaves, saw
them coming with drawn pistols.
"Blow me if it ain't the bally pressman!" said Long Jim, stopping within
a hundred feet and peering through the tree. "That's Trenholm there, or
I'm a Dutchman!"
"That's who it is," I called to them, cocking my pistol. "Come on and see
what you get!"
"You're in the _Kut Sang_" said Petrak queerly, his knees shaking as if
he had seen a ghost. "You're dead in the _Kut Sang_!"
"Have it your own way," I told him. "Maybe I am dead in the _Kut Sang_,
along with Captain Riggs and the rest of them. For that very reason you
had better not bother with me."
I kept my pistol resting in the hollow of a hemp-stalk, thinking it would
be better not to let them know I had a weapon, for I knew they had no
more relish for using their firearms than I did. If I showed the gun to
them they would then keep in cover, and could attack me from two sides.
If I could keep it a short-range fight, I had the advantage as long as I
held the tree against them, and they would not hesitate to expose
themselves to my fire.
"What ye doin' of 'ere?" demanded Long Jim. "Where's the skipper and all
the rest we left aboard?"
"That's for you to find out," I said. "You wouldn't shoot a helpless man,
"Not a bit of it," he grinned. "Come on out and 'ave a bit of a parley."
He let his pistol drop, and he and Petrak exchanged glances which
betrayed their glee at having me in their power, as they thought.
"Go away and let me alone," I said, simulating fear of them. "I don't
want to have anything to do with you. Leave me alone."
"Ye was a follerin' of us," said Long Jim. "Where the bloomink 'ell ye
been? Ye seen Thirkle?"
"Where is Thirkle?"
"Where ye'll never clap eyes on 'im, ye can be bloody well sure of that.
Cut round t'other side of 'im, Red, and we'll settle 'is 'ash!"
Petrak started off to the left of him to circle and get behind me, and
Long Jim began to draw near, cocking his pistol again and raising it and
leering at me.
"Don't ye turn about or move!" he said. "Turn yer 'ead and yer a dead
He was within five yards of me, and I saw him making a signal to Petrak,
who was approaching me from behind. I glanced back quickly and saw the
little red-headed man stealing up on me with his knife on his hand.
I lifted the pistol, and saw Long Jim stop and open his mouth in
surprise. I fired at the triangle of his naked breast where the shirt was
unbuttoned from the neck. He curled over backward, as if broken in the
middle, and fired his pistol straight up into the sky and then lay still.
THE GOLD AND THE PIRATES
Certain that Long Jim was dead, I turned on Petrak and presented my
pistol at him. The little fiend was surveying me blankly, taken aback at
the sudden shot. He stood within twenty paces of me, with his legs wide
apart and his knees bent as if he were on the deck of a plunging vessel,
dismay on his face and the blade he had intended for my back held limply
I could see the butt of a big pistol hanging from his belt in a holster
he had made from the top of an old shoe, but he made no motion to reach
for it. The fingers of his left hand were twitching, splayed out as if
from fear, and his mouth was open showing his yellow teeth.
"If you move I'll kill you!" I said, having a mind to take him and compel
him to lead Riggs and me to Thirkle's camp.
"Don't shoot!" he whined. "Don't shoot! Where did ye git the gun, sir? We
never knowed as how ye had it. Don't shoot, Mr. Trenhum! Ye mind how I
took yer luggage aboard!"
"Where's Thirkle and Buckrow?" I demanded.
"Up there," he said, swinging his free hand in the direction we had come,
and I saw the familiar crafty look come into his eyes.
"Quite a bit, sir; in a cut of a clift with the booty."
"Not far it ain't, Mr. Trenhum. Roundaboutish, but not far; and I'm
thinkin' I might lead ye on to 'em, sir, if ye'd let me have the sack we
had, sir. Ye done for Jim right enough, but that's my sack now."
"Throw down that knife and unbuckle your belt, and see that you don't
reach for a pistol," I said.
There was something in his manner that led me to believe he had a trap
for me; either he had seen Long Jim move, or thought Thirkle and Buckrow
might come down upon us if he could keep me talking.
He dropped the knife, and as he reached for the buckle of the belt I
turned my head in an involuntary movement to make sure that Long Jim had
not recovered, an action bred by the suspicious manner of Petrak. The
pirate was lying as he had fallen, with his arms over his head and his
pistol a yard away; but the little red-headed man turned and ran in
the flash of my eye. I fired at him as he scurried behind a sprawling
hemp-tree, but missed; and he never stopped, and I stood and listened as
he crashed through the brush.
It would have been senseless to pursue him. As he had kept on toward the
beach, away from the direction of Thirkle's camp, I knew he was not going
back to the others, and reasoned that he would hardly dare to return to
Thirkle, who had probably missed the sack of gold, or would demand
explanations which Petrak would have difficulty in giving.
I picked up the knife and went and looked at Long Jim. Seeing he was dead
I took his pistols; but gave him scant attention, being afraid Thirkle
or Buckrow might be about, investigating the sound of the shots. Petrak's
estimates on the distance of their hiding-place had been rather vague.
I turned away to the west in the direction I felt sure the trail must be,
and, when the ground was clear, ran as fast as I could. I made about half
a mile in as straight a line as I could, and then began to worry; for,
although the ground had sloped in front of me, I felt that I should have
crossed the bed of the stream which was the trail we had followed.
I kept on, my face and hands scratched by prickly vines and my clothing
torn by fighting through thickets, and a panic began to grow on me that I
was lost, although I refused to admit it. I soon had to stop running from
exhaustion, the torment of the heat and thirst; and the four big pistols
dragged at my belt and the ammunition in my pockets began to hang heavy.
I began to fear that darkness would come on before I could find the
Despair began to get the upper hand, when I caught the dull boom of a
pistol-shot, and it so startled me that I could not decide the direction
it came from. I stopped to listen, afraid that Thirkle had found Captain
Riggs and Rajah.
Soon there was another report, and then a third, and what puzzled me most
was that they seemed to be just where I had come from. The echoes came
back to me from the hills and died away in dismal reverberations in the
jungle. It seemed to be some signal, but, whether from the captain or
Thirkle, I had no way of knowing.
I was tempted to fire a shot in reply, but, deciding to wait for another,
I turned in my tracks and started back, although not on the same trail I
had come over, but to the right of it.
I blamed myself for leaving the captain, for I should have kept with him,
no matter what happened. I had made a fine mess of my scouting trip, but
found some excuse for myself in the fact that I did right in following
Long Jim and Petrak, and had a good reason to believe that they were
going to the pirate camp.
I tried to reason out the significance of the three shots I had heard.
They might mean that Captain Riggs had fired on Thirkle, or that Thirkle
had fired on him. In a kind of frenzy at my own helplessness I figured
the various combinations of the three shots as I went along, but all the
time I was in a frantic haste to find the trail.
Finally I found the dry bed of a little stream; but a careful search
showed no signs of any person having been over it, and it seemed to me,
in my upset sense of direction, that it should lead the other way. But,
remembering that I had left the bed of the creek to follow Long Jim and
Petrak, I came to the conclusion that the pirates had abandoned the
creek, or had turned off from it to cache the gold.
I started down it, hoping that it was the one which would lead me to the
captain. My courage was freshened, and, taking a slow trot jumping from
stones to the hard sand, dodging over-hanging branches, and scrambling up
on the banks to avoid creepers, I covered a great deal of ground in a
short time. I kept close watch on the clear spaces for tracks, and
carried my two pistols in the front of my belt, Long Jim's pair well
I was running and jumping along in this way, as quietly as possible, when
I heard a low, peculiar gruff growl. I stopped in my tracks and listened.
Crawling into the bushes I rested on my knees with a pistol in each hand,
my mouth wide open so as to breathe silently, for I was panting from my
"Ye didn't look to Bucky for this, did ye?" I heard Buckrow say, so close
at hand that, it startled me. There was no reply to his question, and
after a few minutes I crawled toward him. I found myself in an outcrop of
volcanic rock, and beyond the face of a sheer ledge. The soil was moist
ten feet away from the bed of the stream, and bamboo and the thick,
coarse _colgon_ grass was as high as my shoulder.
Keeping well hidden in the bamboo and grass I crept to a high spot, and
right under the edge of the cliff I saw Thirkle sitting on a sack of
gold, with his hands across his knees, holding a piece of rope and gazing
down at it as if in doubt what to do with it. His bare, bald head was
Buckrow was lying in front of him, with his chin propped in his hands. He
was smoking a cigar and looking at Thirkle. Behind them were piled the
sacks of gold, close to a wide crack in the cliff, a sort of canon, wide
enough for a man to enter, and overgrown at the top with brush and green
fronds, for the cliffside was wet and dripping, and veiled with
"Got it in yer old skull that Bucky was a fool, hey?" said Buckrow,
blowing a cloud of smoke at Thirkle. "Well, I'm Bad Buckrow, and I was
Bad Buckrow afore ever I saw ye, and I had a bit of brains of my own
afore ever I met up with ye, Thirkle. Ye can bear that in mind. See how
ye come out when ye monkeyed with me. Them other two fools went off in
the wood and plugged one another, but that ain't me, Thirkle. Yer sharp,
Thirkle; ye always was a sharp one, but ye ain't sharp enough for Bucky,
and it's me that's tellin' ye that."
Thirkle made no reply, but kept his head down, staring at the rope in his
hands, as if he were considering some weighty problem.
"Wanted it all, hey?" went on Buckrow. "Think I'm goin' to put my neck in
a rope for ye and then let ye hog it all, hey? Maybe ye can fool the
others, but I'm Bad Buckrow, I am, and I don't let the like of you, Mr.
Thirkle, hang nothin' on me--leastways, not so easy as ye looked for.
Why, I had my eye on ye and every move ye made after ye sent Reddy and
Jim away to slit one another's throats! Thought I'd fall for it, did ye?
See what come of it? Ye see, don't ye? I'm Bad Buckrow."
Thirkle moved uneasily and cleared his throat, but did not lift his head
or give any answer. But, when he put his head to one side and shook it, I
saw a red patch on his scalp over his right ear, and a smear of blood
down his cheek. Then I realized that the rope over his hands made him a
prisoner, and that Buckrow had turned against him.
"Wanted to do for me too, did ye. I knew yer game, old boy! I saw them
eyes of yours on me, and murder in 'em, and it's me ought to know when
ye plan to cut a man down--I know Thirkle.
"Knew ye'd turn on me some day this way when we made it rich. The lot of
it was small pickin', but here's half o' London under our feet to be
split four ways; but ye wanted it all, and ye wanted us out of yer way so
ye could sleep o' nights. Nice game it was. Fine gent ye'd be, with all
of us dead here, and nobody to ever tell who Thirkle was, or about the
_Kut Sang_, or the others.
"Get away in the boats, ye would, and come back some day for the gold and
then cut it for London, prayin' yer way out of the country, and folks'd
wonder what come of the Devil's Admiral and his crew when no more ships
was lost the way we made 'em go."
"Don't worry me, Bucky," said Thirkle quietly.
"Don't worry of ye! Don't bother, Thirkle. Yer sharp, but yer good as
dead now. It's me that'll be the fine gent and wear walkin'-about
clothes, and have my drink and comfort, and nobody to split on me. I'll
play yer own game, and leave ye here to rot. How like ye that, Thirkle?"
"Ye are on the wrong tack, Bucky," he said quietly, without lifting his
head. "Dead on the wrong tack and shoal water ahead."
"Nasty weather ahead for you, Thirkle--never fret about Bucky."
"Dead on the wrong tack," repeated Thirkle, as if talking to himself. "I
looked to you for better than this, and trusted you too. I wanted to play
fair with ye, Bucky, because ye've got brains, which a man wouldn't think
to hear ye now."
"Brains enough not to be cut down like a bullock by Thirkle, when the
last comes to the last."
"Reddy and Jim were not fit men to trust with a heap of gold like this,
Bucky, and it's you that knows the truth of what I say. They would have
the whole thing cut open in a week once they got into some port with
their pockets full of sovereigns and their skins full of rum, and their
mouths full of babble in the public houses of their wealth and how smart
"First we'd know Petrak would be telling how we took the _Southern Cross_
and the _Legaspi_ and the _Kut Sang_, best of all, and last. Now wouldn't
that be the way with him once he got at the gin? Hey, Bucky?"
"He could be watched and his lip kept shut," said Buckrow.
"Would you want to trust yer neck to Petrak's close lip? Tell me that,
Bucky. Could ye sleep with Petrak and his bragging, and Long Jim and his
bragging, and the two of 'em whispering together, considering the friends
they make when drunk. Why, Bucky, man! Long Jim would tell the whole tale
to a barmaid for a smile, as he come near telling that girl in Malta,
with the whole Mediterranean fleet ashore in Valetta.
"If it wasn't for me we'd been in a jam, what with the stories that were
going the rounds about us then, and a P.O. out of the _Implacable_ trying
to chum with me. I wanted to play fair with ye, Bucky, because yer too
smart to let the drink get the better of ye--but what's the use. I don't
want to argue with ye. Go on and play it alone if ye think ye can."
"Well, right ye are," said Buckrow scornfully. "That's the true words ye
speak now, Thirkle. Ye don't want to argue with me. Right-o--a man can't
argue with cold steel--and what's more, ye won't, if I'm Bad Buckrow. I
know ye've got a smooth lingo when ye get in a trap, but ye can't squirm
out this time. I'll hold the weather of ye this commission, Thirkle."
"Ye'll never get away with it, Bucky. It takes more brains than ye've got
to handle half a ton of gold. Not that ye ain't got the brains so much as
ye don't know how to handle 'em. There's many a man foremast with more
brains than his skipper, but that don't make him skipper."
"It don't take no skipper to handle cargo of this sort," said Buckrow.
"Ye can't do it alone, Bucky. How about coming back for it? What'll ye
tell the crew that comes back with ye? Didn't I plan it all out to get
it? I planned this job and made fair weather of it, didn't I?
"You and the others couldn't done it alone, you know that. Well, ye won't
get away with it, ye can be sure of that. It isn't in ye, Bucky, to do
the job. The hardest is to come yet, as ye'll see when ye go about
getting this away all clear."
"Never ye fret about me, Thirkle. I turned a couple of tricks afore ever
I crossed yer bows, lay to that. I ain't the dog of a sailor ye take me
for. I was a gent once, and I'll be a gent again, and no thanks to ye,
Thirkle. It don't take no brains to spend a guinea at a time, even if a
man knows he has a house full of 'em, and I can be respectable, too, and
take my drink alone in my own house."
"I'll grant ye are no fool, Bucky. It all looks nice and easy, but who
took ye out of the gutter in Sarawak? Where would ye be to-day if it
wasn't for Thirkle? Tell me that, Bucky?"
Buckrow puffed at his cigar a minute, and seemed to consider the matter
"I was down and out right enough then, Thirkle, but I ain't the kind to
stay down long, Thirkle. What with fever and jail, and a bad cut in the
hip, I was in a bad way, but no fault of mine, only my cussed luck. I've
had my hard goin' in my life, and now I'm to take it snug."
"The hangman was around the corner that time in Sarawak, and close-hauled
on a course that would fetch him alongside ye in no time," said Thirkle,
looking up and smiling wearily.
"Never ye mind about the hangman, Mr. Thirkle! He was around the corner
with ye, too, for that, and more than once. Ye mind Hong-Kong? Who
saved ye from the hangman in Hong-Kong? I ask ye that. It was Bucky; but
that had no stop on ye here when ye planned to do for me. I saved ye
from the hangman, too, and now the score is even, and ye can't whine if I
come yer own game on ye."
"I don't deny ye served me a turn in Hong-Kong, Bucky, and that's why I
was to play fair and above board with ye here. Ye think ye know me, and
who I am, and who I was, but ye don't, Bucky, and if ye did ye'd have
more thought about what yer up to here. Thirkle I'm known as, and as
Thirkle I'll die, and I'm rough in my ways and language because I have
fallen into those ways with my men.
"When I'm a sailor I'm as sailors are, and when I'm a parson I know how
to play it, but ye've never seen me as a fine gentleman. Maybe ye'd like
to know who I was before I was Thirkle and got to be the Devil's Admiral,
as they call me for the want of something better, seeing I have played my
game careful and kept them all in the dark."
"It's naught to me who ye was or are, Thirkle. Ye can't oil me out of it
with all yer fine talk--I'm to do for ye when I'm minded, and yer slick
talk can't save ye."
Buckrow got up and slung a rope over his shoulders and began to make a
sling so that he could balance a sack of gold on each end of it.
"I was an officer in the navy, Bucky," said Thirkle, with a sly grin.
"An officer!" exclaimed Buckrow, halting in his work.
"An officer in the navy with the queen's commission at my back and an
admiral's flag ahead," said Thirkle, pleased with the impression he had
made. "That's what, Bucky. Now ye see I was the lad to finish the job
here in fine style. That's why I can get away with this gold, which you
can't. I can show a wad of five-pound notes and not have Scotland Yard at
my heels, or charter a ship and crew and go about it businesslike, and
take my time at it.
"Nice job ye'll make of it, coming back here for this gold. You've got
the whip hand now, and I'll let it go at that; but when they've got ye on
the gallows, which they will, remember what Thirkle told ye, sitting here
in the thick of it, which ye think ye'll spend for high life in London.
Before ye ever get it to London ye'll find it's another tune ye'll play.
Maybe ye think ye can fill a ship with gold and sail to the dockhead and
lift it out and let it go at that--they'll take the gold and hang you,
"No doubt ye think the owners of this gold won't have a word to say when
they find the _Kut Sang_ overdue. Maybe ye think the looting of her was
the easiest part of it; but ye'll find murder is easy, while keeping it
quiet is another tale and another trick. Any man with a knife can go out
and stab a man in the back, but he finds what comes after, the worst of
"It looks easy to ye because we got away with the _Southern Cross_ and
the _Legaspi_--but when ye mount the gallows ye'll see the best of old
Thirkle's tricks was to keep his tracks clear and things running sweet.
They'll take you and wring it all out of ye, the whole murderous story,
and swing ye from a high place. Ye'll end on the gallows, Bucky."
"Never ye fret about the gallows. I'll get this gold away neat and clean
if it takes me twenty years, and I'm the lad that can wait until the time
"Maybe ye can," said Thirkle, "but all I want you to remember is that
Thirkle said ye couldn't, and my words will come to ye when ye take those
thirteen steps up to the rope. Just keep that in mind, Bucky."
Buckrow made no reply, but busied himself again with the sling, and as he
got down on his knees with his back toward me, I decided that it was time
that I took a hand in the proceedings. With Thirkle bound, I had nothing
to fear from him, and I began to draw myself up from the ground,
intending to get on one knee and then empty my pistol into Buckrow, who
was not a dozen yards away.
If it had not been that there was a great deal of high, dry grass, that
would crackle if I tried to run through it, I would have attempted to
rush in on Buckrow and knock him senseless with the butt of a pistol. But
as Thirkle sat facing in my direction, and there was little chance of
getting to Buckrow before Thirkle would see me and give the alarm, or
Buckrow hear me coming, I knew the only thing to do was to kill or wound
Buckrow, even though I had to shoot him in the back. It seemed an unfair
advantage, and nothing better than the act of an assassin; but I reasoned
that Thirkle or Buckrow would have little mercy on me if I fell into
So I arose cautiously, and, parting the grass before me, reached for my
THE ART OF THIRKLE
"So Jim's done for, ye say," said Buckrow. "Good job ye made of it coming
back this way, and good job for me ye did, and the worse for Thirkle."
"Clean job all around, Bucky, and I'm back to have my cut of the pile,"
and then I was sure of dreaming, for that was the voice of Petrak, and it
seemed to me that Petrak ought to be millions of miles away, although I
could not quite settle in my mind just how it was, except that I knew it
couldn't be Petrak speaking--I was dreaming it, and yet I couldn't be
dreaming that awful pain in my head. I tried to open my eyes, but
"Then the _Kut Sang_ didn't go down at all," said Thirkle's voice. "Nice
job you two will have getting clear of this place with the gold now. Our
dear friend, Mr. Trenholm isn't alone, I'll bet a hat on that."
"Bet yer hat with the devil himself for all the good it will bring,"
growled Buckrow. "This ain't none of your affair, Mr. Thirkle, and I'll
thank ye to pipe down and wait until we ask ye to talk."
"What's up now, Bucky?" asked Petrak. "What's wrong now, and what's wrong
with Thirkle's head? Been up--"
"We got Thirkle, too, that's what. He tried to do for me and I sapped
him, and there he is, nice as pie. Wanted it all, he did, Reddy. Don't he
look calm and peaceful there, with his hands crossed like a dead one?
That's Mr. Thirkle for ye, all nice and snug, so he can't cut a man's
throat when a chap ain't minding of him. Tried it on me no sooner as ye
and Long Jim was gone, and I give him what he come for."
"Blow me for a blind beggar!" said Petrak, and I opened my eyes and saw
the three of them, Thirkle, facing me, and Buckrow and Petrak standing
over me as I lay on my back on the damp ground.
"That's Mr. Buckrow," sneered Thirkle. "He wants it all, Reddy, and he'll
play you the same when he gets it. He wants it all, and don't waste your
time counting up the guineas ye'll have, because Buckrow will have 'em
all, and you and I dead and gone under ground hereabouts."
"So Thirkle wanted to do for ye, hey, Bucky? Who looked for it? But he
ought to knowed better as to come any smart tricks with ye, Bucky, and
we're pals, ain't we, Bucky? Say we're pals if ye like and I'll do my
"Pals we be, Reddy, and never ye mind enough of what he says to put in
yer eye. We can split the gold ourselves and leave Mr. Thirkle here with
this friend of ours. Ye know I'll play fair with ye, Red--ye know that,
"Sure," said Petrak. "Here's my paw on it, Bucky, and good luck to us and
long life and merry times. That's a heap of gold for two, Bucky."
"Shake for a square show," said Buckrow, and the two villains shook hands
across my body. I had closed my eyes again, but peeped through partly
opened lids as often as I dared.
"And how come ye done for Long Jim?" asked Buckrow, and Petrak moved
uneasily and cleared his throat.
"Jim played nasty with me, Bucky. Never looked to him for it, but we
was down the trail a bit and he ups and turns on me with a knife.
Cussed if I knows what for, and I didn't have time to ask him
particulars, but had to drill him, and drill him I did, as I'm no man to
stand for knife-play, and as I was trotting myself back who should I come
on but the writin' chap, here, stretched in the grass, so for a time I
thought he had been stretched for good when up he pops and reaches for a
gun, and I give him the butt fair behind of the ear.
"Lucky job, Bucky; lucky for ye and lucky for me, as he'd done for ye
clean in another turnabout, and then, with Thirkle there as he is, a fine
time I'd had of it. But it wasn't myself I was mindin', nohow, Bucky, but
you, as I had my gun and could have drilled him after he drilled you; but
I couldn't stand to see ye get it in the back as he minded to give it.
Lucky for ye, hey, Bucky? We can play fair on that score, can't we,
Bucky? Not for me and he'd have ye and--"
"Oh, stop yer whining and lying!" said Thirkle. "It was yer own pelt ye
took care of, and now ye want to get thick with Bucky, but it won't do
ye a bit of good, Reddy. He'll do for us all now; but if ye got any sense
stir up Mr. Trenholm here and find what's become of the ship and his
"Step on the gentleman's neck and see if he's dead. While yer gamming
away here ye don't know how many more are in the bushes hereabout with
guns ready to chip ye. Stir him up and let's see what happened to the
_Kut Sang_ that he's here at all. It's plain she didn't go down."
Petrak kicked me in the ribs, and I groaned and opened my eyes as if I
had just recovered consciousness, for I did not care to let them know I
had been listening to any of their conversation.
"What's all the trouble?" I asked, looking about, and then sitting up and
gazing at the three pirates as if I were still confused.
"Everything lovely," said Thirkle, grinning at me. "Your old friend, Mr.
Petrak, put you to sleep. I am indeed surprised to find you so well after
all that happened on board the _Kut Sang_, and your belt there, which
Bucky removed, seems to be well filled with weapons. What became of my
old friend, Captain Riggs? And where is the _Kut Sang_?"
"She went down," I said, knowing that my time would be short if they knew
the steamer was still above water, for every minute it lay on the reef
there was a possibility that it would be sighted by some passing vessel.
I knew that if I told them it was still there Buckrow would probably
murder Thirkle and me and hasten away, either to burn the vessel or
escape in the boats.
"And how did you get away, and where is Riggs?" persisted Thirkle.
"I cut away the forecastle scuttle with a knife and crawled through the
chains just as she went down, but Captain Riggs could not get out."
"That's all very fine," said Thirkle; "but you collected a good deal of
hardware out of a sinking ship. How come you with four pistols? And, if
my eyes serve me right, two of those belonged to Long Jim."
Petrak winked at me at this, and I took the cue.
"I found Long Jim dead in the trail and took his two pistols, and the
others were my own which I had when I went into the forecastle, and I had
hoped to use them on some of you fellows, but you got the better of me."
"And how did you and Captain Riggs get along together?"
"We did very well after I had convinced him that I had no hand in the
murder of Trego. You gentlemen certainly know your business, I must say."
"Oh, don't include me in the compliment," said Thirkle, bowing to Buckrow
and Petrak. "These are the men who are entitled to the credit for the
success of the expedition so far, and, now that they have the gold, they
have decided to dispense with my services; and, whatever is done, I will
have no further hand in it.
"We will wish them luck, my dear Mr. Trenholm; and, as we are in the same
boat now, I trust that what little animosity you may have borne against
me in the past can now be forgotten. Mr. Buckrow has the game in his
"Ye say the _Kut Sang_ went down clean?" asked Buckrow.
"Not a sign of her," I said. "Captain Riggs and the black boy went with
her, and I hadn't a minute to spare. Perhaps it would have been just as
well if I had gone with her, too."
"Good!" exclaimed Thirkle. "You see, Buckrow, I told ye she'd go like a
lead and bury her truck. I knew it would be a clean job, and now ye can
go ahead--I quit."
"Small thanks to you," growled Buckrow.
"Fine pair of fools ye'll make!" laughed Thirkle.
"Stretch me, and the two of ye'll hang. Remember that, Reddy! The two of
ye'll hang. It took Thirkle to plan the job, and it'll take Thirkle to
finish it. Mr. Petrak, will you kindly look in my jacket-pocket over
there; there's a bottle in it, and I'd like a bit of stimulant."
Buckrow and Petrak ran for the bottle, and both took a long pull at it.
"Give Thirkle a bit," said Petrak, who still seemed to have a good deal
of respect for the prisoner. "That was a nasty smash ye give 'im, Bucky."
"Give it him, if ye mind, Reddy, but be polite to him. He was an officer
in the navy afore he turned pirate, Reddy."
"A navy officer? Thirkle a navy officer?" asked Petrak. "I was a navy man
myself when I was a boy."
He stepped to Thirkle and held the bottle to the prisoner's lips.
"Was ye an officer--a navy officer, Thirkle?" he asked, somewhat
awestricken at the idea.
"We had a little chat, Mr. Buckrow and myself, while you were away," said
Thirkle, after he had had his drink. "Real chummy we got."
"Ho, yes; real chummy, Thirkle! So chummy, Red, he was ready to let a
knife into me, and now he says he was in the navy; well up to his flag,
too, and the queen's commission, all nice and handy. He thinks he's too
nice to mix with the likes of us; he says as how we won't know how to
blow the loot ladylike and decent. Mind that, Reddy? Ho, ho, ho!"
"It's this way, Reddy," explained Thirkle. "Our old friend Bucky thought
I was jealous of him, and wanted it all to myself. But I never had such a
thought. Long Jim was the one I didn't like, and never did, but you and
Bucky are two after my own heart and--"
"He likes us, Reddy," interrupted Buckrow. "He likes us both, and you
best; but he likes us. Give him another drink and he'll cry for his
"Mr. Buckrow, I mean every word I say," declared Thirkle, and he meant
it, for the shrewd rascal was talking for his life. "There's gold
enough here for all of us, and we'll divide it now, and each take his
share and split it to the dollar. Leave it to me and I'll get it off for
you, safe and easy; but try to go it alone and the two of ye'll hang.
Hang! Understand that, Reddy? The two of you'll hang; and it's Thirkle
that says it, and Thirkle knows. But Thirkle can help ye if ye let him."
"Taffy he's givin' us now, Reddy," said Buckrow, seeing that Petrak was
being impressed by Thirkle's argument.
"Ye'll hang, the two of ye," said Thirkle. "Taffy, if ye like, Mr.
"They'll have to take me first, and that's not so easy as ye make it,"
blustered Buckrow. "Don't mind him, Reddy."
"They'll get ye," said Thirkle, nodding his head. "They'll get ye the
minute ye land anywhere with a dozen of them gold pieces. Where'll ye go
with it? That's what I want to know. Where'll ye clear from? Tell me
that. No doubt ye'll land in Manila with a boat-load of gold and say yer
out of the _Kut Sang_, and she went down, and all were lost but you two
and the cargo of gold. And they'll let ye keep it and send ye on yer way,
with no questions asked."
"Ye mind what he says, Bucky?" Petrak was getting nervous.
"Mind what he says, if ye like," said Buckrow. "I'm man enough to get
away with it, Thirkle or no Thirkle."