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THE DEVIL’S ADMIRAL
An Adventure Story
BY FREDERICK FERDINAND MOORE
I. Missionary and Red-Headed Beggar II. Red-Headed Beggar and Missionary
III. The Spy and the Dead Boatswain IV. I Go Aboard the _Kut Sang_
V. The Dead Man in the Passage
VI. The Red-Headed Man Makes an Accusation VII. I Turn Spy Myself
VIII. Mr. Harris Has a Few Ideas
IX. A Fight in the Dark
X. The Devil’s Admiral
XI. A Council of War
XII. The Battle on the Bridge
XIII. We Plan an Expedition
XIV. The Pursuit Ashore
XV. Two Thieves and a Fight
XVI. The Gold and the Pirates
XVII. The Art of Thirkle
XVIII. Big Stakes in a Big Game
XIX. “One Man Less in the Forecastle Mess” XX. The Last
MISSIONARY AND RED-HEADED BEGGAR
Captain Riggs had a trunk full of old logbooks, and he said any of them would make a better story than the _Kut Sang_. The truth of it was, he didn’t want me to write this story. There were things he didn’t wish to see in type, perhaps because he feared to read about himself and what had happened in the old steamer in the China Sea.
“Folks don’t care nothing about cargo-boats,” he would say, taking his pipe out of his mouth and shaking his head gravely, whenever I hinted that I would like to tell of our adventure of the _Kut Sang_. “They want yarns of them floating hotels called liners, with palm-gardens in ’em and bands playing at their meals and games and so on going from eight bells to the bos’n’s watch.
“It was mostly fighting in the _Kut Sang_, and the mess you and me and poor Harris and the black boy there got into wouldn’t be just the quiet sort of reading folks want these days. It was all over in a night and a day, anyway–look at them Northern Spy apples, Mr. Trenholm!”
He wanted to forget the _Kut Sang_ and the awful night we had in her. He imagined he didn’t figure to advantage in the story, and he winced when I mentioned certain events, although I always insisted that he was the bravest man among us, having a better realization of the odds against us. Those who have faced danger know it takes a brave man to admit that he is beaten, and still keep up the fight.
We all have better memories for our brave moments than for the fear which threatened for a time to prove us cowards. The man who has faced death and says he was not afraid is either a fool or a liar; and, if only a liar, still a fool for telling himself that which he knows to be a lie. The bravery of the seaman is that he fears the sea and knows its ruthlessness and its ultimate victory, and accepts it as a part of his day’s work. This is a sea-story.
Captain Riggs had log-book stories that were good, and they might have served him for a volume of marine memoirs. But I was with him when we freighted the _Kut Sang_ with adventure and sailed out of Manila, so his musty records of rescues and wrecks lacked life for me. In the old logbooks I found no men to compare with the Rev. Luther Meeker; or Petrak, the little red-headed beggar; or Long Jim or Buckrow or Thirkle. I never found in their pages a cabin-boy like Rajah the Malay, strutting about with a long kris stuck in the folds of his scarlet _sarong_, or a mate whose truculence equalled the chronic ill-humour of Harris, who learned his seamanship as a fisherman on the Newfoundland Banks. And in all his log-books I never found another Devil’s Admiral!
Riggs is dead, and I can tell the story in my own way; for tell it I must, and the manuscript will be a comfort to me when I am old and my memory and imagination begin to fail. Not that I ever expect to forget, because that would be a calamity; but I want to put down the events of the day and night in the _Kut Sang_ while they are fresh in my mind.
How well I can see in a mental vision the whole murderous plot worked out! Certain parts of it flash on me at off moments, while I am reading a book or watching a play or talking with a friend, and every trivial detail comes out as clearly as if it were all being done over again in a motion picture. The night gloom in the hall brings back to me the ‘tween-decks of the old tub of a boat; the green-plush seats of a sleeping-car remind me of the _Kut Sang’s_ dining-saloon, and even a bonfire in an adjacent yard recalls the odour of burned rice on the galley fire left by the panic-stricken Chinese cook.
I know the very smell of the _Kut Sang_. I caught it last week passing a ship-chandler’s shop, and it set my veins throbbing again with the sense of conflict, and I caught myself tensing my muscles for a death grapple. To me the _Kut Sang_ is a personality, a sentient being, with her own soul and moods and temper, audaciously tossing her bows at the threatening seas rising to meet her. She is my sea-ghost, and as much a character to me as Riggs or Thirkle or Dago Red.
The deep, bright red band on her funnel gave her a touch of coquetry, but she had the drabness of senility; she was worn out, and working, when she should have gone to the junk pile years before. But her very antiquity charmed me, for her scars and wrinkles told of hard service in the China Sea; and there was an air of comfort about her, such as one finds in an ancient house that has sheltered several generations.
Precious little comfort I had in her, though, which is why I remember her so well, and why I never shall forget her. If she had made Hong-Kong in five days, her name would be lost in the memory of countless other steamers, and there would be no tale to tell. But now she is the _Kut Sang_, and every time I whisper the two words to myself I live once more aboard her.
Rajah is with me–inherited, I might say, from Captain Riggs. Perhaps he keeps my memory keen on the old days, for how could I forget with the black boy stalking about the house–half the time in his bare feet and his native costume, which I rather encourage–for his _sarong_ matches the curtains of my den and adds a bit of colour to my colourless surroundings.
I am quite sure that if Captain Riggs were still alive he would agree that the story should begin with my first sight of the missionary and the little red-headed man, so I will launch the narrative with an account of how I first met the Rev. Luther Meeker.
He was in the midst of a litter of nondescript baggage on the Manila mole when I came ashore from a rice-boat that had brought me across the China Sea from Saigon. The first glance marked him as a missionary, for he wore a huge crucifix cut out of pink shell, and as he hobbled about on the embankment it bobbed at the end of a black cord hung from his neck.
Quaint and queer he was, even for the Orient, where queerness in men and things is commonplace and accepted as a part of the East’s inseparable sense of mystery. With his big goggles of smoked glass he reminded one of some sea-monster, an illusion dispelled by his battered pith helmet with its faded sky-blue _pugri_ bound round its crown, the frayed ends falling over his shoulders and flapping in the breeze.
He was a thin old man, clad in duck, turning yellow with age. When he threw the helmet back it exposed a wrinkled brow and a baldish head, except for a few wisps of hair at the temples. He appeared to be of great age–a fossil, an animated mummy, a relic from an ancient graveyard; and the stoop of his lean shoulders accentuated these impressions. It was plain that the tropics were fast making an end of him.
He was whining querulously as I stepped ashore, and the first words I heard him say were:
“An organ! An organ! An organ in a cedarwood box! An organ in a cedarwood box, and the sign of the cross on the ends! Oh, why do you try my soul? Such stupidity! Such awful stupidity!”
The native porters were grinning at him as they simulated a frantic search for his organ in a cedarwood box, but they probably knew all the time where it was. He was surrounded by baskets and chests; and, if the crucifix were not enough to indicate his profession, black lettering on his possessions advertised him as “The Rev. Luther Meeker, London Evangelical Society.” The multiplicity of labels proclaimed him a traveller known from Colombo to Vladivostok, and he must have been wandering over Asia for years, as his luggage was as ancient as himself.
Fighting my way out of the multitude on the river-bank, I gained the cable office near the customhouse and reported myself in Manila, bought all the newspapers I could to learn how the war was going in Manchuria, and to anticipate if possible where I might be ordered next.
I revelled in the noise and crowds as only one can after a week at sea. While I was on the way from Saigon the Russian armies might have been beaten or the Japanese fleet destroyed. There might be orders sending me anywhere, but I hoped that I would leave Manila for the Strait of Malacca to meet the Baltic fleet. What I feared most was the end of the war, for a war-correspondent without a war is deprived of his profession. I was young and ambitious, then, and seeking a journalistic reputation at the cable’s mouth.
It happened that I had allowed myself to heed the glib tongue of a hotel-runner before I left the rice-steamer, and he had commandeered my bag and taken it to the Oriente Hotel, of which I knew nothing except that it was in the walled city and across the river from the cable office. To recapture the bag and my clean linen I would have to take an instrument of torture known as a _carromatta_ and drive across the Bridge of Spain.
I could cross the river in a small boat with a Filipino pirate, and go on a hunt for a conveyance on the other side; but thought it better to risk being shaken to death than drowned in the dirty Pasig, so I hailed a _cochero_. The villain demanded a double rate, and, while we were haggling, a bus of the Oriente drew in sight and I caught it as it was spinning up Calle San Fernando.
When I crawled into the bus I wished that I had struck a bargain with the thief of a _cochero_, for I found myself in a seat beside the whining missionary. He prayed for his bones over the rough places, and for his life, when the driver took a corner recklessly, and made us all very weary with his eternal complaining. That was not the worst of it–he tried to strike up an acquaintance with me.
There was a letter in my coat-pocket which had been given to me in Saigon to deliver to the Russian consul in Manila. It was an errand for the cable-operator there, who had done me favours, and I was to leave it at the Hong-Kong-Shanghai Bank for the consul, who would call for it. That bank carried an expense account for me, so the delivery of the letter was of no trouble. The envelope was long and official-looking, and it fell to the floor of the bus as I clambered in.
Meeker picked it up and handed it to me, but for the instant he held it he read the address:
Care Hong-Kong-Shanghai Bank,
Courtesy Mr. James A. Trenholm,
“My dear sir,” said Meeker, “you have dropped a document–allow me.”
“Thank you,” I replied, and took the letter, which was quite bulky and sealed with a splotch of black wax imprinted with a coat of arms or a crest, or some such insignia. I fear I betrayed my irritation over Meeker’s reading the address.
“No offence, I trust, my dear sir,” he said, mild surprise in his tone.
“None whatever,” I snapped back; but our companions in the bus smiled and winked at me openly, as if they appreciated my cold manner toward the missionary.
He said no more to me, but remarked to no one in particular that “an austere manner is a poor passport in this country,” which implied that I was new to the East, and would learn better if I stayed long enough. I ignored the remark, somewhat pleased that I had rebuffed him, for I well knew he would talk me into a fever if I did not keep him at a distance; and, furthermore, I did not relish the idea of having him intrude upon me at the hotel. My dislike for him was not because he was a missionary, but because he was a common enough type of bore. He was over suave, and his peevishness jarred my none too steady nerves.
The bus was not a pleasant place for me after that, so I dropped off in Plaza Moraga, when I observed the signboard of the very bank mentioned. I cashed a draft and handed the letter to the clerk at the barred window.
“Oh, yes, we have been waiting for that!” he said as he took the envelope. “Mr. Trego! Here are your papers for the consul,” he called to a man somewhere behind the frosted glass wall. “We appreciate your kindness very much, Mr. Trenholm.”
It was then that I first saw the little red-headed man. He was looking in at the door, but scurried away when the Sikh guard inside moved toward him. The little man wore a white canvas navy-cap; but his appearance was dirty and disreputable, and he had the aspect of a beggar. His visage was wizened and villainous and shot with pock-marks under a coppery stubble of red beard, and his little mole-like eyes were that close together that they seemed fastened to his nose.
The clerk kept me waiting for signatures, and finally handed out my gold. As I filled my purse I was conscious of some one behind me, and, glancing over my shoulder, I saw the Rev. Luther Meeker.
RED-HEADED BEGGAR AND MISSIONARY
Turning my back on him, I edged toward a desk. It seemed to me that he had not recognized me as the austere man in the bus, or perhaps he chose to pass without encountering me again. He stared about the place, leaning on one leg for a minute as if undecided what to do next, or not quite sure he was in the right establishment.
I could hear voices in a room close at hand, and Meeker turned toward the door, walking silently in his cloth deck-shoes, and passed into the room. I heard a man give a cry of astonishment, followed by a growl of wrath, and Meeker ran out again, retreating backward and holding his hands up in protest.
“My dear sirs!” he whined. “No offence, I am sure! I hope you have taken no offence, for none was intended, and I did not mean to disturb any person–I was simply asking alms for a seamen’s chapel, and I do most sincerely beg your pardons, gentlemen.”
He went into the street, and a sallow-faced man with a slender malacca cane held in his hand as if it were a rapier, came to the door of the room and said something in French, indignant that he should be disturbed. He waved the cane menacingly after Meeker and slammed the door.
Leaving the bank, I turned toward the Escolta, which is the principal business street of Manila. The shop windows attracted me, and I sauntered for half an hour or more. I wanted a new field-glass, and as I stood on the pavement at a corner and looked in at a jeweller’s window I caught the image of Meeker in the glass, which was thrown in a shadow by an awning.
I turned without thinking Meeker could have any interest in what I might do, and saw him half a block away talking to the little red-headed beggar who had looked in at the bank door. Meeker evidently caught me looking at him, for he whispered to the beggar, who hastened away, taking a furtive glance at me over his shoulder as he left. I turned toward Meeker, and he swung away down the street as I approached him, with more nimbleness than I supposed was in his old bones.
“I suppose the pest will be at my heels for the next week,” I told myself, annoyed at the way the missionary crossed my path. That was the fourth time I had seen him in an hour, and I dreaded to go to the hotel, sure I would meet him again–for, of course, he could not have gone anywhere else but to the Oriente.
I thought it strange that he should be talking to the little beggar, although it never occurred to me that they were watching me; and, even if they were, I would have not concerned myself much about it. As it was, I ascribed Meeker’s embarrassment when I last saw him to what had passed between us in the bus, and concluded that he was trying to avoid me, which I considered a praiseworthy effort on his part.
There was a possibility of orders awaiting me at the hotel; and, although it was not yet noon, I hailed a rig and drove there. The clerk passed over the familiar yellow envelope, and my message read: “Proceed to Hong-Kong for orders.” I replied that I would leave at once, and the message was gone before I discovered that there wasn’t a steamer for Hong-Kong before the end of the week, five days away.
It would have sounded silly to dispatch another message, telling of lack of steamers. I had supposed a steamer sailed every day or two, and my temper was ruffled at my mistake and the prospect of fretting away a week in the heat of Manila.
A little item in the _Times_ gave me hope. It told of the steamer _Kut Sang_ coming out of dry dock to sail for Hong-Kong that very afternoon with general cargo. There was a bare chance that I might get passage in her, for the paper referred to her as a former passenger boat, and I was sure I could cajole the company into selling me a berth, or bribe the captain into signing me as a member of the crew, with no duties to perform, a common practice.
“This is Mr. Trenholm of the Amalgamated Press,” I told the clerk in the steamship office over the hotel’s desk-telephone. “Simply must get to Hong-Kong as soon as possible, and would like to go in the _Kut Sang_ this afternoon. May I buy passage in her?”
It was hard to make him understand, for he was a Filipino who insisted on speaking English, although I had a working knowledge of Spanish. He first mistook me for a stevedore, then for the manager, and next for the Hong-Kong-Shanghai Bank. I stormed at him, irritated that I should have to shout my business for the benefit of the loafers in the hotel office.
“Correspondent!” I yelled in answer to his questions. “Newspaper correspondent working on the war. I want to go to Hong-Kong in the _Kut Sang_!”
“I am very sorry,” he said, without explaining his sorrow.
“May I go in the _Kut Sang_?” I insisted, and he told me I could, and after he had talked in a low tone with somebody in his office, said that I couldn’t, which was exasperating. I decided to go to the steamship office and plead with the officials. Hanging up the receiver, I signalled to the boy to call a carriage.
“You want to go in the _Kut Sang_, my dear sir?” came a purring voice at my shoulder. I looked up, and the Rev. Luther Meeker smiled at me.
I growled something at him to the effect that I wondered if I was ever to lose sight of him. He bowed again and grinned.
“Sorry that you object to me,” he murmured, with lifted eyebrows. “But we’ll let all that pass. I might inform you that it is impossible to go in the steamer _Kut Sang_. You will pardon me, I am sure, but I heard what you said at the telephone, and I am willing to annoy you to save you time and trouble. I repeat, there is absolutely no possibility of your getting passage in the _Kut Sang_.”
“How do you know?” I asked, still curt with him, but feeling a trifle ashamed of myself for insulting him.
“Because they have just refused me, my dear sir–allow me–the Rev. Luther Meeker of the London Evangelical Society,” and he gave me a card which had seen considerable service.
“Trenholm is my name. Sorry I haven’t a card. Equally sorry, Mr. Meeker, that you have been refused passage in the _Kut Sang_. Excuse me, but I am in a hurry.”
“It won’t avail you anything to visit the office,” he said, with sad mien and a sneer on his lips.
“And why not?”
“If they wouldn’t let me go, a man of the cloth, with credentials from the Bishop of Salisbury, your case is hopeless.”
“Thanks for the compliment,” I shot at him, and left him staring after me with puzzled surprise on his wrinkled countenance. He stepped to the door and saw me enter a _quilez_, and there was a gleam of anger in his crafty old eyes. The sunlight made him blink, for he was not wearing goggles, and as I rolled toward the Parian Gate, I looked back and saw him standing in the door and shading his eyes with his hand to look after me.
Taking possession of a very surprised steamship-agent, I informed him that I was going to Hong-Kong in the _Kut Sang_, and I was ready to argue with him until the vessel sailed. A refusal was out of the question–he didn’t have time to refuse. I spread all sorts of papers on the counter and threatened to bring all the officers of the Hong-Kong-Shanghai Bank up there to argue for me.
The talk about the bank seemed to help me wonderfully, for he had a whispered conversation with a gray-bearded old gentleman, who looked me over with a shrewd eye, and nodded his assent to my buying a ticket.
“It won’t be necessary for you to sign ship’s articles,” said the agent, turning affable all of a sudden. “We have a passenger-license for the _Kut Sang_, although we have withdrawn her from the passenger-trade except in cases of emergency or delay of the regular ships. But she hasn’t been in the passenger-trade for nearly a year and we won’t undertake to guarantee the table or service.
“You won’t find her equal to a liner, and the ticket is sold with the understanding that she is a cargo-boat, and if you are willing to take pot-luck with Captain Riggs, that is your affair. However, it is understood that you are not to make unreasonable complaints or demands of the master.”
My answer to this was to dump a handful of gold coins on the counter before he could change his mind. I told him I was willing to go to Hong Kong in a coal-barge.
“You will find it lonesome on the passage,” he said.
“I’ll manage all right,” I replied, not quite rid of my asperity over their lack of decision about taking a passenger.
“We have already sold one ticket,” continued the clerk, as he put down figures on a pad. He glanced at me with a quizzical expression, and then smiled.
“One passenger will help,” I commented, for something better to say.
“If he doesn’t talk an arm off you before you reach Hong-Kong, I’ll give you the ticket for sixpence. He’s a missionary,” he grinned.
“The Rev. Luther Meeker!” I cried in horror.
“The Rev. Luther Meeker!” he repeated, and gave me my change with a chuckle.
Naturally, I was astonished to discover that Meeker was to be a passenger with me in the _Kut Sang_, but I was out in the street again before it dawned upon me that the situation was more than a mere coincidence. The missionary had lied to me when he said he had been refused passage, he had misled me when he said it was impossible to buy a ticket in the _Kut Sang_, and I could make nothing of it all but that he did not want me to know he was sailing in the vessel, and that he did not want me to go in her.
The idea that he would interfere with my plans and delay me for a week simply because he objected to my presence in the same steamer with him filled me with wrath. I so lost my temper for a minute that I was bent on going back to the hotel and knocking him down, missionary or no missionary; but, instead, came to the conclusion that the joke was on him, and I would have plenty of opportunities to retaliate upon him between Manila and Hong-Kong.
Before I got into my _quilez_ my ire was roused again at the sight of the red-headed beggar lounging in a doorway across the street, obviously watching me. It was plain enough that Meeker had sent him to spy upon me and learn if I went to the steamship office. The little beggar saw me looking at him and dodged into a doorway, but fled when he saw me start after him.
In the _quilez_ I laughed at myself for allowing a prying old man like Meeker to upset my temper, and, as I rode back to the hotel, put the both of them out of my mind; but promised myself that I would take my revenge on the old pest in some way aboard the steamer.
My bag was packed again, and I was ready for tiffin and then an afternoon nap, to be called in time to catch the steamer. My telephone rang, and I hastened to answer it, expecting orders from the cable-office, and hoping that London had decided, after all, to send me after the Baltic fleet to the south, rather than to Hong-Kong.
“Is this Mr. Trenholm? This is the steamship office, Mr. Trenholm. We wish to inform you that the _Kut Sang_ has been delayed until to-morrow morning for cargo which did not get in to-day. Sails to-morrow sure.”
It made little difference to me, and I would be glad to have a night’s sleep ashore after the rice-steamer. However, it would be wise to have the exact sailing-time of the _Kut Sang_, so I rang up the steamship office and asked, not wishing to run the risk of getting to the mole and finding the steamer gone.
“She sails this afternoon at five, as noted on the board,” was the startling response to my query. I was so taken aback for a second that I didn’t know what to think or say. I remarked into the telephone that somebody in the steamship office must take me for a fool, and that I did not consider such things jokes.
No, they had not telephoned me the sailing was delayed; couldn’t say who had; certainly no one in the steamship office could think of doing such a thing, which sounded reasonable enough; knew nothing whatever about a delay, and were quite perturbed to hear I had been told there was; had no idea how it happened, but there was no doubt the _Kut Sang_ would sail on schedule time, for the stevedore was there in the office at that minute getting lading-slips signed, and he knew of no delay.
“Meeker’s little joke is going too far,” I decided, after I had hung up the receiver. “I think there are a few words I can say to him that will convince him I am not to be trifled with in this manner.”
Seizing my cap, I pulled the door open abruptly and almost fell over the little red-headed beggar lurking near my room. He darted down the stairway, and I leaped after him.
THE SPY AND THE DEAD BOATSWAIN
Three steps at a time I took the matted stairway, which was reckless speed, for the shell-paned windows were shut, and the awnings pulled down to keep out the heat of the blinding sun, making it quite dark. But I was bound to capture the little red-headed man, thrash him soundly, make him tell his motive in trailing me, and turn him over to the police.
I caught the indistinct figure of a man in white coming up, and threw myself to one side to avoid him, but he stumbled in front of me, and we went sprawling into the corridor below. It was a nasty spill, and I shot out on the matting at full length with my hands thrown before me. The polished teak-wood floor and the loose matting saved me from injury.
“My dear sir!” exclaimed the man who fell with me, and I found the Rev. Luther Meeker sitting on a crumpled mat and propped up with his arms behind him, while his pith helmet went dancing away on its rim to settle crazily upon its crown a dozen feet from us.
For an instant I was tempted to attack him, when I realized that his presence on the stairs and his interruption of my pursuit of the redheaded man were significant of more than an accident, and that Meeker and the other were spying upon me. I bridled my ire, and decided to play the game out with them and fathom the mystery of their espionage.
“My dear sir, I am almost certain that I have sprained my back–I am sure I have injured my back!”
“I am sorry for your back,” I said, getting to my feet. “For my part, I am satisfied to escape without a broken neck.”
“My immortal soul, if it isn’t Mr. Trenholm!” said he, blinking at me, his goggles bobbing on a rubber string made fast to a jacket-button. “Of all persons, Mr. Trenholm! Bless my soul!”
My mental remark was somewhat similar and with equal fervour, if not complimentary to him and his soul. Brushing my soiled ducks, I started to move away, for it would never do to assume an excess of friendship too suddenly.
“Just one moment, Mr. Trenholm–” he called after me, shaking a bony forefinger–“just one moment, I beg of you, sir! I have some information which I desire to impart, and, strangely enough, I was seeking you when this unfortunate tumble came about, partly through my infirmities, I am sure. One moment, sir. It is to your advantage to wait, I assure you.”
“What is it?” I asked, hesitating. The little beggar had undoubtedly escaped, and I knew that in Meeker I had bigger game if I handled him cautiously.
“The _Kut Sang_!” he said, arising with difficulty and holding his back with one hand while he hobbled after his helmet.
I was convinced that his injury and decrepit bearing were clever bits of acting.
“I desire to correct you regarding the _Kut Sang_” he cackled, caressing the recovered helmet.
“What about it? My dear Mr. Meeker, I am in a hurry and cannot waste the day waiting for you to talk. I am sorry for what has happened here, but I trust that you are not incapacitated. Anyway, I do not think there is anything you can tell me about the _Kut Sang_ that I do not already know.”
“Oh, but there is,” he protested, holding up his hand and eyeing me craftily. “I was seeking you to tell you when we fell upon each other so unceremoniously. It is quite–“
“I suppose you want to tell me that the sailing has been delayed. I know all about that–she sails in the morning.”
“Sails in the morning!” he exclaimed, pretending surprise, but being puzzled about something. “Does she?”
There was guile in that last question, and when he asked it I knew it was he or some one acting for him who had attempted to mislead me about the time of the vessel’s departure. I saw a chance to trap him, and asked:
“Was that what you wanted to tell me?”
He parried it, and while he fumbled in his pockets for something, a trick to gain time, he was thinking hard and fast.
I had him against the ropes, so to speak, and he knew it, for what he did want to find out was whether I knew the telephone message to be fraudulent. If I did, he wanted to take credit for setting me right; and if I didn’t, he wanted me to miss the _Kut Sang_. So, knowing his game, I came to the conclusion that I must not press him too hard and so make him suspicious that I knew his true character–his character, that is, as a decidedly suspicious person.
“I was told that she sails in the morning, but it was some mistake,” I told him, as if I had not found anything peculiar in the error and was not the least disturbed about it.
“Oh, no! Nothing in that!” he cried, unable to conceal his delight over my admission of how much I knew. “For a minute I thought there might be something in the story, after all, when I heard you say she was delayed. That is just what I was going to tell you–there is no truth in that report. Some person, who I cannot say, also gave me misinformation regarding the _Kut Sang_. I feared that you might have had the same experience. That, however, is only a part of it–what I want to tell you is that it is now possible to buy a ticket in the _Kut Sang_.”
“I already have my ticket,” I said. “So we will be fellow-passengers, and I hope you will pardon my throwing you down the stairs; but I was running after a beggar or a thief.”
“Indeed! Do you know the rascal, or did you see him so that you can give a comprehensive description of him to the police?”
“A little red-headed man,” I said, watching him closely. “Did you see him before you started up the stairs?”
He burst out in a dry, mirthless cackle of laughter, and slapped his knees, much as if he had heard a good joke.
“If you will come in to tiffin with me, Mr. Trenholm, I will tell you about him.”
Assuming affability, I accepted his invitation, and we went into the dining-room together and found a table to ourselves in the corner. I was rather pleased at having an opportunity to study him, especially at his own suggestion, and I made up my mind that before the lunch was over I would have solved the mystery of who or what the missionary was, and why he had the little red-headed man at my heels since I had arrived in Manila that morning, and why he had attempted to keep me out of the _Kut Sang_.
“And who is this little red-headed man?” I asked as we took our chairs.
He bowed his head and mumbled a grace before replying, and I had a sense of mental conflict between us, and knew that I would have to guard against chicane, or the suave old fellow would talk me out of my suspicions.
“It must have been Dago Red you saw,” he began, grinning, and wagging his head. “I hope he did not actually steal anything, my dear Mr. Trenholm. I am quite sure you must be mistaken about his being a thief; but it is quite possible, he has deceived me.”
“I found him sneaking near my door in the hall,” I said. “Who is this Dago Red?”
“A worthy man,” he replied getting serious. “I am afraid you have done him an injustice, for I sent him up to see if you were in your room, and after I had given him the errand the clerk informed me that you were in, and I started up myself.”
“He didn’t appear anxious to talk with me when he saw me open the door.”
“You probably startled him by–“
“But who is he?”
“Petrak, I think his name is, although I am not sure, and my poor old memory cannot hold names long. He is a sailor who has been shipwrecked, and he became a vagrant here and was sent to Bilibid Prison. Much of my work is in prisons, and I took charge of him when he got out and sent him to the Sailors’ Home, sure that he would be able to get a ship again. That was a couple of months ago, and when I arrived to-day he met me and told me that he had left the Home because the keeper was prejudiced against him, owing to his term in prison.
“He was on the verge of starvation, and I gave him some money from my charity fund, which he promptly spent on drink, for he is quite dissolute. But he took charge of my luggage and attended to some errands for me, but he fears the police and cannot get out of his habit of skulking about, and, as the detectives have hounded him, he is suspicious of everybody, and ready to go into a panic when a stranger approaches him. It is a pity that he cannot get back to sea, but he has had the fever, and no master seems to want him, and he has been forced into vagabondage.”
He gave me this history of the little red-headed man in disconnected sentences while we were at the soup, and I let him run on. As he talked his eyes were roaming over the room, and he scanned every person that entered, and peered at me from under his brows when he thought I was not observing him.
It was plausible enough, but I could not forget that Meeker and the little sailor were together a great deal, and whenever I had seen them they were acting suspiciously, and both of them had kept close watch upon me. Neither had he explained away the fact that he had told me I could not buy a ticket in the _Kut Sang_, which I did; nor the fact that he had his own ticket when he told me that, nor the false telephone message for the obvious purpose of making me miss the steamer, and then his getting in my way when I was in pursuit of Petrak, or “Dago Red,” as he called him.
It seemed beyond reason that this chain of events could be nothing but a combination of coincidences, and, when I analyzed the situation, I framed what I considered a good theory regarding Petrak’s presence outside my door. It occurred to me that Meeker was the author of the false message, and that he was really on his way to visit me to learn if I had discovered the falsity of it when he met me rushing down the stairs. But he had sent Petrak ahead of him to listen at the door in case I telephoned the company to verify the first message; Petrak had heard me ask the company for the sailing time and was about to report to Meeker when I opened the door upon him.
Meeker was probably at the foot of the stairs and covered the retreat of his henchman. Petrak may not have been able to stop and report what he had heard, so Meeker fished for the information from me, ready to confirm the report that the sailing of the vessel was delayed, or pretend that he was about to set me right.
Upon my admission that I knew the report was false, he grasped at the latter alternative, and, seeing that it was impossible to prevent me going in the _Kut Sang_, determined to make friends with me and disarm whatever suspicions I might have regarding him. It seemed a tenable theory, but I could not account for all this bother on his part because James Augustus Trenholm, of the Amalgamated Press, took passage in the _Kut Sang_.
It seemed absurd to me that Meeker or anybody else would be concerned because I was leaving Manila for Hong-Kong. It was plain enough that he, or somebody, had done their best to keep me from sailing in the _Kut Sang_. That it was the Rev. Luther Meeker there could be little doubt, but the mystery lay in what his motives could be, or who he was acting for, and it was beyond me to say why there should be any objection to my sailing in the steamer _Kut Sang_ that afternoon.
While I was thinking these things over he was keeping up a running conversation about trivial matters, and we were well into the curried lamb and getting along famously when he asked a question which put me on my guard at once, and set me groping mentally for a solution of the puzzle.
“Did you deliver your letter?” he asked, casually, but I saw in an instant that he had been paving the conversational way all along for that very question.
“What letter?” I asked, although I knew the one he meant.
He looked at me craftily, with what I took for a bit of surprise that I did not know the letter he referred to, or that he expected me to deceive him.
“Perhaps I shouldn’t mention it, for it may recall our little unpleasantness this morning,” he sent back. “Perhaps it was my fault, my dear sir, in speaking to you when I picked it up, and I certainly want to assure you that I was not put out by your disinclination to begin an acquaintance with a stranger.”
“Haven’t the slightest idea of what you are talking about,” I said lightly, and professing ignorance in my puzzled expression.
“The letter you dropped in the bus.” He fairly hurled the sentence at me, although his voice was low and he was pretending to have trouble with the saltcellar.
“Oh! To be sure, the letter I dropped in the bus, and which you so kindly picked up for me. I have an idea that I was rather gruff at the time, and not at all inclined to appreciate the service you performed. I might have lost it entirely but for you, so I’ll thank you now, with an apology.”
“Don’t mention it–don’t mention it, I assure you. I trust you delivered it safely.”
He had given me the key to the mystery. The letter for the Russian consul was the cause of Meeker’s attentions to me! And, instead of being a newspaper correspondent, to Meeker I was a Russian agent, probably a spy! It was all I could do to restrain myself from laughing in his face.
“Delivered it safely,” I repeated inanely. “It was only an errand for a friend of mine, and I left it at the–“
He waited for me to finish the sentence. He forgot himself and failed to conceal his assumed nonchalance regarding the letter, for, as I cut off what I was saying, he held his fork poised over his lamb, so intent was he on learning where I had delivered the letter for the Russian consul.
I seized a glass of water and struggled with an imaginary obstruction in my throat, and mentally cursing my stupidity in telling my friend’s private business to a stranger who had already betrayed an inordinate interest in the letter.
“Where did you leave it?” purred Meeker.
“At the post-office,” I finished, amazed at his boldness in pursuing the destination of the letter, and having no qualms of conscience about telling him a falsehood. I did not regard it as any of his affair where I had delivered the letter, and did not intend to inform him I had left the bulky envelope at the Hong-Kong-Shanghai Bank.
The image of the bank-front which crossed my mind gave me another clue to Meeker’s solicitude about me and the letter. I remembered seeing a sign over the teller’s window, which stated that the bank was a branch of a Russian financial house. What could be more natural for a Russian spy than to cash his drafts in a place which dealt with Vladivostok and Port Arthur, or even St. Petersburg and Moscow?
And, if he took me for a spy in the Russian service, it followed that he must be watching me for the Japanese, and it was probable that the cable-agent in Saigon was in the service of the Czar and found it convenient to deliver an important document with my assistance.
At that time Manila was the headquarters for blockade-runners bound for Port Arthur, and Russian and Japanese spies, from coolies to bankers, were watching every ship and every stranger. So it was not strange that I, coming from French Indo-China, with a dispatch for the Russian consul, should be mistaken for a spy by Meeker the instant he read the address on the envelope and saw the wax seals.
I had a mind to tell the old fellow the joke on him, but that would require explaining where the letter to the consul came from, which would hardly be playing fair with my friend in Saigon. If he knew the truth he might abandon his trip to Hong-Kong in the _Kut Sang_, and I would be rid of him, for I knew he was going with me in the steamer for the purpose of attempting to learn what my business would be in the British port.
If I was to remain in Manila I would have disillusioned him, and so put a stop to his trailing me about, but, as I was leaving in a few hours, I anticipated but little more trouble from him or the redheaded man. Besides, I saw an opportunity to make game of him by telling him his mistake after we were well to sea and leading him on a fool’s voyage.
“I am sure that we will have a pleasant passage in the _Kut Sang_,” he said. “I am something of a literary man myself, Mr. Trenholm–an exhaustive life of the saints, a shilling in paper covers, four shillings in cloth, with gilt title and frontispiece of me. It is recommended by the Bishop of Salisbury, and in its class quite a standard work.
“Then I did some poems, chiefly on sacred subjects. Not much as poetry, perhaps, judged by severe standards, but I am told they are regarded as marvels of piety and sweetness. I may have a copy in my luggage, which I will show you after we are settled aboard the steamer.”
I let him ramble on like that, turning over in my mind the while all the schemes I intended to put into play to convince him I was really a spy, and when a boy brought a paper I fell upon the war news.
“Another Russian defeat,” I half moaned, and made out that I was dreadfully upset because the Japanese were winning battles.
He said he deplored war, and had a prejudice against the Japanese, and hoped they would lose, and praised the Russians as brave and pious. When I expressed satisfaction at his views in order to prove my character as a Russian agent, we might have been mistaken by an observer for a couple of old friends.
He wearied me, however, with his chatter and efforts to make himself agreeable, and after the meal I escaped from him on the plea of business which must be attended to before the steamer sailed.
Leaving the walled city, I crossed the Bridge of Spain to the Escolta and took a stroll in Calle Rosario, where the Chinese merchants keep themselves in grateful shade with miles of awning. After an hour of sight-seeing, I found myself in a square near the San Miguel Bridge.
There was a crowd gathered before a building, which I remember on account of the picture of a frigate painted upon the stucco wall and the great red letters spelling out:
THE FLAGSHIP BAR
There had evidently been a fight; and coolies and natives, and Europeans in white, clustered at the door. I joined the knot of people and pressed forward to see what was holding their attention, and saw the body of a big, foreign-looking man, half inside the door and half on the pavement, with his head outside.
His mouth was open, and from his upper lips drooped long, black moustaches, looking all the blacker for the ghastly pallor of his cheeks. He had been stabbed in the back, and the spectators in the front of the group edged away to avoid the growing pool of blood on the sidewalk.
“Does anybody know who he is?” demanded a khaki-clad policeman, taking out a note-book.
“A sailor,” said an American in a white apron, who leaned out of the door. “Drank whiskey and vermouth and talked like a squarehead.”
“Greek he was,” said a man with the appearance of a mariner.
“Here’s his cap in here,” said the bartender, and he turned and picked up a watch-cap, and held it so we could see letters wrought in it with gilt cord, and I made out “Kut Sang,” which excited my interest in the case.
“Boatswain he was in the _Kut Sang_, bound out to-day for Hong-Kong,” said the mariner.
“Jolly long road to Hong-Kong for him now,” said another.
“Who cut him?” demanded the policeman. “Didn’t you see how this happened? Are you all deaf and dumb? You, there in the apron! Who did this?”
“You can search me,” said the bartender. “He had a couple of drinks and was going out when somebody slipped a knife in him. I was at the other end of the bar–never saw a thing until this one here lets out a yell and goes down. Somebody cut and run through the door.”
“I see him! I see him!” cried a boy in kilts who had a hoop, and we all turned, expecting the murderer to be pointed out to us; but the boy meant that he had seen the man running away and all that he knew was that he had worn a “funny hat,” and he could tell nothing else.
“A little chap it was,” volunteered a cockney.
“What’s that?” asked the policeman. “Speak up–nobody here going to bite you, my man! Did you see him? What did he look like?”
“I didn’t see him do no cuttin’, if that’s what you mean, officer. I didn’t see no knife-play, and ye couldn’t hang a man on what I see, and–“
“What did you see?” said the policeman, with a show of asperity. “Never mind what we can do with it. What did you see?”
“Small chap, in a white navy-cap, and ‘air red as the sun in the Gulf of H’annam.”
I GO ABOARD THE “_KUT SANG_”
Perhaps I should have told the policeman about Petrak, when I heard the cockney say he had seen a red-headed little man in a white navy-cap running away from the Flagship Bar. But, if I had, I might have been held as a witness and nothing come of it, for it developed that the cockney knew nothing about the murder–as he said he had simply seen the little man running away from the scene.
I had other business beside aiding the police to find the murderer of a sailor, and that business was to get to Hong-Kong as quickly as I could in the _Kut Sang_. Even then it was time that I hasten to the dock and board the steamer. I hailed a _cochero_ and, leaving the Manila police to settle their own mysteries, got my baggage from the Oriente and rode through Binondo toward the waterfront.
Now it occurs to me that I must set down in their order the events of that day in their proper sequence, which compels me to tell of my meeting with Mr. Trego in the Hong-Kong-Shanghai Bank.
It was not until the whole affair was ended that the significance of that apparently casual meeting in the bank came upon me with its full force, and I saw the pattern of what was to become a tangled succession of the most queer happenings.
There were papers at the bank which I must take with me, and on the way to the docks I stopped there. As I went in there was a sallow-faced man standing outside a grated window talking with a teller. He was smoking a long Russian cigarette, and pulling with nervous fingers at a tiny black moustache. His malacca cane was leaning against the wall by his side. I recognized him as the man who had driven the Rev. Luther Meeker out of the rear room of the bank, when the latter went in to seek alms, as he said.
He stood aside as I approached the teller’s window, and the clerk handed out the papers to me, with a smile and some trifling remark.
“When are you leaving, Mr. Trenholm?” asked the clerk.
“In an hour in the _Kut Sang_,” I said, and the man with the cigarette turned round and surveyed me with mild surprise. As I stepped to the door he went up to the window and whispered something to the clerk.
“Mr. Trenholm! Just one minute, please, Mr. Trenholm!”
The clerk called me and I halted, thinking that he had forgotten something about my letter of credit, or wanted my signature again.
“I want you to meet Mr. Trego,” said the teller. “He will be with you in the _Kut Sang_.”
I bowed, and Mr. Trego bowed, but his eyes were appraising me as he looked at me, although outwardly he had the excessive politeness of a Latin.
“I am very glad to meet you,” he said without the trace of an accent, although in that mechanical manner which makes the words sound as if they had been read many times out of a grammar or phrase-book. I took him for a Frenchman.
“I must be going now, but I hope to meet you on board,” I said, and we bowed again and I left him.
“He’s all right,” I heard the teller say as I went out, and understood that the bank-clerk had assured Trego that my character was good enough for him to be friendly with me on the passage to Hong-Kong.
As we swung out of Calle San Fernando I saw the _Kut Sang_ tied up at the embankment of the Pasig River, with the Blue Peter at her foremast and heavy black smoke pouring from her funnel. She had the aspect of a vessel getting ready for sea, and the last of her cargo was being put into her hold.
It was then that I was attracted to a knot of natives and sailors clustered about an organ, in front of the decrepit building which I knew for the Sailors’ Home, roaring out the chorus of “Rock of Ages” as though it were a chantey. There could be no mistaking the figure seated at the wheezy little organ–the Rev. Luther Meeker, with his battered helmet on the back of his head and his goggles turned skyward as he wailed in a high-piped tenor the words of the old hymn.
He was too busy to see me and was making hard going of the tune, for the assorted voices which followed his lead held to various keys. He may have seen me from behind his goggles, but, if he did, he gave no sign, and I urged the driver to whip up the horse and pass the group at a good clip. I had no desire to be annoyed by the old impostor, and was afraid that he might have some new pretext to keep me from going in the _Kut Sang_.
We were well clear of the congregation when I was startled to see Petrak emerge from the pack of staring natives about the organ, and run after my carriage.
“Take your luggage aboard for a peseta, sir!” he cried, grasping the side of the vehicle and keeping pace with it.
I confess that I suspected some game, and that Meeker had waylaid me. It looked like a bold move to block me at the last minute, and I was rather amused at the idea of watching their game and seeing what might be the tactics.
The little fellow had changed his appearance a trifle. His red head was covered now with a black cloth cap, making him look more like a stoker than a seaman. His ratlike visage was covered with a coppery stubble, but its colour was not apparent at first glance, for his face was smeared with coal-dust and grease.
“I’m nigh dead for a drink,” he whined. “Let me take your luggage aboard, sir–just a peseta, sir. I’ve had jungle fever and was shipwrecked–in the _H.B. Leeds_ it was that went down in a typhoon. I can’t get a ship out of this blasted place. I’m an honest sailor if some hard on the drink–just a peseta, sir, and I’ll put your dunnage down in your cabin slick as a whistle.”
“I have a mind to turn you over to the police,” I told him, expecting him to take alarm and run away, for I was not so sure he had not had a hand in the murder of the sailor in the Flagship Bar.
The _cochero_ had pulled up his horse on the mole in the thick of the scattered cargo, and Petrak still clung to the stanchion supporting the canvas-top of the carriage.
“And for why?” he demanded with a touch of arrogance, giving me a shrewd look. “What have I been doin’ of, sir?”
“That little cutting in the Flagship Bar.”
“The squarehead? Not me, sir. The bobbies got that chap right enough–one of his mates out of this wessel right alongside what you’re goin’ aboard of. Just a peseta, sir, and I’ll handle your luggage.”
“They have got the fellow who stabbed the man in the Flagship Bar?”
“Slick as a whistle, some two hours back. One of his mates, he was, that did the cuttin’–lampman out of this wessel. Take your luggage.”
“Take it along, then, and see that you don’t drop it,” I told him, convinced that the little villain could have had no hand in the murder, even if he had been on the scene.
He shouldered my bag and went up the gangway and I followed him closely. I looked in at the door of the saloon where I saw the old captain seated at the table, with a litter of papers about him, arguing with a tall rawboned New Englander, whom I knew to be the mate. He was complaining about something.
“I say we ain’t goin’ to git out to-night, Cap’n Riggs,” he said. “The bo’sun has went and got hisself stabbed and four of the white hands are missin’, and we ain’t got nobody to work ship but the chinks.”
“We’ve got to have a crew, Mr. Harris, and that’s all there is to it,” said Captain Riggs. “You say the Greek got cut?”
“Dead as a door-nail, cap’n. Went out for lamp-wicks and got hisself slit open in a gin-mill, the fool! We’re turrible short-handed, cap’n.”
“Who cut him?”
“Hanged if I know. The police say the lampman, but the lampman didn’t leave the ship until after the bo’sun was done for, near as I can make it out. But the police have the lampman locked up for it, and I’m too busy to bother my head. First we know they’ll want all the crew for witnesses. There’s some monkey-business goin’ on, too.”
“Now, what do you mean?” demanded the captain, losing patience.
“Just what I’m sayin’ of–thar’s a furriner sittin’ on the dock watchin’ everything that goes over the side. Looks like a Rooshan Finn to me. What sort of a charter we got, cap’n? This ain’t no blockade-runnin’ game, is it? You got orders for Port Arthur? If you have, I’m out–I don’t want no Japs blowin’ me up unless I’m paid for it.”
“Mr. Harris, you are talking nonsense. We are chartered for Hong-Kong. My orders are to get to sea to-night, no matter how I do it, and you ought to be able to scrape up a crew at the Sailors’ Home for the asking. We’ll manage all right with the chinks on deck, if we can get some good helmsmen. You can’t expect to get out with a battleship crew this trip. Get the cargo in her and send the Dutchman ashore for men who can take the wheel.”
The mate went out, and I stepped into the saloon and presented my ticket to the captain. I was rather surprised to find such an old man in command, for he was gray and stooped, but he surveyed me over his glasses with kindly eyes, although I knew he was being harassed with difficulties in getting routine established on board the _Kut Sang_, for she had been in dry-dock and everything seemed topsyturvy.
“Glad to meet ye, Mr. Trenholm,” he said. “I’m up to my scuppers with business. Maybe we’ll sail to-night and maybe we won’t, but your room is No. 22, starboard side, well aft, all to yourself. Two more passengers to come yet, according to the list. Didn’t know I was to have passengers this trip, so I can’t tell what the accommodation will be, but we’ll try and make things homelike if they ain’t like a liner. You got a valley?” He pointed to Petrak, who stood behind me with my baggage on his shoulder.
“Hardly that,” I laughed. “He says he’s a sailor with a Manila thirst in his throat and no job.”
Petrak swung his burden to the deck and squared his shoulders, making a gesture, which he intended as a salute to the captain.
“Petrak’s my name, sir,” he said, addressing Captain Riggs. “I’ve been bo’sun, sir, discharged out of the _Southern Cross_ when she was sold in Singapore, and shipped out in the _H.B. Leeds_ that went down in a typhoon. Junk picked us up, sir, what was left of us, and I lost all my discharges and can’t get a ship out of here. I’m smart, sir, and strong, if I do look small. It’s because I ain’t had no wictuals to speak of, sir.”
“Ever handle steam-wheel?”
“Aye, sir. One trip out of Cardiff to Delaware Breakwater in the _Skipton Castle_. Stood wheel–“
“See the mate,” said Captain Riggs, and Petrak went out, deserting my baggage.
A black boy in a scarlet _sarong_ took my bag away to my stateroom, but I went up to the hurricane-deck, where I found a grass-chair under an awning and sat down to enjoy a cigar.
Just above where the _Kut Sang_ lay was the Bridge of Spain, presenting a moving panorama of the many races that mingle in the Philippine capital. The river itself was alive with _cascoes_ being poled about by half-naked natives, the families of the crews doing the cooking and primitive housekeeping on the half-decks, while the family fighting-cocks strutted on the roofs of the boats and crowed defiance to each other.
On the opposite side of the river was the walled city and the moss-grown walls of Fort Santiago, and on both banks were steamers and river-craft, making a colourful and noisy scene.
The Rev. Luther Meeker was preaching to the group before the Sailors’ Home, and I watched him until he closed the service and started toward the dock, two men carrying his little street-organ behind him.
Mr. Harris, the mate, was doing the final work of getting the steamer ready to sail, and was preparing to cast off the lines, when a dray, loaded with boxes, pulled up alongside the vessel.
“What ye got there?” demanded Harris. “That ain’t for this packet–git out the way thar!”
Just then a man in white darted out of the office of the harbour-police station, and, holding up his hand, cried to Harris:
“One minute–one minute!”
“One minute yer grandmother!” retorted Harris angrily. “Who be you to hold up this ship! Vamose!” he roared to the driver of the dray.
The man in white ran up the gangplank with a paper in one hand and a malacca cane in the other, and I recognized him as Mr. Trego, the man to whom I had been introduced in the bank. He met Harris at the foot of the ladder to the hurricane-deck, and they were right below me, so I could not avoid hearing what took place between them.
“Call the captain, Mr. Mate,” said Trego hurriedly, and, with his voice lowered, “Here are my papers–get those boxes off the wagon, eef you please. I am supercargo for the owners. I hold the charter for these sheep. Queeck–on deck with those boxes of the machinery.”
“Oh, cap’n!” called Harris, after he had taken a quick glance at the paper which Trego thrust before him, and Captain Riggs came out of the saloon.
“What’s up now?” he demanded. “What’s this?”
Harris waved his hand toward the paper, and Trego put it before Captain Riggs.
“Read it,” said Trego. “Here are your orders from the company.” He leaned against his cane and twirled his moustache, while Captain Riggs adjusted his glasses and scanned the papers.
“Get that stuff aboard, lively,” said Captain Riggs to Harris, and the mate gave orders to have the slings thrown outboard.
“Where do they go?” asked Harris.
Captain Riggs looked at Trego inquiringly.
“In the storeroom below–right under the feet of me,” said Trego, stamping his foot.
“Cargo in the storeroom,” said Captain Riggs in surprise.
“Eet ees for you to obey,” snapped Trego excitedly. “You will please to see from my papers that I am the commander of all. Read eet again eef you do not know!” And he shook his malacca cane in the air.
“Get that cargo aboard and stow as this gentleman–Mr.–what is it, Trego?–as Mr. Trego says. Move navy-style! Keep clear of the side there, you! Can’t you see we’ve got cargo coming over there!”
“My dear sirs, I beg your pardon,” said a familiar voice, and I stepped to the rail and looked over to see the Rev. Luther Meeker standing at the edge of the embankment, within a few feet of where Trego, Riggs, and Harris stood.
“Get out the way!” bawled Riggs to him.
“No offence, I hope,” said the missionary, “but is this the steamer _Kut Sang_?”
“It is,” said Riggs, and turned his attention to Harris and Trego, who were giving orders to the Chinese at the winch.
“Then all is well,” said Meeker, and he turned away toward the gangplank, where the two men were standing with his organ between them, awaiting his orders.
“Go right on board with it, my good men,” he said to them. “This is my ship, sure enough,” and he preceded them up the gang.
Captain Riggs came up the ladder from the foredeck in time to see the men bringing the organ aboard, although Meeker was out of his sight by the time the captain reached a position where he had a view of the gang.
“Here. Where are you chaps going?” he shouted to the porters.
They stopped and looked up at him.
“Gear for a passenger,” said the taller of the two.
“What passenger?” demanded Riggs, in surprise.
“A parson,” said the spokesman, and as he said it Meeker himself came up the after-ladder.
“Ah, the captain,” he said. “I am the Rev. Luther Meeker,” he explained, presenting his ticket. “I am going to Hong-Kong, and, if I am not mistaken, this is the good ship _Kut Sang_”
“That your baggage? All right, you men–come aboard and look sharp.”
“That is my hymnal organ,” said Meeker, looking over the side. “Come right along with it, my good men, but leave it below. How do you do, my dear Mr. Trenholm? Captain, those two men are sailors who are looking for a ship, if–“
“I’ll meet you below in a minute in the saloon,” said Captain Riggs, handing back the ticket. “Mind that you stay aboard, because we sail at once, sir.”
Meeker bowed to me again, and hurried aft, twirling his shell crucifix between his fingers in a nervous manner.
“Hang a parson, anyway,” growled Riggs, grinning at me. “They always make a fuss–like as not he’ll sing his way to Hong-Kong, with that old melodeon of his. Oh, Mr. Harris! There are two men below with a parson who say they are sailors. Have the Dutchman sign them on if they are able hands.”
He went down the ladder again to the fore-deck, and I went down to my stateroom to see that my baggage was safe.
“Smart job, my man; smart job!” I heard the Rev. Luther Meeker saying as I stepped into the passage.
He was in the stateroom next to mine, but the door was open.
“Who’s that?” asked somebody cautiously. Then, in a louder tone: “We got your dunnage stowed all snug, sir.”
I stepped into my room, and, after a minute’s whispered consultation, I heard some one step into the passageway and run forward. Looking out I saw the little red-headed man scurrying away.
“Single her up!” called Captain Riggs from the bridge, and I knew we were letting go of Manila as the winches drew in the mooring-lines, and the whistle blew a farewell blast.
The nose of the _Kut Sang_ fell away from the embankment and into the current of the Pasig, which swung her toward Manila Bay and the China Sea.
I could hear Meeker humming a tune and arranging his baggage. I stood for an instant and pondered over the situation, not sure that I would not be wiser to remain in Manila rather than sail in the _Kut Sang_. I shivered as I sensed danger about me, as one feels the presence of an intruder in the dark that cannot be seen.
Then I laughed at myself, and opened my bag for my pistols.
THE DEAD MAN IN THE PASSAGE
The _Kut Sang_ was dropping downstream as I locked my stateroom and made my way to the upper-deck, partly to get a last look at Manila, but more for the purpose of considering what I should do in the matter of telling Captain Riggs that I suspected Meeker was not a missionary.
In the last few minutes before the departure of the vessel I had suddenly been struck with the idea that Meeker was more than a mere spy who mistook me for one of his own ilk. This feeling was vague and formless, and I did not know how to begin to put together the various elements that seemed to connect some sort of a well-defined plot.
No sooner would I set about putting certain facts together than I would laugh at myself for manufacturing a mystery; and, after I had tried to shake off the impression that the _Kut Sang_ and all of us in her were more than mere travellers and seamen, the fantastic ideas insisted upon running through my head.
Through this formless mass of queer events of the day, Meeker and the little red-headed man kept to the front of my fancies, and with them the steamer _Kut Sang_.
Why, I asked myself, had Meeker made such strenuous efforts to keep me from taking passage in the vessel? It seemed absurd to suppose that he had acted as he did, simply because he disliked the idea of having me for a fellow passenger.
Then there was Trego and Meeker’s appearance at the bank, “seeking alms,” and the further fact that Trego was in the _Kut Sang_. It seemed to be more than a coincidence that the two of them should meet as they did.
I even found something queer in the killing of the boatswain of the _Kut Sang_ at the Flagship Bar, and began to wonder if Petrak did not have a hand in the murder, even though he was so ready with a denial when I spoke to him about it.
As I stood at the rail of the hurricane-deck, and thought of these things, Petrak came up from the fore-deck and stood at the foot of the ladder leading to the bridge, where I could hear Captain Riggs pacing to and fro and speaking through the trap to the helmsman about the course.
The little red-headed man grinned at me and set to work polishing the knob of the wheel-house door, and not until that minute did I realize that he had come along with us in the _Kut Sang_. And he likewise reminded me at once that it was I who had brought him aboard.
“I signed on, sir,” he said, pointing to his new cap, which had the steamer’s name embroidered upon it. “Thanks to you, sir, I got a ship out.”
“I am glad you did,” I said curtly, not sure whether I ought to be amused at the turn of events by which I had unwittingly brought the little rascal along with me.
I glanced up the companionway to Captain Riggs, and had a mind to go up and speak to him about Meeker, but I disliked to invade the bridge, sacred territory at sea. He was standing just at the head of the ladder then, and could see me.
“Would you mind the peseta, sir?” asked Petrak.
I remembered that he had brought my bag aboard, and, finding a peso in my pocket–five times what he had asked for–I gave him the coin.
“Here,” I said; “take this, and keep out of my reach. I’ve seen quite enough of you for a time.”
“Please don’t tip my crew,” Captain Riggs called down to me in a pleasant manner. “The steward’s department must attend to the passengers, for we are short-handed on deck, and I can’t have the men running errands.”
“It’s for services rendered,” I told Riggs, and he nodded as if satisfied with my explanation, and turned away to the other end of the bridge.
Impulsively I started up the ladder, determined at least to tell him what I suspected of Meeker and let him judge for himself, or be on his guard against the old impostor, whether he liked my tale-bearing or not. As I put my hand out to take the ladder-guard, Petrak thrust himself before me and barred the way.
“Can’t go on the bridge, sir; against orders,” he said.
I fell back, convinced that he was right and that I had had a narrow escape from making an ass of myself. Captain Riggs probably would not thank me for disturbing him or bothering him with idle rumours and fanciful yarns about passengers, even though they might be spies.
The steamer was now well into the bay. The sun was at the rim of hills between us and the open sea, and the sky was aflame in a gorgeous tropical sunset.
Harris, the mate, was busy on the fore-deck battening down hatches and clearing up the litter of ropes and slings. The _Kut Sang_ was plainly enough short-handed for the passage, for there were but half a dozen Chinese sailors in sight. Petrak worked with a cloth on the brass-knob, and he was loafing without a doubt.
I suspected that he was afraid I was waiting for him to go away, so that I might go up the ladder to the bridge. One of the men who had brought Meeker’s organ aboard had the wheel, a long, lanky cockney he was, from what I could see of him through the window of the pilot-house.
We were well clear of the ships at anchor outside the breakwater when four bells–six o’clock–struck, and Harris came up and went on the bridge, passing without apparently seeing me. He growled something to Petrak, and the red-headed man went toward the forecastle.
“Time for Rajah to have the bell going,” said Riggs as he descended to the hurricane-deck and greeted me affably. “What do you say to going below and seeing what’s on the table?”
As he spoke I heard the rattle of a gong, and as I turned to go below with Captain Riggs, Meeker came around the deck-house and joined us, regarding us from under his heavy brows as he approached, and rubbing his hands in a manner that increased my growing dislike for him.
“My dear sirs,” he said; “that is a beautiful sight. I have never seen, in all my twenty years in the Orient, such a sunset.”
“Can’t keep me from my meals,” said Captain Riggs, waving to Meeker to precede him into the companionway. I was rather pleased at the captain’s gruffness with him, and resolved that as soon as the opportunity offered I would discuss the crafty gentleman with Riggs.
We found Trego at table. He looked up, and made no attempt to conceal his surprise at seeing Meeker.
“Ah! Mr. Trenholm,” he said to me, and we shook hands, and the Malay boy gave me the seat opposite him.
“Mr. Trego–allow me–the Reverend Meeker,” said Riggs.
“So you and Mr. Trenholm have met before?” said Meeker, evidently astonished because Trego spoke to me without an introduction.
“Old friends,” and I winked at Trego, to the further mystification of the pseudo-missionary, who took the seat beside me. Captain Riggs took the head of the table, so that he was between Trego and me.
“And this is Rajah, the mess-boy,” said Riggs, indicating the black boy who stood behind him, clad in a white jacket with brass buttons, below which he wore a scarlet _sarong_ reaching to his bare feet, and evidently fashioned from an old table-cover. The hilt of a kris showed above the folds of his _sarong_, and the two lower buttons of the jacket were left open, so that the dagger might be free to his hand. He grinned and showed his teeth.
“Dumb as a dog-fish, but can hear like a terrier,” said Riggs. “Picked him up in the streets of Singapore, where he was sort of an assistant magician. He’s quick with that knife, gentlemen.”
The captain was obviously proud of his queer bodyguard and servant.
“It is a pity that he should be allowed to carry a fearsome weapon, which is a menace to his fellowmen,” said Meeker, shrinking away from the boy. “I believe he would slay a human over a trifle.”
“Absolutely harmless unless he has some reason to anger,” laughed Riggs, somewhat amused at the nervousness of Meeker. “Has to pack that cheese-knife–chinks pick on him if he don’t. Give him a wide berth, though, when they see that blade. Quick with it.”
“But we should lead the barbarian to the light,” said Meeker. “It is a dreadful example for Christians to set such people. They should not be allowed to carry such weapons–the practice leads to crime.”
“Soup all around, Rajah,” said Riggs, as if to close the subject.
“Do you carry deadly weapons, Mr. Trenholm? Do you approve of the bearing of arms?”
“I always have a weapon at hand,” I replied seriously. “One never can tell when it will be needed in this country, and I believe in always being ready for an emergency.”
“Indeed! And is it possible that you have a dagger concealed upon your person?”
“No daggers; but this is my right bower”–tapping the butt of the pistol on my right side–“and this is my left bower,” and I tapped my left side.
Mr. Trego burst out laughing at this, much to the discomfiture of Meeker, who glared at him, and edged away from me.
“And do you carry such death-dealing machinery, Mr. Trego?” asked Meeker, a sneer in the question.
Trego reached for his malacca cane. In an instant he had whipped it apart and presented a delicate point toward Meeker, who recoiled at the suddenness of the unexpected thrust.
“With me at all times,” said Trego, when the captain stopped laughing. “And my cabeen–eet ees one beeg arsenal, like you call it in your language. Yes.”
“A pitiable example for the heathen,” said Meeker. “I trust that you are not armed to the teeth, as the expression goes, captain.”
“I don’t want to spoil your appetite,” said Riggs.
“Of course, Mr. Trego needs those things, as he is–“
“A passenger,” said Trego, giving the captain a quick glance.
“A passenger,” said Riggs blankly. “To be sure, a passenger. Now, Mr. Meeker, I wish you would say a grace, if it pleases you.”
Meeker bowed his head and mumbled something which I could not make out; besides, I was much more interested in a little byplay between Captain Riggs and Trego, which began as soon as Meeker and I had piously cast our eyes downward.
It was a signal conveyed by Trego to the captain, in which he cautioned him to silence about something, by putting his finger to his lips, as if some subject were tabooed. Riggs nodded as if he understood. Before Meeker had finished, Trego looked at him and scowled, to convey to the captain that he did not like the missionary.
“The weather is going to be fine from the way it looks now,” said Riggs, in an altered tone, as if he wanted to shift the conversation into more congenial lines. “I trust we will all do our best to stay up to the weather in that respect–quick passage and good company keeps everybody on good terms and in good spirits,” he added significantly.
Then he began giving us the stock-jokes of the China Sea and telling stories of his younger days, when he had better commands than the old _Kut Sang_. He was a bluff but likable old sea-dog, but I saw that he observed Meeker closely as he talked, and I knew that he was none too well taken with him.
So the meal went on well enough. Night had fallen upon us with tropical swiftness, and a cooling breeze was blowing through the open ports, charged with the salt tang of the sea. The _Kut Sang_ was humming along, and there was a soothing murmur through the ancient tub as she shouldered the gentle swells of the bay.
The saloon was cozy and we dallied at table, chiefly because we did not like to leave while Riggs was telling his stories, although I would have preferred my cigar on deck.
There was something about the little party in the saloon of the _Kut Sang_ that evening that held my attention. To me the air seemed charged with a foreboding of something imminent–something out of the ordinary, something to be long remembered. I told myself, in a premonition of things to come, that I should always remember Captain Riggs and the Rev. Luther Meeker and Trego and Rajah, and the very pattern of the parti-coloured cloth on the table, the creak of the pivot-chairs and the picture of the Japanese girl in the mineral-water calendar which swayed on the bulkhead opposite my seat.
I can see them now; as clearly as if I were back in the old _Kut Sang_, with the chatter of the Chinese sailors coming through the ports to spice the tales of the China coast which Riggs kept going.
We picked up Corregidor Light, which winked at us through the ports as we entered the channel. Somebody looked in at the door of the passage and Riggs waved a napkin at him.
“Tell Mr. Harris to call me if he needs me,” he said, and then to us: “It’s clear, and Mr. Harris, my mate, knows the Boca Grande like the palm of his hand.”
He was well launched into another of his long yarns and had a fresh cigar between his teeth when the pitching of the steamer told us we were heading into the China Sea. We were clear of the channel by the time he had finished the adventure he was relating, and Trego was beginning to fidget. We all moved as if to leave the table.
“I signed the two men you brought aboard, Mr. Meeker,” said Riggs. “What are their names?”
“That I do not know for certain,” replied Meeker. “I believe the chap in the navy-pantaloons is known as–Buckrow, and the other, the tall Briton, is called ‘Long Jim,’ or some such name, by his companions. They both appear to be worthy men, and it made me sad to see them on the beach in Manila for the need of passage to Hong-Kong, or some other place where they would be more likely to get a ship.
“That is why I interceded in their behalf, and it is very kind of you, captain, to make it possible for them to better themselves, for idle men in these ports fall into evil, and it is best that they should keep to the sea. They were both well spoken of by Mr. Marley, who has charge of the Sailors’ Home.”
“Two sailors that I see?” Trego asked the captain.
“Mr. Meeker brought two men aboard with him to carry his gear,” explained Riggs. “They wanted to get out of Manila, and, as I was short-handed for chinks, I let ’em work their passage. They signed with the commissioner, and will get four Hong-Kong dollars for the trip.”
Trego frowned as he toyed with a bamboo napkin-ring, but said nothing.
“Your red-headed chap is a good man at the helm,” said Riggs to me. “He’s got the wheel now, and, with the other two, I’ll have good quartermasters. The chinkies are poor steerers.”
“Meester Trenholm ees breeng a sailor, too?” demanded Trego, turning his black eyes on me in a manner that I could not understand.
“He brought my baggage aboard,” said I, somewhat annoyed. “He offered his services to Captain Riggs, and was hired, and it is no affair of mine.”
“The little man with hair of red?” persisted Trego.
Knowing, as I did, that he had charge of the ship–a fact which he evidently wished to keep from Meeker and me, judging from his signals to the captain–I understood in a way his interest in the crew.
“Pardon, captain,” said Trego abruptly. “I must go to my cabeen for some cigarettes. Soon I will return. I hope you will be here.”
It struck me that his suggestion that Captain Riggs wait for him was more in the nature of a command than a request.
Rajah served coffee again, and the three of us fell silent. It was an awkward situation, for we all felt embarrassed–at least I did, as a result of Trego’s displeasure over the method of recruiting the crew. I wished that I had left Petrak on the dock.
Meeker took an old newspaper from his pocket and unfolded it on the table carefully.
“I think I have something here which will interest you both,” he began. “It concerns–my glasses! Will you pardon me for a minute while I get my glasses from my room? I’ll be back presently,” and he bowed himself out.
“The old shark is funny,” said Riggs. “I hold to what I have said about parsons–I don’t like ’em aboard me.”
I glanced at the passage and wondered if I would have time to whisper to Riggs about Meeker before the latter returned.
“He wants to hold some sort of service for’ard this evening,” continued the captain. “I’m suited if the crew is. It’s not that I’m against the sailing directions in the Bible, mind, Mr. Trenholm, or an ungodly man, for I was a deacon back home in Maine. I don’t like this chap–he looks too slippery to suit me.”
Meeker came back and closed the bulkhead door behind him, adjusting his glasses and picking up the newspaper as he took his seat.
“My dear sirs,” he resumed, “I want to read this little article to you and then I’ll explain it more fully to you. I am sure that you will find it of interest, Mr. Trenholm, as a literary man and a member of the press, even if in no other way, and you, my dear Captain Riggs, will be interested because it concerns the sea, and you may have some knowledge of the facts. When I was in Aden four–no, five years ago it was–I met a most remarkable gentleman. Most remarkable! He told me a story that was passing strange, and–“
He was interrupted by the bulkhead door flying open violently and Rajah, with his hands thrown up and terror in his eyes, ran toward Captain Riggs, making frantic efforts to frame words with his lips.
“Sally Ann!” cried Riggs in alarm, jumping up. “What the devil has happened to give the boy such a turn! He’s nigh out of his wits!”
Rajah pointed to the open door, but we could not see into the passage beyond the triangle of light thrown out from the gimbal-lamps in the saloon. The boy ran toward the door and pointed again, and then drew back in fear, drawing his kris and raising it in a position of defence.
Captain Riggs ran to the door and I followed him, with my hand on my pistol, Meeker crowding against my shoulders. In the dim light oozing into the passage we made out an indistinct figure.
“What in Sally Ann’s name is this?” shouted Riggs, darting out and seizing the object, which he pulled toward the light.
It was the body of Mr. Trego, stabbed to the heart, the sailor’s sheath-knife which had killed him still in his fatal wound.
“What the blue blazes does this mean?” demanded Captain Riggs, turning to us as if we could explain the tragedy. “What in the name of Sally Ann has happened here? Tell me that?”
“Can that be our friend, Mr. Trego, who was with us but a minute ago?” asked Meeker, aghast as he gazed at the waxen features of the dead man.
“It’s Mr. Trego right enough,” shouted Riggs. “It’s Trego and no doubt of that! Well, I’m blowed!”
“Who could have done such an awful thing?” whispered Meeker, staring at me with wide-open eyes. “Who could have done this?”
“Don’t ask me!” Captain Riggs bawled at him. “Don’t ask me!”
“He’s quite dead,” said Meeker, leaning forward again. “In the midst of life we are in death.”
He held his hands over the dead man and said a prayer.
THE RED-HEADED MAN MAKES AN ACCUSATION
“That’s all very pious and according to Hoyle,” said Captain Riggs, breaking into wrath as Meeker finished his prayer over the body of Trego. “But I’d have you know, sir, that the _Kut Sang_ is no bally chapel, and I don’t take murder aboard me as a regular custom, and let it go at that. Somebody will have to answer for this at the end of a rope, or my name’s not Riggs. Hereafter when there’s praying to be done I’ll order it.”
“I was merely speeding a departing soul,” said Meeker.
“That’s all very well, Mr. Meeker, but I’ve got to see what this is all about, and why–Mr. Trego is supercargo in charge of the ship and–“
Riggs stopped suddenly when he realized that he had told us the secret which Trego wished kept from us.
“Well, I’ve got trouble enough,” he said, confused at what had happened.
“Nothing irregular, I trust,” said Meeker, raising his eyebrows in mild surprise and observing me cautiously.
“Too blasted irregular to suit me,” said Riggs. “Gentlemen, I may as well tell you that this man is down on the passenger-list as a passenger like yourselves, but at the last minute before we sailed he showed papers as supercargo and announced that he was in charge of the ship, and that he represented the charter party. The truth of his statements was borne out by a messenger from the owners. He told me that he would explain it all as soon as we got to sea, and now he has been killed. Is it any wonder I am upset about it?”
“It is passing strange,” said Meeker. “Will you have to turn back to Manila on account of this?”
“My last orders to proceed to Hong-Kong at the best speed still stand. The Dutchman, Rajah–the Dutchman,” and he made a sign to the Malay boy to call the second mate.
The three of us gathered at the end of the table and steadied ourselves in the minute we waited for the Dutchman, who soon came clumping down the passage. He nearly stumbled over the body lying just outside the coaming of the door, and then stopped and stared at the dead man.
“Gott!” he said, and then looked at Riggs questioningly.
“Take the bridge and have Mr. Harris muster the crew–all hands, and look sharp,” said Riggs. “Have every man Jack of ’em up here, and let us see what they have been about. Have Mr. Harris muster the crew! Hear me? Don’t stand there like a barn-owl! Relieve Mr. Harris, and have all hands aft!”
He hurried away, and that was the last I ever saw of the second mate of the _Kut Sang_. Rajah and a Chinese sailor spread old canvas close to the door inside the saloon, and lifted Trego’s body on it.
Harris came up the passage and leaned against the door. He had on an old pair of dungaree trousers and a jacket that had been white, and his bare feet were thrust into native heelless slippers.
“This is a nice mess, ain’t it?” he growled, looking coldly at the scene before him. “Who let the knife into him?”
“That’s what we want to find out at once,” said Riggs. “Have all hands up here, the watch below and all. Muster them in the passageway, and let them in here one at a time, the white hands first. We’ve got to get at the bottom of this affair right away, Mr. Harris.”
“Like as not somebody’ll know the knife, cap’n,” suggested the mate.
“That’s it, Mr. Harris. Bring ’em up here with a sharp turn and no laying back, and you be here so I can find out what every man has been at in the last quarter of an hour–you know what this means.”
We sat down at the table, Riggs at the end in a pivot-chair swung toward the door of the passage. He took off his glasses and wiped them in an officious manner, and sent Rajah for a pad of paper and a pencil.
“Then this poor Mr. Trego was not a passenger,” said Meeker, leaning his elbows on the table and scanning Riggs closely.
“Gentlemen,” began the captain, clearing his throat and adjusting his silver-rimmed spectacles again, “I am going to hold an inquiry now, and, as witnesses to what takes place, I think you should know the facts in the case, as far as I know them.
“There is something about this business that has carried by with me. Never had anything like this happen aboard me in the thirty years that I’ve had a command. First time since I’ve had a master’s ticket that I haven’t had the full confidence of the owners.
“This man Trego was very mysterious, and why he wanted to sail as a passenger when he was supercargo, and keep it from you, gentlemen, is past me. Perhaps I should not have said anything about this end of it until I have examined his papers, but as witnesses I want you to know the facts as they lay.”
“A most mysterious affair–most mysterious,” agreed Meeker, shaking his head and fingering his shell crucifix. “What are the details of the man’s coming aboard, captain? I am not quite clear on that point.”
“He was down as a passenger, just as you gentlemen are. I never saw him before until Mr. Harris called me forward before the lines were cast off. He told me that this man wanted to take charge of lading the last of the cargo–cargo that was manifested as machinery. His papers were right, and the messenger from the owners made it all as he said.
“It is not for me to question the acts of the owners, but I should have been advised of the circumstances. However, Mr. Trego was going to explain. It may be all right and nothing out of the ordinary, but now that this has happened I’m all back, and I’m left to guess what it all means if I can.”
“What was the cargo?” asked Meeker.
“Machinery, so far as the manifest says. Several cases–By George! He had it stowed in the storeroom–“
He was interrupted by Harris bawling in the passage, and the Chinese stokers swarming up the fire-room ladder, chattering and yelling to their mates below. The news of the murder had spread through the ship and had created a great turmoil.
The mate thrust a man into the doorway, whom I recognized as one of the men who had brought Meeker’s organ on board.
“Here’s one of the new men, sir,” said Harris, “Says he has been for’ard since going off watch. He’s next at the wheel, sir.”
“Now, then,” began Riggs, with pencil poised, “what’s your name in the ship’s articles?”
“Buckrow, sir,” said the sailor, staring at a lamp, and avoiding the figure of Trego almost at his feet.
I observed him closely, and was not pleased with his appearance. His large mouth carried a leering, insolent expression and his nose was broken, hanging a trifle to one side. He was short, with great hulking shoulders. His black shirt was open at the neck, and he wore blue navy trousers with the familiar wide bottoms. His brown forearms were covered with tattoo-marks.
“Tell all you may know which could throw any possible light on this dreadful affair, that the guilty may be brought to justice and the dead avenged,” said Meeker.
“Steady as she goes!” warned Captain Riggs. turning in his chair and holding up his hand. “I’ll ask the questions, if you please, Mr. Meeker. Now, then, my man, where have you been in the last hour?”
“For’ard, turned in, sir,” replied Buckrow, keeping his eyes on the flame of the lamp.
“See this dead man here?”
“No, you don’t–look at him! Did you have a hand in this?”
“No, sir.” He took a quick glance at the dead man and fastened his eyes on the lamp again.
“Know who killed him?”
“That’s all for now.”
Harris led forward the tall cockney I had seen at the wheel. He said his name was Crannish, and he spelled it for the captain, who examined the crew list to verify him. He said that he was known as “Long Jim” by his mates. He did not seem to take the murder as a serious matter, but answered Captain Riggs’s questions calmly, his eyes roving over the interior of the saloon, taking us all in very coolly.
There was a gleam of amusement in his eyes as he looked at Meeker, as if he thought it a joke that the missionary should be sitting on an inquiry board. Meeker returned his gaze in a disinterested manner, swaying in his chair with the motion of the ship, and fumbling his shell crucifix, as if it was a talisman to guard him against danger.
Crannish was dismissed, and the next was Petrak. He impudently winked at me as he stepped into the light, and hitched up his trousers in a nonchalant manner that was amusing. He had his shoes in his hand, and he had evidently dressed in a hurry to obey the summons of the mate.
“Petrak’s my name, sir, and they make a joke on my head by making me out ‘Dago Red,’ sir. Been bos’n in–“
“He was relieved at eight bells, sir; has the wheel in the Dutchman’s watch,” explained Harris.
“Where did you go then?” demanded the captain.
“Turned right in, sir, after a bit of a wash.”
“Where were you at one bell?” put in Harris, giving the captain a significant look.
“For’ard in my bunk, sir.”
“You lie,” drawled Harris coldly. “Ye passed the galley ports a minute or so after one bell was struck. I saw ye.”
“Not me, sir; never anything like that, sir, beggin’ ye’re pardon.”
“Yes, ye did, and don’t ye lie to me,” retorted Harris. “Ye didn’t go right for’ard when ye come off watch. I heard ye yarnin’ with Buckrow, or what’s his name, just after ye passed the galley. Yer phiz showed plain to me as Cape Cod Light on a clear night.”
“Where’s your knife?” said Riggs suddenly, leaning forward and peering at his belt.
“Left it in my bunk, sir. Top one, first to port as ye go down–right at the head it is, sir, in some straw.”
“Send a man for it, Mr. Harris. Is it in the sheath, you Petrak?”
“Can’t say, sir,” said Petrak, looking about nervously, and feeling at his belt.
“Can’t say! Can’t say! You can’t say because that’s yer knife right there under yer eyes! That’s yer knife and you killed this man!”
“Tell the truth, my good man,” interjected Meeker, holding up his hands. “Tell the truth and–“
“Belay!” yelled Riggs. “You speak when ye’re spoken to, Mr. Meeker, if you please!”
“No offence intended–purely involuntary on my part. I beg your pardon, my dear sir.”
“That’s your knife and you killed him,” repeated Riggs to Petrak.
“Never killed him, sir, and nobody else, strike me blind if I did, and that’s the truth, sir,” said Petrak doggedly, but in spite of his brave showing there was a whimper in his voice and his knees trembled. “Did you have an accomplice?” asked Meeker, and I thought I saw some sort of a signal pass between them.
Buckrow arrived from the forecastle with a leather sheath and a knife in it. He handed it to Harris.