"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 mates.
"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 hands now."
"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 sins."
"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. Buckrow."
"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."
"That sounds very big, Mr. Buckrow; but where will ye go? Easy enough it would be if this island was off the track of ships, but the minute ye make a westing ten miles with a boat-load of gold, or empty-handed, pop! ye go into the hands of a coast-guard cutter or a ship. Fine time ye'll have telling ye found it, or that ye got out of the ship by yerself. Back to Manila ye'll go, and slam into Bilibid prison, and all about ye in the papers, and all about the gold; and then ye'll be in a nice fix.
"Ye think, because it was secret cargo, the owners of the gold won't kick up a row when the Kut Sang is a minute overdue? Ye think they'll take yer yarns when they find ye went in the Kut Sang, as the whole Sailors' Home knows? They'll stretch a rope for ye and Petrak—if ye let Petrak along—and the two of ye'll drop together into the deepest hole ever ye clapped eyes on."
"Of course, Mr. Thirkle could pack a ton of gold about, and it would be different, and not a word said," sneered Buckrow. "Perhaps ye know better than me what to do—hey, Thirkle?"
"Thirkle has his plans made for the last of it as well as he had for the first of it, and don't ye forget that, Mr. Buckrow, and never mind what they are. You go on now and play the string out, and I wish the two of ye luck; but remember that Thirkle said ye'd hang, and hang ye will. When they put the rope on yer necks and the black caps over yer heads, just remember Thirkle said it would come out that way. They'll make a nice job of ye."
Petrak shivered and looked at Buckrow, who stood with arms folded, staring at the ground.
"Oh, stow that gab, Thirkle!" he said. "Never ye fret about me and Reddy; ye'll be dead, anyhow, and ye won't mind."
"Ye can thank Bucky for it," went on Thirkle, craftily turning his conversation to Petrak, who was more easily influenced and had a hearty dread of death or prisons.
"Thank Bucky when ye start up the thirteen steps. They'll be the hardest thirteen steps ye ever took in yer life, Reddy—and the last. A man's in a bad way when the shadow of the gallows falls across his bows and the priest begins to pray. I looked for a better end for ye than that, Petrak; but go ahead and take his advice, and see where ye come to."
"Don't mind him, Reddy," said Buckrow hoarsely. "Pass the bottle and let the old devil croak. You stick to Bucky."
"Now, here's where I stand," went on Thirkle. "It's the last I'll say on it, and I'll give you two chaps another chance to save yerselves. Take the ropes off me and I'll bear no arms. You two take the pistols, and I won't have a knife. That gives you two the upper hand, and ye can do as ye please, and I'll take my share and orders, and see that I get ye away clear.
"Once we make it safe ye can go about yer business, and I'll go about mine. Come on, now, lads—how's that? I ought to be worth that just to plan it out for ye and make sure ye get away. Better a third and a long life than the whole and a rope afore ye spend a hundred pound of it, if ye get as much as a drink out of it alone. How now, Bucky?"
"Real sweet of ye, old cock," said Buckrow, lighting a cigar. "A third and yer life looks better than none and a pile of bones. Thirkle has a bit of a way to look to his own ends; what, Reddy?"
"Ye don't stand to lose anything, do ye? I'm not the man to squeal when I'm down; but we went into this thing together, the whole of us, with our eyes open, to split it even. Here's the three of us, and we'll count it out right here by the piece or the sack. Then ye leave it to me to get it away for ye, clean and neat. I'm a gentleman, I am, and I can play a gentleman's game, which ye two can't.
"I can buy a schooner or a yacht and look natural about it, and no questions asked; and make a big show and live at the best hotels, and nothing thought of me having plenty of money. But you two—why, show a guinea, sober or drunk, and they'll grab ye on suspicion ye stole it. Ye'd look real nice, Mr. Buckrow, buying a ship to come back here for it, wouldn't ye—or mayhap ye'd leave that part of it to Petrak."
"How'll ye get away with it if yer so sharp about it?" demanded Buckrow. "What can ye do outside what we can do—hey, Thirkle?"
"I've got it all planned out, ye can bank on that. I didn't get this gold here without knowing what I was at, or how I was going to draw through. That isn't my way, as ye know. I have in mind a sloop-rigged yacht, lying in Shanghai, waiting for a buyer. Pretty little white thing she is, and I can get her for a song, and take enough of this with me to turn the job.
"I can play Meeker again, which you chaps don't seem to know. I told the Times man on the waterfront over the telephone, five minutes before we sailed, to make a personal item about how the Rev. Luther Meeker, missionary, would sail next week for Hong-Kong in the Taming, and to tell the shipping-office to reserve a ticket for me. Nobody knows I went in the Kut Sang for sure, and I could drop into Manila to-morrow as Meeker, and not a man the wiser.
"We'll buy this little yacht, and I'll turn her into a missionary boat, buying her with funds furnished by the London Evangelical Society, as I'll tell 'em. I'll call her the Bethlehem and cruise along the China coast, putting in at ports to hold services. Then we'll sneak away some day and drop down here, with chinks in the crew, and we'll get this gold aboard in such way they won't suspect what it is.
"Then it's an easy matter to make away to any port we want and fill away for London in a liner, with the gold strewn along in the banks here and there, or packed with books or other junk and freighted. How's that, mates?"
"And when it's all done we can go to the devil and you'll take the gold. I know the palaver, Thirkle. If ye please, I'll take my chances alone with the gold," said Buckrow.
"Then hang! I wash my hands of the two of ye, and may the devil mend ye!"
Thirkle raised his bound hands as he said this, and there was tragedy in his grim old face, and pity for the two on whom he had apparently pronounced the death-sentence. But I could see in his shrewd eyes that he was acting a part—he was laughing at them while pleading for liberty.
Petrak began to whimper, and he looked at Buckrow appealingly.
"Let him loose, Bucky," he begged. "Let Thirkle loose, or we'll hang, as he says, and we'll split it share and share alike."
"Let him loose so he can do for us!" raged Buckrow. "Let him loose so he can make off with it, and then knife us when it comes handy! I know his black heart!"
Yet, Buckrow was in a quandary and, in spite of his fear of Thirkle, seemed inclined to free him, evidently finding it hard to make his own decisions, and preferring to have some one to give the orders. He tossed his cigar away, and stood watching Thirkle chewing a blade of grass.
"Ye can deal with me, mates, but ye'll find ye can't argue with the judge," went on Thirkle in a quiet tone, keeping his eyes on the ground. "Ye'll find ye can't talk the turnkey into liberty, and it will be too late the morning the hangman opens the door and says 'Come!' and—"
"Stow that gab, or I'll let a knife into yer hide!" snarled Buckrow, and he went over to the pile of sacks and began kicking the brown canvas nervously.
Thirkle began to chuckle quietly, swaying his shoulders from side to side in his simulated hilarity. Petrak, who was standing close to him, looked at him in surprise.
"It will be a fine joke," said Thirkle in a low tone, as if speaking to himself. "They do love to hang a red-headed man! Poor Petrak! They'll have a great joke with him—Oh, ye there, Petrak, my lad! Well, I'm sorry for ye; but ye can't blame me if Bucky gets ye in a jam. He says he can go it alone now, and doesn't need Thirkle; but wait until the death-watch is pacing outside the door like a Swedish skipper, and ye've only got an hour left on earth, and then ye'll wish ye'd stuck to Thirkle.
"I'll bet all this gold here ye'll wish ye had Thirkle then, but Thirkle won't be there to help. I say stick to Bucky if ye like, but ye'll find he ain't Thirkle. Good-bye, Reddy. I never looked for ye to come to this; but I can say ye'll hang if you go it with Bucky."
"I didn't do it, Thirkle; I didn't put ye where ye be," whimpered Petrak. "I'm for cuttin' ye loose, but Bucky ain't."
"He's mad at me, and I can't argue with him, but if ye say a word or two he'll mind ye; and remember, Petrak, if ye can't make him see it right, ye'll hang—the two of ye—and ye know Thirkle always has it as it is."
Thirkle whispered something to Petrak which I did not catch, and then the little rascal went over to Buckrow and began to talk with him quietly, and finally began to plead for Thirkle.
"Ye're afraid of him," sneered Buckrow. "Ye're afraid of Thirkle with reef-knots on his hands, and ye'll be afraid of him when he's dead, ye coward!"
"I ain't afraid of him, Bucky, but he says we'll hang; and so we will if we don't let him have a hand gettin' this gold clear away."
"He'll do for us; and then what good will the gold be to us? Reddy, ye know the devil as I do; jind now he's got this pile he'll settle us when he sees his way to it."
"Let him go, Bucky; let him go. The night'll be on us in an hour or so, and then what'll we do? Leave it to Thirkle and it'll come out all right; and I know it and you know it, Bucky. There's the two of us to him, and we'll make him play it fair now."
"The two of us'll play it fair without him," said Buckrow. "Come on and stow this gold, and have done with the job."
"That's an end of it," said Thirkle. "No use to talk of it more. Do for me now; I ain't got much longer to live, anyhow. But I'll tell you chaps what I'll do, so ye won't have to ask no favours at the end."
"What now, Thirkle?" asked Buckrow.
"They tried to make a preacher of me in my young days, and it was no go; and they put me in the navy, and I made a mess of that. But I'm good as a navy chaplain at saying a prayer; and if ye'll bring me the little Bible ye'll find in my jacket-pocket I'll say the burial service of the Church of England over ye two, fine as a bishop would and good enough for anybody, with all the frills. How's that for Thirkle?"
"Let him go, Bucky," whined Petrak, with quivering knees and terror in his face.
BIG STAKES IN A BIG GAME
"I'd look a fine fish letting of him go now, after what's passed between us!" laughed Buckrow. "Ye mind what he'd do the minute he got his paws free. Reddy, if ye don't shut yer trap I'll drill ye, that's what."
"No arms for me," suggested Thirkle. "I bear no arms; and both of ye have the bilge on me with all the knives and pistols in yer own hands."
"That's all very fine for ye to say now, Thirkle; but what of when ye get in reach of a gun or a knife? What then?"
"I'll bear ye no grudge," said Thirkle. "Never a word will I say, Bucky. That's done and gone, and we all have our little quarrels. Never a hand will I turn against ye, Bucky, and Petrak here to witness what I say."
"No grudge ag'in' me for what I done?" demanded Buckrow doubtfully. "Ye mean ye'll let this go and never a word ag'in' me, Thirkle?"
"Never a word. We'll slip all that and turn to at getting this gold away. What's a little mistake against all this here? Going to let a bit of a row stand between us and good times? I say no. Give me a chance to get ye all off here with the gold and I won't likely forget it if ye let me go, Bucky. I'm not the man to hold a small mistake of judgment against a mate like you, what's fought and worked with me so long, and ye was always ready, Bucky, when there was a hard job ahead.
"Nearly two years we've been together, mate, and it would be a pity if we smashed things now, when we've got a ship-load of gold. It's time we quit and took our comfort, and no more chances of getting a rope at the end of it. We've about played the game out, and we'd better not play a good thing too far or we'll find ourselves catching a crab one of these fine days. I said we'd stop if we made it safe with the Kut Sang, and we have and now that we've got plenty ahead, with eating and drinking and a good bed the rest of our days, let's square away for home.
"We'll start fair and square again, mates, as we did when we first put our heads together for this fortune, and no grudges and all equal now, as the worst of the work is over and the next is to get away with it, easy enough if ye let me pilot the job. In a month we'll be in London, and ye and Reddy, with a pub all yer own, and living at ease like gentlemen."
"All equal from this on, Thirkle? Each has his say, and one as good as the other?"
"Nothing without a council and two votes to decide, so ye two'll be yer own masters, having the two votes against me, with my advice for help. There's fifty thousand pounds for each of us, and we'll separate in London and go our own ways if ye like. I'll swear a black oath to that, and my word's good, as ye both know.
"Did I ever break it to ye? Didn't I always cut the loot as I agreed? I'm Thirkle, and when I say a thing I mean it. Now, Bucky, think it over before it's too late. Will ye go it alone, or will ye give me a fair play at the game, and come out with yer life and a fair share of the gold? It's for you to decide, and see ye don't make a mistake."
"No arms for ye, split three ways, and do as we please when we're away clear with the gold?" asked Buckrow.
"That's it, Bucky. That's what I said and what I say, and I'll stick to it."
"Swear to it, and nothing in yer mind."
"I swear to it and nothing in my mind. It's a square enough thing, and I never laid to do for ye as ye think. It was all a mistake, Bucky."
Buckrow began to whisper with Petrak again, and Thirkle held his hands up and called to them sharply: "Here! Cut this rope!"
Petrak started for Thirkle with a sheath-knife, but Buckrow pulled him back.
"I'll let him go," he said. "This is my job, Thirkle," continued Buckrow, approaching his prisoner. "I'm atween two minds with ye, and one is to slit yer neck, as I won't deny; but ye're a sharp cuss, and I guess ye can do this work better than I can. But I want to say to ye now, if ever ye turn on me after this ye're a dog.
"I'll take my chance with ye, but ye bear me no love, and I know it; and ever ye reach for a knife or a gun, mind that I don't see ye. It's play fair from now on, but show a claw and yer done for if I can do it."
He stooped down and slipped the blade of his knife through the bonds he had put upon Thirkle, and then stepped away from him, with the knife held in guard, as if he expected the pirate to leap at him once he had his hands free.
But Thirkle sat still for a few minutes, rubbing his wrists, and then called for the bottle. Petrak handed it to him, and he sipped the brandy and bathed his wounded head with it, sending Reddy to a pool of water at the base of the cliff to wet his handkerchief, and then bound it around his head.
"It looks bad, but it didn't hurt much, Bucky," he said, smiling. "What hurt me more was to have ye turn on me the way ye did; but that's all passed and gone, and we won't mention it again."
"Mind ye, don't," growled Buckrow, who was still in an angry mood and perhaps thought he had made a mistake in giving Thirkle freedom again.
"Oh, limber up a bit, Bucky," said Thirkle. "What's the use of us all going to Kingdom Come over a little fight, when we've had so much fighting to get this? The gold turned all our heads, no doubt, but we can't be fools through it. The stuff's no good here—the job's not done yet, but I'll get ye all clear now if ye mind me and keep sober in port. Shake, old mate, and let's be friends again."
He held out his hand to Buckrow, who took it, but awkwardly. I could see that he feared Thirkle, even unarmed, and knew him for his master.
"I'm cussed sorry, Thirkle, for what I done; but I felt ye wanted to do for me, and I couldn't stand for that," he said, with his eyes on the ground.
"All square now, Bucky, and never a word. Ye always did yer work well, and never a slip."
"And didn't I do the same, Thirkle? Didn't I stand by?" asked Petrak, surveying his chief with an expression of surprise that he had been overlooked in commendation, much as a dog would seek petting.
"You, too," assented Thirkle, beaming on the little red-headed man. "Never was a better man when there was to be a knife used quick and neat; I'll say that for ye. Now, I want to take a little rest for a few minutes, and if I was to have a word to say I'd suggest that you two get the sacks stowed in the hole there. I want a little confab with Mr. Trenholm here, and I'll give a hand presently. If ye think it's fair, I'll rest a bit; but we ought to get that stuff snug away, and there's no time to be lost."
Buckrow took away the belt and pistols, which had been unfastened from me after my capture, and he and Petrak set to work carrying the sacks of gold into the cleft in the cliff.
"It looked bad for me a while back, Mr. Trenholm," said Thirkle, sitting beside me and offering a cigar, which I took. "I wasn't quite sure that I could get myself out of that tangle."
"You had a pretty good argument," I commented, lighting the cigar, although my head throbbed so painfully that I knew I would not enjoy the smoke. "I'm afraid I won't be able to have any plan to help you get away with the gold and so earn my own life."
"My dear Mr. Trenholm, I'm sorry you didn't go down in the Kut Sang. Really I am, for you know I took quite a fancy to you in Manila. You are of such an unsuspicious nature."
"Oh, I had my suspicions well enough, but they were on the wrong track; in fact, I could not have done you justice—my imagination is not equal to it. The best I could do for you was to mistake you for a spy—an inadequate estimate, after what I have seen and heard of you."
"You flatter me, my dear Mr. Trenholm. But it is entirely your own fault that you are where you are. I tried to warn you, but you couldn't expect me to tell you my plans regarding the Kut Sang. I didn't want you in her, and I did my best to keep you out. Really remarkable, in a way."
"What do you mean?"
"That you should happen to be a passenger—such an insistent passenger—and as if you knew nothing about what was going in the ship. Really, you and Trego did well."
"I think Trego made rather a mess of it," I said. "If I had been in his boots I would have told the captain what it was all about."
"Why didn't you tell him? You could have told him about the gold as well as Mr. Trego."
"Indeed! Then, you believe I knew about the Kut Sang's cargo."
"I don't believe it, my dear Mr. Trenholm. I never accept a theory as a fact. There was a time when I thought your connection with the affair ended when you brought the orders from Saigon, but your persistence in pretending to buy a ticket in the Kut Sang rather puzzled me for a time, and then I was afraid that you suspected me, and that I had gone too far in trying to keep you out of the vessel."
"You are talking enigmas now."
"But what surprised me most," he resumed, disregarding my remark, "was that I purchased a ticket in the Kut Sang at all. I looked for a trap there, and if the game hadn't been so big I might have quit at the last minute."
"I am sure I don't know what you are talking about."
"My dear Mr. Trenholm! Really, your attitude offends me. I cannot see what you expect to gain by pretending you knew nothing about the gold in the Kut Sang. That is absurd. You brought the order for it from Saigon, and helped get the thing fixed, and yet you pretend that it is all a mystery to you. When I am willing to be so frank I cannot see why you should assume this manner."
"Then, I knew all about the gold from the first, did I?"
"Certainly. What do you think Mr. Petrak and I kept so close at your heels for in Manila?"
"Well, it did rather puzzle me for a while. Everywhere I turned you or the little red-headed rascal seemed to be near."
"And never seemed to remember having seen us in Saigon?"
"In Saigon? Were you in Saigon when I was there?"
"Left before you did, when we knew you had the order for the gold from Commander Kousmitch."
"Never met the gentleman."
"Of course not. He got the cable-operator to have you deliver the order in Manila for him. But I heard him and the cable-operator talk it over, and that was all I wanted, and left. So you didn't see us in Saigon? I told Petrak you didn't, but he thought you did. That's one reason we got so bold in Manila."
"But the cable-operator told me the message didn't amount to much, and that he would send duplicates by mail, anyway."
"Of course he did. It didn't amount to much, except to give a code order about shipping this gold. And you dropped it in the bus, and I picked it up, and you were rather rude to me, which proved that you either had no suspicions about me, or knew it all and wanted to throw me off my guard. I believe you were actually laughing at me the last few hours in Manila. I couldn't understand, unless you had things rigged to trip me the minute we sailed.
"I was looking for it at dinner the minute we cast off; and what a scrimmage there would have been at that table if you had drawn one of those pistols! Why, Petrak and Buckrow and Long Jim were in the passage with pistols ready to come in, and I would have shot you first, and then Trego, for I knew Captain Riggs had no arms on his person. If I made away with you and Trego the next would have been Rajah, for the lad could have given a nasty cut with that kris. And I had to keep a close eye on Mr. Trego's malacca cane."
"Oh, you did! I never suspected for a minute that you regarded Mr. Trego as a dangerous character."
"He never told you?"
"Never told me anything. I was introduced to him in a most casual way in the bank, and was surprised to find him a passenger in the Kut Sang"
"He never told you about his cane? Most beautiful rapier you ever saw in it. Always had it by him, but he overlooked it when he got up from the table in the saloon last evening. Undoubtedly he was going for a pistol, but we had to get him when the time offered; and, besides, he was getting ready to tell Riggs all about me and my crew. There wasn't a second to lose. I met him as he was coming back and held him for Petrak, and we did the job quietly."
"It was something to be proud of," I remarked. "I never would have given the Rev. Luther Meeker credit for it."
"That's what made the character so valuable," he grinned, feeling the bandage about his head tenderly. I saw that he was weaker than he had led us to believe, and that he was suffering from his wound.
"But you puzzled me when they found the body. I expected you to denounce me; but you foolishly kept in front of me, and I was ready to blow your back out if you said a word, and we were all ready for the finest kind of a fight, although I did not want to precipitate matters so soon. Really, you had me guessing for a time, and I couldn't understand your attitude, knowing what you did about me and the gold. Then I saw that you had plans of your own, and wanted it yourself."
"It is you who flatter me now," I told him, surprised at his revelations.
"But you did want it, although I couldn't see how you figured to take it away from me, or why you didn't tell Captain Riggs what you knew."
"But I didn't know anything. I thought you were a spy, who mistook me for one, and I was letting you have your little joke out."
"You didn't know about the gold, or Trego, or me?" he demanded.
"I regret exceedingly that I didn't. If I had I would have blocked your game at the first opportunity. I suspected you were not a missionary, but I had never even heard of the Devil's Admiral."
"I agree with you."
"I mean that you didn't know about the gold, when I thought you did. I must confess that I made a tremendous mistake there. Really, it came near being a failure—it would have been if Captain Riggs had not been led to suspect you. I advised him to put you in irons after you were sent to your room—it seemed to be the easiest way to get you out of the fight. I was really afraid of you, Mr. Trenholm."
"You seem to have gotten over it. This seems to be getting more of a tangle all the time, and a sort of mutual-admiration society. I have no objection to keeping up the conversation, but you pique my curiosity as to how it is all going to come out. As I have already remarked, I can't see any argument that would lead you to let me walk away from here unless I tell you, as you told Petrak and Buckrow, that you'll hang."
"Now, tut, tut! You can't play my game. I thought you had more originality than that. You know too much now, and it would be premature to tell the story of the Kut Sang for several years. I'm afraid that I'll have to write my own memoirs, but for posthumous publication, of course."
"I'm sure I would like to read them. You have turned murder into a fine art—you should have been a contemporary of the Borgias."
"Do you know, Mr. Trenholm, I have thought of something like that myself. I am quite proud of my success. I would like if my career could be written down by a good hand at such things; but of course that is impossible, for no man ever knew the Devil's Admiral and lived. I regret to say that you will be no exception in that respect, Mr. Trenholm. I'm sorry you didn't go down in the Kut Sang and save me what is bound to be a disagreeable job."
"In that case I would have missed the little drama between you and Mr. Buckrow. I rather enjoyed it. You seem to be an artist at other things besides slaying men."
"I am glad you liked it, but Bucky is rather hard to handle at times. There will be another act or two, and I'll give you a chance to see the climax."
"That's kind of you, although you upset dramatic conventions and I will find it rather hard, I am afraid, to be a competent critic. Besides, I might be prejudiced, having a personal interest in the outcome."
"That won't matter much," he smiled. "My critics are always short-lived. Bucky there came nearest to getting me, though. If it hadn't been for Petrak I never could have handled him. They can't bear the thought of a rope. Whenever there was a hanging I took them to see it. Being a man of the cloth, I was admitted to all sorts of places, and, while I didn't travel openly with my men, I could mingle with them more or less in the character of a missionary."
He looked up at Buckrow, who stood over us scowling suspiciously, and his hand was close to his pistol.
"What's wrong, Bucky?" purred Thirkle, moistening a cigar between his lips and giving Buckrow a searching glance.
"I don't like that place in there for the gold, Thirkle. It's too wet to suit me."
"The dampness won't do any damage, Bucky. That's the best place on the island, to my thinking; but, of course, if you don't like it we'll consider it."
"The gold will rust in there," said Buckrow; and I knew he was in a dangerous mood again.
"Gold don't rust, Bucky," called Petrak, standing in the crevice and grinning at Thirkle.
"That's the best place on the island," said Thirkle soothingly. "This is the ideal place. But if you don't like it in there, we won't put it in there, and that's an end of it, Bucky."
"But it'll all rust up into great gobs if it's left any great while—I don't like so much water drippin' over the place, Thirkle."
"Gold don't rust, Bucky," called Petrak, and he laughed immoderately and slapped his knees with his hands.
"But what better place is there, Bucky? It's getting late now, lads, and that's the best place for it."
"Then I vote to stow it and pipe down with the gabbin' with the writin' chap," said Buckrow savagely. "It's time we got clear of here and took to the boats by dark, Thirkle. I'm not for cruising over this blasted island in the dark, and I don't fancy ye and the writin' chap gettin' so thick all of a sudden. If there's to be talk, we want to know what it's about, and I don't see no great gain in so much gossipin'."
"That's entirely my idea, Bucky. My vote is that we put it in the crack there and slick up around here so nobody can know what's been afoot. But I want a rest, and there are some things I want to say to Mr. Trenholm here that will be of use to us. Clap on, lads, and I'll be there soon."
"That's my vote," assented Petrak, grinning at Thirkle. "No argument there, Bucky."
"Then, lay on again, ye fool," growled Buckrow, turning to the sacks once more. "Cuss ye, Reddy, yer goin' to side with Thirkle ag'in' me, I can see that."
They picked up a sack and staggered into the canon with it, and Thirkle grinned at me, and lit his cigar again.
"See that, Mr. Trenholm? If I had let Bucky rule then I would have been as good as dead. I had another chap in my crew like that. After he saw the way I worked the game he wanted to kill me and take command himself. While he was making his plans to settle me the police got him for a murder he didn't do, and I trumped up the evidence against him, but never appeared at the trial.
"When he was condemned I told him I'd get him out all right. I had turned the trick before, with saws in the binding of Bibles, for some of my men in prison, and he had absolute faith in me, as all my men have. I went away on a little expedition after pearls down Mindanao way, and got back the day he was to hang. I visited him an hour before he was to swing, and told him it was all right and he was to escape at the last minute.
"I walked up to the trap with him, and, while praying with the prison chaplain, kept whispering it was all right, and he kept quiet until they had the cap over his head, and then he knew I had him. He tried to yell that I was the Devil's Admiral—-but it was too late then. I felt that I was justified—-he would have killed me the next day. But it was a fine joke, to my mind, Mr. Trenholm."
"Ain't ye goin' to quit gammin' with that chap and give us a hand here?" demanded Buckrow. "Is that what ye call all bein' equal, Mr. Thirkle? If ye do, I don't."
He came toward us in a threatening manner, and Thirkle, seeing that he must submit with good grace, got up and met him with a smile.
"By all means, Bucky, we are equal, but I didn't think ye'd begrudge me a little time after what happened. How does the gold fit in there?"
"Wet as a junk. We put the first sack in the eyes of her, but it's no kid's play, and we ought to have help, Mr. Thirkle, if we get clear away from this island to-night. We can't swear there won't be no moon, and, moon or no, we want to be out of the jungle and at the boats by sundown. And what's the game with the writin' chap here? I'm minded to have him do a bit of this work."
"Gold don't rust, do it, Thirkle?" asked Petrak. "I told Bucky gold don't rust but he don't like the water in there."
"Oh, dry up!" growled Buckrow. "What with yer talk we'll be at this job all night—"
"I vote—" began Petrak.
"To the devil with ye and yer votin'!" said Buckrow. "It's time we got to work, all hands, and so we will, and the writin' chap'll turn to and do his bit, or I'll know why. If he ain't to do his part, or we don't make no use of him, I say we'll up and do for him now and have it done with. Next ye know he'll make his getaway, and then a nice mess we'll be in."
"We don't intend to let Mr. Trenholm get away," said Thirkle. "I was just thinking, lads, that there are three of us, but counting Mr. Trenholm we make four, and we can rattle him down so he can lift and carry, but not much else."
"Then, lash his flippers down and put a bight on his legs," said Buckrow; and he brought rope and began to fashion it into knots.
There was a minute when I was tempted to jump and run for it; but it would have meant certain death, for the three of them stood over me, two of them loaded down with pistols, and I would have had a poor chance of getting away.
There was a promise of delay in the work to be done; and, not knowing what had become of Captain Riggs, there was the bare possibility that he might come upon the pirates' camp and attack them from ambush when he saw that I was a captive.
If I made the slightest resistance to the hampering ropes they put on me, with the cunning knots known to seamen, I knew they would not hesitate to make an end of me. So I stood up and allowed Buckrow to lash my wrists to my knees in such a way that I was bent nearly double, but with my hands sufficiently free to grasp a burden, and my feet hobbled for short steps.
We began the work of putting the sacks of gold into the hole in the cliff, and I set at the task with a prayer that before it was finished and my life was of no further value to the pirates I might find an opportunity to escape.
"ONE MAN LESS IN THE FORECASTLE MESS"
"Ye can let him work with ye, Thirkle," said Buckrow. "As ye and the writin' chap seem to have a lot of chin, pair off with him; and, as the two of ye don't bear arms, he can't get his paws on a gun or knife that way. You two work ahead of me and Petrak, and then we can keep an eye on the both of ye.
"It strikes me you and the writin' chap is gettin' thick—too blasted thick to suit me, Thirkle, if ye want to know. Mind ye don't come none of yer smart tricks now, or I won't wait for ye to go explainin' of what ye mean. Savvy that?"
"Tut, tut, man!" said Thirkle. "How can you have any doubts about what will happen to Mr. Trenholm? I suppose you think I want to take him along with us so he can write this all up for the newspapers? I'm surprised at you, Bucky. Don't you know my ways yet?"
"That's all right," growled Buckrow, who was in an ill humour. "We was to work even, and ye ain't been doin' yer part, Thirkle. A bargain's a bargain I'd have ye know, and I'm to see ye keep to yer part of it."
"Pipe down—pipe down, Bucky," said Petrak, who seemed in glee after the brandy he had had. "It's the drink talkin', Bucky. We're all good chaps, and Thirkle's A No. 1, and we got the gold to stow."
"Don't come no bos'n manners to me," retorted Buckrow savagely. "I ain't goin' to stand for none such from ye, Red. Yer sidin' with Thirkle, and I know that, and I'm as good a man as Thirkle; and I'm boss here, even or no even. I'm boss! Understand that? Thirkle and ye can have yer votes if ye want; but I'm boss, and I'll drill the two of ye."
"Ye ain't goin' to fight, be ye Bucky?"
"I'll put all hands under ground—that's what, if ye don't turn to; and there's too much gammin' and gabbin' here to suit me, I'd have ye know."
Petrak looked at Thirkle as if in doubt about Buckrow's sanity, and Thirkle gave him a look that seemed to me to be a message, and he made a furtive signal which I was not able to interpret.
"Steady as she goes, mates; steady as she goes," purred Thirkle. "This is no time to quarrel. We'll have a gunboat down on us if we don't get away soon, and there's a lot to do yet before we leave. Let Bucky alone, Red."
"Then ye and the writin' chap lay on and move lively," snarled Buckrow, and Thirkle had me take hold of a sack behind him, and, with him leading the way, we carried it into the miniature canon.
The sacks were heavy, but were bound with ropes which served as handles, and were not hard to move until we got into the narrow cleft, where I found that my shoulders bumped along the walls as I swayed from side to side, or missed my footing on the damp, slippery ground.
Buckrow and Petrak followed us in with another sack, and when Thirkle had gone as far as he could he pulled our sack forward under his feet and stowed it in the angle where the walls joined. Then I had to pass the second sack on to him, taking it from Petrak, who was next to me, and then we turned in our tracks and went out again.
The brush on the top of the cliff overlapped the crevice, so that it was quite dark a few feet from the entrance. The walls were slippery with a thick, funguslike moss, from which cool water dripped.
"That gold will rust in here sure as a nigger's black," grumbled Buckrow, as he felt his way out. "I don't like this place at all."
"Best place on the island," whispered Thirkle. "Tell him it's the best place on the island, Reddy."
"It's the best place on the island, Bucky. I don't see as we could do better."
"I don't care what ye think of it; I say it'll rust in there," said Buckrow.
"You had better go in backward this time," said Thirkle. "You may find it a little harder, Mr. Trenholm; but perhaps it will be more convenient."
"What's that?" demanded Buckrow. "Who go in first?"
"It will be easier if Mr. Trenholm goes in first," said Thirkle. "He'll have to go backward, but he'll find it easier to navigate."
"Oh, no, he won't!" said Buckrow. "I see your game, Thirkle. Ye want to come out behind Mr. Petrak and borrow a gun. We'll let you go in first, and the writin' chap can come out atween ye and Petrak. Don't come none of them games on me, Thirkle. I'm too old a fish."
We went in with the second lot of sacks in the same order, but I saw another exchange of signals between Thirkle and Petrak before we stooped for our burdens.
Before we had gone ten feet inside the crevice Thirkle coughed, and Petrak, close behind him said: "Gold don't rust."
"I say it do," declared Buckrow. "Six months' time in here'll have this stuff with whiskers on it like a Singapore tramp that hasn't been docked in a dog's age."
"I say gold don't rust," persisted Petrak. "How about it, Thirkle? Does gold rust? I say it don't, and Bucky says it do."
"You're right, Reddy, but don't quarrel now," said Thirkle. "It won't rust because gold doesn't rust."
"I don't give a tinker's hang what Thirkle says!" cried Buckrow, throwing down his end of the sack. "I'm here to say gold will rust if it's kept wet, and that's an end of it. Gold do rust, Thirkle or no Thirkle, and I say it."
"All right," agreed Reddy. "Lay on, Bucky, and let's get this job over and done with!"
"White-livered little fool!" I heard Thirkle mutter. "He doesn't dare do it!"
I heard Petrak and Buckrow coming on, and we were soon at the end of the black hole.
"This is a fine place, lads," said Thirkle. "It will keep in here as well as if buried in white, dry sand."
"Maybe it will and maybe it won't," growled Buckrow. "I don't call no wet hole like this fine, and never did, and I'm minded to bury the rest of it outside."
"Never a bit of hurt in the water, Bucky," said Petrak cheerily. "We'll put many of these shiners over the bar of the Flag and Anchor, Bucky, and have many a pipe over our drink."
"Ye don't catch me in no Flag and Anchor. I'll have my drop of liquor in the Flagship and you can go to the devil for yours, for all I mind. What if this blasted hole closes up some day? What then? It'll be a fine place then, no doubt. Hey, Mr. Thirkle? What then?"
"No fear of that," said Thirkle. "It's wider at the top than at the bottom, and the tops hang away. I looked into all that when I decided to put it in here. There isn't as much water as ye think, Bucky; and it's under foot what there is of it, and, the way we've got it stowed here, one atop of the other, only the bottom one'll be very wet—and gold don't rust."
"These guineas will be thick with scale, and ye'll need a chipping hammer to clean 'em when ye have 'em outside again. Ye talk about folks bein' suspicious of gold, but I say they're quicker to turn up their noses and say things about gold that's been stowed in the wet and turned black."
"But gold don't rust, Bucky. That's sure—gold don't rust," said Petrak.
"That's all very well: but I mind when I dropped half a crown in a pool back home, and in a fortnight it was thick as my hand. Think I'm a fool? I know what I'm talkin' about, if ye don't. Go ahead and side with Thirkle if ye like."
"That was silver, Bucky. Gold don't rust like that. I always knew gold don't rust, and now Thirkle says it don't, and Thirkle knows, as he always did. Mind we always asked Thirkle?"
"I'm not asking him any more if ye want to know, vote or no vote. My vote is as good as Thirkle's, and it's good as yours; and ye can side with him if ye want."
"But gold don't rust," said Petrak mockingly.
"Ye think I'm a fool?" shrieked Buckrow, turning on Petrak. He was nearest the outside, and I could see his figure silhouetted against the light at the entrance. He stooped down and put his face close to Petrak.
"Fool or not, gold don't rust, I'm telling ye Buck—"
"Then take that from a fool!" And Buckrow struck him square in the face with his fist, hurling him back on my shoulders, so that I fell forward on my hands.
"That's rotten mean, Bucky," I heard Petrak whining. "That's rotten mean in here in the dark, Bucky."
"That is rotten mean, Petrak," said Thirkle indignantly. "I wouldn't stand for that if I were you."
"Oh, ye wouldn't, hey? Well, we'll see what ye stand for soon's ye come out into the clear—that's what we'll see, Thirkle."
"It's rotten mean," whimpered Petrak. "I wouldn't do the likes o' that to ye, Bucky; not if ye never agreed along with me—it's rotten mean."
"Ye'll get worse as that is. Now, does gold rust, ye little runt? Say it! Does gold rust?"
"That's hardly fair, Bucky," said Thirkle. "That's hardly fair on the little chap after he's stood by ye so long."
"Fair enough for me, Thirkle, and fair enough for ye it'll be when ye come out."
"What do ye mean by that, Buck?" demanded Thirkle, speaking over my shoulder; and then he whispered to Petrak: "Give it to him, Red—now's yer chance. Quick, lad!"
"Soon enough ye'll find out what I mean, Thirkle; that's what. If the two of ye think yer going to side together ag'in' me, well and good; but look out for Bad Buckrow, I say. I'll make my meanin' blasted clear, too. Mind that."
"My jaw's broke!" cried Petrak, struggling to his feet, breathing hard. Then without warning he sprang on Buckrow's back with a snarl like an animal, and the two of them went down in the narrow passage.
"Gawd a'mighty!" screamed Buckrow, with every bit of air in his lungs, and I heard Petrak strike again.
"Red—he got me—he—"
"Good!" said Thirkle into my ear, as if speaking to me. "I never thought the little chap had the innards for it, but he did as long as he could strike from behind."
Petrak was holding Buckrow down, and his victim was breathing hard and writhing under him, with his face buried in the ground. He coughed twice, as if there was something caught in his throat, and then was still.
"Did ye get him Petrak?"
"I done for him, Thirkle. I done for him good. That's the last of Bucky. Mind how I fooled him, Thirkle? Said my jaw was broke."
"Good work, Reddy, lad. Good work, but be sure or he'll wing ye yet. Sure he ain't playing chink with ye?"
"Oh, he's done right enough. That leaves two of us—hey, Thirkle? Ye know Bucky would a done for ye but for me—wouldn't he, Thirkle? Ye know that's right—don't ye, Thirkle?"
"That's right, Reddy," said Thirkle. "It's a good job he's done for—and now there is two of us, you and me, Reddy. I never did like Bucky; but I like you, Red. He wanted his fight, and he got it. I knew ye wouldn't take that from him. No man could stand for such as that in here."
"That leaves all the more for us—don't it, Thirkle?"
"All the more for us, Reddy. Drag him out, and now we'll settle this navvy's job. It's one man less in the fo'c'sle mess, and dead men tell no tales; and now we'll have to do the work a bit short-handed; but we can clean it up between us now, and no more fighting going on."
Petrak pulled the body out after him, and Thirkle helped him carry it into the brush, where they dumped it without ceremony, and Thirkle found another bottle of brandy and offered it to Petrak.
"I'll just take a pair of these pistols, Reddy," he said, relieving him of the belt he had taken from Buckrow. "You don't need all those pistols, now that Bucky is done for."
"But ye was to bear no arms, Thirkle," grinned Petrak.
"That's what I told Bucky, but you and me'll get along better than we did with Bucky; and ye don't intend to hold me to that—do ye, Red?"
"I was only joking a bit, Thirkle. We're together now on the split, ain't we? Well, friends don't have to make such agreements. I sail with you, and you sail with me; and no articles signed beyond that, I say. What, Thirkle?"
"That's what. Have another drink, Red. That was a good job ye did for me with Bucky, even if he did play you mean."
"He was a bad one, all right," agreed Petrak, wiping his mouth and giving Thirkle the bottle. "Bad Buckrow they called him when I first knew him, and bad he was to the end; but I never looked to give to him, leastwise not the way I did, in a hole like that. Howsome it be, I don't stand for no smash in the mouth like he give me—ain't that right, Thirkle?"
"Right you are, but it's time we had this stuff cleaned up now. You and Mr. Trenholm set at it while I put Bucky under ground."
Petrak and I resumed the work of carrying the sacks into the crevice, while Thirkle busied himself at digging a grave in the soft sand near the place they had deposited Buckrow's body. The little red-headed man began to whistle a music-hall tune softly, but Thirkle cautioned him against making any unnecessary noise.
I was in an agony from my cramped position, and tugging at the sacks served to increase my torture. The tangle of ropes which Buckrow had put on my ankles caught in loose stones and chafed the flesh until the blood came; and my wrists, pulled down with tight knots, which I had to strain against to keep my balance, throbbed and pained and tingled, my arms being numbed by the blood in the bound arteries.
Petrak kept before me, with the sacks between us, and his bloody knife pulled to the front of his belt. After he had stowed each sack he helped me back out, or assisted me to turn, which was always a hard task for me.
If I let my end of the sack slip out of my fingers he was ready for me with knife or pistol, so there was no opportunity to take a pistol or knife from him, even if I had not been helplessly hobbled.
"Mind ye don't try any monkey-business with me," he warned the second time we went in. "If ye do, I'll give ye what Bucky got, and ye mind that. I'm no gent to fool with, as ye ought to savvy by this; and if ye think I be, try something."
But, for all his warning, I was ready to risk death if I saw the chance to make a fight. I hoped that Thirkle would give him more of the brandy, but Thirkle kept the bottle to himself. When we pressed into the crevice I wore the ropes on my wrists against the stones as much as I could, trying to cut the bonds on the rough points of the walls. Once I stumbled and fell and groped for a splinter of stone, but he menaced me with his knife and kicked me until I got to my feet again.
I had given up hope of being rescued by Captain Riggs. Even if he found the camp, I doubted that he would attack until it would be too late for me, as he would naturally suppose Buckrow and Long Jim to be near by.
It was coming on toward twilight, and there were still seven sacks to be carried in. Thirkle had finished burying Buckrow, and set to dragging the sacks close to the entrance of the crevice, so we would not have to carry them so far.
Petrak made several attempts to talk with him; but Thirkle made short answers, for when he took the pistols he had dropped his mask of affability and assumed his old commanding airs.
"It'll be dark before we get back to the boats," suggested Petrak, as we stood over the five sacks which were left.
"Mighty dark," said Thirkle gruffly, sitting cross-legged, counting a packet of English banknotes.
"That's what ye want, aint' it?" asked Petrak, who noticed that Thirkle was not so friendly as he had been.
"You keep to work and never mind so much talk," said Thirkle. "If ye stand there that way, it'll be morning before we get away."
"I'm workin', ain't I? Can't a man stop to breathe, himself, I'd like to know?"
Thirkle made no reply, but went on running his thumb over the ends of the notes. I stood and watched them, waiting for Petrak to stoop and take a sack.
"Yer goin' to play fair with me—ain't ye, Thirkle?" whined Petrak, a trace of fear crossing his face. "We're in together, share and share alike now—ain't we, Thirkle? I can ask that, can't I?"
"Ye'll get yer share, Reddy," said Thirkle, smiling.
"That's half—ain't it, Thirkle? Ye mind what I done for ye with Bucky, don't ye?"
"Aye, half of it, of course, Red. Reef that jaw of yours now, lad, and clap on. Don't stand there like a Jew and wrangle over the loot. Want to stop and count it now, lad?"
"Ye told Long Jim to do for me—didn't ye, Thirkle?" Petrak grinned, and his fingers twitched toward the butt of a pistol. I knew what was in his mind.
"What's that?" demanded Thirkle. "Oh, run along now, Red, like a good chap, and get the gold stowed. Didn't I tell ye to get Long Jim, and didn't ye get him? What more's to be said? Run along now, Reddy, and pack it away."
"That's what Long Jim said," insisted Petrak doggedly. There was murder in his eyes, while his face was livid with fear.
"Then he lied, and ye ought to take my word against his. Don't be a fool now, Reddy, like the others. Ye'll get your share, bank on that. Yer a good sort, Petrak; and I need ye to help me get it away, and we'll share and share alike, as I told ye. Do you think I'd play dirt with ye after all we've been through together, Reddy?"
"Course not. Don't mind my lip, Thirkle, old chap. No harm done, is there?"
"No harm done, Reddy," said Thirkle, glancing at me suspiciously, as if he thought I had been turning Petrak against him.
"No harm in what I say, Thirkle," and Petrak took up the end of the sack. His mistrust of Thirkle gave me an idea, which I put into play as soon as we were well inside the crevice.
"Petrak," I whispered dropping my end of the sack, and compelling him to let it down.
"What's up now?" he whispered.
"He'll kill you, too, Reddy. He's planning it out; and if you let him, he'll kill both of us before he quits this island. Are you going to let him do it, Reddy?"
He growled out something and fumbled at his belt, and it was touch and go with him whether he would knife me and then run out and tell Thirkle to gain credit with him.
"His mind is made up, Reddy. He may let us help him get a boat into the water, but that's all. He'll murder both of us like dogs."
"Old Thirkle's all right," he said weakly, as if he felt the truth of what I said, but lacked courage to attack Thirkle.
"Reddy, he'll kill you!" I went on, seeing that I was on the right track, and that fear of death at Thirkle's hands was uppermost in his mind.
He had caught enough in Thirkle's manner since the death of Buckrow to see that he was not going to get a just division of the loot, at the very least, and, knowing the ruthlessness of his master, he had doubts about escaping with his life. Besides, I believed he had been tempted by the thought that he might kill Thirkle and then have it all to himself.
"He told Long Jim to kill you? Don't you see the way the devil had it planned to get rid of you? He planned to kill you all, once he had this gold on the island. You should never have come back after I shot Long Jim. Why did you come back? You know he'll kill you."
"I wanted to see where they hide the gold, that's what. Then, when I raised you there in the grass it come in my head to grab ye, and come in for my share of the gold, seeing Long Jim was done for."
His friendly mood encouraged me, but, if I let him ramble on with his own affairs, I would not be able to convince him that Thirkle was plotting to slay him. So I began with him again.
"Thirkle will kill the both of us. You heard what he said about being a gentleman. He has been an officer in the navy, Reddy, and he won't want you or any other man to know he was a pirate when he goes back to London. He wouldn't feel safe if he let you live. He cares no more for you than he did for Buckrow or Long Jim—you ought to know that."
"Oh, Thirkle is all right," he said in a way that exasperated me.
"He wouldn't look at you twice in London or anywhere else. He'll rid himself of you as soon as he needs you no more, which will be as soon as the gold is stowed and he has a boat in the water. Now is your chance if you ever had it."
"Thirkle is all right."
"He had it planned to kill Buckrow. Then he argued the two of you into letting him go. Can't you see that he is playing the game to have it all for himself? Are you going to be a fool all your life, man?"
"Then ye'd do for me after I done for him," he said.
"Give me a gun and cut me loose and I'll shoot him myself and I'll see that you get your share of the gold, which you won't from him. You can have it all if you'll let me kill him, and if he kills me you can say I cut my hands loose and grabbed a gun. You don't stand to lose anything—come on. Cut me loose and I'll take the chance you don't dare to."
"Thirkle's all right," he droned, picking up the sack again. "I know your game—ye want to do for the both of us and have it all for yourself. Fine job that would be! Nice I'd look givin' you a gun, wouldn't I! Lay on that sack."
"He's all very pleasant now," I went on as I stooped for the rope. "Wait until he has finished with us and the gold is packed, and then see what will happen—you'll wish you had listened to me."
"Pipe down with that," he growled, and I saw the uselessness of trying to make the lout see reason. I now began to fear that he would tell Thirkle what I had said to him.
When we went out for another sack, Petrak looked over at Thirkle and hesitated as if he wanted to say something, but Thirkle was writing in a little book, with a pistol between his feet.
"Well, what is it now?" he demanded truculently, having seen something suspicious in Petrak's manner. "What's the lay now? What have ye got yer hand so close to that gun for? Take a shot at me if you want—go on, take a shot at old Thirkle, if ye're that game."
"Only a habit o' mine, keepin' my gun well for'ard, Thirkle," whimpered Petrak, shivering. "I have to keep a close eye on the writin' chap, Thirkle. No offence, I hope."
"Look lively now, lad," said Thirkle, turning amiable again, but only to reassure Petrak. "Here's the last of it and get it away and we'll get under way."
We carried another sack in and I waited until we were at the far end and had dumped it before I began again with Petrak. I knew his natural treachery was near the surface, and it needed but little urging to bring him to the point when he would turn against Thirkle.
"We might as well say good-bye now," I said as mournfully as I could. "You remember I treated you pretty well in Manila, and I'm sorry for you now. It doesn't matter much with me how I end now, because Thirkle has the drop on me, but I'm sorry for you—you ought to have your share of it, and Thirkle ought to play fair with you, but he won't. That devil out there will kill us both in the next ten minutes unless you give me a gun and let me kill him. I'm not afraid of him—give me a gun!"
"Thirkle ain't bad," he said, as if trying to convince himself that he was not afraid of Thirkle. "He ain't bad—he said he'd play fair with me, and he will."
I laughed gently.
"Yes, he'll play fair—with himself. He's out there now putting down directions for getting back here—alone. Give me a gun, and let me free, and I'll kill him for you. When I've settled him I'll call you, and if he gets me it's all the same—except that you'll lose in the end.
"But with me you have a chance to win—can't you see that? You haven't a chance with Thirkle. If he gets me, don't trust him—shoot him the minute you can get the muzzle of your pistol on him. If you let me try you have two chances at him, and you can kill me if you choose afterward—or give me a knife if you don't dare to let me have a gun."
"He'll do for ye. Not a chance for ye with Thirkle in gun-play."
"But give me a chance to fight for my life," I pleaded. "If I can put him out of the way, so much the better for you; but it's death for both of us if we go on this way. Give me a gun, and I swear I'll let you go free if we ever get off this island."
"He'll kill you and then come and get me," he whined. "There ain't a chance to get Thirkle as easy as that. He'll do for me if you take a shot at him."
"Of course he will if we stand here and argue about it until it is too late!" I stormed at him. "Pass me a gun—don't be a fool, Reddy. Quick! Cut these ropes from my hands and give me a pistol and let me show you how to draw your Mr. Thirkle's teeth!"
"What's all this social chatter between you two?" demanded Thirkle from the entrance to the crevice. I did not know how much he had overheard, but I determined to make one more effort to get the pistol.
"Quick," I whispered to Petrak. "Hand me the gun and free my hands!"
"It ain't me," whined Petrak. "It's the writin' chap here. Get along out," and he struck me over the head and I knew I had lost, although there was a doubt that Petrak would ever have given me the pistol.
"What's he up to now, Reddy? What's the nice young man trying to do?"
"Wanted to do for ye, that's what, Thirkle. Wanted a gun, but he got no gun from me. Said you wouldn't play fair with me, Thirkle, but I said ye would."
"So ye want to take a hand in things here, do you, Mr. Trenholm?" said Thirkle as I came out. "Still got an idea you can beat old Thirkle at his own game. Learning new tricks, I see. Before long ye'd be ready to boss the job. Didn't take ye long to forget what I told ye of the other smart chap who wanted to settle me and take command himself, did it?"
"You stick to your pen and typewriter, Mr. Trenholm, and let me run my own crew—nice pirate ye'd make, with silk underwear and a typewriter," and he and Petrak laughed loudly at the joke,
"I told him you would kill him, and so you will," I said, mustering as much defiance as I could under the circumstances.
"Kill Mr. Petrak here! Ha, ha, ha! Why, he's my partner, Mr. Petrak is, and we're going to share this gold together, share and share alike, as gentlemen do."
"He wanted to do for ye, Thirkle," said Petrak, flattered by his master and unable to see the sly sarcasm of Thirkle in his joy at being assured of his position, and of getting his share of the gold. "I never give him the chance, Thirkle. Now if it was some—say Buckrow or Long Jim, they might give him a gun, but not Petrak. Ye know I ain't the kind to turn on a pal, Thirkle, and I say you stick to me and I'll stick to you, come what do. Ain't that right, Thirkle?"
"Reddy, yer true blue," and he took Petrak's hand and shook it vigorously, and patted the little rat on the back. "Stick to Thirkle and Thirkle will stick to you like a Dutch uncle, and never mind what Mr. Trenholm has to say. He's not in this, or won't be long, and it won't be many days before we are counting out the gold between us.
"I've got enough five-pound notes here to buy the little yacht, and I'll take some of the gold, but not much. We'll be back here before the month is out, all slick and snug, and then away for London."
"I'll stick like paint, Thirkle; lay to that," said Petrak, grinning at me. "I knew he was on the wrong course when he come that gun talk to me, and I told him Thirkle was all right, and that I knowed ye better than him, and so I do—hey, Thirkle?"
"You had better give me your pistols until you are done, Reddy. Ye can't trust these gentlemen who write—they have too much imagination, and they are too foxy for men like you and me, Reddy. There's no telling what he might do in there if you have guns and knives on ye. Pass 'em over, Reddy, or he'll do for us yet."
Petrak gave up his weapons joyfully, not realizing that he was being disarmed for the very purpose I had warned him about—Thirkle was getting ready to finish his job in earnest.
"Now get along and dump the last of it in there, and move navy style or we'll be here at dark. No more soldiering, Petrak: and see that ye keep yer jaw battened down, Mr. Trenholm, or I'll take a hand in this that ye won't relish and attend to ye in a way ye won't fancy."
"Ye'll play fair with me, won't ye, Thirkle?" asked Petrak.
"Fair as ye deserve. Move along with that cargo."
Petrak began to whine to himself, and I said nothing more until we went in with the last sack.
"You fool, he'll kill you as I told you he would, but you are too late now."
"Oh, Thirkle's all right," he grumbled; but he seemed worried since he had given up the pistols, and he saw plainly enough that Thirkle's manner had changed in no undecided way since Petrak had surrendered his weapons.
"All clear," said Thirkle, as we came out. He was measuring rope, and had his jacket on and a bundle rolled up, and all the camp litter was removed and dead leaves scattered over our tracks.
"Can I have my guns now, Thirkle? I don't like to go down the trail without a gun—no knowin' what might happen."
"Never would do yet, Reddy. Take this knife and cut the lines away from Mr. Trenholm's feet, and we'll fix him so he can navigate back to the boats. You take the lead back, Reddy, because you know the way better than I do, and I'll make Mr. Trenholm fast to ye, and follow on. We'll need to look sharp to make the beach before dark."
"But I want my guns, Thirkle. Fair play's fair play, and I want my guns."
"Never mind the guns, I say. Mr. Trenholm will be right at your back all the way down, and we can't take any chances now, Reddy. I'll settle him when the boats are off, and then you won't have anything to worry about. Cut his feet loose."
"What style of a funeral would suit him?" asked Petrak, busy with the cords at my feet.
"We'll have to select something special for Mr. Trenholm. How about the same go-off we gave Caldish? Remember Caldish? Wanted to say his prayers. Quick and neat it was, and no mess."
"If he helps with the boats, how about a tow out at the end of a painter, Thirkle? He'll make good shark bait, only some skinny."
"That would do for him nicely, Reddy. We'll let him push the boat well out, and, when he has her clear, pull away and give him plenty of line. That's a capital idea, Reddy, and we'll use it."
They bound my arms to my sides, and put the end of the rope round Petrak's waist, so that I was about five feet behind him when it was taut. In this way we set out for the beach, with Petrak in the lead and Thirkle, carrying his bundle and smoking a cigar, treading on my heels, to make me keep close up.
The sun was not quite down, but the jungle was filling with shadows, and, once the sun got below the horizon, night would close down on us with the tropical swiftness that knows no twilight, and the day would go out like a candle under a snuffer.
Thirkle had been drinking of the brandy, and was in a jolly mood, and he had given Petrak a good swig of it to lighten the little rascal's feet, but I refused the bottle when it was offered to me, for, low as my spirits were, and racked as my body was, I could not come to accept their ghastly hospitality.
If I let the rope tighten between me and Petrak, Thirkle prodded me with the point of a knife, and, as I was faint with hunger and thirst, and utterly worn out, I frequently stumbled and fell, when they both set upon me and beat me to my feet. Petrak pulling me up with the rope, while Thirkle scourged me with a leather thong.
We had been on the road about half an hour when I recognized the spot where Captain Riggs had crawled into the brush to rest, and I began to complain loudly and made as much noise as possible, hoping that the captain and Rajah might still be concealed near by.
"Keep close!" yelled Petrak, as I let the rope tighten and hung back.
"Get along or I'll flay ye alive!" thundered Thirkle, which was what I wanted him to do.
"Then don't let those low limbs fly back on me," I cried as loudly as I dared without exciting their suspicion of my purpose. "They knock me off my feet, and that's why I can't keep close up."
"Shut yer jaw," said Thirkle, and I stumbled along again, wondering what had become of Captain Riggs, and wondering if he had been lured into the jungle by the shots I had exchanged with Long Jim, and was lost.
I kept straining at the cords about me, but although I hurt the wounds on my wrists until I was weak from pain, I could not free myself. If nothing better offered, I was determined to make a dash at Thirkle if he freed my hands to work at the boat. If I could not surprise him in the dark and get hold of a knife or pistol, I could at least give him a fight even if I died in a last attempt to save myself. I much preferred to die fighting than at the end of a rope in the water, as Petrak had suggested.
I knew they would have to find the oars before they could get a boat away, and the missing plugs might cause them a deal of trouble if they launched the boats without noticing their loss. I hoped that I might find a chance of escape in the darkness if the boat filled with them after they got it into the water.
Finally we came to level ground, and I knew we were close to the beach, for we could hear the rollers. The brush was thicker in the marsh, and we got off the trail, but we could see patches of the moonlight on the water ahead, and caught the white flash of the waves tumbling on the shingle.
Petrak left the bed of the brook and pushed his way straight ahead through the dense foliage which shut us off from the beach. I fell and made a great racket, setting up a wail about my leg and swearing that I had broken it, and begging Thirkle to help me.
He struck at me with his thong, and, although he missed, I screamed at the top of my voice, as a warning to Captain Riggs, in case he should be lurking about. Besides, I hoped my play that I had been badly crippled would give me a better opportunity to escape or to attack them, as they would be more careless if they thought I was perfectly helpless.
"I'll give ye something to yell about soon," said Thirkle. "Just wait a while and I'll give ye something to make a real fuss about. Maybe ye think there's a ship near—maybe there is; but it won't do ye much good, so let's not have any more of this bawling. I thought ye was gamer than that, my fine Mr. Trenholm."
"Here we are, Thirkle!" cried Petrak, pushing the wall and bushes aside and showing us the moonlit sea and the loom of the mainland shouldering up into the stars. "It can't be far to the boats, Thirkle."
We went out into the still warm sand. The moon, lean in its first quarter, hung over the top of the island, silvering the sand and playing with the gaunt shadows of the palm-trees, distorting them into queer shapes and making grotesque patterns under our feet. The breeze, the snoring of the waves, the sense of freedom after the hot, reeking jungle, refreshed me, and I almost forgot the doom that threatened. Thirkle stood a minute and scanned the channel, muttering to himself.
"Looks all clear, sir," said Petrak.
"All clear, Reddy. Push on, lad; the boats are right ahead."
"Here we are, sir, all snug," called Petrak, and I saw the indistinct pile in the shadow of the brush which marked the cache of boats.
"No matches, Reddy. Mind ye don't make a flash or we'll have some craft on the prowl along here. We can't take any chances."
"Cut me loose from this cussed line, Thirkle. We can take a turn on a tree and hold the writin' chap until we have need for him."
Thirkle cut him free from me, and they bound me to a broken palm-stump. I pleaded to be put on the ground, complaining about my leg, and Petrak finally wrapped the rope about my legs and threw me to the ground, more to keep me quiet than to ease my supposed suffering. They left me laying helpless in a thicket of young bamboo shoots, with my head and shoulders in the sand. I managed to wriggle on my side so that I had view of the boats, and, what was better, I got my teeth into the rope on my hands and began gnawing it desperately.
"Which boat has the stores, Reddy? I'm twisted all around."
"The nighest, Thirkle. The nighest has the stores, and the other the tackle."
"You go round the other side for the block, Reddy. We better take the spare boat with us and set it adrift after we clear the channel, or load it with stones and let it go down after we are clear of the island. Then we'll get the wind and slip down the coast to the first native town. That's better than waiting to be picked up and having to answer questions that wouldn't carry by. No Manila-bound boat for us, to land about the time the Kut Sang was reported overdue."
"Right ye are, Thirkle," said Petrak, stumbling about in the dark. "It's black as a Kroo boy in here," and presently he began to drag the block through the dead leaves and brambles.
"'No need for the tackle, sir, once we get clear of the sand, in my mind. We can skid 'em with oars, and lighten the stowed one—hey, Thirkle? I ain't for leavin' no marks hereabouts, and we can drag some bushes over the wake we leave in the sand, so—"
"We'll see about that when we get clear," said Thirkle gruffly. "Hold yer lip now."
Thirkle was busy pulling the palm-leaves from the boats and clearing the litter with which they had covered their cache. I could hear him tugging at the sail which they had spread over the outer boat. The moonlight was getting brighter, and more stars were coming out, and the jungle was beginning to awaken. A lizard set up a monotonous croak in the branches overhead, and insects and unseen things began to stir in the foliage.
"Blast this mess of halyards and gear Bucky strewed alongside—"
I heard Thirkle draw his breath sharply as he left the sentence unfinished. He drew away from the boat in a quick, involuntary movement, and I managed to twist my neck so that I could observe him. He stood motionless for a minute, his figure a queer fretwork of light and shadow from the creepers and palms.
"Reddy!" he called cautiously. "Oh, Petrak!" Something in his tones—a suggestion of suspicion that everything was not right—thrilled me. Petrak did not hear him as he was fumbling with the block in the sand and muttered about a jammed rope.
"Aye," said Petrak. "I'll give ye a hand next minute, sir."
"Come here," commanded Thirkle with a hand on a pistol.
"What's up?" demanded Petrak, getting to his feet. "Can't ye start it—what's wrong, Thirkle?"
"Come up here and haul out some of the gear in this boat—move navy style, lad—we can't be wasting the whole night! Reach in there and clear that mess of halyard."
But Petrak did not move. He knew something was wrong; but whether it was Thirkle he feared, or what Thirkle seemed afraid of, I did not know. I thought he suspected treachery.
"What's wrong, Thirkle?" he demanded.
"Come on up here, can't ye?"
"What ye want, Thirkle? No funny business for me. Speak out what ye want. Ye ain't goin' to do me dirt, be ye, Thirkle—not Reddy?"
He was whining now, and he was in terror of Thirkle.
"Oh, shut up!" growled Thirkle. "It's nothing, but it give me a turn."
"What was it, Thirkle? What frightened ye?"
"I thought I put my hand into a mess of hair and—"
"Oh, ho!" laughed Petrak. "That's a ball of spun yarn Bucky left. It's naught but spun yarn, Thirkle. I minded it myself," and Petrak turned to the block again.
Thirkle moved toward the boat, saying something about how he was getting old and nervous, and I saw him bend over the gunwale. I watched him closely, for a hope had sprung up in my withered heart—a hope which I hardly dared tell myself might possibly be true, after the train of disasters which had overtaken me since I went aboard the Kut Sang.
I saw a form spurt up out of the boat, and, as it arose, like the fountain that pops out of the sea after a shell strikes, there came a heavy blow and a deep-throated grunt, followed by a hiss that was merged with a shrill death-cry.
"Black devil! Black devil!" said Thirkle in a quiet, matter-of-fact way, and then he began to sob and squirm; but the figure that had come up like a jack-in-the-box held him pinned across the gunwale, with his shoulders and arms inside the boat, and his legs writhing and thrashing in the dead palm-leaves.
"What's wrong, Thirkle? What's wrong?" wailed Petrak.
He stood a second waiting for an answer, and then he started for the boat, but stopped at the edge of the shadows.
"What's wrong, Thirkle? Sing out, can't ye? What's gone amiss?"
Thirkle's legs were quiet now, but I could hear his heavy breathing, and it reminded me of the steam exhaust from an ice-factory.
In spite of the mystery about me, I set my brain to work trying to remember what particular ice-factory sounded just like Thirkle's breathing.
"I'll hold him, Rajah," said Captain Riggs. "Go get the other," and the figure of the Malay boy sprang from the boat and leaped toward Petrak. The little red-headed man gave an incoherent gurgle, and he took to his heels down the beach. Rajah let him go, and ran to me, where I was tossing about like a dying fish. He hissed to me and swiftly cut me free, and I rushed to the boats, with a tangle of rope still clinging to my feet.
"Captain Riggs," I cried, "it is I, Trenholm!" and he lifted his hand from the shoulder of the dying Thirkle and took mine.
"All's well," he said calmly. "Glad to see ye alive, Mr. Trenholm. I gave ye up, and we came back here and went to sleep in the boat, but Rajah was on watch when he heard ye coming back, and I guess he's made an end of this beauty. Here, strike a match and let's look at him."
I held the flame down to Thirkle's face, and his clenched teeth grinned at me through snarling, open lips, but his eyes were glazed with death. We stripped him of his arms and lay him down in the palm-leaves, quite dead.
"Did that other rascal get away?" asked Riggs. "We'll have to wait a bit and see if we can't find him. But probably we better get to sea. Ye know where ye left the plugs and oars? That little red-headed chap can't do much harm, and if he gets away we'll find him some day. We'll be back here in the shake of a lamb's tail, anyhow."
We rigged the tackle and hauled the boat into the sand with little trouble, and, while Rajah held her on an even keel, we tugged at the painter and soon had the water lapping at her bows. The stock of provisions and water was restowed, and then we smashed the extra boat and took the oars. We covered Thirkle with sand, but Riggs said he would carry him back to Manila with the gold.
Rajah was in the boat, and we were prying it off the shingle and waiting for a favouring wave when we were startled with a hail from the jungle.
"Cap'n Riggs! Oh, Cap'n Riggs!"
"Who's there?" I shouted, although I knew.
"Petrak—don't leave me here, cap'n! Take me away from this cussed place—please, sir, please. I'll be good, only don't leave me on the beach—I'll die afore mornin', sir."
We took him. He came creeping out of the jungle, sniffling and wailing, and begging not to be hanged, and saying Thirkle and the others had done it all. We bundled him into the bows, telling him he was a dead man if he made a suspicious move; but the little cur never had enough courage to fight unless he could stab a man in the back.
Once in the channel we filled away to the south, scooting past the black upper-works of the Kut Sang, as we caught a stiff breeze from the north. Then Captain Riggs made me sleep.
It was long after daylight when the captain shook me, and right over us was a square-rigged ship. She was hanging in stays, and a boat was coming to us from her when I looked over the gunwale. She was an oil-carrier from Kobe to Manila.
"Four men out of the Kut Sang, ashore on a reef," said Captain Riggs, as we went over her side. "You may put the red-headed gentleman in irons, if you please, sir. Thank you."
And so we went back to Manila, where Petrak was hanged, and the only men who ever sailed with the Devil's Admiral and lived to tell of it were Captain Riggs, and Rajah, and myself, and the story was not written until after Captain Riggs had fallen asleep under the poplars of his Maine home and forgot to awaken. As I write the last of the tale, the wind howls in the chimney, and the fleecy fog is coming over Russian Hill from the Pacific, and hiding the ships in San Francisco Bay, and the last sheets from my pen are gathered up by Rajah, wearing in his girdle the kris that killed Thirkle.