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   Chapter 2 RED-HEADED BEGGAR AND MISSIONARY

The Devil's Admiral By Frederick Ferdinand Moore Characters: 12541

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


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.

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