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The Devil's Admiral By Frederick Ferdinand Moore Characters: 20348

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Three steps at a time I took the matted stairway, which was reckless speed, for the shell-paned windows were shut, and the awnings pulled down to keep out the heat of the blinding sun, making it quite dark. But I was bound to capture the little red-headed man, thrash him soundly, make him tell his motive in trailing me, and turn him over to the police.

I caught the indistinct figure of a man in white coming up, and threw myself to one side to avoid him, but he stumbled in front of me, and we went sprawling into the corridor below. It was a nasty spill, and I shot out on the matting at full length with my hands thrown before me. The polished teak-wood floor and the loose matting saved me from injury.

"My dear sir!" exclaimed the man who fell with me, and I found the Rev. Luther Meeker sitting on a crumpled mat and propped up with his arms behind him, while his pith helmet went dancing away on its rim to settle crazily upon its crown a dozen feet from us.

For an instant I was tempted to attack him, when I realized that his presence on the stairs and his interruption of my pursuit of the redheaded man were significant of more than an accident, and that Meeker and the other were spying upon me. I bridled my ire, and decided to play the game out with them and fathom the mystery of their espionage.

"My dear sir, I am almost certain that I have sprained my back-I am sure

I have injured my back!"

"I am sorry for your back," I said, getting to my feet. "For my part, I am satisfied to escape without a broken neck."

"My immortal soul, if it isn't Mr. Trenholm!" said he, blinking at me, his goggles bobbing on a rubber string made fast to a jacket-button. "Of all persons, Mr. Trenholm! Bless my soul!"

My mental remark was somewhat similar and with equal fervour, if not complimentary to him and his soul. Brushing my soiled ducks, I started to move away, for it would never do to assume an excess of friendship too suddenly.

"Just one moment, Mr. Trenholm-" he called after me, shaking a bony forefinger-"just one moment, I beg of you, sir! I have some information which I desire to impart, and, strangely enough, I was seeking you when this unfortunate tumble came about, partly through my infirmities, I am sure. One moment, sir. It is to your advantage to wait, I assure you."

"What is it?" I asked, hesitating. The little beggar had undoubtedly escaped, and I knew that in Meeker I had bigger game if I handled him cautiously.

"The Kut Sang!" he said, arising with difficulty and holding his back with one hand while he hobbled after his helmet.

I was convinced that his injury and decrepit bearing were clever bits of acting.

"I desire to correct you regarding the Kut Sang" he cackled, caressing the recovered helmet.

"What about it? My dear Mr. Meeker, I am in a hurry and cannot waste the day waiting for you to talk. I am sorry for what has happened here, but I trust that you are not incapacitated. Anyway, I do not think there is anything you can tell me about the Kut Sang that I do not already know."

"Oh, but there is," he protested, holding up his hand and eyeing me craftily. "I was seeking you to tell you when we fell upon each other so unceremoniously. It is quite-"

"I suppose you want to tell me that the sailing has been delayed. I know all about that-she sails in the morning."

"Sails in the morning!" he exclaimed, pretending surprise, but being puzzled about something. "Does she?"

There was guile in that last question, and when he asked it I knew it was he or some one acting for him who had attempted to mislead me about the time of the vessel's departure. I saw a chance to trap him, and asked:

"Was that what you wanted to tell me?"

He parried it, and while he fumbled in his pockets for something, a trick to gain time, he was thinking hard and fast.

I had him against the ropes, so to speak, and he knew it, for what he did want to find out was whether I knew the telephone message to be fraudulent. If I did, he wanted to take credit for setting me right; and if I didn't, he wanted me to miss the Kut Sang. So, knowing his game, I came to the conclusion that I must not press him too hard and so make him suspicious that I knew his true character-his character, that is, as a decidedly suspicious person.

"I was told that she sails in the morning, but it was some mistake," I told him, as if I had not found anything peculiar in the error and was not the least disturbed about it.

"Oh, no! Nothing in that!" he cried, unable to conceal his delight over my admission of how much I knew. "For a minute I thought there might be something in the story, after all, when I heard you say she was delayed. That is just what I was going to tell you-there is no truth in that report. Some person, who I cannot say, also gave me misinformation regarding the Kut Sang. I feared that you might have had the same experience. That, however, is only a part of it-what I want to tell you is that it is now possible to buy a ticket in the Kut Sang."

"I already have my ticket," I said. "So we will be fellow-passengers, and I hope you will pardon my throwing you down the stairs; but I was running after a beggar or a thief."

"Indeed! Do you know the rascal, or did you see him so that you can give a comprehensive description of him to the police?"

"A little red-headed man," I said, watching him closely. "Did you see him before you started up the stairs?"

He burst out in a dry, mirthless cackle of laughter, and slapped his knees, much as if he had heard a good joke.

"If you will come in to tiffin with me, Mr. Trenholm, I will tell you about him."

Assuming affability, I accepted his invitation, and we went into the dining-room together and found a table to ourselves in the corner. I was rather pleased at having an opportunity to study him, especially at his own suggestion, and I made up my mind that before the lunch was over I would have solved the mystery of who or what the missionary was, and why he had the little red-headed man at my heels since I had arrived in Manila that morning, and why he had attempted to keep me out of the Kut Sang.

"And who is this little red-headed man?" I asked as we took our chairs.

He bowed his head and mumbled a grace before replying, and I had a sense of mental conflict between us, and knew that I would have to guard against chicane, or the suave old fellow would talk me out of my suspicions.

"It must have been Dago Red you saw," he began, grinning, and wagging his head. "I hope he did not actually steal anything, my dear Mr. Trenholm. I am quite sure you must be mistaken about his being a thief; but it is quite possible, he has deceived me."

"I found him sneaking near my door in the hall," I said. "Who is this

Dago Red?"

"A worthy man," he replied getting serious. "I am afraid you have done him an injustice, for I sent him up to see if you were in your room, and after I had given him the errand the clerk informed me that you were in, and I started up myself."

"He didn't appear anxious to talk with me when he saw me open the door."

"You probably startled him by-"

"But who is he?"

"Petrak, I think his name is, although I am not sure, and my poor old memory cannot hold names long. He is a sailor who has been shipwrecked, and he became a vagrant here and was sent to Bilibid Prison. Much of my work is in prisons, and I took charge of him when he got out and sent him to the Sailors' Home, sure that he would be able to get a ship again. That was a couple of months ago, and when I arrived to-day he met me and told me that he had left the Home because the keeper was prejudiced against him, owing to his term in prison.

"He was on the verge of starvation, and I gave him some money from my charity fund, which he promptly spent on drink, for he is quite dissolute. But he took charge of my luggage and attended to some errands for me, but he fears the police and cannot get out of his habit of skulking about, and, as the detectives have hounded him, he is suspicious of everybody, and ready to go into a panic when a stranger approaches him. It is a pity that he cannot get back to sea, but he has had the fever, and no master seems to want him, and he has been forced into vagabondage."

He gave me this history of the little red-headed man in disconnected sentences while we were at the soup, and I let him run on. As he talked his eyes were roaming over the room, and he scanned every person that entered, and peered at me from under his brows when he thought I was not observing him.

It was plausible enough, but I could not forget that Meeker and the little sailor were together a great deal, and whenever I had seen them they were acting suspiciously, and both of them had kept close watch upon me. Neither had he explained away the fact that he had told me I could not buy a ticket in the Kut Sang, which I did; nor the fact that he had his own ticket when he told me that, nor the false telephone message for the obvious purpose of making me miss the steamer, and then his getting in my way when I was in pursuit of Petrak, or "Dago Red," as he called him.

It seemed beyond reason that this chain of events could be nothing but a combination of coincidences, and, when I analyzed the situation, I framed what I considered a good theory regarding Petrak's presence outside my door. It occurred to me that Meeker was the author of the false message, and that he was really on his way to visit me to learn if I had discovered the falsity of it when he met me rushing down the stairs. But he had sent Petrak ahead of him to listen at the door in case I telephoned the company to verify the first message; Petrak had heard me ask the company for the sailing time and was about to report to Meeker when I opened the door upon him.

Meeker was probably at the foot of the stairs and covered the retreat of his henchman. Petrak may not have been able to stop and report what he had heard, so Meeker fished for the information from me, ready to confirm the report that the sailing of the vessel was delayed, or pretend that he was about to se

t me right.

Upon my admission that I knew the report was false, he grasped at the latter alternative, and, seeing that it was impossible to prevent me going in the Kut Sang, determined to make friends with me and disarm whatever suspicions I might have regarding him. It seemed a tenable theory, but I could not account for all this bother on his part because James Augustus Trenholm, of the Amalgamated Press, took passage in the Kut Sang.

It seemed absurd to me that Meeker or anybody else would be concerned because I was leaving Manila for Hong-Kong. It was plain enough that he, or somebody, had done their best to keep me from sailing in the Kut Sang. That it was the Rev. Luther Meeker there could be little doubt, but the mystery lay in what his motives could be, or who he was acting for, and it was beyond me to say why there should be any objection to my sailing in the steamer Kut Sang that afternoon.

While I was thinking these things over he was keeping up a running conversation about trivial matters, and we were well into the curried lamb and getting along famously when he asked a question which put me on my guard at once, and set me groping mentally for a solution of the puzzle.

"Did you deliver your letter?" he asked, casually, but I saw in an instant that he had been paving the conversational way all along for that very question.

"What letter?" I asked, although I knew the one he meant.

He looked at me craftily, with what I took for a bit of surprise that I did not know the letter he referred to, or that he expected me to deceive him.

"Perhaps I shouldn't mention it, for it may recall our little unpleasantness this morning," he sent back. "Perhaps it was my fault, my dear sir, in speaking to you when I picked it up, and I certainly want to assure you that I was not put out by your disinclination to begin an acquaintance with a stranger."

"Haven't the slightest idea of what you are talking about," I said lightly, and professing ignorance in my puzzled expression.

"The letter you dropped in the bus." He fairly hurled the sentence at me, although his voice was low and he was pretending to have trouble with the saltcellar.

"Oh! To be sure, the letter I dropped in the bus, and which you so kindly picked up for me. I have an idea that I was rather gruff at the time, and not at all inclined to appreciate the service you performed. I might have lost it entirely but for you, so I'll thank you now, with an apology."

"Don't mention it-don't mention it, I assure you. I trust you delivered it safely."

He had given me the key to the mystery. The letter for the Russian consul was the cause of Meeker's attentions to me! And, instead of being a newspaper correspondent, to Meeker I was a Russian agent, probably a spy! It was all I could do to restrain myself from laughing in his face.

"Delivered it safely," I repeated inanely. "It was only an errand for a friend of mine, and I left it at the-"

He waited for me to finish the sentence. He forgot himself and failed to conceal his assumed nonchalance regarding the letter, for, as I cut off what I was saying, he held his fork poised over his lamb, so intent was he on learning where I had delivered the letter for the Russian consul.

I seized a glass of water and struggled with an imaginary obstruction in my throat, and mentally cursing my stupidity in telling my friend's private business to a stranger who had already betrayed an inordinate interest in the letter.

"Where did you leave it?" purred Meeker.

"At the post-office," I finished, amazed at his boldness in pursuing the destination of the letter, and having no qualms of conscience about telling him a falsehood. I did not regard it as any of his affair where I had delivered the letter, and did not intend to inform him I had left the bulky envelope at the Hong-Kong-Shanghai Bank.

The image of the bank-front which crossed my mind gave me another clue to Meeker's solicitude about me and the letter. I remembered seeing a sign over the teller's window, which stated that the bank was a branch of a Russian financial house. What could be more natural for a Russian spy than to cash his drafts in a place which dealt with Vladivostok and Port Arthur, or even St. Petersburg and Moscow?

And, if he took me for a spy in the Russian service, it followed that he must be watching me for the Japanese, and it was probable that the cable-agent in Saigon was in the service of the Czar and found it convenient to deliver an important document with my assistance.

At that time Manila was the headquarters for blockade-runners bound for Port Arthur, and Russian and Japanese spies, from coolies to bankers, were watching every ship and every stranger. So it was not strange that I, coming from French Indo-China, with a dispatch for the Russian consul, should be mistaken for a spy by Meeker the instant he read the address on the envelope and saw the wax seals.

I had a mind to tell the old fellow the joke on him, but that would require explaining where the letter to the consul came from, which would hardly be playing fair with my friend in Saigon. If he knew the truth he might abandon his trip to Hong-Kong in the Kut Sang, and I would be rid of him, for I knew he was going with me in the steamer for the purpose of attempting to learn what my business would be in the British port.

If I was to remain in Manila I would have disillusioned him, and so put a stop to his trailing me about, but, as I was leaving in a few hours, I anticipated but little more trouble from him or the redheaded man. Besides, I saw an opportunity to make game of him by telling him his mistake after we were well to sea and leading him on a fool's voyage.

"I am sure that we will have a pleasant passage in the Kut Sang," he said. "I am something of a literary man myself, Mr. Trenholm-an exhaustive life of the saints, a shilling in paper covers, four shillings in cloth, with gilt title and frontispiece of me. It is recommended by the Bishop of Salisbury, and in its class quite a standard work.

"Then I did some poems, chiefly on sacred subjects. Not much as poetry, perhaps, judged by severe standards, but I am told they are regarded as marvels of piety and sweetness. I may have a copy in my luggage, which I will show you after we are settled aboard the steamer."

I let him ramble on like that, turning over in my mind the while all the schemes I intended to put into play to convince him I was really a spy, and when a boy brought a paper I fell upon the war news.

"Another Russian defeat," I half moaned, and made out that I was dreadfully upset because the Japanese were winning battles.

He said he deplored war, and had a prejudice against the Japanese, and hoped they would lose, and praised the Russians as brave and pious. When I expressed satisfaction at his views in order to prove my character as a Russian agent, we might have been mistaken by an observer for a couple of old friends.

He wearied me, however, with his chatter and efforts to make himself agreeable, and after the meal I escaped from him on the plea of business which must be attended to before the steamer sailed.

Leaving the walled city, I crossed the Bridge of Spain to the Escolta and took a stroll in Calle Rosario, where the Chinese merchants keep themselves in grateful shade with miles of awning. After an hour of sight-seeing, I found myself in a square near the San Miguel Bridge.

There was a crowd gathered before a building, which I remember on account of the picture of a frigate painted upon the stucco wall and the great red letters spelling out:


There had evidently been a fight; and coolies and natives, and Europeans in white, clustered at the door. I joined the knot of people and pressed forward to see what was holding their attention, and saw the body of a big, foreign-looking man, half inside the door and half on the pavement, with his head outside.

His mouth was open, and from his upper lips drooped long, black moustaches, looking all the blacker for the ghastly pallor of his cheeks. He had been stabbed in the back, and the spectators in the front of the group edged away to avoid the growing pool of blood on the sidewalk.

"Does anybody know who he is?" demanded a khaki-clad policeman, taking out a note-book.

"A sailor," said an American in a white apron, who leaned out of the door. "Drank whiskey and vermouth and talked like a squarehead."

"Greek he was," said a man with the appearance of a mariner.

"Here's his cap in here," said the bartender, and he turned and picked up a watch-cap, and held it so we could see letters wrought in it with gilt cord, and I made out "Kut Sang," which excited my interest in the case.

"Boatswain he was in the Kut Sang, bound out to-day for Hong-Kong," said the mariner.

"Jolly long road to Hong-Kong for him now," said another.

"Who cut him?" demanded the policeman. "Didn't you see how this happened?

Are you all deaf and dumb? You, there in the apron! Who did this?"

"You can search me," said the bartender. "He had a couple of drinks and was going out when somebody slipped a knife in him. I was at the other end of the bar-never saw a thing until this one here lets out a yell and goes down. Somebody cut and run through the door."

"I see him! I see him!" cried a boy in kilts who had a hoop, and we all turned, expecting the murderer to be pointed out to us; but the boy meant that he had seen the man running away and all that he knew was that he had worn a "funny hat," and he could tell nothing else.

"A little chap it was," volunteered a cockney.

"What's that?" asked the policeman. "Speak up-nobody here going to bite you, my man! Did you see him? What did he look like?"

"I didn't see him do no cuttin', if that's what you mean, officer. I didn't see no knife-play, and ye couldn't hang a man on what I see, and-"

"What did you see?" said the policeman, with a show of asperity. "Never mind what we can do with it. What did you see?"

"Small chap, in a white navy-cap, and 'air red as the sun in the Gulf of


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