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The Devil's Admiral By Frederick Ferdinand Moore Characters: 17468

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Perhaps I should have told the policeman about Petrak, when I heard the cockney say he had seen a red-headed little man in a white navy-cap running away from the Flagship Bar. But, if I had, I might have been held as a witness and nothing come of it, for it developed that the cockney knew nothing about the murder-as he said he had simply seen the little man running away from the scene.

I had other business beside aiding the police to find the murderer of a sailor, and that business was to get to Hong-Kong as quickly as I could in the Kut Sang. Even then it was time that I hasten to the dock and board the steamer. I hailed a cochero and, leaving the Manila police to settle their own mysteries, got my baggage from the Oriente and rode through Binondo toward the waterfront.

Now it occurs to me that I must set down in their order the events of that day in their proper sequence, which compels me to tell of my meeting with Mr. Trego in the Hong-Kong-Shanghai Bank.

It was not until the whole affair was ended that the significance of that apparently casual meeting in the bank came upon me with its full force, and I saw the pattern of what was to become a tangled succession of the most queer happenings.

There were papers at the bank which I must take with me, and on the way to the docks I stopped there. As I went in there was a sallow-faced man standing outside a grated window talking with a teller. He was smoking a long Russian cigarette, and pulling with nervous fingers at a tiny black moustache. His malacca cane was leaning against the wall by his side. I recognized him as the man who had driven the Rev. Luther Meeker out of the rear room of the bank, when the latter went in to seek alms, as he said.

He stood aside as I approached the teller's window, and the clerk handed out the papers to me, with a smile and some trifling remark.

"When are you leaving, Mr. Trenholm?" asked the clerk.

"In an hour in the Kut Sang," I said, and the man with the cigarette turned round and surveyed me with mild surprise. As I stepped to the door he went up to the window and whispered something to the clerk.

"Mr. Trenholm! Just one minute, please, Mr. Trenholm!"

The clerk called me and I halted, thinking that he had forgotten something about my letter of credit, or wanted my signature again.

"I want you to meet Mr. Trego," said the teller. "He will be with you in the Kut Sang."

I bowed, and Mr. Trego bowed, but his eyes were appraising me as he looked at me, although outwardly he had the excessive politeness of a Latin.

"I am very glad to meet you," he said without the trace of an accent, although in that mechanical manner which makes the words sound as if they had been read many times out of a grammar or phrase-book. I took him for a Frenchman.

"I must be going now, but I hope to meet you on board," I said, and we bowed again and I left him.

"He's all right," I heard the teller say as I went out, and understood that the bank-clerk had assured Trego that my character was good enough for him to be friendly with me on the passage to Hong-Kong.

As we swung out of Calle San Fernando I saw the Kut Sang tied up at the embankment of the Pasig River, with the Blue Peter at her foremast and heavy black smoke pouring from her funnel. She had the aspect of a vessel getting ready for sea, and the last of her cargo was being put into her hold.

It was then that I was attracted to a knot of natives and sailors clustered about an organ, in front of the decrepit building which I knew for the Sailors' Home, roaring out the chorus of "Rock of Ages" as though it were a chantey. There could be no mistaking the figure seated at the wheezy little organ-the Rev. Luther Meeker, with his battered helmet on the back of his head and his goggles turned skyward as he wailed in a high-piped tenor the words of the old hymn.

He was too busy to see me and was making hard going of the tune, for the assorted voices which followed his lead held to various keys. He may have seen me from behind his goggles, but, if he did, he gave no sign, and I urged the driver to whip up the horse and pass the group at a good clip. I had no desire to be annoyed by the old impostor, and was afraid that he might have some new pretext to keep me from going in the Kut Sang.

We were well clear of the congregation when I was startled to see Petrak emerge from the pack of staring natives about the organ, and run after my carriage.

"Take your luggage aboard for a peseta, sir!" he cried, grasping the side of the vehicle and keeping pace with it.

I confess that I suspected some game, and that Meeker had waylaid me. It looked like a bold move to block me at the last minute, and I was rather amused at the idea of watching their game and seeing what might be the tactics.

The little fellow had changed his appearance a trifle. His red head was covered now with a black cloth cap, making him look more like a stoker than a seaman. His ratlike visage was covered with a coppery stubble, but its colour was not apparent at first glance, for his face was smeared with coal-dust and grease.

"I'm nigh dead for a drink," he whined. "Let me take your luggage aboard, sir-just a peseta, sir. I've had jungle fever and was shipwrecked-in the H.B. Leeds it was that went down in a typhoon. I can't get a ship out of this blasted place. I'm an honest sailor if some hard on the drink-just a peseta, sir, and I'll put your dunnage down in your cabin slick as a whistle."

"I have a mind to turn you over to the police," I told him, expecting him to take alarm and run away, for I was not so sure he had not had a hand in the murder of the sailor in the Flagship Bar.

The cochero had pulled up his horse on the mole in the thick of the scattered cargo, and Petrak still clung to the stanchion supporting the canvas-top of the carriage.

"And for why?" he demanded with a touch of arrogance, giving me a shrewd look. "What have I been doin' of, sir?"

"That little cutting in the Flagship Bar."

"The squarehead? Not me, sir. The bobbies got that chap right enough-one of his mates out of this wessel right alongside what you're goin' aboard of. Just a peseta, sir, and I'll handle your luggage."

"They have got the fellow who stabbed the man in the Flagship Bar?"

"Slick as a whistle, some two hours back. One of his mates, he was, that did the cuttin'-lampman out of this wessel. Take your luggage."

"Take it along, then, and see that you don't drop it," I told him, convinced that the little villain could have had no hand in the murder, even if he had been on the scene.

He shouldered my bag and went up the gangway and I followed him closely. I looked in at the door of the saloon where I saw the old captain seated at the table, with a litter of papers about him, arguing with a tall rawboned New Englander, whom I knew to be the mate. He was complaining about something.

"I say we ain't goin' to git out to-night, Cap'n Riggs," he said. "The bo'sun has went and got hisself stabbed and four of the white hands are missin', and we ain't got nobody to work ship but the chinks."

"We've got to have a crew, Mr. Harris, and that's all there is to it," said Captain Riggs. "You say the Greek got cut?"

"Dead as a door-nail, cap'n. Went out for lamp-wicks and got hisself slit open in a gin-mill, the fool! We're turrible short-handed, cap'n."

"Who cut him?"

"Hanged if I know. The police say the lampman, but the lampman didn't leave the ship until after the bo'sun was done for, near as I can make it out. But the police have the lampman locked up for it, and I'm too busy to bother my head. First we know they'll want all the crew for witnesses. There's some monkey-business goin' on, too."

"Now, what do you mean?" demanded the captain, losing patience.

"Just what I'm sayin' of-thar's a furriner sittin' on the dock watchin' everything that goes over the side. Looks like a Rooshan Finn to me. What sort of a charter we got, cap'n? This ain't no blockade-runnin' game, is it? You got orders for Port Arthur? If you have, I'm out-I don't want no Japs blowin' me up unless I'm paid for it."

"Mr. Harris, you are talking nonsense. We are chartered for Hong-Kong. My orders are to get to sea to-night, no matter how I do it, and you ought to be able to scrape up a crew at the Sailors' Home for the asking. We'll manage all right with the chinks on deck, if we can get some good helmsmen. You can't expect to get out with a battleship crew this trip. Get the cargo in her and send the Dutchman ashore for men who can take the wheel."

The mate went out, and I stepped into the saloon and presented my ticket to the captain. I was rathe

r surprised to find such an old man in command, for he was gray and stooped, but he surveyed me over his glasses with kindly eyes, although I knew he was being harassed with difficulties in getting routine established on board the Kut Sang, for she had been in dry-dock and everything seemed topsyturvy.

"Glad to meet ye, Mr. Trenholm," he said. "I'm up to my scuppers with business. Maybe we'll sail to-night and maybe we won't, but your room is No. 22, starboard side, well aft, all to yourself. Two more passengers to come yet, according to the list. Didn't know I was to have passengers this trip, so I can't tell what the accommodation will be, but we'll try and make things homelike if they ain't like a liner. You got a valley?" He pointed to Petrak, who stood behind me with my baggage on his shoulder.

"Hardly that," I laughed. "He says he's a sailor with a Manila thirst in his throat and no job."

Petrak swung his burden to the deck and squared his shoulders, making a gesture, which he intended as a salute to the captain.

"Petrak's my name, sir," he said, addressing Captain Riggs. "I've been bo'sun, sir, discharged out of the Southern Cross when she was sold in Singapore, and shipped out in the H.B. Leeds that went down in a typhoon. Junk picked us up, sir, what was left of us, and I lost all my discharges and can't get a ship out of here. I'm smart, sir, and strong, if I do look small. It's because I ain't had no wictuals to speak of, sir."

"Ever handle steam-wheel?"

"Aye, sir. One trip out of Cardiff to Delaware Breakwater in the Skipton Castle. Stood wheel-"

"See the mate," said Captain Riggs, and Petrak went out, deserting my baggage.

A black boy in a scarlet sarong took my bag away to my stateroom, but I went up to the hurricane-deck, where I found a grass-chair under an awning and sat down to enjoy a cigar.

Just above where the Kut Sang lay was the Bridge of Spain, presenting a moving panorama of the many races that mingle in the Philippine capital. The river itself was alive with cascoes being poled about by half-naked natives, the families of the crews doing the cooking and primitive housekeeping on the half-decks, while the family fighting-cocks strutted on the roofs of the boats and crowed defiance to each other.

On the opposite side of the river was the walled city and the moss-grown walls of Fort Santiago, and on both banks were steamers and river-craft, making a colourful and noisy scene.

The Rev. Luther Meeker was preaching to the group before the Sailors' Home, and I watched him until he closed the service and started toward the dock, two men carrying his little street-organ behind him.

Mr. Harris, the mate, was doing the final work of getting the steamer ready to sail, and was preparing to cast off the lines, when a dray, loaded with boxes, pulled up alongside the vessel.

"What ye got there?" demanded Harris. "That ain't for this packet-git out the way thar!"

Just then a man in white darted out of the office of the harbour-police station, and, holding up his hand, cried to Harris:

"One minute-one minute!"

"One minute yer grandmother!" retorted Harris angrily. "Who be you to hold up this ship! Vamose!" he roared to the driver of the dray.

The man in white ran up the gangplank with a paper in one hand and a malacca cane in the other, and I recognized him as Mr. Trego, the man to whom I had been introduced in the bank. He met Harris at the foot of the ladder to the hurricane-deck, and they were right below me, so I could not avoid hearing what took place between them.

"Call the captain, Mr. Mate," said Trego hurriedly, and, with his voice lowered, "Here are my papers-get those boxes off the wagon, eef you please. I am supercargo for the owners. I hold the charter for these sheep. Queeck-on deck with those boxes of the machinery."

"Oh, cap'n!" called Harris, after he had taken a quick glance at the paper which Trego thrust before him, and Captain Riggs came out of the saloon.

"What's up now?" he demanded. "What's this?"

Harris waved his hand toward the paper, and Trego put it before Captain


"Read it," said Trego. "Here are your orders from the company." He leaned against his cane and twirled his moustache, while Captain Riggs adjusted his glasses and scanned the papers.

"Get that stuff aboard, lively," said Captain Riggs to Harris, and the mate gave orders to have the slings thrown outboard.

"Where do they go?" asked Harris.

Captain Riggs looked at Trego inquiringly.

"In the storeroom below-right under the feet of me," said Trego, stamping his foot.

"Cargo in the storeroom," said Captain Riggs in surprise.

"Eet ees for you to obey," snapped Trego excitedly. "You will please to see from my papers that I am the commander of all. Read eet again eef you do not know!" And he shook his malacca cane in the air.

"Get that cargo aboard and stow as this gentleman-Mr.-what is it, Trego?-as Mr. Trego says. Move navy-style! Keep clear of the side there, you! Can't you see we've got cargo coming over there!"

"My dear sirs, I beg your pardon," said a familiar voice, and I stepped to the rail and looked over to see the Rev. Luther Meeker standing at the edge of the embankment, within a few feet of where Trego, Riggs, and Harris stood.

"Get out the way!" bawled Riggs to him.

"No offence, I hope," said the missionary, "but is this the steamer Kut Sang?"

"It is," said Riggs, and turned his attention to Harris and Trego, who were giving orders to the Chinese at the winch.

"Then all is well," said Meeker, and he turned away toward the gangplank, where the two men were standing with his organ between them, awaiting his orders.

"Go right on board with it, my good men," he said to them. "This is my ship, sure enough," and he preceded them up the gang.

Captain Riggs came up the ladder from the foredeck in time to see the men bringing the organ aboard, although Meeker was out of his sight by the time the captain reached a position where he had a view of the gang.

"Here. Where are you chaps going?" he shouted to the porters.

They stopped and looked up at him.

"Gear for a passenger," said the taller of the two.

"What passenger?" demanded Riggs, in surprise.

"A parson," said the spokesman, and as he said it Meeker himself came up the after-ladder.

"Ah, the captain," he said. "I am the Rev. Luther Meeker," he explained, presenting his ticket. "I am going to Hong-Kong, and, if I am not mistaken, this is the good ship Kut Sang"

"That your baggage? All right, you men-come aboard and look sharp."

"That is my hymnal organ," said Meeker, looking over the side. "Come right along with it, my good men, but leave it below. How do you do, my dear Mr. Trenholm? Captain, those two men are sailors who are looking for a ship, if-"

"I'll meet you below in a minute in the saloon," said Captain Riggs, handing back the ticket. "Mind that you stay aboard, because we sail at once, sir."

Meeker bowed to me again, and hurried aft, twirling his shell crucifix between his fingers in a nervous manner.

"Hang a parson, anyway," growled Riggs, grinning at me. "They always make a fuss-like as not he'll sing his way to Hong-Kong, with that old melodeon of his. Oh, Mr. Harris! There are two men below with a parson who say they are sailors. Have the Dutchman sign them on if they are able hands."

He went down the ladder again to the fore-deck, and I went down to my stateroom to see that my baggage was safe.

"Smart job, my man; smart job!" I heard the Rev. Luther Meeker saying as

I stepped into the passage.

He was in the stateroom next to mine, but the door was open.

"Who's that?" asked somebody cautiously. Then, in a louder tone: "We got your dunnage stowed all snug, sir."

I stepped into my room, and, after a minute's whispered consultation, I heard some one step into the passageway and run forward. Looking out I saw the little red-headed man scurrying away.

"Single her up!" called Captain Riggs from the bridge, and I knew we were letting go of Manila as the winches drew in the mooring-lines, and the whistle blew a farewell blast.

The nose of the Kut Sang fell away from the embankment and into the current of the Pasig, which swung her toward Manila Bay and the China Sea.

I could hear Meeker humming a tune and arranging his baggage. I stood for an instant and pondered over the situation, not sure that I would not be wiser to remain in Manila rather than sail in the Kut Sang. I shivered as I sensed danger about me, as one feels the presence of an intruder in the dark that cannot be seen.

Then I laughed at myself, and opened my bag for my pistols.

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