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   Chapter 6 THE RED-HEADED MAN MAKES AN ACCUSATION

The Devil's Admiral By Frederick Ferdinand Moore Characters: 14792

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"That's all very pious and according to Hoyle," said Captain Riggs, breaking into wrath as Meeker finished his prayer over the body of Trego. "But I'd have you know, sir, that the Kut Sang is no bally chapel, and I don't take murder aboard me as a regular custom, and let it go at that. Somebody will have to answer for this at the end of a rope, or my name's not Riggs. Hereafter when there's praying to be done I'll order it."

"I was merely speeding a departing soul," said Meeker.

"That's all very well, Mr. Meeker, but I've got to see what this is all about, and why-Mr. Trego is supercargo in charge of the ship and-"

Riggs stopped suddenly when he realized that he had told us the secret which Trego wished kept from us.

"Well, I've got trouble enough," he said, confused at what had happened.

"Nothing irregular, I trust," said Meeker, raising his eyebrows in mild surprise and observing me cautiously.

"Too blasted irregular to suit me," said Riggs. "Gentlemen, I may as well tell you that this man is down on the passenger-list as a passenger like yourselves, but at the last minute before we sailed he showed papers as supercargo and announced that he was in charge of the ship, and that he represented the charter party. The truth of his statements was borne out by a messenger from the owners. He told me that he would explain it all as soon as we got to sea, and now he has been killed. Is it any wonder I am upset about it?"

"It is passing strange," said Meeker. "Will you have to turn back to

Manila on account of this?"

"My last orders to proceed to Hong-Kong at the best speed still stand. The Dutchman, Rajah-the Dutchman," and he made a sign to the Malay boy to call the second mate.

The three of us gathered at the end of the table and steadied ourselves in the minute we waited for the Dutchman, who soon came clumping down the passage. He nearly stumbled over the body lying just outside the coaming of the door, and then stopped and stared at the dead man.

"Gott!" he said, and then looked at Riggs questioningly.

"Take the bridge and have Mr. Harris muster the crew-all hands, and look sharp," said Riggs. "Have every man Jack of 'em up here, and let us see what they have been about. Have Mr. Harris muster the crew! Hear me? Don't stand there like a barn-owl! Relieve Mr. Harris, and have all hands aft!"

He hurried away, and that was the last I ever saw of the second mate of the Kut Sang. Rajah and a Chinese sailor spread old canvas close to the door inside the saloon, and lifted Trego's body on it.

Harris came up the passage and leaned against the door. He had on an old pair of dungaree trousers and a jacket that had been white, and his bare feet were thrust into native heelless slippers.

"This is a nice mess, ain't it?" he growled, looking coldly at the scene before him. "Who let the knife into him?"

"That's what we want to find out at once," said Riggs. "Have all hands up here, the watch below and all. Muster them in the passageway, and let them in here one at a time, the white hands first. We've got to get at the bottom of this affair right away, Mr. Harris."

"Like as not somebody'll know the knife, cap'n," suggested the mate.

"That's it, Mr. Harris. Bring 'em up here with a sharp turn and no laying back, and you be here so I can find out what every man has been at in the last quarter of an hour-you know what this means."

We sat down at the table, Riggs at the end in a pivot-chair swung toward the door of the passage. He took off his glasses and wiped them in an officious manner, and sent Rajah for a pad of paper and a pencil.

"Then this poor Mr. Trego was not a passenger," said Meeker, leaning his elbows on the table and scanning Riggs closely.

"Gentlemen," began the captain, clearing his throat and adjusting his silver-rimmed spectacles again, "I am going to hold an inquiry now, and, as witnesses to what takes place, I think you should know the facts in the case, as far as I know them.

"There is something about this business that has carried by with me.

Never had anything like this happen aboard me in the thirty years that

I've had a command. First time since I've had a master's ticket that I

haven't had the full confidence of the owners.

"This man Trego was very mysterious, and why he wanted to sail as a passenger when he was supercargo, and keep it from you, gentlemen, is past me. Perhaps I should not have said anything about this end of it until I have examined his papers, but as witnesses I want you to know the facts as they lay."

"A most mysterious affair-most mysterious," agreed Meeker, shaking his head and fingering his shell crucifix. "What are the details of the man's coming aboard, captain? I am not quite clear on that point."

"He was down as a passenger, just as you gentlemen are. I never saw him before until Mr. Harris called me forward before the lines were cast off. He told me that this man wanted to take charge of lading the last of the cargo-cargo that was manifested as machinery. His papers were right, and the messenger from the owners made it all as he said.

"It is not for me to question the acts of the owners, but I should have been advised of the circumstances. However, Mr. Trego was going to explain. It may be all right and nothing out of the ordinary, but now that this has happened I'm all back, and I'm left to guess what it all means if I can."

"What was the cargo?" asked Meeker.

"Machinery, so far as the manifest says. Several cases-By George! He had it stowed in the storeroom-"

He was interrupted by Harris bawling in the passage, and the Chinese stokers swarming up the fire-room ladder, chattering and yelling to their mates below. The news of the murder had spread through the ship and had created a great turmoil.

The mate thrust a man into the doorway, whom I recognized as one of the men who had brought Meeker's organ on board.

"Here's one of the new men, sir," said Harris, "Says he has been for'ard since going off watch. He's next at the wheel, sir."

"Now, then," began Riggs, with pencil poised, "what's your name in the ship's articles?"

"Buckrow, sir," said the sailor, staring at a lamp, and avoiding the figure of Trego almost at his feet.

I observed him closely, and was not pleased with his appearance. His large mouth carried a leering, insolent expression and his nose was broken, hanging a trifle to one side. He was short, with great hulking shoulders. His black shirt was open at the neck, and he wore blue navy trousers with the familiar wide bottoms. His brown forearms were covered with tattoo-marks.

"Tell all you may know which could throw any possible light on this dreadful affair, that the guilty may be brought to justice and the dead avenged," said Meeker.

"Steady as she goes!" warned Captain Riggs. turning in his chair and holding up his hand. "I'll ask the questions, if you please, Mr. Meeker. Now, then, my man, where have you been in the last hour?"

"For'ard, turned in, sir," replied Buckrow, keeping his eyes on the flame of the lamp.

"See this dead man here?"

"Aye, sir."

"No, you don't-look at him! Did you have a hand in this?"

"No, sir." He took a quick glance at the dead man and fastened his eyes on the lamp again.

"Know who killed him?"

"No, sir."

"That's all for now."

Harris led for

ward the tall cockney I had seen at the wheel. He said his name was Crannish, and he spelled it for the captain, who examined the crew list to verify him. He said that he was known as "Long Jim" by his mates. He did not seem to take the murder as a serious matter, but answered Captain Riggs's questions calmly, his eyes roving over the interior of the saloon, taking us all in very coolly.

There was a gleam of amusement in his eyes as he looked at Meeker, as if he thought it a joke that the missionary should be sitting on an inquiry board. Meeker returned his gaze in a disinterested manner, swaying in his chair with the motion of the ship, and fumbling his shell crucifix, as if it was a talisman to guard him against danger.

Crannish was dismissed, and the next was Petrak. He impudently winked at me as he stepped into the light, and hitched up his trousers in a nonchalant manner that was amusing. He had his shoes in his hand, and he had evidently dressed in a hurry to obey the summons of the mate.

"Petrak's my name, sir, and they make a joke on my head by making me out

'Dago Red,' sir. Been bos'n in-"

"He was relieved at eight bells, sir; has the wheel in the Dutchman's watch," explained Harris.

"Where did you go then?" demanded the captain.

"Turned right in, sir, after a bit of a wash."

"Where were you at one bell?" put in Harris, giving the captain a significant look.

"For'ard in my bunk, sir."

"You lie," drawled Harris coldly. "Ye passed the galley ports a minute or so after one bell was struck. I saw ye."

"Not me, sir; never anything like that, sir, beggin' ye're pardon."

"Yes, ye did, and don't ye lie to me," retorted Harris. "Ye didn't go right for'ard when ye come off watch. I heard ye yarnin' with Buckrow, or what's his name, just after ye passed the galley. Yer phiz showed plain to me as Cape Cod Light on a clear night."

"Where's your knife?" said Riggs suddenly, leaning forward and peering at his belt.

"Left it in my bunk, sir. Top one, first to port as ye go down-right at the head it is, sir, in some straw."

"Send a man for it, Mr. Harris. Is it in the sheath, you Petrak?"

"Can't say, sir," said Petrak, looking about nervously, and feeling at his belt.

"Can't say! Can't say! You can't say because that's yer knife right there under yer eyes! That's yer knife and you killed this man!"

"Tell the truth, my good man," interjected Meeker, holding up his hands.

"Tell the truth and-"

"Belay!" yelled Riggs. "You speak when ye're spoken to, Mr. Meeker, if you please!"

"No offence intended-purely involuntary on my part. I beg your pardon, my dear sir."

"That's your knife and you killed him," repeated Riggs to Petrak.

"Never killed him, sir, and nobody else, strike me blind if I did, and that's the truth, sir," said Petrak doggedly, but in spite of his brave showing there was a whimper in his voice and his knees trembled. "Did you have an accomplice?" asked Meeker, and I thought I saw some sort of a signal pass between them.

Buckrow arrived from the forecastle with a leather sheath and a knife in it. He handed it to Harris.

"There's my knife!" yelled Petrak. "That's it, just as I said, and Bucky found it in my bunk where I said it was, strike me blind!"

Captain Riggs was nonplussed for a second at this, and he hesitated. Then he looked at Buckrow, who was trying to get past Harris into the passage again.

"Buckrow! Wait a minute, my man! Where's your knife?"

"My knife?" said Buckrow in amazement. "My knife?"

"Yes, the knife you had when you were here first. Where is it now? It ain't in your belt."

Buckrow reached to his hip, and consternation pulled his face into varying expressions as he found his sheath empty. But we knew his astonishment was simulated.

"Damme if it bain't gone! Some of them cussed chinks must 'ave a tooken it. It was-"

"That's all very well," said Riggs. "The redheaded one is our man."

"Where's that bleedin' knife?" said Buckrow, fumbling at his belt.

"Never mind that," put in Riggs. "That's your knife there in the red fellow's sheath, and this is settled until it is turned over to the judge. Put this man Petrak, or whatever his name is, in irons, Mr. Harris; and you, Buckrow, you know more than you'll tell. Mind what you're about or you'll be clapped in irons, too, along with your mate here. Have the body wrapped with some firebars, Mr. Harris, to be buried in the morning. That's all. Double irons, Mr. Harris."

"I never done for him, and that gent knows it," wailed Petrak, as Harris put his hand on his shoulder to take him away. To my amazement, Petrak pointed his finger at me.

"What's that?" said Riggs sharply.

"Tell all you know, my good man," said Meeker despite the caution Riggs had given him about interfering.

"The gent in the white suit knows all about it. I done for this chap, and the writin' chap, that I brought his bag aboard, paid me for it. Said he would, and gave me some of the money on deck to-day. You saw him, cap'n-you saw him hand-in' me the silver, sir. He's in it, too, and-"

"Why, my dear Mr. Trenholm!" exclaimed Meeker, getting to his feet, aghast at the accusation of the little red-headed man. "My dear sir, I could hardly believe such a thing of you! And we dined with you-"

"Here, you hold up," shouted Riggs. "What does this mean, Mr. Trenholm? I remember now that I did see this man taking money from you and I told you not to be tipping the crew. What have you to say?"

"He was to give me ten pound-"

"Shut up!" roared Harris to Petrak.

"What have I to say?" I gasped, astounded at the turn of affairs and hardly able to believe what I heard from Petrak. "I know nothing about it! The man must be crazy!"

"I am not so sure of that," retorted Riggs. "I must confess, Mr.

Trenholm, that I was somewhat surprised to find that you carried two

pistols, and you must admit that you brought this man on board with you.

You seem to know him."

"Know him! The little rat has been following me about Manila all day! I thought I was to be rid of him until you took him as a member of the crew-"

"Ten pound I was to get for a killin' of that chap there," shrieked

Petrak. "That's what he was passing me the silver for this day, sir.

They'll hang me now-they'll hang me!"

"It looks very awkward for you, Mr. Trenholm," said Meeker, sadly.

I was about to denounce the missionary and tell him how I had seen him and Petrak together much in Manila, but I was so angry for a minute that I thought it better to hold myself in check for the time.

I stood before them for a few seconds, wondering what I should do, and then my rage got possession of me, and I reached for a pistol, intending to hold Meeker under the muzzle of it and make him confess his true character and admit that Petrak was his friend rather than mine.

As I threw my hand back, my wrist was seized and I turned to see Rajah behind me, holding my arm in a firm grip. He menaced me with his kris and grinned calmly.

"My dear Mr. Trenholm," said Meeker, smiling blandly. "One crime should serve your purpose for this evening, it seems to me."

Captain Riggs stepped up and relieved me of my pistols, and I knew that I had made a fool of myself by attempting to draw the weapon.

"I am very sorry about this, Mr. Trenholm," said the captain.

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