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   Chapter 7 I TURN SPY MYSELF

The Devil's Admiral By Frederick Ferdinand Moore Characters: 22256

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Meeker stood with folded arms and grinned at me as he saw my pistols taken by the captain; and for the first time since I had seen him he dropped his sanctimonious pose and looked anything but the decrepit old missionary which he had always seemed. His shoulders were squared and his head thrown back, and there was mockery in his eyes.

But it was not so much his insolent and triumphant look which took my attention as the manner in which he stood upon the heaving deck of the saloon; his knees had that limp sea-bend of the sailor and his out-turned toes seemed to grasp the uncertain rise and fall of the carpet beneath his feet; he was a mariner now, not a preacher, for no landsman could hold himself so easily in a vessel which pitched and rolled in the long swells of the China Sea.

I looked at him defiantly, and his eyes seemed to dare me to speak out and say the things which were in my mind. He seemed to understand that I was trying to frame a denunciation, for I was white to the lips with rage at him.

"You seemed determined to sail in the Kut Sang, Mr. Trenholm," he said: "So your insistence to be a passenger was to slay a fellow-man, was it? I am shocked beyond measure!"

"You hound!" I screamed. "You have played your cards well, you and your little red-headed scoundrel! If you think I am a spy you will find-"

"Tut, tut, Sally Ann!" said Captain Riggs. "We can't have any of that.

Hold your tongue, sir, or I'll have you in irons."

"If you'll give me ten minutes privately, captain, I'll tell you who this devil-"

"I'm a man of the cloth, and I will not countenance such language!" shrieked Meeker in an attempt to check me; but I could see that I had cut him deeply, for he whitened and stepped toward me with closed fist. "Don't you call me devil! You know nothing of me-tell it if you will-what do you know? Where did you get that name?"

"Gentlemen! Gentlemen!" said Riggs, still holding one of my pistols in his hand, and keeping an eye on the bulkhead door for the return of the mate.

"He's a Japanese spy," I said. "He's no missionary at all, but a spy, and the fool believes that I am in the Russian service. He tried to hold me in Manila, and when I would not listen to his lies he has taken this way to discredit me, probably have me hanged! It's all a plot-"

"That will do," commanded Riggs. "You have not been tried yet, Mr. Trenholm. You can tell all that to the judge. If you go on this way I will be compelled to make a prisoner of you. I am not taking that red chap's word for what he says about you, but if you go on like this I will have to put you in confinement. Otherwise, you will simply be restricted to your cabin until we reach Hong-Kong. I will have to make sure that you have no more arms, and if you will promise to remain in your room, that will do until this matter is turned over to the courts, and then you may state your case."

"Are you not going to put this man where he can do no more harm?" asked Meeker. "You can see for yourself that my life will be in danger unless this man is made a prisoner. I protest against his being allowed his liberty-I have no desire to be found in my bed as poor Mr. Trego was found here a few minutes ago."

"You will be protected," said the captain. "Mr. Harris, is that you? Take Mr. Trenholm here to his room, and remove all his luggage and see that he has no more arms, even so much as a pocket-knife. Then lock him in his room."

"I protest against such treatment, Captain Riggs. If you will give me ten minutes so that I may tell my story I will willingly obey any order you may give, even to becoming a prisoner in my room; but I think that it will be better for you to know the facts about this case, and what I have learned about this Mr. Meeker in Manila."

"And what is it you have learned?" cried Meeker, advancing on me again in a menacing manner, and plainly surprised at what I had said.

"A few things about you and Petrak that Captain Riggs should know," I retorted.

"Mr. Harris, take Mr. Trenholm to his room," and the mate took me by the arm and led me down the passage. As I went out Meeker grinned after me and whispered something to Captain Riggs behind his hand.

Harris opened the door and thrust me before him into the dark stateroom and commanded me to light the gimbal-lamp, passing me a match. When I had the lamp lit he took a quick glance inside.

"That man Meeker is a spy," I began. "It was for him that Petrak killed Trego, and all day in Manila he and that little fellow were at my heels-"

"Stow that," said Harris. "Take what you need out of yer gear, and hand the rest of it out, and mind that thar's no gun-play about it. I'm well heeled, and if ye make a move I'll let daylight through yer innards. Look lively now."

I took a pair of pajamas and a few toilet-articles from my bag. He would not let me have my razors, or any of the packets of papers or my money belt. When he had taken my grip he demanded my clothes, and left me in my pajamas and locked the door, with a growl of caution about monkey-business.

"We hain't takin' no chances with gents like ye be," he said. "And mind that ye stick close here, 'cause we've got a watch outside, and the first time we ketch ye up to any didoes we'll have ye below with brass bracelets on with yer pal Petrak, where ye belong."

At this he slammed the heavy oak door and turned the key in the lock.

My first emotions were anger and the sense of humiliation. I was beaten, outwitted, captured by Meeker, and by my own stupidity. But I realized that the battle had but just begun, and my first task must be to attempt some defence, some counter move against the old fraud who had drawn his plot about me for his own mysterious object.

I berated myself for my conceit in imagining that I could play with such a dangerous man as Meeker proved himself to be, especially since I had seen through his disguise almost from the first. One of two things in Manila would have saved me from my position-either I should have told Meeker at once that he was mistaken in thinking me a spy and warned him to keep clear of me, or I should have told the police that I was being annoyed by a suspicious character. I had had grounds enough for making a complaint against Meeker and Petrak when I found the little red-headed man sneaking outside my door in the hotel, and the supposed missionary blocking my pursuit on the stairway.

Even if the police had given me no satisfaction, I could have warned Meeker that I would not submit to his espionage-a hundred ways of protecting myself from the fellow came into my mind as I sat there on my berth and reviewed what had taken place in Manila before I ever went on board the Kut Sang.

But that was all past, and it did me no good to go over the mistakes I had made. I was bitter at myself for allowing Petrak to bring my bag on board, for I had thus given him an opportunity to claim me as an ally in the murder.

The best that I could make of the whole affair was that Meeker took me for a spy, as I had suspected from the first, and in order to prevent me from going to Hong-Kong for some purpose opposed to the plans of his masters, had done his best to keep me out of the steamer.

Then, when he found that he could not block me in going, he did the next best thing and came with me. To further embarrass me and prevent me from accomplishing the object of my supposed mission in Hong-Kong, he had got me involved in a crime from which I knew I would have a great deal of difficulty in getting myself free, especially as Petrak seemed willing enough to testify against me even though he should hang for the murder.

It seemed beyond reason that they should kill Trego simply to have something of which I might be accused; it seemed to me that my own death would have been an easier way to get rid of me.

I began an analysis of every event which entered into the total of the mystery, seeking for some key which would aid me in assorting the tangled bits that only needed to be arranged properly to bet the solution, much as a jig-saw puzzle is worked out. If I had a proper beginning it would all be easy enough.

The killing of the boatswain in the Flagship Bar seemed significant, although I could not connect it with Meeker's plot against me, and I had to lay that episode aside until I saw it in its proper relation to the other parts.

Standing near the lamp, I wrote down on a scrap of paper each event in its proper order, from my first sight of Meeker that morning as I arrived at the mole from Saigon. When I had made a note of the delivery of the letter to the Russian consul at the bank, I found Trego and Meeker together-the spy disguised as a missionary seeking alms, and Trego driving him out of the room.

It was obvious enough to me that in delivering the letter I had walked into some sort of a plot of which I had no knowledge, for Meeker was not only spying upon me, but he was spying upon Trego or the bank.

The next time that Trego entered the list was when I was introduced to him in the bank, of little importance in itself, but worth a great deal when connected with the fact that Trego left Manila in the Kut Sang and in charge of the ship, to the amazement of even Captain Riggs.

"Trego killed." As I put that down it flashed upon me that he had been struck down before he had told Captain Riggs why he had papers as supercargo-and a few minutes after he had shown that he was suspicious of Meeker!

I was baffled and realized that it was a waste of effort to attempt to theorize about the snarled web in which I found myself enmeshed. One thing was apparent enough, and that was Meeker did his best to keep me out of the Kut Sang, as he said, and I reached the conclusion that it was not me so much as the steamer which concerned him when he sought to divert my path from the vessel. If I had taken his broad hints in Manila I would have cancelled my ticket and probably never seen him again.

There was little comfort in proving that my own blunder had led me into such a mess. I threw the pencil down and sat on the edge of the lower berth. My anger was giving way to alarm. I began to realize that perhaps being a prisoner was the safest for me while on the steamer, for if Meeker had brought about the death of Trego because the supercargo suspected him, why should he not attempt to kill me after what I had said about him to Captain Riggs?

I remembered that he had shown concern when I offered to tell Riggs about him-he was ready to strike me down on the spot, and his plea that I might attack him was made more for the purpose of having me put out of reach of the captain than for his own protection. I was still a passenger, even though confined to my room, and he knew that I might find an opportunity to tell my story to Riggs.

At least I was safe for the night, and I knew nothing could be done in the way of explaining things to Riggs before morning. I decided that I would ask for paper and write a brief account of Meeker and Petrak for him and let him judge for himself.

I ble

w out the lamp and opened the port, but hooked it so that the heavy brass-rimmed glass acted as a shield for me as I lay in the upper berth. I had no desire to have a pistol thrust through the port while I was asleep, and after what had happened I was ready to see danger in anything.

The steamer was well to sea, and there was a stiff breeze blowing, which made her pitch and roll heavily. Her beams and joints groaned every time she bucked into a sea, and the wash at her freeboard and the spray breaking on the deck outside made a great racket. Her old engines jolted and jarred and vibrated every inch of the Kut Sang, and I could hear the whir of the propeller as it lifted out of the water when her head plunged into a swell.

But although I tried to put everything out of my mind and get some sleep, my imagination conjured up possible situations for the next day conferences with Captain Riggs, fights with Meeker, a confession forced from Petrak that he had lied when he charged me with complicity in the murder.

I tumbled and tossed in my berth and counted a million sheep jumping a fence, worked at the multiplication table, and resorted to other devices to get into a doze, but every new creak, every groan of the straining timbers, kept me wide awake.

One of the most irritating noises was the grating of some object hanging on the bulkhead close to my head. I could not hear it when the vessel pitched, but when she took a long roll to starboard it rattled a second and then rasped along the board. Locating the sound in the dark, I groped along the planks to find the loose object, and my fingers came upon a small metal rod. I seized it and lifted it from a hook, and with the tips of my fingers found it to be a key!

Bounding out of my berth, I went to the door with it, certain that it was a spare key to the stateroom. Cautiously I tried it in the large, old-fashioned lock, and it turned back easily. I tried the knob, and the door swung inward.

I closed it again and debated for a minute what I should do, and, deciding that anything could not be worse than lying idle in a cell, made up my mind to venture out and call upon Captain Riggs if I could find him, or do a little spying on my own account to learn of any new development since I had been dismissed from the saloon and imprisoned.

I held the door open a few inches for several minutes and listened for some suspicious sound in the dark passageway. I remembered that Harris had said something about a guard at the door, but although I strained my eyes, in the darkness I could see no one. Each end of the passage was capped by a penumbra of dim light, for although the sky was overcast, the open air was not so dark as the intensified gloom of the passage.

My courage grew as I stood in the doorway, and I stepped out, closing the door silently and not locking it, but knotting the key in the string of my pajamas.

I listened for a minute at Meeker's door but heard nothing. His room was next to mine, but further aft, with one or more doors between his and where the passage gave on the open after-deck, Captain Rigg's room was on the same side, but away forward, under the end of the bridge, close to the open ladder which led down to the fore-deck.

In my bare feet I made no noise, and slowly made my way forward to see if there was a light in Captain Riggs's room. Before I had gone far I heard a murmur of voices, and then saw a sliver of light from the jamb of a door. There was a conversation going on in the captain's room, but I could not distinguish the voices. I went on to the forward end of the superstructure and discovered a port-hole in the captain's cabin partly open, and by going up three steps of the bridge-ladder I had a partial view of the room.

Captain Riggs was fully dressed, and sat at a shelf which dropped from the wall. He was sorting out papers, and Harris, the mate, was standing over him, talking.

"You must be mistaken, Mr. Harris," I heard the captain say.

"Make me third cook if I be!" exclaimed Harris, who seemed to be in an irritable mood. "I know what I'm talking about, cap'n! I run my thumbnail along the edges of it."

"Sally Ann's black cat, Mr. Harris!"

"All I ask ye to do, cap'n, is come down and have a look at it for yerself. That's what this is all about I'm tellin' ye! We got somethin' on our hands, I tell ye! We've got to do somethin' about it right away or we'll have more trouble. What if the crew smells a rat?"

"You got a little too excited about that murder, Mr. Harris. I'd know all about that. The owners wouldn't send me to sea with such as you say, and say nothing to me, nor the charter party, either. They'd use a liner and about forty men for anything like that. I'm crazy enough now, what with this murder and mess, without getting myself stirred up over anything like that. You better get some sleep. We'll find in the morning that you made a mistake."

"But I had a light on it!" insisted Harris. "It's thar, I tell ye, and I made sure. I don't come botherin' of ye with no cock-and-bull story like this unless I know. I held a bull's-eye light on it and it showed plain as Cape Cod Light. One of them chists got sprung, and I thought maybe I'd made a mistake when I put the light on it, but when I rubbed my thumbnail on it I knew I was right. I know the feel, I tell ye. Every cussed one of 'em is the same, too."

"I tell you, Mr. Harris, I've had tomfoolery enough for one night, and I ain't going down in the hold and dig around in cargo and get the crew suspicious. They are stirred up enough as it is with what's gone on to-night, and I guess that's what ails you."

"Cuss it all, Cap'n Riggs!" exclaimed Harris in exasperation. "Ye ought to know I don't get gallied for a little blood spilled. I slep' in a bunk all one night in the Martha Pillsbury with a man what didn't have any head and never turned a hair. Ye know that old barkentine whaler that Cap'n Peabody sold. Dang it all, cap'n, that is what this man Trego come aboard as he did-that's what he was here fer. It come down at the last minute and he bossed the job of gettin' it aboard.

"Wouldn't let a man touch it, but had his own chinks from shore-side get it aboard with slings from the davits, and watched 'em stow it in the storeroom. It ain't in the hold. When I come across the key to the room I made up my mind I'd have a look at it. Tinned milk! Marked tinned milk! I say tinned milk hell! I wash my hands o' the whole cussed mess if ye don't look at it and see for yerself.

"I don't want the responsibility, and we've got to take some precaution. That's what the killin' was for, and I'll bet a clipper-ship to a doughnut-hole that writin' chap Trenhum knows about it, and he ain't no writin' chap, neither. Thar has been bad business, and there'll be more from what's below, mark my words. Come below and look at it."

"You looked it over in good shape with a light," said Captain Riggs, evidently in doubt as to what he should do. "It ought to be on the manifest, you know, Mr. Harris."

"Cuss the manifest! It's down as machinery and marked tinned milk. What more ye want? They got things switched somehow, and that's plain as the nose on yer face. I had my thumb on it, I tell ye."

"Then, if that is true, it explains why Mr. Trego was so mysterious, and why he wanted to be a passenger to the others. That's what he was aboard for, right enough, and like as not he would have told me if he had been left alive long enough. It don't strike me reasonable that he'd keep anything like that from me-not with the way things are going these days. The master of the vessel ought to know in a case like that, and a scraped-up crew." Riggs began to button his coat.

"Of course that was what he was so close-jawed for, and that's why the owners was so close-jawed. Like as not they didn't know-charter was for cargo, and they didn't bother their head about that part of it. Some sort of a sneak game about it, of course, but we've got to mind our P's and Q's now.

"The owners nor the charter party can't help us none with it now, say I, and as master ye're got to do as ye see fit. All this monkey-business to-night comes from it. I don't like the passengers and I don't like these new whites in the crew. They know one another, I'm tellin' ye. The long chap and Buckrow sailed with Petrak. They pretend they don't know one another-all bosh-thick as fleas when no one is a watchin' of 'em.

"See how Buckrow was so smart handin' over his knife to the red chap when he got in a jam? I say, where did we git them three jewels-the writin' chap brought the little red killer, and the parson brought the long fellow and Buckrow. Looks funny to me, cap'n-and we don't want no Devil's Admiral aboard of us."

"Mr. Harris!" exclaimed Captain Riggs getting to his feet, "you are not fool enough to believe stories about the Devil's Admiral, are you? That's all newspaper talk and water-front gossip."

"I ain't so doggone sure about that, cap'n-bein' gossip. Of course, I don't suspect nothin' like that aboard here, but from what Chips Akers told me before he died, after the loss of the Southern Cross, I'm not so sure this devil's-admiral talk is all folderol. Chips couldn't tell much before he went under, but the Southern Cross was boarded by the Devil's Admiral sure enough-didn't they find a sextant out of her in a store in Shanghai?

"Ships that go down in typhoons don't have their chronometers pop up in Shanghai a year later, I'm tellin' ye. There ain't nobody ever saw this here Devil's Admiral, sure enough, that lived to tell it, but ships don't always go down in deep water and never a boat got off or a life-preserver or a spar or a door found on the beach.

"Thar's been bloody work in the last three or four years in these waters-look at the Legaspi; never a man jack out of her, and sailed from Manila, as we did, for Hong-Kong, and never heard of. Steamer she was, too, right in the steamer-lanes. They say the Devil's Admiral got her, and I more'n half believe it."

"Sally Ann! Sally Ann!" said Captain Riggs. "I guess I better go down, Mr. Harris, and look this thing over and get it off yer mind, or ye'll be fretting yerself and losing sleep with such yarns running wild in yer top-piece. I don't like this night prowling a mite, but take the bull's-eye along, and never a bit of light until we are in the storeroom.

"I don't want the crew hugging our heels on this trip below, 'cause ye may be right about it, at that. Be sure the slide is shut in that lantern, and call the boy to watch for us. Be sure that glim is doused-I don't want anybody to know about this."

I slipped off the ladder and clung to the superstructure out of the range of the light which spurted from the open door as Harris came out. He went aft for Rajah, and when he returned in a minute Captain Riggs was standing at the head of the fore-deck ladder waiting for them. Harris whispered something, and I saw the three figures descend to the fore-deck and heard them enter the companionway to the lower deck. I followed them.

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