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The Devil's Admiral By Frederick Ferdinand Moore Characters: 17462

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Now, it was all very well for Captain Riggs and me to sit down there in the forecastle of the Kut Sang and consider ways and means of saving ourselves and the steamer from the Devil's Admiral; but, although we made many plans, we had to drop them all. There was no way out of the place except through the scuttle, and we worked at that and schemed about it; but the wooden frame was bound inside with steel ribs, and on the outside with chains, and we had no tools equal to the task. Nothing but a jack-screw could wrench the covering from the deck.

When the starboard ports turned gray with the light of morning we had given up. There was nothing to do but wait for something to happen, and all we could foresee was our doom in the vessel.

The sea had calmed, and Captain Riggs unscrewed one of the ports and looked out just as the sun popped up over the hills of the Philippine coast.

"Land!" shouted Captain Riggs, as he opened the port, and I climbed up on the bunks and opened a port for myself. "That's the Zambales coast of Luzon, and they have been making a good easting all night; but we are running north now-see that point ahead? It's really an island-the Little Sister, I am sure-and Dasol Bay lies to the north up the channel between the island and the mainland. He's running to get into that channel behind the island and scuttle her there-he knows his business."

In a few minutes the island stood clear of the coast, and I could make it out, low and green and fuzzy, with a rim of white sand running back to the fringe of the jungle and a ruffle of combers on the shingle. We could hear the boom of the waves ashore, beating at the base of the barren brown hills of the coast.

"He's well off the track of the steamers here," said Riggs, "but he won't delay much longer now, unless he can get in behind the island and then he can take his own time, because he can pick up a sail before he is sighted through the ends of the channel. That island caps a little bay, and he'll be snug as a bug in a rug to do his work. Let's have a look on deck and see what's up."

Rajah leaped out of his bunk, and, after looking around for a minute in confusion at his strange quarters, drank the water we had saved for him in the pannikin, and then put his face to a port-hole and surveyed the land.

I took the lead up the companion with the pistol ready, hoping that one of the pirates might be close to the tiny slit I had cut in the board and would offer a target. I applied my eye to the hole.

The Rev. Luther Meeker, still in his suit of duck and pongee shirt and battered pith helmet, just as I had seen him on the mole in Manila, was pacing the bridge in the calm, commanding way that marks the man accustomed to command. He was puffing contentedly at a cigar, and there was something amusing in the manner in which he cocked his head to one side to survey the sea and then the land with a critical eye.

From side to side he tramped, swinging on his heel at each end of the bridge like a grenadier sentry, and giving Petrak, who had the wheel, a stern look as he passed. Buckrow was at the port end of the bridge, with a glass to his eyes scanning the rim of the sea; but Meeker, or Thirkle, kept aloof from his men, and he might well have been an admiral on the bridge of his flagship-the Devil's Admiral, indeed!

"Take a look at them," I whispered to Riggs, and made way for him at the scuttle peephole.

"Blast him!" raged Riggs as he saw the scene on the bridge. "I never thought I would live to see the like of that!"

"But how does he keep her engines going? The fireroom crew must know what has happened," I said.

"What's left of 'em do," said Riggs. "He's likely got a few men below who think they will get a share of the loot if they keep up steam. Perhaps the Filipino chief is at his post keeping the chinkies going-leave that to the devil on the bridge-he knows his game."

He drew back into the companion, and I looked out again. I could see a pair of shoes sticking out past the donkey-engine, just abaft the foremast; but the machinery hid the man from me. Presently a strip of canvas fluttered in the breeze, and Long Jim stood up, with a sail-needle and a length of sail-twine in his teeth, and cut out a square of tarpaulin on the deck.

"Look at the cockney," I said to Riggs. "I can't make out what he is up to."

He studied the sailor for a minute, and then drew back and whispered:

"Sewing sacks to carry the gold away. They are getting ready to scuttle her. The starboard boats are hanging in the davits, ready to lower away when we are behind the island. There is a channel a mile wide in there, and deep soundings. He may find an anchorage until night and then get away in the dark, but I'm afraid he won't take that long, because he knows a coast-guard cutter is liable to spy him out. This coast is being watched pretty close by the navy and the Japs and the customs, because there is so much blockade-running."

"It may be that he is planning to maroon us on the island."

"That wouldn't be his way. The Devil's Admiral never leaves a man alive. Four men will get out of the Kut Sang, and you know who they are. He ain't the man to take a chance of meeting you or me, or even letting us tell about him. It's 'Dead men tell no tales' with him, you may be sure of that."

I took my turn at the little window, which was not wide enough to let the muzzle of my pistol through, or I would have fired upon them. They each wore a pair of pistols, big, black, long-barrelled weapons. Thirkle's were quite plain, for he swung them from a belt over his white jacket, as I could see when he approached the openings at each end of the bridge where the ladder-heads ended.

"It will take about an hour at this clip to have the island abeam," said Riggs, after he had gone below and looked through the ports. "They are driving her again. Likely he has an agreement with the black gang to stick to the fireroom; but whatever it is he won't keep his word. It's death for every man Jack of 'em when he has finished with 'em."

Long Jim was plying the needle again, and Buckrow and Thirkle were holding a conference at the wheel and studying a chart. I could see the red head of Petrak nodding to them as they submitted some point to him; but he kept his eyes ahead of the steamer, evidently steering for some point of land. Thirkle finally folded up the chart and tucked it in his pocket; and Buckrow took his post again at the port end of the bridge and studied the western horizon.

I saw a Chinese in blue nankeen come out of the starboard passage below the bridge and cautiously look up at the bridge. He did not see Long Jim, so intent was he on looking up; but when the cockney drew a pistol he screamed shrilly and fled into the passage, his long queue sticking out behind like an attenuated pennant, so swift was his flight.

Thirkle and Buckrow came down to the fore-deck and gathered the sacks which Long Jim had fashioned. Before they went down the 'tween-decks companion Thirkle looked forward toward the forecastle and hesitated a minute, as if he were in doubt about our being secure enough. But he went down after the others, and we heard hammering behind the bulkhead again.

Petrak remained at the wheel, a jaunty figure with a white canvas cap on his flaming head and one of Captain Riggs's best Manila cigars between his teeth. He managed the wheel with one hand, holding a pistol ready with the other, and looking the ship over from time to time.

"They are steering to pass in behind the island," said Riggs, as I went below. "It is about four miles ahead now, and they are at half steam again, because the reefs are bad in here-coral-banks and ledges running out from the mainland. When they get her in the lee of the island they'll make a quick job of her, and us, too."

"If I don't make a quick job of them with the pistol," I said.

"You keep three bullets-you'll need them when the green water is spilling in here," and he gave me a significant look.

Despair was upon him again, but I could not bring myself to feel that death awaited us. Weak and hungry and thirsty, life was still strong, and the desire to live, if only to have vengeance on Thirkle and his men, kept up my courage.

"There is some way out-some way we can get the upper hand. When the water comes in I'll be ready to give up, but not until then."

He smiled sadly and shrugged his shoulders, looking pityingly at Rajah, who was playing at some sort of a game with grains of rice in a pannikin. We went up the ladder again to see what the pirates were about, for it was quite still in the hold, and silence seemed more ominous than a telltale cla


Buckrow and Long Jim came up with a bulging sack slung in a rope. Thirkle gave them a hand up the ladder to the boat-deck, but he let them do the hard work.

Petrak slipped a lashing over the wheel and leaned over the bridge-rail, grinning down at them, and made some remark which caused Buckrow to laugh so inordinately that he dropped his end of the rope, and the sack fell on the head of the ladder. He pulled it up on the deck, and, thrusting his hand into his trousers-pocket, drew out a handful of gold coins and hurled them up at Petrak.

They struck the remnant of the storm-apron and rattled to the fore-deck, some of the glittering disks pelting Thirkle, who was halfway up the ladder. Petrak threw out his hand to catch the coins, and I saw that his wrists were still encircled by steel bands.

Thirkle reprimanded them, and Petrak went back to the wheel, and Buckrow and Long Jim hoisted the sack into the boat and stowed it. While Petrak held the spoke of the wheel with one hand, he rasped at the iron upon it with a file, cutting away the heavy manacle.

Riggs and I took turns at the scuttle, and saw Thirkle and Buckrow and Long Jim carry up a dozen or more sacks. Some were put in the second boat, farther aft and out of the range of our vision, hidden as it was from us by the corner of the superstructure.

During the time they were below we could hear them smashing the treasure-chests. While they were busy in the storeroom I hacked away at the scuttle-board, which was thick and of hard wood, well seasoned by continual wetting and drying in the tropic sun.

To make matters worse, I found that it was full of brass nails driven in from the outside, and Riggs told me some sailor had put a border of nails round the board and made a crude nameplate by spelling out the name of the vessel with nail-heads. The blade of my knife encountered these nails, and I made slow work of cutting a hole large enough to admit the muzzle of our pistol.

When they had all the gold up they stowed the boats with tinned goods and casks of water. Then they opened a bottle of wine and drank its contents, and Thirkle hurled it toward the forecastle, and it smashed on the iron plates within a few feet of us. Buckrow and Long Jim disappeared in the saloon after this, and Thirkle looked his chart over again and motioned to Petrak to alter the helm.

"He's heading her in for the strait," said Riggs. "He had better allow for that tide-rip that comes down through, or she'll have her head swung round at this speed before he knows where he is at."

The steamer seemed to be gradually losing headway, and the throbbing of her engines was becoming less pronounced. I observed, also, that the smoke from her funnel was beginning to hang over her and curl down upon the bridge. But, in spite of her slowing down, the musical ripple at her bow increased, and Riggs said it was due to the set of the current against us, which came through the channel very strong, as the island cut out a deep current and brought it to the surface of the sea in the narrow passage between the island and the mainland.

"It's a bad hole in there," he said. "He needs more speed to handle her right in there and-"

"Something is up!" I told him, as I saw Thirkle listen a second and step quickly to the engine-room telegraph and throw it over.

I could hear the sharp clang of the bell; but the next instant there was a terrific roar, and the superstructure began to vomit steam through the engine-room skylight just abaft the little wheel-house.

"The boilers!" yelled Riggs. "She's blowing off, and there is a steam-pipe gone, or somebody below has opened her whole insides up."

The Kut Sang was a white volcano amidships, and I saw Thirkle yelling frantically, and Buckrow and Long Jim appeared in the passage below and yelled to Thirkle, waving their arms, and then dashed up the ladder to the bridge.

Suddenly they started back and grouped themselves about Petrak at the wheel with drawn weapons, and the next instant I saw a half-dozen forms emerge from the welter of steam and dash at the pirates.

They were Chinese and Filipino stokers, but one of them seemed to be the leader, and he wore an engineer's cap and was stripped to the waist. I saw the puffs of smoke from the pistols of the four pirates-Petrak put his back to the wheel and fired over Thirkle's shoulder-but the awful racket of the steam-pipes drowned the reports.

Two of the Chinese fell at the first volley, and a third, evidently wounded, turned in his tracks and jumped over the rail. Another hacked viciously at Thirkle with a long knife, but he could not reach him. Thirkle stood with his feet wide apart, and his helmet on the back of his head and fired coolly and swiftly.

The Filipino in the engineer's cap dropped the iron bar with which he had advanced in the rush, and put both hands to his stomach, and stood within six feet of Thirkle, looking at him in a surprised way, and finally threw up his hands as if he had lost his balance and curled over backward to the deck.

A Filipino toppled over the bridge-rail and struck in a heap on the fore-deck, and lay still, but I could not tell whether it was the fall or a bullet that had killed him.

One Chinaman slid down the ladder-rail whirling like an acrobat in the air before he landed, and another followed him, but they were the two last, and Buckrow and Long Jim started after them. The first started for the forecastle and began to throw off the chains, standing between me and the deck, so that I could not see what was happening for a minute. He worked frantically, jabbering all the while, and, as I thought, calling to his companion.

He couldn't have been at work more than a minute, but to me it seemed an hour or more, and I prayed that he might succeed in opening the scuttle, and I wondered at his surprise if he should throw back the sliding-board and see me come out with upraised pistol.

But a pistol spoke close at hand, and the narrow slit in the board let in the sun again and I saw the Chinaman fall just outside. Buckrow and Long Jim were running back to the bridge. Thirkle yelled something to them and they nodded and went through the starboard passage.

The uproar of the escaping steam was dying out, and I told Riggs what I had witnessed. The Filipino in the cap was the chief engineer, and we knew that he had led a last sortie against the pirates, determined to die in a last effort to defeat them rather than be shot down or left to drown.

"Sally Ann!" said Riggs. "If that chinkie had cleared away the chains there we might have got out of here and put in a hand's work, too. He won't have steerage way on her-her engines have gone dead now. Feel her swing with that current?"

"They've started again," I said, feeling a tremor in the vessel.

"Here we go!" cried Riggs. "They've opened her sea-valves!"

We listened and stared at each other for a minute while the water sucked and gurgled and the Kut Sang began to vibrate from the flood pouring into her. Gradually her head began to swing to seaward away from the island, as the current caught her, and, as I looked out I saw Thirkle and Buckrow in the forward boat, lowering away.

"There they go!" I yelled, and we dashed below, hoping that we would have a shot at them as they got clear of the vessel, but, as the ship was swinging outward, and our ports were so far forward, we were kept swinging away from them, and all we had was a bare glimpse of the two boats pulling away from the ship, one of them being towed.

The island was close at hand, a half-mile or more, although it seemed almost within reach, but we lost sight of that in a minute as the head of the Kut Sang stood toward the open sea, and her stern began to settle.

"They had to get out of her when Pedro cut her engines out and lowered her boilers. It rushed their game, because he wanted to hide her in behind the island, but it won't make much difference now, Mr. Trenholm-hear that? She's filling rapidly."

We were drifting broadside in the current now, sweeping down the coast and sinking at the same time.

I ran up the companion and began to struggle with the scuttle-board again, hoping that the Chinaman who was seeking shelter from the pirates' bullets had made it possible for us to escape. The board was looser, and I slipped it to one side nearly an inch, and then it jammed again.

"Trenholm! Trenholm!" yelled Riggs frantically from below.

"What is it?" I called, hating to lose a second in my efforts to get the board free.

He did not answer, and I called to him again. Before the words were out of my mouth I was sprawling on all fours on the deck below.

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