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The Devil's Admiral By Frederick Ferdinand Moore Characters: 18995

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Certain that Long Jim was dead, I turned on Petrak and presented my pistol at him. The little fiend was surveying me blankly, taken aback at the sudden shot. He stood within twenty paces of me, with his legs wide apart and his knees bent as if he were on the deck of a plunging vessel, dismay on his face and the blade he had intended for my back held limply before him.

I could see the butt of a big pistol hanging from his belt in a holster he had made from the top of an old shoe, but he made no motion to reach for it. The fingers of his left hand were twitching, splayed out as if from fear, and his mouth was open showing his yellow teeth.

"If you move I'll kill you!" I said, having a mind to take him and compel him to lead Riggs and me to Thirkle's camp.

"Don't shoot!" he whined. "Don't shoot! Where did ye git the gun, sir? We never knowed as how ye had it. Don't shoot, Mr. Trenhum! Ye mind how I took yer luggage aboard!"

"Where's Thirkle and Buckrow?" I demanded.

"Up there," he said, swinging his free hand in the direction we had come, and I saw the familiar crafty look come into his eyes.

"How far?"

"Quite a bit, sir; in a cut of a clift with the booty."

"How far?"

"Not far it ain't, Mr. Trenhum. Roundaboutish, but not far; and I'm thinkin' I might lead ye on to 'em, sir, if ye'd let me have the sack we had, sir. Ye done for Jim right enough, but that's my sack now."

"Throw down that knife and unbuckle your belt, and see that you don't reach for a pistol," I said.

There was something in his manner that led me to believe he had a trap for me; either he had seen Long Jim move, or thought Thirkle and Buckrow might come down upon us if he could keep me talking.

He dropped the knife, and as he reached for the buckle of the belt I turned my head in an involuntary movement to make sure that Long Jim had not recovered, an action bred by the suspicious manner of Petrak. The pirate was lying as he had fallen, with his arms over his head and his pistol a yard away; but the little red-headed man turned and ran in the flash of my eye. I fired at him as he scurried behind a sprawling hemp-tree, but missed; and he never stopped, and I stood and listened as he crashed through the brush.

It would have been senseless to pursue him. As he had kept on toward the beach, away from the direction of Thirkle's camp, I knew he was not going back to the others, and reasoned that he would hardly dare to return to Thirkle, who had probably missed the sack of gold, or would demand explanations which Petrak would have difficulty in giving.

I picked up the knife and went and looked at Long Jim. Seeing he was dead I took his pistols; but gave him scant attention, being afraid Thirkle or Buckrow might be about, investigating the sound of the shots. Petrak's estimates on the distance of their hiding-place had been rather vague.

I turned away to the west in the direction I felt sure the trail must be, and, when the ground was clear, ran as fast as I could. I made about half a mile in as straight a line as I could, and then began to worry; for, although the ground had sloped in front of me, I felt that I should have crossed the bed of the stream which was the trail we had followed.

I kept on, my face and hands scratched by prickly vines and my clothing torn by fighting through thickets, and a panic began to grow on me that I was lost, although I refused to admit it. I soon had to stop running from exhaustion, the torment of the heat and thirst; and the four big pistols dragged at my belt and the ammunition in my pockets began to hang heavy. I began to fear that darkness would come on before I could find the trail.

Despair began to get the upper hand, when I caught the dull boom of a pistol-shot, and it so startled me that I could not decide the direction it came from. I stopped to listen, afraid that Thirkle had found Captain Riggs and Rajah.

Soon there was another report, and then a third, and what puzzled me most was that they seemed to be just where I had come from. The echoes came back to me from the hills and died away in dismal reverberations in the jungle. It seemed to be some signal, but, whether from the captain or Thirkle, I had no way of knowing.

I was tempted to fire a shot in reply, but, deciding to wait for another, I turned in my tracks and started back, although not on the same trail I had come over, but to the right of it.

I blamed myself for leaving the captain, for I should have kept with him, no matter what happened. I had made a fine mess of my scouting trip, but found some excuse for myself in the fact that I did right in following Long Jim and Petrak, and had a good reason to believe that they were going to the pirate camp.

I tried to reason out the significance of the three shots I had heard. They might mean that Captain Riggs had fired on Thirkle, or that Thirkle had fired on him. In a kind of frenzy at my own helplessness I figured the various combinations of the three shots as I went along, but all the time I was in a frantic haste to find the trail.

Finally I found the dry bed of a little stream; but a careful search showed no signs of any person having been over it, and it seemed to me, in my upset sense of direction, that it should lead the other way. But, remembering that I had left the bed of the creek to follow Long Jim and Petrak, I came to the conclusion that the pirates had abandoned the creek, or had turned off from it to cache the gold.

I started down it, hoping that it was the one which would lead me to the captain. My courage was freshened, and, taking a slow trot jumping from stones to the hard sand, dodging over-hanging branches, and scrambling up on the banks to avoid creepers, I covered a great deal of ground in a short time. I kept close watch on the clear spaces for tracks, and carried my two pistols in the front of my belt, Long Jim's pair well behind.

I was running and jumping along in this way, as quietly as possible, when I heard a low, peculiar gruff growl. I stopped in my tracks and listened. Crawling into the bushes I rested on my knees with a pistol in each hand, my mouth wide open so as to breathe silently, for I was panting from my flight.

"Ye didn't look to Bucky for this, did ye?" I heard Buckrow say, so close at hand that, it startled me. There was no reply to his question, and after a few minutes I crawled toward him. I found myself in an outcrop of volcanic rock, and beyond the face of a sheer ledge. The soil was moist ten feet away from the bed of the stream, and bamboo and the thick, coarse colgon grass was as high as my shoulder.

Keeping well hidden in the bamboo and grass I crept to a high spot, and right under the edge of the cliff I saw Thirkle sitting on a sack of gold, with his hands across his knees, holding a piece of rope and gazing down at it as if in doubt what to do with it. His bare, bald head was bowed low.

Buckrow was lying in front of him, with his chin propped in his hands. He was smoking a cigar and looking at Thirkle. Behind them were piled the sacks of gold, close to a wide crack in the cliff, a sort of ca?on, wide enough for a man to enter, and overgrown at the top with brush and green fronds, for the cliffside was wet and dripping, and veiled with mosses.

"Got it in yer old skull that Bucky was a fool, hey?" said Buckrow, blowing a cloud of smoke at Thirkle. "Well, I'm Bad Buckrow, and I was Bad Buckrow afore ever I saw ye, and I had a bit of brains of my own afore ever I met up with ye, Thirkle. Ye can bear that in mind. See how ye come out when ye monkeyed with me. Them other two fools went off in the wood and plugged one another, but that ain't me, Thirkle. Yer sharp, Thirkle; ye always was a sharp one, but ye ain't sharp enough for Bucky, and it's me that's tellin' ye that."

Thirkle made no reply, but kept his head down, staring at the rope in his hands, as if he were considering some weighty problem.

"Wanted it all, hey?" went on Buckrow. "Think I'm goin' to put my neck in a rope for ye and then let ye hog it all, hey? Maybe ye can fool the others, but I'm Bad Buckrow, I am, and I don't let the like of you, Mr. Thirkle, hang nothin' on me-leastways, not so easy as ye looked for. Why, I had my eye on ye and every move ye made after ye sent Reddy and Jim away to slit one another's throats! Thought I'd fall for it, did ye? See what come of it? Ye see, don't ye? I'm Bad Buckrow."

Thirkle moved uneasily and cleared his throat, but did not lift his head or give any answer. But, when he put his head to one side and shook it, I saw a red patch on his scalp over his right ear, and a smear of blood down his cheek. Then I realized that the rope over his hands made him a prisoner, and that Buckrow had turned against him.

"Wanted to do for me too, did ye. I knew yer game, old boy! I saw them eyes of yours on me, and murder in 'em, and it's me ought to know when ye plan to cut a man down-I know Thirkle.

"Knew ye'd turn on me some day this way when we made it rich. The lot of it was small pickin', but here's half o' London under our feet to be split four ways; but ye wanted it all, and ye wanted us out of yer way so ye could sleep o' nights. Nice game it was. Fine gent ye'd be, with all of us dead here, and nobody to ever tell who Thirkle was, or about the Kut Sang, or the others.

"Get away in the boats, ye would, and come back some day for the gold and then cut it for London, p

rayin' yer way out of the country, and folks'd wonder what come of the Devil's Admiral and his crew when no more ships was lost the way we made 'em go."

"Don't worry me, Bucky," said Thirkle quietly.

"Don't worry of ye! Don't bother, Thirkle. Yer sharp, but yer good as dead now. It's me that'll be the fine gent and wear walkin'-about clothes, and have my drink and comfort, and nobody to split on me. I'll play yer own game, and leave ye here to rot. How like ye that, Thirkle?"

"Ye are on the wrong tack, Bucky," he said quietly, without lifting his head. "Dead on the wrong tack and shoal water ahead."

"Nasty weather ahead for you, Thirkle-never fret about Bucky."

"Dead on the wrong tack," repeated Thirkle, as if talking to himself. "I looked to you for better than this, and trusted you too. I wanted to play fair with ye, Bucky, because ye've got brains, which a man wouldn't think to hear ye now."

"Brains enough not to be cut down like a bullock by Thirkle, when the last comes to the last."

"Reddy and Jim were not fit men to trust with a heap of gold like this, Bucky, and it's you that knows the truth of what I say. They would have the whole thing cut open in a week once they got into some port with their pockets full of sovereigns and their skins full of rum, and their mouths full of babble in the public houses of their wealth and how smart they be.

"First we'd know Petrak would be telling how we took the Southern Cross and the Legaspi and the Kut Sang, best of all, and last. Now wouldn't that be the way with him once he got at the gin? Hey, Bucky?"

"He could be watched and his lip kept shut," said Buckrow.

"Would you want to trust yer neck to Petrak's close lip? Tell me that, Bucky. Could ye sleep with Petrak and his bragging, and Long Jim and his bragging, and the two of 'em whispering together, considering the friends they make when drunk. Why, Bucky, man! Long Jim would tell the whole tale to a barmaid for a smile, as he come near telling that girl in Malta, with the whole Mediterranean fleet ashore in Valetta.

"If it wasn't for me we'd been in a jam, what with the stories that were going the rounds about us then, and a P.O. out of the Implacable trying to chum with me. I wanted to play fair with ye, Bucky, because yer too smart to let the drink get the better of ye-but what's the use. I don't want to argue with ye. Go on and play it alone if ye think ye can."

"Well, right ye are," said Buckrow scornfully. "That's the true words ye speak now, Thirkle. Ye don't want to argue with me. Right-o-a man can't argue with cold steel-and what's more, ye won't, if I'm Bad Buckrow. I know ye've got a smooth lingo when ye get in a trap, but ye can't squirm out this time. I'll hold the weather of ye this commission, Thirkle."

"Ye'll never get away with it, Bucky. It takes more brains than ye've got to handle half a ton of gold. Not that ye ain't got the brains so much as ye don't know how to handle 'em. There's many a man foremast with more brains than his skipper, but that don't make him skipper."

"It don't take no skipper to handle cargo of this sort," said Buckrow.

"Ye can't do it alone, Bucky. How about coming back for it? What'll ye tell the crew that comes back with ye? Didn't I plan it all out to get it? I planned this job and made fair weather of it, didn't I?

"You and the others couldn't done it alone, you know that. Well, ye won't get away with it, ye can be sure of that. It isn't in ye, Bucky, to do the job. The hardest is to come yet, as ye'll see when ye go about getting this away all clear."

"Never ye fret about me, Thirkle. I turned a couple of tricks afore ever I crossed yer bows, lay to that. I ain't the dog of a sailor ye take me for. I was a gent once, and I'll be a gent again, and no thanks to ye, Thirkle. It don't take no brains to spend a guinea at a time, even if a man knows he has a house full of 'em, and I can be respectable, too, and take my drink alone in my own house."

"I'll grant ye are no fool, Bucky. It all looks nice and easy, but who took ye out of the gutter in Sarawak? Where would ye be to-day if it wasn't for Thirkle? Tell me that, Bucky?"

Buckrow puffed at his cigar a minute, and seemed to consider the matter before replying.

"I was down and out right enough then, Thirkle, but I ain't the kind to stay down long, Thirkle. What with fever and jail, and a bad cut in the hip, I was in a bad way, but no fault of mine, only my cussed luck. I've had my hard goin' in my life, and now I'm to take it snug."

"The hangman was around the corner that time in Sarawak, and close-hauled on a course that would fetch him alongside ye in no time," said Thirkle, looking up and smiling wearily.

"Never ye mind about the hangman, Mr. Thirkle! He was around the corner with ye, too, for that, and more than once. Ye mind Hong-Kong? Who saved ye from the hangman in Hong-Kong? I ask ye that. It was Bucky; but that had no stop on ye here when ye planned to do for me. I saved ye from the hangman, too, and now the score is even, and ye can't whine if I come yer own game on ye."

"I don't deny ye served me a turn in Hong-Kong, Bucky, and that's why I was to play fair and above board with ye here. Ye think ye know me, and who I am, and who I was, but ye don't, Bucky, and if ye did ye'd have more thought about what yer up to here. Thirkle I'm known as, and as Thirkle I'll die, and I'm rough in my ways and language because I have fallen into those ways with my men.

"When I'm a sailor I'm as sailors are, and when I'm a parson I know how to play it, but ye've never seen me as a fine gentleman. Maybe ye'd like to know who I was before I was Thirkle and got to be the Devil's Admiral, as they call me for the want of something better, seeing I have played my game careful and kept them all in the dark."

"It's naught to me who ye was or are, Thirkle. Ye can't oil me out of it with all yer fine talk-I'm to do for ye when I'm minded, and yer slick talk can't save ye."

Buckrow got up and slung a rope over his shoulders and began to make a sling so that he could balance a sack of gold on each end of it.

"I was an officer in the navy, Bucky," said Thirkle, with a sly grin.

"An officer!" exclaimed Buckrow, halting in his work.

"An officer in the navy with the queen's commission at my back and an admiral's flag ahead," said Thirkle, pleased with the impression he had made. "That's what, Bucky. Now ye see I was the lad to finish the job here in fine style. That's why I can get away with this gold, which you can't. I can show a wad of five-pound notes and not have Scotland Yard at my heels, or charter a ship and crew and go about it businesslike, and take my time at it.

"Nice job ye'll make of it, coming back here for this gold. You've got the whip hand now, and I'll let it go at that; but when they've got ye on the gallows, which they will, remember what Thirkle told ye, sitting here in the thick of it, which ye think ye'll spend for high life in London. Before ye ever get it to London ye'll find it's another tune ye'll play. Maybe ye think ye can fill a ship with gold and sail to the dockhead and lift it out and let it go at that-they'll take the gold and hang you, that's what.

"No doubt ye think the owners of this gold won't have a word to say when they find the Kut Sang overdue. Maybe ye think the looting of her was the easiest part of it; but ye'll find murder is easy, while keeping it quiet is another tale and another trick. Any man with a knife can go out and stab a man in the back, but he finds what comes after, the worst of it.

"It looks easy to ye because we got away with the Southern Cross and the Legaspi-but when ye mount the gallows ye'll see the best of old Thirkle's tricks was to keep his tracks clear and things running sweet. They'll take you and wring it all out of ye, the whole murderous story, and swing ye from a high place. Ye'll end on the gallows, Bucky."

"Never ye fret about the gallows. I'll get this gold away neat and clean if it takes me twenty years, and I'm the lad that can wait until the time is ripe."

"Maybe ye can," said Thirkle, "but all I want you to remember is that Thirkle said ye couldn't, and my words will come to ye when ye take those thirteen steps up to the rope. Just keep that in mind, Bucky."

Buckrow made no reply, but busied himself again with the sling, and as he got down on his knees with his back toward me, I decided that it was time that I took a hand in the proceedings. With Thirkle bound, I had nothing to fear from him, and I began to draw myself up from the ground, intending to get on one knee and then empty my pistol into Buckrow, who was not a dozen yards away.

If it had not been that there was a great deal of high, dry grass, that would crackle if I tried to run through it, I would have attempted to rush in on Buckrow and knock him senseless with the butt of a pistol. But as Thirkle sat facing in my direction, and there was little chance of getting to Buckrow before Thirkle would see me and give the alarm, or Buckrow hear me coming, I knew the only thing to do was to kill or wound Buckrow, even though I had to shoot him in the back. It seemed an unfair advantage, and nothing better than the act of an assassin; but I reasoned that Thirkle or Buckrow would have little mercy on me if I fell into their power.

So I arose cautiously, and, parting the grass before me, reached for my pistol.

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