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   Chapter 17 THE ART OF THIRKLE

The Devil's Admiral By Frederick Ferdinand Moore Characters: 21078

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"So Jim's done for, ye say," said Buckrow. "Good job ye made of it coming back this way, and good job for me ye did, and the worse for Thirkle."

"Clean job all around, Bucky, and I'm back to have my cut of the pile," and then I was sure of dreaming, for that was the voice of Petrak, and it seemed to me that Petrak ought to be millions of miles away, although I could not quite settle in my mind just how it was, except that I knew it couldn't be Petrak speaking-I was dreaming it, and yet I couldn't be dreaming that awful pain in my head. I tried to open my eyes, but couldn't.

"Then the Kut Sang didn't go down at all," said Thirkle's voice. "Nice job you two will have getting clear of this place with the gold now. Our dear friend, Mr. Trenholm isn't alone, I'll bet a hat on that."

"Bet yer hat with the devil himself for all the good it will bring," growled Buckrow. "This ain't none of your affair, Mr. Thirkle, and I'll thank ye to pipe down and wait until we ask ye to talk."

"What's up now, Bucky?" asked Petrak. "What's wrong now, and what's wrong with Thirkle's head? Been up-"

"We got Thirkle, too, that's what. He tried to do for me and I sapped him, and there he is, nice as pie. Wanted it all, he did, Reddy. Don't he look calm and peaceful there, with his hands crossed like a dead one? That's Mr. Thirkle for ye, all nice and snug, so he can't cut a man's throat when a chap ain't minding of him. Tried it on me no sooner as ye and Long Jim was gone, and I give him what he come for."

"Blow me for a blind beggar!" said Petrak, and I opened my eyes and saw the three of them, Thirkle, facing me, and Buckrow and Petrak standing over me as I lay on my back on the damp ground.

"That's Mr. Buckrow," sneered Thirkle. "He wants it all, Reddy, and he'll play you the same when he gets it. He wants it all, and don't waste your time counting up the guineas ye'll have, because Buckrow will have 'em all, and you and I dead and gone under ground hereabouts."

"So Thirkle wanted to do for ye, hey, Bucky? Who looked for it? But he ought to knowed better as to come any smart tricks with ye, Bucky, and we're pals, ain't we, Bucky? Say we're pals if ye like and I'll do my part."

"Pals we be, Reddy, and never ye mind enough of what he says to put in yer eye. We can split the gold ourselves and leave Mr. Thirkle here with this friend of ours. Ye know I'll play fair with ye, Red-ye know that, don't ye?"

"Sure," said Petrak. "Here's my paw on it, Bucky, and good luck to us and long life and merry times. That's a heap of gold for two, Bucky."

"Shake for a square show," said Buckrow, and the two villains shook hands across my body. I had closed my eyes again, but peeped through partly opened lids as often as I dared.

"And how come ye done for Long Jim?" asked Buckrow, and Petrak moved uneasily and cleared his throat.

"Jim played nasty with me, Bucky. Never looked to him for it, but we was down the trail a bit and he ups and turns on me with a knife. Cussed if I knows what for, and I didn't have time to ask him particulars, but had to drill him, and drill him I did, as I'm no man to stand for knife-play, and as I was trotting myself back who should I come on but the writin' chap, here, stretched in the grass, so for a time I thought he had been stretched for good when up he pops and reaches for a gun, and I give him the butt fair behind of the ear.

"Lucky job, Bucky; lucky for ye and lucky for me, as he'd done for ye clean in another turnabout, and then, with Thirkle there as he is, a fine time I'd had of it. But it wasn't myself I was mindin', nohow, Bucky, but you, as I had my gun and could have drilled him after he drilled you; but I couldn't stand to see ye get it in the back as he minded to give it. Lucky for ye, hey, Bucky? We can play fair on that score, can't we, Bucky? Not for me and he'd have ye and-"

"Oh, stop yer whining and lying!" said Thirkle. "It was yer own pelt ye took care of, and now ye want to get thick with Bucky, but it won't do ye a bit of good, Reddy. He'll do for us all now; but if ye got any sense stir up Mr. Trenholm here and find what's become of the ship and his mates.

"Step on the gentleman's neck and see if he's dead. While yer gamming away here ye don't know how many more are in the bushes hereabout with guns ready to chip ye. Stir him up and let's see what happened to the Kut Sang that he's here at all. It's plain she didn't go down."

Petrak kicked me in the ribs, and I groaned and opened my eyes as if I had just recovered consciousness, for I did not care to let them know I had been listening to any of their conversation.

"What's all the trouble?" I asked, looking about, and then sitting up and gazing at the three pirates as if I were still confused.

"Everything lovely," said Thirkle, grinning at me. "Your old friend, Mr. Petrak, put you to sleep. I am indeed surprised to find you so well after all that happened on board the Kut Sang, and your belt there, which Bucky removed, seems to be well filled with weapons. What became of my old friend, Captain Riggs? And where is the Kut Sang?"

"She went down," I said, knowing that my time would be short if they knew the steamer was still above water, for every minute it lay on the reef there was a possibility that it would be sighted by some passing vessel. I knew that if I told them it was still there Buckrow would probably murder Thirkle and me and hasten away, either to burn the vessel or escape in the boats.

"And how did you get away, and where is Riggs?" persisted Thirkle.

"I cut away the forecastle scuttle with a knife and crawled through the chains just as she went down, but Captain Riggs could not get out."

"That's all very fine," said Thirkle; "but you collected a good deal of hardware out of a sinking ship. How come you with four pistols? And, if my eyes serve me right, two of those belonged to Long Jim."

Petrak winked at me at this, and I took the cue.

"I found Long Jim dead in the trail and took his two pistols, and the others were my own which I had when I went into the forecastle, and I had hoped to use them on some of you fellows, but you got the better of me."

"And how did you and Captain Riggs get along together?"

"We did very well after I had convinced him that I had no hand in the murder of Trego. You gentlemen certainly know your business, I must say."

"Oh, don't include me in the compliment," said Thirkle, bowing to Buckrow and Petrak. "These are the men who are entitled to the credit for the success of the expedition so far, and, now that they have the gold, they have decided to dispense with my services; and, whatever is done, I will have no further hand in it.

"We will wish them luck, my dear Mr. Trenholm; and, as we are in the same boat now, I trust that what little animosity you may have borne against me in the past can now be forgotten. Mr. Buckrow has the game in his hands now."

"Ye say the Kut Sang went down clean?" asked Buckrow.

"Not a sign of her," I said. "Captain Riggs and the black boy went with her, and I hadn't a minute to spare. Perhaps it would have been just as well if I had gone with her, too."

"Good!" exclaimed Thirkle. "You see, Buckrow, I told ye she'd go like a lead and bury her truck. I knew it would be a clean job, and now ye can go ahead-I quit."

"Small thanks to you," growled Buckrow.

"Fine pair of fools ye'll make!" laughed Thirkle.

"Stretch me, and the two of ye'll hang. Remember that, Reddy! The two of ye'll hang. It took Thirkle to plan the job, and it'll take Thirkle to finish it. Mr. Petrak, will you kindly look in my jacket-pocket over there; there's a bottle in it, and I'd like a bit of stimulant."

Buckrow and Petrak ran for the bottle, and both took a long pull at it.

"Give Thirkle a bit," said Petrak, who still seemed to have a good deal of respect for the prisoner. "That was a nasty smash ye give 'im, Bucky."

"Give it him, if ye mind, Reddy, but be polite to him. He was an officer in the navy afore he turned pirate, Reddy."

"A navy officer? Thirkle a navy officer?" asked Petrak. "I was a navy man myself when I was a boy."

He stepped to Thirkle and held the bottle to the prisoner's lips.

"Was ye an officer-a navy officer, Thirkle?" he asked, somewhat awestricken at the idea.

"We had a little chat, Mr. Buckrow and myself, while you were away," said

Thirkle, after he had had his drink. "Real chummy we got."

"Ho, yes; real chummy, Thirkle! So chummy, Red, he was ready to let a knife into me, and now he says he was in the navy; well up to his flag, too, and the queen's commission, all nice and handy. He thinks he's too nice to mix with the likes of us; he says as how we won't know how to blow the loot ladylike and decent. Mind that, Reddy? Ho, ho, ho!"

"It's this way, Reddy," explained Thirkle. "Our old friend Bucky thought

I was jealous of him, and wanted it all to myself. But I never had such a

thought. Long Jim was the one I didn't like, and never did, but you and

Bucky are two after my own heart and-"

"He likes us, Reddy," interrupted Buckrow. "He likes us both, and you best; but he likes us. Give him another drink and he'll cry for his sins."

"Mr. Buckrow, I mean every word I say," declared Thirkle, and he meant it, for the shrewd rascal was talking for his life. "There's gold enough here for all of us, and we'll divide it now, and each take his share and split it to the dollar. Leave it to me and I'll get it off for you, safe and easy; but try to go it alone and the two of ye'll hang. Hang! Understand that, Reddy? The two of you'll hang; and it's Thirkle that says it, and Thirkle knows. But Thirkle can help ye if ye let him."

"Taffy he's givin' us now, Reddy," said Buckrow, seeing that Petrak was being impressed by Thirkle's argument.

"Ye'll hang, the two of ye," said Thirkle. "Taffy, if ye like, Mr.

Buckrow."

"They'll have to take me first, and that's not so easy as ye make it," blustered Buckrow. "Don't mind him, Reddy."

"They'll get ye," said Thirkle, nodding his head. "They'll get ye the minute ye land anywhere with a dozen of them gold pieces. Where'll ye go with it? That's what I want to know. Where'll ye clear from? Tell me that. No doubt ye'll land in Manila with a boat-load of gold and say yer out of the Kut Sang, and she went down, and all were lost but you two and the cargo of gold. And they'll let ye keep it and send ye on yer way, with no questions asked."

"Ye mind what he says, Bucky?" Petrak was getting nervous.

"Mind what he says, if ye like," said Buckrow. "I'm man enough to get away with it, Thirkle or no Thirkle."

"That sounds very big, Mr. Buckrow; but where will ye go? Easy enough it would be if this island was off the track of ships, but the minute ye make a westing ten miles with a boat-load of gold, or empty-handed, pop! ye go into the hands of a coast-guard cutter or a ship. Fine time ye'll have telling ye found it, or that ye got out of the ship by yerself. Back to Manila ye'll go, and slam into Bilibid prison, and all about ye in the papers, and all about the gold; and then ye'll be in a nice fix.

"Ye think, because it was secret cargo, the owners of the gold won't kick up a row when the Kut Sang is a minute overdue? Ye think they'll take yer yarns when they find ye went in the Kut Sang, as the whole Sailors' Home knows? They'll stretch a rope for ye and Petrak-if ye let Petrak along-and the two of ye'll drop together into the deepest hole ever ye clapped eyes on."

"Of course, Mr. Thirkle could pack a ton of gold about, and it would be different, and not a word said," sneered Buckrow. "Perhaps ye know better than me what to do-hey, Thirkle?"

"Thirkle has his plans made for the last of it as well as he had for the first of it, and don't ye forget that, Mr. Buckrow, and never mind what they are. You go on now and play the string out, and I wish the two of ye luck; but remember that Thirkle said ye'd hang, and hang ye will. When they put the rope on yer necks and the black caps over yer heads, just remember Thirkle said it would come out that way. They'll make a nice job of ye."

Petrak shivered and looked at Buckrow, who stood with arms folded, staring at the ground.

"Oh, stow that gab, Thirkle!" he said. "Never ye fret about me and Reddy; ye'll be dead, anyhow, and ye won't mind."

"Ye can thank Bucky for it," went on Thirkle, craftily turning his conversation to Petrak, who was more easily influenced and had a hearty dread of death or prisons.

"Thank Bucky when ye start up the thirteen steps. They'll be the hardest thirteen steps ye ever took in yer life, Reddy-and the last. A man's in a bad way when the shadow of the gallows falls across his bows and the priest begins to pray. I looked for a better end for ye than that, Petrak; but go ahead and take his advice, and see where ye come to."

"Don't mind him, Reddy," said Buckrow hoarsely. "Pass the bottle and let the old devil croak. You stick to Bucky."

"Now, here's where I stand," went on Thirkle. "It's the last I'll say on it, and I'll give you two chaps another chance to save yerselves. Take the ropes off me and I'll bear no arms. You two take the pistols, and I won't have a knife. That gives you two the upper hand, and ye can do as ye please, and I'll take my share and orders, and see that I get ye away clear.

"Once we make it safe ye can go about yer business, and I'll go about mine. Come on, now, lads-how's that? I ought to be worth that just to plan it out for ye and make sure ye get away. Better a third and a long life than the whole and a rope afore ye spend a hundred pound of it, if ye get as much as a drink out of it alone. How now, Bucky?"

"Real sweet of ye, old cock," said Buckrow, lighting a cigar. "A third and yer life looks better than none and a pile of bones. Thirkle has a bit of a way to look to his own ends; what, Reddy?"

"Ye don't stand to lose anything, do ye? I'm not the man to squeal when I'm down; but we went into this thing together, the whole of us, with our eyes open, to split it even. Here's the three of us, and we'll count it out right here by the piece or the sack. Then ye leave it to me to get it away for ye, clean and neat. I'm a gentleman, I am, and I can play a gentleman's game, which ye two can't.

"I can buy a schooner or a yacht and look natural about it, and no questions asked; and make a big show and live at the best hotels, and nothing thought of me having plenty of money. But you two-why, show a guinea, sober or drunk, and they'll grab ye on suspicion ye stole it. Ye'd look real nice, Mr. Buckrow, buying a ship to come back here for it, wouldn't ye-or mayhap ye'd leave that part of it to Petrak."

"How'll ye get away with it if yer so sharp about it?" demanded Buckrow.

"What can ye do outside what we can do-hey, Thirkle?"

"I've got it all planned out, ye can bank on that. I didn't get this gold here without knowing what I was at, or how I was going to draw through. That isn't my way, as ye know. I have in mind a sloop-rigged yacht, lying in Shanghai, waiting for a buyer. Pretty little white thing she is, and I can get her for a song, and take enough of this with me to turn the job.

"I can play Meeker again, which you chaps don't seem to know. I told the Times man on the waterfront over the telephone, five minutes before we sailed, to make a personal item about how the Rev. Luther Meeker, missionary, would sail next week for Hong-Kong in the Taming, and to tell the shipping-office to reserve a ticket for me. Nobody knows I went in the Kut Sang for sure, and I could drop into Manila to-morrow as Meeker, and not a man the wiser.

"We'll buy this little yacht, and I'll turn her into a missionary boat, buying her with funds furnished by the London Evangelical Society, as I'll tell 'em. I'll call her the Bethlehem and cruise along the China coast, putting in at ports to hold services. Then we'll sneak away some day and drop down here, with chinks in the crew, and we'll get this gold aboard in such way they won't suspect what it is.

"Then it's an easy matter to make away to any port we want and fill away for London in a liner, with the gold strewn along in the banks here and there, or packed with books or other junk and freighted. How's that, mates?"

"And when it's all done we can go to the devil and you'll take the gold. I know the palaver, Thirkle. If ye please, I'll take my chances alone with the gold," said Buckrow.

"Then hang! I wash my hands of the two of ye, and may the devil mend ye!"

Thirkle raised his bound hands as he said this, and there was tragedy in his grim old face, and pity for the two on whom he had apparently pronounced the death-sentence. But I could see in his shrewd eyes that he was acting a part-he was laughing at them while pleading for liberty.

Petrak began to whimper, and he looked at Buckrow appealingly.

"Let him loose, Bucky," he begged. "Let Thirkle loose, or we'll hang, as he says, and we'll split it share and share alike."

"Let him loose so he can do for us!" raged Buckrow. "Let him loose so he can make off with it, and then knife us when it comes handy! I know his black heart!"

Yet, Buckrow was in a quandary and, in spite of his fear of Thirkle, seemed inclined to free him, evidently finding it hard to make his own decisions, and preferring to have some one to give the orders. He tossed his cigar away, and stood watching Thirkle chewing a blade of grass.

"Ye can deal with me, mates, but ye'll find ye can't argue with the judge," went on Thirkle in a quiet tone, keeping his eyes on the ground. "Ye'll find ye can't talk the turnkey into liberty, and it will be too late the morning the hangman opens the door and says 'Come!' and-"

"Stow that gab, or I'll let a knife into yer hide!" snarled Buckrow, and he went over to the pile of sacks and began kicking the brown canvas nervously.

Thirkle began to chuckle quietly, swaying his shoulders from side to side in his simulated hilarity. Petrak, who was standing close to him, looked at him in surprise.

"It will be a fine joke," said Thirkle in a low tone, as if speaking to himself. "They do love to hang a red-headed man! Poor Petrak! They'll have a great joke with him-Oh, ye there, Petrak, my lad! Well, I'm sorry for ye; but ye can't blame me if Bucky gets ye in a jam. He says he can go it alone now, and doesn't need Thirkle; but wait until the death-watch is pacing outside the door like a Swedish skipper, and ye've only got an hour left on earth, and then ye'll wish ye'd stuck to Thirkle.

"I'll bet all this gold here ye'll wish ye had Thirkle then, but Thirkle won't be there to help. I say stick to Bucky if ye like, but ye'll find he ain't Thirkle. Good-bye, Reddy. I never looked for ye to come to this; but I can say ye'll hang if you go it with Bucky."

"I didn't do it, Thirkle; I didn't put ye where ye be," whimpered Petrak.

"I'm for cuttin' ye loose, but Bucky ain't."

"He's mad at me, and I can't argue with him, but if ye say a word or two he'll mind ye; and remember, Petrak, if ye can't make him see it right, ye'll hang-the two of ye-and ye know Thirkle always has it as it is."

Thirkle whispered something to Petrak which I did not catch, and then the little rascal went over to Buckrow and began to talk with him quietly, and finally began to plead for Thirkle.

"Ye're afraid of him," sneered Buckrow. "Ye're afraid of Thirkle with reef-knots on his hands, and ye'll be afraid of him when he's dead, ye coward!"

"I ain't afraid of him, Bucky, but he says we'll hang; and so we will if we don't let him have a hand gettin' this gold clear away."

"He'll do for us; and then what good will the gold be to us? Reddy, ye know the devil as I do; jind now he's got this pile he'll settle us when he sees his way to it."

"Let him go, Bucky; let him go. The night'll be on us in an hour or so, and then what'll we do? Leave it to Thirkle and it'll come out all right; and I know it and you know it, Bucky. There's the two of us to him, and we'll make him play it fair now."

"The two of us'll play it fair without him," said Buckrow. "Come on and stow this gold, and have done with the job."

"That's an end of it," said Thirkle. "No use to talk of it more. Do for me now; I ain't got much longer to live, anyhow. But I'll tell you chaps what I'll do, so ye won't have to ask no favours at the end."

"What now, Thirkle?" asked Buckrow.

"They tried to make a preacher of me in my young days, and it was no go; and they put me in the navy, and I made a mess of that. But I'm good as a navy chaplain at saying a prayer; and if ye'll bring me the little Bible ye'll find in my jacket-pocket I'll say the burial service of the Church of England over ye two, fine as a bishop would and good enough for anybody, with all the frills. How's that for Thirkle?"

"Let him go, Bucky," whined Petrak, with quivering knees and terror in his face.

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