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   Chapter 18 BIG STAKES IN A BIG GAME

The Devil's Admiral By Frederick Ferdinand Moore Characters: 22620

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"I'd look a fine fish letting of him go now, after what's passed between us!" laughed Buckrow. "Ye mind what he'd do the minute he got his paws free. Reddy, if ye don't shut yer trap I'll drill ye, that's what."

"No arms for me," suggested Thirkle. "I bear no arms; and both of ye have the bilge on me with all the knives and pistols in yer own hands."

"That's all very fine for ye to say now, Thirkle; but what of when ye get in reach of a gun or a knife? What then?"

"I'll bear ye no grudge," said Thirkle. "Never a word will I say, Bucky. That's done and gone, and we all have our little quarrels. Never a hand will I turn against ye, Bucky, and Petrak here to witness what I say."

"No grudge ag'in' me for what I done?" demanded Buckrow doubtfully. "Ye mean ye'll let this go and never a word ag'in' me, Thirkle?"

"Never a word. We'll slip all that and turn to at getting this gold away. What's a little mistake against all this here? Going to let a bit of a row stand between us and good times? I say no. Give me a chance to get ye all off here with the gold and I won't likely forget it if ye let me go, Bucky. I'm not the man to hold a small mistake of judgment against a mate like you, what's fought and worked with me so long, and ye was always ready, Bucky, when there was a hard job ahead.

"Nearly two years we've been together, mate, and it would be a pity if we smashed things now, when we've got a ship-load of gold. It's time we quit and took our comfort, and no more chances of getting a rope at the end of it. We've about played the game out, and we'd better not play a good thing too far or we'll find ourselves catching a crab one of these fine days. I said we'd stop if we made it safe with the Kut Sang, and we have and now that we've got plenty ahead, with eating and drinking and a good bed the rest of our days, let's square away for home.

"We'll start fair and square again, mates, as we did when we first put our heads together for this fortune, and no grudges and all equal now, as the worst of the work is over and the next is to get away with it, easy enough if ye let me pilot the job. In a month we'll be in London, and ye and Reddy, with a pub all yer own, and living at ease like gentlemen."

"All equal from this on, Thirkle? Each has his say, and one as good as the other?"

"Nothing without a council and two votes to decide, so ye two'll be yer own masters, having the two votes against me, with my advice for help. There's fifty thousand pounds for each of us, and we'll separate in London and go our own ways if ye like. I'll swear a black oath to that, and my word's good, as ye both know.

"Did I ever break it to ye? Didn't I always cut the loot as I agreed? I'm Thirkle, and when I say a thing I mean it. Now, Bucky, think it over before it's too late. Will ye go it alone, or will ye give me a fair play at the game, and come out with yer life and a fair share of the gold? It's for you to decide, and see ye don't make a mistake."

"No arms for ye, split three ways, and do as we please when we're away clear with the gold?" asked Buckrow.

"That's it, Bucky. That's what I said and what I say, and I'll stick to it."

"Swear to it, and nothing in yer mind."

"I swear to it and nothing in my mind. It's a square enough thing, and I never laid to do for ye as ye think. It was all a mistake, Bucky."

Buckrow began to whisper with Petrak again, and Thirkle held his hands up and called to them sharply: "Here! Cut this rope!"

Petrak started for Thirkle with a sheath-knife, but Buckrow pulled him back.

"I'll let him go," he said. "This is my job, Thirkle," continued Buckrow, approaching his prisoner. "I'm atween two minds with ye, and one is to slit yer neck, as I won't deny; but ye're a sharp cuss, and I guess ye can do this work better than I can. But I want to say to ye now, if ever ye turn on me after this ye're a dog.

"I'll take my chance with ye, but ye bear me no love, and I know it; and ever ye reach for a knife or a gun, mind that I don't see ye. It's play fair from now on, but show a claw and yer done for if I can do it."

He stooped down and slipped the blade of his knife through the bonds he had put upon Thirkle, and then stepped away from him, with the knife held in guard, as if he expected the pirate to leap at him once he had his hands free.

But Thirkle sat still for a few minutes, rubbing his wrists, and then called for the bottle. Petrak handed it to him, and he sipped the brandy and bathed his wounded head with it, sending Reddy to a pool of water at the base of the cliff to wet his handkerchief, and then bound it around his head.

"It looks bad, but it didn't hurt much, Bucky," he said, smiling. "What hurt me more was to have ye turn on me the way ye did; but that's all passed and gone, and we won't mention it again."

"Mind ye, don't," growled Buckrow, who was still in an angry mood and perhaps thought he had made a mistake in giving Thirkle freedom again.

"Oh, limber up a bit, Bucky," said Thirkle. "What's the use of us all going to Kingdom Come over a little fight, when we've had so much fighting to get this? The gold turned all our heads, no doubt, but we can't be fools through it. The stuff's no good here-the job's not done yet, but I'll get ye all clear now if ye mind me and keep sober in port. Shake, old mate, and let's be friends again."

He held out his hand to Buckrow, who took it, but awkwardly. I could see that he feared Thirkle, even unarmed, and knew him for his master.

"I'm cussed sorry, Thirkle, for what I done; but I felt ye wanted to do for me, and I couldn't stand for that," he said, with his eyes on the ground.

"All square now, Bucky, and never a word. Ye always did yer work well, and never a slip."

"And didn't I do the same, Thirkle? Didn't I stand by?" asked Petrak, surveying his chief with an expression of surprise that he had been overlooked in commendation, much as a dog would seek petting.

"You, too," assented Thirkle, beaming on the little red-headed man. "Never was a better man when there was to be a knife used quick and neat; I'll say that for ye. Now, I want to take a little rest for a few minutes, and if I was to have a word to say I'd suggest that you two get the sacks stowed in the hole there. I want a little confab with Mr. Trenholm here, and I'll give a hand presently. If ye think it's fair, I'll rest a bit; but we ought to get that stuff snug away, and there's no time to be lost."

Buckrow took away the belt and pistols, which had been unfastened from me after my capture, and he and Petrak set to work carrying the sacks of gold into the cleft in the cliff.

"It looked bad for me a while back, Mr. Trenholm," said Thirkle, sitting beside me and offering a cigar, which I took. "I wasn't quite sure that I could get myself out of that tangle."

"You had a pretty good argument," I commented, lighting the cigar, although my head throbbed so painfully that I knew I would not enjoy the smoke. "I'm afraid I won't be able to have any plan to help you get away with the gold and so earn my own life."

"My dear Mr. Trenholm, I'm sorry you didn't go down in the Kut Sang. Really I am, for you know I took quite a fancy to you in Manila. You are of such an unsuspicious nature."

"Oh, I had my suspicions well enough, but they were on the wrong track; in fact, I could not have done you justice-my imagination is not equal to it. The best I could do for you was to mistake you for a spy-an inadequate estimate, after what I have seen and heard of you."

"You flatter me, my dear Mr. Trenholm. But it is entirely your own fault that you are where you are. I tried to warn you, but you couldn't expect me to tell you my plans regarding the Kut Sang. I didn't want you in her, and I did my best to keep you out. Really remarkable, in a way."

"What do you mean?"

"That you should happen to be a passenger-such an insistent passenger-and as if you knew nothing about what was going in the ship. Really, you and Trego did well."

"I think Trego made rather a mess of it," I said. "If I had been in his boots I would have told the captain what it was all about."

"Why didn't you tell him? You could have told him about the gold as well as Mr. Trego."

"Indeed! Then, you believe I knew about the Kut Sang's cargo."

"I don't believe it, my dear Mr. Trenholm. I never accept a theory as a fact. There was a time when I thought your connection with the affair ended when you brought the orders from Saigon, but your persistence in pretending to buy a ticket in the Kut Sang rather puzzled me for a time, and then I was afraid that you suspected me, and that I had gone too far in trying to keep you out of the vessel."

"You are talking enigmas now."

"But what surprised me most," he resumed, disregarding my remark, "was that I purchased a ticket in the Kut Sang at all. I looked for a trap there, and if the game hadn't been so big I might have quit at the last minute."

"I am sure I don't know what you are talking about."

"My dear Mr. Trenholm! Really, your attitude offends me. I cannot see what you expect to gain by pretending you knew nothing about the gold in the Kut Sang. That is absurd. You brought the order for it from Saigon, and helped get the thing fixed, and yet you pretend that it is all a mystery to you. When I am willing to be so frank I cannot see why you should assume this manner."

"Then, I knew all about the gold from the first, did I?"

"Certainly. What do you think Mr. Petrak and I kept so close at your heels for in Manila?"

"Well, it did rather puzzle me for a while. Everywhere I turned you or the little red-headed rascal seemed to be near."

"And never seemed to remember having seen us in Saigon?"

"In Saigon? Were you in Saigon when I was there?"

"Left before you did, when we knew you had the order for the gold from

Commander Kousmitch."

"Never met the gentleman."

"Of course not. He got the cable-operator to have you deliver the order in Manila for him. But I heard him and the cable-operator talk it over, and that was all I wanted, and left. So you didn't see us in Saigon? I told Petrak you didn't, but he thought you did. That's one reason we got so bold in Manila."

"But the cable-operator told me the message didn't amount to much, and that he would send duplicates by mail, anyway."

"Of course he did. It didn't amount to much, except to give a code order about shipping this gold. And you dropped it in the bus, and I picked it up, and you were rather rude to me, which proved that you either had no suspicions about me, or knew it all and wanted to throw me off my guard. I believe you were actually laughing at me the last few hours in Manila. I couldn't understand, unless you had things rigged to trip me the minute we sailed.

"I was looking for it at dinner the minute we cast off; and what a scrimmage there would have been at that table if you had drawn one of those pistols! Why, Petrak and Buckrow and Long Jim were in the passage with pistols ready to come in, and I would have shot you first, and then Trego, for I knew Captain Riggs had no arms on his person. If I made away with you and Trego the next would have been Rajah, for the lad could have given a nas

ty cut with that kris. And I had to keep a close eye on Mr. Trego's malacca cane."

"Oh, you did! I never suspected for a minute that you regarded Mr. Trego as a dangerous character."

"He never told you?"

"Never told me anything. I was introduced to him in a most casual way in the bank, and was surprised to find him a passenger in the Kut Sang"

"He never told you about his cane? Most beautiful rapier you ever saw in it. Always had it by him, but he overlooked it when he got up from the table in the saloon last evening. Undoubtedly he was going for a pistol, but we had to get him when the time offered; and, besides, he was getting ready to tell Riggs all about me and my crew. There wasn't a second to lose. I met him as he was coming back and held him for Petrak, and we did the job quietly."

"It was something to be proud of," I remarked. "I never would have given the Rev. Luther Meeker credit for it."

"That's what made the character so valuable," he grinned, feeling the bandage about his head tenderly. I saw that he was weaker than he had led us to believe, and that he was suffering from his wound.

"But you puzzled me when they found the body. I expected you to denounce me; but you foolishly kept in front of me, and I was ready to blow your back out if you said a word, and we were all ready for the finest kind of a fight, although I did not want to precipitate matters so soon. Really, you had me guessing for a time, and I couldn't understand your attitude, knowing what you did about me and the gold. Then I saw that you had plans of your own, and wanted it yourself."

"It is you who flatter me now," I told him, surprised at his revelations.

"But you did want it, although I couldn't see how you figured to take it away from me, or why you didn't tell Captain Riggs what you knew."

"But I didn't know anything. I thought you were a spy, who mistook me for one, and I was letting you have your little joke out."

"You didn't know about the gold, or Trego, or me?" he demanded.

"I regret exceedingly that I didn't. If I had I would have blocked your game at the first opportunity. I suspected you were not a missionary, but I had never even heard of the Devil's Admiral."

"Most extraordinary."

"I agree with you."

"I mean that you didn't know about the gold, when I thought you did. I must confess that I made a tremendous mistake there. Really, it came near being a failure-it would have been if Captain Riggs had not been led to suspect you. I advised him to put you in irons after you were sent to your room-it seemed to be the easiest way to get you out of the fight. I was really afraid of you, Mr. Trenholm."

"You seem to have gotten over it. This seems to be getting more of a tangle all the time, and a sort of mutual-admiration society. I have no objection to keeping up the conversation, but you pique my curiosity as to how it is all going to come out. As I have already remarked, I can't see any argument that would lead you to let me walk away from here unless I tell you, as you told Petrak and Buckrow, that you'll hang."

"Now, tut, tut! You can't play my game. I thought you had more originality than that. You know too much now, and it would be premature to tell the story of the Kut Sang for several years. I'm afraid that I'll have to write my own memoirs, but for posthumous publication, of course."

"I'm sure I would like to read them. You have turned murder into a fine art-you should have been a contemporary of the Borgias."

"Do you know, Mr. Trenholm, I have thought of something like that myself. I am quite proud of my success. I would like if my career could be written down by a good hand at such things; but of course that is impossible, for no man ever knew the Devil's Admiral and lived. I regret to say that you will be no exception in that respect, Mr. Trenholm. I'm sorry you didn't go down in the Kut Sang and save me what is bound to be a disagreeable job."

"In that case I would have missed the little drama between you and Mr. Buckrow. I rather enjoyed it. You seem to be an artist at other things besides slaying men."

"I am glad you liked it, but Bucky is rather hard to handle at times. There will be another act or two, and I'll give you a chance to see the climax."

"That's kind of you, although you upset dramatic conventions and I will find it rather hard, I am afraid, to be a competent critic. Besides, I might be prejudiced, having a personal interest in the outcome."

"That won't matter much," he smiled. "My critics are always short-lived. Bucky there came nearest to getting me, though. If it hadn't been for Petrak I never could have handled him. They can't bear the thought of a rope. Whenever there was a hanging I took them to see it. Being a man of the cloth, I was admitted to all sorts of places, and, while I didn't travel openly with my men, I could mingle with them more or less in the character of a missionary."

He looked up at Buckrow, who stood over us scowling suspiciously, and his hand was close to his pistol.

"What's wrong, Bucky?" purred Thirkle, moistening a cigar between his lips and giving Buckrow a searching glance.

"I don't like that place in there for the gold, Thirkle. It's too wet to suit me."

"The dampness won't do any damage, Bucky. That's the best place on the island, to my thinking; but, of course, if you don't like it we'll consider it."

"The gold will rust in there," said Buckrow; and I knew he was in a dangerous mood again.

"Gold don't rust, Bucky," called Petrak, standing in the crevice and grinning at Thirkle.

"That's the best place on the island," said Thirkle soothingly. "This is the ideal place. But if you don't like it in there, we won't put it in there, and that's an end of it, Bucky."

"But it'll all rust up into great gobs if it's left any great while-I don't like so much water drippin' over the place, Thirkle."

"Gold don't rust, Bucky," called Petrak, and he laughed immoderately and slapped his knees with his hands.

"But what better place is there, Bucky? It's getting late now, lads, and that's the best place for it."

"Then I vote to stow it and pipe down with the gabbin' with the writin' chap," said Buckrow savagely. "It's time we got clear of here and took to the boats by dark, Thirkle. I'm not for cruising over this blasted island in the dark, and I don't fancy ye and the writin' chap gettin' so thick all of a sudden. If there's to be talk, we want to know what it's about, and I don't see no great gain in so much gossipin'."

"That's entirely my idea, Bucky. My vote is that we put it in the crack there and slick up around here so nobody can know what's been afoot. But I want a rest, and there are some things I want to say to Mr. Trenholm here that will be of use to us. Clap on, lads, and I'll be there soon."

"That's my vote," assented Petrak, grinning at Thirkle. "No argument there, Bucky."

"Then, lay on again, ye fool," growled Buckrow, turning to the sacks once more. "Cuss ye, Reddy, yer goin' to side with Thirkle ag'in' me, I can see that."

They picked up a sack and staggered into the ca?on with it, and Thirkle grinned at me, and lit his cigar again.

"See that, Mr. Trenholm? If I had let Bucky rule then I would have been as good as dead. I had another chap in my crew like that. After he saw the way I worked the game he wanted to kill me and take command himself. While he was making his plans to settle me the police got him for a murder he didn't do, and I trumped up the evidence against him, but never appeared at the trial.

"When he was condemned I told him I'd get him out all right. I had turned the trick before, with saws in the binding of Bibles, for some of my men in prison, and he had absolute faith in me, as all my men have. I went away on a little expedition after pearls down Mindanao way, and got back the day he was to hang. I visited him an hour before he was to swing, and told him it was all right and he was to escape at the last minute.

"I walked up to the trap with him, and, while praying with the prison chaplain, kept whispering it was all right, and he kept quiet until they had the cap over his head, and then he knew I had him. He tried to yell that I was the Devil's Admiral--but it was too late then. I felt that I was justified--he would have killed me the next day. But it was a fine joke, to my mind, Mr. Trenholm."

"Ain't ye goin' to quit gammin' with that chap and give us a hand here?" demanded Buckrow. "Is that what ye call all bein' equal, Mr. Thirkle? If ye do, I don't."

He came toward us in a threatening manner, and Thirkle, seeing that he must submit with good grace, got up and met him with a smile.

"By all means, Bucky, we are equal, but I didn't think ye'd begrudge me a little time after what happened. How does the gold fit in there?"

"Wet as a junk. We put the first sack in the eyes of her, but it's no kid's play, and we ought to have help, Mr. Thirkle, if we get clear away from this island to-night. We can't swear there won't be no moon, and, moon or no, we want to be out of the jungle and at the boats by sundown. And what's the game with the writin' chap here? I'm minded to have him do a bit of this work."

"Gold don't rust, do it, Thirkle?" asked Petrak. "I told Bucky gold don't rust but he don't like the water in there."

"Oh, dry up!" growled Buckrow. "What with yer talk we'll be at this job all night-"

"I vote-" began Petrak.

"To the devil with ye and yer votin'!" said Buckrow. "It's time we got to work, all hands, and so we will, and the writin' chap'll turn to and do his bit, or I'll know why. If he ain't to do his part, or we don't make no use of him, I say we'll up and do for him now and have it done with. Next ye know he'll make his getaway, and then a nice mess we'll be in."

"We don't intend to let Mr. Trenholm get away," said Thirkle. "I was just thinking, lads, that there are three of us, but counting Mr. Trenholm we make four, and we can rattle him down so he can lift and carry, but not much else."

"Then, lash his flippers down and put a bight on his legs," said Buckrow; and he brought rope and began to fashion it into knots.

There was a minute when I was tempted to jump and run for it; but it would have meant certain death, for the three of them stood over me, two of them loaded down with pistols, and I would have had a poor chance of getting away.

There was a promise of delay in the work to be done; and, not knowing what had become of Captain Riggs, there was the bare possibility that he might come upon the pirates' camp and attack them from ambush when he saw that I was a captive.

If I made the slightest resistance to the hampering ropes they put on me, with the cunning knots known to seamen, I knew they would not hesitate to make an end of me. So I stood up and allowed Buckrow to lash my wrists to my knees in such a way that I was bent nearly double, but with my hands sufficiently free to grasp a burden, and my feet hobbled for short steps.

We began the work of putting the sacks of gold into the hole in the cliff, and I set at the task with a prayer that before it was finished and my life was of no further value to the pirates I might find an opportunity to escape.

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