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   Chapter 19 ONE MAN LESS IN THE FORECASTLE MESS

The Devil's Admiral By Frederick Ferdinand Moore Characters: 24114

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"Ye can let him work with ye, Thirkle," said Buckrow. "As ye and the writin' chap seem to have a lot of chin, pair off with him; and, as the two of ye don't bear arms, he can't get his paws on a gun or knife that way. You two work ahead of me and Petrak, and then we can keep an eye on the both of ye.

"It strikes me you and the writin' chap is gettin' thick-too blasted thick to suit me, Thirkle, if ye want to know. Mind ye don't come none of yer smart tricks now, or I won't wait for ye to go explainin' of what ye mean. Savvy that?"

"Tut, tut, man!" said Thirkle. "How can you have any doubts about what will happen to Mr. Trenholm? I suppose you think I want to take him along with us so he can write this all up for the newspapers? I'm surprised at you, Bucky. Don't you know my ways yet?"

"That's all right," growled Buckrow, who was in an ill humour. "We was to work even, and ye ain't been doin' yer part, Thirkle. A bargain's a bargain I'd have ye know, and I'm to see ye keep to yer part of it."

"Pipe down-pipe down, Bucky," said Petrak, who seemed in glee after the brandy he had had. "It's the drink talkin', Bucky. We're all good chaps, and Thirkle's A No. 1, and we got the gold to stow."

"Don't come no bos'n manners to me," retorted Buckrow savagely. "I ain't goin' to stand for none such from ye, Red. Yer sidin' with Thirkle, and I know that, and I'm as good a man as Thirkle; and I'm boss here, even or no even. I'm boss! Understand that? Thirkle and ye can have yer votes if ye want; but I'm boss, and I'll drill the two of ye."

"Ye ain't goin' to fight, be ye Bucky?"

"I'll put all hands under ground-that's what, if ye don't turn to; and there's too much gammin' and gabbin' here to suit me, I'd have ye know."

Petrak looked at Thirkle as if in doubt about Buckrow's sanity, and Thirkle gave him a look that seemed to me to be a message, and he made a furtive signal which I was not able to interpret.

"Steady as she goes, mates; steady as she goes," purred Thirkle. "This is no time to quarrel. We'll have a gunboat down on us if we don't get away soon, and there's a lot to do yet before we leave. Let Bucky alone, Red."

"Then ye and the writin' chap lay on and move lively," snarled Buckrow, and Thirkle had me take hold of a sack behind him, and, with him leading the way, we carried it into the miniature ca?on.

The sacks were heavy, but were bound with ropes which served as handles, and were not hard to move until we got into the narrow cleft, where I found that my shoulders bumped along the walls as I swayed from side to side, or missed my footing on the damp, slippery ground.

Buckrow and Petrak followed us in with another sack, and when Thirkle had gone as far as he could he pulled our sack forward under his feet and stowed it in the angle where the walls joined. Then I had to pass the second sack on to him, taking it from Petrak, who was next to me, and then we turned in our tracks and went out again.

The brush on the top of the cliff overlapped the crevice, so that it was quite dark a few feet from the entrance. The walls were slippery with a thick, funguslike moss, from which cool water dripped.

"That gold will rust in here sure as a nigger's black," grumbled Buckrow, as he felt his way out. "I don't like this place at all."

"Best place on the island," whispered Thirkle. "Tell him it's the best place on the island, Reddy."

"It's the best place on the island, Bucky. I don't see as we could do better."

"I don't care what ye think of it; I say it'll rust in there," said

Buckrow.

"You had better go in backward this time," said Thirkle. "You may find it a little harder, Mr. Trenholm; but perhaps it will be more convenient."

"What's that?" demanded Buckrow. "Who go in first?"

"It will be easier if Mr. Trenholm goes in first," said Thirkle. "He'll have to go backward, but he'll find it easier to navigate."

"Oh, no, he won't!" said Buckrow. "I see your game, Thirkle. Ye want to come out behind Mr. Petrak and borrow a gun. We'll let you go in first, and the writin' chap can come out atween ye and Petrak. Don't come none of them games on me, Thirkle. I'm too old a fish."

We went in with the second lot of sacks in the same order, but I saw another exchange of signals between Thirkle and Petrak before we stooped for our burdens.

Before we had gone ten feet inside the crevice Thirkle coughed, and

Petrak, close behind him said: "Gold don't rust."

"I say it do," declared Buckrow. "Six months' time in here'll have this stuff with whiskers on it like a Singapore tramp that hasn't been docked in a dog's age."

"I say gold don't rust," persisted Petrak. "How about it, Thirkle? Does gold rust? I say it don't, and Bucky says it do."

"You're right, Reddy, but don't quarrel now," said Thirkle. "It won't rust because gold doesn't rust."

"I don't give a tinker's hang what Thirkle says!" cried Buckrow, throwing down his end of the sack. "I'm here to say gold will rust if it's kept wet, and that's an end of it. Gold do rust, Thirkle or no Thirkle, and I say it."

"All right," agreed Reddy. "Lay on, Bucky, and let's get this job over and done with!"

"White-livered little fool!" I heard Thirkle mutter. "He doesn't dare do it!"

I heard Petrak and Buckrow coming on, and we were soon at the end of the black hole.

"This is a fine place, lads," said Thirkle. "It will keep in here as well as if buried in white, dry sand."

"Maybe it will and maybe it won't," growled Buckrow. "I don't call no wet hole like this fine, and never did, and I'm minded to bury the rest of it outside."

"Never a bit of hurt in the water, Bucky," said Petrak cheerily. "We'll put many of these shiners over the bar of the Flag and Anchor, Bucky, and have many a pipe over our drink."

"Ye don't catch me in no Flag and Anchor. I'll have my drop of liquor in the Flagship and you can go to the devil for yours, for all I mind. What if this blasted hole closes up some day? What then? It'll be a fine place then, no doubt. Hey, Mr. Thirkle? What then?"

"No fear of that," said Thirkle. "It's wider at the top than at the bottom, and the tops hang away. I looked into all that when I decided to put it in here. There isn't as much water as ye think, Bucky; and it's under foot what there is of it, and, the way we've got it stowed here, one atop of the other, only the bottom one'll be very wet-and gold don't rust."

"These guineas will be thick with scale, and ye'll need a chipping hammer to clean 'em when ye have 'em outside again. Ye talk about folks bein' suspicious of gold, but I say they're quicker to turn up their noses and say things about gold that's been stowed in the wet and turned black."

"But gold don't rust, Bucky. That's sure-gold don't rust," said Petrak.

"That's all very well: but I mind when I dropped half a crown in a pool

back home, and in a fortnight it was thick as my hand. Think I'm a fool?

I know what I'm talkin' about, if ye don't. Go ahead and side with

Thirkle if ye like."

"That was silver, Bucky. Gold don't rust like that. I always knew gold don't rust, and now Thirkle says it don't, and Thirkle knows, as he always did. Mind we always asked Thirkle?"

"I'm not asking him any more if ye want to know, vote or no vote. My vote is as good as Thirkle's, and it's good as yours; and ye can side with him if ye want."

"But gold don't rust," said Petrak mockingly.

"Ye think I'm a fool?" shrieked Buckrow, turning on Petrak. He was nearest the outside, and I could see his figure silhouetted against the light at the entrance. He stooped down and put his face close to Petrak.

"Fool or not, gold don't rust, I'm telling ye Buck-"

"Then take that from a fool!" And Buckrow struck him square in the face with his fist, hurling him back on my shoulders, so that I fell forward on my hands.

"That's rotten mean, Bucky," I heard Petrak whining. "That's rotten mean in here in the dark, Bucky."

"That is rotten mean, Petrak," said Thirkle indignantly. "I wouldn't stand for that if I were you."

"Oh, ye wouldn't, hey? Well, we'll see what ye stand for soon's ye come out into the clear-that's what we'll see, Thirkle."

"It's rotten mean," whimpered Petrak. "I wouldn't do the likes o' that to ye, Bucky; not if ye never agreed along with me-it's rotten mean."

"Ye'll get worse as that is. Now, does gold rust, ye little runt? Say it!

Does gold rust?"

"That's hardly fair, Bucky," said Thirkle. "That's hardly fair on the little chap after he's stood by ye so long."

"Fair enough for me, Thirkle, and fair enough for ye it'll be when ye come out."

"What do ye mean by that, Buck?" demanded Thirkle, speaking over my shoulder; and then he whispered to Petrak: "Give it to him, Red-now's yer chance. Quick, lad!"

"Soon enough ye'll find out what I mean, Thirkle; that's what. If the two of ye think yer going to side together ag'in' me, well and good; but look out for Bad Buckrow, I say. I'll make my meanin' blasted clear, too. Mind that."

"My jaw's broke!" cried Petrak, struggling to his feet, breathing hard. Then without warning he sprang on Buckrow's back with a snarl like an animal, and the two of them went down in the narrow passage.

"Gawd a'mighty!" screamed Buckrow, with every bit of air in his lungs, and I heard Petrak strike again.

"Red-he got me-he-"

"Good!" said Thirkle into my ear, as if speaking to me. "I never thought the little chap had the innards for it, but he did as long as he could strike from behind."

Petrak was holding Buckrow down, and his victim was breathing hard and writhing under him, with his face buried in the ground. He coughed twice, as if there was something caught in his throat, and then was still.

"Did ye get him Petrak?"

"I done for him, Thirkle. I done for him good. That's the last of Bucky.

Mind how I fooled him, Thirkle? Said my jaw was broke."

"Good work, Reddy, lad. Good work, but be sure or he'll wing ye yet. Sure he ain't playing chink with ye?"

"Oh, he's done right enough. That leaves two of us-hey, Thirkle? Ye know Bucky would a done for ye but for me-wouldn't he, Thirkle? Ye know that's right-don't ye, Thirkle?"

"That's right, Reddy," said Thirkle. "It's a good job he's done for-and now there is two of us, you and me, Reddy. I never did like Bucky; but I like you, Red. He wanted his fight, and he got it. I knew ye wouldn't take that from him. No man could stand for such as that in here."

"That leaves all the more for us-don't it, Thirkle?"

"All the more for us, Reddy. Drag him out, and now we'll settle this navvy's job. It's one man less in the fo'c'sle mess, and dead men tell no tales; and now we'll have to do the work a bit short-handed; but we can clean it up between us now, and no more fighting going on."

Petrak pulled the body out after him, and Thirkle helped him carry it into the brush, where they dumped it without ceremony, and Thirkle found another bottle of brandy and offered it to Petrak.

"I'll just take a pair of these pistols, Reddy," he said, relieving him of the belt he had taken from Buckrow. "You don't need all those pistols, now that Bucky is done for."

"But ye was to bear no arms, Thirkle," grinned Petrak.

"That's what I told Bucky, but you and me'll get along better than we did with Bucky; and ye don't intend to hold me to that-do ye, Red?"

"I was only joking a bit, Thirkle. We're together now on the split, ain't we? Well, friends don't have to make such agreements. I sail with you, and you sail with me; and no articles signed beyond that, I say. What, Thirkle?"

"That's what. Have another drink, Red. That was a good job ye did for me with Bucky, even if he did play you mean."

"He was a bad one, all right," agreed Petrak, wiping his mouth and giving Thirkle the bottle. "Bad Buckrow they called him when I first knew him, and bad he was to the end; but I never looked to give to him, leastwise not the way I did, in a hole like that. Howsome it b

e, I don't stand for no smash in the mouth like he give me-ain't that right, Thirkle?"

"Right you are, but it's time we had this stuff cleaned up now. You and

Mr. Trenholm set at it while I put Bucky under ground."

Petrak and I resumed the work of carrying the sacks into the crevice, while Thirkle busied himself at digging a grave in the soft sand near the place they had deposited Buckrow's body. The little red-headed man began to whistle a music-hall tune softly, but Thirkle cautioned him against making any unnecessary noise.

I was in an agony from my cramped position, and tugging at the sacks served to increase my torture. The tangle of ropes which Buckrow had put on my ankles caught in loose stones and chafed the flesh until the blood came; and my wrists, pulled down with tight knots, which I had to strain against to keep my balance, throbbed and pained and tingled, my arms being numbed by the blood in the bound arteries.

Petrak kept before me, with the sacks between us, and his bloody knife pulled to the front of his belt. After he had stowed each sack he helped me back out, or assisted me to turn, which was always a hard task for me.

If I let my end of the sack slip out of my fingers he was ready for me with knife or pistol, so there was no opportunity to take a pistol or knife from him, even if I had not been helplessly hobbled.

"Mind ye don't try any monkey-business with me," he warned the second time we went in. "If ye do, I'll give ye what Bucky got, and ye mind that. I'm no gent to fool with, as ye ought to savvy by this; and if ye think I be, try something."

But, for all his warning, I was ready to risk death if I saw the chance to make a fight. I hoped that Thirkle would give him more of the brandy, but Thirkle kept the bottle to himself. When we pressed into the crevice I wore the ropes on my wrists against the stones as much as I could, trying to cut the bonds on the rough points of the walls. Once I stumbled and fell and groped for a splinter of stone, but he menaced me with his knife and kicked me until I got to my feet again.

I had given up hope of being rescued by Captain Riggs. Even if he found the camp, I doubted that he would attack until it would be too late for me, as he would naturally suppose Buckrow and Long Jim to be near by.

It was coming on toward twilight, and there were still seven sacks to be carried in. Thirkle had finished burying Buckrow, and set to dragging the sacks close to the entrance of the crevice, so we would not have to carry them so far.

Petrak made several attempts to talk with him; but Thirkle made short answers, for when he took the pistols he had dropped his mask of affability and assumed his old commanding airs.

"It'll be dark before we get back to the boats," suggested Petrak, as we stood over the five sacks which were left.

"Mighty dark," said Thirkle gruffly, sitting cross-legged, counting a packet of English banknotes.

"That's what ye want, aint' it?" asked Petrak, who noticed that Thirkle was not so friendly as he had been.

"You keep to work and never mind so much talk," said Thirkle. "If ye stand there that way, it'll be morning before we get away."

"I'm workin', ain't I? Can't a man stop to breathe, himself, I'd like to know?"

Thirkle made no reply, but went on running his thumb over the ends of the notes. I stood and watched them, waiting for Petrak to stoop and take a sack.

"Yer goin' to play fair with me-ain't ye, Thirkle?" whined Petrak, a trace of fear crossing his face. "We're in together, share and share alike now-ain't we, Thirkle? I can ask that, can't I?"

"Ye'll get yer share, Reddy," said Thirkle, smiling.

"That's half-ain't it, Thirkle? Ye mind what I done for ye with Bucky, don't ye?"

"Aye, half of it, of course, Red. Reef that jaw of yours now, lad, and clap on. Don't stand there like a Jew and wrangle over the loot. Want to stop and count it now, lad?"

"Ye told Long Jim to do for me-didn't ye, Thirkle?" Petrak grinned, and his fingers twitched toward the butt of a pistol. I knew what was in his mind.

"What's that?" demanded Thirkle. "Oh, run along now, Red, like a good chap, and get the gold stowed. Didn't I tell ye to get Long Jim, and didn't ye get him? What more's to be said? Run along now, Reddy, and pack it away."

"That's what Long Jim said," insisted Petrak doggedly. There was murder in his eyes, while his face was livid with fear.

"Then he lied, and ye ought to take my word against his. Don't be a fool now, Reddy, like the others. Ye'll get your share, bank on that. Yer a good sort, Petrak; and I need ye to help me get it away, and we'll share and share alike, as I told ye. Do you think I'd play dirt with ye after all we've been through together, Reddy?"

"Course not. Don't mind my lip, Thirkle, old chap. No harm done, is there?"

"No harm done, Reddy," said Thirkle, glancing at me suspiciously, as if he thought I had been turning Petrak against him.

"No harm in what I say, Thirkle," and Petrak took up the end of the sack. His mistrust of Thirkle gave me an idea, which I put into play as soon as we were well inside the crevice.

"Petrak," I whispered dropping my end of the sack, and compelling him to let it down.

"What's up now?" he whispered.

"He'll kill you, too, Reddy. He's planning it out; and if you let him, he'll kill both of us before he quits this island. Are you going to let him do it, Reddy?"

He growled out something and fumbled at his belt, and it was touch and go with him whether he would knife me and then run out and tell Thirkle to gain credit with him.

"His mind is made up, Reddy. He may let us help him get a boat into the water, but that's all. He'll murder both of us like dogs."

"Old Thirkle's all right," he said weakly, as if he felt the truth of what I said, but lacked courage to attack Thirkle.

"Reddy, he'll kill you!" I went on, seeing that I was on the right track, and that fear of death at Thirkle's hands was uppermost in his mind.

He had caught enough in Thirkle's manner since the death of Buckrow to see that he was not going to get a just division of the loot, at the very least, and, knowing the ruthlessness of his master, he had doubts about escaping with his life. Besides, I believed he had been tempted by the thought that he might kill Thirkle and then have it all to himself.

"He told Long Jim to kill you? Don't you see the way the devil had it planned to get rid of you? He planned to kill you all, once he had this gold on the island. You should never have come back after I shot Long Jim. Why did you come back? You know he'll kill you."

"I wanted to see where they hide the gold, that's what. Then, when I raised you there in the grass it come in my head to grab ye, and come in for my share of the gold, seeing Long Jim was done for."

His friendly mood encouraged me, but, if I let him ramble on with his own affairs, I would not be able to convince him that Thirkle was plotting to slay him. So I began with him again.

"Thirkle will kill the both of us. You heard what he said about being a gentleman. He has been an officer in the navy, Reddy, and he won't want you or any other man to know he was a pirate when he goes back to London. He wouldn't feel safe if he let you live. He cares no more for you than he did for Buckrow or Long Jim-you ought to know that."

"Oh, Thirkle is all right," he said in a way that exasperated me.

"He wouldn't look at you twice in London or anywhere else. He'll rid himself of you as soon as he needs you no more, which will be as soon as the gold is stowed and he has a boat in the water. Now is your chance if you ever had it."

"Thirkle is all right."

"He had it planned to kill Buckrow. Then he argued the two of you into letting him go. Can't you see that he is playing the game to have it all for himself? Are you going to be a fool all your life, man?"

"Then ye'd do for me after I done for him," he said.

"Give me a gun and cut me loose and I'll shoot him myself and I'll see that you get your share of the gold, which you won't from him. You can have it all if you'll let me kill him, and if he kills me you can say I cut my hands loose and grabbed a gun. You don't stand to lose anything-come on. Cut me loose and I'll take the chance you don't dare to."

"Thirkle's all right," he droned, picking up the sack again. "I know your game-ye want to do for the both of us and have it all for yourself. Fine job that would be! Nice I'd look givin' you a gun, wouldn't I! Lay on that sack."

"He's all very pleasant now," I went on as I stooped for the rope. "Wait until he has finished with us and the gold is packed, and then see what will happen-you'll wish you had listened to me."

"Pipe down with that," he growled, and I saw the uselessness of trying to make the lout see reason. I now began to fear that he would tell Thirkle what I had said to him.

When we went out for another sack, Petrak looked over at Thirkle and hesitated as if he wanted to say something, but Thirkle was writing in a little book, with a pistol between his feet.

"Well, what is it now?" he demanded truculently, having seen something suspicious in Petrak's manner. "What's the lay now? What have ye got yer hand so close to that gun for? Take a shot at me if you want-go on, take a shot at old Thirkle, if ye're that game."

"Only a habit o' mine, keepin' my gun well for'ard, Thirkle," whimpered

Petrak, shivering. "I have to keep a close eye on the writin' chap,

Thirkle. No offence, I hope."

"Look lively now, lad," said Thirkle, turning amiable again, but only to reassure Petrak. "Here's the last of it and get it away and we'll get under way."

We carried another sack in and I waited until we were at the far end and had dumped it before I began again with Petrak. I knew his natural treachery was near the surface, and it needed but little urging to bring him to the point when he would turn against Thirkle.

"We might as well say good-bye now," I said as mournfully as I could. "You remember I treated you pretty well in Manila, and I'm sorry for you now. It doesn't matter much with me how I end now, because Thirkle has the drop on me, but I'm sorry for you-you ought to have your share of it, and Thirkle ought to play fair with you, but he won't. That devil out there will kill us both in the next ten minutes unless you give me a gun and let me kill him. I'm not afraid of him-give me a gun!"

"Thirkle ain't bad," he said, as if trying to convince himself that he was not afraid of Thirkle. "He ain't bad-he said he'd play fair with me, and he will."

I laughed gently.

"Yes, he'll play fair-with himself. He's out there now putting down directions for getting back here-alone. Give me a gun, and let me free, and I'll kill him for you. When I've settled him I'll call you, and if he gets me it's all the same-except that you'll lose in the end.

"But with me you have a chance to win-can't you see that? You haven't a chance with Thirkle. If he gets me, don't trust him-shoot him the minute you can get the muzzle of your pistol on him. If you let me try you have two chances at him, and you can kill me if you choose afterward-or give me a knife if you don't dare to let me have a gun."

"He'll do for ye. Not a chance for ye with Thirkle in gun-play."

"But give me a chance to fight for my life," I pleaded. "If I can put him out of the way, so much the better for you; but it's death for both of us if we go on this way. Give me a gun, and I swear I'll let you go free if we ever get off this island."

"He'll kill you and then come and get me," he whined. "There ain't a chance to get Thirkle as easy as that. He'll do for me if you take a shot at him."

"Of course he will if we stand here and argue about it until it is too late!" I stormed at him. "Pass me a gun-don't be a fool, Reddy. Quick! Cut these ropes from my hands and give me a pistol and let me show you how to draw your Mr. Thirkle's teeth!"

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