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   Chapter 20 THE LAST

The Devil's Admiral By Frederick Ferdinand Moore Characters: 20040

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"What's all this social chatter between you two?" demanded Thirkle from the entrance to the crevice. I did not know how much he had overheard, but I determined to make one more effort to get the pistol.

"Quick," I whispered to Petrak. "Hand me the gun and free my hands!"

"It ain't me," whined Petrak. "It's the writin' chap here. Get along out," and he struck me over the head and I knew I had lost, although there was a doubt that Petrak would ever have given me the pistol.

"What's he up to now, Reddy? What's the nice young man trying to do?"

"Wanted to do for ye, that's what, Thirkle. Wanted a gun, but he got no gun from me. Said you wouldn't play fair with me, Thirkle, but I said ye would."

"So ye want to take a hand in things here, do you, Mr. Trenholm?" said Thirkle as I came out. "Still got an idea you can beat old Thirkle at his own game. Learning new tricks, I see. Before long ye'd be ready to boss the job. Didn't take ye long to forget what I told ye of the other smart chap who wanted to settle me and take command himself, did it?"

"You stick to your pen and typewriter, Mr. Trenholm, and let me run my own crew-nice pirate ye'd make, with silk underwear and a typewriter," and he and Petrak laughed loudly at the joke,

"I told him you would kill him, and so you will," I said, mustering as much defiance as I could under the circumstances.

"Kill Mr. Petrak here! Ha, ha, ha! Why, he's my partner, Mr. Petrak is, and we're going to share this gold together, share and share alike, as gentlemen do."

"He wanted to do for ye, Thirkle," said Petrak, flattered by his master and unable to see the sly sarcasm of Thirkle in his joy at being assured of his position, and of getting his share of the gold. "I never give him the chance, Thirkle. Now if it was some-say Buckrow or Long Jim, they might give him a gun, but not Petrak. Ye know I ain't the kind to turn on a pal, Thirkle, and I say you stick to me and I'll stick to you, come what do. Ain't that right, Thirkle?"

"Reddy, yer true blue," and he took Petrak's hand and shook it vigorously, and patted the little rat on the back. "Stick to Thirkle and Thirkle will stick to you like a Dutch uncle, and never mind what Mr. Trenholm has to say. He's not in this, or won't be long, and it won't be many days before we are counting out the gold between us.

"I've got enough five-pound notes here to buy the little yacht, and I'll take some of the gold, but not much. We'll be back here before the month is out, all slick and snug, and then away for London."

"I'll stick like paint, Thirkle; lay to that," said Petrak, grinning at me. "I knew he was on the wrong course when he come that gun talk to me, and I told him Thirkle was all right, and that I knowed ye better than him, and so I do-hey, Thirkle?"

"You had better give me your pistols until you are done, Reddy. Ye can't trust these gentlemen who write-they have too much imagination, and they are too foxy for men like you and me, Reddy. There's no telling what he might do in there if you have guns and knives on ye. Pass 'em over, Reddy, or he'll do for us yet."

Petrak gave up his weapons joyfully, not realizing that he was being disarmed for the very purpose I had warned him about-Thirkle was getting ready to finish his job in earnest.

"Now get along and dump the last of it in there, and move navy style or we'll be here at dark. No more soldiering, Petrak: and see that ye keep yer jaw battened down, Mr. Trenholm, or I'll take a hand in this that ye won't relish and attend to ye in a way ye won't fancy."

"Ye'll play fair with me, won't ye, Thirkle?" asked Petrak.

"Fair as ye deserve. Move along with that cargo."

Petrak began to whine to himself, and I said nothing more until we went in with the last sack.

"You fool, he'll kill you as I told you he would, but you are too late now."

"Oh, Thirkle's all right," he grumbled; but he seemed worried since he had given up the pistols, and he saw plainly enough that Thirkle's manner had changed in no undecided way since Petrak had surrendered his weapons.

"All clear," said Thirkle, as we came out. He was measuring rope, and had his jacket on and a bundle rolled up, and all the camp litter was removed and dead leaves scattered over our tracks.

"Can I have my guns now, Thirkle? I don't like to go down the trail without a gun-no knowin' what might happen."

"Never would do yet, Reddy. Take this knife and cut the lines away from Mr. Trenholm's feet, and we'll fix him so he can navigate back to the boats. You take the lead back, Reddy, because you know the way better than I do, and I'll make Mr. Trenholm fast to ye, and follow on. We'll need to look sharp to make the beach before dark."

"But I want my guns, Thirkle. Fair play's fair play, and I want my guns."

"Never mind the guns, I say. Mr. Trenholm will be right at your back all the way down, and we can't take any chances now, Reddy. I'll settle him when the boats are off, and then you won't have anything to worry about. Cut his feet loose."

"What style of a funeral would suit him?" asked Petrak, busy with the cords at my feet.

"We'll have to select something special for Mr. Trenholm. How about the same go-off we gave Caldish? Remember Caldish? Wanted to say his prayers. Quick and neat it was, and no mess."

"If he helps with the boats, how about a tow out at the end of a painter,

Thirkle? He'll make good shark bait, only some skinny."

"That would do for him nicely, Reddy. We'll let him push the boat well out, and, when he has her clear, pull away and give him plenty of line. That's a capital idea, Reddy, and we'll use it."

They bound my arms to my sides, and put the end of the rope round Petrak's waist, so that I was about five feet behind him when it was taut. In this way we set out for the beach, with Petrak in the lead and Thirkle, carrying his bundle and smoking a cigar, treading on my heels, to make me keep close up.

The sun was not quite down, but the jungle was filling with shadows, and, once the sun got below the horizon, night would close down on us with the tropical swiftness that knows no twilight, and the day would go out like a candle under a snuffer.

Thirkle had been drinking of the brandy, and was in a jolly mood, and he had given Petrak a good swig of it to lighten the little rascal's feet, but I refused the bottle when it was offered to me, for, low as my spirits were, and racked as my body was, I could not come to accept their ghastly hospitality.

If I let the rope tighten between me and Petrak, Thirkle prodded me with the point of a knife, and, as I was faint with hunger and thirst, and utterly worn out, I frequently stumbled and fell, when they both set upon me and beat me to my feet. Petrak pulling me up with the rope, while Thirkle scourged me with a leather thong.

We had been on the road about half an hour when I recognized the spot where Captain Riggs had crawled into the brush to rest, and I began to complain loudly and made as much noise as possible, hoping that the captain and Rajah might still be concealed near by.

"Keep close!" yelled Petrak, as I let the rope tighten and hung back.

"Get along or I'll flay ye alive!" thundered Thirkle, which was what I wanted him to do.

"Then don't let those low limbs fly back on me," I cried as loudly as I dared without exciting their suspicion of my purpose. "They knock me off my feet, and that's why I can't keep close up."

"Shut yer jaw," said Thirkle, and I stumbled along again, wondering what had become of Captain Riggs, and wondering if he had been lured into the jungle by the shots I had exchanged with Long Jim, and was lost.

I kept straining at the cords about me, but although I hurt the wounds on my wrists until I was weak from pain, I could not free myself. If nothing better offered, I was determined to make a dash at Thirkle if he freed my hands to work at the boat. If I could not surprise him in the dark and get hold of a knife or pistol, I could at least give him a fight even if I died in a last attempt to save myself. I much preferred to die fighting than at the end of a rope in the water, as Petrak had suggested.

I knew they would have to find the oars before they could get a boat away, and the missing plugs might cause them a deal of trouble if they launched the boats without noticing their loss. I hoped that I might find a chance of escape in the darkness if the boat filled with them after they got it into the water.

Finally we came to level ground, and I knew we were close to the beach, for we could hear the rollers. The brush was thicker in the marsh, and we got off the trail, but we could see patches of the moonlight on the water ahead, and caught the white flash of the waves tumbling on the shingle.

Petrak left the bed of the brook and pushed his way straight ahead through the dense foliage which shut us off from the beach. I fell and made a great racket, setting up a wail about my leg and swearing that I had broken it, and begging Thirkle to help me.

He struck at me with his thong, and, although he missed, I screamed at the top of my voice, as a warning to Captain Riggs, in case he should be lurking about. Besides, I hoped my play that I had been badly crippled would give me a better opportunity to escape or to attack them, as they would be more careless if they thought I was perfectly helpless.

"I'll give ye something to yell about soon," said Thirkle. "Just wait a while and I'll give ye something to make a real fuss about. Maybe ye think there's a ship near-maybe there is; but it won't do ye much good, so let's not have any more of this bawling. I thought ye was gamer than that, my fine Mr. Trenholm."

"Here we are, Thirkle!" cried Petrak, pushing the wall and bushes aside and showing us the moonlit sea and the loom of the mainland shouldering up into the stars. "It can't be far to the boats, Thirkle."

We went out into the still warm sand. The

moon, lean in its first quarter, hung over the top of the island, silvering the sand and playing with the gaunt shadows of the palm-trees, distorting them into queer shapes and making grotesque patterns under our feet. The breeze, the snoring of the waves, the sense of freedom after the hot, reeking jungle, refreshed me, and I almost forgot the doom that threatened. Thirkle stood a minute and scanned the channel, muttering to himself.

"Looks all clear, sir," said Petrak.

"All clear, Reddy. Push on, lad; the boats are right ahead."

"Here we are, sir, all snug," called Petrak, and I saw the indistinct pile in the shadow of the brush which marked the cache of boats.

"No matches, Reddy. Mind ye don't make a flash or we'll have some craft on the prowl along here. We can't take any chances."

"Cut me loose from this cussed line, Thirkle. We can take a turn on a tree and hold the writin' chap until we have need for him."

Thirkle cut him free from me, and they bound me to a broken palm-stump. I pleaded to be put on the ground, complaining about my leg, and Petrak finally wrapped the rope about my legs and threw me to the ground, more to keep me quiet than to ease my supposed suffering. They left me laying helpless in a thicket of young bamboo shoots, with my head and shoulders in the sand. I managed to wriggle on my side so that I had view of the boats, and, what was better, I got my teeth into the rope on my hands and began gnawing it desperately.

"Which boat has the stores, Reddy? I'm twisted all around."

"The nighest, Thirkle. The nighest has the stores, and the other the tackle."

"You go round the other side for the block, Reddy. We better take the spare boat with us and set it adrift after we clear the channel, or load it with stones and let it go down after we are clear of the island. Then we'll get the wind and slip down the coast to the first native town. That's better than waiting to be picked up and having to answer questions that wouldn't carry by. No Manila-bound boat for us, to land about the time the Kut Sang was reported overdue."

"Right ye are, Thirkle," said Petrak, stumbling about in the dark. "It's black as a Kroo boy in here," and presently he began to drag the block through the dead leaves and brambles.

"'No need for the tackle, sir, once we get clear of the sand, in my mind. We can skid 'em with oars, and lighten the stowed one-hey, Thirkle? I ain't for leavin' no marks hereabouts, and we can drag some bushes over the wake we leave in the sand, so-"

"We'll see about that when we get clear," said Thirkle gruffly. "Hold yer lip now."

Thirkle was busy pulling the palm-leaves from the boats and clearing the litter with which they had covered their cache. I could hear him tugging at the sail which they had spread over the outer boat. The moonlight was getting brighter, and more stars were coming out, and the jungle was beginning to awaken. A lizard set up a monotonous croak in the branches overhead, and insects and unseen things began to stir in the foliage.

"Blast this mess of halyards and gear Bucky strewed alongside-"

I heard Thirkle draw his breath sharply as he left the sentence unfinished. He drew away from the boat in a quick, involuntary movement, and I managed to twist my neck so that I could observe him. He stood motionless for a minute, his figure a queer fretwork of light and shadow from the creepers and palms.

"Reddy!" he called cautiously. "Oh, Petrak!" Something in his tones-a suggestion of suspicion that everything was not right-thrilled me. Petrak did not hear him as he was fumbling with the block in the sand and muttered about a jammed rope.

"Petrak!"

"Aye," said Petrak. "I'll give ye a hand next minute, sir."

"Come here," commanded Thirkle with a hand on a pistol.

"What's up?" demanded Petrak, getting to his feet. "Can't ye start it-what's wrong, Thirkle?"

"Come up here and haul out some of the gear in this boat-move navy style, lad-we can't be wasting the whole night! Reach in there and clear that mess of halyard."

But Petrak did not move. He knew something was wrong; but whether it was Thirkle he feared, or what Thirkle seemed afraid of, I did not know. I thought he suspected treachery.

"What's wrong, Thirkle?" he demanded.

"Come on up here, can't ye?"

"What ye want, Thirkle? No funny business for me. Speak out what ye want.

Ye ain't goin' to do me dirt, be ye, Thirkle-not Reddy?"

He was whining now, and he was in terror of Thirkle.

"Oh, shut up!" growled Thirkle. "It's nothing, but it give me a turn."

"What was it, Thirkle? What frightened ye?"

"I thought I put my hand into a mess of hair and-"

"Oh, ho!" laughed Petrak. "That's a ball of spun yarn Bucky left. It's naught but spun yarn, Thirkle. I minded it myself," and Petrak turned to the block again.

Thirkle moved toward the boat, saying something about how he was getting old and nervous, and I saw him bend over the gunwale. I watched him closely, for a hope had sprung up in my withered heart-a hope which I hardly dared tell myself might possibly be true, after the train of disasters which had overtaken me since I went aboard the Kut Sang.

I saw a form spurt up out of the boat, and, as it arose, like the fountain that pops out of the sea after a shell strikes, there came a heavy blow and a deep-throated grunt, followed by a hiss that was merged with a shrill death-cry.

"Black devil! Black devil!" said Thirkle in a quiet, matter-of-fact way, and then he began to sob and squirm; but the figure that had come up like a jack-in-the-box held him pinned across the gunwale, with his shoulders and arms inside the boat, and his legs writhing and thrashing in the dead palm-leaves.

"What's wrong, Thirkle? What's wrong?" wailed Petrak.

He stood a second waiting for an answer, and then he started for the boat, but stopped at the edge of the shadows.

"What's wrong, Thirkle? Sing out, can't ye? What's gone amiss?"

Thirkle's legs were quiet now, but I could hear his heavy breathing, and it reminded me of the steam exhaust from an ice-factory.

In spite of the mystery about me, I set my brain to work trying to remember what particular ice-factory sounded just like Thirkle's breathing.

"I'll hold him, Rajah," said Captain Riggs. "Go get the other," and the figure of the Malay boy sprang from the boat and leaped toward Petrak. The little red-headed man gave an incoherent gurgle, and he took to his heels down the beach. Rajah let him go, and ran to me, where I was tossing about like a dying fish. He hissed to me and swiftly cut me free, and I rushed to the boats, with a tangle of rope still clinging to my feet.

"Captain Riggs," I cried, "it is I, Trenholm!" and he lifted his hand from the shoulder of the dying Thirkle and took mine.

"All's well," he said calmly. "Glad to see ye alive, Mr. Trenholm. I gave ye up, and we came back here and went to sleep in the boat, but Rajah was on watch when he heard ye coming back, and I guess he's made an end of this beauty. Here, strike a match and let's look at him."

I held the flame down to Thirkle's face, and his clenched teeth grinned at me through snarling, open lips, but his eyes were glazed with death. We stripped him of his arms and lay him down in the palm-leaves, quite dead.

"Did that other rascal get away?" asked Riggs. "We'll have to wait a bit and see if we can't find him. But probably we better get to sea. Ye know where ye left the plugs and oars? That little red-headed chap can't do much harm, and if he gets away we'll find him some day. We'll be back here in the shake of a lamb's tail, anyhow."

We rigged the tackle and hauled the boat into the sand with little trouble, and, while Rajah held her on an even keel, we tugged at the painter and soon had the water lapping at her bows. The stock of provisions and water was restowed, and then we smashed the extra boat and took the oars. We covered Thirkle with sand, but Riggs said he would carry him back to Manila with the gold.

Rajah was in the boat, and we were prying it off the shingle and waiting for a favouring wave when we were startled with a hail from the jungle.

"Cap'n Riggs! Oh, Cap'n Riggs!"

"Who's there?" I shouted, although I knew.

"Petrak-don't leave me here, cap'n! Take me away from this cussed place-please, sir, please. I'll be good, only don't leave me on the beach-I'll die afore mornin', sir."

We took him. He came creeping out of the jungle, sniffling and wailing, and begging not to be hanged, and saying Thirkle and the others had done it all. We bundled him into the bows, telling him he was a dead man if he made a suspicious move; but the little cur never had enough courage to fight unless he could stab a man in the back.

Once in the channel we filled away to the south, scooting past the black upper-works of the Kut Sang, as we caught a stiff breeze from the north. Then Captain Riggs made me sleep.

It was long after daylight when the captain shook me, and right over us was a square-rigged ship. She was hanging in stays, and a boat was coming to us from her when I looked over the gunwale. She was an oil-carrier from Kobe to Manila.

"Four men out of the Kut Sang, ashore on a reef," said Captain Riggs, as we went over her side. "You may put the red-headed gentleman in irons, if you please, sir. Thank you."

And so we went back to Manila, where Petrak was hanged, and the only men who ever sailed with the Devil's Admiral and lived to tell of it were Captain Riggs, and Rajah, and myself, and the story was not written until after Captain Riggs had fallen asleep under the poplars of his Maine home and forgot to awaken. As I write the last of the tale, the wind howls in the chimney, and the fleecy fog is coming over Russian Hill from the Pacific, and hiding the ships in San Francisco Bay, and the last sheets from my pen are gathered up by Rajah, wearing in his girdle the kris that killed Thirkle.

THE END

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