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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.
"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 sh.e.l.l 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_, ash.o.r.e 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 Francis...o...b..y, and the last sheets from my pen are gathered up by Rajah, wearing in his girdle the kris that killed Thirkle.