Sea Scamps/In the China Sea
IN THE CHINA SEA
BOLES and I first met in Hong-Kong. I had just came down from Vladivostock on one of the little steamers that make the loop from Melbourne up along the Philippines for Amur Bay via Japan, then down along the coast of China and back to Australia. What I was doing up there has nothing to do with this yarn. It was in connection with some contracts with the Russian Government, and concerned the eastern terminus of the trans-Siberian railway. It turned out to be a very unpleasant business, and resulted in my receiving a cable from the narrow-minded superintendent of the Iron Construction Co., which I represented, giving me an order for my transportation expenses home, and telling me that my services were no longer needed by the company. All of this, because I saw and acted on an opportunity to save the concern about half a million dollars by taking advantage of a bit of Slavic stupidity. The difference would have gone through my hands, but of course I would have turned it over to the concern.
Well, the result was that, having a little money of my own to invest, and hearing great tales about the business opportunities in Manila, I thought it might be worth while to run down to Hong-Kong and take the trip across, just to size up the proposition.
The Diamante was the next steamer to sail for Manila, and as she didn't leave for three days I had time to see a little of the place. The annual pony races were on, and having a natural weakness for that sort of thing, I got in a 'rickshaw one afternoon and went out to the "Happy Valley" to see if perhaps I couldn't manage to pick a gamy one, as I used to at the Danbury Fair at home. Crowds of people never interested me much, except where their business was concerned, but I must say that the outfit I struck going to those miserable pony races was enough to take a man's mind off his troubles. There were all colours, creeds, and nationalities, soldiers of every kind and description, from the big, black, sombre-looking Sikhs in Her Majesty's uniform down to the smiling, chattering little Jap middies off the men-o'-war. Once in a while a long, raw-boned Yankee officer-man in dirty khakees would come lounging along and pass a dapper swell of Her Majesty's Royal Welsh Fusileers, and the two would remind me of a standard Vermont road horse, just in from a forty-mile hike through the mud, beside a park hackney passing the bandstand. Then the girls! Rangey, thorough-bred Americans,—tourists, and army women, I reckon,—that made the blowsy, high-haired English girls, with their red cheeks and big teeth, look like healthy servants; tourist-ladies that might have come from any part of the world and any stratum of society; wicked-looking and often beautiful adventuresses that hang around the swell hotels and have dear friends in official circles; naughty little Jap girls all innocent of their naughtiness, which, no doubt, supports their parents, and, mixed all through the gang, common soldiers and sailors, Chinese merchants, East Indians, Anglo-Asiatics, policemen with other policemen to watch them, coolies, and scum. Usually, just as the road got the most congested, there would be a hubbub and turmoil, the "hhui! hhui!" of panting 'rickshaw men, and presently a gilded, emblazoned 'rickshaw that seemed to grow around a big, fat, placid mandarin would be squeezed out of the mess and sling down the road. One of these tally-hos came slap-bang into my one-horse shay and scared my coolie until I thought that he was going to run away. I never did have much respect for Chings, not nearly as much as I've got now, perhaps because then I'd only seen the laundry kind, so I turned myself loose and talked to them the way I've heard the mate of a Mississippi flat talk to the nigger roustabouts. I think they guessed what a lot of it meant, but I'm afraid they had the best of me because I'm sure that I know what they said back.
I saw one or two races run before I made up my mind to take a flyer, and decided that they were run square enough; they were too slow to be shady, besides, while I've never radiated any too much affection for our English brothers, I must say that they're good sports;—those pony races would die a natural death if they weren't.
I picked my pony for the third race and went over to the bookmaker and bid for twenty dollars' worth of him. The fellow was busy and didn't hear me, and I was just going to toot again when a good-looking chap beside me said in a quiet sort of way:
"Poor racing, too," said I, looking at him rather hard and trying to think where I had seen him before. He was a man about forty-odd years old, I should say, medium-sized, but with unusually broad shoulders and a general look of physical hardness. He was rather well dressed and his clothes fitted him too well for an Englishman. There was something familiar about him, but I couldn't seem to place him at all.
"What's the matter with the pony," said I; "can't he run?" Ordinarily I would have been put out at a man for mixing up in my business without an invitation, but this man looked as if he had so much sense that somehow I didn't seem to mind it.
"The pony can run like a jack-rabbit," said he, "but he's a nasty one, and the jockey's all in a funk. Look at his face—and his knees—he'll never get that pony around the track."
When I looked at him again I saw that my tipper-off was right. The other ponies were mostly ridden by their owners,—Englishmen, some of them big, heavy fellows,—but this pony had a Chinese boy on him, and he was beginning to find it out.
"Guess you're right," said I; "much obliged for the tip." I looked over the rest of the bunch and directly spotted a neat little bay with run written all over him.
"Guess I'll try the bay," I said.
"I've got twenty on him," said he, and turned away.
Well, the race was run, and before they'd reached the half-mile my first guess was cutting figure eights. The bay won in a walk. I tried to find my friend, but he must have gone.
The next morning I got talking to a Yankee tourist that I met in the hotel, and he advised me to go over to old Kowloon, as it was a fair specimen of a Chinese town. Chinese towns don't interest me much, but I had to kill time some way, so I got on the little-boy's-size ferry boat, crossed the straits, and got a 'rickshaw man, who must have been mighty hard up, to lug me the three miles and back for about thirty cents of our money. I was very glad that I'd taken the trip before I'd gone half a mile, as it gave me a few points to tell the folks at home about raising garden truck; also, it warned me from eating any myself while I was in China.
I wandered about the dirty old ruin for a while, not because I enjoyed it at all, but because it was really educational to see how hogs, chickens, and Chinamen can all live in the same place together without its apparently hurting the hogs and chickens. When I'd taken all of that in I went up the hill back of the inhabited town, where there are the ruins of the old city, to see if I could find any old relics or corpses or something of that sort to cheer me up. Strange to say, the place was actually cheerful and pretty in a way, although, in all of my travels, and I've banged around a lot, they've never shown me anything East or West that can come up to the little rock-heaps through Connecticut.
Then I got a surprise. I'd been browsing along the old wall, built years and years ago to stand off the Tartar pirates that used to gut these towns (what a hard-up crowd the Tartars must have been, by the way!), and I'd dug a couple of old iron grape-shot out of the mason-work with my knife. The loneliness and desolation of the abandoned ruins had soaked into me so deeply that I began to feel that I was a part of the place and rather liked the sensation, when suddenly I heard the deep muffled boom of a great bell. It was an eerie sound, and reminded me that I was a real live man, after all, and had no business prying around a place abandoned to ghosts, if they were only the low-down ghosts of Chinamen. There was nothing in the character of the sound to suggest that it was caused through a living agency; it seemed rather to proceed from the place itself. I had left the wall and was going up the side of the hill toward what seemed to be a row of temples, the central one being larger than the rest and having in front of it a long series of great, rough-hewn granite steps which ended above in a black, gloomy arch. At the foot of the steps there was a level space behind which a wall of rotting mason-work and cement, with a great red disc upon it, marked the spot of former executions. Just beyond this obsolete shambles stood a gnarled old tree from one of the boughs of which there hung an ancient bell of bronze. A man was standing beside the bell, striking it with his fist, used hammer-wise, and as I came around the corner of the wall I saw that it was my friend of the racetrack. Perhaps with a sort of an idea of getting even with him for the start that he had given me with his miserable old bell, I walked quietly up behind him to within not more than ten steps, my feet making no noise on the hard, dry turf. As I stopped he caught a glimpse of me out of the tail of his eye. I had expected to see him jump or let out a yell. My own nerves are about as good as they turn them out, yet I am satisfied that if anyone had swung suddenly into my near range of vision in that creepy place I would have cleared that eight-foot wall in one leap. But I was disappointed. He simply swung around in a light, muscular sort of way and nodded indifferently.
"Good-morning," said he; "sight-seeing?"
"Yes," I answered; "trying to kill time until my ship sails."
"This ought to be a good place," said he with a bit of a smile; "they've killed a good many centuries here. I expect you find it rather slow."
"Yes," I answered, a little nettled by his manner; "it is slow; not quite as slow as the pony races, I'll admit, but fairly deliberate. By the way," I added, "speaking of the pony races, I didn't have a chance to thank you for your tip. I wanted to buy you a drink or something."
He smiled, a little sarcastically, I thought.
"Oh, don't mention it. I've got it in for those bookmakers, and am only too glad for a chance to rub it in."
He pulled out his watch.
"What are you doing 'way over here?" I asked abruptly. It was none of my business, of course, but I wanted to keep him. To tell the truth, I was getting mighty lonely and tired of messing around all by myself; then, seeing that he rather hesitated, I tried a new tack.
"Why do you suppose these fool Chings lit out of here and went to live in that mud-puddle at the bottom of the hill?"
"Oh, I fancy that this place is too bright and cheerful and wholesome for the Chinese idea of comfort. The beggars hate fresh air. Well, I must clear. Good-morning." He turned around and went off down the hill.
Wasn't that just the English of it? Why, I would have been glad to talk to a mud-turtle in a God-forsaken hole like that!
After he'd gone the place was lonelier than ever, so I made tracks for the city. One would think that, after the experience of the morning, I would have had sense enough to stay around the hotel the rest of the day. Unfortunately, I'm one of the restless kind that can never stay in one place for five minutes, so that afternoon nothing would do but I must go up on the Peak and take in the view.
The city of Victoria is built at the foot of the slope of a high mountainous ridge that ends on the eastern side of Hong-Kong in a great high peak. I've forgotten the name, but everyone just calls it the Peak. On a fine day, which doesn't often happen, the view of the city and the straits and Kowloon beyond, is grand. Of course, it can't begin to compare with some of the views at home, but for that part of the world it is hard to beat. There is an incline railway that runs from the city up to the top of the ridge, where there are a big hotel and a lot of government buildings, Sikh barracks, a hospital or two, and some residences.
The incline railway stops at the Peak House, the big hotel on the top of the ridge, and there, following the lead of a mixed crowd of tourists, who knew all about it because they had never been there before, I got into a chair swung between two poles that bent a little too much under my weight to make me entirely easy in my mind. Those tourists just took root in those contraptions as if their wildest dreams of luxury had been attained, but they didn't fit me in a single spot.
The baby carriages down below had made me feel like a Christmas doll, but these were worse. Besides, both of my porters had the heaves, due, I suppose, to their going out of training and hitting the pipe between climbs. I tried hard not to think about it, and told myself that it would be a good job if they both dropped dead in their tracks, but it was no use, and pretty soon I gave it up and got out, paid them off, and told them to "vamoose," one of the few words, by the way, that has one international meaning.
I passed some of the tourists on the way up, and as I went by I heard one of them, a countryman by the way, but from the Hoosier belt, describe the view as "real neat." Somehow that irritated me. The view was not "neat," it was downright grand. I saw that I would probably lose my temper if I got mixed up with that crowd, so I hit off to one side, and presently came out on a little knoll not quite as high as the summit, but much more select. Consequently, as I came up over the edge I was a little put out to see a man sitting on a big granite boulder squinting down at the straits through a binocular. One peep showed me that it was my unsociable acquaintance. He heard the scuffle of my feet on the rocks and looked quickly around. I have never seen a madder look than his face wore for the moment.
"For Heaven's sake," said I, "I always heard that China was the roomiest place on the face of the earth, but it seems to me that I can't turn round without running into you." I thought I'd sort of anticipate him. He got a little red, and then I began to get peevish.
"Cheer up, old man!" said I; "I won't bother you," and I turned to go.
"Hold on!" he said; "I wasn't hot on your account, and if I seemed rude this morning I'm sorry. It was something that I saw down there that gave me that sweet expression. Sit down, won't you.?"
I lit on a rough piece of rock. To own up, the man interested me, and I was curious to find out what could have riled him at such long range. He didn't say anything for a minute, but took another stare while I admired the "neatness" of the view. Presently he laid down his glass and turned to me.
"Do you see those junks coming up the bay?" he asked.
"Those high-tailed wash-tubs with the puckered sails?" said I.
"The same. Do you know what they are?"
"Oh, probably coastwise traders, fishermen, smugglers, pirates, scoundrels, and thieves," said I. Being Chinese, I thought the last four chances safe.
He looked at me admiringly. "You Yankees are great guessers," he said. "I fancy you've made a straight diagnosis. Feel like listening to a yarn?"
"Sure—I'm not making a cent."
Well, with that he sailed in and gave me the wildest piece of oral architecture I ever listened to. He's since written it up himself. The gist of it was that he had made a bargain with a Chinese merchant-smuggler in Manila to run a cargo of opium from some bay up near Hong Hai, across the China Sea to a place on the coast of Luzon, where the Chinaman's crowd were to look after it. The thing seemed easy enough, and would have brought him a pot of money, but after they got their dope aboard and were about to pull out, a gang from a junk jumped them and took this man Boles, for that was his name, and his partner prisoners. There was a lot more that I didn't take much stock in, about how they were carried way up into the interior, and it was discovered that this partner of Boles, who was a half-breed American Indian, was in some way descended from this Chinese outfit's tribe. It was an interesting yarn enough, especially the part about what they would have made if they'd only managed to have got away with the dope, and I could easily see how sore Boles must have been at everything with a quarantine-coloured skin. When he got through I asked him some questions.
"Do you mean to say, Boles, that any of these trading junks would turn pirate if they thought there was anything in it?"
"I honestly believe they would, if they were confident that it was a sure thing and worth while. Most of them carry guns, ostensibly for defence from one another, but you can't make me believe that any of the scoundrels wouldn't take a chance if they got what seemed to be a sure thing."
"What cargoes do most of them carry?" I asked slowly, for his words had given me an idea, as I afterwards discovered he intended they should.
"Valuable ones very often; opium, silks, spices, tea—it all depends—might have pearls, you can't tell." He picked up his glass again.
"It would be a joke," said I, "to go out fixed for them and then get held up and turn the tables. I don't suppose that they'd come near you then. It's usually the way."
"I think they would, if you were where you were apt to fall in with several, and you seemed to be in trouble; short-handed and a bit smashed up, you know." He looked at me out of the corner of his eye.
"It would be a dangerous game," said I, thinking hard.
"And you might get in trouble afterwards."
"No danger of that; the fact of your being attacked would warrant almost anything."
"You'd want a few sandy white men that you could absolutely depend upon in your crew," I said.
He laughed in a hard, bitter sort of a way.
"Easy to get. I know of three such. One's an ex-Spanish officer from Manila who doesn't care to go back to Spain for very good reasons of his own. Number two is a ticket-o'-leave man from Australia, whose father was a baronet, and number three's an Irish politician from New York who got his hands in the city treasurer's cash drawer without his glove on."
"A swell crowd," said I; "where did you meet them?"
"They're members of my club," said he, with another of those nasty laughs: "the Beachcombers' Club."
"You seem to have the thing well worked out," said I; "I believe you really want to do it."
"Well, to be frank, I do," he answered slowly; "if I could get someone who I was sure would sit tight and see the thing through and not lose their nerve at the last moment. I'm tired of trying to do anything with these geniuses who have always made a hash of things; perhaps because I'm too familiar with the cult," he added in a hard sort of voice.
"How much of a stake would this little deal be apt to need?" I asked.
"Five hundred would fit us out."
"Oh, shucks!" said I in disgust;—"you'd want a rapid-fire gun or two, to say nothing of the best small arms—then how about your vessel? How are you going to charter a suitable packet without security? Five hundred! Why, you talk like an innocent kid with his head full of dime novels!—Oh, bosh!" said I, clean out of patience, "it's a nice fairy tale, but there are too many 'ifs' about it. I'm in for any sort of a reasonable business proposition, and it wouldn't hurt my conscience a bit to send a few piratical Chinamen to hell—but this plan of yours——"
I shut up in sheer disgust at ever having taken such a fool proposition seriously. Whipping out my knife I picked up a splinter of wood and started to whittle it, which is a trick I have when I'm put out.
Boles didn't say anything, but began to study the straits again through his glass. I could see that he was sort of irritated at the way I'd spoken my mind, and that made me more peevish than ever.
"Look here," I said, turning to him suddenly, "what have you got up your sleeve, anyway? It sounds too darn foolish to talk of going out and hanging around with a chip on your shoulder waiting for some junk to come up and knock it off. You think that one might—but what real good reason have you got for thinking so?"
He laid down his glass, and I was surprised to see that his face looked real pleased.
"Now that's the kind of talk!" says he; "I piped you down as a hard-headed sort of chap the minute I saw you. I talked over this thing with the other fellows that I was speaking about, and they wanted to rush right off and do it before dinner. The keener they got about it the more I became satisfied that it wasn't such a snap as it looked. I haven't told you the whole game because I wanted to see how it was going to strike you first."
"Let's have the rest of it, then," said I, rather pleased that he had sized me up as I deserved.
He pulled out his handkerchief and swabbed off the lens of his glass.
"You remember what I just told you about how McKim and I lost our brig in Hai Chin Bay?"
"Well, I learned afterward that the crowd who cleaned us out wanted that brig to carry on a little local piracy of their own, using Hai Chin Bay as their base of operations. The chances are that I'm the only man that knows about this. My idea would be to get right off the place, which isn't far from here, and then to flop around with a broken wing in sight of the shore. I think that would draw them, and if it didn't we might go in after them. There's a valuable cargo in that tub, and the chances are that they have added to it. I was going to report the matter to the authorities here, when this plan struck me as better."
"Now you're talking sense!" says I, getting interested again, "but how about that five hundred dollars to fit out the expedition?"
"That's where you're a little too quick on the trigger, my friend. Before you begin to call a man an ass you ought to hear him through. I can show you how the item of expense is the least of the row!"
"Fire away!" said I; "but don't be disappointed if I can't see it. I'm a little thick at times."
"Well, it's like this. The Spanish gentleman I spoke of a minute ago, whose name is Alvarez,—for business purposes,—stood very high in the Spanish-Filipino official circles before our friend Dewey opened the ball. Now Señor Alvarez had received and receipted for a tidy sum of money appropriated by the Spanish government to build a new cuartel, or barracks, in his district. The señor, while a man of honour, was at the same time a Spaniard, and a business man, and knowing that the erection of the barracks would take some considerable time, cast his eye about for a little profitable investment for the bulk of the appropriation in the meantime. Unfortunately, he had just locked up a large slice of it where it would be unavailable for some time, when the war became imminent. Alvarez is a good deal of a diplomat, but he saw that the time was not far off when he would have to account for that gold, and he couldn't see just how he was going to do it. Unlike most Spaniards, he knew a good deal about the resources of Uncle Sam, and he began to get panicky. A colleague of his who was in the same fix blew his brains out.
"Now Alvarez had a good many valuable personal effects which he didn't care to have confiscated or looted, so with rare presence of mind he bought the best little coasting schooner he could find in the port, sent to Hong-Kong for a couple of rapid-firing six-pounders, ostensibly for the gunboats,—all this before war was actually declared, mind you,—loaded his truck and his guns into the schooner, and stood ready to clear at the first sign of a squall. Even then he came within an ace of being too late, but he got away and has. been hanging around here ever since. His schooner's been lying over in Macao, where the señor has a residence. He's still got plenty of money, but he haisn't got enough to make restitution and go back to Spain. I learned all of this when I was in Manila, but had forgotten all about it until not long ago I met the señor."
"Then under these circumstances your greaser friend would naturally claim the lion's share of any enterprise such as you suggest," said I, getting more interested. I was afraid at first that I was to capitalise the scheme.
"No," said Boles, "the old rooster won't listen to the proposition unless we can all go shares. Afraid of being victimised. Now, that's out of the question for the Australian. The politician and I have both got enough for ourselves, but not enough to stake our convict friend, whom I consider invaluable. I believe he's the only downright honest one in the outfit." He smiled a little.
"So, as far as I can gather, my job is to stake him and myself?"
"Precisely," he answered. "Now think it over to-night and I'll see you in the morning. You may wonder why I have told you all this; it's simply because I'm sick of hanging around here, and while I hate to leave what seems to be a good thing, if you decide that you don't want to go in, I'm off for Delagoa Bay next week. I've got rather a poor billet as surgeon on that old contraption you see lying off the Kowloon docks over across the straits there. Well, think it over—see you in the morning—you're stopping at the Connaught? I thought so—good-evening." In that usual abrupt way of his he leapt to his feet and made off down the hill.
Well, here was a business proposition for a starter. If it had been in any other part of the world I would have laughed at it, but in the East one's scruples are a little on the bias, like everything else. Hong-Kong, and the bay, and the tourists, and everything else went out. I shoved my hands down in my pockets and started down thinking hard. But all the while I knew perfectly well what I was going to do about it. At the worst it seemed to me that we only stood to lose a little grub money, for I had no intention of buying Alvarez' tub or anything like that—we would simply insure him against its loss. I hadn't thought to ask Boles if he or any of the rest could navigate, but I took it for granted that he had considered all that. And I was satisfied that five men like ourselves, with all the modern conveniences for murdering, could stand off slathers of junks. I might as well confess while I'm at it that there was another thing in the crazy business that appealed to me, although it made me ashamed of myself; that was the excitement of it. I cursed myself for a fool, instead of the sensible man of affairs that I had tried to be, but it was no use, the more I thought of the scheme the better I liked it. Besides, it would be a good thing to teach those miserable pirates a lesson. The idea of such things existing in these days!
About ten o'clock the following morning, while I was sitting in the office of the hotel trying to find the reading matter between the advertisements of one of the local papers, I heard a familiar voice at my elbow, and looking up saw Boles and another man. The stranger was a fine-looking chap, very well dressed, and with an air of breeding about him.
"Good-morning, Mr. Knapp," said Boles. "Mr. Knapp, let me introduce Mr. Barton."
I shook hands with Mr. Barton in some surprise, not quite seeing why Boles had brought this swell around when we were to have a business talk.
"Mr. Barton is the gentleman I spoke to you about yesterday," said Boles, "the one whom I was so anxious to have connected with our little deal."
I tried not to show my surprise, but I'm afraid it stuck out a little, as Barton got rather red. I knew, without looking at Boles, that there was a sarcastic grin tucked away somewhere around the corner of his mouth.
"Come up to my room, gentlemen," said I, "and we'll talk this thing over."
We went up, and when we were settled Boles got up and opened the door which I had closed. The room was at the end of the corridor, and when the door was open we could see all the way down. I like those little details; they show that a man has a careful mind.
"Well, Mr. Knapp," said Boles, "what have you decided?"
"Just this," said I; "I'd like to join, but I have no intention of paying two initiation fees. Now I'm a business man if I'm nothing else, and I've got a plan for the incorporation of this stock company which ought to be satisfactory to all hands." With that I put the thing before them as I saw it, they nodding as I went along. The gist of it was that each of us was to deposit a certain amount with a Hong-Kong trust company, to be paid to Alvarez or his estate in case we failed to return his schooner at a certain time. Having insured him against loss, I decided not to allow him anything beyond his regular share for the use of his schooner, as I didn't think we would have to. We were to share the running expense equally, except Barton, who, not having taken any financial risk, was to receive a twentieth share of the net profits, while the rest of us would each share a fourth of the remainder. I had expected that he would be sulky at this, but he never said a word, didn't even seem to be paying attention, but just sat there smoking a cigarette in a lazy sort of a way that got on my nerves. When I got through Boles asked him if he was satisfied with the arrangement, and then he suddenly woke up and said: "Ay—ay—anything you say, ye know"—and then tilted back against the wall and stared out of the window, glue-eyed.
Boles went right off to talk to Alvarez, who had come over from Macao. I spent the rest of the day fretting around the hotel and playing pool with an apothecary from one of our men-o'-war, who told me that he was from New Haven, and knew some folks of mine in Bridgeport.
Boles came in late in the afternoon, tired but triumphant. He told me that he had had a hard time with Alvarez, but had nailed him, and that we would be able to sail in a week. His idea was to give it out that we were going to Singapore in ballast to trade around the islands of the Malay Archipelago, and then, once clear, to run down the coast and troll for pirates. He was full of plans of how he could manage to make the old hooker look like a partial wreck. I told him to be blame careful not to make her look like a total wreck. These Britishers have no more sense of humour than a woodchuck.
"By the way," said I; "have we got any sailormen in the outfit besides yourself?"
"They're all sailormen more or less, except the politician. He's volunteered to cook. Seemed quite keen about it. Know anything about a boat yourself?"
"I'm better at figures," said I, "but I was hatched on the beach at New London and was always 'long-shore as a kid. Guess I can take my trick."
The next morning Boles took me over to Macao to see the schooner and meet the other two members of the syndicate. I took even less fancy to this pair than I had to the indolent jail-bird gentleman.
The Spaniard was a man about sixty years of age, very tall, thin, and sallow-looking, with a face and manner like a college professor. His voice was very soft and gentle, but while he held my hand tightly in both of his long wet ones, and told me how the ambition of his life was being realised now that he had met me, his shifty green eyes were playing around like the tongue of a snake, and taking in Boles and Grogan and the bay—everything but looking straight into mine.
The politician was a little better, but that didn't make him altogether a star. He must have sat for the caricatures of the ideal "boodle alderman," for that was his style, precisely. He began at once to ask me all about New York, who was going to run for this and that office, and it wasn't long before he managed to get me to one side and tell me that I was "ahll r-right"; that he was "dommed glad to have a counthryman in this deal," and "that we Americans must stick to wan anither." Before he got through talking I had made up my mind that the greaser was the better man of the two.
That night we fixed up the business part of the scheme, not without some wrangling, but with no bad feeling. The next day Boles got to work on the schooner. Of course we had to evade Uncle Sam's filibustering scouts, so Boles very ingeniously built a false bulkhead just abaft the forecastle, between which and the real one we hid the guns and ammunition. He rigged another one aft for the small arms.
By common consent Boles was regarded as being in command of the expedition, consequently he did most of the work of preparation. The rest of us lent him a hand whenever he needed it, which wasn't often. The schooner was in pretty good shape, and after she'd been scraped and caulked in a few places, all that needed much overhauling was her running rigging. What little work there was to be done in provisioning her up, Grogan attended to, as he was given sole charge of the commissary.
Barton stayed out aboard with Boles most of the time. Alvarez was hard at work finishing a magazine article he had written, entitled "American Treachery," and I divided my time between the Macao gambling rooms and wondering how I had ever managed to get roped into such a foolish game as this appeared to be. The most consoling feature of it was that, barring accidents, it cost practically nothing, as the commissary bill, which amounted to about twenty-five dollars apiece, and the little overhauling, were the only expenses we would have.
One little incident which occurred when we were all at Alvarez' place one evening, annoyed me considerably. It was after dinner, and our host and the politician had drunk a little more old Madeira than they really needed. While we were having our coffee and cognac, and discussing things in general, I remarked, to no one in particular:
"Suppose we bang around for a while with our broken wing, and no one appears to take any interest in us,—then unless we find your brig I suppose the whole game's off."
Grogan and Alvarez, who I noticed had been very thick right along, exchanged a cute sort of look which I happened to catch.
"Yes," said Boles, "then the joke's on us."
"Not on yer life," said Grogan; "sure we can take an inthrest in thim." He laughed in a significant sort of a way. I saw Alvarez nudge him slyly with his elbow. Then the Spaniard broke into his soft, purring laugh.
"Ah—you would have us to becoam ladrones ourselves, my friend Pheel"—Grogan's first name was Phil.
After dinner I made an excuse to walk down to the landing with Boles, who had taken up his quarters on the schooner. Neither of us said anything for a while, but I think that each knew what was in the other man's mind. When we got to the landing he turned to me.
"Come out aboard, Knapp, and have a little quiet chin-chin."
"Thanks, I will," said I; "that combination up there would jaw me to death. A lying greaser and a drunken Irishman is a bad combination for a man with troubles of his own."
"You don't seem to have a very gilt-edged opinion of your confrères?" said he.
"No more have you," I answered, "only you don't show it. It's just the difference in our breed."
He didn't contradict this, but hauled up the boat and motioned me to get in the stern. He cast off and picked up the oars, and in a minute had laid us alongside the schooner. On the way out we passed a sampan headed for the beach, but neither of us thought anything of it. Boles made fast the painter, and we went below. The cabin was very comfortable, neat as wax, and smelling strongly of fresh paint. Neither one of us used much liquor, but Boles brought out a box of Manilas, and we both lit up.
When our flues were drawing well, I put both elbows on the table and leaned towards the man on the other side.
"Look here. Dr. Boles, I'm going to ask you a straight question, and I want a straight answer. Are we going to attempt to capture any harmless trader that doesn't attack us first? In other words, is this expedition to be as you represented it to me at first, or is it to be just a damn piratical scheme?"
Boles dropped his chin in his hand and looked at me hard from under his straight, heavy eyebrows.
"Why do you ask that?"
"I'll tell you why—because I've got a good old New England conscience in me, and it doesn't jibe with piracy in any form. I've gone into this thing with the idea that it was to be straight and aboveboard, and that we weren't to molest anyone that didn't bother us, with the exception of the crowd that stole your brig in Hai Chin Bay. So if you people have got any other cards up your sleeve, I'd just like to call your hand now before we start, because I tell you frankly that if any funny business is tried I'll just naturally raise hell!"
"So will I," he answered. "I haven't any New England conscience, but I've always tried to do what was square. I know what put that idea into your head, Knapp; it was what that drunken fool Grogan said at dinner——"
"No," said I, "it was what the greaser kept him from saying by that sleight-of-hand work of his—were you on to that?"
Boles' face got hard as flint. "Yes," he said, "I saw it. I don't miss many tricks when I'm playing with their kind. Of course you don't know me, Knapp, and there's no particular reason why you should believe what I tell you, but you can have my word for what it's worth, that as long as I can help it there will be nothing done on this cruise beyond what we have discussed. Now, if you don't like the look of things it isn't too late for you to pull out."
"I never said anything about pulling out," said I, rather huffed. "I only remarked that I wouldn't stand for any crooked work."
"That's all right. Now I want to tell you another thing. You chaps have told me to captain this little wagon, and I'm going to do it. What you all may do now is your own affair, but, after we once clear, what I say has got to go, and the sooner everyone finds that out the better for all hands. I'll have no arguments, and no drinking beyond what is reasonable. Once we're off soundings Mr. Grogan will have other things to do than to hatch out piratical schemes, so you needn't let that worry you."
"I hadn't calculated to lose many hours sleep over it," said I, and then, as it was getting late, I got up to go. As I stepped to the companion-ladder, I heard a sort of rustle from one of the bunks 'way in under the sternsheets, and as I looked between the steps of the ladder it seemed to me that I saw a man's foot pulled into the shadow. But I didn't let on that I had seen anything, and went right up on deck. Boles following me.
"Where's Barton to-night?" I asked as we were pulling in.
"He went ashore this afternoon, and I haven't seen him since."
"I have," I thought to myself, but I made no answer, as I wanted to think the thing over.
Boles left me at the landing, and went off aboard. I wandered back to the little Portuguese hotel where I was putting up, and my mind wasn't idle, by the way. One minute I was suspicious of Boles and was convinced that he had just gotten me off aboard because he saw that I was thinking of what Grogan had said, and he wanted to reassure me. But when I thought over his words and manner and all, I found it impossible to doubt him. Finally I came to the conclusion that Barton had probably gone off to the schooner in the sampan that we had passed on our way out, and that probably being more or less under the influence he had crawled into that after bunk for a nap, and that Boles himself had no idea that he was aboard. At any rate, it was impossible to guess how much of our conversation he had taken in, and perhaps it would be a good thing after all for him to see that the only two men in the outfit with any sense were of the same mind. However, I determined to say nothing about it to anybody, but to keep my ears buttoned back and both eyes freshly peeled for a while.
Three days later we were all ready for sea, and Alvarez, in some way, got us clearance papers for Amoy, with a general cargo, which latter consisted of black granite cobbles, most of which were to be chucked overboard as soon as we got something to put in their place. Once we got to sea we all had a chance to admire the ingenuity of Dr. Boles. I must say that in some respects that man was almost as smart as a Yankee. He had stepped the foremast of that schooner so that he could lift it clean out with a tackle rigged from the head of a short jurymast set up just forward of it, and another tackle from the mainmast head. The running ends of the tackles led through a couple of snatch-blocks on deck to the windlass, and the big spar was eased down by vangs rigged on the fore and back stays and port and starboard shrouds. Another tackle from the fore- to the mainmast head kept her from coming on the run. Once down, she was rolled into chocks and lashed. The short jurymast had a torn, splintered top to it which gave it just the look of a mast carried away about twenty feet above the deck. Of course, this meant an awful lot of work, as the lashings had to be all unrove from the dead-eyes in the foreshrouds, the spring and forestays cast off, to say nothing of all the running rigging of the foresail. Besides this, the jibboom could be unshipped, and a torn, splintered fragment shipped in its place, then about ten feet of the bulwarks were detachable, lifted right out, leaving jagged ends on both sides of the holiday. There were a few more artistic touches, such as a fake smashed deckhouse and a stove boat, and Boles had painted the seams of her bilge so that when she rolled it looked exactly as if they were gaping. Altogether, if she didn't look as if she'd just had the lining torn out of her in a collision, I'll eat my hat.
When we had put two days between us and Hong-Kong we put her out of commission, so to speak. It was tearing hard work, but we got the mast down without mishap, and when we had finally gotten through with her, she looked so tough that we felt like manning the boats and leaving her. She would work all right enough under a double-reefed mainsail, trysail, and what little headsail we could set on the scrap of the jury foremast, but it was slow work. However, we were in no hurry, and every day brought us nearer our hunting grounds.
Everything aboard the schooner ran as smooth as oil. The credit of this peaceful state of affairs was largely due to Grogan, who certainly fed us to the top-notch. How he did it on the money I'm sure beats me, but I've a sneaking notion that Mr. Grogan put the mess-fund in that hungry pocket of his, and stood off the ship chandler indefinitely. He was always a plausible scoundrel. Since he didn't intend to pay for it, I guess he thought he might as well spread himself.
Two days after we had dismantled our little packet, a small coasting steamer sighted and came down on us, wanting to know if we needed any help. We told them no, that we could get along all right, and she left us. Boles told them that we had been in collision with a steamer the night before, and that she had left us without our making her out.
We had passed several junks, but they took no more interest in us than if we had been a hencoop struck adrift. When the fourth passed us close aboard in this contemptuous way, I saw Grogan and the señor, who were standing in the hatchway with just their heads sticking out, touch elbows. Barton was not far away, and Grogan said something to him, but he only shrugged his shoulders in a tired sort of way, and took a deep inhale of his cigarette.
We had broken out our guns after we had torn the packet apart, and Boles had then given us another sample of his ingenuity. In mounting the six-pounder, he had dropped the tripod right down through the deck, so that the gun just swept the bulwarks. Over the barrel he had fixed a sort of cylinder, which was painted the dirty green colour of old brass, and gave the gun just the look of one of the old smooth-bores carried by some of those coasters. The object was to give the appearance of a useless piece of ordnance ostentatiously disposed, and even after we began to fire it they would not discover its real character. The other gun, which turned out to be a Maxim machine gun, was mounted just forward the mainmast, and had a tarpaulin thrown over it.
After five or six junks had passed us with perfect indifference, I began to notice a change in the attitude of our complement. Grogan stopped joking, Alvarez was a shade less polite. Boles got restless, and I was irritable. Only Barton was as tranquil and unconcerned as ever, and lounged lazily around the deck and smoked unlimited cigarettes.
Finally I came to the conclusion that he was steeped too full of nicotine to have any particular interest in anything except his weed. But the other two I watched like a cat. Whenever Alvarez took his trick at the wheel, Grogan always sat on the corner of the deckhouse and chinned, often through the whole watch. Then one night this gave me an idea. My bunk was 'way aft, almost by the rudder-post, and the only light came from a little round glass deadlight set into the deck, one on each side of the wheel. I saw that if I could manage to get this out, I could hear everything that was said by anyone standing near the wheel. It wasn't a hard job, as the deck planking was fairly rotten around the edges of the glass where the water had leaked through from time to time. The hole was only about two inches wide, and after I had worked the thing loose with the point of my knife, I secured it in place with a sharp nail jammed cornerwise.
The day after I had fixed this contrivance the trouble began to brew. About the middle of the forenoon we sighted a sail on our weather bow, and pretty soon we made her out to be a junk of about fifty tons, deeply laden, and apparently heading so as to pass us within a couple of miles. When she got right abeam she suddenly put her helm down and headed straight for us. Then there was a lot of excitement; all of us but Boles, who took the wheel, slid down through the main hatch and hung our heads over the coaming. Boles luffed and yawed her in an unmanageable sort of way, and once he got her in stays and couldn't seem to get her out. The old junk came crashing up, and when she was right under our quarter rounded to within easy hail, and two or three Chings fired a lot of monkey talk at our skipper. Boles just shook his head and motioned them away with his hand. They chinned and jabbered away, and presently dropped a boat, which four of them got into. At this Boles pretended to be very much excited and alarmed.
"Vamos! vamos! vamos!" he yelled at the top of his lungs, jumping up and down on the deck and flourishing both hands over his head. Then suddenly he dove into the companionway and hauled out a rifle, which he aimed at the boat.
"Stand by now, you chaps," he said. "If they persist in coming after this they're our meat. Look at that junk, will you—she's scuppers under."
Grogan was swearing away to himself and muttering nervously, "Ah-h, the dir-rty blaygards, th' theevin' divils." Old Alvarez was chewing his dirty white whiskers, but Barton lounged against the hatchway with a cigarette between his lips and his lids half lowered, the picture of languid interest.
Boles continued his gesticulations, but the Chinamen in the boat apparently paid no attention to him. Directly they shoved off and headed for the schooner. When they had pulled or, rather, pushed about ten strokes, he threw his rifle to his shoulder and fired. The bullet went through the bow of the boat, and threw a splinter into the air.
They turned suddenly and paddled back to the junk. Alvarez gave a sigh of disgust.
"Fer Hivin's sake, Boles, go aisy!" said Grogan beseechingly; "sure ye'll be after dr-riving thim off."
"He ees foolish, our capitan," said Alvarez softly; "now they weel fear to attack us."
Barton blew a cloud of smoke into the air and said nothing. I must say that even I thought that Boles had gone too far.
Boles turned to the hatchway with a scowl.
"Shut up there; they'll be back," he said. "I've seen some of that crowd before, or I'm much mistaken."
He was not far wrong. In response to a jabbering of orders from the deck, the boat dropped back alongside, and the men tumbled out and took her aboard. In a minute the junk paid off and stood across under our stern. At first we all thought that she was going to try to lay us aboard, as she had no sooner got abeam that she tacked and bore down on us in a very suspicious manner.
I really think that if we had kept covered and obeyed orders it would have been all right, but to stand there quietly and watch that big, cumbersome tub crashing through the seas straight for us was more than Grogan's nerves could stand. With a howl of excitement he swung his big, fat body up through the hatch and made for the rapid-firing Maxim. Old Alvarez followed him, leaving a wake of seething Spanish blasphemy, but Barton lolled over against the coaming of the hatch and sleepily stroked his silky moustache. I'll acknowledge that my back hair bristled for a moment when I saw the water boiling under the low bow of that great bowl as she buried her nose in a sea, but it bristled still more when she sheered off enough for me to see the swarm of ugly-looking scoundrels peering curiously at us from her high poop.
But the game was up. The minute that Grogan and Alvarez skipped out on deck, and the former snatched the tarpaulin off the Maxim, the junk put her helm hard down and the next minute was up in the wind. Like a flash Grogan had trained his gun on her, but before he could fire Boles had dropped the wheel and leaped alongside him, his hard face fairly livid with rage. His arm flew out, and the politician went head first into the scuppers. Before he could rise Boles had grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and hauled him to his feet.
"You swine!" he snarled, between his set teeth, "you bloated thug—when did you take command of this vessel—you big, fat-headed fool, do you want to turn us all into scoundrels like yourself? If you ever do a thing like that again, I swear I'll kill you in your tracks." He threw him to one side as if he had been a child and turned to Alvarez.
"Señor Alvarez, you are old enough, and I hope have sense enough, to know better than that. Can't you see that this fool was just about to run all our heads in a noose? If he'd fired on that junk she'd have just scuttled off and reported us, and we'd have a gunboat down on us before we could go about. Oh, you consummate ass!" he added, turning wearily to Grogan, "now you've gone and made a hash of the whole business. If you'd only let them alone they'd been alongside in a couple o' minutes." He turned and walked disgustedly back to the wheel.
It was easy to see that the politician was badly scared, but under his fright there was the thirst for revenge that I knew would grow as the days went by. I looked at Barton. For about the first time his face showed a little animation, and a dreamy smile hovered about his lips. He caught the politician's eye, and laughed at him slily. I saw the devil creep into Grogan's eyes, but he only turned and went below to wash away the blood that was trickling from a cut on his temple.
That night Alvarez had the mid-watch. Boles was asleep below, and Grogan was lying in the bunk just forward of mine. Barton should have been asleep in the forecastle, where his quarters were.
When Alvarez had been on duty about ten minutes, I heard Grogan slip softly out of his bunk and steal up the companionway. "Now," I thought, "there will be a bit of conversation that I would like very much to hear." I pulled the nail from under my deadlight and let the glass drop softly into my hand. Just as I did so there came a cat-like tread on the deck, and then a voice that I had difficulty in recognising as Barton's, it was so keen and hard:
"Well, gentlemen, are you satisfied now of the truth of what I told you before we started,—that this excursion would all be a blooming farce as long as Boles and this cursed Yankee had anything to say about the running of it?"
I heard Grogan curse and start to speak, but old Alvarez cut in.
"But what ees it that we can do? He is a deevil, this medico, and the cursed Americano would be a very hard man to put away, but then he ees a fool," he added reflectively.
Barton dropped his voice so that I could barely make out his words. "If you gentlemen are agreed, I'll attend to that part of the programme—aright now!"
"How?" asked Grogan in a thick voice.
"That's my business—with my knife, if you must know. Now see here," he went on, speaking low, but in a quick, emphatic way, "it's so easy as to be almost dishonest. We get rid of them—I get rid of them, and then we cut out the first fat-looking vessel that we see, regardless—hoist signals of distress if you want to. None of the crew of that vessel gets back. With the guns we've got it's too easy. Then we'll have a coolie or two to help us get our mast up, and then, if you like, we'll do it again. I'm satisfied that some of these beggars would manage to cough up some jewels if you handle them right. Now what do you say,—the crime is all on my head,—do you want to be free men or have this blooming Boles cuffing you about like a stray cur?"
I heard Grogan's heavy breathing, then old Alvarez spoke up:
"The plan ees a good one—but reesky——"
"Risky nothing," said Barton. "I take all the risk, you and Grogan handle the dollars—unless Boles has thrashed the pluck all out of our friend."
"Ah-h, hold your jaw!" said Grogan; "I don't give a dom what you do, I'm dead sick of the whole business." I heard him walk heavily away.
"All right, that settles it," said Barton, and I heard him step toward the hatch almost before I could realise that what I had heard was real. Like an eel I squirmed around in my bunk and slid down beside the ladder, just as I heard a light step on the topmost rung.
Cautiously he lowered himself down, and as his right hand slid over the top of the hatch, I caught the glint of steel against the starlit sky. Step by step he came down, while I, coiled like a snake at the foot of the ladder, waited for him.
When his feet were but three rungs up, he stooped down and listened, and I was sure that he would hear the beating of my heart.
Then the suspense got beyond me. With a yell I reached up with both arms, gripped him around the thighs, and slammed him down against the floor of the cabin, throwing myself upon him as soon as he landed. He struck up at me like a cat, and I felt a tearing pain under my arm. Then I grabbed and got him by both elbows. He was fairly strong, but I learned the iron business with a twenty-pound sledge, and can pick up an anvil by the horn in one hand. In a minute I had torn the knife out of his hand and sent it into him three times up to the hilt. Then I felt a grip on my shoulder, and turning, saw Boles staring down at me, his face pallid in the glow of the standing light he held above his head.
"For the Lord's sake, Knapp——"
"Let go!" I roared, mad with pain and excitement, "wait till I fix that scum on deck." I dragged him to the ladder. "Let me go," I yelled, "d'ye hear?"
"Hold on, hold on," he said; "there's lot's of time!"
I grabbed him by the elbows and tore his hands loose, and was up the ladder at a bound. The deck was deserted. Crazy as I was with the horror of the murderous plan, and savage from the stinging pain of my wound, I can't say what I might have done had I found Grogan or the Spaniard. But the deck was deserted.
Boles had followed me up, and suddenly he raised his hand and pointed into the gloom.
"There they go," he said then, looking astern, "they have taken the gig."
I jumped below, picked a rifle out of the small-arms locker, and was on deck again in an instant. This time Boles did not offer to interfere. I threw up the piece and emptied the magazine at the fast dwindling smudge on the face of the sea, and then nearly fainted from the pain caused by the kick of. the gun.
"For Heaven's sake, Boles, put about and get those scoundrels!" said I.
"Oh, let them go," he answered, "it's a good riddance." Then he noticed the blood running down my arm.
"Why, man, you're bleeding like a stuck pig. Come below and let me fix you up."
I did as he said, as I was feeling pretty badly by that time, and I must say that he made a very pretty job of it. There were ten stitches to be taken, but the wound was not deep—just a long, shallow cut. While he was working at it I told him how I had overheard the talk, and what a close squeak we had just had. When I was all through, he just reached out and shook my hand, without saying a word, and then grabbed the dead man by the feet and hauled him up through the hatch. A minute later I heard a splash. Such were the obsequies of Samuel Barton, Esquire, ex-convict and would-be murderer.
Boles wouldn't let me talk any more that night, but insisted that I should turn in, as I was pretty well used up and a little sick at my stomach. The following morning I felt a good deal better, but my arm was awful sore. I went on deck and found Boles nodding over the wheel. We fixed up some breakfast, and while we were eating it and discussing what it was best to do next, I spotted a sail on the horizon.
"If they come down on us now, we'll have a sure-enough fight," said I. There was a little five-knot breeze, and when I looked up again I saw that the vessel was nearer.
Boles dove below and got his glass. There were no ratlines on the shrouds, but he swarmed up the hoops, and was presently astride the gaff. He looked and looked, then put down his glass, waited a while, and then took another stare. When at length he came down, the vessel, which was a sort of little brig of about our own tonnage, was not more than four miles away. Boles' face was very serious, but there was a glitter in his eyes.
"Knapp," he said, "do you remember the yarn that I spun for you on the Peak?"
"Well, I verily believe that yonder brig is the one that belonged to McKim and me. And did you notice how she swung 'way down out of her course to look us up? I'm very much afraid that their motives are other than those of Christian charity."
I got on my feet and swung my game arm stiffly back and forth.
"How does it feel?" he asked anxiously.
"Pretty stiff, but I guess I can use it all right."
"Well, if necessary, you can operate the Maxim. That's worth a dozen rifles. I'll work the six-pounder, and have a few rifles at hand."
It was ticklish work standing there, just the two of us, and watching that howling mob bearing down on us with everything drawing, and I'll confess I was pretty well scared. Boles, however, looked perfectly radiant, and when, presently, she tacked so as to cross our bows, he fairly skipped with joy.
"What did I tell you!" he shouted: "I said she was pieced in the side. Look there—just under her main chains—see the difference in the colour where the new piece was let in. Oh, you blackguards!"
They did not keep us long in suspense. Just as she filled away there came two puffs of smoke from her waist, and a minute later a solid shot ricochetted across our bows. The other flew high.
"Wait till I give the word, Knapp!" said Boles joyously. "They'll put their helm up in a minute and run down. Then we'll let 'em have it. I can pick the sticks out of her with this trick, and you can clean down her decks as if you had a hose!"
As she crossed our bows she fired again, but the shot went wide. We were close-hauled on the port tack, and she was running across our course close-hauled on the starboard. Suddenly Boles put his helm hard up so as to pay her off and get a full sweep with the six-pounder, which was on the port side. At the same moment the brig's people put their helm hard a-starboard and swung in after us. Then I saw the point of Boles' stratagem, for now we could rake them fore and aft, and, even if they wanted to, they could not very quickly get away from us, and, best of all, they were unable to use their guns, as they would be unable to train them far enough forward.
Several of them came running up into the bows with rifles in their hands and long knives thrust through their belts.
"Now, Knapp," sung out Boles, "let 'em have it!"
There came a roar from the six-pounder, and a great splinter from the foot of the brig's foremast flew high in the air. At the same moment I opened up with my Maxim and played a deadly stream up and down her decks. There came another roar, and the waist of the brig seemed a mass of flying splinters. We found afterwards that the shell had torn up the deck-planking from rail to rail.
If a submarine volcano had suddenly turned itself loose under that vessel when she was sailing alone over a quiet sea, I doubt if they could have been more surprised. They simply went all to pieces.
I had bowled over the man at the wheel, and no one had presence of mind enough to take his place, so that the brig, which, for a wonder, carried a weather-helm, began to come into the wind. Then suddenly Boles scored a bull's-eye and away went her foremast, carrying with it her maintopmast, and then we had her at our mercy. Some of her crew, under the impression that she was sinking, manned one of the boats and pulled away. These we allowed to go unmolested, glad to be rid of them. There were about twenty in all, and of these six were killed outright, and four badly hurt. There were only three sound men left aboard, and these were absolutely cowed.
We sent a couple of shells after the crowd in the boat, just to encourage them to good brisk oarsmanship. I suppose we really should have killed them all; but, as Boles said, "If you were to kill a Chinaman just because he was a thief and a scoundrel, you might as well exterminate the whole race and be done with it. The good Lord probably intended them for some hidden purpose of his own—only it's mighty well hidden."
When the boat was well gone, we ran cautiously alongside the brig, and made fast to her. Then we drove the three coolies down into our forecastle, and fastened the hatch. The injured ones we fixed up as well as we could for the time being, and hauled out of the way. I stood guard while Boles dropped below to take a look around. This was an anxious moment for me, as I didn't know what he might strike down there. Five minutes later he came up with a beaming face.
"Opium," said he—"lots of it—I thought so from the smell—and silks, and what looks to be some very good tea. She's a professional freebooter all right. I think that's what they wanted her for. I lost her right in here, you know," he nodded towards the land which we could dimly make out in the distance.
"Now," he said, "suppose we get our friends down below there to transfer cargo. After that we'll just blow the other stick out of this old hooker, and put our pirate friends back aboard to look after their wounded. They're lucky to get off at that, and they'll know it, but we can't afford to have them spinning yarns until we dispose of our cargo."
"And where will that be?" I asked.
"In Amoy—as per papers. We'll just say that we got run into, and chased by pirates, and are sick of the business. Then we'll sell out cheap, and no questions asked. That part's easy enough."
Well, we did it just about like that. There were one or two funny incidents connected with it, but they are immaterial. In the end Boles and I shared up about six thousand apiece, and a few pearls not yet disposed of that Boles persuaded the Chinese captain, who was one of our prisoners, to tell him about. Never mind how.
We never saw Grogan nor Alvarez again, but I have since heard a funny story that leads me to suppose that they were picked up and worked their way around the Horn in the forecastle of a wind-jammer.
We got a receipt for the schooner, and got our deposit back. The rest of it is waiting for Alvarez and the politician.