The Tiger Wins
THE Kum Chao wallowed in the trough of the seas, helpless, while down upon her bore the Japanese schooner. Aboard the latter a boat was being made ready for lowering; from her size, Venable was certain it was the same boat in which Boris and his friends had been sent adrift, the boat which had given them the treasure!
What were they now after, then? The remainder of the treasure, of course—the jewels and relics gained by Mrs. Ivanoff. They had been picked up by this schooner, and had no doubt bribed or lied her commander into pursuing the Kum Chao.
“Ho!” cried Garrity, panting as he leaped beside Venable. “Ho! The schooner ye were tellin’ me of, eh? Let’s have a look. Stormalong is keepin’ the others down. We’ll want a cool head and no talkin’ here, I’m thinkin’—”
He seized the glass from Venable’s hand and looked. Then he swore.
“Boris it is!” A sudden coolness came over him as he squinted. “The divils would not be satisfied with what they had, but wanted the rest! And the murderin’ Jap, yonder—when he found that the old ship was by way of bein’ an outlaw—”
“Man, he fired slap into us!” exclaimed Venable, finding his voice for the first time. “He fired into us without warning!”
“Don’t I know it?” said Garrity grimly. “The engines smashed and some o’ the Chinks kilt entirely! And a hole in her starboard bow where the shell burst.”
He laid down the glasses and looked at Venable; the rage had seeped out of him, and he was coldly self-possessed.
“We are up against it, me lad,” he said, his voice quiet. “Ye realize what they mean?”
Venable made a gesture of puzzled incomprehension. He could understand nothing of it.
“No, I don’t. That’s not a warship, of course; yet—”
“Oh, the Jap ships can go armed in these waters if they want. Listen, now! Boris has told ’em the story, or some kind of story; they’re out now to get what’s left of the loot, and to keep us from tellin’ any tales. And we’re helpless against ’em!”
Venable’s face hardened. “You don’t mean—they would murder us?”
“Just that.” Garrity was quite pale now. “To save his own neck, Boris must shut our mouths, d’ye see? And the Jap realized quick enough that he could be sinkin’ this ship with impunity; because why, if she shows up in any port like she is now, there’ll be a big inquiry with courts and what not. But if she doesn’t show up, she’s gone with all hands—and Mr. Jason’s neck is saved likewise!”
“But they’d not murder everyone aboard here—”
“Oh, ye think so!” Garrity’s voice held supreme scorn. “Wi’ thousands and thousands o’ dollars at stake? Ho!”
“What can we do, then?”
“Nothin’—nothin’ at all, divil take it! The Japs will want to loot this ship, too. Fine pickin’s for the likes of them, it is. Pirates, they are—and I’d prob’ly be the same in their boots!” he added morosely, staring at the other ship.
TO Venable it seemed very unreal and impossible, here under the blazing sun light that flooded all things with afternoon radiance. The sea was still heavy, so heavy that the two ships would doubtless be unable to come alongside; the water heaved in great masses of flinty blue-gray, reaching up to the horizon-rim like a vast bowl of tumbling billows, amid which the crippled Kum Chao rolled, a wounded leviathan. Toward her crept the schooner, menacingly silent.
Venable was vaguelythat from below came the sounds of tumult—the Chinese crew was excited, shouting shrilly, but dominated by the bellow of Stormalong at the foot of the ladder.
“Mebbeso you fight?” suggested Li John, fingering the knife at his belt. “My thinkum China boys velly glad catchee number one fight, sah!”
The other helmsman nodded quick as sent. But Venable shook his head, and with a gesture dismissed them both. Now that he was forced to admit the incredible truth, he saw the sheer futility of resistance; such a course would be madness. The schooner had crippled the Kum Chao with a single shot. She could sink her as easily, if she so wished.
The two yellow men departed, looking rather disappointed. Mrs. Ivanoff made her appearance, her gray eyes blazing furiously. It was clear that those below fully appreciated the situation; she asked no questions, but turned to Garrity, her voice calm.
“Marie is asking for you. She is frightened.”
Garrity bobbed his red head and departed, wordless. Venable gave Mrs. Ivanoff a curious glance.
“Frightened, you say? I did not think it possible—that type of woman.”
“Things have happened to her lately,” responded Mrs. Ivanoff. Her cool gray eyes, despite the anger storming in their depths, gave him an odd sense of peace and tranquillity; he felt better poised, more sure of himself, to know that she was beside him.
“She has undergone a revolution within herself, I think,” continued Mrs. Ivanoff. “At any rate, she is much changed. And a woman has limits, you know; all of us have! We can endure just so much; then a seeming trifle will work a great change, somehow. I do not understand it myself.”
She looked at the schooner, and altered the subject abruptly.
“Well! I see Boris is back again. He will be merciless this time; he has us help less. He came back for the remainder of the jewels, of course—and to make sure that we should not escape to tell tales. That one shot made his intentions very clear.”
“We can do nothing,” said Venable.
“Exactly, at present. You have a revolver? Good. One never knows what the end will be, of course.”
“Gad, but you take it coolly!”
She looked at him, laughter dimpling in her face.
“Why not? Do you think I am beaten? Not until the end!”
“What can you do, then?’
She shrugged her shoulders. At this moment the engine-room tube whistled. Venable went to it, and heard the voice of Stormalong.
“All quiet below, sir. Three Chinks killed down here; engines temporarily crippled and a hole in her sta’board bow. She’s making water. Shall I order the hand pumps rigged?”
“If you please,” said Venable calmly.
HE rejoined Mrs. Ivanoff outside. The schooner was now close aboard and was losing way. The boat was overside, and men were in her; Deardorf and Mr. Jason were in the stern. At the schooner’s rail stood Boris Kryalpin, a neat bandage about his head giving him an air of rakish deviltry which quite suited him. He was just lifting a speaking trumpet.
“Hello, Mr. Venable! Good afternoon, madam,” his voice carried mockingly to them. “We are coming aboard. Lower your ladder. If you attempt any resistance you will be sunk.”
Venable made a gesture of assent. Boris, followed by the Japanese skipper and mate, descended into the waiting boat.
“We might as well go down,” said Venable. “Perhaps they will not bother you and Marie.”
“Bother!” repeated Mrs. Ivanoff, a wondering scorn in her tone. “Don’t you realize that they are devils and not men? Come.”
At the rail, where Li John had lowered the ladder, they gathered and watched the boat come creeping over the great swells—watched her, that is, when they could see her, for the Kum Chao rolled deep and wide, and only when the boat pointed over a crest and slid down toward them could they glimpse her. Each crest brought her nearer, closer.
The crew kept themselves elsewhere, no doubt in utter fright. Beside Mrs. Ivanoff stood Marie, with Garrity behind her; if she had been frightened, no fear sat now in her handsome face, and the wind blew tendrils of her bronze hair about her eyes unheeded. Abe Gerin stood and watched, saying nothing. His too-beautiful face was drawn into thin lines, perhaps from pain of his hurt leg; or perhaps because he knew well what mercy he would get from Boris Kryalpin and the wounded Deardorf. Once and again his eyes turned to Marie, and then they softened wondrously—although Marie was looking at the oncoming boat and not at him. Stormalong was at work below, while the two quartermasters either were aiding him or were hidden with the other yellow men.
As the crawling boat came close, Venable could see those aboard her plainly. Mr. Jason looked venomous, like some beaten-off vulture returning to its prey. Deardorf, bearded and stiff with his wound, was dirty and evil-eyed as ever. Boris Kryalpin was laughing at some jest with the Japanese captain, and he was very debonair and cheerful. The two yellow men who commanded the schooner were not prepossessing in looks; both were small, crafty-eyed, viperish fellows, and from the looks of their men Venable expected no good. Of these were six, at the boat’s oars. As many more were loafing at the fore-rail of the schooner.
The boat rounded in under the ladder at last, out of sight of those above. The oars were run in; two men with boathooks took hold and fended; and the boarders came up the ladder. Four of the yellow seamen followed, the others remaining to hold off the boat from smashing against the ship’s side.
FIRST over the rail was Boris Kryalpin, with a smile and a mocking bow; but behind the smile his mouth and eyes were cruel. The others followed him.
“Greetings, ladies and gentlemen!” he exclaimed. “You did us a better turn than you knew, when you sent us adrift into the arms of our friends! Allow me to introduce Captain Moto.”
The yellow skipper took off his cap and ducked his head, grinning wolfishly. Venable observed that Mr. Jason was watching Marie with some intentness, his scrawny features alight as though transfused by inward fires. No weapons were in sight, but coat pockets bulged very suggestively.
“Are you never satisfied?” responded Mrs. Ivanoff; whereat Boris looked slightly puzzled. “Could you not be content to leave us in peace?”
“Ah, no, gracious lady!” Kryalpin laughed gayly. “The seven devils having been driven forth, we have gathered seven other devils worse than ourselves—and have returned. My dear Marie, may I ask you to produce the glittering baubles which you so kindly rescued from the wreck of Russia for our benefit?”
Abe Gerin, who was watching the enemy with a close scrutiny, suddenly started and would have spoken; but Marie forestalled him.
“Liar and hypocrite!” flashed Marie, a fury of passion stirring in her rich voice, as she thought that she pierced Kryalpin’s craft. “I suppose you have not told your friends that the stuff is already in your possession, eh? Trying to cheat them as you cheated us!”
Surprise crossed the swarthily handsome features of Boris, to be followed by swift and cold anger.
“Come!” he snapped. “No evasions, my girl, or I’ll use the whip! You know well—”
“Evasions! ” she repeated shrilly. “When you had the stuff in the boat all this while? Do you take us for fools, not to know that you had it?”
Misconceived although her position was, Marie almost succeeded in her attempt to sow dissension. Captain Moto regarded Boris with narrow-eyed suspicion; Jason and Deardorf turned upon him likewise. Boris himself was flatly at a loss to understand Marie’s words.
Abe Gerin attempted to keep the situation under control. “Don’t look so bewildered, Kryalpin,” he jeered. “We know that you had the stuff in a burlap package—we discovered too late that you had taken it aboard the boat with you. So—”
With one accord the three castaways seemed to remember that burlap package. Deardorf was first at the rail, but with an oath Mr. Jason thrust him staggering away, and went down the ladder. Boris Kryalpin, leaning over, spoke softly.
“Bring it up, Mr. Jason—bring it up! Just as it is.”
Mr. Jason obeyed.
SO, then, the burlap package had never been touched! Venable glanced at the others, and in their faces found his own discomfiture reflected.
“Divil take it!” muttered Garrity in glum wrath. “If they’d only found the stuff, we’d ha’ been well rid of ’em after all, the dirty hounds! But now we’re in for it.”
Taking the burlap roll from Mr. Jason, Boris swiftly unwrapped it. He disclosed an inner wrapping of soft cloth, which when opened showed a mass of cotton studded with colored flames that glimmered and danced in the sunlight. A sharp breath came from Mr. Jason at the sight—but Boris calmly rolled up the treasure again and handed it to Captain Moto.
“You will take charge of this? Good. Deardorf, kindly keep your eye on Captain Moto, lest he be tempted to return suddenly to his schooner. And now—”
Kryalpin turned to Mrs. Ivanoff, a genuine amusement struggling with the cold cruelty of his eyes.
“So you actually sent us adrift with the treasure! I congratulate you, Your Highness, upon your generosity; it is really quite unexampled! And now, to complete the tally, let your noble spirit prompt you to hand over what remains. I presume that you have recovered it from the keeping of Marie? Naturally. Your collection of relics will not be of much interest to us, I admit, but you have some very good stones in the lot.”
At this point Captain Moto touched the arm of Boris and uttered a low word. Boris nodded in response, and the yellow skipper spoke rapidly to his mate. The latter and two of the men vanished into the boat alongside, and were presently seen rowing over toward the schooner again.
“I might say,” explained Boris coldly, “that my good friend Captain Moto wishes to take away a few mementoes of this charming steamer, and is sending for a few more of his men in order to make the work move lively. If you do not object—”
“What is your intention with regard to us?” demanded Mrs. Ivanoff suddenly.
Boris regarded her with a slow smile. “Ah—yourself particularly, or everyone? That is hard to say, Your Highness; for I have no intentions whatever! When I have taken what I want, the rest of you may go.” His insolent gaze swept from Venable to Garrity and Abe Gerin, then lighted on Marie. “As for you, Marie, I think that Mr. Jason will become answerable for your safety. You will have company, for Captain Moto may take Mrs. Ivanoff aboard in case I decide that she is a little too old for my taste—even though a princess.”
HIS words bit. Before anyone could answer him, however, Boris turned.
“Come along, Mr. Jason; you and I will get Mrs. Ivanoff’s valuables. Don’t bother to accompany us, Your Highness! Captain Moto, kindly send your two men with us, in case we decide to bring the whole trunk along; you may entertain the ladies while we are gone.”
He swung away, followed by Jason. The two Japanese seamen moved after them, at a nod from their skipper. At the after-deck, Boris halted to fling a word over his shoulder.
“Disarm them, Captain! It may not be necessary, but we must take no chances.”
Captain Moto smiled at the group facing him, while Deardorf drew a revolver.
“Please, your weapons!” said the yellow man, looking at Venable. The latter produced his automatic and threw it on the deck. Words were useless. Garrity followed suit.
“Please!” repeated the smiling skipper, looking at Abe Gerin. With a curse, the latter obeyed the behest.
Like Venable, the others were silent, repressing the surge of futile anger that was upon them all. The boat had reached the schooner now, and into her were dropping others of the yellow crew. The two ships had drawn closer together.
Deardorf and Captain Moto were alone with their captives, but the menace of that gun on the schooner’s fore-deck was more potent than many guards. Following the sneering implication of Kryalpin’s words, Mrs. Ivanoff and Marie had drawn together, and the arm of the older woman was about the shoulders of Marie as though in comforting protection.
The two yellow seamen again made their appearance, bearing between them Mrs. Ivanoff’s trunk, containing the relics and jewels which she had smuggled out of Russia. Behind them followed Boris Kryalpin and Mr. Jason, the latter grinning broadly. And at this instant came a wild clattering from the bowels of the ship—a heaving, throbbing clangor that set the whole hull to vibrating and shuddering, and all but drowned from hearing a faintly heard bellow of delight in the hoarse tones of Stormalong. The Kum Chao stirred, and began to move slowly through the water.