[Transcriber's notes: Extensive research found no evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
A Thrilling Sea Story
AUTHOR OF "THE BLOOD SHIP"
G. HOWARD WATT
558 MADISON AVENUE
COPYRIGHT, 1923, BY
G. HOWARD WATT
Printed in the United States of America
I. THE MISSION II. THE WEEPING BOATSWAIN III. THE HAPPY HUNCHBACK IV. THE BLACK CRUISER V. WILD BOB CAREW VI. PRISONER VII. THE MATE OF THE BRIG "COHASSET" VIII. AROUND THE CABIN TABLE IX. THE MOUNTAIN IN THE SMOKY SEA X. THE WHALEMAN'S LOG XI. THE CODE XII. THE PASSAGE XIII. FIRE MOUNTAIN XIV. OUT OF THE FOG XV. IN THE LAZARET XVI. THREE GENTLEMEN CONVERSE XVII. TWO MEN AND A MAID XVIII. THROUGH THE ELEPHANT'S HEAD XIX. THE EDGE OF THE ABYSS XX. TREASURE CAVE XXI. DECOY XXII. TABLES TURNED XXIII. CONCLUSION
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years. Bright, aslant eyes, and a suave and ever-ready smile that broke immediately Martin met his gaze.
"You will be so good as to inform the honorable that Dr. Ichi is here?" he asked in precise and stilted voice.
Ever the same—the noiseless entry, the quietly spoken request for the lawyer. Martin repressed a flash of irritation; the little Japanese, with his uncanny soft-footedness and stereotyped address, got upon his nerves. However, his orders were explicit; Mr. Smatt would see Dr. Ichi without delay or preliminary, whenever Dr. Ichi favored the office with a visit. It was already the third visit that day, but orders were orders.
So, Martin inclined his head toward the door of Smatt's private office. The Japanese crossed the room. He bowed to Martin, as stately a bow as if Martin were also an "honorable," instead of a poor devil of a law clerk; then, noiselessly as he had entered the outer office, Dr. Ichi disappeared within Smatt's sanctum.
Martin turned to his window again. But his bright day dream was fled, and he could not conjure it back again. The view was without charm. His thoughts, despite himself, persisted in centering upon the dapper little figure now closeted with his employer. The dandified Jap aroused Martin's interest.
What manner of client was this Dr. Ichi? Martin had not seen a single scrap of paper, nor had Smatt dropped a single hint, concerning the case. It was mysterious! Martin was not an overly curious chap, but he was human.
It was another of Smatt's secret cases, thought Martin. Another token of those hidden activities of the old vulture, which he sensed, but did not know about. For, though Martin attended to the routine work, though his duties were responsible—Smatt specialized and was prominent in maritime law—still Martin knew he did not enjoy his employer's complete confidence.
Much of Smatt's time was taken up with cases Martin knew nothing about, with clients who appeared to shun the daylight of the courts. The Nippon Trading Company, for instance! Martin knew Smatt was interested in a company of that name—a strange company, that apparently conducted business without using the mails. And there was business between Ichi and Smatt—money, or Smatt would have nothing to do with it. The mystery aroused Martin's dormant curiosity.
But all his speculation was pointless. Martin bethought himself of the marine affidavit lying uncompleted upon his desk. He turned from the window with the intention of applying himself to that task—and he discovered the office to have a second visitor. Another unusual figure who possessed the penchant for surreptitious entry. He observed the fellow in the very act of closing the office door.
"Say, you! Didn't you see the sign on the door, 'Please Knock'?" exclaimed Martin. "Can't you read English?"
"I'm no knocker, I'm a booster. Besides I don't believe in signs," was the surprising response.
The visitor faced about as he spoke, and Martin took stock of him. He was a hunchback. He was seedily clad in a shiny black suit, but a modish green velvet hat, several sizes too small, perched precariously atop his very large head and gave him an oddly rakish appearance. But his face was pleasing—a wide grin, a snub nose, a pair of twinkling eyes beneath a broad, intelligent forehead. Martin immediately commenced to thaw as the other smiled.
The hunchback carried a book under one arm, a formidable appearing volume. With a dexterous flirt, he bounced it into his hand and thrust it beneath Martin's very nose.
"The bargain of the century—cannot afford to miss it—wonderful opportunity first time offered," he began in a sing-song.
Martin stiffened with surprise. Not at the words; he was accustomed to book-agents of strange guise. But the voice! A rich, throaty tenor with not a squeak in it. The man's discourse was like a song.
"Cost you nothing. Wonderful Compendium of Universal Knowledge—compiled after years of labor—faculties of great universities. Cost you nothing; Absolutely free."
The golden voice sang on. Martin found his gaze upon the book, and then upon the hand that held the book. That hand! Surely, no book-agent ever possessed such a hand—brown-backed, big, and muscular, plainly the hand of an outdoors man. Where the sleeve fell away from the wrist Martin glimpsed the blue of a tattooed figure. A sailor's hand?
He raised his eyes to the hunchback's face, noting as he did the great length of arm, and the unnaturally square yet muscular shoulder. And the face! A book-agent might be expected to have tanned cheeks, his occupation not being a sedentary one. But surely, such a bronzed and weather-lined coating as this man's face wore was never gained by winning past janitors or tramping city streets.
"Possible to make offer only because of great advertising campaign—you reap advantage free of charge. Wonderful volume absolutely free. You merely subscribe to Coleman's Weekly—ten cents a week, fifty cents a month, price of magazine—wonderful Compendium of Universal Knowledge—cost you absolutely nothing——"
The hunchback pattered on. Book-agent or no, Martin conceded he had the technique of the craft at his tongue's tip. His eyes—suddenly, Martin was aware of the peculiar behavior of the other's eyes. The were roving about the office from point to point, as if the fellow were endeavoring to fix in his mind every feature of the room. But most often, Martin noticed, his gaze rested upon the door to Smatt's private office, through which came at intervals the hoarse murmur of Smatt's voice. Once, atop the murmur, came a few words in Dr. Ichi's clipped and even tones——
The hunchback ceased talking. Martin attributed his satisfied smile to assurance of a sale; the chap evidently had confidence in his musical patter. Martin felt almost sorry as he declined the greatest offer of the century. His brain was already overburdened, he kindly explained, and he dare not risk brain fag by delving into the matchless Compendium. Of course, some other day, when finances...
The purveyor of knowledge took the refusal easily. Martin had expected him to lose his smile, but it grew wider. So Martin braced himself to receive the assault of facts and figures he was sure was preparing. Instead, however, came a raucous command from the other room.
"Blake, come here!"
It was characteristic of Josiah Smatt that his offices had few of the modern business accoutrements. No conventional stenographer powdered her nose and received clients in an ante-room, no traditional office-boy harried the janitor or played in the corner upon a mouth-organ, no call-buzzers frazzled the nerves.
Smatt was a prominent legal light in shipping circles, and he was not parsimonious. But he was eccentric. He carried his secrets and most of his bookkeeping beneath his hat; Martin, his one employee, was admitted to only partial confidence. And whenever Mr. Smatt wished his clerk to attend upon him, he lifted up his voice and bellowed.
It was this bellow that checked the book agent's flow of words, and startled Martin into activity. Mr. Smatt did not like to be kept waiting.
"Sorry," Martin said to the hunchback, "but I'm called in there. You'll have to get out. Couldn't use your book anyway."
"Oh, that's all right," responded the other airily. "You will observe I do not depart downcast! It has really, sir, helped me a lot, just to visit you—helped me a very great deal. You are a pleasant chap!"
Martin entered the inner office, and he had a last glimpse of the queer, deformed little figure, book under arm, velvet hat cocked over one ear, in the act of negotiating the outer exit.
Martin, standing docilely before Smatt's desk, discovered himself to be the subject of a searching scrutiny from two pairs of eyes. Both Smatt and Dr. Ichi, the latter seated at the lawyer's right hand, were critically inspecting the tall, good-looking young fellow who faced them.
Martin was accustomed to the lawyer's boring glances. He returned Smatt's stare, and experienced more keenly than usual his sense of dislike for the man. Smatt's face was in keeping with his voice, which was rusty. It was bleak and lantern-jawed, with a gash for a mouth, and a great beak of a nose that thrust out between two cold gray eyes. He was quite bald. An impressive appearing old man, not one to inspire affection but fear. One year of service had endowed Martin with no sense of loyalty or liking for the man. Now, he returned Smatt's gaze with one of indifference, tinged with hostility.
"Blake, I wish you to execute a mission for me tonight," said Smatt.
Martin inclined his head in understanding. Executing missions at night-time for Mr. Smatt was a not uncommon experience. He rather liked these confidential errands, though he sometimes doubted the good faith of the man who inspired them. They took him into strange corners of the city, to interview strange characters. They were the one exciting feature of his drab employment.
The lawyer picked up from his desk a well-stuffed and tightly sealed legal-sized envelope. He turned to the Japanese, as if for approval or permission, and Dr. Ichi, without removing his bright, oblique eyes from Martin's face, inclined his head in agreement with that unspoken communication. The lawyer faced Martin again, but the latter had the feeling that, despite Smatt's heavy voice and forceful personality, it was the silent little Dr. Ichi who dominated the situation.
"You are to deliver this envelope to a man named Carew, Captain Robert Carew," commenced Smatt. "At ten o'clock tonight, exactly, you will enter a drinking saloon situated on the corner of Green Street and the Embarcadero. This resort is known as the Black Cruiser Saloon, and is conducted by a person named Spulvedo—you will find both names on a sign over the entrance."
The lawyer looked inquiringly toward Dr. Ichi, and the latter nodded confirmation of the instruction and description. Smatt continued.
"You will speak with this man, Spulvedo, taking care not to be overheard, and you will ask him to conduct you to Captain Carew."
Martin nodded his understanding as the lawyer paused, and extended his hand for the envelope. It was simple. This Carew was evidently lying doggo in this water-front saloon.
"One moment!" said Smatt. "Repeat your instructions."
Martin obeyed, and, being blessed with a memory, he repeated them verbatim.
"Very good," said Smatt. "Now, for the rest." He shot a quick glance to Dr. Ichi, and the Japanese bowed. "This person, Spulvedo, will lead you into Captain Carew's presence. Under no circumstances will you deliver this envelope to other than Carew, himself. You may identify him readily by his appearance. He is a large, blond man, with a deep voice. He speaks with an English accent, using the words of an educated man. A star is tattooed in red upon the back of his right hand."
Smatt paused again. Martin, parrot-like, repeated the other's words. Dr. Ichi inclined his head in approval. Smatt continued:
"To make your identification doubly sure, you will use this precaution: When you approach Carew you will say, 'I wish to see you on the Hakotdate business.' He will respond, 'It is time that business was settled. Did the Chief send you?' Then you will deliver the envelope to him. Now, repeat in full my instructions."
Martin complied correctly. Dr. Ichi silently signified his approval. Smatt handed the sealed envelope across the desk, and Martin straightway stowed it in his inside coat-pocket.
"Of course, Blake, you are to mention this matter to no one," was the lawyer's parting injunction as Martin withdrew from the room.
It seemed to Martin, as he reentered the outer office, that the room's air had the indefinable tinge of very recent occupancy. When he emerged from the private office, he seemed to be treading upon some one's heels, so to speak. He opened the door and looked out into the hall, but the hall was empty. Then he dismissed the matter from his mind as a fancy.
THE WEEPING BOATSWAIN
Martin lived at Mrs. Meagher's Select Board for Select People establishment, far out in the western addition. He was star boarder, and as such made free with Mrs. Meagher's little private parlor. A fire always burned there on cool evenings, and moreover, he escaped the ragtime that nightly filled the community room where the piano was, the interminable arguments anent the European war, and the coy advances of the manicure lady.
In that little room Martin spent his best hours. It was there he retreated to read his favorite fiction, red-blooded and exciting stories, without exception. It was there he lived a life apart, a life in a strange and desirable environment. For Martin always identified himself with the sprightly hero of the evening's tale. He, Martin Blake, suffered, despaired, triumphed, and galloped off with the heroine. And when the story's end was reached, he returned to the drab reality of his existence with revolt in his soul.
"You worm, you well-fed, white-faced office grub!" he told himself. "Why don't you do something? Why don't you get out of the rut? You have no responsibilities; you are foot loose! Then why don't you get out there, where adventure is, where things happen!"
But then would come the rub. Where was "out there," and how reached by a pen-driving clerk?
After supper, Martin carried his magazine into the private parlor and ensconced himself before the grate fire. He read a yarn of ships and mutinies and treasure trove—hot stuff!
But there was a fly in the ointment of Martin's content. Of late, his sanctuary was not always inviolate. On the occasion of the past Christmas, an absent and fiendish-minded nephew had presented Mrs. Meagher with a phonograph. This instrument of torture Mrs. Meagher installed in the little parlor, and at frequent intervals she sat herself down before it and indulged in a jamboree of musical noise.
But this night Martin hoped for quiet. Mrs. Meagher had seemed busily engaged recounting rheumatic symptoms to Mary, the cook, and Martin knew from bitter experience that the recital usually occupied an hour and a half. Then, there was a good chance the matron would betake her buxom person bedward without visiting the parlor.
Luck smiled. Martin planned to read until nine o'clock before leaving the house to carry out the mission of his employer. He had no mind to leave sooner, for a keen, April wind ruled outdoors San Francisco that night.
He did read until eight o'clock, and then a rustle heralded the approach of the storm and diverted his attention from the printed page. Mrs. Meagher sailed into the room, her ample figure clothed in her best black silk house gown. Martin's spirits sank to zero—she always donned this funeral drapery before operating the infernal contraption in the corner.
Mrs. Meagher dropped into her rocking-chair and groaned tentatively. Martin read desperately. He knew as long as he kept his eyes upon his book she was much too considerate to disturb him, and between phonographic noise and rheumatic reminiscence, he chose the former as being escapable.
The good woman hitched her chair over to the machine. Martin writhed in spirit. It was not that he was insensible to harmony, even though canned. He was quite receptive while a booming basso rang the bell in the lighthouse, dingdong. He was even stoical when the sextette brayed forth the sorrows of Lucia. But the while a dread clutched him.
Mrs. Meagher had a favorite record. She played it regularly, and wept cheerfully at each performance. The piece was anathema to Martin.
He watched the old lady out of the corners of his eyes. She searched her record case and arose triumphant. The well-hated, jangling prelude filled the room. Martin dropped his book and accomplished a swift and silent exit.
In the hallway, the manicure lady bobbed her suspiciously yellow head and smiled provocatively. Martin fled to the cloak-rack near the door. Hurriedly he donned top-coat and hat. Until he finally closed the front door behind him, a tinny wail poured out of the little parlor and assailed his ears, a reedy soprano declaiming passionately that she had raised no son of hers to the profession of arms.
Martin sighed with profound relief as he slammed that door. He thus shut behind him such disagreeable facts as favorite ballads and peroxide blondes. It was like shunting a burden off his shoulders.
He stood a moment on the stoop, under the area light, drawing on his gloves and regarding the night. A night of bright stars, but no moon. A sharp, windy night, he shivered even beneath his overcoat, but the air tasted good and fresh. The darkness charitably covered the respectable ugliness of the neighborhood. Under the twinkling street-lamps the commonplace street assumed a foreign and even romantic air.
Martin's spirits mounted. Was he not setting forth on an errand of mystery? Why, something might happen to a fellow on such a night!
Something did happen, and at once, though Martin attached no importance to the event at the time. Standing there under the area light, Martin drew forth the envelope that was the occasion of his errand, to assure himself by evidence of eyesight that it was still in existence. He thrust it into the inside pocket of his overcoat, as being a safe and handy receptacle. As he did so, a suppressed sneeze made him aware he was not alone upon the stairway. Somebody was on the stoop before the house next door.
Mrs. Meagher's establishment was housed in the half of a three-story structure. All of the houses of the block were thus built in pairs. Only a balustrade separated their front steps.
Now Martin knew the house next door was vacant. Even in the darkness, he could discern the real estate agent's sign in the front window. Hence his surprise in beholding a man pressing the doorbell of the empty house—for that, he discerned, was what the person who sneezed was doing.
"For whom are you looking?" called Martin. "That house is empty. Don't you see the sign!"
Without a word, the man turned and ran lightly down the steps, and set off at a smart pace down the street. Martin noticed the fellow wore a long gray overcoat and cap, and that he seemed remarkably light upon his feet.
"Queer," thought Martin. "Didn't seem drunk. Maybe a tramp looking for lodgings. Didn't look like a tramp, though."
And then, as he set out for the corner and the street-car, the incident slipped from his mind.
No street-car was in sight, and Martin withdrew to the friendly lee of the House of Feiglebaum to await its coming. Here, pressed against the window, he was sheltered from the wind that swept around the corner.
The front of the House of Feiglebaum was at that hour dark, but a few yards distant a light blazed over the entrance to the other and more profitable part of Feiglebaum's business. Johnny Feiglebaum was part of an industry indigenous to San Francisco—he kept a combination grocery store and saloon, the latter a quiet place that was stranger to mixed drinks and hilarity. It was sort of a neighborhood rendezvous; most of the henpecked husbands of the district sought haven there, and surcease of care with cribbage and pale beer.
Martin debated whether or not to enter and join in a game with one of this subdued brotherhood; he had two hours, almost, to spend ere he was due at the Black Cruiser. He decided against it as being too mild a pastime for his mood. He felt fit for adventure, this night.
An extra keen gust of wind swept around the corner and invaded Martin's refuge. He shrank back into the dark doorway in search of a warmer retreat. He backed against something soft, something alive. He swung about with words of apology on his tongue for the prior occupant of the shelter.
His startled gaze encountered a broad back. A man stood there in the far corner of the doorway, his back to the street, his head seemingly bowed in his arms. A man of such huge proportions, that Martin, but two inches less than six feet, himself, felt like a pigmy in comparison. The man's outline was vague and enhanced by the gloom; Martin, a-tingle with the unexpected collision, had the first thought it was a preposterous apparition.
There came a rumble from the giant's corner. It was a noise as surprising as the other's appearance; it checked Martin's apology. It was a rumble of parts; it seemed to be compounded of a prodigious sigh, a strangled sob, and a sneeze. It bespoke misery.
"Sick?" asked Martin.
A groan. Then a series of well-formed sighs. Then the giant turned and loomed above Martin, snuffling.
"Ow, swiggle me!" rumbled a deep and husky voice. "Ow, I'm in a proper fix, I am. Ow, where 'as 'e got 'imself to! Ow, why didn't I die afore I was born, says I!"
"Why, what is the matter? Come, come!" exclaimed Martin, aghast at the stricken voice.
The big man teetered to and fro upon his feet. He was perhaps wrestled by sorrow. But Martin smelled whisky.
"Come, brace up!" he admonished.
"Ow, strike me, I'm in for it, I am!" came the plaintive growl. "I've gone an' lost 'im, I 'ave; I've gone an' lost Little Billy. Can't find 'im, can't find 'im in the bloomin' town. I've looked in a thousand bleedin' pubs, I 'ave, and I can't find Little Billy. Walked a blister on my foot, I 'ave. Ow, swiggle me, what a snorkin' day I've 'ad!"
The words tumbled forth heavy laden with alcohol. Martin could understand there had been a wet search. The other groaned and strangled.
"Ow, swiggle me stiff!" he ejaculated despairingly. "What am I goin' to say to the blessed, bleedin' little mate!"
"Oh, come now, don't be down-hearted," cheered Martin. The man and his words fell in with Martin's mood.
Both were unusual—this was better than listening to a phonograph's banal wail, or conversing with a giggling manicurist!
"Cheer up, there are many more than a thousand saloons in this city," assured Martin. "You have not yet tried them all. There is one in this building. Have you visited it?"
"In this building! A saloon in this building!" echoed the other. There was surprise, and much less sorrow in his voice. "Ow, swiggle me stiff, lad, let's go 'ave a wet!"
He placed a hand the size of a ham on Martin's shoulder, lurched out of the doorway and rolled down the street toward the entrance to Johnny Feiglebaum's. He had seemed to divine instantly this particular saloon's location.
Martin accompanied the other willingly; he wished to see more of this strange giant. The streetcar he had been awaiting passed by unregarded. Martin had the feeling, also, that he would have to accept the big man's invitation, whether or no—that huge hand gripped his shoulder like a vise. Feiglebaum's was empty of its usual custom; only old Johnny, himself, from his station behind the bar, witnessed with scandalized eyes their rather tempestuous entrance.
"Set 'em up for two, matey!" roared Martin's companion, or rather, abductor, as soon as they crossed the threshold.
The little German's answer was a wail of dismay.
"Ach, Himmel, you here again!" he cried at the big man. "Mein Gott! I thought at last you haf gone! Marty, mein poy, why haf you brought him back?"
Martin couldn't answer this obviously unfair question. He was helpless. The vise squeezed his shoulder cruelly, and only pride prevented him exclaiming in pain. Squirming increased the pressure. His captor half led, half dragged him up to the bar, and there released him. Martin grunted with relief and nursed his misused flesh.
"I'll 'ave a pot o' beer, says I!" rumbled the big fellow, slapping his hand upon the wood with a force that made the glasses jingle in their racks. "And my friend 'ere—why, 'e'll 'ave a pot o' beer, too, says 'e," he concluded, interpreting Martin's nod.
Johnny filled the order with alacrity. He evidently stood in awe of this strange man. But he spluttered indignantly as he set the drinks upon the bar.
"Why haf you brought dot man back here?" he whispered to Martin reproachfully. "Ach, he is der deffil's own! All der evening he haf been in und oudt, und he drink und drink, und talk und talk and cry apout his trouble. He haf lost his Beely, his Leedle Beely, und he talk like I haf stolen him. Schweinhunde! Mein Gott, Marty, I would nod steal him—I would nod haf der verdumpf dog in der blace!"
"A dog! A dog! 'Oo says 'e's a dog?" The "schweinhunde" had sharp ears. He pounded the bar with his fist, and his voice boomed like distant artillery. "'E ain't no dog! Just let me meet the bloke what calls Little Billy a dog!" He ignored old Johnny, and glared at Martin belligerently. "'E's my mate, is Little Billy, and a proper lad 'e is, for all 'e ain't no bigger nor a Portagee man-o-war. A dog! Swiggle me stiff, that's a squarehead for you!"
He ended with a snort. Martin hastened to assure him that without doubt Little Billy was a most proper lad.
The big man received the amends with dignity. His warlike attitude forsook him. He drooped over his beer and mused darkly. He seemed oppressed by the denseness of "squarehead" stupidity; he appeared desolated by the absence of the beloved Little Billy. Martin observed two big tears roll out of the corners of the other's eyes, course down the sides of his nose and splash into the goblet of beer. The man exuded gloom.
Martin seized his first chance to take stock of the fellow. He gathered an impression of size and redness. Why, the man must stand six feet and a half in his boots! A son of Anak! And his head—no wonder the man had temper. He was afire. A red face, a red mustache that bristled, a thatch of brick-red hair that protruded from beneath a blue, peaked cap. His suit was of pilot cloth, and he wore a guernsey. He was unmistakably a sailor—both words and appearance bespoke the seaman. Martin was surprised to encounter such a specimen in this remote section of the city, miles distant from the waterfront.
The despondent one aroused himself. His mooning gaze appeared to encounter the glass of beer for the first time. He swept the goblet to his lips and drained it at a gulp. He seemed cheered and refreshed.
"Fill 'em up again," he rumbled at Johnny. "And set one afore my friend, 'ere," he added, with a wide sweep of arm toward Martin.
Martin was interested. He grasped the opportunity to re-open the conversation.
"Too bad you lost him," he ventured diplomatically. "But it is probable he will turn up all right, isn't it?"
The big man nodded gloomily.
"Ow, yes, 'e'll turn up all right tomorrow. Safe and sound, 'e'll sleep tonight—bleedin' safe and sound. 'E'll be in jail. That's the kind o' sport Little Billy is—can't 'ave a nice quiet time like me. In jail, 'e'll be. Ow, swiggle me, I'm in a proper fix!"
"Why, things are not so bad," said Martin. "If you know where he will be in the morning, you can bail him out."
"In the morning! Bail 'im out!" exclaimed the other. "We can't wait till no morning! We got to be aboard tonight, we 'ave! Ow, Lord, what'll I say to the blessed mate?"
"Oh, I see, you must return to your ship tonight," commented Martin. He was pleased with himself for having judged the man a sailor from the start.
The sailor nodded his head lugubriously. Two more tears tumbled his nose's length. Martin felt like laughing. It was ludicrous to connect tears and this huge husky with the fierce voice.
The man of the sea resumed his plaint.
"What'll I say to the mate? What'll the mate say to me? Aye, that's it, what'll the blessed, bleedin' little mate say to me? Swiggle me stiff, I'll be keelhauled—that's what'll 'appen to me! And it all begun so innercent, too!"
Martin murmured condolences.
"Come ashore on account of it being the mate's birthday," confided the other. "'Ad to sneak ashore—come this morning. Wanted to get a birthday present, we did. Swiggle me, could anything 'ave begun more innercent!"
"Oh, a birthday present! You must like your officers," prompted Martin.
"Like! Like! Why, strike me, lad, we love the little mate! Ain't anybody on the 'Appy Ship as don't love the mate, from the Old Man down."
"Happy Ship?" said Martin, struck by the words' connotation. "Is that the name of your vessel?"
"What we call 'er," the sailor answered. "'Er name is Cohasset—brig Cohasset. I'm bosun, and Little Billy, 'e's steward, and a prime steward 'e is."
The bosun of the brig Cohasset paused and spat stringily.
Martin feared the font of his speech was dried up, and he hurriedly bade Johnny replenish the glasses. The bosun acknowledged the office with a lordly gesture. Then his grief overwhelmed him, and he bowed his head over his glass and sniffed audibly. He cultivated retrospection.
"I 'ad 'im all right at the Ferry Building," he told Martin tearfully. "I 'ad Little Billy right enough, there."
He spoke as if he had Little Billy safely tucked under an arm at the Ferry Building. He inspected Martin suspiciously, as if Martin might have the missing steward concealed somewhere about his person.
"We was walking up Market Street," he continued, "sober as judges, both. And Billy says a bokay was what we wanted for the little mate's birthday. Fine, says I. A bokay of lilies, says 'e, because lilies means purity. No, says I, they got to be roses, roses meanin' beauty. And so we stops into a place or two to talk it over. Swiggle me stiff, could anything 'ave begun more innercent? Just going to buy a bokay, that's what! And now——"
The bosun sighed. He was crushed by the fell consequences of a virtuous intent.
"Ow, swiggle me, lad, what'll I say to the bloomin' little mate, as trusted me so?" Tears came again to the bosun's eyes. "The little mate is goin' to feel terrible hurt—us sneaking ashore and all," he concluded miserably. "Ow, swiggle me, fill 'em up again!"
Martin gulped over his glass. He was astonished. His cherished and carefully nurtured conception of the iron-souled men of the sea was receiving knocks. Here was a sailor, a man with all the ear-marks of a pugilistic temperament, who wept because the tender feelings of the mate might have been bruised. He vowed he loved the mate, he and his shipmates! What a queer mate, thought Martin.
Martin knew all about mates. An ardent perusal of the literature of the sea, from Captain Marryatt to Captain Kettle, had familiarized him with their character. They were an iron-fisted, brazen-voiced race, who swanked and swaggered about the decks and knocked the sailormen galley-west.
The self-reliant and rather disdainful demeanor of the master-mariners who occasionally visited Smatt's office had confirmed this estimate—they had once been mates. Had the boatswain mentioned a fear of being met on his return to his ship, with a flailing capstan-bar, or a dish of belaying-pin soup, Martin would have understood. Mates were hasty men. He could have properly sympathized with the boatswain over such a prospective fate. He could have given him legal advice as to his rights. But this mate of the brig Cohasset; this mate who commanded nosegays on natal occasions; this mate who inspired love, and brought bibulous tears to the eyes of this toping giant!
But another surprise was coming to Martin, one that touched him intimately. The boatswain slouched over the bar, deep descended into the slough of despond. Martin wished to renew the interesting conversation, but hesitated how to begin. Funny chap, this sailor, rather soft and chicken-hearted.
The boatswain muttered to himself. He was evidently delving into the clouded realm of memory. Martin caught disconnected words:
"Milly—so innercent. Swiggle me—brown devils——-"
Suddenly the boatswain straightened up and exploded a tremendous oath.
"It was them blighted brown devils!" he swore. "What chance 'as a poor 'unchback against them blasted Japs? They get 'im in 'Onolulu, and, swiggle me stiff, they get 'im in 'Frisco. It was that blasted shark, Ichi! It was Ichi, says I, as took Little Billy!"
The boatswain thumped the bar. He was a man who sees a light and likes It not.
Japanese! Hunchback! Ichi! Martin seemed to see a light, also, a dim, uncertain light. Perhaps it was the association of words—Japanese, hunchback, Ichi.
Martin suddenly recalled the hunchback book agent of the afternoon. In his mind's eye, he beheld the quaint figure standing before him in Smatt's office, while Smatt and Dr. Ichi held conference behind closed doors. But it seemed preposterous to identify that friendly, glib little deformed man as the missing Little Billy, as the bosom friend of this lachrymose viking. And what could this rough seaman know of the exquisite Dr. Ichi?
The boatswain ceased his vituperation of the Nipponese Empire, and the men thereof, through sheer lack of breath. Martin grasped the opportunity.
"Say, what does Little Billy look like?" he queried. "Did you say he was a hunchback? How was he dressed?"
"'E had on his go-ashore togs," said the bosun. "'E's a proper toff, is Little Billy, when 'e's dressed up. Yes, 'e's a 'unchback, but you don't notice 'is 'ump after you know 'im. 'E's a lot straighter than some without a 'ump—'e's a white man, is Little Billy. And 'e's a proper toff—'e's eddicated. Swiggle me, 'ow 'e can chew the rag! And sing! Sings like a blessed angel!"
"Did he wear a black suit and a green velvet hat?" asked Martin.
"Yes, 'e did," answered the boatswain excitedly. "'Ave you seen him?"
"Yes, this afternoon," laughed Martin. "You need not worry about your Little Billy. Neither the police nor the Japs have captured him. He is improving his chance to pursue the avocation of book salesman."
Martin recounted his meeting with the purveyor of universal knowledge. The boatswain listened silently and his red-shot eyes glinted suspiciously. It seemed to Martin he was not so drunk as a moment since.
"But, say," finished Martin, "who is this Ichi you mentioned? Do you know Dr. Ichi?"
"Do I know Dr. Ichi?" echoed the boatswain. "Do I know——"
He glowered at Martin. The query seemed to inflame his temper.
"Do you know Ichi? Hey? Say, do you know Ichi? That's what I want to know!" His manner became threatening. "Why, swiggle me stiff, you must be one o' them, yourself!"
Assault seemed imminent. Martin backed hurriedly away.
"No, no, you are quite mistaken," he assured the boatswain. "You may be sure I am not one of them, whoever they are. I am your friend."
The boatswain subsided growlingly. He was plainly suspicious—of what, Martin could not guess. But it was evident that any mention of the name of Ichi peppered his temper.
If Martin had been a cautious young man he would have let well enough alone. The boatswain seemed a hasty and a heavy-fisted man. But Martin's interest was more than piqued. Here seemed a chance to learn something about that mysterious Japanese. This sailor appeared to know him. Some light might even be thrown upon his errand to the Black Cruiser. The papers in his inside pocket oppressed him with their secret.
"Perhaps Little Billy is down on the waterfront," he remarked casually. "He mentioned to me that he was going to look up a friend on the Embarcadero—a fellow named Carew. Do you know Captain Carew? At a place called the Black Cruiser?"
The boatswain received the remark in a most disconcerting manner. He stiffened and stared at Martin, mouth agape, for an appreciable instant. He seemed breathless. The semi-paralysis of drunkenness seemed to flee his face.
"Carew! Did you say Carew?" he at last exclaimed. "Strike me, 'e says Carew!"
It seemed that the boatswain had received some momentous morsel of information difficult to digest. Suddenly he smote the bar with his clenched fist. "Carew—'Wild Bob' Carew!" he cried. "And Wild Bob Carew takes a 'and in this!"
This was progressing!
"Oh, so you know Captain Carew?" prompted Martin.
The boatswain turned. He regarded Martin strangely. His face was set and stern. He seemed a man for whom the moment of badinage is past and the moment of action is come.
"You talk of Ichi, and then you talk of Wild Bob Carew!" he said to Martin. "Swiggle me stiff, young man, you are one o' them!"
His great hands reached toward Martin. There was annihilation in his eye. His attitude was a sudden and complete declaration of war.
Martin did not await that onslaught. He started for the door. Fortune favored him—uncounted potations, perhaps, had rendered the boatswain a bit unsteady on his pins, and, as he left the support of the bar rail and lurched for his victim, he lost his balance. He sat down on the floor with a crash that shook the building.
The boatswain swore, Johnny Feiglebaum emitted a wail as three glasses bounced off their rack, and Martin kept on going. As he passed through the door, the boatswain was scrambling agilely to his feet. Martin was a young man in a hurry.
He sprinted for, and boarded a passing street-car, just as the boatswain reached the curb. He paid his fare, passed inside the car, and sank thankfully into a seat. He was aglow with his adventure. Something to remember, that affair with the weeping boatswain! But what was the fellow so sudden about?
Thus did Martin consign the boatswain to the limbo of memory. He was inside the street-car, so he did not see the automobile, driven by a figure in a gray overcoat and cap, that drew up at the curb beside the boatswain. Nor did he observe that automobile's consequent strange behavior in persistently keeping half a block behind the slowly moving street-car the whole distance to the waterfront.
THE HAPPY HUNCHBACK
The clock on the tower of the ferry building showed fifteen minutes past nine when Martin dropped off the car at the foot of Market Street. He paused a moment on the corner, enjoying the never-ending bustle about the city's gateway. He had plenty of time—Green Street and the Black Cruiser, was but a quarter hour's leisurely walk distant, and it was then forty-five minutes till ten o'clock. He turned and walked slowly northward along the Embarcadero.
The wide street was swept by a keen wind, and Martin found the night even rawer than he had anticipated. But overcoated, he was protected, and the walk was anything but lonely and uninteresting. To his lively mind, this night stroll along the famous East Street was a fitting complement to his strange encounter with the red boatswain of the brig Cohasset, a fitting prelude to the secret business he was engaged upon.
The very breath of the street was invigorating—the salt tang of the breeze, the pungent, mingled smell of tar and cordage from the ship chandleries, the taste of the Orient from the great warehouses, even the gross smells of the grog-shops, and it set Martin's blood a-coursing. It conjured visions of tall ships, wide seas, far ports.
Across the way, at the wharves, great steamers were disgorging. The rattle of their winches filled the air. On his side of the street, the sidewalk was thronged with stevedores, stokers, sailors, what not. Each of the innumerable saloons he passed possessed its wassail group, and rough ditties boomed out through swinging doors. Great loaded trucks rumbled by. It was a world that worked and played both night and day.
But as Martin continued northward, the street's character changed. The kens and cheap eating-places gave way for the most part to the warehouses—great brick and concrete fortresses that turned a blank dark face to the night.
Pedestrians became few, mainly straggling seamen bound for their ships. Across the way, the steamers at the wharves were smaller, and here and there loomed the spars of a sailing vessel, a delicate tracery upon the blue-black starlit sky.
Martin speculated upon these last. The intricate, woofed masses of wood and cordage captured his fancy. He wondered if by any chance the boatswain's ship was over there. He wondered what the brig Cohasset was like. He wondered what the "blessed little mate" was like. He visioned that surprising person who had such influence over rough boatswains—a prim little man with mutton chop whiskers, he decided. Yes, the 'blessed little mate' of the brig Cohasset would be a little, white-crowned, bewhiskered old gentleman, perhaps somewhat senile and decrepit. It was inherent respect for old age that inspired the boatswain's affection.
So musing, Martin came to a by-street that divided two warehouses. He crossed the alleys, but lingered on the far curb.
The alley was dark, but he noticed some distance down it the outline of an automobile standing with its lights hooded. He had a passing wonder at the presence of an apparently deserted machine in such a location, but it was a subconscious interest.
The next street, he knew, was Green Street. Those lights that shone on the next corner must mark his destination, the Black Cruiser saloon. He pulled out his watch; still five and twenty moments before ten o'clock.
As he stood there under a dim street light consulting his timepiece, there came to his ears out of the darkness just ahead, a voice, a rich and throaty tenor, singing softly. The sweet sounds pierced his preoccupation. He looked, and some thirty or forty paces distant perceived a gnome-like figure perched atop a fire hydrant, at the edge of the sidewalk.
The figure was little better than a grotesque shadow in the gloom, but there was no need of light to give definite shape. That pure, musical voice once heard was not easily forgotten. Martin knew the missing steward of the brig Cohasset was there before him.
The voice rose and fell in a careless carol, an ancient, lilting, deep sea chantey.
A roving, a roving, Since roving's been my ru-u-in, I'll go no more a roving, With Thee, Fair Maid.
Martin stood entranced. The songster adventured on with the "Amsterdam Maid," another stanza and chorus. The soft bell-like tones, the salty words, the air, like all the chanteys, both sad and reckless, caressed Martin's ears like a siren charm. The boatswain's words, "'E sings like a blessed angel," crossed his mind. Rather, a blessed merman! To Martin, greedy for the oceans and beyond, the ditty seemed the very whisper of bright and beckoning distance—a whisper of tropic seas, of spice-scented nights, of blue isles. It heaped fuel on his sea-lust. His heels itched.
The song ended and was followed by a chuckle, a care-free clucking of subdued mirth. The singer was evidently in a jovial mood. A few softly spoken, laughter-tinged words reached Martin.
"The audience is requested to kindly move forward. No extra charge for box seats. Front row reserved for bald heads. Next show starts right away. Especially staged for young gentlemen of the law."
Martin came to himself with a start. The words were addressed to him. He was the sole audience in sight. And the facetious hunchback evidently recognized him, remembered him and the fact of his employment in a law office. Martin was standing beneath the dim glow of a street lamp, but Little Billy must have very sharp eyes to recognize features in that half-light.
Martin moved forward promptly. First the weeping boatswain, now the happy hunchback. It was a night of odd meetings! But Little Billy seemed not so downcast as the bosun.
"Ah, ha, my amiable acquaintance of the afternoon walks abroad!" chuckled the voice, as Martin came to a halt beside the hydrant. "Is it thus he cools a brow fevered of too much Trent and Blackstone?"
"Well, it is a good night for such a cooling," was Martin's good-natured retort.
"True," admitted the other. "And other things than the law fever the head—heavy ordnance of cruisers of accursed blackness, the fatal rum and gum, the devious workings of the Oriental mind, the slithering about of fat and greasy varlets. Yes, many things fever the brow, and 'tis a good night for a cooling. As witness!"
Martin stared at the other. No reek of alcohol met his nostrils, as with the boatswain, but, none the less Little Billy's cryptic jargon confirmed his suspicions. Also drunk, he reflected. The revered and gentle old mate of the brig Cohasset would have cause for grief when his two prodigals came roistering home.
Martin could not make out Little Billy's features very distinctly; the hydrant was beyond the street lamp's circle. But the hunchback's body was plain enough—the queer body squatted upon the hydrant, legs dangling, the ridiculous velvet hat rakishly aslant the large head. The hunchback's eyes were bright and alive.
"I can well believe your mind is care-ridden," bandied Martin, falling in with the other's mood. "It must be a wearisome and thankless task to scatter universal knowledge amidst the brainless. Have you still got your book? That thing you tried to sell to me?"
"Alas, I must confess I have it not," was the blithe response. "I ditched it, sir. It oppressed me to bear about such a store of wisdom. The marvel of the ages, the compendium of universal knowledge, reposes in the dust-bin. Mayhap some aspiring dust-man, in whose mind smolders untaught genius, will chance upon it. It may prepare some dim soul for future brilliancy—the arts, the crafts, the sciences, are all contained in that wonderful volume. Who knows, out of that black dust-bin may rise a radiant glow of light. The janitor, the collector of garbage, the industrious people who rake over the dumps—there are many chances of the right hands grasping that printed jewel.
Full many a gem of purest ray serene, The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear.
"'Tis a pleasant thought, my legal friend. Ah, I am happy in contemplation. I may not have lived in vain."
"You certainly are an optimist," he said. "But why did you cast such a wonderful gem aside?"
"Alas, the grossness of the commercial classes, the brutality of the tired business man! We Americans are a rude folk my friend; the courtesies are absent from our manners. Now, I am a young man with tender feelings, both mental and—er, physical. And these trousers I wear have already rendered long and faithful service; they have arrived at the stage where they require, let us say, humoring. The oft repeated impact of a number ten boot upon such delicate fabric could have naught but dire results. I discarded the book, sir, and resigned my membership in the peripatetic brotherhood, to avert a catastrophe. Both cloth and nerves were frayed. I am a cheerful youth, but sensitive, and I require considerate treatment to be happy. Ah, you are laughing! Never mind, I like people who laugh—like great Caesar, I would have them about me."
"Pardon me," gulped Martin. "I was just thinking how aptly the bosun described you. ''Ow 'e can chew the rag!' he said. And you can."
"The bosun!" exclaimed the other. "Did I understand you to say 'the bosun'? Can it be you have met my heart's chum, my dear bosun?"
"You bet I did!" replied Martin emphatically. "And I was lucky to end the encounter with a whole skin. Hasty man, your dear bosun!"
"'Tis true," admitted Little Billy. "He requires coddling, does my bosun. Red hair always does. My bosun has a tender heart, and he is a creature of impulse. Beneath that rough exterior surges the artistic temperament. But tell me, was the bosun, by any chance, inquiring for one Little Billy?"
"He was," said Martin. "Not only inquiring for Little Billy, but weeping for him, fighting for him—and for the larcerated feelings of the dear mate of the brig Cohasset. Of course, I know you are Little Billy."
"Your perspicacity is remarkable," said Little Billy. "I am discovered. But your news is disturbing. Tears and temper are pregnant signs with my redheaded friend. You did not, by any chance, meet him in the city Bastile?"
Martin sketched for the other the scene at Johnny Feiglebaum's.
"But the bosun had the same misgivings of the police on your account," he finished.
"He stated positively you would sleep this night in jail. He gave you a turbulent character."
"Base libel," asserted Little Billy. "Bosun has imagination, but it functions within narrow limits. He is solely a son of experience. His idea of a pleasant and well spent evening ashore, is to introduce into the physical system an indefinite amount of variously tinted alcohol, and then to try a brave whirl of fisticuffs with the scorned minions of the law. To his understanding there is no other way of spending a holiday. Hence his solicitude for Little Billy. Of course, thinks he, Little Billy is off alone a-roistering. Why else should he have given his bosun the slip?"
"Did you give him the slip?" said Martin. "He thinks he mislaid you—that is a point in his distress. Did you run away from him to become a book agent?"
"You do not understand," stated the hunchback with dignity. "It was but a manifestation of the wanderlust, at once the curse and the blessing of my misshapen existence. Behold in me, sir, the rover, the argonaut, the adventurer!"
He straightened his slouched figure upon its slippery seat and attempted to strike an oratorical posture. He lost his balance and lurched sidewise towards Martin. He grasped Martin's overcoat.
Martin good-naturedly put an arm around the other to steady him. Little Billy, he guessed, was rendered dizzy by that rum and gum he had darkly hinted at. The hunchback teetered and clung to Martin's overcoat. Not for an instant did his tongue cease wagging.
"I am an explorer of strange lands, strange men, strange pursuits," he told Martin. "Behold in me a rollicking blade of the sea; one who has matched wits with all races, all colors, and sometimes, alas, come off second best; one who has followed many occupations. A sailor—yes. A book agent—yes. Also, sir, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. A wooz, a wizard, a king of legerdemain. Student, actor—But why continue?"
He had regained his balance upon his precarious seat by this time, and he finished with a fine, sweeping gesture:
"In this crippled carcass doth abide a vagabond spirit whose wanderlust has no purely geographical basis. I wander the wide world over, yes! Also, I wander in and out of men's lives, in and out of men's affairs. To wander—'tis my excuse for living. A fascinating obsession, sir!"
Martin was charmed. Never had he encountered such a flow of words, such musical eloquence. What a lawyer this chap would make! But Martin was also oppressed by his consciousness of the flight of time. He wanted to linger with his quaint companion; but the time!
He reached for his watch and noted that Little Billy's clutch had opened his overcoat. He struck a match and discovered it was four minutes to ten—four minutes to reach the next corner. He could make it in two, still it was time he was moving.
"I must leave you," he said to Little Billy. "I've an errand to that saloon on the corner. Wait for me; I'll be back this way in a few moments, and we'll go get a bite together."
"Would that I could," said Little Billy. "But I, too, must depart. My ship awaits."
"Well, then, so long," said Martin. "You know where I work, Little Billy, look me up sometime. Be glad to see you. I won't forget this meeting."
"Good-by. No, you'll not forget this meeting," responded the hunchback. He slipped down from his perch and shook hands. "No," he repeated, "you'll remember me all right."
Martin strode for the corner, and the Black Cruiser. Little Billy ambled across the street towards the dark wharves, and as he went he whistled blithely.
The street was empty. Martin passed but one living being during the rest of his journey. This was a figure in a gray greatcoat and cap, who lounged against a telegraph pole across the street from Martin's destination. The gray figure stared steadily towards the wharves; Martin passed it by almost without notice.
THE BLACK CRUISER
Martin was disappointed. The Black Cruiser—delectable name, of which he had expected much—was, it appeared, housed in a commonplace and very ugly two-story wooden building, a building with many dark and shuttered windows on the upper floor.
From where he stood upon the corner, Martin could see that the building was of considerable depth, and that the saloon appeared to occupy only the front downstairs portion. The upstairs, with its many shuttered windows, had the aspect of a deserted rooming-house. Just before him, over the closed door to the saloon, was the inscription Smatt had spoken of, in plain black letters, "Black Cruiser Saloon, Diego Spulvedo, Prop." It was a sordid and unprepossessing exterior; Martin felt that the Black Cruiser would prove the anti-climax to his evening's adventures.
The second-hand of his watch climbed toward the hour. He knew old Smatt's passion for exact punctuality; not a second before the appointed time must he enter the place. The hand touched the required point. Martin felt of the paper in his pocket and opened the door.
He stepped into a low-ceilinged bare and dingy room. The place reeked of stale drink. A battered bar filled one side, and before it stood five men in a row, attended upon by a heavily paunched and aproned fellow. Martin accosted this last, as he approached the bar.
"Mr. Spulvedo?" asked Martin. "I wish to see Mr. Spulvedo."
The aproned man regarded him with a stare from heavy lidded and nearly closed eyes. He had a swarthy, greasy, fat face, this officer of the Black Cruiser, and moist, thick lips. Martin recalled Little Billy's reminiscence concerning the "slithering about of fat and greasy varlets." Was this the varlet? The name fitted.
"Spulvedo!" repeated Martin. "Are you Mr. Spulvedo?"
"Yais," drawled the man.
Martin dropped his voice to a whisper.
"I would like to speak with you alone," he commenced.
He shot a glance out of the corners of his eyes toward the five patrons. Smatt had said to take care not to be overheard. He caught his breath with surprise. The glance revealed five stolid, yellow-brown faces turned toward him, five pairs of black, oblique-set eyes regarding him intently. Five Japanese! They were interested in him, there was the thrill. Martin sensed some connection between himself and the five. That envelope in his inner pocket!
"You weesh to speak weeth me, yais?"
The drawling voice compelled his attention.
"Yes—alone," said Martin.
Spulvedo nodded. He turned and waddled fatly around the farther end of the bar, and Martin rejoined him at the other end of the room.
"You are the messenger we expect, yais?" purred Spulvedo.
"I wish to see Captain Carew," stated Martin. "I was told to see you and ask for him; told you would conduct me to him. Is he here?"
"Yais, you see heem," answered Spulvedo.
He turned to a door in the wall behind him and unlocked it. He opened it a crack and held whispered parley with some one within. Then he turned to Martin.
"Thees way—come!" he bade.
Martin brushed through the door, opened just wide enough to admit his body. He expected the greasy saloonkeeper to follow, but instead that worthy slammed the door upon him and turned the lock. Martin was left alone in pitch darkness.
He stood still, nonplused by that cavalier desertion and disturbed by the darkness. He stretched out both arms and touched two walls. He was in a hallway. Alone? The air about him seemed to be filled with rustlings. He fancied he heard breathing. He took a tentative step forward, arm outstretched. A cold, clammy hand grasped his wrist and drew from him a startled yelp.
"Have no afraid," soothed a soft voice. "I make show he way to he hon'ble."
There was, it seemed, more than one fashion in spoken English at the Sign of the Black Cruiser; this fellow did not talk like Spulvedo. Martin's eyes were becoming accustomed to the darkness, and he made out the vague outlines of a short figure before him. The figure moved, and the clutch on his wrist urged him to follow.
They moved forward some twenty paces, passed through a door, and encountered a stairway leading upstairs at right angles to the passage they had just traversed. It was not so dark here; a gas light burned somewhere in the hall upstairs, and a moiety of its glow found its way below.
His conductor released his wrist, and commenced to ascend the stairs. Martin, as he started to follow, noticed there was a second door at the foot of the stairs. He guessed it let upon the street.
They gained the upstairs landing and paused. Martin saw before him a long hall with at least a dozen doors opening upon it. A gas light burned at the farther end. As he had suspected from without, this place was, or had been, a cheap lodging-house. Nothing save that light seemed to speak of occupancy now.
Martin took his first good look at his guide. He was, as he had noted on the stairs, a Japanese; a chunky little man with an apologetic manner, and a muscular and bow-legged figure. If he had been a white man, Martin would have listed him a sailor.
The Japanese smiled. His teeth flashed startlingly white in his dark face.
"He, hon'ble, catch it Captain down there," he stated.
He waved a hand toward the gas light at the other end of the hall. Then he opened the door of the room nearest to hand.
"He, hon'ble, stop by here," he invited. "I go make prepare."
Martin shrugged his shoulders. There seemed to be many preliminaries to an audience with this Captain Carew. Through the door the Jap held open he saw the outlines of a bed, and a rag of carpet. When he stepped through the door, the musty, sour air of the room smote his nostrils like a blow.
The Japanese closed the door, and the retreating echo of his footsteps sounded from the hall. Martin had not expected to be thus shut in darkness, but after all it was a small matter. He felt his way to the bed and sat down on its edge.
After a moment he struck a match. The flare revealed, as he expected, the meanly appointed bedroom of a tenth rate hostelry. The single window was shuttered.
He composed himself to patience. This business was getting on his nerves. This visit to the Black Cruiser was not proving the evening's anti-climax, as he had feared, but he was not enjoying himself. The loose face of the Cruiser's commander, the mysterious Japanese, the disturbing secrecy, the foul air—he would be glad when his errand was completed, and he was once again outdoors in the clean, fresh air.
There was an alien taint in that poisonous room. With the Japanese in mind he placed it—it was that indefinable odor the man of the Orient leaves about his abiding place, the smell one gets during a walk through Chinatown. Was this Spulvedo conducting this rookery as a Japanese lodging-house?
A strange place for a sea-captain to lodge. This Carew—this "Wild Bob" Carew, as the boatswain had termed him—must be a man very indifferent to his surroundings, or else mightily anxious to remain under cover. The captains Martin had met were particular men; one would not find them in such a noisome hole. This Carew must be some rough renegade. Perhaps he was not even white; perhaps he was a half-caste. That would explain his choice of lodgings. One would think from all the secret mummery with which he surrounded himself that he was the Mikado, himself. He certainly was not very popular with the boatswain.
Thus far had Martin got with his musings, when his attention was attracted by noises that suddenly disturbed the unearthly quiet of the house. They reached him quite plainly through the thin walls.
A door slammed, below stairs. He heard sounds of a scuffle. The sounds drew nearer—grunts, exclamations, footsteps. They were coming up the stairs. In the hall outside a door was noisily opened. Some one ran past his door, and sentences were, spoken in a harsh, clicking, alien tongue.
Martin sat tensely on the edge of the bed. What was about, there in the hall? The scuffling had reached the head of the stairs; now it was opposite his door. Several pairs of feet were making that noise. Martin heard a voice exclaim chokingly, and in English——
"Let go—let go of me!"
It was a strange voice, a rich and thrilling voice, and it carried an appeal. A man's voice?
Martin felt his way to the door. This affair without was none of his business, but he must see what was being done to the owner of that voice. He must confirm or dispel that vague suspicion.
He turned the knob and pulled, and the door came a few inches. There was an exclamation from some one who stood in front of the door. An arm shot through the opening, a clenched hand impacted against the pit of his stomach, and Martin went reeling backward. The door slammed shut and the lock clicked.
Martin fetched up against the bed and sat down heavily, experiencing that sharp agony that follows upon a plexus punch. In that brief instant he had held the door ajar, however, he had witnessed a sight that caused him to ignore the pain. He had seen what was transpiring in the hall. He had seen the group of little yellow men clustered about and urging along a single figure that slightly overtopped them; a figure clad in a gray overcoat.
At the very second Martin had looked, a gray cap had fallen from the head in the scuffle, and a wonderful mass of dark hair had tumbled down about the gray-clad shoulders. An excited, protesting face had turned toward him. It was a woman those chunky aliens were urging along the hallway, a woman clad in a man's gray overcoat. A white woman—a young and beautiful woman!
Martin crouched on the bed's edge and panted to recover his breath. The scuffling without grew faint, a door slammed, and the house was again quiet.
Martin's mind was awhirl, but uppermost in the confusing chaos was that startling picture, photographic in its clearness, of the squat outlanders surrounding the protesting figure. A woman—a white woman—in the hands of these yellow men!
Surely he had seen aright. It was an ill light in the hall, but he had looked from a dense darkness, and had seen clearly. And had he not heard her voice? And seen the feminine tresses tumble about the gray-clad shoulders as the cap came off? There was some faint stirring of memory in connection with the thought of that gray, mannish apparel, but Martin was too excited to notice it. He was possessed by the event. He had caught a glimpse of the angry, vivid face. Angry, that was it—not fear, but anger, in her bearing. They had not wanted him to observe the incident, the outrage. They had offered him violence. They had slammed and locked the door. He was prisoner.
By this time, Martin, a thoroughly aroused young man, was again at the door. He, Martin Blake, would not submit to maltreatment and imprisonment! He would find out what this yellow crew was doing with that girl.
In the back of his excited mind danced grim shadows of the tales every San Franciscan knows; stories of white slaves, of white women being seen entering Oriental dens, and being lost forever to the world that knew them; of horrible relics of womanhood being discovered years after in some underground cave of Chinatown. Sickening thoughts!
Martin yanked at the door and pounded upon the panel. His blows echoed without, but brought no other response. He lifted his foot and drove his boot against the door. It shivered and splintered.
Before he could kick a second time, there came a cry from the hall, a hurried footfall, and the door was unlocked. Martin jerked it open. Confronting him was the Japanese who had been his guide, who had gone to "make prepare" Captain Carew.
"You come now," announced the little man, bowing courteously.
"What does all this mean?" demanded Martin angrily. "Who struck me through the door? How dare you lock me in? Who——"
"He Captain speak you come," said the other, smiling blandly. He shed Martin's rain of words as if he were some yellow oilskin. "I make him way—hon'ble fellow my show."
"What is going on in this house?" demanded Martin. "Who was that white woman? What was that gang doing with her?"
The other backed away before Martin's excited questioning. "No understand," he said. "No woman—no gang. No savvy."
"No savvy—big lie!" cried Martin, and he pounced down upon the gray cap which was lying on the hallway floor. He held it up for the other's inspection. "You savvy this?" he demanded.
The Jap shook his head. His smile was gone, and there was a hostile gleam in his eyes.
"That—no understand," he said crisply. "You come for he Captain—you catch business he Captain!"
Martin saw he could get nothing from this fellow. He was being told very plainly to mind his own business. Very well, this Captain Carew was perhaps a white man.
Without further words, Martin followed the Japanese. They went the length of the hall and paused before the last door, the one before which the light burned. The guide rapped. A deep voice rumbled orders within, chairs scraped, a door slammed, and the door before which they stood was opened.
WILD BOB CAREW
Martin lurched forward past the man who opened the door into a room that was brightly lighted by gas and kerosene lamps. It was a room bare of furniture save for a common kitchen table, littered with charts and papers, and several kitchen chairs.
It was a large room, much larger than the one he had just quitted, the full width of the house, and, it seemed, part of a suite, for two doors, besides the one he entered through, let upon it, from the rear wall. But these details only impressed themselves upon Martin's mind later, and gradually. At the instant of his tempestuous entrance, he was entirely engrossed with his obsession, and he had eyes only for the dominant figure that stood behind the paper-littered table in the center of the room. To this man Martin addressed himself without preliminary.
"That woman—didn't you hear?" he cried. "These Japs have a woman prisoner in this house—a white woman! See! This is her cap. I saw——"
"Are you the messenger who was to come to me tonight?" interrupted the man addressed. He spoke in a commanding and vibrant bass voice.
It was suddenly borne in upon Martin's consciousness that he was in the presence of a personality. They were immobile yellow gargoyles, those two Japs who stood against the farther wall, they did not count. But this man who stood across the table from him—the air of the room was electric with his presence. A commanding and forceful personality, but a hostile personality, there was a chill in that interruption. But the momentum of his feelings carried Martin on.
"In the hall—shoving her along—she was struggling! A white girl! Those yellow——"
"What is your business with me?" The heavy voice beat down Martin's words. It was as if he had not spoken. "I am Captain Carew. You have a message for me?"
Martin checked his splutter of words. The other's sentences were like a dash of cold water; they cleared his mind. There was menace in that heavy voice, in the other's attitude, in the frosty gleam of his eyes. That veiled threat sobered Martin. He stood still and played his eyes upon the other in appraisal.
And he was a picture to fill the eye, this man who bore himself so disdainfully, this Captain Wild Bob Carew. Went glimmering the graceless, blasphemous sea-renegade of Martin's fancy. Martin caught his breath with unforced admiration as he measured the other's form and face.
Captain Carew was big and blond, as Smatt had predicted. He was also quite the handsomest man Martin had ever seen. He stood at least six feet, and was leanly and finely built. He was, perhaps, thirty-five years old, but the springiness of youth was still in his carriage.
Martin gained from him the impression of great physical strength. The face was finely chiseled, virile, aristocratic, a face to compel men's admiration, to turn women's heads. But Martin divined the flaw in that fine mask. The full, curved lips were shaded by a short, blond mustache, but that hirsute covering did not conceal the cruel quirk at the lips' corners. The face was ruddy, even in that light, and unlined. The eyes, probably blue in daylight, were black and glittering; and they bore Martin's scrutiny without a flicker. But after a moment the cruel lips curled scornfully.
"Well, my good fellow, have you quite finished with your inspection?" said Carew. "I hope you have discovered nothing about my appearance that displeases you."
The cavalier tone brought Martin to himself with a start. He had been taken aback by the appearance of Captain Carew, the man so different from his preconceived picture. This was no rough bully of the seas; Carew's bearing and dandified apparel bespoke gentility. Martin had just observed one of the captain's hands, a slender, white, aristocratic hand, small for the man's size. On the back of the hand was a star, tattooed in red.
The tattooing recalled Smatt and Smatt's words; recalled to Martin his reason for being in that room; banished for the moment his knight-errant mood. He thrust his hand into his inside overcoat pocket and felt of the envelope. Smatt's formula came to his lips.
"I wish to see you on the Hakodate business," he said.
"It is time that business was settled. Did the Chief send you?" Carew responded promptly.
"That is correct," said Martin.
He half withdrew the envelope from his pocket and then hesitated. This Carew was a severe and superior person. The packet delivered, Martin foresaw instant dismissal. And that poor girl! Yet, Carew was a white man.
"But, Captain Carew, you could not have understood me aright!" he appealed. "I tell you, these Japanese have a young white woman——"
"Enough!" barked Carew. His tone made Martin jump. "Young man, you were sent here to deliver certain papers to me. Do so."
Silently, Martin handed over the envelope. He was baffled. He was angry.
"Now—get out!" commanded Carew, waving him toward the hall.
Martin turned toward the exit. Hot, edged words were on his tongue's tip, and he could not trust himself to further urge this cold-blooded wretch. He took a step toward the door and then stopped short, staring into the corner of the room. He saw a man's gray overcoat lying on the floor in the corner.
He wheeled upon Carew again and found the latter's eyes upon him in a threatening glare. "You—you—that coat!" stammered Martin.
"Enough!" exclaimed Carew. "You have finished your business with me, young man. You will find your guide in the hall; he will conduct you to the street. And a word of advice, my good fellow: If you value your skin and your employment, you will promptly forget everything and anything you may have seen in this house!"
Martin choked upon his rage. Within him surged a hot hatred of this insolent sailor; this captain of yellow bravos; this abductor of girls; this man who dared not face the daylight. He was a worm beneath the Captain's feet. He was—well, the worm could turn.
He moved toward the door. Yes, he would go, and quickly.
"If you value your skin and your employment!" So that was it—a threat! He would show this high-handed captain that Martin Blake would risk his skin as readily as the next man; and as for his employment—a fig for Smatt, and Dr. Ichi, and all their ilk! They were crooks; this Carew was a crook. They held that girl against her will. It was all a piece of some dirty, crooked work. Well, the police....
"God, what treachery is this!"
The booming sentence arrested Martin at the door. He lifted his hand from the knob and turned to the voice. Carew, his face convulsed with passion, was regarding him.
"What does this mean?" cried Carew. He shook a handful of papers at Martin. "Come back here, you! Explain this beastly trick!"
Martin went back. He noticed, as he drew close to the other, that the envelope he had given the captain lay empty and torn on the table.
"Well, what is it? What trick?" he demanded shortly.
"What trick!" mimicked Carew. "Look here. Is this what you were to deliver to me?"
He thrust the sheaf of papers beneath Martin's nose. They were sheets of blank, white paper, and they had been creased by folding.
"This is what that precious envelope contained," continued Carew. "Tell me, what —— foolery is this? Where is that code translation? Where are my instructions? Where are my clearance papers? Hey—you staring fool!"
"Stop that!" flared Martin. "You moderate your tone when you speak to me! If you have any complaint to make about the contents of that envelope, make them to Josiah Smatt, and that Dr. Ichi. I know nothing about the contents. The envelope was given to me sealed, and I delivered it to you sealed."
"It has been tampered with," declared Carew.
"It has not," asserted Martin. "I have had it in my pocket, on my person, since Smatt gave it to me. I delivered it to you with the contents intact. If you found those blank sheets within, they were placed there before I received the envelope."
Carew favored Martin with a steely and searching stare; and Martin, ablaze with resentment, stared boldly back. Martin's bearing, and his positive statements, evidently impressed the captain.
"You had better take the matter up with the men who sent me here," said Martin. "I have finished with my part of the affair. I wish to go."
"You are jolly well right I'll take the matter up with the men who sent you here!" exclaimed Carew. "And I'll take the matter up at once. Meanwhile, you will remain here. I'll not lose track of you until I get to the bottom of this affair."
"Do you mean you intend to detain me here? Whether I will or no?" demanded the thoroughly angered Martin.
"I do," stated Carew.
He barked an order in a foreign tongue. The two gargoyles at the other end of the room sprang to life and started swiftly toward Martin.
Martin wheeled about and darted for the door to the hallway. He reached it, and was jerking it open, when the two Japs flung themselves upon him. He lifted one from his feet with a well-placed swing. The other flung his arms about Martin's neck and clung there.
Martin staggered into the hall, wrestling with that leech-like hug. He tore free from the fellow; and as he did he caught a glimpse of Captain Carew through the open door. The man had not moved from his station behind the table.
Then a mountain seemed to drop upon Martin's back. He was crushed face downward upon the floor, enveloped and smothered by a vast and sour-smelling bulk.
He struggled desperately and succeeded in partly rolling over on his back. He flailed his arm twice, and felt his fist strike against soft flesh. He saw hanging over him the unwholesome face of the saloonkeeper, Spulvedo.
Then a heavy blow smote his jaw-bone, and he went a-dancing through a world of bright, shooting stars, into darkness.
The results of a forceful tap on the human jaw are various. One man lies inert, dead of body, blank of mind; a second writhes about and babbles; a third retains a modicum of control over locomotion, but the mind journeys afar into a phantasmagoric world.
Martin was the third man during this, his first, reaction to a knockout blow. He was not completely unconscious, but that terrific jolt seemed to divorce body and mind. So far as further resistance was concerned, he was helpless. He swam about in an opaque mist. There, afar off, on the floor, was stretched another Martin Blake, a shadow of Martin Blake; and he saw monstrous things surrounding this adumbration of himself, headless bodies, and bodiless heads, and detached arms and legs.
He saw these parts of men haul the unreal Martin Blake to his feet and bundle him through the door, back into the big, lighted room. He saw this other self, body sagging, head hanging, stand again before the paper-littered table and sway to and fro upon tottering legs. He heard, from a great distance, the deep rumble of Captain Carew's voice—but all he could see of Carew was a foot and a section of leg. He saw a wide expanse of bare floor, and the floor was moving.
He hung suspended before a door. Came Carew's voice—
"Not there—fools—next room."
More moving floor. Another door. The door receded and showed a black hole. Again the deep voice—
"Good place—safe—just quill-pusher—dump."
A headlong flight through darkness, falling, falling, into the bottomless pit. A crash. And Martin's mind and Martin's body became one again as he struck the floor.
He was lying face downward upon a bare floor. He sat up. His head was ringing, and he could feel that his cheek was swelling. His addled wits slowly settled themselves. He moved his head about and took stock, as well as he could, of his new surroundings.
He retained a vague memory of his passage through the big room, and of the two doors. So, he knew the place he had been so unceremoniously dumped into was one of the rooms that opened upon Carew's headquarters. The only light that entered the place crept under the door from the room without. He knew, without experiment, the door was locked upon him.
The room felt bare. He struck one of his few remaining matches. The room was bare, not a stick of furniture in it. The single window was closed, and he supposed it was shuttered as well, for he could not see through it. But he would make sure. He clambered to his feet, a bit dizzy yet but well able to control his movements. He moved softly toward the window, feeling his way.
In a second his hand touched the window-ledge. He felt along the sash and shoved upward. To his surprise, the window lifted easily. But the hand he shoved without met, as he expected it would, a heavy wooden shutter; and his investigating fingers disclosed, moreover, a padlock, that, by means of a staple sunk in the sill, locked the shutter fast. No hope of getting away through the window.
The certainty that he was imprisoned in this sealed box of a room was not soothing to Martin's temper. He was not frightened—he was angry. The haughty Carew had aroused in him resentment; now, he had been slugged semi-conscious and locked in this room. His anger reached the proportions of a rage, a hot, furious rage.
He left the window and crossed to the door. He did not try this time to soften his footfalls—he did not care who heard him.
He tried the door. Locked. He shook it, and rattled it. No response, but his straining ears caught the sound of light footfalls without.
He pounded upon the door, shouted threats, demands, challenges. He was in the mood to flog the whole vile brood of this Pension Spulvedo.
He resorted to the method that had brought him freedom once before that night—he lifted his foot and drove his boot against the door. And, as before, the response was immediate.
A peremptory voice was raised in the other room.
"Be quiet, you, een there! Eef you be not quiet, I feex you!"
A well-remembered voice! That greasy villain of a saloonkeeper was out there! It was Spulvedo who had smote him on the jaw. Martin redoubled his blows on the door.
"Stop! Santa Maria, eef you not stop, I shoot!"
Martin kicked away. The door, of flimsy enough construction, seemed on point of giving way. Then, there happened in such rapid sequence as to seem simultaneous, several things.
There was an ear-splitting crash, a splintering of wood, a hot streak passing so close to Martin's head it scorched, a tinkle of broken glass from the window behind him, a smell of burnt gunpowder.
Martin stood on one leg, like a stork, his free foot suspended for the kick he did not deliver. There was a queer sinking feeling in that inward organ that received his food. He stared at a little hole in the door panel, just above his head—a little bullet-hole that glowed yellow with the light from the other room. The man had shot through the door at him!
"Eef you not stop the keek, I shoot lower!" came the voice.
Martin sat down quickly upon the floor. Then, on second thought, he crawled into the nearest corner and crouched against the wall.
To be shot at, to have Death's hot breath scorch one's very hair, might very well daunt a person of more tumultuous antecedents than Martin Blake. To a young man whose chief occupation in life has been the warming of an office chair, such an experience is apt to prove unnerving. It spoke well of the stuff Martin was made of that he was not overly frightened. But Martin was certainly a bit shaken.
He suddenly discovered there was a vast difference between braving death in spirit in the pages of a book, and braving death in person in a locked upstairs room of a dubious and isolated boozing den. It was all very well for, say, Roger De Puyster, hero of that swanking tale "Death before Dishonor" to disregard such trifles as revolver shots and threats of death. But as for Martin Blake, law clerk, well, he squatted low and hugged close in his corner. No panic gripped him, but the instinct of self-preservation is a primal instinct. Martin's condition of mind, for the moment, was that bromidic state, "better imagined than described."
Chiefly, he was astonished. He, Martin Blake, had at last encountered a real adventure! He, the obscure law clerk and messenger, whose existence was a drab routine, whose every act must favor dull convention, had suddenly tumbled into the meshes of a dark intrigue, undoubtedly unlawful, where men's violent passions were given free rein.
In the short space of a half-hour, he had witnessed an abduction, been assaulted, imprisoned, murderously shot at! These things had happened to him, to Mrs. Meagher's star boarder, to Martin Blake, the despised quill-pusher! There was in Martin's mood, as he crouched there in the corner, that transcended his anger, his wonder, his fear, something that was close akin to exhilaration.
It was very still. His thumping heart seemed to him to be the only sound that reached his straining ears.
What was going on out there in the big room? He had not heard Carew's voice. Was the captain still there? Was Spulvedo crouching without the door, pistol raised, waiting for him to "keek"? Where were the mysterious Japanese? What were they—Carew's men or Dr. Ichi's?
Strange thing about that envelope. Martin had been as much surprised as Carew at the contents. What kind of a game were Smatt and Ichi playing, sending him with injunctions of secrecy to deliver sheets of blank paper? Carew declared the envelope had been tampered with, but Martin knew better. It had not left his possession. Had Smatt foreseen the reception that would be accorded his messenger? He did not doubt it. Smatt was a cold-blooded fish; he would not hesitate to risk his clerk's skin if a dollar profit were in sight. Did Smatt and Ichi know about the abduction—the imprisonment of that girl who masqueraded in the gray overcoat?
Aye, the girl—that was the important thing! Who was she? Where had she been taken? If he could only get word to the police! He had no fears for himself, at least, not many. When Carew had adjusted the matter of the envelope with Smatt and Ichi, why, of course, he would be turned loose. But the woman—those yellow men....
Martin's ears became suddenly aware of a faint, strange sound. It was a sound he had been endeavoring subconsciously to place during the period of his musing; he had almost identified it as his heart-beats. Now, alert and listening, he placed it. It was a tapping on the other side of the wall he leaned against, a light tap-tap-tap. It started, stopped, started.
Somebody was tapping on the wall in the next room. Another prisoner! It was the girl—of course, it was the girl.
Martin was instantly sure of the tapper's identity, with a sureness born of intuition and memory. He remembered the two doors opening from the big room, the gray overcoat lying in the corner, Carew's words when the semi-conscious Martin Blake was held poised before the other door. "Not there—next room." Those were Carew's words. Why, of course, the Japs had brought the girl to Carew, and he had shut her in the next room.
Tap-tap-tap, tap-tap. There it came again. Martin rapped against the wall with his own knuckles, paused, rapped again. Instantly came the response from the other side, the same number of raps. A plain answer.
But Martin's elation was short lived. The unseen tapper immediately commenced again, tap-tap, tap-tap-tap-tap, tap.
Surely there was method in that irregular tapping. A signal, a talk in code! But he could not read it. Nor dare he lift his voice in shouted communication through the wall—Spulvedo, and bullets, hung over him. One experience of being shot at while unarmed and helpless was sufficient. It would not help the girl for him to get himself shot.
The unevenly tapped message came again. The best he could do was repeat the taps. But this, evidently, did not satisfy the sender. The tapping on the other side ceased. Though he rapped till his knuckles were sore, he could not induce the other to recommence.
The gloom of the room was less dense, Martin's accustomed eyes being now able to discern all four walls and the outline of the window. A-fever with excitement as he was, the inactivity palled upon him, became unbearable. He must do something. Well, he would try the window again.
But first he crept to the door and endeavored to peer through the key-hole into the big room. He hoped to get a view of what was happening without, of Carew, of Spulvedo. But he was disappointed. The key, thrust in the lock on the outer side, completely barred any outlook. He pressed his ear against the door, but heard nothing.
A second later he was at the window, feeling of the padlocked shutter.
He drew his penknife from his pocket. It was a tiny, ridiculous blade, and it seemed futile to hope it would dig that stout staple out of the sill; still, thought Martin, any sort of attempt was better than no attempt.
He leaned over the sill and pecked away with his office tool. Of a sudden, a draft of cold, fresh air rushed up into his face. At the same instant, his other hand, which was leaning against the shutter, felt the shutter bulge slightly outward, and his ears caught a distinct, but not loud, scraping sound.
The sound increased, the bulge increased, the draft increased. Martin felt the staple that held the padlock bending, felt, also, the prying edge of a small steel bar between the sill edge and the shutter. Some one was outside, breaking entrance.
He drew to one side, shrinking against the wall, instinctively holding his breath. The prying of the shutter from without steadily continued. Conjectures and hopes surged through his mind—it was a burglar, it was the police, it was some unknown, unguessed friend. He didn't care who it was so long as the shutter was opened.
His heart beat a bass-drum solo against his ribs. There were distinct, rasping creaks from the window-sill—the staple was groaning at being hauled from its wooden bed. There was a sharp crack, and the shutter swung open. Martin heard a relieved grunt, felt the cool, fresh air enveloping him, and saw a square of black sky, lighted with a few stars.
A hand grasped the window-sill and slid along it. Martin stared at the hand, fascinated. It seemed no more than a writhing shadow.
Then a head abruptly bobbed into the square of uncertain light. It was a familiar head; even against that dark background Martin recognized it promptly; it was an unusually large head, surmounted by a ridiculously small hat. A well remembered voice reached Martin's ear in a guarded whisper:
"Miss Ruth, Miss Ruth! Are you there, Miss Ruth?"
It was the hunchback, Little Billy.
Martin's long-held breath exploded with a sudden pop. The hunchback stiffened at the sound and hung motionless, half over the sill. He peered into the dark room evidently endeavoring to locate the noise.
"Miss Ruth?" he hissed sharply.
Martin stepped from the wall towards the window.
"It is I," he commenced.
"Stop! Don't move, don't yell. I have you covered!" was Little Billy's sharp injunction; and Martin caught the gleam of steel in the other's hand, saw the muzzle of a revolver pointed at his chest.
"No, no, don't shoot!" he exclaimed. "It is I, Martin Blake, the law clerk. Don't you remember—the fellow who was talking to you by the fire hydrant?"
"The law clerk! Good Lord! Have they shanghaied you?"
"Yes, I'm locked in this room," said Martin. "They are guarding the door. That fellow, Spulvedo, just took a shot at me because I tried to break out. Don't speak loudly—they'll overhear."
"I'm coming in," whispered Little Billy.
He wriggled his body further over the sill, swung about and dropped to the floor by Martin's side. Immediately, he turned and thrust his head out of the window and spoke a few words in an undertone to some one below.
Martin leaned over Little Billy's shoulder and peered out. He discovered the means by which the hunchback had reached that second story window—about nine feet below was the roof of a shed that abutted against the side of the building, and on the farther side of the shed was a dark space that looked like an alley, a freight entrance probably to the great brick warehouse that reared its blank, windowless side just opposite. He saw that his previous surmise had been correct—this room he had been confined in was a rear room, the shed below was doubtless an outhouse of the saloon, the street yonder was Green Street.
Martin grasped these details at a glance. What really interested him at the moment was a man's figure just below him on the roof of the shed. The upturned face was but a few feet distant; the man bulked huge in the shadow. It was the boatswain. Martin divined the method of the hunchback's assault upon the shutters—he had evidently stood upon the giant's shoulders.
"Stand by, Bos," called Little Billy softly. "I'm inside, all right."
"Aye, aye," came the answering rumble. "'Ave you found 'er, lad? 'Oo's that lookin' over your shoulder?"
"It is that clerk," said Little Billy. "'Wild Bob' locked him up. No, she isn't——"
He straightened up and clutched Martin's arm.
"You in here alone?" he demanded. "I am looking——"
"I know—a girl," interrupted Martin excitedly. "I think she is in the next room. A white girl. The japs caught her and turned her over to Carew. Had on a man's gray overcoat, and——"
"Did you see her? Is she safe?"
"Think so. They haven't had time to harm her. I think she is in the next room. Some one was rapping on the wall."
"Code talk!" supplemented the hunchback. "That is Ruth. She thinks I was caught, too. She has been trying to communicate with me. Must have heard them put you in here. Which wall?"
He darted to the side of the room Martin indicated, moving lightly and soundlessly. He started a light tapping on the wall, the same irregular tapping that had puzzled Martin a few moments before. Hardly had he begun when faint replies came from the next room.
Martin tiptoed to the door and pressed his ear against it. Events were crowding him swiftly. He had no time or data for cool reasoning. The boatswain, the hunchback, the imprisoned woman, Carew, the envelope, Ichi and Smatt—it was all a mysterious jumble that he had no time to bother with. His impulse controlled him, and his impulse enlisted him upon the girl's side against Carew. Little Billy and the boatswain he accepted without question as friends. Had they not opened the window, and the way to freedom? So he listened at the door while the hunchback exchanged signals, alert for alarming sounds from the big room. But he heard nothing.
For several moments the strange conversation continued through the wall. Twice, Martin heard the hunchback mutter an oath. Then, after a final series of raps, the little man left the wall and crept to Martin's side.
"Yes, she is in there," he announced. "We will have to work swiftly. What do you know of this house—how constructed?"
Martin described in whispers the plan of the building as he knew it—the hall and stairs, the large room, the two smaller rooms opening off it. He also told Little Billy of his own rough experience, though he did not mention the envelope.
"Spulvedo is on guard on the other side of this door," he concluded. "He is armed, and he won't hesitate to shoot."
"I know he would shoot," said Little Billy grimly. "So will I shoot, if necessary. You have been thrust into a desperate business, my friend. Oh, I understand your position, even better than you, yourself. I know why you were seized and locked in here. I warn you truly, you are in some danger. Carew, or any of his crowd, would snuff you out in an instant if he thought fit. I am not going to ask you to risk your skin in an affair that does not concern you. There is the window—the bosun will let you pass."
"I'll stay and help you, if you'll have me," promptly replied Martin. "I am not afraid to take a chance. And that girl—those yellow——"
"I knew you would stick!" interrupted the hunchback. His hand grasped Martin's in a congratulatory grip. "I knew I had not misjudged you—you are a white man. We must get her away, and we dare not call the police into this affair. But there is nothing crooked on our side of the fence. Here, take this—you may need it!"
Little Billy thrust something into Martin's hand, and Martin thrilled at the feel of it. It was a pistol, a compact, automatic messenger of death. But once or twice before had Martin ever handled such a weapon, and he had never shot one at a living mark. Nevertheless, it fitted snugly and naturally into his palm. He even contemplated, with a certain amount of pleasure, its instant use upon the divekeeper's gross person. There was a subtle and lasting change of character in that brief moment—Martin Blake, law clerk, became of the dead past, and Martin Blake, adventurer, stepped into the law clerk's boots.
"It is too risky to make a rush through this door," Little Billy was saying. "They would hear us and be on guard. We will try the next window."
He darted to the window, and Martin followed. The purposeful hunchback was a stimulating surprise, a far cry from the eloquent Little Billy of the fire hydrant to the energetic Little Billy of the moment! The man of words become the man of action.
Little Billy leaned out of the window, and whispered.
"Aye, aye," Martin heard the hoarse whisper in reply.
"Stand by, we are coming out—both of us," admonished Little Billy.
He vaulted over the sill, clung a moment, and dropped. Martin saw the boatswain catch the little man in midair and lower him gently to his feet.
"Come on," the hunchback then called softly.
Martin divested himself of his overcoat. The cause, he thought, was worth the sacrifice, and the garment was cumbersome. Then he clambered over the sill and lowered himself.
He was preparing to drop, when a resistless clutch fastened upon his hips. He was handed through the air as if he were a feather, and set gently upon his feet at Little Billy's side. The boatswain's gruff whisper was in his ear—
"Swiggle me, ladibuck, I 'ad no thought to run afoul of you again."
"Come on—next window," commanded Little Billy.
He shrank against the side of the building and began to edge himself along. Martin and the boatswain followed. Martin looked up. The window they had just climbed through was a mere black blot, the window that was their objective was a mere outline overhead and a few feet to one side. No betraying light hazarded them, there on the shed. The warehouse behind them, and the building against which they crouched, combined to drape them in black shadow. Unless they made a noise, Martin divined there was not much chance of their being discovered.
Little Billy paused beneath the other window, and Martin and the boatswain pressed close to his side.
"Now, bosun, lend me your shoulders," said Little Billy. "If this shutter is fastened the same way the other one was, we won't have much trouble. Hand me the bar."
The boatswain produced a short steel bar from some place about his person and handed it to the hunchback. Then he braced his back against the building, directly below the desired window, and picking up Little Billy, hoisted the little fellow to his own broad shoulders. The hunchback perched there a moment and delivered instructions to Martin.
"You stand lookout," he instructed. "Watch the street. Listen for footsteps."
Martin obediently crept to the edge of the shed's roof that overlooked the street and posted himself there as watchman. The alley was on his left hand, but it was so dark there he could not see the ground. The street, just before him, was not so impervious to peering eyes.
The cobblestones and the sidewalk pavement gleamed dully. By stretching his neck, he could see the corner where the street lamp spluttered before the saloon entrance, and beyond the corner, the wide vista of the Embarcadero and a section of dark wharf. But he saw nothing threatening in the scene. Nothing moved—the street was empty of life. The only sounds were the hooting of steamboat whistles on the bay and the light rattle of Little Billy's bar against the shutter.
Then, abruptly, came from around the corner, in front of the saloon, the muffled throb of an automobile engine. It sank to a purr, and stopped. Martin stiffened tensely and gripped the revolver in his hand. Behind him, he heard the boatswain mutter:
"'Ear that, Billy? Swiggle me, 'e's back—'urry!"
The scraping sound of the steel bar upon the shutter increased in volume. Martin heard a mumble of voices, and a stamping of feet on the pavement. Then a door closed and the sounds ceased. Martin knew that several men had entered the saloon. The danger seemed to have passed them by.
He heard Little Billy give vent to a satisfied grunt. He looked up, over his shoulder, and saw that the jimmy had completed its task. The shutter was open, Little Billy was clambering down from the boatswain's shoulders, an indistinct figure was half over the sill, clambering out of the newly opened window. And in the same glance, he saw a beam of yellow light illumine the other window, the window of the room in which he had been prisoner. His ears were assailed with a sudden outcry coming through that window——