Pulp Classics: The Opium Ship
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by H. Bedford-Jones
Category: Historical Fiction/Classic Literature
Description: Originally published as a four-part serial in the legendary pulp magazine "The Thrill Book," here is the story of Sir Gerald Desmond, late officer in His Majesty's Royal Flying Corps. Broke and drunk in Manila, he befriends a consumptive Irish fiddler, Michael O'Sullivan, and the two become involved in a free fight with the native constabulary. From this brawl they are rescued by an unknown benefactor--but when they come to their senses, they find themselves shanghaied aboard the schooner 'San Gregorio', bound for Mindoro Island. Typhoons, smugglers, beautiful women, opium, and mutiny are just the beginning of their adventures!
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, 1919 USA
eBookwise Release Date: March 2006
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [168 KB]
Reading time: 108-151 min.
CHAPTER I. THE FIDDLER.
SIR GERALD Fitzjohn de Courcy Desmond, K. O. M. G., D. S. O., late flight commander in that section of his majesty's Royal Flying Corps operating in Papuan waters, was dead broke and knew it. What was more to the point, he was drunk and did not know it.
This surprising, even tragic, event happened in Manila. Gerald Desmond had been in the city a week, upon his way home, without taking a drink; he was not what is termed a drinking man. Drinking men do not succeed in naval hydroplane work, at least to the extent of winning honors.
But, upon this amazing afternoon, while Gerald Desmond was playing bridge at the English Club, in the Paco section of town, he had received a cablegram. This cable message informed him that his uncle's fortune had departed; that his uncle, a worthy baronet of manufacturing fame in Dublin, had departed on the heels of the fortune; and that he, Gerald Desmond, was now a baronet without an income. He had resigned his commission when the war ended, and had now neither job nor money.
Having settled his bridge score, he found fifty dollars in his pocket, and of this he devoted the major portion to the bar. Thus, at nine-ten upon that historic evening, he wandered to the cloakroom, pursued by a waiter with a forgotten drink.
"Sure, I'll take it," said Desmond, smiling brightly when the waiter gained his attention. "Here's good luck to ye, lad, and many tips. Will ye have a bit drink yourself, now?"
The respectable China boy refused, with a blank stare.
Desmond allowed the attendant to help him into his overcoat; it was a chilly night. A plain black scarf covered his neckwear and white shirtfront. A black crush hat concealed his awkwardly red hair. An ebony stick fell over his arm.
"Will I call a cab, sir?" asked the attendant delicately. "Or a taxi?"
"Ye will not," said Desmond, shocked. "Would you insinuate that I cannot walk?"
He left the attendant coughing apologetically, and made his way to the street. He was in a happy inward glow and did not feel a bit sorry for himself. Indeed, he felt rather rejoiced over the knowledge that he could follow a crack in the sidewalk with perfect accuracy and aplomb.
"Thunder o' Finn!" he exclaimed joyously. "There's somethin' in havin' Irish blood, after all--to say nothin' of havin' a brewer for an uncle, rest his soul!"
He directed his steps toward the Manila Hotel, which lies just beyond the Luneta, but the fresh night air gave him such an insidiously false idea of his condition that he changed his direction with the idea of getting a drink at the Elks' or the Army and Navy. So he struck off down Calle Isaac Peral, but by the time he had passed the Cathedral he began to observe that there was something subtly and decidedly wrong with the sidewalk. Still he forged ahead, only to come to a halt when he reached the Del Pilar tramway line. There he leaned on his stick with patient resignation.
Presently he became aware that someone was accosting him, hat in hand. With something of an effort, Desmond forced himself into coherent observation. The man had a violin case under his arm, and a wild tangle of black locks fell about his ears at odd angles; his face was pinched, his eyes very bright and sharp and erratic.
"It's a fine gentleman ye are, sir," was saying the man in an admiring tone. "And a musician, as I can see by the face of you with me eyes shut. Now, then, would ye be refusing a brother musician, as one gentleman to another, a bit matter of a loan? Ye would not, as I can see plainly."
"Eh?" demanded Desmond. "What's your name?"
"My name, is it? Well, now, I'll be tellin' ye in confidence, between gentlemen, sir, that it's from a great line I come! It is that, sir, though ye might not believe it to be lookin' at me here. Michael Terence O'Sullivan, by your leave, sir--"
"Aye," said Desmond. "That would be the O'Sullivan Beare, now! 'Twas a great man he was and no mistake; but, my lad, if it's comparing him to the Geraldines--"
"Lord save us!" cried O'Sullivan, starting back. "You're from the old country?"
"I'm not sure," said Desmond candidly. "I'm sure of nothing. Somethin's happened in these parts since this afternoon; an earthquake, likely. Six times have I had the notion of crossin' the street, and each time there'd come a rattling tram threatening to run the life out o' me if I budged. Thunder o' Finn! And look at the sidewalk, with the roll to it!"
"Sure, now I'll be taking ye home," said the fiddler insinuatingly. "Then we'll speak o' that bit loan on the way."
"Loan, is it?" repeated Desmond. "Heaven help ye, lad! It's no loan ye'll get from me. For so long as me credit is good I'll buy ye a drink or two--"
"A fine gentleman like you, broke?" gasped O'Sullivan.
"Divil take it, am I to blame if me uncle left me not a shilling?" demanded Desmond with indignation. "But wait! Give me your arm, O'Sullivan Beare, like a good lad, and leave it to me. Is that the band I hear playin' over beyond at Luneta Park?"
"It is," returned the other bitterly. "And who'll give a dime to hear O'Sullivan fiddle, when the band is playin'? They drownded me out, for a fact; drownded me out, they did--"
"An insult!" declared Desmond with severity. "Your arm, me lad! Now hush. Not a word out of ye--not a word! Insult the O'Sullivan Beare, will they? A little brown constabulary band insult the O'Sullivan, and me standing by? Never! N-never! Sir Gerald Fitzjohn de Courcy Desmond will never--"
"Holy Mother!" gasped the fiddler. "Sure, I thought the fine face of ye looked familiar; 'twas pictured in all the papers! But, sir, don't be interferin' with the crowd now; let me be takin' you toward--"
Desmond gripped the man's arm firmly. "Not a word!" he said. "Hush your blather or I'll smash that fiddle over your head! Guide me straight now, and mind none o' those lamp-posts swing at ye as we pass."
The Luneta was crowded that evening, as usual. The constabulary band was playing from the stand, and along the oval strolled officers and ladies, business men and their families, bowing seņors and mantillaed seņoritas; brown and white of all degrees made up the gay throng, while the sea breezes lifted the band music in drifting waves across the chatter of tongues.
On the outskirts of the crowd two men occupied a bench, and they were a strange couple. One was a native dressed in the most impeccable evening attire from silk hat to patent leathers; the pearl studs in his shirt were eloquent of wealth. The other man was roughly dressed and was dour of aspect. He pulled on a clay pipe as he talked, and his smooth-shaven features were stern and sour. There was nothing weak about them.
"I tell you, Seņor Arevalo," said this second man, "that I'm done with it, understand? I'll never run in another load o' dope for you nor any other man alive. Otherwise, I'm willin' to oblige. But if ye bring one card aboard I'll throw ye over the side."
The Filipino laughed. One guessed at suave strength in his brown, finely chiseled face; one imagined an inward man of steel, finely tempered, like the gold-inlaid steel of the Moros.
"My dear captain," he said, "I assure you that I shall not smuggle. All I desire is to be taken as a passenger on this trip. Let us be frank! I know that you hesitate because you are to take your owner and his daughter down to Remedios plantation; well, then, I shall not even be seen by them. I love business on the island there, and since you're sailing tonight it will help me immensely to get off at once. That is all."
"All right," said the captain, as though impelled against his better judgment. "For old times' sake, then. You'd best have your dunnage aboard by midnight, for we'll sail on the turn o' the tide. I'll have to pick up a couple o' men before then, too."
"Natives?" queried the other, rising. A hint of eagerness was in his voice.
"No. I want white men, and Lord knows where I'll get 'em! If it were the old days, now, all fine and good; but with this law an' order a man never knows what's what."
The Filipino laughed softly and disappeared in the crowd. The captain leaned back, sucking at his pipe and watching the bandstand. So it happened that he witnessed a most extraordinary thing.
The bandmaster came to the front of the stand and held up his hand until the crowd fell silent through curiosity.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he announced, "Sir Gerald Desmond, of the Royal Flying Corps, has asked to make an announcement regarding a hitherto unknown atrocity of the late war which has come under his observation. I am sure you will all be very glad to hear from so distinguished a gentleman; one who has achieved great fame as an aviator and whose name will be known to many of you."
As the bandmaster ceased and bowed, the crowd broke into instant applause. Coming to the front of the platform was Desmond. It was observed that he had removed hat and coat, and that he held a second man firmly by the arm. It was also observed that the members of the band seemed fully as puzzled as every one else.
When Desmond bowed, and his flashing smile lighted his aggressive, finely carved features, the applause redoubled. It died down when he raised his hand.
"My friends," his rich voice carried clearly to the staring throng below, "this is one of the happiest moments of me life, I assure you 'tis so! On this momentous evening it has fallen to me to make right a great wrong that has been done to one of the finest gentlemen under God's creation, it has that!"
The charming informality of this address was such that a vague suspicion was impressed upon his auditors; but Desmond recaptured them with his smile, and continued.
"Here beside me," and he jerked forward the rather abashed fiddler, "ye behold a victim, an Irishman like me-self, an artist of the first water! It's the truth I'm telling you, so listen now. O'Sullivan Beare is the name of him, and any Irishman present will recall the glorious life an' death of that grand gentleman, who has been playin' the fiddle all this while in your midst, only to be drowned miserably night after night by the glorious discords of this constabulary band, by whose leave I'm addressing you."
Desmond paused for breath. The rising storm of laughter died instantly as he proceeded.
"My friends, for the sake o' fair play, I'm asking you one and all to stand by and see no interference done while this gentleman entertains us. It's a strugglin' member of an oppressed race he is, and when ye consider the jealousy which has led the band to be drownin' him out night after night, while his unhappy country is starvin' for the ha'pence and dimes which he should be sendin' home to help beat the Kaiser and establish democracy in the land of Erin--well, it's all true, anyhow. I have every respect for the Stars an' Shtripes; in fact, I'm intendin' to become an American citizen now that me uncle is dead and me without a shilling to me name, but I will--"
Desmond turned indignantly to his companion. "Why the divil don't ye play? D'ye expect me to stand here blathering all night until ye get tuned up? Play, ye divil! Play, or I'll smash that fiddle--"
At this point the scandalized bandmaster touched Desmond's elbow. What he said was lost in the roars of mirth that swept over the Luneta. The situation was perfectly clear to every one by this time, yet so cool and easy was Desmond that to imagine him drunk--
When the bandmaster was through speaking, Desmond took the conductor's baton from under his arm, lifted the uniformed gentleman by the collar, and with one hand dropped him over the edge of the stand. Then he turned to the bandsmen.
"Now, ye brown divils! Strike up the 'Wearin' of the Green,' and mind ye follow this baton or I'll murder ye! When me friend here gets into tune, see that ye don't drown him out. Thunder o' Finn! Are ye goin' to play or not?"
The constabulary band banished its grins and seized its instruments. The Luneta was a shrieking, howling mass of joyous humanity, through which the constabulary officers tried vainly to reach the bandstand. And then the band started playing.
Michael Terence O'Sullivan began to enter into the spirit of the occasion. He whipped out fiddle and bow, and with a wild grin on his pinched face fell to scraping away; the brown musicians, such of them as could play for laughing, answered Desmond's baton with a pianissimo, and for one intoxicating moment O'Sullivan was at the apogee of his ambition.
An instant later a flushed and panting constabulary officer appeared beside Desmond. The latter turned to him, knocked him over the edge of the stand after the conductor, and calmly continued waving his baton. This was too much. The law had been insulted, and the law demanded its victim. After all, the bandsmen were constabulary.
O'Sullivan saw the coming storm. He hastily stowed away his fiddle, tucked the case under his arm, and tried to escape; but, caught in the tide of bandsmen, he stood back to back with Desmond and fought valiantly. The end, of course, would never have been in doubt had not some kindly soul switched off the lights which flooded the bandstand.
There was a riot in the Luneta that night--a riot which became historic. Gerald Desmond was not at all certain of what happened, although he remembered events fairly well up to the moment of concluding his speech. It was certain that when he reached the outskirts of the milling mob he was still hanging to Michael Terence O'Sullivan; and the fiddler, who had received a tap over the head from a bassoon and who was only half conscious, still clung to his beloved fiddle.
"It's a most successful evening," observed Desmond vaguely, pausing for breath. "Now, what the divil went with my collar? Upon me soul, I do believe I had a drink too many--"
A dark figure materialized at his elbow.
"Come on, Desmond!" said a voice. "Here's a cab waiting for you."
"Good!" responded Sir Desmond. "Though ye'll have to lend us your arm, for this man hangin' to me disturbs the street most amazingly. Either he's drunk, or I am--"
A powerful hand gripped his arm and steadied him forward. A brown constabulary officer came shrieking up to them, but the unseen protector met him with a blow that sent him under a heap of shrubbery.
"Hurry along with you!" growled the unknown.
Sir Gerald Desmond felt himself bundled into a cab, falling in a heap over the protesting Michael Terence and the fiddle case. After this all grew dim.
Order came gradually out of that historic chaos, and the authorities combed the city for Gerald Desmond, who was now a baronet; the Manila Hotel disclaimed all knowledge of him. The fiddler O'Sullivan, a licensed beggar who had once been honorably discharged from the army by reason of tuberculosis, had likewise failed to turn up at his lodgings.
The two men had completely vanished, and naturally no one connected this disappearance with the fact that the inter-island trading schooner San Gregorio had left her berth at the Muelle shortly after midnight, bound for her owner's plantation on Mindoro Island.
Upon the following day was raging the worst typhoon which had struck the islands in years. An inbound Singapore steamer reported that she had sighted a schooner off Lubang running west before the gale; at the end of a week the San Gregorio was accounted lost. The loss occasioned some comment, for aboard the schooner had been her owner, the wealthy Don Gregorio Salcedo y Montes, and his daughter, Doņa Juliana. The presumed widow of Don Gregorio was prostrated by the event.
It was remarked by the authorities that about this time disappeared one Seņor Juan Arevalo--somewhat to their relief. Arevalo was a native of great ability, a member of the legislature from Cavite, who had made much money in devious ways. The consumption of opium fell off noticeably after his disappearance, and he left no family to mourn him. So, taken all in all, the authorities were very glad, that he had vanished.