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Devil's Cargo

By Capt. Frank H. Shaw

The stake was ten million in gold. Life was cheap for that—but when the Sea-Devil made his desperate play with a gun in his hand and a swarm of cut-throats at his back, he overlooked one small detail—the mad laughter of a fear-crazed man.

THE warning bell had rung aboard the R. M. S. Coristan, and the friends of the passengers were flocking ashore. The marine superintendent, standing on the landing stage, with his open watch in his hand, glanced quickly to where the roadway led up into the city's teeming heart, and stamped his foot impatiently. The gangways were drawn ashore one by one; first the steerage, then the second-class, until only the one reserved for saloon passengers remained. Pilot, captain and officers had taken up their positions on the navigating bridge; the surgeon, having examined every intending passenger, was resting behind a ventilator as he twirled a cigarette; and the purser was hurrying to and fro with a strange air of having undertaken a bigger job than he could handle.

"What's all the waiting for, mister?" asked a tall, portly man, a Frenchman by his accent, of the second officer, who was following the quick glances of the superintendent's eyes. "Waiting for a passenger?"

"Something more important," said the second officer. "We're carrying out a lot of specie to the New York banks—on account of the general shortage of cash, I suppose. They reckon it at about two millions, I fancy."

The tall Frenchman walked away as calmly as though two million pounds' worth of specie were an everyday matter, but just as he turned, Miles Freedom, the second officer, pursed up his lips into a soundless whistle.

"By Jove!" he said suddenly to himself. "You here! That's more than a little fishy, or I'm a Dutchman. And yet when I saw you last, my friend, your hair was yellow, and now it's brown. Funny thing! But that's easily settled."

He beckoned a quartermaster.

"You see that gentleman there, Smith? Get a roll of canvas out of the sail-locker, put it on your shoulder, and walk past him. Let the canvas brush his head slightly—as if it was an accident, you understand? Look sharp about."

"Yes sir, very good, sir."

The quartermaster vanished, to return a minute later with an unwieldy roll of sail-cloth on his shoulder. It was very heavy, that was evident, for the sailor staggered along uncertainly, and when he drew abreast of the Frenchman he allowed the roll to swing wildly for a moment before he clutched it tighter and proceeded on his way.

"Look where you're going," cried the Frenchman, glancing around as his hands flew to his hat. Freedom, who had witnessed the occurrence out of the tail of his eye, smiled quietly.

"Not a bad guess," he thought. "His hair's yellow, right enough, under the wig."

The simple trick had succeeded. With the sharp jerk to his hat, the man's wig had slipped a little to one side, and had revealed a gleam of tawny hair.

No one had noticed the occurrence save Freedom, and he kept his knowledge to himself, but sent his keen eyes roaming over the decks of the liner.

Time after time that inscrutable smile crossed the young officer's face as he singled out the faces he was on the lookout for. Then, as a mutter of sound swept up from the packed landing stage to his ears, he walked briskly to the gangway.

THE crowd had opened out into two orderly bodies, leaving a clear lane between. A score of stalwart policemen were pressing back the more curious; here and there, with hands thrust carelessly into the pockets of their coats, stood detectives from Scotland Yard. Each man fingered a loaded revolver, but appeared quite disinterested.

There was a rumble of heavy wheels now. A great net of knotted rope was draped under the sole remaining gangway, so that if any case of specie should by chance fall from its bearer's shoulder it would be brought up in the meshes and saved from the swift-flowing river. Three heavy drays lumbered down the lane abreast of the steamer. On each dray were seated several armed men.

The guards sprang to the ground, forming into a close ring about the precious freight, and the thick tarpaulins were flung back, revealing the specie cases. Each case was as much as a strong man could conveniently lift, was sealed in a dozen places and bound with iron. Inside each case was the sum of five thousand pounds in sovereigns.

The stevedores eddied around the wagons, and a steady stream of burdened men started to ascent the sloping gangway. One by one they reached the liner's deck, and following the lead of the second officer, they reached the steel-doored specie-room in the vessel's bowels. The seamen were there in readiness and the cases were stowed away methodically, with as little emotion as though they had been barrels of apples. Only when the last case was stowed did one big quartermaster climb to the very summit of the pile of boxes and yelled:

"I'll be a bloomin' millionaire for a minute, anyhow," and sat in st...

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