| Southward ho! Before the trade winds we
scudded day after day, past Catalina Island and San Diego, past Santa Margarita lying like
a fog bank on the offing, out into the warm sunshine of the tropical Pacific.
We promised ourselves that after the treasure had been lifted and we were headed again for the Golden Gate, our sails should have a chance to show what they could do alone, but now Blythe was using all his power to drive the Argos forward.
What plans Bothwell might have we did not know, but we were taking no chances of reaching Doubloon Spit too late. If we succeeded in getting what we had come after there would be plenty of time to dawdle.
No days in my life stand out as full of enjoyment as those first ones off the cost of Lower California and Mexico. Under a perfect sky we sailed serenely. Our fears of Bothwell had vanished. We had shaken him off and held the winning hand in the game we had played with him. The tang of the sea spume, of the salt-laden spray was on our lips; the songs of youth were in our hearts.
Every hour that I was not on duty, except those given to necessary sleep, I spent in the company of Evelyn Wallace. Usually her aunt was also present, and either Blythe or Yeager. That did not matter in the least, so long as my golden-brown beauty was near, so long as I could watch the dimples flash in her cheeks and the little nose crinkle to sudden mirth, or could wait for the sweep of the long lashes that would bring round to mine the lovely yes, tender and merry and mocking by turns.
Faith, I'll make a clean beast of it. I was already fathoms deep in love, and my lady did not in the least particularly seem to favor me. There were moments when hope was strong in me. I magnified a look, a word, the eager life in her, to the significance my heart desired, but reason told me that she gave the same friendly comradeship to Blythe and Yeager.
It is possible that the absorption in this new interest dulled my perception of external matters. So at least Sam hinted to me one night after the ladies had retired. Mott was at the wheel, a game of solitaire in the smoking room claimed Yeager. Blythe and I were tramping the deck while we smoked.
"Notice anything peculiar about the men today and yesterday, Jack?" he asked in a low voice.
We were for the moment leaning against the rail, our eyes on the phosphorescent light that gleamed on the waves.
"No-o. Can't say that I have. Why?"
"Thought perhaps you hadn't. When man's engaged
"What!" I interrupted.
"engaged in teaching a pretty girl how to steer, he doesn't notice little things he otherwise might."
"Such as" I suggested.
He looked around to make sure we were alone.
"There's something in the wind. I don't know what it is."
"Something to do with the crew?"
"Yes. they know something about the reason why we're making this trip. You haven't talked, of course?"
"Nor Miss Wallace? Perhaps her aunt"
"It doesn't seem likely. Whom would she talk to?"
"Some of the men may have overheard a sentence or two. The point is that they are talking treasure in the f'c'sle. Morgan got it from Higgins."
"From the cook?"
"Yes. Afterward the man was sorry he had spoken. He's the type that can't keep a secret. Some of it is bound to leak out in his talk."
"Couldn't Morgan find out where Higgins learned what he knows?"
"No. I had him try. The man was frightened about what he had already said. He wouldn't say another word. That doesn't look well."
After a moment of reflection I spoke.
"Perhaps Bothwell may have told some of the men before we started. I saw him talking to a man that looked like our chief engineer."
"When was that?"
I told in detail about my meeting with Bothwell on the wharf. Of course I had mentioned the occurrence at the time, but without referring to Fleming.
Yes, he may have told Fleming about it, but"
The uncompleted sentence suggested his doubt.
"You think he isn't the man to give away anything without a good reason?"
"You've said it."
"Of course it's really no business of the crew what we are going after."
"True enough, but we agreed among ourselves to tell them at the last moment and in such a way as to enlist them as partners with us. Unless I guess wrong, their feeling is sullenness. They think we're after booty in which they have no share."
"They'll feel all the kinder to us when we let them know that a percentage of our profits is to go to the crew."
"Will they? I wonder."
He was plainly disturbed, more so than I could find any justification for in the meager facts and surmises he had just confided to me.
"What is troubling you? What are you afraid of?"
"I can't put a name to my feeling, but I jolly well wish they didn't know. Seamen are a rough lot and they get queer ideas."
"You don't imagine for an instant that they'll maroon us and hoist the Jolly Roger, do you?" I asked with a laugh.
He did not echo my laugh.
"No, but I don't like it. I thought we had the game in our own hands, and now I find the crew has notions, too."
"Don't you think you're rather overemphasizing the matter, Sam?"
"Perhaps I am." He appeared to shake off his doubts. "In fact, I'm pretty sure I am. But I thought it best to mention the thing to you."
"Glad you did. We'll keep an eye open and, if there's any trouble, nip it in the bud."
This was easy enough to say, but the event proved far otherwise. Within twenty-four hours we were to learn that serious trouble was afoot.
It was midday of a Saturday, and the sky was clear and cloudless as those which had gone before. During the forenoon we had been doing a steady fifteen knots, but there had been some slight trouble with the engines and we were now making way with the sails alone while the engineers overhauled the machinery.
Yeager and I were standing near the cook's scuppers fishing for shark with fat pork for bait. More than once I had caught the flash of a white-bellied monster, but Mr. Shark was wary about taking chances.
Dugan, our carpenter, stopped as he was passing, apparently to watch us. Glancing at him I noticed something in his face that held my eyes.
"There's trouble afoot, Mr. Sedgwick," he broke out in a low, jerky voice. "For God's sake, make a chance for me to talk to you or Captain Blythe!"
The cook came out of his galley at that moment. My wooden face told no tales.
"No chance. The beggar's too shy. I've had enough. How about you, Yeager?"
"Me too," the Arizonian laughed easily, and he hauled up the line.
I strolled forward to the pilot house, stopping to chat for an instant with Miss Berry, who lay in a steamer chair under the awning. For I had no intention of letting the men suspect that Dugan had told me anything of importance.
Blythe was at the wheel. I told him what Dugan had said. Our captain did not turn a hair.
"There's a shingle loose on the edge of the roof. Call Dugan to nail it tight."
The carpenter brought a hammer and nails. Tom Yeager meanwhile was sitting on a coil of rope talking to Caine. His laughter rippled up to us carefree as that of a schoolboy. He never even glanced our way, but I knew he would be ready when we needed him.
The captain turned the wheel over to me and stepped outside of the wheelhouse. Three or four of the men were lounging about the deck. So far as they could see, Blythe was directing the carpenter about the work and the latter was explaining how it could be best done.
"Keep cool, my man. Don't let them guess what you are saying," the Englishman advised, lighting a cigar.
"What have you to tell me?"
"Mutiny, sir. That's what it is. We're after treasure. that's the story I've heard, and the men to take the ship."
I though of Evelyn and her aunt, and my heart sank.
Sam stretched his arms and yawned.
"Don't know, sir. I've picked up only a little here and there. Caine came to me this morning and asked me if I would go in with them."
Dugan drove two nails into the shingle.
"Do you know which of the men are stanch?"
"No, sir. Can't say as I do, outside of Alderson. Tom's all right."
"What about arms?"
"They have plenty. They've been packed in a bulkhead, but Fleming and Caine gave them out to the men this morning."
"The deuce! That looks ugly. They must be getting ready for business soon. If Caine approaches you again, fall in with his plans. Find out all you can, especially what men we can rely on. That will do."
As soon as the man had gone the captain turned to me with a fighting gleam in his quiet eyes.
"Well, Jack, it's worse by a devilish lot than I had thought. We're in for mutiny. I wouldn't ask for anything better than a turn with these wharf rats if it weren't for the ladies. But with them aboard it's different. Wish I knew when Mr. Caine intends to set the match to the powder."
"What's the matter with my going down into the men's quarters and having a look around? I might stumble on some information worth while."
He shook his head.
"No, thanks. I need my second officer. If he went down there an accident might happen to himdue to a fall down the stairway or something of the sort."
"Then let me send Jimmie. Nobody would pay any attention to him. He could go into their quarters without suspicion.
"It would be safe enough for him at present. Why not? don't tell him too much, Jack."
Jimmie jumped at the chance to go sleuthing again. I had told him a yarn about suspecting some of the men had whisky concealed in the ship. He was away less than half an hour, but when he came back it was with a piece of news most alarming.
"Mr. Sedgwick," he gasped, "you remember that big, black-faced guy you set me trailing in 'FriscoCaptain what's-his-namewell, he's on this ship sure as I'm a foot high!"
My heart lost a beat. "Certain of that, Jimmie?"
"Yep, it's a lead-pipe cinch. Saw him in the engine room talking to Mr. Fleming. When he seen me Mr. Fleming called me to come down. But not for Jimmie. He took a swift hike up the stairs."
The boy was all excitement. For that matter so was I, though I concealed it better. If Bothwell were on board the ship as a stowaway the aspect of affairs was more serious even than we had thought.
"You're sure it was Captain Bothwell, Jimmie?"
"Say, would I know me own mother? Would I know Jim Jeffries or Battling Nelson if I got an eyeful of them walking down on Market Street? Would I be sure of the Chronicle Building if I set my peepers on it? Betcherlife."
"How was he dressed?"
"In sailors' slops. Didn't have on any coat. Wasn't right sure of him at first, 'cause he's run a lawn mower over them whiskers of his. But this guy's the original Bothwell all right, all right."
"Jimmie, listen to me. Don't whisper a word of this. Do you hear?"
"I'm a clam."
"And don't go exploring in that end of the ship again. Captain Bothwell would as soon wring you neck as a chicken's, my boy. Keep away from the forecastle."
Immediately I joined Blythe on the bridge and told him what Jimmie had discovered.
The captain nodded.
"That explains what was puzzling us. Bothwell has been too shrewd for us. He must have arranged it to throw his men in our way when we were selecting a crew. The scoundrel is laughing in his sleeve at us because we're taking him and his men at our expense to the treasure."
"He's diddled us beautifully," I admitted with a sour grin.
"I grant him one round. The man is dangerous as a wild beast that has escaped from its cage. But we're warned now. If he bests us it's our own fault."
"It will be a finish fight, no surrender and no quarter."
My friend nodded, his jaw gripped tight.
"You've said it."
"We've one advantage. All of us will stand together. He can't hold his riffraff long. They will quarrel among themselves. Every day that passes works in our favor."
"Right enough, but Bothwell knows this as well as we do. He'll move soon. We've forced his hand by discovering his presence. Now he can't let us get into port because he knows we would get help against him."
"Unless I guess wrong we'll hear from him inside of twenty-four hours."
"Since it has to be, the sooner the better."
Blythe shrugged his broad, lean shoulders coolly.
"What must be must. As for Captain Bothwell, I don't think he'll have an easy time of it. If he doesn't like the treatment he's going to get he'll have nobody to blame but himself. Nobody asked him on board."
"We must lose no time in making preparations to meet an attack."
"You're right. Tell Mr. Mott I wish to see him. Have Yeager look our weapons over and make sure that they are loaded. Tell him to guard the armory until further notice. Better give Morgan a revolver at once and slip Dugan one if you can."
The flinty resolution in his eye warmed my heart. Man for man, I was ready to back Blythe against Bothwell.
The Scotch-Russian had more of the devil in him, a starker cruelty, a more blazing passion, and perhaps greater cunning; but if I read the Englishman aright there was in him that same quiet force which carried Captain Scott to the south pole and afterward gave to the world that immortal letter written in a bleak Antarctic waste of icy death.
Sam Blythe would play the game out steadily to a fighting finish.