Captain Bothwell Interrupts
| As he moved into the room with his easy,
vigorous stride, one could not miss the impression of his extraordinary physical power.
I am an outdoor man myself, but I have never seen the day when I was a match for Boris Bothwell at feats of strength. Unusually deep in the chest and wide of shoulder, with long, well-packed arms that gave his big, sinewy hands a tremendous grip, he was not in the least muscle-bound.
In my junior year I was the champion intercollegiate sprinter of the Pacific coast, but I have done a fifty with Bothwell for no less a stake than my life, and not gained two feet on the man.
At sight of his cousin he bowed ironically, with the most genial of mocking smiles. To that smile I despair of doing justice. It was not from the lips merely, nor yet was it from the good will in him, but had its birth apparently of some whimsical thought that for the moment lent his face a rare charm. A second bow was for me.
"Mr. John Sedgwick, I presume?"
"At your service, sir."
He removed his coat leisurely and hung it on the back of a chair.
"Just so. I've had the devil of a time running you down, but here we are at last. And all's well that ends well."
"You have business with?" I asked curtly.
"Even at the risk of interrupting a tête-à-tête with the most charming young lady under heaven." His head dipped again with derisive courtesy toward Miss Wallace. "But I need detain you scarce a moment. You found this morning a paper I had the misfortune to lose. You will allow me to offer a thousand thanks for the very good care you have doubtless taken of it and will permit me to relieve you of it."
He was the very letter of urbanity, but beneath the velvet of his voice I felt the steel. It lay, too, in the glitter of the cold eyes that gimleted mine sharply.
Be sure I gave him back his smile and his insolent aplomb.
"Surely you are mistaken, Captain Bothwell. I recollect finding nothing that belongs to you."
"We'll waive that point. You found a paper," he answered quietly, drawing up a chair and seating himself astride it with his face to the back.
"I picked up a paper that fell from the hand of Miss Wallace."
"Exactly. I speak, of course, in the interest of my cousin. If you have returned it to her my purpose is served."
Impatient at our fencing, or afraid, perhaps, that I might be deceived by his suavity, the girl cut in tartly:
"You think you could rob me more successfully next time, Boris?"
His kindly toleration was a lesson in diplomacy.
"Fie, fie, Evie! A family difference of opinion. I think we must not trouble Mr. Sedgwick with our little diversions entre nous."
"Unfortunately, you are a day after the fair, Captain Bothwell. Miss Wallace has already done me the honor to consult me in an advisory capacity."
I let him have my declaration of war with the airiest manner in the world. My spirits were rising with the nearness of the battle, and I thought it would do our cause not the least harm in the world to let him see I was not a whit afraid to cross blades.
"Indeed! then for the matter in hand I may consider you one of the family. I congratulate you, Evie. Shall we say a brotheror a cousinor"
"It isn't necessary to be a cad, Boris," she flung back hotly.
"Pardon me. You are rightneither necessary nor desirable. I offer regrets." Then of a sudden the apology went out of his face like the flame from a blown candle. He swung curtly around upon me. "Mr. Sedgwick, I must trouble you for the map."
I will be the last to deny that there was something compelling about the man. He sat there stroking his imperial, while the black eyes f the man held mine with a grip of steel. Masterful he looked, and masterful I found him to the last day of that deadly duel we fought out to a finish.
In that long moment of suspended animation when only our eyes livedcrossed and felt the temper of each other as with the edge of grinding rapierswe took each the measure of his foe pretty accurately. If I held my own it was but barely. The best I could claim was a draw in battle.
"Regretfully I am compelled to decline your request."
"It is not a request but a demand. Come, sir, the map!" he repeated more harshly.
That he would somehow back his demand I did not for an instant doubt, though as to how I was still in the dark.
"Let me set you right, Captain Bothwell. This is a law office, in the city of San Francisco, United States of America. I am neither Tommy Atkins nor a Russian serf. Therefore, I again decline."
Coals of fire lay in his eyes.
"So I gather, and as a child you often wanted the moon. but did you get it?" I inquired pleasantly.
"The mapthe map!" He had not raised his voice a note, but I give you my word his eyes were devilish. He was a dangerous man in an ugly fame of mind.
"Certainly you are a man of one idea, captain. Show proof of ownership and I shall be glad to comply with your request."
So quick was his motion that the revolver seemed to have leaped to his hand of its own accord.
"I have you my word, Mr. John Sedgwick of San Francisco, United States of America, that in the event you do not at once hand me that map I shall blow the top of your head off!"
In a measure I was prepared for this. I told myself that we were in the heart of a great city, in daylight, with the twentieth century setting of a fifteen-story office building. Were I to put my head out of the window a thousand hurrying people on Market Street would hear my call.
Yet I knew that I might as well be alone with him on a desert island for al the help that could reach me. I knew, too, that he was not bluffing. What he said he would do, that he would do.
My face can occasion be wooden.
"Interesting, if true," I retorted coolly.
"And absolutely true. Make no mistake about that, Mr. Sedgwick."
His hand rested on the back of the chair for a support. My eyes looked straight into the blue barrel of his weapon. It was a ticklish moment. I congratulate myself that my nerves were in good condition. My fingers played a tattoo upon a sheet of paper on my desk. Beneath that page of office stationery lay the map he wanted.
"One moment, captain. This is not Russia. Have you considered that the freedom of my country carries with it disadvantages? You would probably be hanged by the neck till you were dead."
His mood had changed, but I knew he was not a whit less dangerous because the veneer of suave mockery masked the savagery of the Slav.
"Not at all. the unwritten law, my friend. I find you insulting my cousin and the hot blood in me boils. I avenge her. Regrettable, of course. Too hasty, perhaps. Butoh well, let bygones be bygones."
In one breath he had tried and acquitted himself.
"And do you think that I would agree to your accursed lies?" his cousin asked, white as new-fallen snow.
"Let us hope so. Otherwise I should have to base my action upon a construction less creditable to you. The point is that I shall not hesitate to carry out my promise. We can arrange the details later, my dear. Come, Mr. Sedgwick! Choose!"
"You coward!" flashed his cousin in a blaze of scorn.
"Not at all, dear Evie. All point of view, I assure you. Mr. Sedgwick has told you that I take a sporting chance of being scragged. I haven't the slightest ill feeling, butI want what I want. Have you decided, sir?"
He was scarcely two yards from me, but neither his keen gaze nor the point of the automatic revolver wandered for a fraction of a second from me. There was not a single chance to close with him. I was considering ignominious surrender when Miss Wallace saved my face.
"Can he give you what he hasn't got?" she cried out, her natural courage and her contempt struggling with her fear for me.
"So he hasn't it, eh?" There was a silence before he went on: "But it is in this room somewhere. You have it or he has it. Now, I wonder which?" He spoke softly, as if to himself, without the least trace of nervousness or passion. "Yes, that's the riddle. Which of you?"
His eyes released me long enough to shoot a questioning glance at her, for from my face he could read nothing.
"If you have it, Evie, my cousin, you will perhaps desire to turn it over to me for safe keeping. It will be better, I think."
"For you or for me?"
He laughed noiselessly, with the manner peculiar to him of having some private source of amusement within.
"Would you shoot me if I didn't agree with you?" she continued.
"My dear cousin," he reproved. From his air one might have judged him a pained and loving father.
"Then what will you do?"
"Yes, I really think it will be better," he murmured with his strange smile.
"And I ask again, better for whom?"
"For Mr. Sedgwick, my dear," he cut back.
She was plainly taken aback.
"Butsince he hasn't the paper"
"We'll assume he has it. At least he knows where it is."
His manner dismissed her definitely from the business in hand. "I must apologize for my brusqueness, Mr. Sedgwick, but I'm sure you'll understand that with a busy man time is money. Believe me, it is with great regret I am forced to cut short so promising a career. You're a man after my own heart. I see quite unusual qualities in you that I would have found pleasure in cultivating. But I mustn't let my selfish regret interfere with what is for the good of the greatest number. At best it's an unsatisfactory world. You're well rid of it. Any last messages, by the way?"
He purred out his atrocious mockery as a great cat gifted with speech might have done while playing with the mouse it meant to destroy.
"I'd like to make it clear to you what a villain you arebut I despair of finding words to do justice to the subject. As for your threat, it is absurd. You'd hang, to a certainty, on the testimony of Miss Wallace."
He shrugged his broad shoulders.
"Life is full of risks. We all have to take them, and for my part it lends a zest. Unfortunately, if you take this risk you will not be in a position later to realize that your judgment was at fault. That, however, is your business and not mine," he concluded cheerfully, lifting his weapon slightly and taking aim.
"For the last time Do you give me the map, or do I give you a pass to kingdom come?"
The girl moved forward so that she stood directly between me and the weapon. She was taking a paper from her handbag, but she did not lower her eyes to direct her hands in their search.
"I reckon I couldn't make you understand how I despise youand hate you! I'd rather be kin to the poorest beggar who sweeps the streets down there than to you," she flamed, flinging before him a paper.
Warily he picked it up and glanced at it, still covering me carefully.
"This is the map, is it?"
"You may see for yourself," she blazed.
"It is really very good of you to ask me to keep it for you, Evie. I'll take good care of itnot a doubt of that. It's far better in my hands than yours, for of course you might be robbed."
His impudent smile derided her contempt. For meI wouldn't have faced that look of hers for twenty maps.
"We're not through with you yet," I told him.
In gay reproof he shook a finger at me.
"Ah! There speaks the lawyer. You'll bring an action, will you?"
It annoyed me to be playing so poor a part before Miss Wallace.
"You're an infernal scoundrel!"
I could argue you out of that uncharitable opinion if I had time, Mr. Sedgwick. But I'm devilishing de tropthe superfluous third, you know. My dear cousin frowns at me. 'Pon my word, I don't blame her. But you'll excuse me for intruding, won't you? I plead the importance of my business. And I'm very glad of an excuse for meeting you formally, Mr. Sedgwick. the occasion has been enjoyable and will, I trust, prove profitable. I'll not say good-byehang me if I do. We'll make it au revoir. Eh?"
An imp of malicious deviltry danced in his eyes. It was not necessary to tell me that he was having a pleasant time.
"Au revoir be it," I nodded, swallowing my bad temper.
Once more he gave us his bland smile, a bow of audacious effrontery, then whipped open the door and was gone.
It may be guessed he left me in no exultant mood. From the first the fellow had taken and held the upper hand. I had come through with no distinction at all and had let him walk off with the booty. But if there be those who think my spirit small I ask them to remember that a revolver staring one in the eye is a potent persuader.
Miss Wallace was the first to speak.
"You know now why I think him a dreadful man," she said, taking a deep breath of relief.
"Just a moment," I excused myself, and ran into the outer office.
Our office Cerberus was sitting at the gate of entry reading the enthralling story of "Hal Hiccup, the Boy Demon." From my pocket I fished one of the few dollars it held.
"Jimmie, follow that man who has just gone out. Find out where he goes and whom he meets. If he stops anywhere keep a note of the place."
The eyes of Young America grew big and round with astonishment, then lit with ecstatic delight. He was going to be a real detective.
"The boss?" He jerked a dirty thumb in the direction of the chief clerk.
"I'll make it right with him. Hurry!"
"You bet I'll keep a peeper on him," he bragged, reaching for his hat.
He was gone.
I returned to my client.
"Excuse me. I wanted to put a spy on your cousin. If he takes the map to a safe-deposit vault we ought to know where. And that reminds me What was it you gave him? I thought the map was on my table here?
"I gave him a copy of it, one my father took years ago."
"But had it a corner torn off just like this one?"
From her hand-bag she drew a scrap of paper. "I was tearing it off just before I took it out."
My admiration was genuine enough.
"You're a cool hand, Miss Wallace. My hat is off to you."
The color deepened slightly in her cheeks. "That was nothing. I just happened to think of it."
"You saved the day, anyhow. He stands only an equal chance with us."
"But he doesn't. My father purposely made an error in the details in case the map happened to fall into the wrong hands. And the latitude and longitude aren't marked."
I could have shouted my delight.
"But he has heard the diary read," she added. "In that the right latitude was given. If he happens to remember
"A hundred to one he doesn't, and even at the worst he's not better off than we are."
"Except that he has money and can finance an expedition in search of the treasure."
I came to earth as promptly as Darius Green.
"By Jove! that's true."
For the humiliating fact was that I had not a hundred dollars with which to bless myself, having just lost my small inheritance in a wildcat mining venture.
"I suppose it would take a lot of money?" she said timidly.
"Where is the treasure hidden?"
"On the coast of Panama."
"Near the canal zone?"
"I don't know. The latitude and the longitude are exactly marked, but I haven't looked them up."
"We'll have to outfit a ship here, or make our start from Panama. Yes, it's going to take money."
"Then we can't go any farther with it. I have no means," she said quietly.
The lawyer in me came reluctantly to the fore.
"I suppose I ought to advise you to compromise with Captain Bothwell."
Resolution flashed in the eyes that looked straight into mine.
"I'd rather lose it all! He wouldn't stick to any bargain he made becausewell, he would use the treasure s a lever toget something else he wants."
the flush in her cheeks told me what else it was he wanted, and my heart was lifted within me. Bothwell intended to marry her, and she did not intend that he should. My wishes ran pat with hers.
"That is final, is it?"
"Quite. If you don't want to go on with it you can drop out, Mr. Sedgwick. I thank you for your kindness"
"And who's talking of dropping out? I suggested compromise because I thought I ought, but I'm the pleased man that you won't listen to my good advice. No, no! I'm in to stay, and here's my hand on it.
"You're just spoiling for the fight," she smiled, her little hand in mine.
"Indeed, and that's a guess which rings the bell. I'll not be satisfied till I try another all with Mr. Bothwell."
"You're a right funny lawyer."
"I'll tell you a secret. My father was an Irish filibuster in Cuba. He died with his back to a wall when I was five."
"Then it's in the blood."
"He had a chance to slip away by leaving his men, but Barry Sedgwick wasn't the man to take that kind of an opportunity."
"The dear hero! How proud you must be of him," she said in the softest of voices.
"He's the best reference I can give you. Now, Miss Wallace, I'll have to tell this storyor part of itbefore I can interest capital in the venture. You are willing that I should?"
"Do whatever you must. It's in your hands."
"First, we'll make sure of the map, then; and after that you can tell me the story of Doubloon Spit."
Together we went to the International Safe Deposit vaults, rented a box, and put in it the map. Afterward we took a car for golden Gate Park. There she told me the story, in substance if not in the same words, to be found in the next two chapters.
Those who find interest only in the conventional had better read no farther. for this true tale runs red with the primal emotions of the old buccaneers. It is a story of love and hate, or heroism and cowardice, of treasure-trove and piracy on the high seas, of gaping wounds and foul murder. If this is not to your taste, fall out. My story is not for you.