In The Fog
| The day before we sailed I spent an hour
aboard the Argos arranging my things in my cabin. While returning in one of
the yacht's boats I caught sight through the fog of two figures standing on the wharf.
I had a momentary impression that one of these was our chief engineer, George Fleming, but when I scrambled ashore only one of the two was in sight. The one I had taken to be our engineer had sheered off into the fog.
The outline of the other bulked large in the heavy mist, partly because of the big overcoat, no doubt. I had a feeling that I ought to know the man, but it was not until he stepped forward to me that I recognized him.
"A pleasant evening if one doesn't object to fog, Mr. Sedgwick," he said lifting his hat and bowing.
"It's you, is it?" I answered coolly enough.
"Thought I'd drop down and see how you are getting along. The Argos looks like a good sailor I congratulate you."
"You sail tomorrow, I understand."
"Since you know already I'll save myself the trouble of telling you."
"Sharp work, Mr. Sedgwick. I needed only one good look at you to know you were a first-class man for this sort of thing."
"I am delighted that my work pleases Captain Bothwell."
He passed my irony with a laugh.
"Oh, I didn't say it pleased me. I'm after the treasure myself, and I'm going to get it. But I'm not a fool. I can appreciate even an enemy when I find him on the job."
"And of course your appreciation won't keep you from sticking a knife in him if you find it necessary."
"Of course not. I said I wasn't a fool," he admitted easily.
We were standing on the edge of the wharf, shut out from the world by a fog bank that left us to all intents alone. It was an uncanny place to meet one's dearest enemy. Faintly I could still hear the splashing of the oars as the boat that had brought me ashore moved back to the Argos. Otherwise no sound but the lapping of the waves at the piles broke the silence.
Our eyes met straight as a plummet falls. Each of us had his right hand in his overcoat pocket. I can't swear to what was in his fingers, but I felt a good deal safer for what was in mine. My back was still toward the bay, for I had a vision of the man who had disappearedwhoever he might beslipping up through the white fog and sticking a knife between my shoulder blades.
The captain gave me his friendliest smile.
"But you needn't be afraid. What would it profit me to get rid of you here? I don't suppose you have the map with you?"
At the last words his black eyes stabbed at me a question.
I shook my head.
"No, it wouldn't be worth while murdering me now to get the map. I'm not a fool either, captain. It isn't on me."
"So I judged. Then you may make your mind easyfor the present."
"I'm not so sure about that. Wouldn't it pay you to put me out of the road, anyhow? You'll not get the treasure so long as I'm alive, you know."
"There you touch my vanity, Mr. Sedgwick. I'm of a contrary opinion. Dead or alive you can't keep me from it."
"Have you never noticed, captain, that in this world a man's opportunities do not always match his inclinations?"
"I've noticed that a man gets what he wants if he is strong enough to take it."
"So far as I know you have made four attempts to get the map. Have you got it?"
"Not yet. Plenty of time though. When I need it I'll get it."
My skeptical laugh must have annoyed him.
"Then you'd better get busy if it's true that we sail tomorrow."
"Hope you'll have a pleasant trip."
"Thanks. Sorry we can't ask you, captain. But there really isn't room and our party is full. No doubt you'll be starting on a little jaunt of your own soon?"
"Yes, tomorrow, too, as it happens. Perhaps we may meet again. It's a small world after all, Mr. Sedgwick."
"We'll look out for you."
"Do. And go prepared for squalls. One never knows what may happen. The Pacific is treacherous. Likely enough you'll meet dirty weather."
"I'm thinking you're right. But the yacht is good for it."
"And the yacht's passengers?" he asked with angled brows.
"We're all good sailors."
"But isn't there a good deal of yellow fever in Panama?"
"Not now. There used to be."
"Haven't I heard of pirates in the Isthmus country?" he asked, smiling with superb impudence.
"That's in the past too, captain; but if we meet any, the vermin will be glad to sheer off. I'll promise you that."
The villain drew a breath of mock relief.
"That makes my mind easier, Mr. Sedgwick. I'll confess I've been a little troubled for you."
"Thanks for your kind thoughts, but I'm confident we can look out for ourselves."
Our words had been light enough, but be sure there was no laughter in the eyes that fastened each pair to the other. For me, I never was more vigilant in my lifeand Bothwell knew it.
"Going up town, captain? If not I'll say good evening."
He nodded genially.
"Pleasant voyage. And do be careful of the squalls and the fever and the pirates. Do you know I can't help thinking you had better leave Evie at home for me to take care of."
"But you're leaving, too, I understood you to say. No, we'll take good care of her. I give you my word on that."
I had been edging round him with the intention of backing away. He held out his hand, butwell, my fingers were otherwise engaged. They still caressed a knobby bit of metal in my overcoat pocket.
At the last moment, so it appeared, he yielded to an impulse.
"Must we really be in opposite camps, Mr. Sedgwick? Come! Let's arrange a compromise. Neither of us alone has enough to go on. You need me and my scrap of map. I need you and your bit of chart. We'll consolidate forces and go to Panama together."
"Afraid you're a little late, captain. You play your hand and we'll play ours."
I had been increasing the distance between us. Now I turned sharply on my heel and walked away almost at a run, for I did not like the idea of taking with me a bullet in the small of my back.
At the end of the wharf a figure brushed past me. Night had begun to fall, and in the gray dusk I could not make sure, but again I was oddly struck by its resemblance to our engineer, Fleming. I slued around my head to look a second time, but the fog had already swallowed him. Strange, I thought, that he had not recognized me; but perhaps, if the man was Fleming, he had found me too indistinct to know.
At any rate it was a matter of no great importance. I pushed past the warehouse to take an up town car.