Bothwell Makes A Move
| We put into San Pedro in the early morning and
tied up opposite the Harvard. Blythe and I ran up to Los Angeles on the
electric, taking Jimmie Welch with us.
No matter how well one may be equipped for an expedition, every port touched finds needs to be satisfied. After I had wired Mrs. Welch that her hopeful was safe and would be returned to her or retained as ship's boy at her desire, I spent the morning executing commissions for the ladies and attending to little matters that needed looking after.
We made an appointment to lunch at one of Los Angeles' numberless cafeterias. I went out of my way to the telegraph office to get the answer from Mrs. Welch, for which reason I was a few minutes late to luncheon.
A stranger to me was sitting opposite Blythe. My friend introduced him as Mr. Yeager, known all over Arizona as Tom Yeager. It appeared that he had come to the coast with a couple of carloads of steers, having disposed of which, time was hanging heavy on his hands.
Anybody who has lived in the cattle country knows the Yeager type. He was a brown, lithe man, all sinew, bone and muscle. His manner was easy and indifferent, but out of his hard face cool, quiet eyes judged men and situations competently.
Over many straight and crooked trails his thirty-five years had brought him without shame. No doubt he had often skirted the edge of law, but even when he had been a scamp his footsteps had followed ways justified by his code.
I gathered from their talk that Blythe and he had served together in the Rough Riders during the Spanish War. They were exchanging reminiscences and Jimmie Welch was listening open-mouthed to their conversation.
"Say, ain't he a peacherino, Mr. Sedgwick," whispered my young hopeful. "Get onto those muscles of his. I'll bet he's got a kick like a mule in either mitt. Say, him and Teddy Roosevelt must 'a' made the dagoes sick down in Cuba."
More jokes and stories of camp life passed back and forth.
"Do you reckon he ever killed a Spaniard?" Jimmie murmured to me.
"Better ask him," I suggested.
But at thought of this audacity to his hero the young pirate collapsed. I put the question for him.
The cowman grinned.
"Only one, Jimmie. And he ain't all mine. Me and a fellow called the Honorable Samuel Blythe was out scouting one day while we were pushing through the tangle of brush toward Santiago. I reckon we got too anxious. Anyhow, we bumped into an ambush and it was a swift hike for us back to the lines. The bullets were fair raining through the leaves above us. Recollect, Sam?"
"Rather. Whenever I think of it pins and needles run down my back."
"Well, we cut a blue streak for camp, those fellows after us on the jump. I used to think I was some runner, but the Honorable Samuel set me right that day. He led good and strong, me burning the wind behind and 'steen Spaniards spread out in the rear. A fat little cuss was leading them, and the way he plowed through that underbrush was a caution. You want to remember, Jimmie, that the thermometer was about a hundred and fifty in the shade. I went till I was fit to drop, then looked round and saw Don Fatty right close. I hadn't invited him to my party, so I cracked away at him with my gun."
"And you killed him," Jimmie breathed, his eyes popping out.
"Killed nothing," answered the Arizonian in disgust. "I missed him a mile, but he was so plumb discouraged with the heat and with running his laigs off that he up and laid down and handed in his checks. He's the only Spaniard I've got to my credit and Mr. Blythe here always claimed half of him because he ran faster."
"You're kidding me," announced Jimmie promptly.
"Well, I've always had a kind a suspicion myself that mebbe he had just fainted. But I like to figure it out that I destroyed one of my country's enemies that day, with a leetle help from my friend here."
While Yeager was joyously fabricating this yarn Blythe had been writing on the back of an envelope. This he now shoved quietly across to me.
Those were the lines he had penciled on the envelope. Beneath them I wrote two words: "Suits me."
Jimmie's mother had consented to let him go on with us. Now I took him away to get some necessary wearing apparel, leaving Blythe to make a proposition to Yeager.
"Your mother says I'm in full charge of you. That means I'm to lick you whenever you need it," I told Jimmie, for I had already discovered that my young sleuth needed considerable repressing from time to time.
"Yes, sir. I'll do whatever you say," agreed Young America, who was long since over his sea sickness and was again eager for the voyage.
The Englishman nodded when I saw him an hour later.
"Tom's in with us."
"He understands this ain't a pleasure excursion, doesn't he?" I asked.
"Folks take their pleasure different, Mr. Sedgwick," drawled the cowman. "I shouldn't wonder but I might enjoy this little cruise even if it gets lively."
"My opinion is that it may get as lively as one of your own broncos," I explained.
"I'll certainly hope for the worst," he commented.
I turned Jimmie over to my friends and spent the afternoon with a college classmate who was doing newspaper work on the Herald. In looking up a third man who also had belonged to our fraternity, time slipped away faster than we had noticed. It was getting along toward sunset when I separated from my friends to take the interurban for San Pedro at the big electric station. Before my car reached the port, dusk was falling.
Whistling as I went, I walked briskly down the hill toward the wharf. As I passed an alley my name was called. I stopped in my stride and turned. Then a jagged bolt of fire seared my brain. My knees sagged. I groped in the darkness, staggering as I moved. About that time I must have lost consciousness.
When I came to myself I was lying in the alley and a man was going through my clothes. A second man directed him from behind a revolver leveled at my head. Both of them were masked.
"I tell you it ain't on him," the first man was saying.
"We want to make dead sure of that, mate," the other answered.
"If he's got it the damned thing is sewed beneath his skin," retorted the first speaker.
"He's coming to. We'll take his papers and his pocketbook and set sail," the leader decided.
I could hear their retreating footsteps echo down the alley and was quite sensible of the situation without being able to rise, or even cry out. For five minutes perhaps I lay there before I was sufficiently master of myself to get up. This I did very uncertainly, a little at a time, for my head was still spinning like a top. Putting my hand to the back of it I was surprised to discover that my palm was red with blood.
As I staggered down to the wharf I dare say the few people who met me concluded I was a drunken sailor. The Argos was lying at the opposite side of the slip, but two of our men were waiting for me with a boat. One of them was the boatswain Caine, the other a deckhand by the name of Johnson.
"Split me, but Mr. Sedgwick has been hurt. What is it, sir? Did you fall?" the boatswain asked.
"Waylaid and knocked in the head," I answered, sinking down into the stern on account of a sudden attack of dizziness.
Caine was typing up my head with handkerchief when the mists cleared again from my brain.
"All right, sir. A nasty crack, but you'll be better soon. I've sent Johnson up to have a lookout for the guys that done it," the boatswain told me cheerily.
"No use. They've gone to cover long since. Call him back and let's get across to the ship."
"Yes, sir. That will be better."
He called, and presently Johnson came back.
"Seen anything of the scoundrels, Johnson?" demanded Caine.
"Not a thing."
I had been readjusting the handkerchief, but I happened to look up unexpectedly. My glance caught a flash of meaning that passed between the two. It seemed to hint at a triumphant mockery of my plight.
"Caine is a deep-sea brute, mean-hearted enough to be pleased at what has happened," I thought peevishly. Later I learned how wide of the mark my interpretation of that look had been.
A chorus of welcome greeted me as I passed up the gangway to the deck of the Argos. One voice came clear to me from the rest. It had in it the sweet drawl of the South.
"You're late again, Mr. Sedgwick. Andwhat's the matter with your head?"
"Nothing worth mentioning, Miss Wallace. Captain Bothwell has been trying to find what is inside of it. I think he found sawdust."
"Knocked in the head as I came down to the wharf. Serves me right for being
asleep at the switch. Think I'll run down to my room and wash the blood off."