Camilla Kenyon.

Spanish Doubloons online

. (page 1 of 15)
Online LibraryCamilla KenyonSpanish Doubloons → online text (page 1 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Al Haines






To L. T.

In recognition of her faith in me.



Spanish Doubloons



Never had life seemed more fair and smiling than at the moment when
Aunt Jane's letter descended upon me like a bolt from the blue.
The fact is, I was taking a vacation from Aunt Jane. Being an
orphan, I was supposed to be under Aunt Jane's wing, but this was
the merest polite fiction, and I am sure that no hen with one
chicken worries about it more than I did about Aunt Jane. I had
spent the last three years, since Aunt Susan died and left Aunt
Jane with all that money and no one to look after her but me, in
snatching her from the brink of disaster. Her most recent and
narrow escape was from a velvet-tongued person of half her years
who turned out to be a convict on parole. She had her hand-bag
packed for the elopement when I confronted her with this unpleasant
fact. When she came to she was bitter instead of grateful, and
went about for weeks presenting a spectacle of blighted affections
which was too much for the most self-approving conscience. So it
ended with my packing her off to New York, where I wrote to her
frequently and kindly, urging her not to mind me but to stay as
long as she liked.

Meanwhile I came up to the ranch for a long holiday with Bess and
the baby, a holiday which had already stretched itself out to
Thanksgiving, and threatened to last until Christmas. People wrote
alluringly from town, but what had town to offer compared with a
saddle-horse to yourself, and a litter of collie pups to play with,
and a baby just learning to walk? I even began to consider
ranching as a career, and to picture myself striding over my broad
acres in top-boots and corduroys.

As to Aunt Jane, my state of mind was fatuously calm. She was
staying with cousins, who live in a suburb and are frightfully
respectable. I was sure they numbered no convicts among their
acquaintance, or indeed any one from whom Aunt Jane was likely to
require rescuing. And if it came to a retired missionary I was
perfectly willing.

But the cousins and their respectability are of the passive order,
whereas to manage Aunt Jane demands aggressive and continuous
action. Hence the bolt from the blue above alluded to.

I was swinging tranquilly in the hammock, I remember, when Bess
brought my letters and then hurried away because the baby had
fallen down-stairs. Unwarned by the slightest premonitory thrill,
I kept Aunt Jane's letter till the last and skimmed through all the
others. I should be thankful, I suppose, that the peace soon to be
so rudely shattered was prolonged for those few moments. I
recalled afterward, but dimly, as though a gulf of ages yawned
between, that I had been quite interested in six pages of prattle
about the Patterson dance.

At last I came to Aunt Jane. I ripped open the envelope and drew
out the letter - a fat one, but then Aunt Jane's letters are always
fat. She says herself that she is of those whose souls flow freely
forth in ink but are frozen by the cold eye of an unsympathetic
listener. Nevertheless, as I spread out the close-filled pages I
felt a mild wonder. Writing so large, so black, so staggering, so
madly underlined, must indicate something above, even Aunt Jane's
usual emotional level. Perhaps in sober truth there _was_ a
missionary-experiment to "Find Capital after , or ;"
Twenty minutes later I staggered into Bess's room.

"Hush!" she said. "Don't wake the baby!"

"Baby or no baby," I whispered savagely, "I've got to have a
time-table. I leave for the city tonight to catch the first
steamer for Panama!"

Later, while the baby slumbered and I packed experiment to "Find
Period in middle" explained. This was difficult; not that Bess is
as a general thing obtuse, but because the picture of Aunt Jane
embarking for some wild, lone isle of the Pacific as the head of a
treasure-seeking expedition was enough to shake the strongest
intellect. And yet, amid the welter of ink and eloquence which
filled those fateful pages, there was the cold hard fact
confronting you. Aunt Jane was going to look for buried treasure,
in company with one Violet Higglesby-Browne, whom she sprung on you
without the slightest explanation, as though alluding to the Queen
of Sheba or the Siamese twins. By beginning at the end and reading
backward - Aunt Jane's letters are usually most intelligible that
way - you managed to piece together some explanation of this Miss
Higglesby-Browne and her place in the scheme of things. It was
through Miss Browne, whom she had met at a lecture upon
Soul-Development, that Aunt Jane had come to realize her claims as
an Individual upon the Cosmos, also to discover that she was by
nature a woman of affairs with a talent for directing large
enterprises, although _adverse influences_ had hitherto kept her
from recognizing her powers. There was a dark significance in these
italics, though whether they meant me or the family lawyer I was
not sure.

Miss Higglesby-Browne, however, had assisted Aunt Jane to find
herself, and as a consequence Aunt Jane, for the comparatively
trifling outlay needful to finance the Harding-Browne expedition,
would shortly be the richer by one-fourth of a vast treasure of
Spanish doubloons. The knowledge of this hoard was Miss
Higglesby-Browne's alone. It had been revealed to her by a dying
sailor in a London hospital, whither she had gone on a mission of
kindness - you gathered that Miss Browne was precisely the sort to
take advantage when people were helpless and unable to fly from
her. Why the dying sailor chose to make Miss Browne the repository
of his secret, I don't know - this still remains for me the unsolved
mystery. But when the sailor closed his eyes the secret and the
map - of course there was a map - had become Miss Higglesby-Browne's.

Miss Browne now had clear before her the road to fortune, but
unfortunately it led across the sea and quite out of the route of
steamer travel. Capital in excess of Miss Browne's resources was
required. London proving cold before its great opportunity, Miss
Browne had shaken off its dust and come to New York, where a
mysteriously potent influence had guided her to Aunt Jane. Through
Miss Browne's great organizing abilities, not to speak of those
newly brought to light in Aunt Jane, a party of staunch comrades
had been assembled, a steamer engaged to meet them at Panama, and
it was ho, for the island in the blue Pacific main!

With this lyrical outburst Aunt Jane concluded the body of her
letter. A small cramped post-script informed me that it was
against Miss H.-B.'s wishes that she revealed their plans to any
one, but that she did want to hear from me before they sailed from
Panama, where a letter might reach her if I was prompt. However,
if it did not she would try not to worry, for Miss Browne was very
psychic, and she felt sure that any strong vibration from me would
reach her via Miss B., and she was my always loving Jane Harding.

"And of course," I explained to Bess as I hurled things into my
bags, "if a letter can reach her so can I. At least I must
take the chance of it. What those people are up to I don't
know - probably they mean to hold her for ransom and murder her
outright if it is not forthcoming. Or perhaps some of them will
marry her and share the spoils with Miss Higglesby-Browne. Anyway,
I must get to Panama in time to save her."

"Or you might go along to the island," suggested Bess.

I paused to glare at her.

"Bess! And let them murder me too?"

"Or marry you - " cooed Bess.

One month later I was climbing out of a lumbering hack before the
Tivoli hotel, which rises square and white and imposing on the low
green height above the old Spanish city of Panama. In spite of the
melting tropical heat there was a chill fear at my heart, the fear
that Aunt Jane and her band of treasure-seekers had already
departed on their quest. In that case I foresaw that whatever
narrow margin of faith my fellow-voyagers on the _City of Quito_
had had in me would shrink to nothingness. I had been obliged to
be so queer and clam-like about the whole extraordinary
rendezvous - for how could I expose Aunt Jane's madness to the
multitude? - that I felt it would take the actual bodily presence of
my aunt to convince them that she was not a myth, or at least of
the wrong sex for aunts. To have traveled so far in the desperate
hope of heading off Aunt Jane, only to be frustrated and to lose my
character besides! It would be a stroke too much from fate, I told
myself rebelliously, as I crossed the broad gallery and plunged
into the cool dimness of the lobby in the wake of the bellboys who,
discerning a helpless prey, had swooped en masse upon my bags.

"Miss Jane Harding?" repeated the clerk, and at the cool negation
of his tone my heart gave a sickening downward swoop. "Miss Jane
Harding and party have left the hotel!"

"For - for the island?" I gasped.

He raised his eyebrows. "Can't say, I'm sure." He gave me an
appraising stare. Perhaps the woe in my face touched him, for he
descended from the eminence of the hotel clerk where he dwelt apart
sufficiently to add, "Is it important that you should see her?"

"I am her niece. I have come all the way from San Francisco
expecting to join her here."

The clerk meditated, his shrewd eyes piercing the very secrets of
my soul.

"She knew nothing about it," I hastened to add. "I intended it for
a surprise."

This candor helped my cause. "Well," he said, "that explains her
not leaving any word. As you are her niece, I suppose it will do
no harm to tell you that Miss Harding and her party embarked this
morning on the freighter _Rufus Smith_, and I think it very likely
that the steamer has not left port. If you like I will send a man
to the water-front with you and you may be able to go on board and
have a talk with your aunt."

Did I thank him? I have often wondered when I waked up in the
night. I have a vision of myself dashing out of the hotel, and
then the hack that brought me is bearing me away. Bellboys hurled
my bags in after me, and I threw them largess recklessly. Some
arch-bellboy or other potentate had mounted to the seat beside the
driver. Madly we clattered over cobbled ways. Out on the smooth
waters of the roadstead lay ships great and small, ships with
stripped masts and smokeless funnels, others with faint gray
spirals wreathing upward from their stacks. Was one of these the
_Rufus Smith_, and would I reach her - or him - before the thin gray
feather became a thick black plume? I thought of my aunt at the
mercy of these unknown adventurers with whom she had set forth,
helpless as a little fat pigeon among hawks, and I felt,
desperately, that I must reach her, must save her from them and
bring her safe back to shore. How I was to do this at the eleventh
hour plus about fifty-seven minutes as at present I hadn't
considered. But experience had taught me that once in my clutches
Aunt Jane would offer about as much resistance as a slightly melted
wax doll. She gets so soft that you are almost afraid to touch her
for fear of leaving dents.

So to get there, get there, get there, was the one prayer of my

I got there, in a boat hastily commandeered by the hotel clerk's
deputy. I suppose he thought me a belated passenger for the Rufus
Smith, for my baggage followed me into the boat. "_Pronto_!" he
shouted to the native boatman as we put off. "_Pronto_!" I urged
at intervals, my eyes upon the funnels of the _Rufus Smith_, where
the outpouring smoke was thickening alarmingly. We brought up
under the side of the little steamer, and the wide surprised face
of a Swedish deckhand stared down at us.

"Let me aboard! I must come aboard!" I cried.

Other faces appeared, then a rope-ladder. Somehow I was mounting
it - a dizzy feat to which only the tumult of my emotions made me
indifferent. Bare brawny arms of sailors clutched at me and drew
me to the deck. There at once I was the center of a circle of
speechless and astonished persons, all men but one.

"Well?" demanded a large breezy voice. "What's this mean? What do
you want aboard my ship?"

I looked up at a red-faced man in a large straw hat.

"I want my aunt," I explained.

"Your aunt?" he roared. "Why the devil should you think I've got
your aunt?"

"You have got her," I replied with firmness. "I don't see her, but
she's here somewhere."

The captain of the _Rufus Smith_ shook two large red fists above
his head.

"Another lunatic!" he shouted. "I'd as soon have a white horse and
a minister aboard as to go to sea in a floating bedlam!"

As the captain's angry thunder died away came the small anxious
voice of Aunt Jane.

"What's the matter? Oh, please tell me what's the matter!" she was
saying as she edged her way into the group. In her severely cut
khaki suit she looked like a plump little dumpling that had got
into a sausage wrapping by mistake. Her eyes, round, pale,
blinking a little in the tropical glare, roved over the circle
until they lit on me. Right where she stood Aunt Jane petrified.
She endeavored to shriek, but achieved instead only a strangled
wheeze. Her poor little chin dropped until it disappeared
altogether in the folds of her plump neck, and she remained
speechless, stricken, immobile as a wax figure in an exhibition.

"Aunt Jane," I said, "you must come right back to shore with me."
I spoke calmly, for unless you are perfectly calm with Aunt Jane
you fluster her.

She replied only by a slight gobbling in her throat, but the other
woman spoke in a loud voice, addressed not to me but to the
universe in general.

"The Young Person is mad!" It was an unmistakably British

This then was Miss Violet Higglesby-Browne, I saw a grim, bony,
stocky shape, in a companion costume to my aunt's. Around the
edges of her cork helmet her short iron-gray hair visibly bristled.
She had a massive head, and a seamed and rugged countenance which
did its best to live down the humiliation of a ridiculous little
nose with no bridge. By what prophetic irony she had been named
Violet is the secret of those powers which seem to love a laugh at
mankind's expense.

But what riveted my eyes was the deadly glare with which hers were
turned on me. I saw that not only was she as certain of my
identity as though she had guided me from my first tottering steps,
but that in a flash she had grasped my motives, aims and purposes,
and meant once for all to face, out-general and defeat me with
great slaughter.

So she announced to the company with deliberation, "The Young
Person is mad!"

It nettled me extremely.

"Mad!" I flung back at her. "Because I wish to save my poor aunt
from such a situation as this? It would be charitable to infer
madness in those who have led her into it!" When I reviewed
this speech afterward I realized that it was not, under the
circumstances, the best calculated to win me friends.

"Jane!" said Miss Higglesby-Browne in deep and awful tones, "the
time has come to prove your strength!"

Aunt Jane proved it by uttering a shrill yelp, and clutching her
hair with a reckless disregard of its having originally been that
of a total stranger. So severe were her shrieks and struggles that
it was with difficulty that she was borne below in the arms of two
strong men.

I had seen Aunt Jane in hysterics before - she had them that time
about the convict. I was not frightened, but I hurried after
her - neck and neck with Miss Browne. It was fifteen minutes before
Aunt Jane came to, and then she would only moan. I bathed her
head, and held her hand, and did all the regulation things, under
the baleful eye of Miss Browne, who steadfastly refused to go away,
but sat glaring like a gorgon who sees her prey about to be
snatched from her.

In the midst of my ministrations I awoke suddenly to a rhythmic
heave and throb which pervaded the ship. Dropping Aunt Jane's hand
I rushed on deck. There lay the various pieces of my baggage, and
in the distance the boat with the two brown rowers was skipping
shoreward over the ripples.

As for the _Rufus Smith_, she was under weigh, and heading out of
the roadstead for the open sea.

I dashed aft to the captain, who stood issuing orders in the voice
of an aggrieved fog-horn.

"Captain!" I cried, "wait; turn around! You must put my aunt and
me ashore!"

He whirled on me, showing a crimson angry face. "Turn around, is
it, turn around ?" he shouted. "Do you suppose I can loaf about
the harbor here a-waitin' on your aunt's fits? You come aboard
without me askin'. Now you can go along with the rest. This here
ship has got her course set for Frisco, pickin' up Leeward Island
on the way, and anybody that ain't goin' in that direction is
welcome to jump overboard."

That is how I happened to go to Leeward Island.



The _Rufus Smith_, tramp freighter, had been chartered to convey
the Harding-Browne expedition to Leeward Island, which lies about
three hundred miles west of Panama, and could be picked up by the
freighter in her course. She was a little dingy boat with such
small accommodation that I can not imagine where the majority of
her passengers stowed themselves away. My aunt and Miss Browne had
a stateroom between them the size of a packing-box, and somebody
turned out and resigned another to me. I retired there to dress
for dinner after several dismal hours spent in attendance on Aunt
Jane, who had passed from great imaginary suffering into the quite
genuine anguish of seasickness. In the haste of my departure from
San Francisco I had not brought a trunk, so the best I was able to
produce in the way of a crusher for Miss Higglesby-Browne and her
fellow-passengers was a cool little white gown, which would shine
at least by contrast with Miss Browne's severely utilitarian
costume. White is becoming to my hair, which narrow-minded persons
term red, but which has been known to cause the more discriminating
to draw heavily on the dictionary for adjectives. My face is small
and heart-shaped, with features strictly for use and not for
ornament, but fortunately inconspicuous. As for my eyes, I think
tawny quite the nicest word, though Aunt Jane calls them hazel and
I have even heard whispers of green.

Five minutes after the gong sounded I walked into the cabin. Miss
Browne, Captain Watkins of the freighter, and half a dozen men were
already at the table. I slid unobtrusively into the one vacant
place, fortunately remote from the captain, who glared at me
savagely, as though still embittered by the recollection of my
aunt's fits.

"Gentlemen," said Miss Browne in icy tones, "Miss Virginia Harding."

Two of the men rose, the others stared and ducked. Except for Miss
Browne and the captain, I had received on coming aboard only the
most blurred impression of my fellow-voyagers. I remembered them
merely as a composite of khaki and cork helmets and astounded
staring faces. But I felt that as the abetters of Miss Browne a
hostile and sinister atmosphere enveloped them all.

Being thus in the camp of the enemy, I sat down in silence and
devoted myself to my soup. The majority of my companions did
likewise - audibly. But presently I heard a voice at my left:

"I say, what a jolly good sailor you seem to be - pity your aunt's

I looked up and saw Apollo sitting beside me. Or rather, shall I
say a young man who might have walked straight out of an
advertisement for a ready-made clothing house, so ideal and
impossible was his beauty. He was very tall - I had to tilt my chin
quite painfully to look up at him - and from the loose collar of his
silk shirt his throat rose like a column. His skin was a beautiful
clear pink and white just tinged with tan - like a meringue that has
been in the oven for two minutes exactly. He had a straight,
chiseled profile and his hair was thick and chestnut and wavy and
he had clear sea-gray eyes. To give him at once his full name and
titles, he was the Honorable Cuthbert Patrick Ruthmore Vane, of
High Staunton Manor, Kent, England. But as I was ignorant of this,
I can truthfully say that his looks stunned me purely on their own

Outwardly calm, I replied, "Yes, its too bad, but then who ever
dreamed that Aunt Jane would go adventuring at her time of life? I
thought nobody over the age of thirteen, and then boys, ever went

"Ah, but lads of thirteen couldn't well come such a distance on
their own, you know," returned Apollo, with the kindest air of
making allowance for the female intellect.

I hurriedly turned the subject.

"I really can't imagine Aunt Jane on a desert island. You should
see her behave on the mere suspicion of a mouse! What will she do
if she meets a cannibal and he tries to eat her?"

"Oh, really, now," argued the paragon earnestly, "I'm quite sure
there's no danger of that, don't you know? I believe there are no
natives at all on the island, or else quite tame ones, I forget
which, and here are four of us chaps, with no end of revolvers and
things - shooting-irons, as you call them in America. Mr.
Shaw - sitting opposite Miss Browne, you know - is rather running
things, so if you feel nervous you should talk to him. Was with
the South Polar Expedition and all that - knows no end about this
sort of thing - wouldn't for a moment think of letting ladies run
the risk of being eaten. Really I hope you aren't in a funk about
the cannibals - especially as with so many missionary Johnnies about
they are most likely all converted."

"It's so comforting to think of it in that light!" I said
fervently. At the same time I peeped around Apollo for a
glimpse of the experienced Mr. Shaw. I saw a strong-featured,
weather-beaten profile, the face of a man somewhere in his
thirties, and looking, from this side view at least, not only stern
but grim. He was talking quietly to the captain, whose manner
toward him was almost civil.

I made up my mind at once that the backbone of the party, and
inevitably the leader in its projected villainies, whatever they
might be, was this rugged-looking Mr. Shaw. You couldn't fancy him
as the misled follower of anybody, even the terrific Violet.

As it seemed an unpropitious moment for taking counsel with Mr.
Shaw about cannibals, I tried another tack with the beautiful youth
at my side.

"How did you like Panama? I fancy the old town is very

"Oh, rather!" assented Mr. Vane. "At least, that is what those
painter chaps call it - met a couple of 'em at the hotel. Beastly
little narrow streets and houses in a shocking state and all that.
I like to see property kept up, myself."

"I am afraid," I said severely, "that you are a philistine!"

He blinked a little. "Ah - quite so!" he murmured, recovering
himself gallantly. "One of those chaps that backed Goliath against
David, what?"

From this conversational impasse we were rescued by the
interposition of the gentleman opposite, whose small twinkling eyes
had been taking me in with intentness.

"I did some flittin' about that little old burg on my own hook," he
informed us, "and what I got to say is, it needs wakin' up. Yes,
sir, a bunch of live ones from the U.S.A. would shake up that
little old graveyard so you wouldn't know it. I might have took a
hand in it myself, if I hadn't have met up with Miss Browne and
your a'nt. Yes, sir, I had a slick little proposition or two up my
sleeve. Backed by some of the biggest capital in the U.S.A. - in
fact, there's a bunch of fellers up there in God's country that's
pretty sore on old H.H. for passin' things up this way. Kep' the
wires hummin' for two-three days, till they seen I wasn't to be
switched, and then the Old Man himself - no use mentionin' names,

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryCamilla KenyonSpanish Doubloons → online text (page 1 of 15)