Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Spanish Doubloons

Camilla Kenyon

  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 whenAunt Jane's letter descended upon me like a bolt from the blue.The fact is, I was taking a vacation from Aunt Jane. Being anorphan, I was supposed to be under Aunt Jane's wing, but this wasthe merest polite fiction, and I am sure that no hen with onechicken worries about it more than I did about Aunt Jane. I hadspent the last three years, since Aunt Susan died and left AuntJane with all that money and no one to look after her but me, insnatching her from the brink of disaster. Her most recent andnarrow escape was from a velvet-tongued person of half her yearswho turned out to be a convict on parole. She had her hand-bagpacked for the elopement when I confronted her with this unpleasantfact. When she came to she was bitter instead of grateful, andwent about for weeks presenting a spectacle of blighted affectionswhich was too much for the most self-approving conscience. So itended with my packing her off to New York, where I wrote to herfrequently and kindly, urging her not to mind me but to stay aslong as she liked.

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

  As to Aunt Jane, my state of mind was fatuously calm. She wasstaying with cousins, who live in a suburb and are frightfullyrespectable. I was sure they numbered no convicts among theiracquaintance, or indeed any one from whom Aunt Jane was likely torequire rescuing. And if it came to a retired missionary I wasperfectly willing.

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

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

  At last I came to Aunt Jane. I ripped open the envelope and drewout the letter--a fat one, but then Aunt Jane's letters are alwaysfat. She says herself that she is of those whose souls flow freelyforth in ink but are frozen by the cold eye of an unsympatheticlistener. Nevertheless, as I spread out the close-filled pages Ifelt a mild wonder. Writing so large, so black, so staggering, somadly underlined, must indicate something above, even Aunt Jane'susual emotional level. Perhaps in sober truth there _was_ amissionary-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 atime-table. I leave for the city tonight to catch the firststeamer for Panama!"

  Later, while the baby slumbered and I packed experiment to "FindPeriod in middle" explained. This was difficult; not that Bess isas a general thing obtuse, but because the picture of Aunt Janeembarking for some wild, lone isle of the Pacific as the head of atreasure-seeking expedition was enough to shake the strongestintellect. And yet, amid the welter of ink and eloquence whichfilled those fateful pages, there was the cold hard factconfronting you. Aunt Jane was going to look for buried treasure,in company with one Violet Higglesby-Browne, whom she sprung on youwithout the slightest explanation, as though alluding to the Queenof Sheba or the Siamese twins. By beginning at the end and readingbackward--Aunt Jane's letters are usually most intelligible thatway--you managed to piece together some explanation of this MissHigglesby-Browne and her place in the scheme of things. It wasthrough Miss Browne, whom she had met at a lecture uponSoul-Development, that Aunt Jane had come to realize her claims asan Individual upon the Cosmos, also to discover that she was bynature a woman of affairs with a talent for directing largeenterprises, although _adverse influences_ had hitherto kept herfrom recognizing her powers. There was a dark significance in theseitalics, though whether they meant me or the family lawyer I wasnot sure.

  Miss Higglesby-Browne, however, had assisted Aunt Jane to findherself, and as a consequence Aunt Jane, for the comparativelytrifling outlay needful to finance the Harding-Browne expedition,would shortly be the richer by one-fourth of a vast treasure ofSpanish doubloons. The knowledge of this hoard was MissHigglesby-Browne's alone. It had been revealed to her by a dyingsailor in a London hospital, whither she had gone on a mission ofkindness--you gathered that Miss Browne was precisely the sort totake advantage when people were helpless and unable to fly fromher. Why the dying sailor chose to make Miss Browne the repositoryof his secret, I don't know--this still remains for me the unsolvedmystery. But when the sailor closed his eyes the secret and themap--of course there was a map--had become Miss Higglesby-Browne's.

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

  With this lyrical outburst Aunt Jane concluded the body of herletter. A small cramped post-script informed me that it wasagainst Miss H.-B.'s wishes that she revealed their plans to anyone, but that she did want to hear from me before they sailed fromPanama, 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 verypsychic, and she felt sure that any strong vibration from me wouldreach her via Miss B., and she was my always loving Jane Harding.

  "And of course," I explained to Bess as I hurled things into mybags, "if a letter can reach her so can I. At least I musttake the chance of it. What those people are up to I don'tknow--probably they mean to hold her for ransom and murder heroutright if it is not forthcoming. Or perhaps some of them willmarry 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 theTivoli hotel, which rises square and white and imposing on the lowgreen height above the old Spanish city of Panama. In spite of themelting tropical heat there was a chill fear at my heart, the fearthat Aunt Jane and her band of treasure-seekers had alreadydeparted on their quest. In that case I foresaw that whatevernarrow margin of faith my fellow-voyagers on the _City of Quito_had had in me would shrink to nothingness. I had been obliged tobe so queer and clam-like about the whole extraordinaryrendezvous--for how could I expose Aunt Jane's madness to themultitude?--that I felt it would take the actual bodily presence ofmy aunt to convince them that she was not a myth, or at least ofthe wrong sex for aunts. To have traveled so far in the desperatehope of heading off Aunt Jane, only to be frustrated and to lose mycharacter besides! It would be a stroke too much from fate, I toldmyself rebelliously, as I crossed the broad gallery and plungedinto 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 negationof his tone my heart gave a sickening downward swoop. "Miss JaneHarding 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 anappraising stare. Perhaps the woe in my face touched him, for hedescended from the eminence of the hotel clerk where he dwelt apartsufficiently to add, "Is it important that you should see her?"

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

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

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

  This candor helped my cause. "Well," he said, "that explains hernot leaving any word. As you are her niece, I suppose it will dono harm to tell you that Miss Harding and her party embarked thismorning on the freighter _Rufus Smith_, and I think it very likelythat the steamer has not left port. If you like I will send a manto the water-front with you and you may be able to go on board andhave a talk with your aunt."

  Did I thank him? I have often wondered when I waked up in thenight. I have a vision of myself dashing out of the hotel, andthen the hack that brought me is bearing me away. Bellboys hurledmy bags in after me, and I threw them largess recklessly. Somearch-bellboy or other potentate had mounted to the seat beside thedriver. Madly we clattered over cobbled ways. Out on the smoothwaters of the roadstead lay ships great and small, ships withstripped masts and smokeless funnels, others with faint grayspirals wreathing upward from their stacks. Was one of these the_Rufus Smith_, and would I reach her--or him--before the thin grayfeather became a thick black plume? I thought of my aunt at themercy 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 andbring her safe back to shore. How I was to do this at the eleventhhour plus about fifty-seven minutes as at present I hadn'tconsidered. But experience had taught me that once in my clutchesAunt Jane would offer about as much resistance as a slightly meltedwax doll. She gets so soft that you are almost afraid to touch herfor fear of leaving dents.

  So to get there, get there, get there, was the one prayer of mysoul.

  I got there, in a boat hastily commandeered by the hotel clerk'sdeputy. I suppose he thought me a belated passenger for the RufusSmith, for my baggage followed me into the boat. "_Pronto_!" heshouted to the native boatman as we put off. "_Pronto_!" I urgedat intervals, my eyes upon the funnels of the _Rufus Smith_, wherethe outpouring smoke was thickening alarmingly. We brought upunder the side of the little steamer, and the wide surprised faceof 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 mountingit--a dizzy feat to which only the tumult of my emotions made meindifferent. Bare brawny arms of sailors clutched at me and drewme to the deck. There at once I was the center of a circle ofspeechless and astonished persons, all men but one.

  "Well?" demanded a large breezy voice. "What's this mean? What doyou 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 gotyour aunt?"

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

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

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

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

  "What's the matter? Oh, please tell me what's the matter!" she wassaying as she edged her way into the group. In her severely cutkhaki suit she looked like a plump little dumpling that had gotinto a sausage wrapping by mistake. Her eyes, round, pale,blinking a little in the tropical glare, roved over the circleuntil they lit on me. Right where she stood Aunt Jane petrified.She endeavored to shriek, but achieved instead only a strangledwheeze. Her poor little chin dropped until it disappearedaltogether in the folds of her plump neck, and she remainedspeechless, 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 Janeyou fluster her.

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

  "The Young Person is mad!" It was an unmistakably Britishintonation.

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

  But what riveted my eyes was the deadly glare with which hers wereturned on me. I saw that not only was she as certain of myidentity 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 withgreat slaughter.

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

  It nettled me extremely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  He whirled on me, showing a crimson angry face. "Turn around, isit, turn around ?" he shouted. "Do you suppose I can loaf aboutthe harbor here a-waitin' on your aunt's fits? You come aboardwithout me askin'. Now you can go along with the rest. This hereship has got her course set for Frisco, pickin' up Leeward Islandon the way, and anybody that ain't goin' in that direction iswelcome to jump overboard."

  That is how I happened to go to Leeward Island.