He nodded

“No!” rasped the lean man, and his eyes hardened like those of a cat
with her claws out; “you figure it out, ma’am, in your own way very
prettily, I don’t deny. But my Pisgah-sight’s got to be took, you bet.
Guess we’ll do th’ view in a bunch, an’ toss fur lots.”

Leah smiled vaguely, because she was not sure of her ground, and
required a translator badly. Jim had been abstruse on occasions, but
this seafaring person spoke the shibboleth of a shifting population to
excess. Never having met one of this breed before, she did not know
how to handle him. Captain Strange was not a Muscovite diplomatist,
who would call black white, or even grey, to please her; and,
moreover, he appeared to be extraordinarily unsympathetic in the
presence of lovely woman. The magic of sex had worked weakly hitherto,
and this brusque visitor gave her to understand that he was not to be
cajoled into make-believe conversation. He required, and declared
emphatically that he did require, an unvarnished statement of facts,
to be argued exhaustively, so that he might know–as he tersely put
it–where he dropped anchor.

“You don’t chuck orange-peel my way, ma’am,” said the mariner, and
intended to clinch his assertion by spitting. But the sight of the
carpet pulled him back to civilisation.

The friend of Demetrius, owner and captain of the _Stormy Petrel_,
presented himself as a tall, small-boned man, with no superfluous
flesh on his frame-work, and with a jaw as hard–from bullying
underlings–and as blue–from close shaving–as were his eyes. The
tint of these, added to the blackness of curling hair, combined with
the racy vernacular which he flung fairly in her face, inclined Lady
Jim to class him as an Irish-American. But from the discourteous way
in which he spoke–as they never would have spoken in dear dirty
Dublin–and from his habit of interjecting slang words chosen from the
domestic speech of the Five Nations, she was puzzled to fix his
nationality accurately. As a matter of private history, and this she
discovered later, he was entirely cosmopolitan, and, out of sheer
contrariety, owed allegiance to no particular flag. Not a bad-looking
freebooter, Leah decided, with his regular features, and well-shaped
head, and white teeth, and ruddy clean-shaven face; but dangerous, was
her second and wiser thought. She was right. The man of many lands was
also of many minds, but at the back of them all lay the unalterable
determination to ride rough-shod over any one who would submit. As
Lady Jim also held to the same theory of individualism, it was not
unlikely that a brisk encounter might ensue, and for this she was
quite prepared. Meantime, she decided that he was picturesque, and, in
his rough blue clothes, with a red neck-tie and barbaric gold rings in
his ears, and a general air of “you-be-damnedness,” would have amused
her as a new figure from the underworld, but that the large issues of
the conversation induced seriousness.

“I don’t understand you, and I am sure you do not understand me,” was
her observation, after digesting the orange-peel parable.

“Let it go at that, ma’am. But I reckon I kin make m’self as clear as
any man, livin’ or dead, when dollars are in th’ pool. Now you”–he
shook a large brown finger–“you, ma’am, give me taffy.”

“What is taffy?”

“What you might call sugar–best brand, an’ no sand in it, anyhow.
I’ve struck heaps of the female in my time, and it’s all taffy with
them, till they annex the outfit, an’ then y’ kin go hang, I guess”;
he fixed her with a true quarter-deck eye. “I surmise as you’re tryin’
t’ play Sally Waters low down. Not much–oh, no. I should smile
considerable to think as any gilded female got th’ bulge on me. Go
slow, ma’am. Make no haste when the fat’s afire, ses Isaiah. Beckon he
knew things, did thet prophet.”

Leah smiled again at this Wild West outburst. “You are a free child of
nature, Captain Strange.”

“Taffy agin. I’m a man, you bet, same along as your husband.”

“I should think you and he would get on together extremely well,” said
Lady Jim, dryly. “But don’t you think you could contrive to be a
little less rude?”

“Why, bless y’, this is civil fur me.”

“How your crew must love you!”

“I’d boot ’em round the ship if they didn’t,” snapped Strange, very
ferociously. “They’ve got t’ love me up t’ the level of workin’ their
insides out, else I’d lay out every man jack in his little wooden
overcoat.”

“What a sweet nature you have! Are you married?”

“Got a wife o’ sorts,” said the mariner, indifferently, “an’ two kids
of th’ best.” His eyes softened. “Now, ma’am, you could talk t’ me fur
a millennium ’bout them little nippers.”

The last word was pure Whitechapel, and Leah wondered if that parish
could claim this buccaneer. But time was too valuable to go into his
private history, so she replied gently, quick to perceive that there
was a flaw in his armour, “On another occasion I shall be delighted to
talk nursery, Captain Strange; but the millennium has not yet arrived
in Curzon Street.”

“Y’ve got me there, I don’t deny,” cried Strange, hardening. “Now this
here racket, as I’ve sailed long-sides t’ fix up—-”

“It will be fixed up, as you call it, at once,” said Lady Jim,
sharply. “The matter is very simple.”

“Is it now? Lay on th’ paint, ma’am.”

She passed over this insolence very wisely. “You were kind to that
poor Mr. Garth,” she explained, calmly. “And, besides, took Dr.
Demetrius to my husband in Jamaica. For these services I am willing to
give you one thousand pounds–in gold, if you like”; she thought the
metal might tempt him into closing with the offer, but it did not.

“Shucks, ma’am, shucks! You’ve bin talkin’ paint an’ putty fur th’
las’ hour an’ more. T’ain’t no good nohow–not a bit, seein’ as I’m
being paid fur cold-drawn kidnappin’ of your husband, so as y might
loot a company of sorts.”

Leah winced at this rude blast of speech, which blew to shreds the
verbal draperies with which she was trying to clothe naked and
unpleasant facts. “I object to the word kidnap. Lord James went with
you of his own accord.”

“You kin lay to that, ma’am, an’ mighty spry wos he in lightin’ out of
these gilded halls int’ the free an’ wild. Kidnappin’ it ain’t, if y’
come t’ th’ bone, so I climb down slick. Oh, there ain’t no meanness
’bout me, ma’am. Prove me wrong, an’ I go pious right along.”

“As you are apparently pious now, Captain Strange, there may be a
chance of our arriving at an understanding.”

He nodded. “If as how you’ll talk down t’ th’ bed-rock level of what
we’ve bin doin’, ma’am.”

Leah winced again, not liking to run with this ruffian in iniquitous
harness. “You want a thousand pounds?”

“Well,” drawled the captain, “y’ might say fairer than thet.”

“Which means that you intend to ask for what you won’t get.”

“Huh! Guess thet’ll be as right as pie, when I open out.”

“You can open out now,” said Lady Jim, coolly.

Her antagonist admired this bluffing to the extent of slapping his
thigh, and chuckling like a blackbird over a worm. “You’re a dandy one
t’ deal with, fur sure, an’ a woman at that. My word”–this was
Australian–“if my missus hed bin your sort, ma’am, I’d ha’ bin
walkin’ a liner as a golden-barred skipper. You kin freeze on t’ thet,
straight.”

Lady Jim laughed, not ill pleased. Aksakoff had paid her some such
compliment, and it was interesting to see the diverse ways in which
the same idea can be expressed. “Go on,” said she, nodding her thanks.

“Don’t waste chin-music, neither,” mused the captain. “Want’s t’ git
at my cards afore she shows her own.”

“You are in the right so far, Captain Strange”

“Talks book English like print. If she ain’t a queen of dimins an’
hearts I’m—-”

“I have no doubt you will be some day,” interposed Leah, before he
could get the word out; “but until you are, suppose you–er–open
out.”

“Touchin’ the passage money, as you might call it in a high-falutin’
way, ma’am?”

“Passage money for my husband?”

“An’ fur a double of his, as negotiated the Noo Jerusalem on th’
v’yge,” nodded the captain, extending his long legs. “Then there’s th’
man we planted at Funchal.”

“Your nephew–buried in place of Mr. Garth.”

“Nephew! Oh, he wasn’t any relative o’ mine.”

“Dr. Demetrius informed me that he was.”

“Huh! Guess he wos filled up with thet idear by me. Yes, ma’am, I
reckoned t’ make more dollars by supplyin’ a nevy as a corp. But he
wos a pick-up, bless y’, racketin’ off chain, withouter friend, wife,
or kid, till I help plant him in Madeira.”

“Will inquiries be made about him?” she asked, carelessly.

“Y’ make me smile some, ma’am. Why, I picked up a stray dog o’
purpose.”

“H’m!” said Leah, lying back comfortably; “it would have been better
for your pocket had you withheld this information until you cashed my
cheque. It will make a difference.”

“Goin’ t’ cut int’ th’ thousand?” asked Strange, blandly.

“He was not your nephew, remember,” she retorted. The mariner stared
and chuckled. “Donner und Blitz!”

“I know German, if you prefer to talk in that tongue.”

He recovered with another stare. “I reckon y’ve hed a board-school
eddication all along th’ line. I swear in any lingo handy—-”

“So I hear,” she informed him swiftly.

“But I don’t stock furrein chin-chin nowhow. An’ now, ma’am”–he
expanded his chest and puffed out his cheeks–“I’ll trouble y’ t’ han’
over ten thousand dollars.”

“What’s that in English?”

“Two thousand pounds.” Evidently Strange had gone to considerable
trouble in calculating his blackmail.

“And if you do not get it?”

“Then I guess you’ll be sent up.”

Leah laughed scornfully. “I understand: unless I submit to extortion
you will tell this story about your supposed nephew and Mr. Garth.”

“I’ll rip out everything” the captain assured her without flinching;
“an’ t’ th’ nearest copper”–the last word, she observed, was popular
cockney.

“Be careful,” she warned him; “our police make capital out of
rascality.”

The sailor choked and his eyes bulged. “Ras–ras–rascality?”

“Blackmail, in plain English, Captain Strange.”

“Naow don’t git me riz,” Strange implored her. “I’m a holy terror
with m’ hair off.”

“Oh, we can tame wild beasts in this country.”

“But if I tell—-”

“Tell what?”

“Damn!” breathed the astonished man; then almost shrieked an
explanation: “Why, thet Dr. Demetrius brought Garth as a corp t’
Kingston, an’ yanked your husband int’ the Blue Mountains t’ sham
death. Aye; he did, y’ bet. An’ thet Berrin’–Lord James, y’ call him
in your cussed fine way–come aboard my barkey, while the corp as wos
called by his name lighted out fur th’ old country, so thet y’ might
run rings round a company of sorts.”

“How interesting! And what has it all to do with me?”

“My stars!” Strange rose to stamp the more freely.

“Sit down, please,” said Lady Jim, sweetly. “I do not allow people of
your class to show their manners in my drawing-room.”

“It should be a prison with you in it,” he raged. “What a brute you
are! Because you think that I am under your thumb, you not only attempt
blackmail, but add insult.”

“I’ll make things hum, I kin tell y’. I’ll bust up this conspiracy.”

“What conspiracy?” asked Leah, stubbornly.

Strange made for the door with a nautical roll. “You kin arsk th’
nearest copper. I’ll give him details, never fear.”

“Close the door after you, please,” said Lady Jim, as he wrenched it
open fiercely.

The captain immediately banged it again with a naughty word, and
turned to behold her opening a book. “Cold-drawn cheek of th’ mos’
freezing style,” murmured the almost stupefied man. “Oh, my country,
t’aint no wonder he took leg-bail. If I wos married t’ her I’d larrup
her every day an’ twice on Sundays.”

“Not gone yet?” inquired Leah, glancing over the top of her book. “Oh,
please do! I dislike hearing an illiterate person muttering.”

“Lord keep me fro’ murder,” gasped Strange, piously. “Say, ma’am,
ain’t you afeared?”

“Awfully! And as there are several policemen within call—-”

“Bring ’em up–bring ’em all up, right along.”

“I will, if you do not go away”; and she reached for the bell.

“Snakes! Y’ mus’ hev a card up your sleeve.”

“Perhaps I have.”

“Or y’ may be bluffin’.”

“Perhaps I am. Don’t you think it would be better if you sat down and
talked pleasantly?”

“If I’d a wife like you,” commenced the captain, obeying, “I’d—-”

“I am quite sure you would. Bullies like you always enjoy
wife-beating.”

“I ain’t a bully”; he wiped his face with a flaunting red bandana
handkerchief, breathing heavily.

“Yes, you are, and a coward, who thought to frighten me. Now I am
about to frighten you.”

“Huh!” Strange laughed scornfully. “There ain’t man, woman, or kid kin
make me sing small. Though I don’t deny,” he added gracefully, “as
you’d make Old Nick squirm.”

“Thanks, but I am rather tired of costermonger compliments. Come to
business. You accuse me of being mixed up in a conspiracy?”

“Well, an’ ain’t it true?”

“As gospel, between ourselves. To the world it is a lie.”

“I bet you can’t prove ’tis so,” sneered the sailor.

“Proof is not required. Denial is.”

“Not when I’m in th’ witness-box.”

“Not when you’re in the dock, you mean, my good man.”

Her visitor grew purple. “Me–in th’ dock!” he thundered.

“Lower your voice, please, or I shall order my servants to turn you
out. Yes–in the dock, your natural place. This conspiracy of yours.”

“Engineered for your little game, mind,” he gasped.

“Not at all. I have nothing to do with it”; her hard eyes held him as
he blankly considered her astonishing impudence. “You tell me that Dr.
Demetrius buried a man at Funchal in place of Mr. Garth, and then,
when Mr. Garth died on board your ship, sent home his body as that of
my husband. As Mr. Garth and my husband resembled one another closely,
I can see how I and the family were mistaken when we beheld the
substituted corpse. But I do not understand why my husband should have
consented to this, no more than I understand how you dare accuse me of
conspiring.”

“But I do, you bet, ma’am. You played low down on a company.”

“Where is your proof?”

“You’ve got the dollars.”

She played a bold stroke. “Ignorant that the money was paid under
false pretences. It shall be given back.”

Strange turned white and jumped up. “My share!” he cried.

“I know nothing of your share. Apparently, Dr. Demetrius, who happened
to–to–er–admire me, kidnapped my husband in order that I might
think myself free to marry him,–a thing,” said Lady Jim, with scorn,
“which could never–never have occurred. It seems that my husband was
taken away by you and Dr. Demetrius against his will. I shall
communicate with him, now that I know he is alive. Oh, I assure you,
search shall be made, Captain Strange, and the money–every
penny–shall be paid back to the defrauded insurance company. As for
you–blackmailing hound and bully and coward, the law shall punish
you”; and she, daring greatly, was again about to touch the bell.

Several times during this clever explanation Strange had gasped and
sworn softly, almost helpless with rage. But by the time she ended his
anger had cooled, and he was regarding her with profound admiration.
Her astonishing boldness, her dexterous turning of facts into fiction
and fiction into facts, and the unbroken nerve which she displayed
when at bay, commanded his respect. Unknowingly he fell into line with
M. Aksakoff, and rendered homage to superior wickedness.

“Don’t shoot, colonel, I’ll climb down,” said he, collapsing.

Lady Jim, knowing the old ‘possum story, laughed and withdrew her
hand, secretly relieved that he had not dared her to press the button.
“Ah, now you talk reason, Captain Strange.”

“You bet I’m goin’ to,” he retorted bluntly. “Y’ve played your hand
fur all you’re worth, an’ mighty prettily bluffed it is. But I
guess”–he swung back in his chair largely–“I guess I hold the ace.”

“You do?” She eyed him uneasily, for he appeared to be much cooler
than she approved of. “And the ace?”

“Your husband.”

“Jim!” Leah started forward, grasping the arms of her chair.

“Huh!” grunted Strange. “I thought you gilded bummers were allays
lords an’ ladies t’ one another.”

“Jim!” she repeated blankly. “Jim!”

“You bet. Kidnappin’ wos th’ word I used, an’ kidnappin’ it is. Thet
there Berrin’, your husband, sailin’ under false colours, come along
with me to Buenos Ayres–there’s no denying thet. But”–here the
freebooter winked significantly–“he didn’t git set ashore there. Oh
no, not much, you bet. I gummed on t’ him as m’ ace till I landed
stakes. He don’t mind, bless y’–likes the life wonderful. We’ve bin
gavortin’ round Pacific waters fur months, till the dollars ran low.
Then I brought the barkey nor’ard with him under hatches, and
naow”–he stretched out a huge paw–“y’ kin pass along thet ten
thousand.”

Her brain was working so hard that she scarcely heard half the speech.
At the back of it she began to see possibilities. “My husband is in
England, then?”

“Within reach, anyhow, and with my first mate hangin’ on t’ him. Maybe
the barkey anchors in a French port. Might be Spanish fur choice, if
y’ like–there’s no knowin’. But he’s within hail, same as them
coppers of yours. The ace, ma’am, the ace. Y’ might put in a day
arskin’ me why I let him go at ten thousand dollars. Th’ hull shoot is
worth heaps an’ heaps more.”

Leah watched his face closely. “Worth five thousand pounds, perhaps?”

“Well,” he drawled, equally watchful; “I shouldn’t mind goin’ nap on
that, all things being on th’ square. Naow if—-”

“Wait! Wait, I tell you!” She clasped her hands across her forehead
and paced the room with slow steps, which did not betray the nervous
hurry of her overwrought brain.

Strange watched her, as a naturalist might watch an entirely new
animal. Clever and hard as he was in his bullying way, he felt
instinctively that he had little chance of getting the better of this
woman, unless–as he phrased it–he kept his tail up. “She’s the
dandiest devil I ever sot eyes on,” was his admiring verdict. “Golly,
wot a flyer! Huh!”

Lady Jim, twisting her hands distressfully, strolled slowly up and
down, with bent head and thoughtful looks. At times she would halt and
reflect deeply; then her face would brighten as she resumed her
prowling. Sometimes she glanced at Strange, sitting like a graven
image in his chair, and occasionally she peered into any near mirror
as if to seek inspiration from her own wicked eyes. For ten minutes
amidst a petrifying silence she behaved thus; then, having solved part
of her problem–the solution of the other part depended upon Strange’s
consent–she returned to face him.

“Do you mind imprisonment?” she asked casually.

The sailor jumped. “Goin’ t’ begin agin?” he demanded irritably.

“Answer my question. Do you mind imprisonment?”

“I do an’ I don’t, accordin’ to th’ dollars. Give it a name.”

“Five thousand pounds.”

“Twenty-five thousand, States currency,” mused the captain. “Y wish me
t’ sample one of your gaols fur thet.”

She nodded. “On charges of conspiracy and blackmail.”

Strange jumped again. “My gun! D’y’ intend t’ advertise th’ circus?”

“I intend to have my husband set free to enjoy his own. Since you have
kidnapped him, you shall confess and suffer–for five thousand
pounds.”

“Leavin’ you out, ma’am?”

“Oh, I had nothing to do with it, nor had my poor husband. You and Dr.
Demetrius are the rascals.”

“Huh! An’ what’ll y’ pay the Doc.?”

“Nothing,” she said serenely: “the Russian Government is paying him.”

“Whew!” Strange whistled with a stare; “they’ve got him at las’.”

“If you mean the Russian authorities, yes.”

“Poor chap! He wasn’t bad fur a foreiner. I kind o’ froze on t’ him
somehow. But this catchy-catchy biznai ain’t none o’ mine, so let him
slide.” He shook his head vigorously. “Slide it is. An’ this noo game
o’ yours, ma’am?”

Bending forward, until her mouth was almost at his right ear, she
explained a very pretty scheme, which would oust Lionel and restore
Jim’s birthright, without inculpating her.

Strange listened calmly, and nodded heavy approval at intervals. All
the time admiration deepened in his hard eyes, but this did not
prevent him bargaining. “Yes,” said he, balancing his hat carefully.
“It kin be done. Six thousand, ain’t it!”

“Five thousand.”

“Six!” he insisted.

So much was at stake that Leah yielded. She could afford to do so,
with fifty thousand a year in prospect. “Six, then–to be paid when
you leave prison.”

“Huh! An’ when might that be?”

“How should I know?” said Lady Jim, crossly, for the strain on her
nerves was great. “Ask some lawyer.”

“Blackmail an’ conspiracy,” murmured Strange, reflectively. “Sounds
like a few years of oakum-pickin’, don’t it? Not as I intend to give
my opinion on these British gaols. Sing-sing’s good enough fur me.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Never you mind, ma’am. But if the dollars ain’t planked down—-”

“They will be. Can’t you trust me, man?”

“I guess not. You’re what I call a holy terror, an’ no mistake.
Firmingham, y’ said–Firmingham.” He nodded. “I’ve nailed it.”

“When will you go down?”

“Arter I’ve seen thet land-shark ’bout the kind of poppy-cock th’
bloomin’ judge ull talk. Go slow, ma’am; y’ git along with your share,
an’ I’ll do mine. So long!”

Leah did not like to grasp the tarry hand extended, but out of
diplomacy she was forced to touch the pitch which was defiling her. “I
can depend upon you, Captain Strange.”

He nodded. “Y’ kin let it go at thet. So long, agin. An’ if I’d
married you,” he added, with genuine emotion, “cuss me if I wouldn’t
hev bin runnin’ the U.S.A. in th’ Presidential Chair.”

Leah digested this compliment at her leisure.