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Title:      The Great Portrait Mystery and other stories
Author:     R Austin Freeman
eBook No.:  0500471.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
Character set encoding:     Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit
Date first posted:          June 2005
Date most recently updated: March 2014

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Title:      The Great Portrait Mystery and other stories
Author:     R. Austin Freeman


*

CONTENTS

THE GREAT PORTRAIT MYSTERY
THE BRONZE PARROT
POWDER BLUE AND HAWTHORN
THE ATTORNEY'S CONSCIENCE
THE LUCK OF BARNABAS MUDGE

*


THE GREAT PORTRAIT MYSTERY

PART I

As a collection of human oddments, the National Gallery on copying day
surpasses even the Reading Room of the British Museum, and almost equals
the House of Commons. The spectacle that it afforded was a source of
perennial interest to Mr. Joseph Fittleworth, as were also the
productions of the professional copyists, humorously described in
official parlance as students. For Joseph Fittleworth was himself a
painter, with a leaning to the methods of the past rather than to those
of the future, a circumstance which accounted for his professional
failure. Which illustrates the remarkable fact that in these days, when
even indifferent Old Masters sell at famine prices, while the unsold work
of contemporary genius grows mouldy in the studios, an artist's only
chance of popularity is to diverge as far as possible from the methods of
those great men of the past whose productions are in such demand.

Hence it had happened that Fittleworth had accepted with avidity a not
very lucrative supernumerary post at the National Gallery where he could,
at least, have his being amidst the objects of his worship, which we may
remark included an exceedingly comely young lady, who came regularly to
the gallery to copy pictures, principally of the Flemish school.

On this particular Thursday morning Mr. Fittleworth walked slowly through
the rooms, stopping now and again to look at the work of the copyists,
and dropping an occasional word of judicious and valued criticism. He had
made a tour of the greater part of the building and was about to turn
back, when he bethought him of a rather interesting copy that he had seen
in progress in a small, isolated room at the end of the British
Galleries, and turned his steps thither. The room was approached by a
short corridor in which a man was seated copying in water-colour a small
Constable, and copying it so execrably that Fittleworth instinctively
looked the other way and passed hurriedly to the room beyond. The work in
progress here interested him exceedingly. The original was a portrait of
James the Second by Sir Godfrey Kneller, and the copy was so perfect a
reproduction that Fittleworth halted by the easel lost in admiration of
the technical skill displayed. The artist, whose name appeared from an
inscription on his colour box to be Guildford Dudley, was seated, looking
at his picture and the original, as he deliberately mixed a number of
tints on his palette.

"I see you haven't begun work yet," Fittleworth remarked.

The painter looked up at him, owlishly through a pair of very large,
double focus spectacles, and shook his head, which was adorned by a
tangled mass of very long, reddish hair.

"No," he replied, "I am just having a preliminary look before starting."

"Do you think your copy wants anything done to it at all?" asked
Fittleworth. "It's excellent as it stands, though just a trifle low in
tone."

"Not lower than the original, is it?" demanded the artist.

"No," replied Fittleworth, "but it will be in a year or so, when the
medium has darkened, and it's a good deal lower than the original was
when first painted."

The painter reflected. "I'm inclined to think you're right," said he. "I
ought to have kept it one or two degrees higher. But it isn't too late,"
he added, briskly. "A day's work or so ought to bring it up to the proper
key."

Fittleworth was doubtful and rather sorry he had spoken. Raising the tone
meant practically going over the entire picture afresh, which seemed a
risky proceeding in the case of a finished, and highly successful,
painting. He attempted gentle dissuasion, but, finding the painter
resolved on the alteration, refrained from urging him further.

"I see," said he, "that the glass is on the original. Wouldn't you like
to have it taken off?"

"Oh, no, thanks," was the reply. "There's no reflection in it from here."

"The glass lets the tone down a little," Fittleworth began; but there he
paused, with his mouth slightly open, and the painter started and fell
into a rigid posture, with his palette-knife poised motionless in
mid-air. Astonishment was writ large on the faces of both men as they
listened. And not without cause; for, clear and distinct, came the notes
of a hautboy, playing a lively melody, and most evidently from somewhere
within the sacred precincts of the building. Fittleworth remained for
some seconds rigid as a statue, with his mouth open and his eyes fixed on
those of the painter; but suddenly he recovered himself, and, without a
word, darted from the room. Passing the water-colourist, who was looking
over his shoulder and grinning, he entered the larger gallery, to find
the easels deserted and the students trooping out of the door; and,
following them, soon found himself in a momentarily-augmenting crowd of
copyists, all surging towards the source of the music and all on the
broad grin.

It was in the Venetian room that Fittleworth finally ran the musician to
earth. There he found a dense crowd, collected round Titian's Bacchus and
Ariadne, and at its centre, a tall, thin man of grotesque and whimsical
aspect, who wore a steeple-crowned felt hat and a long cloak, apparently
quite oblivious of his audience. At the moment of Fittleworth's arrival,
he was giving a spirited and skilful rendering of the "Carnival de
Venise" with somewhat florid variations, and meanwhile keeping a pensive
eye fixed on the picture. Fittleworth, controlling his features as well
as he could, pushed through the crowd and touched the stranger lightly on
the shoulder.

"I am sorry," said he, "to interrupt your really admirable performance,
but I'm afraid we can't allow it to continue here."

The stranger rolled a solemn, and somewhat reproachful, eye towards the
official, and pausing for a moment on a low note, sprang up an octave and
opened a fresh suite of variations, of really surprising agility.
Fittleworth smothered a grin and waited patiently until the bravura
passage came to an end with a most astonishing flourish, when he once
more entered his polite demurrer. The stranger removed the instrument
from his mouth and, having waited for the applause to subside, turned
gravely to Fittleworth.

"Do I understand," said he, "that you object to music in this
establishment?"

Fittleworth replied in the affirmative.

The stranger shook his head solemnly. "That," said he, "seems to be an
extraordinarily mistaken view. Surely you do not dispute the essential
kinship of the fine arts?"

Fittleworth smiled evasively, and the stranger continued, amidst a murmur
of encouraging giggles from the students:

"You will not deny, sir, that the different fine arts are but various
modes of a general sense of beauty."

Fittleworth was not denying anything; he only objected to the hautboy.

"Then," the stranger persisted, unmoved, "you will admit that each of the
modes of beauty is reinforced by exposition and illustration through the
other modes. For my part," he added finally, "I regard appropriate and
sympathetic music as indispensable to the due appreciation of pictorial
beauty," and with this, he turned away and moved off through the gallery
followed, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, by an attendant multitude.

Fittleworth was in somewhat of a dilemma. There was no explicit rule
against the playing of musical instruments in the galleries and the act
was not in itself unlawful; moreover, the stranger's plea, though
fantastic and absurd, was advanced so suavely and plausibly that it was
difficult to deal with. He was still smilingly considering what it were
best to do, when the stranger halted before Claude's "Embarkation of St.
Ursula" and forthwith began a plaintive rendering of "Partant pour la
Syrie." For awhile the humour of the situation was too much for
Fittleworth, and the performance was nearly at an end before he had
recovered himself sufficiently to renew his protests; but as the stranger
moved away, he once more addressed him with polite, but urgent,
remonstrance. The musician regarded him with reproachful surprise and
again urged him to consider the intimate relation between the different
modes of beauty, instancing the performances of Miss Maud Allen as a
familiar and popular example; and even while Fittleworth was racking his
brain for a suitable rejoinder, the stranger drew up abruptly before
David's portrait of Elisa Bonaparte, and fixing a fiery eye upon the
picture, burst into the "Marseillaise."

Fittleworth felt himself becoming hysterical as the students cheered and
the stirring phrases of the warlike melody rang through the building. It
was useless to protest. The stranger only frowned, and rolled a
compelling eye that demanded silence. Bewildered attendants watched the
performance from afar with horrified stares and the crowd grew from
moment to moment. After a brief appreciation of Fragonard's "Happy
Mother" (to the air of "La Vierge a la Creche"), he moved on into the
Dutch Gallery, and pausing before a picture of Van Ostade's, struck up
with surprising spirit and verve "The Dutchman's Little Wee Dog"; which
brought down the house and, incidentally, put a term to the performance.
For at this point, to Fittleworth's great relief, an irritable old lady,
who was copying a Rembrandt, came forward and demanded how she could "be
expected to work in this disgusting hubbub." Fittleworth took the
opportunity to point out to the musician that the galleries were at
present filled with workers to whom his admirable performance, though
delightful on a more seasonable occasion, was, just now, a distraction
and a hindrance.

The stranger turned, and raised his steeple-crowned hat. "That," said he,
with a low bow to the old lady, "is an entirely different matter. If my
presence is a source of disturbance, there is nothing for it but for me
to wish you a very good morning."

With this and another low bow, and an elaborate flourish of his hat, he
turned, and adjusting the mouth piece of his instrument, walked away
briskly towards the entrance hall, playing "The Girl I left behind me."

It was some considerable time before the galleries settled down again.
The students, gathered into groups, eagerly discussed the fantastic
stranger, and Fittleworth, passing from one group to another, was
assailed by innumerable questions. It was getting on for lunch time when
he found himself once more in the neighbourhood of the isolated room
where the portrait was in progress, and he noticed, as he passed through
the corridor, that the water-colourist had already left. He found Mr.
Dudley staring discontentedly through his great spectacles at the picture
on his easel, and a single glance showed him that there was abundant
cause for discontent.

"What do you think of it?" the painter asked, looking up doubtfully.

Fittleworth pursed up his lips. "I'm afraid," said he, "you haven't
improved it. The tone is certainly higher but the likeness has suffered,
and the whole thing looks coarse and patchy."

Dudley gazed gloomily at the canvas and nodded. "I'm afraid you're
right," said he. "I've mucked it up. That's the plain truth."

"You certainly haven't improved it," agreed Fittleworth, "and, if I might
venture to advise, I would recommend you to clean off this morning's work
and consider the picture finished."

The painter stood up and surveyed his work savagely. "You're perfectly
right," said he, "and I'll follow your advice." He closed his
folding-palette and began rapidly to pack up his materials, while
Fittleworth stood, gazing regretfully at the spoiled painting. When he
had packed his box and brush-case, Dudley proceeded to secure the canvas,
which was very neatly arranged for safe transport, being fixed by catches
to the bottom of a shallow box, the sliding lid of which served to
protect the wet surface.

"Are you going to take it away with you?" Fittleworth asked, as the
painter slid the lid into its groove and fixed on the carrying straps.

"Yes," replied Dudley, "I will take it home and then I shan't be tempted
to tinker at it again when I've cleaned this mess off."

Having closed and packed his easel, he picked up his heavy colour-box,
his brush case and a leather bag, and Fittleworth, seeing him thus
encumbered, politely offered to carry the box which contained the
painting; and so they walked together to the entrance-hall, where
Fittleworth delivered up the shallow box to its owner, wishing him luck
in his efforts to obliterate the traces of the unfortunate morning's
work.

About eleven o'clock on the following forenoon, Fittleworth halted by the
easel appertaining to Miss Katharine Hyde for a few minutes' confidential
chat. He did not often allow himself this luxury, for the two young
people had agreed that their relations inside the building had better be
kept on a business footing. But every rule has its exceptions, and
besides, as Katharine had not been present on the previous morning, she
had to be told about the musical stranger. Fittleworth was in the midst
of a spirited narration of the incident, when one of the attendants
approached with a mysterious air.

"Beg pardon, sir," said he, "but there's a Mr. Dudley has come to work at
his picture and we can't find it."

Fittleworth frowned. "Dudley, Dudley," he muttered, "isn't that the--yes,
of course." And, as a red-haired person with large spectacles
advanced in the wake of the attendant, he said, "Have you been asking for
your picture, Mr. Dudley?" The artist replied that he had. "But, my dear
sir," laughed Fittleworth, "you took it away with you yesterday morning."

The painter gazed at him with owlish surprise. "I wasn't here yesterday
morning," said he.

Fittleworth stared at him, in silent astonishment, for a few moments.
Then he exclaimed impatiently:

"Oh, nonsense, Mr. Dudley. You can't have forgotten. You were working at
the picture all the morning, and I helped you myself to carry it to the
entrance hall."

The painter shook his head. "I was working the whole of yesterday in the
National Portrait Gallery. You must have helped some one else out with my
picture."

Fittleworth started, and was sensible of a chill of vague alarm. The
painter's appearance was so remarkable that a mistake seemed impossible.
And yet he began to have an uneasy feeling that this was not the same
man. There was the same long, red hair and the same enormous spectacles,
but the face was not quite that of the man whom he had talked to
yesterday, and the voice and manner seemed appreciably different. And
again, a vague and chilly terror clutched at his heart.

"Shall we go and look at the attendance book?" said he; and as the
painter agreed with alacrity, they hurried away.

"Your name is Guildford Dudley, I think," said Fittleworth, with his
finger on the page that recorded yesterday's attendances.

"Yes," replied Dudley, "but that's not my handwriting."

Fittleworth reflected for a moment in a state bordering on panic.

"I'm afraid," said he, "there's something wrong; but we'd better run
round to the Portrait Gallery and verify your statement."

They hurried out together, and turning round into St. Martin's Place,
entered the Portrait Gallery, where a very brief investigation proved
that Mr. Dudley had been engaged the whole of the previous day.

Fittleworth broke out into a cold sweat. It was evident that a fraud had
been committed; and a most elaborate fraud for, among other matters, an
attendance card must have been counterfeited. But what could be the
object of that fraud? A copy, no matter how good, seemed hardly worth
such deliberate and carefully-considered plans. Fittleworth and the
painter looked at one another, and with the same horrible suspicion in
both their minds they hurried away together to put it to the test.

As Fittleworth entered the small, isolated room where the counterfeit
Dudley had been at work on the previous day, he drew a breath of relief;
for there, at least, was the original, secure in its frame. But his
relief was short-lived; for Dudley, who had followed him closely, strode
up to the picture and, after a quick, critical glance, turned to him with
raised eyebrows.

"That is my copy," said he.

Fittleworth felt all his terror reviving, and yet this awful thing seemed
impossible.

"How can it be?" he exclaimed. "You see that the canvas is quite
uninjured and the frame is screwed to the wall."

"I know nothing about that," replied Dudley. "I only know that that's my
copy."

Fittleworth directed an agonised stare through the glass, and as he
looked more closely, he felt a growing suspicion that the painter was
right. The brush work and even the surface of the original had been
closely and cleverly imitated, but still--here Fittleworth turned
sharply to an attendant, who had followed them into the room.

"Go and fetch a screwdriver," said he, "and bring another man with you."

The attendant hurried away and returned almost immediately accompanied by
a workman, carrying a screwdriver. The frame of the picture, unlike some
others in the gallery, was fitted with brass plates which were screwed to
hard wood plugs let into the wall. By Fittleworth's direction, the
workman proceeded to unscrew one of the plates while his assistant
grasped the picture frame. Fittleworth impatiently watched the
screwdriver as it made about a dozen turns, when the man stopped and
looked up at him.

"There's something rummy about this screw, sir," he remarked.

"It seems to turn all right," said Fittleworth.

"Oh, it turns all right," said the man, "but it don't git no forrader.
Let's try another."

He did so, but the second screw developed the same peculiar properties.
And then a most remarkable thing happened. As the workman stepped back to
direct a puzzled look at the screw-plates, his assistant must have pulled
slightly at the frame for it began to separate visibly from the wall. The
workman dropped his screwdriver and seized the frame which, with another
pull, came away bodily, with the four screws loose in the plates.

Fittleworth uttered a cry of despair. A single glance at the back of the
brand-new canvas put the fraud beyond all doubt, and another glance at
the screws left little to be explained as to the methods adopted by the
robber. To Dudley, however, who was unaware of the events of the previous
day, the whole affair was a profound mystery.

"I don't see how they managed it at all," said he, "unless they got in in
the night."

"I'll tell you about it presently," said Fittleworth. "Meanwhile, if you
will lend us your copy for a few days, we will put the frame back; and
mind," he added, addressing the attendants, "nothing is to be said about
this at present."

When the picture had been replaced and the men had gone away, Fittleworth
gave the artist a brief account of the happenings of the previous day, to
which Dudley listened thoughtfully.

"I see the general scheme," said he, "but what I don't understand is how
that man managed to do it all in such a short time, and with people
moving about the galleries, too."

"I think that's all clear enough," said Fittleworth, "see, the actual
exchange of the pictures need have taken less than a minute. Everything
had been carefully prepared beforehand. The thieves must have come here
on previous days with the dummy screws in their pockets, and it would be
the easiest thing in the world to take out the screws one at a time and
push the dummies in in their place. And as to loosening the canvas in the
frame, two men could easily do that in a minute or two, when once the
screws were removed, if they had a sentinel posted in the corridor.
Comparatively few people come to this room, you know."

"But that would need three men at least," objected Dudley.

"Exactly," replied Fittleworth, "and I think there were three men; the
hautboy player was one; his business being to draw every one away from
the scene of action, and I feel no doubt that the water-colourist was
another; a sentinel posted in the corridor to keep watch while the third
man made the exchange."

"I see," said Dudley; "and when he'd made the exchange he oiled out the
original, rubbed on some colour and put in a few touches on the high
lights."

Fittleworth nodded. "Yes," said he, "that is what he must have done; and
it would have been fairly easy since the picture was in such good
condition and there were no cracks to cover up."

"Yes," agreed Dudley. "It would, it would. But, all the same, he must
have been a pretty fair colourist and uncommonly skilful with his brush."

"Yes, he must," agreed Fittleworth, "and that suggests a very important
question: this man obviously knew you well, as is proved by the exactness
with which he personated you. He also knew exactly what you were doing
and has known for some time past, for this was evidently a premeditated
scheme, most carefully thought out. Moreover, the personator was clearly
a painter of some skill, and even allowing for his make-up must have
resembled you somewhat in appearance. Now, Mr. Dudley, can you think of
anyone to whom that description could apply?"

The painter reflected awhile, and Fittleworth added, somewhat abruptly:
"Who commissioned this picture?"

"This copy," replied Dudley, "and the one I was doing next door were
commissioned by an American gentleman, named Strauss, who is staying at
the Savoy."

"What is Mr. Strauss like?" Fittleworth asked.

"He is a tall, lean man, somewhat like the portraits of Abraham Lincoln."

"Ah," murmured Fittleworth, recalling the hautboy player. "How did you
come to make Mr. Strauss' acquaintance?"

"He introduced himself to me a month or so ago, when I was copying at the
Luxembourg; in fact," added Dudley, with a sudden flash of reminiscence,
"it was he who suggested that excellent box to protect one's work. He had
one made for a copy that I did in Paris, and he provided me with two more
for these two copies."

Fittleworth reflected profoundly. The modus operandi of this clever fraud
was becoming more and more obvious. Clearly, it would be necessary to
make inquiries about Mr. Strauss, and meanwhile, the Director of the
Gallery would have to be told about the catastrophe; a horrible duty, to
the execution of which Fittleworth braced himself with a sinking heart
and with a suspicion that his official days were numbered.

An unwonted air of depression brooded that evening over the modest
apartments of Miss Katharine Hyde, for Fittleworth had just recounted, in
minute detail, and a hushed, funereal voice, the appalling history of the
robbery.

"It's a hideous affair," he groaned, in conclusion. "The Director took it
very well, considering all things, but, of course, I shall have to go."

"Did he say so?" asked Katharine.

"No, but you know the sort of howl that will be raised when the thing
becomes known. It'll be frightfully uncomfortable for him, and the least
I can do is to take the full blame, seeing that I actually carried the
picture out. I shall have to offer to resign and he'll have to accept my
resignation. What I shall do or a livelihood after that, the Lord only
knows."

"It's dreadful for you," said Katharine, "with all your talents and
accomplishments, too."

"It is hard," agreed Fittleworth; "just as there seemed a chance of our
being able to marry after all these years. I suppose I ought to release
you, Katie, now that our prospects seem hopeless."

"Why?" she asked simply. "I shouldn't want anyone else, you know; and as
to my freedom, well, I'm free to be a spinster now if you don't marry me.
But we won't give up hope. Perhaps the picture will be found, after all,
and then you won't have to resign. Is it a very valuable picture?

"It's worse than that," said Fittleworth. "It was a loan, and I should
say of priceless value to the owners for sentimental reasons."

Katharine looked interested, and being anxious to divert her lover from
the subject of their personal misfortunes, asked for more particulars.

"The picture has quite an interesting history," said Fittleworth. "It was
painted by Kneller in 1688, and the story goes that the king was actually
sitting to the painter when a messenger arrived with the news that the
Prince of Orange had landed in Torbay. The portrait was intended as a
gift to Samuel Pepys to whom the king was greatly attached, and in spite
of the agitation that the bad tidings naturally produced, he commanded
Kneller to proceed and get the portrait finished so that his old friend
and loyal servant should not be disappointed."

"And did Pepys get the picture?" Katharine asked.

"Yes; and what's more, it remains in the possession of the family to this
day, or, at least, it did until it was stolen. So you see, apart from its
intrinsic value as a painting, it has this especial value to the family.
I had sooner those brutes had stolen almost any other picture in the
gallery, even the Raphael Madonna."

"Is there no clue whatever to the identity of the thief?" Katharine
asked.

"There was one clue," Fittleworth replied, "but it has broken off short;
an American gentleman, named Strauss, who commissioned the portrait. We
looked him up at the Savoy, but he has disappeared, and nothing whatever
is known as to whence he came or whither he has gone. He was undoubtedly
one of the robbers, but he seems to have vanished into thin air."

"Oh, well," said Katherine, "I daresay the police will soon catch him and
he'll be sure to have taken care of the picture;" and with this hopeful
prognosis, the subject was dismissed, at least from speech, though in the
minds of both the young people the missing picture remained as a sombre
background to all other thought.

As he walked to the gallery on the following morning, Fittleworth
considered, for the hundredth time, the most prudent form of procedure.
Should he write an official letter tendering his resignation, or should
he adopt the less final and deadly plan of offering verbally to resign?
He was undecided when he turned in at the gate and began to ascend the
steps; but he reached a decision as he reached the third step from the
top, at the very moment when he collided with a commissionaire who was
also ascending in company with a brown paper parcel. He would resign, in
the first place, at any rate, by word of mouth and see how they took it.

And having formed this decision, he proceeded without further delay to
put it in execution.

The Director and the Keeper had apparently talked the matter over,
anticipating this course of action. "Well, Fittleworth," said the former,
"the matter doesn't rest with me. If it did, I should say--Who's this
from, Jenkins?" The question was addressed to an attendant who had just
brought in a brown paper parcel, addressed by name to the Director.

"Don't know, Sir John," was the reply. "A commissionaire brought it. He
said there was no answer and he's gone."

The Director nodded, and as the man went out he scrutinised the parcel
critically and examined the typewritten address label. "If the matter
rested entirely with me," he resumed, "I should say--er--now, what the
deuce can this be?" He turned the flattish, oblong parcel, over and over,
and finally, picking up the office penknife, applied its edge
abstractedly to the string. "I should say," he repeated--"if the matter
rested with me, that is, which, of course, it doesn't, that--it's a box.
I haven't ordered any box. I wonder what the deuce--" Here he pulled the
paper fairly open and Fittleworth uttered a cry of astonishment.

"What is it, Fittleworth?" Sir John asked; to which the former made no
reply, but leaning across the table, quickly pulled out the sliding lid
of the box. And then there fell on the room the silence of utter
amazement, for, from the shallow box, there looked out composedly the
familiar features of James the Second.

"Well," Sir John exclaimed, at length, "this is the most astonishing
affair of all. I suppose it's all right," he added suspiciously,
unclamping the picture and lifting it out of the box. "They're such
uncommonly artful dodgers; still, I think there's no doubt this is the
genuine original. But why on earth have they returned it, after taking
all that trouble to steal it?"

The three men pored over the canvas, searching suspiciously for any sign
of change or substitution. But there was none. The surface of the
painting was unaltered and apparently none the worse for its recent
vicissitudes.

"They seem to have handled it carefully," Mr. Barnard remarked. "No one
would dream that it had been covered up with fresh paint."

"No," agreed Sir John; "it hasn't left a trace. They must have used a
slow-drying oil and cleaned it off immediately. But," he added, turning
the picture over, "they had the canvas off the stretcher. Do you notice?"
He held the picture towards the other two, who eyed it narrowly.

"It seems to me, Sir John," said Fittleworth, after running his eye round
the edge of the canvas, "that it's only been off at one end. The tacks at
the top and the upper part of the sides don't seem to have been
disturbed."

The Director looked at the picture once more. "You're quite right,
Fittleworth," said he. "The canvas has been off the stretcher at the
lower end only; and what's more, the bottom bar of the stretcher has been
removed and replaced by a fresh piece. Do you see that? The piece that
has been inserted is old wood but it's different from the other three,
and you can clearly make out the fresh surface that has been left in
cutting the tenons. It is a very astonishing thing. What do you make of
it, Barnard?"

Mr. Barnard could make nothing of it and said so. "The whole thing is a
complete mystery to me," said he. "They may have damaged the old
stretcher bar and had to replace it; but I don't see why they wanted to
unfasten the canvas at all."

"Neither do I," said Sir John, "but the main thing is that we've got the
picture back uninjured, and, that being so, perhaps you would like to
reconsider your resignation, Fittleworth."

"I don't think I will, Sir John," replied the latter. "The affair is
known to several people and there's bound to be some sort of inquiry."

"Perhaps you're right," rejoined the Director. "At any rate, we will hear
what the Trustees say. Of course, if the matter rested with me--but it
doesn't; so, for the time being, I must accept your resignation."

PART II

IT was perhaps fortunate that Saturday is a public day at most galleries,
and so, an off-day for copyists; for in any case there would have been no
work on this disastrous morning for Miss Katharine. Within a few minutes
of Fittleworth's arrival at the Gallery, she had taken up a position at
the foot of the Nelson Column to await the promised report on the course
of events. Fittleworth, on leaving the Director's room, made straight for
the trysting place, and was received with a bright smile and a small,
outstretched hand, as they turned away together towards Whitehall.

"Well," asked Kate, "what has happened?"

"I've offered to resign," replied Fittleworth.

"And of course Sir John scouted the idea?" said Katharine.

"Oh, did he?" exclaimed Fittleworth. "Not at all. He did say that if the
matter rested with him, he'd--"

"What?"

"I don't quite know, but the great news is that the picture has come
back."

"Oh, good!" exclaimed Katharine. "But, if it has come back, why on earth
should you resign?"

"You'll see if I tell you how it came back;" and here Fittleworth
described the mysterious return of the picture and the still more
mysterious change of the stretcher bar.

"But I still don't see why you're resigning," Katharine persisted.

"Then," said Fittleworth, "I'll explain. You see, Sir John and Barnard
are concerned with the picture, qua picture, and from that point of view,
a stretcher-bar is just a stretcher-bar and nothing else. But there's one
point that they've overlooked--at least, I think they have. This was not
only a picture: it was a family relic."

"But what has that to do with it?" asked Katharine.

"That question, my dear girl, is best answered by another. What did those
men want with the old stretcher-bar?

"Well, what did they?"

"I don't know," replied Fittleworth; "but as soon, as I saw that the bar
had been changed, I realised that there was something more in this
robbery than met the eye. Consider the facts, Katie. First you will see
that these men were not common thieves, for they have not only returned
the property, but have obviously been most careful not to injure it;
which is quite unlike a criminal, who is usually perfectly regardless of
the amount of damage he does. In the second place, you will notice that
these men wanted the bottom stretcher-bar of the canvas, and wanted it so
badly that they were willing to go to great trouble and expense to get
it. Next, you will see that these are men of very superior intelligence.
One of them is quite a skilful painter, and another an expert musician,
and one of them, at least, is a person of great ingenuity. And now,
consider the picture itself. It was painted for the King when the
Revolution had actually begun and was to be given into the custody of a
man who was the King's trusty friend, who was a man of unswerving
loyalty, of infallible judgment and discretion, and who was so perfect a
man of the world that he was practically certain not to be involved in
any of the troubles that were to follow. What does this suggest to you?"

"It doesn't suggest anything," she replied, with a vague little shake of
the head. "What does it suggest to you?"

"Well," he replied, "you will agree that for a small and precious object,
the stretcher-bar of a valuable picture would furnish an ideal
hiding-place; and seeing that three men who are obviously not fools have
gone to immense trouble to get possession of this bar, I am inclined to
assume that it had been used for that purpose."

"Really, Joe!" exclaimed Katharine, "what a delightfully romantic idea!
And how Machiavellian of you to have thought of it! Shall we turn into
the Park for a little while?"

Fittleworth assented, and as they had now reached the gates of the Horse
Guards, they passed through, furtively watched by the gaudy sentinel, who
stood, like some gorgeous tropical bird, keeping guard over the
tunnel-like entry. The two lovers walked soberly across the great gravel
expanse, and it was not until they had passed through the small gate into
the Park, that they took up the thread of their talk. It was Katharine
who spoke first.

"Have you made any sort of guess as to what it was that was hidden in
that bar?"

"No, I haven't," replied Fittleworth; "and it's no use guessing. But this
much I think is plain: those men must have had some pretty definite
information, and as they couldn't have got it from the picture, they must
have got it from somewhere else; and the question is, where else could
they have got it?

"Could some one have told them?" Katharine suggested.

"No, certainly not, for if anyone had known of the hiding-place, the
hidden object would have been removed long ago. The only possible
conclusion seems to be that a written record of the hiding-place exists
and has been overlooked."

"I see," said Katharine. "You mean among some of the old family papers."

"Possibly," said Fittleworth, "but I think not. You see that, wherever
the record is, these men have obtained access to it. Now, they can hardly
be members of the family, for if they had been, they could have
abstracted the stretcher-bar when the picture was in the private
collection instead of waiting until it was in a public gallery. So that
it seems to follow that the record that they have seen, is in some place
which is accessible to the public. And if it is accessible to the public,
why, you see, Katie dear, that it must be accessible to us."

"Yes," agreed Katharine. "I suppose it must; ii we only knew where to
look for it. But perhaps my Machiavellian Joseph has thought of that,
too."

"I haven't had much time to think about it at all," replied Fittleworth;
"but there is one likely place that occurs to me, and probably much the
most likely: my old college."

"At Cambridge?"

"Yes, Magdalene. That was Pepys's college, you know, and he bequeathed to
it, not only the famous Diary, but a large number of manuscript memoirs
on naval and political affairs, as well as prints and collections of
ancient paintings. It is highly probable that the document of which we
are assuming the existence is among the papers in the Pepysian library;
but if it is, there is one little difficulty which will have to be got
over."

"What is that?

"Why, you remember that the prudent and secretive Samuel had a way of
writing his private memoranda in shorthand, which he evidently used for
security rather than brevity; and that being so, we may be pretty certain
that our hypothetical document would be in shorthand, too. That is rather
a serious difficulty, though I fancy that the system that he used was not
a very complicated one. I must find out what Rich's system is like."

Katharine clapped her hands. "Rich's!" she exclaimed. "How delightful!
Have you forgotten that I am an expert in Rich's shorthand?"

"I never knew," said Fittleworth.

"Oh, but I'm sure that I told you. It was when I used to copy drawings
and manuscripts at the British Museum that I got a commission to make a
facsimile of a volume written in Rich's shorthand. Of course, it was
necessary to know something about the system or I should have got the
characters wrong, so I learnt it up from an old handbook, and by the time
I had done my task I had become rather skilful. It's really quite simple,
you know, as compared with modern systems like Pitman's."

Fittleworth regarded Katharine with admiring surprise. "What a clever
little lady it is!" he remarked, "and how opportunely clever, too! Do you
think it would take you long to teach me?"

"But what is it that you propose to do?" she asked.

"I propose to go down to Magdalene, and go through all the Pepys papers
of the Revolution period, keeping an especially sharp look-out for any
written in short hand. There are not likely to be many of these, for poor
old Pepys's eyesight became so bad that he had to give up keeping a
shorthand diary after 1670."

Katharine reflected earnestly, and as they took possession of an empty
seat in a secluded path, she wrapped her hand coaxingly around his arm.

"I'm going to make a rather bold proposition, Joe. Of course you can
learn Rich's shorthand without any difficulty. But it would take some
time and a good deal of trouble, whereas I already know it and have had
quite a lot of experience in copying and reading the characters. Now, why
shouldn't you take me with you to Cambridge and let me decipher the
shorthand papers?"

Fittleworth took a critical survey of the toe of his boot, and reflected
on the personal peculiarities of a a mythical female of the name of
Grundy; and Katharine, stealing a cautious glance at him, deciphered a
cryptogram that was easier than Rich's.

"Maggie Flinders would put me up, I know," she said a propos of the
decipherment. "She's a something at Newnham, and we're quite old
friends."

Fittleworth's face cleared. "That gets rid of one difficulty," said he,
"and the other difficulty I must get over as best I can."

"You mean the expense that the inquiry will involve?" said Katharine.

"Yes. You see, I have no doubt that something of considerable value has
been stolen, and stolen through my thick-headedness; and if that
something can be recovered, it's my duty to get it back if I spend my
last halfpenny in doing it."

"Yes," said Katharine. "I quite agree with you, excepting as to the
thick-headedness, which is all nonsense; for of course the Director
himself would have been taken in if he'd been in your place. So I'm going
to make another proposition. I am just as keen on your getting this thing
back as you are; in fact, your credit is my credit. Now, I have a little
capital put by for a contingency that doesn't seem likely to arise just
at present, and I should like to invest some of it in our joint
undertaking."

It is needless to say that Fittleworth objected violently. It is equally
needless to say that Katharine trampled on his objections with scorn, and
that when they rose from the seat, the inevitable thing had happened. As
the poet expresses it: "Man has his will but Woman has her way." The
joint expedition to Cambridge was an accepted fact.

PART III

The services of Miss Flinders were not required after all. An old friend
of Fittleworth's, a tutor and fellow of the college, who had married and
settled down in Cambridge, had accommodation in his house for a pair of
industriously studious turtledoves, and was even willing to provide them
with a small study in which to carry out their researches.

So, Mrs. Grundy being thus appeased on extremely advantageous terms, the
doves aforesaid took up their abode in the residence of Mr. Arthur
Winton, M.A., and the permission of the Master of the College that of the
Curator of the Pepysian Library having been applied for and obtained, the
great investigation began.

It was a Tuesday morning, bright and sunny, when Fittleworth set forth on
his quest. He carried with him, in addition to a quarto notebook, a
half-plate camera of wooden construction, the property of Mr. Winton, who
was an expert photographer and who had made the excellent suggestion that
any likely documents should be photographed in order that they might be
studied quietly at home and facsimile copies retained permanently for
subsequent reference. So Fittleworth went forth with the camera in his
hand and bright hope in his heart, picturing himself already restoring to
its unconscious owner that (presumably precious) object of unknown
nature, the very existence of which was unsuspected by anyone but
himself. It would be a great achievement. His credit would be thereby
completely restored and he must infallibly be reinstated in his not very
lucrative office.

The first cool draught which blew upon his enthusiasm came from the
material placed at his disposal. It was a colossal mass. Apart from the
prints, drawings, maps and collections of poetry, none of which could be
entirely disregarded--for even the poems might contain a concealed
hint--there was an enormous bulk of miscellaneous papers, all of which must
be gone through before any could be rejected. And, as he gazed at the
collection with growing dismay, he realised for the first time the
extraordinary vagueness of his quest. What was it, after all, that he was
looking for? The question admitted only of the most ambiguous answer. He
had but two fixed points; the Revolution and the portrait by Kneller. Of
the connection between them he was totally ignorant, and so might easily
miss the clue even if it were under his very eyes.

The famous Diary he dismissed after a brief glance of fond curiosity, for
its last sad entry of May the 3rd 1669, was long before the stormy days
when the catholic obstinacy of James brought its inevitable catastrophe.
Other dated papers, too, could be set aside; but when all that was
possible in this way had been done, the residue that remained to be studied
was still appalling in its bulk. The first day was entirely taken up by a
preliminary inspection, of which the chief result was profound
discouragement. There followed a fortnight of close and strenuous labour,
involving the minute study of countless documents on every possible
subject, with fruitless efforts to extract from them some information
bearing even indirectly on the picture. Day after day did he return to
Katharine with the same dismal report of utter failure; and though his
spirits revived under the influence of her bright hopefulness, yet as the
the job ran on and the joint capital dwindled, so did his optimism grow
less. It was a bigger undertaking than he had bargained for. The mass of
material and the formalities accompanying the examination of precious
relics involved an expenditure of time and labour that was quite beyond
his calculations.

And there was another discouraging element, of which for the present he
said nothing to Katharine. As the days passed without a hint of any clue,
a horrible suspicion began to creep into his mind. Suppose the whole
thing was a delusion! That the substitution of the stretcher-bar was due
merely to some chance accident, and that he was searching for something
that had no existence save in his own imagination. Then all this labour
and time and ill-spared money were utterly thrown away. It was a dreadful
thought; and as it came to him again and again at increasingly frequent
intervals, his heart sank and the future grew dark and hopeless.

It was on the fifteenth day that the first faint ray of hope pierced the
gloom of his growing despair. On that day, amidst a collection of
unclassified papers, he lit on something that at least invited inquiry.
The find consisted of three small sheets of paper, evidently torn from a
pocket memorandum book, each about four inches by two and a half, and all
covered with microscopic writing in a strange, crabbed character which
Fittleworth immediately recognised as some kind of shorthand. There was
nothing to indicate the date, and, on applying to the librarian,
Fittleworth was informed that nothing was known about the little papers
excepting that they had belonged to Pepys, and were almost certainly in
his handwriting. The script on them had never been deciphered, although
several persons--one quite recently--had examined them; and the
librarian was of opinion that they were never likely to be, as the
writing was so small und so excessively shaky and badly written that it
appeared to be practically undecipherable.

The librarian's report was, on the face of it, discouraging. But to
Fittleworth the very illegibility of the writing gave it an added
interest, hinting, as it did, at a late period when the use of the
shorthand had become difficult. At his request the Diary was produced for
comparison of the style of handwriting; and, on comparing the first of
the six volumes with the List, it was evident that there was a change in
the character of the script, though even the last entry, where Pepys
records the failure of his eyesight, was much clearer and better written
than the microscopic scrawl on these three loose leaves. Which was highly
satisfactory, provided only that the illegibility was not so complete as
to render decipherment utterly impossible.

Having applied for and obtained permission to photograph the three
leaves--each of which had writing on one side only--Fittleworth exposed
three plates, and then, suspending his labours for the day, set forth
homeward full of excitement and revived hope.

He was, just approaching the house when Katharine overtook him and,
judging by his early return that something had happened, asked eagerly:
"Have you got it, Joe?"

Fittleworth smiled. "I've got some sort of document in shorthand," he
replied.

"Do you think it says anything about the picture?" asked Katharine. "But
there," she added, with a laugh, "my excitement is making me talk
nonsense. Of course, I've got to find out what it says."

"Yes," said Fittleworth, "you have; and I wish you joy of the job. It's a
fearful scrawl; so bad that nobody has been able to decipher it yet. The
librarian tells me," he added, with a knowing glance at her, "that only
three months ago, an American scholar, who had obtained permission to go
through the collection, spent more than a week trying to decipher it with
the aid of a watchmaker's lens and had to give it up after all. So you
see, my dear, that you have a very pretty little task before you."

Katharine looked at him thoughtfully. "That doesn't sound very
encouraging," she said; and then, after a pause, during which she
reflected profoundly, with her usually smooth forehead furrowed by
cogitative wrinkles, she looked up suddenly. "I suppose, Joe, he didn't
make anything of it after all."

Fittleworth laughed genially. "I was waiting for that," said he. "You are
thinking that the American scholar may be a gentleman of musical tastes.
I expect you are right and I hope you are, as that would prove that we
are really on the track of our friends; but we shall be able to judge
better when you have given us a sample of your skill. We shall be rather
up a tree if you're not able to decipher the thing."

The latter contingency Katharine declined to entertain, and the pair,
resisting the attractions of tea, made straight for Mr. Winton's
dark-room. The three plates were developed without a hitch, and while two
were drying in the rack, the third was taken to the window for
inspection.

"Well," said Fittleworth, as Katharine stood at lie window, holding out
the wet negative towards the sky, "what do you think of it?"

For some seconds Katharine made no reply, but continued to gaze at the
crabbed lines on the black background with a frown that gradually
deepened.

"It's very small writing," she replied, at length, "and frightfully
indistinct."

"Yes, I was afraid it was," said Fittleworth; "but can you make out
anything of the--er--purport, or--er--or, what it's about, in fact?"

There was a brief pause; then Katharine, looking him tragically in the
eyes, exclaimed:

"My dear Joe, I can't make out a single word. It's absolute scribble."

There was another pause, at the end of which Fittleworth murmured the
single and highly irrelevant word, "Moses!"

The impatience of the investigators would not allow them to wait for the
natural drying of the negatives One after another, the plates were
plunged into methylated spirit, and when dry, printed off rapidly on
glossy bromide paper; and with the prints before her on a table by the
study window, the agonised Katharine fell to work with Fittleworth's
pocket lens and a most portentous frown.

Five minutes passed. Fittleworth moved stealthily, but uneasily, about
the room on tiptoe, now forcing himself to sit on the edge of a chair,
and now forced by his excitement to rise and tiptoe across to another. At
length, unable to contain himself any longer, he asked in a hushed voice:
"Is it very awful stuff, Katie?"

Katharine laid down the lens and looked round at him despairingly.

"It's perfectly frightful, Joe," she exclaimed. "I simply can't make
anything of it."

"Perhaps it isn't Rich's shorthand at all," suggested Fittleworth.

"Oh, yes it is. I can see that much and I've made out a 'with' and two
'the's,' but the rest of it looks like mere scribble."

Fittleworth sprang from the chair on which he had been seated nearly ten
seconds. "Oh, come," said he; "if you can make out that much, you can
make out the rest. Only we shall have to go to work systematically. The
best way will be to mark each word as you decipher it and write it down
on a piece of paper. That's the best of working from a photograph which
it doesn't matter about spoiling."

"I don't quite see what you mean," said Katharine.

"The method I suggest is this," he replied. "First mark the three
photographs A, B and C. Then, number the lines of each and prepare three
sheets of paper lettered and numbered in the same way. Then, when you
decipher a word, say on photograph A line 6, write it down on the sheet
marked A, on the sixth line and the proper part of that line; and so on.
Could I help you?"

Katharine thought that he could, and accordingly, he drew a chair to the
table and proceeded to prepare three sheets of paper in the way he had
suggested and to mark the photographs.

There is something about a really methodical procedure, that inspires
confidence. Of this Katharine was immediately sensible, and when the two
"the's" and the "with" had been set down in their proper places, she felt
that a beginning had really been made and returned to her task with
renewed spirit.

"There's a 'his,'" she announced presently, "at the end of line 1, page
B, and the first word of the next line is a longish one ending in 'ty.'"

"It isn't 'Majesty,' I suppose," suggested Fittleworth.

"Yes, of course it is," exclaimed Katharine, "and the next word is 'wt,'
followed by two short words ending in 'll.'"

"White Hall?" queried Fittleworth; and White Hall it turned out to be on
further examination. The next proceeding was to search for a recurrence
of these words with the result that "His Majesty" occurred six times in
all, and "'White Hall" twice.

"Now try the words adjoining 'His Majesty,'" Fittleworth suggested. "Take
the one on page B. We've got 'His Majesty at White Hall.' Now, what is
before that?"

"There's a 'me' and then 'attack' or 'attach.'"

"'Me attack His Majesty,'" murmured Fittleworth. "That doesn't sound
right. Could it be 'attend'?"

"Yes, I believe it is, and then the word before it must be 'bidding.'
We're getting on splendidly. Let us try the 'His Majestys' on page A.
Line 5 seems to begin: 'As to its' something, 'His Majesty has'
something, 'his'--now, what has His Majesty done? Oh, I see, 'written.'
'His Majesty has written his--"

"Instructions," suggested Fittleworth.

"No, nor wishes, nor--oh, I see 'commands,' and the next words are 'in
full in a' something, 'which he' something 'to me in a small' something
'box.' Now, let us see if we can fill in that sentence. 'As to its'
something, 'His Majesty has written his commands'; now, as to his what?
It seems to begin with a 'd'."

"Destiny?" suggested Fittleworth, and as Katharine shook her head he
proposed "destruction," "deposition," and finally, "disposition."

"No, it's not 'disposition.' It's 'disposal.' 'As to its disposal His
Majesty has written his commands in full in a paper which he'--something
'to me in a small' something 'box which he--'"

"Gave, sent, presented, showed, exhibited..."

"'Delivered,' that's it. 'Delivered to me in a small' something 'box.'"

"Wooden, ivory, leather, silver--"

"Gold," announced Katharine triumphantly, "'a small, gold box'; and the
sentence runs on: 'the said box being' something 'with His Majesty's'
something, something, 'and this box he bid me put by in some safe
and '--it looks like 'secret place.' I'm getting to read it much more
easily now. Let us go hack to that 'box.' 'With His Majesty's'
something seal,' I think."

"Private seal, perhaps."

"Yes, of course. Then it reads: 'The said box being sealed with His
Majesty's private seal and this box he bid me put by in some safe and
secret place.' This is splendid, Joe. We shall make it out yet and you
can see already that we're on the right track."

"Yes; and we can see how those other gentlemen got on the track. But as
you seem to be getting more used to the writing, wouldn't it be as well
now to try to begin at the beginning and go straight on?"

"Perhaps it would. But the question is, which is the beginning?"

"The best way to solve that difficulty would be to work out the first
line of each page. Don't you think so, Katie?

"Yes, of course; and I'll begin with page A. Now, the first line seems
to read: 'bids me to carry '--no, it isn't 'carry'; I think it's
'convey'--'convey it to Sir'--Andrew, I think--'Sir Andrew Hyde--'"

At this point Katharine laid down the lens and turned to gaze at
Fittleworth with a very curious expression of surprise and bewilderment.

"A namesake of yours, Katie," he remarked; "an ancestor, perhaps."

"Yes, Joe, that's just it. Only, in that case it would be 'Sir Andreas.'"
She scrutinised the paper again through the lens and at length exclaimed
triumphantly, "and it is 'Andreas.' Let us see how it goes on: 'To Sir
Andreas Hyde, a cousin of my Lord Clarendon'--yes, that is the man--'who
is to deposit it in some secure place in one of his houses in Kent.'
I wonder if he means the picture!"

"We shall see presently," said Fittleworth; "but meanwhile it is evident
that this is not the first page. Just have a look at page C."

Katharine transferred her attention, as well as her excitement would
permit, to the latter page; but after a prolonged examination she shook
her head.

"This isn't the first," she said, "for the top line begins with the
words: 'had concluded the business.' Then page B must be the first. Let
us try that." She brought the lens to bear on the opening words of page
B, but after a brief inspection she sat up with an exclamation of
disappointment.

"Oh, Joe, how tantalising! This isn't the first either! There's a page
missing. You will have to go back to the library and see if you can find
it."

"That's rather a facer," said Fittleworth; "but I think, Katie dear, we'd
better work out what we've got as these pages will have to be deciphered
in any case, and then we shall be able to judge how much is missing. Let
us have the first line of page B."

With a dejected air Katharine picked up the lens and resumed her task,
slowly reading out, with many a halt to puzzle over a difficult word, the
contents of page B.

"...to me a messenger bidding me attend His Majesty at White Hall.
Whereupon I set forth and found the King in the Matted Gallery, talking
with divers officers and noblemen. When I had kissed his hand he spoke to
me openly on the affairs of the navy, but presently, making an occasion
to carry me to his closet, did there open the matter concerning which he
had sent for me. It appeareth that he hath caught some rumours of certain
noblemen and bishops--even the Archbishop as he do think--having
invited the Prince of Orange; which he did condemn as most fowle,
unhandsome and treasonable. Now, recalling the misfortunes of his brother
the late King and their royal father, he would make some provision lest
he should be driven into exile, which God forbid. Here upon he spake very
graciously of our long friendship and was pleased to mention most
handsomely my faithful service and judgement in the service of the navy,
and then he did come to the matter in hand. First he spake of Sir William
Pepys who did bring his ship the 'James and Mary'..."

That was the end of page B, and, as Katharine eagerly to scan the already
deciphered first the other two pages, her eyes filled.

"Oh! Joe dear!" she exclaimed in an agonised voice, "what an awful
disappointment! Don't you see? It doesn't run on at all. These are only
odd leaves."

"M'yes," said Fittleworth. "It does look rather a take in. Still, we'd
better go on. And as page C seems to refer to the conclusion of the
business, whatever it was, we may as well take A next. Keep up your
courage, little woman. I may be able to find the missing pages at the
library. Now, what has page A got to say?"

Once more Katharine addressed herself to her task, wiping her eyes as a
preliminary measure; and slowly and with many a halt to wrestle with an
almost undecipherable word, the crabbed scrawl was translated into good,
legible longhand.

"...bids me to convey it to Sir Andreas Hide, a cousin of my Lord
Clarendon, who is to deposit it in some secure place in one of his houses
in Kent. As to its disposal, His Majesty hath written his commands in
full in a paper which he delivered to me in a small golde box, the said
box being sealed with His Majesty's private seale, and this box he bid me
put by in some safe and secret place, and to speake of the matter to
none, not even Sir Andreas himselfe, until after His Majesty's death and
that of the Prince of Wales (if God should spare me so long) unless, in
my discretion it should seeme goode to do so. Also that I do make some
provision for the delivery of the said paper in the event of my own
death.

"When I had returned home I considered at length where I should bestowe
the golde box, and presently I bethought me of the King's picture which
Sir Godfrey is now about Painting and which His Majesty do design to give
to me, and it did appear to me that the wooden frame whereon the canvass
is strained should furnish a moste secure hiding-place. I made no delay
to seek out Sir Andreas at his house at Lee in Kent, to whom the King had
already spoken about the matter, and did deliver into his hand the said..."

Here the page ended, and, when she had written the last word, Katherine,
alter a brief interval of numb silence, fairly burst into tears.

Fittleworth stroked her hand consolingly. "There now, Katie darling," he
said in a soothing tone. "We won't cry about it, though it is most
confoundedly disappointing. You have done splendidly; and we are really
picking up quite a lot of information."

"But what was it that he gave Sir Andreas? It couldn't have been the
picture, because he hadn't got it then."

"No, evidently not. Let us work out page C. This is quite a short piece
and looks rather like the end of the record."

Once again, Katherine dried her eyes and took up the discarded lens; and
slowly--but less slowly than before--the decipherment proceeded.

"...had concluded the business, the tide serving, I did take boate to
White Hall and there reported to His Majesty what I had done but said
naught about the picture, reflecting that the secret shall be safer if
t'is known to none save myselfe.

"This is a weighty business and do trouble me somewhat; indeede I do
mistruste the King's plan which hath too much of secrecie, and leaveth
too much in the hands of one man, though that man be, God knows, honest
in intention and wishful to serve His Majesty in all things, especially
at this sorrowfull time. But I shall do as I am bid and if it please God
that the affaire miscarry, at leaste it shall be through no lacke of
zeale on my parte."

As Katharine wrote the last word, she closed the lens and handed it back
to Fittleworth. "There!" she exclaimed, "that is certainly the end of the
record and we are just as wise as to what it was that he gave to Sir
Andreas as we were before. You will have to go back to the library
to-morrow and search for the missing leaves."

Fittleworth held up an admonitory finger. "Now don't be an impatient and
unreasonable little person, Katie. It is most likely that the missing
pages have disappeared altogether, so, before we spend precious time in
searching for them, let us consider what we have got out of these.

"First, we know that the lost stretcher-bar contained a small gold box in
which was an important document. That is a great point scored; a very
great point, Katie; because, you will please to remember, it was pure
guess-work as to whether there was anything at all in the stretcher until
you deciphered these papers.

"Then we know that Pepys handed to Sir Andreas a something that was
evidently of considerable value. We don't know what that something was,
but we know where it was deposited--at least we should if we could find
out where Sir Andreas's houses in Kent were."

"I can tell you that," said Katharine.

"You can!" exclaimed Fittleworth, gazing at her in astonishment.

"Yes," she replied complacently, "I can tell you all about it. You seem
to forget that I am a Hyde. This Sir Andreas was the head of our branch
of the family and I know all about him. We were just plain country
gentlefolk, unlike our great connections, the Clarendons, and the
Rochesters, but we have pretty complete family records, and I have
studied them in great detail. Sir Andreas had three houses; one at Lee,
near London, one at Snodland, near Maidstone, and a third, a small place
called Bartholomew Grange, in the Isle of Thanet. Sir Andreas, who was a
Catholic, was killed at the Battle of the Boyne, and the family seems to
have become considerably impoverished soon after, for his son, Matthew
Hyde, sold the houses at Lee and Snodland and went out to New England."

"And what became of those two houses?"

"I believe they were both pulled down and rebuilt. At any rate, they went
out of the family. Well, Matthew remained out in New England until the
beginning of Queen Anne's reign--1703, I think--and then he set sail
for home in a merchant ship called the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon
sailed out of Boston Harbour in December, 1703, and was never heard of
again, nor, of course, was Matthew Hyde; and the estate--what little
there was of it--went to his son, Robert, who had remained in England."

Fittleworth considered these facts in silence for some time, toying
abstractedly with the papers. At length he spoke.

"I think we can guess what happened. Pepys kept his own counsel during
the whole reign of Dutch William, but when Anne came to the throne (she
was a daughter of Anne Hyde, by the way, and a kinswoman of yours), he
looked on the succession as settled, and being then an old man, thought
it time to inform Matthew of the existence of the document hidden in the
picture and that other something that he had given into the custody of
Sir Andreas. I imagine that he sent a messenger to Matthew with a sealed
letter containing this information, that Matthew immediately sailed for
England and was lost at sea; and that before the news of the shipwreck
reached this country Pepys himself was dead (he died on the twenty-first
of May, 1704). Thus the secret was lost, even as wise old Samuel Pepys
had feared that it might be."

"But it isn't lost completely," Katharine reminded him, "for this
ingenious 'American scholar' seems to have got on the track of it; and
the question is how are we to get on his track?"

"Do you know who owns the third house--Bartholomew Grange?" Fittleworth
asked.

"Yes," replied Katharine. "I own it."

"You do!" exclaimed Fittleworth, staring at her incredulously.

"Yes. I thought you knew. My father was the last male of this branch of
the family and I am actually the last descendant. The little house in
Thanet is all that remains of the family estates, and the rent of it is
what I live on--that and my copying."

"Then you could get access to it?

"Of course I could. The present lease runs out next year, I am sorry to
say--for my rent will cease then and I shall have to pay the wages of
the housekeeper, who is an old servant of our family. So I could easily
ask to make a survey of the premises. But of what use would it be? We
have no evidence that the mysterious 'it' is hidden there, and if we had,
we don't know what it is or where it is concealed."

"No, my dear, that is perfectly true. But you are forgetting that we are
in search of three men who probably believe (and perhaps with good
reason) that they have the clue; and who almost certainly have the stolen
gold box with them. If Bartholomew Grange is the only house remaining in
the family, those gentlemen will undoubtedly look round there first; and
if we are not too late, there we shall find them; and if we can't make
them disgorge by fair means I shall have them arrested for the robbery of
the picture. Remember, the gold box is our immediate object; the rest of
the inquiry can wait."

"And what do you propose to do next?" Katharine asked, as a flush of
pleasurable excitement mounted to her cheek.

"I propose that you send a letter to your tenant to-night and that we
start for town the first thing to-morrow morning and from there go
straight on to Thanet. We can talk over details as we go."

Katherine gazed at her lover admiringly. "What a clever old thing you
are, Joe!" she exclaimed.

"I should think I am!" laughed Fittleworth. "If it hadn't been for my
expert knowledge of Rich's shorthand and the neat way in which I
deciphered that--"

"Oh, go along, you old humbug!" Katharine exclaimed, making not very
alarming hostile demonstrations. And, in a symbolical and strictly
Pickwickian sense, he went along.

PART IV

THE Isle of Thanet has a certain peculiar charm which lingers even to
this day, despite the too-successful efforts of the speculative builder
to annihilate it. A few years ago--at the date of this history, for
instance--before the unlovely suburban streets had arisen to disfigure
it, the north-eastern quarter of the island wore a pleasant air of
remoteness that disguised its proximity to busy Margate and prosperous
Broadstairs. It was in this quarter that the business of our adventurers
lay, and, having risen with the lark and been fortunate in the matter of
trains, they reached it quite early in the day.

"Ah!" exclaimed Fittleworth, sniffing the salt air with the joy of an
escaped Londoner, as they left the outskirts of Margate behind, and took
their way along the broad path by the cliff's edge; "your worthy ancestor
wasn't such a bad judge, Katie. I shouldn't mind living here myself. By
the way, I suppose there is no chance of your tenant objecting to our
looking over the house?"

"She can't; and if she could, she would not. She is quite a nice person,
a widow lady with two daughters. I told her in my letter who you were,
and that we wanted to see what would have to be done to the place if the
tenancy was not renewed. I also mentioned that you were an artist, and
greatly interested in old houses; which is perfectly true, isn't it?"

"Certainly, my dear. But I am a good deal more interested just now in
three very ingenious gentlemen and a small gold box."

"It will be frightfully disappointing if they haven't been here after
all," said Katharine.

"It will be much more frightful if they have been here and gone away.
That's what I am afraid of. They have had a pretty long start."

"They have; but they couldn't have ransacked the place without the
consent of Mrs. Matthews, my tenant. But we shall soon know everything;
that is the house, in among those trees."

The sight of their goal stimulated them to quicken their steps. Soon they
came to a high flint wall enclosing thickly wooded grounds, and, skirting
this reached a gate on the landward side. Entering, and advancing along a
moss-grown path, they presently came in sight of the house, a smallish
building of cut flint and brick, with the quaint, curved Flemish gables
that are so characteristic of this part of the world.

"What a jolly old house!" exclaimed Fittleworth, halting to run his eye
admiringly over the picturesque building with its time-softened angles
and its rich clothing of moss, lichen, and house-leek.

"Sixteen-thirty-one, I see," he added, glancing at the date-tablet over
the porch, "so it was a nearly new house when Sir Andreas had it."

He rang the bell, and the door was almost immediately opened by a
staid-looking middle-aged maidservant, who was evidently expecting them,
and who greeted Katharine affectionately and cast an interested glance at
Fittleworth.

"I am sorry, Miss Kate," she said, "that Mrs. Matthews is not at home.
She had to take the young ladies up to town this morning, and she won't
be back for a week or more; but she left all the keys for you, and this
note, and she said that you were to make yourself quite at home and do
whatever you please. There are three gentlemen looking over the place,
but they won't be in your way."

At the last sentence, Fittleworth's eyes lighted with a warlike gleam,
and he glanced at Katharine. "Do you know what these three gentlemen are,
Rachel, and why they are looking over the place?

"I heard Mrs. Matthews say, sir, that they are architects, whatever that
may be. But they are wonderfully interested in the house. They have been
about the place for more than a week, making sketches of the rooms and
staircases, drawing plans of the grounds, tapping at the walls, and
looking up the chimneys. I never saw such goings-on. They spent two whole
days in the cellars, making sketches, though what they can see in a plain
brick cellar beats me, sir. They went all round them tapping the walls
with a mallet, and they even wanted to take up some of the floor, but, of
course, Mrs. Matthews told them she couldn't allow that without the
landlady's permission. Perhaps you'd like to see them, miss."

"Are they here now?" asked Katharine.

"One of them is--Mr. Simpson. He is in the Chancellor's Parlour, making
sketches of the wood work."

Katharine glanced at Fittleworth. "I think we had better see Mr.
Simpson," said he; and on this, the maid ushered them through a long
corridor to a remote wing of the building, where, at a massive door she
halted and turned the handle.

"Why, he's bolted himself in!" she exclaimed; and added under her breath,
as she applied somewhat peremptory knuckles to the door: "Like his
impudence!"

The knocking evoked no response, nor was there any answering sound from
within when it was repeated and reinforced by loud rapping with
Fittleworth's walking-stick. Rachel listened at the keyhole, and, as
still no sound was audible, she exclaimed indignantly:

"Well, I'm sure! It's a pretty state of things when strangers come to
bolt people out of their own rooms."

"But," said Fittleworth, "the odd thing is that there doesn't seem to be
anybody in there. Can we see in through any of the windows?

"Oh, yes, sir," answered Rachel. "The window looks out on the
Chancellor's Garden, a little garden closed in by a yew hedge. If you'll
follow me, I'll show it to you; though, of course, Miss Kate knows the
way."

As they followed the maid out into the grounds, Fittleworth asked: "Why
is this room called the Chancellor's Parlour?"

"It is named after the great Lord Clarendon, the head of the family, you
know," Katharine replied. "The tradition is that he used sometimes to
come down here for rest and quiet, and that he occupied this wing which
is cut off from the rest of the house and has its own separate garden.
This is the garden, and that is the window of the parlour, fortunately
not fastened."

The old-fashioned leaded casement was slightly open, so that Rachel could
reach in and unhook it from the strut. As she threw it wide open, she
announced:

"There's no one in the room, but I can see that the bolt is shot. He must
have got out of the window. I call that pretty cool, in another person's
house. And why wasn't the door good enough for him, I should like to
know?"

"Perhaps he didn't want his work disturbed," suggested Fittleworth. "I
see he has a large drawing on an easel. However, I will step in through
the window and unbolt the door, while you go round."

He climbed in easily through the window, and, having unbolted the door
cast an inquisitive glance at the absent Simpson's arrangements. On a
sketching-easel was a large drawing board covered with a sheet of
Whatman, on which was the earliest beginning of a drawing of the carved
mantelpiece. A table close by bore one or two pencils, a water-colour
palette, a jar of water, a slab of rubber, and a number of brushes. The
drawing--what there was of it--was expertly done, but represented, at
the most, half an hour's work.

"How long had Mr. Simpson been in this room?" he asked, as Rachel and
Katharine entered.

"The three gentlemen came here yesterday and made some sketches, but Mr.
Simpson didn't bring his things till this morning. He came about nine,
and at half-past eleven he came to me for a jar of water."

Fittleworth reflected, with a cogitative eye on the drawing.

"Well," he said at length, with a glance at Katharine; "I think we can
manage without Mr. Simpson. As we are here, we may as well begin our
survey with this room. Don't you think so?"

Katharine agreed; and when she had explained to the hospitable Rachel
that they had lunched in the train, the maid said:

"Then I will leave you now. If you want anything you have only to ring.
It's an old room, but it has an electric bell. And if I might make a
suggestion, it would be as well to close the window, so that Mr. Simpson
will have to come in by the door in a proper and decent way."

As soon as she was gone, Fittleworth and Katharine looked at one another
significantly, and the latter exclaimed: "What an extraordinary thing,
Joe. Do you really think he got out of the window?"

"I doubt it very much, Katie. But, at any rate, we will adopt Miss
Rachel's suggestion, and see that he doesn't come back that way; and then
we will have a good look round."

He closed and fastened the window, and stood awhile surveying the room.
It was a smallish apartment, rather barely furnished with five carved
walnut hairs, an oaken livery cupboard, and a ponderous draw-table with
the thick foot-rests and massive melon-bulb legs of the period. A wide
fireplace with a richly-carved mantel, and a door--apparently that of a
built-in cupboard--were the only constructive features that presented
themselves for consideration, excepting the panelling, which extended
over the whole of the walls.

"There's evidently something queer about Mr. Simpson's proceedings, as we
might expect," said Fittleworth. "According to Rachel, he was in this
room from nine o'clock until at least half-past eleven. Now, what was he
doing? He wasn't drawing. If you look at the work on his board you can
see that either you or I could have done it in ten minutes. But the
handling shows that he is not a duffer. Then it being eleven-thirty, he
went to the kitchen for a jar of water. What did he want that water for?
He wasn't going to colour. He had barely begun his outline, and there is
a good day's drawing in that mantelpiece."

"Yes," said Katharine, "that is rather suspicious. It looks as if he had
gone there to see what the servants were about."

"Yes. Or to make a demonstration of being at work before he bolted
himself in. That would suggest that he had already made a discovery. I
wonder, by the way, what he has in that bag. Would it be improper to look
into it?"

Whether it was improper or not, he did so, and as he opened the flap of
the large sketching bag, which hung by its strap from a chair back,
Katharine approached and peered in.

"That's rather a queer outfit for a water-colour artist," she remarked,
as he fished out a leather roll-up case of tools.

"Very quaint," replied Fittleworth. "So is this: what ironmongers
describe as a case opener, and Mr. Sikes would call a jemmy. And what
might this coil of rope be for? It is thin stuff--what sailors call a
'lead-line,' I think--'but it is too thick for an easel-guy, and there's
too much of it. There seems to be about a dozen yards. But there! It's of
no use looking at his appliances; we know what Mr. Simpson was after. The
question now is: Where is Mr. Simpson?

"I suppose," said Katharine, "he couldn't be in that cupboard?"

Fittleworth stepped across and gave a pull at the projecting key.
"Locked," he announced. "He couldn't very well have locked himself in and
left the key outside. I wonder if there is anything to be seen in the
chimney. These wide old chimneys were favourite places for hiding-holes."

He slid the old dog grate out of the way, and, stooping under the lintel,
stood up inside the roomy chimney. It was evident that the flue was not
straight, for no light came from above, and, as very little light was
reflected up from the floor, the cavity was in almost total darkness.
Fittleworth struck a wax match, and, by the aid of its feeble light,
explored that part of the interior that was within the range of vision.
But closely as he examined it, nothing met his eye but the uninterrupted
surface of blackened brickwork. Reflecting, however, that hiding-holes
would not be made ostentatiously conspicuous, he stooped, and, reaching
out to the andirons, picked up the poker.

"You are not going to hit him with that poker, I hope, Joe," laughed
Katharine, who had unlocked the cupboard, and was now standing with the
open door in her hand. Fittleworth reassured her as to his intentions,
and, ducking under the lintel, stood up once more in the dark chimney.
Having lit another match he began systematically to sound the brick work,
comparing critically the notes given out by the successive blows of the
poker, and noting the resistance and feeling of solidity. But the result
was no more encouraging than that of the ocular inspection; the
"percussion note" exhibited a disappointing uniformity, and the sense of
resistance conveyed through the poker was that of a very solid brick
wall.

He had been working several minutes, his attention concentrated on the
unresponsive mass of brickwork, when he was startled by the slamming of a
door. He stopped to listen, and then, after a brief interval, he was
aware of a muffled cry and the sound of thumping on hollow woodwork.
Instantly he stooped to look out, blinking at the unaccustomed light, and
as he looked he uttered a cry of amazement.

The room was empty.

He sprang out across the hearth, and as he reached the floor the muffled
call was repeated in a familiar voice, framing the word "Joe!" and the
thumping recommenced, both sounds clearly proceeding from the cupboard.
Striding across to the latter, he seized the key and pulled at it
vigorously, but the door refused to yield. Then he gave the key a turn,
where upon the lock clicked, the door flew open, and out stepped
Katharine, laughing heartily, and yet not a little agitated.

"Oh, my dear Joe!" she exclaimed, "that wretched door gave me such a
fright. I believe it is possessed with a devil. It seemed to entrap me
with intelligent, calculating malice."

"Tell me exactly what happened," said Fittleworth. "How did you get in
there?"

"I walked in, of course, you old absurdity. You see, while you were
rummaging about in the chimney, I stood here with the door open, looking
at all that clutter on the shelves. Then my eye caught that delightful
old jar on the top shelf, and I stepped in to reach it down; but no
sooner was I inside than that miserable door slammed to, and the wretched
lock snapped, and there I was, like a mouse in a trap. It's a mercy you
were at hand."

"It is, indeed. But now that we've got you out, I think we will have a
good look at that trap. It's a queer arrangement for a cupboard. It has a
spring lock, and you notice that the very solid brass hinges are of the
skew pattern to make the door self-closing. I don't see any reason for
either."

"No; that was what I was thinking when I was inside. You want to keep
people out of a cupboard, not to fasten them in."

"Exactly. So we will just prop this door open with a chair and examine
this singular cupboard, or closet, minutely."

He pulled the door wide open, and, having fixed it in that position by
means of an elbow chair, began his investigations, taking the door itself
as the first item. Having tried the lock and examined the exterior, he
ran his eye critically over the inner surface, and then he made a
discovery. Near the top of the door was a small, square patch of wood,
which yielded to pressure, and on pressing which the bolt of the lock
slid back.

"Ha!" he exclaimed, "I smell a fox, Katie. Do you see? This is an
internal release. Now what could that be for?

"Why, obviously, to enable a person who was shut in to let himself out.
It is a hiding-place, Joe. Don't you see? A fugitive who was closely
pursued could step in and the door would shut behind him. Then the
pursuers would come and give a pull at the key, and say, as you did, that
a man couldn't lock himself in a cupboard and leave the key outside. And
then they'd go away."

Fittleworth smiled, and shook his head. "That is all very well, my dear
girl, but suppose there happened to be a Katie among them who would have
the curiosity to turn the key and open the door? That wouldn't do. No, my
dear, you may take it as practically certain that there is a way out of
this cupboard. Your inquisitive pursuer would open the door and find the
cupboard empty, and then the outside key would be highly convincing. Let
us investigate."

He stepped into the cupboard which was about four feet deep and of which
the back was occupied by five massive but rather narrow shelves, and
looked inquisitively around. The whole interior--sides, floor and
ceiling--was lined with solid oak boards, and the shelves were occupied
by various articles that, to judge by their appearance, had slowly
accumulated in the course of years. It was to these shelves that
Fittleworth specially directed his attention and that Katharine.

"You notice," said he, "that all the shelves are more or less filled up
with what you call 'clutter,' excepting the second one from the top,
which has evidently been cleared, and quite recently, too, as you can see
by the dust marks. Also that the back boarding has a hollow space behind
it."

By way of demonstrating this, he gave one or two noisy thumps on the
hollow-sounding back; but at the third blow he paused and turned
excitedly to Katharine.

"We've hit it--literally--Kate. Do you see? This board is beginning to
give. It is a hinged flap, of which the joints were hidden by the
shelves. We'll soon run Mr. Simpson to earth now."

As Katharine craned forward to peer into the cupboard, Fittleworth gave a
vigorous shove at the movable board, driving it back several inches.
Instantly there followed a loud snap and a thunderous rumbling, and the
entire cupboard began to descend rapidly. Fittleworth clutched
frantically at the shelf to steady himself, while Katharine, with a
little cry of alarm, leaned over the brink of the well-like shaft,
looking down, as if petrified, at her vanishing companion.

The cupboard continued to descend for about ten feet. Then it stopped,
and, at the same moment, the bottom fell down, swinging like a trap-door
on invisible hinges. It was well for Fittleworth that he had kept his
grasp of the shelf, for otherwise he must have been precipitated down the
shaft that yawned beneath him, a dark, apparently unfathomable, well. As
it was, he had nearly been jerked from his none too secure hold, and he
now hung by his hands, only his feet kicking in mid-air; an impossible
position for more than a bare minute, as he realised at once from the
strain on his fingers. However, after some cautious groping with one foot
he managed to find the bottom shelf, and when he had got both his feet
securely planted on this, the strain on his hands was relieved and he was
able to look about him. Glancing up, he saw that only the back half of
the cupboard ceiling had come down, so that there was a two-foot space
above him, through which he could see the agonised face of Katharine
thrust over the brink of the well.

"Can't I do anything, Joe?" she cried in a terrified voice.

"Yes," he replied. "Get that rope of Simpson's and throw one end down to
me and tie the other end securely to the leg of the table."

Her face disappeared, and, as the sound of hurried movement came from
above, Fittleworth looked over his shoulder at the side of the well that
was visible to him; which presented the smooth surface of the chalk
through which the shaft had been cut, and at its middle a shallow recess
fitted with massive iron rings, and forming a fixed ladder, which
apparently gave access to the bottom of the shaft. He looked longingly at
those solid rungs, rusty as they were, and considered whether he could
reach across and grasp one, but his hold was too insecure to allow of his
reaching out with that horrible dark pit, of unknown depth, yawning
beneath. There was nothing for it but to cling to the shelf, though his
fingers ached with the tension and his muscles were beginning to tremble
with the continuous strain. He gazed up at the narrow opening, and
listened eagerly for the sounds from above that told him of Katharine's
hurried efforts to rescue him; and as he listened, there came to his ears
another sound--from beneath--a hollow, sepulchral voice, echoing
strangely from the sides of the shaft.

"Is that you, Warren?"

"All right," answered Fittleworth. "We'll get down to you presently. Are
you hurt?"

"Yes; broken my ankle, I think. But don't you hurry. Be careful how you
come down."

Fittleworth was about to reply, when Katharine's face reappeared at the
opening above. "Here's the rope, Joe," said she. "I've tied it quite
firmly to the table leg, and I shall keep hold of it as well. Catch."

The rope came rattling down the shalt, and, as Katharine dexterously
swung it towards him, Fittleworth caught it with one hand, and hauled on
it as well as he could in the hope that the cupboard, partly relieved of
his weight, would rise. But the force that he could exert with one hand
was not enough for this. Pull as he might, the cupboard remained
immovable.

Finding that this was so, and that the repeated efforts were only
fatiguing him, he decided to risk grasping the rope with both hands; but
the instant he let go his hold on the upper shelf he swung right out over
the well, and his feet began to slip from the lower shelf. In another
moment he would have been dangling free over the deep chasm--unless the
thin rope had broken; but now, as he swung out within reach of the
ladder, he made a snatch with one hand at an iron rung. Grasping this
firmly, he was able, without difficulty, to spring across on to the
ladder, and, as his feet finally left the shelf, the cupboard began, with
loud rumblings, to ascend.

Fittleworth stood on the ladder looking up at the receding cupboard and
at Katharine's anxious face, and wondering what would happen next. His
curiosity was soon satisfied. As the cupboard approached the top of the
shaft, the floor began to rise, and would have closed completely but for
the rope, on which it jammed, leaving a narrow chink through which came a
glimmer of light. It was an awkward predicament, and Fittleworth was
doubtful what to do; but, as he was considering, Katharine's voice came
through the chink.

"Are you all right, Joe?"

"Yes."

"You had better go down a little farther out of the way. The cupboard is
coming down again."

Fittleworth hastily descended a few rungs to avoid a knock on the head
and then stopped, wondering how Katharine proposed to send the cupboard
down. Before he had reached any conclusion, the rope was smartly drawn
up, there was a jarring sound above and the cupboard began to descend,
but more slowly this time, as if checked in some way. When it had
descended a few feet, the floor, not having risen far enough to reach its
catch, owing to the rope, began to fall down; and then Fittleworth,
looking up, saw to his amazement that Katharine was clinging to the
interior. As the cupboard reached the bottom of its run and came to rest,
he climbed up the ladder until he was opposite and then looked round
anxiously. But Katharine's position was much more secure than his had
been, for she was holding firmly with one hand to a massive brass peg
that was fixed on the side of the cupboard, and with the other was
grasping the rope which she had passed round a stout hook that was fixed
near the floor--apparently for that very purpose--and then round the
peg; thus she had been able easily to check the descent of the cupboard.
These arrangements, however, Fittleworth was not able to see in the dim
light which prevailed in the shaft, and remembering his own difficulties,
he looked at Katharine in some consternation.

"How on earth are we going to get you up again, Katie?" he asked.

"Why," she replied, "you just run up the ladder and pull at the rope.
I've got it firmly fixed to this hook."

Fittleworth crawled up a few rungs and gave a cautious pull at the rope,
when the cupboard moved an inch or two upwards, whereupon he began to
climb rapidly up the ladder. He was only hall-way up, how ever, when a
hollow voice from below echoed appealingly.

"Don't be longer than you can help, Warren."

"Good Heavens!" exclaimed Katharine. "What on earth was that?"

"Hush!" said Fittleworth. "That's our friend Simpson." Then, raising his
voice, he called out: "We'll come down to you as soon as we can," and
continued his ascent to the top of the ladder.

As soon as he reached the solid floor of the room, he seized the rope and
began cautiously to haul on it; and as the tension increased, the great
bronze chain which suspended the cupboard began to rumble over its
pulley-wheel. In a few seconds the cupboard itself appeared in the
opening; as its floor came flush with that of the room it stopped, and a
double snap announced that the two catches--the one which supported the
cupboard itself and the other which held the floor--had slipped into
their places. Then Katharine, having tried the floor with infinite
caution, let go the peg and stepped out into the room.

"Well," said Fittleworth as he handed her out, "I'm proud of you, Katie.
It was positively heroic of you to come down for me in that way; and how
cleverly you managed it, too. It's not for nothing that you are a
yachtsman's daughter."

Katharine received these commendations with calm satisfaction, but her
mind was evidently running on the unearthly voice that had hailed them
from the depths, for she asked anxiously:

"How are we going to get that poor creature up, Joe?"

"We will consider that presently," replied Fittleworth. "Meanwhile, we
will just put away the rope and make things ship-shape while we talk
matters over."

"But," persisted Katharine, "we can't leave the poor wretch down there in
that horrible pit. Can't we get him up now?"

"I think he'll have to stay there until we've settled what to do. We
shall want some further appliances, and probably some help. But listen!"

He coiled up the rope quickly and had just replaced it in Simpson's bag,
when the door opened and Rachel reappeared.

"If you please, miss," said she, "the two gentlemen, Mr. Furse and Mr.
Tanner, have come to look for Mr. Simpson. I told them what had happened,
and that you were here. Will you see them, miss? They're in a most awful
taking about Mr. Simpson."

As she finished speaking, footsteps were heard in the corridor and the
two gentlemen entered without further ceremony, upon which Rachel
introduced them, somewhat stiffly, and departed. Fittleworth looked at
the two strangers curiously and had no difficulty in recognising in them
the hautboy player and the water-colour copyist respectively, though it
was clear that neither of them recognised him. Both were in, a state of
great agitation, especially the musician, and it was he who addressed
Fittleworth.

"This is a most astonishing and alarming thing, sir. Our friend Simpson
appears to have vanished completely."

"Yes," replied Fittleworth, "a most surprising affair. I can't imagine
why he should have gone out through the window."

"Are you quite sure that he did?" asked the musician.

"Well," replied Fittleworth, "he's not here, as you see, and he couldn't
have got out through the door, so he must have left by the window, unless
he went up the chimney."

Here Fittleworth caught a reproachful glance from Katharine, and the
musician, who had been introduced as Mr. Furse, rejoined: "I can't help
thinking that he must be somewhere on the premises. Would you object to
our looking round?"

Fittleworth reflected awhile and ultimately ventured on a chance shot. "I
think, perhaps, you may be right, Mr. Warren--"

The two men started visibly, and the musician interrupted: "My name, sir,
is Furse."

"Very well," said Fittleworth, "Mr. Furse, then I think we had better
have an explanation, as our activities overlap somewhat. I am acting on
behalf of Miss Hyde, the owner of this house."

"But what has that to do with us?" asked Mr. Furse.

"I think you will see when I explain my business, which is connected with
certain property of Miss Hyde's, to wit, a small gold box, containing
certain documents, relating to some of her other property."

For some seconds the two men stared at Fittleworth in speechless
amazement; then Furse asked hesitatingly: "But what has this to do with
us?

"Oh, come, come, sir," said Fittleworth impatiently, "it's of no use to
try to keep up this pretence. We know that you took the box and that it
is in your possession at this moment."

The two men, who appeared completely dumbfounded, glanced quickly at one
another, and Furse asked: "Do I understand that this box, of which you
are speaking, is the property of this lady?

"Undoubtedly," replied Fittleworth. "This is Miss Katharine Hyde, the
heir and only surviving descendant of Sir Andreas Hyde, whose name will
be familiar to you."

"You don't say so!" exclaimed Mr. Furse. "I had no idea there were any
descendants living. Perhaps you will allow my friend and me to consult
together on the matter."

Fittleworth was quite ready to agree to this, but he had no intention of
leaving them alone in the room. Accordingly, he suggested the
Chancellor's Garden as a retired spot where they could converse at their
ease, and proceeded to usher them out by the side door. Returning to the
parlour, he found Katharine with the cupboard door open, listening
intently for any sounds which might come up through the floor.

"You cold-blooded old wretch, Joe!" she exclaimed, "to sit there calmly
discussing that trumpery box, while poor Mr. Simpson may be dying at the
bottom of that horrible shaft."

"My dear Kate," protested Fittleworth, "we didn't put him there. He shall
be got up as soon as possible, but, meanwhile, it is quite a valuable aid
to our negotiations."

Katharine was shocked at his callousness and urged an immediate rescue,
but Fittleworth, unmoved by her reproaches, calmly watched the two men
through the window, as they paced the little green, evidently engaged in
anxious discussion. The discussion was, however, quite a brief one, for
in about a couple of minutes they turned, with an air of finality, and
walked briskly towards the side door.

"They haven't been long," Fittleworth remarked as they passed out of view
and the side door was heard to open. "I wonder what they've decided to
do? They can't very well say they haven't got the box now."

Fittleworth was right. As soon as the two men entered the room, Mr. Furse
opened the proceedings in a manner quite frank and business-like.

"We'd like you to tell us, sir," said he, "exactly what you know about
this affair and what you wish us to do."

"As to what we know," said Fittleworth, "I may say we know everything.
The box, which was sealed with King James' seal and contained an
important document, was removed by you--very cleverly, I must admit--from
the National Gallery seventeen days ago, and you have come here to
search for the property that was deposited by Sir Andreas Hyde. As to
what we wish, we simply desire you to restore the box to its owner."

Mr. Furse seated himself in a large elbow-chair and, placing his
finger-tips together, addressed himself to Fittleworth.

"Now, see here," said he. "That box was never in Miss Hyde's possession,
and I guess no one knew of its existence, or of the existence of the
other property that you mention; and I guess you don't know, now, what
that property is or where it's stowed."

"You're wrong there," said Fittleworth, rather casuistically; "we know
exactly where it's hidden, which is, I think, more than you do; but
surely, all this is irrelevant. The property belongs to Miss Hyde and
there's an end of the matter. You're not disputing her title, are you?"

"No, sir, we are not. To be perfectly frank with you, our position is
this: we lit on the trail of this property by chance, and, being under
the impression that it was without an owner, we laid ourselves out to
salve it, and I may tell you that we have spent a great deal of time,
money and trouble on locating it. Now, it turns out that this is not
treasure trove at all; that there is a rightful owner living; and my
friend, Tanner, and I have talked the matter over and have decided that
we, personally, are prepared to surrender our claim on certain
conditions, but of course we can't answer for Mr. Simpson, nor can we act
without his consent."

"What are your conditions?" asked Fittleworth.

"We should want our expenses refunded, and we want permission to search
these premises for our friend."

"That's not unreasonable," said Fittleworth, "and as regards the property
of Sir Andreas, I am willing to agree; but I must stipulate that you hand
us over immediately the box and its contents. You have them with you,
probably."

"No, we haven't," said Furse. "We could produce them, but, first of all,
we want to look for Simpson. His case is actually urgent, for the
probability is that he has got boxed up in some confounded secret chamber
and can't get out."

"You are quite right," said Fittleworth. "I know exactly where he is, and
I will make conditions with you. You produce the box and its contents,
and I will produce Mr. Simpson."

"And supposing we don't agree?" asked Furse.

"Then I am afraid we shall have to retain Mr. Simpson as security."

The long, humorous face of Mr. Furse wrinkled into a grim smile, as he
glanced inquiringly at his companion.

"What do you say to that?" he asked.

Mr. Tanner raised his eyebrows. "It seems to me, Warren," said he, "that
this gentleman has got us in a cleft stick. I guess we've got to agree."

Mr. Furse rose and looked at his watch.

"It'll take us well over an hour to produce that box. Say we are back
here in an hour and a half?"

"Then," said Fittleworth, "I think we can promise that you shall find Mr.
Simpson here when you return."

This arrangement having been agreed to, the two gentlemen departed,
Fittleworth and Katharine escorting them to the front door. As they
disappeared down the drive, the former turned to Katharine:

"Now, my dear, to the work of rescue. I think we shall have to take
Rachel into our confidence, as we shall want her assistance."

As a matter of fact, Rachel was lurking in the background, having scented
some sort of mystery, and Fittleworth forthwith put her in possession of
such of the circumstances as it was necessary for her to know; whereat
she was profoundly thrilled and highly gratified.

"There, now," she remarked, "that's what comes of poking and prying about
in other people's houses. But how are you going to get him out, sir?"

"He'll have to be hoisted up, I suppose," said Fittleworth. "Do you
happen to have such a thing as a length of strong rope?"

He asked the question somewhat hopelessly, stout rope not being a common
domestic appliance; but Rachel answered promptly: "There's the well rope,
sir, if you could get it off the windlass."

"I think we could manage that," said Fittleworth; "and then we shall want
some weights, about two hundredweight altogether."

This presented more difficulty, until Katharine conceived the luminous
idea of filling a couple of small sacks with earth, which solved the
problem perfectly.

In a few minutes they had collected these appliances and a lantern, and
carried them to the Chancellor's Parlour, when, having bolted the door,
they fell to work forthwith. First, the door of the cupboard was propped
open with a chair; then Fittleworth laid the two small, but heavy, sacks
of earth on the bottom shelf, and, the cupboard now being weighted, he
set the point of his walking-stick against the movable board at the back,
and gave a heavy thrust. Instantly there was a loud snap and the cupboard
rumbled away down the shaft, like a primitive lift, and as the great
bronze chain ran out, an enormous stone counterpoise was seen to rise at
the side. As on the first occasion, the cupboard stopped about ten feet
down and the floor dropped like the trap of a gallows. The next
proceeding was to light the lantern and attach it to one end of the
rope--the other end being secured, as before, to the table--by which
Fittleworth lowered it carefully down the shaft until he had paid out
some twenty-five feet. Then as its glimmer still showed nothing but the
walls of the shaft, and the view was somewhat obstructed by the cupboard,
he decided to go down and reconnoitre.

"I suppose that ladder's all right?" said Katharine.

"It seems to be," he answered. "The rungs are rusty, but they seem quite
firm and strong, and you may trust me to be mighty careful."

With this, he let himself over the brink and began slowly to descend,
watched anxiously by the two women from above, testing each rung
cautiously with his foot before throwing his weight on it. As he passed
the suspended cupboard the voice of Simpson from below hailed him with
the inquiry:

"Is that you, Warren?"

"No," answered Fittleworth, and continued to descend.

"Is it Bell?" asked Simpson.

Fittleworth again replied in the negative, but made a mental note of the
name. As he passed the lantern he saw that it had descended to within six
or seven feet from the bottom of the shaft, which was covered by a
considerable heap of ancient rags and mouldering straw and twigs, thrown
down apparently, by some humane person to mitigate the effects of an
accidental fall. At one side was a narrow doorway, cut in the chalk,
opening upon a short flight of steps, and on the top step a man was
sitting, nursing his bare foot.

It was a curious meeting. The light of the lantern reflected from the
walls of the narrow cavity, rendered the two men plainly visible to one
another, and the recognition was instantaneous. Fittleworth, of course,
"placed" his man without difficulty, but the other was evidently at a
loss.

"I seem to know your face," he said, looking critically at Fittleworth;
"but yet--where have I met you?"

"In the National Gallery," Fittleworth replied; and as the other's face
took on an expression of unmistakable alarm, he added: "I've not come
with hostile intentions. We will talk over our little business later; for
the present we have to consider how to get you out of this hole."

"I'm afraid," said Simpson, "that I can't climb the ladder.'

"No, of course you can't," replied Fittleworth, "we shall have to haul
you up. But if I fix you in a loop at the end of the rope, you can help
us by hauling yourself up with your hands. What do you say?"

Simpson thought the plan would answer admirably, and Fittleworth
forthwith set about executing it. First, he called up to Katharine to
lower a dozen feet more rope. Then, detaching the lantern from the end of
the rope, he made a good-sized bowline knot in the latter, and fitted the
loop round Simpson's hips.

"There," said he, "I will go up now and help them to hoist, and, when I
give the word, you take hold of the ladder and sit down in the loop of
the rope. As we haul, you must help yourself up by the ladder, and be
careful that you don't knock that unfortunate foot of yours, which we
must have attended to as soon as we get you up."

"It's very good of you," Simpson began; but Fittleworth, considering that
this was no time for the exchange of politenesses, began to re-ascend the
ladder. As he stepped out on to the floor of the parlour, he briefly
explained the arrangements to his two assistants, and then, having
shouted down a warning to the prisoner below, the three began to haul
steadily at the rope. It was probably an uncomfortable experience to
Simpson, but the plan was highly effective, and in a minute or so the
captive appeared at the top of the shaft, and was tenderly helped over
the perilous edge.

As he stood on one foot, supported by Fittleworth, he gazed confusedly
about the room, and asked:

"Where are the others? Warren and Bell, I mean."

"They've gone into Margate," replied Fittleworth, "but they'll be back
shortly. Meanwhile, if Mistress Rachel can lend us a bedroom, we will see
you comfortably settled, and send for a doctor."

"There's a spare bedroom over this," said Rachel, "and, as it's all
ready, we can take Mr. Simpson up at once, and then the boy can go off on
his bicycle and fetch Dr. Finlay."

"I'm sure," said Simpson, "it's exceedingly charitable of you all to take
so much trouble about me. It's more than I deserve, after--" he paused
to look doubtfully at Rachel, who, for her part, looked as expressionless
as a moderately benevolent graven image, and was equally uncommunicative.

"For the present," said Fittleworth, "we'll confine our attention to your
foot. When that has been attended to, and your friends arrive, we can
discuss other matters."

As soon as Simpson had been comfortably settled in the cosy,
old-fashioned bedroom, with a wet handkerchief applied to his ankle, the
party returned to the Chancellor's Parlour.

"Well," asked Katharine, "what is the next thing to be done?"

"The next thing," said Fittleworth, "is to make a little exploration on
our own account. There is evidently a chamber or tunnel at the bottom of
the shaft, and I propose to go down and see what's in it."

"Then I'm coming down, too," said Katharine.

At this Rachel protested most emphatically. "You'd much better not,
miss," she exclaimed. "Supposing you were to fall off the ladder!"

"I'm not going to suppose anything of the kind, Rachel. You'll let me
come down, won't you, Joe?" she added wheedlingly.

"I don't see why you shouldn't," replied Fittleworth, "it's quite an easy
ladder to climb. But we shall want Rachel to keep guard at the top, as we
do not want those two good gentlemen; so the housemaid had better be told
that, if they arrive before we have finished our explorations, they are
to be shown up to Mr. Simpson's room, and are to wait there for us."

The disapproving, but obedient, Rachel received the instructions with
resignation, and, having executed them and bolted the door, took her
place at the edge of the shaft with an expression of deep foreboding.
First, the rope was lowered to its former position, when Fittleworth,
steadying himself by it, got on the ladder and descended a few rungs;
then Katharine, also grasping the rope and herself frantically grasped by
Rachel, essayed the first few perilous steps.

"It's really quite safe and easy, Rachel," she said, as she clung
tenaciously to the rusty bars and let herself down cautiously, rung by
rung; and, with this assurance, the faithful handmaid was somewhat
comforted, though she continued to watch the disappearance of her young
mistress into the depths of the shaft with a face of horror and dismay.

The progress down the ladder occupied little more than a minute, and its
completion was duly announced for the benefit of the watcher above.

"I suppose," said Katharine, as Fittleworth picked up the lantern, "that
you didn't see anything of the mysterious 'it' when you were down here
before?

"No," he replied, "we are going to find 'it' together, Katie; at least, I
hope so. Be careful of those steps."

They descended the rudely cut steps, rounded by the damp and slimy with
fungous growths, and entered a narrow passage, of which the end was lost
in obscurity, and of which the floor descended at a sharp angle.
Fittleworth held the lantern aloft, throwing its light on the greenish,
sweating wails and the roughly-vaulted roof. There was something weirdly
impressive in the aspect of this ancient tunnel, which had probably seen
no light for centuries but that which now glimmered from the lantern. The
lapse of time was marked not only by that eerie vegetation that clothed
the wails, but by little stalactites that drooped from projections on the
roof, and sparkling stalagmitic masses which had begun to grow up from
the floor. But of traces of visitors there were none, excepting that, in
one place, under the mantle of vegetation there could be seen on the wail
some indistinct initials with a heart and the date 1594. Slowly the
explorers advanced down the sloping tunnel, descending at intervals short
flights of steps, which were placed at points where the direction of the
tunnel changed, and still there was no sign of any concealed object or of
any hiding-place. At length, on descending another short flight of steps,
they turned into a straight length of tunnel, at the end of which
appeared a bright spot of light, cold and bluish in tone as compared with
the yellow glimmer of the lantern--evidently daylight. They hurried
forward, and, passing a massive wooden gate, which had fallen back on its
decayed hinges, came to a roughly-built wall of chalk masonry which
blocked the tunnel. The spot of light corresponded to a space from which
one of the stones had fallen or crumbled, and Fittleworth had no
difficulty in climbing up and applying his eye to the hole.

"What are you smiling at, Joe?" Katharine asked, as a faint grin appeared
on Fittleworth's face.

His reply was to descend and assist her to take his place. It was a very
curious scene that she looked upon as she peered through the opening;
curious by reason of the contrast that it offered with this grim, old
tunnel, wrapt in sepulchral darkness and charged with mystery and
memories of a generation long since dead and forgotten. A sea cave with a
floor of weed strewn sand and the shining beach beyond; and near its
entrance a pair of very modern lovers, the swain industriously carving
their joint initials with a very conspicuous heart, while the maiden
stood by and encouraged him with admiring exclamations.

"So," said Fittleworth, as Katharine stepped down, "the world wags pretty
much in our days as it did in the year 1594. But, meanwhile, we seem to
be at the end of our explorations, and 'it' still remains an unknown
quantity. I wish I hadn't been so beastly cocksure with Warren, now."

"But it must be hidden here, somewhere in this tunnel," said Katharine.

"That doesn't follow at all. The purpose of these works is pretty
obvious, especially when we consider that the tunnel was cut at least as
early as the time of Elizabeth. They form a combined escape and death
trap. You see that we are looking in near the roof of the cave, and this
wall is probably built over a flight of steps. The idea clearly was that
a Catholic, or Protestant, as the case might be, could escape down the
shaft and out through the cave to a boat. If the pursuers discovered the
secret of the cupboard, they would probably be shot down the shaft and
killed; and even if they came down the ladder, they could be ambushed at
any one of these sharp turns in the tunnel."

"Then," said Katharine, in a tone of disappointment, "you think that 'it'
may be hidden in some other part of the house?"

"I'm afraid that's what it looks like," replied Fittleworth, "and, as we
don't know what 'it' is, or what its size may be, the search for it isn't
so very hopeful."

They turned and retraced their steps slowly through the zigzag tunnel
and, as they went, they spoke little and apparently thought much. Arrived
at the foot of the shaft, Fittleworth, with a reflective air, tied the
lantern to the end of the rope, and called out to Rachel to pull it up to
the level of the cupboard. Then they began the ascent, Katharine going
first.

When they reached the level of the cupboard, Fittleworth paused and
looked round.

"Wait a minute, Katie," said he. "I'm going to try a little experiment."

Katharine stopped in her climb and, looking-down on him inquisitively,
saw him reach across and grasp one of the bags of earth. A good pull
dislodged it from the shelf and it fell to the bottom of the shaft with a
dull thump.

"Be careful, Joe!" exclaimed Katharine. "You'll have the cupboard going
up and shutting us in."

"I want it to go up a little way," he replied; and descending a couple of
rungs, he put his hand to the bottom of the cupboard and pushed steadily
upwards; when the cupboard, relieved of a portion of its weight, rose
three or four feet and again came to rest.

"Eureka!" Fittleworth exclaimed excitedly. "I was right. I thought our
secretive friends would not waste such an excellent opportunity."

He followed the cupboard up a few steps and, giving it another shove,
sent it up a good six feet. Katharine gave a little cry of delight. In
the side of the shaft, at the spot that had been hidden by the suspended
cupboard, was a deepish recess, fitted with iron hand-holds, and pierced
by a narrow doorway. Grasping one of the hand-holds, Fittleworth stepped
on the ledge of the recess and entered the doorway.

"You're not to go in without me," Katharine commanded, letting herself
down in a mighty hurry.

"Very well," said Fittleworth. "Pass me the lantern across, and get a
good hold of that handle before you step on the ledge."

He took the lantern from her and, backing into the doorway, watched her
anxiously as she crossed to the ledge. The perilous passage accomplished,
he backed into the doorway with the lantern, and she followed him into a
short passage, and from this, into a small, square chamber. As he turned
and held the lantern aloft they both uttered an exclamation of joy; for a
single glance around the little cell, showed them that they had found the
object of their quest. On the floor, near to one wall, raised from the
damp surface on blocks of cut chalk, were three rudely-made chests,
clamped with iron bands and guarded by massive locks. Fittleworth threw
the light of the lantern on each in succession. All of them were roughly
fashioned, as if by a ship's carpenter, and each bore on the lid, in
incised lettering, the same inscription: "Shipp, James and Mary. Stowe in
ye lazaret"; and then in dotted lettering, as if marked with an awl or
marline spike, "His Majesty's Portion, W.P."

"'W.P.,'" mused Fittleworth. "That would be Sir William Phips, whoever he
was. Now, the question is, whose property is this? It's His Majesty's
portion, but did the king hand it to Sir Andreas as a gift, or only to
hold in trust for safe keeping?"

"Does it matter?" inquired Katharine, with feminine disregard for these
niceties.

"Yes, it does," replied Fittleworth. "If it belonged to Sir Andreas, it
is your property, but if it was the king's, it's treasure trove."

"Rubbish!" exclaimed Katharine. "King James' family is extinct, so
there's no question about his heirs; and finding is keeping. Besides,
it's in my house and was put here by my ancestor."

"You're a dishonest little baggage!" laughed Fittleworth, whose private
opinions, however, on the moral aspects of treasure trove were much the
same as those of most other sensible men, "but perhaps the document may
give us some further information. At any rate, it is satisfactory to have
found 'it' ourselves. And now we had better go up and see if our
understudies have arrived yet."

He helped Katharine across to the ladder and, as they emerged from the
shaft, to Rachel's unspeakable relief, the front door bell rang.

"That'll be Mr. Furse and his friend," remarked Rachel. "The doctor has
been and gone away again."

"Then," said Fittleworth, "they had better be shown up to Mr. Simpson's
room, and, when they are ready to see us, perhaps you will kindly let us
know."

He closed the door of the cupboard, and, as Rachel departed on her
mission, he drew two chairs up to the table.

"There's one thing I want to say to you," said Katharine. "Of course we
have found this property, whatever it is, ourselves, but we should never
have found it if it had not been for those three men. They are the real
discoverers."

Fittleworth assented somewhat dryly, and Katharine went on: "They've had
an awful lot of trouble, Joe, and they've been most clever and ingenious,
and when we broke in upon them they were on the very point of winning the
reward for all their labour."

"They hadn't found the hiding-place," objected Fittleworth.

"No, but I feel sure they would have found it. They are evidently
exceedingly clever men--almost as clever as you, Joe."

"Rather more so, I should say," laughed Fittleworth. "They did me in the
eye pretty neatly."

"Well, at any rate," said Katharine, ignoring this, "they discovered it
by sheer cleverness, did by taking infinite trouble, and it will be an
awful disappointment to the poor things to have it snatched from them at
the last moment."

"Well?" said Fittleworth, as Katharine paused interrogatively.

"Well, don't you think we ought to let them have at least a substantial
share of whatever is in those chests?"

Fittleworth smiled grimly. "It's a most irregular business altogether,
Katie. In the first place, I, an official of the Gallery, propose to
compound a felony by receiving the stolen property, which I fancy we are
not going to restore to the owner of the picture."

"Certainly not," said Katharine. "It wasn't his. It's mine."

"And then," continued Fittleworth, "we propose to make a perfectly illegal
arrangement with the robbers for disposing of certain treasure trove
which is the property of the Crown."

"Oh, stuff, Joe!" exclaimed Katharine. "It's my property, or at least
ours, and we're going to keep it, you know we are. Now, how much are we
going to give these poor creatures?"

"It's your property, Kate," said Fittleworth, with a grin; "at least, you
say it is, so you must decide."

"Very well," said she, "let us consider. There are three chests, one for
you, one for me and one for them. What do you say to that?"

Fittleworth, though secretly approving, was disposed to adopt the
cantankerous attitude of a trustee or adviser; but Katharine saw through
him at once.

"I'm glad you agree with me," she said, ignoring his protests. "We shall
enjoy our windfall so much more if we're not greedy. So that's settled.
And I think I hear Rachel coming."

A moment later the handmaid entered to announce that Mr. Furse and his
friends were ready to see them, and they adjourned, forthwith, to the
bedroom above.

"I hope," said Katharine, as they entered, "that the doctor has given a
favourable report, and that you are in less pain now, Mr. Simpson."

"Thank you," was the reply, "I am quite comfortable now. It seems that
it was only a severe sprain, after all."

Katharine congratulated him on his escape, and Mr. Furse--or Warren--then
opened the business with characteristic briskness.

"Now, sir, my friend, Pedley, late Simpson, is quite agreeable to our
handing over the box and contents on the terms mentioned, which, however,
must include immunity from any proceedings in respect of the picture."

"So far as I am concerned," said Fittleworth, "I agree, although such an
agreement is quite illegal, as you know. But the arrangement is between
ourselves and need go no farther."

"Quite so," said Warren. "But, does anyone besides Miss Hyde know that
you were on our track?"

"No. We acted quite secretly, and as the picture has been restored, no
action is likely to be taken by the authorities."

"Then in that case," said Warren, "and as you agree to our terms, I will
hand the property to Miss Hyde, and will let you have an account of our
expenses later."

With this he produced from his pocket a small paper packet, and, opening
it, displayed a small, plain, gold box, somewhat like an exceedingly flat
cigar case, which he handed to Katharine.

"The paper," said he, "is inside; and I may say, madam, that I believe
you will find it an exceedingly interesting document."

Katharine, having thanked him, opened the little box and took from it a
sheet of very thin paper, folded twice, and covered with writing of an
antiquated style and very pale and faded. Opening the paper, she ran her
eye quickly the writing, and then handed the document to Fittleworth.
"Perhaps you had better read it aloud," said she. Fittleworth took the
paper and examined it curiously. One side of it was occupied by what
seemed to be a list or schedule; the document proper occupied the other,
and it was with this that Fittleworth began:

"James, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and
Ireland, unto our trusty and well-beloved Andreas Hide and all other such
persons as may be concerned with these presents. Whereas the saide
Andreas Hide hath on sundry occasions contributed divers sums of money
for our use and service Now We do convey to the saide Andreas Our portion
of the treasure which Captain Sir William Phips of New England did lift
from the Spanish wracke at Hispaniola the saide share being of the value
of thirty thousand pounds sterling as sett forth in the accompt on the
backe hereof to be disposed of in manner following namely the saide
treasure to be secured by the saide Andreas Hide in some safe and secret
place to be held intact for Our use as occasion may require while the
present troubles continue and soe to be held if need bee during Our life
and that of Our Son James Prince of Wales to be faithfully rendered up to
Us or to the saide Prince upon Our or his demand as Our or his
necessities may require but upon Our death and that of the saide Prince
the saide Treasure to revert absolutely and become the sole property of
the saide Andreas Hide or the heirs of his body.

"Given under Our hand at Our Palace of White Hall on the twentieth day of
September in the Year of our Lord God 1688.

"JAMES R."

As Fittleworth finished reading, he glanced significantly at Katharine,
and Mr. Warren gave an approving nod. "So you see, Miss Hyde," said the
latter, "there is no question of treasure trove. This is your own
property, if you know where to find it. I need not say that if we had
known of your existence, we would have notified you. Rather foolishly, we
assumed that there were no heirs in existence--that the family was
derelict, and, of course, the good old laws of treasure trove don't
appeal much to an American."

"Naturally," said Katharine. "May we see what's on the other side?"

Fittleworth turned the paper over and began to read from the inventory on
the back:

"Three chests containing the King's share of Captain Phips' treasure as
follows:

"The first chest containeth,

"Twenty-one bars of golde

"Two large baggs pieces of eight

"Six parcels dust golde

"Three baggs coyned golde

"One bagg two hundred large pearls

"Two baggs unpolished stones (divers)."

At this point Fittleworth paused. "Is it worth while," he asked, "to go
right through the list? We shall have to verify the contents of the
chests presently, and we know the total value."

"Yes," said Warren, "I guess you'll find enough to pay our little
expenses, with a trifle over. And that reminds me that we should like, if
possible, to have the sum--which we will put at two hundred pounds--paid
in the actual contents of these chests. It has been quite a little
romance for us, and we should like some memento of it."

Katharine glanced significantly at Fittleworth, who then said: "I
understand that Miss Hyde wishes you to consider yourselves as partners
in this enterprise, and to take a substantial share of the treasure--"

"A third," said Katharine, "if you think that's fair."

"Fair!" exclaimed Warren. "It's a great deal more than fair, it's
exceedingly handsome; but I really don't--"

"You see," interrupted Katharine, "you are really the discoverers, and it
would seem such a tame ending to your little romance if you only took
away a few trifles."

Warren was about to protest, but Katharine continued: "We shall be very
unhappy if you don't take a fair share. Remember, we should never have
known anything about it but for your cleverness, and the daring way in
which you borrowed that picture. Come, Mr. Warren, I will make a
condition; you shall tell us how you did it, and then help us to get the
chests out."

To these not very onerous conditions the three Americans agreed after
some further protests and consultation between themselves, and Simpson,
or rather, Pedley, then asked: "I suppose the chests are stowed in that
place at the bottom of the shaft?"

"No, they're not," replied Fittleworth. "They're less than half-way down;
but I hope you'll be able to be present when they're lifted, which is the
next business that we have to consider, and a rather troublesome business
it will be, I expect."

The business, however, turned out to be less troublesome than Fittleworth
had anticipated, for the three enterprising American gentlemen, having
read the inventory, and knowing the nature of the treasure, had already
provided themselves with the appliances necessary for dealing with the
ponderous chests.

These appliances, consisting of a powerful tackle, a set of chain slings,
some wooden rollers, and one or two crowbars, were stored at their hotel,
from whence Warren and Bell proceeded to fetch them without delay. Then
Pedley, with his foot in a splint, was carried down to the Chancellor's
Parlour, and, the door being bolted, salvage operations began forthwith.
The tackle was hooked on to the great bronze chain that suspended the
cupboard, and the chests, one by one, secured in the slings, were dragged
on rollers to the opening into the shalt, and finally hoisted up to the
floor of the parlour.

The old room had doubtless looked on many a strange scene, but on none
stranger than that which was revealed by the light of the hanging lamp
and the candles that burned in the old silver candlesticks. The three
chests, wrenched open, despite their massive locks, by vigorously-wielded
crowbars, stood empty in a corner, and the five conspirators, seated
round the ancient draw-table, gazed upon a treasure that made even its
sturdy legs creak protestingly. Bars of gold--dull, soapy, and worthless
in aspect--bags of gold dust, uncut gems and antiquated coins, lay cheek
by jowl, with heaps of rings, trinkets, and ornaments of a suspiciously
ecclesiastical character. At the head of the table Katharine sat, with
the inventory before her, checking the items as they were called out by
Fittleworth, with the impressive manner of an auctioneer. It was late at
night before the ceremony was concluded; by which time the spoil, divided
into three approximately equal portions, had been returned to the chests,
of which one, allocated to the three adventurers, was duly marked and
secured with the chain slings, ready for removal.

"There is one thing," said Fittleworth, "that I should like to know
before we part. I can see pretty well how you got on the track of the
treasure, but I cannot see how you ascertained which of the stretchers
contained the gold box. I noticed that the canvas had been unfastened
only at the one end, so you must either have known beforehand, or made a
lucky guess."

Warren laughed complacently. "We Americans are a progressive people,"
said he, "and we have a way of applying recent scientific knowledge to
useful ends. We didn't know beforehand where that gold box was, and we
didn't have to make a shot. We just took the picture, in its case, round
to an electrical instrument maker's, and got him to pass the X-rays
through it, while we looked at it through a fluorescent screen. We
couldn't see much of the picture, but we could see the gold box plain
enough, so we just made a pencil mark over the spot on the paper in which
the case was wrapped. Is there anything more you would like to know?"

"If it wouldn't seem inquisitive," said Fittleworth, "I think we should
like to know with whom we have had the pleasure of sharing the plunder."

Warren rubbed his chin, and cast a comical look of inquiry at his two
friends; then, having received an assenting nod from each of them, he
replied: "We are sharing one or two secrets already, sir, and if I
mention that one of us is a Professor of History at a well-known
university in the United States and that the other two of us are
respectively Professor of European Architecture at the same academic
institution and Conservator of a famous Museum, why, then, we shall share
one secret more."

Three days later there arrived at the Captain Digby, where Fittleworth
was staying, a letter from the Director asking him to withdraw his
resignation. It was a gratifying circumstance, and he hastened to
communicate it to Katharine. But in the meantime she had also received a
letter--from her tenant, Mrs. Matthews--asking to be allowed to
determine the tenancy in a month's time. Katharine read her letter to
Fittleworth, and then, laying it down, asked somewhat abstractedly:

"Didn't you once say, Joe, that you would like to live in this old house
yourself?"

"I did," he replied, "and I repeat it most emphatically."

"Then," said Katharine, "Sir John will have to accept your resignation."

THE BRONZE PARROT

THE Reverend Deodatus Jawley had just sat down to the gate-legged table
on which lunch was spread and had knocked his knee, according to his
invariable custom, against the sharp corner of the seventh leg.

"I wish you would endeavour to be more careful, Mr. Jawley," said the
rector's wife. "You nearly upset the mustard-pot and these jars are
exceedingly bad for the leg."

"Oh, that's of no consequence, Mrs. Bodley," the curate replied
cheerfully.

"I don't agree with you at all," was the stiff rejoinder.

"It doesn't matter, you know, so long as the skin isn't broken," Mr.
Jawley persisted with an ingratiating smile.

"I was referring to the leg of the table," Mrs. Bodley corrected,
frostily.

"Oh, I beg your pardon!" said the curate; and, blushing like a Dublin Bay
prawn, he abandoned himself in silence to the consideration of the
numerical ratios suggested by five mutton chops and three prospective
consumers. The problem thus presented was one of deep interest to Mr.
Jawley, who had a remarkably fine appetite for such an exceedingly small
man, and he awaited its solution with misgivings born of previous
disappointments.

"I hope you are not very hungry, Mr. Jawley," said the rector's wife.

"Er--no--er--not unusually so," was the curate's suave and casuistical
reply. The fact is that he was always hungry, excepting after the monthly
tea-meetings.

"Because," pursued Mrs. Bodley, "I see that Walker has only cooked five
chops; and yours looks rather a small one."

"Oh, it will be quite sufficient, thank you," Mr. Jawley hastened to
declare; adding, a little unfortunately perhaps: "Amply sufficient for
any moderate and temperate person."

The Reverend Augustus Bodley emerged from behind the Church Times and
directed a suspicious glance at his curate; who, becoming suddenly
conscious of the ambiguity of his last remark, blushed crimson and cut
himself a colossal slice of bread. There was an uncomfortable silence
which lasted some minutes, and was eventually broken by Mrs. Bodley.

"I want you to go into Dilbury this afternoon, Mr. Jawley, and execute a
few little commissions."

"Certainly, Mrs. Bodley. With pleasure," said the curate.

"I want you to call and see if Miss Gosse has finished my hat. If she
has, you had better bring it with you. She is so unreliable and I want to
wear it at the Hawley-Jones' garden party to-morrow. If it isn't finished
you must wait until it is. Don't come away without it."

"No, Mrs. Bodley, I will not. I will be extremely firm."

"Mind you are. Then I want you to go to Minikin's and get two reels of
whitey-brown thread, four balls of crochet cotton and eight yards of lace
insertion--the same kind as I had last week. And Walker tells me that
she has run out of black lead. You had better bring two packets; and mind
you don't put them in the same pocket with the lace insertion. Oh, and as
you are going to the oil-shop, you may as well bring a jar of mixed
pickles. And then you are to go to Dumsole's and order a fresh
haddock-- perhaps you could bring that with you, too--and then to Barker's
and tell them to send four pounds of dessert pears, and be sure they are
good ones and not over-ripe. You had better select them and see them
weighed yourself."

"I will. I will select them most carefully," said the curate, inwardly
resolving not to trust to mere external appearances, which are often
deceptive.

"Oh, and by the way, Jawley," said the rector, "as you are going into the
town, you might as well take my shooting boots with you, and tell
Crummell to put a small patch on the soles and set up the heels. It won't
take him long. Perhaps he can get them done in time for you to bring them
back with you. Ask him to try."

"I will, Mr. Bodley," said the curate. "I will urge him to make an
effort."

"And as you are going to Crummell's," said Mrs. Bodley, "I will give you
my walking shoes to take to him. They want soling and heeling; and tell
him he is to use better leather than he did last time."

Half an hour later Mr. Jawley passed through the playground appertaining
to the select boarding-academy maintained by the Reverend Augustus
Bodley. He carried a large and unshapely newspaper parcel, despite which
he walked with the springy gait of a released schoolboy. As he danced
across the desert expanse, his attention was arrested by a small crowd of
the pupils gathered significantly around two larger boys whose attitudes
suggested warlike intentions; indeed, even as he stopped to observe them,
one warrior delivered a tremendous blow which expended itself on the air
within a foot of the other combatant's nose.

"Oh! Fie!" exclaimed the scandalised curate. "Joblett! Joblett! Do you
realise that you nearly struck Byles? That you might actually have hurt
him?"

"I meant to hurt him," said Joblett.

"You meant to! Oh, but how wrong! How unkind! Let me beg you--let me
entreat you to desist from these discreditable acts of violence."

He stood awhile gazing with an expression of pained disapproval at the
combatants, who regarded him with sulky grins. Then, as the hostilities
seemed to be--temporarily--suspended, he walked slowly to the gate. He
was just pocketing the key when an extremely somnolent pear impinged on
the gate-post and sprinkled him with disintegrated fragments. He turned,
wiping his coat-skirt with his handkerchief, and addressed the multitude,
who all, oddly enough, happened to be looking in the opposite direction.

"That was very naughty of you. Very naughty. Some one must have thrown
that pear. I won't tempt you to prevarication by asking who? But pears
don't fly of themselves--especially sleepy ones."

With this he went out of the gate, followed by an audible snigger which
swelled, as he walked away, into a yell of triumph.

The curate tripped blithely down the village street, clasping his parcel
and scattering smiles of concentrated amiability broadcast among the
villagers. As he approached the stile that guarded the foot-path to
Dilbury, his smile intensified from mere amiability to positive
affection. A small lady--a very small lady, in fact--was standing by
the stile, resting a disproportionate basket on the lower step; and we
may as well admit, at once and without circumlocution, that this lady was
none other than Miss Dorcas Shipton and the prospective Mrs. Jawley.

The curate changed over his parcel to hold out a welcoming hand.

"Dorcas, my dear!" he exclaimed. "What a lucky chance that you should
happen to come this way!"

"It isn't chance," the little lady replied. "I heard Mrs. Bodley say that
she would ask you to go into Dilbury, so I determined to come and, speed
you on your journey" (the distance to Dilbury was about three and a half
miles) "and see that you were properly equipped. Why did not you bring
your umbrella?"

Mr. Jawley explained that the hat, the boots, the fresh haddock and the
mixed pickles would fully occupy his available organs of prehension.

"That is true," said Dorcas. "But I hope you are wearing your chest
protector and those cork soles that I gave you."

Mr. Jawley assured her that he had taken these necessary precautions.

"And have you rubbed your heels well with soap?"

"Yes," replied the curate. "Thoroughly; most thoroughly. They are a
little sticky at present, but I shall feel the benefit as I go on. I have
obeyed your instructions to the letter."

"That is right, Deodatus," said Miss Dorcas; "and as you have been so
good, you shall have a little reward."

She lifted the lid of the basket and took out a small paper bag, which
she handed to him with a fond smile. The curate opened the bag and peered
in expectantly.

"Ha!" he exclaimed. "Bull's-eyes! How nice! How good of you, Dorcas! And
how discriminating!" (Bull's-eyes were his one dissipation.) "Won't you
take one?

"No, thank you," replied Dorcas. "I mustn't go into the cottages smelling
of peppermint."

"Why not?" said Deodatus. "I often do. I think the poor creatures rather
enjoy the aroma, especially the children."

But Dorcas was adamant; and after some further chirping and twittering,
the two little people exchanged primly affectionate farewells; and the
curate, having popped a bull's eye in his mouth, paddled away along the
foot-path, sucking joyously.

It is needless to say that Mrs. Bodley's hat was not finished. The curate
had unwisely executed all his other commissions before calling on the
milliner; had ordered the pears, and even tested the quality of one or
two samples; had directed the cobbler to send the rector's boots to the
hat-shop; and had then collected the lace, black lead, cotton, pickles
and the fresh haddock and borne them in triumph to the abode of Miss
Gosse. It appeared that the hat would not be ready until seven o'clock in
the evening. But it also appeared that tea would be ready in a few
minutes. Accordingly, the curate remained to partake of that meal in the
workroom, in company with Miss Gosse and her "hands"; and having been fed
to bursting-point with French rolls and cake, left his various belongings
and went forth to while away the time and paint the town of Dilbury--not
exactly red, but a delicate and attenuated pink.

After an hour or so of rambling about the town, the curate's errant
footsteps carried him down to the docks, where he was delighted with the
spectacle of a military transport, just home from West Africa,
discharging her passengers. The khaki-clad warriors trooped down the
gang-planks and saluted him with cheerful greetings as he sat on a
bollard and watched them. One even inquired if his--Mr. Jawley's--mother
knew he was out; which the curate thought very kind and attentive
of him. But what thrilled him most was the appearance of the chaplain; a
fine, portly churchman with an imposing, coppery nose, who was so
overjoyed at the sight of his native land that he sang aloud; indeed, his
emotion seemed actually to have affected his legs, for his gait was quite
unsteady. Mr. Jawley was deeply affected.

When the soldiers had gone, he slowly retraced his steps towards the
gates; but he had hardly gone twenty yards when his eye was attracted by
a small object lying in the thick grass that grew between the irregular
paving-stones of the quay. He stooped to pick it up and uttered an
exclamation of delight. It was a tiny effigy of a parrot, quaintly
wrought in bronze and not more than two and a half inches high including
the pedestal on which it stood. A perforation through the eyes had
furnished the means of suspension, and a strand of silken thread yet
remained to show, by its frayed ends, how the treasure had been lost.

Mr. Jawley was charmed. It was such a dear little parrot; so quaint; so
naive. He was a simple man and small things gave him pleasure; and this
small thing pleased him especially. The better to examine his find, he
seated himself on a nice, clean, white post and proceeded to polish the
little effigy with his hand-kerchief, having previously moistened the
latter with his tongue. The polishing improved its appearance
wonderfully, and he was inspecting it complacently when his eye lighted
on a chalked inscription on the pavement. The writing was upside down as
he sat, but he had no difficulty in deciphering the words "Wet Paint."

He rose hastily and examined the fiat top of the post. There is no need
to go into details. Suffice it to say that anyone looking at that post
could have seen that some person had sat on it. Mr. Jawley moved away
with an angry exclamation. It was very annoying. But that did not justify
the expressions that he used, which were not only out of character with
his usual mild demeanour, but unsuitable to his cloth, even if that cloth
happened to be--but again we say there is no need to go into details.
Still frowning irritably, he strode out through the dock gates and up the
High Street on his way to Miss Gosse's establishment. As he was passing
the fruiterer's shop, Mr. Barber, the proprietor, ran out.

"Good-evening, Mr. Jawley. About those pears that you ordered of my young
man. You'd better not have those, sir. Let me send you another kind."

"Why?" asked the curate.

"Well, sir, those pears, to be quite candid, are not very good--"

"I don't care whether they are good or bad," interrupted Mr. Jawley. "I
am not going to eat them," and he stamped away up the High Street,
leaving the fruiterer in a state of stupefaction. But he did not proceed
directly to the milliner's. Some errant fancy impelled him to turn up a
side street and make his way towards the waterside portion of the town,
and it was, in fact, nearly eight o'clock when he approached Miss Gosse's
premises (now closed for the night) and rang the bell. The interval, how
ever, had not been entirely uneventful. A blue mark under the left eye
and a somewhat battered and dusty condition of hat and clothing seemed
reminiscent of recent and thrilling experiences, and the satisfied grin
that he bestowed on the astonished caretaker suggested that those
experiences, if strenuous, had not been wholly unpleasurable.

The shades of night had fallen on the village of Bobham when Mr. Jawley
appeared in the one and only street. He carried, balanced somewhat
unsteadily on his head, a large cardboard box, but was otherwise
unencumbered. The box had originally been of a cubical form, but now
presented a slightly irregular outline, and from one corner a thin liquid
dripped on Mr. Jawley's shoulder, diffusing an aroma of vinegar and
onions, with an added savour that was delicate and fish-like. Up the
empty street the curate strode with a martial air, and having picked up
the box--for the thirteenth time--just outside the gate, entered the
rectory, deposited his burden on the drawing-room sofa, and went up to
his room. He required no supper. For once in a way he was not hungry. He
had, in fact, taken a little refreshment in town; and whelks are a very
satisfying food, if you only take enough of them.

In his narrow and bumpy bed the curate lay wakeful and wrapped in
pleasing meditation. Now his thoughts strayed to the little bronze
parrot, which he had placed, after a final polish, on the mantelpiece;
and now, in delightful retrospection, he recalled the incidents of his
little jaunt. There was, for instance, the slightly intoxicated marine
with whom he had enjoyed a playful interview in Mermaid Street. Gleefully
he reconstituted the image of that warrior as he had last seen him,
sitting in the gutter attending to his features with a reddened
handkerchief. And there was the overturned whelk stall and the two
blue-jackets outside the "Pope's Head." He grinned at the recollection.
And yet there were grumblers who actually complained of the dullness of
the clerical life!

Again he recalled the pleasant walk home across the darkening fields; the
delightful rest by the way side (on the cardboard box), and the
pleasantries that he had exchanged with a pair of rustic lovers--who had
told him that "he ought to be ashamed of himself; a gentleman and a
minister of religion, too!" He chuckled aloud as he thought of their
bucolic irritation and his own brilliant repartee.

But at this moment his meditations were broken into by a very singular
interruption. From the neighbourhood of the mantelpiece, there issued a
voice, a very strange voice, deep, buzzing, resonant, chanting a short
sentence, framed of yet more strange and unfamiliar words:

"Donköh e didi ma turn. On esse?"

This astounding phrase rang out in the little room with a deep, booming
emphasis on the "turn," and an interrogative note on the two final words
There followed an interval of intense silence, and then, from some
distance, as it seemed, came the tapping of drums, imitating most
curiously the sound and accent of the words--"turn," for instance, being
rendered by a large drum of deep, cavernous tone.

Mr. Jawley listened with a pleased and interested smile.

After a short interval, the chant was repeated; and again, like a
far-away echo, the drums performed their curious mimicry of speech. Mr.
Jawley was deeply interested. After a dozen or so of repetitions, he
found himself able to repeat, with a fair accent, the mysterious
sentence, and even to imitate the tapping and booming of the drums.

But, after all, you can have too much of a good thing; and when the chant
had continued to recur, at intervals of about ten seconds, for a quarter
of an hour, Mr. Jawley began to feel bored.

"There," said he, "that'll do," and he composed himself for slumber. But
the invisible chanter, ignoring his remark, continued the performance da
capo and ad lib.--in fact, ad nauseam. Then Mr. Jawley became annoyed.
First he sat up in bed, and made what he considered appropriate comments
on the performance, with a few personal references to the performer; and
then, as the chant still continued with the relentless persistence of a
chapel bell, he sprang out and strode furiously over to the mantel piece.

"Shut up!" he roared, shaking his fist at the invisible parrot; and,
strange to say, both the chant and the drumming ceased forthwith. There
are some forms of speech, it would seem, that require no interpreter.

When Mr. Jawley entered the breakfast-room the following morning, the
rector's wife was in the act of helping her husband to a devilled kidney,
but she paused in the occupation to greet the curate with a stony stare.
Mr. Jawley sat down and knocked his knee as usual, but commented on the
circumstance in terms which were not at all usual. The rector stared
aghast, and Mrs. Bodley exclaimed in shrill accents:

"Mr. Jawley, how dare--"

At this point she paused, having caught the curate's eye. A deathly
silence ensued, during which Mr. Jawley glared at a solitary boiled egg.
Suddenly he snatched up a knife, and with uncanny dexterity decapitated
the egg with a single stroke. Then he peered curiously into the disclosed
cavity. Now if there was one thing that Mr. Jawley hated more than
another, it was an underdone egg; and, as his eye encountered a yellow
spheroid floating in a clear liquid, he frowned ominously.

"Raw, by gosh!" he exclaimed hoarsely, and, plucking the egg from its
calyx, he sent it hurtling across the room. For several seconds the
rector stared, silent and open-mouthed, at his curate; then, following
his wife's gaze, he stared at the wall, on the chrysanthemum paper of
which appeared a new motive uncontemplated by the designer. And,
meanwhile, Mr. Jawley reached across the table and stuck a fork into the
devilled kidney.

When the rector looked round and discovered his loss he essayed some
spluttered demands for an explanation. But, since the organs of speech
are associated with the act of mastication, the curate was not in a
position to answer him. His eyes, however, were disengaged at the moment,
and some compelling quality in them caused the rector and his wife to
rise from their chairs and back cautiously towards the door. Mr. Jawley
nodded them out blandly, and being left in possession, proceeded to fill
himself a cup of tea and another of coffee, cleared the dish, emptied the
toast-rack, and having disposed of these trifles, concluded a Gargantuan
repast by crunching up the contents of the sugar basin. Never had he
enjoyed such a breakfast, and never had he felt so satisfied and joyous.

Having wiped his smiling lips on the table cloth, he strolled out into
the playground, where the boys were waiting to be driven in to lessons.
At the moment of his appearance, Messrs. Joblett and Byles were in the
act of resuming adjourned hostilities. The curate strode through the ring
of spectators and beamed on the combatants with ferocious benevolence.
His arrival had produced a brief armistice, but as he uttered no
protests, the battle was resumed with a tentative prod on the part of
Joblett.

The curate grinned savagely. "That isn't the way, Joblett," he exclaimed.
"Kick him, man. Kick him in the stomach."

"Beg pardon, sir," said Joblett, regarding his preceptor with saucer
eyes. "Did you say kick him?"

"Yes," roared the curate. "In the stomach. Like this!"

He backed a few paces, and fixing a glittering eye on Byles' abdomen,
rushed forward, and, flinging his right foot back until it was almost
visible over his shoulder, let out a tremendous kick. But Byles' stomach
was not there. Neither was Byles--which, of course, follows. The result
was that Mr. Jawley's foot, meeting with no resistance, flew into space,
carrying Mr. Jawley's centre of gravity with it.

When the curate scrambled to his feet and glared balefully around, the
playground was empty. A frantic crowd surged in through the open house
door, while stragglers hurriedly climbed over the walls.

Mr. Jawley laughed hoarsely. It was time to open school, but at the
moment he was not studiously inclined. Letting himself out by the gate,
he strolled forth into the village, and sauntered up the street. And here
it was, just opposite the little butcher's shop, that he encountered the
village atheist. Now this philosopher who, it is needless to say, was a
cobbler by profession, had a standing and perennial joke, which was to
greet the curate with the words:

"How do, Jawley!" and thereby elicit a gracious "Good-morning, Mr. Pegg,"
and a polite touch of the hat. He proceeded this morning to utter the
invariable formula, cocking his eye at the expectant butcher. But the
anticipated response came not. Instead, the curate turned on him suddenly
and growled:

"Say 'sir,' you vermin, when you speak to your betters."

The astounded cobbler was speechless for a moment; but only for a moment.

"What!" he exclaimed, "me say' sir' to a sneakin' little devil-dodger,
what--"

Here Mr. Jawley turned and stepped lightly over to the shop. Reaching in
through the open front, he lifted a cleaver from its nail, and, swinging
it high above his head, rushed with a loud yell at the offending cobbler.
But Mr. Pegg was not without presence of mind, which, in this case,
connoted absence of body. Before you could say "wax," he had darted into
his house, bolted the door, and was looking down with bulging eyes from
the first floor window on the crown of the curate's hat. Meanwhile the
butcher had emerged angrily from his shop, and approached the curate from
behind.

"Here," he exclaimed gruffly, "what are you doing with that chop--" here
he paused suddenly as Mr. Jawley turned his head, and he continued with
infinite suavity:

"Could you, sir, manage to spare that cleaver? If you would be so kind--"

Mr. Jawley uttered a sulky growl and thrust the great chopper into its
owner's hands; then, as the butcher turned away, he gave a loud laugh, on
which the tradesman cleared his threshold at a single bound and slammed
the half-door behind him. But a terrified backward glance showed him the
curate's face wreathed in smiles, and another glance made him aware of
the diminutive figure of Miss Dorcas Shipton approaching up the street.

The curate ran forward to meet her, beaming with affection. But he didn't
merely beam. Not at all. The sound of his greeting was audible even to
Mr. Pegg, who leaned out of his window, with eyes that bulged more than
ever.

"Really, Deodatus!" exclaimed the scandalised Miss Dorcas. "What can you
be thinking about; in such a pub--" Her remonstrances were cut short at
this point by fresh demonstrations, which caused the butcher to wipe his
mouth with the back of his hand, and Mr. Pegg to gasp with fresh
amazement.

"Pray, pray remember yourself, Deodatus!" exclaimed the blushing Dorcas,
wriggling, at length, out of his too-affectionate grasp. "Besides," she
added, with a sudden strategic inspiration, "you surely ought to be in
school at this time."

"That is of no consequence, darling," said Jawley, advancing on her with
open arms; "old Bod can look after the whelps."

"Oh, but you mustn't neglect your duties, Deodatus," said Miss Dorcas,
still backing away. "Won't you go in, just to please me?"

"Certainly, my love, if you wish it," replied Jawley, with an amorous
leer. "I'll go at once--but I must have just one more," and again the
village street rang with a sound as of the popping of a ginger beer cork.

As he approached the school, Mr. Jawley became aware of the familiar and
distasteful roar of many voices. Standing in the doorway, he heard Mr.
Bodley declare with angry emphasis that he "would not have this
disgraceful noise" and saw him slap the desk with his open hand;
whereupon nothing in particular happened excepting an apparently
preconcerted chorus as of many goats. Then Mr. Jawley entered and looked
round; and in a moment the place was wrapped in a silence like that of an
Egyptian tomb.

Space does not allow of our recording in detail the history of the next
few days. We may, however, say in general terms that there grew up in the
village of Bobham a feeling of universal respect for the diminutive
curate, not entirely unmixed with superstitious awe. Rustics, hitherto
lax in their manners pulled off their hats like clock-work at his
approach; Mr. Pegg, abandoning the village street, cultivated a taste for
foot paths, preferably remote, and unobstructed by trees; the butcher
fell into the habit of sending gratuitous sweetbreads to the Rectory,
addressed to Mr. Jawley, and even the blacksmith, when he had recovered
from his black eye, adopted a suave and conciliatory demeanour.

The rector's wife, alone, cherished a secret resentment (though outwardly
attentive in the matter of devilled kidneys and streaky bacon), and urged
the rector to get rid of his fire-eating subordinate; but her plans
failed miserably. It is true that the rector did venture tentatively to
open the subject to the curate, who listened with a lowering brow and
sharpened a lead pencil with a colossal pocket-knife that he had bought
at a ship-chandlers in Dilbury. But the conclusion was never reached.
Distracted, perhaps, by Mr. Jawley's inscrutable manner, the rector
became confused and, to his own surprise, found himself urging the curate
to accept an additional twenty pounds a year, an offer which Mr. Jawley
immediately insisted on having in writing.

The only person who did not share the universal awe was Miss Dorcas; for
she, like the sun-dial, "numbered only the sunny hours." But she
respected him more than any; and, though dimly surprised at the rumours
of his doings, gloried in secret over his prowess.

Thus the days rolled on and Mr. Jawley put on flesh visibly. Then came
the eventful morning when, on scanning the rector's Times, his eye
lighted on an advertisement in the Personal Column:

"Ten pounds reward. Lost; a small, bronze effigy of a parrot on a square
pedestal; the whole two and a half inches high. The Above Reward will be
paid on behalf of the owner by the Curator of the Filmographical
Department of the British Museum, who has a photograph and description of
the object."

Now Mr. Jawley had become deeply attached to the parrot. But after all it
was only a pretty trifle, and ten pounds was ten pounds. That very
afternoon, the Curator found himself confronted by a diminutive clergyman
of ferocious aspect, and hurriedly disgorged ten sovereigns after
verifying the description; and to this day he is wont to recount, as an
instance of the power of money, the remarkable change for the better in
the clergyman's manners when the transaction was completed.

It was late in the afternoon when Mr. Jawley re appeared in the village
of Bobham. He carried a gigantic paper parcel under one arm, and his
pockets bulged so that he appeared to suffer from some unclassified
deformity. At the stile, he suddenly encountered Mr. Pegg, who prepared
for instant flight, and was literally stupefied when the curate lifted
his hat and graciously wished him "good evening." But Mr. Pegg was even
more stupefied when a few minutes later, he saw the curate seated on a
doorstep with the open parcel on his knees, and a mob of children
gathered around him. For Mr. Jawley, with the sunniest of smiles, was
engaged in distributing dolls, peg-tops, skipping-ropes and little wooden
horses, to a running accompaniment of bull's-eyes, brandy balls and other
delicacies, which he produced from inexhaustible pockets. He even offered
Mr. Pegg, himself, a sugar-stick which the philosophic cordwainer
accepted with a polite bow and presently threw over a wall. But he
pondered deeply on this wonder and is probably pondering still in common
with the other inhabitants of Bobham.

But though, from that moment, Mr. Jawley became once more the gentlest
and most amiable of men, the prestige of his former deeds remained;
reverential awe attended his footsteps abroad, devilled kidneys and
streaky bacon were his portion at home; until such time as Miss Dorcas
Shipton underwent a quieter metamorphosis and became Mrs. Deodatus
Jawley.

And thereafter he walked, not only amidst reverence and awe, but also
amidst flowers and sunshine.

P.S.--The curious who would know more about the parrot, may find him on
his appropriate shelf in the West African Section, and read the large,
descriptive label which sets forth his history:

"Bronze gold-weight in the form of a parrot. This object was formerly the
property of the great Ashanti War Chief, Amankwa Tia, whose clan totem
was a parrot. It was worn by him, attached to his wrist, as an amulet or
charm and, when on a campaign, a larger copy of it, of gilded wood, was
carried by the chief herald, who preceded him and chanted his official
motto. It may be explained here that each of the Ashanti generals had a
distinguishing motto, consisting of a short sentence, which was called
out before him by his heralds when on the march, and repeated, with
remarkably close mimicry, by the message drums. Thus, when several bodies
of troops were marching through the dense forest, their respective
identities were made clear to one another by the sound of the chant on
the drums. Amankwa Tia's motto was: 'Donköh e didi ma turn. On esse?'
Which may be translated '(Foreign) Slaves revile me. Why?' A somewhat
meaningless sentence, but having, perhaps, a sinister significance."

POWDER BLUE AND HAWTHORN

PART I

MR. HENRY PALMER looked furtively, but critically, at Dr. Macmuffigan. He
had been told that on Friday night he would most probably find the doctor
drunk. And so it had turned out. But the question that agitated Mr.
Primer was: how drunk was he, and, above all, was he drunk enough?

A delicate and difficult question this. Afflicted persons are apt to
spring surprises on one. The near sighted man, with a squint to boot, who
ought to be as blind as a bat, will sometimes develop a disconcerting
acuteness of vision; one-legged men astonish us with incredible feats of
agility; the uncertainty of the deaf is a matter of daily observation;
while as to the drunk, proverbial philosophy has actually devised for
them a special directing Providence. So Mr. Palmer watched the doctor
narrowly and with anxious speculation.

"And how long has this friend of yours been ill?" demanded the latter
huskily, and with a slight brogue.

"At intervals, for a week or two," replied Mr. Palmer; "but the last
attack only came on this morning."

"And I suppose you want me to come this very moment?" said Dr.
Macmulligan aggressively.

"If you could," replied Palmer. "He's in a very critical state."

"I know," growled Macmulligan. "It is the old story. Put off sending for
the doctor till the patient's at the last gasp, and then drag him away
from his dinner or out of his bed."

"I'm sorry," said Palmer; "but may I take it that you'll come?"

"I suppose ye may," replied the doctor. "Juty is juty, though 'tis
devilish unpleasant. Give me the name and address, and I'll be with you
in a jiffy."

He opened a manuscript book, and, dipping his pen in an open jar of cough
lozenges, stared interrogatively at Mr. Palmer. The latter noticed the
circumstance approvingly, and decided that Dr. Macmulligan would do.

Sheerness Harbour, that is the wide estuary of the Medway, at nine
o'clock on an autumn night, with a brisk sou'-wester and driving rain, is
no ideal sailing ground. Dr. Macmulligan, hunched up in the stern sheets
of the boat, swore continuously, with exacerbations as the spray slapped
his face and trickled down the collar of his mackintosh.

"It's a disagreeable journey that I've brought you," Palmer said
apologetically; "beastly cold, too. May I offer you a little refresher to
keep the weather out?" and here he produced from a locker a large flat
bottle and a tumbler.

"'Dade! but you may," the doctor replied with alacrity; "'tis cold
enough to freeze a brass monkey." He took the flat bottle, and, with
unexpected steadiness, poured out half a tumblerful, and, having sniffed
at it approvingly, took a quick gulp and drew a deep breath. "'Tis a fine
whisky that," he remarked, with another gulp in verification. "I'd like
to know your wine merchant, sir."

Palmer laughed. "So I suspect," said he, "would some of the gentlemen at
the Custom House."

The suggestion contained in that last remark so gratified the doctor that
he could do no less than pledge the wine merchant anew; and, in fact, by
the time the boat's fore-foot grated on the little hard on the Isle of
Grain, the flat bottle contained nothing but convivial memories.
Nevertheless, as they fought their way through wind and rain, the
doctor's comparative steadiness of gait filled his conductor with
surprise and secret uneasiness. But the thing had to be carried through
now, and bracing himself for the final scene, he rapped softly on the
door of a lonely house on the marshes.

In a few moments the door was unfastened, and its opening revealed a man,
holding a candle in one hand, and, in the other, a handkerchief with
which he mopped his eyes. He blinked inquiringly at the new-comers, and
asked dejectedly: "Is that the doctor, Henry?"

"Yes," replied Palmer, "I hope--"

Here he paused, and the other shook his head sadly. "Come in," said he;
and, as they followed him into the dismal room, on the table of which
another fiat bottle and three tumblers were set out, he continued: "It
happened less than an hour after you left, Henry. I suppose the doctor
may as well see him?"

"And phwat for?" demanded the doctor, adding somewhat obscurely: "D'ye
take me for Lazarus?"

To this the dejected man made no reply, but, taking up the candle, stole
out of the room on tiptoe and began to ascend the stairs, followed by
Palmer and the protesting doctor. Silently they crept up--excepting the
doctor, who missed a step half-way up, and commented hoarsely on the
circumstance--to a door on the first floor, which their conductor
noiselessly opened and beckoned them to enter.

The room was in total darkness save for the light of the candle, which
showed a large bed by the wall, and lying on it, on the farther side, a
motionless figure covered by a sheet. The man with the candle tiptoed to
the bed, and reverently drawing back the sheet, let the flickering light
fall on the uncovered face. And a ghastly face it was with its dead-white
skin, its bandaged jaws, and the two pennies resting on the eyelids, and
looking, in the dim light, like the dark shadows of empty sockets.

Palmer and his friend gazed sadly at the still figure and sighed deeply.
But the doctor was less affected. After a single glance at the bed, he
turned away with a grunt, remarking: "We've had our trip in the wet for
nothing. 'Twas an undertaker ye wanted," and with this he proceeded
cautiously to descend the stairs to the more cheerful room below, whither
the other two men shortly followed.

"I suppose," said Palmer, as he mixed the doctor a glass of toddy, "we
shall want a certificate?"

Macmulligan nodded.

"You couldn't write it now and save a journey?"

"No; I don't carry the forms about with me," the doctor replied, adding
with a bibulous twinkle, "Ye see, me patients are usually alive--to
begin with, at any rate. But ye'll have to put me across in the boat, so
ye can come to the surgery and get the certificate. And ye can call on
the undertaker and fix up the funeral, too. 'Tis best to get these
affairs settled quickly. Ye don't want a corpse in the house longer than
ye can help."

Having delivered this advice gratis, the medicus emptied his tumbler, and
rose. Palmer buttoned his oilskin coat, and the three men went out to the
door. The rain had now ceased, but as the two voyagers stepped forth into
the night a chilly wind swept across the marshes and the low murmur of
breaking waves came up from the shore. The man who was left behind
watched the two figures as they receded down the rough path, and, as they
disappeared, he stepped into the sitting-room, and, taking a pair of
marine glasses from a shelf, went out and followed the other two
stealthily down the path. Through the glasses he watched them get into
the boat, saw them push off and hoist the sail, and then, as the dim
shape of the latter faded into the darkness, he returned to the house and
shut the door.

Having replaced the binoculars, he once more took the candle and ascended
the stairs. But not on tip toe this time. Taking the stairs two at a
time, he walked briskly into the chamber of death, and set the candle on
a chest of drawers.

"It's all clear, Joe," said he. "I've seen 'em start across."

On this the figure on the bed pushed back the sheet and sat up, and
having adroitly caught the two pennies as they dropped, spun them in the
air, and began to untie the jaw bandage.

"Yah!" he exclaimed, wagging his chin up and down. "What a relief it is
to get that beastly thing off! Chuck us my dressing-gown, Tom, and a
towel to wipe off this powder."

He stood up, stretching himself, and, having donned the dressing gown and
wiped his face briskly, descended with his companion to the lower room.

"So much for act one," he remarked, pouring him self out a "tot" of
whisky. "We're safe for the certificate, I suppose, Barratt?"

"Yes," replied Barratt, "and for the burial order. We've got over the
main difficulty. All the rest is plain sailing."

"It may be," rejoined the other, "but it's deuced complicated. Just run
over the programme again, and see if I can get it into my thick head."

Barratt took up a position on the hearthrug with an expository air, and
proceeded to explain. "It's really quite simple," said he, "so far as
getting the stuff is concerned. The difficulty was to find a safe place
to stow it until the hue and cry was over, and we've done that. The
programme now is: First, we've got to get the local undertaker to make us
a coffin to measurements that Palmer will give him, and deliver it to
Palmer, who will bring it across in the boat; and there'll have to be a
lead coffin inside, which he'll have to leave open for us to solder down.
I think Palmer will be able to manage that. Then, when we have got the
coffin, Palmer takes the boat up to East Haven Creek by Canvey Island,
and leaves her there. Next, he and I call at the premises--properly made
up, of course--with your duplicate keys, and some dummy specimens in
cases and ask the caretaker for a receipt for them.

"While he is unpacking the cases, we grab him from behind and run him
down to the strong room and lock him in. Then we open the door for you
and you show us where the most classy articles are kept. 'While we are
packing them in the cases, you go and give Jim Baker the tip, and he
brings his car round--with the wrong number plate on it. We carry the
cases out--they will be quite small ones--and stow them in the car, get
in ourselves, and away we go. It's all quite simple and straightforward,
broad daylight, nothing suspicious about it, cases always going in and
out there. Well; Jimmy runs us down near to the creek. It will be dark by
then. We get out and carry the case across the marshes to the boat, drop
down with the tide and sail across here. Meanwhile, Jimmy slithers away,
and when he gets to a quiet place at a safe distance changes his number
plate. Then off he scoots to Norwich. They can suspect him if they
please, but they won't find any of the stuff about him, because it will
be safely screwed down in the late William Brunton's coffin."

"Then, are you going to send the coffin to Gravelham by rail?"

"No; too much fuss and too many papers and records in the company's
books. I shall send the burial order to Allen, the undertaker, and tell
him the coffin is coming by barge. Then he will collect it and make all
the arrangements for the funeral; and I shall stipulate that the remains
are to be deposited in the catacombs, not in a grave or vault. That's why
we've got to have a lead coffin."

"You say you've got a key of the catacombs?"

"Not a key; a squeeze. I got it about the time I first thought of this
little jaunt, when you were taking the squeeze from the keys of your late
employer, like a faithful and trustworthy private secretary--"

"Oh, chuck that!" interrupted the other irritably. "You needn't jeer
after having egged me on to do it."

"Righto, Murray, old man," said Barratt with a cynical grin, "we'll get
back to the business. Mr. Allen will arrange a nice quiet funeral, and
when we have followed our dear departed brother to his last resting
place--for the present--we can take a little holiday and let things
settle down. Do you follow the process?"

"I think so," replied Murray, "and it seems quite a neat plan."

"Neat!" exclaimed Barratt; "it's positively masterly. Just consider! Here
we've got a bulky swag that we can't melt and we can't break up, and
which, if it were all together, would give us away instantly; and yet
which is quite negotiable piece by piece. All we want is a safe
hiding-place, and, by Jove! we've got it. These catacombs are better than
any bank or safe deposit. When we want to raise the wind, all we've got
to do is to call on the late lamented, and hook out one or two pieces.
The Yankee collector will do the rest."

"But are the catacombs quite accessible?"

"Bless you!" laughed Barratt, "they seem to have been built for the very
purpose. The cemetery is outside the town, and all you've got to do is to
get over the wall; you can bring a ladder if you like, there's no one to
interfere. I tell you, Murray, this little investment will yield us an
income for years."

"So it ought," growled Murray. "It will take something substantial to
recompense me for all that I've gone through."

On which Barratt grinned once more, and cut off the end of a cigar.

PART II

MR. EDWARD ALLEN, Furnisher and Undertaker, stood in his little office,
rubbing his hands softly and sympathetically, as four bereaved gentlemen,
in correct, but unostentatious mourning, were ushered in. The names by
which he knew then are not material to this history; to us they are known
respectively as Thomas Barratt, Henry Palmer, Joseph Murray, and Jimmy
Baker.

"I am deeply concerned, gentlemen," said Mr. Allen, giving his hands an
extra rub, "to inform you that the coffin has not yet arrived. The
weather, as you know, has been somewhat boisterous, and doubtless the
barge has been delayed by the exigencies of navigation."

The four men looked at one another uneasily, and Mr. Allen continued: "We
may expect it at any moment. My conveyance is waiting at the wharf, and
the mourning carriage is in readiness to start the instant the coffin
arrives."

At these unwelcome tidings the countenances of the four mourners assumed
an expression admirably in keeping with the business on hand, though,
during the temporary absence of the undertaker, they exchanged remarks
which might have sounded slightly out of character. However, there was
nothing for it but to wait on the vagaries of wind and tide; and this
they did, with outward calm and inward tumult of spirit.

As some three-quarters of an hour passed, their nervous tension
progressively increased. And then came a dramatic interruption. At the
door of the office the undertaker appeared in a state of manifest
agitation, accompanied by a seafaring man, whom Barratt instantly
recognised as the skipper of the barge.

"Gentlemen," the undertaker said, in impressive tones, "I deeply regret
to announce that a most dreadful thing has happened. It appears that the
coffin has been--er--temporarily mislaid."

The four men with one accord, sprang to their feet.

"Mislaid!" they exclaimed with one voice, and Jimmy Baker added: "What
the blazes do you mean by 'mislaid'?"

The undertaker indicated the skipper with a silent wave of the hand, and
the skipper stared sulkily at the sou'-wester that he held.

"Overboard," he remarked stolidly.

"What?" shrieked Barratt.

"Overboard it is," the skipper persisted doggedly.

"But, how did it happen?" demanded Palmer.

"Why, d'ye see," replied the skipper, in even, unimpassioned tones,
"'twas like this here: we set that there coffin across the fo'ksl
scutfie, to be out o' the way like, 'cos my mate, he didn't like a-havin'
of it aboard. Said as how it'd bring trouble on us; and right he were,
sure enough. We hadn't fair got out through the Jenkin afore it began. Up
comes a bloomin' collier a-hootin' like blazes and nearly wipes the paint
off our quarter; then up we bumps agin the Yantlet Buoy, and I reckon
that started the bloomin' corfin a-travellin', though we didn't twig it.
Then up comes a regilar squall from west'ard, and lays us right over to
leeward--nearly capsized us, that there squall did, and I reckon the
lurch we took give that corfin another lift. But we never noticed nothin'
cos, just then, a steam trawler an' a collier an' a Rooshian timber boat
all comes on top of us together a-bellerin' like bulls o' Bashan. Thought
we was bound for the cellar that time, I did, and so did my mate. But we
jest managed to get 'er about afore the timber boat 'it us, and, as we
come up, we takes a sea right over the 'ead. That's what done it, I
reckon, but we didn't spot it, you understand. Well, when we was clear o'
them blighters, I says to my mate, I says: 'Bill,' I says, 'jest run
forrard and take a turn of a rope's end round that there corfin.' So he
'ooks it forrard, and then I 'ears 'im' oller out. 'Joe,' he says, 'there
ain't no bloomin' corfin 'ere,' 'e. says. ''What!' I says. 'No,' he says,
'corfin's gone overboard,' 'e says, an' that's how it happened. I puts up
me 'elm, and we cruised about there for nigh upon a hower, but nary a
sign o' that there corfin did we see. Three times we was within a inch o'
bein' run down, an' we nearly smashed ourselves on the Middle Blyth buoy,
an' then we lost our tide, an' 'ad to bring up in Hole Haven. So now yer
know about it."

As the skipper finished his narrative, he surveyed his hearers with a
defiant stare, noting with some surprise the consternation that appeared
on the countenances of the four mourners. To his nautical mind it seemed
that the obsequies had been very satisfactorily concluded, and the
needless expense of a shore funeral saved. Even the undertaker viewed his
clients' emotion with secret wonder, and thought they must have been
exceedingly attached to the deceased.

"Well, Mr. Allen," said Barratt gloomily, when the skipper had departed;
"what's going to happen, and what is to be done?"

Mr. Allen was doubtful, but opined that the coffin would probably turn up
somewhere. "But," he added, "I don't suppose you want an inquest."

His clients certainly did not, and said so with much emphasis. Then Mr.
Allen developed the luminous idea of having some bills printed, or
advertising in the papers; and he had begun drafting an advertisement
beginning: "Lost, a coffin with contents," when Barratt interrupted him:

"The coffin was addressed to you, Mr. Allen," said he. "For security, I
painted the direction on the wood with Stockholm tar, so it won't have
washed off."

Mr. Allen was secretly shocked, but outwardly approving.

"A very wise precaution," said he, "and most fortunate under the
circumstances." Here he was called away for a short time, and during his
absence the four conspirators debated anxiously whether they should
scatter and watch the developments from afar, deputing the undertaker to
conduct the funeral, or whether they should take the risk of waiting for
tidings of the lost sheep. They had not reached any conclusion when Mr.
Allen returned, and, having decided to continue the discussion later,
they solemnly adjourned the proceedings and prepared to depart.

Just as they reached the outer door of the premises, a seafaring man of
truculent aspect entered, and stared around; and, looking out, they were
aware of four other mariners approaching up the street, bearing a large,
elongated object wrapped in a tarpaulin.

"Are you Mr. Allen?" the ship-man inquired, fixing a fierce blue eye on
the undertaker; and when the undertaker admitted his identity the seaman
continued: "I'm the master of the tug Peacock. Name of Swivells. I've got
a coffin consigned to you. Picked her up derelict off Yantlet Creek. Will
ye 'ave 'er? If you say yes, you've got to pay salvage; if not, I
delivers 'er to the Receiver of Wrecks."

Mr. Allen began cautiously to inquire as to the amount of the salvage
dues, when Barratt interrupted:

"We won't haggle for a sovereign or so, Mr. Allen. I'll settle with the
captain, if you will arrange to have the funeral carried out without
delay."

Mr. Allen bowed and hurried away, and so faithfully did he carry out his
instructions that when the five mariners came forth from the saloon bar
of "The Privateer," four singularly cheerful-looking mourners were in the
very act of scrambling into the mourning carriage.

Decency will not allow us to follow the proceedings further. On the ears
of the less callous Murray, the solemn and beautiful words of the Burial
Service jarred painfully, whereas, to Barratt, we have with regret to
admit that the references to the Resurrection merely associated
themselves with the projected liberation of the swag. And thus the
curtain fell on the obsequies of the late William Brunton, and thereafter
the funeral baked meats were consumed without tears or lamentation--quite
the contrary, in fact--in the festive neighbourhood of Piccadilly
Circus.

PART III

NEARLY six months had passed. The memory of the mysterious and successful
robbery, by which the famous Harland collection of Chinese porcelain was
plundered of its choicest gems, had faded from the minds of all but
professed collectors; and the funeral of the late William Brunton had
become to Mr. Allen and his friends as a tale that is told--and told
pretty frequently.

It was a dark night. The Parish Church clock had just struck half-past
eleven; the heavy goods train had just rumbled through the station, and
belated steamers were hooting on the river, when four men approached the
cemetery of Gravelham by a deserted footpath, and gathered under the
black shadow of the wall.

"Your show, Barratt," said a voice, resembling that of Mr. Jimmy Baker.
"I'll hoist you up while you fix the contraption."

In response, Barratt produced from his overcoat pocket a small rope
ladder of thin, tough line, with two iron hooks at the top. Being hoisted
up by the accommodating Jimmy, he fixed the hooks to the coping, got
astride the wall, and dropped down inside. The others quickly followed,
and the last one, having been hoisted up for the purpose, detached and
pulled over the ladder and refixed it on the inside. Then, leaving it
hanging, they stole off along the path towards the catacombs.

"This is a ghoulish sort of job," grumbled Murray, as they descended the
steps and stood in the well-like cavity before the grisly black doors. It
was certainly an eerie place. Even in the darkness they could see the
crumbling tablets on the moss-grown jambs, seeming to whisper of
dissolution and decay. A strange mouldy smell seemed to hang about that
grim portal, and as they waited while Barratt oiled the great key, the
wind stirred the big black doors until it sounded as if some one within
were stealthily groping for some means of escape.

At length the great key was inserted, the bolt shot back with a hollow
clang, and the gloomy door swung inwards with a long-drawn sepulchral
groan.

"Poof!" exclaimed Murray, breathing the musty air distastefully; "let's
have a light, Barratt, for God's sake!

"Wait till I've shut the door and stopped up the key-hole," was the
reply; and Murray heard with an uncomfortable thrill the heavy door
pushed to and the key turned from the inside. Then Barratt composedly
produced a reading lantern and, having lit the candle, threw its light
along a massive shelf and on the square ends of the row of coffins.

"Fourth from the end, I think," said Palmer, "but I'd better hop up and
have a squint."

And as he climbed up, Murray asked:

"How many are you going to take, Barratt?"

"Only three," was the reply; "two Powder Blues and a Red Hawthorn. It's
no use taking more than we've negotiated. Have you got him, Palmer?"

"Yes," replied Palmer, "it's all right. Stand by to catch hold when I
shove," and, stooping to grasp the end, he gave a heave that slid the
coffin well out beyond the edge of the shelf. His companions caught it,
and with some difficulty lifted it to the ground. Then Barratt produced
from his pocket a ratchet screwdriver of most approved design, and began
skilfully to extract the screws.

"Now," he said, as he picked out the last, and his companions each drew a
jemmy from his pocket, "stand by to hoist all together."

The jemmies were duly inserted into the well-pitched crack; Barratt gave
the words "One, two, three," and as he uttered the word "three" there was
a bursting sound, the lid tilted and slid off, and the four men sprang
back with astonished gasps. Barratt snatched up the lantern and threw its
light into the coffin, and from the four men came simultaneously muffled
cries of amazement.

There was a brief interval of silence, during which the conspirators
stood motionless as statues, staring with incredulous horror at the
coffin. At length Barratt spoke:

"You idiot, Palmer; you've sent us down the wrong coffin!"

Palmer stumbled round, and, lifting the lid, held it up to the light of
the lantern, which shone inexorably on the name-plate of the mythical
William Brunton, and on the tar-written inscription which had so shocked
the susceptibilities of the undertaker.

"It's our coffin right enough," said Palmer; "there's no doubt of that."

"Isn't there?" shouted Baker wrathfully. "Then perhaps you will tell me
how that old woman got into it, and what's become of our swag?"

"That's what we should like somebody to tell us," said Barratt, staring
gloomily at the coffin, and holding his handkerchief over his nose. "Some
one has butted in and upset our apple cart. Some one who'd got a
superfluous corpse."

"You're right, Barratt," said Murray. "Very superfluous, indeed. Look
here," and he advanced cautiously to the coffin and pointed to a ragged
hole in the throat of the repulsive figure within it.

"Yes," agreed Barratt, "there's no mistake about it. That old woman has
been 'done in.' Our coffin must have come in mighty handy for somebody
who was in a tight place. And by that same token, we're in a pretty tight
place ourselves. The sooner we get that coffin lid on again and clear
out, the healthier it will be for our necks."

The justice of these remarks was obvious. Willing and rather shaky hands
replaced the lid. The screws were run rapidly into their holes, and the
coffin replaced on its shelf. Once more the lock clanged, the gloomy door
swung open with a groan and closed forever on the tragedy of the late
William Brunton. A couple of minutes later, four dejected men trailed
along the dark footpath on a circuitous route to the station, and for a
while none of them spoke. It was Mr. Jimmy Baker who broke the silence in
a tone of deep exasperation:

"Well," he exclaimed, "you are a pretty lot of blighters! Just see what
you've done. You've blued about three hundred pounds of good money, and
what have you got for it? You've provided a free funeral for some old
Jude who wasn't wanted, and you've made one of her pals a present of
fifty thousand pounds worth of stuff. And where do I come in!"

"You don't come in at all," growled Barratt; "you go out--with the rest
of us; and devilish thankful you ought to be!"

PART IV

IT was about a month later that the Morland Telegraph published under
conspicuous head-lines the following announcement:

"STRANGE DISCOVERY OF THE HARLAND TREASURES

"The mystery which enshrouded the remarkable robbery from Mr. Harland's
collection of priceless Chinese porcelain has been resolved into an even
greater mystery. Yesterday morning, the Rector of Stoke, in the Hundred
of Hoo, walking down to the Blyth Sand to bathe, and looking round to
observe the effects of the recent gale, noticed with surprise the necks
of a number of blue jars standing up out of the sand. Picking one up, he
saw at once that it was a porcelain vessel of great beauty, and proceeded
with extreme care to disinter the remainder. Having some knowledge of
porcelain, he immediately recognised the pieces as Chinese vases and jars
of the kind known as Powder Blue and Hawthorn; and, recalling the late
robbery, he carefully conveyed them to his house and communicated with
the police. They have since been identified by Mr. Harland as his
property, and he is to be congratulated on the fact that the discovery
was made by so cultivated and conscientious a person."

The above paragraph was read with very different feelings by different
readers. To the four conspirators, and to the public at large, it only
made the mystery more profound. One man alone read in it nothing more
than the final closing of a painful chapter. Laying down the paper, that
man--a simple, white-haired bargeman--closed his eyes, and recalled the
tragic incidents of a stormy night some seven months ago. He saw himself
on his little barge, breasting the waters of the dark estuary, alone with
his turbulent, drunken wife. He saw her, in a fit of wild passion, rush
down to the cabin for the old-fashioned service revolver that he had
foolishly kept there. He saw her struggle out of the little hatch,
gibbering and threatening. He saw the flash and heard the loud report as
she fell sprawling on the deck, and recalled his stony horror as he stood
looking down at her corpse. And then, that marvellous interposition of
Providence! The mysterious bumping and tapping against the barge's side;
the floating coffin, so weirdly opportune; and then that great wonder
when, having painfully hauled it on deck and unscrewed the lid, his
knife, ripping open the lead case, had revealed no corpse, but a mere
collection of crockery! He recalled the dreadful exchange, the hollow
splash as the coffin went once more adrift; the secret landing on the
Blyth Sand; the careful interment of the china at high-water mark, and
the tremulously-spoken, though casuistically true report which he had
circulated next day that his old woman had slipped overboard in the
darkness. He recalled it all clearly with a sigh that was not wholly
regretful; then he opened his eyes, folded the newspaper and closed the
chapter for ever.

THE ATTORNEY'S CONSCIENCE

I SUPPOSE if I were a sensitive man I should not be writing this history;
or, at any rate, should not contemplate its perusal by strangers. For no
man cares to be written down a liar; and many will conceal an incredible
truth rather than run the risk. However, of these hyper-sensitive folk I
am not one. For a good many years now I have practised at the bar; and,
if that fact offers no guarantee of unimpeachable veracity it at least
furnishes presumptive evidence of a fairly robust moral epidermis. I may
not be believed; but the frankest scepticism will leave me undisturbed
and unabashed.

My connection with the surprising events that I am about to record, began
at the moment of my entering the shop of Mr. Reuben Solomon in
Booksellers' Row. The "Row" has been swept away some years by a
progressive County Council, and sorrowful ratepayers may look in through
the palings and see very expensive wild flowers blooming--but not paying
rates--upon its site. But in those days it was still standing, a happy
hunting-ground for the bibliophile and a perennial joy to the urban
artist; and Mr. Solomon's shop still gladdened the bookish eye with
colossal black-letter folios, antique volumes in rusty calf and dainty,
vellum-bound Elzevirs.

I found Mr. Solomon alone at the back of the shop dusting a range of
shelves with a feather brush, and at once noticed a departure from his
usual sprightly, genial manner. The worthy bookseller looked in decidedly
low spirits.

"Good-morning, Mr. Solomon," I said cheerfully; "I hope I find you well
this beautiful weather."

"Then you don't," he replied sourly.

"Indeed! I am sorry for that. What's the matter?"

He laid down the feather brush and looked at me gloomily.

"Balmy," said he.

"Balmy?" I repeated.

"Yes, sir," he rejoined. "Balmy." And then, as I stared at him in
astonishment, he added by way of elucidation: "on the crumpet."

I was exceedingly surprised. Solomon was a cultivated man--I might say a
learned man--and was not addicted to these coarse colloquialisms. But,
of course, I did not take him seriously. The diagnosis of insanity is not
usually made by the lunatic himself.

"You're out of spirits this morning, Mr. Solomon," I said.

"Spirits be blowed!" said he. "If I'm not going off my blooming onion
I'll--but there! it's no concern of yours, Mr. Mitchell. You've come to
see those books that I wrote to you about. I've made them up into a
parcel, as I thought you would like to take them home to look at at your
leisure. There are five of them--"

He broke off abruptly, and, to my amazement, began to retreat down the
shop in a most singular, stealthy manner, flattening himself against the
wall as if he were squeezing past some bulky obstacle, and watching
suspiciously the opposite range of bookshelves. When he was half-way down
the shop, he turned and almost ran out; and on following him into the
street, I found him earnestly examining the stock-in-trade of another
bookseller some three doors farther up.

"You were saying, Mr. Solomon--" I began.

"Yes, about that parcel of books. It is on the shelf over the fireplace.
Your name is written on it. Perhaps you wouldn't mind going in and taking
it. I find the shop rather stuffy just at present."

This was certainly very queer behaviour and most unlike Solomon, who was
in general the very pink of politeness. I was greatly puzzled; but, as I
was somewhat pressed for time, I went into the shop, found my parcel and
bustled off with it after a few hasty words to the bookseller.

As I had to call at the chambers of another barrister, I took the
opportunity to run up to my own and leave the parcel there; and, as the
books were of some value and were not mine, at present, I bestowed them
in the upper part of my bureau, and, according to my invariable habit,
turned the key. Then I went about my business.

From my friend's chambers I went across to the Appeal Court, in which I
was that day engaged. I lunched with the Q.C. with whom I was associated,
and when the court rose I went home with him to dine and talk over the
case.

I remained with him until past eleven o'clock. When I emerged from his
chambers in Paper Buildings, I perceived three persons--two men and a
woman--sauntering slowly up towards Crown Office Row and looking about
them with the leisurely air of sightseers. One of the men, who carried a
violin-case, was apparently acting as showman, and, as I overtook them, I
recognised him as a crony of mine, a law student named Leyland. I would
have passed with a flourish of the hat, but he hailed me to stop.

"I say, Mitchell, can you tell us where it was that Lamb lived with his
sister? Wasn't it Crown Office Row?"

"No; he was born in Crown Office Row, but the chambers where he and Mary
Lamb lived were in Mitre Court Buildings."

"Then," said Leyland, addressing the lady, "you will have to come and see
the place by daylight. The gate is shut now. We must get Mr. Mitchell to
show us round the old place some day; he knows every stone of it and who
lived in every house from the time of the Knights Templars downward. You
wouldn't mind, Mitchell, would you? Miss Bonnington is rabid on historic
associations."

"I should be proud and delighted," said I.

"It is a dear old place," said Miss Bonnington; "so peaceful and
monastic. How I should love to live here! But I suppose there are no Eves
in this Paradise."

"No," I answered. "It is given up to Adam and the serpent; especially the
serpent."

Miss Bonnington laughed: and a very pretty, musical laugh it was, and
very pleasant to listen to. Indeed, she impressed me as a very charming
young lady; sweet-faced and soft-spoken, though quite self possessed.

"I didn't know you played the fiddle, Leyland," said I, glancing at the
case in his hand.

"I don't," he replied. "This is Miss Bonnington's. I groan aloud on the
'cello, and Mr. Bonnington hammers the 'well-tempered clavier.' We've
been having a little revival meeting in my chambers."

Thus we chatted as we strolled quietly up the untenanted walk. My
appointment as future cicerone seemed to have served as an informal
introduction, and when we came to the corner of Fig Tree Court, we halted
to gossip awhile before saying good-night.

"What a very extraordinary old gentleman that was!" Miss Bonnington said
suddenly. "And how inquisitively he looked at us."

We all turned to follow her gaze, but the old gentle man had already
passed into the gloom of the narrow court and was little more than a
bulky shadow.

"He's a deuce of a size," said Leyland. "Looks like a turtle walking
upright."

"Yes," said Miss Bonnington, "but did you see how oddly he was dressed?
He seemed to have a cocked hat and gaiters like a bishop's. Would he be a
judge, do you think?"

I laughed at the idea of one of Her Majesty's judges going abroad in a
cocked hat and gaiters, and delicately suggested an optical illusion.

"Well," said Leyland, "you'll be able to see for yourself, presently. He
has turned into your entry. I expect he has come to offer you a brief."

"Then," said I, "I mustn't keep him waiting. Remember, that whenever you
are disposed for a historic prowl round the Temple, I am at your
service."

I shook hands with my newly-made friends and Leyland and betook myself to
number 21, Fig Tree Court, on the second floor of which my chambers were
situated. Slowly ascending the stone stairs, I speculated on the unknown
visitor of quaint aspect, until I at length reached my own landing. But
there was nobody waiting for me. Evidently Leyland had mistaken the
entry, for mine were the only residential chambers in the building.

I let myself in with my key, shut the heavy "oak," and was about to take
off my overcoat when my attention was arrested by a very strange
circumstance.

There was a light in my sitting-room.

It was very singular and rather disturbing. I stood in the tiny lobby
gazing at the streak of light--the door stood slightly ajar--and
wondering if it could possibly be a burglar, though burglary was
practically unknown in the Temple, and listening intently. There were no
sounds of movement or, indeed, of any kind except a faint, continuous
creak, curiously like the squeak of a quill pen. I stepped forward on
tiptoe, softly pushed open the door, and looked into the room.

What I saw astonished me beyond words. Seated at my open bureau, writing
rapidly with one of the quill pens which I, with an old-fashioned
lawyer's conservatism, still use, was a man, apparently a stranger. As
his back was turned to me I could not see what he was like, excepting
that he was excessively bulky, and that he wore a grey wig. This latter
fact puzzled me greatly. It is not customary for counsel to wear their
wigs in chambers at midnight, and I could see, moreover, that he was not
in his gown. It was very remarkable.

I watched him for awhile in speechless astonishment, a huge, unreal
silhouette against the light of the single wax candle that I always keep
in the antique silver candlestick on my bureau. He wrote on steadily with
a loud chirping of the quill, turned the paper over and continued on the
other side, and finally signed his name with an elaborate flourish, as I
gathered from a series of more vehement squeaks. Then he laid the pen in
the rack and helped himself to a pinch of snuff.

At this point I thought it expedient to attract his attention, and, to
that end, coughed gently. But he took no notice. I coughed again a little
louder, but still he appeared unaware of my presence. And then suddenly
it flashed upon me that I must have got into the wrong chambers. I do not
know why I thought this, for there was my own bureau with my own
candlestick on it, there was the parcel of books at the stranger's elbow,
and there was the high back of my Queen Anne chair cutting across the
tail of his wig. But the misgiving was so strong that I must needs steal
back into the lobby and softly open the outer door to satisfy myself.

No; there was no mistake. There was my own name "Mr. James Mitchell"
painted legibly above the lintel. Having ascertained this, I re-entered,
closed the door rather noisily and strode across the lobby. But now
another surprise awaited me.

The room was in darkness.

I stopped short expecting my visitor to come out. But he did not; nor was
there any sound of movement from within. Rather nervously I struck a wax
match and once more entered; and, as I looked round I uttered a gasp of
amazement.

The room was empty.

I stood for some seconds staring with dropped jaw into the dim vacancy
until the match burned my finger; when I dropped it and lit another in a
mighty hurry. For the idea suddenly occurred to me that this unwieldy
stranger must be a lunatic, and was perhaps at this moment lurking under
the table. Very hastily I lit the gas and stepped back to the door. But a
moment's investigation showed me that there was no one in hiding. The
room was undeniably empty; and yet there was no exit save by the door at
which I had entered. The affair was incomprehensible and beyond belief.
Not only was the room empty; there was no sign of its having been
entered. The bureau was shut, and when I stepped over to it and tried the
flap, I found it locked as I had left it.

Needless to say, I searched the entire "set." I lit the gas in the lobby,
the bedroom, the office and the little kitchen. I looked under the bed,
into the wardrobe, and opened cupboards that would hardly have hidden a
baby, much less the leviathan who had so amazingly vanished. And when I
had proved beyond all doubt that there was no one in the chambers but
myself, I went back to the sitting-room and gazed uncomfortably at the
bureau. Of course there could be only one explanation. The fat man was an
illusion; a figment of my own brain. There had really never been anyone
in the place at all.

This was all very well as an explanation, but it was not particularly
satisfactory. Hallucinations are awkward things. The brain that generates
non existent fat men is not a sound brain. And the circumstantiality of
the illusion only made it worse. For I could recall the fat man perfectly
as he sat with the candlelight filtering through the edge of his wig; and
now that I came to reflect on it, that wig was a very peculiar one. It
was not a barrister's wig at all, nor a judge's, in fact it was not a
horse-hair wig of any kind. It was softer and closer as if made of actual
human hair.

Reflection on the subject was so disquieting that I determined to dismiss
it from my mind; and, to that end, set about composing a letter which I
had to send off to a solicitor in the morning. Unlocking and opening the
flap of the bureau, I lit the candle, and, seating myself, took a sheet
of paper from the stationery drawer and picked up a pen from the rack. As
I turned over the opening paragraph of my proposed letter, and before I
had raised the lid of the ink-stand, I tried the point of the pen, as is
my habit, on my thumb-nail. How can I express my astonishment when, on
glancing at my nail after doing so, I perceived on it a little spot of
wet ink!

I was thunderstruck. Here, at any rate, was a tangible fact; and what
made it more conclusive was the circumstance that I had, that very
morning, placed a new pen in the rack and thrown the old one away. This
pen, therefore, now charged with wet ink, had never been used by me. It
was an amazing affair. I sat or a quite considerable time reflecting on
it, and might have reflected much longer, but that, happening to glance
at the pen in my hand, I perceived that it was perfectly clean and
unused. There was not a sign of ink on it, either wet or dry.
Instinctively I held up my thumb-nail and looked at it. But the spot of
ink had vanished; or, at least, there was no spot there, and, of course,
there had never been any spot. The wet ink, like the fat man, was an
illusion; the product of some disordered state of my own brain.

It was excessively disturbing, but it was useless to puzzle over it and
fret about it. No doubt the condition would pass, and meanwhile it were
wiser to ignore it, and quietly attend to my health. Thus reflecting, I
addressed myself to my letter, dipped my pen, wrote "Dear Sir," and
plunged forthwith into the matter. I wrote on with the easy fluency of a
man who is committing to paper that which is already in his mind, reached
the bottom of the page, turned over, finished the letter in a couple more
lines, and signed my name. Then I rose and fetched the letter-book from
my copying-press.

I had opened the book, and was about to take the brush from the water pot
when my eye chanced to fail on the letter that I had just written;
whereupon I fairly cried out with astonishment. For the name that I had
signed was not my own name, nor was it even in my own handwriting; and,
if anything could make the affair more astonishing, it was that I had
written down a name that was entirely strange to me--Phineas Desborough.
Who on earth was Phineas Desborough? and what was his confounded name
doing at the foot of my letter?

I don't mind admitting that I was now considerably alarmed, and that the
hand with which I picked up the precious document was far from a steady
one. So completely was I overpowered that I was sensible of no further
surprise on finding the matter of the epistle as strange as the
signature, or on seeing the purple copying ink fade before my eyes into a
spectral brown. My capacity for astonishment was exhausted. However, I
reflected grimly, there could be no breach of confidence in reading my
own letter, and accordingly I reseated myself and proceeded to run my
eye, with far from pleasurable curiosity, over the faded writing to
ascertain what I had been saying. I read the letter through with close
attention and now quote its contents with a clear memory. They were as
follows:

"16, Field Court, Gray's Inn,

"11th April, 1785.

"Madam,--Your esteemed letter of the 20th ultimo was duly received by me
with profound gratification. Pray permit me respectfully to acknowledge
the gracious condescension of your language towards one who has wrought
much mischief and who now makes restitution only on the verge of the
grave. It were better, I conceive, since your guardian must on no account
be privy to our meeting, that you should not be seen at my chambers. You
say that you will arrive in London on the evening of the 22nd instant,
and will be free from the observation of your guardian on the following
afternoon. That being so, I venture to give you the following directions:
Walk from your lodging at the Saracen up Fleet Street on the south side
and so through that arch of Temple Bar that abuts on Mr. Child's Bank. In
that arch I shall take my stand at three of the clock punctually, and
since the arch encloses but a strait passage, and my person (by reason of
my habit of body and the dropsy with which it hath pleased God most
justly to afflict me) will occupy the greater part thereof, you must
needs pass me so close that I may readily place the book in your hands
without being observed.

"Conceal the book most carefully ('tis but a small one), and when you are
quite private and secure from observation, carry a sharp pen-knife round
the line that I have marked within the cover so as to cut fairly through
the lining.

"I shall say no more, save that I have devised my entire property by will
to your brother Jonathan, and that I entreat you to advise me when you
have accomplished my directions and have the writing safely in your
custody.

"I am, Madam,

"Your Most obedient humble Servant,

"Phineas Desborough.

"To Mrs. Susan Pierpoint."

I laid the letter down and took a few turns up and down the room. Here,
at least, was no illusion. The circumstantial detail and the names of the
persons, entirely unknown to me, seemed to put that quite out of the
question. The thing that troubled me most was the ink, the change in
which admitted of no reasonable explanation. And, now that I came to
think of it, the paper itself had seemed to undergo some kind of
metamorphosis; a change that I had, as it were, noted subconsciously and
passed over at the moment. To make sure that this was actually the case,
I stepped over to the bureau and again took up the letter. And then I
stood like a graven image with the sheet of paper in my hand and my eyes
riveted on the opening words:

"Dear Sir,

"Bayste V. Jarvie,

"19, Fig Tree Court, Inner Temple, 18th May, 1901.

"Referring to our conversation of the 16th instant--"

I turned the page and looked on my signature "James Mitchell," of which
the ink was still fresh and purple. So Phineas Desborough's letter, like
the ink spot and the fat man, was after all an illusion.

But what an illusion! Even as I glanced over my own missive, couched in
the characterless phraseology of to-day, the more rounded periods of the
antique letter came fresh and word-perfect to my memory. There was
something out of the common here. Either some outside agency had by some
means gained access to my consciousness, or I was (to borrow Mr.
Solomon's graceful euphemism) "going balmy on the crumpet." And neither
alternative was an agreeable one to contemplate.

I placed my letter in an envelope, which I addressed but left open that I
might examine it in the morning and make sure that it had undergone no
fresh metamorphoses. Then I went to bed, to lie awake a full hour
meditating on Phineas Desborough and Mistress Susan Pierpoint and
wondering if there had ever been such persons or if they were merely the
products of a disordered brain.

Among my acquaintances in the Temple at this period was, as I have
already mentioned, a law student named Frank Leyland. I had a great
regard for Leyland. In the first place, he was a fine handsome young
fellow, and I have a partiality for good-looking people. Then he was
fairly bursting with health and good spirits, qualities which, also, I
appreciate highly. For your happy man is a benefactor to his species.
Just as one may gather knowledge from the wise, so, by contact with the
happy, may one improve one's spirits; a truth deserving of consideration
by the middle-aged.

It was on the following Sunday night that I encountered Leyland, emerging
with the other worshippers from the Temple Church, and--I regret to
say--yawning prodigiously.

"Why do you go to church if it makes you yawn?" I asked.

"Free lesson in elocution," he replied. "There's no model like a
good-class parson. Actor's no good; too florid. Lawyer's too prosy. But a
parson's the happy mean; a good style not hampered by matter. Are you
going home?"

"Yes, I was going home; to Fig Tree Court, that is to say."

"Why not come and smoke a cigar with me?" Leyland suggested.

Why not? I was not specially yearning for a solitude which was apt to be
disturbed by reminiscences of the late (or never) Phineas Desborough and
suspicions of crumpetic unsoundness.

"I've just bought a Wheatley's Pepys," said Leyland; and that settled it.
A minute later we were in his rather expensively appointed chambers in
Tanfield Court with a pile of his newly-purchased books on the table.

We overhauled the treasures one by one, dipping into them and sampling
passages, criticising illustrations and appraising bindings, until, at
the bottom of the pile, we came on Goodeve's "Real Property."

"I am glad to see you are not neglecting your studies," I said, nodding
at the forbidding volume, but not essaying to sample its contents.

"Oh, it's not professional enthusiasm," said Leyland. "I have a personal
interest in property law at the moment. That's why I bought Goodeve; but
now that I've got you here, I don't see why I shouldn't take counsel's
opinion instead of muddling it out myself."

"Neither do I. It will probably save time. Pass the tobacco-jar and
propound your riddle."

He pushed over the jar and a box of cigars. "The question is," said he,
"what is the position of a man who threatens to cut his only son off with
a shilling?"

"Well," I replied, "in my limited experience as a playgoer, his position
is usually in the middle of the hearth-rug, with his legs a-straddle, and
his hands under his coat-tails."

Leyland grinned cheerfully. "I mean his legal position," said he. "Can he
do it?

"That is a very vague question to come from a half-fledged barrister. The
question turns on the manner in which the property is held. If a man
holds his property absolutely, he can dispose of it absolutely; if he
holds it subject to conditions, he can only dispose of it in accordance
with those conditions. But why do you want to know?"

"Because my respected governor has expressed his intention--contingently--of
putting the process into operation on me."

"Indeed! Would it be indiscreet to ask why?"

"Oh, the usual thing. My matrimonial projects are not acceptable."

"Your father objects to the lady, you mean?"

"No; he has never seen her. But he jibs at her father. You see, my
governor is an old-fashioned country gentleman and he's nuts on his
family. God knows why. There seem to have been untold generations of
country bumpkins bearing our name, and, for some reason, he is proud of
the fact, and considers us the salt of the earth. Now, the lady's father
is a musician; he plays the organ and teaches music. Also he is not a
millionaire. But the organ is the real trouble. My governor says he's not
going to have his son marrying the daughter of a damned organ-grinder. So
there you are."

"It's not delicately put," I remarked.

"No, the gov's a rude old man when he's put out. But it's such confounded
nonsense. The musician's is a noble profession, and, as to the organ, why
it's the Zeus of the instrumental Olympus. Think of all the great men who
have played the organ. There's Mozart and Bach, and Handel himself--"

"And Johnny Morgan," I interrupted; but by Leyland's feeble smile I saw
that he had never heard the old song, and so missed the point of the
joke.

"Well, the upshot of it is," Leyland concluded, "that the governor
refuses his consent. He says if I marry the daughter I can apprentice
myself to her father, and he will furnish me with one shilling sterling,
and the price of a monkey.

"Why a monkey?" I asked.

"Oh, he seems to think that a monkey is an indispensable adjunct to organ
playing. He's not musical, you know."

"Don't you think he will give way if he is treated judiciously?"

"No, I don't. He's as obstinate as a mule. And what's worse, he has
snookered me for the time being by explaining his intentions by letter to
my proposed papa-in-law. The result being that I am at present a rejected
suitor."

"But, if you are rejected, your legal position is pointless."

"Oh, is it, by Jove!" said Leyland. "You don't think I agree to the
rejection, do you? Because I don't. I tell you, Mitchell, I'm going to
marry Kate Bonnington," and Leyland stuck out his chin with a distinct
reminiscence of the parental mulishness.

"So I gathered from your manner the other evening; and I can't pretend to
disapprove after seeing Miss Bonnington. But you say that relations
between you are broken off for the present."

"Oh, no, they're not," said Leyland. "We are perfectly good friends
still. You see, I am taking lessons on the organ from Papa Bonnington."

"That savours of mere low cunning on your part. But go on."

"Well, Bonnington is quite willing, in the abstract, for me to marry his
daughter, and Miss Kate is also agreeable--in the abstract--but they
both refuse to be the cause of my being disinherited."

"And, of course," I added, "you couldn't cut much of a figure as a
married man on one shilling sterling and the price of a monkey."

"Exactly. But if the old man can't disinherit me, I think matters could
be arranged. I might, for instance, borrow enough on my expectations to
start myself in some sort of business. Hence my inquiry as to the
governor's powers."

"Which brings us back to the original question; does your father hold the
property absolutely or conditionally?"

"I'm hanged if I know," said Leyland. "I suppose I must try to find out.
What I do know is that there seems to be a strong suspicion of some sort
of flaw in the title."

"Indeed! That sounds unpleasant; but it is also rather vague."

"It's quite vague," said Leyland. "But I'd better tell you what I know
about it, which is uncommonly little. The story is connected with an
ancestor of ours named Anthony Leyland, who lived in the time of George
the second. Anthony seems to have been mixed up in some Jacobite foolery,
and, when that game fizzled out after the '45, he retired to the
continent. The man who then held the Leyland property was a Whig and a
loyalist, so, I suppose Anthony reckoned that if he kept out of sight,
his peccadilloes would be forgotten by the time he was due to succeed to
the estate. But, as a matter of fact, he never did succeed to it. He
lived at Louvain, and died there before his innings was due. It seems
that at Louvain he carried on some sort of business in partnership with a
man named Bonnington."

"Bonnington!" I exclaimed.

"Yes," laughed Leyland; "Bonnington. That is the cream of the joke, and
that is what, I suspect, makes the old man so bitter. You'll hear why,
presently.

"Well, at the time of his death, Anthony was a widower with two children,
a daughter named Susan, ten years old, who lived in England with an aunt,
and a son, Jonathan, who had been born in Louvain, and who was only two
years old. Of this son and also of the daughter he made Bonnington the
guardian; but it seems he also made some arrangements with the family
lawyer, for this gentleman--whose name I forget--passed through Louvain
a few days before Anthony's death, and had an interview with him. Also it
is known that this lawyer subsequently acted for Anthony's son.

"Six months after Anthony's death the property fell in, and Bonnington,
with the aid of the lawyer, managed to put Jonathan Leyland in
possession, the management of affairs devolving on him (Bonnington)
during Jonathan's minority. Well, it was all plain sailing so far.
Jonathan was duly placed in possession, and in the course of time grew up
to manhood or, at least, to the adult state, for he was never more than
about half a man."

"What do you mean by that?" I asked.

"Well, in the first place, he was a dwarf, and in the second, his left
arm and leg were withered apparently from his infancy. There is a
portrait of him at home that shows a hideous little goblin with a
lop-sided face and a big crutch. He seems to have been a rare old
cough-drop--a regular terror to the neighbourhood, with a pleasant habit
of rousing up the servants with the end of his crutch. He was a
malignant, ill-conditioned little devil. He used to beat his wife and
harry his sister, and generally raise Cain in the house. The only person
he could get on with was Bonnington; but Bonnington's son, Walter, who
was about his own age, seems to have been a special mark for his malice;
and when he reached his majority, he hoofed out the unlucky Walter to
fend for himself."

"How do you know all this?" I asked.

"His sister, Susan, kept a sort of diary and family chronicle which we
have at home with a number of old letters. She married quite young, but
became a widow a couple of years later, and came back to live under the
fraternal roof. And a gay old time she seems to have had."

"But what about the flaw in the title?" I asked.

"I'm just coming to that. It seems that one fine day, Mistress Susan
received a very queer letter from the lawyer--I can't remember the
fellow's name, but it doesn't matter--hinting to her that there had been
some hocus-pocus about the property, and that both Bonnington and he were
concerned in the fraud, what ever it was. I've seen the letter, and
deuced vague it is; but he goes on to say that he has committed the facts
for safe keeping to a volume of Horace or Virgil or some other Latin
writer--I forget which--in his possession, and that he wants to hand
the volume to her to be used in evidence after his death. The letter is
endorsed on the back by Mistress Susan to this effect; that she did write
to Mr.--whatever his name was--proposing to come to London and call on
him, but he has never replied, or, which I rather suspect, he has
answered, and his letter has been intercepted by my guardian (as I still
call him) Mr. Bonnington. And there the matter ends. There's something
queer, but we don't know what it is. We only know that Bonnington was in
it; and that's what makes my governor so mad. He's frightfully sick to
think that his title is shaky, and he loathes the name Bonnington."

"But," I said, "it is only a chance similarity of name, I suppose?"

"Is it, by Jove?" said Leyland. "Not a bit. Kate's father is the direct
descendant of the much-abused Walter. We know that, because the families
have always kept more or less in touch. The enmity is my governor's
personal hobby."

"Well, Leyland," I said, after a reflective pause, "it seems to me that
your cue is to imitate the wisdom of the late Susan. Lie low and don't
stir up mud. You don't want to upset the title to your own property."

A distinct recrudescence of the ancestral mulishness appeared in
Leyland's face "I daresay you're right," he said, "but, all the same, I'd
like to know what that old lawyer had to tell. By the way, what do you
suppose he meant by 'committing the facts' to what seems to have been a
printed book?"

"Who can say? He may have written a statement on the fly-leaf, or, more
probably, have attached a cipher connected with the text. However, as I
have said, you had better leave the title alone and try more persuasive
methods with your father. Introduce him to Miss Bonnington, for instance.
That would probably settle the matter."

Leyland's face brightened at my appreciation of the maiden of his choice,
and, dismissing the legal question, he said: "Speaking of Kate, you
promised to take her and her father on a personally-conducted tour round
the Temple. When can I ask them to come? Sunday's no good, you know, to
an organist."

I considered my engagements for the week, and then replied: "Wednesday
would do for me. Let them come early, and, when we have seen everything
and traced the historical connections from Adam downwards, we will all
repair to my chambers and drink tea. How will that do?"

Leyland thought it would do excellently, and, subject to his friends'
agreement, the arrangement was made.

Need I hesitate to confess that my chambers in Fig Tree Court broke out,
about this time, into unwonted sprightliness? Or to tell how the brief
bag that I brought home on Wednesday received its lading at the
pastrycook's? Or how an iced cake was smuggled into the Temple in a
wig-box? Or how the ancient silver teapot was secretly polished with a
silk handkerchief and sundry "collector's pieces" came forth of a cabinet
to grace the tea-table? Why not? I am but a musty bachelor to whose lair
the visitations of fair maids are in good truth as angel's visits. And
angels must be suitably entertained. To pretty Kate Bonnington I had
taken an instant liking, and my friend Leyland's little romance engaged
my warmest sympathy. Such a romance might have been my own but
for--however, that is another story.

We met the tourists in state at the main entrance and carried them in
procession through the ancient precincts. We talked of the Wars of the
Roses, of the Knights Templars and of Twelfth Night. We raised the shades
of Johnson and Goldsmith, of Burke and Sheridan. In Mitre Court Buildings
we saw poor Charles and Mary Lamb go forth weeping, hand in hand, to the
dreaded madhouse, and waited for them to "come again with rejoicing." We
threw crumbs for the sparrows by the fountain and talked of Martin
Chuzzlewit and Ruth Pinch (and here methought the fair Kate looked a
shade conscious), and we looked into the church and to Mr. Bonnington's
joy heard Father Smith's organ play. It was all very pleasant. The sky
was sunny, the plane trees were golden, and when we turned into Fig Tree
Court the shade and coolness were very grateful.

Under the influence of tea the historic and literary reminiscences
revived. Then Leyland, who was something of a bibliophile, strolled over
to my shelves, tea cup in hand, to browse among my books and terrify me
for the safety of my precious wedgwood. Suddenly he turned--and nearly
upset the cup.

"I saw Solomon this morning--the bookseller, I mean, not the other chap.
He was asking after you. Said he'd sent you some books to look over."

"God bless me!" I exclaimed, "so he did, and I have never opened the
parcel."

"Let's open it now and see what they are," said Leyland.

I produced the parcel, and, cutting the string, displayed the treasures:
a "Treacle Bible," an ancient treatise on alchemy and magic, a couple of
recent historical works and a chubby, vellum-bound duodecimo.

"What a dear little book!" Miss Bonnington ex claimed, pouncing on the
latter, to our undissembled amusement. "So dainty and small and genteel.
Oh, why can't people print and bind books like this now?"

Her question passed unanswered, for Leyland was already deep in the
"Treacle Bible"--a mere curiosity which I, certainly, had no intention
of keeping--and expounding its peculiarities to Mr. Bonnington. From the
bible we passed on to the book of magic, over which we discussed the
quaint beliefs of our ancestors. Suddenly Mr. Bonnington looked at his
daughter and asked: "What is the matter, Kate?"

At the question, I looked up from the book. Miss Bonnington was sitting
rigidly still with the little volume, clasped in both hands, resting in
her lap. Her eyes were wide open and fixed, apparently, on the opposite
wall.

"What is it Kate?" her father repeated; and, as she still appeared
unconscious of the question, he leaned forward and lightly touched her
hand; where upon she started violently and gazed around her like a
suddenly-awakened sleeper.

"What an extraordinary thing!" she exclaimed.

"What is an extraordinary thing, my dear?" demanded Mr. Bonnington.

"Is it possible to dream without going to sleep?" she asked.

"If you have been dreaming and you haven't been to sleep, it must be,"
her father answered, "Have you?"

"It is astonishing," she said. "It must have been a dream, and yet it was
so real, so vivid."

"What was, my dear? What was? Hey? Hm?" and in his impatience Mr.
Bonnington leaned forward and tapped her knuckles.

"Be patient and I'll tell you. The dream began quite suddenly. This place
vanished, and I was in a street, a crowded street filled with people in
curious dresses such as one sees in old engravings. There was no
pavement; only a row of posts between the road and the footway on which I
was walking. The shops had funny little small-paned windows, like the
shops in a country village, and each one had a sign hanging above the
window or door. I walked quickly, and had the feeling of going somewhere
for a definite purpose, and presently, when a kind of arched gate way
came in sight, I seemed to have expected it. This gateway--I seem, even
now, to recognise it; perhaps from having seen it in some picture--had
three arches, a large one over the road, and two small ones for
foot-passengers, and a large window over the middle arch. As I approached
the gate to pass through I saw a man standing under the left-hand arch as
if waiting for some one. He was an elderly man, very fat and very pale;
and now that I come to think of him, he reminds me of that old gentleman
who passed us that night in Fig Tree Court. I walked towards him with a
very curious feeling of having expected to find him there, and, as I
passed through the arch, brushing closely against him because he took up
so much of the space, he put something into my hand. I remember taking
what he gave me as if I had expected it; and then you woke me up."

"Can't you recall what it was that he gave you?" Mr Bonnington asked.

"I have a sort of feeling that it was a book; but I expect that it is
only because I was holding this book when I woke," and she held up the
little duodecimo and laid it on the table.

As Kate Bonnington told her story, I listened with growing wonder, and,
when she had finished, I fell into a reverie in which the eager
questionings of her father and Frank Leyland came to me as sounds from an
infinite distance. I roused only when Leyland, taking the little book
carelessly from the table, glanced at it and addressed me.

"You remember, Mitchell, I was telling you about a book to which that old
lawyer had committed certain facts. I thought it was Horace or Virgil. It
wasn't, it was Sallust. This reminded me."

He held the little book towards me, and I read on the label "Sallustii
Opera."

For a few moments I looked vacantly at the book; then, with eager
expectation I took it from his hand and opened it; and somehow, it seemed
in no wise strange, but perfectly natural and in order, that I should
find on the fly-leaf, traced in faded, brown ink in a hand which I
recognised, "Phineas Desborough, 1756."

I say that it seemed quite natural, but I must, nevertheless, have been
really astounded for I presently became aware that my three friends were
regarding me with uncommon curiosity.

"What is the matter, Mitchell?" asked Leyland. "You look as if you had
seen a ghost too."

"Perhaps I have," was my reply; and I returned to the examination of the
mysterious little volume. The fly-leaf bore no mark other than the name
and date, but when I turned to the back cover I at once perceived--and
again it seemed quite natural and reasonable--a thin, pale line of brown
ruled round the margin of what my bookish eye instantly detected as a
false end-paper. Without a word, I produced my penknife, and, opening it,
laid the little book on the table. As I brought the point of the keen
blade on to the faded line, Leyland sprang up and exclaimed:

"Good Lord! What is the man going to do now?" I made no reply, but
carried the blade steadily along the line until it had traversed the four
sides, separating a little panel of the end-paper. I lifted this off, and
then, turning the book over, shook out two little sheets of very thin
yellowish paper, each covered with pale brown, very minute writing.

"By Jove!" exclaimed Leyland. "Hidden bank notes, hey!" He picked up one
of the little leaves, glanced at it, and then stood staring at me, as if
thunderstruck.

"Good God, Mitchell," he said in a low voice. "Do you see what this is?"

He handed the little leaf to me, and I then saw that he had been looking
at the back of the document, on which was written in ordinary-sized
handwriting:

"The statement of Anthony Leyland, Gent, received by me from his hand on
the 16th day of August, 1753, in a sealed packet which I afterwards
opened.

"Phineas Desborough."

"This is a confidential document, Leyland," I said. "It concerns you, and
may contain important family secrets."

"Secrets be hanged!" he replied. "There are no secrets between us. Read
it out. Let us hear what Anthony Leyland had to say in 1753."

My legal instincts rose in revolt at the proposal, though I was devoured
by curiosity. But Leyland was immovable, and, after a few ineffectual
protests, I put on my spectacles and addressed myself to the decipherment
of the microscopic script.

"Louvain,

"August the 3rd, 1753.

"My dearest Child,--I am writing these words (with a crow's-quill-pen),
lying on the bed whence I shall presently be borne to an alien grave,
trusting that, by the Christian charity of some stranger, they shall come
safely to your hand. I am dying in a strange land, with no friend near
me, and no fellow-countryman save my partner, James Bonnington; to whose
care, therefore, I must needs commit my little son, your brother
Jonathan. But this I do with much misgiving, for I trust not Mr.
Bonnington, who is a shrewd and worldly man; and who hath been most
willing and even eager to undertake the duty, which makes me mistrust him
the more. To be plain, I fear he may practise some fraud. For you are to
know that this Bonnington is a widower (his wife died in the late
sickness which carried off your dear mother), and hath one little son but
a month or two older than your brother; a poor, mis-shapen wretch, having
one arm and leg withered from his birth, on whom his father doteth--though
I blame him not for that. But my fear is that he shall set this
poor bantling in your brother's place; which he may readily do since he
is your brother's guardian, and no one knoweth the children. Perchance I
misjudge him; and God grant that it be so. Yet, for safety, I tell you
this. That your brother is a lusty child, well-shapen and fair like his
mother. That he hath a mole on his left cheek, and on his right breast a
mother-mark of a red colour, about the bigness of a groat. By these you
shall know the child; for Bonnington's son is sallow and black, and, as I
have said, maimed from birth.

"Should that happen which I fear, and this letter reach you safely, keep
it till you are of age, and then seek counsel of some wise and honest
man.

"I commend you, dear child, to the good God, and so farewell.

"From your loving Father,

"Anthony Leyland."

"To Mistress Susan Leyland."

"August the 11th. Mr. Desborough, the attorney, is now in Louvain, and
comes to me to-morrow, when I shall deliver this to his keeping to convey
to you."

There was profound silence for a while after I had finished reading. Then
Leyland asked:

"'What is the other paper, Mitchell?"

I picked up the paper, and, glancing at it, replied: "It is Desborough's
statement. Shall I read it?

"Certainly," said Leyland, and accordingly I read aloud:

"I, Phineas Desborough, of 16, Field Court, Gray's Inn, Attorney at Law,
do affirm and declare as follows:

"That I received the attached statement from Anthony Leyland, Gent, in a
sealed packet: that I opened the packet and withheld the letter from
Susan Leyland to whom I had promised to deliver it: that I did afterwards
conspire with James Bonnington to substitute his son Walter for Jonathan
the son of the said Anthony. That with my connivance and assistance the
said Walter did enter into possession of the estate real and personal to
which the said Jonathan was entitled which estate he doth continue to
hold; that the said Walter did and still doth pass under the name and
style of Jonathan Leyland and that the said Jonathan was and still is
unlawfully and fraudulently caused to believe that his name is Walter
Bonnington and that he is the son of the said James Bonnington.

"Given under my hand this 29th day of March, 1785.

"Phineas Desborough."

"Signed in my presence,

"William Horrell, of 6 Hand Court, Holborn, Clerk."

I laid down the paper, and looked at my three friends, but for some time
none of us spoke. Leyland was the first to break the silence; and his
first words framed the inevitable question.

"How did you know those papers were in that book, Mitchell?"

There was no occasion for secrecy or reticence. My audience was not
likely to be sceptical. In a few words, I told the story of my midnight
visitor and the mysterious letter. And when the wonder of this had a
little subsided, there came the further and equally inevitable question.

"By the light of those two statements, Mitchell, what do you say is the
present position? It seems that my governor is playing cuckoo."

"The position is," said I, "that you are Frank Bonnington, and that Miss
Kate here is Kate Leyland."

"And would those papers be good evidence in a court of law?"

"Probably. But I must point out that after the lapse of a hundred and
fifty years, it might prove very difficult to oust a tenant from
possession. And your father has the sinews of war, and would probably
fight to the last ditch."

"Now there you are quite wrong," said Leyland. "The governor is as
obstinate as the devil, but he's an honest man, and generous, too. If you
show him those papers and give him all the facts, I'll undertake that
he'll march out, bag and baggage, without any action at law at all."

Here Mr. Bonnington rose and reached out for the papers. "If that is the
case," said he, "I think we had better pop those two statements in the
grate, and put a match to them." And he would have done it, but that I,
with a lawyer's solicitude for documents, whisked them out of his reach
and, clapping them in my pocket-book, buttoned my coat.

"Quite right, Mitchell," said Leyland. "I am sure you agree with me that
justice must be done."

"I do. I agree most emphatically. But I must insist on its being done in
a reasonable manner."

"As for instance--"

"Well, I understand that Mr. Bonnington, as I will still call him, has no
son and only one daughter. Now supposing he enters an action against your
father, and succeeds in ousting him; what is the result? The result is
that Miss Kate Bonnington becomes transformed into Kate Leyland. But
surely, my dear boy, the same result could be reached by a much shorter
and less costly process."

Leyland stared at me for a few moments and then his face broke out into
an appreciative grin. "By Jove, Mitchell," said he, "you ought to be Lord
Chief Justice. Of course, that's the plan." He turned his gaze on Miss
Kate (whose complexion had suddenly assimilated itself to that of the
peony), and added:

"That is to say, if Miss Leyland would condescend to marry a poor,
penniless devil like Frank Bonnington."

That weighty question they subsequently settled to their mutual
satisfaction and everyone else's. For the "governor" justified his son's
estimate of his character by "climbing down" with the agility of an
opossum. Thus, by a short and inexpensive procedure, Kate Bonnington
became Kate Leyland--it happened the very day after I took silk--and
thus, after a century and a half, did Phineas Desborough make
restitution.

THE LUCK OF BARNABAS MUDGE

BARNABAS MUDGE was a man whose intellect was above his station in life;
which is not necessarily to rate him with Aristotle or Herbert Spencer.
For his station was only that of a jobbing bricklayer. Still, there are
bricklayers and bricklayers; and Barnabas was of the brainy variety,
which is by no means the most common.

Hitherto, however, his mental gifts had not materially advanced him along
the road to prosperity. Possibly luck had been against him, or it may
have been that the village of Baconsfield offered but a limited scope for
the working of his philosophic mind. At any rate, when we make his
acquaintance on a sweltering day in June, we find him occupied in the
unworthy task of demolishing a ruinous, isolated cottage on the extreme
outskirts of the village.

It was a roasting day. As Barnabas stood on the summit of the wall,
sulkily pecking at the solid old brickwork, the sweat ran down his face
and arms and even wetted the haft of his pick. To make matters worse, old
Joe Gammet was depositing a liberal dressing of fish manure on the
adjacent field. The deceased fish were presently to be sown evenly over
the ground, not with the design--as the unagricultural reader might
suppose--of producing a crop of mackerel, but for the purpose of
enriching the soil; but at present the enrichment was more diffused, for
the fish, set out in symmetrical heaps, lay under the broiling sun,
"wasting their sweetness on the desert air."

"Paw!" exclaimed Barnabas, driving his pick viciously into a joint of the
hard old brickwork, "them fish do stink. Talk about the plagues of Egypt!
Frogs is nothin' to it. And here comes that old swine with another load."

He glanced sourly at the approaching cart and, taking aim at a spot lower
down the wall, struck with the energy of exasperation. But here he
encountered mortar of a somewhat different quality. The pick buried
itself in a crumbling joint, and, as he wrenched at the haft, a
considerable mass of brickwork detached itself and fell to the ground.

"Hallo!" said Barnabas. And well he might. For the falling bricks had
disclosed a small, cubical chamber in the wall; which chamber, as he
could see by craning forward, was occupied by a covered, earthenware jar.
This was highly interesting. It was also just a trifle inopportune; for
old Gammet had now approached to within a hundred yards and was smiling
with ominous geniality.

Barnabas clambered down and began hastily to repair the effects of his
last vigorous stroke, fitting the dislodged bricks back in their places
as well as he could in the short time at his disposal. Then he climbed up
to his former perch and began to work furiously on another part of the
wall with his back to the approaching cart. But this aloofness of manner
availed him nothing; for Joe Gammet, having arrived opposite the cottage,
halted his cart, and, displaying a miscellaneous assortment of variegated
teeth, hailed his acquaintance in a fine, resonant agricultural voice.

"Wot O! Barney!"

Barnabas looked round, with a red handkerchief applied to his nose.

"Here, I say, Joe!" he gasped. "Just you move on with that there
perfumery of your'n. It's a-makin' me giddy."

Old Gammet chuckled and expectorated skilfully through a convenient
aperture in the teeth. "You needn't be so delicut," said he. "Nice,
'ealthy country smell, I calls it. Nourishin' too. Wot's good for the
land is good for them wot lives on the land." He took up a reposeful
posture in the dismantled doorway and continued reflectively: "Rare tough
job you've got there, Barney. Them old coves could build, they could.
Used the right sort of stuff, they did. But there's a patch there that
don't look much class of work. Why, I could pull it down with my 'ands!"

He fixed a filmy eye on the piece of wall that Barnabas had just
reconstituted and made as if to enter the cottage.

"'Ere, don't you come inside," roared Barnabas. "It ain't safe." In
illustration of this, he adroitly dislodged a few bricks just over the
threshold, causing the aged Gammet to hop out through the doorway with
quite surprising agility.

"Couldn't yer see me a-standin' underneath?' the old labourer demanded
indignantly.

"I can't see nothin'," said Barnabas. "I can only smell. Would you mind
movin' them wallflowers o' yourn a bit further off?"

Old Gammet growled an unintelligible reply, and, sulkily grabbing his
horse's bridle, moved away in the direction of the cart track that led
into the field. Barnabas watched him impatiently, and, when the cart had
fairly entered the field, he looked up and down the lane to satisfy
himself that no further interruption threatened, and, once more,
scrambled down.

He removed the bricks more carefully this time, with a view to subsequent
rebuilding, if necessary, and, thrusting his head into the mysterious
cavity in the wall, took off the cover of the jar.

"My eye!" he exclaimed as he applied the organ, thus apostrophised to the
mouth of the jar. And perfectly natural the exclamation was; for the jar
was full to the brim of glistening golden coins.

For a few seconds he stood petrified with incredulous joy. Then he put
forth a tremulous hand and picked out half a dozen or so; and his joy was
yet further intensified. He had expected to find some ancient
unmarketable coinage that shouted "Treasure Trove" from every worn line
of its obsolete device. But nothing of the kind. The quantity of gold
that passed through his hands was as a rule; inconsiderable. But he knew
a sovereign when he saw it. And he saw it now. Yea, not one, but several
hundreds.

"Immortal scissors!" ejaculated Barnabas; and once more I repeat that the
exclamation was justified by the circumstances.

Now, to the pellucid intellect of Barnabas Mudge certain facts were at
once obvious. Here, for instance, was a negotiable property of some
hundreds of pounds--wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. That property,
it is true, was not strictly speaking his; but Barnabas was a practical
man to whom the pedantic subtleties of the law made no appeal. A more
immediate problem was how to secure this heaven-sent windfall; and to
this he gave his earnest attention as, having replaced the coins and the
jar cover, he once more carefully built up the opening of the
hiding-place.

Hitherto, luck had persistently been against him. All the village knew
him to be a poor man; and if now he should suddenly blossom out into
unexplained wealth, curiosity would be aroused and probably suspicion
too. Yet it was useless to be rich if one had to live in the appearance
of poverty; and hoarding money was folly as this forgotten treasure
plainly demonstrated. However, the final management of this undreamed of
wealth could be considered later. The immediate problem was how to get it
safely conveyed to his own house unobserved by prying eyes. As his truck,
small as it was, could not be pulled in through the doorway, the precious
jar would have to be carried out to the road, which might be safe enough
if it were previously wrapped in a sack. But the magnitude of the stake
was affecting his nerves to the extent of developing a perfectly
unreasonable degree of caution and secretiveness.

At present old Gammet was the insuperable obstacle. It was impossible to
reopen the hiding-place and bring out the jar until he was gone; for he
had seen the loose brickwork, and, being a crafty old rascal, might smell
a rat. Thus reasoned Barnabas with absurdly exaggerated wariness--for
conscience doth make cowards of us all--and as he pecked listlessly at
the wall he kept an anxious eye on the old labourer, cursing his dilatory
movements and his ridiculous care for appearances. For Joe Gammet, if his
olfactory sense was not very discriminating, had a fastidious eye, and
was evidently bent on disposing his unsavoury commodity in something like
a symmetrical pattern; in fact, Barnabas could actually see him carefully
counting the already deposited heaps and pacing out the distance to the
site for the next one.

"Now, there's a fat-headed old blighter for you!" Barnabas growled
angrily as he watched. "Why can't he dump the stuff down and hook it?" In
his exasperation he found himself counting the heaps, too, and
calculating how many more the cart-load would produce. There were at
present two complete rows, each of thirty-one heaps, and old Gammet was
now engaged in depositing the twenty-sixth heap in the third row; and
such is the power of suggestion that Barnabas paused in his labours to
see if the dwindling contents of the cart would furnish out the five more
heaps that were needed to complete the third row.

As a matter of fact the "perfumery" petered out at the twenty-ninth heap,
to Gammet's evident regret, for, having deposited it, he solemnly and
with extended arm, counted the whole collection over again. And then, at
last, he climbed into the empty cart and disconsolately drove away.

"Now for the oof," said Barnabas as the cart disappeared up the lane. He
climbed down from his perch, and, placing in readiness a sack that he had
brought with him, began to remove the loose bricks.

But at this moment there smote on his ears the sound of wheels
approaching from the opposite direction to that which Gammet had taken.

"Drat it!" he exclaimed, hastily replacing the bricks and creeping to a
small side window that commanded a view down the lane. "Who is it now?
Why it's Mother Mooney and that slut of a gel of hers. Now what might
they be up to?"

At present they were up to speering about in an inquisitive and highly
suspicious manner, and meanwhile, Mrs. Mooney was mooring to a fence rail
a donkey which was harnessed to a primitive cart. Then, from the latter,
the two women extracted each a sack and bustled into the field lately
occupied by Mr. Gammet. Barnabas watched them with absolute stupefaction
as they bore down on the heaps of fish with unmistakable intentions.

"Well, I'm blowed!" exclaimed Barnabas. "If they ain't come to pinch the
myrrh and frankincense! So that's the way you runs a market garden. But I
don't see what they wants a-countin' of 'em for; that there donkey cart
won't hold the whole bilin'."

The object of this mysterious proceeding, however, became evident
presently, for it appeared that the two marauders, having noted Mr.
Gammet's symmetrical arrangement, had decided not to disturb it and
thereby draw attention to their unlawful proceedings. They accordingly
began operations on number twenty-nine, and, having stowed it in their
sacks, carried these to the donkey cart, and returning with two empty
ones, renewed the assault on Gammet's property at the last heap on the
next row.

"There now!" exclaimed Barnabas admiringly, "there's a artful old baggage
for yer! Thinks old Gammet won't miss 'em; and more he won't neither, if
she don't take too many."

His good opinion of her was justified in this also, for the discreet Mrs.
Mooney contented herself with the removal of the three terminal heaps,
leaving Mr. Gammet's symmetrical pattern apparently unchanged, and
cleanly picking up even the minutest incriminating fragments.

Barnabas patiently awaited the retreat of the two raiders, and as the
donkey cart at length disappeared down the lane, he took another last
look round and then once more uncovered the treasure chamber. The jar,
though of no great size, was uncommonly heavy, and its introduction to
the sack under the agitating circumstances was a matter of some
difficulty. When it was safely accomplished and he had staggered out with
his prize to the truck and there buried it under a heap of tools,
sash-frames, rafters and other debris from the cottage, there followed
several agonised minutes, during which he feverishly built up the opening
of the chamber--for it would obviously have been madness to leave that
cavity exposed to the inquisitive eyes of the villagers. But fortunately
no one passed down the lane while he was thus occupied, nor was there
anyone in sight when at length he stole forth guiltily and, taking up the
pole of the truck, set out homewards at a pace, and with a degree of
anxious care, suggestive of a rural funeral. We need not describe that
journey in detail; let it suffice to say that at the end of it, Barnabas
felt several years older and found himself deeply impressed alike with
the surprising populousness of Baconsfield and his own hitherto
unsuspected popularity. At length, with a sigh of relief, he trundled his
cart into the tiny backyard of the cottage in which he lived all alone; a
few moments more and he had borne his treasure in through the back door
and shot the bolt; and thus was the first, and most essential, step taken
on the road to fortune.

It is needless to say that Mr. Mudge's first proceeding was to ascertain
the extent of his wealth; to which end he tenderly bore the jar up the
tiny staircase to the room above, where he tipped out its contents, in a
glorious shining heap, on the bed, and began, with trembling fingers, to
count the coins into smaller heaps in the manner of a glorified Gammet.

The total was no less than six hundred and thirteen golden sovereigns, a
sum, the bare contemplation of which produced symptoms of vertigo, and as
he knelt by the narrow pallet, running an ecstatic eye over the
unbelievable collection, his intellect began once more to occupy itself
with the problem of an unsuspicious transition from poverty to affluence.
No miser was Barnabas, who might find pleasure in mere gloating over a
hoard of unnegotiable riches; but he was too wary to plunge into such
sudden self-indulgence as might set the villagers whispering into the ear
of the rural constable. What was necessary was some plausible explanation
of the change in his financial condition; an explanation that was
rendered necessary, not only by the amount of the windfall, but by a very
curious circumstance which he had noticed while counting the coins;
namely, that the sovereigns all bore the same date. That was, in fact,
very odd indeed, and caused Barnabas to speculate in some surprise
whether the identity of date was due to a miser's freak, or whether
perchance, the hoard was the product of some forgotten bank robbery. Of
course, that was no business of his excepting as to its result; which was
that he would need to use some extra caution in introducing that large
family of twins to a censorious world.

He turned the problem over again and again as he replaced the coins in
the jar and deposited the latter in a recess up the bedroom chimney; but
he reached no conclusion. He cogitated on it profoundly as he boiled the
kettle and made his tea, but still without result; and when, later in the
evening, he locked up the house and directed his accustomed steps towards
the Black Bull Inn, he was still without the vestige of a plan. And yet
the change in his circumstances had not been without some slight and
subtle influence; for, yielding to an impulse of which he was hardly
conscious, he had, just before starting, transferred, from the oaken
chest in his bedroom, in which he kept his little savings, no less a sum
than fifteen shillings to the pocket of his mole-skin trousers.

He was not the first to arrive in the tap-room of the "Black Bull." By no
means. Over a dozen rustics had already arrived, and were at the moment
recreating themselves by throwing darts at a cork target on the wall, and
backing their respective abilities by small wagers. As Barnabas entered,
old Joe Gammet was in the very act of taking aim; not a particularly good
aim it seemed, for the dart ultimately found a billet in the corner of an
adjacent picture frame.

"I'll 'ave that shot over again," the wily old rustic affirmed, with
great presence of mind. "This 'ere Barney a-baulked me a-comin' in so
sudden-like."

And, regardless of the protests of his disconcerted comrades, he stolidly
pulled the dart out of the frame, returned to his station, and forthwith
made a bull's-eye.

In the inevitable dispute that followed as to the payment of the wager,
Barnabas found himself implicated by the ingenious Gammet, who sought
thus to divert the attention of the losers. But Barnabas was no gambler,
and with equal adroitness, he proceeded to excuse himself.

"My 'and ain't steady enough, Joe," said he. "Tain't recovered yet from
that there fish of yourn."

Old Gammet snorted disdainfully. "You makes a rare outcry, you do," said
he, "about a few 'eaps o' nice, fresh fish."

"A few!" exclaimed Barnabas. "Dunno what you call a few. There was
upwards of eighty 'eaps of 'em."

"Upwards o' ninety, Barney," corrected Gammet.

Barnabas shook his head. "Upwards of eighty, I should say," said he. The
actual number had escaped him for the moment, and his rejoinder was
dictated by the mere habit of contradiction inherent in the British
rustic. But Gammet took him up sharply. "I tell yer there was over ninety
o' them 'eaps," he said dogmatically.

The definiteness of the statement aroused Mr. Mudge's attention, and,
rapidly recalling the actual numbers, with the little subtraction sum
worked by Mrs. Money, he said in a dogged tone:

"Not ninety, Joe, over eighty. I looked at them 'eaps carefully and I've
got a educated eye."

"Look 'ere!" exclaimed Gammet, in suppressed excitement, "you ain't the
only cove wot's got a educated eye. I got one, too, and I tell yer
there's over ninety o' them 'eaps, and I'll bet yer a shullin' I'm
right."

Barnabas smiled a discreet smile. "I never bets, Joe," said he, "and you
knows it. But, all the same, there worn't ninety o' them 'caps," and with
this he strolled through into the bar to obtain the refreshment necessary
for the continuance of the discussion, and also to reflect at leisure on
the situation. When he returned with his tankard of ale, he was aware of
a certain ill-concealed expectancy in the aspect of his rustic
acquaintances, strongly suggestive, to his mind of a secret
understanding; and his agile intellect instantly framed an appropriate
course of action.

"Uncommon sudden this 'ot weather's set in," he remarked to the company
in general.

"Remarkable," agreed Gammet, "but to return to this 'ere fish--"

"Not me," said Barnabas, "I've had enough o' that there fish. 'Twixt
eighty and ninety 'eaps of 'em--"

"Over ninety," interrupted Gammet.

"Not over," retorted Barnabas. "Under ninety, I say, and I reckon I can
trust my eye to a dozen or so."

"There's more'n ninety," said Gammet; and, as Barnabas shook his head
once more, old Gammet continued eagerly: "Why don't yer back yer opinion
if yer'e so bloomin' cocksure?"

"'Twouldn't be fair," said Barnabas. "I ain't never wrong in a matter o'
numbers."

A howl of derision from the assembled company greeted this boastful
statement, and Barnabas was so earnestly invited by the assembled rustics
to pouch old Gammet's "shullin'," that he, at length, and with much show
of reluctance, accepted the wager. But no sooner were the preliminaries
arranged, than Bob Chalmers, the miller, came forward and said he'd have
a shullin's worth, too, and his example being followed, one after the
other, by the rest of the company, Barnabas found himself committed to
the extent of twelve shillings; which sum was duly carried in procession
by the rustic sportsmen into the bar and deposited with the counterstakes
in the custody of the landlord; who, in his turn becoming inoculated,
invested a shilling himself. Then the whole twenty-six shillings in
assorted coinage having been lodged in an empty Toby jug, and the bar
being placed in the care of the landlord's wife, the whole company of
gamesters set forth together to inspect the deceased leviathans.

"Now then," said old Gammet, as the party halted at the entrance to the
field, and the wagerers furtively produced pocket handkerchiefs 'let's be
clear about this 'ere bet. I say there's over ninety o' them 'eaps and
you say there's under ninety. Ain't that right?

"Under ninety it is," agreed Barnabas, and with this the procession
entered the field.

The procedure was deliberate and exhaustively thorough. Sam Pullet's new
ash sapling, that he had cut that very day, was adopted as a tally-stick,
and as the procession halted opposite each malodorous heap it was
registered by a notch cut on the stick. The process took time, especially
as there was a tendency to periodic misunderstandings as to which heap
the last notch referred to; but at length, after four false starts had
been made and corrected by beginning again de novo, the entire round was
completed, and all that remained was to count the notches. This task was
assigned to the landlord, and as that sportsman reached the last notch,
and falteringly pronounced the word, "eighty-eight," he turned a
reproachful eye on Joe Gammet.

"You've made a mistake, Tom," exclaimed the chap-fallen Joseph, who had,
however, already detected the discrepancy, but despairingly strove to
temporise. He took the stick from the landlord, and, running his fingers
down the notches, continued, with ill-feigned triumph: "There, I told yer
so, ninety-one it is, ninety-one, I makes it."

"Then you makes it wrong," said Barnabas; and the stick being solemnly
passed round, elicited the unanimous verdict of eighty-eight, and a
general lowering of the sportsmen's visages. Three times more did that
melancholy procession slowly perambulate that marine necropolis, and each
time the same depressing result emerged. At the end of the third
perambulation there was a deathly silence, and then Bob Chalmers broke
into open reproaches.

"Look 'ere, Joe Gammet!" he exclaimed, gloomily, "what's the meanin' o'
this 'ere? You told us as how you'd counted 'em yourself. It's my belief
as it's a put-up job."

"Nothun o' the kind," retorted Gammet. "Ninety-one 'eaps I counted afore
I come away. Somebody 'as bin and stole three of 'em," and here he fixed
a suspicious eye on Barnabas, who retorted sarcastically by offering to
turn out his pockets.

"Stole yer grandmother, Joe," the landlord growled somewhat obscurely.
"Who's a-goin' to steal rotten fish?"

Joe Gammet was about to make an angry rejoinder, possibly resenting the
singular ancestry ascribed to him by the landlord's last remark, when
Barnabas blandly interposed with the suggestion that they should return
and refresh on the proceeds of the gamble; on which there were signs of
reviving cheerfulness, especially on the part of the landlord.

The company which left the "Black Bull" that evening was hilarious beyond
all precedent, but none of the roysterers staggered homewards in a more
joyous frame than did Barnabas Mudge. For he had found a solution to his
problem. By this chance, foolish incident he had found a way to that
appearance of modest affluence that he had justly considered necessary to
his safety. With characteristic energy and judgment he followed out the
policy thus suggested by chance. A judicious measurement, privately
taken, of the sun-dial on the church porch, with another of the tap-room
table, served with due diplomacy to evolve another wager; secret
inspections of the weather forecasts in the papers at the village library
not only made him an authority on meteorology, but enriched him to the
extent of four and threepence. After a few such demonstrations of his
infallibility, the cautious rustics began to decline his invitations to
back their opinions; but although his actual activities thus necessarily
came to an end, a general vague belief grew up, and was fostered by him,
that his unerring judgment and never-failing luck were furnishing him
with a handsome increase of income.

It was about this time that Barnabas Mudge embarked on the one and only
real gamble of his life. It came about in this wise; returning homeward
by a foot-path across the fields, he suddenly perceived a smart-looking
gig, drawn by a handsome, mettlesome horse, careering wildly down an
adjacent cart track. From the fact that the gig was empty, Barnabas
naturally inferred that the horse had bolted, and as he knew that the
track led direct to the steep edge of a gravel pit, he perceived that a
disaster was imminent. Now Mr. Mudge was not only a man of intellect; he
was also a man of action. The galloping horse was yet some distance away,
and there was still time for some effort to avert the catastrophe.
Accordingly, he ran across the field, and, lurking behind a bush that
bordered the cart track, awaited the approach of the runaway until the
latter had advanced to within some thirty or forty yards, when he darted
out, cap in hand, and proceeded to execute a sort of fandango with much
flourishing of arms and encouraging exhortations; as a result of which
the astonished horse stopped dead to observe this amazing apparition, and
before he could recover his wits, Barnabas had swooped down on him and
grabbed him by the bridle. A few seconds later, while Barnabas was still
soothing his captive's troubled spirit by equine blandishments, a small
man appeared on the cart track, running as fast as two extremely spindly
and slightly bandy legs would propel him, and, approaching breathlessly,
introduced himself as the proprietor of the horse.

"You've had a narrow squeak, you have," said Barnabas. "Another hundred
yards, and he'd have been in the gravel pit."

"I know," said the new-comer. "I thought of that pit as soon as the
beggar started. You're a trump, that's what you are, my lad," and his
hand strayed towards his breeches pocket.

And here, once again, we perceive the subtle effect of the invaluable jar
of gold. A month ago, Barnabas would have pocketed gleefully the two
sovereigns that were exhibited in the stranger's palm. But now he was a
man of means and could afford to indulge in the expensive luxury of
pride.

"No, thank you," he said, magnanimously waving the sovereigns away. "I'm
glad to have been able to help you, but I reckon you'd have done the same
for me."

The horsey gentleman returned the coins to his pocket, somewhat
reluctantly. "Don't see that you need be so blooming proud," he said, as
he relieved Barnabas of his charge; "however, if you won't take a tip in
hard cash, perhaps you'll take a tip of another kind; only, mind you," he
added impressively, "what I'm going to tell you mustn't go any farther.
Is that agreed?"

Barnabas gave the required assurance, and the other resumed:

"Now, listen to me. I'm a trainer--name of Bates; you may have heard of
me. Well now, I've got a regular soft thing on, and I'm going to take you
into it, only, you mustn't let on to a living soul. You know the Imperial
Cup's going to be run for next week at Newmarket." Barnabas nodded. "Well
now, there are two outsiders entered for the first two races; King Tom
and Columbine. There'll be long odds against them both. Now, if you take
those odds, you'll have as near as may be a dead cert. That's a tip
that's worth money, and I tell you again to keep it to yourself."

With this and a touch of the hat, he started forward with the mollified
horse, leaving Barnabas to return to the foot-path.

Now, Mr. Mudge, as we have said, was no gambler, and his idea of a "dead
cert" was not quite the same as a sporting man's. He was flattered by the
possession of this special information, but it did not occur to him to
make any use of it; indeed, the whole affair had faded from his mind when
a chance circumstance recalled it. It was on the evening of the first day
of the races that he happened to be in the bar of the "Black Bull" with
one or two of his acquaintances. The occasion was a somewhat special one,
for, having lured some misguided rustic--much against the advice of his
friends--into a bet, he had just brought off a "dead cert" of his own
kind, and was in the very act of receiving payment, when a gig stopped at
the inn door, and a stout, red-faced man got down and entered. The
new-comer was well known to the denizens of the "Black Bull," being none
other than Mr. Sandys, the famous bookmaker; a gentleman of suave and
genial manners, especially on the present occasion, he having, as he
expressed it, done rather a good line during the day. He was even
disposed to be facetious, for having assuaged his thirst with a
preliminary gulp, he smiled round on the awe-stricken yokels, and invited
them jointly and severally to try a bout with Fickle Fortune.

"Hey!" said he, sticking a fat thumb into Barnabas' ribs, "what do you
say? Smart-looking chap like you ought to be ready to back his fancy.
Come now, what can I do for you?" and here he produced a fat,
leather-covered volume and licked the point of a lead pencil.

And then it was that Barnabas Mudge went stark mad. And yet, perhaps, not
so mad as he seemed; for in that moment, it flashed upon him that even to
lose money gloriously, magnificently, was to add to that reputation that
he was so carefully cultivating.

"How do the odds go?" he asked carelessly; and the yokels drew nearer
with dilated eyes, while the landlord rested his knuckles on the counter
and leaned forward inquisitively. Mr. Sandys produced a list of the
fixtures, and began to read off numerical statements which sounded like
the delirious mutterings of an insane stockbroker.

"What about King Tom?" inquired Barnabas. "He's in the first event I
see."

The bookmaker shook his head. "No class," said he, and added,
altruistically, "Don't you go chucking your coppers away on dark 'orses."

"And then," pursued Barnabas, ignoring Mr. Sandys' really well-meant
advice, "there's Columbine. She's in the second event, I see."

Mr. Sandys emptied his glass with an impatient gulp. "Another outsider,"
said he. "Hasn't got a bloomin' look in. You take my tip, and put your
money on a horse that's known."

Barnabas took a quick glance round at the circle of open-mouthed rustics,
and then announced bumptiously. "I'm a goin' to back my fancy, and I
fancies them two 'orses. What'll you give me on the double event?"

The bookmaker was so taken aback that he had to call for another whisky
and soda.

"Double event," he roared. "I won't do it. It would be just picking your
pocket, and I don't pick the pockets of working men."

"Very well," said Barnabas, "then I must take my money to some one else."

"Oh, if you're going to make somebody a present," said Mr. Sandys, "it
may as well be me as anyone else. I'll give yer a hundred to one. That
won't hurt you. How much shall we say? A bob?"

Barnabas turned to the bulging-eyed landlord and asked in a casual tone:
"Tom, can you let me 'ave such a thing as twenty pound? You shall have it
back in half an hour."

There was a breathless silence for two or three seconds. But the gambling
fever had seized the landlord as well as Barnabas. Without a word, he
retired to some secret lair whence he presently returned with four new
five-pound notes.

"Well," said the bookmaker, "if you're clean off your onion, there's
nothing more to be said; only, I warn you, you'll lose your money. Won't
you think better of it?"

"I'm a-goin' to back my fancy," said Barnabas doggedly; upon which Mr.
Sandys formally registered the transaction, explaining that he could not
receive the money in a public place, but that it was to be sent to his
office.

Having once committed himself to this rash enterprise, Barnabas acted his
part consistently. The entreaties of the excited yokels that he would
attend the race in person and see that he got fair play, he ignored with
magnanimous calm and went about his ordinary business as though a
twenty-pound wager were a mere unconsidered trifle, and the oaken chest,
from which he had extracted the bulk of his savings, were the repository
of untold wealth. But he was the only calm person in the village; and
when, in the waning afternoon, he betook himself to the "Black Bull," to
await the return of the bookmaker, he found the tap-room packed and
overflowing into the bar, where the landlord was compressing a month's
business into a couple of hours.

In the interval, his brief attack of speculative mania had died out, and
he had come prepared to increase his growing reputation by a stoical
indifference to the loss that he had already accepted as inevitable; and
while a mob of agitated yokels stood out in the road, eagerly watching
for the returning party, Barnabas sat in the Wycombe arm-chair and
stolidly read the morning paper, an object of respectful and admiring
astonishment to the other inmates of the tap-room.

About five o'clock, there suddenly arose a clamour from without. A score
of heads, round-eyed with excitement, appeared at the open window, and a
score of voices strove to break in upon his philosophic calm.

"He's a-comin', Barney! He's a-passin' the finger-post now! He's
opposight the pond!" and then, after a brief, but clamorous interval,
"Here he is!" and the unmoved Barnabas, with his eye glued to an
advertisement for a respectable housemaid, heard the gig stop, and was
then aware of an irritable, but familiar voice calling out in the bar:
"Where's that feller Mudge? Is he here?"

Barnabas laid down the paper and yawned. Then he rose and stretched
himself, and, sauntering out into the bar, perceived Mr. Sandys,
surrounded by a closely-packed mob of yokels, and grasping a cheque-book
and a fountain pen. But he was no longer genial, nor in the least
inclined to be facetious. On the contrary he greeted Barnabas with a sour
grin and slapped his cheque-book down on the only clean spot on the
counter.

"So, here you are," said he. "Confound you! Do you know you've eaten up
the whole of my earnings?"

Barnabas muttered an apology, being somewhat confused by the unwonted
conduct of the usually genial Sandys, and stood by, watching in some
bewilderment, as the bookmaker scribbled on a cheque, accompanying the
process with disparaging comments.

"S'welp me! Cleaned out by a bloomin' chaw bacon! Better get a bloomin'
nurse to come round with me next time. There 'y'are!"

There was a soft sound of rending, and the astonished Barnabas found
himself regarding an elongated slip of mauve paper that flickered at the
end of his nose. With slowly dawning comprehension, he took the cheque
and laboriously spelled out its mandate to pay to Barnabas Mudge the sum
of two thousand pounds; and he was still staring at it, in absolute
stupefaction, as the wheels of the bookmaker's gig rolled away down the
road.

It is notorious that circumstances alter cases. As Barnabas betook
himself homeward with the two thousand pound cheque in his pocket, the
jar of gold which had hitherto monopolised his field of mental vision,
sank into sudden insignificance. He even debated whether it were not
better publicly to announce the discovery of the treasure and so put
himself definitely on the right side of the law; but a renewed inspection
of the jar, with its glittering contents, produced the inevitable result.
Cupidity overcame discretion.

It was two days later that he set out for the neighbouring market town
for the purpose of opening an account at the bank to which the landlord
of the "Black Bull" had introduced him. Before starting, he had once more
brought forth the jar from its hiding-place, with a half-formed intention
of taking that with him, too. But the singular identity of date on the
coins deterred him; for the strange coincidence would inevitably be
noticed by the officials of the bank, and notice was precisely what
Barnabas did not desire. So he returned the jar to its hiding-place, to
serve as a store to be drawn upon for current expenditure, but first, he
took from it ten sovereigns, which he dropped into his trousers pocket.
With two thousand pounds at the bank, he could surely afford to jingle a
little loose gold.

It was not unobserved by Barnabas that his appearance at the bank in his
very indifferent best suit created a somewhat unfavourable impression,
and he decided anon to furnish himself with raiment more suitable to his
new station.

Meanwhile, the eight-mile walk had developed an appetite and an agreeable
thirst which he decided to assuage, regardless of expense, at the "King's
Head." But here, too, his costume exposed him to humiliations;
notwithstanding which, he worked his way stolidly through the entire bill
of fare, watched superciliously by an obviously suspicious waiter, by
whom the rather startling bill of costs was laid beside his plate before
he had fairly finished his fourth slab of cheese.

Barnabas, however, was not offended. On the contrary, the bill afforded
him the means of vindicating his position; which he did by carelessly
dropping on it one of the golden gifts of benevolent Providence. The
effect, however, on the waiter was not quite what he had hoped; for that
supercilious menial, as he retired, turned the coin over and over in his
palm as if he were a numismatist inspecting a specimen of some rare and
ancient coinage. If Barnabas could have followed him into the office, he
would have seen that this numismatic enthusiasm was actually communicated
to the manager; by whom the coin was closely examined, rung on the desk
and finally weighed in a very queer little balance.

"Now then," said Barnabas to the waiter, who lurked furtively in the
vicinity of his seat, with a futile pretence of having forgotten him,
"how much longer are you going to be with that there change?"

"Yessir, coming, sir, in one minute," the waiter replied, casting an
expectant look towards the door; which at that very moment opened to
admit three persons of whom one wore the becoming costume of the local
police. The three strangers and the waiter deliberately converged upon
Barnabas, and the waiter remarked, more lucidly than grammatically: "This
is 'im!"

Barnabas rose, with a chilly sensation at his spine and a premonition of
evil. One of the strangers, who looked like a guardsman in mufti, held
out his hand, on which lay a sovereign, and opened his mouth and spake:

"I am a police officer. I am going to arrest you on a charge of uttering
counterfeit coin, and it's my duty to caution you that anything you say
will be used in evidence against you."

Barnabas broke out into a cold sweat. "Do you mean to tell me," he
faltered, "that that is a bad sovereign?"

"Rank bad 'un," replied the officer, suddenly dropping his legal
phraseology, "and I want to know if you've got any more." Here Barnabas
was led unresisting, to the office, where, his pockets being expertly
turned out, the other nine sovereigns were brought to light, and laid in
an incriminating row on the desk.

"Same old lot!" said the detective, as he ran his eye rapidly over them.
"I thought we'd seen the last of Fred Gilbert's masterpieces. Where did
yer get this stuff, young man?"

Now Barnabas, as we have said, was a man of intellect; and, at the first
appearance of the police, had been completely enlightened by a flash of
intuition; and he now saw clearly that his only chance lay in a frank
statement of the actual facts. He accordingly recited in detail the
circumstances attending the discovery of the treasure, and he was
encouraged as he proceeded to observe a slow grin spreading over the
officer's countenance.

"Where do you say this house was?" the detective asked.

"Harebell Lane, Baconsfield. Last house on the right 'and side."

The detective chuckled. "That's the place," said he. "We went through it
most carefully after Freddie was nobbled at Newmarket, but couldn't find
a single piece. Rare downy bird was Frederick. Kept all his moulds and
stuff at his place in London. However, you'll have to come along, young
man, for if you didn't make this snide money, you prigged it, on your own
showing, though I don't suppose the magistrates will be hard on you."

As a matter of fact, they were not. On the contrary, they were disposed
to be hilarious to the verge of impropriety; for when Barnabas was
charged with "having unlawfully concealed from the knowledge of our Lord
the King the finding of a certain treasure," the entire Court, including
the prosecuting detective, broke into the broadest of grins; and when the
Clerk rose to point out to their Worships that the word "treasure" was
defined in the statute as "any gold or silver in coin, plate, or bullion,
hidden in ancient times," whereas, the present treasure consisted in a
quantity of base metal, the grins gave way to audible chuckles, and the
amused justices agreed to take advantage of the legal quibble and acquit
the prisoner.

On the very same day, Barnabas surrendered the fateful jar to the
detective as "Trustee of our Lord the King," and ventured smilingly to
express the hope that His Majesty would make no improper use of his newly
acquired wealth.

It is now some years since these stirring events befell, years which have
justified Fortune in the favours she was pleased to bestow on Barnabas
Mudge; whose honoured name has since then not only adorned a multitude of
contractors' noticeboards, but has occasionally appeared at the foot of
cheques compared with which the memorable draft of Mr. Sandys would be a
mere bagatelle.


THE END




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