A Story of a Search in Ireland for Hidden Spanish Treasure Where the Quaintest of Humor Pervades a Pleasing Romance
OUR NEW SERIAL
GEORGE A. BIRMINGHAM
“I wouldn’t wonder now if you didn’t try very hard.” Doyle cast a knowinglook at Langton out of the corners of his eyes as he spoke. “Nor it couldn’t be expected that you would, seeing as how you have a boat of your own that might suit.”
“I don’t know yet that she would suit,” said Meldon. “What do you want her for?”
“My friend and I want to cruise about your bay,” said Langton. “We are spending our holiday here.”
“She’s a good boat,” said Doyle. “And what’s more than that, she’s a safe boat. I never heard tell yet of any man being drownded out of her, long as I’m living here; and there’s many a boat you couldn’t say that for.”
“Is she for hire,” said Langton, “and at what price?”
But this direct method of arriving at the point of the negotiation did not commend itself either to Doyle or Meldon.
“I mind well,” said Doyle, “when old Tommy Devoren used to be sailing her for the R.M. that was in it them times, he’d say how divil a safer nor a drier boat for a lady ever he come across, and him taking the R.M. ’s two daughters out in her maybe as often as twice in a week. ”
“Is there a cabin in the boat,” asked Langton, “in which my friend and I could sleep?”
“Cabin! What would hinder there to be a cabin? Tell the gentleman what kind of a cabin there is in her, Mr. Meldon. Sure you know it better than me.”
“There is a cockpit and a small cabin,” said Meldon. “She’s a five-ton boat.”
“That would suit. Now what do you wTant for her by the month?”
“Can you sail a boat?” said Meldon. “I don’t want to be giving my Aureole to a man that would knock the bottom out of her on some rock. And let me tell you there are plenty of rocks in this bay.”
“Sail her!” said Doyle. “Why wouldn’t he be able to sail her? Is it likely now, Mr. Meldon—I put it to you as a gentleman who knows a boat when he sees one—is it likely that Mr. Langton would come all the way to Ballymoy to look for a boat if he couldn’t sail her when he got her? Sail her! I’ll answer for it he can sail her right enough.”
Mr. Doyle was anxious to preserve an air of fine impartiality. He praised Mr.
Synopsis of Previous Chapters
The Rev. John Joseph Weldon is a genial young Irish curate of Ballymoy, a small town on the west coast of Ireland.
While paying a visit to his friend, Major Kent, he comes across some old documents of the Major’s containing an account of a visit paid by the latter’s grandfather to the Island of Inishgowlan, near Ballymoy, in 1798, and of a tale, which was current among the inhabitants, that the captain of one of the vessels of the Spanish Armada had concealed some treasure on the island. Meldon becomes obsessed with the idea of finding this treasure, and announces his intention of accompanying the Major on a shooting expedition to the island in order that he may prosecute his search for it.
Meanwhile there arrives at Ballymoy a Mr. Langton, who is desirous of hiring a yacht. There are only two yachts in Ballymoy, the Major’s “Spindrift,” a smart craft which he refuses to let, and Meldon’s “Aureole,” which is in very poor condition. Meldon sees a prospect of getting as much as he paid for the boat by leasing her for a month, and calls at the inn at which Mr. Langton is staying, with this view. We here find him discussing the matter with Doyle the landlord, and Mr. Langton.
Langton’s seamanship, of which he knew nothing, with an air of profound conviction, just as he praised Meldon’s boat, of which he knew all there was to know. His argument was powerful and unanswerable. Why should a man travel all the way to Ballymoy, which is twenty miles from the nearest railway station, to look for a boat, unless he felt himself able to make some use of her?
“I’m not much of a sailor myself,” said Langton, “but my friend is. I give you my word that he’s well able to look after your boat.”
“Who is your friend?” said Meldon.
“I don’t see what business that is of yours,” said Langton, displaying a certain irritation for the first time. “If you won’t hire your boat without seeing our baptismal certificates and our mothers’ marriage lines you may keep her. I’m prepared to pay for what I want, and nothing else matters to you.”
“Good-evening,” said Meldon, rising. “Gentlemen,” said Doyle, “gentlemen both, this is no way to do business. Mr. Meldon you’ve no right to be asking the gentleman questions about his mother. Isn’t his money just as good if he never had a mother at all? Mr. Langton, sir, you’ll excuse me, but Mr. Meldon is a clergyman, and it’s only right that he shouldn’t want his boat to fall into bad hands.”
“Will you hire the boat or not?” asked Langton.
“You can have her for a month,” said Meldon, still standing hat in hand, “for thirty pounds, money down in advance, and I’ll have no more talk about the matter. You may take it or leave it.”
“Thirty younds!” said Doyle. “Come now, Mr. Meldon, it’s joking you are.” “Considering the risk I run, I’ll not take a penny less.”
“Thirty pounds!” said Doyle, “is a big lump of money.”
“Take it or leave it.”
“I don’t deny that she’s a good boat and well suited to what Mr. Langton wants her for. But thirty pounds! Come now. The gentleman here is a friend of mine. You mustn’t be hard on him. Say twenty pounds.”
“Thirty,” said Meldon. “After all, I don’t want to let the boat at all. I’d just as soon keep her for my own use.” Like every one else in Ballymoy, Doyle knew exactly what Meldon had paid for the boat, and was very well aware of the rottenness of her hull and the dilapidated condition of her rigging.
“You’re a hard man, so you are,” he said. “I never knew priest nor parson yet but was desperate hard to get the better of in a matter of money. I’ll tell you now what you ought to do. Split the differ and say twenty-five pounds.” “Well, rather than stop here all night talking about it,” said Meldon, “I’ll call it twenty-five pounds.”
“And a pound back out of that for luck,’ said Doyle.
“No, not a penny back. Twenty-five,
Doyle drew his chair over to Langton and whispered.
“It’s a fair offer. You’ll find it hard to better it. The major now would have asked fifty for his old Spindrift. It’s my advice to you, Mr. Langton, to close on it this minute before he has time to sleep on the offer. Maybe to-morrow
morning' he might be asking the advice of some one that would be tor putting up the price on you. What do you say now ? ’ ’
“I’ll give it,” said Langton, “ou your assurance that the boat is as represented.”
“The gentleman takes your otter, Mr. Meldon,” said Doyle. “Twenty-five pounds down and the boat to be returned in good condition, all damages to be made good. What do you say now to a drop of something to wet the bargain?”
But Meldon would not drink. He went home to his lodgings and meditated, as he smoked a final pipe, on the glories and splendours which would be his when he had found the treasure on Inishgowlan. His conscience was quite untroubled by the thought of his bargain Avith Langton. The boat was rotten— so rotten that a man who knew anything about boats would hesitate to go to sea in her. If Langton’s friend knew no more about boats than Langton did, some kind of accident was certain to happen. Meldon consoled himself with the thought that it would happen before they got far enough away from land to run any serious risk of drowning. Moy Bay was full of islands, and the water was always calm in summer time inside the bay. If the Aureole did go to pieces Langton and his friend could row to one of the islands in the punt. Meldon’s punt was a good one.
The Spindrift, close hauled, thrashed her way out towards Inishgowlan against a south-westerly breeze. The coast to the east, a low dark line, lay almost hidden in the haze. The entrance to Moy Bay was scarcely distinguishable. Major Kent, in an oilskin coat, sat at the tiller. The Rev. J. J. Meldon, most unclerically clad in a blue fisherman's jersey, old grey tweed trousers, and a pair of sea-boots, sprawled on the deck near the mast. He was apparently indifferent to the sheets of spray which broke over the bow of the boat now and then, when she struck one of the short seas which happened to be a little larger than its fellows. His red hair was a tangle of thick wet curls. His face and the backs of his hands were speckled with white where the salt had dried on them. The skin of his nose, under the influence of bright sunshine and seawater, already showed signs of beginning to peel off. He had a pair of fieldglasses in his hand, which he polished occasionally with a red cotton pockethandkerchief, and through which he gazed at the island in front of him. To the south lav Inishmore, the larger of the two islands. Dead ahead was Inishgowlan, a long green bank as it seemed, sloping down eastward, dotted over with small white cabins, and divided into tiny fields of the most irregular shapes imaginable.
“In another half-hour,” said the Major, “we’ll be well under the lee of the island and the water will be a bit calmer. Then we’ll have something to eat.”
“L suppose we anchor in that bay,” said Meldon, pointing forward.
He was more interested in the island and in the adventure before him than in the prospect of luncheon.
“Yes. It’s a fine, safe bay, good bottom, perfect shelter from the west, south and north, and deep water up to the very shore. You could anchor a man-of-war in that bay and lie snug the whole winter through.”
“I thought you told me,” said Meldon, a few minutes later, “that there was nobody upon the island except natives.”
“No more there is. At least, thei’e wasn’t last time I was there five years ago.”
“And that they lived in thatched cabins. ’ ’
“Well, they don’t. There’s a galvanized iron hut on the grass just above the shore of the bay.”
“Nonsense! There can’t be such a thing on Inishgowlan. Why would the people fetch a galvanized house out from the mainland when they can build anything they like out of stones ready to their hands?”
“I don’t know. But the thing’s there.”
“Do you take the tiller for a minute,” said the Major, “and give me the glasses.”
He gazed at the island.
“You’re right enough,” he said. “The thing’s there. It’s exactly like the one the engineers lived in when they were making the railway down to Achill. Now I wonder who the deuce put a thing like that on Inishgowlan?”
“They couldn’t be building a railway on the island, could they?”
“No, they couldn’t. Who’d build a railway on an island a mile long?”
“The Government would,” said Meldon, “if the fancy struck them. But it’s more likely to be a pier, and the Board of Works engineer will be living in that hut.”
“It can’t be a pier. They built a pier there only three years ago. You can see it, if you look, on the south side of the bay.”
“That wouldn’t stop them building another,” said Meldon. “I dare say you’ve observed, Major, how singularly little originality there is about Chief Secretaries. One of them, whose name is lost in the mists of antiquity, thought of piers and seed potatoes, and since then all his successors have gone on building piers and giving out seed potatoes. They never hit on anything original. Now if T was a Chief Secretary I’d strike out a line of my own. When T found I had to build something I’d run up a few round towers.”
“I dare say you would.”
“Of course there would be difficulties in the way. A pier is a comparatively simple thing to build, because part of it must be in the sea and the rest on some beach which nobody in particular owns. Whereas T should have to get a site in somebody’s field for my round tower,
and I should probably have the League denouncing me for land grabbing.”
The Major took the tiller again, and Meldon resumed his inspection of the island through the glasses.
“Do you know,” he said after a while, “if there is a Government official of any kind in that iron hut it may turn out awkward for us.”
“I’m not quite sure of the law on the subject, but I’ve always understood that the Government sets up to have a claim to all treasure that’s found buried or hidden anywhere. It won’t do to let this fellow, whoever he is, find out what we’re after.”
Major Kent, who had never taken the treasure-seeking very seriously, made no reply to this remark.
“We’ll have to adopt a disguise,” said Meldon. “I told you all along that we probably would.”
“Now don’t make that remark about the false beard again. What we have to do is invent some plausible excuse for spending a week on the island.”
“Tell him we’re out trawling.” “That won’t do. In the first place we shan’t trawl; in the second place he’d ask where our nets were. Those fellows who spend their lives watching other people doing things develop an unholy curiosity about everybody else’s business. We must hit on something more likely than that. Suppose we told him we were out to learn Irish?” “Stuff!” said the Major; “you wouldn’t take in a newspaper correspondent with that tale. Just look at me. I’ve turned fifty, and I’m developing an elderly spread. Do I look like the kind of man who would go off to a desert island to learn Irish?”
“Oh, well, there may not be an engineer there after all. It’ll be time enough to think of what we’ll say when we see him.”
“Besides,” continued the Major, in whose mind the idea of learning Irish seemed to rankle, “the fool will likely be learning Irish himself. Lots of those fellows do, I’m told. Then he’d want us to join him, and it might end in our having to learn Irish, whether we liked it or not. Here, take the tiller, and I’ll go below and get some grub up on deck.”
Still grumbling at the idea of learning Irish, the Major fetched some cold meat, bread, and a bottle of whisky from the cabin. The Spindrift was in calmer water, and Meldon was able to give both hands to the task of feeding himself, steadying the tiller by hooking a leg over it. The boat raced into the shelter of the bay, and the Major, having stowed away the remainder of the food in the cabin, busied himself in getting ready the anchor.
“The inhabitants,” said Meldon, “are turning out en masse to welcome us. They are all down on the end of the pier—
“ ‘Old men and babes and loving friends,
And youths and maidens gay.’
(Continued on page 113.)
(Continued from page 26.)
And there is an engineer there. At least, if he isn’t an engineer, he’s mighty like one. He’s dressed in gray tweed knickers and brown boots, and i think he has spectacles. There isn’t a doctor on the island by any chance?”
“There is not, nor ever was. Cock the likes of those fellows up with a doctor!”
“Well, then, he’s an engineer. He couldn’t be anything else. Pass the glasses aft tili I get a good look at him.”
“He is wearing spectacles,” said Meldon, staring through the glasses. “And I fancy I know him. He’s a fellow called Higginbotham; he was in my class in college. We went in for our Liltle-Go together. I heard he had got a job under the Congested Districts Board. Now could the Congested Districts Board have a man out here?” “They might; there’s no saying where you’d run across one of their officials. The less likely the place is the more certain you are to meet one of them. Round her up into the wind, J. J.; we’re near enough to the shore.”
The boat edged up into the wind; the jib and the mainsail flapped furiosly. The anchor splashed into the water and the chain rattled out. Meldon ran forj ward and slacked the jib halyards. The | Major gathered in the sail.
“If that’s Higginbotham,” said Melj don a few mintes later, when he and the | Major were making up the mainsail, j “it’s all right. There’ll be no difficulty whatever in dealing with Higginbotham. In the first place he’s a thoroughly decent sort, and I don’t believe he’d want to meddle with the treasure; in the second place he’s quite an easy man to deceive. He always took what’s called an intelligent interest in his work when he was in college, and never paid the least attention to anything else. If
they’ve sent him to cover the whole island over with galvanized iron sheds, he’ll do it quietly. He’ll talk and think of nothing else till it’s done. Any lie will do for Higginbotham; he’ll believe whatever I tell him.”
“If you are going to stuff him with any cock-and-bull story,” said the Major, “you may go and do it yourself. I’ll stay here and tidy up. You take the punt and go ashore to your long-lost friend. But, mind now, if you say a word about learning Irish, I’ll go back on you straight away.”
A collapsible canvas punt lay folded amidships. Meldon stretched her out, fixed the seat, and lowered her carefully into the water. He seated himself in her with the utmost caution, complaining that he was quite unusued to a boat of the kind, and paddled towards the pier. In a few minutes he was shaking hands with Higginbotham in the midie of a group of admiring islanders.
“Well, now,” he said, “isn’t the world small? Last time I saw you was at the winter commencements in old Trinity, when we took our degrees to-
getlier. Fancy meeting you here of al places !”
“I’m very glad to see you,” said Higginbotham, blinking benignantly llirougi his large round-glassed spectacles. “1 find it lonely here, with nobody to speal to. But I thought you were a parson J. J.t”
He eyed Meldon’s collarless neck, tin blue jersey, the shabby trousers and seaboots dubiously. Higginbotham himsell was a young man who took care to be faultlessly attired on all occasions. Even on Inishgowlan he wore a clean collar, a light blue tie, and a well-cut Norfolk jacket. He carried his affection for civilized usage so far as to change his shirt and wear a smoking jacket every evening in his iron hut.
“So I am,” said Meldon; “but you can’t expect me to wear a dog-collar and a black coat on a ten tonner. Tell me, now—what brings you to this island ? ’ ’
“The Board has bought the island, and I’m here striping it. You know what I mean, don’t you? I’m dividing it up into proper-sized, compact farms, building fences and walls, so that the people won’t be holding it, as they do at present, in little bits and scraps, and not knowing properly what belongs to each of them.”
“Will you soon be done?”
“I would be done very soon,” said Higginbotham, “only for one old fellow who’s blocking the whole business. He refuses to stir from a wretched little field, right in the middle of the island, and the most miserable, tumble-down shed of a house you ever saw—a place you’d be sorry to put a pig into.”
“I wouldn’t; I hate pigs. Pigs and cats—I’d put them anywhere.”
“There’s a hole in the middle of his field, too,” said Higginbotham, in an aggrieved voice, “a hole that a heifer once fell into and got killed, and he won’t so much as let me near it to put up a fence.”
“Why don’t you reason with him, and show him that you’re acting for his own good? You are acting for his good, aren’t you? You haven’t any little game on of your own, I suppose?”
“I try to reason with him, but he doesn’t understand English. He speaks nothing but Irish himself.”
“Well, why don’t you tackle him in Irish ? Do you mean to tell me, Higginbotham, that you can’t talk Irish? You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” “I’m trying to learn,” said Higginbotham. “In fact, I’m determined to master the language. I’ve got a grammar and a dictionary up in my house now. I’ll talk to that old man in a way that he’ll understand before I’ve done with him.”
“Quite right. I’d offer to help you myself, only that I’m afraid I shan’t have time.”
“Are you going off to-morrow? I’m sorry. I hoped you might have been here for a few days.”
“We shall be here for a week at least,” said Meldon, “but I shan’t have time to teach you Irish. We shall he frightfully busy.”
“Busy! What are you going to do?” “TIB here with my friend, Major Kent, lie’s been sent to make a geological survey of the island.”
“Really! 1 never heard anything about that. The Board ought to have let me know.”
“He isn’t acting for the Board. It was the Lord-Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary who sent him here. The fact is, Higginbotham, that the Major’s business is of rather a private natiue. ^1 don’t mind telling you, but it mustn t go any further, that au important syndicate has made the Government an otter for the mining rights of this island.” “Over the head of the Board?”
“Olí, I know nothing about that. In fact, neither the Maj-or nor 1 knew anything about the Board having bought the island when we came here. You know the way these Government departments overlap each other, and none of them know what the others are doing. I shouldn’t wonder a bit if the Estates Commissioners turned up before long and said the island was theirs. However, you can understand that the Chief Secretary wasn’t going to sell the mining rights of the place without finding out wiiat they were worth. He sent out Major Kent to make a report.” “But—but—there must be some mistake. Can you have come to the wrongisland ?”
“Certainly not,” said Meldon. “You ought to know me better than that, Higginbotham. Am I the sort of man who comes to a wrong island?”
“Of course not. But there must be some mistake. There are no minerals on the island at all. The whole place is nothing but pliocene clay.”
“You may be right or you may be wrong. My friend Major Kent will find that out for himself. I’m not a miningexpert, so I don’t offer an opinion; but I’ll just say this, speaking as a man with no special knowledge of geology, but still with a good general education— it doesn’t look to me like pliocene clay, not in the least.”
“I assure you, J.J., the geological map-’ ’
“I’m not an expert, Higginbotham, and I don’t propose to start an argument with you on the subject. What’s more, I don’t advise you to try to argue with the Major. He’s a good-natured man and easy to get on with so long as you don’t touch his own particular subject. But lie’s snappy as a fox in a trap if any one starts talking geology to him. You know what these exports are. It’s the artistic temperament. You wouldn’t like it yourself if some outsider began laying down the law to you about galvanized iron sheds.”
“Still, I’d like to tell him-”
“Take my advice and don’t. If you so much as mention pliocene clay, or tertiary deposits, or auriferous reefs, or anything of that kind to the Major, you’ll be sorry afterwards. The best thing for you is not to let on that you know what he’s here for at all.”
“I won’t, of course, if you say I’m not to, but-”
“That’s right. It’s better not, for your own sake. And besides, you’d only! get me into a mess. I’d no business tel tell you about the matter. The Major isj frightfully particular about official reticence and all that of thing. He’s a man of violent temper if he’s roused. He’d; do anything when his blood’s up. Im fact, they say that his career in the¡ army was cut short on account of his ; smashing up a man who insisted on asking him questions he didn’t want to answer. The man recovered more or less in the end and the thing was hushed up, but the Major had to resign. Of course I can’t be sure of the truth of that story. I only heard it at third hand. It may be nothing but gossip. But any way, don’t you worry the Major. Let him potter about the island tapping rocks if he likes. He won’t do you any harm.
“All right, old man. And look here, you and the Major had better come and feed with me to-night. I can’t call it dinner, but I’ll do the best I can. I’ve got a tinned tongue and a lobster.”
“ Delighted. I’ll answer for the Major. And we’ll subscribe to the feast. On a desert island every shipwrecked mariner brings what he can to the common store. We’ll contribute some corned beef and a tin of sardines. What time?”
“I’ve a little writing to do,” said Higginbotham. Shall we say 7.30? Of course you needn’t dress.”
“Thanks,” said Meldon, with a grin; “we won’t, if you’re sure you don’t mind. I’ll take a stroll round the island and then go and fetch the Major.”
The island of Inishgowlan is formed on a simple plan, common among islands off the west coast of Ireland. The western side consists of a series of bluffs, rising occasionally to the dignity of cliffs. At the base of these the Atlantic rollers break themselves, carving out narrow gullies wherever they find a suitably soft place. From these bluffs the island slopes gradually down to its eastern coast.
Meldon, after leaving Higginbotham, walked to the top of the western ridge, climbing a number of loose stone walls on his way. He made his way to the highest point of the island, and from it surveyed the whole coast line. Then he sat down and thought. He was working out a plan for discovering the treasure, which, as he believed, lay concealed somewhere. After smoking two pipes he went down again to the pier, embarked in the collapsible punt, and paddied off to the Spindrift. The Major was sound asleep in the little cabin. Meldon woke him.
“It’s all right,” he said. “I’ve put Higginbotham completely off the scent. We can go where we like and do what we like and he’ll ask no questions. We’re to dine with him to-night. 1 hope you won’t mind. I promised to bring along your corned beef and some sardines. Higginbotham doesn’t seem to have anything except a tinned tongue
and a lobster. I don’t know liow you feel, but I fancy I could account for the whole tongue myself without spoiling my appetite for the lobster.”
“You’re quite right,” said the Major. “But what about drink? Shall we bring some whisky?”
“It might he just as well. Higginbotham wasn’t a teetotaller when I knew him in college, hut he may be now —you never can tell what fads a man will take up. He told me he was learning Irish.”
“We’ll take the whisky, then,” said the Major.
The beef, the sardines, and the bottle were stowed in the how of the punt. The Major seated himself in the stern. Meldon took the paddles.
“By the way,” said Meldon, when about half the journey was accomplished, “what is pliocene clayf”
“I don’t know. How could I know a thing like that? I never heard of the stuff before. Is there any of it on the island?”
“According to Higginbotham the whole island consists of nothing else.”
‘Let it. It makes no odds to us what it consists of.”
“It may make a great deal of odds to you, Major.”
Meldon had stopped paddling and sat looking at his friend. A smile lurked under his moustache; his eyes twinkled. A feeling of uneasiness, a premonition of coming evil, a sudden suspicion, took possession of the Major’s mind.
“J. J.,” he said solemnly, “tell me the truth. What did you say to that Congested Districts friend of yours? What did you tell him we were here for?”
“I told him that you were a mining expert and that you’d been sent by the Lord-Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary to make a geological survey of the island.” The Major started so violently that the punt rocked from side to side. The water lipped in first over one gunwale, then over the other.
“Sit still,” said Meldon. “This is no place to be giving way to strong emotion. Remember that you are floating about in a beastly umbrella turned upside down, a thing that might shut up under you at any moment. It may not matter to you whether you are drowned or not, but I want to see my little girl again before 1 die.”
“But — but — gracious Heavens, J. J.-”
“He believed it all right in the end,” said Meldon. “He seemed a hit surprised at first, but I put it to him in a convincing way and I think he believed me. That was how we got on the subject of pliocene clay.”
“Turn round,” said the Major sternly, “and row back to the Spindrift. I’ll up anchor and leave this place to-night! I’m not going ashore to he made a fool of by your abominable inventions.”
(To be continued.)