GEORGE A. BIRMINGHAM
The Story of a Search for Treasure on the Coast of Ireland, and the Amusing Situations which Arose
Synopsis of Previous Chapters
The Rev. J. ■/. Meldon, curule, of Ballymoy, a village on the neat coast of Ireland, while visiting his friend, Major Kent, comes across an old pocket-book of the Major's grandfather, in which he finds an account of some treasure, supposed to have been hidden by the Spaniards of one of the vessels of the Spanish Armada, on the Island of Inishgowlan. The Major possesses an excellent yacht, The Spindrift, and they decide to take a trip to the island to search for the treasure, which Meldon is very confident of finding, but of the existence of which the Major is very skeptical. Meldon also owns a yacht, The Aureole, a worthless tub, which he lets to a Mr. Langton, tcho, with a friend, wishes to take a trip round the coast. On arriving at the island Meldon and the Major find Higginbotham, an old college chum of Meldon's, engaged in surveying the island for the Government, and dividing it up into allotments. He informs them he is prevented from completing his work by the obstinacy of one old man, named Thomas O'Flaherty Pat, who owns a piece of land in the very centre of the island, entirely surrounded by other people’s land, but with which he will not part at any price. Meldon, not wishing to divulge the real reason of his visit, tells Higginbotham the Major is a Government mineralogical expert who has been sent to examine and report on the island's mineral resources. Meldon and the Major start to explore the island and discover they are being followed everywhere by an old man, who turns out to be Thomas O'Flaherty Pat, and who declares he cannot understand a word of English. Meldon tells him they are naturalists looking for sea beetles, and manages to get rid of him; continuing their search, they find an inlet with a hole, which is only risible at low tide, and here Meldon decides the hidden treasure must lie. On returning to the yacht they notice the arrival in the harbor of the Aureole. The following day Meldon starts for the inlet and the cave, and on his arrival discovers a man, who is being lowered over the cliff to the entrance of the cave.
This turns out to be a Sir Giles Buckley, the friend who is with Langton, on the Aureole, and son of a neighbor of the Major’s, who had lately died. Sir Giles would also have heard of the treasure, as his grandfather was a friend of the Major’s grandfather, and had visited the island with him. After some discussion, Sir Giles calls out to Langton to haul him up, and both he and Meldon depart, as the tide has nearly covered the hole in the rocks. In order to have the coast clear for the next day, Meldon plans to get rid of Higginbotham and Thomas O’Flaherty Pat by sending them on some bogus mission to the mainland, and he also plans to keep Langton and Buckley on the Aureole by stealing their small boat, O’Flaherty Pat's boat, the only other one on the island being away. We now find him just as he has started to work his plan on Higginbotham by telling him Sir Giles is an important Government official who requires him to start early the next day to Inishmore to gather particulars of all cases of consumption there. Higginbotham expresses his surprise and asks why Sir Giles should not make the request himself.
"WELL, he wasn’t. He was simply looking for you. Now Higginbotham, the question is simply this: will you go or will you not? I’d go myself in a minute, only I thought you’d like to get the chance. I’ve nothing to gain by being civil to Sir Giles, but you have. Why, man, your whole future depends upon the kind of impression you make upon these big officials. You know the way they talk to each other in their clubs after luncheon. I tell you there’s very little they don’t know about every inspector and engineer in the country. If you’ve any sense you’ll make yourself as pleasant and obliging to Sir Giles as you possibly can. I hope you don’t mind my speaking plainly. It’s for your own good.”
“I think,” said Higginbotham, “that I’ll row over now and see Sir Giles myself.”
“You’d much better not.”
“Oh well, I don’t like repeating these things. But of course it’s pretty well public property. The fact is-”
Meldon took a cup from the table, put it to his lips, slowly raised his elbow and threw back his head.
“Only in the evenings,” he continued, “after he's left the office. He never allows it to interfere with his work in the slightest.”
Higginbotham gasped. Meldon nodded solemnly.
“Naturally,” he went on, “the poor fellow doesn’t care about having unexpected visitors dropping in on him during the evening. ’ ’
“Good God!” said Higginbotham. “Yes, it’s frightfully sad. In every other respect he’s a splendid fellow, one of the very best. We keep it as quiet as we can, but you can see it for yourself. You’ve only got to look at Langton’s face to see it. You told me yourself that he’d got sacked out of his College Library for drink.”
“But Sir Giles!”
“Oh, tarred with the same brush. Birds of a feather, you know. You see now why it wouldn’t do for you to be going over there this evening. You’re an official yourself, and I need scarcely say that a subordinate official is the very last kind of man who should mix himself up in a business of this kind.”
“I see that, of course.”
“I needn’t say, Higginbotham, that it’s no pleasure to me to repeat stories of this kind. I wouldn’t have said a word if you hadn’t forced me. I’m extremely sorry for Sir Giles and for poor Langton. What a promising career that man had before him ! With his taste for manuscripts and the whole College Library at his disposal, he might have made a European reputation. Drink’s an awful curse.”
“But I thought you said he wasn’t the same man.”
“I may have said that at the time. I naturally wanted to shield Sir Giles as
long as I could. But he is the exact same man. Poor old Euseby Langton ! But we’ll drop the subject now. I don’t care to spend the whole evening gloating over other men’s infirmities. The point I want to get at is this : Will you go to Inishmore to-morrow morning?”
“I suppose I’d better.”
“Quite right. Take my word for it you’ll be glad afterwards you did. And now, as you’ve got to make an early start I daresay you’d like to be getting home. Don’t let Jamesy O’Flaherty oversleep himself in the morning.”
“Major,” said Meldon, when Higginbotham had departed, “I’ve settled that all right. Higginbotham and the curragh go to Inishmore to-morrow. They start at six a.m. ”
“How did you arrange it?”
“Don’t ask me. I had a tough job.” Meldon lit his pipe and puffed groat clouds of smoke. His nerves required steadying after the conversation with Higginbotham. For a time he remained silent.
The Major was filled with curiosity— the morbid curiosity which makes some men eager to gaze on sights which fill them with horror. He pressed Meldon to tell him how the expedition to Inishmoro had been arranged.
“I’m glad we’ll get that treasure tomorrow,” said Meldon. “I don’t believe it will be possible to keep Higginbotham going much longer without his suspecting that there is something up. He’s becoming extraordinarily sceptical about
the things I tell him. I give you my word,
Major, that at times to-night it took me all 1 knew to persuade him that I was telling the truth.”
“I shouldn’t wonder.”
“I’ve made up my mind,” said Meldon, after another pause, “that, if we get anything like the haul I expect tomorrow out of the Spanish captain’s hoard, we’ll give Higginbotham a good bagful of doubloons for himself. We owe it to him to do him a good turn of some sort. I don’t feel that we’ve treated him quite fairly. It’s rough on a man to set him searching for tubercle bacilli all day long on an island by himself. It’s not in Higginbotham’s regular line of work and I’m afraid he won’t like it at all. I’m sorry I had to do it.” “What have you done?”
“I’ve just told you. I’ve sent him off to Inishmore to make a kind of census of all the consumptive people on the island. I told liim he’d better get the parish
priest to help him. By the way, what sort of a fellow is the parish priest of Inishmore?”
“He’s a man called Mulcrono.”
“Has he a sense of humor? I mean, will he see the joke afterwards, or is he the kind who’ll make a row?”
“He can see ordinary jokes. At least he has something of a reputation for making them, but whether he’ll see your kind of joke, of course I can’t say.” “Oh, well, it won’t much matter what he does once we have the treasure, and there’s very little between ns and it now. I think I’ll turn in, Major. I’m a bit fagged. Michael Pat took more out of me this afternoon than I suspected at the time. I advise you to turn in too. We’ve a long day before us to-morrow. Good-night.”
Half an hour later Meldon from his hunk addressed Major Kent, who had been on deck to wash his teeth.
“Major, Higginbotham’s not nearly
such a fool as you appear to think. If I were you I’d slide off that geological survey story of yours quietly and unobtrusively. Don’t try and keep the thing up. I doubt very much whether you’ll be believed if you do. Any disguise you assume in future when dealing with Higginbotham had better be very carefully tested beforehand. Good-night.”
Next morning Meldon awoke earlier than usual. He turned out of his bunk at half-past five, and, as yachtsmen often do, began the day by tapping the barometer. It had fallen during the night and was still falling. He went on deck and looked round him. There no sign visible as yet of a change in the weather. Everything pointed to the certainty of at least-one more hot day. He returned to the cabin and shook Major Kent.
“It’s not time for you to get up yet,” he said. “But I thought I might as well warn you that you’ll have to be dressed and ready to start by half-past six.”
“I’m not going on a fool’s errand at any such hour in the morning,” growled the Major.
“I thought you’d very likely say that when you woke. That’s the reason I shook you up a bit before it was absolutely necessary. Some people are at their best when they first wake. All really great men are. I am, myself. Other people wake slowly and are uncommonly short in their temper for an hour or so after they get up. That’s the sort you are. If you had a wife I’d pity her at breakfast-time.”
Meldon went on deck again and surveyed first the Aureole, then Higginbotham’s hut. At the end of a quarter of an hour he returned to the Major.
“It’s all right,” he said. “Higginbotham is stirring and I see Jamesy O’Flaherty fiddling about at the curragh. They’ll be off in a few minutes. You’d belter be getting up if you want half an hour to dress yourself. We’ll breakfast on shore.”
Meldon made no answer to this flat refusal. He went on deck again and stared through the glasses at the beach beside the pier. He saw Higginbotham embark in the curragh, watched Jamesy O’Flahertv take the oars, shove off and begin to row steadily. He returned to Major Kent.
“He’s gone,” he reported. “I hardly dared to hope he would, but he has. In a few minutes he’ll be out of the bay. Then I’ll swim across to the Aureole at
“To deal with the punt, of course. There’s a nice little westerly breeze, and when I cast loose the painter she’ll drift quietly out to sea.”
“J. J., I’ve stood a lot of your foolery, but I’m not going to allow you to commit theft before my eyes and I’m not going ashore without my breakfast.”
“I’ll take your two points separately,” said Meldon. “There doesn’t seem to be any connection between them. First, there’s no theft in taking my own
punt and sending her out to sea. Second, you must come on shore at once or dse the other fellows will wake. They can't get off the Aureole when they do, of course. But I’d rather not have them howling after us. It wouldn’t look well if we refused to go back for them. People might say afterwards that we’d taken their punt from them. Whereas if we’re well out of the way before they wake we can’t be blamed for their being stuck all day on the Aureole.”
“It’s ten to one they see you setting the punt adrift, and then there’ll be a nice row.”
“They won’t. What would have them up at this hour of the day ? They know jolly well that the tide won’t be low enough to get into that hole at the bottom of the cliff till about ten o’clock They won’t expect us to stir till after eight, anyhow. But I can’t stop here arguing with you. You get a few bits of bread and some butter and sardines and things together, and I’ll be off.”
Meldon dropped over the side of the Spindrift and struck out for the Aureole. He watched her keenly as he swam, and saw no signs of life on board her. The morning breeze ruffled the surface of the water slightly. The tiny ripples beat against his chin and cheek. The sun shone red through a faint haze. Meldon swam joyously.
He was filled with the spirit of adventure and with delightful anticipations of success. The Aureole lay with her bow pointing to the shore. The punt was astern of her. Now and then she pulled at her painter just sufficiently strongly to lift it from the water and haul it taut. Then, while the drops still fell from it, the rope grew slack again and the punt ran up a little towards the yacht. The gurgling wash of the ripples against her side was pleasant to hear. Meldon gripped her by the stern, steadied himself, and lay almost flat on the water with his legs near the surface to avoid the suction of the punt. Then with a sharp jerk of his arms he raised himself till his chest touched the gunwale. He climbed cautiously on board, loosed the painter from the ring in the bow and lay still for a minute or two, watching the distance between him and the Aureole widen slowly. The breeze was light, and the punt did not drift very fast. Still, she moved towards the mouth of the bay. Sir Giles and Langton were apparently sound asleep. Meldon slid quietly into the water again and started on his return journey to the Spindrift. Now and then he turned over on his back and swam for a few ards with his eyes fixed on the Aureole. There was no sign of awakening on board of her.
He climbed into the Spindrift by the bight of rope he had left hanging over the side for his accommodation.
“Major,” he said in a delighted whisper, “the coup has come off. Where’s may shirt? Isn’t it extraordinary the way things move about during the night? I could have
sworn I left it on the end of my bunk. Ah ! I have it. Now the
sooner we’re off the better. Slip the breakfast into the punt and get in yourself. Go on ,man. If you want to argue when we’re on shore. We haven’t a minute to lose. I wouldn’t trust that beast Langton not to sneak up in his pyjamas to have a look at us. He did yesterday. ’ ’
Major Kent, grumbling and protesting, was hustled into the punt. Meldon followed him and paddled briskly to the shore. There was no one, not even Mary Kate, on the pier when they reached it.
“Now,” said Meldon, “get the punt ashore and fold her up. We’re going to take her witn us.”
“Why should we drag the punt? We’ll only be cutting her to pieces on
“Why? Because in the first place, as you’d see if you troubled yourself to think for a single instant, if we leave her here some fool will go off to the Aureole in her when those fellows begin to shout for help. In the next place, be-
cause you can’t swim, and we'lí want her to carry you up the channel to the bottom of the cliff. I must say that these collapsible punts, beastly as they are to row in, have certain good points. We couldn't have carried the ordinarywooden boat all round the island. Just you fold her up while I go over to the curragh there on the shore.”
Major Kent lifted the punt out of the water and folded her flat. Then he looked up and saw Meldon, with four oars on his shoulders, going up the hill towards Higginbotham’s house.
“What are you doing?” he called.
“I found four oars,” said Meldon, “and I’m going to put them in through one of the windows of Higginbotham’s house. Nobody will think of looking for them there. I wish to goodness you wouldn’t shout at me like that. You’ll waken every man on the island before you’ve done, to say nothing of Sir Giles and Langton.”
The Major pursued Meldon up'the hill and seized him by the arm.
“J. J.,” he said earnestly, “I call this theft.”
He had the true English respect for law in spite of the fact that both him and his father had spent their lives in Ireland. The very thought of an unhallowed interference with property shocked him inexpressibly.
“You may call it arson if you like,” said Meldon, who had nothing but Irish blood in his veins, “or malicious injury, or agrarian outrage, or intimidation I don’t care if you call it cattledriving or even boycotting. I’m going to stow the oars away all the same. I can’t have the owners of the curragh rowing off to the Aureole and putting Sir Giles on shore as soon as our backs are turned.”
Meldon breasted the hill and reached the iron hut. He tried each of the four windows in turn. They were all bolted. With the end of one of the oars he deliberately smashed a pane of glass.
“For Heaven’s sake, don’t,” said the Major.
“I must; Higginbotham will probably grumble, but that can’t be helped. He’d no right to go away and leave his house barred and bolted as if he was afraid of burglars.”
“He very well might be afraid of burglars when you’re about.”
“Now look here,” said Meldon as he shoved the oars through the broken pane, “I don’t mind your being abusive, not the least bit. You’ve been calling me a liar and a burglar and other bad names since ever I brought you to this island. I haven’t resented it a bit and I don’t. But I tell you what I do dislike, and that’s your abominable unreasonableness. I can’t bear men who are carried away by mere words and don’t stop to think about the meaning of what they say. What is burglary? Isn’t it taking a man’s own things out of his house when he’s not looking? You agree to that definition, I suppose. Very well. What am I doing? I’m putting other people’s things into a man’s house when he’s not looking. Now that’s just the exact, bang opposite to what burgling is. Therefore, I’m not a burglar. In fact, I’m the very antithesis of a burglar. You may not know what an antithesis is, but-”
“I do know, so you need not trouble to explain.”
“Very well, I’ll pursue my line of reasoning. Burglary is wrong. You hinted that yourself a minute ago. But the antithesis of wrong is right. What T’m doing is the antithesis of burglary. Therefore-”
“There’s no need to go on talking that rot,” said the Major. “It doesn’t impress me in the least.”
“I feared it wouldn’t. Never mind, Major, even if you don’t pocket a single doubloon—and I’ll be greatly surprised if you’re not weighed down with them before morning, but even if you don’t pocket one, you’re getting a liberal education. The things I’ve told you about geology, entomology, theology, ethics, and philosophy in general, since we came to this island would set up an ordinary professor h andsomely. ’ ’
Meldon slung the folded punt across his shoulders, took a last look at the Aureole and started to tramp up to the head of the path which led down the cliff to the western beach of the island. Major Kent, with the paddles, the rowlocks, and the basket which contained the breakfast, followed him. The inhabitants of Inishgowlan are not early risers. A few women peered out through the doors of the cabins. Nobody attempted to speak to them or follow them. Neither Thomas O’Flaherty Pat nor Mary Kate appeared at all. Meldon and the Major walked rapidly. At the top of the cliff they paused.
“We’re pretty safe now,” said Meldon, “and we’ll take a few minutes’ rest, but we won’t breakfast till we’re down among the rocks.”
He swung the punt off his shoulders as he spoke, sat down and wiped his brow.
“If I’m not mistaken,” said the Major, “there’s some one on the deck of the Aureole now.”
Meldon stood up and looked eagerly. “There is,” he said. “You’re quite right. See now, they’re both on deck. Well, they can stay there.”
“What’ll they do now?”
“Shout, I should think. I can’t myself see what else there is for them to do. Sir Giles might swim, but it’s not likely the other fellow can. That sort of man never does anything really useful. Anyway, if they do swim, they can’t carry all their tackle with them for getting down the cliff. All the same, I think we’ll move on a bit.”
“I’m inclined to go back to them,”
said the Major. “I don’t like-After
all, they’ve not done anything to us.” “It’s not what they’ve done so much as what they want to do which makes me determine to keep them there. Recollect, Major, they’re after the treasure.”
“Well, haven’t they as good a right to it as we have? I like to play fair.” “They have not as good a right as we have. I deny that entirely. Think of the use those fellows would make of the treasure if they got it. You told me yourself that Sir Giles was a bat hat— so bad that his own father left the family property away from him, as much of it as he could. Langton’s no better. You heard what Higginbotham said about his drinking, and he must have a hideously corrupted mind after poking about for years among those manuscripts in the College Library. You don’t know how bad most manuscripts are. That’s the reason they remain manuscripts. No decent printer would set them up in type.
I tell you, if those two fellows get a hold of the treasure, they’ll spend it in ways that will make the Spanish captain shiver in his grave, and I don’t expect he was exactly a squeamish man. It’s nothing but a public duty to prevent their getting a hold of the money, even if we never touch a penny of it ourselves.”
“I don’t see what all that, even if it’s true, has to do with their right to take the treasure if they can, always supposing there is any treasure to take.”
“1 wish you wouldn't qualify everything you say with a whole string of ‘ifs.’ It robs your conversation of piqua ncyr. But come on now. We must get out of this. They might see us with their glasses. When we’ve had our breakfast, I ’ll explain to you why Sir Giles has no right to the treasure.”
They made their way down the steep path and reached the rocks at the foot of the cliff. Meldon laid the punt down carefully. The basket was unpacked and a sufficient supply of bread, butter, sardines, potted meat, and jam were spread out on a fiat stone. For a while Meldon ate without speaking. An early swim, a long walk, and an hour or two of anxious excitement, whet a man’s appetite for breakfast. Major Kent began to hope that he would escape an explanation of his own moral right to the treasure. He was disappointed. Meldon, his appetite sated, lit a pipe and leaned back comfortably against a rock.
“We may as well take it easy for a bit,” he said. “The tide won’t be out far enough to let us get into that hole for another two hours, and it won’t take us more than one to get there.”
He smoked contentedly for a few minutes and then began to speak again— “You read the Times, Major, so I suppose you take some interest in politics.” “I know that the Nationalists are blackguards, if that’s what you mean.” “I’m not talking now of these petty little local squabbles. When I say politics, I refer to the great stream of European thought, to the wide movements discernible among all civilized peoples.”
He waved his hand towards the ocean to indicate the immensity of his subject.
“I don’t know anything about that,” said the Major.
“I thought you wouldn’t, but you ought to. Are you aware that our modern civilization is on the very verge of a bust-up? No? Well, it is. The Governments of the various countries are, generally speaking, unaware of the catastrophe which threatens them; or, if they guess anything, are foolish enough to think that they can stifle an explosion by sitting on the safety-valve. You catch my meaning. I suppose?”
“You appear to mean,” said the Major, “that all Kings, Princes, Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Parliaments are fools.”
“Precisely. They all are.”
“It’s a pity you don’t tell them so.” “I will. I’ve always intended to tell the first one I met. Look at Russia. Chock full of anarchists and nihilists. Look at Portugal. They’re murdering kings and rioting in churches. Look at Finland, admitting women to their Parliament; not that I object to women in the way you do, Major. I think they’re all right in their proper place. I only quote Finland as an instance of the general tendency I’m speaking of. Look at New York, with its Socialist riots. Look at Austria-Hungary, or Italy, or any other country you choose to name. Look at the Labor Members in the English
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House of Commons. Now what does all that mean?”
“I don’t know in the least, and I don’t care. Things were always pretty much the same. There’s nothing new in the condition of the world that I can see.”
“You may not see it, but there is. We’re on the brink of a revolution—the biggest thing of the kind that there has ever been. And the cause of it is the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few people who are using it for purely selfish purposes. Any student of sociology will tell you the same thing. It’s a well-known fact. Now what is our duty under the circumstances? What is the duty of every well-disposed person who values the stability of civilization? Obviously it is to prevent the selfish, depraved, and fundamentally immoral people from acquiring wealth; to see that only the well-intentioned and public-spirited get rich. That is the general principle. Now apply it to the particular case we are discussing. On this island there is untold wealth in solid gold.”
“I suppose,” said the Major, “that I shall come to believe that in the end. I hear it so often that I shan’t be able to help myself.”
“There are just two parties who stand a chance of possessing themselves of it. There’s no one else in the running for this particular scoop.”
“What about Higginbotham and Thomas O’Flahertv?”
“You might just as well say, What about Mary Kate and Michael Pat? They’re not in it. Higginbotham is a Government official, to mention only one point, and is so much occupied in ameliorating the condition of the people that lie simply wouldn’t have time to spend the money, even if he got it. No. There’s us and there’s Sir Giles and Langton. That’s all. Now, ex hypothesi — you know what I mean by ex hypothesi, don’t you?”
“I do, but don’t let that stop you if
you have any fancy for explaining it. I shan’t mind listening.”
“Your suggestion, Major, as one of the members of our District Council said the other day, when some one accused them all of being drunk, is quite uncalled for. It’s only for your sake, to quiet your conscience about the treasure, that I’m going into the matter at all. My own mind is quite clear. I haven't any doubts about Sir Giles.”
“If that’s all, you needn’t go into it any more.”
“All right. I won’t. Have another sardine? There are two left in the tin. Now that I’ve finished my pipe I feel that I could do with one of them. In fact I could manage them both if you don’t want the other.”
“Sure? Oh, well, rather than let them go to waste, I’ll eat them.”
He took them one after the other by their tails, and throwing his head back, dropped them into his mouth. With his penknife he scraped out of the pot some fragments of jam which lingered near the bottom. There was no more bread. Having finished this scanty second breakfast he stood up and stretched himself. Then he announced that it was time to start. Major Kent rose unwillingly and took up the paddles. Meldon swung the punt on to his back again.
“No sign of old T. O. P. this morning,” he said. “We’ve successfully given him the slip. I expect lie’s cowering in his gloomy cabin, meditating on fresh ways of defeating Higginbotham. Sir Giles and Langton have probably stopped shouting for help by this time. They’re too hoarse, I expect, to shout any more. They are now reduced to gnashing their teeth silently and muttering frightful oaths. Higginbotham is searching for bacilli on Inishmore. Poor Higginbotham! I’m afraid it’ll be a dull and trying day for him. But we’ll make it up to him afterwards. Mary Kate is, I hope, doing her duty by her little cousin Michael Pat and making things a hit easier for young Mrs. 0’Flaherty. When we get back to Ballvmoy, Major, we’ll send a good stiff bottle off to the old woman. Remind me of that, will you, in ease it slips my memory. On the whole, things look rosy for you and me—a great deal rosier than I ever recollect them looking before. Come along now, we’ve no more time to waste.”
It is not easy to carry a punt—even the kind of punt that folds up •—• over rugged and slippery rocks. Meldon stumbled frequently and fell three times. He out his elbow7 and reopened the rent in the knee of his trousers which he had laboriously sewed up after his first expedition round the coast of the island. His cheerfulness was untouched bv misfortune. His energy carried him far ahead of Major Kent, who had the lighter load. Even when he found himself on his hands and knees among seaweed and pools he preserved the punt from injury. He arrived at last at the point on
which lie had decided that the Spanish galleon must have struck, scrambled round it and reached the ledge of rock above the channel. He was breathless, disheveled, and so hot that he wished very much to swim rather than row to the hole in the cliff. He put the temptation aside. Major Kent, laboring heavily with the paddles over one shoulder, appeared at the corner. Meldon unfolded and stretched the canvas punt. He made fast the rope, which he had used as a sling, to the ring in lier bow, and launched her very carefully. He insisted on embarking at once when the Major ar-
“No sign of any one swinging down over the cliff to-day,” he said, looking over his shoulder as he paddled up the channel. “Sir Giles is otherwise and perhaps less innocently occupied. He is certainly swearing frightfully. He is very likely at this moment cutting Langton’s throat.”
“It isn’t Langton’s throat he’ll cut. Langton didn’t set his punt adrift.”
“I dare say he’d rather cut mine if he could, but in the sort of temper he’s in at present it’ll be almost necessary for him to murder somebody at once.” “But what has he against Langton?” “Oh, you can’t always account for deeds of that sort. They are what the French call crimes of passion. By the way, did you ever read Lombroso on Crime? You ought to. He’s a tremendous fellow for the physical characteristics of the criminal. I’d like him to
have a look at Sir Giles. I expect-
Hullo! here we are!”
The punt grounded at the very mouth of the hole. There was still a few inches of water in the entrance, and the little beach on which Sir Giles had stood two days before was not yet uncovered. Meldon stepped out of the punt, knelt down, and peered into the hole.
“It’s all right,” lie said. “We can get in easily. It doesn’t matter if we get a little wet.”
He took the painter of the punt in his hand and crawled into the hole. In a couple of minutes his voice, sounding hollowly, reached Major Kent.
“Come along. It’s only the entrance that’s really narrow. It’s quite a large cave when you’re inside, and not nearly so dark as you’d expect. You don’t have to crawl more than a few yards in the water. The ground rises rapidly and it’s quite dry where I am now.” Major Kent disliked very much the idea of crawling even a few yards through water; but he knew that it was no use holding back. Meldon was quite capable of emerging and dragging him by main force into the hole. Very unwillingly he stooped lown and crept forward.
“It’s not a bad place, is it?” said Meldon, “and a pretty good size. You can sit straight up here and hardly bump your head at all.”
He fade fast the painter of the punt to a large stone as lie spoke. “She’ll be all safe. The tide will leave her high and dry in another half-hour. I wonder how far this cave goes? I expect the Spanish captain dumped his treasure right at the far end. Come along.”
It was difficult to get along at first Walking over large round stones which roll about when trodden on is never easy. It becomesextremely troublesome! when it is only possible to proceed either on all fours or bent double—when the roof is so low that an unguarded movement results in a blow on the head. But! things got pleasanter after a little while. The ground sloped rapidly upwards. Meldon and the Major were soon above high-water mark. Then the stones on which they walked were no longer so smoothly rounded and were much less liable to roll.
“What beats me about this cave,” said Meldon, “is that it isn’t darker. It doesn’t seem to get any darker either as we go on.”
The roof rose higher. It became possible to walk upright. Major Kent stretched himself at last to his full height and looked round him. The rocks on each side had widened out, leaving a space between them. They and the roof were quite visible in a dim light which came from the depths of the cave.
“It’s interesting to think,” said Meldon, “that the last human feet which trod these stones were those of the Spanish captain and his crew. It must have been tough work dragging the eases of bullion along through that narrow part. We can’t have much farther to go now. I see what looks like the end in front of us. But I can’t understand where the light comes from.”
He went on a few yards and then gave a sudden shout—a kind of cheer— half-smothered by excitement. He ran forward, stumbling desperately among the loose stones, but picking himself up and bounding on with outstretched arms. Major Kent, stirred at last out of his grumbling indifference, ran after him. Meldon stopped abruptly. Before him, laid on a slab of rock at the side of the cave, were two iron chests. Their lids stood wide open. They were perfectly empty.
“Good God!” said Major Kent, “there was something here after all. I must say, J. J., I didn’t believe in your treasure till this minute, and now it’s
“It’s gone,” said Meldon, “but it can’t be gone far. Every argument for believing that it’s still on the island holds good. Don’t you lose heart. What we’ve got to do now is to turn to and find out where it’s gone and who’s got it.”
He took another glance at the empty chests and then looked on from where they lay.
“This isn’t the end of the cave,” he said. “It takes a sharp bend to the right. See how the light coming round the corner, strikes that wall. Let’s go on and see where the cave does end and where the light comes from.”
“I don’t see,” he said as he stumbled on, “bow Sir Giles can have got it. I’ve watched him like a eat does a mouse. The only time he got away from me was yesterday afternoon when he went up to Thomas 0’Flaherty Pat’s house, and I had Mary Kate watching him then. Great Scott! What’s that?”
The crash of some heavy body falling on the boulders set the whole cave echoing. Meldon stood still in astonishment.
“If you ask me,” said the Major, “I should say that the roof’s falling in. We’d better clear out of this while we can.”
“I don’t care,” said Meldon, “if the roof does fall in. I don’t care if the whole island crumbles into bits and comes rattling down on top of my head. I’m going to see this business through.” He went forward very cautiously, peering in front of him, until he reached the place where the cave bent to the right. He stood still for a minute. Then he turned and went back to where the Major waited.
“It’s Sir Giles,” he said. “He’s come down through the roof, and he’s standing there looking up while something is being lowered to him. I have it, Major. The hole in Thomas O’Flaherty Pat’s field! Mary Kate told me they were looking at it yesterday. What an ass I was not to think of it before. Of course it opens straight down into this cave. It couldn’t do anything else. Why didn’t I think of that sooner? Come on, now, Major. As Sir Giles is here, we may as well have a talk with him.”
Taking Major Kent by the arm he stepped forward, turned the comer, and came in sight of Sir Giles Buckley, who was lighting a lantern. Meldon recognized it at once as the riding-light of the Aureole.
“Good-morning, Sir Giles,” he said. “You won’t need that lantern. The cave is quite light.”
Sir Giles started and turned quickly. “Oh, it’s the damned parson,” he said. “I more than half expected you’d be here.”
“I don’t mind owning,” said Meldon, “that I did not expect to see you. You swam ashore from the yacht, I suppose.”
“No, you didn’t expect me. I dare say you thought you had me boxed up for the day when you played that fool’s trick, setting my punt adrift.”
“It’s my punt, not yours. But as we’re on the subject of the punt, how did you get ashore?”
“As soon as I found she was gone,” said Sir Giles, “I got up the mainsail and went after her. Any one who wasn’t a perfect ass would have known beforehand that I’d do that. You must think that everybody in the world is as big an idiot as you are yourself. Did you suppose that I’d sit still and whistle hymntunes until you came back and put me ashore?”
“I didn’t suppose anything of the sort. I thought you’d swear every oath you knew five or six times over, and then cut Langton’s throat.”
“You driveling imbecile!”
“Go on,” said Meldon, “call me any other name that occurs to you. When you’ve finished perhaps you’ll walk down the cave a bit and I’ll show you whether I’m a fool or not.”
He turned and walked away, followed by Major Kent. Sir Giles eyed them doubtfully for a minute and then went after them. When he reached the slab
of rock on which the chests lay, Meldon turned and made sure that Sir Giles was at his heels. With a dramatic gesture he pointed to the chests.
“Empty, Sir Giles,” he said. “Look in and make sure. Quite empty.”
“Have you got the stuff?” said Sir Giles. “Damn it! you can’t have it. 1 don’t believe you’ve touched it.”
“Believe whatever you like, but there’s one thing you ma.y bet on with perfect safety. Whether we’ve got it or not, you haven't, and what’s more you never will. Now, who’s the fool, the
ass, the idiot, and the driveling imbecile?”
Sir Giles glared at Meldon. It was evident that he was in an extremely bad temper. His face became first white and then crimson. He opened his mouth to speak, but no sound issued from it except a sort of hoarse gurgle produced apparently far down in his throat.
“Don’t let your temper get the better of you,” said Meldon. “It’s foolish, besides being bad form. And remember what I said to you the day we first met about swearing. Excuse my reminding you of that, but I can’t help thinking that you mean to curse as soon as ever you can. You have all the appearance of a man who is struggling to find expression for strong feelings of some kind.”
Sir Giles stuttered out an oath. Having succeeded in giving utterance to one intelligible syllable, he obtained all at once complete command of his powers of speech. He poured forth a series of voluble imprecations and expressed hopes for Meldon’s future which -would have startled the author of the most emphatic of the Psalms. He was interrupted by a loud crash from the depths of the cave. He started violently.
“What the devil’s that?”
“It’s uncommonly like the noise you made yourself when you came down through the roof. My own opinion is that it’s Langton. He’d be likely enough to drop in to see that you didn’t sneak off with any more than your own proper share of the treasure. Come along and we’ll see.”
He went up again to the place where he liad met Sir Giles. Langton, who had descended very much more rapidly than he wished, sat on a stone nursing a bruised knee.
“Good morning,” Mr. Langton,” said Meldon. “I’m delighted to see you. I hope you haven’t hurt yourself. As far as I could judge by the noise, you must have’ come down rather hard. However, I’m glad you’re here. You must take Sir Giles in hand and look after him a
bit. He very nearly had a fit just now. You ought to see to it that he takes some kind of cooling medicine three times a day—bromides, or castor-oil, or something of that sort. Any chemist would make the mixture up for you if you told him the kind of thing you wanted. Or if there’s no good man in your neighborhood try one of those soothing syrup stuffs you’ll see advertised in Christmas numbers. I dare say they’re all right. I hesitate as a rule about recommending patent medicines,
but you can see for yourself that your friend wants something.”
“What the devil brings you here?” said Sir Giles. “I told you to wait at the top for me. Who’s going to haul us up now, I’d like to know?”
Langton, still nursing his knee, sat in sulky silence. Meldon looked up at the hole above his head. Peering over the edge of it was the benevolent and aristocratic face of Thomas O’Flaherty Pat. His long white beard drooped down. His white hair completed a kind of moonlight aureole round his head. His face expressed a mild and entirely courteous interest in the doings of the men below
“It’s all right,” said Meldon to Sir Giles. “There’s a dear old fellow up there, a great friend of mine, who’ll do what he.can to pull you up, I’m sure. He’s not very strong, and he may not be able to haul you quite the whole way, but he’ll do his best. And you’re taking risks in any ease. I see you’re using the throat halyard of my boat again in spite of the warning I gave you the day before yesterday. If I were you I’d make Langton lie down flat underneath you as you go up. He’d-break your fall
a good deal in case-”
“Come out of this,” said Sir Giles, taking the rope from Langton and fitting it round his own armpits. “I’ll go mad if I have to stand here any longer listening to that ape gibbering. Hi ! you above there! Haul up!”
I forgot to mention,” said Meldon, “that the old gentleman doesn’t understand a word of English. My friend Higginbotham, who has important business to transact with him, is learning Irish on purpose to be able to carry on the necessary conversations.”
Sir Giles plucked furiously at the rope and shouted again.
“There’s no use trying to make him understand by shouting,” said Meldon, “he’s not the least deaf. The best thing you can do is to wait here quietly till the Major and I get away in our punt and back to the far side of the island. It’ll only take us about two hours. You and Langton can talk things over together while you’re waiting. I’ll send up a little girl called Mary Kate, who understands both languages. You can tell her what you want and she will explain it to her grandfather. But I do ask you to remember, Sir Giles, that she’s a little girl. I don’t want to rub it in about your language, but there are some things that a girl of ten years old—you know what I mean.”
Sir Giles stooped and took up a large stone in both hands.
“Tf you utter another word,” he said, “I’ll bash in your skull with this.”
“If you’d keep calm,” said Meldon, “you’d run much less chance of bursting a blood-vessel. You ought to be able to realize that I’m giving you sound advice and speaking for yon own good.” Sir Giles raised his two hands above his head with the stone between them. He held it there, poised for several seconds, taking aim at Meldon. The rope round his armpits tightened suddenly. He was lifted from his feet. He dangled
in mid-air, hands and feet hanging down. I When he was about eight feet above the ground he ceased to ascend. He writhed and wriggled, with the result that he began to spin rapidly round and round at the end of the rope.
“If I were you,” said Meldon, “I’d drop that stone. It adds considerably to your weight. I told you before that old Thomas O’Flaherty Pat is anything but a strong man. I’m sure he’s doing his best, but it looks to me as if he was pretty nearly played out. It’s trying him too high to make him hoist both you and the stone at once. I’ll send it up to you afterwards if you really want it. But I can’t see what use it will be to you. There are plenty of stones up above. The island is simply covered with stones, every bit as good as that
The ascent commenced again and continued jerkily with many pauses, until at last Sir Giles disappeared through the hole.
“I think,” said Meldon to the Major, “that you and I may as well be dodging off home now. Good-bye, Mr. Langton. We can’t be of any further use to you. Sir Giles will pull you up all right. If I were you I wouldn’t be in too great a hurry to go. His temper won’t be by any means improved by the argument he’ll have with Thomas O’Flaherty Pat. You can’t imagine how trying it is to argue with a man who can’t understand a word you say and can’t speak so as you can understand him. That old fellow has just one sentence, something about ‘Ni heurla.’ He says it over and over again in a way that would get on the nerves of a cow. It takes a cool man to stand it. Higginbotham gets quite mad, and even I have to keep a tight grip on my temper. The effect on Sir Giles will be frightful. And he has that stone with him. He would insist on clinging i to it. Good-bye, Mr. Langton.”
Meldon and Major Kent went down the cave together. The tide had completely ebbed, and it was possible to crawl through the entrance without getting wet. The punt, which lay high and dry, was carried down to the water and launched. Meldon, as usual, took the paddles.
“One thing,” he said, thoughtfully, “seems perfectly clear. Sir Giles hasn’t got the treasure. If he had lie wouldn’t have got into such a beastly temper.”
“That coup of yours about the punt didn’t precisely come off,” said the Major with a grin. “He rather had you over that, I thought.”
Meldon ignored the taunt.
“The question now is,” he said, “who has the treasure? The position seems to me to require some thinking out. It is becoming complex. I’m glad we have a long, quiet afternoon before us.”
They reached the shelf of rock, disembarked, and folded up the punt.
“I wish,” said Meldon, “that you hadn’t insisted on my finishing off those two sardines this morning. I’m very hungry now.”
“You’ll get nothing more to eat till you get back to the Spindrift, unless you happen to come across that crab which
you lost the first day we were here.” “I wouldn’t eat a raw crab any way. I’m not a cannibal. Come on and let us íet back as quick as we can.”
The disappointment of the morning and the sharp appetite which followed hard work in the open air affected even Meldon’s temper. He spoke no more for some time, but scrambled doggedly along, only a few yards ahead of Major Kent. Gradually the extreme interest of the treasure hunt took possession of his mind again and restored his cheerful Bclf-confidence.
“You’ll admit now,” he said, “that 1 reasoned perfectly correctly about that treasure. The Spanish captain hid it precisely where I said he did.”
“There was only one point you went wrong about,” said the Major. “You said the treasure was in that cave and it wasn’t.-”
“It was, originally. I couldn’t be expected to foresee that some one would remove it and hide it again in another place. That’s what has happened. Now that I know it’s gone, I’ll turn to and reason out where it’s gone to. If it hasn’t got any rightful owner we’ll get it yet.”
“What do you mean by a rightful owner?”
“A live man,” said Meldon. “If it was removed and hidden by some fellow that’s dead and gone, then he’s no more the owner of it now than the Spanish captain is. If there is a rightful owner, of course, we’re done. I’m not going to commit robbery even for the sake of getting that treasure.” “I’m glad to hear that, anyway.” “Now, there are just two people at present alive who can possibly have that treasure. One is Higginbotham. The other is Thomas O’Flaherty Pat. I’ll take Higginbotham first.”
“What’s the good of that? If Higginbotham has it he will keep it.” “Still it would be interesting to know. In favor of Higginbotham it may be urged that he has evidently made a very careful investigation of this island. You see how glibly he came out with that information about the pliocene clay. Now would he have known that if he hadn’t, so to speak, got at the inside of the island? That sort of clay doesn’t lie about on the surface for everybody to
“Why shouldn’t it?”
“Oh, just because those fundamental things never do lie on the surface. A fellow wouldn’t find out what your backbone consisted of by just looking Bt your skin, would be? He’d have to jput you on an operating table and cut a hole in you to find that out. It’s just the same with islands. Higginbotham knew that this island consisted of pliocene clay. Very well, it follows that he must have gone beyond the surface of the island.”
“Prompted, I suppose, by an unholy curiosity.”
“Prompted by a stern sense of duty. He is employed by the Government at an enormous salary, no doubt, to find out all he can about this island. Naturally he either digs a hole or goes down some hole already in existence. Now, so
far as we knqw, Thomas 0’Flaherty’s hole is the only one there is. Therefore it seems likely that Higginbotham went down it. If he did he found the treasure and has it now.”
“It’s all the same to us who has it. As I said before, if Higginbotham has it, he’ll keep it.”
“I didn’t say Higginbotham had it. St. far I’ve only considered what is to be said in favor of what I may call the Higginbotham hypothesis.”
“Don’t start on hypotheses again, J.J. I’m sick of the sound of the word.”
“I can’t help it if you are. The proposal of an hypothesis is the only known method of finding out truth. I tell you, Major, I’ve gone pretty deep into these philosophic and scientific questions, and I know what I’in talking about. You ask any first-rate man and he’ll tell you the same thing. Now, against Higginbotham there’s just one broad fact to be urged, but I candidly confess it seems to me to be decisive. Higginbotham isn’t the kind of man who would come upon hidden treasure even by accident. He has too much of the official mind. It’s almost impossible to think of a Congested Districts Board official gloating over Spanish gold. That puts Higginbotham out of court. There remains Thomas O’Flaherty Pat. You’ll recollect that I’ve always had my suspicions of that old man. The way lie followed us the first day we went round the cliffs was peculiar, to say the least of it. His persistent refusal to speak a word of English points to the fact that he has something or other to conceal. I shall have to go into his case very carefully indeed. But here we are at the foot of the path. I can’t climb up a cliff with a punt on my back and talk at the same time. I’ll have to put off discussing old O’Flaherty till we get to the top.”
After a quarter of an hour’s hard work Meldon reached the head of the path, drew a long breath, and took a look at the bay below him. Then he laid down the punt hurriedly and turned to the Major, who was still struggling upwards.
“There’s another yacht in the bay,” he said—“a big steam yacht.”
Major Kent hurried over the last few steps of the climb.
“You’re right,” he said. “There is. If I’d known that this was to be a kind of Cowes week at Inishgowlan I wouldn’t have come near the place. I suppose the next thing will be some fellow coming round and asking us to act on the committee of a regatta.”
“That’s a biggish boat,” said Meldon. “The man who owns her must be pretty wealthy. Now what has he come here for?”
“Treasure-hunting, of course,” said the Major. ‘Nobody comes here for anything else.”
“Don’t jump at conclusions in that way. There’s nothing so unphilosophic as forming conclusions on insufficient evidence, and in this case you simply haven’t any evidence at all.”
“It wasn’t a conclusion,” said the Major. “It was an hypothesis. Of course if you’ve any better hypothesis to offer-”
“I have. 1 believe, in fact I’m practically certain, that the men on that yacht are Members of Parliament.” “You said that about Sir Giles and you turned out to be wrong. ’ ’
“That’s just what makes me so sure I’m right now. I’ll explain it to you in one minute. You’ve sometimes played piteh-and-toss, I, suppose—I mean as a boy. ’ ’
“Very well. Now suppose the other fellow tossed the penny. You called heads and it turned out that you were wrong. You’d be practically certain it was tails, wouldn’t you? There you are, then. I was wrong about Sir Giles being a Member of Parliament, therefore I’m nearly sure to he right when I say that this man is.”
“I don’t see that. Not that it’s any use arguing with you. ’ ’
“If you don’t see a simple thing like that, it isn’t any use.”
“All the same I will,” said the Major. “Just for once I’ll show you what rot you talk. You said it must he either heads or tails.”
“I didn’t. I said it was nearly sure to be either heads or tails. The penny might light in a mud heap and stand on its edge.”
“It’s no use reasoning with you.” “It isn’t,” said Meld,on. “if you won’t reason right.”
“Look here. You say if it isn’t heads it ’s nearly sure to be tails. But suppose lie tossed another coin. That’s what’s happened in this case.”
“It’s just the same with any coin. There are only two sides to the best of them. ’ ’
“What I mean is this. Here’s a fresh yacht altogether. Quite a different yacht from the Aureole with quite different people in her. It isn’t a case of heads or tails at all.”
“I don’t in the least see what you mean, and I don’t believe you see yourself. But you may take my word for it, Major, that there is at least one Member of Parliament in that yacht. There may be more, but 1 ’ll bet my hat there’s one. Don’t bother your head any more about that. These things only make you irritable. We’ll get along hack to the Spindrift and have a bite to eat. Then I’ll take a long, quiet afternoon thinking things ont. Tf I get them sized np to my satisfaction I may go on shore before tea and have a look at Michael Pat. In the evening I’ll find out how Higginbotham got on with the tuberculosis bacilli on Inishmore.”
MELDON stretched himself along the seat of the Spindrift’s cabin. He had dined very heartily off tinned corned beef and potatoes, followed by several cups of stroue tea. lie had lit liis pipe and felt happy. The unpleasant duty of washing up the plates and cups was postponed until after the evening meal, when one job could he made of all the crockery dirtied during the day.
“There’s one good thing about a morning’s work such as we have had,”
he said. “Even if you haven’t pulled off the exact thing you went out to do, you enjoy your dinner and your smoke afterwards tremendously. I expect there are fellows at this moment sitting in London restaurants and clubs and places smoking half-crown cigars after gorging themselves with iced souilles and pates of various kinds, who aren’t getting half the satisfaction that I am out of this pipe of common twist.”
Major Kent grunted. He was disinclined for philosophic argument.
“There’s something in one of Horace’s odes about it’s not being Sicilian feasts but bard work and a good conscience which bring real satisfaction. I can’t recollect the exact words, but if I bad a Horace I could find them.”
“I wouldn’t give Horace too much credit for the remark, even if he made it. An obvious truth of that sort must, I should think, have been discovered by Adam.”
“Adam couldn’t have discovered it,” said Meldon. “As long as he had a quiet conscience he did no work, and when he had to work his conscience was at him day and night.”
Major Kent allowed this to pass without contradiction.
“Besides,” said Meldon, “I doubt very much whether Adam understood the use of tobacco. If he did I don’t see bow the secret could have died out. It was Sir Walter Raleigh, as well as I
recollect, who broughtHullo!
there’s somebody hailing us.” “Spindrift ahoy!”
The shout floated through the open skylight of the cabin while Meldon spoke.
“I wonder if that’s Higginbotham back from Inishmore,” said Major Kent. “I hope he hasn’t brought a consumptive patient with him. If he has you may deal with him yourself, J. J. It's no affair of mine and I won’t help.”
“I hope it’s not Higginbotham; I don’t feel in the mood for dealing with Higginbotham just now. It’s as likely as not that he’d be unreasonable about the bacillus hunt.”
The hail was repeated: “Ahoy there! Spindrift ahoy!”
“It can’t be Higginbotham,” said Meldon. “He always comes on board without hailing. It must be that new Member of Parliament off the steam yacht.”
“Let’s lie low then and pretend we’re not here.”
“Nonsense. Members of Parliament are often extremely amusing. We’ll have him in and listen to him talking about the Irish problem. Get out the whisky, Major. These fellows all drink whisky when they come to this country, whether they actually like it or not. I’ll fetch him on board.”
He went on deck and discovered to his surprise Sir Giles Buckley and Langton in the Aureole’s punt alongside.
“Hello!” he said. “What brings you here? If it’s a new throat halyard you want you may as well go straight back again. We haven’t a rope to spare, and I warned you to be careful about the one you had.”
“The throat halyard is all right,” said Sir Giles. “We haven’t come about that. We want to have a little chat with you and your friend.
He smiled as he spoke. Langton also smiled. It was evident that they had agreed together to be civil and agreeable.
“Very well,” said Meldon. “Come on board if you like. ’ ’
His tone was not very cordial. Sir Giles evidently felt the necessity for making some sort of an apology before he accepted the invitation.
“I should like to explain,” he said, “that I’m sorry for losing my temper with you in the cave this mornintr. 1 don’t make any excuse for myself, of course, but-”
“It’s all right,” said Meldon more graciously. “In fact, I ought to apologize first. I played you rather a shabby trick with the punt this morn-
“Oh, that was nothing. We didn’t mind, did we, Langton?”
“Not a bit,” said Langton. “We laughed.”
“Come below,” said Meldon, “and have a drink.”
Sir Giles and Langton seated themselves at one side of the table in the Spindrift’s cabin. Major Kent and Meldon faced them. A bottle of whisky and two syphons of soda-water stood on the table. Tumblers were filled and the ceremony of pledging each other duly performed. Then Sir Giles spoke:—
“Langton and I were naturally disappointed this morning when we found that those chests in the cave were empty. I think I may take it for granted that you two gentlemen were disappointed too, though I’m bound to say you didn’t show it. ”
“You may take it that way for the sake of argument, if you like.” said Meldon cautiously. “But I don’t admit that we have any reason to he disappointed. It all depends on who emptied the chests.”
“Come now,” said Sir Giles. “We quite understand that you don’t want to give yourselves away. But we don’t believe you have the treasure. In fact we’re certain you haven’t. I think it will pay you better in the long run to be straight with us. We’re all of us out of it at present. What I’ve come to propose is this. Let us join forces and find the stuff wherever it is. T don’t deny that Langton and I would rather keep it all to ourselves. So, no doubt, would you and your friend. But we’d rather go shares with you than lose it altogether. And that’s what will happen if we spend our time chasing cacli other round and round this wretched little island as we’ve been doing for the last three days.”
“What do you propose to do?” said Meldon.
“First of all T would suggest that we table all the information we have about tlic treasure. We’ll tell all we know and you’ll tell all you know. To show you that we mean to play fair T don’t mind speaking first.”
“Very well,” said Meldon. “We
agree to that. Go ahead with your story and I’ll till ours afterwards.”
“After iny father’s death,” said Sir Giles, “I got the family place, house, furniture, and so forth, and precious little else. 1 gave orders to have the furniture sold and the lawyer sent me out a bundle of old papers. I wouldn’t have bothered myself about the papers at all, only that just at the time they came I had nothing in the world to do. 1 don’t mind owning that I was pretty well stony-broke just then and was stuck in a lodging in a dirty little French town. I read the papers. Among them was an old diary kept by my grandfather. It appears that he paid a visit to this island in 1798, and-”
“You needn’t go into that,” said Meldon. “We have papers ourselves which give us all the information your grandfather had. Major Kent’s grandfather kept a log, as he called it, of that expedition. I exj>eet that both the old gentlemen wrote down pretty much the same thing—all they knew about the matter.”
“I didn’t think anything of it,” went on Sir Giles, “until I happened to meet another stony-broke Englishman.”
“I’m an Irishman,” said Langton.
“It’s all the same thing,” said Sir Giles.
“I beg your pardon,” said Langton. “It’s not the same thing at all.-”
“Gentlemen.” said Meldon, “if this conference is to go on it must be conducted on strictly non-political lines. ’ ’
“What!” said Sir Giles.
“My friend. Major Kent,” said Meldon, “is a strong Unionist, and I can’t allow him to be compromised by any political arguments of a Nationalist kind. ’ ’
Sir Giles gaped at him.
“I wasn’t talking politics,” he said “I wasn’t thinking about politics. As a matter of fact, I don’t care a hang for any politics.”
“Langton was talking politics,” said Meldon, “and you were arguing with him. He said he was an Irishman and you said he wasn’t. Any one with any experience of this country knows where that sort of talk leads to. The Major can’t be expected to stand it. He’s a Unionist, one of the loyal and oppressed minority, and it isn’t right to outrage his feelings by introducing politics into what ought to be a simple business discussion. ’ ’
Sir Giles checked what was evidently a strong impulse to curse.
“Go on with your story,” said Meldon. “I’m sorry for having to interrupt, hut do try and keep politics out of it. You were just telling us that you met Langton.”
“I met Langton.” said Sir Giles, “who was also at the time stony-broke. We got yarning together, having nothing better to do. Naturally we talked a good deal about money, the thing both our minds were dwelling on, because we hadn’t got any. I toid Langton the story of my grandfather’s diary and the Spanish treasure on Inishgowlan. it turned out that Langton had read somewhere-”
(To be continued.)