The Tickencote Treasure
THE TICKENCOTE TREASURE
The Tickencote Treasure] [Frontispiece
WILLIAM LE QUEUX
Author of “A Secret Service,” “The Temptress,”
“In White Raiment,” etc.
WARD, LOCK & CO., LIMITED
LONDON, MELBOURNE AND TORONTO
|I||In which Job Seal Borrows a Fusee||7|
|II||What We Saw and What We Heard||16|
|III||The Mysterious Man||24|
|IV||In Which I Examine the Parchments||32|
|V||With a Story to Tell||39|
|VI||An Expert Opinion||46|
|VII||What was Written in the Vellum Book||56|
|VIII||The Seven Dead Men||65|
|IX||One Point is Made Clear||71|
|X||The Guardian of the Secret||79|
|XII||Job Seal Makes a Proposal||96|
|XIII||A Call, and its Consequence||105|
|XV||Reveals Something of Importance||122|
|XVI||Mrs. Graham’s Visitor||132|
|XVII||The Seller of the Secret||139|
|XVIII||The Silent Man’s Warning||147|
|XIX||The Lady from Bayswater||154|
|XX||Philip Reilly Tells a Strange Story||161|
|XXI||We Make a Discovery in the Manor House||171|
|XXIII||Job Seal Relates His Adventures||188|
|XXIV||The Mystery of Margaret Knutton||195|
|XXV||Reveals the Death-Trap||204|
|XXVI||In which Ben Knutton Grows Confidential||211|
|XXVII||Dorothy Drummond Prefers Secrecy||220|
|XXVIII||We Receive Midnight Visitors||228|
|XXIX||Dorothy Makes a Confession||237|
|XXX||The Silent Man’s Story||245|
|XXXI||The House at Kilburn||253|
|XXXII||What We Discovered at the Record Office||261|
|XXXIII||We Decipher the Parchment||270|
|XXXIV||Our Search at Tickencote and its Results||278|
|XXXV||The Spy, and What He Told Us||286|
|XXXVI||“Nine Points of the Law”||295|
|XXXVII||Contains the Conclusion||299|
IN WHICH JOB SEAL BORROWS A FUSEE
If you are fond of a mystery I believe you will ponderover this curious narrative just as I have pondered.
Certain persons, having heard rumours of the strangeadventures that once happened to me, have askedme to write them down in detail, so that they maybe printed and given to the world in their propersequence. Therefore, in obedience, and in order toset at rest for ever certain wild and unfoundedreports which crept into the papers at the time, I do sowithout fear or favour, seeking to conceal no singlething, but merely to relate what I actually saw withmy own eyes and heard with my own ears.
I read somewhere the other day the sweeping statement,written probably by one of our superior younggentlemen just down from Oxford, that Romance isdead. This allegation, however, I make so bold asto challenge—first, because in my own humble capacityI have actually been the unwilling actor in one of themost remarkable romances of modern times; and,secondly, because I believe with that sage old chronicler,Richard of Cirencester, that the man whose soulis filled with Greek has a heart of leather.
Fortunately I can lay claim to neither. Apart frommy association with the present chain of curious eventsI am but an ordinary man, whose name is Paul Pickering,whose age is thirty-two, and whose profession atthe time the romance befell me was the very prosaicone of a doctor without regular practice. You willtherefore quickly discern that I was not overburdenedeither by fame, fortune, or fashionable foibles, andfurther that, as locum tenens for country doctors in ill-healthor on holiday, I advertised regularly in theLancet, and was glad enough to accept the fee of threeguineas weekly.
Hard work in a big practice at Stepney and Poplarhad resulted in a bad touch of influenza with its attendantdebility; therefore, when one of my patients,a sun-tanned old salt named Seal, suggested that Ishould go a trip with him up the Mediterranean, Ihailed the idea with delight.
Job Seal was quite a chance patient. He called oneevening at the surgery in Commercial Road East, whereI was acting as locum for a doctor named Bidwell,and consulted me about his rheumatism. A big,deep-chested, thick-set man, with grey hair, reddishuncut beard, big hands, shaggy brows, and a furrowedface browned by sea and sun; he spoke in a deep bass,interlarding his conversation with nautical expressionswhich were, to me, mostly unintelligible. Theliniment I gave him apparently suited his ailment, forhe came again and again, until one evening he calledand declared that I had effected a cure as marvellousas that of Sequah.
“My boat, the Thrush, is layin’ at Fresh Wharf,and I sail on Saturday for Cardiff, where we take incoal for Leghorn. Now, if you ain’t got anythingbetter to do, doctor, don’t you sign on why as stewardat a bob a day, and come with me for the round trip?”he suggested. “You told me the other night thatyou’re bein’ paid off from here on Saturday. Myboat ain’t exactly a liner, you know, but I daresayyou could shake down comfortable like, and as thetrip’ll take a couple o’ months, you’d see most of theports up to Smyrna. Besides, this is just the righttime o’ year for a blow. It ’ud do you good.”
The suggestion certainly appealed to me. I hadnever been afloat farther than Ramsgate by the Marguerite,and for years had longed to go abroad andsee those wonderful paradises of the Sunny South ofwhich, like other people, I had witnessed highly-coloureddissolving views. Therefore I accepted thebluff old captain’s hospitality, signed the ship’s papersin a back office off Leadenhall Street, and onSaturday evening boarded as black, grimy, and forbiddinga craft as ever dropped down the Thames.
Job Seal was right. The Thrush was not by anymeans a liner, and its passenger accommodation wasrestricted. My cabin was very small, very stuffy,and very dirty; just as might be expected of a Mediterraneantramp steamer. As the outward cargo wasinvariably Cardiff steam coal consigned to the well-knownfirm of Messrs. Agius, of Naples, and Malta,there was over everything a layer of fine coal dust,while the faces of both officers and crew seemed ingrainedwith black.
The first day out I confess that I did not feel overwell. A light vessel and a choppy sea are neverpleasant to a landsman. Nevertheless, I very soongot my sea legs, and then the voyage down Channelwas pleasant enough. It was the end of June, andthe salt breezes were gratifying after the stuffy backstreets of Stepney. Before my advent Job Seal wasin the habit of eating alone in his cabin, because hewas an omnivorous reader, and the chatter of hisofficers disturbed him. He welcomed me, however,as a companion. Max Pemberton, Conan Doyle, andHyne he swore by, and in one corner of his cabin hehad whole stacks of sixpenny reprints.
The first day out I rather regretted my hasty decisionto sail with him, but ere we sighted Lundy Islandand Penarth I was as merry and eager to smoke asany of the villainous-looking crew.
After four days loading in Cardiff the vessel was aninch deep in coal dust, and as the heavy-swearing handsin the forecastle began “cleaning up” we slowlyglided out of the Bute Docks to the accompanimentof shouting, gesticulating, and strong language. AtSeal’s suggestion I had provided myself with certainarticles of food to my taste, but as the grit of coal andthe taste of tar were inseparable from the cuisine, andthe cook’s galley the most evil-smelling corner in thewhole vessel, I enjoyed eating least of all. The weatherwas, however, perfect, even in the long roll of theAtlantic, and the greater part of each day I spent withthe burly skipper on his bridge, lolling in an old deck-chairbehind a screen of canvas lashed to the rail tokeep off the wind. I had quite a cosy corner to myself,and there I smoked my pipe, breathed the salt oceanbreezes, and yarned with my deep-chested friend.
“We don’t carry forty-quid salooners on this ’ereboat,” remarked Joe Thorpe, the first mate, when Imentioned casually that the rats gnawed my bootsat night and scampered around my cabin and overmy bunk. “When a passenger comes with us he hasto rough it, but he sees a sight more than if he travelledby the P. and O. or the Orient. You’ll see a lot,doctor, before you’re back in London.”
His words were prophetic. I did see a lot, as youwill gather later on.
Craft and crew were,