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HOME > Short Stories > Colonel Thorndyke's Secret > CHAPTER XVII.
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 Four days later Mark, on his return from dinner, found Philip Cotter sitting in his room waiting for him. They had met on the previous evening, and Cotter had expressed his intention of calling upon him the next day. “I am here on a matter of business, Thorndyke,” the latter said as they shook hands.
“Of business!” Mark repeated.
“Yes. You might guess for a year, and I don't suppose that you would hit it. It is rather a curious thing. Nearly twenty years ago—”
“I can guess it before you go any further,” Mark exclaimed, leaping up from the seat that he had just taken. “Your people received a box from India.”
“That is so Mark; although how you guessed it I don't know.”
“We have been searching for it for years,” Mark replied. “Our lawyer, Prendergast, wrote to you about that box; at least, he wrote to you asking if you had any property belonging to Colonel Thorndyke, and your people wrote to say they hadn't.”
“Yes, I remember I wrote to him myself. Of course that was before you did me that great service, and I did not know your name, and we had not the name on our books. What is in the box?”
“Jewels worth something like fifty thousand pounds.”
“By Jove, I congratulate you, old fellow; that is to say, if you have the handling of it. Well, this is what happened. The box was sent to us by a firm in Calcutta, together with bills for 50,000 pounds. The instructions were that the money was to be invested in stock, and that we were to manage it and to take 100 pounds a year for so doing. The rest of the interest of the money was to be invested. The box was a very massive one, and was marked with the letters XYZ. It was very carefully sealed. Our instructions were that the owner of the box and the money might present himself at any time.”
“And that the proof of his ownership was to be that he was to use the word 'Masulipatam,'” Mark broke in, “and produce a gold coin that would, probably—though of this I am not certain—correspond with the seals.”
He got up and went to the cabinet which he had brought up with him from Crowswood, unlocked it, and produced the piece of paper and the coin.
“Yes, that looks like the seal, Thorndyke. At any rate, it is the same sort of thing. Why on earth didn't you come with it before, and take the things away?”
“Simply because I did not know where to go to. My uncle was dying when he came home, and told my father about the treasure, but he died suddenly, and my father did not know whether it was sent to England or committed to someone's charge in India, or buried there. We did the only thing we could, namely, inquired at all the banks and agents here and at all the principal firms in Madras and Calcutta to ask if they had in their possession any property belonging to the late Colonel Thorndyke.”
“You see, we did not know,” Cotter went on, “any more than Adam, to whom the box belonged. Fortunately, the agent sent in his communication a sealed letter, on the outside of which was written, 'This is to remain unopened, but if no one before that date presents himself with the token and password, it is to be read on the 18th of August, 1789.' That was yesterday, you know.”
“Yes, that was my cousin's eighteenth birthday. We thought if my uncle had left the box in anyone's charge he would probably have given him some such instructions, for at that time there was hard fighting in India, and he might have been killed any day, and would therefore naturally have made some provisions for preventing the secret dying with him.”
“We did not think of it until this morning early, though we have been rather curious over it ourselves. When we opened it, inside was another letter addressed 'To be delivered to John Thorndyke, Esquire, at Crawley, near Hastings, or at Crowswood, Reigate, or in the event of his death to his executors.'”
“I am one of his executors,” Mark said; “Mr. Prendergast, the lawyer, is the other. I think I had better go round to him tomorrow and open the letter there.”
“Oh, I should think you might open it at once, Thorndyke. It will probably only contain instructions, and, at any rate, as you have the coin and the word, you could come round tomorrow morning and get the chest out if you want it.”
“I won't do that,” Mark said; “the coffer contains gems worth over 50,000 pounds, and I would very much rather it remained in your keeping until I decide what to do with it. How large is it?”
“It is a square box, about a foot each way; and it is pretty heavy, probably from the setting of the jewels. Well, anyhow, I am heartily glad, Thorndyke. I know, of course, that you are well off, still 100,000 pounds—for the money has doubled itself since we had it—to say nothing of the jewels, is a nice plum to drop into anyone's mouth.”
“Very nice indeed, although only half of it comes to me under my uncle's will. To tell you the truth, I am more glad that the mystery has been solved than at getting the money; the affair was a great worry to my father, and has been so to me. I felt that I ought to search for the treasure, and yet the probability of finding it seemed so small that I felt the thing was hopeless, and that really the only chance was that my uncle would have taken just the course he did, and have fixed some date when the treasure should be handed over, if not asked for. I rather fancied that it would not have been for another three years, for that is when my cousin comes of age.”
“What cousin do you mean?” Philip Cotter asked. “I did not know you had one.”
“Well, that is at present a secret, Cotter—one of the mysteries connected with my uncle's will. For myself, I would tell it in the market place tomorrow, but she wishes it to be preserved at present; you shall certainly know as soon as anyone. By the way, I have not seen you at Mrs. Cunningham's for the last week, and you used to be a pretty regular visitor.”
“No,” the young man said gloomily; “I don't mind telling you that Miss Conyers refused me a fortnight ago. I never thought that I had much chance, but I had just a shadow of hope, and that is at an end now.”
“Perhaps in the future—” Mark suggested for the sake of saying something.
“No; I said as much as that to her, and she replied that it would always be the same, and I gathered from her manner, although she did not exactly say so, that there was someone else in the case, and yet I have never met anyone often there.”
“Perhaps you are mistaken,” Mark said.
“Well, whether or not, there is clearly no hope for me. I am very sorry, but it is no use moping over it. My father and mother like her so much, and they are anxious for me to marry and settle down; altogether, it would have been just the thing. I do not know whether she has any money, and did not care, for of course I shall have plenty. I shall be a junior partner in another six months; my father told me so the other day. He said that at one time he was afraid that I should never come into the house, for that it would not have been fair to the others to take such a reckless fellow in, but that I seemed to have reformed so thoroughly since that affair that if I continued so for another six months they should have no hesitation in giving me a share.”
It was too late to go up to Islington that evening. In the morning Mark went with the still unopened letter to the solicitor's. The old lawyer congratulated him most heartily when he told him of the discovery that he had made.
“I am glad indeed, Mark; not so much for the sake of the money, but because I was afraid that that confounded treasure was going to unsettle your life. When a man once begins treasure hunting it becomes a sort of craze, and he can no more give it up than an opium smoker can the use of the drug. Thank goodness, that is over; so the capital amount is doubled, and you are accordingly worth 70,000 pounds more than you were this time yesterday—a fine windfall! Now let us see what your uncle says.”
He broke the seal. The letter was a short one, and began:
“If you have not, before you receive this, got my treasure, you will get it on the 18th or 19th of August, 17??89. I have made a will which will give you full instructions what to do with it. I may say, though, that I have left it between a little daughter who was born six months ago, and your son Mark. My own intentions are to stop out here until I get the rank of general, and I have taken the measures that I have done in case a bullet or a sharp attack of fever carries me off suddenly. I hope that you will have carried out the provisions of my will, and I hope also that I shall have come home and talked the whole matter over with you before I go under.
“Your affectionate brother.”
“A singular man,” Mr. Prendergast said, as he laid the letter down on the table beside him. “What trouble these crotchety people do give! I suppose you have altogether put aside that folly of his about the jewels?”
“Well, no, I can't say that I have, Mr. Prendergast. Do you know that I have a fancy—it may only be a fancy, but if so, I cannot shake it off—that I am watched by Lascars. There was one standing at the corner of the street as I came up this morning, and again and again I have run across one. It is not always the same man, nor have I any absolute reasons for believing that they are watching me; still, somehow or other, I do come across them more frequently than seems natural.”
“Pooh, nonsense, Mark! I should have thought that you were too sensible a fellow to have such ridiculous fancies in your head.”
“Of course, I should never have thought of such a thing, Mr. Prendergast, if it had not been for what my father told me, that my uncle was desperately in earnest about it, and had an intense conviction that someone watched his every movement.”
“Don't let us talk of such folly any longer,” the lawyer said irritably. “Now that you have got the money, the best thing you can do is to go at once and carry out what was the wish both of your father and your uncle, and ask your cousin to marry you; that will put an end to the whole business, and I can tell you that I am positively convinced that the day she gets twenty-one she will renounce the property, and that if you refuse to take it she will pass it over to some hospital or other. You cannot do better than prevent her from carrying out such an act of folly as that, and the only way that I can see is by your marrying her. I gathered from what you said when I gave you the same advice at Reigate that you liked her and should have done it had it not been for her coming into the estate instead of you. Well, you are now in a position to ask her to marry you without the possibility of its being supposed that you are a fortune hunter.”
“I will think about it, Mr. Prendergast. Of course this money does make a considerable difference in my position; however, I shall do nothing until I have got the jewels off my hands.”
“Well, a couple of days will manage that,” the lawyer said; “you have only got to take the box to a first class jeweler, and get him to value the things and make you an offer for the whole of them.”
Mark did not care to press the subject, and on leaving went to Cotter's Bank. He was at once shown into his friend's room, and the latter took him to his father.
“It is curious, Mr. Thorndyke,” the latter said heartily, “that we should have been keeping your money all this time without having the slightest idea that it belonged to you. We are ready at once to pay it over to your order, for if you pronounce the word you know of, and I find that the coin you have corresponds with the seal on the box, the necessary proof will be given us that you have authority to take it away. I have had the box brought up this morning, so that we can compare the seal.”
The box was taken out of the strong safe, and it was at once seen that the coin corresponded with the seals.
“I will leave it with you for the present, Mr. Cotter; it contains a large amount of jewels, and until I have decided what to do with them I would rather leave them; it would be madness to have 50,000 pounds worth of gems in a London lodging, even for a single night. As to the money, that also had better remain as it is at present invested. As I told your son—that and the jewels are the joint property of myself and another. I dare say that in a few days half of the money will be transferred to the name of the other legatee; that can be easily done. I shall get my lawyer, Mr. Prendergast, to call upon you, Mr. Cotter. I suppose it would be better that some legal proof that we are entitled to the money should be given.”
“I shall be glad to see him and to take his instructions,” the banker said; “but in point of fact I regard the property as yours; I have nothing to do with wills or other arrangements. I simply received the box and the cash with an order that they should be delivered to whomsoever should come with the word 'Masulipatam' and a coin to match the seals. That you have done, and with subsequent dispositions I have no concern. I shall be happy to keep this box for you as long as you should think proper; and I have also written out an acknowledgement that I hold securities of the value, at the closing prices yesterday, of 103,000 pounds 16 shillings,” and he handed the paper to Mark.
As the latter left the bank he looked up and down the street, and muttered an angry exclamation as he caught sight of a rough looking fellow just turning a corner into a side street. The glance was so momentary a one that he could not say whether the man was a colored seaman; but he certainly thought that he was a Lascar.
“I am going to have trouble about that bracelet,” he said to himself, as he hailed a hackney coach and told him to drive to Islington. “I am convinced that the Colonel was right, and that there are some men over in this country with the fixed purpose of seeing what is done with those jewels, and obtaining them if possible. How they could tell that they were deposited at Cotter's beats me altogether. It may be indeed that they really knew nothing about it, and have simply been watching me. They can hardly have been watching me for the last nine months, and yet, curiously enough, though I have never given the matter a thought since, Charley Gibbons said that it was a dark colored man who brought the news that took them to my rescue and saved my life. I have often run against Lascars, and if they have taken this trouble all along, now that they have seen me come out of the bank, I shall be watched night and day.
“It is a creepy sort of idea. I should not be afraid of any number of them if they attacked me openly; but there is no saying what they might do. I wish Ramoo had been here. I would have consulted him about it; but as I got a letter from him only last week saying that he had, on the day of writing it, arrived in Calcutta, it is of no use wishing that. At any rate, I cannot do better than stick to the plan that my uncle sketched out, and take them across to Amsterdam. It would be very unfair to take them to any jeweler here. He might have them in his possession for a week or ten days before he made me any definite offer for them, and during that time I would not give a fig for his life. If I distribute the stones at Amsterdam they would hardly set about attacking twelve diamond merchants one after another. Well, at any rate, I must say nothing about the affair to Millicent and Mrs. Cunningham. It was bad enough my running risks in the pursuit of Bastow; but this would be ten times worse, and I know Millicent would be for letting the things remain for good at the banker's. But I have no idea of allowing myself to be frightened by two or three black scoundrels into throwing away 50,000 pounds.”
Mrs. Cunningham and Millicent were sitting in their bonnets in the parlor.
“Here you are at last, sir,” the girl said. “Another five minutes, and we should have gone out. You told us that you would come early, and now it is twelve o'clock; and you are generally so punctual in your appointments. What have you got to say for yourself?”
“A good many things have happened since then, Millicent. Last night your friend Mr. Cotter called upon me.”
“Why do you say my friend? He was your friend, and it was entirely through you that we knew him at all.”
“Well, we will say 'ou............
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