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   Chapter 2 HIDDEN TREASURE

Bones in London By Edgar Wallace Characters: 28428

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Mrs. Staleyborn's first husband was a dreamy Fellow of a Learned

University.

Her second husband had begun life at the bottom of the ladder as a three-card trickster, and by strict attention to business and the exercise of his natural genius, had attained to the proprietorship of a bucket-shop.

When Mrs. Staleyborn was Miss Clara Smith, she had been housekeeper to Professor Whitland, a biologist who discovered her indispensability, and was only vaguely aware of the social gulf which yawned between the youngest son of the late Lord Bortledyne and the only daughter of Albert Edward Smith, mechanic. To the Professor she was Miss H. Sapiens-an agreeable, featherless plantigrade biped of the genus Homo. She was also thoroughly domesticated and cooked like an angel, a nice woman who apparently never knew that her husband had a Christian name, for she called him "Mr. Whitland" to the day of his death.

The strain and embarrassment of the new relationship with her master were intensified by the arrival of a daughter, and doubled when that daughter came to a knowledgeable age. Marguerite Whitland had the inherent culture of her father and the grace and delicate beauty which had ever distinguished the women of the house of Bortledyne.

When the Professor died, Mrs. Whitland mourned him in all sincerity.

She was also relieved. One-half of the burden which lay upon her had

been lifted; the second half was wrestling with the binomial theorem at

Cheltenham College.

She had been a widow twelve months when she met Mr. Cresta Morris, and, if the truth be told, Mr. Cresta Morris more fulfilled her conception as to what a gentleman should look like than had the Professor. Mr. Cresta Morris wore white collars and beautiful ties, had a large gold watch-chain over what the French call poetically a gilet de fantasie, but which he, in his own homely fashion, described as a "fancy weskit." He smoked large cigars, was bluff and hearty, spoke to the widow-he was staying at Harrogate at the time in a hydropathic establishment-in a language which she could understand. Dimly she began to realize that the Professor had hardly spoken to her at all.

Mr. Cresta Morris was one of those individuals who employed a vocabulary of a thousand words, with all of which Mrs. Whitland was well acquainted; he was also a man of means and possessions, he explained to her. She, giving confidence for confidence, told of the house at Cambridge, the furniture, the library, the annuity of three hundred pounds, earmarked for his daughter's education, but mistakenly left to his wife for that purpose, also the four thousand three hundred pounds invested in War Stock, which was wholly her own.

Mr. Cresta Morris became more agreeable than ever. In three months they were married, in six months the old house at Cambridge had been disposed of, the library dispersed, as much of the furniture as Mr. Morris regarded as old-fashioned sold, and the relict of Professor Whitland was installed in a house in Brockley.

It was a nice house-in many ways nicer than the rambling old building in Cambridge, from Mrs. Morris's point of view. And she was happy in a tolerable, comfortable kind of fashion, and though she was wholly ignorant as to the method by which her husband made his livelihood, she managed to get along very well without enlightenment.

Marguerite was brought back from Cheltenham to grace the new establishment and assist in its management. She shared none of her mother's illusions as to the character of Mr. Cresta Morris, as that gentleman explained to a very select audience one January night.

Mr. Morris and his two guests sat before a roaring fire in the dining-room, drinking hot brandies-and-waters. Mrs. Morris had gone to bed; Marguerite was washing up, for Mrs. Morris had the "servant's mind," which means that she could never keep a servant.

The sound of crashing plates had come to the dining-room and interrupted Mr. Morris at a most important point of his narrative. He jerked his head round.

"That's the girl," he said; "she's going to be a handful."

"Get her married," said Job Martin wisely.

He was a hatchet-faced man with a reputation for common-sense. He had another reputation which need not be particularized at the moment.

"Married?" scoffed Mr. Morris. "Not likely!"

He puffed at his cigar thoughtfully for a moment, then:

"She wouldn't come in to dinner-did you notice that? We are not good enough for her. She's fly! Fly ain't the word for it. We always find her nosing and sneaking around."

"Send her back to school," said the third guest.

He was a man of fifty-five, broad-shouldered, clean-shaven, who had literally played many parts, for he had been acting in a touring company when Morris first met him-Mr. Timothy Webber, a man not unknown to the Criminal Investigation Department.

"She might have been useful," Mr. Morris went on regretfully, "very useful indeed. She is as pretty as a picture, I'll give her that due. Now, suppose she--"

Webber shook his head.

"It's my way or no way," he said decidedly. "I've been a month studying this fellow, and I tell you I know him inside out."

"Have you been to see him?" asked the second man.

"Am I a fool?" replied the other roughly. "Of course I have not been to see him. But there are ways of finding out, aren't there? He is not the kind of lad that you can work with a woman, not if she's as pretty as paint."

"What do they call him?" asked Morris.

"Bones," said Webber, with a little grin. "At least, he has letters which start 'Dear Bones,' so I suppose that's his nickname. But he's got all the money in the world. He is full of silly ass schemes, and he's romantic."

"What's that to do with it?" asked Job Martin, and Webber turned with a despairing shrug to Morris.

"For a man who is supposed to have brains--" he said, but Morris stopped him with a gesture.

"I see the idea-that's enough."

He ruminated again, chewing at his cigar, then, with a shake of his head--

"I wish the girl was in it."

"Why?" asked Webber curiously.

"Because she's--" He hesitated. "I don't know what she knows about me. I can guess what she guesses. I'd like to get her into something like this, to-to--" He was at a loss for a word.

"Compromise?" suggested the more erudite Webber.

"That's the word. I'd like to have her like that!" He put his thumb down on the table in an expressive gesture.

Marguerite, standing outside, holding the door-handle hesitating as to whether she should carry in the spirit kettle which Mr. Morris had ordered, stood still and listened.

The houses in Oakleigh Grove were built in a hurry, and at best were not particularly sound-proof. She stood fully a quarter of an hour whilst the three men talked in low tones, and any doubts she might have had as to the nature of her step-father's business were dispelled.

Again there began within her the old fight between her loyalty to her mother and loyalty to herself and her own ideals. She had lived through purgatory these past twelve months, and again and again she had resolved to end it all, only to be held by pity for the helpless woman she would be deserting. She told herself a hundred times that her mother was satisfied in her placid way with the life she was living, and that her departure would be rather a relief than a cause for uneasiness. Now she hesitated no longer, and went back to the kitchen, took off the apron she was wearing, passed along the side-passage, up the stairs to her room, and began to pack her little bag.

Her mother was facing stark ruin. This man had drawn into his hands every penny she possessed, and was utilizing it for the furtherance of his own nefarious business. She had an idea-vague as yet, but later taking definite shape-that if she might not save her mother from the wreck which was inevitable, she might at least save something of her little fortune.

She had "nosed around" to such purpose that she had discovered her step-father was a man who for years had evaded the grip of an exasperated constabulary. Some day he would fall, and in his fall bring down her mother.

Mr. Cresta Morris absorbed in the elaboration of the great plan, was reminded, by the exhaustion of visible refreshment, that certain of his instructions had not been carried out.

"Wait a minute," he said. "I told that girl to bring in the kettle at half-past nine. I'll go out and get it. Her royal highness wouldn't lower herself by bringing it in, I suppose!"

He found the kettle on the kitchen table, but there was no sign of Marguerite. This was the culmination of a succession of "slights" which she had put on him, and in a rage he walked along the passage, and yelled up the stairs:

"Marguerite!"

There was no reply, and he raced up to her room. It was empty, but what was more significant, her dresses and the paraphernalia which usually ornamented her dressing-table had disappeared.

He came down a very thoughtful man.

"She's hopped," he said laconically. "I was always afraid of that."

It was fully an hour before he recovered sufficiently to bring his mind to a scheme of such fascinating possibilities that even his step-daughter's flight was momentarily forgotten

* * * * *

On the following morning Mr. Tibbetts received a visitor.

That gentleman who was, according to the information supplied by Mr. Webber, addressed in intimate correspondence as "Dear Bones," was sitting in his most gorgeous private office, wrestling with a letter to the eminent firm of Timmins and Timmins, yacht agents, on a matter of a luckless purchase of his.

"DEAR SIRS GENENTLEMEN" (ran the letter. Bones wrote as he thought, thought faster than he wrote, and never opened a dictionary save to decide a bet)-"I told you I have told you 100000 times that the yacht Luana I bought from your cleint (a nice cleint I must say!!!) is a frord fruad and a swindel. It is much two too big. 2000 pounds was a swindel outraygious!! Well I've got it got it now so theres theirs no use crying over split milk. But do like a golly old yaght-seller get red of it rid of it. Sell it to anybody even for a 1000 pounds. I must have been mad to buy it but he was such a plausuble chap…."

This and more he wrote and was writing, when the silvery bell announced a visitor. It rang many times before he realized that he had sent his factotum, Ali Mahomet, to the South Coast to recover from a sniffle-the after-effects of a violent cold-which had been particularly distressing to both. Four times the bell rang, and four times Bones raised his head and scowled at the door, muttering violent criticisms of a man who at that moment was eighty-five miles away.

Then he remembered, leapt up, sprinted to the door, flung it open with an annoyed:

"Come in! What the deuce are you standing out there for?"

Then he stared at his visitor, choked, went very red, choked again, and fixed his monocle.

"Come in, young miss, come in," he said gruffly. "Jolly old bell's out of order. Awfully sorry and all that sort of thing. Sit down, won't you?"

In the outer office there was no visible chair. The excellent Ali preferred sitting on the floor, and visitors were not encouraged.

"Come into my office," said Bones, "my private office."

The girl had taken him in with one comprehensive glance, and a little smile trembled on the corner of her lips as she followed the harassed financier into his "holy of holies."

"My little den," said Bones incoherently. "Sit down, jolly old-young miss. Take my chair-it's the best. Mind how you step over that telephone wire. Ah!"

She did catch her feet in the flex, and he sprang to her assistance.

"Upsy, daisy, dear old-young miss, I mean."

It was a breathless welcome. She herself was startled by the warmth of it; he, for his part, saw nothing but grey eyes and a perfect mouth, sensed nothing but a delicate fragrance of a godlike presence.

"I have come to see you--" she began.

"Jolly good of you," said Bones enthusiastically. "You've no idea how fearsomely lonely I get sometimes. I often say to people: 'Look me up, dear old thing, any time between ten and twelve or two and four; don't stand on ceremony--'"

"I've come to see you--" she began again.

"You're a kind young miss," murmured Bones, and she laughed.

"You're not used to having girls in this office, are you?"

"You're the first," said Bones, with a dramatic flourish, "that ever burst tiddly-um-te-um!"

To be mistaken for a welcome visitor-she was that, did she but guess it-added to her natural embarrassment.

"Well," she said desperately, "I've come for work."

He stared at her, refixing his monocle.

"You've come for work my dear old-my jolly old-young miss?"

"I've come for work," she nodded.

Bones's face was very grave.

"You've come for work." He thought a moment; then: "What work? Of course," he added in a flurry, "there's plenty of work to do! Believe me, you don't know the amount I get through in this sanctum-that's Latin for 'private office'-and the wretched old place is never tidy-never! I am seriously thinking"-he frowned-"yes, I am very seriously thinking of sacking the lady who does the dusting. Why, do you know, this morning--"

Her eyes were smiling now, and she was to Bones's unsophisticated eyes, and, indeed, to eyes sophisticated, superhumanly lovely.

"I haven't come for a dusting job," she laughed.

"Of course you haven't," said Bones in a panic. "My dear old lady-my

precious-my young person, I should have said-of course you haven't!

You've come for a job-you've come to work! Well, you shall have it!

Start right away!"

She stared.

"What shall I do?" she asked.

"What would I like you to do?" said Bones slowly. "What about scheming, getting out ideas, using brains, initiative, bright--" He trailed off feebly as she shook her head.

"Do you want a secretary?" she asked, and Bones's enthusiasm rose to the squeaking point.

"The very thing! I advertised in this morning's Times. You saw the advertisement?"

"You are not telling the truth," she said, looking at him with eyes

that danced. "I read all the advertisement columns in The Times this morning, and I am quite sure that you did not advertise."

"I meant to advertise," said Bones gently. "I had the idea last night; that's the very piece of paper I was writing the advertisement on."

He pointed to a sheet upon the pad.

"A secretary? The very thing! Let me think."

He supported his chin upon one hand, his elbow upon another.

"You will want paper, pens, and ink-we have all those," he said. "There is a large supply in that cupboard. Also india-rubber. I am not sure if we have any india-rubber, but that can be procured. And a ruler," he said, "for drawing straight lines and all that sort of thing."

"And a typewriter?" she suggested.

Bones smacked his forehead with unnecessary violence.

"A typewriter! I knew this office wanted something. I said to Ali yesterday: 'You silly old ass--'"

"Oh, you have a girl?" she said disappointedly.

"Ali," said Bones, "is the name of a native man person who is devoted to me, body and soul. He has been, so to speak, in the family for years," he explained.

"Oh, it's a man," she said.

Bones nodded.

"Ali. Spelt A-l-y; it's Arabic."

"A native?"

Bones nodded.

"Of course he will not be in your way," ha hastened to explain. "He is in Bournemouth just now. He had sniffles." he explained rapidly, "and then he used to go to sleep, and snore. I hate people who snore, don't you?"

She laughed again. This was the most amazing of all possible employers.

"Of course," Bones went on, "I snore a bit myself. All thinkers do-I mean all brainy people. Not being a jolly old snorer yourself--"

"Thank you," said the girl.

Other tenants or the satellites of other tenants who occupied the palatial buildings wherein the office of Bones was situated saw, some few minutes later, a bare-headed young man dashing down the stairs three at a time; met him, half an hour later, staggering up those same stairs handicapped by a fifty-pound typewriter in one hand, and a chair in the style of the late Louis Quinze in the other, and wondered at the urgency of his movements.

"I want to tell you," said the girl, "that I know very little about shorthand."

"Shorthand is quite unnecessary, my dear-my jolly old stenographer," said Bones firmly. "I object to shorthand on principle, and I shall always object to it. If people," he went on, "were intended to write shorthand, they would have been born without the alphabet. Another thing--"

"One moment, Mr. Tibbetts," she said. "I don't know a great deal about typewriting, either."

Bones beamed.

"There I can help you," he said. "Of course it isn't necessary that you should know anything about typewriting. But I can give you a few hints," he said. "This thing, when you jiggle it up and down, makes the thingummy-bob run along. Every time you hit one of these letters-- I'll show you…. Now, suppose I am writing 'Dear Sir,' I start with a 'D.' Now, where's that jolly old 'D'?" He scowled at the keyboard, shook his head, and shrugged his shoulders. "I thought so," he said; "there ain't a 'D.' I had an idea that that wicked old--"

"Here's the 'D,'" she pointed out.

Bones spent a strenuous but wholly delightful morning and afternoon.

He was half-way home to his chambers in Curzon Street before he

realized that he had not fixed the rather important question of salary.

He looked forward to another pleasant morning making good that lapse.

It was his habit to remain late at his office at least three nights a week, for Bones was absorbed in his new career.

"Schemes Ltd." was no meaningless title. Bones had schemes which embraced every field of industrial, philanthropic, and social activity. He had schemes for building houses, and schemes for planting rose trees along all the railway tracks. He had schemes for building motor-cars, for founding labour colonies, for harnessing the rise and fall of the tides, he had a scheme for building a theatre where the audience sat on a huge turn-table, and, at the close of one act, could be twisted round, with no inconvenience to themselves, to face a stage which has been set behind them. Piqued by a certain strike which had caused him a great deal of inconvenience, he was engaged one night working out a scheme for the provision of municipal taxicabs, and he was so absorbed in his wholly erroneous calculations that for some time he did not hear the angry voices raised outside the door of his private office.

Perhaps it was that that portion of his mind which had been left free to receive impressions was wholly occupied with a scheme-which appeared in no books or records-for raising the wages of his new secretary.

But presently the noise penetrated even to him, and he looked up with a touch of annoyance.

"At this hour of the night! … Goodness gracious … respectable building!"

His disjointed comments were interrupted by the sound of a scuffle, an oath, a crash against his door and a groan, and Bones sprang to the door and threw it open.

As he did so a man who was leaning against it fell in.

"Shut the door, quick!" he gasped, and Bones obeyed.

The visitor who had so rudely irrupted himself was a man of middle age, wearing a coarse pea-jacket and blue jersey of a seaman, his peaked hat covered with dust, as Bones perceived later, when the sound of scurrying footsteps had died away.

The man was gripping his left arm as if in pain, and a thin trickle of red was running down the back of his big hand.

"Sit down, my jolly old mariner," said Bones anxiously. "What's the matter with you? What's the trouble, dear old sea-dog?"

The man looked up at him with a grimace.

"They nearly got it, the swine!" he growled.

He rolled up his sleeve and, deftly tying a handkerchief around a red patch, chuckled:

"It is only a scratch," he said. "They've been after me for two days, Harry Weatherall and Jim Curtis. But right's right all the world over. I've suffered enough to get what I've got-starved on the high seas, and starved on Lomo Island. Is it likely that I'm going to let them share?"

Bones shook his head.

"You sit down, my dear old fellow," he said sympathetically.

The man thrust his hands laboriously into his inside pocket and pulled out a flat oilskin case. From this he extracted a folded and faded chart.

"I was coming up to see a gentleman in these buildings," he said, "a gentleman named Tibbetts."

Bones opened his mouth to speak, but stopped himself.

"Me and Jim Curtis and young Harry, we were together in the Serpent

Queen-my name's Dibbs. That's where we got hold of the yarn about

Lomo Island, though we didn't believe there was anything in it. But

when this Dago died--"

"Which Dago?" asked Bones.

"The Dago that knew all about it," said Mr. Dibbs impatiently, "and we come to split up his kit in his mess-bag, I found this." He shook the oilskin case in Bones's face. "Well, the first thing I did, when I got to Sydney, was to desert, and I got a chap from Wellington to put up the money to hire a boat to take me to Lomo. We were wrecked on Lomo."

"So you got there?" said Bones sympathetically.

"Six weeks I was on Lomo. Ate nothing but crabs, drank nothing but rain-water. But the stuff was there all right, only"-he was very emphatic, was this simple old sea-dog-"it wasn't under the third tree, but the fourth tree. I got down to the first of the boxes, and it was as much as I could do to lift it out. I couldn't trust any of the Kanaka boys who were with me."

"Naturally," said Bones. "An' I'll bet they didn't trust you, the naughty old Kanakas."

"Look here," said Mr. Dibbs, and he pulled out of his pocket a handful of gold coins which bore busts of a foreign-looking lady and gentleman. "Spanish gold, that is," he said. "There was four thousand in the little box. I filled both my pockets, and took 'em back to Sydney when we were picked up. I didn't dare try in Australia. 'That gold will keep,' I says to myself. 'I'll get back to England and find a man who will put up the money for an expedition'-a gentleman, you understand?"

"I quite understand," said Bones, all a-quiver with excitement.

"And then I met Harry and Jim. They said they'd got somebody who would put the money up, an American fellow, Rockefeller. Have you ever heard of him?"

"I've heard of him," said Bones; "he's got a paraffin mine."

"It may be he has, it may be he hasn't," said Mr. Dibbs and rose. "Well, sir, I'm very much obliged to you for your kindness. If you'll direct me to Mr. Tibbetts's office--"

It was a dramatic moment.

"I am Mr. Tibbetts," said Bones simply.

Blank incredulity was on the face of Mr. Dibbs.

"You?" he said. "But I thought Mr. Tibbetts was an older gentleman?"

"Dear old treasure-finder," said Bones, "be assured I am Mr. Tibbetts.

This is my office, and this is my desk. People think I am older

because--" He smiled a little sadly, then: "Sit down!" he thundered.

"Let us go into this."

He went into the matter, and the City clocks were booming one when he led his mariner friend into the street.

He was late at the office the next morning, because he was young and healthy and required nine hours of the deepest slumber that Morpheus kept in stock.

The grey-eyed girl was typing at a very respectable speed the notes Bones had given her the evening before. There was a telegram awaiting him, which he read with satisfaction. Then:

"Leave your work, my young typewriter," said Bones imperiously. "I have a matter of the greatest importance to discuss with you! See that all the doors are closed," he whispered; "lock 'em if necessary."

"I hardly think that's necessary," said the girl. "You see, if anybody came and found all the doors locked--"

"Idiot!" said Bones, very red.

"I beg your pardon," said the startled girl.

"I was speaking to me," said Bones rapidly. "This is a matter of the greatest confidence, my jolly old Marguerite "-he paused, shaking at his temerity, for it was only on the previous day that he had discovered her name-"a matter which requires tact and discretion, young Marguerite--"

"You needn't say it twice," she said.

"Well once," said Bones, brightening up. "That's a bargain-I'll call you Marguerite once a day. Now, dear old Marguerite, listen to this."

She listened with the greatest interest, jotting down the preliminary expenses. Purchase of steamer, five thousand pounds; provisioning of same, three thousand pounds, etc., etc. She even undertook to make a copy of the plan which Mr. Dibbs had given into his charge, and which Bones told her had not left him day nor night.

"I put it in my pyjama pocket when I went to bed," he explained unnecessarily, "and--" He began to pat himself all over, consternation in his face.

"And you left it in your pyjama pocket," said the girl quietly. "I'll telephone to your house for it."

"Phew!" said Bones. "It seems incredible. I must have been robbed."

"I don't think so," said the girl; "it is probably under your pillow.

Do you keep your pyjamas under your pillow?"

"That," said Bones, "is a matter which I never discuss in public. I hate to disappoint you, dear old Marguerite--"

"I'm sorry," said the girl, with such a simulation of regret that Bones dissolved into a splutter of contrition.

A commissionaire and a taxicab brought the plan, which was discovered where the girl in her wisdom had suggested.

"I'm not so sure how much money I'm going to make out of this," said Bones off-handedly, after a thorough and searching examination of the project. "It is certain to be about three thousand pounds-it may be a million or two million. It'll be good for you, dear old stenographer."

She looked at him.

"I have decided," said Bones, playing with his paper-knife, "to allow you a commission of seven and a half per cent. on all profits. Seven and a half per cent. on two million is, roughly, fifty thousand pounds--"

She laughed her refusal.

"I like to be fair," said Bones.

"You like to be generous," she corrected him, "and because I am a girl, and pretty--"

"Oh, I say," protested Bones feebly-"oh, really you are not pretty at all. I am not influenced by your perfectly horrible young face, believe me, dear old Miss Marguerite. Now, I've a sense of fairness, a sense of justice--"

"Now, listen to me, Mr. Tibbetts." She swung her chair round to face him squarely. "I've got to tell you a little story."

Bones listened to that story with compressed lips and folded arms. He was neither shocked nor amazed, and the girl was surprised.

"Hold hard, young miss," he said soberly. "If this is a jolly old swindle, and if the naughty mariner--"

"His name is Webber, and he is an actor," she interrupted.

"And dooced well he acted," admitted Bones. "Well, if this is so, what about the other johnny who's putting up ten thousand to my fifteen thousand?"

This was a facer for the girl, and Bones glared his triumph.

"That is what the wicked old ship-sailer said. Showed me the money, an' I sent him straight off on the job. He said he'd got a Stock Exchange person named Morris--"

"Morris!" gasped the girl. "That is my step-father!"

Bones jumped up, a man inspired.

"The naughty old One, who married your sainted mother?" he gurgled.

"My miss! My young an' jolly old Marguerite!"

He sat down at his desk, yanked open the drawer, and slapped down his cheque-book.

"Three thousand pounds," he babbled, writing rapidly. "You'd better keep it for her, dear old friend of Faust."

"But I don't understand," she said, bewildered.

"Telegram," said Bones briefly. "Read it."

She picked up the buff form and read. It was postmarked from Cowes, and ran:

"In accordance your telegraphed instructions, have sold your schooner-yacht to Mr. Dibbs, who paid cash. Did not give name of owner. Dibbs did not ask to see boat. All he wanted was receipt for money."

"They are calling this afternoon for my fifteen thousand," said Bones, cackling light-headedly. "Ring up jolly old Scotland Yard, and ask 'em to send me all the police they've got in stock!"

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