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   Chapter 21 -Our Search for the Treasure

A Lad of Grit: A Story of Adventure on Land and Sea in Restoration Times By Percy F. Westerman Characters: 14346

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The excitement of the previous night banished sleep from our eyes, and rising betimes we formed our plans for the day's work. Now that Joyce had gone to his last account there was no longer need for caution or concealment of our plans, and to the utmost astonishment of the crafty host of the Wentworth Inn, I was presented to him as the rightful lord of Holwick.

We thereupon breakfasted, and then made our way to the castle grounds. Viewed by daylight the whole scene was changed. The grey old tower, blackened by powder and fire, was so badly damaged as to be useless as a place of abode, little tendrils of ivy already serving to clothe the ruin with a kindly garb. The stream that looked so black in the darkness now glittered in the warm sunlight, as if unmindful of the tragedy that had been enacted but a few hours before.

A careful search amid the dense masses of weed failed to give any clue to the mysterious disappearance of the double-dyed villain, so we concluded that his body must have escaped the tenacious grip of the thick vegetable growth.

On all sides rose little mounds of excavated earth, showing how vigorously Joyce had pursued his quest for the hidden treasure, each mound being thirty-two paces from the wall.

"Now, Aubrey, let's to work," exclaimed Felgate, throwing off his cloak and vest and rolling up his sleeves in a manner that showed his enthusiasm.

"Here, take the document and apply the directions to the actual place," I remarked. "This is the west side; yonder are two tall fir trees. Now, measure off thirty-two paces."

Felgate commenced to do so, Drake following at his heels.

"... Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty---- Ha!"

For the thirtieth pace had brought him to the edge of the stream, and the thirty-second would be as near as anything right in the centre of the river bed.

For a moment we stood aghast. Surely there must be some mistake! Then Drake, slapping me soundly on the back, exclaimed in excited tones: "Bethink thee, Aubrey, the old hag's words: 'Till the waters run dry'!"

"And what of that?" I replied, dull of comprehension.

"Simply that the treasure lies in the bed of the stream. We must divert its course and the hiding place will be revealed."

"Let me try," exclaimed the impetuous Felgate, and in spite of our protests he waded into the water, which seemingly rose no higher than his knees.

At the third step he suddenly lurched forward, threw out his arms in a frantic effort to regain his balance, then disappeared beneath the surface.

The next instant he reappeared; but though he kept his head above the water, his legs were held by the weeds, and a look of horror overspread his face when he realized the danger of his position.

Had we not been there, his fate would have been sealed; but, cautiously wading in, Drake holding my left hand, I extended my right arm towards him.

I grasped him with a great effort, and we dragged him out of the hole, his jack boot being wrenched from his foot by the unrelenting grip of the tendrils.

"You are right, Drake," he panted. "There's a deep hole there, and the treasure lies in it."

"Come, then, at once," said Drake, "to the village, and enrol every man who can use mattock and spade. We'll have a channel cut here" (indicating a semicircle of about forty yards in diameter), "and dam the stream on each side of this hole."

There was no need to go as far as the village. Already the strange tidings had spread, and a motley throng of villagers were gathered around the entrance to the estate, curious, yet loath to come nearer.

They raised a cheer at our approach, and when we told them of our wants there was a general stampede on the part of the men folk for digging implements.

While we awaited their return, a man having the air of petty authority stepped up to us and, addressing me, said:

"You are Sir Aubrey Wentworth, I am told."

I assented, and at the same time asked the fellow his business.

"In me you see the lawful representative of the sheriff of York. Before you delve, or take possession of, any portion of this land, I must have his authority. For aught I know, saving your presence, ye may be adventurers of low degree, outlaws, or the like."

"And where is your authority?" I demanded, wroth at being interfered with on my own land.

For answer he pulled a parchment from his pouch and held it up for my inspection.

"And have you any proof, sir, that you are lord of Holwick?" he continued.

Save for a few papers relating to the finding of the treasure I had none; even the title deeds, though close at hand, were not to be produced till the stream had been diverted; so I shook my head. Surely it was a pretty pass--a knight without a scrap of script to prove himself such!

"Then, till you get authority from the sheriff I cannot allow you to tarry here," said the bailiff in a deferential yet decisive tone.

"Then there remains but for me to journey to York," I replied. "How far lies the city?"

"One hour's ride by Fulford will bring you to Walmgate Bar. The sheriff, methinks, will be found at Clifford's Tower."

Ten minutes later Drake and I were spurring hotly towards York, Felgate, by reason of having but one jack boot and wet clothes, being compelled to stay behind, and before long the massive towers of the Minster showed above the skyline.

So strong was our pace that in less than the hour our horses' hoofs clattered under the archway of the Bar.

On our being ushered into the presence of the sheriff, that worthy, a man of fierce and resolute aspect, curtly demanded our business.

"Sir Aubrey Wentworth, forsooth," he cried, "and not a word in writing to prove your right! Nay, good sirs, I cannot grant you your desires on so weighty a matter with so light a claim. A person of repute must identify you."

"But I know no man in the whole of Yorkshire!" I exclaimed, feeling the hopelessness of my position.

"Then authority must be obtained from the King's Court at St. James's. I can say no more to you, Sir Aubrey, so I wish you good-day."

His manner showed that the interview had ended, and, sick at heart, I left his presence, Drake offering me wasted yet well-meaning consolation.

We walked slowly towards Petergate, where our steeds had been stabled. As we turned into that street an officer came swiftly round the corner, so that we ran violently against each other. In a moment I recognized him; he was none other than Ralph Slingsby, who brought the tidings of the Restoration to us at the "Flying Bull" at Rake on the same evening that my father was murdered.

"Ah, Captain Slingsby!" I exclaimed.

He eyed me with astonishment.

"I know you not, young sir, and as for the captain, that is but a bygone handle to my name, for I am Colonel Ralph Slingsby at your service."

Briefly I recalled the scene in the "Flying Bull".

"Then you are Sir Owen Wentworth's son?" he asked.

I assented, and told him briefly of what had happened.

"Back with me to the sheriff's house," he said. "It would ill repay the friendship I owed your father if I did not render this slight service to his son. Y

oung sir, I see now that you are the very image of your father when first I knew him."

With Slingsby to aid us, the interview with the sheriff was of short duration, and, armed with a warrant, I left his presence in a far better mood than I was in an hour before.

Shaking the colonel warmly by the hand, I bade him farewell, promising to call upon him directly my affairs were settled, and, mounting our horses, Drake and I sped joyfully back towards Holwick, which we reached within four hours of our departure.

For the rest of the day our army of workers toiled at their arduous task, and before nightfall a cutting was made sufficiently wide and deep to divert the stream.

Next morning the men commenced to construct the two dams, and so well did they labour that by noon the river was diverted, and only a pool of water covered the mysterious hole where we supposed the treasure was lying.

Then came the difficulty of getting rid of the water and emptying the cavity in the old bed of the river. Pumps were procured, yet the progress was slow, and as the sun sank to rest the bed was dry, though a pool of dark water showed clearly the position of the hiding place.

"Why did Sir Owen go to that extreme trouble?" remarked Drake, as we were returning to the inn. "Surely he could have deposited the treasure and the papers with Master Whitehead?"

"I cannot tell," I replied, "except, perhaps, that his faith in lawyers was none too strong."

"Then he was like my sire," rejoined Felgate, laughing. "For he used to say: 'Show me a lawyer and I'll show you a thief!'"

Early next morning the work of pumping was resumed, and as the water sank slowly down the mouth of the cavity, a dark object showed amidst the lank weeds. One of the men pounced upon it, cut the restraining tendrils, and held the object up for our inspection. It was Felgate's jack boot.

Before noon the pumps sucked dry; the hole was emptied of water. A ladder was thrust down, and found a firm bottom at about fifteen feet. Armed with lanterns, Felgate and I prepared to descend, and, having fastened a rope round our waists, we commenced carefully to climb down the ladder.

By the fitful glimmer of the candles we could see that we were in a vaulted chamber, the roof of which had caved in, forming the aperture through which we had descended. Apparently it had at one time been a subterranean passage between the castle and the village, but walls had been built, converting it into a small chamber of about twenty feet in length and six in breadth.

The floor was slimy with mud, and when our eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness we perceived an object lying close to our feet. Felgate stooped and flashed the lantern on it. It was the body of Increase Joyce, his features drawn horribly in his death struggles!

We shouted for another rope to be let down, and, tying it round the limp, lifeless form, we gave the signal, and the body of the unfortunate ruffian was drawn up to the light of day.

Another object met our gaze; it was the skeleton of a man encased in armour that showed him to have been a Roundhead. He must have perished during the attack on the castle, for his heavy broadsword was found by his side.

"Send a man down with a spade," called Felgate to those above, and presently a man came down the ladder, followed by Drake. In less than an hour the mud was heaped in one corner of the vault, laying bare a hard, roughly paved floor. Still there was no sign of the much-sought-for prize.

The damp, unhealthy atmosphere made our heads swim, so for a time the work was suspended and we gained the upper air, where a crowd of morbid countrymen were dividing their attention between the corpse of the unfortunate Increase Joyce and the gaping hole from which we had emerged.

A rest of half an hour revived us, and we returned to the attack with feverish anxiety.

"Three feet down and we'll come across it right enough," said Drake, and lustily two stout countrymen plied their tools.

The cobbles, set in cement, were like an iron plate, but once these were removed the work of digging a hole became easy. As the depth increased our excitement rose, till at length one of the mattocks struck something that emitted a metallic sound. It was a heavy iron chest.

When laid bare, the box was about three feet in length, about two feet in breadth, and a foot and a half in depth. Two handles, rusted with age, were sufficiently strong to enable the chest to be hoisted by means of a stout rope, and with a shout of suppressed excitement from the crowd the precious box was hauled up and deposited on the grass.


As we had no keys a cold chisel was required, but, this not being forthcoming, a man was dispatched to the village to procure one.

While we were waiting, the bailiff, who was now most civil and obliging, placed in my hands an object that had been found in Joyce's pocket. It was the long-lost metal box which my father had mentioned in his will, but its contents were simply two pieces of faded and much-handled paper containing one-third of the mysterious directions that had so puzzled the murderer and would-be thief.

On the messenger's return we used the cold chisel to such good purpose that the massive lid flew open with a clang and a groan, disclosing a number of canvas sacks filled with coins of all sorts. Underneath were a few pieces of silver-plate, such as had not been melted down for the use of His Late Majesty King Charles, the martyr, while at the bottom of the chest was a package carefully protected by a covering of oiled silk.

Tearing open the covering, I found all the documentary evidence that was required to prove my right to the Manor of Holwick--the cup of joy was filled to overflowing, and, in spite of my surroundings, I sought relief in a flood of tears.


Concerning the events that marked the close of the strange history of my father's will there is but little to write.

The contents of the treasure chest were sufficient for me to restore the Manor of Holwick to its former greatness. The castle still stands, a venerable ruin, but a small yet stately mansion, designed by the great Wren himself, occupies a commanding position within a mile of the shattered remains of our ancestral hall.

Still the years roll on. The Merrie Monarch was succeeded by his brother James, whose ill-advised acts alienated his subjects. William and Mary then reigned, William being succeeded by his wife's sister, good Queen Anne, whom God preserve. All these monarchs I have actively served; and when the call of duty has not taken me to the high seas, or on service in some foreign land, my leisure time has always been spent in the quietness of Holwick.

One by one the friends of my youth have gone. None have I grieved for more than for Felgate when I learned of his glorious death in the moment of victory at the battle of La Hogue. Greville Drake still remains my tried and trusted companion, and our greatest pleasure during our frequent meetings is to talk of the many adventures of our youth in the days of the Merrie Monarch.

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