Story 2 | Chapter II | Why Edward Gunning Left | The Golden Incubus

Story 2—Chapter II.

It’s curious how things get forgotten by busy people. In a few weeks I left off thinking about the hiding-place of all that golden plate; and after a time I used to go into that first cellar for wine with my half-dozen basket in one hand, my cellar candlestick in the other, and never once think about there being a farther cellar; while, though there was the strong-room in my pantry with quite a thousand pounds-worth of silver in it—perhaps more—I never fancied anybody would come for that.

Master Barclay came, and went back to school, and Sir John grew more strange; and then an old friend of his died and left one little child, Miss Virginia, and Sir John took her and brought her to the old house in Bloomsbury, and she became—bless her sweet face!—just like his own.

Then, all at once I found that ten years had slipped by, and it set me thinking about being ten years nearer the end, and that the years were rolling on, and some day another butler would sleep in my pantry, while I was sleeping—well, you know where, cold and still—and that then Sir John would be taking his last sleep too, and Master Barclay be, as it says in the Scriptures, reigning in his stead.

And then it was that all in a flash something seemed to say to me: Suppose Sir John has never told his lawyers about that buried gold plate, and left no writing to show where it is. I felt quite startled, and didn’t know what to think. As far as I could tell, nobody but Sir John and I knew the secret. Young Master Barclay certainly didn’t, or else, when I let him carry the basket for a treat, and went into the cellar to fetch his father’s port, he, being a talking, lively, thoughtless boy, would have been sure to say something. His father ought certainly to tell him some day; but suppose the master was taken bad suddenly with apoplexy and died without being able—what then?

I didn’t sleep much that night, for once more that gold plate was being an incubus, and I determined to speak to Sir John as an old family servant should, the very next day.

Next day came, and I daren’t; and for days and days the incubus seemed to swell and trouble me, till I felt as if I was haunted. But I couldn’t make up my mind what to do, till one night, just before going to bed, and then it came like a flash, and I laughed at myself for not thinking of it before. I didn’t waste any time, but getting down my ink-bottle and pens, I took a sheet of paper, and wrote as plainly as I could about how Sir John Drinkwater and his butler James Burdon had hidden all the chests of valuable old gold cups and salvers in the inner wine-cellar, where the entrance was bricked-up; and to make all sure, I put down the date as near as I could remember in 1851, and the number of the house, 19 Great Grandon Street, Bloomsbury, because, though it was not likely, Sir John might move, and if that paper was found after I was dead, people might go on a false scent, find nothing, and think I was mad.

I locked that paper up in my old desk, feeling all the while as if I ought to have had it witnessed; but people don’t like to put their names to documents unless they know what they’re about, and of course I couldn’t tell anybody the contents of that.

I felt satisfied as a man should who feels he has done his duty; and perhaps that’s what made the time glide away so fast without anything particular happening. Sir John bought the six old houses like ours opposite, and gave twice as much for them as they were worth, because some one was going to build an Institution there, which might very likely prove to be a nuisance.

I don’t remember anything else in particular, only that the houses would not let well, because Sir John grew close and refused to spend money in doing them up. But there was the trouble with Edward Gunning, the footman, a clever, good-looking young fellow, who had been apprenticed to a bricklayer and contractor, but took to service instead, he did no good in that; for, in spite of all I could say, he would take more than was good for him, and then Sir John found him out.

So Edward Gunning had to go; and I breathed more freely, and felt less nervous.