Story 2 | Chapter VII | A Terrible Discovery | The Golden Incubus

Story 2—Chapter VII.

Mr Barclay had been gone three weeks, and no news from him; and I was beginning to think that he had gone off in a huff all at once, though I often wondered how he would manage for want of money, when one night, as I sat nursing Tom, I thought I’d look through my desk, that I hadn’t opened for three or four years, and have a look at a few old things I’d got there—a watch Sir John gave me, but which I never wore; six spade-ace guineas; and an old gold pin, beside a few odds and ends that I’d had for a many years; and some cash. Tom didn’t seem to like it, and he stared hard at the desk as I took it on my knees, opened it, lifted one of the flaps, and put my hand upon the old paper which contained the statement about the old gold plate. No; I did not. I put my hand on the place where it ought to have been; but it wasn’t there.

“I must have put it in the other side,” I said to myself; and I opened the other lid.

Then I turned cold, and ran my hand here and there, wild-like, to stop at last with my mouth open, staring. The paper was gone! So was the money, and every article of value that I had hoarded up.

For a few minutes I was too much stunned even to think; and when at last I could get my brain to work, I sat there, feeling a poor, broken, weak old man, and I covered my face with my hands and cried like a child.

“To think of it!” I groaned at length—“him so handsome and so young—him whom I’d always felt so proud of—proud as if he’d been my own son. Why, it would break his father’s heart if he knew. It’s that woman’s doing,” I cried savagely. “She turned his head, or he’d never have done such a cruel, base, bad act as to rob a poor old man like me.” For I’d recollected lending Mr Barclay my keys, and I felt that sooner than ask his father for money, he had taken what he could find, and gone. “Let him!” I said savagely at last. “But he needn’t have stolen them. I’d have given him everything I’d got. I’d have sold out the hundred pounds I’ve got in the bank and lent him that. But he didn’t know what he was doing, poor boy. That woman has turned his brain.”

“Ah, well!” I said at last bitterly, “it’s my secret. Sir John shall never know. He trusted me with one, and now his son—” I stopped short there, for I recollected the paper, and fell all of a tremble, thinking of that gold plate, and that some one else knew of its hiding-place now; and I asked myself what I ought to do. For a long time I struggled; but at last I felt that, much as I wanted to hide Mr Barclay’s cruelly mean act, I must not keep this thing a secret. “It’s my duty to tell my master,” I said at last, “and I must.” So I went up to where Sir John was sitting alone, pretending to enjoy his wine, but looking very yellow and old and sunken of face. “He’s fretting about Master Barclay,” I said to myself, and I felt that I could not tell him that the lad had taken my little treasures, but that he must know about the paper, so I up and told him only this at once; and that’s why he said I was an old fool, and that it was all my fault.

“You old fool!” he cried excitedly, “what made you write such a paper? It was like telling all the world.”

“I thought it would be so shocking, Sir John, if we were both to die and the things were forgotten.”

“Shocking? Be a good job,” he cried. “A man who has a lot of gold in his care is always miserable.—Taken out of your desk, you say. When?”

“Ah, that I can’t tell, Sir John. It might have been done years ago, for aught I know.”

“And the old gold plate all stolen and melted down, and spent. Here have I been thinking you a trustworthy man. There; we must see to it at once. I shan’t rest till I know it is safe.”

It seemed to me then that he snatched at the chance of finding something to do to take his attention off his trouble, for when I asked him if I should get a bricklayer to come in, he turned upon me like a lion. “Burdon,” he said, “we’ll get this job done, and then I shall have to make arrangements for you to go into an imbecile ward.”

“Very good, Sir John,” I said patiently.

“Very good!” he cried, laughing now. “There; be off, and get together what tools you have, and as soon as the servants have gone to bed, we’ll go and open the old cellar ourselves.”