Part 4 out of 4
Sylvester grimly, with a return of his former carelessness. "But
that is not YOUR own opinion--that's a suggestion of some one
"Well," said Gabriel, with a laugh and a slight addition of color,
"it WAS Gunn's theory. As a man of the world and a practical
financier, you know."
"And you've talked with HIM about it?"
"Yes. It was a matter of general wonder years ago."
"Very likely--but, just now, don't you think we've had enough
financial talk?" said Uncle Sylvester, with a bored contraction of
his eyebrows. "Come," looking around the room, "you've changed the
interior of the old house."
"Yes. Unfortunately, just after father's death it was put in the
hands of a local architect or builder, one of father's old friends,
but not a very skillful workman, who made changes while the family
were away. That's why your present bedroom, which was father's old
study, had a slice taken off it to make the corridor larger, and
why the big chimney and hearthstone are still there, although the
fireplace is modernized. That was Flint's stupidity."
"Whose stupidity?" asked Uncle Sylvester, trimming his nails.
"Flint's--the old architect."
"Why didn't you make him change it back again?"
"He left Lakeville shortly after, and I brought an architect from
St. Louis after I returned from Europe. But nothing could be done
to your room without taking down the chimney, so it remained as
Flint left it."
"That reminds me, Gabriel, I'm afraid I spoke rather cavalierly to
Kitty, last night, about the arrangements of the room. The fact
is, I've taken a fancy to it, and should like to fit it up myself.
Have I your permission?"
"Certainly, my dear Sylvester."
"I've some knickknacks in my trunks, and I'll do it at once."
"As you like."
"And you'll see that I am not disturbed; and you'll explain it to
Kitty, with my apologies?"
"Then I'm off."
Gabriel glanced at his brother with a perplexed smile. Here was
the bored traveler, explorer, gold-seeker, soldier of fortune,
actually as pleased as a girl over the prospect of arranging his
room! He called after him, "Sylvester!"
"I say, if you could, you know, just try to interest these people
to-night with some of your adventures--something told SERIOUSLY,
you know, as if you really were in earnest--I'd be awfully obliged
to you. The fact is,--you'll excuse me,--but they think you don't
come up to your reputation."
"They want a story?"
"Yes,--one of your experiences."
"I'll give them one. Ta-ta!"
For the rest of the day Uncle Sylvester was invisible, although his
active presence in his room was betrayed by the sound of hammering
and moving of furniture. As the remainder of the party were
skating on the lake, this eccentricity was not remarked except by
one,--Marie du Page,--who on pretense of a slight cold had stayed
at home. But with her suspicions of the former night, she had
determined to watch the singular relative of her friend. Added
to a natural loyalty to the Lanes, she was moved by a certain
curiosity and fascination towards this incomprehensible man.
The house was very quiet when she stole out of her room and passed
softly along the corridor; she examined the wall carefully to
discover anything that might have excited the visitor's attention.
There were a few large engravings hanging there; could he have
designed to replace them by some others? Suddenly she was struck
with the distinct conviction that the wall of the corridor did not
coincide with the wall of his room as represented by the line of
the door. There was certainly a space between the two walls
unaccounted for. This was undoubtedly what had attracted HIS
attention; but what BUSINESS was it of his?
She reflected that she had seen in the wall of the conservatory an
old closed staircase, now used as shelves for dried herbs and
seeds, which she had been told was the old-time communication
between the garden and Grandfather Lane's study,--the room now
occupied by the stranger. Perhaps it led still farther, and thus
accounted for the space. Determined to satisfy herself, she
noiselessly descended to the conservatory. There, surely, was the
staircase,--a narrow flight of wooden steps encumbered with
packages of herbs,--losing itself in upper darkness. By the aid of
a candle she managed to grope and pick her way up step by step.
Then she paused. The staircase had abruptly ended on the level of
the study, now cut off from it by the new partition. She was in a
stifling inclosure, formed by the walls, scarcely eighteen inches
wide. It was made narrower by a singular excrescence on the old
wall, which seemed to have been a bricked closet, now half
destroyed and in ruins. She turned to descend, when a strange
sound from Uncle Sylvester's room struck her ear. It was the sound
of tapping on the floor close to the partition, within a foot of
where she was standing. At the same moment there was a decided
movement of the plank of the flooring beneath the partition: it
began to slide slowly, and then was gradually withdrawn into the
room. With prompt presence of mind, she instantly extinguished her
candle and drew herself breathlessly against the partition.
When the plank was entirely withdrawn, a ray of light slipped
through the opening, revealing the bare rafters of the floor, and a
hand and arm inserted under the partition, groping as if towards
the bricked closet. As the fingers of the exploring hand were
widely extended, Marie had no difficulty in recognizing on one of
them a peculiar signet ring which Uncle Sylvester wore. A swift
impulse seized her. To the audacious Marie impulse and action were
the same thing. Bending stealthily over the aperture, she suddenly
snatched the ring from the extended finger. The hand was quickly
withdrawn with a start and uncontrolled exclamation, and she
availed herself of that instant to glide rapidly down the stairs.
She regained her room stealthily, having the satisfaction a moment
later of hearing Uncle Sylvester's door open and the sound of his
footsteps in the corridor. But he was evidently unable to discover
any outer ingress to the inclosure, or believed the loss of his
ring an accident, for he presently returned. Meantime, what was
she to do?
Tell Kitty of her discovery, and show the ring? No--not yet!
Oddly enough, now that she had the ring, taken from his wicked
finger in the very act, she found it as difficult as ever to
believe in his burglarious design. She must wait. The mischief--
if there had been mischief--was done; the breaking in of the
bricked closet was, from the appearance of the ruins, a bygone act.
Could it have been some youthful escapade of Uncle Sylvester's, the
scene of which he was revisiting as criminals are compelled to do?
And had there been anything taken from the closet--or was its
destruction a part of the changes in the old house? How could she
find out without asking Kitty? There was one way. She remembered
that Mr. Gunn had once shown a great deal of interest to Kitty
about the old homestead, and even of old Mr. Lane's woodland cabin.
She would ask HIM. It was a friendly act, for Kitty had not of
late been very kind to him.
The opportunity presented itself at dusk, as Mr. Gunn, somewhat
abstracted, stood apart at the drawing-room window. Marie hoped
he had enjoyed himself while skating; her stupid cold had kept her
indoors. She had amused herself rambling about the old homestead;
it was such a queer place, so full of old nooks and corners and
unaccountable spaces. Just the place, she would think, where old
treasures might have been stored. Eh?
Mr. Gunn had not spoken--he had only coughed. But in the darkness
his eyes were fixed angrily on her face. Without observing it, she
went on. She knew he was interested in the old house; she had
heard him talk to Kitty about it: had Kitty ever said anything
about some old secret hoarding place?
No, certainly not! And she was mistaken, he never was interested
in the house! He could not understand what had put that idea in
her head! Unless it was this ridiculous, shady stranger in the
guise of an uncle whom they had got there. It was like his
"Oh, dear, no," said Marie, with unmistakable truthfulness, "HE did
not say anything. But," with sudden inconsistent aggression, "is
THAT the way you speak to Kitty of her uncle?"
Really he didn't know--he was joking only, and he was afraid he
must just now ask her to excuse him. He had received letters that
made it possible that he might be called suddenly to New York at
any moment. Marie stared. It was evident that he had proposed to
Kitty and been rejected! But she was no nearer her discovery.
Nor was there the least revelation in the calm, half-bored,
yet good-humored presence of the wicked uncle at dinner. So
indifferent did he seem, not only to his own villainy but even to
the loss it had entailed, that she had a wild impulse to take the
ring from her pocket and display it on her own finger before him
then and there. But the conviction that he would in some way be
equal to the occasion prevented her. The dinner passed off with
some constraint, no doubt emanating from the conscious Kitty and
Gunn. Nevertheless, when they had returned to the drawing-room,
Gabriel rubbed his hands expectantly.
"I prevailed on Sylvester this morning to promise to tell us some
of his experiences--something COMPLETE and satisfactory this time.
Uncle Sylvester, warming his cold blood before the fire, looked
momentarily forgetful and--disappointing. Cousins Jane and Emma
shrugged their shoulders.
"Eh," said Uncle Sylvester absently, "er--er--oh yes! Well" (more
cheerfully), "about what, eh?"
"Let it be," said Marie pointedly, fixing her black magnetic eyes
on the wicked stranger, "let it be something about the DISCOVERY of
gold, or a buried TREASURE HOARD, or a robbery."
To her intense disgust Uncle Sylvester, far from being discomfited
or confused, actually looked pleased, and his gray eyes thawed
"Certainly," he said. "Well, then! Down on the San Joaquin River
there was an old chap--one of the earliest settlers--in fact, he'd
come on from Oregon before the gold discovery. His name, dear
me!"--continued Uncle Sylvester, with an effort of memory and
apparently beginning already to lose his interest in the story--
As Uncle Sylvester paused here, Cousin Jane broke in impatiently.
"Well, that's not an uncommon name. There was an old carpenter
here in your father's time who was called Flint."
"Yes," said Uncle Sylvester languidly. "But there is, or was,
something uncommon about it--and that's the point of the story, for
in the old time Flint and Gunn were of the same stock."
"Is this a Californian joke?" said Gunn, with a forced smile on his
flushed face. "If so, spare me, for it's an old one."
"It's much older HISTORY, Mr. Gunn," said Uncle Sylvester blandly,
"which I remember from a boy. When the first Flint traded near
Sault Sainte Marie, the Canadian voyageurs literally translated his
name into Pierre a Fusil, and he went by that name always. But
when the English superseded the French in numbers and language the
name was literally translated back again into 'Peter Gunn,' which
his descendants bear."
"A labored form of the old joke," said Gunn, turning contemptuously
"But the story," said Cousins Jane and Emma. "The story of the
gold discovery--never mind the names."
"Excuse me," said Uncle Sylvester, placing his hand in the breast
of his coat with a delightful exaggeration of offended dignity.
"But, doubts having been cast upon my preliminary statement, I fear
I must decline proceeding further." Nevertheless, he smiled
unblushingly at Miss Du Page as he followed Gunn from the room.
The next morning those who had noticed the strained relations of
Miss Kitty and Mr. Gunn were not surprised that the latter was
recalled on pressing business to New York by the first train; but
it was a matter of some astonishment to Gabriel Lane and Marie du
Page that Uncle Sylvester should have been up early, and actually
accompanied that gentleman as far as the station! Indeed, the
languid explorer and gold-seeker exhibited remarkable activity,
and, clad in a rough tourist suit, announced, over the breakfast-
table, his intention of taking a long tramp through the woods,
which he had not revisited since a boy. To this end he had even
provided himself with a small knapsack, and for once realized
Kitty's ideal of his character.
"Don't go too far," said Gabriel, "for, although the cold has
moderated, the barometer is falling fast, and there is every
appearance of snow. Take care you are not caught in one of our
"But YOU are all going on the lake to skate!" protested Uncle
"Yes; for the very reason that it may be our last chance; but
should it snow we shall be nearer home than you may be."
Nevertheless, when it came on to snow, as Gabriel had predicted,
the skating party was by no means so near home as he had imagined.
A shrewd keenness and some stimulating electric condition of the
atmosphere had tempted the young people far out on the lake, and
they had ignored the first fall of fine grayish granulations that
swept along the icy surface like little puffs of dust or smoke.
Then the fall grew thicker, the gray sky contracted, the hurrying
flakes, dashed against them by a fierce northwester, were larger,
heavier, and seemed an almost palpable force that held them back.
Their skates, already clogged with drift, were beginning to be
useless. The bare wind-swept spaces were becoming rarer; they
could only stumble on blindly towards the nearest shore. Nor when
they reached it were they yet safe; they could scarcely stand
against the still increasing storm that was fast obliterating the
banks and stretch of meadow beyond. Their only hope of shelter was
the range of woods that joined the hill. Holding hands in single
file, the little party, consisting of Kitty, Marie, and Cousins
Jane and Emma--stout-hearted Gabriel leading and Cousin John
bringing up the rear--at last succeeded in reaching it, and were
rejoiced to find themselves near old Lane's half-ruined cabin. To
their added joy and astonishment, whiffs of whirling smoke were
issuing from the crumbling chimney. They ran to the crazy door,
pushed aside its weak fastening, and found--Uncle Sylvester calmly
enjoying a pipe before a blazing fire. A small pickaxe and crowbar
were lying upon a mound of freshly turned earth beside the chimney,
where the rotten flooring had been torn up.
The tumultuous entrance of the skating party required no explanation;
but when congratulations had been exchanged, the wet snow shaken
off, and they had drawn round the fire, curious eyes were cast upon
the solitary occupant and the pile of earth and debris before him.
"I believe," said Gabriel laughingly, "that you have been so bored
here that you have actually played at gold-hunting for amusement."
Uncle Sylvester took the pipe from his mouth and nodded.
"It's a common diversion of yours," said Marie audaciously.
Uncle Sylvester smiled sweetly.
"And have you been successful THIS TIME?" asked Marie.
"I got the color."
Uncle Sylvester rose and placed himself with his back to the fire,
gently surveying the assembled group.
"I was interrupted in a story of gold-digging last evening," he
said blandly. "How far had I got?"
"You were down on the San Joaquin River in the spring of '50, with
a chap named Flint," chorused Cousins Jane and Emma promptly.
"Ah! yes," said Uncle Sylvester. "Well, in those days there was a
scarcity of money in the diggings. Gold dust there was in plenty,
but no COIN. You can fancy it was a bother to weigh out a pinch of
dust every time you wanted a drink of whiskey or a pound of flour;
but there was no other legal tender. Pretty soon, however, a lot
of gold and silver pieces found their way into circulation in our
camp and the camps around us. They were foreign--old French and
English coins. Here's one of them that I kept." He took from his
pocket a gold coin and handed it to Gabriel.
Lane rose to his feet with an exclamation:
"Why, this is like the louis-d'or that grandfather saved through
the war and gave to father."
Uncle Sylvester took the coin back, placed it in his left eye, like
a monocle, and winked gravely at the company.
"It is the SAME!" he went on quietly. "I was interested, for I had
a good memory, and I remembered that, as a boy, grandfather had
shown me one of those coins and told me he was keeping them for old
Jules du Page, who didn't believe in banks and bank-notes. Well, I
traced them to a trader called Flint, who was shipping gold dust
from Stockton to Peter Gunn & Sons, in New York."
"To whom?" asked Gabriel quickly.
"Old Gunn--the father of your friend!" said Uncle Sylvester
blandly. "We talked the matter over on our way to the station this
morning. Well, to return. Flint only said that he had got them
from a man called Thompson, who had got them from somebody else in
exchange for goods. A year or two afterwards this same Thompson
happened to be frozen up with me in Starvation Camp. When he
thought he was dying he confessed that he had been bribed by Flint
to say what he had said, but that he believed the coins were
stolen. Meantime, Flint had disappeared. Other things claimed my
attention. I had quite forgotten him, until one night, five years
afterwards, I blundered into a deserted mining-camp, by falling
asleep on my mule, who carried me across a broken flume, but--I
think I told you that story already."
"You never finished it," said Cousin Jane sharply.
"Let me do so now, then. I was really saved by some Indians, who
took me for a spirit up aloft there in the moonlight and spread the
alarm. The first white man they brought me was a wretched drunkard
known to the boys as 'Old Fusil,' or 'Fusel Oil,' who went into
delirium tremens at the sight of me. Well, who do you suppose he
turned out to be? Flint! Flint played out and ruined! Cast off
and discarded by his relations in New York--the foundation of whose
fortunes he had laid by the villainy they had accepted and condoned.
For Flint, as the carpenter of the old homestead, had discovered the
existence of a bricked closet in the wall of father's study,
partitioned it off so that he could break into it without detection
and rifle it at his leisure, and who had thus carried off that part
of grandfather's hoard which father had concealed there. He knew it
could never be missed by the descendants. But, through haste or
ignorance, he DID NOT TOUCH THE PAPERS and documents also hidden
there. And THEY told of the existence of grandfather's second
cache, or hiding-place, beneath this hearth, and were left for me to
He coolly relit his pipe, fixed his eyes on Marie without
apparently paying attention to the breathless scrutiny of the
others, and went on: "Flint, alias Pierre a Fusil, alias Gunn, died
a maniac. I resolved to test the truth of his story. I came here.
I knew the old homestead, as a boy who had wandered over every part
of it, far better than you, Gabriel, or any one. The elder Gunn
had only heard of it through the criminal disclosure of his
relative, and only wished to absorb it through his son in time, and
thus obliterate all trace of Flint's outrage. I recognized the
room perfectly--thanks to our dear Kitty, who had taken up the
carpet, which thus disclosed the loose plank before the closet that
was hidden by the partition. Under pretext of rearranging the
room--for which Kitty will forgive me--I spent the day behind a
locked door, making my way through the partition. There I found
the rifled closet, but the papers intact. They contained a full
description of the sum taken by Flint, and also of a larger sum
buried in a cask beside this chimney. I had just finished
unearthing it a few moments before you came. I had at first hoped
to offer it to the family as a Christmas gift to-morrow, but"-- He
stopped and sucked slowly at his pipe.
"We anticipated you," said Gabriel laughing.
"No," said Uncle Sylvester coolly. "But because it don't happen to
belong to YOU at all! According to the paper I have in my pocket,
which is about as legal a document as I ever saw, it is father's
free gift to Miss Marie du Page."
Kitty threw her arms around her white and breathless friend with
a joyful cry, and honest Gabriel's face shone with unselfish
"For yourself, my dear Gabriel, you must be satisfied with the fact
that Messrs. Peter Gunn & Sons will take back your wildcat stock at
the price you paid for it. It is the price they pay for their
share in this little transaction, as I had the honor of pointing
out to Mr. Gunn on our way to the station this morning."
"Then you think that young Mr. Gunn knew that Flint was his
relation, and that he had stolen father's money," said Kitty, "and
that Mr. Gunn only wanted to"-- She stopped, with flashing eyes.
"I think he would have liked to have made an arrangement, my dear,
that would keep the secret and the property in the family," said
Uncle Sylvester. "But I don't think he suspected the existence of
the second treasure here."
"And then, sir," said Cousin Jane, "it appears that all these
wretched, unsatisfactory scraps of stories you were telling us were
nothing after all but"--
"My way of telling THIS one," said Uncle Sylvester.
As the others were eagerly gathering around the unearthed treasure,
Marie approached him timidly, all her audacity gone, tears in her
eyes, and his ring held hesitatingly between her fingers. "How can
I thank you--and how CAN you ever forgive me?"
"Well," said Uncle Sylvester, gazing at her critically, "you might
keep the ring to think over it."