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Most of the maps of the West Indies published during the first half of the present century and anterior to that date mark distinctly the spot where the following story principally takes place. Thirty miles due north of Cape Français, on the north coast of San Domingo, is a reef entitled "Bajo de la Plata, or Phips's Plate," while more modern maps simply describe it as "Silver Bank."
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The Hispaniola Plate
"We passed the tropics, as near as we could guess, just where the famous Sir William Phips fished up the silver from the Spanish Plate wreck."—
Defoe ("Colonel Jack").
Most of the maps of the West Indies published during the first half of the present century and anterior to that date mark distinctly the spot where the following story principally takes place. Thirty miles due north of Cape Français, on the north coast of San Domingo, is a reef entitled "Bajo de la Plata, or Phips's Plate," while more modern maps simply describe it as "Silver Bank."
This is, of course, the spot where Sir William Phips—a now forgotten figure in history—obtained the plate mentioned by Defoe; and, so far as I am aware, there is but one detailed account in existence of how he found and secured that plate. This account is contained in a duodecimo volume entitled "Pietas in Patriam: the Life of Sir William Phips," published in London in 1697 anonymously, but guaranteed as accurate by several people who knew him. A production entitled "The Library of American Biography," edited by one Jared Sparks, also professes to give an accurate biography of Phips, but it is simply a garbled and mangled copy of the London publication. I should also mention that the "Biographia Britannica" refers to the expedition in the article on "Christopher Monk, second Duke of Albemarle." So does a work of the last century entitled "The Lives of the Admirals," by Lawrence Echard, and so also do some encyclopædias; but all of them undoubtedly derive their information from "Pietas in Patriam."
This work I have myself carefully followed, because in it alone are to be found the descriptions of the "Frygate Algier Rose," her eighteen guns and ninety-five men, of the various mutinies, of Alderly's arrival on the scene, of the second voyage with the tender, and so forth. Indeed, beyond the requirements of fiction the account is absolutely an account of what happened until the chase after Alderly by Nicholas Crafer, when fiction itself becomes predominant. Alderly, I should add, was as real a character as Phips himself. So was the carpenter who discovered the second mutiny. The rest, with the exception of the Duke of Albemarle, are imaginary.
I may add, in conclusion, that "The Hispaniola Plate" appeared originally in The St. James's Budget.
Nothing is more notable in recent literature than the sudden renewal of interest in the historical novel. Mr. Stanley Weyman is the most successful of this group of younger writers, but there is now treading on his heels another young novelist, whose work shows such splendid promise as well as such remarkable achievement, that he bids fair to outstrip Mr. Weyman and come first to the goal. This is Mr. John Bloundelle-Burton, whose story, "The Desert Ship," created such a stir in London a short time ago.
Mr. Burton was born in 1850. His parents intended him for a military life, but when at twenty-one he came into a comfortable inheritance, he determined to see something of the world. Already familiar with the Continent, he turned to fresher pastures and came to Canada; then running over the border into the "States," he lived down South for a considerable period. In Baltimore he first contracted the writing habit, sending an article to a paper there, which accepted it with thanks, but with nothing else. While down South he fell in with "Red Cloud," an Indian chief, picking up much information that was strange and new, and that was later to be utilized in "The Desert Ship." Going back to England, he flitted between London and Paris, the latter being his favorite abode. In the Place de la Madeleine he lived with a company that contained representatives of every class and country. Describing them Mr. Bloundelle-Burton says: "One of our number was a Scotch duke; another a tailor's son, enormously rich and not a bad fellow; another a Spahi, home on leave from Africa; a fourth a Spaniard, rolling in money; another an American, who afterward died in prison while awaiting his trial for killing—absolutely killing—a man in a duel. They could not get over that in Paris; indeed, as a Frenchman said to me, it really looked as if the American had fully intended to murder his countryman."
Living in this way in Paris, our author began to write more and more; first for foreign papers, then for English ones. He began a connection with Galignani, which lasted intermittently for a long interval, and brought him acquaintance with many notable men, among them Jules Grévy, several years later President of the Republic. His next venture was sending English papers news from different popular resorts on the Continent—Switzerland and the Tyrol, Italy and the Riviera. Later on he helped edit a paper called The American Visitor, which told rich Americans where they could spend their money most rapidly, and where they had the best opportunity for catching a glimpse of fashionable society in England and on the Continent.
Mr. Burton's first long story was "The Silent Shore," which had quite a career under several different guises. Originally published in volume form, it later appeared as a play at the Olympic Theater, then ran as a serial in Spanish in a South American paper, and ended up as a serial in several English provincial papers. His next story was, "His Own Enemy," in the author's opinion, the best novel he has yet produced, "though not, I hope, the best I shall write," he adds.
"The Desert Ship," Mr. Burton's next book and the first to bring him genuine fame, was published by Hutchinson & Co., in London. It was received with a burst of praise from the critics, even Mr. Labouchere's sarcastic and hard-to-please paper, Truth, declaring it to be "an enthralling story and a book which will mark a period in the existence of anyone who is fortunate enough to get it. It is," the paper added, "as exciting as anything Verne ever wrote, and with the reality of Robert Louis Stevenson." Nothing succeeds like success, as Mr. Burton rapidly learned; editors with orders up their sleeves dropped in upon the rising young author, and he found it hard to satisfy all the demands made upon him. All this solicitation for the work of his pen resulted in a sudden literary output. Two stories appeared in quick succession: "The Gentleman Adventurer," which ran in Young England, and "The Adventures of Viscount Annerly," which was published in the People.
"The Hispaniola Plate," Mr. Burton's last and strongest book, is a semi-historical story. The scene is laid in the West Indies. The two principal characters belong to the Royal Navy, one living in Cromwell's, Charles II.'s and James II.'s reigns, the other in the present day; and the way in which the two periods are blended into the one book exhibits masterly skill. Mr. Burton is a passionate lover of the sea. Descended from a line of ancestors that acquired fame in the British Navy—his grandfather, Lieutenant Jermy, was a noted old commander of English ships and participated in the battle of New Orleans in 1814—he has in his blood a taste for the salt sea wave, and this gives his stories their breezy, out-of-door atmosphere.
Mr. Burton has a pleasant home just out of London at Barnes Common. Like so many other Englishmen of prominence in these days, he is married to an American woman. He is a large, broad-chested man, standing six feet, two inches and a quarter, in his shoes, with dark, piercing eyes. Mr. Burton has decided views about the true methods for literary work. He does not believe in fixing on a good subject for a novel, then selecting a picturesque period, and, after making yourself thoroughly acquainted with the manners and customs of that epoch, planting your characters in it, as is the habit of certain novelists. The story must come to you, you cannot go out and bring it in. "I never think," he says, "of producing a story laid in a period (or about persons) which I have to read up—to 'mug' up, as we used to say at school. But I have been an ardent reader of history and memoirs all my life, and the story arises naturally from periods and incidents with which I am well acquainted."
"I mean," he adds, "that the story should fit into an intimate acquaintance with the mise-en-scène, not that the mise-en-scène should be hunted up to fit the story."
No one who reads this exciting story, "The Hispaniola Plate," and who is held captive by its vivid scenes, its deep, rich coloring, its overmastering air of reality, but will wish long life to this strong and original talent, which already has behind it such remarkable achievement. May we have many such books from his pen!
"Gray's Inn Square, Oct. 20th, 1892.
"My Dear Sir,—In answer to your request, I beg to inform you that the terms by which you inherit 'Phips House,' at Strand-on-the-Green, from your late uncle, are as follows—the statement being taken from the last will and testament of your ancestor Nicholas Crafer, made in the year 1695:—
'And I do hereby will and bequeathe that ye house called Phips by me, after my late captain and commander, Sir William Phips, when I purchased yt from Mr. Clitherow of Branford, do forever remaine in the possession of some descendant of mine, male or female, the former for choyce and preference, yet not also debarring, in fault of any bearing the name of Crafer existinge, those descending from the female side to succeed. That is to saye, it is to so remaine forever unless through it whoever doth succeede shall thereinto find the means whereby to obtain unto themselves a fortune of and equivalint unto the summe of Fiftie thousand guineas, the which I do hereby testify the meanes are forthcoming. After whych the house may be disposed of as best beseemeth those who have so found ye fortune. This, therefore, I say, "Seeke and ye shall find, knocke and yt shall be opened unto you."'
"This will, in spite of its quaintness, has ever, and will probably always, hold good, although not law, until one thing occurs of two: either that the house falls down of old age (which it seemed very likely to do when I inspected it after your late uncle's decease) or that some descendant of Commander Nicholas Crafer shall find the means of making the fortune of 50,000 guineas in or through it—a most unlikely thing to happen. For, as you know, many generations of Crafers have searched through the house from basement to garret, imagining that the original testator meant to hint that somewhere about it, was hidden away such a sum of money as he mentions; and always without result. Nor has the ingenuity of one generation after another ever been able to hit upon any hidden meaning which might be contained in the words of the will, or to find anything excepting the scrap of paper once discovered, of which you know; while certainly the land on which it stands—something under three acres—can hardly ever become of such value, or one-twentieth part of it.
"But as you know as much about your ancestor as I can possibly tell you, I need not write further, and I have only to state that, during your absence abroad, everything has been done to facilitate handing over the house to you on your return, and I now propose to prove your uncle's will, and, after the usual formalities, to put you in possession of Phips House and other property left by him.—Yours faithfully,
This was the letter which Reginald Crafer read at his breakfast, one fine autumn morning, as he sat in that good old hostelry, "The George," at Portsmouth—a letter which he had found at the Naval Club after his early morning walk on the Battery—a walk taken with the view of aiding an already exceedingly good appetite, and of having a look at the waves dancing out at the Nab and sparkling in the bright October sunshine.
A better specimen of the young lieutenant of to-day than Reginald Crafer (with "N" after his name to show that he had taken up navigation as his branch) you might not see in any of her Majesty's ships. Tall, but not too tall for a sailor; close-shaven, as becometh the young naval officer of to-day, yet with excellent features that required nothing in the shape of whiskers or moustache to set them off; with clear grey eyes and a wholesome sunburnt skin—what more could a young man desire in the shape of personal gifts? Nay, what more pleasing a sight to gaze upon than this smart, good-looking young officer could the heart of a maiden desire?
Now Reginald Crafer—whom at this present moment you see eating buttered toast and a fried sole, as he reads his lawyer's letter—had just come home from the China Station in the Ianthe (twin-screw cruiser, first-class, armoured, 8,400 tons); and she having been paid off, the young man was on leave for the time being. He had slept at "The George" overnight for two reasons (ordinarily the naval officer rushes to London by the first train that will bear him, when once he has set foot on shore), one being that he wanted to go to a ball at the Commander-in-Chief's to which the officers of the returned cruiser were mostly invited; the other, that he expected to find a letter from the solicitor, Mr. Bentham—which, as you have seen, he did find.
This letter was in reply to one that Reginald had sent to the lawyer from Hong Kong, which in its own turn had also been a reply. For to the young lieutenant there had come at the Station a letter from Mr.. Bentham, stating that his uncle—also a Reginald Crafer—was dead, that he had left the younger Reginald a few thousand pounds (the principal part of his income having been derived from an annuity and a government pension) and "Phips House." Then Reginald had written back for further details, had received the above-quoted answer at the Naval Club this morning, and—voilà tout!
Of course, he knew as much about the mysterious entailment of Phips House as the lawyer did; it would have been strange had he not done so. Eleven different Crafers had held possession of it since Nicholas departed this life in King William III.'s reign: eleven different Crafers, all of whom had sought high and low for the fortune it was supposed to contain, or for some clue as to how the fortune of "Fiftie thousand guineas" was to be obtained; and of those Crafers many had torn their hair in vexation, and others had stamped their feet and cursed and sworn—or, perhaps I had better say, grumbled and growled—at finding nothing. Of such irate descendants the last, the late lamented Reginald, had, however, not been one. Perhaps because he thought that if his ten predecessors could find no fortune in the house, he was not likely to do so; or perhaps because he was himself very comfortably off with his annuity and his pension from a Government office, and his few thousands of invested money—which Lieutenant Crafer now came into—he bothered his head not at all about the chimera of the house at Strand-on-the-Green. Certainly he cursed not over it, neither did he swear—unless it was at the damp from the river!—and, being bald, he had no hair to tear; and he never tapped panels nor prodded walls nor looked for secret doors in the house, contenting himself with letting young "Reg" do all this when he came to stay with him. For the rest, and being a bachelor, he spent much time at his club; he took a faint interest in the curiosity which the legend of Phips House excited in the minds of his friends, as well as of the waterside loafers of Brentford, Kew, Mortlake, and all the immediate neighbourhood; he would even go so far as to invite people to stay with him and hunt about the house for themselves, when they were not enjoying the prospect from the windows of the market-gardens across the river. But of excitement in the legendary fortune, this bald-headed and comfortably situated ex-Civil Servant could get up not one jot; and when a burglar broke into the house, determined on finding, as he informed the barrister who defended him, "the blooming fortune if it was to be found," he went to see him at Pentonville after his trial and told him he sincerely wished he had found it. Thus, to him, the fortune of Phips House was but an allegory or a myth, which he regarded but as a grown-up child regards a fairy-tale; and so, unbelieving in all that pertained to it, he passed away to Kensal Green and Reginald the Second ruled in his stead.
But he, when he was a child—being of a romantic nature—did believe in the fortune of Nicholas Crafer; and when he was a man—being a sailor—had not lost all faith in the romance.
Whether that faith was justified, you who read on shall see.
Who is he, especially of the London brood, who knows not Strand-on-the-Green? Who knows not that it lies below the choice and savoury town of Brentford and below Kew Bridge also, on the Middlesex shore; that it is composed of a long, straggling row of houses, many of them old and most of them quaint, which are of all shapes, sizes, and uses? One there is in which once dwelt Zoffany, the painter; hard by is a waterman's cottage, where the succulent winkle or shrimp may be purchased and eaten—the former with a pin supplied by the vendor; then comes a row of comfortable houses panelled and wainscotted within, then more tiny shops (with, interspersed all along the row, the genial public-house); then more private houses; and so on to Phips House—old, quaint, gabled, and mullioned, panelled also, and wainscotted. In it are fireplaces in the corners of the rooms—sure proofs of the early Charles II. period; it has also carved wooden doors and carved balustrades and banisters; there are balconies to the front windows having bulging rails to fit the hoops of women belonging to long-forgotten days; and all about it is that genuine look of latter Stuart times which may still be found in very many houses in this locality.
"What did it appear like when Nicholas first bought it?" mused Reginald Crafer to himself a few evenings later than the day he breakfasted at "The George." "Even if it hasn't altered, its surroundings have." Then he turned his eyes around and went on, gazing down the river meanwhile. "The 'White Hart' at Mortlake was there, I think—I have read of Jacobites taking boat from its steps; and so was the Duke of Devonshire's and old Chiswick beyond, with wicked Barbara Villiers standing at the window of her house and shrieking for the return of her lost youth and beauty. But not much else! No main drainage then, no horrible gasworks, no District Railway bridges! It must have changed a good deal since Nicholas hid his fabulous fortune, or the story of it, in the house—if it is fabulous."
He put the key into the door and entered, musing still.
"I wonder what Nicholas did to pass his time? There was no 'Packet Hotel,' no 'Indian Queen,' no 'Star and Garter' then." These places are, it should be told, hostelries of more modern date. "There was not much for him to do to amuse himself," he went on. "He was too late to know Kinde Kit of Kingston, who lived here; too early for the Georgian revels at Kew. Yet he might have often seen William of Orange (it was hard by here they attempted to assassinate him); he might have smoked and drunk at the 'Three Pidgeons,' at Brentford, and known the daughter of Shakespeare's brother-actor, Lowin, who kept the place. Who knows?"
This young man, you see, was well acquainted with the history of the neighbourhood in which stood the house he had now inherited. It was not remarkable that he should be so. From his earliest childhood his fancy had been strongly taken by all the gossip connected with the property that must someday be his if his uncle remained unmarried, and never did he by haphazard see the names of Brentford, Kew, or Strand-on-the-Green printed but he studied every word in connection with them. Thus, he was neither erudite nor pedantic, but only very interested in all that concerned the spot, and, therefore, very well informed about it.
What he did not know was—in common with his forerunners—much about the mysterious Nicholas Crafer, who had contrived, by arousing the curiosity of his descendants through the medium of his strange will, to keep his memory very green. And not only the curiosity of his descendants, but also of most people brought into the slightest connection with the spot. The waterside hands, the barge-loaders and the lookers after private skiffs and gigs, the keepers of local refreshment-houses, whether "publics" or those chaste bowers which have upon their fronts the mystic legends, "Tea and hot water 9d." (how can there be tea-drinking without hot water?); even the hands of the steamers passing up and down—of the Cardinal Wolsey for Hampton Court (which place it reacheth not without arduous struggles and terrible delay), and the captains of the Bridegroom and the Wedding Ring (graceful names well suited to riparian jaunts!)—all knew the legend of Phips House as well as its new owner. So, too, did the dwellers on Kew Green, the respectable City men who resided on the Kew Gardens estate and were on familiar terms with the parson, and the City clerks who abode in great numbers in modern Gunnersbury and modern Chiswick. All knew, I say, the legend of Phips House; all had heard of Nicholas Crafer, who was considered to have been a pirate and buccaneer; all—watermen, City men, and City clerks—were proud of their local history of Nicholas and their—in a way—connection with him.
What was, however, really known of him by the family—reduced now to Reginald alone—what had filtered through the eleven generations with regard to him, was no more than this: He had been an officer in the navy of the Commonwealth, being but a lad at that time, and serving under Blake during its last two years of existence; then under Charles II. in the royal navy; and then under James II., in whose first year of misrule he retired. Many a fight did he engage in in those days, as was well known to his descendants: he was in the destruction of the Spanish ships at Santa Cruz in 1657, and at the defeat of Van Wassenaer by James, Duke of York, in 1665, in the "four days' fight" in 1666, and he assisted in the capture of the Golden Horse corsair in 1681, and many other valiant deeds besides.
Yet were none of these martial feats so romantic as one other thing he did, or, rather two other things. He accompanied Sir William Phips, then plain Captain Phips, in both his expeditions for the fishing up of the Hispaniola Plate—the second attempt proving successful. Now, as not all the world knows, but as his descendants of course knew, 'twas in the Algier Rose that Phips made his first attempt to get this plate in the reign of that most high and puissant prince, King Charles II., of ever-gracious memory. 'Twas that great monarch who put at his disposal the Algier Rose, after listening to Phips's tale in the embrasure of a window at Whitehall—what time he was playing with the silky ears of a spaniel on his knee and leering at a young country lady fresh come to Court—a tale narrating how the Spanish plate ship, or carrack, was sunk off Hispaniola—or, as we now call it, San Domingo and Hayti; and how he, Phips, felt sure he could fish it up. But Phips came back without the plate, and the august Charles, being dead, could help him no more, nor would the saintly James, his successor, do so.
Phips was therefore now on what he would, perhaps, have called his "beam-ends," and so were some of his officers, including Nicholas Crafer; and on them he would doubtless have remained had not his good fortune thrown in his way at this moment a friendly patron. This was none other than Christopher Monk, second Duke of Albemarle, a nobleman who loved much the bottle—which fondness led to his death shortly afterwards, when Governor of Jamaica—and who also took great interest in stories of buried treasure, and listened to tales of such things with eagerness. To him, therefore, Phips opened up the subject of the Spanish plate. He swore that though he had failed once in finding it he would never fail again; and he so much impressed his drunken Grace with his energy and sincerity that, at last, he sailed once more for the West Indies as captain of a private ship commissioned to hunt for the plate, and with him Nicholas sailed too as second officer. Much money had been advanced for the quest; Albemarle taking six shares, while three were allotted to Phips, one to Nicholas, and one between the other officers, and the remainder amongst those adventurer-merchants who had assisted in finding the necessary capital.
All this is matter of history, which may be grubbed up by the student with little pains; so, too, is the fact that Phips did come back with the plate, having gone through some considerable dangers and hardships to secure it. Then the saintly King, James—who took a tenth as his royalty for granting the patent—was advised to seize all the plate on the ground that "one half of what had been in the Spanish carrack was missing," and that, consequently, Phips had secreted that half somewhere for his future use. But the King, contrary to what might have been expected of him, refused to believe such to be the case—perhaps because he had been a sailor himself once, and a good one, too!—and, instead, ordered the money to be divided and apportioned as had been at first arranged, and also, at the request of the graceless but goodhearted Duke, knighted the captain, making him thereby Sir William Phips.
So Albemarle got his six shares, Phips got his three, and Nicholas his one: but as to how much each got considerable doubt has ever existed, since some historians say the plate realised only £90,000, and some say £300,000; though it was thought that Phips got £16,000. But whatever it was it was sufficient to assist the Duke in ruling royally over his colony (for a year, when the bottle finished him!), to support Phips until the time came when he was made Governor of New England, and to enable Nicholas to buy his house at Strand-on-the-Green.
But than this no more was known, except that Nicholas lived some years after the making of his will, since he did not die until 1701, when the smallpox carried him off. And of what he did in those years neither was anything more known, nor of how he and Phips really got the treasure, what adventures they went through, or what hardships they then endured.
Yet, as will now be seen, the time was at last at hand when Reginald Crafer the second, twelfth in descent from Nicholas, the so-called pirate and buccaneer, was to find out all that there was to be discovered about him. He was soon to learn the reason of Nicholas's strange will and testament.
Now, in the letter of Mr. Bentham, the lawyer, to the present Reginald, mention was made of "a scrap of paper once found," of which the young man knew. And that he did so know of it was most certain, as all who came after the fourth Crafer in descent from Nicholas had known, for it was in the time of that fourth Crafer and in the first year of the reign of George III. that it had been discovered. Only, when it was discovered it told nothing, since on it were simply the words, "My friend Mr. Wargrave has the papers that will tell all.—NICHOLAS CRAFER."
Nothing could very well have been more disheartening than this; and I fear that the fourth Crafer in descent, whose Christian name was David, must, when he discovered that paper, have been one of the family who indulged in hair (or wig) tearings and in strong language. He was himself a doctor—for the eleven descendants of Nicholas had among them embraced all the professions and callings fit for gentlemen—having a fair practice in the neighbourhood of Brentford and Chiswick, and was consequently a stay-at-home man. And during his home-keeping life, while having a few alterations made to what was in those days called the saloon, or withdrawing room, he found the useless piece of paper. It was in the leaves of a Wagener, always called by sailors a "Waggoner" (a book of charts, or routier, much used by old navigators), that the scrap was discovered pasted—between the cover and the title-page. The book itself was in a little wooden cupboard, not a foot square, that had always been evidently regarded as a secret receptacle and hiding-place, since over and in front of the cupboard-doors, which had an antique lock to them, the wainscotting was capable of removal. Yet, when last the wainscotting had been put over that cupboard, it was easy enough to perceive that the person who had so closed it up had intended it should not be opened again for some time, since the wood of the wainscot had been glued in some manner to the cupboard-door. Then, in the passage of time between Nicholas having closed up the cupboard and the epoch of David Crafer arriving, when the builder's man lighted on it—which was a period of over fifty-five years—some stamped hangings of floss and velvet had been placed over the wainscot by another owner; so that at last the little cupboard with its contents was entirely hidden away. That Nicholas could have ever intended his scrap of paper—if the information was really of any use in his own day, or in days near to his time—to be so lost, it was of course impossible to decide. Doubtless he never dreamt that the panels would be covered up by the hangings, and perhaps thought that, therefore, sooner or later, some curious eye would observe that there was a difference in their size where they enclosed the cupboard. However, whatever he thought or did not think, the builder in making his alterations had unearthed the paper.
Only, as David Crafer remarked, it was of no use to him now it was found and never would be; which was the truth, for when he in his turn went the way of those before him he had never so much as really and positively found out who Mr. Wargrave was.
Yet he had tried hard to do so in the time that was left him. Knowing his ancestor to have been a sailor, every record bearing on the sailors of the past fifty years was searched by him or those employed by him, but there was no Wargrave who had ever been heard of. The Admiralty officials of those days swore no Wargrave had ever served in the navy; whoever he was, they said, one thing was certain—he was not a King's officer. Then David Crafer got the idea that the man was, after all, a lawyer whom Nicholas confided in; but again he found himself at bay. The records of dead-and-gone lawyers, even when they had been famous, were scanty enough in the early days of last century; when they had not been famous—above all, when they were only attorneys—those records scarcely existed at all. So, at last, David Crafer gave up the law in despair. If there had ever been a Wargrave in that profession, he, at least, could find out nothing about him. Next, he tried the City, which was not a very large place in his own day, and had been smaller in the days of Nicholas. Yet it was difficult to glean any information of the City even in those times—especially since the information desired was nearer sixty than fifty years old. It is true there was, as far back as the period of Nicholas Crafer and the mysterious Wargrave, a London Directory (such useful volume having been first published in 1677), yet in the copies which he could obtain a sight of—which was done with difficulty, since reference books were not preserved with much care in those times, and those which he did see were neither consecutive nor in a perfect condition—he found no mention of the name of Wargrave.
So time went on, David Crafer grew old and feeble, and had almost entirely desisted from the search for the name of Wargrave—the man himself must, of course, have been dead for some decades—and had long since come to the conclusion that he would never find out anything about him. Then, all at once, when visiting a friend in the City, and while turning over a volume in that friend's parlour, he lighted on the name and possibly the person. The book was entitled "A Compleat Guide to all Persons who have any Trade of Concern within the City of London and parts adjacent;" and peering into it in a half-interested, half-hopeless, and half-hearted manner, old David saw the name of "Samuel Wargrave, silversmith and dealer, Cornhill." Moreover, he saw that the book containing the name was published in 1701, the year when Nicholas died.
Therefore he thought he had found his man, or, at least, had found the chance of gleaning some information about him. But, alas! The year 1701 was a long way off the year 1760, when the paper was discovered in the little cupboard, and still longer off the year 1768, at which period David had now arrived. Moreover, David was, as has been said, grown old and feeble; "he did not know," he told himself that night as the coach took him back to Strand-on-the-Green, "if he cared overmuch now to go a-hunting for a dead man, or even for the knowledge that dead man might have possessed of Nicholas Crafer's treasure."
Yet, old as he was, being now turned seventy, he took the trouble to make some inquiries. He had a son, an officer, away serving in the American colonies, himself no longer a very young man; if he could find something more to leave him than the money for which he had sold his practice and his little savings and the old house to live in, why it would be well to do so. So, once more, armed with the knowledge that Mr. Wargrave had been a silversmith in Cornhill, he began further inquiries—which resulted in nothing! At least in nothing very tangible, though they proved that the man who was in the "Compleat Guide" had once lived where he was stated to have done. The parish books to which David obtained access showed this; and they showed also that he must have been the tenant of the whole house—even though he let off part of it, as was likely enough—since he was rented at £133 per annum, a good sum in those days even for a City house; but they told nothing further. No one could be unearthed who remembered Wargrave the silversmith, no one who had ever heard of him. Nor did his business appear to have survived him, since, in the half-year following his last payment of rates and taxes, the next occupant of the house was a mercer, who in his turn was followed by a coffee-house keeper, who, in David's own day—as he saw with his own eyes—was succeeded by a furniture dealer.
And then, as the old man reflected, this Mr. Wargrave might not be, probably was not, the man who was Nicholas's friend.
At this period David Crafer died; and ere his son, the officer in the American colonies, could be apprised of his death he too was dead, being shot through the heart in a skirmish with some Indians near Boston. Confirmation being received of his death, the property passed to another Crafer belonging to the elder branch, which was still existent in Hampshire; and by the time he in his turn had passed away the finding of the scrap of paper in the Wagener, and the hunt for Mr. Wargrave, were almost forgotten, if not entirely so. In fact, as generation continued to succeed generation, not only did these incidents become forgotten but the whole thing became almost a legend or a fairy-tale. One inheritor even went so far as to scoff at the will of Nicholas, saying that he was a romantic old sea-dog who had taken this manner of keeping his memory before his descendants; while, as you have seen, the late Reginald regarded the whole story with a pleasing indifference. But the present Reginald, who was himself of a romantic tendency, could by no means regard the story in anything but the light of truth, and, if he ever indulged in any hopes at all, they were more that the mystery might be cleared up in his time than that the fortune of £50,000 should come to him.
And it is because in his time the mystery was cleared up, that the whole story of what Nicholas Crafer did leave behind him "equivalint unto the summe of fiftie thousand guineas" can now be told.
Now this is the manner in which the mystery was at last cleared up in the time of Reginald Crafer, Lieutenant, R.N.
There was, and still is, in the neighbourhood that lies between Chancery Lane and Cheapside, an ancient banking establishment that is as old as the Bank of England itself—if not some years older—and that has, from its creation, been known as "Cazalet's." Yet there has been no Cazalet in the firm for nigh upon a hundred years, but, instead, the partners—of whom there are now two—boast the ancient patronymic of Jones. These Joneses are descendants, on the female side, from the last Cazalet, and in this way have become possessed of the old business; and it was when their father—for they are brothers—died, at almost the same time that Reginald's uncle passed out of existence, that a change took place, which led in a roundabout way to the writing of this narrative of "The Hispaniola Plate."
Old Mr. Jones had, I say, been gathered to all the other Joneses who had gone before him, and the two young Messrs. Jones—one aged forty-five and the other thirty-nine—decided that his decease marked a period in the existence of Cazalet's when a change ought to be made. That change was to take a shape, however, in the first instance, which caused a vast number of the people who banked with them, as well as all their senior clerks—many of them nearly as old as the late Jones himself—to shake their heads and to wonder why that late Jones did not burst forth corporeally from his grave, or, at the very least, appear in the spirit, to forbid the desecration that was about to take place. For the old house was to be pulled down—ruthlessly sacrificed to the spirit of the times, and a bran-new one was to be built up in its place!
"Well," said the ancient chief cashier—who had been there boy and man since 1843, and had grown old, and also tobacco-and-spirit-stained, during the evenings of a life spent in the service of Cazalet's—when he received the first intimation of this terrible news, "if that's going to happen it's time I was off. Lor' bless me! A new house! Well, then, they'll require some new clerks. They don't want a wreck like me in such a fine new modern building as they're going to shove up."
"Why, Mr. Creech," said a much younger employé of Cazalet's, a youth who came in airily every morning from Brixton, and was supposed to be the best lawn-tennis player in that suburb, "that's just why you ought to remain; you'll give the new show a fine old crusted air of respectability; you're a relic, you are, of the good old days. They'll never be able to do without you."
But Mr. Creech only grunted, and, it being one o'clock in the day when this conversation took place, he lifted up the lid of his desk, took some sandwiches out of a paper packet, and, applying his lips to a small flask, diffused a genial aroma of sherry-and-water around him. Yet, as he thus partook of his lunch, he wagged his head in a melancholy manner and thought how comfortable he had been for the best part of his life in the old, dingy, dirty-windowed house; it having been a standing rule of Cazalet's that the windows were never to be cleaned, and rumour had it that they had not been touched since the house was built.
That the firm "would never be able to do without him," as his cock-a-hoop junior had remarked, seemed, indeed, to be the case, and received exemplification there and then. For at that moment a bell rang in the inner sanctum where the brothers sat, and a moment afterwards the office-boy who had answered it told Mr. Creech that the "pardners wanted to see 'im;" whereon he gulped down a last drop of the sherry-and-water, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and went in to them, wondering "what was up now?"
"Sit down, Creech, sit down," said the "pardners" together, "we want to have a talk with you about the new house." Here Creech grunted. "Or rather," the elder one went on, "the old house;" whereon the cashier smiled, as much as to say that that was a far more congenial subject to him. Then Alfred, the elder brother, continued:
"You know more about this house, Creech, than anybody else." Creech gave a grunt again here, which tailed off into a sigh. "Why, bless my soul! You've been here five years longer than I've been in existence—there's no one else knows as much about us as you do."
"I came here a boy of sixteen," said Creech, looking at the clock on the wall as though it was a kind of calendar of his career, "and I'm sixty-five now. That makes forty-nine years. Come Easter, I've been here fifty years. It's a long while!"
"It is a long while," said the younger partner, Henry. "But you're all right, you know, Creech. Cazalet's look after those who have served them long and well. When you feel like retirement and a pension, you say so. Only, I don't know how we shall get on without you. However, the retirement is a long way off yet, I hope. Let us talk about the present."
"What we want to know is this," said Alfred, "and you're the person to tell us. What is there stored away down in the vaults below the strong room? We haven't been down there for years; not since we were boys and our father used to let us go down sometimes. There seemed to be only an awful lot of mouldering rubbish, and it'll all have to be gone over and either destroyed or fetched up before the builders go to work on the foundations."
"So there is a lot of rubbish," replied Creech, "though I haven't been down there myself for over twenty years. The last time I was down was when the Prince o' Wales went to return thanks at St. Paul's. I remember it because I found a bottle of port wine on a ledge, and we drank his health as he went by. I told your father about it afterwards, and he said it must have been some of the Waterloo port his father had had given him."
"What else is there?"
"A lot of rubbish," repeated Creech. "There's several old boxes, most of them burst open, with leases, I should say, belonging to dead and gone customers of the bank, and a heap of broken old furniture that belonged upstairs when the family lived over the bank. I found a fine copper warming-pan, that Mr. Jones made me a present of; and I think there's an old spinet down there, and broken chairs and tables, and office stuff, and a basket full of broken glass and crockery, and that sort of thing."
"Humph!" said the elder brother. "Leases, eh? We ought to look into those. If they're ours we ought to preserve them, and if they belonged to customers who have left descendants, they should be returned. They may still be of the greatest value. Who can tell?"
"My wife," said the younger, "has been filling the new house at Egerton Gardens full of the most awful-looking gimcracks I ever saw. She'll want that spinet directly she hears of it, and if she could only find another warming-pan she'd hang it up in the bedroom passages as an ornament."
"My wife," said Creech, "warms the beds with ours in the winter. It's a very good one, but I'll send it back if Mrs. Jones wants to decorate her landing."
"No," said Jones Junior, "we'll say nothing about it. There's far too much rubbish in the house already. Suppose," to his brother, "we go down into the vaults and have a look round."
This was agreed to, so down they went, after Creech had armed himself with a large paraffin candle and had rummaged out a bag full of keys of all sizes and shapes, while the elder Jones carried with him the more modern and bright keys that opened the safes and strong room. This latter they were, of course, in the habit of visiting every day, but the trap door leading to the vaults below—which was in the floor of the strong room—testified to the truth of Creech's assertion that it possibly had not been opened for twenty years. First of all, when the key was found, the lock was so rusty that it could not be turned until some oil had been brought, and then the door had stuck so that the two brothers—for Creech was no good at this work—could hardly pull it up. However, at last they got it open, and then they descended the stone steps one by one.
The place—as seen by the light of the candle—was, as the old cashier had described it, an olla-podrida of all kinds of lumber. The hamper of broken glass and crockery was there, so was the spinet, looking very antique and somewhat mouldy—a thing not to be wondered at, seeing that the Jones family had not lived over the bank during the present century. The broken chairs, stools, and tables were all piled in a corner—in another stood the boxes, some of them burst open, of which Creech had spoken. And around and about the vaults there pervaded the damp atmosphere which such places always have. The cashier had brought a second candle in his pocket, which he now lit, and by this additional light they saw all that there was to be seen.
"A lease of a farm in Yorkshire," said Alfred, taking up the first one that lay loose on the top of the first box, whose rusted padlock came off it, nails and all, as they touched the lid, "called Shrievalls, from the Earl of Despare to Antony Jones. Lor' bless me! Why, Shrievalls has been in our family for any amount of time, and I never heard of the Earl. I suppose we bought it afterwards. That's no use to anyone. What's this? A covenant of the Earl of Despare to pay an annuity to Ambrose Hawkins for the remainder of his life, made in the year 1743; that covenant has expired! That's no use to any one, either. A bundle of acceptances by Sir Marmaduke Flitch to Peter Jones—our great-grandfather. Flitch! Flitch! No knowledge of him either. An authority from Annabella Proctor to pay to her brother, so long as he holds his peace—humph!—ha!—well, that's an old family scandal—we needn't read that just now. Transfer of a lease from Mr. Stringer, son of Sir Thomas Stringer, a judge of the King's Bench, to Mr. Samuel Wargrave, late silversmith and jeweller, of Cornhill, now of Enfield, dated 1688. I suppose one or the other of them was a customer of the bank."
"Then it was Wargrave!" exclaimed Creech. "I've seen that name in some of our old books. At least, I think I have. Let me see—Wargrave. Where have I seen it? I know it somehow."
"It can't matter," said the younger Jones. "There has been no Wargrave on our books for a long while."
"A bundle of letters," went on the elder, taking them up, "from the Lady Henrietta Belville to Bartholomew Skelton, Esquire, at the University of Leyden, with one beginning, 'My dear and only love,—Since my 'usband is away to York'—Oh, dear! Dear! We needn't read that now."
"I should think not," said the younger brother. "The Skelton family still banks with us. We had better send the letter back intact. Bankers should keep secrets as well as lawyers."
"Wargrave," mumbled Creech to himself, as he leaned against an antique office-stool minus a leg. "Wargrave! Where have I heard the name?"
"An account book with no name in it but a date. And written therein, 'On behalf of the Earl of Mar, his expedition.' Humph! Ha! Well, we had a good many Jacobites among our old customers. What's this? A glove with a lot of tarnished silver fringe about it, a woman's—these are romantic finds!—a bunch of withered flowers, almost dust, and a little box——"
"That's it," exclaimed Creech, "a box with the name of Wargrave on it. That's it!"
"On the contrary, Creech, there is nothing on it; but, inside, a paper with written on that, and badly spelt, too—'His hair. Cut from his head by a true friend after his death at the Battle of Clifton Moor.'"
"No, no," said Creech, "I don't mean that box. I mean there is a box somewhere in this vault—a small one, with the name of Wargrave on it."
"There are a good many boxes with names on them," said one of the brothers, glancing round; "and I doubt if any speak more pathetically of the past than this one with its wisp of withered hair and its label."
But Creech was hunting about in the rubbish by now, and at last, exclaiming, "That's the one I mean," seized on a small iron box a foot square and brought it to where the partners and candles were.
"That," he said, as he plumped it down on the spinet, which emitted a rusty groan from its long-disused keys as he did so, "is the box I mean. I remember seeing it years and years ago. Look at what's written on it."
In faded ink, brownish red now instead of black, on paper a dirty slate colour instead of white, were the words:—
This box is to be given to any descendant or representative of Lieutenant Nicholas Crafer who is alive at my death. To be given at once after, but not before.—Samuel Wargrave.
Nota Bene.—I do believe it is very important.
"And," exclaimed the younger brother, "being so very important it has lain here for over 180 years. We have been assiduous for our customers."
"But why," said the elder brother, "when you saw it years ago, Creech, was nothing done? Why did not you, or my father, find out some Wargrave or some Crafer? There must be some left."
"Your father said he would make some inquiries; but I don't know whether he ever did or not. At any rate, it went clean out of my head. I was just off on my holidays, I remember, when I happened to see it; and, to tell you the truth, I never thought any more about it from that day to this. And I shouldn't have done so now if it hadn't been for that transfer you read out a minute ago."
* * * * * * *
A fortnight later the box was in Reginald Crafer's possession, with an apology from Messrs. Cazalet and Co. for the long period in which it had lain unattended to in their hands. They had discovered him by a reference to the suburban directory, after a search through the London and also several county directories, and Mr. Bentham's name had been quite enough to assure Messrs. Cazalet and Co. that he was the rightful person to whom to entrust the box.
The lock—a most excellent one, considering when it was made—had to be burst open, for no key could be found to fit it, and then Reginald saw what were its contents. First, there was a piece of paper on which was written:—
I do feel so sure that Mr. Wargrave will carry out my instructions after my death that I leave this pretious legacy to him in all good faith, and to you my descendant to whom it may after come, with all my love and good wishes; and so I say, May what you find herein prosper you. N. C.
Then, in a neat roll, tied up with black ribbon, was a vast number of sheets of paper covered with writing, some of it being very neat, some of it very ungainly, with many words scored out and others inserted, and also many misspelt, and some not spelt twice alike.
And Reginald Crafer, after an early meal, sat himself down to a perusal of those closely written sheets which had been at last unearthed after lying in the vaults of Cazalet's bank so long.
This is what they told him.
The History ofNICHOLAS CRAFER, Lieutenant,and the Search forTHE HISPANIOLA PLATE,with all that occurred during that searchand followed after it.As told by him.
There will be but little need that I ask pardon of him or her who receives this paper from Mr. Wargrave, since if he who does so shall have courage, or she who receives it have an honest friend to depend upon, they will have no reason to reproach me for what I have done. The finding of it will tell him or her how they shall become possessed of a fortune; and those who have gone before them and after me can never know how they have missed it. That it is not well for any Crafer to find this paper near unto my time is the reason why, with great care and pains, I have so bestowed it in my friend's hand, and, better is it that I shall have laid in grave a hundred years or more before it is discovered, than that any coming close to me should light upon it.
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