J. M. (James Morgan) Walsh.

The lost valley online

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of my mind for the present and turned to the less engrossing though
certainly more pressing task of burying the bodies that remained. The
spot I chose for the grave seemed rather familiar to me, but for the
moment I could not say just what it brought to my mind. I pegged away
with the spade, and had already dug a fair-sized hole when,
unexpectedly, the further side of the grave caved in. I swore under my
breath at this brilliant result of my efforts, and, with the intention
of clearing away the rubble, thrust my spade deep into the loose earth.
It met with a solid obstruction, something that seemed to me like the
root of a tree, or - - At that I stopped dead. Could it be possible that
I had struck the foundation of the hut?

The morning we entered the valley Moira had tripped over one of the
loose logs that had once been part of the building, and at the time I
had attached peculiar significance to the discovery; but now it appeared
that I had actually gone one better. Without more ado I made the dirt
fly, and in less time than it takes to tell I had shot away the covering
earth and brought to light the object that had at first drawn my
attention. I saw then, with a gasp of relief, that it was indeed the
eastern foundation of the hut that I had unearthed. Whoever had built
the place had built well, for the thick cross-piece still remained
tightly nailed to the stout posts that had supported the foundation. The
fire that had swept the neighbourhood had somehow failed to consume it,
though subsequent developments had buried it under piles of bracken and
dead brushwood. It was an amazing discovery, and under the circumstances
the luckiest one imaginable. At the very least it enabled me to place
one of the fixed points that were vital to the discovery of the plunder.
At the same time it showed me how I might be able, with a little extra
luck, to locate the sight of the burnt tree.

I went on with my digging.

Half an hour later I finished my self-imposed task, swung the spade over
my shoulder, and prepared to return to the cave. I could see Moira in
the distance moving towards me, and I guessed that my prolonged absence
had made her feel somewhat uneasy.

"Where have you been all the time, Jim?" was her greeting. "I was just
beginning to fear that something had happened to you."

"Something has," I answered, "but not in the way you mean. I've located
the exact position of the hut. That piece of wood you tripped over must
have been only a log that escaped being fully consumed. We're well on
the way towards finding the treasure now."

She eyed me keenly before she spoke again, and I knew what she was going
to ask me almost before she put her thoughts into words.

"Was that all you went to do?" she asked.

"No," I said, "I came out mainly to bury the dead."

She gave a little shudder at that, but her voice was steady enough as
she said, "And you did? All of them?"

I shook my head. "Not him," I said ungrammatically.

"Why?" she demanded, with Heaven knows what idea at the back of the
question.

"Because," I said distinctly, "because he wasn't there."

"Jim, whatever do you mean?" she cried.

"I can't say any more than I've just said," I told her. "When I went to
look I found he wasn't where I'd left him last night, and, though I
searched the valley from end to end, I couldn't find sign or sight of
him."

"It's impossible," she asserted. "You can't make a dead man fade into
thin air like that. If he's not in the valley, he's been taken out of
it."

"And who's taken him out?" I countered. "There's only two ways out.
Nobody's passed us during the night, and anyone that went out through
the wattles would leave a trail like an elephant."

"That's true enough," she admitted crestfallenly. And then she turned on
me swiftly. "Jim," she cried, "it's possible.... He might...."

The idea jumped into my mind at almost the same moment, but it seemed
too preposterous for belief.

"No," I interrupted. "It isn't. He couldn't. Moira, I tell you he was as
dead as a door-nail when I reached him."

She made a little gesture of despair as she realised to the full the
bitter futility of attempting to solve the puzzle, yet I had a feeling
that she had not quite given up hope. She did not make any further
remark on the way back to the cave, and she certainly wasn't as much
thrilled by my discovery of the ruins of the hut as I had expected her
to be. I let her be; it's never safe to divert the current of a woman's
thoughts.

I stepped into the cave ahead of her, and no sooner had I passed from
the light outside into the interior darkness than a crisp voice snapped
at me.

"Hands up!" it said tersely.

I shot my hands into the air more as a measure of precaution than
anything else, for I recognised the voice - the voice that I thought had
been silenced for ever.

"Cumshaw!" I ejaculated.

I could not see him since he was lurking right in the interior shadows,
but some electric quality in the air convinced me that his astonishment
was as great as mine. Nevertheless he answered me in tones that were as
calm as could be.

"So it's yourself, Carstairs," he said. "I'll have to apologise for
being a little previous with you, but you must remember that you are
standing in your own light and I can only see your outline. And - - Ah!
here is Miss Drummond too."

He came towards us at that, a dark figure looming out of the gloom. And
the next instant we had him one by each hand and pelted him with
questions.

"I thought you were dead," I said. "How did you come alive again?"

"What happened?" Moira asked.

"How did you get here and what were you doing all night?"

"One question at a time," he said laughingly. "It seems pretty obvious
that I'm not dead, doesn't it?"

"It does," I admitted. "But you were dead, or you appeared to be, when I
left you last night."

"I don't quite understand," he said. "What do you mean?"

I told him then how I had stumbled across his body on my return the
previous evening, how I had identified him, and, satisfied that he was
dead, had left him to attend to more pressing business. I related how I
had scoured the valley that very morning and failed to find the least
trace of him. What was the explanation of the seeming miracle? I asked.

"There's nothing miraculous about it," he said. "Last night I must have
been creased, sort of stunned, you know. The bullet didn't go near any
vital part. It just ploughed along the back of my neck and knocked me
unconscious. I suppose I would seem pretty dead to anyone who stumbled
across me. It's not always so easy for a layman to tell whether a man is
really dead or not. However, I remember coming-to just on daylight, and
hearing someone crashing through the bushes. It struck me then that I
didn't know how things had panned out, so I'd better take cover until I
made sure. So when you were hunting for me I was running away from you,
keeping a couple of jumps ahead all the time. I gradually edged round
towards the cave, and was just in time to see a dim figure slip out into
the bushes. I wasn't close enough to see more clearly. Miss Drummond,
you say. Yes, I suppose so; but I didn't know that then. However, as the
cave seemed deserted after that I took possession with the intention of
turning the tables. And then - - But you know the rest yourself. How much
further have we got?"

"Lots," I said. "The others are dead and buried, and I have found the
original site of the hut. Once we locate the lone tree we're right."

"That should be easy enough," said Moira with a woman's airy assurance.

Cumshaw watched us both with a queer smile flickering about his lips.

"What do you think of it, Carstairs?" he said at length.

"I don't fancy there'll be much difficulty in that," I answered. "It
should be plain sailing from now onwards."

"It strikes me," he said, "that we're just entering upon the toughest
stretch of the lot. However, the sooner we get to work the better. I
vote we start right away."

"But, Mr. Cumshaw," Moira protested, "do you think you feel well
enough?"

"Miss Drummond," he answered, "I've got pains all down my neck, and my
head's humming like a hive of bees, and I've got incipient rheumatics in
every joint in my body from lying all night on the damp ground. It's bad
enough to have all that wrong with me, without being compelled to spend
another day in idleness. No, if I get to work at once I'll feel much
better. Work, you know, is a good soporific."

"I suppose you know best," she conceded, a little doubtfully.

"I've been thinking things over," I remarked as we made our way back to
the site of the hut, "and it's just struck me that something I once
heard Bryce say might have some bearing on the matter. The night those
chaps burgled us he said, 'They're up a gum-tree when they should be
under one.' I'm not so sure of the exact words now, but that's the
substance of them anyway."

"But," Cumshaw objected, "he didn't know as much about the Valley then
as we do now."

"Quite so," I said. "I never thought he really meant anything by what he
said, but that remark's been running through my head. It seems to me
that everyone right through has been obsessed by the idea of the tree,
and now that it's disappeared we're at a loose end. Everybody, from your
father and Bradby down to Bryce and ourselves, has taken it for granted
that a tree's vital to the solution."

"Isn't it?" Cumshaw queried quickly.

I shook my head. "Not in the least," I said. "If the tree was absolutely
necessary it'd mean that we'd have to wait until 3rd or 4th of December,
the day on which Bradby buried the treasure, and the only day of the
year on which the sun, the tree and the threshold of the hut would be in
an exact line. Bryce's idea of having to wait three months must have
been conceived in the belief that the 3rd or 4th June would answer
equally well. It might, but I'm not so sure about it. I guess there'd be
a lot of difference in the declination of the sun. But now the tree's
gone we're left without that seemingly necessary leading mark."

"What are we going to do about it?" Cumshaw demanded.

"We can't give up after having gone so far," said Moira.

"We're not," I told her. "There's a way out of it, and the simplest way
on earth. It's so infernally simple that we've all overlooked it. It
narrows down to a simple problem in geometry. Do you remember what the
cypher said?"

"'When the Lone Tree, the hut door and the rising sun are in line
measure seven feet east. Then face direct north, draw another line at
right angles to the previous one, extending for twelve feet. Dig then.'"
He rattled through the directions so rapidly that I knew he must have
had them off by heart.

"That's it," I said, while the others listened in breathless interest.
"Now this is the position to my mind: The line that runs through the
doorway, the tree and the sun must go due east. The sun at that time of
the year would be due east. Well, all we have to do is to cast our east
line, carry it along for seven feet, and then turn so that we are facing
direct north."

"And at right angles to the previous line," Moira reminded me.

"It's the same thing," I said. "Direct north runs at right angles to
direct east, if you want to know. However, when we've got our north line
we follow it for twelve feet, and after that we dig. Quite possibly
Bradby made some slight variation - he wouldn't have the necessary
instruments to make his figures absolutely exact - but, as I've said
before, I don't see that we can go very far wrong. Whatever variation
there is won't matter much once we start digging. If we allow a foot or
so in all directions we'll be on the safe side. What do you think,
Cumshaw?"

"Well," he said slowly, "it sounds feasible enough, and if it turns out
as well in practice as it does in theory I'll have nothing to say
against it."

"There's only one way of making sure," I said tentatively.

Moira turned on me. "What's that?" she asked with unfeigned interest.

"Trying and seeing for ourselves," I answered. "Here we are, right on
the very spot, so why not put it to the test?"

Neither of them answered. A queer, speculative look crept into Moira's
eyes and Cumshaw paled a little beneath his tan. It was the crucial
moment of the expedition, and the mere adoption of my suggestion meant
that in the next few minutes we would be face to face with either
failure or success - none of us knew which. While we were in ignorance
there was always room for hope, but the instant our investigation was
concluded the matter would be settled for good or for evil.

"Well," I asked, "what about it?"

"I suppose we've got to do it some time," Cumshaw said slowly. "We might
as well do it first as last. What do you say, Miss Drummond?"

"Ye-es," said Moira in a half-whisper. "Ye-es, I suppose we had better."

"And you, Carstairs?"

"Nothing venture, nothing win," I quoted gaily. "Anyway it's my
suggestion, and I'm not going to fall down on it. I didn't bring the
spade along just for the fun of carrying it."

"Go on then," Cumshaw said.

Then commenced the operation of locating the position of the treasure.
As the one most used to such things I snapped open my pocket-compass,
took a line from the mouldering ruin that had once been the threshold of
the hut, and proceeded to calmly measure off the requisite distance. The
others followed my movements with breathless interest; Cumshaw's cheeks
were still pale, partly from the stress of emotion and partly, I fancy,
because he feared that, even at the last, Fate would play a trick on us
and bring the work of two generations to nothing. Two little red spots
glowed in Moira's cheeks, and in her eyes was an opalescent glow that
spoke of suppressed excitement. I wasn't so carried away by my feelings
as the others were - I had been trained in a rough school, and my
training had taught me at all times to keep an adequate control over my
emotions - but the romance of the adventure and the excitement of the
game had penetrated even my thick skin, and the mere fact that others
hung breathlessly on my movements swayed me a little from the normal.
That streak of vanity which is in all of us came to the surface, as it
does with the best of men at the best of times.

I didn't see how I could possibly make a mistake, and the only thing
that troubled me was the likelihood of some stray prospector having
stumbled on the hoard by accident. At last I reached the spot where the
north line ended, and then calmly and methodically I took off my coat,
folded it, and laid it on the ground. I rolled up my shirt sleeves and
seized the spade in my hands. The others watched me with apprehensive
eyes.




CHAPTER VII.

THE ADVENTURE CLOSES.


I could hear Moira's quick breaths come and go as I worked, and with
each shovelful of soil I turned Cumshaw craned his head a little further
forward.

"Three foot, maybe three foot six," Cumshaw said once, in a voice that
was curiously hoarse. The remark puzzled me for a moment, and then in a
flash I recollected that his father had told Bryce that the hole where
the gold was buried would be three feet or three feet six deep at a
guess.

I went on digging. The hole deepened and widened, and still nothing
appeared. I paused in my work and flung the damp perspiration from my
forehead with a grimy hand. I had been working eagerly, excitedly.

"I'll take a hand now," Cumshaw offered with surprising alacrity.

I shook my head and stabbed the spade further into the earth. It struck
something soft which yet offered a remarkable resistance to the progress
of the instrument. And then in an instant I was down on my knees, the
steaming sting of my perspiring face all forgotten in the wild intense
eagerness of my discovery. I flung the spade about like a mad-man, and
my breath came and went through my teeth with a hissing sound like that
of escaping steam. I was mud and muck from head to foot and my hands
were caked with clay, but that did not matter. Nothing mattered save the
one startling fact that I had struck something that answered to the
description of the stuff we were seeking. At last, after seemingly
eternal hours of incredible toil, though in reality it couldn't have
been more than a few seconds, the earth came away, and my spade lay bare
four bags of mouldering leather - four torn and decaying things through
which came the dull golden gleam of minted metal. With a smothered cry
Cumshaw threw himself on the saddle-bags and hugged and clawed them like
a man gone demented. For the moment there came a curious vulpine look
into his face, and then it passed so swiftly that I could have fancied
that it had never been there or anywhere else save in my imagination.

"We've found it at last," I said, and was surprised to find how thin my
voice had become. It was the first rational word since I had begun to
dig, and it acted on Cumshaw like a douche of cold water. He dropped the
bags as if he had been stung, and climbed out of the hole rather
shamefacedly.

Moira opened her mouth as if to speak and then shut it again. Ludicrous
as it all looked, it was sufficient to show me just how unbalanced sane
people can become at the sight of gold. The three of us looked at each
other, and then I fancy we all laughed, albeit a little hysterically.

The rest is soon told. We got the rotting bags out somehow, and portion
of their contents spilled out on the ground, though we didn't mind that
at the time. There was more money in each of the bags than any one of us
had ever handled before. In the light of what happened afterwards I'm
positive that it was Cumshaw who suggested filling up the hole.

"A good idea," I thought. A gaping hole in the ground might attract the
attention of strangers and lead to further enquiries - the kind of
enquiries that would not be welcomed by us. I had thrown all but the
last shovelful in when Cumshaw drew something from his pocket, looked at
it a moment, and then, with a muttered exclamation, threw it into the
hole and trod it deep into the earth. I got but the one look at it, and
it seemed to me to be an ordinary leather-covered pocket-book. I was on
the point of asking him the meaning of his action when I chanced to
glance up at his face, and what I saw there made me shut my lips down
like a steel trap. I said nothing, and beyond my first natural start of
surprise I don't think I gave myself away at all.

* * * * *

It doesn't matter just how much we made out of it. If I were to write
down the exact figures no one would believe them or me; but when I say
that neither Cumshaw nor I - for Moira pooled her share with mine after
all - will have to do a hand's turn again as long as we live, some idea
can be gained of what was in those four decaying saddle-bags. To place
gold, more especially minted coin, in circulation in this year of grace
one thousand nine hundred and twenty requires more ingenuity than most
men are possessed of, and frankly I could see no way out of it for many
a long day. But in the end I struck an unexpected solution. What that
solution was is neither here nor there: the expedients I resorted to
would, if written down, fill a longer and perhaps a more exciting volume
than this. Some day, when old age is creeping on me and the good opinion
of my neighbours has almost ceased to matter, I may tell the tale in its
entirety.

As we had no desire to attract more attention than we could help we did
not attempt to take the gold along with us. Instead we buried it in a
secluded spot not far from the railway, and a week or so later Cumshaw
and I returned in the car for it.

* * * * *

"I wonder," I said, "how those chaps managed to find out so much about
everything? Of course they were paralleling Bryce's investigations, but
that doesn't explain all; they knew more about some things than he did
himself."

We were sitting round the fire one evening a month or so later. Moira
and I had just returned from our honeymoon, and Cumshaw had dropped in
with the news that his father was in the hands of a noted alienist who
hoped in time to completely cure the old man. The announcement had set
us talking about our recent experiences, and _apropos_ of them I had
uttered the above remark.

"I've often wondered," Moira said, "how they first learnt about the
treasure."

There was silence for a space and then Cumshaw spoke. "I rather fancy,"
he said, "that they knew about its existence long before Mr. Bryce did."

Moira shot a startled glance at him and I said, "Whatever do you mean?"

"You remember that pocket-book I threw into the trench the day we found
the treasure?"

I nodded. "Yes," said Moira breathlessly.

"I found that in the grass early in the morning before I went up to the
cave. It was a diary belonging to a man named Alick Blane. I didn't read
it right through - I didn't have the time for one thing - but what I did
see told me all I wanted to know. I buried it in the trench because I
did not want what was written in the book to be published to the world.
It was one of those things that are better kept out of sight and
circulation."

"But what was it?" I queried.

He looked at us a moment as if debating with himself whether or not to
tell us.

"Alick Blane's father was the trooper who shot Bradby," he said, and
left us to imagine all the rest.

THE END.







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Online LibraryJ. M. (James Morgan) WalshThe lost valley → online text (page 16 of 16)