There was a gentle knock on the study door. George Midgley looked up from his papers. "Who is it?"
A muffled voice. "It's me papa. May I see you for a moment?
George Midgley sighed - then smiled to himself.
"Of course my dear. Come in."
Mary grasped the brass doorknob and entered, Her father was seated at his desk in the far corner of the room, near the window and flanked by bookcases, He motioned her to sit down.
"Now 'Miss Mary' what is it that makes you require my counsel so early in the forenoon? Are you having difficulties with our Miss Stewart again?"
"Not at all Father. If there are any difficulties I feel that they are more likely to come from your two brothers."
Such ill mannered boldness! He felt about to scold her, but for some unnaccountable reason swallowed back the rebuke.
"My brothers? What have they done to distract my daughter so?"
Mary frowned. "It's not what they've done papa, its what they are likely to do if they get the opportunity. There is some kind of treasure hidden here and they are determined to find it before we do."
"Dickey and I father. At the moment we are in the lead but uncle Edwin and Uncle Wilfred are......."
Her father cut her off. "Mary! We have already been through all this child! There is no treasure. There never was and never will be. It's all a product of young Postlethwaite's fevered imagination! Why, oh why must you concern yourself with such trifles and fripperies?"
Mary scowled indignantly. "It is not a frippery papa, and I can prove it! I know I have found something important and so do my uncles, although they would never admit as much to your face papa, because they want to get to the treasure before we do!"
George Midgley rose to his feet. "I have heard enough from you young lady! I wish to hear no more about this matter. Now get to your studies at once!"
"No buts... I have heard enough! Be off with you!"
Mary pulled the notebook from her pocket and with indignant tears filling her eyes, she slammed it down on her father's desk and stormed from the room.
It was late morning when her father entered the dining room where Miss Stewart was giving Mary her daily English lesson. To Mary he seemed agitated and thoughtful.
"Ah good morning Miss Stewart! Profuse apologies for disturbing you at your work, but I wish to have a confidential word with my daughter, if that is alright."
Miss Stewart smiled. Where her employer was concerned she was all sweetness and light. "Of course Mr. Midgley," she gushed, as she got to her feet and went over to the window.
"Er Miss Stewart..."
"I did say confidential. I wish to converse with my daughter in private if you please. If you would be so good as to go into the kitchen, you will find Mrs Lumb waiting with tea and cakes."
The governess got to her feet once more, and with an exasperated look disappeared to the kitchen. When she had gone, George Midgley pulled the notebook from his pocket and handed it sheepishly back to his daughter, a sorrowful look on his face.
"I beg your forgiveness my dear. I should not have been so severe with you this morning in the study. When one isolates onself from ones fellow human beings it does tend to make for a closed and unsympathetic nature. Do you forgive me child?"
"Of course papa. But you see I wanted to ask you if...."
"No need my dear. I believe you. There is something odd going on here, and it was commendable of you to perceive it. I have, since I read your notes, been doing some researches of my own. First, however, I wish you to tell me everything that you have discovered so far."
Mary and her father sat down together in the windowseat, and she related to him everything that had happened since that first night when she had eavesdropped on her two uncles on the staircase. When she had finished he sat silent for a moment, lost in thought, but when he finally did speak George Midgley could ill conceal the excitement in his eyes.
"Well then. What you've related convinces me even more that you are onto something of significance. As I said, I've been doing a few researches of my own, and I believe I know what your 'treasure' might be."
He got to his feet, crossed the room to the door, and peered out into the passageway. When he had satisfied himself that no-one was in earshot, He closed the door and returned to his former place on the windowseat. He spoke in a low voice.
"Eavesdropping seems to be fast becoming some sort of epidemic around these parts. Now this time I'm going to tell you a story Mary. It's a story that ends with a mystery. Now long, long ago there once lived a Spanish adventurer by the name of Francisco Pizarro. He was a cruel, ruthless man who was sent on an expedition into South America where he discovered a strange and amazing native civilisation."
"The Incas. Papa."
"So you know of them. Good. Miss Stewart must be performing her tasks well. If you know then, about the Incas, you will no doubt also have heard the story about how the conquistadores murdered the Inca Atahuallpa and plundered Peru of its gold?"
"Well in Cuzco there was a great temple - the Huaca Del Sol, at the centre of which hung a rayed sun disc fashioned from a sheet of beaten gold. Needless to say, the Spaniards plundered it, and carried it off in their treasure ships back to Spain. Now most of the Inca gold shipped from Peru was melted down and refashioned, but according to the story the sun disc was preserved and incorporated into a life sized gilded statue of St Sebastian, the disc itself becoming the halo behind the saint's crown. The statue became the centrepiece of a shrine in the Cathedral of St. Sebastian in Spain.
"Yes my dear. He was a Roman soldier at Narbonne in the South of France in the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. He was martyred for being a Christian."
"No. He is usually depicted bound naked to a tree and pierced with arrows."
Her father nodded. "Yes of course! Les Fleches d'Or! But now we come to the interesting part. When Napoleon's armies occupied the Peninsula Soult's men sacked the cathedral and St Sebastian disappeared without a trace. Some say it was shipped back to France, while others say it found its way into the coffers of King Josephs treasury in Madrid. All we know is that after it disappeared from St. Sebastian it was never seen again - which brings us to your little mystery."
Mary was unable to contain her excitement.
"So you think it was in King Joseph's baggage train at the Battle of Vitoria?"
"Very possibly. Which leads one to thinking that somehow our friend Captain Thompson might have got his roguish hands on it. But of course there is one little problem with this hypothesis."
"Well... its a problem of logistics. How could a humble redcoat captain get a lifesize statue out of Spain and over the sea to England without it being noticed by anyone? It doesn't make sense!"
Mary sighed. "I agree papa. It doesn't add up"
"But having said that, "her father continued,"you and young Dickey obviously seem to be on the trail of something. What sort of a secret would Captain Thompson have taken such elaborate pains to conceal? That doesn't add up either."
Mary changed her tack. "The clues we got from the chapel papa.... did you make any headway with them?"
Her father shrugged. "I'm afraid not my dear. There has been a distinct pattern to the clues you have already solved, but these last two seem different. Now the inscription on the foundation stone.... did you copy it exactly as you found it? As we know from the first clues even the tiniest detail might be crucially important."
"I think I did papa. But if you like I will check it again tomorrow."
Her father smiled. "I think you should Mary. I suspect you may have overlooked something, although I don't know what. Don't ask me, I don't know. It's just an instinctive feeling. You go take another look, and in the meantime, I'll study your clues and see if I can come up with anything more."
"May I go take a look now papa?"
George Midgley grinned widely. "Oh no you dont young lady! All the gold in christendom isn't going to get you out of Miss Stewart's English lesson! Tomorrow morning - at first opportunity. Agreed?"
Mary returned her fathers grin. "Agreed Papa!"