Chapter XX. Home
 

Two days later, Dias, Jose, and Maria arrived at Callao, having left the mules at Lima.

"Was it got off all right, senor?" Dias asked.

"Yes. It was a pretty near touch, for we had to row nine hours, and only saved our time by an hour."

"And when will you start again?"

"The Nancy sails in four days, so I shall go down tomorrow morning. I don't want to run the risk again of losing the boat."

"Well, we shall be stronger handed," Bertie said. "Of course I shall go down with you; Dias says he will too; so we will be able to man four oars, if necessary."

"What have you done with the goods?" Harry asked.

"I sold them all at Lima, senor, to the man I got them from. He took off a third of the price, and said he could not have taken them if it had not been that he had just got an order down from the Cerro mines, and was short of some of the things they had ordered."

"That is all right, Dias."

Harry secured two rooms at the hotel, and they all sat talking far into the night. "I hope you will get your silver down as comfortably as we have got the gold."

"I have no fear about doing that, senor. The difficulty will be for me to know what to do with it. I can never spend so much."

"Oh, nonsense, Dias!"

"I mean it, senor. Maria and I are quite agreed that we don't want any larger house than we have got; and I know that if we did want a big one, there would be all sorts of questions as to where I had got the money from."

"There would be no difficulty in answering that, Dias. You told me how your friend found five mule-loads of silver in the bats' cave. You have only got to say that you found yours hidden away, which would be the truth. Jose is nineteen now, and you will want to provide him with some good mules, and to put by some money for him when he wants to marry and settle. I know you spoke very highly of an institution at Lima for the orphans of natives. You can hand them over some, and when you and Maria don't want it any longer you can leave them the rest."

Maria cried bitterly in the morning when they said goodbye. "I shall love you and pray for you always, senors," she sobbed. "I shall never forget all your kindness."

"We owe you more than you owe us," Harry said. "You have always been ready to do everything, and you have kept us alive with your merry talk and good spirits. You may be very sure that we shall never forget you."

Jose was almost equally affected. "You will never come back, senor," he said, as the tears rolled down his cheeks.

"I may some day, Jose. I think it likely that I shall some day get up a company to drain that lake in the golden valley. The gold will be more useful as money than lying there. It must depend partly upon whether the country is settled. People will not put money into Peru as long as you are always fighting here."

Maria and Jose would have accompanied them down to the boat the next morning, but Dias pointed out to them that they were apparently only going out for a day's sail, and that if there were any partings on the shore it would at once attract the suspicions of the customs-house officials there.

Accordingly, after a painful farewell, Dias and the two brothers went down to the boat, where the mate was already awaiting them. The voyage was as successful as the previous one had been. On the return journey the wind held, and they arrived alongside of the Nancy by eleven o'clock; the bags were all safely in the hold by midnight. The first mate of the ship had two days before been taken with fever and sent ashore, and the captain had gladly accepted the offer of Harry's assistant to take the berth of second mate, that officer having succeeded to the post of the first. Harry had told him that he could sell the boat, and he had, before starting on the trip, done so, on the understanding that it would be found on the beach in charge of Dias when the Nancy had sailed.

Harry had given him another ten pounds to provide himself with an outfit, and had also asked him to distribute twenty among his former shipmates for the same purpose, as these had lost all their clothing except what they stood in. The ship's dinghy, with a couple of hands, towed the boat, with Dias in it, to the shore. The muleteer was greatly affected at parting with Harry and his brother.

"It has been a fortunate journey for us both," Dias said, "and I shall always look back to the time we spent together with the greatest pleasure."

"Here is a piece of paper with my address in London. I know that you will have no difficulty in getting letters written for you. Let me hear from you once every six months or so, telling me how you are getting on, and I will write to you. Good-bye! We shall always remember you, and be thankful that we had so faithful a guide here, and, I may say, so faithful a friend."

The voyage home was an uneventful one, save that they met with a heavy storm while rounding the Horn, and for some days the vessel was in great danger. However, she weathered it safely, and when she arrived in the Thames she found that the London had come up on the previous tide.

"If it hadn't been for that storm we should have beaten her easily," the captain said. "But I don't mind losing that fiver, considering that we have gained four days on her."

On landing, Harry went straight to the Bank of England and informed the managers that he had two hundred and eighty-two ingots of gold, weighing about twenty pounds each, which he wished to deposit in their vaults until they could weigh them and place their value to his credit, and he requested them to send down one of their waggons to the docks the next day to receive them. On the following evening he had the satisfaction of knowing that the whole of the treasure was at last in safe-keeping. Then he took a hackney-coach and drove to Jermyn Street, where he had taken rooms, having the night before carried there the trunks which he had stored before he left England. He smiled as he spread out suit after suit.

"I don't know anything about the fashions now," he said, "and for aught I can tell they may have changed altogether. However, I don't suppose there will be such an alteration that I shall look as if I had come out of the ark. Certainly I am not going to wait till I get a new outfit.

"It did not seem to me," he said to himself, "that I left a ridiculously large wardrobe before I went. But after knocking about for two years with a single change, it really does seem absurd that I should ever have thought I absolutely required all these things. Now, I suppose I had better write to the old man and say that I have returned, and shall call upon him to-morrow. The chances are ten to one against my catching him in now, and as this is rather a formal sort of business, I had better give him due notice; but I cannot keep Hilda in suspense. I wonder whether she has the same maid as she had before I went away. I have given the girl more than one half-guinea, and to do her justice I believe that she was so attached to her mistress that she would have done anything for her without them. Still, I can't very well knock at the door and ask for Miss Fortescue's maid; I expect I must trust the note to a footman. If she does not get it, there is no harm done; if he hands it to her father, no doubt it would put him in a towering rage, but he will cool down by the time I see him in the morning."

He sat down and wrote two notes. The first was to Mr. Fortescue; it only said:--

"Dear Sir,--I have returned from abroad, and shall do myself the pleasure of calling upon you at eleven o'clock tomorrow morning to discuss with you a matter of much importance to myself."

The note to Hilda was still shorter:--

"My darling,--I am home and am going to call on your father at eleven o'clock tomorrow morning. I am two months within the two years.--Yours devotedly,

"HARRY PRENDERGAST."

Having sealed both letters, he walked to Bedford Square. When the door opened, he saw that the footman was one of those who had been in Mr. Fortescue's service before he left.

"You have not forgotten me, Edward, have you?"

"Why, it is Mr. Prendergast! Well, sir, it is a long time since we saw you."

"Yes, I have been abroad. Will you hand this letter to Mr. Fortescue. Is he in at present?"

"No, sir; he and Mrs. Fortescue are both out. Miss Fortescue is out too."

"Well now, Edward, will you hand this letter quietly to Miss Fortescue when she comes in?" and he held out the note and a guinea with it.

The man hesitated.

"You need not be afraid of giving it to her," Harry went on. "It is only to tell her what I have told your master in my letter to him, that I am going to call tomorrow."

"Then I shall be glad to do it," the man said--for, as usual, the servants were pretty well acquainted with the state of affairs, and when Harry went away, and their young mistress was evidently in disgrace with her father, they guessed pretty accurately what had happened, and their sympathies were with the lovers. Harry returned to Jermyn Street confident that Hilda would get his note that evening. He had no feeling of animosity against her father, It was natural that, as a large land-owner, and belonging to an old family, and closely connected with more than one peer of the realm, he should offer strong opposition to the marriage of his daughter to a half-pay lieutenant, and he had been quite prepared for the burst of anger with which his request for her hand had been received. He had felt that it was a forlorn hope; but he and Hilda hoped that in time the old man would soften, especially as they had an ally in her mother. Hilda had three brothers, and as the estates and the bulk of Mr. Fortescue's fortune would go to them, she was not a great heiress, though undoubtedly she would be well dowered.

On arriving the next morning Harry was shown into the library. Mr. Fortescue rose from his chair and bowed coldly.

"To what am I indebted for the honour of this visit, Mr. Prendergast? I had hoped that the emphatic way in which I rejected your--you will excuse my saying--presumptuous request for the hand of my daughter, would have settled the matter once and for all; and I trust that your request for an interview to-day does not imply that you intend to renew that proposal, which I may say at once would receive, and will receive as long as I live, the same answer as I before gave you."

"It has that object, sir," Harry said quietly, "but under somewhat changed conditions. I asked you at that time to give me two years, in which time possibly my circumstances might change. You refused to give me a single week; but your daughter was more kind, and promised to wait for the two years, which will not be up for two more months."

"She has behaved like a froward and obstinate girl," her father said angrily. "She has refused several most eligible offers, and I have to thank you for it. Well, sir, I hope at least that you have the grace to feel that it is preposterous that you should any longer stand in the way of this misguided girl."

"I have come to say that if it is her wish and yours that I should stand aside, as you say, I will do so, and in my letters I told her that unless circumstances should be changed before the two years have expired I would disappear altogether from her path."

"That is something at least, sir," Mr. Fortescue said with more courtesy than he had hitherto shown. "I need not say that there is no prospect of your obtaining my consent, and may inform you that my daughter promised not to withstand my commands as far as you are concerned beyond the expiration of the two years. I do not know that there is anything more to say."

"I should not have come here, sir, had there not been more to say, but should simply have addressed a letter to you saying that I withdrew all pretensions to your daughter's hand. But I have a good deal more to say. I have during the time that I have been away succeeded in improving my condition to a certain extent."

"Pooh, pooh, sir!" the other said angrily. "Suppose you made a thousand or two, what possible difference could it make?"

"I am not foolish enough to suppose that it would do so; but at least this receipt from the Bank of England, for gold deposited in their hands, will show you that the sums you mention have been somewhat exceeded."

"Tut, tut, I don't wish to see it! it can make no possible difference in the matter."

"At least, sir, you wall do me the courtesy to read it, or if you prefer not to do so I will read it myself."

"Give it me," Mr. Fortescue said, holding out his hand. "Let us get through this farce as soon as possible; it is painful to us both."

He put on his spectacles, glanced at the paper, and gave a sudden start, read it again, carefully this time, and then said slowly:

"Do you mean that the two hundred and eighty-two ingots, containing in all five thousand six hundred and forty pounds weight of gold, are your property? That is to say, that you are the sole owner of them, and not only the representative of some mining company?"

"It is the sole property, Mr. Fortescue, of my brother and myself. I own two-thirds of it. It is lost treasure recovered by us from the sea, where it has been lying ever since the conquest of Peru by Pizarro."

"There is no mistake about this? The word pounds is not a mistake for ounces?--although even that would represent a very large sum."

"The bank would not be likely to make such a mistake as that, sir. The ingots weigh about twenty pounds each. I had a small piece of the gold assayed at Callao, and its value was estimated at four pounds per ounce. Roughly, then, the value of the sum deposited at the bank is two hundred and seventy thousand pounds."

"Prodigious!" Mr. Fortescue murmured.

"Well, Mr. Prendergast, I own that you have astounded me. It would be absurd to deny that this altogether alters the position. Against you personally I have never had anything to say. You were always a welcome visitor to my house till I saw how matters were tending. Your family, like my own, is an old one, and your position as an officer in the King's Naval Service is an honourable one. However, I must ask you to give me a day to reflect over the matter, to consult with my wife, and to ascertain that my daughter's disposition in the matter is unchanged."

"Thank you, sir! But I trust that you will allow me to have an interview with Miss Fortescue now. It is two years since we parted, and she has suffered great anxiety on my account, and on the matter of my safety at least I would not keep her a moment longer in suspense."

"I think that after the turn the matter has taken your request is a reasonable one. You are sure to find her in the drawing-room with her mother at present. I think it is desirable that you should not see her alone until the matter is formally arranged."

Prendergast bowed.

"I am content to wait," he said with a slight smile.

"I will take you up myself," the other said.

Harry could have done without the guidance, for he knew the house well. However, he only bowed again, and followed the old man upstairs.

The latter opened the door and said to his wife: "My dear, I have brought an old friend up to see you;" and as Harry entered he closed the door and went down to the library again.

"Nearly two hundred thousand pounds!" he said. "A splendid fortune! Nearly twice as much as I put by before I left the bar. How in the world could he have got it? 'Got it up out of the sea,' he said; a curious story. However, with that acknowledgment from the bank there can be no mistake about it. Well, well, it might be worse. I always liked the young fellow till he was fool enough to fall in love with Hilda, and worse still, she with him. The silly girl might have had a coronet. However, there is no accounting for these things, and I am glad that the battle between us is at an end. I was only acting for her good, and I should have been mad to let her throw herself away on a penniless officer on half-pay."

Mrs. Fortescue waved her hand as Harry, on entering, was about to speak to her.

"Go to her first," she said; "she has waited long enough for you." And he turned to Hilda. He made a step towards her and held out his arms, and with a little cry of joy she ran into them. "And is it all right?" she said a minute later. "Can it really be all right?" "You may be quite sure that it is all right, Hilda," Mrs. Fortescue said. "Do you think your father would have brought him up here if it hadn't been? Now you can come to me, Harry." "I am glad," she said heartily. "We have had a very bad time. Now, thank God, it is all over. You see she has only had me to stand by her, for her brothers, although they have not taken open part against her, have been disposed to think that it was madness her wasting two years on the chance of your making a fortune. Of course you have done so, or you would not be in this drawing-room at present." "I have done very well, Mrs. Fortescue. I was able to show Mr. Fortescue a receipt for gold amounting to nearly three hundred thousand pounds, of which two-thirds belong to me, the rest to my brother." Mrs. Fortescue uttered an exclamation of astonishment. "What have you been doing, Harry?" she asked--"plundering a Nabob?" "Nabobs do not dwell in Peru," he laughed. "No, I have discovered a long-lost treasure, which, beyond any doubt, was part of the wealth of Atahualpa, the unfortunate monarch whom Pizarro first plundered and then slew. It had been sent off by sea, and the vessel was lost. It is too long a story to tell now." "And Papa has quite consented, Harry?" Harry smiled. "Virtually so, as you might suppose by his bringing me up here. Actually he has deferred the matter, pending a consultation with you and Mrs. Fortescue, and will give me his formal answer to-morrow." The two ladies both smiled. "If he said that, the matter is settled," the elder said; "he has never asked my opinion before on the subject, and I have never volunteered it. But I am sure he has not the slightest doubt as to what I thought of it. So we can consider it as happily settled after all. If I had thought that there was the slightest chance of your making a fortune quickly I should have spoken out; but as I thought it absolutely hopeless, I have done what I could privately to support Hilda, always saying, however, that if at the end of the two years nothing came of it, I could not in any way countenance her throwing away the chances of her life." "You were quite right, Mrs. Fortescue. I had fully intended to write to Hilda at the end of that time releasing her from all promises that she had made to me, and saying that I felt that I had no right to trouble her further; but from what she wrote to me, I doubt whether her father would have found her altogether amenable to his wishes even at the end of the two years." A month later there was a wedding in Bedford Square. Among those present no one was more gratified than Mr. Barnett, whose surprise and satisfaction were great when Harry told him in confidence the result of his advice, and especially of his introduction to the Indian guide. It had been arranged that nothing should be said as to the source from which Harry had obtained his wealth, as it was possible that the Peruvian government might set up some claim to it, and it was in Mr. Fortescue's opinion very doubtful what the result would be, as it had been discovered so close to the shore. Harry never took any steps with reference to the gold valley, for the constant troubles in Peru were sufficient to deter any wealthy men from investing money there. The correspondence between him and Dias and his wife was maintained until they died full of years and greatly lamented by numbers of their countrymen to whom they had been benefactors. Bertie never went to sea again except in his own yacht, but when he came of age, bought an estate near Southampton, and six years later brought home a mistress for it.