Miss Drewitt sat for some time in her room after the visitors had departed, eyeing with some disfavour the genuine antiques which she owed to the enterprise, not to say officiousness, of Edward Tredgold. That they were in excellent taste was undeniable, but there was a flavour of age and a suspicion of decay about them which did not make for cheerfulness.
She rose at last, and taking off her watch went through the nightly task of wondering where she had put the key after using it last. It was not until she had twice made a fruitless tour of the room with the candle that she remembered that she had left it on the mantelpiece downstairs.
The captain was still below, and after a moment’s hesitation she opened her door and went softly down the steep winding stairs.
The door at the foot stood open, and revealed the captain standing by the table. There was an air of perplexity and anxiety about him such as she had never seen before, and as she waited he crossed to the bureau, which stood open, and searched feverishly among the papers which littered it. Apparently dissatisfied with the result, he moved it out bodily and looked behind and beneath it. Coming to an erect position again he suddenly became aware of the presence of his niece.
[Illustration: “He moved it out bodily and looked behind and beneath it.”]
“It’s gone,” he said, in an amazed voice.
“Gone?” repeated Prudence. “What has gone?”
“The map,” said the captain, tumbling his beard. “I put it in this end pigeon-hole the other night after showing it and I haven’t touched it since; and it’s gone.”
“But you burnt it!” said Prudence, with an astonished laugh.
The captain started. “No; I was going to,” he said, eyeing her in manifest confusion.
“But you said that you had,” persisted his niece.
“Yes,” stammered the captain, “I know I did, but I hadn’t. I was just looking ahead a bit, that was all. I went to the bureau just now to do it.”
Miss Drewitt eyed him with mild reproach. “You even described how you did it,” she said, slowly. “You said that Mount Lonesome turned into a volcano. Wasn’t it true?”
“Figure o’ speech, my dear,” said the unhappy captain; “I’ve got a talent for description that runs away with me at times.”
His niece gazed at him in perplexity.
“You know what Chalk is,” said Captain Bowers, appealingly. “I was going to do it yesterday, only I forgot it, and he would have gone down on his knees for another sight of it. I don’t like to seem disobliging to friends, and it seemed to me a good way out of it. Chalk is so eager— it’s like refusing a child, and I hurt his feelings only the other day.”
“Perhaps you burnt it after all and forgot it?” said Prudence.
For the first time in her knowledge of him the captain got irritable with her. “I’ve not burnt it,” he said, sharply. “Where’s that Joseph? He must know something about it!”