By the end of the second hour his uneasiness had increased to consternation. The house was as silent as a tomb, the sitting-room was still in a state of chaos, and a healthy appetite would persist in putting ominous and inconvenient questions as to dinner. Whistling a cheerful air he went downstairs again and put his head in at the kitchen. Selina sat in the same attitude, and when he coughed made no response.
“What about dinner?” he said, at last, in a voice which strove to be unconcerned.
“Go away,” said Selina, thickly. “I don’t want no dinner.”
The captain started. “But I do,” he said, feelingly.
“You’d better get it yourself, then,” replied Miss Vickers, without turning her head. “I might steal a potato or something.”
“Don’t talk nonsense,” said the other, nervously.
“I’m not a thief,” continued Miss Vickers. “I work as hard as anybody in Binchester, and nobody can ever say that I took the value of a farthing from them. If I’m poor I’m honest.”
“Everybody knows that,” said the captain, with fervour.
“You said you didn’t want the paper,” said Selina, turning at last and regarding him fiercely. “I heard you with my own ears, else I wouldn’t have taken it. And if they had come back you’d have had your share. You didn’t want the treasure yourself and you didn’t want other people to have it. And it wasn’t yours, because I heard you say so.”
“Very well, say no more about it,” said the captain. “If anybody asks you can say that I knew you had it. Now go and put that back in the bureau.”
He tossed the key on to the table, and Miss Vickers, after a moment’s hesitation, turned with a gratified smile and took it up. The next hour he spent in his bedroom, the rapid evolutions of Miss Vickers as she passed from the saucepans to the sitting room and from the sitting-room back to the saucepans requiring plenty of sea room.
A week later she was one of the happiest people in Binchester. Edward Tredgold had received a cable from Auckland: “All safe; coming home,” and she shared with Mrs. Chalk and Mrs. Stobell in the hearty congratulations of a large circle of friends. Her satisfaction was only marred by the feverish condition of Mr. Tasker immediately on receipt of the news.
Fortunately for their peace of mind, Mr. Chalk and his friends, safe on board the s.s. Silver Star, bound for home, had no idea that the story of the treasure had become public property. Since their message it had become the principal topic of conversation in the town, and, Miss Vickers being no longer under the necessity of keeping her share in the affair secret, Mr. William Russell was relieved of a reputation for untruthfulness under which he had long laboured.