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.
Various religious and philanthropic bodies began to bestir themselves. Owing to his restlessness and love of change no fewer than three sects claimed Mr. Chalk as their own, and, referring to his donations in the past, looked forward to a golden future. The claim of the Church to Mr. Tredgold was regarded as flawless, but the case of Mr. Stobell bristled with difficulties. Apologists said that he belonged to a sect unrepresented in Binchester, but an offshoot of the Baptists put in a claim on the ground that he had built that place of worship—at a considerable loss on the contract—some fifteen years before.
Dialstone Lane, when it became known that Captain Bowers had waived his claim to a share, was besieged by people seeking the reversion, and even Mint Street was not overlooked. Mr. Vickers repelled all callers with acrimonious impartiality, but Selina, after a long argument with a lady subaltern of the Salvation Army, during which the methods and bonnets of that organization were hotly assailed, so far relented as to present her with twopence on account.
[Illustration: “Selina gives twopence on account.”]
Miss Drewitt looked forward to the return of the adventurers with disdainful interest. To Edward Tredgold she referred with pride to the captain’s steadfast determination not to touch a penny of their ill-gotten gains, and with a few subtle strokes drew a comparison between her uncle and his father which he felt to be somewhat highly coloured. In extenuation he urged the rival claims of Chalk and Stobell.
“They were both led away by Chalk’s eloquence and thirst for adventure,” he said, as he walked by her side down the garden.
Miss Drewitt paid no heed. “And you will benefit by it,” she remarked.
Mr. Tredgold drew himself up with an air the nobleness of which was somewhat marred by the expression of his eyes. “I will never touch a penny of it,” he declared. “I will be like the captain. I am trying all I can to model myself on his lines.”
The girl regarded him with suspicion. “I see no signs of any result at present,” she said, coldly.
Mr. Tredgold smiled modestly. “Don’t flatter me,” he entreated.
“Flatter you!” said the indignant Prudence.
“On my consummate powers of concealment,” was the reply. “I am keeping everything dark until I am so like him—in every particular—that you will not know the difference. I have often envied him the possession of such a niece. When the likeness is perfec——”