The hidden vault in Parkfield's back yard was not a big structure. When Mary and her father reached the bottom of the stairs they found themselves standing in a small, low basement about eight feet high with a brick lined, barrel vaulted roof. On one side of this small, dusty chamber were two niches in the wall, each containing a coffin, one stacked above the other. George Midgley, strode over to them, his lamp flickering in the stale air.
"Here are the burials look Mary." He wiped away the dust from the brass plate on the lower coffin.
"'SEBASTIAN THOMPSON' 1811'.
See Mary, it looks like someone's been laid to rest here after all."
Mary ran her finger along the edge of the coffin, "Lets open it and see father."
George Midgley turned savagely on his daughter. "No! It is a sin to desecrate a tomb. We'll go no further in this business."
"But father, I do not wish to desecrate someones body. Only to see what's inside."
"Mary, have you not considered that what you are likely to find inside there could be most unpleasant? If there is a body in there...."
"I know papa, but I don't believe for one moment there is. If you won't do it I will father. Hand me the crowbar."
George Midgley stood there as if in a dream while his daughter prised determinedly at the lid of the coffin. Eventually it gave way and she raised the lid. Inside was a dusty figure, a man in a tattered military uniform, a cloth over the face.
"Dear God child. What have we done?"
"I'm not sure father. Not yet."
Mary pulled away the veil. Beneath was a pale, white dead face with glassy eyes and an agonised expression.
"Dear God!" moaned her father,"Dear God. Put the lid back Mary, I think we've seen enough."
"But father, its a complete face! If it were a corpse we would be looking at a decayed skull." She reached out and ran her finger down the pallid nose."See papa. It's alabaster. Its a statue." As she drew the lantern closer she saw a yellow reflection in the corner of her eye. She reached down the coffin and pulled out a long cloth bundle. There was a clatter as its contents fell to the floor.
"Look! Golden arrows! A bundle of golden arrows! We've found it papa. Quickly! Lets remove the wrappings."
Behind the alabaster head was a sheet of dusty hessian. As George Midgley pulled it away, the reflection nearly illuminated the room. There, resting in the base of the coffin was a rayed halo of burnished gold, the sun disc from the Huaca Del Sol! Next he pulled off the uniform to reveal a naked white torso above a loin cloth of solid gold. Set into the alabaster form were a series of realistically fashioned wounds, each one containing a slot for the insertion of the golden arrows.
"The lost image of Saint Sebastian, we've found it papa! We've found it!"
Her father glanced upwards. We haven't finished yet Mary, there's another coffin. I'll see if I can get the bar around it!"
George Midgley raised the crowbar and heaved."The wood's splitting Mary, it must be damp up there and the wood rotten. I'll try once more."
As he heaved on the bar, a great chunk of the wood split away, and he fell backwards to land ignominiously on his rump in the middle of the floor.
"Look Papa! Look!"
As George Midgley sat there, dazed and stunned, a golden, jingling trickle issued from the broken side of the coffin. A shower of gold coins. Soon there was a large pile of them growing on the stone floor.
"Well I'll be!"
"I think I understand now father. How Captain Thompson did it I mean. He packed both the statue and his share of the gold into coffins, and had them shipped back home with the pretence that they were relatives of his, presumably killed in action. No doubt he used his rank and newly acquired wealth to make sure that they got home undisturbed. Then, when he built Parkfield he must have had this secret vault constructed, especially for his loot."
Mary spun round to face the source of that deep, intruding voice. There, standing at the bottom of the steps were her two uncles.
"Well George, who'd have thought we had this nestling at the bottom of the garden? We came home early and saw your light."
Mary scowled at her uncle. "You lied to us uncle. You said you were lodging in Manchester."
Uncle Wilfred smiled at her. "Nay lass, it were nobbut a white lie, an' not meant to deceive you. We simply wanted a good excuse to get away from your Aunt Haggas."
The elder brother scowled. "Shut up Wilfred. I knew this niece of mine was onto something and I had a feeling we should soon find out what. And here it is, treasure. A kings ransom eh George?"
Her father smiled."Indeed, Edwin, indeed. No doubt after the inquest we should all get a good share of the proceeds."
"Inquest? what inquest?"
"Well it's treasure trove is it not? It will have to be declared to the Crown, and a hearing set up by the coroner to see who gets what. The statue of course, is a holy image. It must be returned to its rightful home in St. Sebastian, which will no doubt be extremely grateful for its safe return."
Edwin Midgley smiled thoughtfully. "There isn't going to be any inquest George, in fact you're going to give it all to me!"
Edwin reached into his pocket and pulled out a small pepperpot pistol.
"Because, dear brother this says so!"
"You're mad Edwin. You'd never get away with it."
"Why not? Captain Thompson did.... and enjoyed the proceeds thereof."
"George is our brother Edwin, you can't do this!"
"Shut up Wilfred, or you can keep them company."
Mary moved closer to her father. "I knew he was up to no good father, I knew it!"
Edwin sneered at her. "That's the trouble with you young lady. You've always known too much for your own good! You thought you had us baffled did you not? Well for a while you did, but now your uncle Edwin's caught up with you."
George Midgley frowned. "What are you going to do with us?"
"Oh nothing drastic, dear brother. I just want you to sign an undertaking agreeing to transfer Parkfield over to me. As you're almost bankrupt, and as I control the mill already, it shouldn't present much of a problem."
"But when I tell the authorities about the treasure...."
"Nobody will believe you! Or this arrogant child here! You've recently had a breakdown, remember. And if you persist in telling such ludicrous stories, well people might get to thinking that you could do with a further spell of hospital convalescence! In any case, by the time you get someone to believe you, all of this will have been removed to parts unknown. And if it ever does become public knowledge, well as rightful owner of Parkfield I'll have a legal claim on the gold in any case."
"It's you who's deranged Edwin. Put the pistol down. I'll be happy to share this windfall with you and your brother. There's no need for this."
Edwin turned to his brother. "Wilfred, go and get the document I drew up for the transfer of ownership of the house. Just a few minutes and all this will be settled, dear brother."
"No 'buts' Wilf, do as I say!"
Wilfred Midgley shambled reluctantly towards the stairs, but as he did so there was a sudden grating noise, followed by a dull thud.
With an angry cry Edwin ran over to his brother.
"Someones lowered the slab Edwin, they've sealed us in. Dear God! we're entombed!"
"Here, hold the lantern you fool! Not down there, here, up the steps! Right! Put it on the top step and help me push! Damn!"
Edwin Midgley had not a hope of lifting the slab. After having dropped the marble door into place, Dickey Postlethwaite had weighted it down with the four flagstones. He had been keeping watch in the yard as Mary's two uncles approached, and had managed to duck into the adjacent stable before they saw him. Crouching by the edge of the hole he had eavesdropped on the conversation and had quickly realised what he must do. Half an hour later he returned in the company of a burly police sergeant and two peelers who raised the slabs. That was the end of Edwin Midgley's less than noble designs.
As Mary's father father had predicted, as owner of Parkfield, he was awarded the contents of the upper coffin, which turned out to be filled with golden dollars and jewellery pilfered from King Joseph's baggage train. Its value amounted to a considerable sum, which Mary's father used to pay off his debts and buy back the control of his business. After being sent to a finishing school in Switzerland for two years, Dickey Postlethwaite was installed at Millfield as manager of the wiremill, while the remainder of the money, (more than three quarters of it) was held in trust for his daughter Mary until the attainment of her majority. In 1885 Mary Midgley and Richard Postlethwaite were married in the Zion Chapel Rawley.
Today the centrepiece of the great cathedral of St. Sebastian in Spain is the wonderful gilded statue of its patron saint. Halfway up the great staircase, in a magnificent onyx shrine stands the beautiful statue, hands bound, pierced with golden arrows, the face a mixture of physical agony and spiritual ecstasy. Behind the agonized face is a radiant halo of burnished gold, a sun disc from another, much older shrine. Beneath the statue is a gilded picture frame which contains some text in Spanish and an old, daguerrotype photograph of a tall man in top hat and frock coat, a boy in a flat cap and a smiling adolescent girl....................................
copyright © Jim Jarratt 2007