The passing of the next few weeks saw a gradual waning of enthusiasm on Marys part for her special mystery. She quickly began to realise that if she had found some sort of a key she had little idea as to what sort of lock it was likely to fit. She had sifted through her Bible, seeking out and annotating every reference to Joseph. But it was as her father had said - none of them were kings and none of the references matched up to the mysterious numbers in any perceivable way. It was a dead end.

Spring had come quickly. Suddenly it was not so dark in the mornings anymore and the garden was a yellow rage of daffodils. Bored and lonely as she was, Mary now no longer felt so imprisoned by the oppressiveness of Parkfield. In the company of the stable lad, Dickey Postlethwaite, Mary had discovered a companion of sorts. Rough and ready he might be, but Dickey was a cheerful soul, always willing to break out the pony and trap and take Mary anywhere she wanted to go- usually down into Rawley Village to the milliners, or to the stationers on her father's errand.

Mary saw less of her uncles now. They were regularly tied up at the wireworks or away on business. There was just Miss Stewart, the servants, and of course dear, dreamy father locked away in his study with his 'work' - whatever that might be. But now, with the onset of lighter days there were walks in the countryside, and occasionally her father would take her into Leeds - to the great public parks with their lakes, hothouses and bandstands, to musical recitals or to public lectures on matters of science or moral issues.

It was at one such lecture that Mary's thoughts were suddenly cast back to that mysterious message which had for some time now lain half forgotten in her drawer. A Speaker, the Revd. J. Tewson, of Hornchurch, Essex, had been lecturing on the great difficulties faced by antiquarians in their attempts to decipher the strange hieroglyphs and characters left to posterity by the ancient civilisations of biblical times. During the course of his lecture, amply illustrated by dissolving views of ancient Egypt & Babylon, the Reverend spoke of a Major Stephenson of his acquaintance, late of the Dragoon Guards, who had been trying to approach ancient inscriptions by applying his knowledge of military cryptography to the problem, alas without result. It was the opinion of the Reverend that these ancient writings would probably never be deciphered, with the resultant loss to posterity of the arcane knowledge they almost certainly contained.

Not long afterwards Mary and her father sat down to tea in a cooks shop adjacent to Leeds Market. Mary, who was never shy when there were cakes and buns in the offing, had grown decidedly plump, and as a result was earning her father's mild rebuke.

"Mary Midgley, if you do not curb this wanton gluttony of yours for cakes and pastries you are going to finish up looking like a house end. When victuals make their appearance it is not the way of a lady to fall upon them like some kind of ravenous beast!"
Mary, as usual was quite unrepentant. "But papa I haven't eaten anything since breakfast."
George Midgley smiled. "..... but what a breakfast! Porridge, havercakes, bacon and two eggs. I'm surprised you didn't partake of the chicken as well child! When are you going to stop this gratuitous eating Mary?"
It was time to change the subject.
"Papa.... what did Mr. Tewson mean when he spoke of military cryptography?"
"Military cryptography? Oh I see! you didn't understand. Well, in the army vital messages are sent forth in coded form, so that if by mishap they should fall into enemy hands they would be of little use or value to them. Of course both sides know that if they can decipher their opponent's codes it could sway the outcome of a military engagement, or even a war. Consequently both the creation and decipherment of codes form an important part of an officer's training at military academies. All army officers have a grounding in cryptography, but some, like Major Stephenson, who are of a clever turn of mind, become experts."

Mary smiled at her father. "So do you know anything about cryptography papa?"
"Not much. Codes come in all kinds of forms. Some are simply sliding alphabets. Move your top alphabet two spaces to the right and 'A' becomes 'C', 'B' becomes 'D' and so on. But of course it can get a lot more complicated than that. Unusual characters are sometimes used. Patterns, codewords of significance only to their creators. A cipher can be simply an anagram - just scramble the letters. Another trick is highlighting certain letters of a sentence in such a way that the real message is hidden inside the words. There are all kinds of clever and crafty ways to hide a message. But of course a skilled cryptographer knows all the obvious tricks."
"I see papa. So the trick is not to look for clues in the message itself but to look for something else that might be hidden inside the words?"
"Well sometimes, yes. Assuming that the message is a genuine cipher of course."
Mary smiled innocently. Her irresistable smile."I see papa. May I have another cake now please.......?"

That night Mary unlocked her cabinet drawer, and pulled out the folded slip of paper, spreading it out upon the bed. She glanced at that enigmatic, infuriating phrase. 'Royaume Joseph'. What could it mean? It had taunted her for so long now. She sat and reflected a while but making nothing of the French, she turned her attention once more to the Greek letters from which the message had been derived. Greek letters. Miss Stewart had said that she couldn't read Greek, had she perhaps transcribed the letters wrongly? No! It was correct. The number of letters in 'Royaume Joseph' matched exactly those of the original Greek. It didn't seem likely she had missed anything.

Mary folded up the paper, put it back in her drawer and sighed. The whole thing was becoming an exasperating waste of time. In the lower drawer of the cabinet Mary kept her schoolbooks. She pulled out a fine marbled exercise book, pen and ink bottle, took them to a small table under the window and set to her work assignment. The previous day she had received a scolding from Miss Stewart about the essay she had been given to write on the 'Role and Manners Required of Young ladies in Polite Society'. It was not the content that had merited the scolding but the 'slapdash' grammar and spelling. Miss Stewart now insisted that Mary rewrite the essay, this time with the corrections she had penned in in red ink.

Sighing to herself Mary flicked idly through her earlier effort, glancing at the long succession of red ink rebukes scribbled in by her humourless governess. A misspelling here, failure to use apostrophes there. At the bottom of the last page she had written a short, curt message:-

'Case Mary! When are you going to learn that all proper names, place names and new sentences begin with CAPITAL LETTERS! Please correct!'

Mary dipped her pen in the bottle, shook it. And began to write anew. As she did so a thought suddenly struck her. She slammed shut the exercise book contemptuously, and pulled the folded paper from the cabinet once more. Moving the ink bottle to one side she spread it out in front of her.

Of course! There was something Miss Stewart had missed. The first Greek word was in CAPITALS whereas the second word was in the lower case. Miss Stewart had simply written out the words (as she assumed) in a correct manner - 'Royaume Joseph' - but yet the form of the original words which Mary had scribbled down from the great window, were actually, if you paid attention to the letter cases, significantly different - 'ROYAUME joseph'. Mary smiled to herself. This just had to be significant!

Mary turned her attention to the mysterious numerals. Now what if... yes! There was a similar variation in the numbers


i II iii vi V IV
OCT 16

The 'i' 'iii' and 'vi' were in a lower case than the rest! How fortunate that she had copied them exactly as they were, rather than how she might have expected they should be. Mary scratched her head. Now what if the'i' corresponded to the first letter of 'joseph' and 'II' to the second letter of 'ROYAUME'- and so on? As she wrote out the letters she felt a thrill of excitement - the message now read-

OCT 16

Mary pulled out her Bible from the bedside cabinet and thought a moment. 'Oct' is latin for eight. That would make 'Joshua 8, 16. Of course! She thumbed through the Bible to the book of Joshua - Chapter 8, Verse 16.

'At that all the people who were in the city were called out to chase after them and they went chasing after Joshua and got to be drawn away from the city'

What on earth was that supposed to mean? It didn't make sense! Mary sat there awhile, perplexed. She looked at the cipher once more. A thought struck her. What if the 'OCT' was not 'eight' but OCTOBER? That would correspond to the number ten, October being the tenth month of the year?

She thumbed through the Bible once more. Joshua - chapter ten, verse 16.

"Meantime these five kings fled and were hiding themselves in the cave at Makkedah"

Mary slammed her hand down on the table. That had to be it! Aladdin's treasure cave! "The cave at Makkedah.........." She glanced through the window. Outside Mrs Lumb was hanging out washing, and beyond the far wall, grimy operatives were streaming out of the wireworks yard, a gently moving swarm of clogs, caps and rickety bikes. Mary sighed. Where on earth was she going to find a cave in the outer suburbs of Leeds?!!

copyright © Jim Jarratt 2007