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Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (M R James) online

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary



'Do you see it? "_Decem millia auri reposita sunt in puteo in at_ ..." (Ten thousand [pieces] of gold are laid up in a well in ...), followed by an incomplete word beginning _at_. So far so good. I tried the same plan with the remaining letters; but it wouldn't work, and I fancied that perhaps the placing of dots after the three last letters might indicate some difference of procedure. Then I thought to myself, "Wasn't there some allusion to a well in the account of Abbot Thomas in that book the '_Sertum_'?" Yes, there was; he built a _puteus in atrio_; (a well in the court). There, of course, was my word _atrio_. The next step was to copy out the remaining letters of the inscription, omitting those I had already used. That gave what you will see on this slip:


'Now, I knew what the three first letters I wanted were--namely, _rio_--to complete the word _atrio_; and, as you will see, these are all to be found in the first five letters. I was a little confused at first by the occurrence of two _i_'s, but very soon I saw that every alternate letter must be taken in the remainder of the inscription. You can work it out for yourself; the result, continuing where the first "round" left off, thus:

_rio domus abbatialis de Steinfeld a me, Thoma, qui posui custodem super ea. Gare a qui la touche_.

'So the whole secret was out:

"Ten thousand pieces of gold are laid up in the well in the court of the Abbot's house of Steinfeld by me, Thomas, who have set a guardian over them. _Gare a qui la louche_."

'The last words, I ought to say, are a device which Abbot Thomas had adopted. I found it with his arms in another piece of glass at Lord D----'s, and he drafted it bodily into his cipher, though it doesn't quite fit in point of grammar.

'Well, what would any human being have been tempted to do, my dear Gregory, in my place? Could he have helped setting off, as I did, to Steinfeld, and tracing the secret literally to the fountain-head? I don't believe he could. Anyhow, I couldn't, and, as I needn't tell you, I found myself at Steinfeld as soon as the resources of civilization could put me there, and installed myself in the inn you saw. I must tell you that I was not altogether free from forebodings--on one hand of disappointment, on the other of danger. There was always the possibility that Abbot Thomas's well might have been wholly obliterated, or else that someone, ignorant of cryptograms, and guided only by luck, might have stumbled on the treasure before me. And then'--there was a very perceptible shaking of the voice here--'I was not entirely easy, I need not mind confessing, as to the meaning of the words about the guardian of the treasure. But, if you don't mind, I'll say no more about that until--until it becomes necessary.

'At the first possible opportunity Brown and I began exploring the place. I had naturally represented myself as being interested in the remains of the abbey, and we could not avoid paying a visit to the church, impatient as I was to be elsewhere. Still, it did interest me to see the windows where the glass had been, and especially that at the east end of the south aisle. In the tracery lights of that I was startled to see some fragments and coats-of-arms remaining--Abbot Thomas's shield was there, and a small figure with a scroll inscribed _Oculos habent, et non videbunt_ (They have eyes, and shall not see), which, I take it, was a hit of the Abbot at his Canons.