By this time the South Sea Company had been started, but Squire Bathurst had had his
doubts about the soundness of its transactions. However, in 1719, the company gained further
concessions from the government, he allowed himself to be caught up in the speculation mania,
which was now quickly approaching its peak, and he invested 8,000.
As everyone knows, the population of England went mad during the first six months of
1720. Rich and poor alike scraped together every available penny to buy South Sea stock at any
price, and by mid-summer 1100 was being offered for every 100 of the company's stock.
Prime Minister Walpole did his best to warn the speculators of the risk they were running, but few took heed.
Though he could never afterwards explain why he disposed of his holdings when the stock
was at its peak price, that was precisely what he did. Now worth some 90,000, he invested twothirds
of it in East India Company stock, and took himself to Florence with the sole intention of
impressing the friends he and Robert Bushnell had made there, with his own financial status.
It took some time for news of the bursting of the South Sea Bubble to reach him, but when
at last it did once again he suffered a profound shock. Wasting no time, accompanied by his
young Italian valet, he returned to England. When he learned in London of the narrowness of his
escape from absolute ruin, the first shock, instead of subsiding, increased, and had the effect of
implanting in him an absolute distrust of all commercial ventures. Withdrawing all his
investments from the East India Company, and converting it into gold coin, he withdrew to
Now that he had wealth enough and more, to surround himself with the luxuries he had
learned to desire so ardently, his recent experiences seemed to have wrought such a change in his
character as to turn him into a miser of classic mold. He dismissed his domestic staff with the
exception of the Italian valet, and kept open only one room for himself, the kitchen and a room
for the valet. He sold his horses and carriages, again keeping only one. To save the expense of a
groom he looked after the horse himself, and he required the valet to cook and do such other
duties about the house that would prevent it from becoming, in the complete absence of other
servants, a veritable pig-sty. He never went out into society, and, in fact, very rarely emerged
from the manor, certainly never leaving the estate.
As time went by, it became obvious to the valet that his master had become mad. There
were constant quarrels over the cost of the simple foodstuffs which the valet insisted were
essential to sustain life. When the valet asked for replacements of clothes, he narrowly escaped
It was inevitable, therefore, that sooner or later the valet would forsake his master, and
presently this he planned to do. But he planned something else besides.
He had been aware of the arrival of heavy chests, iron-bound and securely bolted, shortly
after all the servants had been dismissed, and guessed that they contained valuables, for Squire
Bathurst kept them in the room which served him as bedroom, study and dining-room. This room
he was never allowed to enter except in the presence of his master. Its door was kept locked
whenever the squire was not in it.
It did not take him long, either, to discover what the chests contained, for Squire Bathurst
formed the habit of counting the contents of one chest each night before he retired to bed. One
evening, wishing to speak to the squire, the valet had knocked on the door, and receiving no
answer had tried the door-handle, and found the door to be locked.
At first fearing that something might have happened to the squire, whom he believed to be
in the room, since a light shone under the door, he bent down and put an eye to the keyhole. He
could see nothing, because the key was in the lock, but on listening for any sound which might
tell him the squire was not unconscious, he heard the clinking of metal and Bathurst's murmured
It was this discovery which set the valet thinking. No one came to the manor except the
tenants with their rents. The master never left the estate and rarely the house. He himself went
only to the village once a week to get supplies of food. If he gave it out that the squire had
decided to go to London, and if he drove the carriage which would contain the money chests and
a dummy made of the squire's clothes, only in case they were seen by a poacher as they passed
the countryside, he could be safely back in Italy long before anyone began to think that the squire
was making a protracted stay in London. Of course, he would have to make certain that the
squire's body was hidden in a place where it would never be found, and it was to this end that he
spent much of his time during the next week on opening up the chimney-piece in one of the
His practical plans completed, on the chosen night shortly before eleven o'clock he went
to the squire's room. In case the squire should be awake, he took with him a posset which he
would beg his master to take, saying that he was worried about his health, which had indeed
become generally undermined by lack of food. He expected that the door would be unlocked,
because it invariably was when he took in the squire's so-called breakfast, and when, more often
than not, the squire would still be asleep.
He opened the door with some difficulty, since he had to hold the tankard containing the
posset, and the candle-stick with which he had to light his way, in one hand. As he moved
towards the bed, the squire made no move; but as he set down the posset and candle on the
bedside table, and put up a hand to draw back the curtain, Alexander Bathurst awoke with a start,
and with surprising agility sprang from the bed.
'Who is it? What do you want?' he shouted.
'It's Giuseppe, master. Quietly, quietly!' the valet soothed him.
'Oh God!' the squire exclaimed shakily. 'I thought you were an intruder. What do you
'You are looking ill, master, and I am anxious for your health,' the valet told him. 'I've
brought you a posset which I beg you to drink.'
'Who told you to make a posset?' Bathurst demanded. 'Such things are luxuries I cannot