“Mr. Brisher’s Treasure” is a morality tale of greed and hypocrisy, written by H. G. Wells. It was first published in the Strand Magazine in April 1899, and was reprinted in Twelve Stories and a Dream (1903). The story is told as a first-person narrative by an unnamed narrator who is in conversation with Mr. Brisher.
The story begins with Mr. Brisher, an overweight man with a lank moustache concealing his lack of a chin, and a “masterful carelessness” in his attire, observing to the narrator that “You can’t be too careful who you marry”. After some moments of reflection he goes on to say that he was once engaged to be married, and for all he knows may still be.
Mr. Brisher reveals that his betrothed, Jane, lived with her parents in Colchester, and that he became a frequent visitor following his engagement. The family owned their own house, which they’d bought cheaply because the previous owner was a convicted burglar and was in prison.
During Mr. Brisher’s two-week stay in the summer, Jane’s father insists that before he’ll consent to the marriage, Mr. Brisher has to find himself “a proper position”. Keen to impress his potential father-in-law, Mr. Brisher offers to build a rockery at the bottom of the garden, claiming that he’s the sort of person who hates doing nothing. Soon after beginning to dig, Mr. Brisher discovers a chest full of half crowns,[a] worth thousands of pounds. Wary that if the authorities become aware of his discovery it might be seized as treasure trove, he decides to bury the chest again and consider his options.
Over dinner that evening, Mr. Brisher tests the water with his prospective father-in-law, a conspicuously prominent leading light in his local chapel, by telling him a story about a fictitious friend who had found a sovereign[b] in a borrowed overcoat, which he had kept for himself. On being asked whether that was morally justifiable, Jane’s father falls into a rage, saying that was the sort of friend he’d naturally expect Mr. Brisher to have, and starts hitting him over the head with a Bible. Mr. Brisher resolves to keep the treasure for himself, but is afforded no opportunity to secretly remove it during the remainder of his holiday; “Finding treasure’s no great shakes. It’s gettin’ it”, he muses.
At the end of his stay Mr. Brisher takes his leave of the family and pretends to return home to London, but instead goes into town to hire a horse and trap, planning to return after dark to recover the treasure. But things do not go to plan. A thunderstorm breaks out while he is digging, and he finds that the chest is too heavy for him to lift. He lets it slip as he is trying to haul it up, smashing it open with a tremendous noise at the same time as a bolt of lightning lights up the scene. When Jane’s father comes rushing out of the house with a gun, Mr. Brisher decides that the prudent thing is to run for it, which he does, never to return.
Mr. Brisher does though keep an eye on the local newspapers, to see if Jane’s father has informed the authorities of the treasure, thinking that if he does not, he may be able to exert pressure on him to allow the marriage. One day he sees a report that Jane’s father has been jailed for issuing counterfeit coins, “Nearly a dozen bad ‘arf-crowns”.
- A half crown is the equivalent of 12½p in decimal currency.
- A sovereign is a coin worth £1.