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   Chapter 14 A SECRET SHARED

The Mystery of the Sea By Bram Stoker Characters: 13475

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"There is so much to tell" I said "that I hardly know where to begin. Perhaps I had better tell you all here, where we are alone and not likely to be disturbed. We have come so fast that we have lots of time and we need not hurry. When you have had your lunch I shall tell you all."

"Oh please don't wait till then," she said, "I am all impatience. Let me know right away."

"Young woman" I said sternly "you are at present insincere. You know you are ravenously hungry, as you should be after a twenty mile ride; and you are speaking according to your idea of convention and not out of your heart. This is not convention; there is nothing conventional in the whole outfit. Eat the food prepared for you by the thoughtfulness of a very beautiful and charming girl!" She held up a warning finger and said:

"Remember 'Bon Camarade-without prejudice.'"

"All right" I answered "so it shall be. But if the lady wants to hold me up for criminal libel I shall undertake to repeat the expression when, and where, and how she will. I shall repeat the assertion and abide by the consequences." She went on eating her sandwiches, not, I thought, displeased. When we had both finished she turned to me and said:

"Now!" I took from my pocket the rescript of Don Bernardino de Escoban's narrative and handed it to her. She looked at it, turned over the pages, and glanced at them as she went. Then she returned to the beginning, and after reading the first few lines, said to me with an eager look in her eyes:

"Is this really the translation of the secret writing? Oh, I am so glad you have succeeded. You are cute!" She took out her watch, and having looked at it, went on: "We have loads of time. Won't you read it for me? It will be so much nicer! And let me ask you questions."

"Delighted!" I answered, "But would it not be better if I read it right through first, and then let you ask questions! Or better still you read it yourself right through, and then ask." I had a purpose in this. If I had to read it, my eyes must be wholly engrossed in my work; but if she read, I need never take them off her face. I longed to see the varying expression with which she would follow every phase of the strange story. She thought for a few seconds before answering, and as she thought looked me straight in the eyes. I think she read my secret, or at any rate enough of it to fathom my wish; nothing else could account for the gentle blush that spread over her face. Then she said in quite a meek tone:

"I shall read it myself if you think it best!"

I shall never forget that reading. Her face, always expressive, was to me like an open book. I was by this time quite familiar with de Escoban's narrative, as I had with infinite patience dug it out letter by letter from the cipher in which it had been buried for so long. As also I had written it out fair twice over, it was little wonder that I knew it well. As she read I so followed that I could have told to a sentence how far she had got in the history. Once she unconsciously put her hand to her throat and felt the brooch; but immediately drew it away again, glancing for a moment at me from under her eyelashes to see whether I had observed. She saw I had, shook her head with a smile, and read on.

When she had finished reading, she gave a long sigh and then held out her hand to me saying:

"Bravo! I congratulate you with all my heart!" Her touch thrilled me; she was all on fire, and there was a purposeful look in her face which was outside and beyond any joy that she could have with regard to any success of mine. This struck me so much that I said impulsively:

"Why are you so glad?" She answered instinctively and without thought:

"Because you will keep it from the Spaniards!" Then she stopped suddenly, with a gesture of self repression.

I felt a little piqued. I would have thought that her concern would have been rather individual than political. That in such a matter even before racial hatred would have come gladness at the well-doing of even such a friend-without prejudice-as I was. Looking at me, she seemed to see through me and said

"With her two white hands extended, as if praying one offended:"

"Oh, I am sorry! I did not mean to hurt you. I can't explain yet; not to-day, which is for comradeship only.-Yes without prejudice"-for she saw my look and answered it "But some day you will understand." She was so evidently embarrassed and pained at having for some reason which I did not comprehend to show reticence to me who had been so open with her, that I felt it my duty to put her at ease. This I tried to do by assuring her that I quite understood that she had some good reason, and that I was quite content to wait. I could not help adding before I stopped: "This is a small thing to have to wait for after all; when I have to wait for something so much more important." The warning finger was held up again with a smile.

Then we went over the whole of the narrative again, I reading this time and she stopping to ask me questions. There was not much to ask; all the story was so plain that the proceeding did not take very long. Then she asked me to explain how I had come to decipher the cryptogram. I took out my pocket book and proceeded to make a key to the cipher, explaining as I went on the principle. "To me," I said, "it is very complete, and can be used in an infinity of ways. Any mode of expression can be used that has two objects with five varieties of each." Here she interrupted me. As I was explaining I was holding out my hands with the fingers spread as a natural way of expressing my meaning. She saw at once what had escaped me, and clasping her hands exclaimed impulsively:

"Like your two hands! It is delightful! Two hands, and five fingers on each. We can talk a new deaf and dumb alphabet; which no one but ourselves can understand!" Her words thrilled through me. One more secret to share with her; one more secret which would be in perpetual exercise, in pursuance of a common thought. I was about to speak when she stopped me with a gesture. "Sorry!" she said. "Go on; explain to me! We can think of variety later!" So I continued:

"So long as we have means that are suitable, we have only to translate into the biliteral, and we who know this can understand. Thus we have a double guard of secrecy. There are some who could translate into symbols with which they are familiar, symbols with which they are not; but in this method we have a buffer of ignorance or mystery between the known and the unknown. There is also this advantage; the cipher as it stands is sufficiently on a basis of science or at any rate of order, that its key is easily capable of reproduction. As you hav

e seen, I can make a key without any help. Bacon's biliteral cipher is scientifically accurate. It can, therefore, be easily reproduced; the method of exclusions is also entirely rational, so that we need have no difficulty in remembering it. If two people would take the trouble to learn the symbols of the biliteral, as kept after the exclusions and which are used in this cipher, they might with very little practice be able to write or read off-hand. Indeed the suggestion, which you have just made, of a deaf-and-dumb alphabet is capital. It is as simple as the daylight! You have only to decide whether the thumb or the little finger means 1 or 2; and then reproduce by right hand or left, and using the fingers of each hand, the five symbols of the amended biliteral, and you can talk as well and as easily as do the deaf mutes!" Again she spoke out impulsively:

"Let us both learn off by heart the symbols of our cipher; and then we shan't want even to make a key. We can talk to each other in a crowd, and no one be the wiser of what we are saying."

This was very sweet to me. When a man is in love, as I was, anything which links him to his lady, and to her alone, has a charm beyond words. Here was a perpetual link, if we cared to make it so, and if the Fates would be good to us.

"The Fates!" With the thought came back Gormala's words to me at the beginning. She had told me, and somehow I seemed to have always believed the same, that the Fates worked to their own end and in their own way. Kindness or unkindness had no part in their workings; pity had no place at the beginning of their interest, no more than had remorse at the end. Was it possible that in the scheme of Fate, in which Gormala and I and Lauchlane Macleod had places, there was also a place for Marjory? The Witch-woman had said that the Fates would work their will, though for the doing of it came elements out of past centuries and from the ends of the earth. The cipher of Don de Escoban had lain hidden three centuries, only to be revived at its due time. Marjory had come from a nation which had no existence when the Don had lived, and from a place which in his time was the far home of the red man and the wolf and the bison and the bear.

But yet what was there to connect Marjory with Don de Escoban and his secret? As I thought, I saw Marjory who had turned her back to me, quietly take something from her throat and put it into her pocket. Here was the clue indeed.

The brooch! When I had taken it up from the sea at the Sand Craigs I had returned it to her with only a glance; and as I had often seen it since, without any mystery, I had hardly noticed it. It rushed in on my mind that it was of the same form as that described by Don de Escoban as having been given by the Pope. I had only noticed a big figure and a little one; but surely it could be none other than a figure of St. Christopher. I should have liked to have asked Marjory about it at once; but her words already spoken putting off explanation, and her recent act, of which I was supposed to know nothing, in putting it out of sight, forbade me to inquire. All the more I thought, however; and other matters regarding it crowded into my mind.

The chain was complete, the only weak link being the connection between Marjory and the St. Christopher brooch. And even here there was a mystery, acknowledged in her concealment, which might explain itself when the time came.

Matters took such a grave turn for me with my latest surmise, that I thought it would be well to improve the occasion with Marjory, in so far as it might be possible to learn something of her surroundings. I was barred from asking questions by her own wish; but still I did not like to lose the chance without an effort, so I said to her:

"We have learned a lot to-day, haven't we?"

"Indeed we have. It hardly seems possible that a day could make such a change!"

"I suppose we should take it that new knowledge should apply new conditions to established fact?" I said this with some diffidence; and I could see that the change in my tone, much against my will, attracted her attention. She evidently understood my wish, for she answered with decision:

"If you mean by 'new conditions' any alteration of the compact made between us for to-day-yes, I remember 'without prejudice'-there is nothing in our new knowledge to alter the old ones. Do remember, sir, that this day is one set apart, and nothing that is not a very grave matter indeed can be allowed to alter what is established regarding it."

"Then," said I, "at all events let us learn the cipher-our cipher as you very properly called it."

"Oh no! surely?" this was said with a rising blush.

"Indeed, yes-I am glad to say!"

"Take care!" she replied, meaningly, then she added:

"Very well! Ours let it be. But really and truly I have no right to its discovery; it makes me feel like a fraud to hear you say so."

"Be easy," I replied. "You helped me more than I can say. It was your suggestion to reduce the terms of the biliteral; and it was by that means that I read the cipher. But at any rate when we call it 'ours' it will content me if the word 'ours'"-I could not help repeating the word for it was delight to me; it did not displease her either, though it made her blush-"is applied not to invention but to possession!"

"All right," she said. "That is good of you. I cannot argue with you. Amendment accepted! Come, let us get on our wheels again. You have the key of our cipher with you; you can tell me the items one by one, and we will learn them as we go along."

And so as we swept round Davan Lake, with the wind behind us driving us along except just before we regained the high road at Dinnet, I repeated the symbols of the reduced biliteral. We went over and over them again and again, till we were unable to puzzle each other questioning up and down, 'dodging' as the school-boys say.

Oh, but that ride was delightful! There was some sort of conscious equality between us which I could see my comrade felt as well as myself. Down the falling road we sped almost without effort, our wheels seeming to glide on air. When we came to the bridge over the railway just above Aboyne, where the river comes north and runs in under a bank of shale and rock, we dismounted and looked back. Behind us was our last view of the gorge above Ballater, where the two round hills stood as portals, and where the cloud rack hanging above and beyond made a mystery which was full of delightful fascination and no less delightful remembrance. Then with a sigh we turned.

There, before us lay a dark alley between the closing pines. No less mysterious, but seemingly dark and grim.

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