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   Chapter 40 THE REDEMPTION OF A TRUST

The Mystery of the Sea By Bram Stoker Characters: 15830

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"Senor, you may wonder why I am here, and why I would speak with you alone and in secret. You have seen me only in a place, which though my own by birthright, was dominated by the presence of ladies, who alas! by their nationality and the stress of war were mine enemies. From you is not such. Our nations are at peace, and there is no personal reason why we should not be of the most friendly. I come to you, Senor, because it is borne to me that you are cavalier. You can be secret if you will, and you will recognise the claims of honour and duty, of the highest. The common people know it not; and for the dear ladies who have their own honour, our duties in such are not a part of their lives-nay! they are beyond and above the life as it is to us. I need not tell you of a secret duty of my family, for it is known to me that all of such is already with you. The secret of the Pope's treasure and of the duty of my House to guard and restore it has been in your mind. Oh yes, this I know" for he saw I was about to speak. "Have I not seen in your hands that portion of the book, so long lost!" Here he stopped and his eyes narrowed; some thought of danger, necessitating caution, had come to him. I, too, was silent; I wanted to think. Unless I had utterly misconceived him, he had made an extraordinary admission; one which had given him away completely. The only occasion on which I had seen him was when he had pointed out to us that the pages which I had found belonged to the book in the library. It is true that we had suggested to him that there was a cipher in the marking of the letters, but he had not acknowledged it. At the time he certainly did not convey the idea to us that he believed we had grasped the secret. How then did he know; or on what assumption did he venture to state that I knew his secret. Here was a difficult point to pass. If I were silent he would take all for granted; in such case I might not learn anything of his purpose. So I spoke:

"Your pardon, Sir, but you presume a knowledge on my part of some secret history of your family and of a treasure of the Pope; and then account for it that you have seen in my hand the book, a part of which was long lost. Am I to take it that because there is, or may be, a secret, any one who suspects that there is one must know it?" The steady eyes of the Spaniard closed, narrower and narrower still, till the pupils looked like those of a cat in the dark; a narrow slit with a cavern of fire within. For fully half a minute he continued to look at me steadily, and I own that I felt disconcerted. In this matter he had the advantage of me. I knew that what he said was true; I did know the secret of the buried treasure. He had some way of knowing the extent of my knowledge of the matter. He was, so far, all truth; I was prevaricating-and we both knew it! All at once he spoke; as though his mind were made up, and he would speak openly and frankly. The frankness of a Latin was a fell and strange affair:

"Why shall we beat about the bush. I know; you know; and we both know that the other knows. I have read what you have written of the secret which you have drawn from those marked pages of the law book."

As he spoke the whole detail of his visit to Crom rose before me. At that time he had only seen the printed pages of the cipher; he had not seen my transcript which had lain, face down, upon the table. We had turned it, on hearing some one coming in.

"Then you have been to the castle again!" I said suddenly. My object was to disconcert him, but it did not succeed. In his saturnine frankness had been a complete intention, which was now his protection against surprise.

"Yes!" he said slowly, and with a smile which showed his teeth, like the wolf's to Red Ridinghood.

"Strange, they did not tell me at Crom," I said as though to myself.

"They did not know!" he answered. "When next I visited my own house, it was at night, and by a way not known, save to myself." As he spoke, the canine teeth began to show. He knew that what he had to tell was wrong; and being determined to brazen it out, the cruelty which lay behind his strength became manifest at once. Somehow at that moment the racial instinct manifested itself. Spain was once the possession of the Moors, and the noblest of the old families had some black blood in them. In Spain, such is not, as in the West, a taint. The old diabolism whence sprung fantee and hoo-doo seemed to gleam out in the grim smile of incarnate, rebellious purpose. It was my cue to throw my antagonist off his guard; to attack the composite character in such way that one part would betray the other.

"Strange!" I said, as though to myself again. "To come in secret into a house occupied by another is amongst civilised people regarded as an offence!"

"The house is my own!" he retorted quickly, with a swarthy flush.

"Strange, again!" I said. "When Mrs. Jack rented the castle, there was no clause in her agreement of a right to the owner to enter by a secret way! On the contrary such rights as the owner reserved were exactly specified."

"A man has a right to enter his own house, when and how he will; and to protect the property which is being filched from him by strangers!" He said the last words with such manifest intention of offence that I stood on guard. Evidently he wanted to anger me, as I had angered him. I determined that thenceforward I should not let anything which he might say ruffle me. I replied with deliberate exasperation:

"The law provides remedies for any wrongs done. It does not, that I know of, allow a man to enter secretly into a house that he has let to another. There is an implied contract of peaceful possession, unless entry be specified in the agreement." He answered disdainfully:

"My agent had no right to let, without protecting such a right."

"Ah, but he did; and in law we are bound by the acts of our agents. 'Facit per alium' is a maxim of law. And as to filching, let me tell you that all your property at Crom is intact. The pieces of paper that you claimed were left in the book; and the book has remained as you yourself placed it on the shelf. I have Mrs. Jack's word that it would be so." He was silent; so, as it was necessary that the facts as they existed should be spoken of between us, I went on:

"Am I to take it that you read the private papers on the table of the library during your nocturnal visit? By the way, I suppose it was nocturnal."

"It was."

"Then sir," I spoke sharply now, "who has done the filching? We-Miss Drake and I-by chance discovered those papers. As a matter of fact they were in an oaken chest which I bought at an auction in the streets of Peterhead. We suspected a cipher and worked at it till we laid bare the mystery. This is what we have done; we who were even ignorant of your name! Now, what have you done? You come as an admitted guest, by permission, into a house taken in all good faith by strangers. When there you recognised some papers which had been lost. We restored them to you. Honour demanded that you should have been open with us after this. Did you ask if we had discovered the secret of the trust? No! You went away openly; and came back like a thief in the night and filched our secret. Yes sir, you did!" He had raised his hand in indignant protest. "It was our secret then, not yours. Had you interpreted the secret cipher for yourself, you would have been within your rights; and I should have had nothing to say. We offered to let you take the book with you; but you refused. It is evident that you did not know the whole secret of the treasure. That you knew there was a treasure and a secret I admit; but the key of it, which we had won through toil, you stole from us!"

"Senor!" the voice was peremptory and full of all that was best and noblest in the man. "A de Escoban is not wont to hear such an allegation; an

d he who makes such shall in the end have his own death to answer for!" He stopped suddenly, and at his stopping I exulted secretly; though I wished to punish him for his insinuation that Marjory had filched from him, I had no desire to become entangled in a duel. I was determined to go on, however; for I would not, at any hazard, pass a slight upon my peerless wife. I think that his sudden pause meant thought; and thought meant a peaceful solution of things on my own lines. Nevertheless, I went on forcing the issue:

"I rejoice, sir, that you are not accustomed to hear such allegations; I trust that you are also not accustomed to deserve them!" By this time he was calm again, icily calm. It was wonderful with what rapidity, and how widely, the pendulum of his nature swung between pride and passion. All at once he smiled again, the same deadly, dreadful smile which he imagined to be the expression of frankness.

"I see I am punished! 'Twas I that first spoke of stealing. Senor, you have shown me that I was wrong. My pardon to that so good lady who is guest of my house; and also to that other patriotic one who so adorns it. Now let me say, since to defend myself is thrust upon me, that you, who have, with so much skill made clear the hidden mystery of that law book which I have only lately read, know best of all men how I am bound to do all things to protect my trust. I am bound, despite myself, even if it were not a duty gladly undertaken for the sake of the dead. It was not I who so undertook; but still I am bound even more than he who did. I stand between law and honour, between life and death, helpless. Senor, were you in my place, would you not, too, have acted as I did? Would you not do so, knowing that there was a secret which you could not even try to unravel, since long ago that in which it was hidden had been stolen or lost. Would you not do so, knowing, too, that some other-in all good faith and innocence let us say-had already made discovery which might mock your hopes and nullify the force of that long vigil, to which ten generations of men, giving up all else, had sacrificed themselves? Would not you, too, have come in secret and made what discovery you could. Discovery of your own, mark you! Would not also that lady so patriotic, to whom all things come after that devotion to her country, which so great she holds?"

Whilst he was speaking I had been thinking. The pretence of ignorance was all over to both of us; he knew our knowledge of the secret trust, and we knew that he knew. The only thing of which he was yet ignorant, was that we had discovered the treasure itself. There was nothing to be gained by disputing points of conjectural morals. Of course he was right; had either Marjory or myself considered ourselves bound by such a duty as lay so heavy on him we should have done the same. I bowed as I answered;

"Sir, you are right! Any man who held to such a duty would have done the same."

"Senor," he answered quickly, "I thank you with all my heart!" Poor fellow, at that moment I pitied him. The sudden flash of joy that leaped to his face showed by reaction in what a hell he must have of late been living. This momentary episode seemed to have wiped away all his bitterness; it was in quite a different way that he spoke again:

"And now, Senor, since your engaging frankness has made my heart so glad, may I ask further of your kindness. Believe me that it is not of my own will, but from an unbending sense of duty that I do and may have to do such things; my life till lately has been otherwise, oh! so much so! You have the feelings of honour yourself; like me you are also man of the world, and as such we can sacrifice all things save honour. Is there no way in which you can aid me to fulfill my trust; and let there be peace between us?" He looked at me anxiously; I said:

"I fear I hardly understand?" With manifest embarrassment he went on;

"You will forgive me if I err again; but this time I must make myself clear. It is manifest to me that in these days of science nothing can long remain hidden, when once a clue has been found. You already know so much that I am placed almost as though the treasure has already been found. Thereafter where am I; what am I? One who has failed in his trust. Who has allowed another to step in; and so dishonour him! A moment, Senor, and I am done," for he saw that I was about to speak. "It is not the treasure itself that I value, but the trust. If I could make it safe by the sacrifice of all my possessions I would gladly do so. Senor, you are still free. You have but to abandon your quest. It is not to you a duty; and therefore you sacrifice naught of honour should you abandon it. Here I pledge to you-and, oh Senor, I pray have patience that you take no affront that I do so-that in such case I shall give to you all that I have. Give it gladly! So, I may redeem the trust of my House; and go out into the wide world, though it may be as a beggar, yet free-free! Oh! pause, Senor, and think. I am rich in the world's goods. My ancestors were of vast wealth; even at that time when the great Bernardino did give his ship to his king. And for three centuries all have been prudent; and all their possessions have grown. There are vast lands of corn, great forests, many castles, whole ranges of mountains as yet untouched for their varied treasures which are vast. There are seaports and villages; and in all, the dwellers are happy and content. I am the last of my race. There is none to inherit; so I am free to pledge myself." He did not bow or bend; there was no persistence of request in his voice, or tone, or manner. In all there was no feeling of a bargain. It was an offer, based on the fulfillment of his own desires; given in such a lordly way that there could be no offence in it. He recognised so thoroughly the strength of my own position, that the base side of barter became obliterated; it was an exchange of goods between gentlemen. Such, at least, I recognised was his intellectual position; my own remained the same. How could I, or any man, take advantage of such an offer. After thinking a few seconds I said to him:

"Sir, you have honoured me by grouping us as men of honour. What would you do in my place?" His eye brightened, and his breath came more quickly as he replied:

"Were it my case, I should say: 'Senor, your duty is one of honour; mine is one of gain. There can be no comparisons. Fulfill your debt to your forefathers! Redeem the pledge that they have made in your name! Discover your treasure; and be free!'" There was infinite pride in his voice and manner; I think he really meant what he said. I went on with my questioning:

"And what about the taking of your estate as a reward of forbearance?"

He shrugged his shoulders: "For that," he said, "it matters not."

"Ah, for you to give you mean?" He nodded.

"But what for me to take? Would you do so in my place?" He was manifestly in a dilemma. I could see something of the working of his mind in his face. If he said he would himself take it, he would manifestly lower himself in his own eyes; and to such pride as his, his own self-respect was more than the respect of others, in proportion to his self-value. If he said he would not, then he might peril his chance of getting what he desired. The temptation was a cruel one; with all my heart I honoured him for his answer, given with the fullness of his mighty pride:

"Senor, I can die; I cannot stoop! But what avails my own idea? The answer is not for me! I have offered all I have. I will in addition pledge myself to hold my life at your service when this great trust is relieved. To this my honour is guardian; you need not fear it shall be redeemed! Now Senor, you have my answer! To redeem the trust of my sires I give all I have in the world, except my honour! The answer rests with you!"

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