The Secret of Sarek/Chapter XVII
CHAPTER XVII. “CRUEL PRINCE, OBEYING DESTINY”
DON LUIS once more addressed himself to Vorski: “We're agreed, aren't we, Kamerad? All that I'm saying exactly expresses the truth?”
Vorski had closed his eyes, his head was drooping, and the veins on his temple were immoderately swollen. To prevent any interference by Stephane, Don Luis exclaimed:
“You will speak, my fine fellow! Ah, the pain is beginning to grow serious, is it? The brain is giving way?... Remember, just one whistle, a bar or two of Tipperary and I interrupt my speech.... You won't? You're not ripe yet? So much the worse for you!... And you, Stephane, have no fear for Francois. I answer for everything. But no pity for this monster, please! No, no and again no! Don't forget that he prepared and contrived everything of his own free will! Don't forget... But I'm getting angry. What's the use?”
Don Luis unfolded the page of the note-book on which Vorski had written down the prophecy and, holding it under his eyes, continued:
“What remains to be said is not so important, once the general explanation is accepted. Nevertheless, we must go into detail to some slight extent, show the mechanism of the affair imagined and built up by Vorski and lastly come to the part played by our attractive ancient Druid.... So we are now in the month of June. This is the season fixed for the execution of the thirty victims. It was evidently appointed by Brother Thomas because the rhythm of his verse called for a month in one syllable, just as the year fourteen and three was selected because three rhymes with be and tree and just as Brother Thomas decided upon the number of thirty victims because thirty is the number of the Sarek reefs and coffins. But Vorski takes it as a definite command. Thirty victims are needed in June '17. They will be provided. They will be provided on condition that the twenty-nine inhabitants of Sarek — we shall see presently that Vorski has his thirtieth victim handy — consent to stay on the island and await their destruction. Well, Vorski suddenly hears of the departure of Honorine and Maguennoc. Honorine will come back in time. But how about Maguennoc? Vorski does not hesitate: he sends Elfride and Conrad on his tracks, with instructions to kill him and to wait. He hesitates the less because he believes, from certain words which he has overheard, that Maguennoc has taken with him the precious stone, the miraculous gem which must not be touched but which must be left in its leaden sheath (this is the actual phrase used by Maguennoc)!
“Elfride and Conrad therefore set out. One morning, at an inn, Elfride mixes poison with the coffee which Maguennoc is drinking (the prophecy has stated that there will be poison). Maguennoc continues his journey. But in an hour or two he is seized with intolerable pain and dies, almost immediately, on the bank by the road-side. Elfride and Conrad come up and go through his pockets. They find nothing, no gem, no precious stone. Vorski's hopes have not been realized. All the same, the corpse is there. What are they to do with it? For the time being, they fling it into a half-demolished hut, which Vorski and his accomplices had visited some months before. Here Veronique d'Hergemont discovers the body... and an hour later fails to find it there. Elfride and Conrad, keeping watch close at hand, have taken it away and hidden it, still for the time being, in the cellars of a little empty country-house.
“There's one victim accounted for. We may observe, in passing, that Maguennoc's predictions relating to the order in which the thirty victims are to be executed — beginning with himself — have no basis. The prophecy doesn't mention such a thing. In any case, Vorski goes to work at random. At Sarek he carries off Francois and Stephane Maroux and then, both as a measure of precaution and in order to cross the island without attracting attention and to enter the Priory more easily, he dresses himself in Stephane's clothes, while Raynold puts on Francois'. The job before them is an easy one. The only people in the house are an old man, M. d'Hergemont, and a woman, Marie Le Goff. As soon as these are got rid of, the rooms and Maguennoc's in particular will be searched. Vorski, as yet unaware of the result of Elfride's expedition, would not be surprised if Maguennoc had left the miraculous jewel at the Priory.
“The first to fall is the cook, Marie Le Goff, whom Vorski takes by the throat and stabs with a knife. But it so happens that the ruffian's face gets covered with blood; and, seized with one of those fits of cowardice to which he is subject, he runs away, after loosing Raynold upon M. d'Hergemont.
“The fight between the boy and the old man is a long one. It is continued through the house and, by a tragic chance, ends before Veronique d'Hergemont's eyes. M. d'Hergemont is killed. Honorine arrives at the same moment. She drops, making the fourth victim.
“Matters now begin to go quickly. Panic sets in during the night. The people of Sarek, frightened out of their wits, seeing that Maguennoc's predictions are being fulfilled and that the hour of the disaster which has so long threatened their island is about to strike, make up their minds to go. This is what Vorski and his son are waiting for. Taking up their position in the motorboat which they have stolen, they rush after the runaways and the abominable hunt begins, the great disaster foretold by Brother Thomas:
“'There will be shipwrecks, terrors, grief and crimes.'
“Honorine, who witnesses the scene and whose brain is already greatly upset, goes mad and throws herself from the cliff.
“Thereupon we have a lull of a few days, during which Veronique d'Hergemont explores the Priory and the island without being disturbed. As a matter of fact, after their successful hunt, leaving only Otto, who spends his time drinking in the cells, the father and son have gone off in the boat to fetch Elfride and Conrad and to bring back Maguennoc's body and fling it in the water within sight of Sarek, since Maguennoc of necessity has one of the thirty coffins earmarked for his reception.
“At that moment, that is when he returns to Sarek, Vorski's bag numbers twenty-four victims. Stephane and Francois are prisoners, guarded by Otto. The rest consists of four women reserved for crucifixion, including the three sisters Archignat, all locked up in their wash-house. It is their turn next. Veronique d'Hergemont tries to release them, but it is too late. Waylaid by the band, shot at by Raynold, who is an expert archer, the sisters Archignat are wounded by arrows (for arrows, see the prophecy) and fall into the enemy's hands. That same evening they are strung up on the three oaks, after Vorski has first relieved them of the fifty thousand-franc notes which they carried concealed on their persons. Total: twenty-nine victims. Who will be the thirtieth? Who will be the fourth woman?”
Don Luis paused and continued:
“As to this, the prophecy speaks very plainly in two places, each of which complements the other:
“'Before his mother's eyes, Abel kills Cain.'
“And, a few lines lower down:
“'His wedded wife one night in June hath slain.'
“Vorski, from the moment when he became aware of this document, had interpreted the two lines in his own fashion. Being, in fact, unable at that time to dispose of Veronique, for whom he has vainly been hunting all over France, he temporizes with the decrees of destiny. The fourth woman to be tortured shall be a wife, but she shall be his first wife, Elfride. And this will not be absolutely contrary to the prophecy, which, if need be, can apply to the mother of Cain just as well as to the mother of Abel. And observe that the other prophecy, that which was communicated to him by word of mouth in the old days, also failed to specify the woman who was to diet:
“'Vorski's wife shall perish on the cross.'
“Which wife? Elfride.
“So his dear, devoted accomplice is to perish. It's terrible for Vorski;»it breaks his heart. But the god Moloch must be obeyed; and, considering that Vorski, to accomplish his task, decided to sacrifice his son Raynold, it would be inexcusable if he refused to sacrifice his wife Elfride. So all will be well.
“But, suddenly, a dramatic incident occurs. While pursuing the sisters Archignat, he sees and recognizes Veronique d'Hergemont!
“A man like Vorski could not fail to behold in this yet another favour vouchsafed by the powers above. The woman whom he has never forgotten is sent to him at the very moment when she is to take her place in the great adventure. She is given to him as a miraculous victim which he can destroy... or conquer. What a prospect! And how the heavens brighten with unexpected light! Vorski loses his head. He becomes more and more convinced that he is the Messiah, the chosen one, the apostle, missionary, the man who is 'obeying destiny.' He is linked up with the line of the high-priests, the guardians of the God-Stone. He is a Druid, an arch-druid; and, as such, on the night when Veronique d'Hergemont burns the bridge, on the sixth night after the moon, he goes and cuts the sacred mistletoe with a golden sickle!
“And the siege of the Priory begins. I will not linger over this. Veronique d'Hergemont has told you the whole story, Stephane, and we know her sufferings, the part played by the delightful All's Well, the discovery of the underground passage and the cells, the fight for Francois, the fight for you, Stephane, whom Vorski imprisoned in one of the torture-cells called 'death-chambers' in the prophecy. Here you are surprised with Madame d'Hergemont. The young monster, Raynold, hurls you into the sea. Francois and his mother escape. Unfortunately, Vorski and his band succeed in reaching the Priory. Francois is captured. His mother joins him. And then... and then the most tragic scenes ensue, scenes upon which I will not enlarge: the interview between Vorski and Veronique d'Hergemont, the duel between the two brothers, between Cain and Abel, before Veronique d'Hergemont's very eyes. For the prophecy insists upon it:
“'Before his mother's eyes, Abel kills Cain.'
“And the prophecy likewise demands that she shall suffer beyond expression and that Vorski shall be subtle in doing evil. 'A cruel prince,' he puts marks on the two combatants; and, when Abel is on the point of being defeated, he himself wounds Cain so that Cain may be killed.
“The monster is mad. He's mad and drunk. The climax is close at hand. He drinks and drinks; for Veronique d'Hergemont's martyrdom is to take place that evening:
“'By thousand deaths and lingering agony,
His wedded wife one night of June hath slain.'
“The thousand deaths Veronique has already undergone; and the agony will be lingering. The hour comes. Supper, funeral procession, preparations, the setting up of the ladder, the binding of the victim and then... and then the ancient Druid!”
Don Luis gave a hearty laugh as he uttered the last words:
“Here, upon my word, things begin to get amusing! From this moment onward, tragedy goes hand in hand with comedy, the gruesome with the burlesque. Oh, that ancient Druid, what a caution! To you, Stephane, and you, Patrice, who were behind the scenes, the story is devoid of interest. But to you, Vorski, what exciting revelations!... I say, Otto, just put the ladder against the trunk of the tree, so that your employer can rest his feet on the top rung. Is that easier for you, Vorski? Mark you, my little attention does not come from any ridiculous feeling of pity. Oh, dear, no! But I'm afraid that you might go phut; and besides I want you to be in a comfortable position to listen to the ancient Druid's confession.”
He had another burst of laughter. There was no doubt about it: the ancient Druid was a great source of entertainment to Don Luis.
“The ancient Druid's arrival,” he said, “introduces order and reason into the adventure. What was loose and vague becomes more compact. Incoherent crime turns into logical punishment. We have no longer blind obedience to Brother Thomas' doggerel, but the submission to common sense, the rigorous method of a man who knows what he wants and who has no time to lose. Really, the ancient Druid deserves all our admiration.
“The ancient Druid, whom we may call either Don Luis Perenna or Arsene Lupin — you suspect that, don't you? — knew very little of the story when the periscope of his submarine, the Crystal Stopper, emerged in sight of the coast of Sarek at mid-day yesterday.”
“Very little?” Stephane Maroux cried, in spite of himself.
“One might say, nothing,” Don Luis declared.
“What! All those facts about Vorski's past, all those precise details about what he did at Sarek, about his plans and the part played by Elfride and the poisoning of Maguennoc?”
“I learnt all that here, yesterday,” said Don Luis.
“But from whom? We never left one another?”
“Believe me when I say that the ancient Druid, when he landed yesterday on the coast of Sarek, knew nothing at all. But the ancient Druid lays claim to be at least as great a favourite of the gods as you are, Vorski. And in fact he at once had the luck to see, on a lonely little beach, our friend Stephane, who himself had had the luck to fall into a pretty deep pool of water and thus to escape the fate which you and your son had prepared for him. Rescue-work, conversation. In half an hour, the ancient Druid had the facts. Forthwith, investigations. He ended by reaching the cells, where he found in yours, Vorski, a white robe which he needed for his own use and a scrap of paper with a copy of the prophecy written by yourself. Excellent. The ancient Druid knows the enemy's plans.
“He begins by following the tunnel down which Francois and his mother fled, but is unable to pass because of the subsidence which has been produced. He retraces his steps and comes out on the Black Heath. Exploration of the island. Meeting with Otto and Conrad. The enemy burns the footbridge. It is six o'clock in the evening. Query: how to get to the Priory? Stephane suggests, by the Postern path. The ancient Druid returns to the Crystal Stopper. They circumnavigate the island under the direction of Stephane, who knows all the channels — and besides, my dear Vorski, the Crystal Stopper is a very docile submarine. She can slip in anywhere; the ancient Druid had her built to his own designs — and at last they land at the spot where Francois' boat is hanging. Here, meeting with All's Well, who is sleeping under the boat, the ancient Druid introduces himself. Immediate display of sympathy. They make a start. But, half-way up the ascent, All's Well branches off. At this place the wall is the cliff is, so to speak, patched with movable blocks of stone. In the middle of these stones is an opening, an opening made by Maguennoc, as the ancient Druid discovered later, in order to enter the hall of sacrifices and the mortuary crypts. Thus, the ancient Druid finds himself in the thick of the plot, master above ground and below. Only, it is eight o'clock in the evening.
“As regards Francois, there is no immediate anxiety. The prophecy says, 'Abel kills Cain.' But Veronique d'Hergemont was to perish 'one night of June.' Had she undergone the horrible martyrdom? Was it too late to rescue her?”
Don Luis turned to Stephane:
“You remember, Stephane, the agony through which you and the ancient Druid passed and your relief at discovering the tree prepared with the inscription, 'V. d'H.' The tree has no victim on it yet. Veronique will be saved; and in fact we hear a sound of voices coming from the Priory. It is the grim procession. It slowly climbs the grassy slope amid the thickening darkness. The lantern is waved. A halt is called. Vorski spouts and holds forth. The last scene is at hand. Soon we shall rush to the assault and Veronique will be delivered.
“But here an incident occurs which will amuse you, Vorski. Yes, we make a strange discovery, my friends and I: we find a woman prowling round the dolmen, who hides as we come up. We seize her. Stephane recognizes her by the light of an electric torch. Do you know who it was, Vorski? I give you a hundred guesses. Elfride! Yes, Elfride, your accomplice, the one whom you meant to crucify at first! Curious, wasn't it? In an extreme state of excitement, half crazy, she tells us that she consented to the duel between the two boys on your promise that her son would be the victor and kill Veronique's son. But you had locked her up, in the morning; and, in the evening, when she succeeded in making her escape, it was Raynold's dead body that she found. She has now come to be present at the torture of the rival whom she detests and then to avenge herself on you and kill you, my poor old chap.
“A capital idea! The ancient Druid approves; and, while you go up to the dolmen and Stephane keeps an eye on you, he continues to question Elfride. But, lo and behold, Vorski, at the sound of your voice, the jade begins to kick! She veers round unexpectedly. Her master's voice stimulates her to an unparalleled display of ardour. She wants to see you, to warn you of your danger, to save you; and suddenly she makes a rush at the ancient Druid with a dagger in her hand. The ancient Druid is obliged, in self-defence, to knock her down, half-stunning her; and the sight of this moribund woman at once suggests to him a means of turning the incident to good account. The wretched creature is tied up in the twinkling of an eye. The ancient Druid intends you yourself to punish her, Vorski, and make her undergo the fate which you had reserved for her before. So he slips his robe on Stephane, gives him his instructions, shoots an arrow in your direction the moment you come up and, while you go running in pursuit of a white robe, does a conjuring-trick and substitutes Elfride for Veronique, the first wife for the second. How? That's my business. All you need know is that the trick was played and succeeded to perfection!” Don Luis stopped to draw breath. One would really have thought, from his familiar and confidential tone, that he was telling Vorski an amusing story, a good joke, which Vorski ought to be the first to laugh at.
“That's not all,” he continued. “Patrice Belval and some of my Moors — you may as well know that we have eighteen of them on board — have been working in the underground rooms. There's no getting away from the prophecy. The moment the wife has expired...
“'Fire and loud noise will issue from the earth.
In secrecy where the great treasure lies.'
“Of course, Brother Thomas never knew where the great treasure lay, nor did any one else. But the ancient Druid has guessed; and he wants Vorski to receive his signal and to drop ready-roasted into his mouth. For this he needs an outlet issuing near the Fairies' Dolmen. Captain Belval looks for one and finds it. They clear an old stairway. They clear the inside of the dead tree. They take from the submarine some dynamite cartridges and signal-rockets and place them in position. And, when you, Vorski, from your perch, start proclaiming like a herald, 'She's dead! The fourth woman has died upon the cross!' bang, bang, bang! Thunder, flame, uproar, the whole bag of tricks. That does it: you are more and more the darling of the gods, the pet of destiny; and you burn with the noble longing to fling yourself down the chimney and gobble up the God-Stone. Next day, therefore, after sleeping off your brandy and your rum, you start to work again, smiling. You killed your thirty victims, according to the rites prescribed by Brother Thomas. You have surmounted every obstacle. The prophecy is fulfilled.
“'And man again will on the stone set eyes
Once stolen from wild men in bye-gone days
O'er sea: the God-stone which gives life or death.'
“The ancient Druid has no choice but to give in and to hand you the key of Paradise. But first, of course, a little interlude, a few capers and wizard's tricks, just for a bit of fun. And then hey for the God-Stone guarded by the Sleeping Beauty!”
Don Luis nimbly cut a few of those capers of which he seemed so fond. Then he said to Vorski:
“Well, old chap, I have a vague impression that you've had enough of my speech and that you would prefer to reveal Francois' hiding-place to me at once, rather then stay here any longer. I'm awfully sorry, but you really must learn how the matter stands with the Sleeping Beauty and the unexpected presence of Veronique d'Hergemont. However, two minutes will be sufficient. Pardon me.”
Dropping the character of the ancient Druid and speaking in his own name, Don Luis continued:
“What you want to know is why I took Veronique d'Hergemont to that place after snatching her from your clutches. The answer is very simple. Where would you have me take her? To the submarine? An absurd suggestion! The sea was rough that night and Veronique needed rest. To the Priory? Never! That would have been too far from the scene of operations and I should have had no peace of mind. In reality there was only one place sheltered from the storm and sheltered from attack; and that was the hall of sacrifices. That was why I took her there and why she was sleeping there, quietly, under the influence of a strong narcotic, when you saw her. I confess that the pleasure of treating you to this spectacle counted for something in my decision. And how splendidly I was rewarded! Oh, if you could have seen the face you pulled! Such a ghastly sight! Veronique raised from the dead! Veronique brought back to life! So horrible was the vision that you ran away helter-skelter.
“But to cut a long story short: you find the exit blocked. Thereupon you change your mind. Conrad returns to the offensive. He attacks me by stealth while I am preparing to move Veronique d'Hergemont to the submarine. Conrad receives a mortal blow from one of the Moors. Second comic interlude. Conrad, dressed up in the ancient Druid's robe, is laid on the floor in one of the crypts; and of course your first thought is to leap on him and wreak your vengeance on him. And, when you see Elfride's body, which has taken the place of Veronique d'Hergemont in the sacred table, whoosh... you jump on that too and reduce the woman whom you have already crucified to a bleeding pulp! Blunder upon blunder! And the end of the whole story likewise strikes a comic note. You are strung up on the pillory while I deliver straight at you a speech which does for you and which proves that, if you have won the God-Stone by virtue of your thirty coffins, I am taking possession of it by my own intrinsic virtue. There's the whole adventure for you, my dear Vorski. Except for a few secondary incidents, or some others, of greater importance, which there is no need for you to know, you know as much as I do. You've been quite comfortable and have had lots of time to think. So I am confidently expecting your answer about Francois. Come, out with your little song:
“'It's a long, long way to Tipperary.
It's a long way to go....'
“Well? Are you feeling in a chatty mood?” Don Luis had climbed a few rungs. Stephane and Patrice had come near and were anxiously listening. It was evident that Vorski meant to speak.
He had opened his eyes and was staring at Don Luis with a look of mingled hatred and fear. This extraordinary man must have appeared to him as one of those persons against whom it is absolutely useless to fight and to whom it is equally useless to appeal for compassion. Don Luis represented the conqueror; and, in the presence of one stronger than yourself, there is nothing for it but to yield in all humility. Besides, Vorski was incapable of further resistance. The torture was becoming intolerable.
He spoke a few words in an unintelligible voice.
“A little louder, please,” said Don Luis. “1 can't hear. Where's Francois?”
He climbed the ladder. Vorski stammered:
“Shall I be free?”
“On my word of honour. We shall all leave this place, except Otto, who will release you.”
“Well, Francois is alive.”
“You mutton-head. I know that. But where is he?”
“Tied into the boat.”
“The one hanging at the foot of the cliff?”
Don Luis struck his forehead with his hand:
“Idiot! Idiot! Idiot!... Don't mind: I'm speaking of myself. Yes, I ought to have guessed that! Why, All's Well was sleeping under the boat, peacefully, like a good dog sleeping beside his master! Why, when we sent All's Well on Francois' trail, he led Stephane straight to the boat. It's true enough, there are times when the cleverest of us behave like simpletons! But you, Vorski, did you know that there was a way down there and a boat?”
“I knew it since yesterday.”
“And, you artful dog, you intended to skedaddle in her?”
“Well, Vorski, you shall skedaddle in her, with Otto. I'll leave her for you. Stephane!”
But Stephane Maroux was already running towards the cliff, escorted by All's Well.
“Release him, Stephane,” cried Don Luis.
And he added, addressing the Moors:
“Help him, you others. And get the submarine under way. We shall sail in ten minutes.”
He turned to Vorski:
“Good-bye, my dear chap.... Oh, just one more word! Every well-regulated adventure contains a love-story. Ours appears to be without one, for I should never dare to allude to the feelings that urged you towards the sainted woman who bore your name. And yet I must tell you of a very pure and noble affection. Did you notice the eagerness with which Stephane flew to Francois' assistance? Obviously he loves his young pupil, but he loves the mother still more. And, since everything that pleases Veronique d'Hergemont is bound to please you, I wish to admit that he is not indifferent to her, that his wonderful love has touched her heart, that it was with real joy that she saw him restored to her this morning and that this will all end in a wedding... as soon as she's a widow, of course. You follow me, don't you? The only obstacle to their happiness is yourself. Therefore, as you are a perfect little gentleman, you will not like to... But I need not go on. I rely on your good manners to die as soon as you can. Good-bye, old fellow, I won't offer you my hand, but my heart's with you. Otto, in ten minutes, unless you hear to the contrary, release your employer. You'll find the boat at the bottom of the cliff. Good luck, my friends!”
It was finished. The battle between Don Luis and Vorski was ended: and the issue had not been in doubt for a single instant. From the first minute, one of the two adversaries had so consistently dominated the other, that the latter, in spite of all his daring and his training as a criminal, had been nothing more than a grotesque, absurd, disjointed puppet in his opponent's hands. After succeeding in the entire execution of his plan, after attaining and surpassing his object, he, the master of events, in the moment of victory, found himself suddenly strung up on the tree of torture; and there he remained, gasping and captive like an insect pinned to a strip of cork.
Without troubling any further about his victims, Don Luis went off with Patrice Belval, who could not help saying to him:
“All the same, you're letting those vile scoundrels down very lightly!”
“Pooh, it won't be long before they get themselves nabbed elsewhere,” said Don Luis, chuckling. “What do you expect them to do?”
“Well, first of all, to take the God-Stone.”
“Out of the question! It would need twenty men to do that, with a scaffolding and machinery. I myself am giving up the idea for the present. I shall come back after the war.”
“But, look here, Don Luis, what is this miraculous atone?”
“Ah, now you're asking something!” said Don Luis, without making further reply.
They set out; and Don Luis, rubbing his hands, said:
“I worked the thing well. It's not much over twenty-four hours since we landed at Sarek. And the riddle had lasted twenty-four centuries. One century an hour. My congratulations, Lupin.”
“I should be glad to offer you mine, Don Luis,” said Patrice Belval, “but they are not worth as much as those of an expert like yourself.”
When they reached the sands of the little beach, Francois' boat had already been lowered and was empty. Farther away, on the right, the Crystal Stopper was floating on the calm sea. Francois came running up to them, stopped a few yards from Don Luis and looked at him with wide-open eyes:
“I say,” he murmured, “then it's you? It's you I was expecting?”
“Faith,” said Don Luis, laughing. “I don't know if you were expecting me... but I'm sure it's me!”
“You... you... Don Luis Perenna!.... That is to say...”
“Hush, no other names! Perenna's enough for me.... Besides, we won't talk about me, if you don't mind. I was just a chance, a gentleman who happened to drop in at the right moment. Whereas you... by Jove, youngster, but you've done jolly well!.... So you spent the night in the boat?”
“Yes, under the tarpaulin, lashed to the bottom and tightly gagged.”
“Not at all. I hadn't been there ten minutes when All's Well appeared. So...”
“But the man, the scoundrel: what had he threatened to do to you?”
“Nothing. After the duel, while the others were attending to my opponent, he brought me down here, pretending that he was going to take me to mother and put us both on board the boat. Then, when we got to the boat, he laid hold of me without a word.”
“Do you know the man? Do you know his name?”
“I know nothing about him. All I can say is that he was persecuting us, mother and me.”
“For reasons which I shall explain to you, Francois. In any case, you have nothing to fear from him now.”
“Oh, but you haven't killed him?”
“No, but I have put it out of his power to do any more harm. This will all be explained to you; but I think that, for the moment, the most urgent thing is that we should go to your mother.”
“Stephane told me that she was resting over there, in the submarine, and that you had saved her too. Does she expect me?”
“Yes; we had a talk last night, she and I, and I promised to find you. I felt that she trusted me. All the same, Stephane, you had better go ahead and prepare her.”
The Crystal Stopper lay at the end of a reef of rocks which formed a sort of natural jetty. Some ten or twelve Moors were running to and fro. Two had drawn apart and were whispering together.
Two of them were holding a gangway which Don Luis and Francois crossed a minute later.
In one of the cabins, arranged as a drawing-room, Veronique lay stretched on a couch. Her pale face bore the marks of the unspeakable suffering which she had undergone. She seemed very weak, very weary. But her eyes, full of tears, were bright with happiness.
Francois rushed into her arms. She burst into sobs, without speaking a word.
Opposite them, All's Well, seated on his haunches, beat the air with his fore-paws and looked at them, with his head a little on one side:
“Mother,” said Francois, “Don Luis is here.”
She took Don Luis' hand and pressed a long kiss upon it, while Francois murmured:
“You saved mother.... You saved us both....”
Don Luis interrupted him:
“Will you give me pleasure, Francois? Well, don't thank me. If you really want to thank somebody, there, thank your friend All's Well. He does not look as if he had played a very important part in the piece. And yet, compared with the scoundrel who persecuted you, he was the good genius, always discreet, intelligent, modest and silent.”
“So are you!”
“Oh, I am neither modest nor silent? and that's why I admire All's Well. Here, All's Well, come along with me and, for goodness' sake, stop sitting up! You might have to do it all night, for they will be shedding tears together for hours, the mother and son....”