The Secret of Sarek/Chapter XVIII
CHAPTER XVIII. THE GOD-STONE
THE Crystal Stopper was running on the surface of the water. Don Luis sat talking, with Stephane, Patrice and All's Well, who were gathered round him:
“What a swine that Vorski is!” he said. “I've seen that breed of monster before, but never one of his calibre.”
“Then, in that case...” Patrice Belval objected.
“In that case?” echoed Don Luis.
“I repeat what I've said already. You hold a monster in your hands and you let him go free! To say nothing of its being highly immoral, think of all the harm that he can do, that he inevitably will do! It's a heavy responsibility to take upon yourself, that of the crimes which he will still commit.”
“Do you think so too, Stephane?” asked Don Luis.
“I'm not quite sure what I think,” replied Stephane, “because, to save Francois, I was prepared to make any concession. But, all the same...
“All the same, you would rather have had another solution?”
“Frankly, yes. So long as that man is alive and free, Madame d'Hergemont and her son will have everything to fear from him.”
“But what other solution was there? I promised him his liberty in return for Francois' immediate safety. Ought I to have promised him only his life and handed him over to the police?”
“Perhaps,” said Captain Belval.
“Very well. But, in that case, the police would institute enquiries, and by discovering the fellow's real identity bring back to life the husband of Veronique d'Hergemont and the father of Francois. Is that what you want?”
“No, no!” cried Stephane, eagerly.
“No, indeed,” confessed Patrice Belval, a little uneasily. “No, that solution is no better; but what astonishes me is that you, Don Luis, did not hit upon the right one, the one which would have satisfied us all.”
“There was only one solution,” Don Luis Perenna said, plainly. “There was only one.”
“Which was that?”
There was a pause. Then Don Luis resumed:
“My friends, I did not form you into a court simply as a joke; and you must not think that your parts as judges are played because the trial seems to you to be over. It is still going on; and the court has not risen. That is why I want you to answer me honestly: do you consider that Vorski deserves to die?”
“Yes,” declared Patrice.
And Stephane approved:
“Yes, beyond a doubt.”
“My friends,” Don Luis continued, “your verdict is not sufficiently solemn. I beseech you to utter it formally and conscientiously, as though you were in the presence of the culprit. I ask you once more: what penalty did Vorski deserve?”
They raised their hands and, one after the other answered:
Don Luis whistled. One of the Moors ran up.
“Two pairs of binoculars, Hadji.”
The man brought the glasses and Don Luis handed them to Stephane and Patrice:
“We are only a mile from Sarek,” he said. “Look towards the point: the boat should have started.
“Yes,” said Patrice, presently.
“Do you see her, Stephane?”
“There's only one passenger.”
“Yes,” said Patrice, “only one passenger.”
They put down their binoculars and one of them said:
“Only one has got away: Vorski evidently. He must have killed Otto, his accomplice.”
“Unless Otto, his accomplice, has killed him,” chuckled Don Luis.
“What makes you say that?”
“Why, remember the prophecy made to Vorski in his youth: 'Your wife will die on the cross and you will be killed by a friend.'”
“I doubt if a prediction is enough.”
“I have other proofs, though.”
“They, my friends, form part of the last problem we shall have to elucidate together. For instance, what is your idea of the manner in which I substituted Elfride Vorski for Madame d'Hergemont?”
Stephane shook his head:
“I confess that I never understood.”
“And yet it's so simple! When a gentleman in a drawing-room, in a white tie and a tail-coat, performs conjuring-tricks or guesses your thoughts, you say to yourself, don't you, that there must be some artifice beneath it all, the assistance of a confederate? Well, you need seek no farther where I'm concerned.”
“What, you had a confederate?”
“But who was he?”
“Otto? But you never left us! You never spoke to him, surely?”
“How could I have succeeded without his help? In reality, I had two confederates in this business, Elfride and Otto, both of whom betrayed Vorski, either out of revenge or out of greed. While you, Stephane, were luring Vorski past the Fairies' Dolmen, I accosted Otto. We soon struck a bargain, at the cost of a few bank-notes and in return for a promise that he would come out of the adventure safe and sound. Moreover I informed him that Vorski had pouched the sisters Archignat's fifty thousand francs.”
“How did you know that?” asked Stephane.
“Through my confederate number one, through Elfride, whom I continued to question in a whisper while you were looking out for Vorski's coming and who also, in a few brief words, told me what she knew of Vorski's past.”
“When all is said, you only saw Otto that once.”
“Two hours later, after Elfride's death and after the fireworks in the hollow oak, we had a second interview, under the Fairies' Dolmen. Vorski was asleep, stupefied with drink, and Otto was mounting guard. You can imagine that I seized the opportunity to obtain particulars of the business and to complete my information about Vorski with the details which Otto for two years had been secretly collecting about a chief whom he detested. Then he unloaded Vorski's and Conrad's revolvers, Or rather he removed the bullets, while leaving the cartridges. Then he handed me Vorski's watch and note-book, as well as an empty locket and a photograph of Vorski's mother which Otto had stolen from him some months before, things which helped me next day to play the wizard with the aforesaid Vorski in the crypt where he found me. That is how Otto and I collaborated.”
“Very well,” said Patrice, “but still you didn't ask him to kill Vorski?”
“In that case, how are we to know that...”
“Do you think that Vorski did not end by discovering our collaboration, which is one of the obvious causes of his defeat? And do you imagine that Master Otto did not foresee this contingency? You may be sure that there was no doubt of this: Vorski, once unfastened from his tree, would have made away with his accomplice, both from motives of revenge and in order to recover the sisters Archignat's fifty thousand francs. Otto got the start of him. Vorski was there, helpless, lifeless, an easy prey. He struck him a blow. I will go farther and say that Otto, who is a coward, did not even strike him a blow. He will simply have left Vorski on his tree. And so the punishment is complete. Are you appeased now, my friends? Is your craving for justice satisfied?”
Patrice and Stephane were silent, impressed by the terrible vision which Don Luis was conjuring up before their eyes.
“There,” he said, laughing, “I was right not to make you pronounce sentence over there, when we were standing at the foot of the oak, with the live man in front of us! I can see that my two judges might have flinched a little at that moment. And so would my third judge, eh, All's Well, you sensitive, tearful fellow? And I am like you, my friends. We are not people who condemn and execute. But, all the same, think of what Vorski was, think of his thirty murders and his refinements of cruelty and congratulate me on having, in the last resort, chosen blind destiny as his judge and the loathsome Otto as his responsible executioner. The will of the gods be done!”
The Sarek coast was making a thinner line on the horizon. It disappeared in the mist in which sea and sky were merged.
The three men were silent. All three were thinking of the isle of the dead, laid waste by one man's madness, the isle of the dead where soon some visitor would find the inexplicable traces of the tragedy, the entrances to the tunnels, the cells with their “death-chambers,” the hall of the God-Stone, the mortuary crypts, Elfride's body, Conrad's body, the skeletons of the sisters Archignat and, right at the end of the island, near the Fairies' Dolmen, where the prophecy of the thirty coffins and the four erodes was written for all to read, Vorski's great body, lonely and pitiable, mangled by the ravens and owls.
A villa near Arcachon, in the pretty village of Les Moulleaux, whose pine-trees run down to the shores of the gulf.
Veronique is sitting in the garden. A week's rest and happiness have restored the colour to her comely face and assuaged all evil memories. She is looking with a smile at her son, who, standing a little way off, is listening to and questioning Don Luis Perenna. She also looks at Stephane; and their eyes meet gently.
It is easy to see that the affection in which they both hold the boy is a link which unites them closely and which is strengthened by their secret thoughts and their unuttered feelings. Not once has Stephane recalled the avowals which he made in the cell, under the Black Heath; but Veronique has not forgotten them; and the profound gratitude which she feels for the man who brought up her son is mingled with a special emotion and an agitation of which she unconsciously savours the charm.
That day, Don Luis, who, on the evening when the Crystal Stopper brought them all to the Villa des Moulleaux, had taken the train for Paris, arrived unexpectedly at lunch-time, accompanied by Patrice Belval; and during the hour that they have been sitting in their rocking-chairs in the garden, the boy, his face all pink with excitement, has never ceased to question his rescuer:
“And what did you do next?... But how did you know?... And what put you on the track of that?”
“My darling,” says Veronique, “aren't you afraid of boring Don Luis?”
“No, madame,” replies Don Luis, rising, going up to Veronique and speaking in such a way that the boy cannot hear, “no, Francois is not boring me; and in fact I like answering his questions. But I confess that he perplexes me a little and that I am afraid of saying something awkward. Tell me, how much exactly does he know of the whole story?”
“As much as I know myself, except Vorski's name, of course.”
“But does he know the part which Vorski played?”
“Yes, but with certain differences. He thinks that Vorski is an escaped prisoner who picked up the legend of Sarek and, in order to get hold of the God-Stone, proceeded to carry out the prophecy touching it. I have kept some of the lines of the prophecy from Francois.”
“And the part played by Elfride? Her hatred for you? The threats she made you?”
“Madwoman's talk, I told Francois, of which I myself did not understand the meaning.”
Don Luis smiled:
“The explanation is a little arbitrary; and I have a notion that Francois quite well understands that certain parts of the tragedy remain and must remain obscure to him. The great thing, don't you think, is that he should not know that Vorski was his father?”
“He does not know and he never will.”
“And then — and this is what I was coming to — what name will he bear himself?”
“What do you mean?”
“Whose son will he believe himself to be? For you know as well as I do that the legal reality is this, that Francois Vorski died fifteen years ago, drowned in a shipwreck, and his grandfather with him. And Vorski died last year, stabbed by a fellow-prisoner. Neither of them is alive in the eyes of the law. So...”
Veronique nodded her head and smiled:
“So I don't know. The position seems to me, as you say, incapable of explanation. But everything will come out all right.”
“Because you're here to do it.”
It was his turn to smile:
“I can no longer take credit for the actions which I perform or the steps which I take. Everything is arranging itself a priori. Then why worry?”
“Am I not right to?”
“Yes,” he said, gravely. “The woman who has suffered all that you have must not be subjected to the least additional annoyance. And nothing shall happen to her after this, I swear. So what I suggest to you is this: long ago, you married against your father's wish a very distant cousin, who died after leaving you a son, Francois. This son your father, to be revenged upon you, kidnapped and brought to Sarek. At your father's death, the name of d'Hergemont became extinct and there is nothing to recall the events of your marriage.”
“But my name remains. Legally, in the official records, I am Veronique d'Hergemont.”
“Your maiden name disappears under your married name.”
“You mean under that of Vorski.”
“No, because you did not marry that fellow Vorski, but one of your cousins called...”
“Jean Maroux. Here is a stamped certificate of your marriage to Jean Maroux, a marriage mentioned in your official records, as this other document shows.”
Veronique looked at Don Luis in amazement:
“But why? Why that name?”
“Why? So that your son may be neither d'Hergemont, which would have recalled past events, nor Vorski, which would have recalled the name of a traitor. Here is his birth-certificate, as Francois Maroux.”
She repeated, all blushing and confused:
“But why did you choose just that name?”
“It seemed easy for Francois. It's the name of Stephane, with whom Francois will go on living for some time. We can say that Stephane was a relation of your husband's; and this will explain the intimacy generally. That is my plan. It presents, believe me, no possible danger. When one is confronted by an inexplicable and painful position like yours, one must needs employ special means and resort to drastic and, I admit, very illegal measures. I did so without scruple, because I have the good fortune to dispose of resources which are not within everybody's reach. Do you approve of what I have done?”
Veronique bent her head:
“Yes,” she said, “yes.”
He half-rose from his seat:
“Besides,” he added, “if there should be any drawbacks, the future will no doubt take upon itself the burden of removing them. It would be enough, for instance — there is no indiscretion, is there, in alluding to the feelings which Stephane entertains for Francois' mother? — it would be enough if, one day or another, for reasons of common-sense, or reasons of gratitude, Francois' mother were moved to accept the homage of those feelings. How much simpler everything will be if Francois already bears the name of Maroux! How much more easily the past will be abolished, both for the outside world and for Francois, who will no longer be able to pry into the secret of bygone events which there will be nothing to recall to memory. It seemed to me that these were rather weighty arguments. I am glad to see that you share my opinion.”
Don Luis bowed to Veronique and, without insisting any further, without appearing to notice her confusion, turned to Francois and explained:
“I'm at your orders now, young man. And, since you don't want to leave anything unexplained, let's go back to the God-Stone and the scoundrel who coveted its possession. Yes, the scoundrel,” repeated Don Luis, seeing no reason not to speak of Vorski with absolute frankness, “and the most terrible scoundrel that I have ever met with, because he believed in his mission; in short, a sick-brained man, a lunatic...”
“Well, first of all,” Francois observed, “what I don't understand is that you waited all night to capture him, when he and his accomplices were sleeping under the Fairies' Dolmen.”
“Well done, youngster,” said Don Luis, laughing, “you have put your finger on a weak point! If I had acted as you suggest, the tragedy would have been finished twelve or fifteen hours earlier. But think, would you have been released? Would the scoundrel have spoken and revealed your hiding-place? I don't think so. To loosen his tongue I had to keep him simmering. I had to make him dizzy, to drive him mad with apprehension and anguish and to convince him by means of a mass of proofs, that he was irretrievably defeated. Otherwise he would have held his tongue and we might perhaps not have found you.... Besides, at that time, my plan was not very clear, I did not quite know how to wind up; and it was not until much later that I thought not of submitting him to violent torture — I am incapable of that — but of tying him to that tree on which he wanted to let your mother die. So that, in my perplexity and hesitation, I simply yielded, in the end, to the wish — the rather puerile wish, I blush to confess — to carry out the prophecy to the end, to see how the missionary would behave in the presence of the ancient Druid, in short to amuse myself. After all, the adventure was so dark and gloomy that a little fun seemed to me essential. And I laughed like blazes. That was wrong. I admit it and I apologize.”
The boy was laughing too. Don Luis, who was holding him between his knees, kissed him and asked:
“Do you forgive me?”
“Yes, on condition that you answer two more questions. The first is not important.”
“It's about the ring. Where did you get that ring which you put first on mother's finger and afterwards on Elfride's?”
“I made it that same night, in a few minutes, out of an old wedding-ring and some coloured stones.”
“But the scoundrel recognized it as having belonged to his mother.”
“He thought he recognized it; and he thought it because the ring was like the other.”
“But how did you know that? And how did you learn the story?”
“You don't mean that?”
“Certainly I do! From words that escaped him while he was sleeping under the Fairies' Dolmen. A drunkard's nightmare. Bit by bit he told the whole story of his mother. Elfride knew a good part of it besides. You see how simple it is and how my luck stood by me!”
“But the riddle of the God-Stone is not simple,” Francois cried, “and you deciphered it! People have been trying for centuries and you took a few hours!”
“No, a few minutes, Francois. It was enough for me to read the letter which your grandfather wrote about it to Captain Belval. I sent your grandfather by post all the explanations as to the position and the marvellous nature of the God-Stone.”
“Well,” cried the boy, “it's those explanations that I'm asking of you, Don Luis. This is my last question, I promise you. What made people believe in the power of the God-Stone? And what did that so-called power consist of exactly?”
Stephane and Patrice drew up their chairs. Veronique sat up and listened. They all understood that Don Luis had waited until they were together before rending the veil of the mystery before their eyes.
He began to laugh:
“You mustn't hope for anything sensational,” he said. “A mystery is worth just as much as the darkness in which it is shrouded; and, as we have begun by dispelling the darkness, nothing remains but the fact itself in its naked reality. Nevertheless the facts in this case are strange and the reality is not denuded of a certain grandeur.”
“It must needs be so,” said Patrice Belval, “seeing that the reality left so miraculous a legend in the isle of Sarek and even all over Brittany.”
“Yes,” said Don Luis, “and a legend so persistent that it influences us to this day and that not one of you has escaped the obsession of the miraculous.”
“What do you mean?” protested Patrice. “I don't believe in miracles.”
“No more do I,” said the boy.
“Yes, you do, you believe in them, you accept miracles as possible. If not, you would long ago have seen the whole truth.”
Don Luis picked a magnificent rose from a tree by his side and asked Francois:
“Is it possible for me to transform this rose, whose proportions, as it is, are larger than those a rose often attains, into a flower double the size and this rose-tree into a shrub twice as tall?”
“Certainly not,” said Francois.
“Then why did you a admit, why did you all admit that Maguennoc could achieve that result, merely by digging up earth in certain parts of the island, at certain fixed hours? That was a miracle; and you accepted it without hesitation, unconsciously.”
“We accept what we saw with our eyes.”
“But you accepted it as a miracle, that is to say, as a phenomenon which Maguennoc produced by special and, truth to tell, by supernatural means. Whereas I, when I read this detail in M. d'Hergemont's letter, at once — what shall I say? — caught on. I at once established the connection between those monstrous blossoms and the name borne by the Calvary of the flowers. And my conviction was immediate: 'No, Maguennoc is not a wizard. He simply cleared a piece of uncultivated land around the Calvary; and all he had to do, to produce abnormal flowers, was to bring along a layer of mould. So the God-Stone is underneath; the God-Stone which, in the middle-ages, produced the same abnormal flowers; the God-Stone, which, in the days of the Druids, healed the sick and strengthened children.'”
“Therefore,” said Patrice, “there is a miracle.”
“There is a miracle if we accept the supernatural explanation. There is a natural phenomenon if we look for it and if we find the physical cause capable of giving rise to the apparent miracle.”
“But those physical causes don't exist! They are not present.”
“They exist, because you have seen monstrous flowers.”
“Then there is a stone,” asked Patrice, almost chaffingly, “which can naturally give health and strength? And that stone is the God-Stone?”
“There is not a particular, individual stone. But there are stones, blocks of stone, rocks, hills and mountains of rock, which contain mineral veins formed of various metals, oxides of uranium, silver, lead, copper, nickel, cobalt and so on. And among these metals are some which emit a special radiation, endowed with peculiar properties known as radioactivity. These veins are veins of pitchblende which are found hardly anywhere in Europe except in the north of Bohemia and which are worked near the little town of Joachimsthal. And those radioactive bodies are uranium, thorium, helium and chiefly, in the case which we are considering...”
“Radium,” Francois interrupted.
“You've said it, my boy: radium. Phenomena of radioactivity occur more or less everywhere; and we may say that they are manifested throughout nature, as in the healing action of thermal springs. But plainly radioactive bodies like radium possess more definite properties. For instance, there is no doubt that the rays and the emanation of radium exercise a power over the life of plants, a power similar to that caused by the passage of an electric current. In both cases, the stimulation of the nutritive centres makes the elements required by the plant more easy to assimilate and promotes its growth. In the same way, there is no doubt that the radium rays are capable of exercising a physiological action on living tissues, by producing more or less profound modifications, destroying certain cells and contributing to develop other cells and even to control their evolution. Radiotherapy claims to have healed or improved numerous cases of rheumatism of the joints, nervous troubles, ulceration, eczema, tumours and adhesive cicatrices. In short radium is a really effective therapeutic agent.”
“So,” said Stephane, “you regard the God-Stone...”
“I regard the God-Stone as a block of radiferous pitchblende originating from the Joachimsthal lodes. I have long known the Bohemian legend which speaks of a miraculous stone that was once removed from the side of a hill; and, when I was travelling in Bohemia, I saw the hole left by the stone. It corresponds pretty accurately with the dimensions of the God-Stone.”
“But,” Stephane objected, “radium is contained in rocks only in the form of infinitesimal particles. Remember that, after a mass of fourteen hundred tons of rock have been duly mined and washed and treated, there remains at the end of it all only a filtrate of some fifteen grains of radium. And you attribute a miraculous power to the God-Stone, which weighs two tons at most!”
“But it evidently contains radium in appreciable quantities. Nature has not pledged herself to be always niggardly and invariably to dilute the radium. She was pleased to accumulate in the God-Stone a generous supply which enabled it to produce the apparently extraordinary phenomena which we know of... not forgetting that we have to allow for popular exaggeration.”
Stephane seemed to be yielding to conviction. Nevertheless he said:
“One last point. Apart from the God-Stone, there was the little chip of stone which Maguennoc found in the leaden sceptre, the prolonged touch of which burnt his hand. According to you, this was a particle of radium?”
“Undoubtedly. And it is this perhaps that most clearly reveals the presence and the power of radium in all this adventure. When Henri Becquerel, the great physicist, kept a tube containing a salt of radium in his waistcoat-pocket, his skin became covered in a few days with suppurating ulcers. Curie repeated the experiment, with the same result. Maguennoc's case was more serious, because he held the particle of radium in his hand. A wound formed which had a cancerous appearance. Scared by all that he knew and all that he himself had said about the miraculous stone which burns like hell-fire and 'gives life or death,' he chopped off his hand.
“Very well,” said Stephane, “but where did that particle of pure radium come from? It can't have been a chip of the God-Stone, because, once again, however rich a mineral may be, radium is incorporated in it, not in isolated grains, but in a soluble form, which has to be dissolved and afterwards collected, by a series of mechanical operations, into a solution rich enough to enable successive crystallizations and concentrations to isolate the active product which the solution contains. All this and a number of other later operations demand an enormous plant, with workshops, laboratories, expert chemists, in short, a very different state of civilization, you must admit, from the state of barbarism in which our ancestors the Celts were immersed.”
Don Luis smiled and tapped the young man on the shoulder:
“Hear, hear, Stephane! I am glad to see that Francois' friend and tutor has a far-seeing and logical mind. The objection is perfectly valid and suggested itself to me at once. I might reply by putting forward some quite legitimate theory, I might presume a natural means of isolating radium and imagine that, in a geological fault occurring in the granite, at the bottom of a big pocket containing radiferous ore, a fissure has opened through which the waters of the river slowly trickle, carrying with them infinitesimal quantities of radium; that the waters so charged flow for a long time in a narrow channel, combine again, become concentrated and, after centuries upon centuries, filter through in little drops, which evaporate at once, and form at the point of emergence a tiny stalactite, exceedingly rich in radium, the tip of which is broken off one day by some Gallic warrior. But is there any need to seek so far and to have recourse to hypotheses? Cannot we rely on the unaided genius and the inexhaustible resources of nature? Does it call for a more wonderful effort on her part to evolve by her own methods a particle of pure radium than to make a cherry ripen or to make this rose bloom... or to give life to our delightful All's Well? What do you say, young Francois? Do we agree?”
“We always agree,” replied the boy.
“So you don't unduly regret the miracle of the God-Stone?”
“Why, the miracle still exists!”
“You're right, Francois, it still exists and a hundred times more beautiful and dazzling than before. Science does not kill miracles: it purifies them and ennobles them. What was that crafty, capricious, wicked, incomprehensible little power attached to the tip of a magic wand and acting at random, according to the ignorant fancy of a barbarian chief or Druid, what was it, I ask you, beside the beneficent, logical, reliable and quite as miraculous power which we behold to-day in a pinch of radium?”
Don Luis suddenly interrupted himself and began to laugh:
“Come, come, I'm allowing myself to be carried away and singing an ode to science! Forgive me, madame,” he added, rising and going up to Veronique, “and tell me that I have not bored you too much with my explanations. I haven't, have I? Not too much? Besides, it's finished... or nearly finished. There is only one more point to make clear, one decision to take.”
He sat down beside her:
“It's this. Now that we have won the God-Stone, in other words, an actual treasure, what are we going to do with it?”
Veronique spoke with a heartfelt impulse:
“Oh, as to that, don't let us speak of it! I don't want anything that may come from Sarek, or anything that's found in the Priory. We will work.”
“Still, the Priory belongs to you.”
“No, no, Veronique d'Hergemont no longer exists and the Priory no longer belongs to any one. Let it all be put up to auction. I don't want anything of that accursed past.”
“And how will you live?”
“As I used to by my work. I am sure that Francois approves, don't you, darling?”
And, with, an instinctive movement, turning to Stephane, as though he had a certain right to give his opinion, she added:
“You too approve, don't you, dear Stephane?”
“Entirely,” he said.
She at once went on:
“Besides, though I don't doubt my father's feelings of affection, I have no proof of his wishes towards me.”
“I have the proofs,” said Don Luis.
“Patrice and I went back to Sarek. In a writing-desk in Maguennoc's room, in a secret drawer, we found a sealed, but unaddressed envelope, and opened it. It contained a bond worth ten thousand francs a year and a sheet of paper which read as follows:
“After my death, Maguennoc will hand this bond to Stephane Maroux, to whom I confide the charge of my grandson, Francois. When Francois is eighteen years of age, the bond will be his to do what he likes with. I hope and trust, however, that he will seek his mother and find her and that she will pray for my soul. I bless them both.'
“Here is the bond,” said Don Luis, “and here is the letter. It is dated April of this year.”
Veronique was astounded. She looked at Don Luis and the thought occurred to her that all this was perhaps merely a story invented by that strange man to place her and her son beyond the reach of want. It was a passing thought. When all was considered, it was a natural consequence. Everything said, M. d'Hergemont's action was very reasonable; and, foreseeing the difficulties that would crop up after his death, it was only right that he should think of his grandson. She murmured:
“I have not the right to refuse.”
“You have so much the less right,” said Don Luis, “in that the transaction excludes you altogether. Your father's wishes affect Francois and Stephane directly. So we are agreed. There remains the God-Stone; and I repeat my question. What are we to do with it? To whom does it belong?”
“To you,” said Veronique, definitely.
“Yes, to you. You discovered it and you have given it a real signification.”
“I must remind you,” said Don Luis, “that this block of stone possesses, beyond a doubt, an incalculable value. However great the miracles wrought by nature may be, it is only through a wonderful concourse of circumstances that she was able to perform the miracle of collecting so much precious matter in so small a volume. There are treasures and treasures there.”
“So much the better,” said Veronique, “you will be able to make a better use of them than any one else.”
Don Luis thought for a moment and added:
“You are quite right; and I confess that I prepared for this climax. First, because my right to the God-Stone seemed to me to be proved by adequate titles of ownership; and, next, because I have need of that block of stone. Yes, upon my word, the tombstone of the Kings of Bohemia has not exhausted its magic power; there are plenty of nations left on whom that power might produce as great an effect as on our ancestors the Gauls; and, as it happens, I am tackling a formidable undertaking in which an assistance of this kind will be invaluable to me. In a few years, when my task is completed, I will bring the God-Stone back to France and present it to a national laboratory which I intend to found. In this way science will purge any evil that the God-Stone may have done and the horrible adventure of Sarek will be atoned for. Do you approve, madame?”
She gave him her hand:
“With all my heart.”
There was a fairly long pause. Then Don Luis said:
“Ah, yes, a horrible adventure, too terrible for words. I have had some gruesome adventures in my life which have left painful memories behind them. But this outdoes them all. It exceeds anything that is possible in reality or human in suffering. It was so excessively logical as to become illogical; and this because it was the act of a madman... and also because it came to pass at a season of madness and bewilderment. It was the war which facilitated the safe silent committal of an obscure crime prepared and executed by a monster. In times of peace, monsters have not the time to realize their stupid dreams. Today, in that solitary island, this particular monster found special, abnormal conditions...”
“Please don't let us talk about all this,” murmured Veronique, in a trembling voice.
Don Luis kissed her hand and then took All's Well and lifted him in his arms:
“You're right. Don't let's talk about it, or else tears would come and All's Well would be sad. Therefore, All's Well, my delightful All's Well, let us talk no more of the dreadful adventure. But all the same let us recall certain episodes which were beautiful and picturesque. For instance, Maguennoc's garden with the gigantic flowers; you will remember it as I shall, won't you, All's Well? And the legend of the God-Stone, the idyll of the Celtic tribes wandering with the memorial stone of their kings, the stone all vibrant with radium, emitting an incessant bombardment of vivifying and miraculous atoms; all that, All's Well, possesses a certain charm, doesn't it? Only, my most exquisite All's Well, if I were a novelist and if it were my duty to tell the story of Coffin Island, I should not trouble too much about the horrid truth and I should give you a much more important part. I should do away with the intervention of that phrase-mongering humbug of a Don Luis and you would be the fearless and silent rescuer. You would fight the abominable monster, you would thwart his machinations and, in the end, you, with your marvellous instinct, would punish vice and make virtue triumph. And it would be much better so, because none would be more capable than you, my delightful All's Well, of demonstrating by a thousand proofs, each more convincing than the other, that in this life of ours all things come right and all's well.”