The Dynamiter

Page 74

'Your mother's illness,' he resumed, 'had engaged too great a portion of my time; my business in the city had lain too long at the mercy of ignorant underlings; my head, my taste, my unequalled knowledge of the more precious stones, that art by which I can distinguish, even on the darkest night, a sapphire from a ruby, and tell at a glance in what quarter of the earth a gem was disinterred--all these had been too long absent from the conduct of affairs. Teresa, I was insolvent.'

'What matters that?' I cried. 'What matters poverty, if we be left together with our love and sacred memories?'

'You do not comprehend,' he said gloomily. 'Slave, as you are, young--alas! scarce more than child!--accomplished, beautiful with the most touching beauty, innocent as an angel--all these qualities that should disarm the very wolves and crocodiles, are, in the eyes of those to whom I stand indebted, commodities to buy and sell. You are a chattel; a marketable thing; and worth--heavens, that I should say such words!--worth money. Do you begin to see? If I were to give you freedom, I should defraud my creditors; the manumission would be certainly annulled; you would be still a slave, and I a criminal.'

I caught his hand in mine, kissed it, and moaned in pity for myself, in sympathy for my father.

'How I have toiled,' he continued, 'how I have dared and striven to repair my losses, Heaven has beheld and will remember. Its blessing was denied to my endeavours, or, as I please myself by thinking, but delayed to descend upon my daughter's head. At length, all hope was at an end; I was ruined beyond retrieve; a heavy debt fell due upon the morrow, which I could not meet; I should be declared a bankrupt, and my goods, my lands, my jewels that I so much loved, my slaves whom I have spoiled and rendered happy, and oh! tenfold worse, you, my beloved daughter, would be sold and pass into the hands of ignorant and greedy traffickers. Too long, I saw, had I accepted and profited by this great crime of slavery; but was my daughter, my innocent unsullied daughter, was SHE to pay the price? I cried out--no!--I took Heaven to witness my temptation; I caught up this bag and fled. Close upon my track are the pursuers; perhaps to-night, perhaps to-morrow, they will land upon this isle, sacred to the memory of the dear soul that bore you, to consign your father to an ignominious prison, and yourself to slavery and dishonour. We have not many hours before us. Off the north coast of our isle, by strange good fortune, an English yacht has for some days been hovering. It belongs to Sir George Greville, whom I slightly know, to whom ere now I have rendered unusual services, and who will not refuse to help in our escape. Or if he did, if his gratitude were in default, I have the power to force him. For what does it mean, my child--what means this Englishman, who hangs for years upon the shores of Cuba, and returns from every trip with new and valuable gems?'

'He may have found a mine,' I hazarded.

'So he declares,' returned my father; 'but the strange gift I have received from nature, easily transpierced the fable. He brought me diamonds only, which I bought, at first, in innocence; at a second glance, I started; for of these stones, my child, some had first seen the day in Africa, some in Brazil; while others, from their peculiar water and rude workmanship, I divined to be the spoil of ancient temples. Thus put upon the scent, I made inquiries. Oh, he is cunning, but I was cunninger than he. He visited, I found, the shop of every jeweller in town; to one he came with rubies, to one with emeralds, to one with precious beryl; to all, with this same story of the mine. But in what mine, what rich epitome of the earth's surface, were there conjoined the rubies of Ispahan, the pearls of Coromandel, and the diamonds of Golconda? No, child, that man, for all his yacht and title, that man must fear and must obey me. To-night, then, as soon as it is dark, we must take our way through the swamp by the path which I shall presently show you; thence, across the highlands of the isle, a track is blazed, which shall conduct us to the haven on the north; and close by the yacht is riding.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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