The Dynamiter

Page 77

He was in a great, hot bustle, reviewing that house, once ours, to which he had but now succeeded; a corpulent, sanguine man of middle age, sensual, vulgar, humorous, and, if I judged rightly, not ill- disposed by nature. But the sparkle that came into his eye as he observed me enter, warned me to expect the worst.

'Is this your late mistress?' he inquired of the slaves; and when he had learnt it was so, instantly dismissed them. 'Now, my dear,' said he, 'I am a plain man: none of your damned Spaniards, but a true blue, hard-working, honest Englishman. My name is Caulder.'

'Thank you, sir,' said I, and curtsied very smartly as I had seen the servants.

'Come,' said he, 'this is better than I had expected; and if you choose to be dutiful in the station to which it has pleased God to call you, you will find me a very kind old fellow. I like your looks,' he added, calling me by my name, which he scandalously mispronounced. 'Is your hair all your own?' he then inquired with a certain sharpness, and coming up to me, as though I were a horse, he grossly satisfied his doubts. I was all one flame from head to foot, but I contained my righteous anger and submitted. 'That is very well,' he continued, chucking me good humouredly under the chin. 'You will have no cause to regret coming to old Caulder, eh? But that is by the way. What is more to the point is this: your late master was a most dishonest rogue, and levanted with some valuable property that belonged of rights to me. Now, considering your relation to him, I regard you as the likeliest person to know what has become of it; and I warn you, before you answer, that my whole future kindness will depend upon your honesty. I am an honest man myself, and expect the same in my servants.'

'Do you mean the jewels?' said I, sinking my voice into a whisper.

'That is just precisely what I do,' said he, and chuckled.

'Hush!' said I.

'Hush?' he repeated. 'And why hush? I am on my own place, I would have you to know, and surrounded by my own lawful servants.'

'Are the officers gone?' I asked; and oh! how my hopes hung upon the answer!

'They are,' said he, looking somewhat disconcerted. 'Why do you ask?'

'I wish you had kept them,' I answered, solemnly enough, although my heart at that same moment leaped with exultation. 'Master, I must not conceal from you the truth. The servants on this estate are in a dangerous condition, and mutiny has long been brewing.'

'Why,' he cried, 'I never saw a milder-looking lot of niggers in my life.' But for all that he turned somewhat pale.

'Did they tell you,' I continued, 'that Madam Mendizabal is on the island? that, since her coming, they obey none but her? that if, this morning, they have received you with even decent civility, it was only by her orders--issued with what after-thought I leave you to consider?'

'Madam Jezebel?' said he. 'Well, she is a dangerous devil; the police are after her, besides, for a whole series of murders; but after all, what then? To be sure, she has a great influence with you coloured folk. But what in fortune's name can be her errand here?'

'The jewels,' I replied. 'Ah, sir, had you seen that treasure, sapphire and emerald and opal, and the golden topaz, and rubies red as the sunset--of what incalculable worth, of what unequalled beauty to the eye!--had you seen it, as I have, and alas! as SHE has--you would understand and tremble at your danger.'

'She has seen them!' he cried, and I could see by his face, that my audacity was justified by its success.

I caught his hand in mine. 'My master,' said I, 'I am now yours; it is my duty, it should be my pleasure, to defend your interests and life. Hear my advice, then; and, I conjure you, be guided by my prudence. Follow me privily; let none see where we are going; I will lead you to the place where the treasure has been buried; that once disinterred, let us make straight for the boat, escape to the mainland, and not return to this dangerous isle without the countenance of soldiers.'

What free man in a free land would have credited so sudden a devotion? But this oppressor, through the very arts and sophistries he had abused, to quiet the rebellion of his conscience and to convince himself that slavery was natural, fell like a child into the trap I laid for him.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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