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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Adventures Of Captain Horn - Chapter 46. A Problem
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The Adventures Of Captain Horn - Chapter 46. A Problem Post by :simkl Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :661

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The Adventures Of Captain Horn - Chapter 46. A Problem


It was a little more than a week after Edna's adventure in the Gardens, and about ten o'clock in the morning, that something happened--something which proved that Mrs. Cliff was entirely right when she talked about the feeling in her bones. Edna received a letter from Captain Horn, which was dated at Marseilles.

As she stood with the letter in her hand, every nerve tingling, every vein throbbing, and every muscle as rigid as if it had been cast in metal, she could scarcely comprehend that it had really come--that she really held it. After all this waiting and hoping and trusting, here was news from Captain Horn--news by his own hand, now, here, this minute!

Presently she regained possession of herself, and, still standing, she tore open the letter. It was a long one of several sheets, and she read it twice. The first time, standing where she had received it, she skimmed over page after page, running her eye from top to bottom until she had reached the end and the signature, but her quick glance found not what she looked for. Then the hand holding the letter dropped by her side. After all this waiting and hoping and trusting, to receive such a letter! It might have been written by a good friend, a true and generous friend, but that was all. It was like the other letters he had written. Why should they not have been written to Mrs. Cliff?

Now she sat down to read it over again. She first looked at the envelope. Yes, it was really directed to "Mrs. Philip Horn." That was something, but it could not have been less. It had been brought by a messenger from Wraxton, Fuguet & Co., and had been delivered to Mrs. Cliff. That lady had told the messenger to take the letter to Edna's salon, and she was now lying in her own chamber, in a state of actual ague. Of course, she would not intrude upon Edna at such a moment as this. She would wait until she was called. Whether her shivers were those of ecstasy, apprehension, or that nervous tremulousness which would come to any one who beholds an uprising from the grave, she did not know, but she surely felt as if there were a ghost in the air.

The second reading of the letter was careful and exact. The captain had written a long account of what had happened after he had left Valparaiso. His former letter, he wrote, had told her what had happened before that time. He condensed everything as much as possible, but the letter was a very long one. It told wonderful things--things which ought to have interested any one. But to Edna it was as dry as a meal of stale crusts. It supported her in her fidelity and allegiance as such a meal would have supported a half-famished man, but that was all. Her soul could not live on such nutriment as this.

He had not begun the letter "My dear Wife," as he had done before. It was not necessary now that his letters should be used as proof that she was his widow! He had plunged instantly into the subject-matter, and had signed it after the most friendly fashion. He was not even coming to her! There was so much to do which must be done immediately, and could not be done without him. He had telegraphed to his bankers, and one of the firm and several clerks were already with him. There were great difficulties yet before him, in which he needed the aid of financial counsellors and those who had influence with the authorities. His vessel, the _Arato_, had no papers, and he believed no cargo of such value had ever entered a port of France as that contained in the little green-hulled schooner which he had sailed into the harbor of Marseilles. This cargo must be landed openly. It must be shipped to various financial centres, and what was to be done required so much prudence, knowledge, and discretion that without the aid of the house of Wraxton, Fuguet & Co., he believed his difficulties would have been greater than when he stood behind the wall of gold on the shore of the Patagonian island.

He did not even ask her to come to him. In a day or so, he wrote, it might be necessary for him to go to Berlin, and whether or not he would travel to London from the German capital, he could not say, and for this reason he could not invite any of them to come down to him.

"Any of us!" exclaimed Edna.

For more than an hour Mrs. Cliff lay in the state of palpitation which pervaded her whole organization, waiting for Edna to call her. And at last she could wait no longer, and rushed into the salon where Edna sat alone, the letter in her hand.

"What does he say?" she cried, "Is he well? Where is he? Did he get the gold?"

Edna looked at her for a moment without answering. "Yes," she said presently, "he is well. He is in Marseilles. The gold--" And for a moment she did not remember whether or not the captain had it.

"Oh, do say something!" almost screamed Mrs. Cliff. "What is it? Shall I read the letter? What does he say?"

This recalled Edna to herself. "No," said she, "I will read it to you." And she read it aloud, from beginning to end, carefully omitting those passages which Mrs. Cliff would have been sure to think should have been written in a manner in which they were not written.

"Well!" exclaimed Mrs. Cliff, who, in alternate horror, pity, and rapture, had listened, pale and open-mouthed, to the letter. "Captain Horn is consistent to the end! Whatever happens, he keeps away from us! But that will not be for long, and--oh, Edna!"--and, as she spoke, she sprang from her chair and threw her arms around the neck of her companion, "he's got the gold!" And, with this, the poor lady sank insensible upon the floor.

"The gold!" exclaimed Edna, before she even stooped toward her fainting friend. "Of what importance is that wretched gold!"

An hour afterwards Mrs. Cliff, having been restored to her usual condition, came again into Edna's room, still pale and in a state of excitement.

"Now, I suppose," she exclaimed, "we can speak out plainly, and tell everybody everything. And I believe that will be to me a greater delight than any amount of money could possibly be."

"Speak out!" cried Edna, "of course we cannot. We have no more right to speak out now than we ever had. Captain Horn insisted that we should not speak of these affairs until he came, and he has not yet come."

"No, indeed!" said Mrs. Cliff, "that seems to be the one thing he cannot do. He can do everything but come here. And are we to tell nobody that he has arrived in France?--not even that much?"

"I shall tell Ralph," replied Edna. "I shall write to him to come here as soon as possible, but that is all until the captain arrives, and we know everything that has been done, and is to be done. I don't wish any one, except you and me and Ralph, even to know that I have heard from him."

"Not Cheditafa? Not the professor? Nor any of your friends?"

"Of course not," said Edna, a little impatiently. "Don't you see how embarrassing, how impossible it would be for me to tell them anything, if I did not tell them everything? And what is there for me to tell them? When we have seen Captain Horn, we shall all know who we are, and what we are, and then we can speak out to the world, and I am sure I shall be glad enough to do it."

"For my part," said Mrs. Cliff, "I think we all know who we are now. I don't think anybody could tell us. And I think it would have been a great deal better--"

"No, it wouldn't!" exclaimed Edna. "Whatever you were going to say, I know it wouldn't have been better. We could have done nothing but what we have done. We had no right to speak of Captain Horn's affairs, and having accepted his conditions, with everything else that he has given us, we are bound to observe them until he removes them. So we shall not talk any more about that."

Poor Mrs. Cliff sighed. "So I must keep myself sealed and locked up, just the same as ever?"

"Yes," replied Edna, "the same as ever. But it cannot be for long. As soon as the captain has made his arrangements, we shall hear from him, and then everything will be told."

"Made his arrangements!" repeated Mrs. Cliff. "That's another thing I don't like. It seems to me that if everything were just as it ought to be, there wouldn't be so many arrangements to make, and he wouldn't have to be travelling to Berlin, and to London, and nobody knows where else. I wonder if people are giving him any trouble about it! We have had all sorts of troubles already, and now that the blessed end seems almost under our fingers, I hope we are not going to have more of it."

"Our troubles," said Edna, "are nothing. It is Captain Horn who should talk in that way. I don't think that, since the day we left San Francisco, anybody could have supposed that we were in any sort of trouble."

"I don't mean outside circumstances," said Mrs. Cliff. "But I suppose we have all got souls and consciences inside of us, and when they don't know what to do, of course we are bound to be troubled, especially as they don't know what to tell us, and we don't know whether or not to mind them when they do speak. But you needn't be afraid of me. I shall keep quiet--that is, as long as I can. I can't promise forever."

Edna wrote to Ralph, telling him of the captain's letter, and urging him to come to Paris as soon as possible. It was scarcely necessary to speak to him of secrecy, for the boy was wise beyond his years. She did speak of it, however, but very circumspectly. She knew that her brother would never admit that there was any reason for the soul-rending anxiety with which she waited the captain's return. But whatever happened, or whatever he might think about what should happen, she wanted Ralph with her. She felt herself more truly alone than she had ever been in her life.

During the two days which elapsed before Ralph reached Paris from Brussels, Edna had plenty of time to think, and she did not lose any of it. What Mrs. Cliff had said about people giving trouble, and about her conscience, and all that, had touched her deeply. What Captain Horn had said about the difficulties he had encountered on reaching Marseilles, and what he had said about the cargo of the _Arato being probably more valuable than any which had ever entered that port, seemed to put an entirely new face upon the relations between her and the owner of this vast wealth, if, indeed, he were able to establish that ownership. The more she thought of this point, the more contemptible appeared her own position--that is, the position she had assumed when she and the captain stood together for the last time on the shore of Peru. If that gold truly belonged to him, if he had really succeeded in his great enterprise, what right had she to insist that he should accept her as a condition of his safe arrival in a civilized land with this matchless prize, with no other right than was given her by that very indefinite contract which had been entered into, as she felt herself forced to believe, only for her benefit in case he should not reach a civilized land alive?

The disposition of this great wealth was evidently an anxiety and a burden, but in her heart she believed that the greatest of his anxieties was caused by his doubt in regard to the construction she might now place upon that vague, weird ceremony on the desert coast of Peru.

The existence of such a doubt was the only thing that could explain the tone of his letters. He was a man of firmness and decision, and when he had reached a conclusion, she knew he would state it frankly, without hesitation. But she also knew that he was a man of a kind and tender heart, and it was easy to understand how that disposition had influenced his action. By no word or phrase, except such as were necessary to legally protect her in the rights he wished to give her in case of his death, had he written anything to indicate that he or she were not both perfectly free to plan out the rest of their lives as best suited them.

In a certain way, his kindness was cruelty. It threw too much upon her. She believed that if she were to assume that a marriage ceremony performed by a black man from the wilds of Africa, was as binding, at least, as a solemn engagement, he would accept her construction and all its consequences. She also believed that if she declared that ceremony to be of no value whatever, now that the occasion had passed, he would agree with that conclusion. Everything depended upon her. It was too hard for her.

To exist in this state of uncertainty was impossible for a woman of Edna's organization. At any hour Captain Horn might appear. How should she receive him? What had she to say to him?

For the rest of that day and the whole of the night, her mind never left this question: "What am I to say to him?" She had replied to his letter by a telegram, and simply signed herself "Edna." It was easy enough to telegraph anywhere, and even to write, without assuming any particular position in regard to him. But when he came, she must know what to do and what to say. She longed for Ralph's coming, but she knew he could not help her. He would say but one thing--that which he had always said. In fact, he would be no better than Mrs. Cliff. But he was her own flesh and blood, and she longed for him.

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