Mathias Sandorf/Page 29
THE EXAMINATION OF TORONTHAL.
And now we must return to Antekirtta.
Toronthal and Carpena were in the doctor's power, and the pursuit of Sarcany would be resumed as soon as opportunity offered. The agents intrusted with the discovery of Mme. Bathory's retreat were still unresting in their endeavors—but with no result. Since his mother had disappeared with only old Borik to help her, Pierre's anxiety had been constant. What consolation could the doctor give to that twice-broken heart? When Pierre spoke of his mother how could he help thinking of Sava Toronthal, whose name was never mentioned between them?
Maria Ferrato occupied one of the prettiest houses in Artenak. It was close to the Stadthaus. There the doctor's gratitude had endeavored to insure her all the comforts of life. Her brother lived near her, when he was not at sea, occupied on some service of transport or surveillance. Not a day elapsed without her visiting the doctor, or his going to see her. His affection for the children of the fisherman of Rovigno increased as he knew them better.
“How happy we are!” said Maria very often. “If Pierre could only be so!”
“He can not be so,” Luigi would answer, “until he finds his mother! But I have not lost all hope of that. Maria, with the doctor's means, we ought to discover where Borik took Madame Bathory after they left Ragusa!”
“And I also have that hope, Luigi. But if he got back his mother would he be happy?”
“No, Maria, that would, be impossible until Sava Toronthal is his wife.”
“Luigi,” answered Maria, “is that which seems impossible to man impossible to God?”
When Pierre had told Luigi that they were brothers, he did not then know Maria Ferrato, he did not know what a sister, tender and devoted, he would find in her. And when he had become able to appreciate her, he had confided to her all his troubles. It soothed him à little to talk them over with her. When he could not say to the doctor what he had been forbidden to say to him, he could say to Maria. He found then a loving heart, open to all compassion, a heart that understood him, that consoled him, a soul that trusted in God and did not know despair.
In the casemates of Antekirtta there was now a prisoner who knew what had become of Sava, and if she were still in Sarcany's power. It was the man who had passed her off as his daughter—Silas Toronthal. But out of respect to his father's memory Pierre would never speak to him on the subject.
Ever since his capture Toronthal had been in such a state of mind, in such physical and mental prostration, that be could have told nothing even if it had been his interest to do so. But he would gain no advantage in revealing what he knew of Sava, for he did not know on the one hand that he was Dr. Antekirtt's prisoner, and on the other that Pierre Bathory was alive on this island of Antekirtta, of which the name even was unknown to him.
So that, as Maria Ferrato said, God alone could unravel the mystery!
No sketch of the state of the colony would be complete without mention of Point Pescade and Cape Matifou.
Although Sarcany had managed to escape, although his track was lost, the capture of Toronthal had been of such importance that Point Pescade was overwhelmed with thanks. And when the doctor was satisfied, the two friends were quite satisfied with themselves. They had had again taken up their quarters in their pretty cottage, and waited ready for any services that might be required, hoping that they would still be of use to the good cause.
Since their return to Antekirtta they had visited Maria and Luigi Ferrato, and then they had called on several of the notables of Artenak. Everywhere they were warmly welcomed, for everywhere they were esteemed. It was worth a journey to see Cape Matifou under such solemn circumstances, always very much embarrassed at his enormous figure taking up nearly all the room.
“But I am so small that that makes up for it!” said Point Pescade.
His constant good humor made him the delight of the colony. His intelligence and skill were at every one's disposal. And when everything had been settled to the general satisfaction, what entertainments would he not organize, what a programme of gayety and attractions would he not keep going in the town and its neighborhood! Yes! If necessary, Cape Matifou and Point Pescade would not hesitate to resume their old profession and astonish their Antekirttian audience with their wonders of acrobatism!
Till that happy day arrived Point Pescade and Cape Matifou improved their garden under the shade of the huge trees, and their cottage was hidden beneath its masses of bloom. The work at the little dock began to grow into shape. To see Cape Matifou lifting and carrying the huge masses of rock was convincing enough that the Provençal Hercules had lost none of his prodigious strength.
The doctor's correspondents had found no trace of Mme. Bathory, and they were equally unsuccessful with regard to Sarcany. They could find no trace of his movements since he left Monte Carlo.
Did Toronthal know what had become of him? It was at the least doubtful, considering the circumstances under which they had separated on the road to Nice. And, admitting that he knew, would he consent to say? Impatiently did the doctor wait until the banker was in a fit state to be questioned.
It was in a fort at the north-west angle of Artenak that Toronthal and Carpena had been secured in the most rigorous secrecy. They were known to each other, but by name only, for the banker had never been mixed up with Sarcany's Sicilian affairs. And so there was a formal order against their being allowed to suspect each other's presence in this fort. They occupied two casements far apart from each other, they came out for exercise at different hours in different courts. Sure of the fidelity of those who had charge of them—two of the militia sergeants of Antekirtta—the doctor could be certain that no communication could take place between them.
And there was no indiscretion to fear, for none of the questions from Toronthal and Carpena as to where they were had been replied to or would be replied to. And there was nothing to lead them to suppose that they had fallen into the hands of the mysterious Dr. Antekirtt, whom Toronthal had once or twice met at Ragusa.
But to find Sarcany, to carry him off like his accomplices, was now the doctor's object. And on the 16th of October, having learned that Toronthal was now strong enough to reply to any questions that might be put to him, he resolved to proceed with his examination.
To begin with, the subject was talked over by the doctor, Pierre and Luigi and Point Pescade, whose advice was not to be despised.
The doctor informed them of his intentions.
“But,” said Luigi, “to ask Toronthal if he knows anything about Sarcany is enough to make him suspect that we want to get hold of him.”
“Well,” replied the doctor, “what does it matter if Toronthal does know that now? he can not escape us.”
“One thing,” answered Luigi, “is that Toronthal might think it to be to his interest to say nothing that might damage Sarcany.”
“Because it might damage him.”
“May I make an observation?” asked Pescade, who was seated a little apart.
“Certainly, my friend!” said the doctor.
“Owing,” said Point Pescade, “to the peculiar circumstances under which these gentlemen parted I have reason to believe that they are not likely to care very much for each other. Mr. Toronthal must very cordially hate Mr. Sarcany for leading him to his ruin. If then Mr. Toronthal knows where Mr. Sarcany is to be found he will have no hesitation in telling you—at least I think not. If he says nothing it is because he has nothing to say.”
The reasoning was at least plausible. It was very likely that if the banker did know where Sarcany had gone to he would willingly reveal the secret, for his true interest was to break with him.
“We shall know to-day,” said the doctor. “And if Toronthal knows nothing, or will tell us nothing, I will see what next to do. But as he must be kept ignorant that he is in the power of Dr. Antekirtt, and that Pierre Bathory is alive, it must be Luigi's task to examine him.”
“I am at your orders, doctor,” said the mate.
Luigi then went to the fort and was admitted into the casemate which served as Toronthal's prison.
The banker was seated in a corner at a table. He had just left his bed. There could be no doubt that he was in much better health. It was not of his ruin that he was now thinking, nor of Sarcany. What was troubling him was why and where he was in prison, and who was the powerful individual who had carried him off.
When he saw Luigi Ferrato enter he rose; but at a sign he resumed his seat. The following dialogue then ensued:
“You are Silas Toronthal, formerly a banker at Trieste, and lately living at Ragusa?”
“I have no reply to that question. It is for those that keep me prisoner to know who I am.”
“They do know.”
“Who are they?”
“You will learn in due time.”
“And who are you?”
“A man who has been sent to interrogate you.”
“By those with whom you have accounts to settle.”
“Once more, who are they?”
“I shall not tell you.”
“In that case I shall not reply.”
“Be it so! You were at Monte Carlo with a man you have known for many years, and who has not left you since your departure from Ragusa. This man is a Tripolitan by birth, and his name is Sarcany. He escaped at the moment you were arrested on the road to Nice. Now, this is what I have been sent to ask you: Do you know where that man now is, and if you know, will you tell me?”
Toronthal took a long time to reply. If they want to know, he thought, where Sarcany is, it is obvious that they want to get hold of him, as they have got hold of me. Why? Is it for something we have both been concerned in during the years gone by, and particularly for our schemes in the Trieste conspiracy? But how can these things have been found out, and who is there interested in avenging Mathias Sandorf and his two friends, who died fifteen years ago? These were the banker's first thoughts. Then he went on to himself: It can not be any properly constituted authority that threatens me and my companion—and that is serious. And so, although he had no doubt that Sarcany had fled to Tetuan to Namir, where he was trying his third game, and forcing it as much as he could, he resolved to say nothing about it. If, later on, he could gain anything by speaking, he would speak. Now he would be as reserved as possible.
“Well?” asked Luigi, after giving him time to reflect.
“Sir,” answered Toronthal, “I could tell you that I know where Sarcany is, and that I will not say. But in reality I do not know.”
“This is your only reply?”
“My only reply and the truth.”
Then Luigi returned to inform the doctor of what had passed. As there was nothing inadmissible in the reply, they had to be content with it. And to discover Sarcany's retreat all that could be done was to press on the search, and spare neither pains nor money.
While waiting for some clew to Sarcany's whereabouts, the doctor was busy with questions seriously affecting the general safety of Antekirtta.
He had recently had secret information from the Cyrenaic provinces, and had been advised to keep a sharp lookout toward the Gulf of Sidra. The formidable association of the Senousists seemed to be collecting their forces on the Tripolitan frontier. A general movement was taking them gradually toward the Syrtic coast. An exchange of messages was going on between the different zaouiyas of Northern Africa. Arms from foreign parts had been delivered to and received by the brotherhood. And a concentration was evidently taking place in the vilayet of Ben Ghazi, and consequently close to Antekirtta.
In preparation for the danger which seemed imminent the doctor took all possible precautions. During the last three weeks of October, Pierre and Luigi were busy helping him, and the whole of the colonists placed their services at his disposal. Several times Point Pescade was secretly dispatched to the coast, and returned with the news that the danger was not imaginary. The pirates of Ben Ghazi had been re-enforced by quite a mobilization of the confederates in the province, and were preparing an expedition of which Antekirtta was the objective. Was it to take place soon? That could not yet be discovered. In any case the chiefs of the Senousists were still in the southern vilayets, and it was not likely that any enterprise would be undertaken without their being present to direct it. The result of this was that the “Electrics” were ordered to cruise in the Syrtic Sea, and reconnoiter the coasts of Cyrenaic and Tripoli, and that of Tunis up to Cape Bon.
The defenses of the island, as we know, were still incomplete. But if it was not possible to finish them in time, at least provisions and stores of all sorts abounded in the arsenal.
Antekirtta was about twenty miles from the Cyrenaic coast, and would have been quite isolated in the gulf, had it not been for an islet known under the name of Kencraf which measured about three hundred yards around, and emerged from the sea about a couple of miles to the south-west. The doctor's idea was that this islet would do for the prison if any of the colonists were sentenced to be imprisoned after conviction by the regular judicial authority of the island and which event had not yet happened And a few buildings had been erected for this purpose.
But Kencraf was not fortified, and in case a hostile flotilla came to attack Antekirtta its very position constituted a danger. In fact the islet would easily become a solid base of operation. With the facility of landing munitions and food, with the possibility of establishing a battery, it would afford an assailant an excellent center, and all the more because there was now no time to put it into a proper state of defense.
The position of this island and the advantages it would give to an enemy of Antekirtta made the doctor uneasy. Thinking matters over, he resolved to destroy it, but at the same time to make its destruction serve for the complete annihilation of the pirates who risked its capture. The project was immediately put in execution. Galleries were driven in the ground, and Kencraf became an immense mine united to Antekirtta by a submarine cable. All that was wanted was a current through the wire, and not a trace of the island would remain on the surface of the sea.
For this formidable effort of destruction the doctor had not used ordinary powder nor gun-cotton nor even dynamite. He knew the composition of a recently discovered explosive whose destructive power is so considerable that it may be said it is to dynamite what dynamite is to gunpowder. More manageable than nitro-glycerine and more portable, for it only requires two isolated liquids whose mixture does not take place until the moment of using them, it is refractory to congelation down to six below zero, while dynamite turns to jelly at ten below freezing, and is only liable to explode from a violent shock, such as that from a fulminating capsule. How is it obtained? Quite simply by the action of protoxide of nitrogen, pure and antydrous, in a liquid state on different carburets, mineral oils, vegetable oils or animal oils derived from fatty bodies. Of these, two liquids, which are harmless when apart and are soluble in each other, can be produced in the desired proportion as easily as a mixture of water and wine, without any danger in manipulation. Such is panclastile, a word meaning to smash everything, and it does smash everything.
This panclastile was buried in the islet in the form of several fougasses. By means of the cable from Antekirtta which led the spark into the charges of fulminate with which each fougasse was furnished, the explosion would take place instantaneously. As it might happen that the cable was cut and put out of action, by excess of precaution, a certain number of electric batteries were buried in the ground and joined by subterranean wires, so that they had only to be trod upon accidentally to bring the wires in contact, make the current and cause the explosion. If many assailants landed on Kencraf it would thus be difficult for them to avoid utter destruction.
These different works were well advanced by the early days of November, when something occurred to take the doctor away from the island for some days.
On the 3d of November, in the morning, the steamer engaged in the bringing of coals from Cardiff dropped anchor in the harbor of Antekirtta. During the voyage she had had to put in at Gibraltar. There at the post-office, waiting “to be called for,” the captain found a letter addressed to the doctor, a letter which the coast-offices had been sending after him from time to time without being able to find him.
The doctor took the letter, the envelope of which was crowded with postmarks—Malta, Catania, Ragusa, Ceuta, Otranto, Malaga, Gibraltar.
The superscription—in a large, shaky hand—was evidently that of somebody who was not accustomed, or perhaps had not the strength, to write many words. The envelope bore but the name—that of the doctor—with the following pathetic recommendation:
- “Dr. Antekirtt,
- “To the merciful care of God.”
The doctor tore open the envelope, opened the letter—a sheet of paper now yellow with age—and read as follows:
- “Doctor,—May God bring this letter to your hands! I am very old! I am going to die! She will be alone in the world! In the last days of a life that has been so sorrowful have pity on Madame Bathory! Come and help her! Come.
- “Your humble servant,
In a corner was the word “Carthage,” and below it “Regency of Tunis.”
The doctor was alone in the saloon in the Stadthaus when he received this letter. A cry of joy and of despair escaped him—of joy at having come on the track of Mme. Bathory—of despair, or rather of fear, for the marks on the envelope showed that the letter was nearly a month old.
Luigi was immediately summoned.
“Luigi,” said the doctor, “tell Captain Kostrik to get the ‘Ferrato’ under steam in two hours.”
“In two hours she will be ready for sea,” answered Luigi. “Is it for your service, doctor?”
“Is it to be a long voyage?”
“Three or four days only.”
“Are you going alone?”
“No! Find Pierre and tell him to be ready to go with me.”
“Pierre is away, but he will be back in an hour from the works at Kencraf.”
“I also want your sister to come with us. Let her prepare to do so at once.”
And Luigi immediately went out to execute the orders he had just received.
An hour afterward Pierre arrived at the Stadthaus.
“Read,” said the doctor.
And he showed him Borik's letter.