Chapter XIX. Nearer the Truth

For a few moments there was silence. Lucy and Archie sat still, as they were too much surprised by Don Pedro's recognition of Captain Hervey as the Swedish sailor Vasa to move or speak. But the Professor did not seem to be greatly astonished, and the sole sound which broke the stillness was his sardonic chuckle. Perhaps the little man had progressed beyond the point of being surprised at anything, or, like, Moliere's hero, was only surprised at finding virtue in unexpected places.

As for the Peruvian and the skipper, they were both on their feet, eyeing one another like two fighting dogs. Hervey was the first to find his very useful tongue.

"I guess you've got the bulge on me," said he, trying to outstare the Peruvian, for which nationality, from long voyaging on the South American coast, he entertained the most profound contempt.

But in De Gayangos he found a foeman worthy of his steel.

"I think not," said Don Pedro quietly, and facing the pseudo-American bravely. "I never forget faces, and yours is a noticeable one. When you first spoke I fancied that I remembered your voice. All that business with the chair was to get close to you, so that I could see the scar on your right temple. It is still there, I notice. Also, I dropped my cigarette case and forced you to pick it up, so that, when you stretched your arm, I might see what mark was on your left wrist. It is a serpent encircling the sun, which Lola Farjados induced you to have tattooed when you were in Lima thirty years ago. Your eyes are blue and full of light, and as you were twenty when I knew you, the lapse of years has made you fifty - your present age."

"Shucks!" said Hervey coolly, and sat down to smoke.

Don Pedro turned to Archie and Braddock.

"Mr. Hope! Professor!" he remarked, "if you remember the description I gave of Gustav Vasa, I appeal to you to see if it does not exactly fit this man?"

"It does," said Archie unhesitatingly, "although I cannot see the tattooed left wrist to which you refer."

Hervey, still smoking, made no offer to show the symbol, but Braddock unexpectedly came to the assistance of Don Pedro.

"The man is Vasa right enough," he remarked abruptly. "Whether he is Swedish or American I cannot say. But he is the same man I met when I was in Lima thirty years ago, after the war."

Hervey slowly turned his blue eyes on the scientist with a twinkle in their depths.

"So you recognized me?" he observed, with his Yankee drawl.

"I recognized you at the moment I hired you to take The Diver to Malta to bring back that mummy," retorted Braddock, "but it didn't suit my book to let on. Didn't you recognize me?"

"Wal, no," said Hervey, his drawl more pronounced than ever. "I haven't got the memory for faces that you and the Don here seem to posses. Huh!" He wheeled his chair and faced Braddock squarely. "I'd have thought you wiser not to back up the Don, sir."

Braddock's little eyes sparkled.

"I am not afraid of you," said he with great contempt. "I never did anything for which you could get money out of me for, Captain Hervey or Gustav Vasa, or whatever your name might be."

"You were always a mighty spry man," assented the skipper coolly, "but spry men, I take it, make mistakes from being too almighty smart."

Braddock shrugged his shoulders, and Don Pedro intervened.

"This is all beside the point," he remarked angrily. "Captain Hervey, do you deny that you are Gustav Vasa in the face of this evidence?"

Hervey drew up the left sleeve of his reefer jacket, and showed on his bared wrist the symbol of the sun and the encircling serpent.

"Is that enough?" he drawled, "or do you want to look at this?" and he turned his head to reveal his scarred right temple.

"Then you admit that you are Vasa?"

"Wal," drawled the captain again, "that's one of my names, I guess, though I haven't used it since I traded that blamed mummy in Paris, thirty years ago. There's nothing like owning up."

"Are you not Swedish?" asked Lucy timidly.

"I am a citizen of the world, I guess," replied Hervey with great politeness for him, "and America suits me for headquarters as well as any other nation. I might be Swedish or Danish or a Dago for choice. Vasa may be my name, or Hervey, or anything you like. But I guess I'm a man all through."

"And a thief!" cried Don Pedro, who had resumed his seat, but seas keeping quiet with difficulty.

"Not of those emeralds," rejoined the skipper coolly: "Lord, to think of the chance I missed! Thirty years ago I could have looted them, and again the other day. But I never knew - I never knew," cried Hervey regretfully, with his vividly blue eyes on the mummy. "I could jes' kick myself, gentlemen, when I think of the miss."

"Then you didn't steal the manuscript along with the emeralds?"

"Wal, I did," cried Hervey, turning to Archie, who had spoken, "but it was in a furren lingo, to which I didn't catch on. If I'd known I'd have learned about those blamed emeralds."

"What did you do with the copy of the manuscript you stole?" asked Don Pedro sharply. "I know there, was a copy, as my father told me so. I have the original myself, but the transcript - and not a translation, as I fancied - appeared in Sir Frank Random's room to-day, hidden behind some books."

Hervey made no move, but smoked steadily, with his eyes on the carpet. However, Archie, who was observing keenly, saw that he was more startled than he would admit. The explanation had taken him by surprise.

"Explain!" cried the Peruvian sharply.

Hervey looked up and fixed a pair of very evil eyes on the Don.

"See here," he remarked, "if the lady wasn't present, I'd show you that I take no orders from any yellow - that is, from any low-down Don."

"Lucy, my dear, leave us," said Braddock, rising, much excited; "we must have this matter sifted to the bottom, and if Hervey can explain better in your absence, I think you should go."

Although Miss Kendal was very anxious to hear all that was to be heard, she saw the advisability of taking this advice, especially as Hope gave her arm a meaning nudge.

"I'll go," she said meekly, and was escorted by her lover to the door. There she paused. "Tell me all that takes place," she whispered, and when Archie nodded, she vanished promptly. The young man closed the door. and returned to his seat in time to hear Don Pedro reiterate his request for an explanation.

"And 'spose I can't oblige," said the skipper, now more at his ease since the lady was out of the room.

"Then I shall have you arrested," was the quick reply.

"For what?"

"For the theft of my mummy."

Hervey laughed raucously.

"I guess the law can't worry me about that after thirty years, and in a low-down country like Peru. Your Government has shifted fifty times since I looted the corpse."

This was quite true, and there was absolutely no chance of the skipper being brought to book. Don Pedro looked rather disconsolate, and his gaze dropped under the glare of Hervey's eyes, which seemed unfair, seeing that the Don was as good as the captain was evil.

"You can't expect me to condone the theft," he muttered.

"I reckon I don't expect anything," retorted Hervey coolly "I looted the corpse, I don't deny, and - "

"After my father had treated you like a son," said Don Pedro bitterly. "You were homeless and friendless, and my father took you in, only to find that you robbed him of his most precious possession."

The skipper had the grace to blush, and shifted uneasily in his chair.

"You can't say truer than that," he grumbled, averting his eyes. "I guess I'm a bad lot all through. But a friend of mine wanted the corpse, and offered me a heap of dollars to see the business through."

"Do you mean to say that some one asked you to steal it?"

"No," put in Braddock unexpectedly, "for I was the friend."

"You!" Don Pedro swung round in great astonishment, but the Professor faced him with all the consciousness of innocence.

"Yes," he remarked quietly, "as I told you, I was in Peru thirty years ago. I was then hunting for specimens of Inca mummies. Vasa - this man now called Hervey - told me that he could obtain a splendid specimen of a mummy, and I arranged to give him one hundred pounds to procure what I wanted. But I swear to you, De Gayangos," continued the little man earnestly, "that I did not know he proposed to steal the mummy from you."

"You knew it was the green mummy?" asked Don Pedro sharply.

"No, I only knew that it was a mummy."

"Did Vasa get it for you?"

"I guess not," said the gentleman who confessed to that name. "The Professor went to Cuzco and got into trouble - "

"I was carried off to the mountains by some Indians," interpolated the Professor, "and only escaped after a year's captivity. I did not mind that, as it gave me the opportunity of studying a decaying civilization. But when I returned a free man to Lima, I found that Vasa had left the country with the mummy."

"That's so," assented Hervey, waving his hand. "I got a berth as second mate on a wind-jammer sailing to Europe, and as the country wasn't healthy for me since I'd looted the green mummy, I took it abroad and yanked it to Paris, where I sold it for a couple of hundred pounds. With that, I changed my name and had a high old time. I never heard of the blamed thing again until the Professor here turned up with Mr. Bolton at Pierside, asking me to bring it in The Diver from Malta. It was what you'd call a coincidence, I reckon," added Hervey lazily; "but I did cry small when I heard the Professor here had paid nine hundred for a thing I'd let slip for two hundred. Had I known of those infernal emeralds, I'd have ripped open the case on board and would have recouped myself. But I knew nothing, and Bolton never told me."

"How could he," asked Braddock quietly, "when he did not know that any jewels were buried with the dead? I did not know either. And I have explained why I wanted the mummy. But it never struck me until I hear what you say now, that this mummy," he nodded towards the green case, "was the one which you had stolen at Lima from De Gayangos. But you must do me the justice, Captain Hervey, to tell Don Pedro that I never countenanced the theft."

"No! you were square enough, I guess. The sin is on my own blessed shoulders, and I don't ask it to be shifted."

"What did you do with the copy of the manuscript?" asked Don Pedro.

Hervey ruminated.

"I can't think," he mused. "I found a screed of Latin along with the mummy, when I looted it from your Lima house, but it dropped out of my mind as to what became of it. Maybe I passed it along to the Paris man, and he sold it along with the corpse to the Maltese gent."

"But I tell you this copy was found in Sir Frank's room," insisted De Gayangos. "How did it come to be there?"

Captain Hervey rose and took a turn up and down the room. When Cockatoo came in his way he calmly kicked him aside.

"What do you think, Mr. Hope?" he asked, coming to a full stop before Archie, while Cockatoo crept away with a very dark scowl.

"I don't know what to think," replied that young gentleman promptly, "save that Sir Frank is my very good friend, and that I take his word that he knows nothing of how the manuscript came to be hidden in his bookcase."

"Huh!" said Hervey scornfully, and took another turn up and down the room in silence. "I surmise that your friend isn't a white man."

Hope leaped to his feet.

"That's a lie," he said distinctly.

"I'd have shot you for that down Chili way," snapped the skipper.

"Possibly," retorted the artist dryly, "but I happen to be handy with my revolver also. I say again that you lie. Random is not the man to commit so foul a crime."

"Then how did the manuscript get into his room?" questioned Hervey.

"He is trying to learn, and, when he does, will come here to let us all know, Captain Hervey. But I ask you on what grounds you accuse him? Oh I know all you said to-day," added Hope scornfully, waving his hand; "but you can't prove that Random got the manuscript."

"If it's in his room, as you acknowledge, I can," said Hervey, speaking in a much more cultivated tone. "See here. As I said before, that copy must have been passed along with the corpse to the Maltese man. Well, then, the Professor here bought the corpse, and with it the manuscript."

"No," contradicted the little man, prodigiously excited. "Bolton wrote to me full particulars of the mummy, but said nothing about any manuscript."

"Well, he wouldn't," replied Hervey calmly, "seeing that he'd know Latin."

"He did know Latin," admitted Braddock uneasily; "I taught him myself. But do you mean to say that he got that manuscript and read it and intended to keep the fact of the emeralds secret?"

Hervey nodded three times, and twisted his cheroot in his mouth.

"How else can you figure the business out?" he demanded quietly, and with his eyes fixed on the excited Professor. "Bolton must have got that manuscript, as I can't remember what I did with it, save pass it along with the corpse. He - as you admit - doesn't tell you about it when he writes. Well, then, I reckon he calculated getting this corpse to England, and intended to steal the emeralds when safely ashore."

"But he could have done that on the boat," said Archie quickly.

"I guess not, with me about," said Hervey coolly. "I'd have spotted his game and would have howled for shares."

"You dare to say that?" demanded De Gayangos fiercely.

"Keep your hair on. I dare to say anything that comes up my darned back, you bet. I'm not going to knuckle down to a yellow-stomach - "

Out flew Don Pedro's long arm, and Hervey slammed against the wall. He slipped his hand around to his hip pocket with an ugly smile, but before he could use the revolver he produced, Hope dashed up his arm, and the ball went through the ceiling. "Lucy!" cried the young man, knowing that the drawing-room was overhead, and in a moment was out of the door, racing up the stairs at top speed. Some sense of shame seemed to overpower Hervey as he thought that he might have shot the girl, and he replaced the revolver in his pocket with a shrug.

"I climb down and apologize," he said to Don Pedro, who bowed gravely.

"Hang you, sir; you might have shot my daughter," cried Braddock. "The drawing-room, where she is sitting, is right overhead, and-"

As he spoke the door opened, and Lucy came in on Archie's arm. She was pale with fright, but had sustained no damage. It seemed that the revolver bullet had passed through the floor some distance away from where she was sitting.

"I offer my humble apologies, miss," said the cowed Hervey.

"I'll break your neck, you ruffian!" growled Hope, who looked, and was, dangerous. "How dare you shoot here and - "

"It's all right," interposed Lucy, not wishing for further trouble. "I am all safe. But I shall remain here for the rest of your interview, Captain Hervey, as I am sure you will not shoot again in the presence of a lady."

"No, miss," muttered the captain, and when again invited by the angry Professor to speak, resumed his discourse in low tones. "Wal, as I was saying," he remarked, sitting down with a dogged look, "Bolton intended to clear with the emeralds, but I guess Sir Frank got ahead of him and packed him in that blamed case, while he annexed the emeralds. He then took the manuscript, which he looted from Bolton's corpse, and hid it among his books, as you say, while he left the blamed mummy in the garden of the old lady you talked about. I guess that's what I say."

"It's all theory," said Don Pedro in vexed tones.

"And there isn't a word of truth in it," said Lucy indignantly, standing up for Frank Random.

"It ain't for me to contradict you, miss," said Hervey, who was still humble, "but I ask you, if what I say ain't true, how did that copy of the manuscript come to be in that aristocrat's room?"

There was no reply made to this, and although every one present, save Hervey, believed in Random's innocence, no one could explain. The reply came after some further conversation, by the appearance of the soldier himself in mess kit. He walked unexpectedly into the room with Donna Inez on his arm, and at once apologized to De Gayangos.

"I called to see you at the inn, sir," he said, "and as you were not there, I brought your daughter along with me to explain about the manuscript."

"Ah, yes. We talk of that now. How did it come into your room, sir?"

Random pointed to Hervey.

"That rascal placed it there," he said firmly.