“A man who is in his own home,” he replies angrily, “goes out as he likes and when he likes. I have only to say the word and all the doors will open before me. This place is mine. Count d’Artigas gave it to me with everything it contains. Woe to those who attempt to attack it. I have here the wherewithal to annihilate them, Simon Hart!” The inventor waves the phial feverishly as he speaks.”
“The Count d’Artigas has deceived you,” I cry, “as he has deceived so many others. Under this name is dissembled one of the most formidable monsters who ever scoured the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. He is a bandit steeped in crime—he is the odious Ker Karraje!”
“Ker Karraje!” echoes Thomas Roch.
And I wonder if this name has not impressed him, if he remembers who the man is who bears it. If it did impress him, it was only momentarily.
“I do not know this Ker Karraje,” he says, pointing towards the door to order me out. “I only know the Count d’Artigas.”
“Thomas Roch,” I persist, in a final effort, “the Count d’Artigas and Ker Karraje are one and the same person. If this man has purchased your secret, it is with the intention of ensuring impunity for his crimes and facilities for committing fresh ones. He is the chief of these pirates.”
“Pirates!” cries Roch, whose irritation increases the more I press him. “The real pirates are those who dare to menace me even in this retreat, who tried it on with the Sword—for Serko has told me everything—who sought to steal in my own home what belongs to me, what is but the just price of my discovery.”
“No, Thomas Roch, the pirates are those who have imprisoned you in this cavern of Back Cup, who will utilize your genius to defend it, and who will get rid of you when they are in entire possession of your secrets!”
Thomas Roch here interrupts me. He does not appear to listen to what I say. He has a fixed idea, that of vengeance, which has been skilfully worked upon by Engineer Serko, and in which his hatred is concentrated to the exclusion of everything else.
“The bandits,” he hisses, “are those who spurned me without a hearing, who heaped injustice and ignominy upon me, who drove me from country to country, whereas I offered them superiority, invincibleness, omnipotence!”
It is the eternal story of the unappreciated inventor, to whom the indifferent or envious refuse the means of testing his inventions, to pay him the value he sets upon them. I know it well—and also know all the exaggeration that has been written upon this subject.
It is clearly no time for reasoning with Thomas Roch. My arguments are entirely lost upon the hapless dupe of Ker Karraje and his accomplices. In revealing to him the real name of the Count d’Artigas, and denouncing to him this band and their chief I had hoped to wean him from their influence and make him realize the criminal end they have in view. My hope was vain. He does not believe me. And then what does he care whether the brigand’s name is Count ’d’Artigas or Ker Karraje? Is not he, Thomas Roch, master of Back Cup? Is he not the owner of these riches accumulated by twenty years of murder and rapine?