“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.