Dead Man's Rock by Arthur Quiller-Couch
I read the words a full dozen times, and then, failing of any interpretation, turned to Uncle Loveday—
"Jasper," said he, "to my mind those words make nonsense."
"And to mine, uncle."
"Now attend to me, Jasper. This is evidently but one half of the clasp which your father discovered. That's as plain as daylight. The question is, what has become of the other half, of the hook that should fit into this eye? Now, what I want you to do is to try and remember if this was all that the man Railton gave you."
"This was all."
"You are quite certain?"
"You did not leave the other piece behind in the cow-shed by any chance?"
"No, for I looked at the packet before I hid it, and there was only one piece of metal."
"Very well. One half of the golden clasp being lost, the next question is, what has become of it?"
"To this," said Uncle Loveday, bending forward over the table, "two answers are possible. Either it lies at the bottom of the sea with the rest of the freight of the Belle Fortune, or it is in Colliver's possession."
"It may lie beneath Dead Man's Rock, in John Railton's pocket," I suggested.
"True, my boy, true; you put another case. But anyhow it makes no difference. If it lies at the bottom of the sea, whether in Railton's pocket or not, the secret is safe. If it is in Colliver's possession the secret is safe, unless he has seen and learnt by heart this half of the inscription. In any case, I am sorry to tell you— and this is what I was coming to—the secret is closed against us for the time."
"That is not certain," said I.
"Excuse me, Jasper, it is quite certain. You admit yourself that this writing is nonsense. Well and good. But besides this, I would have you remember," pursued Uncle Loveday, turning once more to my father's Journal, "that Ezekiel expressly says, 'The inscription ran right across the clasp.' It could be read easily enough and contained accurate directions for searching in some spot, but where that spot was it did not reveal—"
"Quite so," I interrupted, "and that is just what we have to discover."
"Why, by means of the key, as the parchment and the Will plainly show. We may still be beaten, but even so, we shall know whereabouts to look, if we can only catch Colliver."
"Bless the boy!" said Uncle Loveday, "he certainly has a head."
"Uncle," continued I, rising to my feet, "the secret of the Great Ruby is written upon my grandfather's key. That key was to be taken down when he that undertook the task of discovering the secret should have returned and crossed the threshold of Lantrig. Uncle, my father has crossed the threshold of Lantrig—"
"Feet foremost, feet foremost, my boy. Oh, poor Ezekiel!"
"Feet foremost, yes," I continued—"dead and murdered, yes. But he has come: come to find my mother dead, but still he has come. Uncle, I am the only Trenoweth left to Lantrig; think of it, the only one left—"
"Poor Ezekiel! Poor Margery!"
"Yes, uncle, and all I inherit is the knife that murdered my father, and this key. I have the knife, and I will take down the key. We are not beaten yet."
I drew a chair under the great beam, and mounted it. When first my grandfather returned he had hung the iron key upon its hook, giving strict injunctions that no one should touch it. There ever since it had hung, the centre of a host of spiders' webs. Even my poor mother's brush, so diligent elsewhere, had never invaded this sacred relic, and often during our lonely winter evenings had she told me the story of it: how that Amos Trenoweth's dying curse was laid upon the person that should touch it, and how the spiders' days were numbered with every day that brought my father nearer home.
There it hung now, scarcely to be seen for cobwebs. Its hour had come at last. Even as I stretched out my hand a dozen horrid things hurried tumultuously back into darkness. Even as I laid my hand on it, a big ungainly spider, scared but half incredulous, started in alarm, hesitated, and finally made off at full speed for shelter.
This, then, was the key that should unlock the treasure—this, that had from the first hung over us, the one uncleansed spot in Lantrig: this was the talisman—this grimy thing lying in my hand. The spiders had been jealous in their watch.
Stepping down, I got a cloth and brushed away the cobwebs. The key was covered thickly with rust, but even so I could see that something was written upon it. For about a minute I stood polishing it, and then carried it forward to the light.
Yes, there was writing upon it, both on the handle and along the shaft—writing that, as it shaped itself before my eyes, caused them to stare in wrathful incredulity, caused my heart to sink at first in dismay and then to swell in mad indignation, caused my blood to turn to gall and my thoughts to very bitterness. For this was what I read:—
On the handle were engraved in large capitals the initials A. T. with the date MDCCCXII. Alone the shaft, from handle to wards, ran on either side the following sentence in old English lettering:—
THY HOUSE IS SET UPON THE SANDS AND THY HOPES BY A DEAD MAN.
This was all. This short sentence was the sum of all the vain quest on which my father had met his end. "Thy house is set upon the sands," and even now had crumbled away beneath Amos Trenoweth's curse "Thy hopes by a dead man," and even now he on whom our hopes had rested, lay upstairs a pitiful corpse. Was ever mockery more fiendish? As the full cruelty of the words broke in upon me, once again I seemed to hear the awful cry from the sea, but now among its voices rang a fearful laugh as though Amos Trenoweth's soul were making merry in hell over his grim jest—the slaughter of his son and his son's wife.
White with desperate passion, I turned and hurled the accursed key across the room into the blazing hearth.