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Ok, so maybe Bram Stoker isn't on the list of greatest Victorian
novelists, but gosh, I really enjoy his books, and he wrote quite a few. Dracula is a great story, but perhaps
not great literature, and the same can be said about this one. Next to Dracula,
this is his best novel, in my opinion, and the critics liked it back in 1902, too. It is really easy to read—not complicated sentences that hinder the flow.
It is an historical novel, a Gothic Romance, with a touch of the supernatural, and it contains political intrigue, similar to The Lady of the Shroud.
has a very long article about this book, citing the actual historical events which Stoker incorporated and a bit about his life and travels. The
places where the story is set are real, on the Northeast coast of Scotland, mostly Cruden Bay at Whinnyfold in Aberdeenshire, where Stoker often
The main character, Archibald Hunter, is an Englishman visiting Cruden Bay, where he sees a procession with a man carrying a tiny coffin. The vision disappears, and he is approached by an old hag named Gormala MacNeil, who speaks Gaelic and is a Seer. She knows Hunter has seen something, and questions him. She tells him he has the gift of Second Sight. Soon his vision comes true, as a child drowns in the bay.
Gormala has visions, too, that come and go, and she cannot see the ones Hunter sees. Gormala speaks to him about the Mystery of the Sea, and soon another vision comes true, when a local fisherman dies, having crashed his boat, and is smashed into the sharp rocks. Hunter and Gormala see it happen on Lammas-tide, Archibald attempts to rescue Lauchlane MacCleod, but is too late. As he carries the body to the top of the cliff, he sees a procession of the dead from past ages enter the Holy Well, including the spirit of the body he is carrying. Gormala presses him to tell what he saw, but he refuses.
The next year, he returns and begins building a house in Whinnyfold. He is drawn to buy a trunk from an auctioneer, and finds it contains strange papers in a code he cannot read and letters from the time of Queen Elizabeth and the war between Spain and England. Shortly after, he notices two women stranded on a rock in the ocean near the cliff. Being a fine swimmer, he is able to assist them both to dry land before the rising tide. One is an elderly woman, Mrs. Jack, and the other is a beautiful young woman who calls herself Marjory Anita. Archibald immediately falls in love with her, and asks her to marry him. She doesn't exactly turn him down, nor does she accept, saying they don't know each other well enough yet. The women are both Americans.
But soon Archie finds out more about the lady he loves, when they disappear on him for a dinner date. At the same time, he encounters old friends, one American and one British, from the Secret Service. He learns that Marjory is actually Marjory Drake, a descendant of Sir Francis Drake, an extremely wealthy heiress, who has financed an American battleship for the Spanish-American War being waged at home. She is a brave adventurer, and has fled to Scotland to get away from surveillance. But surveillance has followed her to Scotland, because there is a plan to kidnap her. Archie is stuck between the two, because he wants to be faithful to Marjory's wishes, but wants to help his friend Sam Adams protect her. Meanwhile, Marjory is falling in love with Archie, because he was the one person who fell in love with her not knowing she was rich and famous. She agrees to marry him.
Presently, Archibald begins deciphering the code of the message found in the trunk. It is a biliteral cipher created by Sir Francis Bacon, and concerns a treasure given to Don Bernardino de Escoban by Pope Sixtus V after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, to be used against England. But the ship crashed, and the substantial treasure was buried somewhere near Cruden Bay. The deciphered message tells where, and it turns out to be under the house which Archie is having built for himself.
Marjory and Mrs. Jack, (who was formerly Marjory's nurse) are staying at Castle Crom, and she and Archie see each other every day. In fact, they marry, but for the time being live separately in order for Marjory to complete her task. (I am not really sure what her task was, to be quite honest.) They also learn that there are many secret passages, and discover that others know, too, and have access to the castle. Meanwhile, the owner of the castle requests permission to come and see his old home. He arrives when Archie is there with Marjory, and it turns out he is Don Bernardino, the ancestor of the man to whom the Pope entrusted the treasure. Therefore, it is now his responsibility. Marjory and Archie now speak in the cipher code, and she taps out caution with her fingers. She doesn't like the man anyways, because he is Spanish, and at war with her country. In any case, he looks at the table and sees the missing page to the book, which he is seeking—the one with the message about the treasure. The meeting is very cold, to say the least.
Archie finally digs his way through the basement, then he and Marjory go exploring for the treasure. They find it, but have lost track of the hours spent in the underground cave. The tide is coming in and they are trapped. They stand on a ledge with their noses just above water, but Marjory suddenly notices the water is receding. After four hours nearly under water and freezing, they return to the house.
Shortly after, when Archie is at home alone, Don Bernardino visits him, and it is not a cordial visit. He demands the rights to the treasure, and they nearly kill each other. He then notices that the treasure has been found, because some of the jewels are laying in the room.
But none of this matters, because Marjory has been kidnapped by the thugs and they also break into the Archie's house and take it all. Now, all work together, including Don Bernardino, to rescue her. Meanwhile, she has left scratchings and signs, all in code, to alert them to where they have taken her.
And that's all I will say, but it is really a fast-paced thriller, and you won't want to put it down.
Incidentally, in real life, Pope Sixtus V was ready to support the Armada, if they had won the battle against England, but they didn't, so the Pope didn't lose his money. So, the part about him entrusting the treasure to Don Bernardino appears to be fictional. I wasn't sure, because at the end of the story, Stoker includes a long narrative about this event and the defeat of the Armada, and the burying of the treasure. He also includes quite a bit about the cipher, but I was totally lost on that. I think if I had someone show me how it worked, along with decoding an actual message, I would "get it." But as for now, I don't.
This novel is highly recommended reading, and it is free from Project Gutenberg.
Below is a photo of Cruden Bay as it looks now. Notice all the chemtrails.
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