The first to get full self-command was Miss Trelawny. There was a haughty dignity in her bearing as she said:
'Very well, Mrs. Grant; let them go! Pay them up to today, and a month's wages. They have hitherto been very good servants; and the occasion of their leaving is not an ordinary one. We must not expect much faithfulness from anyone who is beset with fears. Those who remain are to have in future double wages; and please send these to me presently when I send word.' Mrs. Grant bristled with smothered indignation; all the housekeeper in her was outraged by such generous treatment of servants who had combined to give notice:
'They don't deserve it, miss; them to go on so, after the way they have been treated here. Never in my life have I seen servants so well treated, or any one so good to them and gracious to them as you have been. They might be in the household of a King for treatment. And now, just as there is trouble, to go and act like this. It's abominable, that's what it is!'
Miss Trelawny was very gentle with her, and smothered her ruffled dignity; so that presently she went away with, in her manner, a lesser measure of hostility to the undeserving. In quite a different frame of mind she returned presently to ask if her mistress would like her to engage a full staff of other servants, or at any rate try to do so. 'For you know, ma'am,' she went on, 'When once a scare has been established in the servants' hall, it's well-nigh impossible to get rid of it. Servants may come: but they-go away just as quick. There's no holding them. They simply won't stay; or even if they work out their month's notice, they lead you that life that you wish every hour of the day that you hadn't kept them. The women are bad enough, the hussies; but the men are worse!' There was neither anxiety nor indignation in Miss Trelawny's voice or manner as she said:
'I think, Mrs. Grant, we had better try to do with those we have. Whilst my dear Father is ill we shall not be having any company, so that there will be only three now in the house to attend to. If those servants who are willing to stay are not enough, I should only get sufficient to help them to do the work. It will not, I should think, be difficult to get a few maids; perhaps some that you know already. And please bear in mind, that those whom you get, and who are suitable and will stay, are henceforth to have the same wages as those who are remaining. Of course, Mrs. Grant, you well understand that though I do not group you in any way with the servants, the rule of double salary applies to you too.' As she spoke she extended her long, fine-shaped hand, which the other took and then, raising it to her lips, kissed it impressively with the freedom of an elder woman to a younger. I could not but admire the generosity of her treatment of her servants. In my mind I endorsed Mrs. Grant's sotto voce remark as she left the room:
"No wonder the house is like a King's house, when the mistress is a Princess!'
'A Princess!' That was it. The idea seemed to satisfy my mind, and to bring back in a wave of light the first moment when she swept across my vision at the ball in Belgrave Square. A queenly figure! tall and slim, bending, swaying, undulating as the lily or the lotus. Clad in a flowing gown of some filmy black material shot with gold. For ornament in her hair she wore an old Egyptian jewel, a tiny crystal disc, set between rising plumes carved in lapis lazuli. On her wrist was a broad bangle or bracelet of antique work, in the shape of a pair of spreading wings wrought in gold, with the feathers made of coloured gems. For all her gracious bearing toward me, when our hostess introduced me, I was then afraid of her. It was only when later, at the picnic on the river, I had come to realize her sweet and gentle nature, that my awe changed to something else.
For a while she sat, making some notes or memoranda. Then putting them away, she sent for the faithful servants. I thought that she had better have this interview alone, and so left her. When I came back there were traces of tears in her eyes.
The next phase in which I had a part was even more disturbing, and infinitely more painful. Late in the afternoon Sergeant Daw came into the study where I was sitting. After closing the door carefully and looking all round the room to make certain that we were alone, he came close to me.
'What is it?' I asked him. 'I see you wish to speak to me privately.'
'Quite so, sir! May I speak in absolute confidence?'
'Of course you may. In anything that is for the good of Miss Trelawny--and of course of Mr. Trelawny--you may be perfectly frank. I take it that we both want to serve them to the best of our powers.' He hesitated before replying:
'Of course you know that I have my duty to do; and I think you know me well enough to know that I will do it. I am a policeman, a detective; and it is my duty to find out the facts of any case I am put on, without fear or favour to anyone. I would rather speak to you alone, in confidence if I may, without reference to any duty of anyone to anyone, except mine to Scotland Yard.'
'Of course! of course!' I answered mechanically, my heart sinking, I did not know why. 'Be quite frank with me. I assure you of my confidence.'
'Thank you, sir. I take it that what I say is not to pass beyond you---not to anyone. Not to Miss Trelawny herself, or even to Mr. Trelawny when he becomes well again.'
'Certainly, if you make it a condition!' I said a little more stiffly. The man recognized the change in my voice or manner, and said apologetically:
'Excuse me, sir, but I am going outside my duty in speaking to you at all on the subject. I know you, however, of old; and I feel that I can trust you. Not your word, sir, that is all right; but your discretion!'
I bowed. 'Go on!' I said. He began at once:
'I have gone over this case, sir, till my brain begins to reel; but I can't find any ordinary solution of it. At the time of each attempt no one has seemingly come into the house; and certainly no one has gone out. What does it strike you is the inference?'
'That the somebody--or the something--was in the house already,' I answered, smiling in spite of myself.
'That's just what I think,' he said, with a manifest sigh of relief. "Very well! Who can be that someone?'
' "Someone, or something," was what I said,' I answered.
'Let us make it "someone," Mr. Ross! That cat, though he might have scratched or bit, never pulled the old gentleman out of bed, and tried to get the bangle with the key off his arm. Such things are all very well in books where your amateur detectives, who know everything before it's done, can fit them into theories; but in Scotland Yard, where the men aren't all idiots either, we generally find that when crime is done, or attempted, it's people, not things, that are at the bottom of it.'
"Then make it "people" by all means, Sergeant.'
'We were speaking of "someone," sir.'
'Quite right, someone, be it!'
'Did it ever strike you, sir, that on each of the three separate occasions where outrage was effected, or attempted, there was one person who was the first to be present and to give the alarm?'
'Let me see! Miss Trelawny, I believe, gave the alarm on the first occasion. I was present myself, if fast asleep, on the second; and so was Nurse Kennedy. When I woke there were several people in the room; you were one of them. I understand that on that occasion also Miss Trelawny was before you. At the last attempt I was in the room when Miss Trelawny fainted. I carried her out and went back. In returning, I was first; and I think you were close behind me.'
Sergeant Daw thought for a moment before replying:
'She was present, or first, in the room on all the occasions; there was only damage done in the first and second!'
The inference was one which I, as a lawyer, could not mistake. I thought the best thing to do was to meet it halfway. I have always found that the best way to encounter an inference is to cause it to be turned into a statement.
'You mean,' I said, 'that as on the only occasions when actual harm was done, Miss Trelawny's being the first to discover it is a proof that she did it; or was in some way connected with the attempt, as well as the discovery?'
'I didn't venture to put it as clear as that; but that is where the doubt which I had leads.' Sergeant Daw was a man of courage; he evidently did not shrink from any conclusion of his reasoning on facts.
We were both silent for a while. Fears began crowding in on my own mind. Not doubts of Miss Trelawny, or of any act of hers; but fears lest such acts should be misunderstood. There was evidently a mystery somewhere; and if no solution to it could be found, the doubt would be cast on someone. In such cases the guesses of the majority are bound to follow the line of least resistance; and if it could be proved that any personal gain to anyone would follow Mr. Trelawny's death, should such ensue, it might prove a difficult task for anyone to prove innocence in the face of suspicious facts. I found myself instinctively taking that deferential course which, until the plan of battle of the prosecution is unfolded, is so safe an attitude for the defence. It would never do for me, at this stage, to combat any theories which a detective might form. I could best help Miss Trelawny by listening and understanding. When the time should come for the dissipation and obliteration of the theories, I should be quite willing to use all my militant ardour, and all the weapons at my command.
'You will of course do your duty, I know,' I said, 'and without fear. What course do you intend to take?'
'I don't know as yet, sir. You see, up to now it isn't with me even a suspicion. If anyone else told me that that sweet young lady had a hand in such a matter, I would think him a fool; but I'm bound to follow my own conclusions. I know well that just as unlikely persons have been proved guilty, when a whole court--all except the prosecution who knew the facts, and the judge who had taught his mind to wait-- would have sworn to innocence. I wouldn't, for all the world, wrong such a young lady; more especial when she has such a cruel weight to bear. And you may be sure that I won't say a word that'll prompt anyone else to make such a charge. That's why I speak to you now in confidence, man to man. You are skilled in proofs; that is your profession. Mine only gets so far as suspicions, and what we call our own proofs--which are nothing but ex parte evidence after all. You know Miss Trelawny better than I do; and though I watch round the sick-room, and go where I like about the house and in and out of it, I haven't the same opportunities as you have of knowing the lady and what her life is, or her means are; or of anything else which might give me a clue to her actions. If I were to try to find out from her, it would at once arouse her suspicions. Then, if she were guilty, all possibility of ultimate proof would go; for she would easily find a way to baffle discovery. But if she be innocent, as I hope she is, it would be doing a cruel wrong to accuse her. I have thought the matter over according to my lights before I spoke to you: and if I have taken a liberty, sir, I am truly sorry.'
'No liberty in the world, Daw,' I said warmly, for the man's courage and honesty and consideration compelled respect. 'I am glad you have spoken to me so frankly. We both want to find out the truth; and there is so much about this-case that is strange--so strange as to go beyond all experiences--that to aim at truth is our only chance of making anything clear in the long-run--no matter what our views are, or what object we wish to achieve ultimately!' The Sergeant looked pleased as he went on:
'I thought, therefore, that if you had it once in your mind that somebody else held to such a possibility, you would by degrees get proof; or at any rate such ideas as would convince yourself, either for or against it. Then we would come to some conclusion; or at any rate we should so exhaust all other possibilities that the most likely one would remain as the nearest thing to proof, or strong suspicion, that we could get. After that we should have to--'
Just at this moment the door opened and Miss Trelawny entered the room. The moment she-saw us she drew back quickly, saying: 'Oh, I beg pardon! I did not know you were here, and engaged.' By the time I had stood up, she was about to go back.
'Do come in,' I said. 'Sergeant Daw and I were only talking matters over.'
Whilst she was hesitating, Mrs. Grant appeared, saying as she entered the room: 'Doctor Winchester is conic, miss, and is asking for you.'
I obeyed Miss Trelawny's look; together we left the room.
When the Doctor had made his examination, he told us that there was seemingly no change. He added that nevertheless he would like to stay in the house that night if he might. Miss Trelawny looked glad, and sent word to Mrs. Grant to get a room ready for him. Later in the day, when he and I happened to be alone together, he said suddenly:
'I have arranged to stay here tonight because I want to have a talk with you. And as I wish it to be quite private, I thought the least suspicious way would be to have a cigar together late in the evening when Miss Trelawny is watching her father.' We still kept to our arrangement that either the sick man's daughter or I should be on watch all night. We were to share the duty at the early hours of the morning. I was anxious about this, for I knew from our conversation that the Detective would watch in secret himself, and would be particularly alert about that time.
The day passed uneventfully. Miss Trelawny slept in the afternoon; and after dinner went to relieve the Nurse. Mrs. Grant remained with her, Sergeant Daw being on duty in the corridor. Doctor Winchester and I took our coffee in the library. When we had lit our cigars he said quietly:
'Now that we are alone I want to have a confidential talk We are "tiled", of course; for the present at all events?'
'Quite so!' I said, my heart sinking as I thought of my conversation with Sergeant Daw in the morning, and of the disturbing and harrowing fears which it had left in my mind. He went on:
'This case is enough to try the sanity of all of us concerned in it. The more I think of it, the madder I seem to get; and the two lines, each continually strengthened, seem to pull harder in opposite directions.'
'What two lines?' He looked at me keenly for a moment before replying. Doctor Winchester's look at such moments was apt to be disconcerting. It would have been so to me had I had a personal part, other than my interest in Miss Trelawny, in the matter. As it was, however, I stood it unruffled. I was now an attorney in the case; an amicus curiae in one sense, in another retained for the defence. The mere thought that in this clever man's mind were two lines, equally strong and opposite, was in itself so consoling as to neutralize my anxiety as to a new attack. As he began to speak, the Doctor's face wore an inscrutable smile; this, however, gave place to a stern gravity as he proceeded:
'Two lines: Fact and--Fancy! In the first there is this whole thing: attacks; attempts at robbery and murder; stupefyings; organized catalepsy which points to either criminal hypnotism and thought suggestion, or some simple form of poisoning unclassified yet in our toxicology. In the other there is some influence at work which is not classified in any book that I know--outside the pages of romance. I never felt in my life so strongly the truth of Hamlet's words:
"There are more things in Heaven and earth... Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
'Let us take the "Fact" side first. Here we have a man in his home; amidst his own household; plenty of servants of different classes in the house, which forbids the possibility of an organized attempt made from the servants' hall. He is wealthy, learned, clever. From his physiognomy there is no doubting that he is a man of iron will and determined purpose. His daughter--his only child, I take it, a young girl bright and clever--is sleeping in the very next room to his. There is seemingly no possible reason for expecting any attack or disturbance of any kind; and no reasonable opportunity for any outsider to effect it. And yet we have an attack made; a brutal and remorseless attack, made in the middle of the night. Discovery is made quickly; made with that rapidity which in criminal cases generally is found to be not accidental, but of premeditated intent. The attacker, or attackers, are manifestly disturbed before the completion of their work, whatever their ultimate intent may have been. And yet there is no possible sign of their escape; no clue, no disturbance of anything; no open door or window; no sound. Nothing whatever to show who had done the deed, or even that a deed has been done; except the victim, and his surroundings incidental to the deed!
'The next night a similar attempt is made, though the house is full of wakeful people; and though there are on watch in the room and around it a detective officer, a trained nurse, an earnest friend, and the man's own daughter. The nurse is thrown into a catalepsy, and the watching friend--though protected by a respirator--into a deep sleep. Even the detective is so far overcome with some phase of stupor that he fires off his pistol in the sick-room, and can't even tell what he thought he was firing at. That respirator of yours is the only thing that seems to have a bearing on the "fact" side of the affair. That you did not lose your head as the others did--the effect in such case being in proportion to the amount of time each remained in the room--points to the probability that the stupefying medium was not hypnotic, whatever else it may have been. But again, there is a fact which is contradictory. Miss Trelawny, who was in the room more than any of you--for she was in and out all the time and did her share of permanent watching also--did not seem to be affected at all. This would show that the influence, whatever it is, does not affect generally--unless, of course, it was that she was in some way inured to it. If it should turn out that it be some strange exhalation from some of those Egyptian curios, that might account for it; only, we are then face to face with the fact that Mr. Trelawny, who was most of all in the room--who, in fact, lived more than half his life in it--was affected worst of all. What kind of influence could it be which would account for all these different and contradictory effects? No! The more I think of this form of the dilemma, the more I am bewildered! Why, even if it were that the attack, the physical attack, on Mr. Trelawny had been made by someone residing in the house and not within the sphere of suspicion, the oddness of the stupefyings would still remain a mystery. It is not easy to put anyone into a catalepsy. Indeed, so far as is known yet in science, there is no way to achieve such an object at will. The crux of the whole matter is Miss Trelawny, who seems to be subject to none of the influences, or possibly of the variants of the same influence at work. Through all she goes unscathed, except for that one slight semi faint. It is most strange!'
I listened with a sinking heart; for, though his manner was not illuminative of distrust, his argument was disturbing. Although it was not so direct as the suspicion of the Detective, it seemed to single out Miss Trelawny as different from all others concerned; and in a mystery to be alone is to be suspected, ultimately if not immediately. I thought it better not to say anything. In such a case silence is indeed golden; and if I said nothing now I might have less to defend, or explain; or take back later. I was, therefore, secretly glad that his form of putting his argument did not require any answer from me--for the present, at all events. Doctor Winchester did not seem to expect any answer--a fact which, when I recognized it, gave me pleasure, I hardly knew why. He paused for a while, sitting with his chin in his hand, his eyes staring at vacancy, whilst his brows were fixed. His cigar was held limp between his fingers; he had apparently forgotten it. In an even voice, as though commencing exactly where he had left off, he resumed his argument:
"The other horn of the dilemma is a different affair altogether, and if we once enter on it we must leave everything in the shape of science and experience behind us. I confess that it has its fascinations for me; though at every new thought I find myself romancing in a way that makes me pull up suddenly and look facts resolutely in the face. I sometimes wonder whether the influence or emanation from the sick-room at times affects me as it did the others-- the Detective, for instance. Of course it may be that if it is anything chemical, any drug, for example, in vaporeal form, its effects may be cumulative. But then, what could there be that could produce such an effect? The room is, I know, full of mummy smell; and no wonder, with so many relics from the tomb, let alone the actual mummy of that animal which Silvio attacked. By the way, I am going to test him tomorrow; I have been on the trace of a mummy cat, and am to get possession of it in the morning. When I bring it here we shall find out if it be a fact that racial instinct can survive a few thousand years in the grave. However, to get back to the subject in hand. These very mummy smells arise from the presence of substances, and combinations of substances, which the Egyptian priests, who were the learned men and scientists of their time, found by the experience of centuries to be strong enough to arrest the natural forces of decay. There must be powerful agencies at work to effect such a purpose; and it is possible that we may have here some rare substance or combination whose qualities and powers are not understood in this later and more prosaic age. I wonder if Mr. Trelawny has any knowledge, or even suspicion, of such a kind? I only know this for certain, that a worse atmosphere for a sick-chamber could not possibly be imagined; and I admire the courage of Sir James Frere in refusing to have anything to do with a case under such conditions. These instructions of Mr. Trelawny to his daughter, and from what you have told me, the care with which he has protected his wishes through his solicitor, show that he suspected something, at any rate. Indeed, it would almost seem as if he expected something to happen.... I wonder if it would be possible to learn anything about that! Surely his papers would show or suggest something.... It is a difficult matter to tackle; but it might have to be done. His present condition cannot go on for ever, and if anything should happen there would have to be an inquest. In such case full examination would have to be made into everything.... As it stands, the police evidence would show a murderous attack more than once repeated. As no clue is apparent, it would be necessary to seek one in a motive.'
He was silent. The last words seemed to come in a lower and lower tone as he went on. It. had the effect of hopelessness. It came to me as a conviction that now was my time to find out if he had any definite suspicion; and as if in obedience to some command, I asked:
'Do you suspect anyone?' He seemed in a way startled rather than surprised as he turned his eyes on me:
'Suspect anyone? Anything, you mean. I certainly suspect that there is some influence; but at present my suspicion is held within such limit. Later on, if there be any sufficiently definite conclusion to my reasoning, or my thinking--for there are not proper data for reasoning--I may suspect; at present, however---'
He stopped suddenly and looked at the door. There was a faint sound as the handle turned. My own heart seemed to stand still. There was over me some grim, vague apprehension. The interruption in the morning, when I was talking with the Detective, came back upon me with a rush.
The door opened, and Miss Trelawny entered the room.
When she saw us, she started back and a deep flush swept her face. For a few seconds she paused; at such a time a few succeeding seconds seem to lengthen in geometrical progression. The strain upon me, and, as I could easily see, on the Doctor also, relaxed as she spoke:
'Oh, forgive me. I did not know that you were engaged. I was looking for you, Doctor Winchester, to ask you if I might go to bed tonight with safety, as you will be here. I feel so tired and worn out that I fear I may break down; and tonight I would certainly not be of any use.' Doctor Winchester answered heartily:
'Do! Do go to bed by all means, and get a good night's sleep. God knows you want it! I am more than glad you have made the suggestion, for I feared when I saw you tonight that I might have you on my hands as a patient next.'
She gave a sigh of relief, and the tired look seemed to melt from her face. Never shall I forget the deep, earnest look in her great, beautiful black eyes as she said to me:
"You will guard Father tonight, won't you, with Doctor Winchester? I am so anxious about him that every second brings new fears. But I am really worn out; and if I don't get a good sleep, I think I shall go mad. I will change my room for tonight. I'm afraid that if I stay so close to Father's room I shall multiply every sound into a new terror. But, of course, you will have me waked if there be any cause. I shall be in the bedroom of the little suite next the boudoir off the hall. I had those rooms when first I came to live with Father, and I had no care then.... It will be easier to rest there; and perhaps for a few hours I may forget. I shall be all right in the morning. Good-night!'
When I had dosed the door behind her and come back to the little table at which we had been sitting, Doctor Winchester said:
'That poor girl is overwrought to a terrible degree. I am delighted that she is to get a rest. It will be life to her; and in the morning she will be all right. Her nervous system is on the verge of a breakdown. Did you notice how fearfully disturbed she was, and how red she got when she came in and found us talking? An ordinary thing like that, in her own house with her own guests, wouldn't under normal circumstances disturb her!'
I was about to tell him, as an explanation in her defence, how her entrance was a repetition of her finding the Detective and myself alone together earlier in the day, when I remembered that that conversation was so private that even an allusion to it might be awkward in evoking curiosity. So I remained silent.
We stood up to go to the sick-room; but as we took our way through the dimly lighted corridor I could not help thinking, again, and again, and again--ay, and for many a day after--how strange it was that she had interrupted me on two such occasions when touching on such a theme.
There was certainly some strange web of accidents, in whose meshes we were all involved.