The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker
Chapter VII. The Traveller's Loss
That night everything went well. Knowing that Miss Trelawny herself was not on guard, Doctor Winchester and I doubled our vigilance. The Nurses and Mrs. Grant kept watch, and the Detectives made their visit each quarter of an hour. All night the patient remained in his trance. He looked healthy, and his chest rose and fell with the easy breathing of a child. But he never stirred; only for his breathing he might have been of marble. Doctor Winchester and I wore our respirators, and irksome they were on that intolerably hot night. Between midnight and three o'clock I felt anxious, and had once more that creepy feeling to which these last few nights had accustomed me; but the grey of the dawn, stealing round the edges of the blinds, came with inexpressible relief. In the cool, hopeful darkness, with the east quickening into pallor, I could breathe freely; the same relief, followed by restfulness, went through the household. During the hot night my ears, strained to every sound, had been almost painfully troubled; as though my brain or sensoria were in anxious touch with them. Every breath of the Nurse or the rustle of her dress; every soft pat of slippered feet, as the Policeman went his rounds; every moment of watching life, seemed to be a new impetus to guardianship. Something of the same feeling must have been abroad in the house; now and again I could hear upstairs the sound of restless feet, and more than once downstairs the opening of a window. With the coming of the dawn, however, all this ceased, and the whole household seemed to rest. Doctor Winchester went home when sister Doris came to relieve Mrs. Grant. He was, I think, a little disappointed or chagrined that nothing of an exceptional nature had happened during his long night vigil.'
At eight o'clock Miss Trelawny joined us, and I was amazed as well as delighted to see how much good her night's sleep had done her. She was fairly radiant; just as I had seen her at our first meeting and at the picnic. There was even a suggestion of colour in her cheeks, which, however, looked startlingly white in contrast with her black brows and scarlet lips. With her restored strength, there seemed to have come a tenderness even exceeding that which she had at first shown to her sick father. I could not but be moved by the loving touches as she fixed his pillows and brushed the hair from his forehead.
I was wearied out myself with my long spell of watching; and now that she was on guard I started off to bed, blinking my tired eyes in the full light and feeling the weariness of a sleepless night on me all at once.
I had a good sleep, and after lunch I was about to start out to walk to Jermyn Street, when I noticed an importunate man at the hall door. The servant in charge was the one called Morris, formerly the 'odd man,' but since the exodus of the servants promoted to be butler pro tern. The stranger was speaking rather loudly, so that there was no difficulty in understanding his grievance. The servant man was respectful in both words and demeanour; but he stood squarely in front of the great double door, so that the other could not enter. The first words which I heard from the visitor sufficiently explained the situation:
'That's all very well, but I tell you I must see Mr. Trelawny! What is the use of your saying I can't, when I tell you I must. You put me off, and off, and off. I came here at nine; you said then that he was not up, and that as he was not well he could not be disturbed. I came at twelve; and you told me again he was not up. I asked then to see any of his household; you told me that Miss Trelawny was not up. Now I come again at three, and you tell me he is still in bed, and is not awake yet. Where is Miss Trelawny? "She is occupied and must not be disturbed!" Well, she must be disturbed! Or someone must. I am here about Mr. Trelawny's special business; and I have come from a place where servants always begin by saying No. "No" isn't good enough for me this time! I've had three years of it, waiting outside doors and tents, when it took longer to get in than it did into the tombs; and then you would think, too, the men inside were as dead as the mummies. I've had about enough of it, I tell- you. And when I come home, and find the door of the man I've been working for barred, in just the same way and with the same old answers, it stirs me up the wrong way. Did Mr. Trelawny leave orders that he would not see me when I should come?'
He paused and excitedly mopped his forehead. The servant answered very respectfully:
'I am very sorry, sir, if in doing my duty I have given any offence. But I have my orders, and must obey them. If you would like to leave any message, I will give it to Miss Trelawny; and if you will leave your address, she can communicate with you if she wishes.' The- answer came in such a way that it was easy to see that the speaker was a kind-hearted man, and a just one.
'My good fellow, I have no fault to find with you personally; and I am sorry if I have hurt your feelings. I must be just, even if I am angry. But it is enough to anger any man to find himself in the position I am. Time is pressing. There is not an hour--not a minute--to lose! And yet here I am, kicking my heels for six hours; knowing all the time that your master will be a hundred times angrier than I am, when he hears how the time has been fooled away. He would rather be waked out of a thousand sleeps than not see me just at present--and before it is too late. My God? it's simply dreadful, after all I've gone through, to have my work spoiled at the last and be foiled in the very doorway by a stupid flunky! Is there no one with sense in the house; or with authority, even if he hasn't got sense? I could mighty soon convince him that your master must be awakened; even if he sleeps like the Seven Sleepers--'
There was no mistaking the man's sincerity, or the urgency and importance of his business; from his point of view at any rate. I stepped forward.
'Morris,' I said, 'you had better tell Miss Trelawny that this gentleman wants to see her particularly. If she is busy, ask Mrs. Grant to tell her!'
"Very good, sir!' he answered in a tone of relief, and hurried away.
I took the stranger into the little boudoir across the hall. As we went he asked me:
'Are you the secretary?'
'No! I am a friend of Miss Trelawny's. My name is Ross.'
'Thank you very much, Mr. Ross, for your kindness!' he said. 'My name is Corbeck. I would give you my card; but they don't use cards where I've come from. And if I had had any, I suppose they, too, would have gone last night--'
He stopped suddenly, as though conscious that he had said too much. We both remained silent; as we waited I took stock of him. A short, sturdy man, brown as a coffee-berry, possibly inclined to be fat, but now lean exceedingly. The deep wrinkles in his face and neck were not merely from time and exposure; there were those unmistakable signs where flesh or fat has fallen away, and the skin has become loose. The neck was simply an intricate surface of seams and wrinkles, and was sun-scarred with the burning of the Desert. The Far East, the Tropic Seasons, and the Desert--each can have its colour mark. But all three are quite different; and an eye which had once known, can thenceforth easily distinguish them. The dusky pallor of one; the fierce red-brown of the other; and of the third, the dark, ingrained burning, as though it had become a permanent colour. Mr. Corbeck had a big head, massive and full; with shaggy, dark red-brown hair, but bald on the temples. His forehead was a fine one, high and broad; with, to use the terms of physiognomy, the frontal sinus boldly marked. The squareness of it showed 'ratiocination'; and the fullness under the eyes 'language'. He had the short, broad nose that marks energy; the square chin--marked despite a thick, unkempt beard--and massive jaw that showed great resolution.
'No bad man for the desert!' I thought as I looked.
Miss Trelawny came very quickly. When Mr. Corbeck saw her, he seemed somewhat surprised. But his annoyance and excitement had not disappeared; quite enough remained to cover up any such secondary and purely exoteric feeling as surprise. But as she spoke he never took his eyes off her; and I made a mental note that I would find some early opportunity of investigating the cause of his surprise. She began with an apology which quite smoothed down his ruffled feelings:
'Of course, had my Father been well you would not have been kept waiting. Indeed, had not I been on duty in the sick-room when you called the first time, I should have seen you at once. Now will you kindly tell me what is the matter which so presses?' He looked at me and hesitated. She spoke at once:
'You may say before Mr. Ross anything which you can tell me. He has my fullest confidence, and is helping me in my trouble. I do not think you quite understand how serious my Father's condition is. For three days he has not waked, or given any sign of consciousness; and I am in terrible trouble about him. Unhappily I am in great ignorance of my Father and his life. I only came to live with him a year ago; and I know nothing whatever of his affairs. I do not even know who you are, or in what way your business is associated with him.' She said this with a little deprecating smile, all conventional and altogether graceful; as though to express in the most genuine way her absurd ignorance.
He looked steadily at her for perhaps a quarter of a minute; then he spoke, beginning at once as though his mind were made up and his confidence established;
'My name is Eugene Corbeck. I am a Master of Arts and Doctor of Laws and Master of Surgery of Cambridge; Doctor of Letters of Oxford; Doctor of Science and Doctor of Languages of London University; Doctor of Philosophy of Berlin; Doctor of Oriental Languages of Paris. I have some other degrees, honorary and otherwise, but I need not trouble you with them. Those I have named will show you that I am sufficiently feathered with diplomas to fly into even a sick-room. Early in life--fortunately for my interests and pleasures, but unfortunately for my pocket--I fell in with Egyptology. I must have been bitten by some powerful scarab, for I took it bad. I went out tomb-hunting; and managed to get a living of a sort, and to learn some things that you can't get out of books. I was in pretty low water when I met your Father, who was doing some explorations on his own account; and since then I haven't found that I have many unsatisfied wants. He is a real patron of the arts; no mad Egyptologist can ever hope for a better chief!'
He spoke with feeling; and I was glad to see that Miss Trelawny coloured -up with pleasure at the praise of her father. I could not help noticing, however, that Mr. Corbeck was, in a measure, speaking as if against time. I took it that he wished, while speaking, to study his ground; to see how far he would be justified in making confidence with the two strangers before him. As he went on, I could see that his confidence kept increasing. When I thought of it afterward, and remembered what he had said, I realized that the mea sure of the information which he gave us marked his growing trust.
'I have been several times out on expeditions in Egypt for your Father; and I have always found it a delight to work for him. Many of his treasures--and he has some rare ones, I tell you--he has procured through me, either by my exploration or by purchase--or--or--otherwise. Your Father, Miss Trelawny, has a rare knowledge. He sometimes makes up his mind that he wants to find a particular thing, of whose existence--if it still exists--he has become aware; and he will follow it all over the world till he gets it. I've been on just such a chase now.'
He stopped suddenly, as suddenly as though his mouth had been shut by the jerk of a string.-We waited; when he went on he spoke with a caution that was new to him, as though he wished to forestall our asking any questions:
'I am not at liberty to mention anything of my mission; where it was to, what it was for, or anything at all about it. Such matters are in confidence between Mr. Trelawny and myself; I am pledged to absolute secrecy.'
He paused, and an embarrassed look crept over his face. Suddenly he said:
'You are sure, Miss Trelawny, your Father is not well enough to see me today?'
A look of wonderment was on her face in turn. But it cleared at once;--she stood up, saying in a tone in which dignity and graciousness were blended:
'Come and see for yourself!' She moved toward her father's room; he followed, and I brought up the rear.
Mr. Corbeck entered the sick-room as though he knew it. There is an unconscious attitude or bearing to persons in new surroundings which there is no mistaking. Even in his anxiety to see his powerful friend, he glanced for a moment round the room, as at a familiar place. Then all his attention became fixed on the bed. I watched him narrowly, for somehow I felt that on this man depended much of our enlightenment regarding the strange matter in which we were involved.
It was not that I doubted him. The man was of transparent honesty; it was this very quality which we had to dread. He was of that courageous, fixed trueness to his undertaking that if he should deem it his duty to guard a secret he would do it to the last. The case before us was, at least, an unusual one; and it would, consequently, require more liberal recognition of bounds of the duty of secrecy than would hold under ordinary conditions. To us, ignorance was helplessness. If we could learn anything of the past we might at least form some idea of the conditions antecedent to the attack; and might, so, achieve some means of helping the patient to recovery. There were curios which might be removed.... My thoughts were beginning to whirl once again; I pulled myself up sharply and watched. There was a look of infinite pity on the sun-stained, rugged face as he gazed at his friend, lying so helpless. The sternness of Mr. Trelawny's face had not relaxed in sleep; but somehow it made the helplessness more marked. It would not have troubled one to see a weak or an ordinary face under such conditions; but this purposeful, masterful man, lying before us wrapped in impenetrable sleep, had all the pathos of a great ruin. The sight was, not a new one to us; but I could see that Miss Trelawny, like myself, was moved afresh by it in the presence of the stranger. Mr. Corbeck's face grew stern. All the pity died away; and in its stead came a grim, hard look which boded ill for whoever had been the cause of this mighty downfall. This look in turn gave place to one of decision; the volcanic energy of the man was working to some definite purpose. He glanced around at us; and as his eyes lighted on Nurse Kennedy his eyebrows went up a trifle. She noted the look, and glanced interrogatively at Miss Trelawny, who flashed back a reply with a glance. She went quietly from the room, closing the door behind her. Mr. Corbeck looked first at me, with a strong man's natural impulse to learn from a man rather than a woman; then at Miss Trelawny, with a remembrance of the duty of courtesy, and said:
'Tell me all about it. How it began and when!' Miss Trelawny looked at me appealingly; and forthwith I told him all that I knew. He seemed to make no motion during the whole time; but insensibly the bronze face became steel. When, at the end, I told him of Mr. Marvin's visit and of the Power of Attorney, his look began to brighten. And when, seeing his interest in the matter, I went more into detail as to its terms, he spoke:
'Good? Now I know where my duty lies!'
With a sinking heart I heard him. Such a phrase, coming at such a time, seemed to close the door to my hopes of enlightenment.
'What do you mean?' I asked, feeling that my question was a feeble one.
His answer emphasized my fears:
'Trelawny knows what he is doing. He had some definite purpose in all that he did; and we must not thwart him. He evidently expected something to happen, and guarded himself at all points.'
'Not at all points!' I said impulsively. 'There must have been a weak spot somewhere, or he wouldn't be lying there like that!' Somehow his impassiveness surprised me. I had expected that he would find a valid argument in my phrase; but it did not move him, at least not in the way I thought. Something like a smile flickered over his swarthy face as he answered me:
'This is not the end! Trelawny did not guard himself to no purpose. Doubtless, he expected this too; or at any rate the possibility of it.'
'Do you know what he expected, or from what source?' The questioner was Miss Trelawny.
The answer came at once: 'No! I know nothing of either. I can guess ...' He stopped suddenly.
'Guess what?' The suppressed excitement in the girl's voice was akin to anguish. The steely look came over the swarthy face again: but there was tenderness and courtesy in both voice and manner as he replied:
'Believe me, I would do anything I honestly could to relieve your anxiety. But in this I have a higher duty.'
'Silence!' As he spoke the word, the strong mouth closed like a steel trap.
We all remained silent for a few minutes. In the intensity of our thinking, the silence became a positive thing; the small sounds of life within and without the house seemed intrusive. The first to break it was Miss Trelawny. I had seen an idea--a hope--flash in her eyes; but she steadied herself before speaking:
'What was the urgent subject on which you wanted to see me, knowing that my Father was--not available?' The pause showed her mastery of her thoughts.
The instantaneous change in Mr. Corbeck was almost ludicrous. His start of surprise, coming close upon his ironclad impassiveness, was like a pantomimic change. But all idea of comedy was swept away by the tragic earnestness with which he remembered his original purpose.
'My God!' he said, as he raised his hand from the chair back on which it rested, and beat it down with a violence which would in itself have arrested attention. His brows corrugated as he went on: 'I quite forgot! What a loss! Now of all times! Just at the moment of success! He lying there helpless, and my tongue tied! Not able to raise hand or foot in my ignorance of his wishes!'
'What is it? Oh, do tell us! I am so anxious about my dear Father! Is it any new trouble! I hope not! Oh, I hope not! I have had such anxiety and trouble already! It alarms me afresh to hear you speak so! Won't you tell me something to allay this terrible anxiety and uncertainty?'
He drew his sturdy form up to his full height as he said:
'Alas! I cannot, may not, tell you anything. It is his secret.' He pointed to the bed. 'And yet--and yet I came here for his advice, his Counsel, his assistance. And he lies there helpless.... And time is flying by us! It may soon be too late!'
'What is it? What is it?' broke in Miss Trelawny in a sort of passion of anxiety, her face drawn with pain, 'Oh, speak! Say something! This anxiety, and horror, and mystery are killing me!' Mr. Corbeck calmed himself by a great effort.
'I may not tell you details; but I have had a great loss. My mission, in which I have spent three years, was successful. I discovered all that I sought--and more; and brought them home with me safely. Treasures, priceless in themselves, but doubly precious to him by whose wishes and instructions I sought them. I arrived in London only last night; and when I woke this morning my precious charge was stolen. Stolen in some mysterious way. Not a soul in London knew that I was arriving. No one but myself knew what war in the shabby portmanteau that I carried. My room had but one door, and that I locked and bolted. The room was high in the house, five storeys up, so that no entrance could have been obtained-by the window. Indeed, I had closed the window myself and shut the hasp, for I wished to be secure in every way. This morning the hasp was untouched... And yet-my portmanteau was empty. The lamps were gone!... There! It is out. I went to Egypt to search for a set of antique lamps which Mr. Trelawny wished to trace. With incredible labour, and through many dangers, I followed them. I brought them safe home... And now!' He turned away much moved. Even his iron nature was breaking down under the sense of loss.
Miss Trelawny stepped over and laid her hand on his arm. I looked at her in amazement. All the passion and pain which had so moved her seemed to have taken the form of resolution. Her form was erect, her eyes blazed; energy was manifest in every nerve and fibre of her being. Even her voice was full of nervous power as she spoke. It was apparent that she was a marvellously strong woman, and that her strength could answer when called upon.
'We must act at once! My Father's wishes must be carried out, if it is possible to us. Mr. Ross, you are a lawyer. We have actually in the house a man whom you consider one of the best detectives in London. Surely we can do something. We can begin at once!' Mr. Corbeck took new life from her enthusiasm.
'Good! You are your Father's daughter!' was all he said. But his admiration for her energy was manifested by the impulsive way in which he took her hand. I moved over to the door. I was going to bring Sergeant Daw: and from her look of approval, I knew that Margaret--Miss Trelawny-- understood. I was at the door when Mr. Corbeck called me back.
'One moment,' he said, 'before we bring a stranger on the scene. It must be borne in mind that he is not to know what you know now, that the lamps were the objects of a prolonged and difficult and dangerous search. All I can tell him, all that he must know from any source, is that some of my property has been stolen. I must describe some of the lamps, especially one, for it is of gold: and my fear is lest the thief, ignorant of its historic worth, may, in order to cover up his crime, have it melted. I would willingly pay ten, twenty, a hundred, a thousand times its intrinsic value rather than have it destroyed. I shall tell him only what is necessary. So, please, let me answer any questions he may ask; unless, of course, I ask you or refer to either of you for the answer.' We both nodded acquiescence. Then a thought struck me and I said:
'By the way, if it be necessary to keep this matter quiet it will be better to have it if possible a private job for the Detective. If once a thing gets to Scotland Yard it is out of our power to keep it quiet, and further secrecy may be impossible. I shall sound Sergeant Daw before he comes up. If I say nothing, it will mean that he accepts the task and will deal with it privately.' Mr. Corbeck answered at once:
'Secrecy is everything. The one thing I dread is that the lamps, or some of them, may be destroyed at once.' To my' intense astonishment Miss Trelawny spoke out at once, but quietly in a decided voice:
'They will not be destroyed; nor any of them!' Mr. Corbeck actually smiled in amazement.
'How on earth do you know?' he asked. Her answer was still more incomprehensible:
'I don't know how I know it; but know it I do. I feel it all through me; as though it were a conviction which has been with me all my life!'