"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 oppositedirections."
"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 myinterest in Miss Trelawny, in the matter. As it was, however, I stoodit unruffled. I was now an attorney in the case; an amicus curiae inone sense, in another retained for the defence. The mere thought thatin this clever man's mind were two lines, equally strong and opposite,was in itself so consoling as to neutralise my anxiety as to a newattack. As he began to speak, the Doctor's face wore an inscrutablesmile; 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; organisedcatalepsy which points to either criminal hypnotism and thoughtsuggestion, or some simple form of poisoning unclassified yet in ourtoxicology. In the other there is some influence at work which is notclassified in any book that I know--outside the pages of romance. Inever 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 inthe house, which forbids the possibility of an organised attempt madefrom the servants" hall. He is wealthy, learned, clever. From hisphysiognomy there is no doubting that he is a man of iron will anddetermined purpose. His daughter--his only child, I take it, a younggirl bright and clever--is sleeping in the very next room to his.There is seemingly no possible reason for expecting any attack ordisturbance of any kind; and no reasonable opportunity for any outsiderto effect it. And yet we have an attack made; a brutal and remorselessattack, made in the middle of the night. Discovery is made quickly;made with that rapidity which in criminal cases generally is found tobe not accidental, but of premeditated intent. The attacker, orattackers, are manifestly disturbed before the completion of theirwork, whatever their ultimate intent may have been. And yet there isno possible sign of their escape; no clue, no disturbance of anything;no open door or window; no sound. Nothing whatever to show who haddone 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 ho
use is full ofwakeful people; and though there are on watch in the room and around ita detective officer, a trained nurse, an earnest friend, and the man'sown daughter. The nurse is thrown into a catalepsy, and the watchingfriend--though protected by a respirator--into a deep sleep. Even thedetective is so far overcome with some phase of stupor that he firesoff his pistol in the sick-room, and can't even tell what he thought hewas firing at. That respirator of yours is the only thing that seemsto have a bearing on the 'fact' side of the affair. That you did notlose your head as the others did--the effect in such case being inproportion to the amount of time each remained in the room--points tothe probability that the stupefying medium was not hypnotic, whateverelse it may have been. But again, there is a fact which iscontradictory. Miss Trelawny, who was in the room more than any ofyou--for she was in and out all the time and did her share of permanentwatching also--did not seem to be affected at all. This would showthat 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 shouldturn out that it be some strange exhalation from some of those Egyptiancurios, that might account for it; only, we are then face to face withthe fact that Mr. Trelawny, who was most of all in the room--who, infact, 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 thesedifferent and contradictory effects? No! the more I think of this formof the dilemma, the more I am bewildered! Why, even if it were thatthe attack, the physical attack, on Mr. Trelawny had been made by someone residing in the house and not within the sphere of suspicion, theoddness of the stupefyings would still remain a mystery. It is noteasy to put anyone into a catalepsy. Indeed, so far as is known yet inscience, there is no way to achieve such an object at will. The cruxof the whole matter is Miss Trelawny, who seems to be subject to noneof the influences, or possibly of the variants of the same influence atwork. Through all she goes unscathed, except for that one slightsemi-faint. It is most strange!"
I listened with a sinking heart; for, though his manner was notilluminative of distrust, his argument was disturbing. Although it wasnot so direct as the suspicion of the Detective, it seemed to singleout Miss Trelawny as different from all others concerned; and in amystery to be alone is to be suspected, ultimately if not immediately.I thought it better not to say anything. In such a case silence isindeed golden; and if I said nothing now I might have less to defend,or explain, or take back later. I was, therefore, secretly glad thathis form of putting his argument did not require any answer fromme--for the present, at all events. Doctor Winchester did not seem toexpect any answer--a fact which, when I recognised it, gave mypleasure, I hardly knew why. He paused for a while, sitting with hischin in his hand, his eyes staring at vacancy, whilst his brows werefixed. His cigar was held limp between his fingers; he had apparentlyforgotten it. In an even voice, as though commencing exactly where hehad left off, he resumed his argument:
"The other horn of the dilemma is a different affair altogether; and ifwe once enter on it we must leave everything in the shape of scienceand experience behind us. I confess that it has its fascinations forme; though at every new thought I find myself romancing in a way thatmakes me pull up suddenly and look facts resolutely in the face. Isometimes wonder whether the influence or emanation from the sick-roomat 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, forexample, in vaporeal form, its effects may be cumulative. But then,what could there be that could produce such an effect? The room is, Iknow, full of mummy smell; and no wonder, with so many relics from thetomb, 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 traceof a mummy cat, and am to get possession of it in the morning. When Ibring it here we shall find out if it be a fact that racial instinctcan survive a few thousand years in the grave. However, to get back tothe subject in hand. These very mummy smells arise from the presenceof substances, and combinations of substances, which the Egyptianpriests, who were the learned men and scientists of their time, foundby the experience of centuries to be strong enough to arrest thenatural forces of decay. There must be powerful agencies at work toeffect such a purpose; and it is possible that we may have here somerare substance or combination whose qualities and powers are notunderstood in this later and more prosaic age. I wonder if Mr.Trelawny has any knowledge, or even suspicion, of such a kind? I onlyknow this for certain, that a worse atmosphere for a sick chamber couldnot possibly be imagined; and I admire the courage of Sir James Frerein refusing to have anything to do with a case under such conditions.These instructions of Mr. Trelawny to his daughter, and from what youhave told me, the care with which he has protected his wishes throughhis solicitor, show that he suspected something, at any rate. Indeed,it would almost seem as if he expected something to happen.... I wonderif it would be possible to learn anything about that! Surely hispapers would show or suggest something.... It is a difficult matter totackle; but it might have to be done. His present condition cannot goon for ever; and if anything should happen there would have to be aninquest. In such case full examination would have to be made intoeverything.... As it stands, the police evidence would show a murderousattack more than once repeated. As no clue is apparent, it would benecessary to seek one in a motive."
He was silent. The last words seemed to come in a lower and lower toneas he went on. It had the effect of hopelessness. It came to me as aconviction that now was my time to find out if he had any definitesuspicion; and as if in obedience to some command, I asked:
"Do you suspect anyone?" He seemed in a way startled rather thansurprised as he turned his eyes on me:
"Suspect anyone? Any thing, you mean. I certainly suspect that thereis some influence; but at present my suspicion is held within suchlimit. Later on, if there be any sufficiently definite conclusion tomy reasoning, or my thinking--for there are not proper data forreasoning--I may suspect; at present however--"
He stopped suddenly and looked at the door. There was a faint sound asthe handle turned. My own heart seemed to stand still. There was overme 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 secondsseem 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 lookingfor you, Doctor Winchester, to ask you if I might go to bed tonightwith safety, as you will be here. I feel so tired and worn-out that Ifear I may break down; and tonight I would certainly not be of anyuse." Doctor Winchester answered heartily:
"Do! Do go to bed by all means, and get a good night's sleep. Godknows! 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 apatient next."
She gave a sigh of relief, and the tired look seemed to melt from herface. 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? Iam so anxious about him that every second brings new fears. But I amreally worn-out; and if I don't get a good sleep, I think I shall gomad. I will change my room for tonight. I'm afraid that if I stay soclose 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 shallbe in the bedroom of the little suite next the boudoir off the hall. Ihad those rooms when first I came to live with Father, and I had nocare then.... It will be easier to rest there; and perhaps for a fewhours I may forget. I shall be all right in the morning. Good-night!"
When I had closed the door behind her and come bac
k to the little tableat which we had been sitting, Doctor Winchester said:
"That poor girl is overwrought to a terrible degree. I am delightedthat she is to get a rest. It will be life to her; and in the morningshe will be all right. Her nervous system is on the verge of abreakdown. Did you notice how fearfully disturbed she was, and how redshe got when she came in and found us talking? An ordinary thing likethat, in her own house with her own guests, wouldn't under normalcircumstances disturb her!"
I was about to tell him, as an explanation in her defence, how herentrance was a repetition of her finding the Detective and myself alonetogether earlier in the day, when I remembered that that conversationwas so private that even an allusion to it might be awkward in evokingcuriosity. So I remained silent.
We stood up to go to the sick-room; but as we took our way through thedimly-lighted corridor I could not help thinking, again and again, andagain--ay, and for many a day after--how strange it was that she hadinterrupted me on two such occasions when touching on such a theme.
There was certainly some strange web of accidents, in whose meshes wewere all involved.
The Traveller's Loss
That night everything went well. Knowing that Miss Trelawny herselfwas not on guard, Doctor Winchester and I doubled our vigilance. TheNurses and Mrs. Grant kept watch, and the Detectives made their visiteach quarter of an hour. All night the patient remained in his trance.He looked healthy, and his chest rose and fell with the easy breathingof a child. But he never stirred; only for his breathing he might havebeen of marble. Doctor Winchester and I wore our respirators, andirksome they were on that intolerably hot night. Between midnight andthree o'clock I felt anxious, and had once more that creepy feeling towhich these last few nights had accustomed me; but the grey of thedawn, stealing round the edges of the blinds, came with inexpressiblerelief, followed by restfulness, went through the household. Duringthe hot night my ears, strained to every sound, had been almostpainfully troubled; as though my brain or sensoria were in anxioustouch 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 toguardianship. Something of the same feeling must have been abroad inthe house; now and again I could hear upstairs the sound of restlessfeet, and more than once downstairs the opening of a window. With thecoming of the dawn, however, all this ceased, and the whole householdseemed to rest. Doctor Winchester went home when Sister Doris came torelieve Mrs. Grant. He was, I think, a little disappointed orchagrined that nothing of an exceptional nature had happened during hislong night vigil.
At eight o'clock Miss Trelawny joined us, and I was amazed as well asdelighted to see how much good her night's sleep had done her. She wasfairly radiant; just as I had seen her at our first meeting and at thepicnic. There was even a suggestion of colour in her cheeks, which,however, looked startlingly white in contrast with her black brows andscarlet lips. With her restored strength, there seemed to have come atenderness even exceeding that which she had at first shown to her sickfather. I could not but be moved by the loving touches as she fixedhis pillows and brushed the hair from his forehead.
I was wearied out myself with my long spell of watching; and now thatshe was on guard I started off to bed, blinking my tired eyes in thefull light and feeling the weariness of a sleepless night on me all atonce.