The Jewel of Seven Stars - Page 8

By the empty bed sat Nurse Kennedy, as my eyes had last seen her,sitting bolt upright in the arm-chair beside the bed. She had placed apillow behind her, so that her back might be erect; but her neck wasfixed as that of one in a cataleptic trance. She was, to all intentsand purposes, turned into stone. There was no special expression onher face--no fear, no horror; nothing such as might be expected of onein such a condition. Her open eyes showed neither wonder nor interest.She was simply a negative existence, warm, breathing, placid; butabsolutely unconscious of the world around her. The bedclothes weredisarranged, as though the patient had been drawn from under themwithout throwing them back. The corner of the upper sheet hung uponthe floor; close by it lay one of the bandages with which the Doctorhad dressed the wounded wrist. Another and another lay further alongthe floor, as though forming a clue to where the sick man now lay.This was almost exactly where he had been found on the previous night,under the great safe. Again, the left arm lay toward the safe. Butthere had been a new outrage, an attempt had been made to sever the armclose to the bangle which held the tiny key. A heavy "kukri"knife--one of the leaf-shaped knives which the Gurkhas and others ofthe hill tribes of India use with such effect--had been taken from itsplace on the wall, and with it the attempt had been made. It wasmanifest that just at the moment of striking, the blow had beenarrested, for only the point of the knife and not the edge of the bladehad struck the flesh. As it was, the outer side of the arm had beencut to the bone and the blood was pouring out. In addition, the formerwound in front of the arm had been cut or torn about terribly, one ofthe cuts seemed to jet out blood as if with each pulsation of theheart. By the side of her father knelt Miss Trelawny, her whitenightdress stained with the blood in which she knelt. In the middle ofthe room Sergeant Daw, in his shirt and trousers and stocking feet, wasputting fresh cartridges into his revolver in a dazed mechanical kindof way. His eyes were red and heavy, and he seemed only half awake,and less than half conscious of what was going on around him. Severalservants, bearing lights of various kinds, were clustered round thedoorway.

As I rose from my chair and came forward, Miss Trelawny raised her eyestoward me. When she saw me she shrieked and started to her feet,pointing towards me. Never shall I forget the strange picture shemade, with her white drapery all smeared with blood which, as she rosefrom the pool, ran in streaks toward her bare feet. I believe that Ihad only been asleep; that whatever influence had worked on Mr.Trelawny and Nurse Kennedy--and in less degree on Sergeant Daw--had nottouched me. The respirator had been of some service, though it had notkept off the tragedy whose dire evidences were before me. I canunderstand now--I could understand even then--the fright, added to thatwhich had gone before, which my appearance must have evoked. I hadstill on the respirator, which covered mouth and nose; my hair had beentossed in my sleep. Coming suddenly forward, thus enwrapped anddishevelled, in that horrified crowd, I must have had, in the strangemixture of lights, an extraordinary and terrifying appearance. It waswell that I recognised all this in time to avert another catastrophe;for the half-dazed, mechanically-acting Detective put in the cartridgesand had raised his revolver to shoot at me when I succeeded inwrenching off the respirator and shouting to him to hold his hand. Inthis also he acted mechanically; the red, half-awake eyes had not inthem even then the intention of conscious action. The danger, however,was averted. The relief of the situation, strangely enough, came in asimple fashion. Mrs. Grant, seeing that her young mistress had on onlyher nightdress, had gone to fetch a dressing-gown, which she now threwover her. This simple act brought us all back to the region of fact.With a long breath, one and all seemed to devote themselves to the mostpressing matter before us, that of staunching the flow of blood fromthe arm of the wounded man. Even as the thought of action came, Irejoiced; for the bleeding was very proof that Mr. Trelawny still lived.

Last night's lesson was not thrown away. More than one of thosepresent knew now what to do in such an emergency, and within a fewseconds willing hands were at work on a tourniquet. A man was at oncedespatched for the doctor, and several of the servants disappeared tomake themselves respectable. We lifted Mr. Trelawny on to the sofawhere he had lain yesterday; and, having done what we could for him,turned our attention to the Nurse. In all the turmoil she had notstirred; she sat there as before, erect and rigid, breathing softly andnaturally and with a placid smile. As it was manifestly of no use toattempt anything with her till the doctor had come, we began to thinkof the general situation.

Mrs. Grant had by this time taken her mistress away and changed herclothes; for she was back presently in a dressing-gown and slippers,and with the traces of blood removed from her hands. She was now muchcalmer, though she trembled sadly; and her face was ghastly white.When she had looked at her father's wrist, I holding the tourniquet,she turned her eyes round the room, resting them now and again on eachone of us present in turn, but seeming to find no comfort. It was soapparent to me that she did not know where to begin or whom to trustthat, to reassure her, I said:

"I am all right now; I was only asleep." Her voice had a gulp in it asshe said in a low voice:

"Asleep! You! and my Father in danger! I thought you were on thewatch!" I felt the sting of justice in the reproach; but I reallywanted to help her, so I answered:

"Only asleep. It is bad enough, I know; but there is something morethan an "only" round us here. Had it not been that I took a definiteprecaution I might have been like the Nurse there." She turned hereyes swiftly on the weird figure, sitting grimly upright like a paintedstatue; and then her face softened. With the action of habitualcourtesy she said:

"Forgive me! I did not mean to be rude. But I am in such distress andfear that I hardly know what I am saying. Oh, it is dreadful! I fearfor fresh trouble and horror and mystery every moment." This cut me tothe very heart, and out of the heart's fulness I spoke:

"Don't give me a thought! I don't deserve it. I was on guard, and yetI slept. All that I can say is that I didn't mean to, and I tried toavoid it; but it was over me before I knew it. Anyhow, it is done now;and can't be undone. Probably some day we may understand it all; butnow let us try to get at some idea of what has happened. Tell me whatyou remember!" The effort to recollect seemed to stimulate her; shebecame calmer as she spoke:

"I was asleep, and woke suddenly with the same horrible feeling on methat Father was in great and immediate danger. I jumped up and ran,just as I was, into his room. It was nearly pitch dark, but as Iopened the door there was light enough to see Father's nightdress as helay on the floor under the safe, just as on that first awful night.Then I think I must have gone mad for a moment." She stopped andshuddered. My eyes lit on Sergeant Daw, still fiddling in an aimlessway with the revolver. Mindful of my work with the tourniquet, I saidcalmly:

"Now tell us, Sergeant Daw, what did you fire at?" The policemanseemed to pull himself together with the habit of obedience. Lookingaround at the servants remaining in the room, he said with that air ofimportance which, I take it, is the regulation attitude of an officialof the law before strangers:

"Don't you think, sir, that we can allow the servants to go away? Wecan then better go into the matter." I nodded approval; the servantstook the hint and withdrew, though unwillingly, the last one closingthe door behind him. Then the Detective went on:

"I think I had better tell you my impressions, sir, rather than recountmy actions. That is, so far as I remember them." There was a mortifieddeference now in his manner, which probably arose from hisconsciousness of the awkward position in which he found himself. "Iwent to sleep half-dressed--as I am now, with a revolver under mypillow. It was the last thing I r

emember thinking of. I do not knowhow long I slept. I had turned off the electric light, and it wasquite dark. I thought I heard a scream; but I can't be sure, for Ifelt thick-headed as a man does when he is called too soon after anextra long stretch of work. Not that such was the case this time.Anyhow my thoughts flew to the pistol. I took it out, and ran on tothe landing. Then I heard a sort of scream, or rather a call for help,and ran into this room. The room was dark, for the lamp beside theNurse was out, and the only light was that from the landing, comingthrough the open door. Miss Trelawny was kneeling on the floor besideher father, and was screaming. I thought I saw something move betweenme and the window; so, without thinking, and being half dazed and onlyhalf awake, I shot at it. It moved a little more to the right betweenthe windows, and I shot again. Then you came up out of the big chairwith all that muffling on your face. It seemed to me, being as I sayhalf dazed and half awake--I know, sir, you will take this intoaccount--as if it had been you, being in the same direction as thething I had fired at. And so I was about to fire again when you pulledoff the wrap." Here I asked him--I was cross-examining now and felt athome:

"You say you thought I was the thing you fired at. What thing?" Theman scratched his head, but made no reply.

"Come, sir," I said, "what thing; what was it like?" The answer camein a low voice:

"I don't know, sir. I thought there was something; but what it was, orwhat it was like, I haven't the faintest notion. I suppose it wasbecause I had been thinking of the pistol before I went to sleep, andbecause when I came in here I was half dazed and only half awake--whichI hope you will in future, sir, always remember." He clung to thatformula of excuse as though it were his sheet-anchor. I did not wantto antagonise the man; on the contrary I wanted to have him with us.Besides, I had on me at that time myself the shadow of my own default;so I said as kindly as I knew how:

"Quite right! Sergeant. Your impulse was correct; though of course inthe half-somnolent condition in which you were, and perhaps partlyaffected by the same influence--whatever it may be--which made me sleepand which has put the Nurse in that cataleptic trance, it could not beexpected that you would paused to weigh matters. But now, whilst thematter is fresh, let me see exactly where you stood and where I sat.We shall be able to trace the course of your bullets." The prospect ofaction and the exercise of his habitual skill seemed to brace him atonce; he seemed a different man as he set about his work. I asked Mrs.Grant to hold the tourniquet, and went and stood where he had stood andlooked where, in the darkness, he had pointed. I could not but noticethe mechanical exactness of his mind, as when he showed me where he hadstood, or drew, as a matter of course, the revolver from his pistolpocket, and pointed with it. The chair from which I had risen stillstood in its place. Then I asked him to point with his hand only, as Iwished to move in the track of his shot.

Just behind my chair, and a little back of it, stood a high buhlcabinet. The glass door was shattered. I asked:

"Was this the direction of your first shot or your second?" The answercame promptly.

"The second; the first was over there!"

He turned a little to the left, more toward the wall where the greatsafe stood, and pointed. I followed the direction of his hand and cameto the low table whereon rested, amongst other curios, the mummy of thecat which had raised Silvio's ire. I got a candle and easily found themark of the bullet. It had broken a little glass vase and a tazza ofblack basalt, exquisitely engraved with hieroglyphics, the graven linesbeing filled with some faint green cement and the whole thing beingpolished to an equal surface. The bullet, flattened against the wall,lay on the table.

I then went to the broken cabinet. It was evidently a receptacle forvaluable curios; for in it were some great scarabs of gold, agate,green jasper, amethyst, lapis lazuli, opal, granite, and blue-greenchina. None of these things happily were touched. The bullet had gonethrough the back of the cabinet; but no other damage, save theshattering of the glass, had been done. I could not but notice thestrange arrangement of the curios on the shelf of the cabinet. All thescarabs, rings, amulets, &c. were arranged in an uneven oval round anexquisitely-carved golden miniature figure of a hawk-headed God crownedwith a disk and plumes. I did not wait to look further at present, formy attention was demanded by more pressing things; but I determined tomake a more minute examination when I should have time. It was evidentthat some of the strange Egyptian smell clung to these old curios;through the broken glass came an added whiff of spice and gum andbitumen, almost stronger than those I had already noticed as comingfrom others in the room.

All this had really taken but a few minutes. I was surprised when myeye met, through the chinks between the dark window blinds and thewindow cases, the brighter light of the coming dawn. When I went backto the sofa and took the tourniquet from Mrs. Grant, she went over andpulled up the blinds.

It would be hard to imagine anything more ghastly than the appearanceof the room with the faint grey light of early morning coming in uponit. As the windows faced north, any light that came was a fixed greylight without any of the rosy possibility of dawn which comes in theeastern quarter of heaven. The electric lights seemed dull and yetglaring; and every shadow was of a hard intensity. There was nothingof morning freshness; nothing of the softness of night. All was hardand cold and inexpressibly dreary. The face of the senseless man onthe sofa seemed of a ghastly yellow; and the Nurse's face had taken asuggestion of green from the shade of the lamp near her. Only MissTrelawny's face looked white; and it was of a pallor which made myheart ache. It looked as if nothing on God's earth could ever againbring back to it the colour of life and happiness.

It was a relief to us all when Doctor Winchester came in, breathlesswith running. He only asked one question:

"Can anyone tell me anything of how this wound was gotten?" On seeingthe headshake which went round us under his glance, he said no more,but applied himself to his surgical work. For an instant he looked upat the Nurse sitting so still; but then bent himself to his task, agrave frown contracting his brows. It was not till the arteries weretied and the wounds completely dressed that he spoke again, except, ofcourse, when he had asked for anything to be handed to him or to bedone for him. When Mr. Trelawny's wounds had been thoroughly caredfor, he said to Miss Trelawny:

"What about Nurse Kennedy?" She answered at once:

"I really do not know. I found her when I came into the room athalf-past two o'clock, sitting exactly as she does now. We have notmoved her, or changed her position. She has not wakened since. EvenSergeant Daw's pistol-shots did not disturb her."

"Pistol-shots? Have you then discovered any cause for this newoutrage?" The rest were silent, so I answered:

Tags: Bram Stoker Horror
Source: Copyright 2016 - 2023