The Jewel of Seven Stars - Page 15

I had a good sleep, and after lunch I was about to start out to walk toJermyn Street, when I noticed an importunate man at the hall door. Theservant in charge was the one called Morris, formerly the "odd man,"but since the exodus of the servants promoted to be butler pro tem.The stranger was speaking rather loudly, so that there was nodifficulty in understanding his grievance. The servant man wasrespectful in both words and demeanour; but he stood squarely in frontof the great double door, so that the other could not enter. The firstwords which I heard from the visitor sufficiently explained thesituation:

"That's all very well, but I tell you I must see Mr. Trelawny! What isthe use of your saying I can't, when I tell you I must. You put meoff, and off, and off! I came here at nine; you said then that he wasnot up, and that as he was not well he could not be disturbed. I cameat twelve; and you told me again he was not up. I asked then to seeany of his household; you told me that Miss Trelawny was not up. Now Icome again at three, and you tell me he is still in bed, and is notawake yet. Where is Miss Trelawny? 'She is occupied and must not bedisturbed!' Well, she must be disturbed! Or some one must. I am hereabout Mr. Trelawny's special business; and I have come from a placewhere servants always begin by saying No. 'No' isn't good enough forme this time! I've had three years of it, waiting outside doors andtents when it took longer to get in than it did into the tombs; andthen 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, andfind the door of the man I've been working for barred, in just the sameway and with the same old answers, it stirs me up the wrong way. DidMr. Trelawny leave orders that he would not see me when I should come?"

He paused and excitedly mopped his forehead. The servant answered veryrespectfully:

"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 leaveany message, I will give it to Miss Trelawny; and if you will leaveyour address, she can communicate with you if she wishes." The answercame in such a way that it was easy to see that the speaker was akind-hearted man, and a just one.

"My good fellow, I have no fault to find with you personally; and I amsorry if I have hurt your feelings. I must be just, even if I amangry. But it is enough to anger any man to find himself in theposition I am. Time is pressing. There is not an hour--not aminute--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 angrierthan I am, when he hears how the time has been fooled away. He wouldrather be waked out of a thousand sleeps than not see me just atpresent--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 befoiled in the very doorway by a stupid flunkey! Is there no one withsense in the house; or with authority, even if he hasn't got sense? Icould mighty soon convince him that your master must be awakened; evenif he sleeps like the Seven Sleepers--"

There was no mistaking the man's sincerity, or the urgency andimportance of his business; from his point of view at any rate. Istepped forward.

"Morris," I said, "you had better tell Miss Trelawny that thisgentleman 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 wewent 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 nameis Corbeck. I would give you my card, but they don't use cards whereI've come from. And if I had had any, I suppose they, too, would havegone last night--"

He stopped suddenly, as though conscious that he had said too much. Weboth remained silent; as we waited I took stock of him. A short,sturdy man, brown as a coffee-berry; possibly inclined to be fat, butnow lean exceedingly. The deep wrinkles in his face and neck were notmerely from time and exposure; there were those unmistakable signswhere flesh or fat has fallen away, and the skin has become loose. Theneck was simply an intricate surface of seams and wrinkles, andsun-scarred with the burning of the Desert. The Far East, the TropicSeasons, and the Desert--each can have its colour mark. But all threeare quite different; and an eye which has once known, can thencefortheasily distinguish them. The dusky pallor of one; the fierce red-brownof the other; and of the third, the dark, ingrained burning, as thoughit had become a permanent colour. Mr. Corbeck had a big head, massiveand 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 ofphysiognomy, the frontal sinus boldly marked. The squareness of itshowed "ratiocination"; and the fulness under the eyes "language". Hehad the short, broad nose that marks energy; the square chin--markeddespite a thick, unkempt beard--and massive jaw that showed greatresolution.

"No bad man for the Desert!" I thought as I looked.

Miss Trelawny came very quickly. When Mr. Corbeck saw her, he seemedsomewhat surprised. But his annoyance and excitement had notdisappeared; quite enough remained to cover up any such secondary andpurely exoteric feeling as surprise. But as she spoke he never took hiseyes off her; and I made a mental note that I would find some earlyopportunity of investigating the cause of his surprise. She began withan apology which quite smoothed down his ruffled feelings:

"Of course, had my Father been well you would not have been keptwaiting. Indeed, had not I been on duty in the sick-room when youcalled the first time, I should have seen you at once. Now will youkindly tell me what is the matter which so presses?" He looked at meand

hesitated. She spoke at once:

"You may say before Mr. Ross anything which you can tell me. He has myfullest confidence, and is helping me in my trouble. I do not thinkyou quite understand how serious my Father's condition is. For threedays he has not waked, or given any sign of consciousness; and I am interrible trouble about him. Unhappily I am in great ignorance of myFather and his life. I only came to live with him a year ago; and Iknow 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 thiswith a little deprecating smile, all conventional and altogethergraceful; as though to express in the most genuine way her absurdignorance.

He looked steadily at her for perhaps a quarter of a minute; then hespoke, beginning at once as though his mind were made up and hisconfidence established:

"My name is Eugene Corbeck. I am a Master of Arts and Doctor of Lawsand Master of Surgery of Cambridge; Doctor of Letters of Oxford; Doctorof Science and Doctor of Languages of London University; Doctor ofPhilosophy of Berlin; Doctor of Oriental Languages of Paris. I havesome other degrees, honorary and otherwise, but I need not trouble youwith them. Those I have name will show you that I am sufficientlyfeathered with diplomas to fly into even a sick-room. Early inlife--fortunately for my interests and pleasures, but unfortunately formy pocket--I fell in with Egyptology. I must have been bitten by somepowerful scarab, for I took it bad. I went out tomb-hunting; andmanaged to get a living of a sort, and to learn some things that youcan't get out of books. I was in pretty low water when I met yourFather, who was doing some explorations on his own account; and sincethen I haven't found that I have many unsatisfied wants. He is a realpatron of the arts; no mad Egyptologist can ever hope for a betterchief!"

He spoke with feeling; and I was glad to see that Miss Trelawnycoloured up with pleasure at the praise of her father. I could nothelp noticing, however, that Mr. Corbeck was, in a measure, speaking asif against time. I took it that he wished, while speaking, to studyhis ground; to see how far he would be justified in taking intoconfidence the two strangers before him. As he went on, I could seethat his confidence kept increasing. When I thought of it afterward,and remembered what he had said, I realised that the measure of theinformation 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 histreasures--and he has some rare ones, I tell you-he has procuredthrough me, either by my exploration or by purchase--or--or--otherwise.Your Father, Miss Trelawny, has a rare knowledge. He sometimes makesup his mind that he wants to find a particular thing, of whoseexistence--if it still exists--he has become aware; and he will followit all over the world till he gets it. I've been on just such a chasenow."

He stopped suddenly, as suddenly as thought his mouth had been shut bythe jerk of a string. We waited; when he went on he spoke with acaution that was new to him, as though he wished to forestall ourasking any questions:

"I am not at liberty to mention anything of my mission; where it wasto, what it was for, or anything at all about it. Such matters are inconfidence between Mr. Trelawny and myself; I am pledged to absolutesecrecy."

He paused, and an embarrassed look crept over his face. Suddenly hesaid:

"You are sure, Miss Trelawny, your Father is not well enough to see metoday?"

A look of wonderment was on her face in turn. But it cleared atonce;--she stood up, saying in a tone in which dignity and graciousnesswere blended:

"Come and see for yourself!" She moved toward her father's room; hefollowed, and I brought up the rear.

Mr. Corbeck entered the sick-room as though he knew it. There is anunconscious attitude or bearing to persons in new surroundings whichthere 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. Thenall his attention became fixed on the bed. I watched him narrowly, forsomehow I felt that on this man depended much of our enlightenmentregarding the strange matter in which we were involved.

It was not that I doubted him. The man was of transparent honesty; itwas this very quality which we had to dread. He was of thatcourageous, fixed trueness to his undertaking, that if he should deemit his duty to guard a secret he would do it to the last. The casebefore us was, at least, an unusual one; and it would, consequently,require more liberal recognition of bounds of the duty of secrecy thanwould hold under ordinary conditions. To us, ignorance washelplessness. If we could learn anything of the past we might at leastform some idea of the conditions antecedent to the attack; and might,so, achieve some means of helping the patient to recovery. There werecurios which might be removed.... My thoughts were beginning to whirlonce again; I pulled myself up sharply and watched. There was a lookof infinite pity on the sun-stained, rugged face as he gazed at hisfriend, lying so helpless. The sternness of Mr. Trelawny's face had notrelaxed in sleep; but somehow it made the helplessness more marked. Itwould not have troubled one to see a weak or an ordinary face undersuch conditions; but this purposeful, masterful man, lying before uswrapped in impenetrable sleep, had all the pathos of a great ruin. Thesight was not a new one to us; but I could see that Miss Trelawny, likemyself, 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 steadcame a grim, hard look which boded ill for whoever had been the causeof this mighty downfall. This look in turn gave place to one ofdecision; the volcanic energy of the man was working to some definitepurpose. He glanced around at us; and as his eyes lighted on NurseKennedy his eyebrows went up a trifle. She noted the look, and glancedinterrogatively at Miss Trelawny, who flashed back a reply with aglance. She went quietly from the room, closing the door behind her.Mr. Corbeck looked first at me, with a strong man's natural impulse tolearn from a man rather than a woman; then at Miss Trelawny, with aremembrance of the duty of courtesy, and said:

Tags: Bram Stoker Horror
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