The Jewel of Seven Stars - Page 21

"Certainly, with the greatest pleasure, so far as I can. For I maytell you that hieroglyphic writing is not quite mastered yet; though weare getting at it! We are getting at it! What is the inscription?"

"There are two," he answered. "One of them I shall bring here."

He went out, and returned in a minute with the mummy cat which he hadthat evening introduced to Silvio. The scholar took it; and, after ashort examination, said:

"There is nothing especial in this. It is an appeal to Bast, the Ladyof Bubastis, to give her good bread and milk in the Elysian Fields.There may be more inside; and if you will care to unroll it, I will domy best. I do not think, however, that there is anything special.From the method of wrapping I should say it is from the Delta; and of alate period, when such mummy work was common and cheap. What is theother inscription you wish me to see?"

"The inscription on the mummy cat in Mr. Trelawny's room."

Mr. Corbeck's face fell. "No!" he said, "I cannot do that! I am, forthe present at all events, practically bound to secrecy regarding anyof the things in Mr. Trelawny's room."

Doctor Winchester's comment and my own were made at the same moment. Isaid only the one word "Checkmate!" from which I think he may havegathered that I guessed more of his idea and purpose than perhaps I hadintentionally conveyed to him. He murmured:

"Practically bound to secrecy?"

Mr. Corbeck at once took up the challenge conveyed:

"Do not misunderstand me! I am not bound by any definite pledge ofsecrecy; but I am bound in honour to respect Mr. Trelawny's confidence,given to me, I may tell you, in a very large measure. Regarding manyof the objects in his room he has a definite purpose in view; and itwould not be either right or becoming for me, his trusted friend andconfidant, to forestall that purpose. Mr. Trelawny, you may know--orrather you do not know or you would not have so construed my remark--isa scholar, a very great scholar. He has worked for years toward acertain end. For this he has spared no labour, no expense, no personaldanger or self-denial. He is on the line of a result which will placehim amongst the foremost discoverers or investigators of his age. Andnow, just at the time when any hour might bring him success, he isstricken down!"

He stopped, seemingly overcome with emotion. After a time he recoveredhimself and went on:

"Again, do not misunderstand me as to another point. I have said thatMr. Trelawny has made much confidence with me; but I do not mean tolead you to believe that I know all his plans, or his aims or objects.I know the period which he has been studying; and the definitehistorical individual whose life he has been investigating, and whoserecords he has bee

n following up one by one with infinite patience.But beyond this I know nothing. That he has some aim or object in thecompletion of this knowledge I am convinced. What it is I may guess;but I must say nothing. Please to remember, gentlemen, that I havevoluntarily accepted the position of recipient of a partial confidence.I have respected that; and I must ask any of my friends to do the same."

He spoke with great dignity; and he grew, moment by moment, in therespect and esteem of both Doctor Winchester and myself. We understoodthat he had not done speaking; so we waited in silence till hecontinued:

"I have spoken this much, although I know well that even such a hint aseither of you might gather from my words might jeopardise the successof his work. But I am convinced that you both wish to help him--andhis daughter," he said this looking me fairly between the eyes, "to thebest of your power, honestly and unselfishly. He is so stricken down,and the manner of it is so mysterious that I cannot but think that itis in some way a result of his own work. That he calculated on someset-back is manifest to us all. God knows! I am willing to do what Ican, and to use any knowledge I have in his behalf. I arrived inEngland full of exultation at the thought that I had fulfilled themission with which he had trusted me. I had got what he said were thelast objects of his search; and I felt assured that he would now beable to begin the experiment of which he had often hinted to me. It istoo dreadful that at just such a time such a calamity should havefallen on him. Doctor Winchester, you are a physician; and, if yourface does not belie you, you are a clever and a bold one. Is there noway which you can devise to wake this man from his unnatural stupor?"

There was a pause; then the answer came slowly and deliberately:

"There is no ordinary remedy that I know of. There might possibly besome extraordinary one. But there would be no use in trying to findit, except on one condition."

"And that?"

"Knowledge! I am completely ignorant of Egyptian matters, language,writing, history, secrets, medicines, poisons, occult powers--all thatgo to make up the mystery of that mysterious land. This disease, orcondition, or whatever it may be called, from which Mr. Trelawny issuffering, is in some way connected with Egypt. I have had a suspicionof this from the first; and later it grew into a certainty, thoughwithout proof. What you have said tonight confirms my conjecture, andmakes me believe that a proof is to be had. I do not think that youquite know all that has gone on in this house since the night of theattack--of the finding of Mr. Trelawny's body. Now I propose that weconfide in you. If Mr. Ross agrees, I shall ask him to tell you. He ismore skilled than I am in putting facts before other people. He canspeak by his brief; and in this case he has the best of all briefs, theexperience of his own eyes and ears, and the evidence that he hashimself taken on the spot from participators in, or spectators of, whathas happened. When you know all, you will, I hope, be in a position tojudge as to whether you can best help Mr. Trelawny, and further hissecret wishes, by your silence or your speech."

I nodded approval. Mr. Corbeck jumped up, and in his impulsive wayheld out a hand to each.

"Done!" he said. "I acknowledge the honour of your confidence; and onmy part I pledge myself that if I find my duty to Mr. Trelawny's wisheswill, in his own interest, allow my lips to open on his affairs, Ishall speak so freely as I may."

Accordingly I began, and told him, as exactly as I could, everythingthat had happened from the moment of my waking at the knocking on thedoor in Jermyn Street. The only reservations I made were as to my ownfeeling toward Miss Trelawny and the matters of small import to themain subject which followed it; and my conversations with Sergeant Daw,which were in themselves private, and which would have demandeddiscretionary silence in any case. As I spoke, Mr. Corbeck followedwith breathless interest. Sometimes he would stand up and pace aboutthe room in uncontrollable excitement; and then recover himselfsuddenly, and sit down again. Sometimes he would be about to speak,but would, with an effort, restrain himself. I think the narrationhelped me to make up my own mind; for even as I talked, things seemedto appear in a clearer light. Things big and little, in relation oftheir importance to the case, fell into proper perspective. The storyup to date became coherent, except as to its cause, which seemed agreater mystery than ever. This is the merit of entire, or collected,narrative. Isolated facts, doubts, suspicions, conjectures, give wayto a homogeneity which is convincing.

That Mr. Corbeck was convinced was evident. He did not go through anyprocess of explanation or limitation, but spoke right out at once tothe point, and fearlessly like a man:

"That settles me! There is in activity some Force that needs specialcare. If we all go on working in the dark we shall get in oneanother's way, and by hampering each other, undo the good that any oreach of us, working in different directions, might do. It seems to methat the first thing we have to accomplish is to get Mr. Trelawny wakedout of that unnatural sleep. That he can be waked is apparent from theway the Nurse has recovered; though what additional harm may have beendone to him in the time he has been lying in that room I suppose no onecan tell. We must chance that, however. He has lain there, andwhatever the effect might be, it is there now; and we have, and shallhave, to deal with it as a fact. A day more or less won't hurt in thelong-run. It is late now; and we shall probably have tomorrow a taskbefore us that will require our energies afresh. You, Doctor, willwant to get to your sleep; for I suppose you have other work as well asthis to do tomorrow. As for you, Mr. Ross, I understand that you areto have a spell of watching in the sick-room tonight. I shall get youa book which will help to pass the time for you. I shall go and lookfor it in the library. I know where it was when I was here last; and Idon't suppose Mr. Trelawny has used it since. He knew long ago allthat was in it which was or might be of interest to him. But it willbe necessary, or at least helpful, to understand other things which Ishall tell you later. You will be able to tell Doctor Winchester allthat would aid him. For I take it that our work will branch out prettysoon. We shall each have our own end to hold up; and it will take eachof us all our time and understanding to get through his own tasks. Itwill not be necessary for you to read the whole book. All that willinterest you--with regard to our matter I mean of course, for the wholebook is interesting as a record of travel in a country then quiteunknown--is the preface, and two or three chapters which I shall markfor you."

He shook hands warmly with Doctor Winchester who had stood up to go.

Whilst he was away I sat lonely, thinking. As I thought, the worldaround me seemed to be illimitably great. The only little spot inwhich I was interested seemed like a tiny speck in the midst of awilderness. Without and around it were darkness and unknown danger,pressing in from every side. And the central figure in our littleoasis was one of sweetness and beauty. A figure one could love; couldwork for; could die for...!

Mr. Corbeck came back in a very short time with the book; he had foundit at once in the spot where he had seen it three years before. Havingplaced in it several slips of paper, marking the places where I was toread, he put it into my hands, saying:

"That is what started Mr. Trelawny; what started me when I read it; andwhich will, I have no doubt, be to you an interesting beginning to aspecial study--whatever the end may be. If, indeed, any of us here mayever see the end."

At the door he paused and said:

"I want to take back one thing. That Detective is a good fellow. Whatyou have told me of him puts him in a new light. The best proof of itis that I can go quietly to sleep tonight, and leave the lamps in hiscare!"

Tags: Bram Stoker Horror
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