"You may have left it in your room, Father. Perhaps it has fallen outof the pocket-book whilst you were changing." Without a word we allhurried into the next room through the open door between the study andthe bedroom. And then a sudden calm fell on us like a cloud of fear.
There! on the table, lay the Jewel of Seven Stars, shining andsparkling with lurid light, as though each of the seven points of eachthe seven stars gleamed through blood!
Timidly we each looked behind us, and then at each other. Margaret wasnow like the rest of us. She had lost her statuesque calm. All theintrospective rigidity had gone from her; and she clasped her handstogether till the knuckles were white.
Without a word Mr. Trelawny raised the Jewel, and hurried with it intothe next room. As quietly as he could he opened the door of the safewith the key fastened to his wrist and placed the Jewel within. Whenthe heavy doors were closed and locked he seemed to breathe more freely.
Somehow this episode, though a disturbing one in many ways, seemed tobring us back to our old selves. Since we had left London we had allbeen overstrained; and this was a sort of relief. Another step in ourstrange enterprise had been effected.
The change back was more marked in Margaret than in any of us. Perhapsit was that she was a woman, whilst we were men; perhaps it was thatshe was younger than the rest; perhaps both reasons were effective,each in its own way. At any rate the change was there, and I washappier than I had been through the long journey. All her buoyancy,her tenderness, her deep feeling seemed to shine forth once more; nowand again as her father's eyes rested on her, his face seemed to lightup.
Whilst we waited for the carts to arrive, Mr. Trelawny took us throughthe house, pointing out and explaining where the objects which we hadbrought with us we
re to be placed. In one respect only did he withholdconfidence. The positions of all those things which had connectionwith the Great Experiment were not indicated. The cases containing themwere to be left in the outer hall, for the present.
By the time we had made the survey, the carts began to arrive; and thestir and bustle of the previous night were renewed. Mr. Trelawny stoodin the hall beside the massive ironbound door, and gave directions asto the placing of each of the great packing-cases. Those containingmany items were placed in the inner hall where they were to be unpacked.
In an incredibly short time the whole consignment was delivered; andthe men departed with a douceur for each, given through their foreman,which made them effusive in their thanks. Then we all went to our ownrooms. There was a strange confidence over us all. I do not thinkthat any one of us had a doubt as the the quiet passing of theremainder of the night.
The faith was justified, for on our re-assembling in the morning wefound that all had slept well and peaceably.
During that day all the curios, except those required for the GreatExperiment, were put into the places designed for them. Then it wasarranged that all the servants should go back with Mrs. Grant to Londonon the next morning.
When they had all gone Mr. Trelawny, having seen the doors locked, tookus into the study.
"Now," said he when we were seated, "I have a secret to impart; but,according to an old promise which does not leave me free, I must askyou each to give me a solemn promise not to reveal it. For threehundred years at least such a promise has been exacted from everyone towhom it was told, and more than once life and safety were securedthrough loyal observance of the promise. Even as it is, I am breakingthe letter, if not the spirit of the tradition; for I should only tellit to the immediate members of my family."
We all gave the promise required. Then he went on:
"There is a secret place in this house, a cave, natural originally butfinished by labour, underneath this house. I will not undertake to saythat it has always been used according to the law. During the BloodyAssize more than a few Cornishmen found refuge in it; and later, andearlier, it formed, I have no doubt whatever, a useful place forstoring contraband goods. 'Tre Pol and Pen', I suppose you know, havealways been smugglers; and their relations and friends and neighbourshave not held back from the enterprise. For all such reasons a safehiding-place was always considered a valuable possession; and as theheads of our House have always insisted on preserving the secret, I amin honour bound to it. Later on, if all be well, I shall of coursetell you, Margaret, and you too, Ross, under the conditions that I ambound to make."
He rose up, and we all followed him. Leaving us in the outer hall, hewent away alone for a few minutes; and returning, beckoned us to followhim.
In the inside hall we found a whole section of an outstanding anglemoved away, and from the cavity saw a great hole dimly dark, and thebeginning of a rough staircase cut in the rock. As it was not pitchdark there was manifestly some means of lighting it naturally, sowithout pause we followed our host as he descended. After some fortyor fifty steps cut in a winding passage, we came to a great cave whosefurther end tapered away into blackness. It was a huge place, dimlylit by a few irregular slits of eccentric shape. Manifestly these werefaults in the rock which would readily allow the windows be disguised.Close to each of them was a hanging shutter which could be easily swungacross by means of a dangling rope. The sound of the ceaseless beat ofthe waves came up muffled from far below. Mr. Trelawny at once beganto speak:
"This is the spot which I have chosen, as the best I know, for thescene of our Great Experiment. In a hundred different ways it fulfilsthe conditions which I am led to believe are primary with regard tosuccess. Here, we are, and shall be, as isolated as Queen Tera herselfwould have been in her rocky tomb in the Valley of the Sorcerer, andstill in a rocky cavern. For good or ill we must here stand by ourchances, and abide by results. If we are successful we shall be ableto let in on the world of modern science such a flood of light from theOld World as will change every condition of thought and experiment andpractice. If we fail, then even the knowledge of our attempt will diewith us. For this, and all else which may come, I believe we areprepared!" He paused. No one spoke, but we all bowed our headsgravely in acquiescence. He resumed, but with a certain hesitancy:
"It is not yet too late! If any of you have a doubt or misgiving, forGod's sake speak it now! Whoever it may be, can go hence without let orhindrance. The rest of us can go on our way alone!"
Again he paused, and looked keenly at us in turn. We looked at eachother; but no one quailed. For my own part, if I had had any doubt asto going on, the look on Margaret's face would have reassured me. Itwas fearless; it was intense; it was full of a divine calm.
Mr. Trelawny took a long breath, and in a more cheerful, as well as ina more decided tone, went on:
"As we are all of one mind, the sooner we get the necessary matters intrain the better. Let me tell you that this place, like all the restof the house, can be lit with electricity. We could not join the wiresto the mains lest our secret should become known, but I have a cablehere which we can attach in the hall and complete the circuit!" As hewas speaking, he began to ascend the steps. From close to the entrancehe took the end of a cable; this he drew forward and attached to aswitch in the wall. Then, turning on a tap, he flooded the whole vaultand staircase below with light. I could now see from the volume oflight streaming up into the hallway that the hole beside the staircasewent direct into the cave. Above it was a pulley and a mass of strongtackle with multiplying blocks of the Smeaton order. Mr. Trelawny,seeing me looking at this, said, correctly interpreting my thoughts:
"Yes! it is new. I hung it there myself on purpose. I knew we shouldhave to lower great weights; and as I did not wish to take too manyinto my confidence, I arranged a tackle which I could work alone ifnecessary."
We set to work at once; and before nightfall had lowered, unhooked, andplaced in the positions designated for each by Trelawny, all the greatsarcophagi and all the curios and other matters which we had taken withus.
It was a strange and weird proceeding, the placing of those wonderfulmonuments of a bygone age in that green cavern, which represented inits cutting and purpose and up-to-date mechanism and electric lightsboth the old world and the new. But as time went on I grew more andmore to recognise the wisdom and correctness of Mr. Trelawny's choice.I was much disturbed when Silvio, who had been brought into the cave inthe arms of his mistress, and who was lying asleep on my coat which Ihad taken off, sprang up when the cat mummy had been unpacked, and flewat it with the same ferocity which he had previously exhibited. Theincident showed Margaret in a new phase, and one which gave my heart apang. She had been standing quite still at one side of the caveleaning on a sarcophagus, in one of those fits of abstraction which hadof late come upon her; but on hearing the sound, and seeing Silvio'sviolent onslaught, she seemed to fall into a positive fury of passion.Her eyes blazed, and her mouth took a hard, cruel tension which was newto me. Instinctively she stepped towards Silvio as if to interfere inthe attack. But I too had stepped forward; and as she caught my eye astrange spasm came upon her, and she stopped. Its intensity made mehold my breath; and I put up my hand to clear my eyes. When I had donethis, she had on the instant recovered her calm, and there was a lookof brief wonder on her face. With all her old grace and sweetness sheswept over and lifted Silvio, just as she had done on former occasions,and held him in her arms, petting him and treating him as though hewere a little child who had erred.
As I looked a strange fear came over me. The Margaret that I knewseemed to be changing; and in my inmost heart I prayed that thedisturbing cause might soon come to an end. More than ever I longed atthat moment that our terrible Experiment should come to a prosperoustermination.
When all had been arranged in the room as Mr. Trelawny wished he turnedto us, one after another, till he had concentrated the intelligence ofus all upon him.
Then he said:
"All is now ready in this place. We must only await the proper time tobegin."