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   Chapter 12 THE GOLDEN BULL

The Grey Room By Eden Phillpotts Characters: 26165

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


When Masters came to clear the tea, he found Sir Walter still unconvinced.

"What do you think of Signor Mannetti, Masters?" asked Henry; and the butler, who was a great reader of the newspapers, made answer.

"I think he's a bit of a freak, Mr. Henry. They tell me that old people can have a slice of monkey slipped into 'em nowadays-to keep 'em going and make 'em young and lively again. Well, I should say the gentleman had a whole monkey popped in somewhere. I never see such another. He's got a tongue like a rat-trap, and he leaves you guessing every time. He's amazing clever; so's his man. That Stephano knows a thing or two! He's got round Jane Bond something disgraceful. I never knew what was in Jane-and her five and fifty if she's an hour."

"Would he be safe in the Grey Room?" said Sir Walter.

"He'd be safe anywhere. The question in my mind is whether our silver's safe; and a few other things. I catched him poking about in the silver table only this morning. He knows what's what. He knows everything. I wouldn't say he ain't one of the swell mob myself-made up to look like an old man. I'll swear he's never seen eighty years for all he pretends."

Henry laughed.

"Don't you be frightened of him, Masters; he's all right."

"Let him go in the Grey Room by all means, Mr. Henry. He knows he's safe anywhere. Yes, Sir Walter, he knows he's safe enough. He's got the measure of it."

"Prince is to go with him, Masters."

"Prince! Why, ma'am?"

"We don't know. He wishes it. He can't hurt poor old Prince anyway."

"Well, I sha'n't sleep no worse; and I hope none of you won't, if you'll excuse me. Come what will, there's nothing in the Grey Room will catch that man napping. Not that I'm against the gentleman in general, you understand. Only I wouldn't trust him a foot. He's play-acting, and he's no more a foreigner than I am-else he couldn't talk so fine English as I do, if not finer."

"Masters is on our side, father," said Mary. "And he's right. The signor is play-acting. He loves to be in the centre of the stage. All old people do, and one of the pathetic things in life is that they're seldom allowed to be. So he's making the most of his opportunity."

"And if you refuse, Uncle Walter, he'll only go away and say he cannot help you, and accuse us of giving him all this trouble for nothing," added Henry Lennox.

They had their wish at last, and when Signor Mannetti came down to an early dinner in splendid spirits, Sir Walter conceded his desire.

"Good, my friend! And do not fear that a night of anxiety awaits you. Indeed, if I am not mistaken, it will be possible for us all to sleep very soundly, though we may go to bed rather late. But I think we must be prepared not to retire till after two o'clock. I will enter upon my watch at eight-in half an hour. The door shall be left open, as you wish. But I beg that none will approach the east end of the corridor. That is only fair. I will, however, permit Mr. Lennox to station himself on the top of the great staircase, and from time to time he may challenge me. He shall say 'Is all well?' and be sure I shall answer 'All is well.' Could anything be more satisfactory?"

Signor Mannetti ate sparingly, then he donned a big, fur, motor-coat and declared himself ready. They thought he had forgotten Prince, but he insisted upon the company of the ancient spaniel. The dog had fed, and he could sleep as well in one place as another.

"Fear not," said the Italian. "I shall be considerate to your ancient pet. I do not beg his aid without reason. He is on my side and will help me if he can-infirm though he be. I have made friends with him. Set him at my feet. I will sit here under the electric light and read my Italian papers."

Thus once again a solitary occupied the Grey Room and measured his intelligence against the terrible forces therein concealed. Signor Mannetti took leave of them cheerfully at eight o'clock, and while Sir Walter and Mary descended to the library, Henry took up his station at the head of the staircase. The corridor was lighted and the door of the Grey Room left open.

But in ten minutes the watcher looked out and cried to Lennox, who sat smoking about thirty-five yards from him.

"There is a great draught here," he said. "I will close the door, but leave it ajar that we may salute each other from time to time."

The hours crept on and since everybody at Chadlands knew what was happening, few retired to rest. It was understood that some time after midnight Signor Mannetti hoped to declare the result of his experiment.

Henry Lennox challenged half-hourly, always receiving a brisk reply. But a little after half-past one his "All well, signor?" received no response. He raised his voice, but still no answer came. He went to the door, therefore, and looked into the Grey Room. The watcher had slipped down in the armchair they had set for him under the electric light, and was lying motionless, but in an easy position. He still wore his fur-coat. Prince Henry did not see. The room was silent and cold. The electric light burned brightly, and both windows were open. Young Lennox hastened downstairs. His thoughts concentrated on his uncle, and his desire was to spare him any needless shock. For a moment he believed that Signor Mannetti had succumbed in the Grey Room, as others before him, but he could not be certain. A bare half-hour had elapsed since the watcher had uttered a cheerful answer to the last summons, and told them his vigil was nearly ended. Lennox sought Masters, therefore, told him that the worst was to be feared, yet explained that the old man who had watched in the Grey Room might not be dead but sunk in sleep.

Masters was sanguine that it might be so.

"Be sure he is so. I'll fetch the liqueur brandy," and, armed with his panacea, he followed Henry upstairs. Signor Mannetti had not moved, but as they approached him, to their infinite relief he did so, opened his eyes, stared wildly about him, and then realized the situation.

"Alas! Now I have frightened you out of your senses," he said, looking at their anxious faces. "All is well. In less than another hour I should have summoned Sir Walter. But just that last half-hour overcame me, and I sank into sleep. What is the time?"

"A quarter to two, signor."

"Good! Then let your uncle be summoned. I have found out the secret."

"A thimbleful of old cognac, signor?" asked Masters.

"Willingly, my friend, willingly. I see how wise you both were. I approve and thank you. You thought that I had followed the others into the shades, yet meant to restore me if you could without frightening Sir Walter. To go to sleep was unpardonable."

Abraham Masters and Henry descended with the good news, while the old man drank.

"I shall detain you half an hour or so," he said, when they all returned to him. "But I have no fear that anybody will want to fall asleep."

Sir Walter spoke.

"Thank Heaven, signor, thank Heaven! All is well with you?"

"All is absolutely well with me, but then I have slept refreshingly for some time. You, I fear, have not closed your eyes."

"Would you have any objection to Masters hearing what you may have to tell us? By so doing a true and ungarbled report will get out to Chadlands."

"My report will go out to the whole world, Sir Walter. All is accomplished and established on certain proofs. Your good spaniel has played his part also. I salute him-the old Prince."

Henry now observed that the dog was stretched on the floor at Signor Mannetti's feet.

"Still asleep?"

Mary knelt to pat the spaniel and started back.

"How horribly cold he is!"

"For ever asleep-a martyr to science. He was to die on Friday, remember. He has received euthanasia a little sooner, and nothing in his life has become him like the leaving of it. The last victim of the Grey Room. Mourn him not, he passed without a pang-as did his betters."

"But, but-you spoke of crime and criminals!" gasped Sir Walter.

"And truly. Great crimes have been committed in this room and great criminals committed them. Is a crime any less a crime because the doers have mouldered in their dishonored graves for nearly five hundred years?"

"Your handling of speech is not ours, and you use words differently. The old dog did not suffer, you say? How did he come to die-in his sleep?"

"Even so. Without a sigh, the last venerable victim of this murdering shadow."

"You saw him die, and yet were safe yourself, sir?" asked Lennox.

"That is what happened. Now sit down all of you, father Abraham also, and in five minutes all will be as clear as day."

They obeyed him silently.

"Yes, a master criminal, one whose name has rung down the ages and will from to-morrow win a further resonance. Would that we could bring him to account; but he has already gone to it, if justice lies at the root of things, as all men pray, and you and I believe, Sir Walter. An interesting reflection: How many suffer, if they do not actually perish, from the sins of the dead? Not only the sins of our father are visited upon us, but, if we could trace the infliction, the crimes of countless dead men accomplished long before we were born into this suffering world. I speak in a parable, but this is literal, actual. Dead men committed these murders, and left this legacy of woe."

Signor Mannetti stroked the lifeless spaniel.

"When we were left alone I picked him up and set him on the bed. He did not waken, and I knew that he would never waken again. Now let us look at this noble bed, if you please. Here is the link, you see, without which so much that I told you yesterday must have sounded no more than the idle chatter of an old man. Come and use your eyes. Ah, if only people had used their eyes sooner!"

They followed him, and he pointed to a framework of carved wood that connected the four posts.

"What is this on the frieze running above the capitals of the little Ionic pillars?"

"The papal crown and keys," said Mary.

"Good! Now regard the other side."

"A coat of arms-a golden bull on a red ground-why, father, that was what puzzled you at Florence!"

"Surely it was. The thing stuck in my memory, yet I could not remember where I had seen it before."

Signor Mannetti prepared for his effect, then made it.

"The arms of the Borgia! The arms of the Spanish Pope, Alexander VI. of unholy memory. So all is told, and we will soon go to bed. Having marked them this morning, you will see how readily I was led into the heart of the secret. It only needed some such certain sign. And everything that had happened was consonant with this explanation. The first to suffer puzzled me; but I solved that problem, too. You shall hear how each woman and each man was slain. Look at this mattress upholstered in satin-there lies the unsleeping thing that brings sleep so quickly to others! I guessed it this morning; I proved it to-night. At seventeen minutes past eight Prince was dead; but not until I awoke, near two o'clock, did I dare approach him. For how did he die? The moment the heat of his ancient body penetrated the mattress under him, it released its awful venom. He stretched himself, curled up again, and, as the exhalation rose, with scarcely a tremor he passed from sleep into death. Needless to tell you that I kept far from him, for I guessed that not until the poor fellow was cold would the demon in the mattress sink down and disappear, as the effret into his bottle. Then mattress and dog were alike harmless, as they are now. I gave him only five hours, for he was a small, thin beast, and the heat soon left his body."

"But, signor-"

"I shall anticipate all your objections if you will listen a little longer, dear Mrs. May. Let us sit again, and question me after I have spoken, if any doubts remain unanswered. Another liqueur, Masters."

He sipped, and preserved silence for a few moments, while none spoke. Then from his armchair he traversed the story of the Grey Room, and proved amazingly familiar with the smallest detail of it. Indeed, when at last he had finished, none could find any questions to ask. "There are two very interesting preliminary facts to note, my friends," began the signor. He beamed upon them, and enjoyed his own exposition with unconcealed gusto. "The first is that a room, already suffering from sinister traditions, and held to be haunted, should have been precisely that into which this infernal engine of destruction was introduced. Yet what more natural? You have the furniture, and, for the time being, do not know what to do with it. The house is already full of beautiful things, and these surplus treasures you store here, to be safe and out of the way, in a room which is not put to its proper use. You are not collectors or experts. Sir Walter's father did not share his father's enthusiasm, neither did Sir Walter care for old furniture. So the pieces take their place in this room, and are, more or less, forgotten.

"That is the first interesting fact, and the second

seems to me to be this: that those who perished here in living memory all died at different places in the room, and so died that their deaths could not be immediately and undeviatingly traced to the bed. Hardcastle, for example, as you have related his conversation, did not associate the death of poor Captain May with that of the lady of the hospital eleven years before; and Sir Walter himself saw no reason to connect the still earlier death of his aged aunt, which took place when he was a boy, with the disaster that followed.

"Let us now examine for a moment the amazing fact that none of the stigmata of death was found in those who perished here.

"Death has three modes-the pale horseman strikes us down by asphyxia, by coma, and by syncope. In asphyxia he stabs the lungs; in coma his lance is aimed at the brain; in syncope, at the heart.

"When a man dies by asphyxia, it means that the action of the muscles by which he breathes is stopped, or the work of his lungs prevented by injury, or the free passage of air arrested, as in drowning, or strangulation. It may also mean that embolism has taken place, and the pulmonary artery is blocked, withholding blood from the lungs. But it was not thus that any died in this chamber.

"Coma occurs through an apoplexy, or concussion; by the use of certain narcotic or mineral poisons; and in various other ways, all of which are ruled out for us.

"There remains syncope. A heart ceases to beat from haemorrhage, or starvation, from exhaustion, or the depressing influence of certain drugs. They who died here died from syncope; but why? No autopsy can tell us why. They passed with only their Maker to sustain them, and none leaves behind an explanation of what overtook him, or her. Yet we know full well, even in the case of Peter Hardcastle, concerning whom the police felt doubt, that he was quite dead before Mr. Lennox discovered him and picked him up. We know that the phenomena of rigor mortis had already set in before his body reached London.

"Nothing, however, is new under the sun. Many journals related the fact that these people had passed away without a cause, as though it were an event without a parallel. It is not. Your Dr. Templeman, in 1893, describes two examples of sudden death with absolute absence of any pathological condition in any part of the bodies to account for it. He describes the case of a man of forty-three, and calls it 'emotional inhibition of the heart.' The heart was arrested in diastole, instead of systole, as is usually the case; the mode of death was syncope; the cause of death, undiscoverable.

"A layman may be permitted, I suppose, to describe 'emotional inhibition of the heart' as 'shock'; but we know, in our cases, that if a shock, it was not a painful one-perhaps not even an unpleasant one. Since all other emotions can be pleasant or unpleasant, why must we assume that the supreme emotion of death may not be pleasant also, did we know how to make it so? Perhaps the Borgia, among their secrets, had discovered this. At least the familiar signs of death were wholly absent from the countenances of the dead. The jaws were not set; the familiar, expressions were not changed, as usually happens from rigidity of facial muscles; their faces were not sallow; their temples were not sunk; their brows were not contracted.

"We will now take the victims, one by one, and show how death happened to each of them, yet left no sign that it had happened. Frankly, the first case alone presented any difficulties to me. For a time I despaired of proving how the bed had destroyed Sir Walter's ancestor, because she had not entered it. But the difficulty becomes clear to one possessing our present knowledge, for once prove the properties of the bed, and the rest follows. You will say that they were not proved, only guessed. That was true, until Prince died. His death crowned my edifice of theory and converted it to fact. As to why the bed has these properties, that is for science to find out presently.

"To return, then, to the old lady, the ancient woman of your race, who came unexpectedly to the Christmas re-union and was put to sleep in the Grey Room at her own wish. She was found dead next morning on the floor. She had not entered the bed. The exact facts have long disappeared from human knowledge, and it is only possible to re-construct them by inference and the support of those straightforward events that followed. I conceive, then, that though the old lady did not create the warmth that liberated the evil spirit of the bed and so destroyed her, that warmth was nevertheless artificially created. What must have happened, think you? The bed is made up in haste and the fire lighted. But the fire is a long way from the bed, and would have no effect to create the necessary temperature. There is, however, a hot-water bottle in the bed, or a hot brick wrapped in flannel. The old lady is about to enter her bed. She has extinguished her candle, but the flame of the fire gives light. She has prayed; she throws off her dressing-gown and flings back the covering of the bed, to fall an instant victim to the miasma. She drops backward and is found dead next morning, by which time the bottle and bed are also cold.

"Taken alone, I grant this explanation may fail to win your sympathy; but consider the cumulative evidence in store. The old lady may, of course, have died a natural death. She may not have turned down the bed. There is nobody living to tell us. All that Sir Walter can recollect is that she was found on the floor of the room dead. Exactly where, he does not remember. But for my own part I have no doubt whatever that her death took place in that way.

"We are on safer ground with the other tragic happenings, though, save in the case of Nurse Forrester, there is nothing on the surface of events to connect their deaths with the accursed bed. You will see, however, that it is very easy to do so. In the lady's case all is clear enough. She goes to bed tired and she sleeps peacefully into death without waking. She is probably asleep within ten minutes, before her own warmth has penetrated through sheet and blanket to the mattress beneath and so destroyed her. Suppose that she is dead in half an hour. She retired to rest at ten o'clock; she is called at seven; the room is presently broken into and she is then not only dead, but cold. The demon has gone to sleep again under its lifeless burden. Now had she been stout and well covered, there had hardly been time for her to grow cold, and those who came to her assistance might even have perished, too. But she is a little, thin thing, and the heat has gone out of her. This assured the safety of those who came to the bedside. One can make no laws as to the time necessary for a dead body to grow as cold as its surroundings. The bodies of the old and the young cool more quickly than those of adult persons. If the conditions are favorable a body may cool in six to eight hours. Prince took but five, poor little bag of bones.

"In the case of Captain May the conditions are altogether different. Let me speak with all tenderness and spare you pain. Be sure that he suffered no more than the others. The bed is now no longer made; the mattress is bare. That matters not to him. Clad in his pyjamas, with a railway rug to cover him and his dressing-gown for a pillow, he flings himself down, and from his powerful and sanguine frame warmth is instantly communicated to the mattress that supports him. Probably but a few minutes were sufficient to liberate the poison. He is not asleep, but on the edge of sleep when he becomes suddenly conscious of physical sensations beyond his experience. He had breathed death, but yet he is not dead. His brain works, and can send a message to his limbs, which are still able to obey. But his hour has come. He leaps from the bed in no suffering, but conscious, perhaps of an oppression, or an unfamiliar odor-we cannot say what. We only know that he feels intense surprise, not pain for in that dying moment his emotions are fixed for ever by the muscles of his face. He needs air and seeks it. He hurries to the recess, kneels on the cushion, and throws open the window. Or the window may have been already open-we cannot tell. To reach it is his last conscious act, and in another moment he is dead. The bed is not suspected. Why should it be? Who could prove that he had even laid down upon it? Indeed it was believed and reported at the inquest that he had not done so. Yet that is what unquestionably happened. Otherwise his candle would have burned to the socket. He had blown it out and settled to rest, be sure.

"We have now to deal with the detective, and here again there was nothing to associate his death with the bed of the Borgia. Yet you will see without my aid how easily he came by his death. Peter Hardcastle desires to be alone, that he may study the Grey Room and everything in it. He is left as he wishes, walks here and there, sketches a ground plan of the room and exhausts its more obvious peculiarities. Would that he had known the meaning of the golden bull! Presently he strikes a train of thought and sits down to develop it. Or he may not have finished with the room and have taken a seat from which he could survey everything around him. He sits at the foot of the bed-there on the right side. He makes his notes, then his last thoughts enter his mind-abstract reflection on the subject of his trade. For a moment he forgets the matter immediately in hand and writes his ideas in his book. He has been sitting on the bed now for some while-how long we know not, but long enough to create the heightened temperature which is all the watchful fiend within the mattress requires to summon him. Then ascends the spirit of death, and Hardcastle, surprised as Captain May was surprised, leaps to his feet. He takes two or three steps forward; his book and pen fall from his hand and he drops upon his face-a dead man. He is, of course, still warm when Mr. Lennox finds him; but the bed he leaped from is cold again and harmless-its work done.

"There remains the priest, the Rev. Septimus May. He neither lay on the bed, nor sat upon it. But what did he do? He clearly knelt beside it a long time, engaged in prayer. Nothing more natural than that he should stretch his arms over the mattress; bury his face in his hands, and so remain in commune with the Almighty, uttering petition after petition for the being he conceived as existing in the Grey Room, without power to escape from it. Thus leaning upon the bed with his arms stretched upon it and his head perhaps sunk between them, he presently creates that heightened temperature sufficient to arouse the destroyer. It enters into him-how, we know not yet-and he sinks unconscious to the floor, while the bed is quickly cold again.

"As to the four detectives-Inspector Frith and his men-pure chance saved the life of at least one of them, and by so doing, chance also prevented them from discovering that the bed in their midst was the seat of all the trouble. Had one among them taken up his watch upon it, he would certainly have died in the presence of his collaborators; but the men sat on chairs in the corners of the room, and the chairs were harmless. Whether their gas masks would indeed have saved them remains, of course, to be proved. I doubt it.

"Such, my friends, were the masterpieces of the Borgia, for whom the profoundest chemists worked willingly enough and by doing so doubtless made their fortunes. Their poisons were so designed to act that, by their very operation, the secrets of them were concealed, and all clues obliterated. Chemistry knows nothing of the supernatural, yet can, as in this case, achieve results that may well appear to be black magic.

"And if we, of this day, fail to find them out, it is easy to guess that in their own times, much that they caused to be done was set down to the operations of Heaven alone.

"Science will be deeply interested in your Borgia mattress, Sir Walter. Science, I doubt not, will carefully unpick it and make a series of very remarkable experiments; yet I make bold to believe that science may be baffled by the cunning and forgotten knowledge of men long dust. We shall see as to that."

He rose and bade Masters call Stephano. Then, with a few words, they parted, and each shook the old man's hand and expressed a deep and genuine gratitude before they did so.

"A little remains to add," said Signor Mannetti. "You shall hear what it is to-morrow. For the moment, 'Good-night!' It has been a crowning joy to my long life that I was able to do this service to new and valued friends."

In the servants' hall next morning Masters related what he had heard.

"And if you ask me," he concluded, "I draw back what I thought about him being younger than he pretends. He's older-old as the hills-older than that horror in the Grey Boom. He's a demon; and he's killed the old dog; and I believe he's a Borge himself if the truth was known."

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