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   Chapter 13 TWO NOTES

The Grey Room By Eden Phillpotts Characters: 9227

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


They walked in the garden next morning, and Sir Walter delayed to write to Scotland Yard until after seeing Signor Mannetti again. The old gentleman descended to them presently, and declared himself over-fatigued.

"I must sit in the sun and go to sleep again after lunch," he said. "Stephano is annoyed with me, and hints at the doctor."

"Mannering will be here to lunch. You will understand that nobody is more deeply interested in these things than he."

"But yourself," said Mary. "Come and sit down and rest. You are looking very tired to-day."

"A little reaction-no more. It was worth it." He then proceeded where he had broken off on the preceding night.

"There remains only to tell you how I found myself caught up in your sad story. It had not occurred to you to wonder?"

"I confess I had never thought of that, signor. You made us forget such a trifling detail."

"But, none the less, you will want to know, Sir Walter. Our common friend, Colonel Vane, put the first thought in my head. He laid the train to which I set the match so well. He it was who described the Grey Room very exactly, and the moment that I heard of the ancient carved furniture, I knew that he spoke of curios concerning which I already had heard. The name of Lennox completed the clue, for that had already stirred memories in my ancient mind. I had listened to my father, when I was young, telling a story in which a bed and chairs and a gentleman named Lennox were connected. He spoke of an ancient Italian suite of three pieces, the work of craftsmen at Rome in the fifteenth century. It was papal furniture of the early Renaissance, well known to him as being in a Spanish collection-a hundred and fifty years ago that is now-and when these things came into the market, he rejoiced and hurried off to Valencia, where it was to be sold. For he was even such a man as your grandfather-a connoisseur and an enthusiastic collector. But, alas, his hopes were short-lived; he found himself in opposition to a deeper purse than his own, and it was Sir John Lennox, not my father, who secured the bed and the two chairs that go with it. These things, as I tell you, returned to my recollection, and, remembering them, I guessed myself upon the right track. The arms of the Borgia, and the successful experiment with the dog, Prince, proved that I was correct in guessing where the poison lay hidden."

"It is impossible to express my sense of your amazing goodness, or my gratitude, or my admiration for your genius," declared Sir Walter; but the other contradicted him.

"Genius is a great word to which I can lay no claim. I have done nothing at all that you yourself might not have done, given the same knowledge. As for gratitude, if indeed that is not too strong an expression also, you can show gratitude in a very simple manner, dear friend. I am a practical, old man and, to be honest, I very greatly covet the Borgia bed and chairs. Now, if indeed you feel that I am not asking too grand a favor-a favor out of all keeping with my good offices on your behalf-then let me purchase the bed and chairs, and convey them with me home to Rome. It is seemly that they should return to Rome, is it not? Rome would welcome them. I much desire to sleep in that bed-to be where I am so sure Prince Djem lay when he breathed his last. Yes, believe me, he received your bed as a gracious present from Alexander VI. The Borgia were generous of such gifts."

"The bed and chairs are yours, my dear signor, and the rest of the contents of the Grey Room, also, if you esteem them in any way."

"Positively I could not, Sir Walter."

"Indeed you shall. It is done, and leaves me greatly your debtor still."

"Then be it so. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Nor will I say that you oppress me with such extraordinary generosity, for is it not more blessed to give than receive? Heavens knows what dark evils the bed may have committed in the course of its career, but its activities are at an end. For me it shall bring no more than honest slumber. But the mattress-no. I do not want the mattress. That will be a nice present for the museum of your Royal College of Surgeons."

A week later the old man was sufficiently rested, and he returned home, taking his treasures with him. But he did not depart until he had won a promise that Sir Walter and Mary would visit him at Rome within the year.

Experts again descended upon Chadlands, packed the source of tribulation with exceeding care, and conveyed it to London for examination. Those destined to make the inquiry were much alive to their perils,

and took no risk.

Six weeks later letters passed between England and Rome, and Sir Walter wrote to Signor Mannetti, sending such details as he was able to furnish.

"A thin, supple wire was found to run between the harmless flock of the mattress and the satin casing," wrote Sir Walter. "Experiments showed that neither the stuffing nor the outer case contained any harmful substance. But the wire, of which fifty miles wound over the upper and lower surfaces of the mattress under its satin upholstery, proved infinitely sensitive to heat, and gave off, or ejected at tremendous speed, an invisible, highly poisonous matter even at a lower temperature than that of a normal human being. Insects placed upon it perished in the course of a few hours, and it destroyed microscopic life and fish and frogs in water at comparatively low temperatures, that caused the living organisms no inconvenience until portions of the wire were introduced. A cat died in eight minutes; a monkey in ten. No pain or discomfort marked the operation of the wire on unconscious creatures. They sank into death as into sudden sleep, and examination revealed no physical effects whatever. The wire is an alloy, and the constituent metals have not yet been determined; but it is not an amalgam, for mercury is absent. The wire contains thallium and helium as the spectroscope shows; but its awful radioactivity and deadly emanation has yet to be explained. The chemical experts have a startling theory. They suspect there is a new element here-probably destined to occupy one of the last unfilled places of the Periodic Table, which chronicles all the elements known to science. Chemical analysis fails to reach the radio-active properties, and for their examination the electroscope and spinthariscope are needful. With these the radio-chemists are at work. The wire melted at a lower temperature than lead, but melting did not destroy its potency. After cooling, the metal retained its properties and was still responsive, as before, to warmth. But experiment shows that in a molten state, the metal of the wire increases in effect, and any living thing brought within a yard of it under this condition succumbs instantly. Its properties cannot be extracted, so far, from the actual composition of the wire. They prove also that the emanation from the warmed wire is exceedingly subtle, tenuous, and volatile. Save under conditions of super-heat, it only operates at two feet and a few inches, and the wire naturally grows cold very quickly. It is almost as light as aluminium. A gas mask does not arrest the poison; indeed, it evidently enters a body through the nearest point offered to it and a safe shield has not yet been discovered.

"I shall tell you more when we know more," concluded Sir Walter. "But at present it looks as though your prophecy were correct, and that science is not going to get at the bottom of the horrible secret easily. Dr. Mannering says that the properties of the elements have yet to be fully determined, while the subject of alloys was never suspected of containing such secrets as may prove to be the case. If more there is to learn, you shall learn it."

In his reply, Signor Mannetti declared that the Borgia bed continued to be a source of extreme satisfaction and comfort to him.

"As yet no vision has broken my slumbers, but I continue to hope that the Oriental features of Sultan Bajazet's brother may presently revisit the place of his taking off, and that Prince Djem will some night afford me the pleasure of a conversation. How much might we tell each other that neither of us knows!

"As to the wire, my friend, I will explain to you how that was probably created and, right or wrong, there is nobody on this earth at present who can prove my theory to be mistaken. Be sure that a medieval alchemist, searching in vain for elixir vitae, or the philosopher's stone, chanced upon this infernal synthesis and fusion. For him, no doubt, it proved a philosopher's stone in earnest, for the Borgia always extended a generous hand to those who could assist their damnable activities. Transmutation-so a skilled friend assures me-is now proved to be a fact, and another generation will be able perhaps to make gold, if the desire for that accursed mineral continues much longer to dominate mankind.

"Farewell for the present. Again to see you and your daughter is one of those pleasures lying in wait for me, to make next winter a season of gladness rather than dismay. But do not change your minds. One must keep faith with a man of eighty, or risk the possibilities of remorse."

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