The Green Eyes of Bast/Chapter 26
STATEMENT OF DR. DAMAR GREEFE (CONTINUED)
AS I walked along through the deserted native streets, for the hour was late, I reviewed mentally the circumstances of that affair, already several months old, to which I have referred. Since it proved to have a very important bearing upon my own life and unfortunately the lives of many others, I will briefly recount it here.
Sir Burnham and Lady Coverly, having arrived at Port Said, were proceeding by rail to Cairo when an accident farther up the line necessitated their breaking their journey at Zagazig.
Now, for a time in the spring of the previous year, I had devoted much labor to an inquiry in this place, which stands of course roughly upon the site of the ancient Egyptian city of Bubastis. In those myths, or so-called myths, of the Ancient Egyptian religion which represented the various attributes of man in the guises of animals, I had perceived a nucleus of wisdom pointing to the possibility that the law which I had so laboriously established might have been known to the early Egyptian priesthood. Indeed I was partly induced to inquire into the myths of Bâst, the cat-headed goddess to whom of old this town was dedicated, by the following two things: first, a chance reference in the pages of Herodotus; and, second, a persistent superstition that during a certain season of the year, psycho-hybrids occurred in this town.
By dint of close research I discovered that the date favored by the inhabitants of Zagazig, as that upon which such creatures were born there, corresponded very closely with the Sacred Sothic month, formerly sacred to Bâst, the titulary goddess of the place, corresponded in short with the ancient Feast of Bâst.
My inquiries at the time, however, proved futile, and beyond the fact that the town was remarkable for a singular number of semi-wild cats, I discovered nothing to support my theory. However, as I have already stated, a native acquaintance there, a very learned Moslem, to whom I had imparted during my residence some idea of the nature of my studies, sent me a long communication containing particulars of the event which had befallen Lady Coverly during her one-night's sojourn in Zagazig.
Briefly, she had learned from a native attached to the one possible hotel which the town boasted, of the tradition associated with the place. Some other member of the party (for quite a large company had been detained in Zagazig by the mishap) unwisely pointed out to her that the favored date was that upon which they had arrived in the town.
Nothing might have resulted from this; but by a strange fatality (or because of the operation of some unsuspected law understood by the ancients but misapprehended to-day) the matter was sealed in a very extraordinary fashion.
Lady Coverly's room opened upon a balcony, and during the night one of those huge cats of the kind which I had observed myself to infest the neighborhood, gained access to this balcony. Since the appearance of the creature produced so singular and disastrous an effect, it must certainly have been an unusually large specimen of its kind. I may add that according to my Moslem friend—who, although a man of great culture, was soaked in the traditions of his religion—it was none other than a member of the ginn, an efreet or evil spirit, and not a cat of flesh and blood which appeared to Lady Coverly. I leave each to choose his own explanation, but let it suffice that Lady Coverly was awakened some time during the night by the appearance at her bedside of this gaunt and hungry-eyed creature. The result was an illness of a kind very dangerous to one in her delicate state of health.
Reflecting, then, upon these matters, I presently came to the official residence of Sir Burnham Coverly, and my expectations regarding the nature of the case were realized....
My house in the narrow street so near to the Bâb-es-Zuwêla and the minarets of Muayyâd was admirably adapted for my new purpose. For here in the very heart of native Cairo, with my great house (which had been built, as are all Oriental houses, to guard secrets) I was as safe from unwelcome intrusion as one upon a desert island, whilst at the same time I was denied none of the conveniences and facilities of civilization.
Lady Coverly, then, never set eyes upon her firstborn, and Sir Burnham, who did, readily reconciled himself to the loss of such a daughter. The announcement which should have appeared joyfully under the press-heading "Births" was unobtrusively inserted under "Deaths," and Sir Burnham being fortunately far from the haunts of the social paragraph writers, this unfortunate event aroused comparatively little comment in the English journals; beyond one or two formal condolences it passed unnoticed.
The fever of research at last had led me into my first definite crime against society—if so it can be called. I had rescued alive the most perfect example of a psycho-hybrid with which throughout my extensive special inquiries, I had ever come in contact. Lady Coverly never knew her unnatural child, and Sir Burnham—as well as the old family nurse who had accompanied them out from England—never doubted that it had died in the hour of birth.
I set to work with enthusiasm upon my last and greatest experiment.
To a half-caste woman upon whom I knew I could rely—for she was deeply indebted to me—I entrusted the fostering of the infant hybrid. I personally supervised every detail of the secret nursery, Cassim procuring for me everything necessary for the rearing of this delicate and fragile creature.
Over the early years of her life I will hasten. On three occasions I despaired of preserving her existence, which, from the beginning, had hung by a thread. The first crisis came when she was only four months old, the second on the occasion of her fourth birthday, and the third (most serious of all) when she was eleven, at which age she had become a woman in the Oriental sense and was physically and mentally comparable with an ordinary European girl of nineteen or twenty.
With what scientific ardor did I study her development, noting how the cat traits at certain periods (corresponding to the Feast of Bâst) proclaimed themselves above the human traits, whilst at other times the psychic-felinism sank into a sort of sub-conscious quietude, leaving the subject almost a normal woman. Of the physical reflections which were the visible evidence of her hybrid mentality I have already spoken at length (this refers to a portion of the statement which has been deleted). She invariably wore gloves out of doors and a veil to conceal the chatoyant eyes. She could, as I have explained, see as well in the dark as in daylight, and her agility was phenomenal as was her power of climbing. Having her hands and feet bare I have repeatedly seen her climb to the top platform of the ivy-clad tower of Friar's Park.
At the age of eleven, then, I recognized that the balance of character was definitely established, and that the two outstanding characteristics of the subject were—firstly (a hereditary trait of the Coverlys) an intense pride of race and a fierce jealousy of any infringement upon what she regarded as prerogatives of birth; secondly, a susceptibility to sudden infatuations which invariably terminated in a mood of ferocious cruelty.
To one unacquainted with the Orient, thus to speak of this girl—in years a mere child—as one speaks of a mature woman, would seem strange, if not unnatural. But in the East, of course, at the age of ten a girl is counted marriageable; at the age of fourteen she is not infrequently the devoted mother of a family.
Significantly—from the point of view of the Damar Greefe Law—my ward had grown up, not as English girls grow, but, like the Easterners, as the hot-house flower grows. The point has intense interest for the scientist. At the age of twelve she was a tall, slender woman, beautifully formed and with a natural elegance and taste which came from the Coverly stock, or possibly from her mother's side.
During eleven months of every year it would have been possible—- although I considered it undesirable—for her to have appeared in public unveiled. She possessed features of perfect Ancient Egyptian regularity. I emphasize the point. Her eyes, during the day, were those of a handsome native woman—almond-shaped and of a wonderful amber color. At night they appeared green.
Of her fingers, toes, and the peculiar formation of certain teeth I have spoken at length (another reference to a deleted passage). I will deal, now, with those manifestations which proclaimed themselves during the Sothic month of each year formerly associated with the Feast of Bâst.
At such times, which I always dreaded, and with good cause, her innate love of admiration became so excessive as to approach nearly to mania. She hungered for homage, for praise—I had almost said for adoration.
What I may term, for convenience, the psychic side of her hybrid mentality at these periods undoubtedly bordered closely upon true insanity; and learning from the Eurasian nurse to whom I have referred the whole history of her birth, my charge, to whom I had given the name of Nahémah (students will recognize its significance), began to display even more marked evidence of a sort of monomania. Bâst, the cat-goddess, became an obsession with her, and she finally conceived the idea that the attributes of that mystical and partly-understood deity were active within her; that she was Bâst, re-born. And, certainly, during one month of every year, her condition closely resembled that which was termed in the Middle Ages "possession."
At such times, moreover (a phenomenon with which I have dealt at length in my work on the subject), she evinced an antipathy towards the whole of the canine species which was reciprocated in a singular way. Thus, when, contrary to my express orders, she has wandered abroad during the Sothic period, I have been enabled to trace her movements by the progressive howling of dogs.
Since I had enjoined the nurse to be silent upon all things bearing upon Nahémah's birth, I was enraged at this breach of faith and sent the woman away. But a new situation had been created which I found myself called upon immediately to face.
Nahémah demanded news of her family. As I have made sufficiently evident, it was often difficult, if not impossible, to thwart the desires of my protegée. To condense into a few words a matter which occasioned me long and anxious thought, I may say that I made the necessary arrangements for quitting the house near to the Mosque of Muayyâd which had been my home for fifteen years.
I recognized the danger of Nahémah's traveling in the ordinary way, and she performed the journey to England in the character of an invalid under my professional care. Equally, residence at any public establishment was out of the question, and although I found myself compelled for a time to court discovery by lodging Nahémah in a private suite in an obscure hotel, I hastened to seek a house in some quiet suburb which should reproduce as nearly as possible the advantages of my abode in Cairo.
Such a house I discovered after about a week of feverish questing (for apart from the ordinary dangers of discovery to which my protegée was subject, her proclivity for adventures at the most unseasonable times greatly enhanced the danger which I apprehended). Judge, then, of my satisfaction when I succeeded in obtaining the lease of a small villa—indeed I might almost term it a bungalow—in one of those odd survivals of less crowded days which are yet counted suburbs or parts of greater London.
This house stood alone in some two acres of ground, and because of its lack of modern conveniences and the comparative inaccessibility of its position, my application was eagerly entertained by the agent interested in the leasing of the property. One week later I entered into possession, Cassim, Nahémah and myself comprising the entire household. Much of my valuable—indeed I may say unique—collection, I had been compelled to store; for my new quarters lacked the necessary space for the purpose. But although I was unaware of the fact at the time, I was not destined to be long deprived of a suitable home for the records of my life's work.
Nahémah's demand for some understanding between herself and her family grew daily more insistent; but I might have continued to oppose her wishes had it not been for the fact that by this time my slender resources were almost exhausted.
It suddenly became evident to me that I held in my hand an instrument whereby I might force Sir Burnham Coverly to finance the new experiments upon which I had entered at this time with all the enthusiasm that a love for science inspires in the student! You may judge me unscrupulous, but the wheel of progress is at least as unrelenting. It was not, however, without much searching self-analysis that one day I presented myself before Sir Burnham Coverly at Friar's Park.
If I had had any scruples prior to that visit they were instantly dispelled by the manner of my reception. Forgetful of the service which (as he believed) I had done him in the past, Sir Burnham allowed all the prejudice of the Anglo-Indian to reveal itself in his first greeting.
Because I am an Eurasian, the worst traits which attach to such a parentage—and of which I am only too painfully conscious—revealed themselves in me. My heart hardened towards this man whose treatment of an intellectual superior was so icily, so offensively condescending. Knowing that I had it in my power to deal him a blow from which he might never recover, I toyed with him for a time; and, his manner growing momentarily more objectionable, I rejoiced to know that his very life and career were in my keeping.
His son, Roger Coverly, at that time a boy only about nine years old, as the prospective heir to Friar's Park was cherished as an only child is always cherished in these circumstances. I pictured to myself the meeting of brother and sister! Yes! because of the refined and deliberate cruelty which Sir Burnham displayed towards myself, I retaliated with a poisoned blade. Having led the conversation in the direction of the heir, I threw away the scabbard of pretense—I launched my challenge.
Never shall I forget Sir Burnham's change of countenance. He tottered, a stricken man. With a sentence of ten words I had won my battle. Upon the details of the arrangement which presently was come to between us, I need not linger. For this statement is intended not as a defense—for what I have done I pay the price—but as a résumé of this crowning inquiry of my scientific career.
At this point the speaker was seized with an alarming spasm of pain. His black eyes opened widely and his face became contorted with agony.
I sprang to his assistance. For, villain self-confessed though he was, humanity would not allow of any man's witnessing unmoved such paroxysms in a fellow creature.
But, ere I could reach his side, Damar Greefe, clenching his teeth and clutching at the chair-arms so that his knuckles gleamed in the lamp-light like white marbles, turned his glance upon me, and:
"Be seated, sir," he whispered. "I desire you to be seated."
Something repellent, yet something powerful, there was in word and glance. Gatton, who also had sprung forward, hesitated. Damar Greefe raised one hand from the chair-arm and waved to us to return to our chairs. Exchanging wondering glances, we both obeyed.
Thereupon, the Eurasian doctor, whose high, bony forehead was dewed with a deathly perspiration and whose hawk-face had assumed an indescribable leaden hue, drew from his pocket a heavy gold watch (his every movement intently followed by the alert Inspector) and consulted it. His hand shook wildly as he returned the timepiece to its place. Then:
"I must hasten," he said hoarsely. "I have—only nineteen minutes...."
Gatton looked at me questioningly, but I could only shake my head. The significance of the Eurasian's words escaped me entirely; but as Damar Greefe begun, slowly and with palpable effort, to speak again, I saw a queer expression stealing over the face of the watchful Gatton.
- Part of the statement which immediately followed, being of a purely technical nature, is omitted here.