The Green Eyes of Bast/Chapter 27
STATEMENT OF DR. DAMAR GREEFE (CONCLUDED)
A MONTH later I found myself installed at the Bell House, a property belonging to the Friar's Park estate, and in the commodious apartments of this establishment I had ample room for the accommodation of my library and my priceless specimens. Nahémah was likewise an inmate of the Bell House; but recognizing the precarious nature of my tenure, I had taken the precaution of retaining the suburban villa to which I have already referred; its modest rental proving no tax upon my greatly increased resources.
Blackmail, I hear you exclaim! And, so, if you wish, you may construe my behavior, since I reply—"Science first, science last!" To have been deprived of the means to pursue my experiments at this time would have been, I believed, to impoverish the world. For not even science could reveal to me that my life's work was destined to perish amid the ashes of the Bell House.
My studies had temporarily led me into a by-path, and apprehending that a great international struggle was imminent, I had turned my investigations in a new direction. My great work, whose publication would have shattered so many scientific idols, was complete. The life history of Nahémah had crowned my inquiries into the embryology, physiology and psychology of psycho-hybrids. In fact, the presence of my strange protegée promised to become something of an incubus. Later, I was to realize that she was an ever-present means of renewing those funds which the costly character of my new studies absorbed at rather an alarming rate. Perhaps I neglected my self-imposed task of studying the mental and physical development of Nahémah; for, I must admit that lost in my new work I presently awakened to the fact that she had outgrown the control which I had formerly exercised over her.
There were unpleasant episodes. For example, in spite of those precautions which I adopted, and of the ceaseless vigilance of Cassim, the existence of a female inmate of the Bell House was soon a popular scandal throughout Upper Crossleys. For this I cared nothing; but far more perturbing was Nahémah's behavior on the occasion of a certain visit of Sir Burnham's legal adviser to Friar's Park.
In some way she secretly gained admission to the house (the episode occurred during that Sothic month whose annual coming I had learned to dread). Sir Burnham actually saw her in the chapel. He sent a messenger post-haste to the Bell-House, and I finally discovered Nahémah in hiding and insisted upon her immediate return. This was only one of several instances of her perverse behavior, which truly seemed to be inspired by some demon bent upon the destruction of both of us.
Her mental activity was extraordinary, and unknown to me she had followed my new researches with that intellectual ardor which she directly inherited from the Coverlys. Her ferocious jealousy of any infringement upon those family rights denied her by her father had also developed, it seemed; and one night, shortly after the scene to which I have referred, entering my study she placed before me a proposal to which I listened with absolute horror.
I should explain that Sir Burnham, placing the repute of his house and that of his heir above all other considerations (with one possible exception: the necessity for concealing the appalling truth from his wife) had consented to make arrangements for the support of Nahémah on the understanding that her existence was to remain a profound secret from the world. It was upon this understanding that I leased the Bell House. And although, in certain wild indiscretions, I had recognized in Nahémah the symptoms of revolt against such a monastic existence, because of absorption in my new studies I had not realized how deep was her resentment of this enforced anonymity. Certainly I had never grasped the power and the depth of her hatred of her brother, Roger Coverly.
Now, on this fateful night, in one of the semi-insane outbursts which I had learned to dread, she poured out her loathing and detestation of her brother. She was a Coverly (such was the gist of her plaint) and the doors of Friar's Park were closed to her; the world knew nothing of her existence. In the event of the death of Sir Burnham, then Roger would inherit the property, and complete disaster would be our lot.
To condense the purport of her demand, it was this: that I should test the efficacy of my new discovery by removing this objectionable obstacle from her path!
Of my subsequent behavior I offer no defense. I am not prepared to admit that I was forced into action by the forceful personality of my protegée; in fact, I state emphatically that a chance interview with the heir during one of his visits to Friar's Park led me to regard the matter in a new light and from a standpoint almost identical with that of Nahémah.
How warning was conveyed to Sir Burnham I know not, unless by some indiscretion of Nahémah, but, instead of returning to the public school from which he had come to Friar's Park, Roger Coverly was sent abroad in haste, accompanied by a private tutor. The date of his departure corresponded with that which I associate with the beginning of my downfall.
Nahémah threatened to present herself to her mother, and painfully aware that such a course (which, nevertheless, I recognized her to be quite capable of adopting) would spell disaster, I fell in with her wishes. Two months later we were established, Nahémah, Cassim and I, within two miles of the new residence of Roger Coverly and his tutor in Basle.
The circumstances attendant upon the death of Roger Coverly have hitherto been veiled in obscurity, and although Sir Burnham suspected the truth, in the first place he had no evidence, and in the second place, because of the existence of Nahémah, I knew that he dared not attempt to prove it.
Briefly, I had perfected that Chinese poison called in the northern provinces hlangkûna. By a series of dangerous experiments I had convinced myself that it was almost identical with contarella, the preparation made notorious by the Borgia family. Therefore I concluded that contarella came to Rome from the East, possibly via Palestine. Inoculating with hlangkûna, I found, produced death in two hours (contarella—one hour and forty-five minutes) leaving no trace by which the means employed could be discovered. Self-inoculation by the subject was the method which I adopted—and which Cæsar Borgia had adopted before me; so that no chain of evidence existed.
All that was necessary was for a scarf, a collar or other article of apparel coming in direct contact with the skin of the subject, to be placed in my possession. (A glove was the Borgia's favorite medium.) It was painted with hlangkûna and replaced. When worn, an intense irritation was produced and a cutaneous eruption which, if scratched even very lightly, resulted in a puncture of the skin sufficient to allow the inimical elements of the poison to obtain access to the system of the subject.
I do not propose to enter into details, but so it was that Roger Coverly died. Following a brief sojourn abroad, we presently returned again to the Bell House.
This gratification of her bloodthirsty desires had done no more than to whet the feline appetite of Nahémah, and she forced me to impose new and almost insupportable conditions upon Sir Burnham, with the result, as is known, that from being a very wealthy man he became an impoverished one.
I even held a mortgage on Friar's Park on behalf of Nahémah; for by this time I had fully recognized the fact that like a second Frankenstein, I had raised up a monster which sooner or later must devour me.
Her indiscretions threatened daily to result in exposure; and after the death of Sir Burnham, which occurred a short time later, these increased in number and audacity. The dying baronet had impressed upon his wife the necessity of following my guidance in all things. Undoubtedly he died hoping that Lady Coverly might live out her days in ignorance of the grim secret of the Bell House. This dying wish of his was gratified. The loss of her son, so closely followed by that of her husband, prostrated Lady Coverly in a mental illness from which she never recovered, although I exercised all my skill in an endeavor to restore her reason. She spent the remainder of her days in a semi-comatose state which so closely resembled death that to this present moment I do not know the exact hour at which dissolution took place.
In the man Hawkins, once a game-keeper of Sir Burnham's, I found an instrument ready to my hand. I closed the Park to the public and took all those precautions for preserving my secret which prudence dictated: this at the cost of a reputation in Upper Crossleys which few men would have survived, but which troubled me not at all, since it left me undisturbed to those studies which to me were everything.
The death of Sir Burnham, however, had raised a new danger; for in the person of Sir Marcus Coverly, the heir, I perceived a formidable enemy, who because of his wealth might redeem Friar's Park, and, because of the fact that he belonged to a cadet line, might care nothing for the skeleton in Sir Burnham's cupboard.
I have said that science is callous, and I admit that it needed little prompting from Nahémah to urge me to take the next step. It is worthy of note, however, from a scientific point of view, that whilst I was prompted by motives of expediency, she was actuated solely by a lust to destroy everything that bore the name of Coverly.
My experiments for some time past had been directed to the discovery of new instruments of warfare. Particularly I had addressed myself to the preparation of a gas which should possess the peculiar properties of hlangkûna, and by inhalation affect the lung tissues, thus producing instantaneous results. In this I had succeeded a short time prior to Sir Burnham's death, and one of the future belligerents had approached me.
For the purpose of carrying out experiments, a specially designed gun was brought from Essen and installed in a secluded part of the Park. Artillery specialists carried out a number of tests with shells of various patterns; but because I bluntly declined to divulge the formula for the making of "L.K. Vapor" (so I had named it) until substantial guarantees were given, negotiations were broken off. I retained, however, the model howitzer as well as a number of special light shells. The gun was one of extraordinary accuracy, and it was possible, given suitable weather conditions, mechanically to train it upon a given target and without any preliminary "searching" to score a certain hit.
I caused the piece to be mounted on the top platform of the tower at Friar's Park, and having completed those mathematical calculations with the result of which Mr. Addison has since become familiar, I awaited the return of the new baronet from Russia. Shortly after his arrival, I invited him to visit Upper Crossleys.
He refused—in terms which provoked an outburst on Nahémah's part more violent than I had ever witnessed. But on his final return to England, she made it her business closely to study his habits and movements. She sought, feverishly, for some pregnable point of attack. Hlangkûna was tried three times—and three times failed. It was the distorted genius of Nahémah, however, which finally dictated a new line of action. She learned that Sir Marcus was paying attention to Isobel Merlin, the fiancée of Eric Coverly (who in the event of Sir Marcus's death would inherit the title).
Nahémah propounded to me a theory so strange and so novel that I was lost in admiration of that brilliant intellect which, partly inherited from her forebears, was stimulated and brightened by a cat-like cunning which belonged to the other side of her hybrid personality.
In that district where my suburban villa was situated there were several other isolated establishments which their owners experienced some difficulty in leasing; and one of these—namely the Red House—particularly suited the purpose which Nahémah had in view. The extensive resources now at my disposal enabled me to dispense with the usual formalities which beset the lessee and to obtain possession of the Red House without even appearing in person.
The deeper to complicate the issue, Nahémah carried out the whole of the negotiations over the telephone, and hers was the "voice" afterwards rendered notorious by the press, which issued the directions culminating in the death of Marcus Coverly.
I recognize that the inquiries of the police have placed in your possession many particulars respecting this matter, so that I will not repeat them here but will content myself with explaining the nature of the device employed. In this case, for the removal of the subject, I had obtained possession of an old telephone and had adjusted it to meet my requirements.
In a recess of the room which I caused Sir Marcus Coverly to visit at the Red House, I placed this duplicate telephone; the false cable communicating with the instrument was attached to a plug in the wall above, but communicated with a gas cylinder in the adjoining room. In short, what appeared to be cable was in reality tubing and the act of taking the receiver from the hook released through the mouthpiece a sufficient quantity of L.K. Vapor to have asphyxiated a dozen men.
In order to insure the subject's receiving the benefit of the whole discharge, I had caused a very heavy curtain to be draped in this recess, which thus became a rough gas-chamber. Following the first discharge, the subject would fall to the floor and the gas being a heavy one he would there receive his quietus.
The only detail which occasioned much thought was that of the bell by which Sir Marcus should be summoned to this prepared telephone; for it formed no part of the plan for myself to appear anywhere in the neighborhood at the time of the experiment. I was of course compelled to pay a secret visit to the Red House for the purpose of installing the telephone device, and at the same time I installed the bell. This was worked from a small storage battery and I arranged that by the opening of the garage door the bell would be put in motion and by the closing of the door at the end of the same building the ringing would cease.
A simple contrivance screwed to both doors made this possible, but I know not by whose hand the ringing would have been accomplished if it had not been for one of those brilliant suggestions of Nahémah's, which hovered between the domain of genius and that of fiendishness.
She proposed that she should ring up the local police depot and ask the constable on that beat to lock the garage, thus making him the direct instrument for the removal of Sir Marcus!
I knew, since I myself had been a resident in this district, that a constable patrolled College Road at an hour roughly corresponding with that at which it was proposed to cause Sir Marcus to visit the Red House; and because all strategy is based upon the clock, a brief survey of the facts convinced me that Nahémah's plan was feasible.
Thus, it was Police-Constable Bolton, whose evidence has appeared in the press, who actually killed Sir Marcus Coverly! I come now to the dangerous attitude adopted by Nahémah immediately after the event.
We had had a case of suitable dimensions made for containing the body, and had had it delivered at the Red House garage, where it was received by a district messenger instructed for the purpose. Upon me devolved the task of carrying the body from the supper-room to the garage—a task which I performed shortly after the departure of Police-Constable Bolton. I packed the body, removed the telephone and also all traces of the bell-device.
The same carter had instructions to call for the case in the morning, and the garage door was left open to enable him to collect it. In short, except for these two essential visits, one before and one after the experiment, there was no occasion for myself or Nahémah to appear in the neighborhood of the Red House.
But that cat-like spirit of impish mischief which possessed her at this season (and especially at night) together with an almost insane joy which she took in gloating over the destruction of her cousin, had led her, contrary to my special injunctions, to haunt the vicinity on the evening of the experiment. Thus, she not only witnessed the arrival of the doomed man, but also saw the constable perform the duty imposed upon him. This might have mattered little, had it not been for the presence of Mr. Addison, whom an unkind fate at this juncture involved in the matter.
For Mr. Addison Nahémah conceived one of those sudden and violent infatuations which characterized the feline element of her complex mentality. Unknown to me, Nahémah followed Mr. Addison to his home in the neighborhood and indeed was actually seen by him, I believe, on two occasions. Thus far all might yet have been well; but when later I entered the Red House to carry out the only dangerous part of the scheme, to my consternation Nahémah insisted upon accompanying me.
Prompted by that destructive devil which sometimes possessed her she not only (unknown to me) painted a figure of a cat upon the crate, but also she placed an image of Bâst in the box with the dead man!
The premature discovery of Sir Marcus, owing to the accident at the docks, prevented the plan being carried out in all its details, but when, through certain rumors which began to creep into the press, I learned of the presence of the statuette, I began to realize the dangerous position in which I was placed and the handicap of such an accomplice.
As a result of the scene which ensued, Nahémah, still under the worst influences of her hybrid disposition, openly visited Mr. Addison and recovered the image of Bâst! This she did in circumstances which hopelessly compromised both of us, since they revealed in a hitherto faultless plan the presence of an unsuspected party and directed the police inquiries into an entirely new channel.
I thought it expedient to retire immediately to the Bell House, which during my brief absence in London had been in charge of Cassim, all approaches to Friar's Park being carefully guarded by the man Hawkins.
At this point I may touch upon a previous danger which had been met and overcome. Provision had been made in the will of Sir Burnham for the retention by his widow of Friar's Park and the revenues thereof; but since in the event of her death I should have been compelled to appear in the character of the mortgagee, it was contrary to our interests that Lady Coverly should die whilst any heir to the estate remained alive.
Nevertheless, despite all my care, this stricken woman had died six months prior to the first return of Sir Marcus from Russia. Since she had been a helpless invalid during the last years of her life I experienced little difficulty in concealing the fact of her death. Cassim and I interred her by night in the family mausoleum where she lies beside her husband.
In these circumstances, judge of my feelings when, shortly after the premature discovery termed in the press "the Oritoga mystery," Mr. Addison one day presented himself at the Bell House! His avowed intention of calling upon Lady Coverly left me no alternative. Never in all his days, not even when he miraculously escaped the L.K. Vapor at the Abbey Inn, did Mr. Addison stand so near to death as there—in my study!
Let me explain the situation more fully. The fatal Sothic month which I have learned to regard with horror, commenced on the twenty-third ultimo and does not terminate for another five days. Nahémah was—and still remains—"possessed." You will understand my employment of the term.
On the night preceding this visit of Mr. Addison's, I had traced her nocturnal movements by the howling of many dogs, and fearful of some indiscretion which might place my neck in a noose, I had followed her. I found her in a narrow footpath which leads to the Abbey Inn!
Despite entreaties, threats, she declined to give any explanation of her behavior. But finally I prevailed upon her to return to the Bell House. The appearance of Mr. Addison on the following morning opened my eyes to the truth. With the scandal still attaching to the names of Edward Hines and another man, called, I believe, Adams, a subject for gossip throughout the neighborhood, I could not at so perilous a time risk the consequences of a third intrigue. I determined that Mr. Addison could better be spared by the community than I. Nahémah's next insanity—an open visit to the Abbey Inn—confirmed my opinion.
Thereupon I committed my first mistake. Cassim, the Nubian mute, who had been in my service for many years, was formerly attached to a great household in Stambûl. I shall probably be understood. I instructed him; and Mr. Addison very cleverly playing upon his superstitious nature, Cassim failed.
My time grows short. I will touch upon my second folly of that night. Long before, the possibility of firing a projectile from the tower of Friar's Park into the upper front of the Abbey Inn had presented itself to me in the light of a feasible experiment.
Unaware that Inspector Gatton was watching me—unaware that in my absence he had actually detected the presence of the gun upon the tower—I played my last card ... and lost.
Cassim it was who detected the fact that police were watching the Bell House! Cassim had failed me once. I instructed him a second time.
I near the end of my statement. Destruction of all my effects, of all evidence of my work, and, crowning tragedy, of every trace of a life's research, was unavoidable. Knowing that every railway station and port would be watched and that my marked personality could not hope to escape the vigilance of the authorities, I determined to make a bid for freedom by seeking the shelter of my villa in London.
Cassim systematically fired the Bell House ... and perished in the flames! Under cover of the confusion which the conflagration occasioned, Nahémah and I succeeded in making our retirement by the gate opening on the Hainingham road.
But, in my attempts upon the life of Mr. Addison, I had not counted with Nahémah. I had raised up a monster ... that monster ... has destroyed me....