Brood of the Witch Queen/Chapter 31
THE BOOK OF THOTH
The mists of early morning still floated over the fields, when these two, set upon strange business, walked through the damp grass to the door of the barn, where-from radiated the deathly waves which on the previous night had reached them, or almost reached them, in the library at Half-Moon Street.
The big double doors were padlocked, but for this they had come provided. Ten minutes work upon the padlock sufficed—and Dr. Cairn swung wide the doors.
A suffocating smell—the smell of that incense with which they had too often come in contact, was wafted out to them. There was a dim light inside the place, and without hesitation both entered.
A deal table and chair constituted the sole furniture of the interior. A part of the floor was roughly boarded, and a brief examination of the boarding sufficed to discover the hiding place in which Antony Ferrara kept the utensils of his awful art.
Dr. Cairn lifted out two heavy boards; and in a recess below lay a number of singular objects. There were four antique lamps of most peculiar design; there was a larger silver lamp, which both of them had seen before in various apartments occupied by Antony Ferrara. There were a number of other things which Robert Cairn could not have described, had he been called upon to do so, for the reason that he had seen nothing like them before, and had no idea of their nature or purpose.
But, conspicuous amongst this curious hoard, was a square iron box of workmanship dissimilar from any workmanship known to Robert Cairn. Its lid was covered with a sort of scroll work, and he was about to reach down, in order to lift it out, when:
"Do not touch it!" cried the doctor—"for God's sake, do not touch it!"
Robert Cairn started back, as though he had seen a snake. Turning to his father, he saw that the latter was pulling on a pair of white gloves. As he fixed his eyes upon these in astonishment, he perceived that they were smeared all over with some white preparation.
"Stand aside, boy," said the doctor—and for once his voice shook slightly. "Do not look again until I call to you. Turn your head aside!"
Silent with amazement, Robert Cairn obeyed. He heard his father lift out the iron box. He heard him open it, for he had already perceived that it was not locked. Then quite distinctly, he heard him close it again, and replace it in the cache.
"Do not turn, boy!" came a hoarse whisper.
He did not turn, but waited, his heart beating painfully, for what should happen next.
"Stand aside from the door," came the order, "and when I have gone out, do not look after me. I will call to you when it is finished."
He obeyed, without demur.
His father passed him, and he heard him walking through the damp grass outside the door of the barn. There followed an intolerable interval. From some place, not very distant, he could hear Dr. Cairn moving, hear the chink of glass upon glass, as though he were pouring out something from a stoppered bottle. Then a faint acrid smell was wafted to his nostrils, perceptible even above the heavy odour of the incense from the barn.
"Relock the door!" came the cry.
Robert Cairn reclosed the door, snapped the padlock fast, and began to fumble with the skeleton keys with which they had come provided. He discovered that to reclose the padlock was quite as difficult as to open it. His hands were trembling too; he was all anxiety to see what had taken place behind him. So that when at last a sharp click told of the task accomplished, he turned in a flash and saw his father placing tufts of grass upon a charred patch from which a faint haze of smoke still arose. He walked over and joined him.
"What have you done, sir?"
"I have robbed him of his armour," replied the doctor, grimly. His face was very pale, his eyes were very bright. "I have destroyed the Book of Thoth!"
"Then, he will be unable—"
"He will still be able to summon his dreadful servant, Rob. Having summoned him once, he can summon him again, but—"
"He cannot control him."
That night brought no repetition of the uncanny attack; and in the grey half light before the dawn, Dr. Cairn and his son, themselves like two phantoms, again crept across the field to the barn.
The padlock hung loose in the ring.
"Stay where you are, Rob!" cautioned the doctor.
He gently pushed the door open—wider—wider—and looked in. There was an overpowering odour of burning flesh. He turned to Robert, and spoke in a steady voice.
"The brood of the Witch-Queen is extinct!" he said.