Brood of the Witch Queen/Chapter 7
SIR ELWIN GROVES' PATIENT
When a substantial legacy is divided into two shares, one of which falls to a man, young, dissolute and clever, and the other to a girl, pretty and inexperienced, there is laughter in the hells. But, to the girl's legacy add another item—a strong, stern guardian, and the issue becomes one less easy to predict.
In the case at present under consideration, such an arrangement led Dr. Bruce Cairn to pack off Myra Duquesne to a grim Scottish manor in Inverness upon a visit of indefinite duration. It also led to heart burnings on the part of Robert Cairn, and to other things about to be noticed.
Antony Ferrara, the co-legatee, was not slow to recognise that a damaging stroke had been played, but he knew Dr. Cairn too well to put up any protest. In his capacity of fashionable physician, the doctor frequently met Ferrara in society, for a man at once rich, handsome, and bearing a fine name, is not socially ostracised on the mere suspicion that he is a dangerous blackguard. Thus Antony Ferrara was courted by the smartest women in town and tolerated by the men. Dr. Cairn would always acknowledge him, and then turn his back upon the dark-eyed, adopted son of his dearest friend.
There was that between the two of which the world knew nothing. Had the world known what Dr. Cairn knew respecting Antony Ferrara, then, despite his winning manner, his wealth and his station, every door in London, from those of Mayfair to that of the foulest den in Limehouse, would have been closed to him—closed, and barred with horror and loathing. A tremendous secret was locked up within the heart of Dr. Bruce Cairn.
Sometimes we seem to be granted a glimpse of the guiding Hand that steers men's destinies; then, as comprehension is about to dawn, we lose again our temporal lucidity of vision. The following incident illustrates this.
Sir Elwin Groves, of Harley Street, took Dr. Cairn aside at the club one evening.
"I am passing a patient on to you, Cairn," he said; "Lord Lashmore."
"Ah!" replied Cairn, thoughtfully. "I have never met him."
"He has only quite recently returned to England—you may have heard?—and brought a South American Lady Lashmore with him."
"I had heard that, yes."
"Lord Lashmore is close upon fifty-five, and his wife—a passionate Southern type—is probably less than twenty. They are an odd couple. The lady has been doing some extensive entertaining at the town house."
Groves stared hard at Dr. Cairn.
"Your young friend, Antony Ferrara, is a regular visitor."
"No doubt," said Cairn; "he goes everywhere. I don't know how long his funds will last."
"I have wondered, too. His chambers are like a scene from the 'Arabian Nights.'"
"How do you know?" inquired the other curiously. "Have you attended him?"
"Yes," was the reply. "His Eastern servant 'phoned for me one night last week; and I found Ferrara lying unconscious in a room like a pasha's harem. He looked simply ghastly, but the man would give me no account of what had caused the attack. It looked to me like sheer nervous exhaustion. He gave me quite an anxious five minutes. Incidentally, the room was blazing hot, with a fire roaring right up the chimney, and it smelt like a Hindu temple."
"Ah!" muttered Cairn, "between his mode of life and his peculiar studies he will probably crack up. He has a fragile constitution."
"Who the deuce is he, Cairn?" pursued Sir Elwin. "You must know all the circumstances of his adoption; you were with the late Sir Michael in Egypt at the time. The fellow is a mystery to me; he repels, in some way. I was glad to get away from his rooms."
"You were going to tell me something about Lord Lashmore's case, I think?" said Cairn.
Sir Elwin Groves screwed up his eyes and readjusted his pince-nez, for the deliberate way in which his companion had changed the conversation was unmistakable. However, Cairn's brusque manners were proverbial, and Sir Elwin accepted the lead.
"Yes, yes, I believe I was," he agreed, rather lamely. "Well, it's very singular. I was called there last Monday, at about two o'clock in the morning. I found the house upside-down, and Lady Lashmore, with a dressing-gown thrown over her nightdress, engaged in bathing a bad wound in her husband's throat."
"What! Attempted suicide?"
"My first idea, naturally. But a glance at the wound set me wondering. It was bleeding profusely, and from its location I was afraid that it might have penetrated the internal jugular; but the external only was wounded. I arrested the flow of blood and made the patient comfortable. Lady Lashmore assisted me coolly and displayed some skill as a nurse. In fact she had applied a ligature before my arrival."
"Lord Lashmore remained conscious?"
"Quite. He was shaky, of course. I called again at nine o'clock that morning, and found him progressing favourably. When I had dressed the wounds—"
"There were two actually; I will tell you in a moment. I asked Lord Lashmore for an explanation. He had given out, for the benefit of the household, that, stumbling out of bed in the dark, he had tripped upon a rug, so that he fell forward almost into the fireplace. There is a rather ornate fender, with an elaborate copper scrollwork design, and his account was that he came down with all his weight upon this, in such a way that part of the copperwork pierced his throat. It was possible, just possible, Cairn; but it didn't satisfy me and I could see that it didn't satisfy Lady Lashmore. However, when we were alone, Lashmore told me the real facts."
"He had been concealing the truth?"
"Largely for his wife's sake, I fancy. He was anxious to spare her the alarm which, knowing the truth, she must have experienced. His story was this—related in confidence, but he wishes that you should know. He was awakened by a sudden, sharp pain in the throat; not very acute, but accompanied by a feeling of pressure. It was gone again, in a moment, and he was surprised to find blood upon his hands when he felt for the cause of the pain.
"He got out of bed and experienced a great dizziness. The hemorrhage was altogether more severe than he had supposed. Not wishing to arouse his wife, he did not enter his dressing-room, which is situated between his own room and Lady Lashmore's; he staggered as far as the bell-push, and then collapsed. His man found him on the floor—sufficiently near to the fender to lend colour to the story of the accident."
Dr. Cairn coughed drily.
"Do you think it was attempted suicide after all, then?" he asked.
"No—I don't," replied Sir Elwin emphatically. "I think it was something altogether more difficult to explain."
"Not attempted murder?"
"Almost impossible. Excepting Chambers, Lord Lashmore's valet, no one could possibly have gained access to that suite of rooms. They number four. There is a small boudoir, out of which opens Lady Lashmore's bedroom; between this and Lord Lashmore's apartment is the dressing-room. Lord Lashmore's door was locked and so was that of the boudoir. These are the only two means of entrance."
"But you said that Chambers came in and found him."
"Chambers has a key of Lord Lashmore's door. That is why I said 'excepting Chambers.' But Chambers has been with his present master since Lashmore left Cambridge. It's out of the question."
"First floor, no balcony, and overlook Hyde Park."
"Is there no clue to the mystery?"
"There are three!"
"What are they?"
"First: the nature of the wounds. Second: Lord Lashmore's idea that something was in the room at the moment of his awakening. Third: the fact that an identical attempt was made upon him last night!"
"Last night! Good God! With what result?"
"The former wounds, though deep, are very tiny, and had quite healed over. One of them partially reopened, but Lord Lashmore awoke altogether more readily and before any damage had been done. He says that some soft body rolled off the bed. He uttered a loud cry, leapt out and switched on the electric lights. At the same moment he heard a frightful scream from his wife's room. When I arrived—Lashmore himself summoned me on this occasion—I had a new patient."
"Exactly. She had fainted from fright, at hearing her husband's cry, I assume. There had been a slight hemorrhage from the throat, too."
"I fear so. Fright would not produce hemorrhage in the case of a healthy subject, would it?"
Dr. Cairn shook his head. He was obviously perplexed.
"And Lord Lashmore?" he asked.
"The marks were there again," replied Sir Elwin; "rather lower on the neck. But they were quite superficial. He had awakened in time and had struck out—hitting something."
"Some living thing; apparently covered with long, silky hair. It escaped, however."
"And now," said Dr. Cairn—"these wounds; what are they like?"
"They are like the marks of fangs," replied Sir Elwin; "of two long, sharp fangs!"