The Green Eyes of Bast/Chapter 25

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THE speaker reeled and seemed about to fall. Whereupon Gatton sprang forward and placed an armchair, which he himself had occupied, for Dr. Damar Greefe. The latter inclined his head in acknowledgment and sank down weakly, clutching at both arms of the chair.

For my own part, I had not yet recovered power of speech; but:

"Dr. Damar Greefe," said the Inspector, closely watching the man who sat there collapsed in the chair, "I arrest you on a charge of murder. I have to warn you that anything you now say will be used in evidence against you."

The Eurasian exerted a supreme effort, straightening his gaunt body, and fixing the gaze of those hawk eyes upon Inspector Gatton. When he spoke his harsh voice had gained strength and his manner was imperious.

"Detective-Inspector Gatton," he replied, "you do no more than your duty. I have come here only with the utmost difficulty in my weak state. Therefore, you need apprehend no attempt at escape on my part. I have come with a purpose. This purpose I shall fulfill; after which"—he shrugged his square shoulders—"I shall be at your service."

"Very good," said Gatton shortly, but I noted that his face was flushed in a way which betokened repressed excitement.

Giving me a significant glance, he went out to the ante-room, and:

"Sydenham 1448," I heard him call.

Damar Greefe closed his eyes and lay back in the chair; and a moment later:

"Hullo!" said Gatton. "Detective-Inspector Gatton, C.I.D., speaking from Willow Cottage, College Road. Send two men in a cab here at once to remove a prisoner.... Right! Good-by."

He came in again, and closing the door behind him, stood staring at Damar Greefe in a sort of wonderment. The Eurasian wearily opened his eyes and looked slowly from side to side. Then:

"Pray be seated, Inspector Gatton," he said. "I have a communication to make."

Gatton, with never a word, drew up a chair and sat down.

"I do not desire to be interrupted," continued Damar Greefe, "until my communication is finished. You understand? It will not be repeated."

"I am afraid," murmured Gatton dryly, "it will have to be."

The Eurasian fully opened his glittering black eyes, and fixing them upon the speaker:

"It will not be repeated," he said harshly. "If I am misunderstood, inform me."

His peremptory manner in the circumstances was extraordinary—uncanny. As I had perceived in the first hour of our meeting, Dr. Damar Greefe was a man possessing tremendous force of character and a pride of intellect which clearly rendered him indifferent even of retribution.

"This point being settled," he continued, "be good enough, Inspector Gatton, and"—he turned his eyes in my direction—"Mr. Addison, to give me your undivided attention."

His manner was that of a lecturer—of a lecturer who takes it for granted that his discourse is above the heads of his audience; but when I say that the statement now made by this strange and terrible man held Gatton and me spellbound I say no more than the truth. Wearily, and more often than not having his eyes closed, Dr. Damar Greefe commenced to unfold a story of nameless horrors—and save that his harsh voice grew ever weaker and weaker, he displayed not the slightest trace of emotion throughout his appalling revelations.

"I am informing you," he said, "of these facts concerning my inquiries in the realm of teratology and the subjoined province of animism because I know that my life-work upon this subject can never now be completed. It having been necessary for me to destroy my papers and those specimens which, at hideous cost, I had accumulated during twenty years of travel through some of the most barbaric as well as the most civilized parts of the world, this present brief verbal account of the most important inquiry of all shall alone survive me. You are privileged. Therefore listen:

"Two important facts contributed to my choice of a special study: the social ostracism which very early in my professional career I found to be my lot; and the fact that in myself I afforded a living example of the hybrid. It has been said and not untruly that the Eurasian hates his father and scorns his mother. Certainly, this unnatural passion is reciprocated by the parent stock; for the Eurasian is barely acknowledged by his dark brethren and hardly tolerated by the white.

"In spite of my qualifications—I am a Doctor of Medicine, a Master of Arts, and hold other degrees of Leipzig, the Sorbonne, and elsewhere—I recognized very early in my career that ordinary practice was impossible for me. I therefore turned my attention to the special study of embryology, as I fortunately possessed sufficient private means to enable me—by careful living—to dispense with the usual proceeds of my profession.

"In short, I hoped to triumph over my hereditary handicap and to build for myself a reputation which should rise above the petty disabilities of caste and place my name upon a level with those of Haeckel, Weismann, Wallace, Focke and the other great students who have helped to advance our knowledge of the science of evolution.

"I early turned my attention to the traditions associated with the Cynocephalus hamadryas, or Sacred Baboon of Abyssinia. I took up my quarters on the banks of the Hawash and succeeded in ingratiating myself with the Amharûn. The result of my sojourn amongst these strange people is embodied in my work 'The Ape-Men of Shoa.'

"This work is unpublished and may never see the light, but briefly I may state that the Amharûn are a Semitic tribe allied to the Falashas and have been settled for many generations in this southern province of Abyssinia. Claiming descent from Menelek, son of Suleiman and the Queen of Sheba, they have always been regarded as unclean pariahs. In part this is due to their bestial custom of eating meat cut from living animals, but it is more particularly attributable to the periodical appearance among them of these cynocephalytes, or man-apes, which form the subject of my work.

"My close inquiries into the physiological history of these monstrosities were only conducted with the utmost difficulty. In the first place I found that it was customary among the Amharûn to slay the creatures at birth, but in those rare cases of survival the cynocephalytes were banished from the community and were compelled to lead a wild life, subsisting as best they might in the foothills of the desolate mountain region.

"Thus, in the first place these creatures were difficult of access; in the second place, they readily contracted tuberculosis, even in that warm, dry climate; and in the third place their ferocity rendered them more formidable to approach than any tiger in its lair. I may add here that this predisposition to pulmonary disease is (and this I have definitely established) a characteristic of all mammalian hybrids.

"Nevertheless, my studies were by no means unfruitful, since they resulted in a triumphant vindication of my theory, which, contrary to that universally received and more closely allied to the 'exploded' Mendel's Law, ascribed the appearance of such monsters not to any strict physiological process but to a hitherto unclassified law of embryology which I had hoped would one day take its place in science under my name.

"Armed with the results of my Abyssinian inquiry, I next proceeded to Syria; for among certain desert tribes I hoped to find further evidence to support my theory. In short, in the Arabic tradition of the jackal-man (which is allied to the medieval and universal belief in the were-wolf or loup-garou) and in the Indian myth of the woman who, possessing an ordinary human form by day, assumes that of a tigress by night, I thought I detected a profound truth.

"Since my life-work is destroyed, I am egotist enough to desire that credit for it should not accrue to another. I do not propose, therefore, more than lightly to touch upon the Damar Greefe Law, but I may say that in its essentials it is this:

"Such strange hybrids do actually occur periodically and in rare cases survive; but their animal proclivities which are physically demonstrable, and the possession of certain animal attributes (as the furry body of the cynocephalyte, the claws and teeth of the jackal-man, etc.), are physical reflections of a mental process taking place in the female parent."

He glared at me wildly, as if anticipating contradiction, but Gatton and I remaining silent:

"There is no physical association," he continued, "between the hybrid and that creature whose qualities and peculiarities he seemingly inherits. I have proved by a long series of elaborate experiments that a true hybrid of this description is a physiological impossibility. But that a false hybrid such as I have indicated may appear is a fact which does not rest solely upon my studies amongst the Amharûn, nor upon my subsequent inquiries throughout Assyria, Somaliland and the middle valleys of the Yellow River."

He paused, and suddenly turning a glance of the hawk-like eyes upon me:

"As an explorer of the Dark Continent, Mr. Addison," he said, "and also, if I mistake not, something of an Orientalist, the significance of this itinerary may possibly be apparent to you. But I waste time:

"The discovery which triumphantly crowned my life's work by what some may deem poetic justice was destined also to destroy it. This brings me to the matter which has led to my presence here to-night. My preceding remarks were a necessary foreword. I come to the year 1902, when I was established in Cairo, whither I had conveyed the results of the labor of many years and where I had taken up my quarters in a large native house not twenty yards from the Bâb-es-Zuwêla."

Gatton stirred restlessly in his chair and my own curiosity knew no bounds.

"My inquiries at this time had nearly exhausted my always slender financial resources, and the proceeds of a small practice which I succeeded in establishing (exclusively amongst the extensive half-caste colony resident in this neighborhood) proved a welcome addition to my income. It was due to the fact that at this time I was an active practitioner that I came in touch with the most perfect and notable example of a psycho-hybrid which I had ever encountered, indeed which, so far as I am aware, has ever appeared."

He paused again, as if overcome with faintness, and in anticipation of what was to come I could scarcely contain myself, when:

"At this time," he resumed, in a yet lower voice, "and indeed until quite recently, there were but few reliable European medical men in Cairo, and during the summer of 1902 an outbreak of cholera temporarily depleted their already scanty ranks. It happened then that one night, whilst I sat in the huge, lofty room, once the principal harem apartment of the house, which I had appropriated as a study, Cassim, my Nubian servant, communicated to me (by means of a sign-language which I had taught him) some startling news. My immediate presence was desired at the residence of Sir Burnham Coverly, then newly appointed to a government office, and who with his wife had only arrived in the country some few months earlier.

"I thought I knew the nature of the services required of me, but my employment by this typical English aristocrat, hide-bound with caste traditions as he could not fail to be, since he had spent five years of his official life in India, surprised me very greatly. I was later to learn that the services of no other medical man (or of no medical man so highly qualified as myself) were available; but even had I known this at the time I should have put my pride in my pocket, and for this reason:

"I had learned from a native acquaintance of a certain occurrence which had taken place on the very day of the baronet's arrival in Egypt; and it led me to look for a particular manifestation, in fact, I will boldly declare, since science is admittedly a callous mistress, that it had led me to hope for this manifestation, however unpleasant it might prove for those intimately concerned. Accordingly, having made suitable preparation I accompanied Sir Burnham's servant back to the residence of the baronet...."

I heard the door-bell ring, and I heard Coates's regular tread as he proceeded along the passage. There was a brief, muttered colloquy, a rap on the study-door, and Coates entered.

"A sergeant of police and a constable, sir, to see Inspector Gatton!"

Damar Greefe raised his thin, yellow hand. His voice, when next he spoke, exhibited no trace of emotion.

"Let them be told to wait," he said. "I have not finished."

It was wildly bizarre, that scene in my study, with the dignified white-haired Eurasian doctor, palpably laboring against some deathly sickness, sitting there unperturbed, his brilliant, perverted intellect holding him aloof from the ordinary things of life—whilst those who came to hale him to a felon's cell waited in the anteroom!

I glanced swiftly at Gatton, and he nodded impatiently.

"Let them stay in the dining-room, Coates," I said. "Make them comfortable."

"Very good, sir."

Unmoved, Coates withdrew—and I saw Gatton glance at his watch. Throughout the latter part of his strange narrative, neither Gatton nor I interrupted the narrator, therefore I give his story, so far as I remember it, in his own words. He no longer addressed either of us directly; he seemed, indeed, to be thinking aloud.