BEFORE Glenbarth and I parted on the terrible evening described in th_revious chapter, we had made a contract with each other to say nothing abou_hat we had seen to the ladies. For this reason, when my wife endeavoured t_nterrogate me concerning our entertainment, I furnished her with an elaborat_escription of the dinner itself; spoke of the marvellous cooking, and I hop_ave her a fairly accurate account of the menu, or rather so much of it as _ould remember.
"I suppose I must confess to defeat, then," she said, when I had exhausted m_owers of narration. "I had a settled conviction that something out of th_ommon would have occurred. You seem simply to have had a good dinner, to hav_moked some excellent cigars, and the rest to have been bounded merely by th_ommonplace. For once I fear Doctor Nikola has not acted up to hi_eputation."
If she had known the truth, I wonder what she would have said! Long after sh_ad bade me "good night" I lay awake ruminating on the different events of th_vening. The memory of what I had seen in that awful room was still as fres_ith me as if I were still watching it. And yet, I asked myself, why should _orry so much about it? Nikola had willed that his audience should see certai_hings. We had done so. It was no more concerned with the supernatural than _as myself. Any man who had the power could have impressed us in the same way.
But though I told myself all this, I must confess that I was by no mean_onvinced. I knew in my heart that the whole thing had been too real to b_erely a matter of make-believe. No human brain could have invented th_hastly horrors of that room in such complete detail. Even to think of it now, is to bring the scene almost too vividly before me; and when I lay awake a_ight I seem to hear the shrieks of the wretched woman, and the moans of th_an perishing in the vaults below.
On my retiring to rest my wife had informed me that she fancied Miss Trevo_ad been slightly better that evening. She had slept peacefully for upwards o_n hour, and seemed much refreshed by it.
"Her maid is going to spend the night in her room," said Phyllis; "I have tol_er that, if she sees any change in Gertrude's condition, she is to let m_now at once. I do hope that she may be herself again to-morrow."
This, however, was unhappily not destined to be the case; for a little befor_hree o'clock there was a tapping upon our bedroom door. Guessing who it woul_e, my wife went to it, and, having opened it a little, was informed that Mis_revor was worse.
"I must go to her at once," said Phyllis, and, having clothed herself warmly, for the night was cold, she departed to our guest's room.
"I am really afraid that there is something very serious the matter with her,"
she said, when she returned after about a quarter of an hour's absence. "Sh_s in a high state of fever, and is inclined to be delirious. Don't you thin_e had better send for the doctor?"
"I will have a messenger dispatched to him at once if you think it necessary,"
I returned. "Poor girl, I wonder what on earth it can be?"
"Perhaps the doctor will be able to tell us now," said my wife. "The symptom_re more fully developed, and he should surely be able to make his diagnosis.
But I must not stay here talking. I must go back to her."
When she had departed, I dressed myself and went down to the hall in search o_he night watchman. He undertook to find a messenger to go and fetch th_octor, and, when I had seen him dispatched on his errand, I returned to th_rawing-room, switched on the electric light, and tried to interest myself i_ book until the medico should arrive. I was not very successful, however, fo_nteresting though I was given to understand the book was, I found my thought_ontinually leaving it and returning to the house in the Rio del Consiglio. _ondered what Nikola was doing at that moment, and fancied I could picture hi_till at work, late though the hour was. At last, tiring of the book an_anting something else to occupy my thoughts, I went to the window and dre_ack the shutters. It was a beautiful morning, and the myriad stars overhea_ere reflected in the black waters of the canal like the lamps of a larg_own. Not a sound was to be heard; it might have been a city of the dead, s_till was it. As I stood looking across the water, I thought of the city'_ast history, of her ancient grandeur, of her wondrous art, and of the grea_en who had been her children. There was a tremendous lesson to be learnt fro_er Fall if one could only master it. I was interrupted in my reverie by th_ntrance of the doctor, whom I had told the night watchman to conduct to m_resence immediately upon his arrival.
"I am sorry to bring you out at this time of the night, doctor," I said; "bu_he fact is, Miss Trevor is much worse. My wife spent the greater part of th_vening with her, and informed me on my return from a dinner that she wa_etter. Three-quarters of an hour ago, however, her maid, who had bee_leeping in her room, came to us with the news that a change for the worse ha_et in. This being the case, I thought it better to send for you at once."
"You did quite right, my dear sir, quite right," the medico replied. "There i_othing like promptness in these matters. Perhaps I had better see her withou_urther delay."
With that I conducted him to the door of Miss Trevor's room. He knocked upo_t, was admitted by my wife, and then disappeared from my gaze. Something lik_alf an hour elapsed before he returned to me in the drawing-room. When he di_o his face looked grave and troubled. "What do you think of her conditio_ow, doctor?" I asked.
"She is certainly in a state of high fever," he answered. "Her pulse is ver_igh, and she is inclined to be delirious. At the same time I am bound t_onfess to you that I am at a loss to understand the reason of it. The cas_uzzled me considerably yesterday, but I am even more puzzled by it now. Ther_re various symptoms that I can neither account for nor explain. One thing, however, is quite certain—the young lady must have a trained nurse, and, wit_our permission, I will see that one comes in after breakfast. Lady Hattera_s not strong enough for the task."
"I am quite with you there," I answered. "And I am vastly obliged to you fo_utting your foot down. At the same time, will you tell me whether you deem i_ecessary for me to summon her father from England?"
"So far as I can see at present, I do not think there is any immediate need,"
he replied. "Should I see any reason for so doing, I would at once tell you. _ave given a prescription to Lady Hatteras, and furnished her with the name o_ reliable chemist. I shall return between nine and ten o'clock and shall hop_o have better news for you then."
"I sincerely trust you may," I said. "As you may suppose, her illness has bee_ great shock to us."
I then escorted him downstairs and afterwards returned to my bedroom. The new_hich he had given me of Miss Trevor's condition was most distressing, an_ade me feel more anxious than I cared to admit. At seven o'clock I saw m_ife for a few minutes, but, as before, she had no good news to give me.
"She is quite delirious now," she said, "and talks continually of some grea_rouble which she fears is going to befall her; implores me to help her t_scape from it, but will not say definitely what it is. It goes to my heart t_ear her, and to know that I cannot comfort her."
"You must be careful what you are doing," I replied. "The doctor has promise_o bring a trained nurse with him after breakfast, who will relieve you of th_esponsibility. I inquired whether he thought we had better send for he_ather, and it is in a way encouraging to know that, so far, he does not thin_here is any necessity for such an extreme step. In the meantime, however, _hink I will write to the Dean and tell him how matters stand. It will prepar_im, but I am afraid it will give the poor old gentleman a sad fright."
"It could not give him a greater fright than it has done us," said Phyllis. "_o not know why I should do so, but I cannot help thinking that I am to blam_n some way."
"What nonsense, my dear girl," I replied. "I am sure you have nothin_hatsoever to reproach yourself with. Far from it. You must not worry yoursel_bout it, or we shall be having you upon our hands before long. You mus_emember that you are yourself far from strong."
"I am quite myself again now," she answered. "It is only on account of you_nxiety that I treat myself as an invalid." Then she added, "I wonder what th_uke will say when he hears the news?"
"He was very nearly off his head' yesterday," I answered. "He will be neithe_o hold nor to bind to-day."
She was silent for a few moments, then she said thoughtfully:
"Do you know, Dick, it may seem strange to you, but I do not mind saying tha_ attribute all this trouble to Nikola."
"Good gracious," I cried, in well-simulated amazement, "why on earth t_ikola?"
"Because, as was the case five years ago, it has been all trouble since we me_im. You remember how he affected Gertrude at the outset. She was far fro_eing herself on the night of our tour through the city, and now in he_elirium she talks continually of his dreadful house, and from what she says, and the way she behaves, I cannot help feeling inclined to believe that sh_magines herself to be seeing some of the dreadful events which have occurre_r are occurring in it."
"God help her," I said to myself. And then I continued aloud to my wife,
"Doubtless Nikola's extraordinary personality has affected her in som_easure, as it does other people, but you are surely not going to jump to th_onclusion that because she has spoken to him he is necessarily responsibl_or her illness? That would be the wildest flight of fancy."
"And yet, do you know," she continued, "I have made a curious discovery."
"What is that?" I asked, not without some asperity, for, having so much on m_ind, I was not in the humour for fresh discoveries.
She paused for a moment before she replied. Doubtless she expected that _ould receive it with scepticism, if not with laughter; and Phyllis, eve_ince I have known her, has a distinct fear of ridicule.
"You may laugh at me if you please," she said, "yet the coincidence is to_xtraordinary to be left unnoticed. Do you happen to be aware, Dick, tha_octor Nikola called at this hotel at exactly eleven o'clock?"
I almost betrayed myself in my surprise. This was the last question I expecte_er to put to me.
"Yes," I answered, with an endeavour to appear calm, "I do happen to be awar_f that fact. He merely paid a visit of courtesy to the Don, prior to th_ther's accepting his hospitality. I see nothing remarkable in that. I did th_ame myself, if you remember."
"Of course, I know that," she replied, "but there is more to come. Are yo_lso aware that it was at the very moment of his arrival in the house tha_ertrude was taken ill? What do you think of that?"
She put this question to me with an air of triumph, as if it were one that n_rgument on my part could refute. At any rate, I did not attempt the task.
"I think nothing of it," I replied. "You may remember that you once fell dow_n a dead faint within a few minutes of the vicar's arrival at our house a_ome. Would you therefore have me suppose that it was on account of hi_rrival that you were taken ill? Why should you attribute Miss Trevor'_llness to Nikola's courtesy to our friend the Don?"
"I beg that you will not call him our friend," said Phyllis with considerabl_ignity. "I do not like the man."
I did not tell her that the Duke was equally outspoken concerning ou_ompanion. I could see that they would put their heads together, and tha_rouble would be the inevitable result. Like a wise husband, I held my peace, knowing that whatever I might say would not better the situation.
Half an hour later it was my unhappy lot to have to inform Glenbarth of Mis_revor's condition.
"I told you yesterday that it was a matter not to be trifled with," he said, as if I were personally responsible for her grave condition. "The docto_vidently doesn't understand the case, and what you ought to do, if you hav_ny regard for her life, is to send a telegram at once to London orderin_ompetent advice."
"The Dean of Bedminster has a salary of eight hundred pounds per annum," _nswered quietly. "Such a man as you would want me to send for would require _ee of some hundreds of guineas to make such a journey."
"And you would allow her to die for the sake of a few paltry pounds?" h_ried. "Good heavens, Dick, I never thought you were a money-grabber."
"I am glad you did not," I answered. "It is of her father I am thinking.
Besides, I do not know that the doctor here is as ignorant as you say. He ha_ most complicated and unusual case to deal with, and I honour him fo_dmitting the fact that he does not understand it. Many men in his professio_ould have thrown dust in our eyes, and have pretended to a perfect knowledg_f the case."
The young man did not see it in the same light as I did, and was plainly o_he opinion that we were not doing what we might for the woman he loved. M_ife, however, took him in hand after breakfast, and talked quietly but firml_o him.
She succeeded where I had failed, and when I returned from an excursion to th_hemist's, where I had the prescriptions made up, I found him in a tolerabl_easonable frame of mind.
At a quarter to ten the doctor put in an appearance once more, and, after _areful inspection of his patient, informed me that it was his opinion that _onsultant should be called in. This was done, and to our dismay the resul_ame no nearer elucidating the mystery than before. The case was such a one a_ad never entered into the experience of either man. To all intents an_urposes there was nothing that would in any way account for the patient'_ondition. The fever had left her, and she complained of no pain, while he_ind, save for occasional relapses, was clear enough. They were certain it wa_ot a case of paralysis, yet she was incapable of moving, or of doing anythin_o help herself. The duration of her illness was not sufficient to justify he_xtreme weakness, nor to account for the presence of certain other symptoms.
There was nothing for it, therefore, but for us to possess our souls i_atience and to wait the turn of events. When the doctors had departed, I wen_n search of Glenbarth, and gave him their report. The poor fellow was fa_rom being consoled by it. He had hoped to receive good news, and thei_nability to give a satisfactory decision only confirmed his belief in thei_ncompetency. Had I permitted him to do so, he would have telegraphed at onc_or the best medical advice in Europe, and would have expended half his ow_rincely revenues in an attempt to make her herself once more. It wa_ifficult to convince him that he had not the right to heap liabilities on th_ld gentleman's shoulder, which, in honour bound, he would feel he must repay.
I will not bore my readers with the abusive arguments against society, an_ocial etiquette, with which he favoured me in reply to my speech. The poo_ellow was beside himself with anxiety, and it was difficult to make hi_nderstand that, because he had not placed a narrow band of gold upon _ertain pretty finger, he was debarred from saving the life of the owner o_hat selfsame finger. Towards nightfall it was certain that Miss Trevor'_ondition was gradually going from bad to worse. With the closing of the da_he delirium had returned, and the fever had also come with it. We spent _retchedly anxious night, and in the morning, at the conclusion of his firs_isit, the doctor informed me that, in his opinion, it would be advisable tha_ should telegraph to the young lady's father. This was an extreme step, and, needless to say, it caused me great alarm. It was all so sudden that it wa_carcely possible to realise the extent of the calamity. Only two days befor_iss Trevor had been as well as any of us, and certainly in stronger healt_han my wife. Now she was lying, if not at death's door, at least at no grea_istance from that grim portal. Immediately this sad intelligence was mad_nown to me I hastened to the telegraph-office, and dispatched a message t_he Dean, asking him to come to us with all possible speed. Before luncheon _eceived a reply to the effect that he had already started. Then we sa_urselves down to wait and to watch, hoping almost against hope that thi_eautiful, happy young life might be spared to us. All this time we had see_othing of the Don or of Nikola. The former, however, had heard of Mis_revor's illness, and sent polite messages as to her condition. I did not tel_lenbarth of this, for the young man had sufficient to think of just the_ithout my adding to his worries.
I must pass on now to describe to you the arrival of the Dean of Bedminster i_enice. Feeling that he would be anxious to question me concerning hi_aughter's condition, I made a point of going to meet him alone. Needless t_ay, he was much agitated on seeing me, and implored me to give him the lates_ulletin.
"God's will be done," he said quietly, when he had heard all I had to tel_im. "I did not receive your letter," he remarked, as we made our way from th_tation in the direction of Galaghetti's hotel, "so that you will understan_hat I know nothing of the nature of poor Gertrude's illness. What does th_octor say is the matter with her?"
I then informed him how the case stood, and of the uncertainty felt by the tw_embers of the medical profession I had called in. "Surely that is ver_ingular, is it not?" he asked, when I had finished. "There are not man_iseases left that they are unable to diagnose."
"In this case, however, I fear they are at a loss to assign a name to it," _aid. "However, you will be able very soon to see her for yourself, and t_raw your own conclusions."
The meeting between the worthy old gentleman and his daughter was on his sid_ffecting in the extreme. She did not recognise him, nor did she know my wife.
When he joined me in the drawing-room a quarter of an hour or so later hi_rief was pitiful to witness. While we were talking Glenbarth entered, and _ntroduced them to each other. The Dean knew nothing of the latter'_nfatuation for his daughter, but I fancy, after a time, he must have guesse_hat there was something in the wind from the other's extraordinary sympath_ith him in his trial. As it happened, the old gentleman had not arrived an_oo soon. That afternoon Miss Trevor was decidedly worse, and the medical me_xpressed their gravest fears for her safety. All that day and the next w_aited in suspense, but there was no material change. Nature was fighting he_attle stubbornly inch by inch. The girl did not seem any worse, nor was ther_ny visible improvement. On the doctor's advice a third physician was calle_n, but with no greater success than before. Then on one never-to-be-forgotte_fternoon the first doctor took me on one side and informed me that in hi_pinion, and those of his colleagues, it would not be wise to cherish an_urther hopes. The patient was undeniably weaker, and was growing more s_very hour. With a heart surcharged with sorrow I went to the Dean's room an_roke the news to him. The poor old man heard me out in silence, and the_alked to the window and looked down upon the Grand Canal. After a while h_urned, and coming back to me once more, laid his hand upon my arm.
"If it is the Lord's will that I lose her, what can I do but submit?" he said.
"When shall I be allowed to see her?"
"I will make inquiries," I answered, and hastened away in search of th_octor. As I passed along the passage I met Galaghetti. The little man ha_een deeply grieved to hear the sad intelligence, and hastened in search of m_t once.
"M'lord," said he, for do what I would I could never cure him of the habit,
"believe me, it is not so hopeless, though they say so, if you will but liste_o me. There is Doctor Nikola, your friend! He could cure her if you went t_im. Did he not cure my child?"
I gave a start of surprise. I will confess that the idea had occurred to me, but I had never given the probability of putting it into execution a thought.
Why should it not be done? Galaghetti had reminded me how Nikola had cured hi_hild when she lay at the point of death, and the other doctors of Venice ha_iven her up. He was so enthusiastic in his praise of the doctor that I fel_lmost inclined to risk it. When I reached the drawing-room Glenbarth hastene_owards me.
"What news?" he inquired, his anxiety showing itself plainly upon his face.
I shook my head.
"For God's sake don't trifle with me," he cried. "You can have no idea what _m suffering."
Feeling that it would be better if I told him everything, I made a clea_reast of it. He heard me out before he spoke.
"She must not die," he said, with the fierceness of despair. "If there is an_ower on earth that can be evoked, it shall be brought to bear. Can you no_hink of anything? Try! Remember that every second is of importance."
"Would it be safe to try Nikola?" I inquired, looking him steadfastly in th_ace. "Galaghetti is wild for me to do so."
In spite of his dislike to Nikola, Glenbarth jumped at the suggestion as _rowning man clutches at a straw.
"Let us find him at once!" he cried, seizing me by the arm. "If any one ca_ave her he is the man. Let us go to him without a moment's delay."
"No, no," I answered, "that will never do. Even in a case of such gravity th_roprieties must be observed. I must consult the doctors before calling i_nother."
I regret very much to say that here the Duke made use of some language tha_as neither parliamentary nor courteous to those amiable gentlemen.
I sought them out and placed the matter before them. To the idea of calling i_ fourth consultant they had not the least objection, though they were all o_he opinion that it could do no good. When, however, I mentioned the fact tha_hat consultant's name was Nikola, I could plainly see that a storm wa_ising.
"Gentlemen," I said, "you must forgive me if I speak plainly and to the point.
You have given us to understand that your patient's case is hopeless. Now _ave had considerable experience of Doctor Nikola's skill, and I feel that w_hould not be justified in withholding him from our counsel, if he wil_onsent to be called in. I have no desire to act contrary to medica_tiquette, but we must remember that the patient's life comes before augh_lse."
One doctor looked at the other, and all shook their heads.
"I fear," said the tallest of them, who invariably acted as spokesman, "tha_f the services of the gentleman in question are called in, it will b_ecessary for my colleagues and myself to abandon our interest in the case. _o not of course know how far your knowledge extends, but I hope you wil_llow me to say, sir, that the most curious stories are circulated both as t_he behaviour and the attainments of this Doctor Nikola."
Though I knew it to be true, his words nettled me. And yet I had such a deep- rooted belief in Nikola that, although they were determined to give up th_ase, I felt we should still be equally, if not more, powerful without them.
"I sincerely hope, gentlemen," I said, "that you will not do as you propose.
Nevertheless, I feel that I should not be myself acting rightly if I were t_llow your professional prejudices to stand in the way of my friend'_ecovery."
"In that case I fear there is nothing left to us but to most reluctantl_ithdraw," said one of the men.
"You are determined?"
"Quite determined," they replied together. Then the tallest added, "We muc_egret it, but our decision is irrevocable."
Ten minutes later they had left the hotel in a huff, and I found myself seate_pon the horns of a serious dilemma. What would my position be if Nikola'_resence should exercise a bad effect upon the patient, or if he shoul_ecline to render us assistance? In that case I should have offended the bes_octors in Venice, and should in all probability have killed her. It was _ice position to be placed in. One thing, however, was as certain as anythin_ould be, and that was the fact that there was no time to lose. My wife wa_eriously alarmed when I informed her of my decision, but both Glenbarth and _elt that we were acting for the best, and the Dean sided with us.
"Since you deem it necessary, go in search of Doctor Nikola at once," said m_ife, when the latter had left us. "Implore him to come without delay; i_nother hour it may be too late." Then in a heart-broken whisper she added,
"She is growing weaker every moment. Oh, Dick, Heaven grant that we are no_cting wrongly, and that he may be able to save her."
"I feel convinced that we are doing right," I answered. "And now I will go i_earch of Nikola, and if possible bring him back with me."
"God grant you may be successful in your search," said Glenbarth, wringing m_and. "If Nikola saves her I will do anything he may ask, and shall b_rateful to him all the days of my life."