Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous

Chapter 14 THE SECRET OF THE GREEN ROOM

  • I do not know just what my auditors expected in the way of an explanation o_he mystery when they followed me to the green room—possibly some well-
  • constructed or finely drawn theory. When I pointed to the chandelier, they al_ooked a bit nonplused, and nobody said anything for several moments. The_cQuade remarked, in his quiet voice, with a shade of comprehension in hi_one and expression: "How do you make that out, Sir?"
  • The chandelier to which I had pointed was an old-fashioned one, of the kind i_eneral use in the early fifties. It was, I fancied, originally made for _oom with a somewhat higher ceiling. The ceilings in the wings of The Oak_ere unusually low, and the extreme lower end of the chandelier extended to _oint not much over six feet from the floor. I judged this, because I a_yself five feet eleven, and I could just pass beneath it without striking it.
  • It hung in the center of the room, and about three feet from the side of th_ed, which, on account of its great size, extended far out from the wal_gainst which it was placed. The chandelier was of dark bronze or bronze_ron, and consisted of a heavy central stem, from the lower end of whic_xtended four elaborately carved branches, supported by heavy and useles_hains reaching to a large ball about midway up the stem. Below the point fro_hich these four arms sprung was a sort of circular bronze shield, or target,
  • and from the lower face of this, in the center, projected an octagona_rnamental spike, about two and a half inches long, terminating in a shar_oint. The whole thing was ugly and heavy, and seemed in design more suitabl_o a hall or library than a bedroom. Almost directly beneath it, but somewha_earer to the side of the bed, stood the low bench or stool, not over fiv_nches high, the use of which I have already mentioned. I explained th_ragedy to the detective and the others as I knew it must have happened.
  • "Last night," I said, "I was unable to open either the window in the south o_hat in the west wall, because of the driving rain. The same conditions, a_ou will remember, existed upon the fatal night which Mr. Ashton spent here.
  • For some reason, which I hope to explain presently, we were both nearl_uffocated while asleep, and rose suddenly in bed, with but one thought, on_esire, to get a breath of fresh air. The window in the west wall, directl_pposite the bed, attracted us. In Mr. Ashton's case, no doubt, the face of L_in, peering in from without, increased his terror. Like myself, he sprang u_nd dashed toward the window, placing his right foot, as I did, upon the lo_tool beside the bed. His first dash forward and upward, to a standin_osition, like my own, brought his head, elevated by the height of the stool,
  • in contact with the spike upon the lower end of the chandelier with grea_orce. The spike entered his head, fracturing the skull. He was a taller an_eavier man than myself, and the force of the contact as he sprang forward an_pward must have been terrific. In my case, owing to my having jumped from th_ed at a slightly different point, I struck the spike only a glancing blow,
  • which was sufficient however to render me unconscious for several minutes. _ell to the floor, senseless, but in a short time I struggled to my knees an_anaged, by crawling painfully to the door, to escape from the room. Th_nterval, from the time I first fell to the time I reached the hall and agai_ecame unconscious, must have been very short."
  • "Why?" asked McQuade, who, like the others, followed my every word wit_ntense interest.
  • "Because, had the time been very long, I, like Mr. Ashton, should never hav_isen at all. You would have found me here this morning, as he was found."
  • "But why?" asked Major Temple.
  • For answer I took a box of wax tapers from my pocket and lighted one. "Hav_ou ever heard of the Cave of Dogs, near Naples?" I inquired.
  • "Carbon dioxide," gasped the Major with a look of comprehension.
  • Sergeant McQuade looked blank, and I saw that to him neither my question no_he Major's answer had conveyed any definite meaning. "Look," I cried, as _eld the match out before me, where it burned with a bright, clear flame.
  • McQuade's mystification increased. I think he wondered if I were trying t_lay some practical joke upon him. But, when I slowly lowered the taper unti_t reached a point a few inches above my knee, and its flame faded away an_hen suddenly went out, as though the match had been plunged into a basin o_ater, his expression slowly cleared, and he gave a significant grunt.
  • "Carbonic-acid gas," he said. "I understand. But where does it come from?"
  • "That I do not know, at the moment," I said, "but I think there should be n_reat difficulty in finding out. This room has been closed for a long time.
  • Even when Mr. Ashton came here, it was opened for only a few moments. Neithe_e nor I opened the windows, because of the rain, as you know. Somehow, jus_ow I cannot say, a slow stream of carbonic-acid gas finds its way into thi_oom. It is the product of combustion, as you of course know, and is produce_n large quantities by burning coal. It may come through the register from th_urnace, or from some peculiar action of partially slacked lime in the plaste_f the walls. Wherever it comes from, being heavier than air, it slowl_ettles to the floor, where it collects, becoming deeper and deeper, just a_ater collects and rises in a tank. Look." I tore a few sheets from th_agazine I had been reading the night before, which still lay upon the bed,
  • and lighting them with another match, extinguished the flame, but allowed th_moke from the smoldering paper to spread about the room. It slowly sank unti_t rested upon the surface of the heavy gas, like a layer of ice upon th_urface of a body of water. It showed the carbon dioxide to be considerabl_ver two feet deep, and some six or eight inches below the level of the top o_he bed. I knew it must have risen higher during the night, as it was it_eadly fumes, closing about my pillow and beginning to enter my lungs, tha_aused my troubled dreams, as well as, ultimately, the feeling of suffocatio_hich had caused me to awake so suddenly. A considerable portion of the ga_ad evidently flowed out through the open door, as I lay across the threshold,
  • after my escape from the room.
  • "And that is what killed poor Boris," said the Major, as he watched th_ddying whirls of smoke which settled and rested upon the surface of the gas.
  • "Exactly," I said, "and probably Ashton as well. His skull was fractured, i_s true, but the divisional surgeon at the inquest reported, you may remember,
  • that the fracture was not sufficient of itself to have caused instant death.
  • It was ten minutes or more, I should say, from the time I was first awakene_y Ashton's cry, until we finally broke in the door and reached his side. B_hat time he had suffocated. The gas, as no doubt you know, is not a poisonou_ne, but containing no oxygen which the lungs can take up, acts very much th_ame as water would if breathed into the lungs."
  • Muriel looked at me with admiring eyes. I did not tell her that my father ha_ntended me to be, like himself, an engineer, and that I had taken a prett_horough technical course before adopting art as a profession. And, after all,
  • the simple explanations I had made were known to almost every schoolboy with _ittle knowledge of chemistry or physics.
  • "I believe your explanation of Mr. Ashton's death is the correct one, Mr.
  • Morgan," said McQuade, and he said it ungrudgingly. "But how, after all, di_he missing emerald come to be found in the cake of soap?"
  • "Undoubtedly Ashton put it there," I replied. "He realized the enormous valu_f the thing and feared that some attempt might be made to take it from him.
  • His hiding place for the jewel was certainly an ingenious one, and you wil_emember that you and your men searched the room thoroughly on more than on_ccasion without finding it."
  • McQuade looked a bit sheepish at this. He walked over to the chandelier an_xamined its ugly-looking spike with deep interest. It was stained with drie_lood and a few bits of hair still clung to it, but whether Ashton's or m_wn, we could of course not tell. There seemed nothing further that we coul_o, and, as McQuade said he intended going into Exeter immediately afte_uncheon to make his report, and have the authorities make an examination int_he cause of the collection of the carbonic-acid gas in the room, as well a_he stains of blood, etc., upon the point of the chandelier, I suggested tha_ accompany him, as I wanted to get my wound dressed without delay.
  • We set out, about an hour later, with Gibson and the high cart, and on the wa_cQuade told me about his attempts to locate the much sought emerald. It seem_hat after two days of effort his men had located the underground temple o_uddha, but, when they found it, it had been stripped of all its decoration_nd was merely an old cellar floored over. It appears that the Chinamen, i_aking us from the house in Kingsgate street, had passed through an areawa_ack of the house, and thence through a gateway in the rear wall, into _arrow court, along which they had proceeded some distance. From here they ha_ntered the rear of a house facing upon the adjoining street, to which th_ellar belonged. The house had been taken, but a short time before, by _ouple of Chinamen who wished to use it as a dwelling. They were seldom see_y the neighbors, and visitors came and went at night, unnoticed by th_ccupants of the neighboring houses. They had all, however, completel_isappeared, and left hardly a trace of their presence. No doubt by now th_merald Buddha was far on its way toward the little shrine in Ping Yang,
  • carefully secreted among the belongings of the old temple priest. I felt _ort of secret satisfaction at learning this, and I think Sergeant McQuade di_s well. Certainly it did not belong in this part of the world, and it_ossession could have brought nothing but trouble and danger to all of us. _hink Major Temple was glad, as well, although I never heard him mention th_ubject of the jewel again. I fancy he felt to some extent responsible fo_shton's death, or at least for having sent him upon the quest whic_ltimately resulted in it.
  • I had six stitches taken in my head by an excellent old doctor in town, wh_ried his best to find out how I had come by such a severe wound, but _efused to satisfy his curiosity, and drove back with Gibson an hour later,
  • after saying good-by to the man from Scotland Yard. He never, to my knowledg_isited The Oaks again, although I received a letter from him later, wit_eference to the investigation which the authorities had made into the caus_f the accumulation of the carbonic-acid gas in the room which Ashton an_yself had successively occupied with such disastrous results. It seems tha_he heating system in the house had been installed by its former occupant an_wner, a native of Brazil, unused to our cold English winters. It consisted o_ series of sheet iron pipes, leading from a large furnace in the cellar. Th_ipe which supplied the heat for the green room, whether by accident o_esign, lead directly from the combustion chamber of the furnace instead o_rom a hot-air chamber, as was the case with the other pipes. The consequenc_as that while the hot air taken to the other rooms was pure air, drawn fro_ithout and heated, that which supplied the green room carried away from th_urnace great quantities of carbon dioxide, produced in the combustion of th_oal. An old valve in the pipe showed that this source of supply could be shu_ff when so desired, and from this I judged that the owner of the house ma_ave had the piping intentionally so constructed, with the idea of putting ou_f the way some undesirable friends or relatives. That such was actually th_ase seemed borne out by the rumors of at least two sudden and mysteriou_eaths which were known to have occurred in the house. Major Temple, owing t_is long residence in India and the East could not endure a cold house, an_he presence of this heating plant had been one of the reasons which ha_overned him in leasing the house for the winter. As far as I was concerned, _ad not noticed the register in the wall at all, during the night I slept i_he room, having forgotten its existence. I presume it had been turned on b_r. Ashton. Had I noticed it, I should certainly have turned it off, as _articularly dislike to sleep in a heated room.
  • I reached the house about four o'clock and found Muriel awaiting my return i_he library. Her father, she told me, had gone off for a walk. We had a grea_eal to say to each other, and it took us till dinner to say it, but I have a_dea that it would not interest the reader particularly. We had a lively part_t dinner, and the Major got out some special vintage champagne to celebrat_ur engagement and drink to our future happiness. It was late before I turne_n, and I did not, you may be sure, sleep in the green room. The next day, _et out for Torquay by rail, to explain to my mother my long delay i_rriving, and to tell her about Muriel. With my departure from The Oaks th_tory of the emerald Buddha, and the memorable week it caused me, is ended,
  • but the blessings that came to me through it I had only begun to appreciate. _ave not become a Buddhist, yet I confess that I never see a statue of tha_eity but I bend my head before his benign and inscrutable face, and render u_hanks for the great blessings he has showered upon me. It has now been thre_ears since Muriel and I were married, and they have been three years o_lmost perfect happiness. We think of making a trip to China, some of thes_ays, and, if we do, we have concluded to make a special pilgrimage to Pin_ang, and place upon the altar of Buddha the most beautiful bunch of flower_hat money can buy, as a little offering and testimonial of our appreciatio_f what he has done for us.