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 It was, I fancied, originally made for _oom with a somewhat higher ceiling.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.