“Yes, and there is no man, East or West, who can tell now what is the poison or what the cure. But all that is known I know, for my father was in this trade before me, and we have had much to do with these poisoned weapons.”
“What are the symptoms?”
“Deep sleep, and death in thirty hours.”
“And you say there is no cure. Why then should you pay me this considerable fee?”
“No drug can cure, but the knife may.”
“The poison is slow of absorption. It remains for hours in the wound.”
“Washing, then, might cleanse it?”
“No more than in a snake bite. It is too subtle and too deadly.”
“Excision of the wound, then?”
“That is it. If it be on the finger, take the finger off. So said my father always. But think of where this wound is, and that it is my wife. It is dreadful!”
But familiarity with such grim matters may take the finer edge from a man’s sympathy. To Douglas Stone this was already an interesting case, and he brushed aside as irrelevant the feeble objections of the husband.
“It appears to be that or nothing,” said he brusquely. “It is better to lose a lip than a life.”
“Ah, yes, I know that you are right. Well, well, it is kismet, and it must be faced. I have the cab, and you will come with me and do this thing.”
Douglas Stone took his case of bistouries from a drawer, and placed it with a roll of bandage and a compress of lint in his pocket. He must waste no more time if he were to see Lady Sannox.
“I am ready,” said he, pulling on his overcoat. “Will you take a glass of wine before you go out into this cold air?”
His visitor shrank away, with a protesting hand upraised.
“You forget that I am a Mussulman, and a true follower of the Prophet,” said he. “But tell me what is the bottle of green glass which you have placed in your pocket?”
“It is chloroform.”
“Ah, that also is forbidden to us. It is a spirit, and we make no use of such things.”
“What! You would allow your wife to go through an operation without an anaesthetic?”
“Ah! she will feel nothing, poor soul. The deep sleep has already come on, which is the first working of the poison. And then I have given her of our Smyrna opium. Come, sir, for already an hour has passed.”
As they stepped out into the darkness, a sheet of rain was driven in upon their faces, and the hall lamp, which dangled from the arm of a marble Caryatid, went out with a fluff. Pim, the butler, pushed the heavy door to, straining hard with his shoulder against the wind, while the two men groped their way towards the yellow glare which showed where the cab was waiting. An instant later they were rattling upon their journey.
“Is it far?” asked Douglas Stone.
“Oh, no. We have a very little quiet place off the Euston Road.”
The surgeon pressed the spring of his repeater and listened to the little tings which told him the hour. It was a quarter past nine. He calculated the distances, and the short time which it would take him to perform so trivial an operation. He ought to reach Lady Sannox by ten o’clock. Through the fogged windows he saw the blurred gas lamps dancing past, with occasionally the broader glare of a shop front. The rain was pelting and rattling upon the leathern top of the carriage, and the wheels swashed as they rolled through puddle and mud. Opposite to him the white headgear of his companion gleamed faintly through the obscurity. The surgeon felt in his pockets and arranged his needles, his ligatures and his safety-pins, that no time might be wasted when they arrived. He chafed with impatience and drummed his foot upon the floor.