"I won't go."
"This is his card, sir."
The butler presented it upon the gold salver which had been given to his master by the wife of a Prime Minister.
"`Hamil Ali, Smyrna.' Hum! The fellow is a Turk, I suppose."
"Yes, sir. He seems as if he came from abroad, sir. And he's in a terrible way."
"Tut, tut! I have an engagement. I must go somewhere else. But I'll see him. Show him in here, Pim."
A few moments later the butler swung open the door and ushered in a small and decrepit man, who walked with a bent back and with the forward push of the face and blink of the eyes which goes with extreme short sight. His face was swarthy, and his hair and beard of the deepest black. In one hand he held a turban of white muslin striped with red, in the other a small chamois-leather bag.
"Good evening," said Douglas Stone, when the butler had closed the door. "You speak English, I presume?"
"Yes, sir. I am from Asia Minor, but I speak English when I speak slow."
"You wanted me to go out, I understand?"
"Yes, sir. I wanted very much that you should see my wife."
"I could come in the morning, but I have an engagement which prevents me from seeing your wife tonight."
The Turk's answer was a singular one. He pulled the string which closed the mouth of the chamois-leather bag, and poured a flood of gold on to the table.
"There are one hundred pounds there," said he, "and I promise you that it will not take you an hour. I have a cab ready at the door."
Douglas Stone glanced at his watch. An hour would not make it too late to visit Lady Sannox. He had been there later. And the fee was an extraordinarily high one. He had been pressed by his creditors lately, and he could not afford to let such a chance pass. He would go.
"What is the case?" he asked.
"Oh, it is so sad a one! So sad a one! You have not, perhaps heard of the daggers of the Almohades?"
"Ah, they are Eastern daggers of a great age and of a singular shape, with the hilt like what you call a stirrup. I am a curiosity dealer, you understand, and that is why I have come to England from Smyrna, but next week I go back once more. Many things I brought with me, and I have a few things left, but among them, to my sorrow, is one of these daggers."
"You will remember that I have an appointment, sir," said the surgeon, with some irritation; "pray confine yourself to the necessary details."
"You will see that it is necessary. Today my wife fell down in a faint in the room in which I keep my wares, and she cut her lower lip upon this cursed dagger of Almohades."
"I see," said Douglas Stone, rising. "And you wish me to dress the wound?"
"No, no, it is worse than that."
"These daggers are poisoned."
"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 loose 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.