“Where did you put it? When did you have it?” cried Jan, casting his eyes around.
“I kept it in a certain drawer,” replied Dr. West, too much disturbed to be anything but straightforward. “I have not had it in my hand for—oh, I cannot tell how long—months and months, until this morning. I wanted to refer to it then, and got it out. I was looking it over when a rough, ill-bred fellow burst the door open——”
“I heard of that,” interrupted Jan. “Cheese told me.”
“He burst the door open, and I put the paper back in its place before I spoke to him,” continued Dr. West. “Half an hour ago I went to take it out again, and I found it had disappeared.”
“The fellow must have walked it off,” cried Jan, a conclusion not unnatural.
“He could not,” said Dr. West; “it is quite an impossibility. I went back there”—pointing to a bureau of drawers behind him—“and put the paper hastily in, and locked it in, returning the keys to my pocket. The man had not stepped over the threshold of the door then; he was a little taken to, I fancy, at his having burst the door, and he stood there staring.”
“Could he have got at it afterwards?” asked Jan.
“It is, I say, an impossibility. He never was within a yard or two of the bureau; and, if he had been, the place was firmly locked. That man it certainly was not. Nobody has been in the room since, save myself, and you for a few minutes to-day when I called you in. And yet the paper is gone!”
“Could anybody have come into the room by the other door?” asked Jan.
“No. It opens with a latch-key only, as this does, and the key was safe in my pocket.”
“Well, this beats everything,” cried Jan. “It’s like the codicil at Verner’s Pride.”
“The very thing it put me in mind of,” said Dr. West. “I’d rather—I’d rather have lost that codicil, had it been mine, than lose this, Mr. Jan.”
Jan opened his eyes. Jan had a knack of opening his eyes when anything surprised him—tolerably wide, too, “What paper was it, then?” he cried.
“It was a prescription, Mr. Jan.”
“A prescription!” returned Jan, the answer not lessening his wonder. “That’s not much. Isn’t it in the book?”
“No, it is not in the book,” said Dr. West. “It was too valuable to be in the book. You may look, Mr. Jan, but I mean what I say. This was a private prescription of inestimable value—a secret prescription, I may say. I would not have lost it for the whole world.”
The doctor wiped the dew from his perplexed forehead, and strove, though unsuccessfully, to control his agitated voice to calmness. Jan could only stare. All this fuss about a prescription!
“Did it contain the secret for compounding Life’s Elixir?” asked he.
“It contained what was more to me than that,” said Dr. West. “But you can’t help me, Mr. Jan. I would rather be left to the search alone.”