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Title: The Green God
Author: Kummer, Frederic Arnold, 1873-1943
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Green God" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



  THE GREEN GOD

  [Illustration: "GENTLEMEN," HE SAID IN A FRIGHTENED SORT OF VOICE, "MISS
  TEMPLE CANNOT BE FOUND."]



  THE
  GREEN
  GOD

  by

  Frederic Arnold Kummer

  Illustrations by
  R. F. Schabelitz

  NEW YORK
  W. J. WATT & COMPANY
  PUBLISHERS

  COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY
  W. J. WATT & COMPANY

  _Published September_

  PRESS OF
  BRAUNWORTH & CO.
  BOOKBINDERS AND PRINTERS
  BROOKLYN, N. Y.



  CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                               PAGE

     I MR. ASHTON                          1

    II A CRY IN THE MORNING               28

   III A QUEER DISCOVERY                  48

    IV I ADVISE MISS TEMPLE               79

     V MAJOR TEMPLE'S STORY              101

    VI THE ORIENTAL PERFUME              120

   VII IN THE TEMPLE OF BUDDHA           142

  VIII INSPECTOR BURNS' CONCLUSIONS      161

    IX MISS TEMPLE'S DISAPPEARANCE       182

     X MISS TEMPLE'S TESTIMONY           198

    XI THE VENGEANCE OF BUDDHA           228

   XII I ASK MISS TEMPLE A QUESTION      247

  XIII A NIGHT OF HORROR                 267

   XIV THE SECRET OF THE GREEN ROOM      286



THE GREEN GOD



CHAPTER I

MR. ASHTON


The dull October afternoon was rapidly drawing to a close as I passed
through the village of Pinhoe, and set my steps rather wearily toward
Exeter. I had conceived the idea, some time before, of walking from
London to Torquay, partly because I felt the need of the exercise and
fresh air, and partly because I wanted to do some sketching in the
southwest counties. Perhaps had I realized, when I started out, what
manner of adventure would befall me in the neighborhood of the town of
Exeter, I should have given that place a wide berth. As matters now
stood, my chief concern at the moment was to decide whether or not I
could reach there before the impending storm broke. For a time I had
thought of spending the night at the inn at Pinhoe, but, after a careful
examination of the wind-swept sky and the masses of dun colored clouds
rolling up from the southwest, I decided that I could cover the
intervening five miles and reach the Half Moon Hotel in High street
before the coming of the storm. I had left Pinhoe perhaps half a mile to
the rear, when the strong southwest gale whipped into my face some drops
of cold, stinging rain which gave me warning that my calculations as to
the proximity of the storm had been anything but correct. I hesitated,
uncertain whether to go forward in the face of the gale, or to beat a
hasty retreat to the village, when I heard behind me the sound of an
approaching automobile.

The car was proceeding at a moderate speed, and as I stepped to the side
of the road to allow it to pass, it slowed up, and I heard a gruff, but
not unpleasant, voice asking me whether I could point out the way to
Major Temple's place. I glanced up, and saw a tall, heavily built man,
of perhaps some forty years of age, leaning from the rear seat of the
motor. He was bronzed and rugged with the mark of the traveler upon him,
and although his face at first impressed me unpleasantly, the impression
was dispelled in part at least by his peculiarly attractive smile. I
informed him that I could not direct him to the place in question, since
I was myself a comparative stranger to that part of England. He then
asked me if I was going toward Exeter. Upon my informing him not only
that I was, but that I was particularly desirous of reaching it before
the coming of the rain, he at once invited me to get into the car, with
the remark that he could at least carry me the major part of the way.

I hesitated a moment, but, seeing no reason to refuse the offer, I
thanked him and got into the car, and we proceeded toward the town at a
fairly rapid rate. My companion seemed disinclined to talk, and puffed
nervously at a long cheroot. I lighted my pipe, with some difficulty on
account of the wind, and fell to studying the face of the man beside me.
He was a good-looking fellow, of a sort, with a somewhat sensuous face,
and I felt certain that his short, stubby black mustache concealed a
rather cruel mouth. Evidently a man to gain his ends, I thought, without
being over nice as to the means he employed. Presently he turned to me.
"I understand," he said, "that Major Temple's place is upon the main
road, about half a mile this side of Exeter. There is a gray-stone
gateway, with a lodge. I shall try the first entrance answering that
description. The Major only leased the place recently, so I imagine he
is not at all well known hereabouts." He leaned forward and spoke to
his chauffeur.

I explained my presence upon the Exeter road, and suggested that I would
leave the car as soon as we reached the gateway in question, and
continue upon foot the balance of my way. My companion nodded, and we
smoked in silence for a few moments. Suddenly, with a great swirl of
dead leaves, and a squall of cold rain, the storm broke upon us. The
force of the gale was terrific, and although the car was provided with a
leather top, the wind-swept rain poured in and threatened to drench us
to the skin. My companion drew the heavy lap-robe close about his chin,
and motioned to me to do likewise, and a moment later we turned quickly
into a handsome, gray-stone gateway and up a long, straight gravel road,
bordered on each side by a row of beautiful oaks. I glanced up at my new
acquaintance in some surprise, but he only smiled and nodded, so I said
no more, realizing that he could hardly set me down in the face of such
a storm.

We swirled over the wet gravel for perhaps a quarter of a mile, through
a fine park, and with a swift turn at the end brought up under the
porte-cochère of a large, gray-stone house of a peculiar and to me
somewhat gloomy and unattractive appearance. The rain, however, was now
coming down so heavily, and the wind swept with such furious strength
through the moaning trees in the park, that I saw it would be useless to
attempt to proceed against it, either on foot or in the motor, so I
followed my companion as he stepped from the machine and rang the bell.
After a short wait, the door was thrown open by a servant and we
hurriedly entered, my acquaintance calling to the chauffeur as we did so
to proceed at once to the stables and wait until the rain had moderated
before setting out upon his return journey.

We found ourselves in a large, dimly lighted hallway. I inspected the
man who had admitted us with considerable curiosity as he closed the
door behind us, not only because of his Oriental appearance--he was a
Chinaman of the better sort--but also because he was dressed in his
native garb, his richly embroidered jacket reflecting the faint light of
the hall with subdued, yet brilliant, effect. He upon his part showed
not the slightest interest in our coming, as he inspected us with his
childlike, sleepy eyes. "Tell Major Temple," said my friend to the man,
as he handed him his dripping coat and hat, "that Mr. Robert Ashton is
here, and--" He turned to me with a questioning glance. "Owen Morgan," I
replied, wondering if he would know me by name. If he did, he showed no
sign. "Just so--Mr. Owen Morgan," he continued, then strode toward a log
fire which crackled and sputtered cheerily upon the hearth of a huge
stone fireplace. I gave the man my cap and stick,--I was walking in a
heavy Norfolk jacket, my portmanteau having been sent ahead by train to
Exeter--and joined Mr. Ashton before the fire.

"I'm afraid I'm rather presuming upon the situation," I suggested, "to
make myself so much at home here; but perhaps the storm will slacken up
presently."

"Major Temple will be glad to see you, I'm sure," rejoined Mr. Ashton,
unconcernedly. "You can't possibly go on, you know--listen!" He waved
his hand toward the leaded windows against which the storm was now
driving with furious force.

"I'm afraid not," I answered, a bit ungraciously. I have a deep-rooted
dislike to imposing myself upon strangers, and I felt that my
unceremonious arrival at the house of Major Temple might be less
appreciated by that gentleman than my companion seemed to think likely.

"The Major is a queer old character," Mr. Ashton remarked, "great
traveler and collector. I'm here on a matter of business myself--partly
at least. He'll be glad to meet you. I fancy he's a bit lonely with
nobody to keep him company but his daughter. Here he comes now." He
turned toward a tall, spare man with gray hair and drooping gray
mustache, who entered the hall. His face, like Ashton's, had the dull,
burnt-in tone of brown which is acquired only by long exposure to the
sun, and which usually marks its possessor as a traveler in the hot
countries. "Ah, Ashton," exclaimed the Major, dropping his monocle,
"delighted to see you. You arrived yesterday?"--He extended his hand,
which Ashton grasped warmly.

"Late yesterday. You see I lost no time in coming to report the result
of my quest."

"And you were successful?" demanded the older man, excitedly.

"Entirely so," replied Ashton with a smile of satisfaction.

"Good--good!" The Major rubbed his hands and smiled, then apparently
observing me for the first time, glanced at Mr. Ashton with a slight
frown and an interrogative expression.

"Mr. Owen Morgan," said Ashton, lightly, "on his way to Exeter with me.
I took the liberty of bringing him in, on account of the storm."

"I am ready to go on at once," I interjected stiffly, "as soon as the
rain lets up a bit."

"Nonsense--nonsense!" The Major's voice was somewhat testy. "You can't
possibly proceed on a night like this. Make yourself at home, Sir. Any
friend of Mr. Ashton's is welcome here." He waved aside my protestations
and turned to one of the servants, who had entered the room to turn on
the lights. "Show Mr. Ashton and Mr. Morgan to their rooms, Gibson.
You'll be wanting to fix up a bit before dinner," he announced.

"I'm afraid I can't dress," I said ruefully; "my things have all gone
on to Exeter by train."

The Major favored me with a sympathetic smile. "I quite understand," he
said; "traveler's luck. I've been a bit of a traveler myself, in my day,
Mr. Morgan. My daughter will understand perfectly."

"Which rooms, Sir, shall I show the gentlemen to?" asked the man, a
trifle uneasily, I thought.

The Major looked at Ashton, and laughed. "Ashton," he said, "you know I
only took this place a short time ago on my return from my last trip to
the East, and as we do not have many visitors, it's a bit musty and out
of shape. Queer old house, I fancy. Been closed, until I let it, for
years. Supposed to be haunted or something of the sort--tales of
wandering spirits and all that. I imagine it won't worry you much." He
glanced from Ashton to myself with a quick smile of interrogation.

"Hardly," replied my companion, lighting a cigarette. "I've outgrown
ghosts. Lead on to the haunted chamber."

The Major turned to the servant. "Show the gentlemen to the two rooms in
the west wing, Gibson. The green room will suit Mr. Ashton, I fancy, and
perhaps Mr. Morgan will find the white and gold room across the hall
comfortable for the night."

"Very good, Sir." The man turned toward the staircase and we followed
him.

I found my room a large and fairly comfortable one, containing a great
maple bed, a chest of drawers and other furniture of an old-fashioned
sort. The place seemed stuffy with the peculiar dead atmosphere of rooms
long closed, but I soon dispelled this by throwing open one of the
windows upon that side of the room away from the force of the storm, and
busied myself in making such preparations for dinner as I could with the
few requisites which my small knapsack contained. I heard Ashton across
the hall, whistling merrily as he got into evening kit, and rather
grumbled at myself for having been drawn into my present position as an
unbidden and unprepared guest in the house of persons who were total
strangers to me.

After a considerable time, I heard the musical notes of a Chinese gong
which I took to be the signal for dinner, so making my way to the
staircase with, I fear, a somewhat sheepish expression, I saw Ashton
ahead of me, just joining at the end of the hallway a strikingly
beautiful and distinguished-looking girl, of perhaps twenty-two or
three, dressed in an evening gown of white, the very simplicity of which
only served to accentuate the splendid lines of her figure. Her face was
pale with that healthy pallor which is in some women so beautiful--a
sort of warm ivory tint--and with her splendid eyes and wide brow,
crowded with a mass of bronze-colored hair, I felt that even my critical
artistic taste could with difficulty find a flaw. It was evident that
she and Mr. Ashton knew each other well, yet it seemed to me that Miss
Temple, for so I supposed the young lady to be, did not respond with
much cordiality to the effusive greeting which Mr. Ashton bestowed upon
her. I descended the steps some distance behind them, and observed Major
Temple standing in the center of the main hall, smiling with much
apparent satisfaction at the couple ahead of me as they advanced toward
him. As I joined them, Major Temple presented me to his daughter as a
friend of Mr. Ashton's, which, it appeared to me, did not predispose
that young lady particularly in my favor, judging by the coldness with
which she received me, and then we all proceeded to the dining-room.

The dinner was excellently cooked, and was served by the same
almond-eyed Chinaman who had admitted us upon our arrival. I learned
afterwards that the Major was an enthusiastic student of Oriental art,
and that his collection of porcelains and carved ivory and jewels was
one of the finest in England. He had, it appeared, spent a great portion
of his life in the East and had only just returned from a stay of over a
year in China, during which he had penetrated far into the interior,
into that portion of the country lying toward Thibet, where Europeans do
not usually go.

During dinner, Major Temple and Mr. Ashton talked continually of China,
and referred frequently to "it," and to "the stone," although at the
time I did not grasp the meaning of their references. I attempted
without much success to carry on a conversation with Miss Temple, but
she seemed laboring under intense excitement and unable to give my
efforts any real attention, so I gradually found myself listening to the
talk between Major Temple and Mr. Ashton. As near as I could gather, the
latter had set out from Hong Kong some months before, on a search for a
certain stone or jewel which Major Temple desired for his collection,
and after an adventurous trip during which he had been forced at the
risk of his life to remain disguised as a coolie for some weeks, had
finally escaped and returned to England. There was also some talk of a
reward, though of what nature I did not understand, but it seemed to
give Mr. Ashton great satisfaction, and to cause Major Temple much
uneasiness every time it was mentioned, and I saw him glance frequently,
covertly, at the blanched face of his daughter. As Mr. Ashton brought
his thrilling story to a conclusion, he drew from his waistcoat pocket a
small, green leather case, evidently of Chinese workmanship, and,
opening it, turned out upon the white cloth what I at first thought to
be a small figure of green glass, which on closer inspection proved to
be a miniature representation of the god Buddha, standing somewhat above
an inch and a half in height, and wonderfully cut from a single
flawless emerald. I looked up at Ashton in amazement as he allowed the
gas light to play upon its marvelous beauty of color and the delicate
workmanship of its face and figure, then rolled it across the table
toward Miss Temple. It represented the well-known figure of the god,
sitting with arms extended upon its knees, its face so exquisitely
chiseled that the calm, beneficent smile was as perfect, the features as
exact, as though the figure had been of life size. As the wonderful
sparkling gem flashed across the white cloth in the direction of Miss
Temple, the latter started back in dismay and an expression of intense
horror passed over her face as she looked up and caught the burning eyes
of Mr. Ashton fixed upon hers. She returned his gaze defiantly for a
moment, then lowered her eyes and composed her features behind the cold
and impassive mask she had worn throughout the evening.

Ashton flushed a sullen red, then picked up the jewel and set it
carelessly upon the top of a cut-glass salt cellar, turning it this way
and that to catch the light. As he did so, I observed the Chinese
servant enter the doorway opposite me with cigars, cigarettes and an
alcohol lamp upon a tray, and I was startled to see his wooden,
impassive face light up with a glare of sudden anger and alarm as he
caught sight of the jewel. Major Temple, observing him at the same
moment, quickly covered the figure with his hand, and the Chinaman,
resuming almost instantly his customary look of childlike unconcern,
proceeded to offer us the contents of the tray as Miss Temple rose and
left the table. I instinctively felt that Mr. Ashton and his host
desired to be alone, so, after lighting my cigar, I excused myself and
strolled into the great hall where I stood with my back to the welcome
fire, listening to the howling of the storm without.

I had been standing there for perhaps fifteen minutes or more, when
suddenly I observed Miss Temple come quickly into the hall from a door
on the opposite side of the stairway. She looked about cautiously for a
moment, then approached me with an eager, nervous smile. I could not
help observing, as she drew near, how the beauty of her delicate, mobile
face was marred by her evident suffering. Her large dark eyes were
swollen and heavy as from much weeping and loss of sleep.

"You are a friend of Mr. Ashton's," she asked earnestly as she came up
to me. "Have you known him long?"

"Miss Temple, I am afraid I can hardly claim to be a friend of Mr.
Ashton's at all. As a matter of fact I never met him before this
afternoon."

She seemed vastly surprised. "But I thought you came with him," she
said.

I explained my presence, and mentioned my work, and my purpose in making
a walking tour along the southwest coast.

"Then you are Owen Morgan, the illustrator," she cried, with a
brilliant smile. "I know your work very well, and I am delighted to meet
you. I was afraid you, too, were in the conspiracy." Her face darkened,
and again the expression of suffering fell athwart it like the shadow of
a cloud.

"The conspiracy?" I asked, much mystified. "What conspiracy?"

Miss Temple looked apprehensively toward the door leading to the
dining-room, then her eyes sought mine and she gave me a searching look.
"I am all alone here, Mr. Morgan," she said at last, "and I need a
friend very badly. I wonder if I can depend upon you--trust you."

It is needless to say that I was surprised at her words, as well as the
impressive manner in which she spoke them. I assured her that I would be
only too happy to serve her in any way in my power. "But what is it that
you fear?" I inquired, soothingly, wondering if after all I was not
dealing with a somewhat excitable child. Her next words, however,
showed me that this was far from being the case.

"My father," she said, hurriedly, lowering her voice, "is a madman on
the subject of jewels. He has spent his whole life in collecting them.
He would give anything--anything!--to possess some curio upon which he
had set his desires. Last year, in China, he saw by accident the emerald
you have just seen. It was the sacred relic of a Buddhist temple in Ping
Yang, and is said to have come from the holy city of Lhasa in Thibet.
His offers to purchase it were laughed at, and when he persisted in
them, he was threatened with violence as being a foreign devil and was
forced to leave the city to avoid trouble. He has never since ceased to
covet this jewel, and upon his arrival in Hong Kong, and before setting
out for England, he made the acquaintance of this man Ashton, who is a
sort of agent and collector for several of the curio dealers in London.
We remained in Hong Kong for several weeks before setting sail for
England, and during this time, Mr. Ashton persecuted me with his
attentions, and made me an offer of marriage, which, in spite of my
refusal, he repeated several times. Imagine my amazement, then, when my
father, on our arrival in England, told me that he had commissioned Mr.
Ashton to obtain the emerald Buddha for him, and had agreed, in the
event of his success, to give him my hand in marriage. My prayers, my
appeals, were all equally useless. He informed me that Mr. Ashton was a
gentleman, that he had given him his word, and could not break it. I was
forced into a semi-acquiescence to the arrangement, believing that Mr.
Ashton could never succeed in his mad attempt, and had almost forgotten
the matter when suddenly my father received word from Mr. Ashton that he
had arrived at Southampton yesterday and would reach here this evening.
I went to my father and asked him to assure me that he would not insist
upon carrying out his inhuman promise, in the event of Mr. Ashton's
success, but he only put me off, bidding me wait until the result of his
trip was known. I learned it at dinner to-night, and realize from Mr.
Ashton's manner that he intends to assert his claim upon me to the
fullest extent. Whatever happens, Mr. Morgan, I shall never marry Robert
Ashton--never! I would do anything before I would consent to that. I do
not know what my father will ask of me, but if he asks that, I shall
leave this house to-morrow, and I beg that you will take me with you,
until I can find some occupation that will enable me to support myself."

Her story filled me with the deepest astonishment. I thrust out my hand
and grasped hers, carried away by the fervor and impetuosity of her
words, as well as by her beauty and evident suffering. "You can depend
upon me absolutely," I exclaimed. "My mother is at Torquay, to which
place I am bound. She will be glad to welcome you, Miss Temple."

"Thank you--thank you!" she cried in her deep, earnest voice. "Do not
leave in the morning until I have seen you. Good-night." She hastened
toward the stairway and as she ascended it, threw back at me a smile of
such sweet gratitude and relief that I felt repaid for all that I had
promised.

I stood for a while, smoking and thinking over this queer situation,
when suddenly my attention was attracted by the sound of loud voices
coming from the direction of the dining-room, as though Major Temple and
his guest were engaged in a violent quarrel. I could not make out what
they were saying, nor indeed did I attempt to do so, when suddenly I was
startled by the sound of a loud crash and the jingling of glassware, and
Mr. Ashton burst into the hall, evidently in a state of violent anger,
followed by Major Temple, equally excited and angry. "I hold you to
your contract," the former shouted. "By God, you'll live up to it, or
I'll know the reason why." "I'll pay, damn it, I'll pay," cried Major
Temple, angrily, "but not a penny to boot." Ashton turned and faced him.
They neither of them saw me, and in their excitement failed to hear the
cough with which I attempted to apprise them of my presence. "Don't you
realize that that emerald is worth a hundred thousand pounds?" cried
Ashton in a rage. "You promised me your daughter, if I got it for you,
but you've got to pay me for the stone in addition."

"Not a penny," cried Major Temple.

"Then I'll take it to London and let Crothers have it."

"You wouldn't dare."

"Try me and see."

"Come, now, Ashton." The Major's voice was wheedling, persuasive. "What
did the stone cost you--merely the cost of the trip, wasn't it? I'll
pay that, if you like."

"And I risked my life a dozen times, to get you the jewel! You must be
mad."

"How much do you want?"

"Fifty thousand pounds, and not a penny less."

"I'll not pay it."

"Then you don't get the stone."

"It's mine--I told you of it. Without my help you could have done
nothing. I demand it. It is my property. You were acting only as my
agent. Give it to me." Major Temple was beside himself with excitement.

"I'll see you damned first," cried Ashton, now thoroughly angry.

The Major glared at him, pale with fury. "I'll never let you leave the
house with it," he cried.

By this time my repeated coughing and shuffling of my feet had attracted
their attention, and they both hastened to conceal their anger. I felt
however that I had heard too much as it was, so, bidding them a hasty
good-night, I repaired as quickly as possible to my room and at once
turned in.



CHAPTER II

A CRY IN THE MORNING


I was thoroughly tired out by my long day in the open, and I must have
gone to sleep at once. It seemed to me that I was disturbed, during the
night, by the sound of voices without my door, and the movements of
people in the hallway, but I presume it was merely a dream. Just before
daybreak, however, I found myself suffering somewhat from the cold, and
got up to close one of the windows, to shut off the draught. I had just
turned toward the bed again, when I heard from the room across the hall,
the one occupied by Mr. Ashton, a sudden and terrible cry as of someone
in mortal agony, followed by the sound of a heavy body falling upon the
floor. I also fancied I heard the quick closing of a door or window,
but of this I could not be sure. With a foreboding of tragedy heavily
upon me, I hastily threw on some clothes and ran into the hall, calling
loudly for help. Opposite me was the door of Mr. Ashton's room. I rushed
to it, and tried the knob, but found it locked. For some time I vainly
attempted to force open the door, meanwhile repeating my cries.
Presently Major Temple came running through the hallway, followed by his
daughter and several of the servants. Miss Temple had thrown on a long
silk Chinese wrapper and even in the dim light of the hall I could not
help observing the ghastly pallor of her face.

"What's wrong here?" cried Major Temple, excitedly.

"I do not know, Sir," I replied, gravely enough. "I heard a cry which
seemed to come from Mr. Ashton's room, but I find his door locked."

[Illustration: "BREAK IT IN," CRIED MAJOR TEMPLE, "BREAK IT IN."]

"Break it in," cried Major Temple; "break it in at once." At his words,
one of the servants and myself threw our combined weight against the
door, and after several attempts, the fastening gave way, and we were
precipitated headlong into the room. It was dark, and it seemed to me
that the air was heavy and lifeless. We drew back into the hall as one
of the servants came running up with a candle, and Major Temple, taking
it, advanced into the room, closely followed by myself. At first our
eyes did not take in the scene revealed by the flickering candlelight,
but in a few moments the gruesome sight before us caused both Major
Temple and myself to recoil sharply toward the doorway. Upon the floor
lay Robert Ashton in his nightclothes, his head in a pool of blood, his
hands outstretched before him, his face ghastly with terror. The Major
at once ordered the servants to keep out of the room, then turned to his
daughter and in a low voice requested her to retire. She did so at
once, in a state of terrible excitement. He then closed the door behind
us, and, after lighting the gas, we proceeded to examine the body.
Ashton was dead, although death had apparently occurred but a short time
before as his body was still warm. In the top of his head was found a
deep circular wound, apparently made by some heavy, sharp-pointed
instrument, but there were no other marks of violence, no other wounds
of any sort upon the body. I examined the wound in the head carefully,
but could not imagine any weapon which would have left such a mark. And
then the wonder of the situation began to dawn upon me. The room
contained, besides the door by which we had entered, three windows, two
facing to the south and one to the west. All three were tightly closed
and securely fastened with heavy bolts on the inside. There was
absolutely no other means of entrance to the room whatever, except the
door which we had broken open and a rapid examination of this showed me
that it had been bolted upon the inside, and the catch into which the
bolt slid upon the door-jamb had been torn from its fastenings by the
effort we had used in forcing it open. I turned to Major Temple in
amazement, and found that he was engaged in systematically searching Mr.
Ashton's gladstone bag, which lay upon a chair near the bed. He examined
each article in detail, heedless of the grim and silent figure upon the
floor beside him, and, when he had concluded, bent over the prostrate
form of the dead man and began a hurried search of his person and the
surrounding floor. I observed him in astonishment. "The police must
never find it," I heard him mutter; "the police must never find it." He
rose to his feet with an exclamation of disappointment. "Where can it
be?" he muttered, half to himself, apparently forgetful of my presence.
He looked about the room and then with a sudden cry dashed at a table
near the window. I followed his movements and saw upon the table the
small, green leather case from which Ashton had produced the emerald at
dinner the night before. Major Temple took up the case with a sigh of
relief, and hastily opened it, then dashed it to the floor with an oath.
The case was empty.

"It's gone!" he fairly screamed. "My God, it's gone!"

"Impossible," I said, gravely. "The windows are all tightly shut and
bolted. We had to break in the door. No one could have entered or left
this room since Mr. Ashton came into it."

"Nonsense!" Major Temple snorted, angrily. "Do you suppose Ashton
smashed in his own skull by way of amusement?"

He turned to the bed and began to search it closely, removing the
pillows, feeling beneath the mattresses, even taking the candle and
examining the floor foot by foot. Once more he went over the contents of
the portmanteau, then again examined the clothing of the dead man, but
all to no purpose. The emerald Buddha was as clearly and evidently gone
as though it had vanished into the surrounding ether.

During this search, I had been vainly trying to put together some
intelligent solution of this remarkable affair. There was clearly no
possibility that Ashton had inflicted this wound upon himself in
falling, yet the supposition that someone had entered the room from
without seemed nullified by the bolted door and windows. I proceeded to
closer examination of the matter.

The body lay with its head toward the window in the west wall of the
room, and some six or eight feet from the window, and an even greater
distance from the walls on either side. There was no piece of furniture,
no heavy object, anywhere near at hand. I looked again at the queer,
round conical hole in the top of the dead man's head. It had evidently
been delivered from above. I glanced up, and saw only the dim, unbroken
expanse of the ceiling above me, papered in white. I turned, absolutely
nonplused, to Major Temple, who stood staring with protruding eyes at
something upon the floor near one of the windows. He picked it up, and
handed it to me. "What do you make of that?" he asked, in a startled
voice, handing me what appeared to be a small piece of tough Chinese
paper. Upon it was inscribed, in black, a single Chinese letter. I
glanced at it, then handed it back, with the remark that I could make
nothing of it.

"It is the symbol of the god," he said, "the Buddha. The same sign was
engraved upon the base of the emerald figure, and I saw it in the temple
at Ping Yang, upon the temple decorations. What is it doing here?" Then
his face lighted up with a sudden idea. He rushed to the door, and
opened it. "Gibson," he called peremptorily, to his man without, "find
Li Min and bring him here at once. Don't let him out of your sight for a
moment."

The man was gone ten minutes or more, during which time Major Temple
walked excitedly up and down the room, muttering continually something
about the police.

"They must be notified," I said, at last. He turned to me with a queer,
half-frightened look. "They can do no good, no good, whatever," he
cried. "This is the work of one of the Chinese secret societies. They
are the cleverest criminals in the world. I have lived among them, and I
know."

"Even the cleverest criminals in the world couldn't bolt a door or
window from the outside," I said.

"Do not be too sure of that. I have known them to do things equally
strange. By inserting a thin steel wedge between the edge of the door
and the jamb they might with infinite patience work the bolt to one
side or the other. This fellow, Li Min, I brought from China with me. He
is one of the most faithful servants I have ever known. He belongs to
the higher orders of society--I mean that he is not of the peasant or
coolie class. He represented to me that he was suspected of belonging to
the Reform Association, the enemies of the prevailing order of things,
and was obliged to leave the country to save his head. I do not know, I
do not know--possibly he may have been sent to watch. They knew in Ping
Yang that I was after the emerald Buddha. Who knows? They are an amazing
people--an amazing people." He turned to me suddenly. "Did you hear any
footsteps or other noises in the hallway during the night?"

I told him that I thought I had, but that I could not be sure, that my
sleep had been troubled, but that I had only awakened a few minutes
before I heard Ashton's cry. At this moment Gibson returned, with a
scared look on his face. Li Min, he reported, had disappeared. No one
had seen him since the night before. His room had apparently been
occupied, but the Chinaman was nowhere to be found.

"The police must be notified at once," I urged.

"I will attend to it," said the Major. "First we must have some coffee."

He closed the door of the room carefully, after we left it, and, taking
the key from the lock--it had evidently not been used by Mr. Ashton the
night before--locked the door from the outside and ordered Gibson to
remain in the hallway without and allow no one to approach.

We finished dressing and then had a hurried cup of coffee and some
muffins in the breakfast-room. It was by now nearly eight o'clock, and I
suggested to Major Temple that if he wished, I would drive into Exeter
with one of his men, notify the police and at the same time get my
luggage.

I assured him that I had no desire to inflict myself upon him further as
a guest, but that the murder of Ashton and the necessity of my appearing
as a witness at the forthcoming inquest made it imperative that I should
remain upon the scene until the police were satisfied to have me depart.
At my mention of the police the Major showed great uneasiness, as
before.

"You need not say anything about the--the emerald," he said, slowly; "it
would only create unnecessary talk and trouble."

"I'm afraid I must," I replied. "It is evidently the sole motive for the
murder--it has disappeared, and unless the police are apprised of its
part in the case, I fail to see how they can intelligently proceed in
their attempts to unravel the mystery."

He shook his head slowly. "What a pity!" he remarked. "What a pity! If
the stone is ever found now, the authorities will hold it as the
property of the dead man or his relations, if indeed he has any. And it
would have been the crowning glory of my collection." It was evident
that Major Temple was far more concerned over the loss of the emerald
than over the death of Robert Ashton. "But they will never find
it--never!" he concluded with a cunning smile, and an assurance that
startled me. I wondered for a moment whether Major Temple knew more
about the mysterious death of Robert Ashton than appeared upon the
surface, but, recollecting his excited search of the dead man's
belongings, dismissed the idea as absurd. It recurred, however, from
time to time during my short drive to Exeter, and the thought came to me
that if Major Temple could in any way have caused or been cognizant of
the death of Robert Ashton from without the room--without entering
it--his first act after doing so would naturally have been to search for
the emerald in the hope of securing it before the police had been
summoned to take charge of the case. I regretted that I had not
examined the floor of the attic above, to determine whether any
carefully fitted trap door, or hidden chimney or other opening to the
interior of the room below existed. I also felt that it was imperative
that a careful examination of the walls, as well as of the ground
outside beneath the three windows, should be made without delay. It was
even possible, I conjectured, that a clever thief could have in some way
cut out one of the window panes, making an opening through which the
window might have been opened and subsequently rebolted, though just how
the glass could then have been replaced was a problem I was not prepared
to solve. There was no question, however, that Robert Ashton was dead,
and that whoever had inflicted that deadly wound upon his head, and made
away with the emerald Buddha, must have entered the room in some way. I
was not yet prepared to base any hypotheses upon the supernatural. As I
concluded these reflections, we entered the town by way of Sidwell
street and I stopped at the Half Moon and secured my luggage. We then
drove to the police headquarters and I explained the case hurriedly to
the Chief Constable, omitting all details except those pertaining
directly to Mr. Ashton's death. The Chief Constable sent one of his men
into an inner room, who returned in a moment with a small, keen-looking,
ferret-faced man of some forty-eight or fifty years of age, with gray
hair, sharp gray eyes and a smooth-shaven face. He introduced him to me
as Sergeant McQuade, of Scotland Yard, who it seemed, happened to be in
the city upon some counterfeiting case or other, and suggested that he
accompany me back to the house. We had driven in Major Temple's high
Irish cart, and, putting the man behind, I took the reins and with
Sergeant McQuade beside me, started back in the direction of The Oaks.
We had scarcely left the limits of the town behind us, when I noticed a
figure in blue plodding slowly along the muddy road ahead of us, in the
same direction as ourselves, and Jones, the groom upon the drag behind
me said, in a low voice as we drew alongside, that it was Li Min, Major
Temple's Chinese servant, whose sudden disappearance earlier in the
morning had caused so much excitement. The Chinaman looked at us with a
blandly innocent face and, nodding pleasantly, bade us good morning. I
stopped the cart and ordered Jones to get down and accompany him back to
the house, and on no account to let him out of his sight. As we drove on
I explained all the circumstances of the case in detail to Sergeant
McQuade, and informed him of my reason for placing Jones as guard over
the Chinaman. No sooner had I done so than the Sergeant, in some
excitement, requested me to return with him to Exeter at once. I did not
inquire into his reasons for this step, but turned my horse's head once
more toward the town, the Sergeant meanwhile plying me with questions,
many of which I regretted my inability to answer to his satisfaction.
They related principally to the exact time at which the murder had
occurred, and how soon the disappearance of Li Min had been discovered.
I decided at once that the detective had concluded that Li Min had
committed the murder and had then hurried off to Exeter to place the
emerald Buddha in the hands of some of his countrymen in the town, and
was now proceeding leisurely back with some plausible story and a
carefully arranged alibi to explain his absence from the house. I
mentioned my conclusions to the Sergeant and saw from his reply that my
assumption was correct. "I hope we are not too late," he exclaimed as he
suggested my urging the horse to greater speed. "It is absolutely
necessary that we prevent any Chinaman from leaving the town until this
matter is cleared up. I'm afraid however, that they have a good start
of us. There is a train to London at eight, and, if our man got away on
that, it will be no easy matter to reach him."

"Of course you can telegraph ahead," I ventured.

"Of course." The detective smiled. "But the train is not an express, and
there are a dozen stations within fifty miles of here where anyone could
leave the train before I can get word along the line." He looked at his
watch. "It is now ten minutes of nine. I am sorry that you did not
notify the police at once." I made no reply, not wishing to prejudice
the detective against Major Temple by explaining my desire to do this
very thing and the latter's disinclination to have it done. We had
reached police headquarters by this time, and the Sergeant disappeared
within for perhaps five minutes, then quickly rejoined me and directed
me to drive to the Queen Street Station. I waited here for him quite a
long time and at last he came back with a face expressive of much
dissatisfaction. "Two of them went up on the eight train," he growled.
"One of them the clerk in the booking office remembers as keeping a
laundry in Frog Street. The other he had never seen. They took tickets
for London, third class." He swung himself into the seat beside me and
sat in silence all the way to the house, evidently thinking deeply.

When we arrived at The Oaks, very soon after, we found the Major waiting
impatiently for us in the hall. Jones and Li Min had arrived, and the
Major had subjected the latter, he informed us, to a severe
cross-examination, with the result that the Chinaman had denied all
knowledge of Mr. Ashton's death and explained his absence from the house
by saying that he had gone into town the night before to see his brother
who had recently arrived from China, and, knowing the habit of the
household to breakfast very late, had supposed his return at nine
o'clock would pass unnoticed. I made Major Temple acquainted with
Sergeant McQuade, and we proceeded at once to the room where lay all
that now remained of the unfortunate Robert Ashton.



CHAPTER III

A QUEER DISCOVERY


We found Gibson guarding the door where we had left him. Miss Temple was
nowhere to be seen. Major Temple took the key from his pocket, and,
throwing open the room, allowed McQuade and myself to enter, he
following us and closing the door behind him.

"Where did you get the key?" asked the detective as Major Temple joined
us.

"It was in the door--on the inside."

"Had the door been locked?"

"No. It was bolted."

"And you broke it open when you entered?"

"Yes. Mr. Morgan and my man, Gibson, forced it together."

McQuade stepped to the door and examined the bolt carefully. The socket
into which the bolt shot was an old-fashioned brass affair and had been
fastened with two heavy screws to the door jamb. These screws had been
torn from the wood by the united weight of Gibson and myself when we
broke open the door. The socket, somewhat bent, with the screws still in
place, was lying upon the floor some distance away. McQuade picked it up
and examined it carefully, then threw it aside. He next proceeded to
make a careful and minute examination of the bolt, but I judged from his
expression that he discovered nothing of importance, for he turned
impatiently from the door and, crossing the room, bent over the dead man
and looked long and searchingly at the curious wound in his head. He
then examined the fastenings of the windows minutely, and, raising one
of the large windows in the south wall, looked out. Evidently nothing
attracted his attention outside. He turned from the window, after
closing it again, and started toward us, then stooped suddenly and
picked up a small white object which lay near one of the legs of a table
standing near the window. It was in plain view, and I wondered that I
had not seen it during my previous examination of the room. McQuade
handed the object, a small bit of lace, I thought, to Major Temple.
"What do you make of that?" he asked.

Major Temple took the thing and spread it out, and I at once saw that it
was a woman's handkerchief. My surprise at this was overbalanced by the
look of horror which spread over the Major's face. He became deathly
pale, and his hand shook violently as he looked at the bit of lace
before him. I stepped to his side and saw, as did he, the initials,
M. T., in one corner and noticed a strong and most peculiar odor of
perfume, some curious Oriental scent that rose from the handkerchief.
McQuade gazed at us, curiously intent. "Do you recognize it?" he
inquired.

"Yes," said Major Temple, recovering himself with an effort. "It is my
daughter's."

"How do you explain its presence here?" asked the detective.

"I do not attempt to do so, any more than I can undertake to explain any
of the other strange events connected with this horrible affair," said
the Major, pathetically. He seemed to me to have aged perceptibly since
the evening before; he looked broken, old.

McQuade took the handkerchief and placed it carefully in his pocket, and
continued his examination of the room. As he did so, I stood aside, a
prey to strange thoughts. I felt ready to swear that the handkerchief
had not been upon the floor during my previous examination of the room,
yet how could its presence there now be explained, with the door locked,
the key in Major Temple's pocket, and Gibson on guard in the hall. I
thought of Muriel Temple, young, beautiful, innocent in every outward
appearance, yet remembered with a qualm of misgiving her flashing eyes
and determined manner as she spoke of Robert Ashton, her aversion to
him, and her determination never to marry him under any circumstances. I
felt that there was more beneath this strange tragedy than had yet
appeared upon the surface, yet, believing thoroughly in the innocence of
Miss Temple of any part in the affair, I mentally resolved to do all in
my power to sift it to the bottom. I had no illusions as to any special
skill upon my part as an amateur detective, and I did not propose to
come forth equipped with magnifying glass and tape measure and solve the
problem in the usual half-hour which sufficed for the superhuman sleuth
of fiction, but I felt that I did possess common sense and a reasonably
acute brain, and I believed that, with sufficient time and effort, I
could find out how and why Robert Ashton had come to his sudden and
tragic end. My thoughts were interrupted by Sergeant McQuade, who,
having brought his examination to a sudden close, announced to Major
Temple that the police and the divisional surgeon would arrive shortly
and that meanwhile he would have a look at the grounds beneath the
windows of the room. I decided to accompany him, but, before doing so, I
suggested to the Major that it might be well to show Sergeant McQuade
the scrap of paper, containing the single Chinese character, which we
had found upon the floor. Major Temple took it from his pocket and
handed it to the detective without a word. I could see that the latter
was puzzled. "What does it mean?" he inquired. "Do you know?" He turned
to Major Temple.

"Only that it is a religious symbol used by the Buddhist priests in
China," said the latter. "It is found in their temples, and is supposed
to ward off evil influences."

"Is there any reason to suppose," inquired McQuade, "that its presence
here indicates that the room has been entered by Li Min or any of his
countrymen, in an attempt to recover the emerald which I understand Mr.
Ashton had with him? Might it not equally well have belonged to the dead
man himself--a copy, perhaps, made by him of the character--a curiosity
in other words, which he might have desired to preserve?"

I followed his line of reasoning. I had told him nothing of the
relations between Miss Temple and Ashton, but it was evident that the
finding of her handkerchief in the murdered man's room had started him
off on another tack.

"None whatever," the Major responded. "Yet since the jewel has
disappeared, its recovery was in my opinion beyond question the reason
for the murder, and but four persons knew of the presence of the jewel
in this house."

"And they were--?" The detective paused.

"My daughter, Mr. Morgan, Li Min, and myself."

"How did Li Min come to know of it?"

"He saw us examining it at dinner last night, while waiting on the
table."

The detective pondered. "Was the stone of such value that its recovery
would have been sought at so great a cost?" He glanced gravely at the
silent figure upon the floor.

"Intrinsically it was worth perhaps a hundred thousand pounds--as a
curio, or as an object of religious veneration among the Buddhist
priests and their followers, it was priceless." Major Temple spoke with
the fervor and enthusiasm of the collector.

Sergeant McQuade's eyes widened at this statement. "A hundred thousand
pounds!" he exclaimed. "And you intended to buy it from Mr. Ashton?"

The Major hesitated. "Yes," he stammered, "yes, I did."

"At what price?" came the question, cold and incisive.

"I--I--Mr. Ashton secured the jewel for me as my agent."

"But surely you were to give him some commission, some reward for his
trouble. What was that reward, Major Temple?"

"I had promised him the hand of my daughter in marriage."

"And was he satisfied with that settlement?" continued the detective,
ruthlessly.

"We had a slight disagreement. He--he wanted a cash payment in
addition."

"Which you refused?"

"The matter had not been settled."

"And how did your daughter regard the bargain?" asked McQuade, coldly.

Major Temple drew himself up stiffly. "I fail to see the purpose of
these questions," he said with some heat. "My daughter was ready to meet
my wishes, Sergeant McQuade. Mr. Ashton was a gentleman and was much
attached to her. They met in China."

The detective said no more, but ordered the door locked as we passed
out, and put the key in his pocket. I asked his permission to accompany
him in his explorations outside, to which he readily consented, and,
with a parting injunction to Major Temple to see that Li Min was not
allowed to leave the house, we passed out into the gardens by a rear
entrance.

The storm of the night before had completely passed away and the morning
was crisp and clear, with a suggestion of frost in the air. The wind,
which had not yet died down, had done much to dry up the rain, but the
gravel walks were still somewhat soft and muddy. The rain however had
stopped some time during the night, and as the tragedy had occurred
later, and not long before daybreak, there was every reason to believe
that traces of anyone approaching the house beneath the windows of Mr.
Ashton's room would be clearly visible. It was equally certain that any
traces of steps made before or during the rain must have been thereby
completely obliterated. The soft graveled path encircled the rear of the
house and turned to the front at the end of each wing. We walked along
it and presently found ourselves beneath the two windows upon the south
wall, which opened from the green room. There were no evidences of
anyone having walked upon the pathway since the rain, nor was it
apparent that anyone could have gained access to the windows high above
without the aid of a ladder, which, had one been used, must inevitably
have left its telltale marks behind. Sergeant McQuade looked down, then
up, grunted to himself and passed on. There was nothing of interest
here. At the end of the pathway we came to the termination of the wing
and I saw the detective look about keenly. Here certainly the
conditions were more favorable. A covered porch encircled the end of
the building and extended along its front. There were three windows in
the west face of the wing, one in the room which I had occupied, one in
the end of the hallway and one in Mr. Ashton's room. The roof of the
porch was directly beneath them. How easy, I thought at once, for anyone
inside the house to have reached the porch roof from the window at the
end of the hall, and to have gained, in half a dozen steps, the window
of Mr. Ashton's room. I thought of the handkerchief, of the footsteps I
fancied I had heard during the night, and shuddered. Here again the
Sergeant first examined the graveled walk with elaborate care, but, as
before, with no immediate results. Presently, however, he stepped toward
the front of the house. There, in the soft gravel, were the prints of a
woman's feet, leading from the corner of the path to the front entrance.
I bent down and examined them with curious eyes, then recoiled with a
cry of dismay. The footprints lead in one direction only, and that was
toward the front door. In a flash I realized what theory McQuade would
at once construct in his mind. The murderer, reaching the porch roof
from the hallway, and obtaining access to the murdered man's room
through the window, upon escaping from the room to the roof, would be
unable to again enter the house from the roof because of my presence in
the hall. What more natural than to descend from the porch to the ground
by means of the heavy vines growing about the stone pillar supporting
the porch roof at the corner, and, after walking quickly along the path
a few steps, reach and re-enter the house through the front door, and
appear almost at once among the others who had gathered in the upper
hall as soon as the tragedy was known? I remembered at once that Miss
Temple had appeared in a loose dressing gown. Would she, then, have had
time to throw off her dress so quickly, wet and muddy as it must have
been, and to change her shoes for slippers? Where were these shoes, I
wondered, if this train of reasoning was correct, and would their
condition prove that she had been out of the house during the night? As
these thoughts crowded tumultuously through my brain, I saw McQuade
examining the heavy mass of ivy which grew at the corner of the porch
with a puzzled expression. Following his glance, I realized that the
theory had at least a temporary setback. The vine was not broken or torn
in any way as would inevitably have been the case had anyone used it as
a means of descent from the roof. But I myself observed, though I felt
sure that McQuade did not, a lightning rod which extended from the roof
of the wing, down to the porch roof, across it, and thence to the ground
about midway along the west side of the porch, and, had anyone descended
in this way, he would have walked along the border between the side of
the porch and the path until he arrived at the corner. Here, however, he
would have been obliged to step off the border and on to the gravel,
owing to the heavy vine, mentioned above, growing at this point. His
footsteps upon the grass would of course have left no mark. I did not
call McQuade's attention to this at the time, but waited for his next
move. It did not surprise me. He strode along the path at the front of
the house to the steps leading to the large porch and porte-cochère at
the front of the main building, tracing the muddy footprints up to the
porch and upon its floor until they were no longer perceptible. He then
entered the house and at once made for the upper hall in the west wing,
I following him closely. His first move, as I expected, was to examine
and open the window at the end of the hall, which, I was not surprised
to find, was unfastened. His second was to step out upon the roof. No
sooner had I joined him here than he crossed to the window of the green
room and peered in. The interior of the room was clearly visible, but
the window was tightly bolted within, and resisted all his efforts to
open it. The Sergeant looked distinctly disappointed. He stepped to the
corner of the roof, made a further examination of the vines, came back
to the window and again tried to open it, then, with a low whistle, he
pointed to a mark upon the white window sill which had at first escaped
both his and my attention. It was the faint print of a hand--a bloody
hand--small and delicate in structure, yet, mysterious as seemed to be
all the clues in this weird case, it pointed, not outward from the room,
as though made by someone leaving it, but inward, as by a person
standing on the roof and resting his or her hand upon the window sill
while attempting to open the window.

"What do you make of that, Sir?" inquired the detective.

"It looks as though it had been made by someone entering instead of
leaving the room," I replied. "It could not have been made by anyone
leaving the room. No one would get out of a window that way."

"Except a woman," said McQuade dryly. "A man would swing his legs over
the sill and drop to the roof. It's barely three feet. But a woman would
sit upon the sill, turn on her stomach, rest her hands on the sill with
her fingers pointing toward the room, and slide gently down until her
feet touched the roof beneath." He smiled with a quiet look of triumph.

"The whole thing is impossible," I retorted, with some heat. "There's no
sense in talking about how anyone may or may not have got out of the
room, when the bolted window proves that no one got either in or out at
all."

"Perhaps you think that poor devil in there killed himself," said the
detective, grimly. "Somebody must have got in. There is only one
explanation possible. The window was bolted after the murder."

"By the murdered man, I suppose," I retorted ironically, nettled by his
previous remark.

"Not necessarily," he replied coldly, "but possibly by someone who
desired to shield the murderer." He looked at me squarely, but I was
able to meet his gaze without any misgivings. "I was the first person
who entered the room," I said, earnestly, "and I am prepared to make
oath that the window was bolted when I entered."

"Was the room dark?" he inquired.

"It was," I answered, not perceiving the drift of his remarks. "One of
the servants brought a candle."

"Did you examine the windows at once?"

"No."

"What did you do?"

"I knelt down and examined the body."

"What was Major Temple doing?"

"I--I did not notice. I think he began to examine the things in Mr.
Ashton's portmanteau."

"Then, Mr. Morgan, if, occupied as you were in the most natural duty of
determining whether or not you could render any aid to Mr. Ashton, you
did not notice Major Temple's movements, I fail to see how you are in a
position to swear to anything regarding the condition of the window at
the time you entered the room."

"Your suggestion is impossible, Sergeant McQuade. Had Major Temple
bolted the window, I should certainly have noticed it. I realize fully
the train of reasoning you are following and I am convinced that you are
wrong."

The Sergeant smiled slightly. "I do not follow any one train of
reasoning," he retorted, "nor do I intend to neglect any one. I want the
truth, and I intend to have it." He left the roof hurriedly, and,
entering the house we descended to the library, where Major Temple sat
awaiting the conclusion of our investigations.

"Well, Mr. Morgan," he inquired excitedly as we came in, "what have you
discovered?"

I nodded toward the Sergeant. "Mr. McQuade can perhaps tell you," I
replied.

"I can tell you more, Major Temple," said the detective, gravely, "if
you will first let me have a few words with Miss Temple."

"With my daughter?" exclaimed the Major, evidently much surprised.

"Yes," answered the detective, with gravity.

"I'll go and get her," said the Major, rising excitedly.

"If you do not mind, Major Temple, I should much prefer to have you send
one of the servants for her. I have a particular reason for desiring you
to remain here."

I thought at first that Major Temple was going to resent this, but,
although he flushed hotly, he evidently thought better of it, for he
strode to a call bell and pressed it, then, facing the detective,
exclaimed:

"I think you would do better to question Li Min."

"I do not intend to omit doing that, as well," replied McQuade,
imperturbably.

We remained in uneasy silence until the maid, who had answered the bell,
returned with Miss Temple, who, dismissing her at the door, faced us
with a look upon her face of unfeigned surprise. She appeared pale and
greatly agitated. I felt that she had not slept, and the dark circles
under her eyes confirmed my belief. She looked about, saw our grave
faces, then turned to her father. "You sent for me, Father?" she
inquired, nervously.

"Sergeant McQuade here"--he indicated the detective whom Miss Temple
recognized by a slight inclination of her head--"wishes to ask you a few
questions."

"Me?" Her voice had in it a note of alarm which was not lost upon the
man from Scotland Yard, who regarded her with closest scrutiny.

"I'll not be long, Miss. I think you may be able to clear up a few
points that at present I cannot quite understand."

"I'm afraid I cannot help you much," she said, gravely.

"Possibly more than you think, Miss. In the first place I understand
that your father had promised your hand in marriage to Mr. Ashton."

Miss Temple favored me with a quick and bitter glance of reproach. I
knew that she felt that this information had come from me.

"Yes," she replied, "that is true."

"Did you desire to marry him?"

The girl looked at her father in evident uncertainty.

"I--I--Why should I answer such a question?" She turned to the
detective with scornful eyes. "It is purely my own affair, and of no
consequence--now."

"That is true, Miss," replied the Sergeant, with deeper gravity. "Still,
I do not see that the truth can do anyone any harm."

Miss Temple flushed and hesitated a moment, then turned upon her
questioner with a look of anger. "I did not wish to marry Mr. Ashton,"
she cried. "I would rather have died, than have married him."

McQuade had made her lose her temper, for which I inwardly hated him.
His next question left her cold with fear.

"When did you last see Mr. Ashton alive?" he demanded.

The girl hesitated, turned suddenly pale, then threw back her head with
a look of proud determination. "I refuse to answer that question," she
said defiantly.

Her father had been regarding her with amazed surprise. "Muriel," he
said, in a trembling voice--"what do you mean? You left Mr. Ashton and
myself in the dining-room at a little after nine." She made no reply.

Sergeant McQuade slowly took from his pocket the handkerchief he had
found in Mr. Ashton's room, and, handing it to her, said simply: "Is
this yours, Miss?"

Miss Temple took it, mechanically.

"Yes," she said.

"It was found beside the murdered man's body," said the detective as he
took the handkerchief from her and replaced it in his pocket.

For a moment, I thought Miss Temple was going to faint, and I
instinctively moved toward her. She recovered herself at once. "What are
you aiming at?" she exclaimed. "Is it possible that you suppose _I_ had
anything to do with Mr. Ashton's death?"

"I have not said so, Miss. This handkerchief was found in Mr. Ashton's
room. It is possible that he had it himself, that he kept it, as a
souvenir of some former meeting, although in that case it would hardly
have retained the strong scent of perfume which I notice upon it. But
you might have dropped it at table--he may have picked it up that very
night. It is for these reasons, Miss, that I asked you when you last saw
Mr. Ashton alive, and you refuse to answer me. I desire only the truth,
Miss Temple. I have no desire to accuse anyone unjustly. Tell us, if you
can, how the handkerchief came in Mr. Ashton's room."

At these words, delivered in an earnest and convincing manner, I saw
Miss Temple's face change. She felt that the detective was right, as
indeed, did I, and I waited anxiously for her next words.

"I last saw Mr. Ashton," she answered, with a faint blush, "last night
about midnight."

Her answer was as much of a surprise to me as it evidently was to both
Major Temple and the detective.

"Muriel," exclaimed the former, in horrified tones.

"I went to his room immediately after he retired," continued Miss
Temple, with evident effort. "I wished to tell him something--something
important--before the morning, when it might have been too late. I was
afraid to stand in the hallway and talk to him through the open door for
fear I should be seen. I went inside. I must have dropped the
handkerchief at that time."

"Will you tell us what you wished to say to Mr. Ashton that you regarded
as so important as to take you to his room at midnight?"

Again Miss Temple hesitated, then evidently decided to tell all. "I went
to tell him," she said, gravely, "that, no matter what my father might
promise him, I would refuse to marry him under any circumstances. I told
him that, if he turned over the emerald to my father under any such
promise, he would do so at his own risk. I begged him to release me from
the engagement which my father had made, and to give me back a letter
in which, at my father's demand, I had in a moment of weakness consented
to it."

"And he refused?" asked the detective.

"He refused." Miss Temple bowed her head, and I saw from the tears in
her eyes that her endurance and spirit under this cross-questioning were
fast deserting her.

"Then what did you do?"

"I went back to my room."

"Did you retire?"

"No."

"Did you remove your clothing?"

"I did not. I threw myself upon the bed until--" She hesitated, and I
suddenly saw the snare into which she had been lead. When she appeared
in the hallway at the time of the murder she wore a long embroidered
Chinese dressing gown. Yet she had just stated that she had not
undressed. McQuade, who seemed to have the mind of a hawk, seized upon
it at once.

"Until what?" he asked bluntly.

"Until--this morning," she concluded, and I instinctively felt that she
was not telling the truth.

"Until you heard the commotion in the hall?" inquired McQuade,
insinuatingly. I felt that I could have strangled him where he stood,
but I knew in my heart that he was only doing his duty.

"Yes," she answered.

"Then, Miss Temple, how do you explain the fact that you appeared
immediately in the hall--as soon as the house was aroused--in your
slippers and a dressing gown?"

She saw that she had been trapped, and still her presence of mind did
not entirely desert her. "I had begun to change," she cried, nervously.

"Were you out of the house this morning, Miss Temple, at or about the
time of the murder? Were you at the corner of the porch under Mr.
Ashton's room?" The detective's manner was brutal in its cruel
insistence.

Miss Temple gasped faintly, then looked at her father. Her eyes were
filled with tears. "I--I refuse to answer any more questions," she
cried, and, sobbing violently, turned and left the room.

McQuade strode quickly toward Major Temple, who had observed the scene
in amazed and horrified silence. "Major Temple," he said, sternly, "much
as I regret it, I am obliged to ask you to allow me to go at once to
Miss Temple's room."

"To her room," gasped the Major.

"Yes. I will be but a moment. It is imperative that I make some
investigations there immediately."

"Sir," thundered the Major, "do you mean for a moment to imply that my
daughter had any hand in this business? By God, Sir--I warn you--" he
towered over the detective, his face flushed, his clenched fist raised
in anger.

McQuade held up his hand. "Major Temple, the truth can harm no one who
is innocent. Miss Temple has, I fear, not been entirely frank with me.
It is my duty to search her room at once--and I trust that you will not
attempt to interpose any obstacles to my doing so." He started toward
the door, and Major Temple and I followed reluctantly enough. With a
growl of suppressed rage the girl's father lead the way to her room to
which she had not herself returned. As though by instinct, the detective
went to a large closet between the dressing-room and bedroom, threw it
open, and after a search of but a few moments drew forth a pair of boots
damp and covered with mud, and a brown tweed walking skirt, the lower
edge of which was still damp and mud stained. He looked at the Major
significantly. "Major Temple," he said, "your daughter left the house,
in these shoes and this skirt, some time close to daybreak. The murder
occurred about that time. If you will induce her to tell fully and
frankly why she did so, and why she seems so anxious to conceal the
fact, I am sure that it will spare her and all of us a great deal of
annoyance and trouble, and assist us materially in arriving at the
truth." As he concluded, sounds below announced the arrival of the
police and the divisional surgeon from the town, and, with a curt nod,
he left us and descended to the hall.



CHAPTER IV

I ADVISE MISS TEMPLE


I left the room and went down to the main hall. The divisional surgeon,
with McQuade and his men had already proceeded to the scene of the
tragedy, and as I did not suppose that I would be wanted there, I left
the house and started out across the beautiful lawns, now partially
covered with the fallen leaves of oak and elm, my mind filled with
conflicting thoughts and emotions. As I passed out, I met Miss Temple
coming along the porch, wearing a long cloak, and evidently prepared for
a walk, so I suggested, rather awkwardly, remembering her look of
annoyance during the examination by Sergeant McQuade, that I should be
happy to accompany her. Somewhat to my surprise she accepted my offer
at once, and we started briskly off along the main driveway leading to
the highroad. Miss Temple, of lithe and slender build, was, I soon
found, an enthusiastic walker, and set the pace with a free and swinging
stride that rejoiced my heart. I dislike walking with most women, whose
short and halting steps make accompanying them but an irritation. I did
not say anything as we walked along, except to comment upon the change
of weather and the beauty of the day, for I felt sure that she would
prefer to be left to her own thoughts after the trying ordeal through
which she had just passed. She was silent all the way down to the
entrance to the grounds, and seemed to feel oppressed by the house and
its proximity, but as soon as we set out along the main road toward
Pinhoe over which Ashton and I had traveled the evening before, she
seemed to brighten up, and, turning to me, said, with surprising
suddenness: "Do you believe, Mr. Morgan, that I had any part in this
terrible affair? The questions the detective asked me indicated that he
had."

"Certainly not," I said. "And, if you will permit me to say so, Miss
Temple, I think you would have been wiser had you been entirely frank
with him."

"What do you mean?" she asked, indignantly.

I felt disappointed, somehow, at her manner.

"Miss Temple," I said, gently, "you at first refused to admit that you
had sought an interview with Mr. Ashton at midnight. I fully understood
your reasons for your refusal. It was an unconventional thing to do, and
you feared the misjudgment of persons at large, although to me it
appeared, in the light of my knowledge of the case, a most natural
action. Mr. Ashton still retained the jewel, and, if he gave it up after
your warning, he could not have complained of the consequences. But I
am sorry, Miss Temple, that you were not as frank about your leaving
the house, as he believes you did, early this morning."

"Why does he believe that?" she asked, spiritedly.

"Because, in the first place, he found footprints--the footprints of a
woman's shoe, in the gravel walk, from the west corner of the porch to
the main entrance. They lead only one way. After questioning you, he
searched your room, and found the skirt and shoes which you wore, both
wet and covered with mud. The rain did not stop until three or four this
morning. The footprints were made after the rain, or they would have
been washed away and obliterated by it. For these reasons, he fully
believes you were out of the house close to daybreak, which was the time
of the murder."

"The brute," said Miss Temple, indignantly, "to enter my rooms!"

"It is after all only his duty, Miss Temple," I replied.

"Well, perhaps you are right. But suppose I did go outside at that
time--suppose I had decided to run away from Mr. Ashton, and my father,
and their wretched conspiracy against my happiness, what guilt is there
in that? I came back, did I not?"

"Why," I inquired, "did you come back?"

She glanced quickly at me, with a look of fear.

"I--I--that I refuse to explain to anyone. After all, Mr. Morgan, I
certainly am not obliged to tell the police my very thoughts."

Her persistency in evading any explanation of her actions of the morning
surprised and annoyed me. "You will remember, Miss Temple, that I said
the footprints lead in one direction only, and that was toward the
house. Mr. McQuade does not believe that you left the house in the same
way that you returned to it."

"What on earth does he believe then?" she inquired with a slight laugh,
which was the first sign of brightness I had seen in her since she left
me with a smile the night before. I could not help admiring her
beautiful mouth and her white, even teeth as she turned inquiringly to
me. Yet my answer was such as to drive that smile from her face for a
long time to come.

"He believes this, Miss Temple, or at least he thinks of it as a
possibility: Whoever committed the murder reached the porch roof by
means of the window at the end of the upper hall, and, after entering
and leaving Mr. Ashton's room, descended in some way from the porch to
the pathway, and re-entered the house by the main entrance. Your
footsteps are the only ones so far that fit in with this theory."

"It is absurd!" said my companion, with a look of terror. "How could
the window have been rebolted? Why should the murderer not have
re-entered the house in the same way he left it? How does he know that
there was anyone upon the roof at all?"

"In answer to the first objection, he claims that someone interested in
the murderer's welfare might have rebolted the window upon entering the
room. That would of course mean either your father or myself. To the
second, that whoever committed the crime feared to enter the hall by the
window after the house had been aroused. To the third, there is positive
evidence of the presence of someone having been upon the roof, at Mr.
Ashton's window."

"What evidence?" She seemed greatly alarmed; her clenched hands and
rapid breathing indicated some intense inward emotion.

"The faint print of a hand--in blood, upon the window sill. With these
things to face, Miss Temple, you will, I'm sure, see the advisability
of explaining fully your departure from the house, and your return, in
order that the investigations of the police may be turned in other
directions, where the guilt lies, instead of in yours, where, I am sure,
it does not." I fully expected, after telling her this, that she would
insist upon returning to the house at once and clearing herself fully,
but what was my amazement as I observed her pallor, her agitation, the
nervous clenching of her hands, increase momentarily as I laid the
Sergeant's theory before her! She seemed suddenly stricken with terror.
"I can say nothing, nothing whatever," she answered, pathetically, her
face a picture of anguish.

I felt alarmed, and indeed greatly disappointed at her manner. Limiting
the crime to three persons, one of whom must have been upon the porch
roof a little before daybreak, I saw at once that suspicion must
inevitably fall upon either Miss Temple or her father. In the first
instance--McQuade's theory that Miss Temple herself committed the
gruesome deed seemed borne out by all the circumstances, but, if not,
there could be but one plausible explanation of her unwillingness to
speak: she must have seen the murderer upon the roof, and for that
reason rushed back into the house. In this event, however, she would
certainly have no desire to shield anyone but her father--and he, in
turn might have re-entered the hallway through the window before I had
thrown on my clothes and left my room after hearing the cry. He, also,
to cover up his crime, had he indeed committed it, might have rebolted
the window from within while I was examining the body of the murdered
man, as McQuade had suggested. I remembered now that Major Temple had
excluded everyone from the room but ourselves, and shut the door as soon
as the murder was discovered. To suppose that Miss Temple was the
guilty person was to me out of the question. Had she committed the
crime, her father would necessarily have been an accomplice, otherwise
he would not have bolted the window, and this seemed unbelievable to me.
Yet there was the print of the bloody hand, upon the window sill--small,
delicately formed, certainly not that of her father. My brain whirled. I
could apparently arrive at nothing tangible, nothing logical. There yet
remained the one possibility--the Chinaman, Li Min. His hands, small and
delicate, might possibly have made the telltale print upon the window
sill, but, in that event, why should Miss Temple hesitate to tell of it,
had she seen him. The only possible solution filled me with horror. I
could not for a moment believe it, yet it insisted upon forcing itself
upon my mind: that Miss Temple and Li Min were acting together; that her
father, too, was in the plot, as he must have been if he rebolted the
window. The thing was clearly impossible, yet if not explained in this
way, the Chinaman was clearly innocent, for I believed without question
that, had he entered the room and committed the murder, he could in no
possible way have bolted the window himself, from without, after leaving
it. I walked along in silence, my mind confused, uncertain what to
believe and what not, yet, as I looked at the strong, beautiful face of
the girl beside me, I could not think that, whatever she might be lead
to do for the sake of someone else, she could ever have committed such a
crime herself. I also remembered suddenly Major Temple's angry remark,
made to Robert Ashton as they stood in the hall after dinner the night
before, that he would never allow Ashton to leave the house with the
emerald in his possession. Was she shielding her father? Was it he,
then, that she had seen upon the roof? We walked along for a time in
silence, then, through some subtle intuition dropping the subject of the
tragedy completely, we fell to talking of my work, my life in London,
and so began to feel more at ease with each other. By the time we had
returned to the house, it was close to the luncheon hour, and as I went
to my room, I met Sergeant McQuade, in the hall. From him I learned that
the divisional surgeon had completed his examination and returned to the
town, that the body had been removed to a large unused billiard-room on
the ground floor, and that the inquest was set for the following morning
at eleven. The detective also said, in response to a question from me,
that the two Chinamen who had left Exeter on the morning train had been
apprehended in London, upon their arrival, and were being held there
pending his coming. He proposed to run up to town the next day, as soon
as the inquest was over. A careful and detailed search of Mr. Ashton's
room and belongings had failed to reveal either any further evidence
tending to throw light upon the murder, or any traces of the missing
emerald Buddha.

After luncheon, Sergeant McQuade asked Major Temple to meet him in the
library, accompanied by Li Min, and at the Major's request I joined
them. The Chinaman was stolidly indifferent and perfectly collected and
calm. His wooden face, round and expressionless, betrayed no feeling or
emotion of any nature whatsoever. I observed, as did the detective, that
his right hand was bound up with a strip of white cloth. He spoke
English brokenly, but seemed to understand quite well all that was said
to him.

"Li Min," said Major Temple, addressing the man, "this gentleman wishes
to ask you some questions." He indicated Sergeant McQuade.

"All light." The Chinaman faced McQuade with a look of bland inquiry.

"Where did you spend last night?" asked the detective suddenly.

"Me spend him with blother at Exeter."

"Where, in Exeter?"

"Flog Stleet."

"What time did you leave this house?"

"P'laps 'leven o'clock, sometime."

"Was it raining?"

"Yes, velly much lain."

"You did not go to bed, then?"

"No, no go to bed, go Exeter."

The Sergeant looked at him sternly. "Your bed was not made this morning.
You are lying to me."

"No, no lie. Bed not made flom day before. I make him myself."

The detective turned to Major Temple. "Is this fellow telling the
truth?" he asked. "Does he make his own bed?"

"Yes," replied the Major. "The other servants refused to have anything
to do with him. They are afraid to enter his room. He cares for it
himself."

"What did you do in Exeter?" asked McQuade.

"P'laps talkee some, smokee some, eatee some--play fantan--bimby sleep."

"What's the matter with your hand?" asked the detective suddenly.

"Me cuttee hand, bloken bottle--Exeter."

"What kind of a bottle?"

"Whiskey bottle," answered Li Min, with a childlike smile.

McQuade turned away with a gesture of impatience. "There's no use
questioning this fellow any further," he growled. "He knows a great deal
more about this affair than he lets on, but there's no way to get it out
of him, short of the rack and thumb-screw. Do any of the other servants
sleep near him? Perhaps they may know whether or not he left the house
last night. Who attends to locking the house up?"

"I have always trusted Li Min," said Major Temple. "He sleeps in a small
room on the third floor of the east wing, which has a back stairway to
the ground floor. The other house servants sleep on the second floor of
the rear extension, over the kitchen and pantries. My daughter generally
sees to the locking up of the house."

"Did she do so last night?"

"No. I did so myself. I locked the rear entrance before I retired
shortly before midnight."

"After Mr. Ashton had left you to retire?"

"Immediately after."

"Then, if Li Min had left the house by that time, you would not have
known it?"

"No, I should not. I heard no sounds in the servants' quarters and
presumed they had retired. I sat up with Mr. Ashton, discussing various
matters until quite late--perhaps for two hours or more after dinner."

"You were alone?"

"Yes, both my daughter and Mr. Morgan had retired some time before."

"Did you have any quarrel with Mr. Ashton before he left you?"

Major Temple glanced at me with a slight frown. "We had some words," he
said, hesitating slightly, "but they were not of any serious
consequence. We had a slight disagreement about the price he was to be
paid for his services in procuring for me the emerald in addition to the
other arrangement, of which I have already told you."

"And the matter was not settled before he left you?"

"No--" the Major hesitated perceptibly and seemed to be choosing his
words with the utmost care--"it was not--but we agreed to leave it until
the morning."

"You were displeased with Mr. Ashton, were you not? You quarreled
violently?"

"I--we did not agree," stammered the Major.

"Did Mr. Ashton threaten to take the stone elsewhere, in case you would
not agree to pay his price?"

"He mentioned something of the sort, I believe," said the Major.

"To which you objected strongly?"

"I protested, most certainly. I regarded the stone as my property. He
acted as my agent only."

McQuade remained silent for some moments, then turned to Major Temple.

"Major Temple," he said, "I am obliged to go into the town for the
remainder of the afternoon, but I shall be back here this evening. I
shall leave one of my men on the premises. When I return, I should like
very much to have you tell me the complete history of this jewel, this
emerald Buddha, which has evidently been the cause of all this trouble.
No doubt Mr. Ashton told you the story of his efforts to obtain it,
while in China, and of the way in which he succeeded. Possibly, when we
have a better understanding of what this jewel may mean to the real
owners of it, we may the better understand how far they would go in
their efforts to recover it."

"I shall be very happy indeed to do so," said Major Temple. "It is a
most interesting and remarkable story, I can assure you."

After McQuade had gone, I strolled about the grounds for the larger part
of the afternoon, trying to get my mind off the gloomy events which had
filled it all the morning to the exclusion of everything else. I said to
Major Temple before I left him that I regretted the necessity of
remaining as an uninvited guest at his house pending the inquest, and
suggested that I might remove myself and my belongings to Exeter, but he
would not hear of it. I strolled into the town, however, later in the
afternoon, after trying vainly to make some sketches, and dispatched a
telegram to my mother, in Torquay, advising her that I would be delayed
in joining her. On my way back I took a short cut over the fields, and
found myself approaching The Oaks from the rear, through a bit of
woodland, which through neglect had become filled with underbrush. The
sun had already set, or else the gloom of the autumn afternoon obscured
its later rays, for the wood was shadowy and dark, and as I emerged from
it, near a line of hedge which separated it from the kitchen gardens of
The Oaks, I observed two figures standing near a gateway in the hedge,
talking together earnestly. I came upon them suddenly, and, as I did so,
they separated and one of them disappeared swiftly into the shadows of
the wood while the other advanced rapidly toward the house. I quickened
my steps, and, as the figure ahead of me reached the higher ground in
the rear of the house, I saw that it was Li Min. He appeared unconscious
of my presence and vanished rapidly into the house. The circumstance
filled me with vague suspicions, though I could not tell just why.
Instinctively, as I approached the house, I turned toward the west wing,
and, as I reached the rear corner of the building, I stepped back on the
grass, beyond the gravel walk, to obtain a view of the windows above. As
I moved backward over the turf, until I could reach a point where I
could see over the edge of the porch roof, I suddenly tripped over an
object in the grass and nearly fell. As I recovered myself, I looked to
see what it was, and picked up a short, thick iron poker with a heavy
octagonal brass knob at one end of it. As I held it in my hand, I
realized at once that with such a weapon as this the strange wound in
Ashton's head could readily have been made. I examined the pointed
prismatic knob carefully, but, beyond being somewhat stained from lying
in the wet grass, it showed no other marks of the gruesome use to which
I instinctively felt it had been put. Wrapping it carefully in my
handkerchief, I carried it to my room, and took the precaution to lock
it safely in one of the drawers of the dresser, pending an opportunity
to show it privately to Sergeant McQuade upon his return from Exeter.



CHAPTER V

MAJOR TEMPLE'S STORY


We sat in the dimly lighted library after dinner, having been joined by
Sergeant McQuade who returned from Exeter about nine. I had not seen
Miss Temple alone, since dinner, as she had retired to her room as soon
as our silent meal was over. The Major, after furnishing us with some
excellent cigars, and some specially fine liqueur brandy, settled
himself in his easy chair and proceeded to tell us of his experiences,
and those of Robert Ashton, in the pursuit of the emerald Buddha. He
seemed anxious to do this, to show to the detective the probability of
the murder of Ashton having occurred in an attempt upon the part of some
Chinese secret or religious society to recover the jewel. He showed no
feeling of animosity toward the man from Scotland Yard whether he felt
it or not, and had either concluded that the latter's sharp questioning
of his daughter was justified by the curious and inexplicable
circumstances which surrounded the tragedy, or else was desirous of
covering up his own knowledge of the matter by assuming a manner at once
frank and ingenuous.

"I spent almost all of last year," said the Major, "in traveling through
the interior of China. I was for a long time stationed in India, and
although I was placed upon the retired list nearly ten years ago, the
spirit of the East has called me, its fascination has drawn me toward
the rising sun, ever since. I had traveled extensively in India, Siam,
Persia and even Japan, and was familiar with most of the Chinese cities
upon and near the coast, but the interior was to me until last year
almost a sealed book. My daughter and I arrived at Pekin early last
spring, and, after spending nearly a month in that city, we began an
extensive trip toward the West. I had made somewhat of a study of
Chinese, while in India, having always been attracted by the art and
history of that remarkable country, and during our stay in Pekin, and
later, while traveling inland, I managed to pick up enough of the local
dialects to make myself understood. We traveled on horseback, and had a
considerable retinue of native servants which we took along with us from
Pekin. The expedition was safe enough, barring the usual attempts of
sneak thieves upon our stores, and while to persons not accustomed to
traveling in such countries the journey would no doubt have been full of
hardships, to us, familiar with such work, it was fairly comfortable. We
paid good prices for what we bought en route, had no religious views to
promulgate, and, by minding our own business strictly, we had no trouble
with the natives of any serious moment. I had managed to pick up a few
samples of old porcelain and one or two excellent ivories of great age
and beauty, but, beyond these, the trip had not yielded much in the way
of curios for my collection, when in June we reached the city of Ping
Yang. We found this place peculiarly interesting to us, with a
population noticeably different from the inhabitants of the seaport
towns, and we remained there perhaps a month. I spent a good deal of
time wandering about the town, looking at such examples of old bronzes,
embroideries, curious bits of jewelry, etc., as I could find in the
shops and bazaars, and I frequently had occasion to pass a small temple,
maintained by the Buddhists in one of the lower quarters of the town.
Not over half of the Chinese are Buddhists, as perhaps you may know, the
number of devotees of that religion being considerably greater in the
western and northwestern part of the empire, toward Thibet, from which
country the religion originally passed into China. This temple, of
which I speak, was a small one, but was notable because of the fact that
a portion of the bone of the little finger of Buddha was preserved, or
said to be preserved, among the relics of the shrine. I had frequently
observed the priest, who had charge of the temple, sitting sunning
himself outside its doorway as I passed, and on several occasions I had
dropped some coins into his hand with a salutation which would be
equivalent to our English good luck. One day when I was passing, I
remarked to one of my servants who was with me and who understood
English fairly well, that I was curious to see the interior of the
shrine, and he, after a conversation with the temple priest, informed me
that, if I wished it, there would be no objection to my doing so. I
thereupon entered and found myself in a gloomy chamber dimly illuminated
by several oil lamps hanging from the low ceiling. Around the walls of
the room hung some wonderful embroideries, which represented, so the
priest informed me, incidents in the life of Buddha. There were no
seats, of course, and the floor was of hard-packed clay. At the center
of the rear end of the room was a high wooden screen, elaborately
carved, and lacquered in dull red and gold. Through an opening in this
screen I perceived a large bronze figure of the Buddha, before which was
arranged, upon the low altar, a profusion of flowers and food, offerings
of the faithful to the deity. There were a number of small candles
burning before the bronze figure, and behind and beyond it I saw a small
room which evidently served as the living or sleeping chamber of the
temple priest. After he had shown me everything in the room with much
pride--he seemed a simple and earnest old fellow--I made ready to depart
and, before doing so, drew from my pocket a handful of the brass coins,
called cash, with which you are no doubt familiar, and thrust them into
the old fellow's outstretched hands. He seemed deeply grateful and said
a few words in his native tongue to my servant, who turned to me with
the information that the priest was about to accord me an especial honor
by showing me the sacred relic of the Buddha. He approached the altar,
and, taking a key from his girdle, opened a small gold box covered with
wonderful repoussé work, which stood directly in front of the sitting
figure of the god, and rested between his knees. Upon opening this box,
he drew forth a small ivory shrine, also elaborately carved, which he
set upon the top of the first box, and arranged so that the light from
the candles fell upon it. He then opened the ivory box with a small gold
key, and I looked in. The relic of the Buddha, a small and insignificant
looking piece of dirty brown bone, I paid slight attention to, for in
that box, glistening and glowing with the most wonderful color in the
light of the candles, stood the emerald Buddha. The relic lay upon a
piece of white silk, at the bottom of the box. There was a shelf in the
box, of ivory, half-way up its height, and upon this shelf, occupying
the upper half of the ivory casket, stood the emerald, its brilliant
color and marvelous workmanship rendered the more noticeable by the
white background of the ivory. I inquired as to its history, through my
servant, and was informed that it had been brought to Ping Yang many
centuries before, by the priest who brought the relic from Thibet and
founded the temple. He told me that it was an emerald, but neither the
fact of its enormous size and value as a jewel nor its priceless beauty
as an example of the most exquisite workmanship in the carving and
cutting of gems that I had ever seen seemed to appeal to him. To him its
value was solely of a religious nature: it was a statue of the great
teacher, carved by some devoted worshiper or patient monk centuries
before, and had always been venerated, next to the relic, as the most
precious of all the temple's possessions. I told my servant to ask the
priest if they would sell it, but he seemed disinclined to make the
request until I repeated my injunction rather sharply. When the message
had been translated to the old man, he scowled darkly, his face lighting
up with a look of sullen anger, and, hastily locking his treasures in
their double box, he turned without making any reply and began to usher
us from the room. I repeated the request, this time using my own store
of Chinese, and drew forth a large roll of gold, but the priest waved me
aside with an angry word, which sounded like a curse, and pointed to the
door. There was nothing left but to go, and I did so, though with the
bitterest regret at leaving what I considered the most remarkable and
unique of all the curios which I have ever seen in the whole course of
my life and the one which I would have given most to possess. In the
course of the next week I haunted the neighborhood of the temple, and
several times, finding the old priest sitting beside the door, attempted
to repeat my offer, but he invariably drew back with a look of intense
hatred, and refused to listen to me. Upon my fourth or fifth attempt I
found him in company with several other Chinamen, evidently members of
his sect, who regarded me with dark looks and muttered imprecations, and
the next time I appeared in the street I found myself surrounded by
quite a mob of excited Chinamen who assailed me with fierce curses and
cries, and even made as though to offer me personal violence. After this
I felt that it would be unsafe for me to venture into that quarter of
the town again, and a few days later, finding that even in other
sections of the city I was regarded with evident suspicion and dislike,
I decided to leave the place and return to Pekin. We left Pekin early
in August, and, after stopping at several of the seaport cities,
arrived early in October in Hong Kong where we made a stay of several
weeks. It was here that I met Robert Ashton who, like myself, was
traveling in China for the purpose of collecting rare examples of
Chinese art, and who, I soon found, possessed an extraordinary knowledge
of the subject. This knowledge, which is not common among us in the
West, formed a bond of sympathy between us, especially in that country
so remote from home, where the sight of an English face and the sound of
one's native language are always so welcome. During our stay there we
saw a great deal of Mr. Ashton, and he soon became very attentive to my
daughter. She, like myself, has always felt a deep interest in Eastern
art, and seemed rather to welcome Mr. Ashton's attentions, and I was
gratified to think that in him I might find a son-in-law who would
appreciate the collection, which has been my life work. I told him the
story of my experiences in Ping Yang, in which he seemed deeply
interested. He informed me that, although he had been in the city, he
had never heard of the emerald Buddha. He intended going on to Pekin
later in the autumn, and proposed to me that he should attempt to secure
the jewel for me. I told him that I regarded its purchase as impossible,
but he only laughed and said that he felt sure he could secure it. I
made light of his claims, and, when he said in all seriousness one night
that he would obtain it for me provided I would consent to his marriage
to my daughter, I agreed at once, both because I felt his quest was an
absolutely hopeless one and because I saw no objections to him as a
son-in-law in any event. I did not mention my agreement to my daughter
at the time, not wishing it to appear to her that I was bartering her in
return for a mere jewel. In fact I felt so certain that she would
welcome Mr. Ashton's advances that I preferred that she should remain
in ignorance of my compact with him. A few days later he departed for
Pekin, and we returned home by way of India and Suez. On account of both
my daughter's health and my own, we decided to take a house on the
southwest coast for a time, my house in London being under lease for a
term of years, expiring this coming spring. Upon my return I questioned
my daughter with relation to Mr. Ashton, and was amazed and horrified to
learn that, far from regarding him with sentiments of esteem, she bore
toward him a feeling almost of aversion. I explained to her the promise
that I had made which it was now too late for me to recall, and at my
earnest request and almost at my command she wrote to Mr. Ashton,
agreeing to abide by my wishes in the matter. That was six or eight
months ago, and I heard nothing from him until two days ago when he
telegraphed me from Southampton that he had arrived in England and
would come to see me at once.

"His story, as he related it to me at dinner last night, was like an
adventure from the Arabian Nights. After completing his business in
Pekin, he had set out upon his long journey to Ping Yang with only a
single native servant, a Chinaman from the south, a Confucian, who was
devoted to him, and owed him a debt of gratitude for saving his life on
one occasion. Accompanied only by this man, he penetrated slowly to
within about fifteen miles of the city of Ping Yang, and there, in a
small village, he lived for over a month, in an inconspicuous way. He
spoke Chinese well, and, with the assistance of his servant, got hold of
a dress such as is worn by the Buddhist pilgrim monks in China, who,
casting aside the things of this World, spend their life in wandering
about from shrine to shrine, living on the alms of the faithful and
preaching the doctrines of their religion as they go. In this dress,
with shaven head and staff in hand, he had arrived, alone, in Ping Yang
one evening at dusk and at once proceeded to the temple, the location of
which I had carefully described to him. Arriving at the door, with an
offering of flowers, he entered, and, prostrating himself before the
shrine, seemed lost in prayer. There were a number of other worshipers
in the temple at the time, and still others came and went as the evening
wore on, but Ashton continued in his place, muttering his prayers and
pretending to be in great agony of spirit. Presently the hour grew late
and one by one the worshipers departed, until only Ashton and the old
temple priest were left. The latter, in some impatience, came up to him,
and informed him that the hour was late and that he had better continue
his devotions upon the morrow. Ashton pretended to be suffering from
some sudden illness, and lay upon the floor moaning pitifully. As the
old monk bent over him to see whether he could hear his muttered words
Ashton suddenly seized him by the throat, and with his powerful hands
choked him into silence. He then gagged him with a piece of cloth which
he had brought for the purpose, and, taking from his girdle the keys of
the small shrine, proceeded to quickly open it and abstract the coveted
emerald Buddha. Escape was easy. The old priest, unable to utter a sound
would be unable to give the alarm until the next morning, and by that
time Ashton, who had left his servant with their horses at a retired
spot outside the town, would be miles away, journeying peaceably toward
Pekin as an English traveler. His escape, however, was not to be so
easily effected. Whether the old priest penetrated his disguise as he
sprang upon him, or whether the uproar into which the town was thrown
reached the house at which the disguise had been assumed, he of course
never knew, but it is certain that, after progressing toward Pekin for
two days, they became aware that they were being followed by a numerous
party of Chinese upon horseback, armed with pikes, bows and arrows, and
some muskets. They got wind of the pursuing party before they themselves
were seen, and, swerving from the main road, abandoned their horses in a
lonely bit of wood, and while Ashton hid in the underbrush, his servant,
after waiting until their pursuers had passed, went out and procured at
a near-by village a set of Chinese clothing similar to his own, which
Ashton donned after burying his own belongings in a swampy pond in the
wood. From here on his adventures were exciting and varied, but as they
progressed in a southeasterly direction they got beyond the zone which
had been affected by the robbery of the temple, and at last succeeded in
reaching the coast. From here they went north to Pekin, where the
pseudo-Chinamen disappeared one night into the house where Ashton
maintained his headquarters while in Pekin, and the next morning Ashton
appeared in European clothing, and began making arrangements to leave
for his long trip to England. The rest of the story you know. He arrived
here last night, and this morning he was found murdered and the emerald
Buddha has disappeared. God knows what influences have been at work in
his taking off. As for me, I know no more about it than you do."

As Major Temple concluded his story, he gazed at Sergeant McQuade and
myself in turn, then passed his hand nervously over his forehead, as
though the strain of the tragedy had begun to tell upon him severely.

McQuade rose, and I did likewise, and, bidding the Major good-night we
left the room, leaving him sitting dejectedly enough, I thought, in his
easy chair, patting the head of his great mastiff, Boris. It was past
midnight when I left McQuade at the foot of the staircase, and, in
spite of all the excitement of the day, I found myself so worn out that
I was asleep almost as soon as I had placed my head upon the pillow.



CHAPTER VI

THE ORIENTAL PERFUME


The inquest into Robert Ashton's strange death, which was held the
following day in the billiard-room at The Oaks, was a brief affair. A
jury had been impaneled in the town, and Major Temple, Miss Temple and
myself, as well as Li Min and the other servants, were duly examined and
we told our respective stories as we had already told them to Sergeant
McQuade. No new light was thrown upon the affair by our testimony. Miss
Temple, when questioned, admitted that she had left the house early in
the morning, with the intention of running away, but had changed her
mind suddenly and returned. Beyond this nothing could be got out of her.
The divisional surgeon testified that his examination of the deceased
showed a simple fracture of the skull, not necessarily sufficient to
produce death, although capable of doing so when combined with nervous
shock or a weakened condition of the heart. That one or both of the
latter agencies had combined with the result of the blow was evidenced
by Ashton's almost instantaneous death and the look of horror which was
upon his face. There was nothing for the jury to do but render a verdict
stating that Robert Ashton had come to his death through a blow upon the
head, delivered with some sharp instrument by a person or persons
unknown. Said verdict having accordingly been rendered, and the body
removed to an undertaking establishment in Exeter, there seemed nothing
further for me to do but pack up my few belongings and go my way,
knowing no more of the cause of Robert Ashton's death than before. I
knew that Sergeant McQuade was working eagerly upon the case, and I
felt sure that, if the discovery of the murderer were possible, he
would accomplish it, but I had very grave doubts as to his success. I
spoke a few words to him at the close of the inquest, and he informed me
that he intended going up to London early that afternoon to interrogate
the two Chinamen detained there since the preceding day, and, upon my
volunteering to accompany him, he evinced no objection, but on the
contrary seemed rather to welcome my suggestion. I knew perfectly well
that, until the mystery was solved, not only myself, but Major and Miss
Temple and Li Min, as well as the other servants in the house would all
be more or less under police surveillance, and my sudden determination
to go up to London arose from a feeling that I wanted if possible to
stay with this case to the end--a feeling that became intensified
whenever I thought of Muriel Temple and the unfortunate position in
which this affair had placed her. Her exquisitely lovely face, drawn
with suffering, appeared to me constantly, as she had looked at the
coroner's inquest, and I felt with all my heart that, if I could do
anything to help her, I would, cost what it might. I had no very clear
idea as to just what I could accomplish by going up to London, but I
felt sure that I should be more likely to find opportunities for helping
her there, with the detective, than would be the case should I continue
my walking trip to Torquay.

I hastened to my room, therefore, intending to pack my belongings before
luncheon, so as to be ready for a start as soon thereafter as the
detective was ready. I left the door of my room partially open upon
entering, and for a time busied myself in arranging my luggage. As I did
so, I thought I heard a slight sound in the green room across the
hall--the one in which the tragedy had occurred--and, glancing up, saw
that, by looking into the mirror of my dresser, I could see most of the
interior of the room opposite. The room was not empty--for in a moment
I observed Li Min, the Chinese servant, engaged apparently in arranging
it, now that its unfortunate occupant and his belongings had been
removed. His actions struck me as being decidedly peculiar, and I
watched him carefully as he moved about. He was evidently searching for
something, and examined with the most minute care every object in the
room--the carpet, the pictures, the furniture, even the wall paper, as
though looking for some place of concealment. I tried to figure this out
to myself, but I could see no reasonable explanation of his conduct. If
he, or any of his confederates had killed Ashton, they certainly must
have secured the emerald Buddha, and taken it with them--the empty case,
I remembered, lay upon the table. What then, could this Chinaman be
searching for with such evident eagerness and anxiety? I determined to
surprise him, and with a few rapid steps crossed the intervening hall
and appeared in the doorway. He at once seemed confused, and made a
quick pretense of being busily occupied in the business of setting the
room to rights. I stood looking at him questioningly for a few moments,
when I presently became aware of a curiously pungent, yet sweet,
aromatic odor, which had something vaguely familiar to me about it. I
could not, at first, place this perfume, which was noticeably different
from those of our own country, when suddenly it flashed into my mind
that this was the curious scent which I had noticed upon Miss Temple's
handkerchief--the one dropped by her in Ashton's room on the occasion of
her visit to him shortly before midnight on the evening preceding the
tragedy. I glanced about, thinking to discover the source of this
perfume, but for a time had difficulty in doing so. At last, however, I
found that it came from a small cake of soap, of a dull-green color,
which lay upon the washstand where it had evidently been left by
Ashton. I picked up the soap and examined it, and at once recognized the
pungent odor of which I have spoken. The coincidence struck me as being
queer--the presence of this same perfume upon Miss Temple's
handkerchief--and I was at a loss to account for it. I picked up the
cake of soap, observing its perfume closely, then, noticing that the
Chinaman was regarding me with a particularly malevolent gaze, I retired
to my room, taking the soap with me. I had no definite purpose in this
except to keep it in order to identify the perfume, and, upon returning
to my room threw it into my satchel and completed the arrangements for
my departure.

I was soon ready to go, and, after leaving my bag with one of McQuade's
men, who was to accompany us to the railway station, I sought Miss
Temple in the hope of saying good-by to her before my departure. I
was lucky enough to find her in the library, sewing, and looking
unusually pale and distressed. She greeted me with rising color, and I
confess that I, too, felt a trifle of embarrassment. I could not forget
her agitation of the day before when I had questioned her as to her
movements upon the morning of the tragedy and her flat refusal to
continue the conversation when I had pressed her to explain her reasons
for her early morning expedition as well as her sudden return. I stood
gazing at her in perplexity, but, as I did so, the beauty of her face,
the clear, honest expression of her eyes once more convinced me that
whatever were her reasons for silence they did not in any way implicate
_her_ in this tangled affair.

[Illustration: "I HAVE COME TO SAY GOOD-BY," I SAID.]

"I have come to say good-by," I said.

"Oh, are you going--I did not know." She half rose; her face filled with
lively concern.

"I'm afraid I've already overstayed my time," I replied. "After all,
Miss Temple, I came as a stranger and must thank you and your father for
making me as welcome as you have under the existing painful
circumstances."

"I have not thought of you as a stranger, Mr. Morgan," she answered
simply. "You have been a great help during this trying ordeal, and I am
sorry that you must go--very sorry." There was a ring of sincerity in
her voice that thrilled me; my heart gave a leap, and, as I met her
eyes, I realized all of a sudden that, go where I might, I could not yet
go very far away from Muriel Temple. "I do not go because I desire it,"
I replied, in a voice from which I could not eliminate the depth and
intensity of my feelings. "I am no longer needed here, and it is in the
hope that I may perhaps be of some service to you in London that I have
asked Sergeant McQuade's permission to accompany him there to-day. I
have taken the deepest interest in this terrible affair, Miss Temple,
and, if it lies in my power, I intend to find the solution of it. My
reward, if I can do so, will be the knowledge that I have served you."

"You are very good, Mr. Morgan. I shall never forget it, never." She
rose and placed her hand in mine, and allowed it to remain there for a
moment--a moment which seemed far too short to me, since I had suddenly
realized that I should be madly happy could I know that I would have the
right to keep it there always. "And, when you have good news, you will
come to The Oaks and tell us about it, will you not?" she concluded,
with a smile that went to my heart.

"Indeed I shall, Miss Temple--you may be sure of that--and I hope it may
be soon."

"So do I," she said, and I turned to leave her. Then I suddenly
bethought myself of the strange Oriental perfume that had clung so
strongly to the handkerchief which the detective had found in the green
room. I turned to her once more. "Miss Temple," I said, with some
hesitation, "you will pardon me, I know, but you may remember that the
handkerchief which was found in Mr. Ashton's room upon the morning of
the--the tragedy, and which you thought you might have dropped there,
was strongly scented with a powerful Oriental perfume. May I ask what
that perfume is, and where you procured it?"

"Perfume?" she ejaculated, in surprise. "Why, Mr. Morgan, I never use
any--never."

"You never use any?" I stammered. "But it was upon your handkerchief. I
thought that perhaps you might have gotten it during your travels in
China."

"The handkerchief was mine, Mr. Morgan--that is true. But of the perfume
I know absolutely nothing. Why do you ask?"

I hardly knew what reply to make. The whole affair seemed absurdly
trivial; the identity of the perfume of the soap, and of the
handkerchief meant nothing, pointed to nothing, and yet I could not
shake off the idea that there was some intimate connection between the
perfume of the handkerchief and that of the soap which would go far
toward solving the mystery of Robert Ashton's death. I bade her good-by
with some simple explanation of my question, and hurried out to find
McQuade. I understood that he intended going in to Exeter before
luncheon, getting a bite to eat there, and taking the early afternoon
express for London. I found him with one of his men upon the porch roof,
busily engaged in making photographs of the bloody hand print upon the
window sill of the green room. He came down presently and joined me.

"Is it not a curious fact, Mr. Morgan," he remarked, as he reached the
foot of the short ladder he had used to ascend to the roof, "that,
although Li Min had not only the motive for the murder, namely, the
securing of the emerald Buddha, but also the opportunity, inasmuch as
he could readily have reached the porch roof from within the house by
means of the hall window, and while the hand print which I have been
photographing is small and delicate, like that of a woman, or indeed
like that of Li Min himself, yet I have tested every possible human
means whereby the windows and doors of that room could have been
bolted after the crime was committed, and I can see no possible way in
which it could have been done, unless either Major Temple or yourself
did it upon entering the room, which you certainly would neither of
you have any reason to do were Li Min the guilty person? In spite of
many of the peculiarities of Miss Temple's conduct, in spite of Major
Temple's altercation with Mr. Ashton, I have been prepared to believe
all along that Li Min was on this roof at or near daybreak yesterday
morning and I do not mind telling you that I have discovered certain
evidence--evidence which had before escaped me, that to my mind proves
it conclusively--yet how he could have entered that room, murdered Mr.
Ashton, secured the jewel, climbed out of the window and shut and
bolted it behind him on the inside is beyond my comprehension. It is
not humanly possible--it simply cannot be." He shook his head and
looked at me in a state of evident perplexity.

I felt unable to offer any suggestions of value, but I hazarded a
question. "Have you searched the attic above the room?" I asked.

"Thoroughly," he replied. "The rafters have never been floored over. The
lath and plaster of the ceiling are absolutely unbroken. As for the four
walls, two of them are exterior walls, without openings, except the
windows. One is the solid partition between the room and the hallway.
The fourth is equally solid, and of brick, between the green room and a
large closet adjoining it to the east, which has evidently been used as
a sort of lumber room, and contains a collection of old furniture,
carpets, etc., covered with dust half an inch deep. The dust-covered
floor and the rusty lock both show that it has not been entered for a
long time. The furniture belongs to the owners of the property, and was
evidently placed there years ago when the property was offered for
leasing."

"Then it would seem that we have exhausted all possible clews," I
observed. I did not think it worth while to take him into my confidence
regarding Li Min, or the perfumed soap; and the brass-headed poker which
I had found, and which I had placed in the drawer in my room, I had for
the moment completely forgotten.

"So it seems," he remarked, thoughtfully. "This is by long odds the
strangest case I have ever worked on. Possibly the two Chinamen we have
in London may be able to throw some light upon it."

As we rounded the corner of the house, on our way to the front door, we
suddenly saw Li Min dart out of the main entrance, closely pursued by
the officer to whom I had entrusted my luggage. The Chinaman carried in
his hand my Gladstone bag, and was running with incredible swiftness
toward the road. Before I had time to make a move, McQuade darted
forward and intercepted him, knocking from his hand with lightning-like
quickness a long knife which he drew from his blouse. The two of them
tumbled over upon the turf, McQuade rising first with my satchel in his
hand. He looked at it, and seeing my name upon it handed it to me with a
grim smile. "You must have a valuable kit here, Sir," he said, "or else
this fellow has taken leave of his senses." He nodded to his assistant,
who promptly stepped forward and snapped a pair of handcuffs upon the
sullen-looking Oriental.

"The whole outfit isn't worth five pounds," I said, laughing, and picked
up the satchel. As I did so the catch came open and my small collection
of flannel shirts, toilet articles, sketching materials, etc., tumbled
upon the grass. McQuade joined in my laugh, and assisted me in replacing
my effects. "Nothing much here, Sir," he said, but I did not fail to
notice that he observed each article closely as we repacked the satchel.

We drove back to town in the high cart, with one of Major Temple's
grooms at the reins beside me, and Li Min and the Sergeant upon the rear
seat. After depositing the Chinaman at the jail, we took a hurried lunch
at the Half Moon, and left for London on the early afternoon express,
arriving at Waterloo station about dusk. I gave McQuade the address of
my lodgings and studio in Tottenham Court Road, and, as he intended
reporting at once at Scotland Yard, I left him with the understanding
that, if anything significant developed during his examination of the
two Chinamen, he would advise me and call upon me if I could assist him
in any way. I realized of course that I was purely an outsider, and in
no position to expect the police to take me into their confidence, but
on the other hand I was not only the most important witness in the case,
but my keen interest in the solution of the mystery, for the purpose of
clearing the names of both Miss Temple and her father from any vestige
of suspicion, was not lost upon the Sergeant, and I think he realized
that I might be of considerable assistance to him should the case take
some unexpected turn. He hurried off in a hansom and I followed,
stopping on my way at the Vienna Café for dinner. It was past eight when
I arrived at my studio, and, throwing my bag into a corner I sat down
and wrote a letter to my mother at Torquay, explaining to her my change
of plans, although making no mention of the reasons which caused the
change. I must have been unusually tired, owing to my early rise and the
varied excitements of the day, for I dozed in my chair, and was not
aroused until after eleven, when I heard a loud knock at the studio
door. I sprang up, somewhat confused, and, opening the door, found under
it an envelope containing a note, written on plain, rather cheap paper,
in a somewhat irregular but legible hand. It was from McQuade, and
requested me to meet him at once at Number 30, Kingsgate Street. There
was nothing else in the note, so without further delay I threw on a warm
coat and soft hat, and, hurrying to the street, summoned a cab. The
driver looked a bit surprised at the address, and asked me to repeat it,
which I did a bit sharply, then threw myself into the rear seat and
lighted a cigarette. Events were moving quickly it seemed. McQuade, I
felt sure would not have sent for me at this hour of the night unless
some developments of importance had occurred. I rejoiced in the hope
that the examination of the two Exeter Chinamen had resulted in the
discovery of both the missing jewel and the murderer, and thought with
pleasure of the expedition I should make on the morrow to The Oaks and
the happy tidings I should bring to Muriel. I had thought of her so
continuously, since leaving there, and felt so keenly the loss of her
companionship, slight as it had so far been, that I knew that hereafter
all roads, for me, would lead to Exeter until the day came when I might
lead her from it as my wife. It was while occupied in these dreams that
I felt my cab draw up alongside the curb, just as the hour of midnight
was striking from Old St. Paul's. I dismissed my man with a shilling for
his pains, and ascended the steps of Number 30.

The house was an old one, and its exterior was gloomy and forbidding.
Not a light shone in its closely shuttered windows, and only over the
transom of the door was there any visible sign of occupants within. Here
a faintly burning oil lamp shone behind a cobwebby glass, with the
number of the house painted upon it in black. The whole atmosphere of
the place was depressing in the extreme, and I pulled the bell with
feelings of inward trepidation. Without, all was silent and deserted,
and the starless sky and the sighing of wind through the gloomy streets,
from which my cab had long since departed, but added to my presentiments
of evil. I had heard the faint jangle of a bell in the interior of the
house when I pulled the knob, but so long an interval elapsed before any
response came that I was on the point of ringing it again, when I
suddenly heard soft footsteps in the hallway, and the door was silently
opened. I stepped within, mechanically, unable to observe the person who
had admitted me, owing to the fact that he or she, I knew not which,
stood partially behind the door as it swung open and was therefore
concealed by it. I had taken but a single step into the passage, when
the door was swiftly closed behind me, and at the same instant a bag of
heavy cloth was thrust over my head, and my arms were pinioned from
behind in a vise-like grip. I attempted an outcry, and struggled
violently, but the bag was drawn closely about my throat by a noose in
the edge of it, and I felt myself being slowly, but surely, strangled.



CHAPTER VII

IN THE TEMPLE OF BUDDHA


It was but a few moments after midnight, when I entered the house in
Kingsgate Street, and it must have been nearly or quite an hour before I
finally removed the bag from my head and realized the nature of my
surroundings. Immediately after the attack upon me, I was lifted bodily
by two or three silent figures, and carried a considerable distance,
part of the way down a steep flight of stairs, and through what from its
damp and musty smell might have been a tunnel or cellar. Presently I
heard the opening of a heavy door, and in a moment I was thrown roughly
upon a bench, and my pockets were systematically searched. My captors
evidently were not looking for money for the only things they took from
me were my keys. After this they left me, huddled up in a corner of the
bench, afraid to cry out or make a move in any direction.

The room in which I now found myself was as silent as the tomb, and yet,
from some subtle instinct, I felt that it was lighted brightly, and that
there were others in it besides myself. I could feel that it was warm,
and through the folds of the bag about my head came the acrid,
half-sweet smell of opium or Chinese incense, or both. I realized at
once that I was in the hands of some of Li Min's friends, and no doubt
the note which purported to come from McQuade had been merely a decoy.
How, I wondered, did they know my address? Possibly they had followed my
cab from the station. I recollected now with vividness the interview I
had witnessed, the afternoon before, between Li Min and some fellow
countryman of his at the gateway in the hedge back of The Oaks. No doubt
the crafty Oriental had in some way kept his confederates in London
fully posted as to both my movements and those of Sergeant McQuade. What
on earth they could want with me I was unable to imagine. I reached out
softly with my right hand--I had not been bound--and touched a wall,
hung with heavy embroidered satin. The bench upon which I sat was of
hard polished wood. I reached up quickly, loosed the cord which held the
bag tightly about my neck, and, with a swift motion, lifted it from my
head.

The sight I beheld astounded me. I was in a long, low room, the bench
upon which I sat being at the extreme end of it. The walls were hung
from end to end with bright-colored satin, wonderfully embroidered with
birds, flowers, dragons and strange Chinese characters. The floor was of
wood, dark, and polished with the walking of many soft-shod feet. Facing
me at the far end of the room was a great red-and-gold wooden screen,
carved and lacquered, and representing some mysterious Chinese figures,
whether gods or demons I could not tell. In the center of this screen
was an opening, a sort of altar, brightly lighted by a large number of
wax candles within which hung a representation of the god Buddha,
marvelously embroidered upon dull red satin, with gold and silver
threads. Behind the candles stood a small gold casket, or shrine, the
door of which was standing open, disclosing an empty interior. The altar
in front of the candles was covered with a profusion of dishes
containing flowers, rice and other foods. Before the altar knelt a tall,
gaunt figure, his back turned toward me, bowed in prayer. He wore a
long, dark-brown robe, girdled loosely about the waist with a leather
belt, and his gray hair was confined in a long queue which hung below
his waist. He took no notice whatever of my movements, and remained in
silent contemplation of the picture of the god before him. A number of
sticks of incense were burning in a brass jar upon the altar, and the
room was filled with a thin, waving blue haze, which circled softly
around the great painted silk lanterns which hung from the ceiling. I
felt as though I had been suddenly and mysteriously transported from a
dark and gloomy London street to some wonderful temple in the far-off
city of Pekin. I rubbed my eyes, and moved uneasily upon my hard bench,
but no movement upon the part of the silent worshiper indicated that he
so much as knew of my presence.

I endured the tension of the situation for several minutes in silence,
and had about made up my mind to speak to the kneeling figure before me,
when suddenly a door at my left was opened, and I observed two dark and
forbidding-looking Chinamen enter, carrying between them a limp and
apparently lifeless figure, which they placed upon the bench beside me.
The figure was that of a man, and he was not blindfolded as I had been,
and, as I bent over and glanced at his bloodless face, I recoiled, sick
and trembling. It was Sergeant McQuade.

The Chinamen paid no attention to me, and quietly withdrew. I placed my
hand upon the detective's heart, and was overjoyed to find that it still
beat. I dragged him to a sitting position, and shook him, hoping to
arouse him from his lethargy. In a few moments I saw his eyes slowly
open, and he clutched feebly at his throat. I followed his movements and
found a heavy cord about his neck, so tightly drawn as almost to prevent
him from breathing. This I quickly removed, and in a few moments he was
able to speak. His first words, after a glance of intense surprise at
our surroundings, were to ask me why I had sent for him. I told him that
I had not done so.

"But you sent me a note, asking me to come to this address at once, that
you had important news. I have two men outside, but these devils got me
before I could blow my whistle. Not much use to try it now," he
observed, looking about grimly.

"I sent you no note," I replied. "On the contrary, I got one from you.
That is why I am here."

"We are both nicely trapped, it seems," he growled. "I wonder what these
fellows are up to. They have searched me, but they took nothing, so far
as I can see. I can't figure the thing out at all. What have you
learned--anything?" He turned to me with a quick look of interrogation.

"Nothing. They took my bunch of keys, and left me here about an hour
ago. I am as much in the dark as you are."

"Your keys," he muttered, softly; "your keys. What could they have
wanted with them?" He seemed lost in thought.

Our further conversation was interrupted by the sudden opening of the
door on our left. Some score or more of Chinamen crowded in, and were at
once joined by the figure of the priest, who rose to his feet and
advanced toward the center of the room. He was a terrible-looking old
man, his face drawn and leathery, his eyes like burning coals, his mouth
cruel and thin-lipped. All the others seemed to pay him deep respect.
One of their number advanced and handed him a large object which he
eagerly grasped. It was my Gladstone bag. McQuade and I glanced at each
other in sudden comprehension. "It's my bag," I whispered to him. Now I
knew at least why they had taken from me my keys.

The old priest placed the bag upon the floor and, kneeling beside it,
proceeded to open it with eager, trembling hands. The others crowded
about, every face tense and full of expectation. The kneeling figure
proceeded slowly to remove and examine every article of clothing,
throwing each one impatiently aside as he apparently failed to find that
for which he sought. Presently his eye fell upon the small, green cake
of soap which I had thrown loosely into the bag upon my departure from
The Oaks. He seized it with a cry of triumph, and, taking a knife from
his girdle, proceeded with extreme care to cut the cake of soap in two.
The crowding figures about him hung upon his movements with intense
anxiety. The room was as silent as death. I heard McQuade's muffled
breathing as he watched the old man's every move, but I could see from
the expression of his face that the scene meant no more to him than it
did to me. Suddenly, with a loud cry, the priest broke the cake of soap
in two, and there, within it, in a cavity about two inches long, lay the
lost emerald Buddha, its wonderful color flashing and glowing in the
light from the lantern above. I was absolutely dumb with amazement.
Undeniably there before me lay the cause of Mr. Ashton's death, yet how
it came to be in that cake of soap, and what light its presence there
threw upon the manner of his sudden and tragic end, was beyond my
comprehension. At least, however, I understood why Li Min had tried to
make away with my satchel, but the fact that the presence of the jewel
among my belongings might cause suspicion to point in my direction did
not for the moment occur to me. It evidently did, however, to McQuade,
as I before long had reason to know.

The kneeling priest rose to his feet with a glad cry, and, holding the
image reverently in the hollow of his two hands, advanced toward the
altar, the others crowding closely about him. Arrived at the shrine, he
placed the figure carefully upon its pedestal within the golden casket,
and, as the light of many candles fell full upon it, the whole crowd
knelt down and began a weird sing-song prayer, that must have been a
chant of joy, or some service of purification, now that their long-lost
deity had been returned to them. Presently the strange sounds died away,
and the various Chinamen placed offerings of fruit, flowers and food
upon the altar. At length the priest rose, and faced us. The service was
over. I had a feeling that our turn was now to come.

The tall, gaunt figure came close to us, and examined both our faces
minutely. I fancy he was the same priest that Ashton had all but done
for in Ping Yang, and, from his look of intense hatred and ferocity, I
feel sure that, had he recognized McQuade or myself as either his
assailant, or Major Temple, our moments in this life would have been
numbered. He must of course have heard of Ashton's death, but no doubt
he wanted to make sure that Ashton was actually the man who had so
nearly strangled him. After completing his scrutiny of our far from
happy faces, he drew back, and in answer apparently to the questions of
his followers shook his head vigorously. Then ensued a heated
altercation between himself and part of the Chinamen on the one hand
and the remainder of the crowd on the other, the subject of which, I
could plainly see, was the fate of the detective and myself. At last
they all turned back to the altar, and the priest took from it two
pieces of wood, slightly curved, some four or five inches long, and
shaped not unlike the half of a banana, if it were cut in two
lengthwise: that is, round on one side and flat upon the other. I saw
that they were the Chinese luck sticks, which the petitioner casts
before the altar, wishing as he does so, for that prayer which he
desires the god to grant him. If the sticks fall with the flat sides of
both upward, he is lucky--his prayer is granted; if with the flat sides
of both downward, his prayer is refused. If one stick falls each way,
there is no decision and the trial is made again. As the priest took up
these sticks from the altar, a gleam of comprehension passed over the
faces of the crowd about him. Several of their number sprang forward
and, seizing us by the arms, dragged us before the altar. It was
evidently their intention to leave the matter of our fate in the hands
of the Buddha, and, as I glanced at the peaceful and beneficent face of
the image before me, I wondered whether he, or blind luck, would control
our destinies.

McQuade they took first. He was led directly in front of the altar, and
the two sticks, placed with the flat sides, together, were put into his
hands. He was then directed, by signs and a few muttered English words,
to cast them upon the slab before the altar. He did so, not in the least
understanding, I felt sure, what it was all about, and in a moment the
hardwood sticks clattered before the altar. I leaned forward anxiously
and looked at them. The flat sides of both were upward. McQuade was
safe. The Chinamen thrust him aside angrily, and bent upon me their
angry glances. I was pushed forward by many hands, and the luck sticks
forced into my unwilling fingers. I had never thought much about death,
and now it approached me in all its grisly terrors. McQuade had been
spared my agony, for I felt sure he did not know the meaning of the
ceremony through which he had just passed. He had thrown dice with
death, and won, and yet he did not know it. But, to me, the trial came
in all its horrible reality. I knew that upon the fall of those bits of
wood depended my life, that within a few seconds of time I would either
be free, or condemned to die by one of those unspeakably horrible means
that only the Chinese understand and delight in. Their deity had been
profaned and they wanted a victim, and, if his down-turned thumb claimed
me as a sacrifice, I knew that no power on earth could save me. I shook
with nervous dread--not so much through fear of death itself as of the
manner of dying. My hands trembled; I could scarcely keep the sticks
from falling to the floor. Presently I pulled myself together and
determined to put a brave face upon the matter. The Chinamen about me
were evidently enjoying my sufferings keenly as I could see from the
diabolic grins upon their dark faces. I threw the sticks from me with a
quick nervous movement, and then almost feared to look upon them. At
last I did so, and what I saw was almost as bad as what I feared to see.
Instead of the two flat sides of the sticks being uppermost, they lay
one each way, and I was forced to throw again. The Chinese were
evidently delighted. Any method of torture which is prolonged seems to
please them beyond measure. I have heard that one of the most terrible
they have invented is that of keeping a prisoner awake. For days and
days sleep is prevented--the victim ultimately goes raving mad.

I determined to end the matter at once. My nerves were too much shaken
to prolong the agony. I cast the sticks again upon the altar slab and
bent over them with a prayer to God. One stick fell at once with its
flat side uppermost. The other rolled over and over until it rested
almost at the Buddha's feet. At last it trembled, half turned over, then
stopped. It, like the other, gave the favorable sign. I was saved. In
the sudden relief from the nervous tension I almost fell, but the
Chinamen, cheated of their revenge, gave me no time for any such
exhibitions of emotion. McQuade and I were seized, and in a few moments
our arms were tightly bound behind us, and heavy bags similar to the one
I had worn were placed over our heads. We were then roughly hurried
through a series of rooms, once crossing what seemed to be a brick-paved
court, which was undoubtedly in the open air, from the sudden change of
temperature I experienced; then for an interminable distance through
what seemed to be dark, narrow lanes and muddy streets, until at last
our hoods were removed, our feet bound, and we were thrown into a
narrow area way, some cotton waste being jammed into each of our mouths
to prevent our making any outcry. Here we were discovered at daybreak,
some four or five hours later, nearly frozen to death, by a watchman,
who released us from our bonds and, upon hearing from Sergeant McQuade
who he was, hastened to find us a cab.

Our first step after it came was to drive to the nearest public house
and get each a steaming drink of hot brandy, after which we ate a hasty
breakfast. The detective, who seemed thoughtful and little inclined to
talk, then drove at once to Number 30, Kingsgate Street, and, finding
his two men still on duty, ordered them to enter the house. The bell was
first rung several times without any response, and then McQuade and his
men burst in the door. There were no lights within, and, when the
long-closed shutters were at last forced open, it was seen at once that
the house was completely unfurnished. We descended into the cellar, but
found no signs of occupancy anywhere. The place had evidently been long
closed. McQuade looked about in perplexity. Evidently there was a tunnel
somewhere, leading from this house to some other in the neighborhood, or
else the Chinamen had boldly carried us out through the backyard and
into some house adjoining. The Sergeant explained the case to his men,
ordered them to return to Scotland Yard, obtain a relief and investigate
every house in the block, and even those on the opposite side of the
street, since a tunnel might as well have led in that direction as any
other. Personally I felt no great interest in the capture of the
Chinamen. They had the emerald Buddha, it is true, but they had a better
right to it than ever Ashton had, I fancy, and, now that he was dead, it
seemed useless to bring trouble upon his relatives, in case he had any,
by placing in their hands so dangerous an article. I was infinitely
more concerned in determining who was responsible for Robert Ashton's
death, and I could not see that the events of the evening had thrown
much light upon it. I left McQuade and returned to my studio, agreeing
to meet him there at three the same afternoon, and return to The Oaks
with him. Just why he intended returning there, or why he wished me to
accompany him, I did not then see, but I was only too glad of an
opportunity again to see Miss Temple. The detective seemed especially
serious and taciturn, and, in reply to my questions as to the two
Chinamen from Exeter, he informed me that they knew nothing of the
matter and had been discharged. I went back to my studio in rather an
unpleasant frame of mind, took a hot bath, and slept until luncheon.



CHAPTER VIII

INSPECTOR BURNS' CONCLUSIONS


I was sitting in my studio, at about half-past two that afternoon,
awaiting McQuade's arrival, when a messenger boy dashed up to my door
and handed me a telegram. I examined the pink slip with some curiosity,
but no great interest, when, glancing, as is my habit, at the signature
first, I was astounded to see that it was from Miss Temple. It was as
follows:

     "Police have discovered weapon in your room wrapped in your
     handkerchief.

                                          "MURIEL TEMPLE."

So strong is the consciousness of innocence that even after reading this
telegram I had no thought of what this new discovery might portend to
me. It was strange, I thought, that I had forgotten the thing. But I
remembered now that, when I first found it, Sergeant McQuade was in
Exeter, and, when he returned, the entire evening until a late hour was
taken up with Major Temple's account of his and Ashton's adventures in
China. The next morning the coroner's inquest occupied all my thoughts,
and then came Li Min's arrest and our hurried departure for London.
Since then, I had had no opportunity to converse at any length with the
detective. I laid the telegram open upon the table, thinking that, if
the Scotland Yard man did not already know of the discovery, I would be
able to inform him of it on his arrival.

He came on the stroke of three, and with him was a burly, deep-chested,
ruddy-faced man, with twinkling eyes and iron-gray whiskers, whom he
introduced to me as Inspector Burns, of Scotland Yard. I bade them be
seated, and offered cigars, which they refused. Both seemed a trifle
constrained, I thought. The Sergeant began the conversation.

"I have brought Inspector Burns with me," he said, slowly; "he wants to
ask you a few questions."

I turned to the Inspector and smiled. I was quite ready to answer any
questions that he might care to ask, and I so informed him.

"Mr. Morgan," he began, "about that cake of soap which, as the events of
last night showed, contained the missing jewel cleverly hidden within
it. Will you be so good as to tell Sergeant McQuade and myself how it
happened to be in your possession?"

"Certainly," I replied, without hesitation. "I was in my room at Major
Temple's house yesterday morning, and I heard someone moving about in
the green room in which Mr. Ashton was killed. You are no doubt aware
that the doors of the two rooms are directly opposite each other?"

"I know that," he replied, gravely.

"I saw, by looking into the mirror on my dresser, that the person in the
other room was Major Temple's Chinese servant, Li Min. He seemed to me
to be acting very suspiciously."

"What was he doing?" inquired the Inspector, with a look at Sergeant
McQuade.

"Apparently he was searching the room for something--I could not, of
course, tell what. I left my room and came upon him suddenly, whereupon
he pretended to be busily engaged in setting the room to rights. I had
noticed, immediately upon entering the room, a strong odor of perfume, a
queer, Oriental perfume that at once attracted my attention, because--"
I hesitated.

"Because of what?" asked the Inspector shortly.

"Because it was the same as that upon the handkerchief which Miss Temple
had left in the room upon her visit there the night before, and which
was found there by Sergeant McQuade the next day."

"What importance did you attach to that fact?"

"I do not know--I cannot say. There seems no explanation of the matter.
But, at the time of which I speak, it struck me as being peculiar--I
looked about and found that the perfume came from a cake of soap upon
the washstand, near which I stood. It had evidently been left there by
Mr. Ashton, and, being so natural and usual an object, must have been
overlooked by the police when the room was searched."

"Why did you remove it?"

"Because I wished a means of identifying the perfume. I felt then, and
still feel, that there was some intimate and unusual reason for the
presence of that perfume upon Miss Temple's handkerchief."

"Mr. Morgan, why, since you were pretending to assist Sergeant McQuade
by every means in your power to secure the missing jewel, and apprehend
Mr. Ashton's murderer, did you fail to disclose to him the facts that
you have just related?" The Inspector's manner was increasingly
uncompromising. "Did you have any reason to suspect that the jewel was
hidden in the cake of soap?"

"None whatever. I did not mention the matter to the Sergeant because it
seemed too vague and unimportant--it indicated nothing."

The Inspector frowned. "Of that you were perhaps not the best judge. You
committed a grave error. I dislike to imply that it might have been
anything worse." He glanced at a notebook he held in his hand. I began
to feel indignant at the tone and manner in which he was conducting his
cross-questioning.

"Is it not true, Mr. Morgan," he asked suddenly, "that Miss Temple was
violently opposed to any marriage with Mr. Ashton, and that either his
death, or the abstracting of the jewel which was to have been the price
paid by him for her hand, would have been of great benefit to her?"

"Miss Temple could have no hand in such an affair. It is preposterous!"
I cried angrily.

"I do not imply that she could, or would." The Inspector was
irritatingly calm. "I merely asked you if such an event or events would
not have been to her benefit?"

"I suppose they would," I answered, sulkily, "if you put it that way."

"Did not Miss Temple ask you to assist her in preventing this marriage,
Mr. Morgan, the night before the tragedy, and did you not promise to
help her in every way in your power?"

"This is absurd," I cried, now thoroughly angry. "You will be accusing
me of murdering Mr. Ashton next."

"So long as we have not done so, Mr. Morgan, you need not accuse
yourself. We only know, so far, that the jewel for which Mr. Ashton was
murdered has been found in your possession."

The significant way in which he uttered these words thrilled me with a
vague sense of alarm. There upon the table, before Sergeant McQuade, lay
Miss Temple's telegram. It was open, and I felt sure he had already read
it. My mind seemed confused--my brain on fire. The Inspector turned to
McQuade. "Sergeant," he said, "you have the handkerchief in question
with you, I believe?"

McQuade nodded, then drew from his pocket a leather wallet, and,
extracting the folded handkerchief from its recesses, spread it
carefully upon the table. He then produced a magnifying glass from one
of his pockets and requested me to examine the surface of the bit of
cambric and lace. I did so, and observed that it was covered with minute
particles of some green substances, some very small, others of
considerable size. I did not at first realize what they were.

"Do you see anything?" asked the Inspector.

"Yes," I replied. "The handkerchief is full of fine green specks, but I
cannot imagine what they are."

"They are bits of soap, Mr. Morgan," said the detective, as he folded up
the handkerchief and replaced it in his wallet.

"Soap," I cried, more than ever mystified.

"Exactly!" The Inspector looked at me keenly. "Has it not occurred to
you, Mr. Morgan, that in order to place the jewel inside the cake of
soap, it was first necessary to cut it in two, and hollow out a space in
the interior? Is it not also quite evident that anyone so hiding the
jewel would perform this operation very carefully, so as to leave behind
no traces, and that the bits of soap removed from the interior of the
cake must have been carefully collected upon some object, this
handkerchief, for instance, and subsequently thrown away, leaving the
minute particles that you see still clinging to its surface?"

"Yes," I replied, dazed. "But who?"

"That, Mr. Morgan, is just what we are trying to find out. It hardly
seems likely that Mr. Ashton would have gone to all this trouble,
although it is possible, since he had reason, after his quarrel with
Major Temple, to fear an attempt to gain possession of the jewel. If he
did, how does it happen that he used Miss Temple's handkerchief for the
purpose? He may of course have found it upon the floor and so utilized
it, but it seems unlikely."

"What, then, seems more likely?" I asked, hotly. "Would the murderer
have gone to all that trouble to get the stone, and then have left it
behind?"

"Possibly, Mr. Morgan, to have been recovered at leisure--as you,
indeed, happened to recover it. Such a jewel would not be a good thing
to have in one's possession, immediately after the murder."

"But the operation of hiding the stone in the soap would have taken
fifteen or twenty minutes at least," I objected, "and we burst in the
door within less than ten minutes from the time Mr. Ashton's cry was
heard."

"The alarm was given by you, Mr. Morgan. You alone heard Mr. Ashton's
cry. Whether you heard it at six o'clock, or five, or four, rests upon
your word alone. We do not accuse you, remember, we are trying to arrive
at the truth. We do not imply that you hid the jewel any more than we
imply that Miss Temple did so herself, and left her handkerchief behind
as a mute witness of the fact. We do know that somebody did so, and the
facts we have just stated, coupled with Miss Temple's refusal to explain
her early expedition from the house that morning, all point to something
we do not yet understand. With Miss Temple and yourself working
together, much seems explainable that before seemed dark and
mysterious. Even the closing of the window from within the green room
may be explained, upon this hypothesis, for you had ample time to close
it while Major Temple was examining Mr. Ashton's belongings in his
frenzied search for the lost emerald. We are convinced of one thing:
that the Chinaman did not commit the murder, for, had he done so, he
would have taken the stone along with him, since that was the sole
purpose he had in view."

"I do not agree with you there," I said. "Mr. Ashton may have hidden the
jewel himself, and then the Chinaman, after committing the murder, may
have been unable to find it. That would account for Li Min's subsequent
search of the room, and his confederates' actions when they began to
suspect, as Li Min no doubt did when he saw me remove the cake of soap,
that the emerald was hidden within it."

"You are right in what you say, Mr. Morgan, if Mr. Ashton hid the jewel
himself. But the subsequent actions of Li Min and his confederates are
equally explainable upon the theory that they had nothing to do with the
murder whatever, and were merely attempting to steal the jewel at the
first opportunity."

I made no reply. They seemed to be weaving a net of circumstantial
evidence about me that, try as I would, I did not seem able to break
through.

"We have alluded," continued the Inspector, "to your sympathy with Miss
Temple, to the use of her handkerchief to hold the bits of soap, to the
fact that you alone heard Mr. Ashton's cry and alarmed the house, to
your presence in the murdered man's room at a time when you could
readily have bolted the window from within, to your strange failure to
mention the matter of the cake of soap to Sergeant McQuade, and to the
fact that the jewel was found in your possession. We now come to another
curious fact, which we trust you may be able to explain satisfactorily.
The weapon with which this murder was apparently committed was found
this morning, locked in a drawer in the room you occupied at Major
Temple's house. It was wrapped in a handkerchief marked with your
initials. Can you tell us how it came to be there?"

I turned to the Inspector with a bitter laugh. "I can tell you," I
replied, "but, I presume, you will not believe me. I put the weapon,
which was a brass-headed poker, there myself. I found it on the lawn
outside of Mr. Ashton's window, the day before yesterday."

"Why did you also conceal this important piece of evidence from Sergeant
McQuade?" demanded the Inspector in a stern voice.

I felt like a fool, and looked like one, as well, I fear. "I forgot it,"
I mumbled in confusion.

"You forgot it!" The Inspector believed that I was lying, and showed
it. "Can you expect a sane man to believe any such folly as that?"

"Folly, or not," I replied, "it is the truth. I found the poker the day
before yesterday, late in the afternoon. I intended to show it privately
to Sergeant McQuade. He was in Exeter at the time and I placed it in the
drawer for safe keeping. When he returned that evening, it was just in
time to listen to Major Temple's story of his experiences in China, and,
when he had finished, it was close to midnight and the matter had
completely slipped my mind. The inquest the following morning took my
entire attention and, after that, the sudden arrest of Li Min, and our
departure for London. You know what has occurred since. I had forgotten
the matter completely until I received this telegram from Miss Temple
not half an hour before you came." I took the dispatch from the table
and handed it to the Inspector, who read it with interest.

"Why did Miss Temple send you this?" he inquired suddenly.

"I do not know--I suppose she thought it would be of interest to me."

"Did it not occur to you that it might be in the nature of a warning?"

Again I saw a chasm yawning before me. Every step in this miserable
affair seemed to make matters look blacker and more sinister as far as I
was concerned.

"Miss Temple has no reason to suspect me of any part in the matter," I
replied. "Do you think it at all likely that, if I had committed the
murder, I could have left such damning evidence as the weapon where the
police would have been certain to discover it, and wrapped in my own
handkerchief, to render my detection the easier? What is your theory of
the crime, Inspector Burns, upon the present evidence? Reconstruct the
events of that night as you think they might have occurred. I will not
take it to heart if you do me any injustice, for I am as innocent of
any complicity in Mr. Ashton's murder as you are."

The Inspector seemed impressed by my words and manner. He looked at
Sergeant McQuade, who nodded slightly. Then he transferred his gaze to
me. "I have no objection, Mr. Morgan, to outlining a theory of the
murder which seems to me to fit the facts as we know them. It may or may
not be correct, but it is my plan to work out whatever theory will most
nearly fit all the facts in my possession, and then test it from every
standpoint until it either fails, or is proven true. I shall be obliged
to you if you will indicate, when I have finished, any points which seem
to you not to coincide with such evidence as we now have before us.

"Miss Temple," began the Inspector, "knew that Ashton had her letter in
which she agreed to marry him in his possession, and she also knew that,
if Ashton delivered the emerald to her father in the morning, she would
be compelled to keep her word. She detested Ashton--the thought of
marriage with him was unbearable to her. She retired to her room, but
could not sleep. At some hour later, possibly shortly after midnight, as
she says, she went to Mr. Ashton's room, and was admitted by him. She
begged for the letter--he refused--a violent altercation ensued--in her
rage she grasped the poker, and struck him with it. He fell, but she
found, by feeling his heart, that he was not dead. She believed that she
had only stunned him, and set to work to secure the jewel. After
removing it from the case, she feared to take it from the room. She had
no wish to steal it, but only to prevent Mr. Ashton from making use of
it. She hit upon the plan of hiding it in the cake of soap. In half an
hour the thing was done, and the pieces, collected upon her
handkerchief, thrown out of the window. She then set about leaving the
room, but, on again feeling Mr. Ashton's heart, she found it very weak.
She feared the result of her blow. To destroy the evidence of what she
had done, she threw the poker out of the window into the grass, and
hurriedly left the room, forgetting the handkerchief in her agitation as
she did so. She returned to her room, but was doubtless unable to sleep,
in terror at her act. Toward morning she decided to leave the house and
flee, and, with this object in view, changed her clothes and shoes, but
once more went to Mr. Ashton's room, to assure herself that he no longer
lived. In doing this, she awoke you, either by accident or design. You
heard her story, she threw herself upon your mercy, and you agreed to
stand by her; you advised her against running away, but suggested that
she go down and get the poker, which she had thrown from the window, in
order that it might be replaced in the room, or otherwise disposed of.
This she did. You meanwhile entered the room, bolted the door on the
inside, and left by the window. It is probable that you examined the
body while in the room, and, unknown to yourself, your hand became
stained with blood. On reaching the roof, you rested it upon the sill
while closing the window with the other hand. You then re-entered the
house by the hall window, meeting Miss Temple, who had secured the
poker, and taking it from her. You placed it in your room, meanwhile
urging her to retire to hers and change her dress and shoes. A little
later you aroused the house with your cries and, upon entering the room,
rebolted the window while Major Temple was not observing you. You later
secured the cake of soap containing the jewel, as we know. You no doubt
intended to replace the poker in the room at the first opportunity. None
had occurred up to the time of your leaving the house, for the room was
kept locked by the police until after the inquest. You entered it once,
just before your departure, and secured the jewel, but Li Min's
presence prevented you from replacing the poker."

As the Inspector concluded, he glanced at me triumphantly, as who should
say--dispute it, if you can.

I laughed, though with little mirth. The Inspector seemed so
convincingly right, and was so hopelessly wrong. "Why don't you simply
say that I killed Ashton, and put the weapon in my dresser, and leave
Miss Temple out of it entirely?" I said. "It's equally plausible."

"Possibly so, although that would account for neither the handkerchief,
nor Miss Temple's leaving the house that morning."

"She has already accounted for the one: she can readily do so for the
other," I replied.

"That we shall see," said the Inspector, rising from his chair. "We will
go to Exeter at once, and question Miss Temple."



CHAPTER IX

MISS TEMPLE'S DISAPPEARANCE


We arrived at Exeter at some time after eight in the evening, and it was
close to nine before we made our appearance at The Oaks. Inspector Burns
and his companion had left me to myself on the trip down, and I occupied
my time with smoking and turning over in my mind the curious events of
the past forty-eight hours. I had no serious apprehension of any trouble
coming out of the matter to either Miss Temple or myself. I knew that
the Inspector's theory was a tissue of errors, although the facts, as he
stated them, did seem to fit in with his conclusions to an almost
uncanny extent. It was true I had agreed to stand by Miss Temple and
help her in her trouble. Our conversation on the night of the murder
had, I presumed, been overheard by one of the servants, from whom it had
been wormed by McQuade's men during my absence. I began to believe that
his willingness to have me accompany him to London was not entirely
disinterested. But the thought that Muriel Temple could have delivered
the blow that sent Robert Ashton to his death was preposterous. I knew
that I was prejudiced in her favor, for her lovely face had scarce been
out of my thoughts for a moment, since our first meeting. I knew that I
had come to love her, that nothing could ever change it, and I realized
that but two real bits of evidence connected her with Ashton's
death--one, the presence of her handkerchief in the room and the curious
use to which it had been put; the other, her early morning expedition
from the house and her sudden return. The former she had explained, at
least to my satisfaction, but the latter was still a mystery. If she
would but explain that, I felt sure that Inspector Burns' theory would
fall to the ground like a house of cards. Why she refused to do so, I
could not imagine--that she had some strong compelling reason, I felt
sure. She had told me that she went out that morning, with the intention
of going away and thus escaping the inevitable promise, which she knew
her father would insist upon her ratifying, to Ashton. She got only as
far as the end of the west wing, and hastily returned. Why?--that was
the question. Did she see anyone on the roof--and, if so, whom? Someone
she felt she must shield at any cost--there could be but one--her
father. Had she then seen him there? Did she think for a moment that he
had anything to do with Mr. Ashton's death? I could not believe that
even for her father's sake she would allow an innocent person to be
accused.

We drove up to Major Temple's door at about nine o'clock. It was quite
dark, and very cold. The house showed few lights, and it was some time
before we were admitted by Gibson, the man who, with myself, had broken
in Mr. Ashton's door. He ushered us into the library, where Major Temple
sat smoking. I could see that he was suffering deeply. The affair of Mr.
Ashton's death had told upon him, and he seemed nervous and constrained.
He greeted us pleasantly enough, however, shook hands with the
Inspector, and requested us to be seated. Sergeant McQuade, however,
announced that we had come on business of importance, and that Inspector
Burns desired to ask Miss Temple a few questions. Before doing so,
however, he requested the Major to conduct us to the scene of the
murder, which Inspector Burns had, of course, not had an opportunity, as
yet, to examine. The Major rose. "My daughter has retired, I fancy," he
said. "I have not seen her since dinner, but I will send her word." He
summoned one of the maids and requested her to inform Miss Temple of
our wishes, and then led the way to the green room. We were quite a
party. The Major led the way with Inspector Burns, and I followed with
McQuade, Major Temple's powerful mastiff, Boris, bringing up the rear.
We first entered the room which I had occupied, McQuade using the key
which he had obtained from the officer who had discovered the supposed
weapon in my dresser drawer. The drawer was soon unlocked, and there lay
the wretched poker wrapped in my handkerchief, just as I had left it.
Inspector Burns took it up, examined it carefully then brandished it as
though in the act of delivering a heavy blow. "Hardly heavy enough, I
should think, to fracture a man's skull," he muttered, as he replaced it
in the drawer. "It is evidently the upper half of a long poker which has
been broken off." He turned to Major Temple. "What do you know about
this thing?" he inquired.

The Major looked puzzled. He had not seen the weapon before. I imagine
the police had guarded its discovery carefully, and I wondered how Miss
Temple came to know of it, in order to notify me.

"It is, as you say, half of an old poker," he replied. "It was used
originally in the lower hall, and the lower end was burnt through, owing
to its having been carelessly left in the fire one night. I gave it to
the gardener. He wanted it to use as a stake in laying out his flower
beds, and running the edges of the paths and roads while trimming the
turf. He had a long cord, and a wooden stake for the other end. It has
been roughly ground to a point, as you see, so that it might be readily
thrust into the earth. The last time I saw it, he was using it upon the
pathways about the house."

"Then it was not in the green room?" asked the Inspector in an
aggrieved tone. He saw that his theory would already require some
readjustments.

"Never, to my knowledge," said Major Temple. "There is no fireplace in
that room, and it would have been of no use there."

The Inspector closed the drawer with a slam. "Then, if this was the
weapon the murderer used," he said, rather lamely, "he must have taken
it along with him. Let us have a look at the room."

We all adjourned to the green room, which the detective unlocked, and
the Inspector went over the ground, as McQuade and I had done before
him, without discovering anything new. The dark-brown spot upon the
green carpet, which marked the place where the murdered man's head had
rested, was still plainly visible, a grewsome reminder of the terrible
tragedy which had been enacted there, but all else seemed ordinary and
commonplace enough. The dog seemed strangely oppressed by the
surroundings and, after sniffing about nervously with a low whine,
crawled under the bed and lay quiet. We spent but a few minutes in the
room and were just on the point of leaving, when the maid rushed in and,
calling Major Temple aside, addressed a few low words to him, apparently
in great agitation, at the same time handing him a sealed envelope. The
Major took it from her, passed his hand nervously over his forehead, and
turned to us. "Gentlemen," he said, in a frightened sort of a voice,
"Miss Temple cannot be found."

We all turned toward him in intense surprise. "What does this mean?"
asked the Inspector. "Where is she?"

"She has disappeared," replied the Major, as we hurriedly left the room,
McQuade locking the door carefully after him. "Her maid tells me that
she has searched everywhere for her, and she cannot be found. This
note, addressed to me, was lying upon her writing desk."

"Read it," commanded the Inspector, as we all hastily adjourned to the
library.

Major Temple opened the letter with trembling fingers. My own agitation
at this new development was equally great.

He glanced hurriedly through its contents, his face ashen, his lips
blue, then read aloud as follows:

     "_My Dear Father:_

     "I am going to London to see Mr. Morgan. They suspect him of the
     murder. I overheard the police talking about it this morning. I do
     not know what to do. I cannot let an innocent person suffer. It may
     be better for me to remain away altogether. If I must speak I can
     only ask for forgiveness.

                                                      "MURIEL."

If the earth had opened up and engulfed me, I could not have been more
astounded than I was when Major Temple finished reading this strange
letter. What on earth had she gone to London to see me for? The poor
girl, I felt sure, was laboring under some terrible misapprehension. I,
for one, had no fear of anything she could say. I glanced at her father.
He seemed shrunken and old, his head bowed upon his breast. Could he--?
I refused to think. Yet he either feared for himself, or--God help
me!--for her. No other emotion, no consideration for anyone else, could
have so terribly affected him. The note plainly enough meant that Miss
Temple knew who had murdered Mr. Ashton, and she knew that it was not I.
But would the police so regard it? I looked at the cold, accusing faces
of the two Scotland Yard men and groaned inwardly. In a moment the
Inspector spoke. "Have you a telephone in the house, Major Temple?" he
asked.

"Yes," answered the Major, rousing himself from his lethargy. "In the
hall, near the foot of the staircase."

The Inspector nodded to McQuade, who arose without a word and left the
room. I knew that Muriel had not yet had time to reach London, that,
when she did so, it would be to step into the arms of an officer. The
net was fast closing about someone, but about whom I could not yet see.
I was lost in a maze of conflicting thoughts.

"Mr. Morgan, have you anything to say in explanation of this letter?" I
heard Major Temple asking me. His voice came to me as from afar off. I
looked up and shook off my growing fears.

"Miss Temple writes as though she believed you would understand what she
means," I replied. "I certainly do not."

"I!" cried the Major. "It's absolute nonsense to me. Why should she want
to see you, unless you understood something between you? What does she
know, that she should speak, and for what does she seek for
forgiveness?" He threw up his hands in absolute dismay. If this were
acting, I thought, it could not be better done by the most renowned
actor on the boards.

"You remember, Major Temple, that your daughter refused to tell what it
was she saw, or what happened, that caused her to return to the house so
suddenly that morning. I advised her to speak--she refused. Had she come
to me to-night, I should have given her the same advice as before.
Nothing that she can say would harm me."

"Nor me," retorted Major Temple.

"Then whom, in Heaven's name?" I cried, speaking my thoughts aloud.

"You have heard my theory of the murder, Mr. Morgan," said the
Inspector, coldly. "Why not herself? The note is plain enough. She will
speak--she will confess and accuse herself before she will allow you to
bear the penalty of her crime."

"Her crime!" Major Temple was on his feet in an instant, his eyes
blazing. "Your words are ill chosen, sir." Poor man, he did not know of
the damning circumstances which the Inspector had so cleverly woven into
his accusing theory.

"Not at all, Major Temple," replied the imperturbable Inspector.
"Sergeant McQuade is at present ordering the arrest of your daughter.
She will be apprehended as soon as she arrives in London, and we will
hear her story at the Magistrate's hearing to-morrow."

"But," I cried, in consternation, "this is ridiculous. Don't you see
that--?"

"Mr. Morgan, the time has come for the truth. It is my painful duty to
place you under arrest."

"On what charge?" I demanded hotly.

"For complicity in Robert Ashton's murder," he replied, and placed his
hand upon my shoulder.

I spent a dreary enough night, nor was I able to close my eyes in sleep.
I sat up in the library through the long hours, sometimes talking with
McQuade, who dozed upon a couch, but for the most part engaged in
interminably revolving in my mind the maddening problem of Robert
Ashton's death. I had begun to regard it as almost supernatural in its
mysterious and devious phases. I thought of all the detective stories I
had ever read and tried to piece out some points of resemblance, some
similar events, which would serve as a starting point for a solution,
but I could find none. In all these cases, the various clews led
somewhere, but here they led to nothingness. There remained but Miss
Temple's story, and that, like all the rest, I feared would fail to
prove a solution of the mystery. That she herself was guilty and that
her story would be in the nature of a confession, I refused to consider.
I loved her and I could no more believe her guilty than I could have
believed myself so; yet I could not help remembering the advice of the
witty Frenchman: _cherchez la femme_--seek the woman. The thing seemed
monstrous, yet it persisted all through the long night.

I must have dozed, toward morning, for I dreamed that I was alone upon a
wide field of ice, running madly forward toward a dim light that
constantly receded as I approached it, and followed by a pack of hungry
wolves. Their yelps and cries filled me with dread. I awoke trembling,
and listened. Far off I heard the mournful howling of a dog, a series of
low, unearthly howls, that would die slowly away only to be once more
repeated. It seemed like the moaning of an animal in great pain.
Presently, as I listened, there came a great yelp, and thereafter
silence. After this I slept. About seven o'clock coffee was brought to
us, and a little later we set out for the town.

We walked in, and did the short distance in less than twenty minutes. On
arrival, we went at once to the headquarters of the police, where I
made my first acquaintance with the interior of a cell. McQuade informed
me that I would be taken before the Magistrate for a hearing at ten
o'clock, and suggested that I had better employ counsel, but this I
refused to do. I had made up my mind to tell the whole story as simply
and exactly as I could and trust to the plain, unvarnished truth to see
me out of my difficulties. I asked the detective upon our arrival if he
had received any word regarding Miss Temple, and he told me that she
would arrive during the forenoon. Major Temple and the servants were to
come into the town a little later, in time for the hearing, at which
they would be wanted as witnesses. I secured a morning paper and
resigned myself to a tedious wait of somewhat over two hours. I was
strangely calm and self-possessed. The ordeal through which I was about
to pass seemed to give me but slight concern. But for Miss Temple I
feared greatly.



CHAPTER X

MISS TEMPLE'S TESTIMONY


The police court at Exeter was situated in an old building, and the
Magistrate's room was small and cold. When I was led forth and placed in
the dock, I felt at first confused and gazed at the crowded benches
before me with a dull sense of annoyance. Presently I made out the
troubled, white face of Major Temple, sitting near the rear of the room,
and behind him Gibson and two of the other servants. The remainder of
the persons in the room were strangers to me, drawn thither, no doubt,
by the merest curiosity. I looked up at the Magistrate and found him to
be a little, red-faced man, with a stern, but not unkind, face--a man,
evidently, who had seen so much of human guilt and suffering that the
edge of his sympathies had been worn off and replaced with a patient
cynicism. The usual questions as to my name, age, residence and
occupation were asked, and then the real business of the hearing began.
The finding of the coroner's inquest was first read, and then Major
Temple was placed upon the witness stand. The old gentleman looked more
shrunken and old than ever. His face was yellow, his eyes hollow and
heavy from want of sleep, his hands trembling with excitement. I could
well understand his agitation. His daughter, even now under arrest, was
hurrying to Exeter to undergo that most terrible of all ordeals, a
hearing on a charge of murder. Whether or not her story would end in a
confession, no one knew; that she had something of the greatest import
to tell, her letter indicated. All these thoughts must have crowded
through her poor father's mind as he took his seat and made oath to tell
the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The Magistrate
began his examination with characteristic incisiveness.

"Major Temple," he said, "you are here as a witness in the case of Mr.
Owen Morgan, charged with complicity in the murder of Robert Ashton."

The Major bowed, but remained silent.

"When did you first meet Mr. Morgan?"

"The night he first came to my house, five days ago."

"Never saw him before?"

"Never. Mr. Ashton offered him a place in his motor, on his way to my
house. On account of the storm, he stopped there and remained over
night."

"It is supposed that this murder had as a motive the securing of a
valuable emerald in Mr. Ashton's possession. When Mr. Ashton first
exhibited it to you, was Mr. Morgan present?"

"He was."

"Did he know the value of the jewel?"

"I do not know. I think the matter was mentioned at the table."

"You had agreed to give your daughter's hand in marriage to Mr. Ashton,
in return for obtaining for you this jewel. Is that true?"

"Yes," the Major faltered.

"Was your daughter opposed to this arrangement?"

"She was."

"And you insisted upon it?"

"I had given my word as a gentleman."

"The securing of the jewel, then, from Mr. Ashton would have released
her from the arrangement?"

"If Mr. Ashton had not had it, he could not have carried out his
agreement, of course."

"At what time did you retire on the night of the murder?"

"Shortly before midnight."

"After Mr. Ashton?"

"Yes--I saw him to his room."

"After that you retired at once?"

"Yes."

"Did you wake during the night?"

"Not until I was aroused by Mr. Morgan's cries--about daybreak, or a
little before."

"Was it light?"

"Hardly--it was just before sunrise."

"You did not leave your room, from the time you retired, until you heard
Mr. Morgan's cries?"

"No."

"What did you do then?"

"I threw on some clothing and ran along the hall into the west wing. I
sleep at the other end of the house in the east wing. When I arrived at
Mr. Ashton's door, Mr. Morgan was trying to open it. My man, Gibson, who
also heard the cries, came along, followed by one of the maids."

"Did your daughter join you?"

"Yes, almost immediately."

"How was she dressed?"

"She wore a dressing gown and slippers."

"You heard no other cries but Mr. Morgan's?"

"No."

"What happened then?"

"Mr. Morgan and Gibson broke open the door, which was bolted. The maid
brought a candle. I ordered my daughter to retire. Mr. Morgan and I
entered the room with the candle and closed the door. We found Mr.
Ashton on the floor dead."

"What did you do?"

"I began to search for the emerald Buddha."

"What did Mr. Morgan do?"

"He first examined the body of the dead man, and then went to the
windows and examined the fastenings."

"Did he close or open the windows or fastenings?"

"I do not know. I paid little attention to him. I was greatly excited
about the loss of the jewel."

"Could he have fastened the window without your knowing it?"

"I suppose he could--I paid little attention to him."

"What happened then?"

"After our examination of the room we closed and locked the door. We
then had some coffee, after which Mr. Morgan went into Exeter and
notified the police."

"Major Temple, there is a window at the end of the hallway in the west
wing, which opens on to the roof over the porch. Is this window usually
bolted?"

"Always. I generally see to it myself. I have a valuable collection and
am afraid of thieves."

"Did you do so that night?"

"I did. I saw that it was bolted after seeing Mr. Ashton to his room and
before retiring to my own."

This comprised the bulk of Major Temple's testimony. There were some
other questions, but they were of little or no importance so far as
throwing any light upon the case was concerned.

Major Temple was followed by Gibson, who corroborated all that his
master had said, and similar testimony was given by the maid. There
was a feature of the latter's testimony, however, which bore more
directly upon the case and my supposed connection with it. She had
been, it seems, on the landing of the main stairway, sitting upon a
window seat, after dinner, waiting for Miss Temple to come upstairs.
It was her habit to sit there, she said, while waiting for Miss
Temple. In this position she was almost directly above the latter and
myself during the conversation we had had immediately after dinner on
the night of the tragedy. She testified that she could not hear all
our conversation--that she made no attempt to do so, as she was not an
eavesdropper--but that she had heard Miss Temple say in a loud and
agitated voice that she would "never marry Robert Ashton, never," and
ask me to help her, and that I had replied that she could depend upon
me absolutely. Immediately after this her mistress had come upstairs
and gone to her room.

"Did you accompany her to her room?" asked the Magistrate.

"No, sir. She told me as how she intended to read until quite late, Sir,
and that I could go to bed at once, as she would not require my
assistance."

"Was this unusual?"

"It was, a bit, Sir. I 'most always helped her to undress, Sir."

"And you went to your room at once?"

"Yes, Sir. I did, Sir, and to sleep, Sir."

"How were you awakened?"

"I heard someone crying 'Help! Help!' I threw on some clothes as quick
as I could, Sir, and ran out into the hall. Then I seen the Master run
into the hallway of the west wing, and Gibson after him, and I follows
them. After that, Sir, I went for a candle."

The testimony of the other servants was similar to that of Gibson and
the maid. They had heard someone crying for help, and had rushed into
the hall.

Sergeant McQuade's testimony was in some ways the most interesting of
all. I began to see that this astute gentleman had by no means been as
frank with me as I had been with him, and had made a number of little
discoveries of which I had no knowledge up to now. He testified to
finding Miss Temple's handkerchief in Mr. Ashton's room on the morning
of the murder. He testified to finding the window at the end of the
hallway unbolted. He produced photographs and measurements of the bloody
handprint found upon Mr. Ashton's window sill and compared them with
measurements made of my own hands earlier in the day. It appeared that,
while the handprint was small, it could readily have been made by my
hand, which, like that of most artists, is rather below medium size. He
testified that he found similar marks of blood upon the window sill of
the hall window, pointing inward, also scratches in the paint evidently
made by someone climbing through the window from without. He testified
to finding footprints upon the porch roof, made by someone either
wearing soft slippers or in their stocking feet. These prints were made
in the thin wet mold which covered the surface of the roof. He found
traces of this mold on the white window sill of the hall window, and
traced prints of it upon the polished floor of the hallway, from the
window as far as the doorway of my room. He could not find any prints of
this nature within my room, nor could he say that the person making them
did not go beyond my room, but only that the footprints could not be
traced beyond my door. The walking of many feet in the hallway between
Mr. Ashton's door and mine had obliterated the marks and prevented his
tracing them beyond that point, if they had indeed gone beyond it. They
were small footprints, and somewhat indistinct, yet showing clearly as
faint, dull patches upon the polished floor. They were clearly a man's
footprints, although smaller than the average man's foot. Measurements
which he had made of footprints which I had made in the gravel paths
upon the morning of the tragedy proved conclusively that these foot
marks in the hall could readily have been made by me. He exhibited
drawings, photographs and measurements as he gave his testimony. I sat
in the dock, amazed, wondering if by any chance I had suddenly developed
somnambulistic tendencies and had performed these various acts while
walking in my sleep. I felt that both the Magistrate and the crowd in
the court-room were already coming to regard me as an extremely
dangerous character.

The Sergeant's testimony was extremely thorough and exact. He showed
conclusively that no one had descended from the porch roof to the ground
either by the vines, or by the lightning rod which I had foolishly
supposed he had not observed, the day we made our first investigation.
He spoke of the woman's footprints in the gravel path, from the corner
of the porch to the main entrance. He then took up our trip to London,
put in evidence the letter he had received, supposedly from me,
summoning him to meet me at the house in Kingsgate street, explaining
that the Chinamen had no doubt been uncertain whether I had the stone or
had turned it over to him, and to avoid taking chances had decoyed us
both. He referred to my offers of assistance in unraveling the case, and
my failure to mention to him my suspicions regarding the Oriental
perfume, or my taking of the cake of soap from the green room. He
described Li Min's attempt to steal my satchel, and my facetious remark
that possibly the Chinaman thought I had the emerald in my bag, which
was indeed the case. Finally he spoke of the finding of the emerald in
the cake of soap in my satchel and the weapon in the drawer of the
dresser in my room, by his assistants, and the latter was produced and
placed along with the other exhibits in the case. When McQuade had got
through it was perfectly clear to the court that someone within the
house had left the telltale marks on the roof and window sills and it
seemed pretty conclusively shown that that someone was myself. I arose
to be examined with a sinking heart. I knew that before now, in the
history of criminal trials, many an innocent man had gone protesting to
the gallows, and already I felt sure that, unless Miss Temple's
testimony was decidedly convincing, I was certain of being held for
trial as either an accomplice or the principal in Robert Ashton's
murder.

My own examination was short. I told my story as the reader already
knows it, and I told it without any hitch or hesitation. If my reasons
for taking the cake of soap from Ashton's room seemed weak, I could only
inform the magistrate that they were nevertheless the ones which had
actuated me. If my failure to speak of the matter to McQuade seemed
suspicious, I could only say in reply that I had not thought it of
sufficient importance to mention to him. I testified that I had last
seen Miss Temple, on that fatal night, when she bade me good-night in
the lower hall, and that I did not see her again until the next morning
when she came into the hall in answer to my cries. I described minutely
the manner in which I was awakened by the short, sharp cry of the
murdered man, and the sound of his heavy fall, and fixed the time as not
later than half-past five, as I had looked at my watch, mechanically,
while hurriedly throwing on my clothes. I felt that I had made a
favorable impression, but I realized that the stern facts brought out
by McQuade would need more than a favorable impression to overcome them.
At the conclusion of my testimony I requested that the Chinaman, Li Min,
be called to corroborate me as to the removal of the cake of soap from
the green room. The Chinaman was already in the witness room, but, when
brought into court, maintained a stolid silence, and even the most
strenuous efforts of an interpreter failed to elicit from him a single
syllable. It was at this point that the court adjourned for luncheon,
after which the examination was to be resumed, with the hearing of Miss
Temple's testimony.

As may well be imagined, I had no desire for food. Nor were my concern
and inward fear of the afternoon's proceedings a result of any fear that
I may have had upon my own account. I realized fully that the testimony
of the morning had been heavily against me, but I would have gladly
endured that and much more, could I have spared Muriel the coming
ordeal. The thought that she might be coming to Exeter to confess, and
thus free me from all suspicion, distressed rather than cheered me. That
she had evidence of importance to put before the court I well knew. Yet
whom could it possibly involve but herself? The Chinaman, Li Min, she
could have no possible motive, I felt, for screening, and the only other
person for whom she could possibly have such a feeling, her father, had
been in no way connected with the crime, and clearly could not have
committed it. The more I thought, the more I realized that logic pointed
its cold and inexorable fingers at her; yet the more strongly did the
love I felt for her tell me the impossibility of such a conclusion. I
cannot express the tenderness, the love, with which this girl, in our
few brief meetings, had inspired me. I longed to take her into my arms
and comfort her, and tell her that the whole thing was but a wretched,
miserable dream. Yet it needed but a glance at the stone walls about me,
the steel grating of my door, and the untasted food which stood upon the
cot at my side, to assure me that this was indeed no dream, but a very
cold and stern reality. It was close on to two o'clock when I was once
more taken back to the court-room, and, as I entered, I glanced about
with an eager and expectant look, hoping to see Miss Temple. She was
nowhere to be seen. I took my seat and waited patiently, watching the
court attendants as they performed their routine duties, or the
Magistrate, deep in the business of reading and signing a number of
papers--warrants, I presumed, for other unfortunates--which were handed
to him by a clerk. Major Temple sat in his former seat, so pale and
still that I felt he had not left it since the morning, yet I knew he
must have done so, if only to catch a glimpse of his daughter as she
arrived in the custody of the officers. Presently there was a stir in
the room, the Magistrate left off signing his papers, and, as I turned
toward the door leading from the witness room, I saw Muriel entering,
with Sergeant McQuade at her side, and Inspector Burns following them.
My heart sank, as I saw how terribly pale and distressed she looked and
with what shrinking she met the gaze of the many eyes now focused upon
her. Her own sought the face of her father. He half-rose, as though to
speak, then sank back into his seat and covered his eyes with his hand.
She did not see me at all--probably because I was so close to her.

The Magistrate rapped upon the desk to still the rising buzz of
conversation among the spectators, then, turning to the witness, for
whom McQuade had placed a chair, began his interrogations. After she had
taken the oath, and answered the usual formal questions as to her name,
age, etc., he began.

"Miss Temple, you have been arrested in connection with the murder of
one Robert Ashton, which occurred at your father's house on the morning
of Tuesday last. The object of this hearing is to fix the responsibility
for that crime, so far as we can, pending a trial by jury. Tell the
Court, if you please, where you first met the deceased."

"In Hong Kong," replied Miss Temple, in a scarcely audible voice.

"Speak a little louder, please. When was this?"

"Last year--in October."

"He addressed you at that time, did he not, upon the subject of
marriage?"

"He did, several times."

"What was your reply?"

"I refused his advances."

"Why?"

"I did not care for him, in fact, I disliked him."

"You had a strong aversion to him?"

"I had. He seemed to me cruel and unscrupulous."

"Did your father know of this feeling on your part?"

"No. I did not say anything to him about it. He evidently liked Mr.
Ashton, probably because of their common interest in Oriental art. I had
no wish to prejudice him."

"When did you first learn that your father had consented to your
marriage with Mr. Ashton?"

"Shortly after our return to England. He told me that Mr. Ashton had
asked for my hand in marriage, and offered to secure the emerald Buddha
for him as an evidence of his love and sincerity. My father, supposing
that I would have no objections, foolishly consented to the
arrangement."

"But you objected?"

"Violently at first. Later on, when I saw how deeply my father felt
about the matter, and when he told me he had given Mr. Ashton his word
of honor, and that the latter had set out upon a life-and-death quest as
a result of it, I gave an unwilling consent and agreed to write to Mr.
Ashton at Pekin, withdrawing my objections to his suit."

"You wrote this letter?"

"I did."

"When did you first learn that Mr. Ashton had succeeded in his quest?"

"At dinner, the night of his arrival. I had not been alone with him,
since he came but a short time before the dinner hour. He suddenly
rolled the emerald out upon the tablecloth, and looked at me with a
glance of triumph."

"After dinner you had some conversation with Mr. Morgan. What was it?"

"I told Mr. Morgan my story. He was a stranger to me, but I knew his
name and his work, and I had no one upon whom I could rely. I told him I
would never marry Mr. Ashton, that rather than do so I would leave the
house, and earn my own living. I asked him to help me in any way that he
could."

"And he agreed?"

"Yes."

"What did you do then?"

"I retired to my room, dismissed my maid, and threw myself fully dressed
upon the bed."

"What time was it?"

"Close to ten o'clock. I heard the hall clock strike the hour shortly
after I reached my room."

"Did you go to sleep?"

"No. I thought and thought about the terrible situation I was in. I did
not want to leave home. I am very fond of my father--he is all I have in
the world. Yet I could not make him listen to reason, in regard to this
marriage. He was mad to possess this miserable jewel. At last I heard my
father and Mr. Ashton come up stairs, and, shortly after, heard my
father retire to his own room. I made up my mind to make a last appeal
to Mr. Ashton, to tell him under no circumstances to deliver the jewel
to my father under the impression that I would marry him, that I would
refuse to do so. I wanted also to ask him to give me back my letter and
to release me from my unwilling promise. I sprang from the bed, ran out
into the hall, and, without thinking of the consequences, went at once
to the door of Mr. Ashton's room and knocked. He opened it at once, and,
fearing lest I might be seen or heard, by someone if I remained standing
in the hall, I entered. Mr. Ashton had evidently been examining the
emerald, as I saw it standing upon a table. He had a pen in his hand,
and was making a copy of the curious symbol engraved on the base of the
image, upon a small piece of paper. He received me with protestations of
joy and evidently thought that I had come to him as his accepted wife,
but I soon undeceived him, and, after stating my case in a few words,
demanded the return of my letter. He was very angry, and at first
refused to believe that I was in earnest. He soon saw that I was,
however, and became very brutal and refused to release me. He even went
so far as to attempt to embrace me, and only by threatening to rouse the
house with my screams did I succeed in making him desist. I warned him
that I was in absolute earnest, that under no circumstances would I
marry him, and then, seeing that nothing further was to be gained, I
hurriedly left the room."

"Did you drop your handkerchief?"

"I must have done so. The one found in the room belonged to me."

"Did you by any chance observe whether or not any of the windows in the
room were open?"

"I did. They were all closed. I noticed it instinctively, because, when
I first entered the room, I was conscious of the heavy, oppressive
atmosphere of the place and, knowing that the room had been long closed,
wondered that Mr. Ashton had not opened the windows. I suppose it was
because his long stay in the East had rendered him sensitive to our cold
English weather."

"After you left Mr. Ashton's room, what did you do?"

"I retired to my own room, partially undressed, and again threw myself
upon the bed."

"Did you sleep?"

"No. I could not."

"When did you again leave your room?"

"About five o'clock. I had been thinking all night about leaving the
house. I felt that, after the scene the night before with Mr. Ashton, I
could not endure another meeting with him. I got up, put on a walking
suit and boots, and, throwing a few things into a satchel, stole quietly
down stairs, opened the front door and went out."

"Where did you go?"

"I--I left the porch, and set out across the lawns, taking a short cut
to the main road to the town."

I observed that Miss Temple was showing a greater and greater appearance
of distress as the magistrate pursued inexorably the line of questioning
that would lead her to the disclosures which I knew she feared to make.
Her face, white and drawn, twitched pathetically under the stress of her
emotions. She spoke in a low, penetrating voice, little more than a
whisper, yet so silent was the court-room that what she said was audible
to its furthermost corner. As I gazed at her in silent pity, I heard the
Magistrate ask the next question.

"How far did you go?"

"I went--I--I think it must have been about thirty yards--as far as the
corner of the house."

"The corner of the west wing?"

"Yes." Her voice was growing more and more faint.

"Why did you not go further? What caused you to stop?"

"I--I saw somebody upon the roof of the porch."

"Was it light?"

"There was a faint light in the sky, of early dawn. I walked over toward
the path, and looked up at the porch roof."

"What did you see?"

"I saw someone get out of the window from the hall, on to the roof.
I--I--They walked over to Mr. Ashton's window and seemed to be trying to
open it."

"Who was it?" The crucial question of all that had been asked her came
like the snapping of a lash, and, as she comprehended it, her face
became flushed, then ghastly pale.

"I--I--must I answer that question?"

"You must."

"But--I--I cannot!" she burst into sobs, and buried her face in her
hands. I feared that she was going to faint.

The Magistrate looked at her sternly.

"Miss Temple," he said, "evidence has been given here this morning which
points strongly toward a prisoner in this court as the person guilty of
Mr. Ashton's death. Your answer to my question may confirm or disprove
his guilt. I direct you to answer my question at once. Whom did you see
upon the porch roof?"

Miss Temple looked despairingly about her, rose with a ghastly look from
her chair, and, facing the magistrate said: "It--it--oh, my God!--it was
my father!" Then she collapsed limply against the rail.

Major Temple rose from his seat and stood white and trembling. "Muriel!"
he cried, in a voice filled with incredulous amazement and horror,
which rang throughout the whole room.

I sprang forward with outstretched arms, but Inspector Burns was before
me. He placed Miss Temple tenderly in her chair: she was unconscious.



CHAPTER XI

THE VENGEANCE OF BUDDHA


When Miss Temple launched her terrible and unwilling accusation against
her father, and was carried unconscious from the room, I realized that I
was, to all intents and purposes, a free man. Whatever the
circumstantial evidence which had been so cleverly brought against me by
the Scotland Yard men, I knew that it could have no weight against
actual testimony to the effect that it was Major Temple, and not myself,
who had, early that morning, crept out upon the roof of the porch and
entered Ashton's room by way of his window. Miss Temple, it is true, had
testified that the window was closed, but she could not know whether or
not it was bolted, or whether Ashton had opened it later, before
retiring, to secure fresh air in his room during the night. To me it
seemed probable that he had. How to account for its subsequent rebolting
from the inside I could not imagine, unless Major Temple had done it,
unknown to me, when we first entered the room on the morning of the
tragedy. I looked to see all these matters cleared up when he was placed
upon the stand, and I was not surprised to see one of the officers in
the court approach the figure sitting bowed and silent among the buzzing
spectators and, laying a hand upon his shoulder, bend down and whisper a
few low words into his unheeding ear. That Major Temple's arrest must
inevitably follow his daughter's testimony was apparent to everyone. He
arose and was about to accompany the officer to the dock, when there was
a murmur of voices about the door, and I saw Sergeant McQuade enter with
the ugly figure of Li Min beside him, followed by the interpreter, while
Inspector Burns, stepping quickly to the Magistrate's desk, said a few
hurried words to him in a low voice.

The Magistrate, apparently very much surprised, turned to the
court-room, rapped loudly for order and motioned to the officer in
charge of Major Temple to release him. Sergeant McQuade, meanwhile, with
his prisoner, had advanced to the dock, and without further ceremony I
saw the court attendants administer the oath, the import of this being
explained to the Chinaman by the interpreter.

I learned afterward that Li Min, upon his first appearance as a witness,
had been under the impression that he was being tried for his attempt to
steal my satchel, and, as he did not then know that his compatriots in
London had secured the emerald, feared to make disclosures regarding his
attempt to secure it which would inform the police of its whereabouts.
The interpreter, a Chinaman of the better class, who was in the habit
of acting in this capacity for the police, had argued with him during
the noon hour, had convinced him that he was not charged with any crime,
that the emerald Buddha had been secured by his friends in London, and
was, ere now, no doubt, on its way back to China. Under these
circumstances he was at last persuaded to tell his story and, after an
interminable amount of questioning, it was at last dragged from him. I
have placed his testimony together into the form of a narrative, which
will enable the reader to understand its purport, without being under
the necessity of going through the laborious cross-questioning by the
Magistrate and the interpreter which was necessary in order to drag it
forth.

It seems that Li Min, a native of South China, and by religion a
follower of Buddha, had associated himself with the reform movement in
China, which has drawn into its ranks many of the most intelligent of
the Chinese. Like many of his countrymen, he was under suspicion, and,
knowing the enmity of the Dowager Empress and her advisers toward the
movement, had come to Hong Kong with the intention of leaving the
country. His engagement as a servant by Major Temple was for him a piece
of excellent luck, as it enabled him to leave China without being under
any suspicion as to his motives for doing so. It was during the voyage
to England, and his subsequent stay in Major Temple's service, that he
first learned the story of the emerald Buddha. Piece by piece he
gathered the details of the story, and from frequent conversations
between Major Temple and his daughter, which they carried on without
regard for his presence, he came to know of Ashton's determination to
secure the sacred relic. His religious feelings were outraged by what he
heard, and he promptly communicated the whole matter by letter to a
Buddhist priest in Hong Kong, with the suggestion that he send word to
the followers of Buddha in Ping Yang. This was done, but much time had
elapsed, and, when the word at last reached Ping Yang, Ashton had
already escaped with the jewel. The priest in charge of the shrine, upon
receiving the information as to the stone's destination, set out at once
for London with two of his followers, determined upon the recovery of
the emerald at any cost. They made such speed that they got to Pekin a
considerable time before Ashton arrived there, owing to his wanderings
in the interior after his escape from his pursuers. They set out at once
for England and arrived in London some weeks before Ashton's coming.
They at once communicated not only with Li Min but with their followers
in London, and a plan was worked out which would inevitably have
resulted in the recovery of the jewel, had it been peaceably turned over
to Major Temple as they supposed would be the case. Li Min was to
notify them as soon as Ashton arrived at Major Temple's, and, after
that, both he and the Major's house were to be carefully watched and the
stone recovered at the first opportunity. They naturally supposed that
the bargain between Major Temple and Ashton would be carried out, and
the stone left in Major Temple's possession. It would then be Li Min's
part to admit his confederates to the house and with their assistance
steal the jewel and make away with it. When Li Min, in waiting on the
table that night, first saw the emerald Buddha his impulse was to seize
it at once and remove it from the impious hands of the foreign devils.
This he was of course unable to do. He then planned to go into Exeter
that night and send word to his confederates in London, as arranged,
but, owing to the furious storm, and the impossibility of accomplishing
anything at that late hour of the night, he determined to wait until
early the next morning. He overheard the quarrel between Ashton and
Major Temple after dinner, and the fear that the former might leave the
house the next day, taking the jewel with him, had left him awake
throughout the night, devising plans for the coming day. He arose about
half-past four o'clock, but, as it was still raining heavily, he crept
silently through the hallway of the west wing to Ashton's door, hoping
to find it unfastened. Upon finding it bolted, he had gone to the window
at the end of the hall, unfastened it, raised the sash and looked out.
It was still raining, although not so heavily, and the light of early
dawn was beginning to show in the sky. He made a quick decision to climb
out upon the roof, enter Ashton's room by means of the window, secure
the emerald and make his way as quickly as possible to the town, where
he could place the jewel in safe hands. But, fearing lest, in the early
morning light, he might be recognized by some chance early riser among
the stablemen or gardeners, he descended swiftly to the main hall, threw
on a long tan rain-coat and tweed cap belonging to Major Temple and, so
disguised, returned once more to the upper floor and thence by way of
the window to the porch roof. He was making his way quietly along to the
window of Mr. Ashton's room when seen by Miss Temple, but he was so
absorbed in his work that he did not observe her. Arriving at Mr.
Ashton's window, he had tried it, only to find it bolted on the inside.
The increasing light showed him dimly the interior of the room, with
Ashton lying asleep in the bed. In trying to force the window he had cut
his hand badly upon a projecting nail or bit of glass, but in his
excitement he failed to realize it, and had rested his palm, covered
with blood upon the window sill, his fingers pointing inward. His
efforts to open the window had also resulted in some noise, which awoke
the sleeping man within. What followed I will try to tell in Li Min's
own words as rendered into English by the interpreter. "I saw the man
(Mr. Ashton) rolling about in his bed. He seemed to be suffering, and I
heard him groan and once cry out in his sleep. I pushed the window
again, and it made a loud noise. The man jumped up quickly, and started
toward the window. His face was white, and terrible. And, as he jumped
from the bed, the hand of Buddha, the mighty, the wonderful one, who
knows all things, smote him like a flash of fire. He fell upon the
floor, uttering a loud cry. I was frightened, and ran along the roof and
climbed into the house through the hall window. I heard sounds of
someone moving about in the room of the young man (Mr. Morgan). I closed
the window, but forgot to bolt it in my hurry. I ran quickly along the
hall and went down the stairs. I put the coat and cap in the closet in
the hall, where I had found them, and went out through the servant's
entrance. I walked into Exeter and sent word to my brothers in London
that the sacred relic had come. Then I had some breakfast and came back.
Afterward I learned that the jewel was gone. I did not know whether The
Great Buddha had taken it away or not. I tried to get into the room, but
it was always locked. At last the dead man was taken away and I was sent
to fix the room. I searched everywhere--under the carpets, behind the
pictures, in the mattress of the bed--but I could not find the stone. At
last the young man (Mr. Morgan) came into the room suddenly, and I
watched him. He, too, I knew, was seeking for the jewel. After a time,
he took the piece of soap and went away. I was a fool--I had not thought
of the soap, which lay there in front of my eyes. It was the only thing
I had not searched. I knew that, if Buddha had not taken away the stone,
it must be concealed there. I watched the young man. I saw him put it
in his bag. I went downstairs, and, after a while, when the satchel was
left unguarded for a moment, I took it. The young man and the officer
were outside and stopped me. When I was taken into the jail at Exeter,
my friend, Chuen Moy came to see me. I told him through the bars what
had happened. I did not know whether the young man would keep the stone
or give it to the officer. I told Chuen Moy that they were both going to
London in the afternoon. I told Chuen Moy to go to London and to inform
our brothers that they might get the stone. I have done nothing wrong.
The man who died had offended the great Buddha. He committed a sacrilege
in the shrine and he deserved to die. The mighty hand of the
all-powerful one was stretched out, and he fell dead. I myself have seen
the miracle. It is the vengeance of Buddha."

I do not know what the effect of this weird story was upon the others
in the court-room, but to me it rang with all the accents of sincerity
and truth. Not that I believed in the vengeance of Buddha, although even
that I was not in the face of the evidence prepared to deny, but the
actual events of his story, as he related them, explained everything,
and nothing. There were no clues which had not been unraveled and made
clear, yet we were as far from the solution of the mystery as ever. My
heart gave a great leap of joy when I heard the Chinaman's simple,
sincere confession, and knew that, because of his disguise, his tan coat
and cap, Muriel had been mistaken in supposing the figure on the roof to
have been her father. For I knew that this terrible thing about her
father, which she so firmly believed, and which she had for days kept
locked in the recesses of her heart, must have almost broken it during
those many hours of uncertainty and fear. Yet for my sake, she had told
the terrible truth, as she believed it, and to save me she had gone all
the way to London, to ask my advice as to the proper course for her to
pursue. I realized what it must have meant to her to launch that fearful
accusation against her own father and I began to hope that she might
have for me a feeling not dissimilar to that which I so strongly felt
for her.

There was some confusion in the court-room when Li Min finished his
story, several of the spectators began to laugh at what they considered
a remarkably ingenious, yet ridiculous, defense on the Chinaman's part.
As they glanced at the Magistrate, however, they saw nothing approaching
amusement upon his grim face. On the contrary it was very evident, when
Li Min had been taken back to his cell, that he not only believed the
Chinaman's story, but had been very deeply impressed by it.

Major Temple was put upon the stand again, but his examination resulted
only in a repetition of his former statements and a forcible denial
that he had left his room from the moment he retired the evening
preceding Mr. Ashton's death until he heard my cries for help the next
morning. There was no evidence now to connect either Miss Temple, her
father or myself with the death of the collector. Li Min had borne out
my story regarding the taking of the cake of soap in every particular. I
was discharged, along with Major Temple and Miss Temple, and only Li Min
remained in custody. He was, of course, held upon the technical charge
of assaulting McQuade and threatening him with a deadly weapon.
Inspector Burns and Sergeant McQuade both signified their intention of
going to London at once. The latter, however, arranged to come down to
The Oaks the following day to make a final examination into the mystery.
He did not believe for a moment that part of Li Min's story which
referred to the sudden death of Mr. Ashton, and was already working on
some theory, which he did not elaborate to me, whereby Li Min might have
been able to open the window of the dead man's room, enter, commit the
murder and rebolt the window behind him after he had left. If he could
establish this, he felt sure that he could send Li Min to the gallows. I
was requested by Major Temple, who seemed much broken in health and
spirits by the events of the past few days, to accompany him and his
daughter back to The Oaks, an invitation of which I was by no means slow
to avail myself. The poor girl was greatly upset, and very much tired
out, and we made haste to get her home as quickly as possible. I was too
sick of the whole matter of Mr. Ashton's death to discuss it, although
the Major broached the subject several times on our way back. I wanted
to get Miss Temple home, where I hoped for an opportunity to have a talk
with her, and to show in some way my appreciation of her efforts in my
behalf, and her trip to London to see me. I had wired the caretaker at
my studio in town early that morning to send me down some clothes, and I
hoped to be able to appear at dinner in a more presentable costume than
the walking suit which I had been forced to wear, throughout my
remarkable series of adventures, for the past five days.

It was close to five o'clock when we arrived home, and I found my
belongings awaiting me. I was given the same room that I had previously
occupied and, when I appeared at dinner at eight, I felt like a human
being for the first time since I had entered Major Temple's door. I was
glad to see that both the Major and his daughter were much rested, and
we sat down to dinner with some show of cheerfulness, Miss Temple
looking especially charming in a green silk evening gown which to my
artist's eyes made her a picture that I longed to put on canvas. I told
her so, and we were soon discussing pictures, and art generally, at a
lively rate. Only the Major seemed depressed, and I imagine this came
from his regret at the loss of the wonderful emerald Buddha. He did not
refer to it in any way, but I was conscious of a far-away look in his
eyes which spoke volumes. What had become of the jewel, I did not know,
but I fancied that McQuade's hurried trip to London had something to do
with the search his men were making for the lost underground temple of
Buddha and thought it more than likely that I would know more about it
when he returned the next day.

We passed an hour very pleasantly at table, and after dinner Major
Temple excused himself upon the plea that he wanted to write some
letters and retired to his den, while Miss Temple and I sat down before
the fire in the library for our first real tête-à-tête. It had begun to
rain heavily outside, with a stiff breeze blowing from the southwest,
and it seemed wonderfully fine and warm and altogether delightful,
sitting here in the firelight with the woman I loved beside me.



CHAPTER XII

I ASK MISS TEMPLE A QUESTION


"Miss Temple," I said, as we sat beside each other on the big
leather-covered settle facing the fire, "I want to thank you with all my
heart for going up to London to see me. I know why you went and can
never tell you how deeply I appreciate it."

She looked at me with her bewitching smile, which somehow made me feel
both delightfully happy and yet vaguely uncertain of myself. "I had to
come, Mr. Morgan," she said. "As soon as I knew the police were
fastening their suspicions upon you, I knew I should be obliged to tell
what I had seen. Yet I felt horrified at the thought of accusing my
father. I could not understand his being where I imagined I saw him. I
knew his mad desire for the jewel and was filled with dismay at the
thought that he would attempt to secure it by such means. Of course I
had no thought then of Mr. Ashton's death. I ran to my room, threw off
my wet clothes, and appeared in the hall just as your cries aroused the
house. Li Min must have re-entered the house just after I retired to my
room. I did not look into the hallway of the west wing. I avoided doing
so purposely, as I did not wish to humiliate my father by letting him
know that I had seen him on the roof. Of course I was deceived by the
long coat and cap. My father is of about the same height as Li Min, and
I had been so accustomed to seeing him in that particular coat and
cap--he invariably wore them when walking about the grounds--that I felt
no doubt whatever as to his identity. Had I found you in London, Mr.
Morgan, I should have told you everything and been guided by your
advice."

"I wish you had found me there," I said, "but, as it is, everything has
turned out well. Only I am sorry that you should have had to undergo
such a terrible experience."

"Oh, it wasn't so bad. They gave me a very comfortable room at the
police station in London, and the matron was extremely kind. I might
have enjoyed the experience thoroughly, had I not been so terribly
worried about my father." The dark shadow which fell across her face
reminded me forcibly of the suffering she had undergone. I hastened to
change the subject.

"Sometime I hope to show you London and my studio under different
circumstances," I said. "I've got a lot of interesting old things there
that I've picked up. You must surely come."

"Oh, I should love to. And your pictures! You must show me those, too."

"I'll be glad to. We will get up a party, some time. I've lots of
delightful friends among the painters and musical people. You'd like
them, I know."

"It's the life I've always dreamed of," she said, her cheeks flushing
with excitement. "I've been to so many places, Rome and Paris, and
Vienna and Cairo, and the East, you know, but I really know very little
about them. The outside I have seen, of course, but the real life--that
I have missed. And now we are stuck down here, where we don't know
anybody, because father fancies it is good for his health. I suppose it
is, but it isn't real, joyous living. I hardly feel alive."

"But you go to London, don't you? Your father spoke of his house there."

"Oh, yes, we are there a great deal, but father's friends are mostly
professors of Assyriology and Egyptology, and people of that sort, and
they come and stay for hours and talk about scarabs and hieroglyphics
and mummies, and all that sort of thing. Sometimes I feel almost as
though I were about to become a mummy myself."

She certainly did not look it, with her wonderful color, heightened by
the firelight and her large and brilliant eyes. I could not help looking
deep into them as I replied.

"We must prevent that, at all costs. Let me show you what it is to
really live."

"Isn't that rather a large order? And we have known each other for so
short a time, too." She laughed nervously, but did not seem displeased
at my remark.

"I think the experiences of the past week have caused us to know each
other very well," I said, gravely, "and I hope you may think as much of
the friendship which has come to us as I do."

"Are we then really friends?" she said slowly. "I never had a man
friend--nor very many of any sort, I fear. We have always moved about so
much from place to place."

I regretted my choice of words. I could readily believe that she would
not find it easy to have a man friend, for he would at once proceed to
fall head over heels in love with her, as I had done. "Perhaps not
friends," I said, and, as I did so, I placed my hand over hers, which
lay beside me upon the leather seat of the settle. "At least not friends
only. I suppose, Miss Temple, that you will be very much surprised, when
I tell you that I have never thought of you in that way. I have always
dreamed, all my life, of a woman like you, who would be close beside me,
and share all my hopes and dreams, and be the cause of them all as well,
and be glad of my successes and not think the less of me because of my
failures. But a woman to be all that must be more than a man's friend,
Miss Temple--she must be his wife."

The color flooded her cheeks as I said this, but she did not draw away
her hand. "A woman would have to be very greatly loved by a man, and
love him very greatly in return, to be all that to him," she said.

"I can only speak for myself, Miss Temple--Muriel. I love you very
greatly, so much indeed, that I am telling you of it now--when I have
the opportunity--instead of waiting, as no doubt you think I should.
But, were I to wait, I do not know what trick of fate might intervene to
prevent me. Your father might suddenly be seized with the idea of going
to India, or Japan, or somewhere else, and I should be unable to tell
you what has been singing in my heart ever since the first moment I saw
you. We have passed through much trouble, you and I, and that has
brought us closer to each other than years of formal acquaintanceship
might ever have done. I want you--I need you--I love you, and I shall
always love you." I drew her to me, unresisting. "Do you love me, dear?"
I said, and, when she put her arms about my neck and her head upon my
breast I knew what her answer was, and that I had found my heart's
desire.

It must have been half an hour later when Major Temple burst into the
library, in a great state of excitement. We heard him coming along the
hall, and I had made up my mind to ask his consent to our marriage as
soon as he came in. I failed to do so, because he seemed much excited,
and asked us at once if we had seen anything of Boris, his favorite
mastiff. He had missed the dog that morning, before setting out for
Exeter he said, but his mind was so troubled by the prospect of the
hearing, and his daughter's arrest, that he gave the matter but scant
thought. He had suddenly realized, a few moments ago, while writing some
letters in his study, that the dog was not in his favorite place upon
the hearthrug and that in fact he had not seen him since his return from
Exeter. He made inquiries at once, but none of the servants had seen the
dog since the day before. I remembered at once the howling that I had
heard during the night and spoke of it. The Major thought for a moment,
then raised his head with a sudden look of comprehension. "Don't you
remember, Mr. Morgan, that Boris was with us when we made our
examination of the green room last night? I do not recollect seeing him
after that. We all left the room very hurriedly, you will remember,
having just learned that my daughter could not be found. The poor fellow
has no doubt been locked in there ever since, and it was his howls that
you heard. Wait until I see if I can find another key--there are two
about the house somewhere. Sergeant McQuade has the one usually left in
the door."

He disappeared for a few moments, then returned with several keys upon a
wire ring. "One of these will open it, I think," he said, and lead the
way to the green room, Muriel and I following him. "Poor dog," he said
as we hastily ascended the stairs, "he must be dying for food, or a
drink of water."

Upon our arrival at the door, Major Temple tried several of the keys
before finding one that would open it. At last the lock turned, however,
and he attempted to push open the door. It refused to open, and felt, he
said, as though some heavy object had been placed against it, upon the
inside of the room. I went to his assistance and by pushing with our
united strength forced the door inward sufficiently to allow us to
enter. The Major took a candle from the room occupied by myself, across
the hall, and we squeezed our way into the room with some difficulty,
Muriel remaining outside. What was our astonishment to see lying upon
the floor, his head close to the door, as though struck down in an
effort to escape, the Major's mastiff, Boris, stone dead, his eyes wide
open and staring, his mouth distended and still covered with foam, his
face wearing an expression of intense fear. It was a horrible sight,
and we looked at each other in alarm. "My God," said the Major--"this
room is accursed. Let us go." He started for the door.

"Shall I come in?" we heard Muriel asking from the hall without.

"No--no!" the Major commanded. "We will be with you in a moment." He
motioned to me to go ahead, and he followed me and closed the door.

"What is the matter?" asked his daughter as she saw our startled faces.
"Isn't Boris there?"

"Yes, he is there." The Major's tone was grave and solemn. "He is there,
Muriel, and he is dead. I do not know what is the secret of that room,
but I shall never enter it again." He turned from us, and lead the way
down the hall.

"Dead!" said Muriel, turning to me. "Is it really true?"

I assured her that it was.

She glanced at me with a scared sort of a look. "Do you think," she
said, slowly, "that Li Min's story of the vengeance of Buddha could
really be true, after all?"

"No, I do not," I said, though I was not so absolutely sure as I
pretended to be. "It is hardly likely that Buddha would turn his
vengeance upon an inoffensive dog, who had certainly done nothing to
incur it. It is a curious and unfortunate coincidence, that is all. The
dog has no doubt died of fright, caused by his unusual situation,
coupled perhaps with lack of food, water and air. Or he may have dashed
himself against the door in his struggles and died of apoplexy. I've
frequently heard of dogs dying from some such cause, especially old
ones. How old was Boris?"

"About four years," said Muriel, and I knew from the way in which she
spoke that she did not believe my explanation of the affair in the
least.

When we reached the floor below, the Major directed Gibson and one of
the other servants to remove the dog's body from the room, and we all
retired to the library, where we discussed the matter for a long time.
Major Temple, on sober thought, was inclined to agree with my view of
the matter, but in spite of our attempts to regard the event in a
common-sense light, we could not shake off a mysterious feeling of dread
at the thought of these two creatures, a man and a dog having so
inexplicably come to their ends in this room. In Ashton's case, at
least, there was a tangible enough evidence of the cause of death, but
in the case of Boris there was none. Major Temple stepped out and
examined the dog's body when the men brought it down from above, and
upon his return reported that there was no wound or mark of any sort
upon the animal that could account for its death.

Miss Temple essayed a few airs upon the piano, but our thoughts were not
attuned to music, and presently, as it was close to eleven o'clock, she
said good-night to us both and left us. As she passed me on her way from
the room, she leaned over and kissed me upon the forehead, and I turned
to find the Major staring at me in perplexity. Poor man, so many strange
things had happened during the course of this eventful day that I fear
he would not have been greatly surprised had I suddenly stood upon my
head and attempted to recite the Jabberwock backward. I at once told him
of my love for Muriel, and of her feelings toward me, and asked his
consent to our marriage. "It is a bit sudden, I'll admit, Sir," I
concluded, "but none the less real and true for all that."

"But, my dear Sir," gasped the Major, evidently very much taken aback by
my flow of words, and my earnest and somewhat excited manner, "I hardly
know you. How can you expect me to reply to such a question, to give my
consent to your marriage with my daughter, when I know absolutely
nothing of your position, your prospects, or your income?"

I expected his objections and answered them at once. "You are quite
right, Sir, of course," I answered. "As for my income, I am making close
to a thousand pounds a year from my profession, which, as you may know,
is that of an illustrator for books and for the magazines. In addition
to that, I have an income from my father's estate of 800 pounds a year.
At my mother's death I shall have as much more. My father was Edward
Morgan, of whom you may perhaps have heard. He was a well-known civil
engineer, and railway constructor, and distinguished himself in India,
in the construction of the great sea-wall at Calcutta. My mother is
still living, and I know she would be most happy to welcome Muriel as a
daughter, for I have no brothers or sisters, and she is very lonely."

At the mention of my profession and my income I noticed that Major
Temple's frown relaxed somewhat, but when I mentioned my father's name
and the fact of his having spent a part of his life in India, he fairly
beamed.

"Are you really the son of Edward Morgan?" he cried, rising. "Why, my
boy, I knew him well. I was in the Indian service for fifteen years, and
who did not know him, who has spent much time in that benighted country?
Many's the time I've dined with him at our club in Calcutta. He was a
fine man, and, if I remember rightly, he refused a knighthood for his
services." He came up to me and took my hand. "It's all very sudden, I
must say, but I should be very glad to see Muriel happily married, and,
if she believes you to be the right man, I shall interpose no
objections. But I should advise that you both wait a reasonable time,
until you are certain that you have not made any mistake. As for me, I
am an old man, and I have traveled all over the world, but the only
real happiness I have ever found was in the love of my wife. She went
out to India with me, and she never came back." He turned and gazed into
the fire to hide his emotions. "I have become half-mad over this
business of collecting antiquities and curios," he resumed, presently,
"but it isn't real, it's only an insane hobby after all, and I have only
just realized how selfish it all is, and how selfish I have been as
well, to consider for a moment bartering my daughter's happiness for a
miserable Chinese idol to which I never had any right in the first
place." He drew a cigar from his pocket and lighted it hurriedly.

I thanked him for his attitude toward my suit, and agreed to leave the
setting of our marriage day entirely in the hands of himself and Muriel.
Then, seeing that he was tired out after the long strain of the day, I
bade him good-night and retired to my room.

As I stopped at my doorway, I noticed that the door of the green room
stood partly open, and, filled with a curious fascination, I once more
peered into its dark and silent interior. I could see only the faint
outlines of the tall, old-fashioned bed, against the dim night light of
the sky without the windows. I stepped inside, acting upon the impulse
of the moment, and striking a wax taper lit one of the gas jets in the
heavy, old-fashioned bronze chandelier. The room seemed comfortable
enough, although I felt that peculiar stifling sensation which I had
noticed upon my first entering it. I looked about, and wondered for the
thousandth time what strange secret lay concealed within its walls, what
mysterious influence existed which was potent to strike down man or
beast alike without warning, as though by the hand of death itself. I
longed to penetrate to the heart of this mystery, to satisfy myself, at
least, that what had occurred herein had not been supernatural, the
action of unknown forces, but merely some working of well-known natural
laws, obscure perhaps, but none the less understandable, if but the
secret could once be grasped. Suddenly I was seized with an idea. Why
should I not spend the night here, instead of in the room across the
hall, and possibly thus determine the grim secret, which had set our
reason and common sense at naught. The idea grew upon me, and so
strongly was I possessed with it that I at once returned to my own room,
undressed, put on my pajamas, and, taking from my dressing-case, which
had been sent down from London, a small pocket revolver that I always
carried with me and had never yet used, I crossed the hall into the room
opposite, carrying with me some extra coverings for my bed. I did not
feel at all sleepy, so, after closing the door and climbing, not without
difficulty, into the high poster bed, I lay back comfortably upon the
pillows and proceeded to occupy myself in reading a magazine which I had
found lying upon the table in my own room.



CHAPTER XIII

A NIGHT OF HORROR


The night that I spent in the green room was in many ways like the one
which Robert Ashton spent there. A heavy rain had set in, and the wind
from the southwest was driving it against the windows of the room, just
as it had done that other night. I had attempted to raise one of the
windows before turning in, but it was impossible to keep it open for any
length of time as the rain drove in fiercely and threatened to flood the
room. As I lay in bed, unable to concentrate my thoughts upon the
magazine I had picked up, I began to reconstruct in my mind the scene
which had been enacted in this room but a few nights before. I pictured
Robert Ashton, sitting at the small, marble-topped table, laboriously
copying the inscription upon the base of the emerald figure, for what
purpose I could not imagine. I saw him as he opened the door for Miss
Temple, his painful interview with her, and his anger at its conclusion.
Then, no doubt, he sat down and thought the whole thing over. He
remembered Major Temple's threat that he should never leave the house
and take the emerald with him. Possibly he may have supposed that Muriel
and her father were in league in some way to obtain possession of the
jewel and thus defraud him, he felt, of the fruits of his labors. No
doubt the question of where to place the stone, during the night, to
insure its absolute safety, became in his mind an important one. He
determined to hide it, and cast about for a place of concealment. To
secrete it about the room would be impracticable: it must be so situated
that he could instantly remove it if necessary. Yet to place it in his
bag among his other belongings would be no concealment at all. Probably
he gave a quick glance about the room, and then the cake of soap, green
like the emerald itself, lying upon the washstand, suggested a
hiding-place which, because of its very conspicuousness, would be
thought of by no one. To cut the cake in half, lengthways, with a knife
or more probably a piece of thread, was the work of but a moment. The
hollowing out of the chamber within, no doubt, took longer. A glance
about for a scrap of paper or other material, to hold the bits of soap
as he slowly dug them out with his penknife, revealed the handkerchief
lying close at hand upon the floor where Miss Temple had dropped it.
Soon the thing was done--the great emerald snugly placed in its
improvised case, and the edges of the two halves of the soap softened
with water and pressed tightly together until they were once more
united. Then it was only necessary to use the soap once to wash his
hands, and the telltale line between the two halves would disappear.
That his plan had indeed been an ingenious one, subsequent events
proved, for the room was searched, twice by the police, once by myself
and Major Temple, and once by Li Min, yet of all the people bent upon
discovering the jewel, not one had given the cake of soap, lying so
obviously and properly in its china dish, more than a cursory glance.

Then I thought, what next? No doubt Ashton had turned off the gas and
climbed into bed. I say climbed advisedly, for the bed, one of those
old-fashioned four posters with a feather mattress under the hair one,
was far higher from the floor than are our modern beds, and to
facilitate getting into it, there stood beside it a little, low, wooden
stool, by which one ascended to its snowy heights.

Presently, over my imaginings, I felt myself growing unaccountably
sleepy and tired. I realized that the strain of the long day had been a
heavy one. In spite of the feelings of horror with which the room had at
first inspired me, I could see no reason for going without a good
night's rest. There was no priceless jewel concealed upon the premises,
to bring down upon me either the vengeance of Buddha or the murderous
attacks of my fellow men. I laughed a little at my earlier fears as I
rose in bed, reached over to the chandelier and turned out the light.
The sighing and moaning of the wind, and the dashing of the rain against
the window panes were the last sound I heard as I passed into a heavy
and restless sleep.

I must have slept for several hours, during which I tossed about, a prey
to broken and tortured dreams. At one time I seemed to be again in the
underground temple of Buddha, and the glittering green figure of the
deity seemed to grow and swell until it filled the whole room, forcing
me down and ever down until I seemed to be choking under its enormous
weight. Again I thought myself imprisoned in a huge cake of soap, which
closed about me slowly and with irresistible force while I vainly tried
to force it back with my hands to keep from smothering. For a long time
I seemed to be beneath a dark cloud which dissolved into glittering
points of light, only to be swallowed up in darkness again. After a time
I seemed to be struggling to free myself from a huge, soft object which
lay upon my chest and threatened to strangle me. I discovered at last
that it was the dead body of Boris, the great mastiff, which, try as I
would, I could not free myself from. Presently the dog seemed to become
suddenly alive and its huge, dripping jaws opened and closed tightly
upon my throat. I struggled madly to extricate myself from his grasp,
but I seemed to be slowly, but surely, choking to death. In a madness of
fear I half awoke, trembling and weak, and, with a cry, thrust the
imaginary body of the animal from me and sprang to my feet in the bed.
I saw nothing but the faint light of the window opposite me, and with a
mad desire for air I sprang violently toward it, my right foot, as I
lurched heavily outward, coming down upon the wooden stool by the side
of the bed. And, as I thus dashed headlong in the direction of the
window, gasping desperately for breath, I suddenly felt a violent
glancing blow upon the side of my head, that shook me to the very
marrow, and stretched me stunned and unconscious upon the floor.

I must have remained in this position for several moments, although I
had no means of knowing, when I slowly awoke to consciousness, how long
a time my insensibility had lasted. Slowly my mind began to grasp the
fact that something strange, almost unbelievable, had happened to me,
although what it was I did not then understand. I seemed to be swimming
in a vast limitless space, filled with light, which gradually
contracted until it became a single glowing spark which seemed to be
myself, my intelligence. This process of coming back, as it were, seemed
to take an age, yet I know now that it could not have been more than a
few brief moments. When at last I opened my eyes, and realized my
situation, I was intensely weak, and still gasping madly for air. I
seemed unable to breathe--my lungs, my heart seemed oppressed as though
by heavy weights. I slowly and painfully struggled to my knees and
raised my hand to my head, which seemed ready to burst with pain. It
came away dripping with blood. The sudden shock of the realization that
I was wounded, together with the sharp pain which the touching of the
wound gave me, roused me to the necessity of quick and sudden action. I
tried to rise, but my legs seemed made of stone. I fell over upon my
side and then began to crawl laboriously and painfully toward the door.
The choking sensation increased every moment. For a time I thought I
should never be able to reach it, and then with a rush I thought of
Muriel, and all that the future held for us, and I made a last terrible
effort, dragged myself across the few feet remaining between myself and
the door, and, with barely enough strength left to reach up and turn the
knob, managed somehow to fall across the threshold and into the hall.

I fell with my head and most of my body in the passageway, and, as a
result of my almost superhuman efforts, must have again become
unconscious. When I once more revived, I no longer felt the horrible
sensation of choking which had before oppressed me, and I attributed
this to the cold air of the hall. I felt very weak, and my head was
lying in a pool of blood, but my senses were fairly clear, and I knew
that I must regain my room and attempt in some way to stop the flow of
blood from my wound. After some difficulty I managed to rise, and
staggered into my room. My first thought was of a flask of whiskey which
I usually carried in my bag. I prayed that in sending down my things
from London it had not been removed. After groping about for a few
moments I came upon it, and lost no time in swallowing the bulk of its
contents. Under this sudden and violent stimulation I began to feel
better, my strength began to return, and I managed to find a wax taper
and light the gas. A look into the mirror caused me to shudder. My face
and the entire right side of my head was a gory mass of blood, which,
even as I stood there, dripped in heavy drops upon the white cloth on
the top of the dresser. I hastily seized a towel and managed to bring my
face to some appearance of the human, after which I soaked a couple of
handkerchiefs in cold water and bound them upon the wound. It proved to
be a long, irregular gash, extending from the side of my head some two
or more inches back of the temple down nearly or quite to my right
ear. It was still bleeding profusely, but the blood matting with my
hair, had begun to coagulate and in the course of an hour or more,
during which I constantly renewed the application of the cold water, had
practically ceased to flow. I bound my head up, removed the remaining
traces of blood from my face and then, returning cautiously to the green
room, entered and looked about me. The light from my own room, and the
gray signs of dawn without enabled me to see that it was empty. There
was no silent figure crouching within, waiting to deal me another deadly
blow, nor had I expected to find any. I took one look about, seized my
watch from the table and fled. But, when I left that chamber of horrors,
and closed the door behind me, I knew how Robert Ashton had come to his
death.

[Illustration: I BOUND MY HEAD UP AND THEN, RETURNING CAUTIOUSLY TO THE
GREEN ROOM, ENTERED AND LOOKED ABOUT ME.]

On returning again to my own room I glanced hurriedly at my watch. It
was nearly six o'clock.

The stimulation of the whiskey had by this time begun to wear off, and I
lay down upon the bed to rest. Presently I fell asleep, from pure
exhaustion, and did not awake until I was aroused by a tapping at the
door. I looked at my watch. It was after ten o'clock, and the bright
morning sun was glistening upon the bare ground and the trees without,
brilliant in their coats of frozen rain. One of the maids had brought up
my breakfast upon a tray, and I managed to take it from her without
exhibiting my bound-up head and generally gory appearance. The whole
right shoulder and side of the pajamas which I still wore were caked
with blood. I sent word to Major Temple that I would join him shortly,
and requested the maid to inform him that, should Sergeant McQuade
arrive, he be asked to postpone his final examination of the green room
until I had seen him. In somewhat less than an hour I had managed to get
myself into fairly presentable condition, and with my head bound up in
towels that looked for all the world like an Eastern turban, I slowly
descended to the main hall and entered the library.

Major Temple was standing with his back to the fire, talking earnestly
with the detective, who stood facing him. As the former caught sight of
my pale face and bandaged head, he stopped speaking suddenly, sprang
forward and took my hand.

"Good God, Mr. Morgan!" he cried, "What's wrong with you?"

I tottered unsteadily to a seat, and laughed. "Nothing much, Sir," I
replied. "I had a bit of an accident last night and got a nasty cut in
the head. It's nothing serious, however."

"You look rather done up, Sir," said McQuade as he examined me
searchingly. "Has Buddha been at work again? Major Temple has just been
telling me about his dog. The thing is too deep for me. I've handled
many cases, but this one beats them all for uncanniness, and downright
mystery. I wonder if the truth of the affair will ever be known."

"Yes," said I, shortly. "I know it."

"You!" Both Major Temple and the detective turned and looked at me as
though they could scarcely believe their ears.

"I know how Robert Ashton was killed, and I'm pretty sure I can explain
the death of the dog as well. In fact, you came very near having a third
mystery on your hands this morning, Sergeant." I smiled grimly.

"What do you mean?" asked the both of them, together.

"I slept in the green room last night," I replied, "and the thing that
did for poor Ashton came very near doing for me as well." As I spoke, I
felt my wounded head gently. "As it is, I fancy I will be all right,
after the doctor has put a few stitches in my head, but it was a close
call, I can tell you."

"You slept in the green room?" asked Major Temple in amazement. "What
in the name of Heaven did you do that for?"

"To find out what happened to Ashton, and by the merest chance I did so.
A little more one way, and you would never have known. And a little more
the other," I added, "and I probably never should."

"Explain yourself, man," said the Major, somewhat testily. "What
happened? Tell us about it, can't you?"

"I can and will," I said, slowly, "but not here. We must go there,
before you can fully understand."

"Come on, then," said McQuade, and they both started toward the door.

At that moment Muriel came in, glancing about, I felt, for me. She came
toward me, as I rose from my chair, with a happy smile, which slowly
faded away and was replaced by a look of deepest concern as she saw my
bandaged head. "Why, Owen!" It was almost the first time she had called
me by my Christian name and it made me feel wildly happy in spite of
the racking pains in my head. "What on earth is the matter? Are you
hurt?" She came up and took my hand, unmindful of the presence of her
father and the man from Scotland Yard.

"Not much," I managed to reply; "just a nasty bit of a cut about the
head. I slept in the green room last night, and, as I was just telling
your father, I managed to find out the secret of Mr. Ashton's death, but
I had rather a bad quarter of an hour doing so." I smiled ruefully and
felt my turban to see if it was on straight.

"You--you slept in that room!" she cried, turning a bit white.
"Why--you--what could you have been thinking of?"

"Don't think about it," I said, patting the hand she had placed upon my
arm. My realization of her concern, her love, her fears, because of my
possible danger, filled me with joy. "We are just going there now, and
I hope to explain to all of you just what happened. But I would not
advise you to use it as a guest chamber, in future," I concluded with a
slight laugh.

The Major lead the way, with Sergeant McQuade at his heels. The little
man from Scotland Yard was all professional eagerness. He felt, no
doubt, that his reputation as a detective had been brought into
question. He had worked on the case for nearly a week and had succeeded
only in arresting a number of innocent persons, while it was left for
myself, a rank outsider, to discover the solution of the mystery which
had so completely baffled himself and his men. I could not help feeling
a secret sensation of satisfaction. The Sergeant had acted very decently
all through, I had to admit, but I had not quite forgiven Inspector
Burns and himself for the famous theory they had so carefully
constructed, which resulted in so much suffering on Muriel's part, as
well as a great deal of discomfort and unhappiness upon my own.

As we followed the others up the stairway, she took my arm and pressed
it gently, and the look she gave me repaid me many times over for all
the horrors of the night just past.

McQuade took out his key as we reached the door of the room, but I
explained that it was not locked, and that Major Temple had opened it
the night before with a duplicate key. The pool of blood on the floor of
the hall, which had collected while I lay there earlier in the morning,
still gave mute evidence of the experience through which I had passed.
Muriel shuddered as she looked at it, but I hurriedly pushed open the
door, and bade the others enter. I had no desire for further sympathy
nor did I wish to bring about any dramatic climax. We all entered, the
Major and Muriel looking about fearsomely as though they momentarily
expected some unseen figure to rise and confront them, weapon in hand.
When they had all got inside, I closed the door and said: "The weapon
that fractured Mr. Ashton's skull has been in plain view to everyone,
ever since the morning his death was discovered. There it is," I
continued, quietly, and pointed to the heavy bronze chandelier which
hung from the ceiling close to the side of the bed.



CHAPTER XIV

THE SECRET OF THE GREEN ROOM


I do not know just what my auditors expected in the way of an
explanation of the mystery when they followed me to the green
room--possibly some well-constructed or finely drawn theory. When I
pointed to the chandelier, they all looked a bit nonplused, and nobody
said anything for several moments. Then McQuade remarked, in his quiet
voice, with a shade of comprehension in his tone and expression: "How do
you make that out, Sir?"

The chandelier to which I had pointed was an old-fashioned one, of the
kind in general use in the early fifties. It was, I fancied, originally
made for a room with a somewhat higher ceiling. The ceilings in the
wings of The Oaks were unusually low, and the extreme lower end of the
chandelier extended to a point not much over six feet from the floor. I
judged this, because I am myself 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 the bed, which, on account of its
great size, extended far out from the wall against which it was placed.
The chandelier was of dark bronze or bronzed iron, and consisted of a
heavy central stem, from the lower end of which extended four
elaborately carved branches, supported by heavy and useless chains
reaching to a large ball about midway up the stem. Below the point from
which 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
octagonal ornamental spike, about two and a half inches long,
terminating in a sharp point. The whole thing was ugly and heavy, and
seemed in design more suitable to a hall or library than a bedroom.
Almost directly beneath it, but somewhat nearer to the side of the bed,
stood the low bench or stool, not over five inches high, the use of
which I have already mentioned. I explained the tragedy 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 or that in the west wall, because of the driving rain. The same
conditions, as you will remember, existed upon the fatal night which Mr.
Ashton spent here. For some reason, which I hope to explain presently,
we were both nearly suffocated while asleep, and rose suddenly in bed,
with but one thought, one desire, to get a breath of fresh air. The
window in the west wall, directly opposite the bed, attracted us. In Mr.
Ashton's case, no doubt, the face of Li Min, peering in from without,
increased his terror. Like myself, he sprang up and dashed toward the
window, placing his right foot, as I did, upon the low stool beside the
bed. His first dash forward and upward, to a standing position, 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 great force.
The spike entered his head, fracturing the skull. He was a taller and
heavier man than myself, and the force of the contact as he sprang
forward and upward must have been terrific. In my case, owing to my
having jumped from the bed at a slightly different point, I struck the
spike only a glancing blow, which was sufficient however to render me
unconscious for several minutes. I fell to the floor, senseless, but in
a short time I struggled to my knees and managed, by crawling painfully
to the door, to escape from the room. The interval, from the time I
first fell to the time I reached the hall and again became unconscious,
must have been very short."

"Why?" asked McQuade, who, like the others, followed my every word with
intense interest.

"Because, had the time been very long, I, like Mr. Ashton, should never
have risen 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.
"Have you 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
nor the Major's answer had conveyed any definite meaning. "Look," I
cried, as I held 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
to play some practical joke upon him. But, when I slowly lowered the
taper until it reached a point a few inches above my knee, and its
flame faded away and then suddenly went out, as though the match had
been plunged into a basin of water, 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 no great 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. Neither he nor I opened the windows, because of the rain, as
you know. Somehow, just how I cannot say, a slow stream of carbonic-acid
gas finds its way into this room. It is the product of combustion, as
you of course know, and is produced in large quantities by burning coal.
It may come through the register from the furnace, or from some peculiar
action of partially slacked lime in the plaster of the walls. Wherever
it comes from, being heavier than air, it slowly settles to the floor,
where it collects, becoming deeper and deeper, just as water collects
and rises in a tank. Look." I tore a few sheets from the magazine I had
been reading the night before, which still lay upon the bed, and
lighting them with another match, extinguished the flame, but allowed
the smoke from the smoldering paper to spread about the room. It slowly
sank until it rested upon the surface of the heavy gas, like a layer of
ice upon the surface of a body of water. It showed the carbon dioxide to
be considerably over two feet deep, and some six or eight inches below
the level of the top of the bed. I knew it must have risen higher during
the night, as it was its deadly fumes, closing about my pillow and
beginning to enter my lungs, that caused my troubled dreams, as well as,
ultimately, the feeling of suffocation which had caused me to awake so
suddenly. A considerable portion of the gas had 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 the
eddying 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, it is 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 awakened by Ashton's cry, until we
finally broke in the door and reached his side. By that time he had
suffocated. The gas, as no doubt you know, is not a poisonous one, but
containing no oxygen which the lungs can take up, acts very much the
same as water would if breathed into the lungs."

Muriel looked at me with admiring eyes. I did not tell her that my
father had intended me to be, like himself, an engineer, and that I had
taken a pretty thorough technical course before adopting art as a
profession. And, after all, the simple explanations I had made were
known to almost every schoolboy with a little 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, did the missing emerald come to be found in the cake of soap?"

"Undoubtedly Ashton put it there," I replied. "He realized the enormous
value of 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 will remember that you and your men searched the room thoroughly
on more than one occasion without finding it."

McQuade looked a bit sheepish at this. He walked over to the chandelier
and examined its ugly-looking spike with deep interest. It was stained
with dried blood and a few bits of hair still clung to it, but whether
Ashton's or my own, we could of course not tell. There seemed nothing
further that we could do, and, as McQuade said he intended going into
Exeter immediately after luncheon to make his report, and have the
authorities make an examination into the cause of the collection of the
carbonic-acid gas in the room, as well as the stains of blood, etc.,
upon the point of the chandelier, I suggested that I 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 way McQuade told me about his attempts to locate the much sought
emerald. It seems that after two days of effort his men had located the
underground temple of Buddha, but, when they found it, it had been
stripped of all its decorations and was merely an old cellar floored
over. It appears that the Chinamen, in taking us from the house in
Kingsgate street, had passed through an areaway back of the house, and
thence through a gateway in the rear wall, into a narrow court, along
which they had proceeded some distance. From here they had entered the
rear of a house facing upon the adjoining street, to which the cellar
belonged. The house had been taken, but a short time before, by a couple
of Chinamen who wished to use it as a dwelling. They were seldom seen by
the neighbors, and visitors came and went at night, unnoticed by the
occupants of the neighboring houses. They had all, however, completely
disappeared, and left hardly a trace of their presence. No doubt by now
the emerald 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 a sort of secret satisfaction at learning this, and I think
Sergeant McQuade did as well. Certainly it did not belong in this part
of the world, and its possession could have brought nothing but trouble
and danger to all of us. I think Major Temple was glad, as well,
although I never heard him mention the subject of the jewel again. I
fancy he felt to some extent responsible for Ashton's death, or at least
for having sent him upon the quest which ultimately resulted in it.

I had six stitches taken in my head by an excellent old doctor in town,
who tried his best to find out how I had come by such a severe wound,
but I refused 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 knowledge visited The Oaks again, although I received a
letter from him later, with reference to the investigation which the
authorities had made into the cause of the accumulation of the
carbonic-acid gas in the room which Ashton and myself had successively
occupied with such disastrous results. It seems that the heating system
in the house had been installed by its former occupant and owner, a
native of Brazil, unused to our cold English winters. It consisted of a
series of sheet iron pipes, leading from a large furnace in the cellar.
The pipe which supplied the heat for the green room, whether by accident
or design, lead directly from the combustion chamber of the furnace
instead of from a hot-air chamber, as was the case with the other pipes.
The consequence was that while the hot air taken to the other rooms was
pure air, drawn from without and heated, that which supplied the green
room carried away from the furnace great quantities of carbon dioxide,
produced in the combustion of the coal. An old valve in the pipe showed
that this source of supply could be shut off when so desired, and from
this I judged that the owner of the house may have had the piping
intentionally so constructed, with the idea of putting out of the way
some undesirable friends or relatives. That such was actually the case
seemed borne out by the rumors of at least two sudden and mysterious
deaths which were known to have occurred in the house. Major Temple,
owing to his long residence in India and the East could not endure a
cold house, and the presence of this heating plant had been one of the
reasons which had governed him in leasing the house for the winter. As
far as I was concerned, I had not noticed the register in the wall at
all, during the night I slept in the room, having forgotten its
existence. I presume it had been turned on by Mr. Ashton. Had I noticed
it, I should certainly have turned it off, as I particularly dislike to
sleep in a heated room.

I reached the house about four o'clock and found Muriel awaiting my
return in the library. Her father, she told me, had gone off for a
walk. We had a great deal to say to each other, and it took us till
dinner to say it, but I have an idea that it would not interest the
reader particularly. We had a lively party at dinner, and the Major got
out some special vintage champagne to celebrate our engagement and drink
to our future happiness. It was late before I turned in, and I did not,
you may be sure, sleep in the green room. The next day, I set out for
Torquay by rail, to explain to my mother my long delay in arriving, and
to tell her about Muriel. With my departure from The Oaks the story 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.
I have not become a Buddhist, yet I confess that I never see a statue of
that deity but I bend my head before his benign and inscrutable face,
and render up thanks for the great blessings he has showered upon me. It
has now been three years since Muriel and I were married, and they have
been three years of almost perfect happiness. We think of making a trip
to China, some of these days, and, if we do, we have concluded to make a
special pilgrimage to Ping Yang, and place upon the altar of Buddha the
most beautiful bunch of flowers that money can buy, as a little offering
and testimonial of our appreciation of what he has done for us.


       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Punctuation has been standardised.

Page 54, "it's" changed to "its" (that its presence)

Page 58, "Sergean" changed to "Sergeant" (Sergeant McQuade looked)

Illustration following Page 276, "GREEN-ROOM" changed to "GREEN ROOM"
(TO THE GREEN ROOM)

The "s" in "street" following a proper noun is sometimes with an
initial capital and sometimes with lower case.





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