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Title: Stolen Idols
Author: Oppenheim, E. Phillips (Edward Phillips)
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 "Stolen Idols" ***

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STOLEN IDOLS

by

E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM



[Illustration]

Boston
Little, Brown, and Company
1925

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Copyright, 1925,
By E. Phillips Oppenheim.

All rights reserved

Published May, 1925

Printed in the United States of America

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                              STOLEN IDOLS

                                BOOK ONE

                               CHAPTER I


The two ships, pursuer and pursued, quaintly shaped, with heavy,
flapping sails, lay apparently becalmed in a sort of natural basin
formed by the junction of two silently flowing, turgid rivers--rivers
whose water was thick and oily, yellow in colour, unpleasant to look at.
The country through which they passed was swamp-riven and desolate,
though in the far distance were rice fields and the curiously fashioned
roofs of a Chinese village. The sun beat down upon the glasslike water.
The air was windless. Further movement seemed impossible until from the
smaller boat, through unexpectedly opened hatches, half a dozen oars
were suddenly thrust into the water. The huge Chinaman who stood at the
helm, yellow-skinned and naked to the waist, picked up an enormous pole
and let it gradually down into the river bed. The oars, languidly though
they were wielded, cut the water, and the dhow began slowly to move. Wu
Abst, the Mighty Terror of the Great River, as he loved to hear himself
described, grinned mockingly as he looked backwards towards his pursuer.
He shouted words through the glistening heat intended to convey his
contempt of those who fancied that he was to be caught napping. Then he
bent over his giant pole and glanced with satisfaction at the distant
bank, which already showed signs of their progress. At the bend of the
river, not three miles distant, was a stretch of water into which no
such craft as that which had chased him could follow. He relit his pipe,
therefore, and smoked like a man at peace, whilst below the sweat rolled
from the naked bodies of the men who were emulating their Roman
predecessors of two thousand years ago. Wu Abst, pleased with their
efforts, shipped his pole for a moment, and, leaning over the side,
shouted encouragement and exhortation to the toilers. Then suddenly the
words died away upon his lips. His whole frame stiffened. The remains of
the grin faded from his face, the whole expression of which was now
almost ludicrously changed. For across that little stretch of river came
the horrible sound of which he had heard, the pop-pop-pop denoting the
use of some devil-made mechanical contrivance, which triumphed over
windless airs and opposing currents.

His horrified gaze became fastened upon the pursuing ship, now also
moving, and not only moving, but moving very much faster than anything
which all the efforts of his toiling gang were able to accomplish.
Bewilderment gave place to anger, which in its turn became merged almost
at once in the philosophy of his race--the graveyard of all emotions! He
shouted an order to those down below. There was a clatter and a rumble
as the men shipped their oars, and another more metallic sound as they
exchanged them for other weapons.

Wu Abst thrust his hand through the window of a small cuddy hole, which
he called his cabin, and drew out a long, antiquated rifle. It was one
of a type manufactured in Birmingham fifty years ago, rejected since
then by every South American band of patriots planning a revolution, and
scoffed at even by West African savages. He nevertheless dropped a
cartridge into its place and waited whilst the other ship glided almost
alongside. His eyes swept its deck, and his bloodthirsty intentions were
promptly changed. With expressionless face he slipped his weapon back
again through the cuddy hole and called down another order below. Then
he leaned over the rail and raised his hand in salute. A man who was
seated aft in a basket chair upon the deck of the approaching ship, rose
to his feet and came to the side. He wore Chinese garb and he spoke in
Chinese, but his linen clothes were spotlessly white and he wore no
pigtail.

"Are you Wu Abst, the river pirate?" he called out.

"I am Wu Abst," was the reply. "And who are you?"

"I am Wu Ling, the peaceful trader," the other answered. "I bring
prosperity to those whom you seek to rob."

Wu Abst spat into the river.

"I know of you," he growled. "You trade with foreign money. You take the
jade and the gems, the silk and the handiwork of these people and sell
them rubbish."

"Where I take," the other rejoined, "I give something in return, which
is more than you do."

"What is your business with me?" Wu Abst demanded, glancing sullenly at
the two Maxim guns trained upon him, behind each of which was seated,
cross-legged, a brawny and capable-looking Chinese sailor.

"Last night," Wu Ling announced, "I traded at the village of Hyest, and
I heard a strange tale. I heard that you had on board your ship a
foreigner tied with ropes, and that you were waiting to reach your own
stretches to throw him to the crocodiles. Is this the truth, Wu Abst, or
am I to search your ship?"

"It is the truth," the other admitted grimly. "He is a foreign devil who
merits death and even torture. He is a thief and a sacrilegious pest
upon the earth."

"You speak hard words of him," Wu Ling observed.

"What words other than hard can be spoken of such?" Wu Abst retorted.
"Presently I shall tell you of his deeds. I like not your speech, Wu
Ling. You speak our tongue but speak it strangely. There are rumours of
you in many places. There are some who say that not only is the money
with which you trade the money of foreign devils, but that you, too, are
one of them in spirit if not by birth."

"What I am is none of the present business," Wu Ling declared. "What of
this prisoner of yours?"

"I shall speak of him now," Wu Abst answered. "Then, if you are indeed a
man of this country, you shall see that I do no evil thing in casting
him to the crocodiles. He was caught, a thief in the sacred temple of
the sacred village of Nilkaya, in the temple where the Great Emperor
himself was used to worship. The priests who caught him tied his body
with ropes--not I. They brought him to the riverside, and they gave me
silver to deal with him."

"Your story is true," Wu Ling admitted. "The circumstances you relate
are known to me. But there were two of these robbers. What of the other,
his companion?"

"The priests say that he escaped, and with him the two sacred Images of
the great God, reverenced for nine hundred years," the pirate confided.
"It is because of the escape of the other that they wish to make sure of
the death of this one."

Wu Ling considered for a moment.

"Wu Abst," he pronounced at last, "you have told me a true story, and
you have acted in this matter as a just man. Therefore these guns of
mine shall bring no message of evil to you, nor shall I declare war, so
long as you keep to your side of the river and above the villages where
I trade. But as for the foreign devil, you must hand him over to me."

Wu Abst raised his hands to heaven. For a time his speech was almost
incomprehensible. He was stricken with a fit of anger. He shouted and
pleaded until he foamed at the mouth. Wu Ling listened unmoved. When at
last there was silence he spoke.

"It is clear to me what you intended, Wu Abst," he said. "There was to
be torture and more silver from the priests before you cast this
prisoner to the sea fish."

"It is a hard living that one makes nowadays," Wu Abst, the Terror of
the River, muttered.

"Nevertheless in this matter I am firm," the other insisted. "Hand me
over the foreigner and go your way. You know of me. I travel into
dangerous places when I leave my ship, and I have a score of men below
who could hew their way through a regiment of your cutthroats, and a gun
in the bows there which would send you to the bottom with a single
discharge. I am your master, Wu Abst, and I command. Bring me the
foreigner and go your way."

So, a few minutes later, a half-naked, barely conscious, young
Englishman, the remains of his garments rags upon his back, blue in the
face from lack of circulation, a hideous and pitiful sight, was carried
up from the hold of Wu Abst's sailing dhow and laid upon the deck of the
trading schooner of Wu Ling. His cords were cut, brandy and water were
poured down his throat, a sail reared as a shelter from the sun, whilst
from a small hose, cool, refreshing water was sprayed over him until
consciousness returned and speech began to stammer from his lips. Then,
from the petrol engine, commenced once more the noise which had brought
consternation to Wu Abst. The ship swung round in a circle and passed on
its way down the river. Wu Abst, with a little shrug of the shoulders,
relit his pipe. Perhaps, after all, there would have been no more
silver!

                  *       *       *       *       *

That evening seemed to the released man like a foretaste of paradise. He
lay on a couch in Wu Ling's cabin, with the roof and sides rolled back
and nothing but a cunning arrangement of mosquito netting between him
and the violet twilight. Above was the moon and the brilliantly starlit
night; on either side occasional groves of trees--trees growing almost
down to the river's edge, some with poisonous odours, others almost
sickly sweet. Sometimes there was a light from a distant village, but
more often they were enveloped in a thick, velvety darkness. And they
were pointing for the great port at the mouth of the river, and safety.
The released man was sipping brandy and water, and smoking. His host sat
opposite him, grave and enigmatic.

"I talk English little," Wu Ling said, "but I understand all. Speak your
story, and tell how called."

The young man raised himself slightly.

"My name is Gregory Ballaston," he announced. "I am an Englishman, as
you know, a traveller and fond of adventure. For years this story of the
temple of Nilkaya has been in my brain. I heard all about it from some
one who lived in Pekin for many years."

"The story?" Wu Ling enquired politely.

"In this temple," the young man narrated, "is a great statue of a
Chinese god--Buddha, I suppose--and on either side of it are two smaller
ones made from hard wood, marvellously carved, and, some say, a thousand
years old. Each is supposed to be a counterpart of the greater God, and
yet they demonstrate an amazingly presented allegory. They bear a
likeness to one another, they bear a likeness to the God himself, but
each is curiously different. In one you seem to trace the whole of the
evil qualities which could ever enter into the character of man, and in
the other, all the good qualities. One is hideous and the other
beautiful. Yet, if you put them side by side and glance quickly from one
to the other, the two seem to grow together so that the impression of
the Image which is left in your mind is that of the great God above.
They are called the Body and the Soul."

"This story I have heard," Wu Ling admitted.

"I have heard it many times, but I scarcely believed it--until I saw,"
the young man continued. "I had only a few minutes in the temple and
there was danger all around, yet for a moment they took my breath away.
I could scarcely move. Why, the man who fashioned them might have been
an oriental Phidias."

"Proceed," Wu Ling begged.

"Well, the point of the story is this. Generations ago there was a great
rising amongst the people, an invasion from the north, and robbers seem
to have overrun the whole place. They sacked even the temples, and the
priests--those who had warning of their coming--stripped their robes and
their temples of all the precious stones which they possessed, and hid
them."

"Hid them," Wu Ling repeated. "Ah!"

"Some of this story, you have, of course, heard," the young man went on,
"because your trade brings you, I suppose, within a hundred miles of
Nilkaya. The temples were rich in jewels--the emperors of China had sent
them gifts for centuries--and the legend is that all the most valuable
were concealed within these two Images--the Body and the Soul."

"That," Wu Ling commented, "is a strange story."

"As I told you," the young man continued, "I heard it from one who lived
in Pekin and I believe that it is the truth. For centuries the priests
have possessed a manuscript which has been handed down from one High
Priest to the other, and this manuscript tells how these Images have
been fashioned, so that there is within them a hollow place. There are
directions for finding it, and for opening the Images, and they say that
without these directions no man in the world could guess how to do it. I
have spoken with one who has visited the temple, and who was not quite
so much pressed for time as I was, who has seen these Images only a few
feet away, and who insists upon it that there is not a sign of any
possible aperture or any break in the wood."

"A simple thing," Wu Ling suggested blandly, "would be to break with
choppers."

The young man raised his eyebrows.

"It is strange to hear you, a Chinaman, propose such a thing," he
remarked. "I suppose any one who attempted it in this country would
sooner or later be cut into small pieces, for these Images are blessed
just as the larger one. But there is another reason against attempting
such a thing. You are a very wonderful race, you Chinese, and you were
more wonderful still, generations ago."

"Ah!" Wu Ling murmured.

"There are plenty of people," the young man proceeded, "who say that
there is scarcely a discovery in the world which you have not
anticipated and then declined to use because the central tenet of your
religion and your philosophy was to leave things that are. Well, they
say that you discovered gunpowder and all manner of explosives about the
time these Images were fashioned. They must always, from the first, have
been intended for a possible hiding place, for the old legend concerning
them--I know this from the only European who has ever visited the
temple--declared that if these are subjected to violence in any way,
then the earthquake follows. The priests all believe this implicitly,
and, although it sounds a far-fetched idea, the man who first told me
the story is convinced that when the jewels were stored away inside,
they were imbedded in some sort of explosive."

"It becomes more than ever a strange story," Wu Ling said didactically.

The young man looked searchingly for a moment at his host. Was it his
fancy, he wondered, or was there a faint note of sardonic disbelief in
his even tone?

"Of course," he went on, "it must sound to you, as it does to me,
although you would scarcely understand the word, like rot, but the man
from whom I heard it was a great person in Pekin, a friend even of the
Emperor, and not only of the Emperor, but of the Emperor's great adviser
whom some people think the greatest Chinaman who ever lived. He had
privileges which had never before been extended to any European."

Wu Ling nodded gravely.

"So," he said, with the painstaking air of one trying to solve a
problem, "you were seeking to take Images from temple, away from priests
to whom belong, that you might possess jewels."

The young man coughed. Somehow or other Wu Ling's eyes were very
penetrating.

"Well," he admitted, "I suppose in a way it was robbery, but robbery on
a legitimate scale. I don't suppose you've read much European history,
have you?"

"Read never," Wu Ling replied.

"That makes it difficult to explain," his companion regretted, pausing
for a moment to breathe in, with great satisfaction, a gulp of the cool
night air. "However, most of the territories in different parts of the
world which England possesses and a great deal of her inherited wealth,
have come because centuries ago Englishmen went across the seas to every
country in the world and helped themselves to pretty well what they
wanted."

"That," Wu Ling remarked, "sounds like Wu Abst, the pirate."

Gregory Ballaston smiled.

"Well," he continued, "the invasion of a foreign country for purposes of
aggrandisement is robbery, I suppose, only, you see, it is robbery on a
big scale. We looked at this present affair in the same way. If it is
true that there are a million pounds' worth of jewels in these images,
what good can they possibly do to any one hidden there for centuries? No
one could see them. No one could derive any good from them. Their very
beauty is lost to the world. Robbery, if you like, Wu Ling, but not
petty larceny."

Wu Ling shook his head with an uncomprehending smile.

"Of course you won't understand that," the other observed. "Still, what
I mean to say is, that the very danger of the exploit, the fact that you
risk your life--look how near I came to losing mine!--makes the
enterprise almost worth while. Nothing mean about it, anyway."

"Ah!" Wu Ling murmured meditatively. "And now please tell, where
Images?"

The young man was silent.

"That's a long story, Wu Ling," he sighed. "There were two of us in
this. The other got away. He didn't desert me exactly. It was according
to plan, but he had to leave first, and he left damned quick."

"And the Images?" Wu Ling persisted softly.

Gregory Ballaston leaned back. The night had become a thing of
splendour, the water, no longer yellow, but glittering with the
reflection of the moon. They were passing through a narrow strip of
country which might have been the garden of some great nobleman's
palace. There were flowering shrubs down to the river's edge, a faint
perfume of almond blossom, in the distance a stronger scent of something
like eucalyptus, and all the time a divine silence. After his terrible
quarters in the pirate ship this was a dream of luxury. The young man
was full of gratitude to his benefactor, and yet he hesitated. Could one
trust any Chinaman, even though he has saved one's life, with a secret
like this?

"The Images no longer stand in the Temple, Wu Ling," he said, "but just
where they are now I do not know. It was my part of the affair--if you
understand military language--to fight a rearguard action. I did, but
there were too many of them for me. They fought like furies, those
priests. I might have killed them, but I hadn't the heart to do it. I
shot one or two in the limbs, and then chucked it when I saw it was no
use. Whether my friend succeeded in getting away with the Images or not,
I shall not know for many days."

They passed a tiny village. From a plastered house with a curving roof,
two lanterns were hanging. A girl's figure was dimly visible through the
strings of thin bamboo, rustling musically together in the breeze. She
was singing to a kind of guitar, an amazing melody, uncouth in its way,
and unintelligible. Yet the young man turned over and smiled as he
listened.

"Is there no other thing but money to be desired amongst you of the
West," Wu Ling asked, "that even in youth you risk so much?"

Gregory Ballaston clasped his hands behind his head. He was gazing
steadily up at the stars, listening to the melody dying away in the
distance. Although he addressed his companion, he had the air of one
soliloquising.

"The further West you go, Wu Ling," he said, "the more you need money to
taste life. Artistically, of course, it's all wrong, but then the
world's all wrong. It's slipped out of shape somehow, during the last
thousand years. We aren't natural any longer. The natural person accepts
pleasure, but doesn't seek it. Directly you seek, you begin a terrible
chase, and we're all seekers over westward, Wu Ling. We have lost the
art of being. We have lost the gift of repose. We have lost the capacity
for quiet enjoyments. Sport, ambitions and love-making have all joined
in the débâcle. No one man can live alone and away from his fellows,
even if he sees into the evil of these things. All life to us has come
to run on wheels which need always the oil of money."

"And for the chance of gaining that," Wu Ling murmured, "you young
Englishmen have come so far and risked your lives."

The young man looked round the cabin and beyond. There was a rack of
rifles against the wall, boxes of ammunition which reached to the
ceiling. The moonlight outside glinted now and then upon the muzzles of
the Maxims.

"You yourself, Wu Ling," he pointed out, "run risks. For what? For the
same thing. For wealth. You wouldn't carry those firearms unless you had
trouble sometimes. You are past the time of life when an adventure alone
appeals. You too seek wealth, and you seek it with Maxim guns and
Enfield rifles to protect yourself."

"There are evil men upon the river," Wu Ling admitted. "There are men
like Abst and others, but these are for protection. We have a proverb in
this country--'The strong man only is safe.'"

"A wise saying," the young man acknowledged drowsily.

Wu Ling rose to his feet.

"Our guest must sleep," he said. "Soon the night will be cold and they
will draw coverings over the netting."

"I'm awfully afraid I'm turning you out of your quarters," Gregory
Ballaston apologised.

"I have others," was the courteous reply. "It is for sleep I leave you."

He passed out and, walking to the stern of the boat, stood pensively
watching a little streak of silver left behind. Forward the young man
slept--slept as he had never hoped to do again in this world. All
through the night they made lazy progress towards the great city which
fringed the ocean.



                               CHAPTER II


Wu Ling, the trader, Chinese representative of the great house of
Johnson and Company, at home and amongst his merchandise, was strangely
installed. He sat in the remote corner of a huge warehouse, packed from
floor to ceiling with an amazingly heterogeneous collection of all
manner of articles. There were bales of cotton and calico goods from
Manchester, woollens from Bradford, cases of firearms from Birmingham,
and six great crates of American bicycles in the foreground. A Ford
automobile stood in the middle of the floor, and, farther back, in the
recesses of the room, which seemed to be of no particular shape, and
which wandered into many corners, were piles of Chinese silks, shelf
after shelf of china bowls and ivory statuettes. Hanging from the walls
were mandarins' robes of green and blue, embroidered with many-coloured
silks, fragments of brocade, and one great pictorial representation of
the grounds of an emperor's palace, woven with miraculous skill into a
background of pale blue material. From the more distant parts of the
warehouse came an insidious, pungent odour, as of a perfume from which
the life had gone but the faintness of which remained; a perfume which
spread itself with gentle insistence into every corner of the place and
seemed to envelop even its more sordid details with an air of mystery.
In the great open yard, blue-smocked Chinamen were packing and unpacking
in amazing silence. The only sound in the warehouse itself came from the
clicking of a typewriter before which, on a plain deal bench, was seated
a black-haired, sallow-faced youth in European clothes. From outside,
there drifted in through the open window, in a confused medley, the
strange noises of the quay, the patter of naked feet, the shrill cry of
the porters and occasional screech of a siren. A white mist hung over
the harbour; a hot, damp mist, concealing in patches the tangled mass of
shipping....

Into this curious chamber of commerce, ushered by a Chinese boy, came
Gregory Ballaston, the Englishman whom Wu Ling had rescued a short while
ago. The Chinese boy murmured something and departed. Wu Ling nodded a
welcome to his visitor--a grave, reserved welcome.

"No gone England yet," he observed.

The young man sank into the chair which the other's gesture indicated.
He had evidently found his clothes, for he was very correctly dressed in
the European fashion. His manner was self-possessed and his voice level.
Nevertheless his pallor was almost ghastly and there were still blue
lines under his eyes. He had the air of a man who has been through some
form of suffering.

"You have heard the story of my friend, Wu Ling?" he asked.

The Chinaman shook his head and pointed around.

"Much affairs," he explained. "Very busy. Smoke cigarette?"

Gregory Ballaston helped himself from the open box.

"My friend got away," he recounted; "reached Pekin and got safely on to
the train. At some God-forsaken place on the way here, the train was
held up. There seems to have been confusion for an hour or so. When the
soldiers arrived, my friend was found with his throat cut, and the
Chinaman who had been his guide and interpreter was killed too."

Wu Ling inclined his head gravely. The story was not an unusual one.

"Robbers in China are bad men," he declared. "And the Images?"

The young Englishman touched his forehead. The heat was great and there
were drops of moisture upon his fingers.

"One was still amongst the train baggage," he confided. "It is now
safely on board the steamer. The other was taken away by the robbers."

Wu Ling reflected for several moments, looking downward upon the table.
He seemed indisposed for speech, and presently his visitor continued.

"Of course," he went on, "according to the superstition, one is supposed
to be worthless without the other. I am going to risk that, however.
Mine is under lock and key in the purser's safe, and I sha'n't even look
at it until we're well out of these seas."

"The steamer sail at four o'clock to-morrow," Wu Ling remarked, glancing
at a chart.

The young man nodded.

"I have been on board already," he said. "I came back to pay my promised
call upon you and to thank you once more for all you did for me."

Wu Ling waved his hand.

"It was nothing," he declared. "Wu Abst, bad man. If he had killed you,
there would have been trouble on the river. My trading all disturbed.
You safe now. Better leave the Image behind."

"I'm damned if I do," was the emphatic reply. "It's cost my pal's life
and very nearly mine. I am going to stick to it."

Wu Ling was thoughtful. Apparently he was watching some of the porters
at work in a distant corner of the warehouse.

"Which Image you have?" he enquired. "Body or Soul?"

"I haven't undone the case," the young man answered. "I don't care which
it is, so long as the jewels are in it."

"You think you get the jewels?" Wu Ling asked gently.

"If they are there, I shall," was the dogged reply. "Superstitions are
all very well in a way, but a wooden image is a wooden image, after
all."

Wu Ling said nothing. There was a curious significance about his silence
which seemed somehow to embarrass his visitor, who rose presently to his
feet and looked around. He was inspired with a desire to change the
conversation.

"What an amazing place this is!" he exclaimed. "I suppose you have some
wonderful Chinese things."

"We spend life collecting them," Wu Ling answered. "In return you see
what we give," pointing to the bales of calico and woollen goods and the
crates of bicycles. "Perhaps you care buy some curios?"

Gregory Ballaston shook his head.

"No money," he confessed. "I shall have to get a credit from the purser
as it is."

Wu Ling rose slowly to his feet.

"Come," he enjoined. "I show you something. Follow!"

The young man, not altogether willing, followed his guide to the extreme
end of that amazing warehouse, through a recess into a further dark room
also filled with a strange conglomeration of articles from which seemed
to come with even more troublous insistence the same curious odour,
lifeless yet disturbing. Beyond was still another door towards which Wu
Ling made his way. His companion hesitated.

"I have not a great deal of time," he said. "I want to see the Consul
before the place closes."

"You have time to see what I shall show," was the almost ominous
rejoinder.

They paused before the door which, to Ballaston's surprise, was studded
with great nails and of enormous strength. Wu Ling produced a long, thin
key from his pocket, which he inserted into a very modern-looking
aperture. The door swung ponderously open. Inside there was no window,
nor apparently any form of ventilation, and again that odour, cloying
and nauseating, swept out in stabbing little wafts, almost stupefying.
The young man, confronted with a pool of darkness, would have drawn
back, but there was suddenly a grip upon his arm like a ring of iron.

"Wait!" Wu Ling ordered. "There shall be light."

And immediately there was. From some unseen switch the dark chamber was
flooded with the illumination of many electric bulbs. Ballaston gasped
as he looked around. It was almost as though he had found his way into
some Aladdin's cave. On shelves of red, highly polished wood were ranged
lumps of jade and quartz, bowls of ancient china of which even his
inexperience could gauge the pricelessness, silk coats, faded but
marvellously embroidered, barbaric stones in open trays, a great circlet
of Malay pearls, and, on a shelf alone, staring at him, bland and
unmistakable, the other of the twin Images which he and his friend had
dragged down from their pedestals in the Temple. Ballaston stared at it
speechless. The face itself had a touch of sphinxlike mysticism, the
remoteness of a god, the benevolence of a kindly spirit. The work in it
seemed so slight; the result so prodigious. Ballaston found words at
last.

"The other Image!" he cried. "Where did you get it?"

"In this city," Wu Ling explained, "nothing of this sort is sold unless
it come first to us. Three nights since there appeared a messenger. I
sought the man from whom he came at his hiding place in the city. With
him I traded for the Image."

"You purchased it!" the young man gasped.

"Whom else?" was the composed reply. "In this country, from the dark
forests of Northern Mongolia, the temples of Pekin, or the mines on the
Siberian borders, all that there is for which men seek gold comes here.
We pay. They sell."

"But you can't keep it," Ballaston exclaimed, "not in this country. The
priests will hear. You will be forced to return it. If it belongs to any
one----"

He stopped short. Wu Ling read his thoughts and smiled.

"The priests of the temple, which you and your accomplice ravaged," he
announced, "live no longer. They were murdered by the people many days
ago, for their sin in permitting you to enter the temple. Furthermore,
the Images are now defiled. The hand of the foreigner has touched them.
They can never again take their place by the side of the Great Buddha.
You bought with blood, and I with gold."

There was the sound of shuffling footsteps close at hand. An elderly
man, dressed in shabby European clothes, stood behind them. He looked
over their shoulders at the Image, and there was for a moment almost a
glow in his worn and lined face.

"This," Wu Ling confided, "is a man of your race. He is of the firm--a
partner--not because of business, but because he is a great scholar. He
reads strange tongues, manuscripts from the monasteries of Thibet, the
archives of ancient China. He was once a professor at one of your
universities--Professor Endacott. He is now of the firm of Johnson and
Company."

The newcomer acknowledged indifferently the young man's greeting.

"You are looking at a very wonderful piece of carving," he said. "I once
spent a year in Pekin to see that and its companion Image."

"Young man has other," Wu Ling explained blandly. "He and friend stole
both from temple. This one come here--you know how. The other he has on
ship, taking with him to England."

Endacott's whole frame seemed to stiffen. He frowned heavily. His tone
carried a far-off note of sarcasm, which might have belonged to the days
of his professorship.

"The young man has chosen as he would," he remarked. "He possesses the
Body, and here, still in the land which gave it immortality, remains the
Soul. Now they are separated. What will you do with your Image, young
man, if you reach your country safely?"

"There is a legend of hidden jewels," was the eager reply. "You perhaps
know of it."

"I know the legend well," the other admitted. "There is treasure in one,
perhaps in both. Which do you think might hold the jewels--the Body or
the Soul?"

"I am hoping that there are some in mine, anyhow," Ballaston answered.

"That may be," was the tranquil comment. "On the other hand, we may find
the whole story to be an allegory. You may discover nothing but
emptiness and disappointment in the Body. Here, at least, in the Soul,
you find reflected by the divine skill of the craftsman, the jewels of
pure living and spiritual thought. You were of Oxford, young man?"

"Magdalen."

"You have the air. Nearly all of your age and small vision scoff in your
hearts at any religion which may seek to express the qualities for which
that Image stands. It is your ill-fortune that you have the Body. When
you are home you will unpack your case, you will place the Image amongst
your treasures, and I can tell you, even though it is thirty years since
I saw it, what you will see. You will see a brooding face and eyes cast
down to the dunghills. You will see thick lips and coarse features. You
will see expressed as glaringly as here you see the triumph of the
spirit, the debasement of the body. You will watch your Image and you
will sink. You will never look at it, you or others, without conceiving
an unworthy thought, just as you could never look upon this one without
feeling that some one has stretched down his hand, that somewhere there
is a murmur of sweet voices speaking to you from above the clouds."

"But the jewels!" the young man persisted.

"Bah!" Endacott muttered, as he turned on his heel.

Ballaston, with wondering eyes, watched the erstwhile professor
disappear.

"Looney!" he murmured, under his breath.

"I desire pardon," Wu Ling interpolated politely.

"A madman!"

Wu Ling smiled.

"He is a personage of great learning," he declared. "He is a friend of
Chinese scholars who have never spoken to any other foreigner. He has
great knowledge."

"What are you going to do with that?" Ballaston asked, motioning towards
the Image.

Wu Ling sighed. He stood for a moment in silent thought, his eyes fixed
upon his treasure. Then gently and almost with reverence he turned away,
beckoned his companion to precede him, passed out and locked the door.

"Who can tell?" he ruminated. "We have a great warehouse here filled
with strange goods, as you see, another and larger in Alexandria, an
agent in New York. All the things come and go. We do not hurry. We have
jade there which we have not even spoken of for twenty years, silk robes
from the chests of him who was emperor, ivory carvings from his Summer
Palace, denied even to the great merchants. Perhaps we sell. Perhaps
not."

"You must be rolling in money," the young man sighed.

"I desire pardon," Wu Ling rejoined, mystified.

"You must be wealthy--very rich."

Wu Ling smiled tolerantly. He turned back, swung open once more the
door, and turned on the light. He pointed to the Image, serene and
benevolent.

"What counts money?" he murmured.

They were about halfway through the outer warehouse on their way to the
lighter room beyond, when a thing happened so amazing that Ballaston
stopped short and gripped his companion by the shoulder. Returning
towards them was Endacott, and by his side a girl. She was dressed
simply enough in the white clothes and shady straw hat which the climate
demanded, but there were other things which made her appearance in such
a place curiously incongruous. She broke off in her conversation and
looked at Gregory Ballaston in frank astonishment. It was certainly an
unusual meeting place for two young people of the modern world.

"I am taking my niece to see our new treasure," Mr. Endacott observed, a
little stiffly. "Will you lend me the key, Wu Ling, or will you take us
back yourself?"

"I will return," Wu Ling replied gravely. "The young gentleman will
excuse."

"If I too might be permitted one more glimpse," Ballaston begged.

The girl smiled at him and glanced at her companion. Mr. Endacott
recalled the conventions of his past.

"I should like, my dear," he said, "to present our young visitor to you,
but I am not sure that I remember his name, or that I have even heard
it."

"Ballaston," the young man interposed, with some eagerness, "Gregory
Ballaston."

"This, then, is my niece, Miss Claire Endacott," the ex-professor
proceeded. "She will be your fellow traveller, I imagine, if you leave
on to-morrow's steamer."

The two young people shook hands, and they all turned back into the
recesses of the warehouse.

"You are coming to England?" Ballaston asked.

She nodded.

"It is so nice to meet some one who is going to be on the ship," she
said. "I came from New York here last month, knowing scarcely a soul."

After that they remained without speech for a few moments. Somehow or
other their surroundings and their mission seemed to demand silence. Wu
Ling gravely opened the door and turned up the light. The girl drew a
little breath of joy as she gazed at the Image.

"But that is wonderful!" she exclaimed.

"It is the work of a great master," her uncle explained gravely. "The
hand which fashioned that Image was the hand of a man who knew the
secrets of the ages, who came as near the knowledge of what eternity
means as any man may. There is much to think about--little to speak of."

Their silence was the silence of entrancement; Ballaston's attention
alone curiously distracted. It was a strange environment for her modern
and vivid beauty, this chamber with its clinging odours, its ancient
treasures of silk and ivory, the time-defying Image gazing serenely past
them. Wu Ling and Endacott himself seemed entirely in the setting; the
girl, with her masses of yellow hair and almost eagerly joyous
expression, a butterfly wandered by chance into a vault. Yet he had
another impression of her before they left. He caught a glimpse of her
parted lips, the strained light in her clear, grey eyes, as though in a
sense her spiritual self were reaching out towards the allegory of the
Image. Then her uncle gave the signal. Wu Ling gravely switched off the
light and they trooped back into the warehouse.

"Somehow," the girl reflected--"I suppose it is because I have just come
from the art classes and the museums of New York--I feel as though that
were the first real thing I have ever seen in my life."



                              CHAPTER III


"Well," Claire exclaimed, laughing at Gregory Ballaston across the
table, "how have you enjoyed your dinner?"

"Immensely," he answered, with enthusiasm.

"Have you ever dined more strangely?"

"I don't think I have," he confessed. "It was most frightfully kind of
your uncle to ask me. I was never so surprised in my life."

"Nor I," she admitted candidly. "To tell you the truth, when we all came
together in the warehouse this afternoon, it seemed to me from his
manner that you were not particularly good friends, and I was afraid he
was going to hurry me off without a word. Then your intense curiosity to
have another look at that Image----"

"Entirely assumed," he interrupted. "I wanted a chance to be introduced
to you."

"Of course that wasn't in the least obvious," she laughed. "Anyhow, even
then I never dreamed of this. It was just when you were going that he
asked your name again and seemed so interested. Do you realise that he
must know something about you or your family?"

"I wondered," Gregory admitted.

She glanced at the door through which her uncle had disappeared in
search of cigarettes.

"Anyhow," she continued, "it is delightful to think that you are going
to be a fellow passenger on the Kalatat. Don't you sympathise with me
for being rather glad to get away from here?"

He looked around at the almost empty room, at the comfortless linoleum
upon the floor, the Chinese servants, moving like ghosts about the
table, at the cane-bottomed chairs, the few articles of cheap furniture.
It was an amazing environment.

"Your uncle," he remarked, a little hesitatingly, "apart from his
household surroundings, seems to be a man of great taste."

"He has wonderful knowledge," she said, "and a wonderful sense of
beauty, but he lives absolutely within himself. I am perfectly certain
he doesn't know that he has eaten curried chicken and rice every night
for a week. Why, if I hadn't thought of it, we'd have had nothing but
water for dinner."

"You're a good Samaritan," he murmured.

"Come and sit outside," she invited. "The verandah is the only possible
place here. We're a great deal too near the rest of the houses, but the
city looks almost beautiful now the lights are out, and the harbour is
wonderful. The chairs, as you will discover, are horrible, and there
isn't a cushion in the place."

"Tell me about yourself," he begged, when they were established, "and
why you came here."

"You see," she confided, "Mr. Endacott's brother, my father, was a
professor at Harvard. He died when I was eleven years old and my mother
died a year afterwards. I was sent to boarding school in Boston and New
York. When I was nineteen I was to be sent either to an aunt in England
or to my uncle here. My aunt in England lives at a place which reminds
me of your name--Market Ballaston, it is called."

He looked at her in astonishment.

"Why, that is where I live!" he exclaimed. "Tell me your aunt's name?"

"De Fourgenet," she replied. "She married a Frenchman, the Comte de
Fourgenet."

"Good God! Madame!"

"Madame?"

"That is what we call your aunt in the neighbourhood," he explained.
"She is my father's greatest friend. You know, of course, that she is an
invalid."

"I have heard so," the girl admitted. "A motor accident, wasn't it?...
Uncle," she went on, as he stepped through the window, "do you realise
that Mr. Ballaston knows Aunt Angèle?"

"I imagined that he might," Mr. Endacott acknowledged, a little drily.
"It was not until I heard your name for the second time," he continued,
turning to the younger man, "that I realised who you must be."

"It is a very small world," Gregory Ballaston remarked tritely, as he
accepted one of the cigars which Mr. Endacott was offering.

"Geographically it has contracted for me during the last twenty-five
years into a radius of a few miles round the city here," Mr. Endacott
confided. "To come back into the world again at my time of life will
seem strange."

"But you won't really mind it," the girl assured him. "You will find a
country house not too far from Aunt Angèle, you will have all your
manuscripts, your books, your treasures round you. It is true, isn't it,
that you sit in your little office every day without stirring? Why, you
can do the same thing in England as here. And then, there must be some
of your old Oxford friends who would like to see you."

Mr. Endacott smiled thinly.

"Thirty years," he reminded her, "is a long way to look back. To pick up
the threads, the friendships dropped more than a quarter of a century
ago, is not easy. At the same time," he went on, "it is right that I
should return to England. It marches well with affairs here."

"You must have found the life out in these parts very interesting, sir,"
Gregory Ballaston remarked. "I don't know whether it would get
monotonous to you, but to any one coming upon it suddenly it is an
amazing corner of the world. Off the ship, I have only seen three
Europeans since I have been here."

"It is for that reason," Mr. Endacott pointed out, "an unsuitable place
for my niece. My establishment here, too, is impossible. No European
woman could keep house under the prevailing conditions. That is why I am
hurrying my niece off, although I myself shall follow before long."

"My father will be interested to see you again," Gregory ventured.

"Your father, if his tastes had lain that way," Mr. Endacott ruminated,
"might have been a brilliant scholar. He preferred sport and life. We
met, not so many years ago, in Pekin. He was dabbling in diplomacy then.
He certainly had the gifts for it. He was, in fact, the most popular
Englishman who ever appeared at the Court there. He was received and
granted privileges where I could never follow him. He was, I suppose,
your instigator in this buccaneering expedition of yours."

The young man laughed a little uneasily. There had been a vein of
contempt in the other's tone.

"I suppose it must have seemed a horrible piece of vandalism to you,
sir," he remarked. "However, there it is. The adventure appealed to me
and we wanted the money badly enough."

His host looked out across the harbour at the swaying lanterns of the
small boats and beyond to the great lighthouse.

"Money!" he repeated. "The password of the West. Somehow I never thought
I should return to it."

"Money counts for something out here, too," Gregory protested. "Look at
your friend and partner, Wu Ling, trading up the river with machine guns
and rifles to protect himself. For what? To make money. He's doing it
for Johnson and Company. You're one of the firm, Mr. Endacott."

The latter nodded.

"Touché," he admitted. "But let me point out to you, young gentleman,
that the things Wu Ling brings back to our warehouses are things of
beauty."

"Which he pays for with rubbish," Gregory rejoined. "Half of your
warehouse is an abomination; the other half, I admit, a treasure house."

Mr. Endacott gently inclined his head.

"I cannot defend myself," he acknowledged. "I am a partner in the firm
because they insisted. All my savings for twenty years, which I advanced
to them, were, they tell me, the foundation from which the business has
been built up. But, believe me, I have never seen inside a ledger. Once
every twelve months, a strange little man brings me a slip of paper. I
look at it, and the business for the year is finished."

"It is perhaps as well," Gregory observed, "that your associates are
probably honest. Wu Ling, for instance."

"Wu Ling is an amazing person," Mr. Endacott pronounced.

"Is he altogether Chinese?" Gregory enquired. "There have been times
when he has puzzled me."

"No one but Wu Ling knows who Wu Ling is or where he comes from," was
the enigmatic reply. "He is a power unto himself."

"He saved my life," Gregory remarked, "but I don't think that he
approves of me."

"Tell me, Mr. Ballaston," the girl asked, "have you looked at your Image
yet, the one you have on the ship?"

"Not yet."

Mr. Endacott turned his head. He was seated on the most uncomfortable of
the three uncomfortable cane chairs; a stiff, unbending figure. His eyes
were turned speculatively upon his visitor.

"If there be any truth in the legend," he advised, "you will do well to
leave it in its case."

Gregory was doubtful.

"I rather wanted to examine it," he admitted. "The part of the legend
which interests me most is the part which has to do with the jewels."

"Naturally," Mr. Endacott agreed, with unconcealed sarcasm. "Yet, in the
story of the fashioning of the Images, there has been nothing more
vehement than the warning issued by the High Priest in whose day it was
done. Here, he pointed out, by the great art of the sculptor, the Body
and Soul were torn apart. All that was good and virtuous and that made
towards the beautiful in life was carven into the Image which our friend
Wu Ling seems to have purchased from the robber. All that was debased
and evil and which prompted towards sin was graven into the features of
the one which you possess. Together, side by side, they were supposed to
make up the sum of humanity--the good and the evil balancing. Side by
side, they might be looked at without evil effect; they might inspire
thought--reflection of the highest order. There were indications there
of what to avoid, what passions to fight against; indications there,
too, of what a man's aim should be, how to uplift oneself above sin and
how to climb always in one's thoughts towards the spiritual."

They both listened, fascinated, to Mr. Endacott's thin, reedy voice; his
still words, spoken without emphasis or enthusiasm, as they might have
been spoken to a class of student philosophers. It was the girl who
first ventured upon a question.

"But, Uncle," she demanded, "you don't seriously believe that to live
with either of these statues without the other could really affect any
one's character?"

"So runs the legend," was the quiet, almost solemn reply. "So it is
written in one of the manuscripts recording their history. The
superstition, if it be a superstition, has at least a logical basis. An
environment of beauty and spirituality tends towards holiness; an
environment of bestiality must, on the other hand, in time debase.
Before these Images were fashioned, the philosophers of past ages used
their symbolism for a text, 'If thou wouldst be holy, live with holy and
spiritual things. If thou wouldst avoid sin, turn thy back upon the
presentment of evil'."

"But you don't really suppose, sir," Gregory ventured, "although, of
course, the idea is beautiful, that there is anything supernatural in
the influence which those Images might bring to bear upon any one's
life?"

"My dear young man," Mr. Endacott expounded, "I do not even know what
empires of thought the word supernatural covers. I have pointed out the
logical basis for such a teaching. That is all. We are in a world here
where one does not lightly reject superstitions. In the West there
exists a great world reared to the gods of materialism, unwarmed with
the flame of spirituality; the world of gold and stone and huge banking
accounts, and prosperous cities, and hurrying, hastening lives. The
Western brain holds no corner for superstitions, but casts them
scornfully away. Live here for twenty years and you find the brain more
elastic, its cells more receptive, even its philosophy less inevitably
based upon the fundamental but dry-as-dust mathematical principles. Keep
your Image in its packing case, Mr. Gregory Ballaston. It will be time
enough when you get home to search for the jewels."

The 'rickshaw which Gregory had ordered came lumbering up the hill. He
rose with reluctance. Even in her stiff, uncomfortable chair, there was
something very attractive about Claire, as she lay with her hands
clasped behind her head, the light of a lantern upon her suddenly
thoughtful face. He reflected, however, with a little thrill of
pleasure, that for six weeks she would be more or less his companion.

"If we don't meet again before I sail, sir," he begged, turning towards
his host, "let me thank you for your hospitality. It will be a great
pleasure to see you and your niece in Norfolk."

"This must be our farewell for the present, at any rate," Mr. Endacott
said, as he shook hands. "My niece is going on board early to-morrow
morning, as I myself have a meeting to attend in the afternoon. My
respects to your father. We shall meet without a doubt in England."

"And we," Gregory added, in a lower tone, as he bent over his young
hostess' fingers, "shall meet before then."

She looked up at him, smiling. They were young and he was very
good-looking. Nevertheless she was American-trained, and it was in a
spirit of frank comradeship that she replied.

"I know that we shall have a lovely time on the voyage. Until to-morrow,
then!"

Gregory Ballaston was carried down the rough road, past the tangle of
high modern buildings--rabbit warrens of humanity--past the plastered
and wooden structures of older days, with their curved roofs and narrow
windows, through the confused streets which at every step became more
thronged, towards the harbour, taking very little note of his progress,
his thoughts engrossed, his mind fixed upon one problem. Already the
memory of that strange meal, amidst surroundings so sordid that even the
girl's presence had been unable to modify them, was becoming
overshadowed. His late host's cold words of advice seemed to have made
not the slightest impression upon him. He thought of the small packing
case in the purser's office with almost feverish impatience, joyful of
the permission to sleep on board for the night, anxious only for the
moment when he should reach the quay. Somehow or other Endacott's
serious, stilted talk had immensely confirmed his belief in the
existence of the jewels, and as for the rest--the warning he had
received--this, in all probability, simply proceeded from the vapourings
of a mind steeped in Orientalism, the mind of a scholar, removed for
half a lifetime from the whole world of common sense and possibilities.
Morally, he was as other young men. He would have scorned to cheat or
lie; he had an inherited sense of honour and a sportsman's probity. A
mean action would have revolted him--he was capable of a great one. He
was a little selfish, a little narrow in his pride of name and race, as
courageous as any man might be, with the undoubted conceit of his class.
Such as he was, he had no fear of change. He had never indulged in
self-analysis. He accepted himself for what he was, which, on the whole,
was something a little better than the average. He had no presentiment
of even temporary ill-fortune, as he stepped into the ship's boat
waiting by the quay, and looked eagerly across the harbour to where the
great steamer lay anchored with her blazing line of lights.



                               CHAPTER IV


At very nearly the hour of his former visit, Gregory Ballaston entered
the warehouse of Messrs. Johnson and Company, on the following morning.
Wu Ling, seated at his table, waved away the stolid-looking native
foreman to whom he was giving orders, and glanced enquiringly at his
visitor.

"Ship not gone?" he asked.

"We don't sail until the afternoon," Gregory reminded him. "Haven't got
all our fresh stores shipped, or something. I came back to have a talk.
Do you mind?"

Wu Ling's gesture was noncommittal. The young man continued.

"Last night," he confided, sinking into a chair, "I unpacked my Image. I
took it out and looked at it, with my porthole closed and my door
locked, although I imagine that now that the priests are dead there is
no fear of my being followed.--Wu Ling, I wish to God that you were an
Englishman!"

"Why for?"

"I could talk to you more easily."

There was a brief silence. Wu Ling, stolid, powerful, imperturbable, sat
with his keen enquiring eyes fixed upon his visitor. Gregory showed
signs of some slight relapse from his well-being of the day before. His
natural, bronzed complexion which had almost reasserted itself, seemed
to have given place again to the pallor which denoted a sleepless night.
There were lines under his eyes, a restlessness in his manner.

"You found Image bad company?" Wu Ling enquired.

"I hate the beastly thing already," Gregory acknowledged.

Wu Ling clapped his hands softly together. The screen of bamboos was
pushed to one side and Mr. Endacott appeared. He had discarded his
European clothes in favour of the dress of a native Chinese gentleman,
and he carried a white umbrella.

"Our young friend again," he remarked, with a brief salutation.

Wu Ling pointed to a chair.

"He wish talk to you."

Mr. Endacott glanced at his watch before he sat down.

"I am about to visit the head of the Chinese University here," he
announced. "A man of rare intelligence and great learning! Why should I
waste my time? Have you found the jewels in your Image, Mr. Ballaston?"

"Not a sign of them up to the present, sir," Gregory admitted. "I am not
very happy about them, either. As you know, the whole thing was a pretty
dangerous enterprise, and I've only half succeeded. The Image is heavy
enough, but I can't see any possible aperture anywhere."

"The recovery of the jewels," Mr. Endacott remarked, leaning a little
forward, with his hands clasped upon the knob of his umbrella, "was
scarcely likely to be a simple matter."

"I realise that," Gregory confessed. "Already I am beginning to feel a
sort of hatred of the thing. For the first time last night," he went on,
"I felt inclined to take seriously what Wu Ling here and you have said
of these Images; that neither of them has any real existence separately.
Side by side they have looked down upon that procession of worshippers
through all these years. Side by side they must be, you have told me,
according to the superstition, if the jewels are to be found."

Mr. Endacott inclined his head.

"Our young friend is showing signs of intelligence," he admitted. "He is
beginning to travel along the lines of the allegory."

"If this is true," Gregory asked bluntly, "what is the use of my taking
one to England and leaving the other here in this warehouse?"

"The only reason for such a course seems to be," his companion murmured,
"that one does not belong to you. Perhaps you can trade with the firm. I
myself am not a trader. Wu Ling is. Wu Ling, I am sure, is at your
disposal."

"How can I trade?" Gregory demanded. "What do you suppose brought me out
here on an enterprise like this? Love of adventure a good deal, I grant
you, but, behind it all, sheer and absolute need of money. We are poor
in England to-day, Mr. Endacott, we people with estates. I haven't the
money to buy your Image. After my experience of last night I would
rather consider an offer from you for mine."

Wu Ling smiled. He talked for a moment in Chinese to his companion. The
latter showed signs of agreement.

"Wu Ling's attitude is mine," Mr. Endacott pronounced. "If by any chance
you had acquired the statue we possess and we had yours, the firm of
Johnson and Company would trade. Not now. We are content."

"Then you don't believe in your own allegory?" Gregory queried.

Wu Ling was looking into the dark recesses of the warehouse. There was
nothing to indicate that he had heard or understood, but it was he who
replied.

"Yes, I believe in it," he admitted. "We both believe in it, but we have
many jewels and I think that these will be hard to find."

"If you had both the Images," Gregory suggested, "you could break them
up."

Mr. Endacott raised his hand to his forehead as though in pain. Wu
Ling's expression appeared unchanged. Yet somehow or other he gave one
the impression of having listened with distaste to words of blasphemy.

"You speak like a huckster from the new cities," Mr. Endacott said
wearily. "They are great works of art, these Images, sanctified by the
years, alive by virtue of their greatness. To raise a hand against them
would be barbarous. Besides, Wu Ling and I believe the legend. We
believe that those will die who treat the Images roughly."

Gregory remained discontented. He took a cigarette from the large wooden
box which Wu Ling pushed towards him. The box was of some sort of
sandalwood, but it, too, seemed to give out the peculiar odour of the
place.

"Last night," he confided, "when I sat alone with my Image, it came back
to me how my father himself had insisted upon the necessity for securing
both Images. He too must have been impressed by the legend. He'll think
my errand a failure if I return with one."

"Without money how buy?" Wu Ling asked. "Johnson and Company, we are
traders. For gold we sell anything on earth. Without gold, how can buy?"

"It is a problem," Gregory admitted gloomily.

"You had, perhaps, a proposition?" Mr. Endacott suggested.

"Something of the sort. That is why I came to see you this morning. I
wondered whether you would let me take your Image to England with mine,
and, whilst they were together, have them examined in the British
Museum, and see if any possible trace of opening or access to the
interior of them is to be found? Of course, I shall do that with mine
when I get there, anyhow, but you see I am beginning to fall in line
with your superstition. I feel that both Images ought to be treated at
the same time."

"And if the jewels should be discovered?" Mr. Endacott enquired.

"We would divide equally," was Gregory's prompt proposal.

Wu Ling, a man not given to gestures, beat the air in front of him
gently with the fingers of his hands.

"We would not agree," he said. "I would not agree. Mr. Endacott would
not agree. Our partner, who is not here, would not agree."

Gregory frowned. He followed Wu Ling's steadfast gaze, followed it into
the further recesses of the second warehouse. He began to think of the
Image he had lost, the Image in the steel chamber. A sense of its beauty
suddenly possessed him. He coveted it passionately.

"In a way," he ventured, "the Image which you have locked up there, the
Image which you call the Soul, rather belongs to me, don't you think? I
have, at least, a claim upon it. I fought to secure it. My friend lost
his life in defending it."

Wu Ling's smile was almost a genuine effort at mirth. Mr. Endacott
chuckled sardonically.

"If I were you, young man," he advised, "I don't think that I would
pursue that line of argument."

"It was stolen property," Gregory persisted doggedly.

"And the stolen property was stolen," Mr. Endacott reminded him.

There was a silence. An impasse seemed to have been reached. It seemed
indeed as though there were nothing more to be done, no further argument
he could use. Yet Gregory Ballaston sat as though rooted to the spot. To
leave the place with his desire unattained seemed almost a physical
impossibility. Then, unexpectedly, Wu Ling spoke at some length.

"What you come here to say," he began, "has reason. You come here with
an idea which is right. Body and Soul you cannot part. Your Image
without that one which belongs to Johnson and Company is a thing of
evil. The Image we have locked in our treasure chamber is a thing of
great beauty, and no more. You who desire the jewels cannot buy. We, to
whom the jewels mean little, will not sell. Listen to me, young
gentleman. I propose something."

"Go on," Gregory begged eagerly.

"You," Wu Ling continued, "have a quality of the Chinese in you, or you
would not have risked life for this adventure. You are gambler. Me too.
I offer this. I will gamble with you for the two Images."

Gregory Ballaston held his cigarette away from his mouth and stared at
the speaker. Temporarily, at any rate, his nonchalance had left him.

"Are you in earnest?" he demanded.

Wu Ling nodded gravely. Gregory glanced towards the professor. The
latter also inclined his head gently.

"If Wu Ling says so," he murmured.

"Gamble! But how? What games do we both know?"

"There is a Chinese game," Wu Ling began----

"Not having any," Gregory interrupted drily. "I have heard of these
Chinese games. What about poker?"

"Not understand," Wu Ling regretted.

Gregory sat for a moment or two deep in disturbed thought. More than
anything he had ever coveted in the world he coveted that other Image.

"Look here," he decided at last, "I accept. But we don't need to play a
game at all. Send for a pack of cards, have them well shuffled and deal
a card to each of us. The highest wins."

Wu Ling nodded approvingly.

"It is simple," he assented. "We do that. If you win, my porters shall
pack Image and you can take it to ship. If you lose you bring yours
here."

Gregory moistened his lips which were already a little dry.

"It is agreed," he said.

Wu Ling opened one of the lower drawers of his desk. He searched for a
few moments and then produced an ordinary pack of playing cards. He laid
them upon the table.

"In here?" Gregory demanded, glancing at the silent forms, always moving
around them.

"Why not?" Wu Ling replied. "What we do is nothing to them. They see
nothing. They work."

Mr. Endacott chuckled as he took the cards in his hands and shuffled
them.

"You will lose, young man," he warned Gregory. "I've seen a great many
games of cards in this city, but I have never yet seen a European who
could hold his own against a Chinese."

"This isn't a game," Gregory pointed out. "It's just a show-down. My
chance must be as good as his. We'll make it the best of three, though."

"How?" Wu Ling queried politely.

"A card each three times," his partner explained, "and the one who wins
twice out of three times gets the Images. It appears to me that I too am
rather largely interested in this. Any choice as to who turns the first
card up?"

Gregory shook his head, cut the cards which were handed to him, and
passed them to Wu Ling. The latter hesitated only for the fraction of a
second. Then he threw one card to his opponent and one to himself.
Gregory's card was a knave; his own a queen.

"One up to the firm," Mr. Endacott observed.

Gregory took the cards. His hands were beginning to shake. He gave his
opponent a four. He himself threw down a ten.

"One each," he exclaimed, trying his best to keep his tone level.

He shuffled and passed the cards across once more. Wu Ling sat for a
moment toying with them, almost as though in silent prayer. Then he
threw a card to Gregory.

"A king!" the latter cried exultantly.

"And the firm has an ace," Mr. Endacott pointed out, as Wu Ling's card
fell upon the table.

Gregory sat staring at it, motionless and rigid, the light of triumph
fading from his face. There had been gamblers in his family, though, and
heredity asserted itself. He rose calmly to his feet.

"I'll go down and pack the Image," he said.

Wu Ling clapped his hands. His expression had never varied. He showed no
signs, even of content.

"There will be porters who attend you," he announced. "They will follow
your 'rickshaw and bring back the Image."

Gregory held out his hand, even then scarcely realising the position.
All this risk and privation for nothing, his friend's life for nothing,
all gone on the turn of a card. For a moment the place with its strange
atmosphere seemed unreal, his adventure a nightmare. Then he heard Wu
Ling giving orders to the foreman and saw him point to the harbour. He
choked down his feelings.

"I shall not sympathise with you," Mr. Endacott said, as he shook hands.
"Your enterprise has never commended itself to me, and your possession
of the Body without the Soul was never a thing to be envied."

Gregory could not trust himself to reply. He held out his hand to Wu
Ling, who took it gravely.

"At least, Wu Ling," he said, "if you have spoilt my trip out here, you
saved my life. I don't think it's worth much, but I thank you. Send the
porters along."

He turned and left the place; a tall, slim figure, graceful and trim in
his well-fitting clothes, the strangest contrast to the blue-smocked
coolies and one or two native traders through whom he had almost to push
his way. He walked out into the broiling sun and disappeared.

Mr. Endacott glanced at Wu Ling, and Wu Ling, with the cards in his
hand, smiled back at him.

The morning wore on, the afternoon came and passed. Mr. Endacott, who
had spent a pleasant few hours with his Chinese friend, returned to find
repose reigning throughout the rambling premises of Messrs. Johnson and
Company. A fierce sun had suddenly blazed once more through the drifting
masses of mist--gone now, as breath from a looking-glass. The water in
the harbour was indigo blue, the junks and dhows and native fishing
craft were all becalmed, like painted ships upon a still ocean. The
sirens blew no more. All who could were at rest. The porters in the
warehouse had crept into the dark shady corners and lay there
motionless. Half a dozen clerks, young men of superior station who wore
European clothes and babbled a little English, had retired to the
shelter of an adjoining tea house. Only Wu Ling sat still in his place,
waiting. Mr. Endacott took in the situation at a glance.

"They have not returned, our porters?" he enquired.

"Not yet."

"And the ship sails?"

"It is past due."

Endacott smiled.

"The truth is as old as life," he said. "The things which are written
here are written behind the veil. That young man came from what, from a
Western point of view, we used to think good stock. His father was under
me at Oxford. His grandfather and generations before him were men of
good repute. Still, that counts for nothing, and we know why. He has the
Body. Why wait, Wu Ling?"

"You think that his word it is broken," the latter asked, "broken to us
who scorned even to watch him to the ship?"

Mr. Endacott shook his head.

"He has the Body," he repeated.

There was a pattering of feet outside; feet that passed swiftly across
the pavement of blistered heat. A little troop of porters entered and
sought shelter. The foreman advanced and stood silent before Wu Ling's
desk.

"Speak," Wu Ling directed.

"We waited on the dock," the man recounted. "We waited in the heat.
Hours went by. Then, as the ship moved away, the Englishman leaned over
the rail. He called out to us, 'There is nothing to send back.' Then he
disappeared."

"So you returned," Wu Ling murmured.

"So we returned," the man assented.

Wu Ling rose to his feet and stood at the window. There was a clamour of
sirens blowing through the sultry, stagnant air, a waving of
handkerchiefs from a distant dock. A great steamer was drifting out, her
bows set westward. Wu Ling watched her gathering speed through the lazy
sea, leaving behind her a wake like a rope of snow in the deep blue of
the waters which she parted. The smoke belched from her funnels.
Somewhere on board her was Gregory Ballaston and his booty. Endacott
laid his hand upon the arm of Wu Ling whom he loved.

"The young man has done ill," he said, "but the Soul is ours."



                               CHAPTER V


"Steward," Gregory asked him, standing up in the center of his
stateroom, his hands behind his back, "do I look drunk?"

The steward was used to eccentric passengers and answered as though the
question were an entirely reasonable one.

"For a young gentleman as hasn't moved out of his stateroom for two
days, and 'as had a good deal more to drink than to eat," he pronounced,
"you look wonderful, sir."

"Fetch me a whisky and soda, then."

"Certainly, sir."

The man withdrew, closing the door behind him. Gregory drew back the
curtain of his upper bunk and again, with tireless eyes, he stared at
the treasure which had cost him his friend's life, and, as it seemed to
him sometimes now, especially in those horrible watches of the night,
his own honour. Always there was the same fascination. Every time he
looked, he fancied that he discovered some fresh horror in that grim yet
superbly bestial face.

"You are ugly," he said softly, as he dropped the curtain. "You are
damnably ugly! I wish you were at the bottom of the sea, and yet I can't
part with you."

The steward brought him the whisky and soda. He paused for a moment
before drinking it.

"What's your name?" he demanded.

"Perkins, sir."

"Well then, Perkins," he directed, "please see the second steward for
me. Try to get me a small table in the saloon, alone in a corner, and I
will go in to dinner to-night."

"Very good, sir," the man replied, as he made his exit. "There will be
plenty of room to sit just where you please until we get to Bombay."

Once more Gregory pushed aside the curtain, raised his glass and drained
its contents, his eyes fixed all the time upon the Image. He set down
the empty tumbler.

"That's what you like; to see me drink, isn't it?" he murmured softly.
"You'd like the whole world to be as foul as the things some devil has
carved into your face. Yet I suppose I would forgive you if only you
would give up your secret."

For the hundredth time he passed his fingers over the carved head;
fingers which were long and slim and sensitive of touch. Nowhere,
however, could they discover the slightest sign of any join or any
possible aperture, however cunningly concealed. The wood had become as
smooth and hard as marble, black as jet, shining as though with
generations of polish. Gregory drew the curtain and turned away, baffled
once more. With his back turned to the Image he made a long and
deliberate toilet. Afterwards he lit a cigarette and for the first time
since he had boarded the steamer, ventured on deck to find only a few
people promenading, a dozen or so drinking cocktails in the smoking
room. There was no sign of the person he longed yet dreaded to see. The
heat was great but it was not unusually oppressive. In the west, a
blood-red sun, pencils of black cloud surrounding it, seemed almost to
be falling into the ocean. Gregory loitered about until long after the
bugle had sounded, and then, summoning up all his courage, descended to
take his place in the saloon. The second steward hurried forward to meet
him and showed him his table. He breathed a sigh of relief as he
realised its isolation.

"I have given you a table to yourself, sir, as Perkins seemed to think
you wanted it," he announced, "but if you would care for a seat at the
captain's table--that was where we had intended to put you--it could be
arranged now, if you preferred it."

"Not on any account," Gregory begged earnestly. "I've been laid up. Must
be quiet. This exactly suits me."

He continued a conversation for some minutes, accepted the wine list,
studied the menu, gave his orders, and finally ventured to look around.
She was there, seated on the right hand of the captain, her inevitable
place under the circumstances. Their eyes met. Without hesitation she
smiled a greeting. Gregory half rose in his place and bowed. When he sat
down he realised that both his hands were clenched, the white of the
knuckles showing through the skin. His breath was coming a little
quickly. It was an absurd thing but he had a feeling that he had passed
through one of the crises of his life. There had been no message then
from her uncle--no wireless. She knew nothing.

Afterwards he came across her on deck, talking to an elderly woman whom
he realised must be the Mrs. Hichens of whom she had spoken as a
possible chaperone. She turned round at once and welcomed him smilingly.
There was a shade of reproach in her tone.

"I was beginning to wonder what had become of you, Mr. Ballaston," she
said. "Let me present you to my chaperone, Mrs. Hichens."

Gregory acknowledged the introduction and spent the next few minutes
searching for and arranging their chairs.

"I suppose I have been outrageously lazy," he confessed, when at last he
had installed them. "That trip of mine into the interior, which you
heard me speaking of with your uncle, was rather an exhausting affair."

"Some day you must tell me the whole story," she begged. "The snatches I
heard of it were most romantic. You came back in Wu Ling's trading
schooner, didn't you?"

"Wu Ling," Gregory confided, "saved my life, and brought me back to the
city. I got into trouble. I was certainly somewhere where I had no right
to be, and I was handed over to Wu Abst, the famous pirate, by a couple
of fanatical priests, with instructions that I was to become nourishment
for the alligators. Wu Ling heard about it at one of the villages where
he was trading and released me. It sounds like a page from somebody's
novel, doesn't it? It was all very real at the time, though."

They both looked at him curiously, but the older woman had lived for
some time in a country where few questions were asked, and Claire was
more concerned with the shadow of either pain or sleeplessness which
seemed to darken his face.

"I can quite understand your feeling like a rest," she said
sympathetically. "I thought you looked terribly ill the day we met in
the warehouse."

She picked up a book, merely with the idea of giving him an opportunity
to pass on if he cared to, but after strolling about the deck aimlessly
for a quarter of an hour, he returned to find her with her book still
unopened, her mind, as a matter of fact, occupied with him and his
story. She accepted immediately his invitation to walk. They went on to
the upper deck and looked down together at the oily water with its
streak of phosphorescence. They talked of the ship, of such of their
fellow passengers as they had observed, and of the route home, with a
certain obvious attempt at casualness; conversation of little import,
yet almost a necessary stepping-stone to more intimate understanding.
Claire's perceptions were keen enough for her to realise that this young
man was scarcely in a normal condition.

"You have had no wireless from your uncle or from the firm since you
left?" he asked, a little abruptly.

She shook her head.

"You asked me that before," she reminded him. "Why on earth should I? We
said good-by early in the morning after the night you dined with us.
Uncle would never dream of coming to see me off. He hates steamers and
he hates what he calls 'looking westwards.' How he will survive life in
England I am sure I can't imagine, except that he does sometimes still
admit that English country life is wonderful."

"He really means to come then?"

"Why, surely."

"And you? Shall you like it?"

She assented a little doubtfully.

"I think I would rather live in New York," she confessed, "but I can't
fancy Uncle there. I think that would be expecting a little too much of
him. He still has friends and a few relatives in England."

"Pretty sporting of him to break away at all," Gregory observed, "after
all these years."

"I think it is marvellous," she agreed. "I am sure if I hadn't come,
he'd rather go on living in that strange, smelly little house of his
and read Chinese manuscripts and interpret Chinese hieroglyphics
round old ornaments, and talk Chinese literature with some of the
quaintest-looking people you ever saw up at the University, than do
anything else in the world."

"All the same," Gregory remarked, "they say that a man should always
return to the country of his birth to end his days. Besides, China is no
place for an Englishman after a certain number of years. He'd become
nothing but an old fossil without the society of his own kind."

"What a nice, consoling person you are," she declared. "Sometimes I've
had it on my conscience a little that I'm taking him away from the
things he likes best in life."

"I shouldn't worry about that," he told her. "He'll be better at home
amongst some of his old cronies, and for you--well, of course, China
would be utterly impossible."

"I am very happy to be going to England," she assured him. "I am looking
forward to the country life immensely."

"Fond of games?" he asked her.

"Riding and tennis are the extent of my accomplishments," she replied.
"I like those. And then, after a year or so, I shall hope to travel on
the Continent. My aunt still has a great many friends in Paris."

"One meets so many American women and girls in France and Italy," he
observed, "and so few men. Why are they such stay at homes?"

"They aren't," she explained. "They travel, but they want something out
of it. They either prospect for mines, or look for markets, or something
of that sort."

"In a way then, they too have the adventurer's instinct. I haven't any
head for business. When the war ended--I had been wounded twice and
transferred into the Intelligence Department--it chanced that I was in
Palestine, and I went on from there to Abyssinia. From there I visited
some friends in Bombay, and when I got home my father and I planned my
little adventure in China."

"You certainly are some traveller," she admitted smilingly.

"So was my father before me," he confided. "He was in the Diplomatic
Service for some time, and lived in Pekin during the days of the
Monarchy."

She suddenly looked around and saw the rising moon, a blood-red circle
emerging with incredible swiftness from the edge of a black sea. She
crossed the deck swiftly, waving to him to follow her. Halfway there he
paused. She was standing full in the light shining through the
uncurtained window of the Marconi room; tall, slim and white in the
windless night--a curiously and wonderfully desirable vision. She turned
and waved to him impatiently, a smile of invitation upon her lips, her
eyes full of eager delight.

"Hurry!" she cried. "Isn't it wonderful?"

He came slowly across the deck, and a little puzzled frown took the
place of her smile as he drew near.

"Why do you look at me as though you had never seen me before?" she
asked, as he took his place by her side.

"I never have, with the same eyes," he answered uneasily.

"Idiot!" she laughed. "Well, you'll have to put up with me for at least
six weeks like this. Don't you love the stillness with just the throb of
the engine?"

"I'd like it better without the engine," he observed. "It is beautiful
enough here to make one believe that we are on our way to paradise, and
that wretched throb keeps on reminding us that our next stop is Bombay."

"Aren't you just a little inclined to be cynical to-night?" she asked.

"I don't know quite what's the matter with me," he answered restlessly.
"I think that terrible country behind has broken my nerve, or----"

His thoughts flashed back to his stateroom. She was suddenly intent upon
listening. From away upon the lower deck they could hear the sound of
the orchestra. Her face lit up with pure joy.

"Dancing!" she cried. "I believe they're dancing. Why, I haven't even
heard the music since I left New York! Come along!"

She had reached the companion ladder before he could catch her up.
Already her feet were moving to the music.

"Look here," he confided doubtfully, "remember I've been out of England
for a very long time. I'm not at all sure that I can manage these new
steps."

She slipped her arm through his in friendly fashion.

"You're the only man on board I know, and you've got to," she declared
imperiously.



                               CHAPTER VI


"Perkins," Gregory demanded, as he struggled into his dinner coat a few
nights later, "what should you think if I told you to drop that grinning
piece of wooden monstrosity there into the sea?"

The steward glanced doubtfully over his shoulder at the Image.

"It's a damned ugly piece of goods, sir," he admitted, "but I shouldn't
make away with it like that. It's very likely valuable. They give no end
of money sometimes for genuine bits of stuff from China way."

Gregory straightened his tie and looked at his treasure fixedly.

"Perkins," he confided, "that Image is either worth a few hundred, or
perhaps a thousand pounds as an antique, or it may be worth--listen to
me--a million." The steward coughed. He was inclined to think that this
passenger of his, on whom the slackness of the season had enabled him to
bestow more than his normal share of attention, was a trifle cracked.

"If it is worth as much money as that, sir," he remarked, "it would be a
sin to think of getting rid of it."

"You're quite right," Gregory assented, "it would be a sin. We'll let it
stay where it is."

At his table in the dining saloon he trifled with his dinner and
covertly watched the girl seated by the captain's side, who, on his
entrance, had sent him a little wave of welcome. He had worshipped more
or less casually at the shrine of girls and women of all ages, but never
with quite the same restless and fitful confusion of feeling as had
swept over him occasionally during the last few days in her near
presence, or at the thought of her in his sleepless hours. She was, he
tried to tell himself, as he studied her with eyes that attempted to be
critical, an ordinary, pleasant-looking, good-looking, attractive girl,
like hundreds of others of her age, too young and too lacking in
experience to justify a great passion. Her yellow hair, her one real
beauty, was brushed backwards with a touch almost of severity; a
fashion, however, which the vivacity of her face justified. Her eyes, he
had to admit, were unusual; grave and tender sometimes, full of the
sparkle of humour when, as now, she was engaged in light-hearted
conversation. Her mouth was perhaps almost too sensitive, but it was
beautifully shaped, and not over-small. He watched her rise and walk out
of the saloon; a girl's figure still, but with just a suggestion of
coming power in her easy, flowing movements.

He had known more beautiful women. There were more beautiful women to be
seen every day in Bond Street, he told himself, with an almost fierce
desire to deny her attractiveness, but she possessed a gift which
baffled him. He only knew that the idea of that message, which without a
doubt she must at some time or other receive from her uncle, was like a
nightmare to him. He felt instinctively how meanness of any sort,
dishonour and falsehood, would appeal to her, with her youthful,
uncompromising standards, her lack of experience. She would belie that
sensitive mouth and the kindliness of her eyes. Where an older woman
might have sympathised she would have no pity. And with it all his mind
was in a state of turmoil about her. Unaccustomed sensations tortured
him. The flash of her welcoming glance had set his pulses tingling.

He finished his wine, leaving most of his dinner untasted, and, instead
of going on deck, returned to his stateroom, thrust aside the curtain,
and looked fiercely, almost challengingly, at his treasure. As he looked
he felt once more a certain change in himself and his impulses, suddenly
felt the torture of a sacrilegious thought, an instinct, horrible at one
moment, alluring the next. He suddenly threw the cigarette case which he
was holding at the face which mocked him.

"Blast you!" he cried.

The case, truly enough thrown, recoiled from the unchanging hardness of
that lowering forehead, and fell, spilling its contents upon the bunk.
He recovered it with trembling fingers, listening all the time to the
music of the distant orchestra. He had a sudden impulse to lock the door
and stay where he was; an impulse swept away a moment later by an
unconquerable desire to be moving to the music with Claire in his arms.
From the door he ventured upon one last unwilling glance upwards. He
could have sworn that for the fiftieth time that expression had changed.
There was a light almost of suggestion in those sightless orbs, a curl
of sardonic contempt in the thick lips. He hurried up on to the deck and
leaned for a moment over the rail, his eyes looking across the sea.

"Nerves!" he told himself slowly. "Nerves!"

The doctor passed him with a cheery good evening. Gregory called out to
him.

"Just a moment, Doctor."

"You'll be in disgrace," the latter remarked. "They're dancing already.
Come and have a liqueur in my room first."

"Thank you," Gregory replied.

They made their way to the lower deck and into the doctor's quarters.
The latter excused himself for a moment whilst he prepared some
medicine. Afterwards he opened his cupboard, produced a bottle of brandy
and two liqueur glasses and pushed a box of cigarettes across the table.

"What's wrong with you, young fellow?" he asked a little abruptly.

"Nerves," Gregory answered. "Do you believe in them?"

"To some extent," was the cautious reply. "How are they getting at you?"

"I'm haunted by an evil spirit," Gregory declared, lighting a cigarette.
"It's there, a wooden Image behind a curtain, down in my stateroom. Now
get ready to laugh. I assure you, Doctor, every moment I spend with that
damned thing makes me feel more of a rotter."

"Where did you get it?" the doctor enquired curiously.

Gregory glanced towards the closed door.

"I am not sure whether it is wise to tell you," he replied, "but, as a
matter of fact, it is a small statue of a famous Chinese god. It is
meant to represent all the gross side of a man's life. It is meant to
depict every evil that can haunt the sinner."

The doctor suddenly leaned forward in his chair.

"You don't mean to tell me that you were mixed up in the Nilkaya
affair?" he exclaimed. "You're not one of the Englishmen who looted the
place?"

"I've got one of the Images here, anyway," Gregory admitted.

"There was a report that you were both dead."

"My pal is, although he was taking on what we thought the simplest part
of the job. They got me, a dozen of those priests. Fought like furies,
the fellows did! I was to have been food for the alligators but I was
rescued on the river by a trader from the coast."

The doctor looked at his companion with amazement.

"No wonder you've got nerves," he observed. "You've been through
something."

"I've been through hell," Gregory admitted. "The fight wasn't so bad,
but I was two days strapped up on that pirate ship with not a mouthful
to eat, in a foul atmosphere, and expecting to be thrown overboard at
any moment. I had a certain amount of luck. I got clear, as you see, and
I've got one of the Images. It is supposed to be chock full of jewels,
and yet I'm half inclined to chuck the damned thing overboard."

The doctor smiled reassuringly.

"I won't say anything of the morality of the enterprise," he declared,
"but you had a fine, plucky adventure, and when you talk about throwing
the Image overboard, you're talking like an ass. Set your heel upon all
this superstitious nonsense, Ballaston, and go on as usual. Believe me,
you'll be none the worse for possessing that piece of wood. You create
the evil in yourself when you allow yourself to believe that the thing's
likely to do you harm. The world's old enough for us to realise the
nature of most of its organic forces. The malice of nine hundred years
ago may have been carved into that Image, but it can't come out again."

Gregory drew a little sigh of relief.

"Of course you're right," he acquiesced, "and yet----"

"Cut out the 'and yets'," the doctor interrupted. "Get up on deck now
and dance. That's what's good for you. Be normal and don't harbour any
thought that hasn't a definite and reasonable origin. See you later. I
may come up and have a turn myself."

Gregory hurried on deck to be greeted a little reproachfully by Claire.

"How dare you keep me waiting," she complained. "The orchestra have
never played better and I've been nearly crazy sitting here by myself.
Don't let's waste a minute now you have come."

They were out of the region of storms. The awning had been rolled away
and they danced on the outside deck with the orchestra half concealed in
a little lounge. The minutes passed by in a sort of enchantment. From
fox trots they passed to waltzes, both utterly unconscious that
sometimes they were the only two dancing. Suddenly Claire drew back and
looked at her companion.

"Why, I believe you're tired!" she exclaimed. "Do let's stop."

"No, we'll go on," he answered quickly.

The music seemed to have gained a new and more passionate throb. The
starlit night seemed to be leaning down, to close them in. There was a
breath of magic in the languid air, in the perfume from her hair and
clothes, swimming out into the stillness. Her eyes for a moment had half
closed in faint response to the joy of it all. His arm suddenly
tightened around her--tightened!

"Stop!" she ordered quickly.

He obeyed at once. She looked at him with an expression of amazement, in
which was almost a gleam of terror. Then she turned away.

"I'm tired," she said. "I want to speak to Mrs. Hichens. Please don't
come."

He knew better than to follow her, to protest, to attempt any
explanation. He made his way to the smoking room and drank two whiskies
and sodas. The steward looked at him curiously.

"Hot work dancing to-night, sir," he observed.

"Hot as hell," Gregory answered. "Give me another drink."

He was served immediately. Afterwards he stepped back on to the deck.
Claire had disappeared. He went up to a woman whom he had previously
avoided with sedulous care--a grass widow, good-looking still in a way,
but overanxious, overobvious, overperfumed. She rose to her feet with
astonishing alacrity at his unexpected invitation. A moment later they
danced off into the darkness.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The smoking-room steward took Gregory to his stateroom that night, and
the faithful Perkins, summoned from his own repose, undressed him. He
went to sleep with a chuckle upon his distorted lips.

"I'm with you, old fellow," he muttered, waving his hand feebly to his
unseen companion. "You're the chap for us Ballastons. Glad I got
you--and not the other."



                              CHAPTER VII


The doctor, a few days later, paused in his morning promenade and took a
vacant place by Claire's side. He made a few commonplace remarks about
the voyage, and then leaned confidentially towards her.

"Miss Endacott, I want to speak to you for a moment, if I may, about
young Ballaston."

The sensitive lips quivered a little. Nevertheless she had self-control.

"Well, Doctor?"

"I don't exactly know what has happened, of course," he went on, "but
you two were such pals at first, and now one can't help noticing that
you scarcely speak. Ballaston hasn't said a word to me. This is all on
my own, but I imagine that somehow or other, he has succeeded in
offending you."

"He has," she acquiesced coldly.

"I don't hold any brief for the young man," the doctor proceeded, "but I
can't help wondering whether you know what he's been through just
lately. He's had a wonderful adventure and played his part like a man. I
won't say a word about the morality of it, or the object of it, or
anything else. I'll only say that it was a jolly plucky thing to attempt
and he only escaped with his life by a miracle."

"I have heard all this," Claire admitted.

"It is always after an exploit of this sort that one runs a danger of
suffering from nerves. That's precisely what's happened to young
Ballaston. In his stateroom down below he has that Image which he risked
his life for, and he's adopted the legend about it in a way I should
never have dreamed a young fellow with his strength of character could
have done. You know the legend?"

"I have heard it."

"Well, Ballaston honestly believes that every hour he spends with this
Image is doing him harm morally and that very belief is apt to make him
behave at odd times impossibly. The thing won't last, of course. He'll
get used to it, and the idea will pass out of his brain. It is there
just now, and I tell you frankly that I believe it is likely to
influence his actions."

There was more and more interest in Claire's face, a little tinge of
returning colour. She leaned forward. The icy note had gone from her
tone.

"How extraordinary!" she exclaimed. "I--well, to tell you the truth,
Doctor, the other night when we were dancing, when I was offended, I
thought that he had had too much to drink."

The doctor shook his head.

"It wasn't that at all," he assured her gravely. "Now, mind you, Miss
Endacott, I'm not defending Ballaston. I don't even know what the cause
of offence was--certainly I'm not trying to interfere in any way--but he
is suffering, and suffering terribly, and it isn't doing him any good to
be cut off from you. If you could just remember that, you might be able
to help him, perhaps more than any one else."

"I will remember," she promised. "Thank you very much indeed."

The doctor took his leave and Claire sat gazing out to sea with a
kindlier expression in her face. A few minutes later, Gregory left the
smoking room, and, seeing her, was turning the other way. She called to
him softly.

"Mr. Ballaston."

He glanced around in surprise.

"Mr. Ballaston, please come here for a moment."

He approached slowly and stood before her, bareheaded. As she looked at
him her pity increased. His eyes were very brilliant but they seemed to
have sunken, and he was certainly thinner in the face.

"Will you sit down and talk to me for a little time, please," she
invited.

"If you wish me to," he replied diffidently.

"I think that perhaps I was silly about the other night," she went on.
"I perhaps--misunderstood."

"You didn't," he groaned.

"Please don't say that," she begged. "I want to believe that I did, and
I want you to please be nice to me again and be different."

"Has any one been talking to you?" he asked.

"The doctor spoke a few words," she admitted.

"It is sweet of you," he declared dejectedly, "but you mustn't believe
the doctor altogether. It isn't exactly nerves. I was never much good
and you're such a child. I'm not good enough now to talk and dance with
you on equal terms. I feel this all the time. For two days I have hated
you because it is through you I know what I am. And I don't mind telling
you that I hate you," he went on, "because----"

"Because?" she questioned.

"Because I care for you more than any one else in the world," he
concluded.

She laughed, but very kindly. Her eyes were softer than he had ever seen
them, and there was a new flush in her cheeks.

"It is just as silly for you to say that as the other," she declared,
"considering that I have known you exactly--what is it?--eleven, twelve
days. Now, could we talk nonsense, please, or go for a walk. We start
again, and you see--I trust you."

"I shouldn't," he warned her gloomily. "I'm not trustworthy, and you'll
find it out before long."

"I'll wait until I do," she decided. "Come along. This morning I need
movement. It isn't nearly so hot, and there hasn't been any one to do
things with the last few days. We'll play deck tennis on the upper deck,
and then go for a swim."

They passed the whole morning together. The doctor, seeing them, waved
his hand cordially. The captain stopped and exchanged a few
good-humoured words. Everything seemed to be once more as it should be.
Gregory was quite as distinctly the best-looking and most attractive
young man on board as Claire was the most charming girl, and nearly
every one seemed pleased that the little misunderstanding which had kept
them apart was apparently removed. Gossip, not ill-natured, but natural
enough, recommenced. Gregory, heir to a baronetcy, poor, perhaps, but
with a romantic career for a young man, and Claire, whose uncle was a
partner in the great firm of Johnson and Company--a most suitable
affair. Late in the afternoon they found a cool corner in the bows, and
Gregory read poetry. His voice, naturally a beautiful one, with its
slight Oxford peculiarities, fascinated Claire. She listened with joy as
he passed from Shelley to Keats and wound up with Swinburne. Afterwards
the captain took them into his room for tea and they sat talking until
it was almost time to change. They descended from the bridge together.

"To-night," Claire exclaimed happily, "we dance."

Gregory made no reply. For a single moment a little shiver seemed to
pass through him. She turned and smiled reassuringly.

"I am looking forward to it so much," she murmured. "I'm sure we are
both going to love it."

The doctor swung by as Gregory was changing for dinner. Gregory hailed
him.

"Just one moment," he called out.

The doctor paused and put his head in the stateroom--a large one on the
upper promenade deck and easily accessible.

"I want to thank you," Gregory said earnestly, "for speaking to Miss
Endacott."

"Everything all right again?" the other asked, smiling.

"Quite, thanks to you," was the well-satisfied reply. "I hope to God I
don't give myself away again! Come in and have a look at my evil
genius."

The doctor came a little farther into the room and examined the Image
through his eyeglasses.

"Jove, it's amazing," he exclaimed; "amazingly powerful!"

"Diabolically!" Gregory muttered.

The doctor was clearly fascinated by the Image. His fingers passed over
it with the soft touch of a connoisseur. He stood back and viewed it
from another angle.

"Ballaston," he said, "there isn't a sculptor in the West to-day who
could produce a piece of work like that. It's stupendous!"

"I think I shall tell my steward to send it down below into safe
keeping, somewhere," Gregory suggested, turning away and lighting a
cigarette. "Don't you think it would be a good idea?"

The doctor shook his head.

"I think it would be a damned bad idea," he answered. "Now, look here,
young fellow," he went on, putting his hand on Gregory's shoulder, "how
old are you?"

"Thirty-one."

"If at your time of life," the doctor continued, "you once begin to give
way to what your brain and real consciousness tell you is an idea,
you'll be a victim to what they call 'nerves' all your life. You've
never been affected before like this, have you?"

"Never," Gregory declared earnestly. "One doesn't want to talk about
oneself, but I got my medals in France, and a jolly close shave of the
big thing. I've shot big game and I've come out of tight corners once or
twice without turning a hair. That's why I don't understand this."

"Good!" the doctor exclaimed. "That confirms me in what I was saying.
Square up to it, man! Don't be all the time flinching away, like you are
now. Look at it. Look at it with me, arm in arm. It is just a damned but
wonderful representation of wickedness. There is nothing alive about it,
except its art. It isn't going to do you any harm, and it isn't going to
do me any harm. Let it stay where it is."

Ballaston fastened his tie slowly, considering the advice thoughtfully.

"You mean that, Doctor?" he demanded. "You see, when I'm sane, I have
the utmost respect and--I can say it to you--affection for Miss
Endacott. She's only a child, of course, but she's wonderful. It's such
a horrible thought that I might----"

"Chuck it!" the doctor interrupted tersely. "You won't. Remember, if you
give way now you will give way all your life. Come in and have a last
drink with me before you turn in to-night and I bet you'll be jolly glad
you've stuck it out.--I must get along now. Got a patient expecting me
before dinner."

He swung off, large, buoyant, diffusing an atmosphere of confidence.
Gregory finished his dressing, strolled along the deck, and found Mrs.
Hichens and Claire. He took them all into the little lounge where they
drank cocktails together. Gregory was suddenly in joyous spirits, and
Claire thoroughly responsive. They made plans for the next few days and
ended up with a race round the deck, the course being kept clear by a
little handful of amused passengers. The captain, coming upon them,
breathless, just as the bugle sounded, invited Gregory to his table for
dinner, and Gregory, his unsociability altogether dispersed, proved a
most attractive guest. Of his own exploits he tried to talk as little as
possible, but the Ballastons had been a family well known in sporting
and political circles for generations, and there were plenty of
anecdotes to be told of English life for Claire's amusement. A general
engaged him in kindly reminiscences of France, and he found an old
Etonian, and a junior diplomat on his way home from Japan. They sat at
table until long after the others had left, and the music had already
commenced when they trooped up the gangway.

"What a wonderful evening!" Claire exclaimed delightedly. "And now we
are going to dance!"

The orchestra welcomed them back again with kindly smiles. The lanterns
which enclosed the little space of deck were like fairy lights. The
music streamed out to them, even its ordinary melodies somehow
beautified by their own sense of well-being and the glamour of their
surroundings. Claire danced from pure love of graceful movement, from
that age-long impulse of rhythm which passes behind history into legend;
Gregory, a born athlete and light-footed as an Indian, suffering nothing
from his ignorance of the more modern steps. Once or twice they rested,
but always impatiently, always with their senses tingling with the joy
of rhythmical motion. It was not until the end of the programme that
Claire realised suddenly that her companion had been dancing during the
last few minutes with unusual stiffness. He was pale and breathing more
quickly than usual.

"How selfish of me!" she exclaimed. "Of course you are tired! Let us sit
out for a few minutes--somewhere where the music doesn't haunt us."

They found two chairs in a retired corner. Gregory seemed to have thrown
off his reserves, to have become once more fluent and discoursive. His
voice, lowered because of occasional promenaders, had developed an
almost passionate timbre. There was a light in his eyes which half
puzzled, half thrilled her. His hands sought her fingers underneath the
rug which they shared. She suffered him to hold them for a moment before
she drew them gently away.

"I have never forgotten," he told her, "how I saw you first. You came
into that crazy old warehouse with its piles of silks and rugs and
carpets, and shelves of jade and china, and its quaint odour, the
perfume of China and the East. You threaded your way through that group
of Chinamen in that spotless white dress of yours, in the hat with the
yellow flowers, like something fresh and sweet from a new world--from a
world where the sun didn't bake and shrivel everything to dust, or those
dank, humid mists make slime of the ground underneath."

She laughed softly.

"I think the poetry of this afternoon is lingering in your brain," she
said. "Still, I dare say it was strange to see an American girl with a
New York frock amongst all that medley. You must have thought our little
house stranger yet. Can you imagine my uncle, surrounded with all those
beautiful things, living between bare walls and with oil-cloth upon the
floor, and--am I very greedy--with such a terrible cook? Are you shocked
at me for my materialism? You know I never pretended to be anything
else. I love life as it comes to me day by day, with just the things it
brings."

"And I love life as I find it now," he whispered. "It seems too
wonderful to think that you too are on your way to England, and that
we're going to be almost neighbours."

"But you are never at home," she reminded him, with a smile.

"I've had nothing to keep me at home," he rejoined. "In the future it
may be different. Already I begin to feel that my love of wandering is
finished."

"Perhaps," she suggested softly, "we had better dance."

She rose to her feet and he acquiesced at once. As he leaned towards
her, his face as white as marble in the moonlight, he was undoubtedly
handsome, yet once again she caught a glimpse of something in his eyes
which filled her with a vague uneasiness.

"Yes, we'll dance," he assented. "You're teaching me to understand what
dancing means. The last time--when was it?--Alexandria, I believe----"

He stopped abruptly, confused by a turbulent flood of memory. They moved
away to the music, in and out of the string of lights, rocking now in an
unexpected night breeze. Claire danced still with the joy of her
youthful strength and gracious temperament. Once or twice, when
Gregory's arm seemed to be drawing her a little closer, she freed
herself slightly. Once she caught a flash of that disturbing glint in
his eyes, but she only laughed at her own uneasiness.

"Please don't look so terribly in earnest," she begged him. "Dancing is
one of the happiest things in the world. We must keep that feeling
always with us."

The music came to an abrupt finish. Claire looked across at the leader
of the orchestra in dismay, but it was too late for intervention.
Already the first notes of "God Save the King" had been struck.

"Well, it has been lovely," she declared. "I suppose I must go and look
for Mrs. Hichens."

"Come and have a lemon squash first," he begged.

The steward served them out on deck. Gregory drank a whisky and soda as
though it had been water.

"Let's sit out for a time," he suggested. "It is too warm to sleep down
below. I'll fetch some more rugs."

She shook her head and rose regretfully to her feet.

"It has been delightful," she admitted, "but after all it is eleven
o'clock."

They strolled along the deck. Suddenly he gripped her by the arm. They
were passing his stateroom. Perkins was moving about and the light was
lit. He pointed in through the wide-open door, only a few feet away.

"Let me show you my evil genius," he begged.

She hesitated for a moment. Then, with the steward smilingly standing on
one side for her to enter, her hesitation seemed ridiculous. She crossed
the threshold as Perkins disappeared with a suave good night. Gregory
stood by her side and pointed to the Image. She gave a little gasp. For
several moments neither of them spoke. They both gazed at it intently;
Claire with wondering horror; Gregory fighting against some sympathetic
suggestion in the cynical brutality of the thick mocking lips.

"What a ghastly thing to own," she cried.

The hand which had been holding her arm was suddenly round her waist.

"Look at it by moonlight," he whispered in her ear.

The forefinger of his other hand touched the switch. They were almost in
darkness. His eyes suddenly seemed to be blazing into hers. She felt the
burning of his lips even as they drew near. There was something sweet
but vaguely evil in his tone.

"Claire, you are adorable!"

She wrenched herself free--free from arms which had seemed to be closing
like a vice round her, away from lips whose very proximity seemed to
scorch. She staggered through the door. As she stood there on the deck,
the light flashed out again, and Gregory, suddenly, it seemed, almost
calm, stood upon the threshold, a courteous but sardonic farewell upon
his lips.

"Good night," he said. "You realise now, perhaps, what it is for a man
to live with so evil a thing."

She swayed as she neared the companionway and steadied herself in her
descent by the banisters. When she reached her room she locked the door
behind her and threw herself upon the bed.--Gregory had moved back into
his stateroom. His fist, hard and clenched, was within a few inches of
the leering mouth.

"You damned swine!" he exclaimed, with all his calmness gone, a hoarse
fury breaking his voice. "You--you accursed spirit!"

His voice suddenly failed. An overpowering impulse seized him. He took
the Image into his arms, rushed through the open door across the deck,
and leaned over the rail.

"Find your own hell!" he shouted, and dashed it downwards.



                              CHAPTER VIII


In the morning Gregory awoke after a wonderfully sound sleep. It was
still very early. There was a delightful pearly light in the sky,
visible through his open porthole. The glitter of the barely risen sun
lay faint upon the ocean. He remained for a few minutes, breathing
quietly, trying to recall the events of the night before. They came back
to him with a shock, followed by an immense sense of relief. He
remembered what he had done without a thought of regret. He had cast
away the fruits of his enterprise, the possibility of wealth, and he was
full of rejoicing. In those few seconds of glad thought, the world
seemed a different place, wealth, after all, but a trifling part of its
joys, youth and love suddenly great and wonderful things. A clearer
light seemed to be pouring in upon some possible future, a new
atmosphere of happiness encircling him. He sprang out of bed. He would
have an early bath and send a note round to Claire. She must forgive.
She must understand. She must realise the sacrifice he had made. Then,
as he reached for his dressing gown, he felt as though he were turned to
stone. Up on its accustomed place, its eyes meeting his, its lips
mocking him, was the Image. He stood looking at it, for once genuinely
terrified. Then he pressed the bell feverishly, and stood there with his
thumb upon the knob until Perkins came running in.

"Where the hell did that come from?" he demanded, pointing to the Image.

Perkins smiled with the air of one who imparts good tidings.

"The bos'un sent it up early this morning, sir," he explained. "It was
in one of the lower boats, swung out from the main deck--gone right
through the canvas but there isn't a scratch on it."

Gregory drew on his dressing gown and staggered out on to the deck. He
walked up and down for an hour and a half, fighting a distinct and
definite battle, and with every step he took it seemed to him that he
became saner. His waking idea took shape, gave him encouragement and
life. With his craving for what it might have to give abandoned, the
power of the Image, too, for evil, must decline. He wanted those jewels
no longer. He was ready to face life and all its possibilities from a
new standard. He went down to his bath, visited the barber, and dressed
before any of the passengers were astir. Then he made his way into the
writing room and drew paper and ink towards him. He wrote fluently, and
without hesitation. All that he wished to say seemed so clear:

    These few lines, dear, bring my prayer to you for pardon. The
    doctor talks of nerves. Well, I never suffered from them, and I
    would as soon believe in the supernatural. I believe that there
    is evil in my treasure. Last night, in a fit of self-disgust, I
    tried to throw it overboard, but it was caught by one of the
    canvas-covered boats on the lower deck and when I awoke this
    morning it was back in its accustomed place. If your answer to
    this note is what I pray for, it will be overboard before we
    meet, and overboard in such a place that it will sink to the
    bottom of the sea.

    Will you marry me, Claire, as soon as we reach England, and my
    father and your uncle can meet and give their consent? I don't
    pretend that I am a particularly desirable person, but I am, at
    any rate, not too bad to realise that you are the dearest and
    sweetest thing I have ever met, or to fail in keeping my word
    when I promise that you shall never regret it if you say "yes."
    I haven't a great deal to offer you, beyond my love, but that I
    offer to you, not in the spirit of last night in the shadow of
    that accursed Image, but earnestly, and faithfully, and
    eternally.

    Please send me just a line. The black Buddha waits to know his
    fate, and I mine.

                                                            GREGORY.

Perkins took the note, and after his departure Gregory climbed to the
upper deck and stood there leaning over the rail, forgetting even to
smoke, watching the sun mount a little higher and spread its gleams a
little farther across the ocean, watching the blue haze of coming heat
blot out the clearness of the horizon, waiting with an eagerness utterly
unfamiliar, with a sense of having suddenly changed personalities with
some simpler and stronger being. At last the head and shoulders of
Perkins appeared, coming up the ladder.

"Your breakfast is in your room, sir," he announced, as he handed over
the note he was carrying.

Gregory made no reply. He was looking at the handwriting upon the
envelope; rather faint and delicate, not too legible. For a moment or
two he turned the note over. He absolutely feared to open it. A wave of
pessimism had seized him. Then he suddenly tore the envelope across and
read:

    DEAR MR. BALLASTON,

    I am so sorry but I cannot say "yes." I appreciate your letter
    and I try to sympathise with what lies behind it, but, to be
    quite honest, I cannot just now believe in you. I do not myself
    believe in the supernatural, nor can I bring myself to believe
    in the superstition of which you speak. I can, therefore, only
    think of you as one whom I was beginning to like very much
    indeed, but who has disappointed me bitterly.

    I am sorry, but that is how I feel, and it is useless for me to
    pretend otherwise. If you wish to be kind, please keep away. It
    is foolish, of course, but you see I am a little lonely here,
    and, after what has happened, I shall feel so much happier not
    to find myself alone with you again.

                                                    CLAIRE ENDACOTT.

Gregory read the letter twice, then sent it fluttering away in little
white fragments, watching them fall like snowflakes upon the sea.
Afterwards he descended to his stateroom. He sat on his camp stool,
stirred his coffee, and looked across at the Image. Then, with his left
hand, he kissed his fingers to it.

"I give you best, my friend," he groaned. "Count me your disciple."

Gregory was on deck even before his accustomed time. He showed unusual
interest in the ship's run and greeted Claire, when she appeared very
late and looking pale and tired, with the casualness of a steamer
acquaintance. He talked lightly with Mrs. Hichens, exchanged remarks
with his other fellow passengers, and, notwithstanding the slight air of
aloofness which was habitual to him, he took a prominent part in the
sports of the day. He conducted an auction pool with success and he
refused no man's invitation to drink. At night, though, when the dancing
started, he obstinately refused to leave the smoking room, pleaded a
weak ankle and confessed to an inordinate thirst. The doctor came in and
sat beside him.

"More trouble?" he asked quietly.

Gregory shrugged his shoulders.

"No particular trouble," he replied. "I'm rather fed up with dancing,
besides which I have worn through the soles of my only pair of patent
shoes."

"Is Miss Endacott in a similar predicament?" the doctor enquired. "I see
that she is not on deck."

"Miss Endacott is probably reading one of Paley's sermons to Mrs.
Hichens," he answered a little sarcastically. "I wonder why the devil
some one doesn't look after your libraries on board ship, Doctor. There
are no less than eleven different volumes of sermons there. No doubt you
got them cheap, but who wants them, especially on a voyage where one is
supposed to send one's morals overland."

The doctor rose to his feet.

"There is nothing I can do for you?" he asked.

"Nothing," Gregory replied. "Have a drink."

The doctor shook his head.

"I am in earnest," he persisted. "I am still at your disposal. If you
want a sleeping draught, I'm your man, or an ambassador--well, I'm here.
Otherwise----"

"It happens to be otherwise," Gregory declared, a little brutally.

                  *       *       *       *       *

"Perkins," Gregory Ballaston asked, sitting up in his bunk a few
mornings later, and gazing distastefully at his tea, "was I very drunk
last night?"

"No more than usual, sir," was the man's somewhat gloomy answer. "The
chief steward in the second class sent for me and I brought you up
myself."

Gregory sighed.

"Bad, Perkins--bad!" he admitted. "I ought not to have gone there at
all. Was I--er--misbehaving more than usual?"

"You seemed to be making a little free with the young women down there,
if I might say so, sir," Perkins replied.

Gregory poured himself out some tea.

"Well, it was the last night, anyhow," he said, with an air of relief.
"I am landing at Marseilles."

"I have packed most of your things, sir," the man announced. "I expect
they'll bustle the overland passengers off the ship as quickly as
possible. We're a good many hours late as it is, and the train will be
waiting."

"I am going the other way," Gregory confided. "I have a strange feeling,
Perkins, that I am likely to win at Monte Carlo. I have been there twice
before and lost pretty well all I possessed at the moment. This time I
feel like winning. Anyway, I am going to try my luck."

"When shall I be able to finish your packing, sir?"

"Whenever you like and as soon as you like. I don't care for this ship,
Perkins. You're a good fellow and you've looked after me very well, but
I don't like the rest of them any more than they like me. You wouldn't
say that I was a popular person on board, would you, Perkins?"

The man made no reply for a moment. He was occupied thrusting the trees
into some evening slippers.

"If I might make so bold, sir," he said at last, "you have only yourself
to thank for what people think. You have acted queerly more than once,
sir."

"A fact," Gregory murmured; "a damnable fact!"

"And I don't hold," the man went on, "with this sitting in the smoking
room, taking a drink with anybody who comes along, and going down to the
second class, when there's plenty of your own sort on board, sir."

"You're a sound fellow, Perkins," Gregory admitted, as he swung out of
his bunk. "Is my bath ready?"

"Waiting, sir."

"And, Perkins," Gregory continued, as he struggled into his dressing
gown, "some time this morning I want you to bring me some packing cloth
and get the carpenter to find you a box. I can't take my Image about
like that. I'm going to send it home to my father--a little souvenir of
my visit to China. I think it might brighten up the household."

"I'll fetch you the packing cloth and box, sir, with pleasure," Perkins
assented, looking up at the Image dubiously, "but if it belonged to me I
know what I should do with it."

Gregory paused enquiringly. The steward was still looking over the rail
of the bunk with an expression of disgust.

"I should chuck it overboard and have done with it, sir."

"But it is valuable," Gregory expostulated, swinging his towel; "worth a
lot of money, Perkins. No one knows quite how much but it's worth a
great deal of money."

"'Tain't for its looks, anyway," the man muttered.

Gregory went through his usual morning routine--his bath, the swim, the
gymnasium and the coiffeur. Afterwards he made a leisurely toilet in his
stateroom, slipped out on to the deck at a moment when it was almost
deserted, and walked across to the smoking room with swift footsteps,
lithe and graceful, notwithstanding the debauch of the night before,
carefully dressed as usual, his eyes as bright as ever, no sign of evil
living in his clear complexion. Yet, for all his presentability, no one
knew better than he that he had gradually become the most unpopular
person upon the ship. The captain had taken to looking the other way
when he passed. The doctor's nod was of the curtest. Mrs. Hichens never
pretended not to cut him. Claire alone, on the few occasions when they
passed or met face to face, bowed gravely, sometimes even exchanged a
word of greeting. She still spent the time on deck as usual, but always
with Mrs. Hichens by her side. One or two of the women with whom he had
exchanged a few civilities still looked wistfully for him when the
dancing began--his grass widow had indeed boldly attempted to waylay him
one evening on his return from the dining saloon. Gregory, however, lied
with cynical impudence, declared that he had sprained his ankle and
would not dance again for the rest of the voyage, and then promptly
walked alone for an hour through the summer darkness on the upper deck.
On another occasion an enterprising young woman, whose courage was
greater than her discretion, sought him out in the smoking room and
tried to gain his confidence. She rejoined her friends after a very
brief absence, a little ruffled. Gregory's politeness was icy, but on
one point he seemed to have made up his mind: He was ready to gamble
with any one, to drink with any one, but so far as the women were
concerned--the women of his own quarter of the ship--he avoided them
with a finality which admitted of no advances. He played cards all
through the long summer days and moonlit, Mediterranean nights, for
stakes much higher than the ship's officers approved of, but he never
approached the dancing spaces or entered the music room where the ladies
congregated. Rumour went about that he had been sent to Coventry, and,
as was natural, on an Eastern liner, there were no end of scandalous
stories. One of them, and a name, he happened to overhear, and he gave
the smoking room something to gossip about for the rest of the day. He
rose from his seat and approached the little group.

"May I ask your name, sir?" he enquired of the man who had told the
story; a large man, well under medium age, but puffy and loud-voiced.

"Why, you surely may," was the prompt reply. "Richard Thomson. We've
played cards together more than once."

"Well, Mr. Thomson," Gregory said, "I have to tell you that I dislike
the mention of ladies' names in a smoking room. I dislike it so much,
especially when allied with scandalous fiction, that I am going to throw
you out on to the deck."

The man tried bluster, but he fared the worse for it. He picked himself
up, sprawling, from somewhere near the rails, and spent his morning
trying to interview various officers of the ship. The purser at last was
commissioned to approach Gregory.

"I have a complaint, Mr. Ballaston," he announced, a little stiffly,
"from Mr. Thomson. He asserts that you used violence to him in the
smoking room."

"Quite correct," was the deliberate reply. "I don't like him. I shall
probably throw him out again if he comes in."

"An affair of this sort is not to be treated so lightly, sir," the
purser declared. "I must request some sort of an explanation or else
that you apologise to Mr. Thomson."

Gregory considered for a moment.

"Very well," he said, "I will offer you this much of an explanation. I
heard Mr. Thomson make use of the name of a young lady in the smoking
room. He coupled her name with a story, which, although it may not have
reflected any positive discredit upon her, was yet untrue. I object to
the use of ladies' names in a smoking room, and I did what I should have
done at any time in my life, and what I should do again this afternoon
and again to-morrow if necessary--I threw him out. As to apologising to
him--I will fight him with one hand or standing on one leg, or I will
shoot at him and let him shoot at me from any mark he likes, or give him
what is termed 'satisfaction', in any such manner as he can suggest, but
sooner than apologise I would throw him overboard first and spend the
rest of the voyage in irons myself if necessary."

The purser's face relaxed.

"I will report your explanation to the captain, Mr. Ballaston," he
promised.

Nothing more was heard of the matter. Thomson somewhat ostentatiously
played bridge out on deck with his friends, and Gregory, suddenly sick
of his smoking-room companions, invaded the ship's library and abjured
cards. He drew a great sigh of relief when at last, amidst the screaming
of tugs and a strange silence in the engine room, they were brought in
to Marseilles docks. He lingered about for an hour after the gangways
were down, hoping to be the last to leave the ship. In the customs shed,
however, when he made his belated appearance there, he came face to face
with Claire and Mrs. Hichens. The latter ignored him; Claire held out
her hand.

"Good-by, Mr. Ballaston," she said.

Gregory was taken aback. He could not refuse her hand, but he could find
no words. Mrs. Hichens walked on. They were for a moment alone together.

"I am very sorry," she continued, "that I had to answer your letter as I
felt. I am trying to forget all that is disagreeable in our friendship,
and remember only how thoroughly we enjoyed the first part of the
voyage. Will you please do the same--and good-by!"

She was gone with a friendly little nod before he could gasp out any
more than a muttered monosyllable. For a moment he almost followed her.
Then he realised a certain finality about that gesture and turned away.
Before he had finished with the customs the Paris train had left. He
stood for a while at the barrier, looking after it almost wistfully, his
thoughts travelling homeward. It was late spring now. There would be a
scent of violets in the air, cowslips coming up in the meadows,
honeysuckle in the hedges, and sweeter than anything, the wild roses
making their faint appearance. He thought of the rambling, stately
gardens at the Hall, the odour of the late hyacinths, the warmth of the
sun on the day when the gardeners opened the potting sheds and brought
out the geraniums. He could hear the lazy humming of the mowing
machines, the soft splash of water from the fountain on one of the
terraced lawns. It was a very beautiful home there, waiting for him;
poverty-stricken, perhaps, a little silent, a long way aloof from the
throb and thrill of life, the will-o'-the-wisp of happiness which he had
pursued so tirelessly, which he was in quest of again, even now. Then he
had a sudden vision of Claire, and of showing her the house, the
gardens, the park, the woods beyond, the peace of it, the softly flowing
waters of the trout stream, the hum of insects. He had a vision of
Claire too, seated at the carriage window, looking out, perhaps herself
not wholly happy, perhaps even at that moment with a tear in those still
tender eyes. The sweetness of her, the sweetness which he had terrified,
the childishness which that accursed Image would have had him disturb!
It was like a black cloud upon his mind and thoughts. Then a raucous
voice in his ear:

"Il faut vous dépêcher d'enregistrer vos bagages pour Monte Carlo,
monsieur. Le Rapide arrive."

His fit of dreaming passed, and he came back to the world of small
everyday things, went through the tiresome formality of registering his
luggage, found a place in an empty compartment, dozed and dreamed a
little more, and finally was dragged behind a screaming locomotive into
the curiously unimpressive station of Monte Carlo, the hills behind
glittering with lights, the long sea front curving away into Italy. He
shook himself and, descending, made his way to the hotel, bathed and
changed and sat down to write a few momentous lines home:

    Hotel de Paris,
    Monte Carlo.

    MY DEAR FATHER,

    I have come here from Marseilles for a few days, perhaps
    longer--it depends upon the luck. Meanwhile you will receive
    from Tilbury, soon after the ship docks, the Image we got away
    with. You won't like it. If I were to tell you how I loathed it
    you would think I was mad, but from the practical point of view
    everything that I heard in China confirms your story. In either
    this Image or the other one, which, alas, fell into the hands of
    a firm called Johnson and Company who have branches nearly
    everywhere in the East, are packed the whole of the treasures of
    the Yun-Tse Temple. Have an expert examine it, but don't do
    anything about breaking it up until I return. There are reasons
    against this.

    I suppose everything is as usual--no money, heavier taxation,
    plenty of debts, and Uncle Henry denying himself even a new suit
    of clothes. I hope Madame progresses, and that her new doctor
    will be able to work the great miracle. Here is an amazing
    coincidence, of which you will hear more before you see me. In
    the last letter I wrote you I told you about my adventure on the
    Yun-Tse River and Wu Ling, the Chinese trader who rescued me.
    Well, Wu Ling is a member of the firm of Johnson and Company,
    the great Eastern merchants, and one of his partners is Ralph
    Endacott, who used to have a Chair at Oxford, a great Oriental
    scholar, and--as you perhaps know--Madame's brother. He has a
    very delightful niece whom I saw something of on the voyage
    home. He himself is winding up his affairs and coming to England
    shortly. They have some idea, I believe, of taking a house in
    Norfolk. Endacott himself is a somewhat austere person who
    looked upon my enterprise with a good deal of disfavour, and
    myself, I am afraid, with more. The niece, however, is perfectly
    charming.

    Well, I shall be home for the summer. I got through all right
    without a scratch, as you know, but for the first time in my
    life I think I have a touch of nerves. The shadow of our elms
    ought to help. I'll write again as soon as I have decided when
    to come home.

    Thanks for your last letter. I don't think you need send any
    money. If I want it I'll wire.

                                                         Ever yours,
                                                            GREGORY.

Gregory dined alone, receiving the warm welcome of the maîtres d'hôtel
with whom he was acquainted, and the other supernumeraries of the great
hotel. Afterwards he went across and took out his cards of admission to
the Casino, flung a few counters on one of the outside tables in the
"Kitchen" and, losing them, came out, called in at the office of the
Sporting Club for his ticket and presently mounted the front stairs,
prepared for such serious gambling as he could afford. There was
something almost allegorical in the wide opening of the doors as he
entered. He seemed engulfed once more into the world of pleasurable
adventure. Only for the first time the whole thrill of it was wanting.
The tables themselves he eyed with all his old appetite, as he counted
his money and planned his campaign. His inherited love of gambling was
undeniable. The green cloth, the patter of the cards, the call of the
croupiers, the rattling of the roulette ball, each had their
fascination. It was the other things of which he seemed to have suddenly
tired, which somehow, in a moment of presentiment as he looked through
one of the great windows towards the moon, hanging down over the
harbour, he knew would never appeal to him in quite the same way again.
The following morning he supplemented his letter home by a telegram:

    To Sir Bertram Ballaston, Baronet, Ballaston Hall,
    Norfolk, England.

    Don't send any money have won hundred milles very bored going
    Rome with Carruthers to-night shall return within a month.

                                                            GREGORY.

                            END OF BOOK ONE

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                BOOK TWO



                               CHAPTER I


It was in a sense a dinner of celebration at Ballaston Hall in which
these four men were concerned, although, with the exception of one
guest, it was a family party. At the head of the table sat Sir Bertram;
thin, long and hard-jawed, with brilliant dark eyes, almost black, lips
and mouth sometimes cruel, sometimes humorous, a famous spendthrift, an
occasional libertine, but without a doubt a great sportsman. On his
left, Gregory, an almost startling reproduction of his father, but with
uncertainties in his face and expression which time as yet had not
moulded. Next to him, his uncle, Henry Ballaston; a smaller man, stiff,
cold, courtly and formal in speech and manner, with greater capacities
for kindliness but entirely devoid of that humorous twitch to the mouth.
He wore old-fashioned side whiskers. His dress waistcoat showed less
than the usual amount of shirt front, and his tie was almost a stock. On
the opposite side of the table sat Mr. Borroughes, the agent to the
estates; a mixture of sportsman, man of affairs and sycophant, never
altogether at ease with his host and, in consequence, rather overdoing
the assumption of such a state. Below the little party was a vast
expanse of polished but empty mahogany, for dinner had been served in
the great banquetting hall where places had often been laid in the past
for as many as sixty guests.

Rawson, the butler, ponderous yet light-footed, emerged from the shadows
of the apartment, carrying a second decanter of the port which they had
been drinking. He placed it reverently before Sir Bertram, who lifted it
first to the light, poured a little into his glass, sipped it and then
passed the decanter on to his son.

"Excellent!" he pronounced. "Almost as good a bottle as the first. A
wonderful bin! Henry--my dear Henry!"

His brother handed the decanter across the table to Borroughes.

"You are aware, Bertram," he said, "that two glasses of wine after
dinner are all I care for."

His speech was rather like that of an old-fashioned lawyer--prim, a
little clipped, extraordinarily precise. Sir Bertram sighed.

"I wonder whether there is anything in the world," he murmured, "which
would ever induce Henry to diverge from a habit?"

"It is less prejudice than a partiality," the latter pronounced. "Two
glasses I enjoy. More, so far as I am concerned, bring me no pleasure. I
agree with you, Bertram, that it is an excellent bin. I always enjoy
this wine, and I have been happier than usual in drinking it this
evening, on account of our pleasure in welcoming Gregory home again."

"Tell me about our new tenants at the Great House," Gregory enquired
presently, addressing Borroughes.

"Very desirable--very desirable indeed," the latter replied, delighted
at the chance of entering into the conversation. "Mr. Endacott,
curiously enough----"

"Endacott!" Gregory interrupted. "Did you say Endacott?"

Gregory, whose first enquiry had been a casual one, had set down the
glass which he had been in the act of raising to his lips and was
staring at Borroughes incredulously; staring at him and yet through him,
convinced in his heart, suddenly realising what had happened.

"Yes, Ralph Endacott," Borroughes continued. "Curiously enough, he
belongs to an old Norfolk family, although he has lived all his life in
China. Madame de Fourgenet, whom every one round here calls 'Madame', is
his sister. He is a great Oriental scholar, I believe. A famous man at
Oxford, in his day. Then there's his niece--Miss Claire Endacott--very
good-looking girl. That's all the family. They have taken the place just
as it stands, furniture and all, for three years."

"And paying the full rent, too, thank God!" Sir Bertram added. "I meant
to have told you, Gregory, but we've scarcely had a minute together yet.
You met the old chap in China, didn't you, and of course you travelled
home as far as Marseilles with the girl."

"Mr. Endacott was a partner in the great Eastern firm of Johnson and
Company, with branches at Alexandria, Tokio, and at several places in
China," Mr. Borroughes went on. "I made use of his banker's references,
and was given to understand that he was a man of great wealth."

"He knew to whom the property belonged before he took the house, I
suppose?" Gregory enquired.

"Naturally," the agent replied. "It was his sister who wrote to him
about it."

"Quite a remarkable coincidence your having come across him in China,"
Sir Bertram observed, moving the decanter once more towards his son. "I
wonder if he knows anything about your new possession, Gregory?"

"He knows more about it," was the somewhat grim response, "than any
other man breathing. His firm, as a matter of fact, bought the twin
Image from one of the robbers who held up and looted the train from
Pekin."

"A small world indeed," Sir Bertram murmured. "Tell us more about your
coming into touch with these people Johnson and Company. I am
interested."

Gregory glanced into the shadows. Rawson was out of sight at a huge
sideboard only dimly visible at the other end of the room, and the
footmen had already departed.

"Well, I've told you, haven't I, the story of my rescue on the river by
Wu Ling?" Gregory proceeded. "It seems this fellow is one of the firm
and does all the native trading for Johnson and Company. Naturally I
called upon him before I sailed and found him in their warehouse--the
most astonishing place! I told him of what had happened to poor Hammonde
and that only one of the Images had turned up. He listened to my story
without a smile or a single word. Then he took me into a sort of holy of
holies the firm had--a secret treasure house at the back of the
warehouse, filled with a marvellous collection of curios--turned on the
electric light--what an amazing anachronism it seemed!--and there,
smiling at me, was the other Image we looted from the temple, and which
had been stolen from the train--the one they called the Soul."

"My ethical sense," Sir Bertram observed, "in the question of 'meum and
tuum', has always been a little elastic, but did you possibly suggest
that he was a buyer of stolen goods?"

"My previous acquaintance with Wu Ling saved me from wasting my breath,"
Gregory replied drily. "From what he said, however, I gathered that he
did not immediately, at any rate, intend to dispose of the Image."

"Mr. Endacott mentioned in the course of conversation," Borroughes put
in, "that the business, although it had been immensely prosperous, was
being wound up. The Image that you are speaking of, therefore, is
certain some time or other to come upon the market."

Sir Bertram rose to his feet.

"We will have our coffee served in the library," he suggested. "Then we
can pass into Henry's sanctum and examine our new possession. You
haven't seen it yet, Borroughes, have you?"

"Not yet, Sir Bertram."

They left the room, crossed a fine tapestry-hung hall, and entered the
great library with its arched roof and famous stained-glass window; a
room of magnificent proportions. There were bookshelves reaching to the
ceiling, and opposite the fireplace a wonderfully carved Jacobean
sideboard on which coffee and liqueurs were already arranged. They
lingered here for a few minutes. Then, with a brief word of invitation,
Sir Bertram led the way to an inner door.

"You don't mind our invading your sanctum for a minute or two, Henry?"
he asked, looking round towards his brother.

"By no means," was the slightly formal reply. "I was expecting your
visit."

They passed through into a much smaller apartment, furnished with the
most complete and unexpected severity. There was a touch even of
monasticism in the bare, white stone walls, the high oriel windows and
the furniture of austere shape and design. Here, again, were bookcases,
containing, however, works of a different order from the calf-bound
volumes in the library. There were books on heraldry, on china, on
silver, on ancient furniture, books on all the various forms of art,
starting from the Renaissance, to the most modern period, and one entire
shelf was taken up by manuscript records, each stamped on the outside
with the arms of Ballaston. On a pedestal of black oak, standing in the
farther corner of the apartment, was the Image of the Body. Henry held a
lamp above his head and the four men looked at this new family
possession in silence.

"As a specimen of allegorical carving," Sir Bertram mused, "it is a
marvellous piece of work. One could conceive that this might be the
countenance of a man, even of a god, from whom every element of
spirituality was entirely absent."

"A piece of work of great constructive merit, I have no doubt," Henry
Ballaston observed. "As a subject for daily contemplation, I find it
displeasing."

"Most people would, I think, agree with you, Henry," his brother
conceded. "All the same we must not forget, the family fortunes being
what they are, that, although the expert whom we have had down rather
scoffs at the idea of there being jewels concealed inside, he expressed
his opinion that the Image as it stands, with as much of its history as
one would like to make known, is probably exceedingly valuable."

"A specimen of your purchases in China, Mr. Gregory?" Borroughes
enquired.

"I didn't buy it; I stole it," was the young man's cool reply. "One does
that sort of thing over there. I stole two of them. My friend and
accomplice had his throat cut, however, and only one of the Images got
through to the coast--the wrong one, I am afraid."

The agent looked doubtfully at his young host. It was a continual source
of discomfiture to him that he never knew when a Ballaston was in
earnest.

"I give you all warning," Gregory continued, "that this Image when
separated from its companion is a pretty dangerous possession. According
to the legend it is supposed to have a debasing and malevolent effect
upon its owners."

"Well, there's only Henry in this house to be corrupted," Sir Bertram
observed, stirring his coffee thoughtfully. "Nothing could make my
reputation in the County worse than it is, could it, Borroughes?"

The agent looked uncomfortable. He was a person who laughed a great deal
but who was utterly devoid of a sense of humour. Henry Ballaston frowned
in troubled fashion.

"Your life is not a careful one, Bertram," he said, "and you are not
exactly a pattern to your neighbours. Actual wrong-doing, however, is a
different thing. No man yet has ever found opportunity to say a word
against the honour of a Ballaston."

"That may come," his brother predicted, stretching out his hand towards
the cigarette box. "We can't go on much longer without money, can we,
Borroughes?"

"It is a difficult proposition, Sir Bertram," the agent replied gravely.

"Swindling to a city millionaire is second nature," Sir Bertram sighed;
"financial acumen, I believe it is called. A county squire, however,
finds few opportunities.--Off already, Borroughes?" he added, as the
latter approached with outstretched hand.

"If you will excuse me, Sir Bertram. It's a darkish ride home and I have
a sale in Norwich to-morrow and some accounts to look through to-night.
Glad to see you back again, Mr. Gregory. Good night, Mr. Ballaston."

"I will accompany you to the door," Henry Ballaston announced, rising to
his feet. "I may possibly not return," he added, turning to his brother.
"You will naturally have a great deal to say to Gregory."

The two men left the room together. Gregory took an easy-chair with his
back to the Image. His father refilled his glass with liqueur brandy,
drew a box of cigarettes to his side and seated himself opposite his
son. These were almost their first few minutes alone.

"Well, Gregory, old man, you couldn't quite bring it off then?" he
observed.

"Not quite, sir," his son acknowledged. "We did our best."

"No doubt about that. You had a narrow shave of it, as it was."

"And all for nothing, I am afraid."

Sir Bertram rose to his feet.

"I'm not so sure about that," he rejoined. "The man they sent down from
Christie's spent over an hour examining that Image. I've never seen a
fellow so interested in my life. He had to give it up in the end, but he
wasn't any more satisfied than I am."

Sir Bertram had wandered off into the other room, lifted the Image from
its pedestal and, bringing it back, placed it upon his knee. The
lamplight flashed upon its black, polished surface. To Gregory, its
expression seemed, if possible, even more vicious than ever.

"Gregory," his father continued thoughtfully, "you know who told me the
story. He was a man absolutely incapable of falsehood, and he knew what
he was talking about. He was the greatest man in China in those days. I
am as certain as I sit here that either this Image or the other one
contains the whole of the treasure of the temple."

"Why not have this one broken up?" Gregory suggested.

"And risk getting blown to pieces?"

The young man shook his head.

"A bit too thick, that," he protested. "I have a wonderful amount of
faith in the story, but I should think any explosive that was ever put
inside there would be a little mouldy by this time."

"I'm not so sure," Sir Bertram reflected. "Those priests were always
devils at protecting themselves against marauders. Besides, in any case,
the thing as it stands is worth something."

"Let's sell it then?" Gregory proposed eagerly.

His father's eyebrows were slightly uplifted.

"Has the old gentleman been exercising his malevolent influence upon
you?" he enquired, with a faintly sardonic smile. "Is that why you sent
it me home in such a hurry?"

Gregory frowned gloomily.

"I simply know that I detest it," he declared vigorously.

Sir Bertram's expression, cynical only at first, suddenly developed
humorous qualities.

"One might almost imagine you terrified by the superstition, my ingénu
son," he murmured, turning the Image around and gazing into its
features. "Gad, you're ugly, though! Different style, of course. Our
vices are, after all, the vices of gentle people. Here we have an
eloquent personification of brutality and bestiality. In real life I
doubt whether this fellow would even be able to conduct an orgy with
distinction."

"Put the damned thing down, Father," Gregory begged suddenly. "I lived
with it for three weeks and I hate it like hell."

Sir Bertram strolled into the inner room and replaced the Image upon the
pedestal. Then he came back to his son and laid his hand for a moment
upon his shoulder.

"Gregory," he said, "you're not going to tell me in cold blood that you
actually believe in the superstition."

"Of course I don't believe, but listen. I wanted the other Image.
Johnson and Company wanted mine. I wouldn't sell--not likely, after all
we'd been through. It was no good their naming a price for theirs,
because we had no money. Do you know what Wu Ling, the Chinaman who
rescued me and who apparently is one of the principals in the firm,
suggested?"

"Well?"

"He offered to gamble with me--the winner to have both statues."

"How like a Chinaman," Sir Bertram murmured. "It was a good sporting
offer, anyway."

"He got a pack of cards," Gregory continued. "Well--he won! I was to
send this Image back from the steamer. I swear that when I left the
warehouse I meant to do so. I had lost fairly, I suppose, and it seemed
to me from the first like a debt of honour. I returned on board the
ship. Then I looked at the Image and looked at it, and somehow the thing
didn't seem so clear to me, and--damn it, I sent the coolies away and
kept it!"

"Anything else?" Sir Bertram asked, after a moment's pause.

"Yes. You know that this man Endacott's niece was on board on her way
back to England--Madame's niece, too, I suppose, by-the-by. Lord, what a
mess-up!--Dad, we talk about most things pretty nakedly to one another,
but we don't often talk about women."

"One doesn't," his father murmured.

"Listen then," Gregory went on. "She is young, entirely innocent,
entirely adorable. I like her better than any girl I have ever come
across in my life. We became great friends. Then we danced at night. You
know what that means when you get near the Red Sea, and the Canal, and
all the rest of it. Of course you do. We danced every evening, and all
the time, down in my stateroom, that Image was leering at me. I began to
feel that I was losing control of myself. I tried to keep away from her.
She wouldn't have it. I made an ass of myself once and she forgave me.
She thought that she herself had perhaps misunderstood. I was so ashamed
of myself that, fortune or no fortune, I tried to throw the damned thing
overboard."

"And what happened?"

"It pitched in an outslung boat and was brought back to me," Gregory
explained grimly. "Afterwards--well, I offended again."

Sir Bertram sighed.

"I suppose God gave us the instincts," he murmured, "but the devil has
toyed with them since."

"She scarcely spoke to me again," Gregory concluded, "except out of her
sweetness when we met face to face on the dock at Marseilles. It was
because of her I went on to Monte Carlo, instead of coming straight
home, and of course I won. I played baccarat at Rome and won again. I
brought home more pocket money than I ever had before in my life. But I
hate that Image like hell. Now you know everything."

Sir Bertram moved to the sideboard, helped himself to a whisky and soda,
and returned to his place.

"Confidence for confidence," he said, stretching himself out
comfortably. "I'm not going to even comment upon your little confession,
Gregory, because I don't know what sort of a fellow your friend Wu Ling
was and I've never seen a Chinaman yet I'd trust for five seconds with a
pack of cards. I've bad news for you, though, I'm afraid. We are pretty
nearly broke. We can't go on more than a few more months."

"As bad as that!"

"I don't know how it is," Sir Bertram continued, "but luck always seems
against the gambler who takes the big chances--especially when it really
matters. If any man knows the points of a horse, I do. If there's any
amateur understands racing, I do. I bought my yearlings right. I trained
with Sam Roscoe, and there's none better, and the luck of old Harry's
pursued me this year, just as it did last. Up to three days before the
race Little June--you remember her--was favourite for the Derby. When
you left England you know what I was doing. I wasn't waiting for
starting price. I put on all I could at long odds. I got forty, thirty,
twenty, and at eighteen I left off. Then, without any rhyme or reason in
the thing, she went lame. She's done for. She'll never race again. It
isn't worth telling you the whole story. I've finished--haven't a horse
left. And I still owe Roscoe a thousand or two. You know old Mason, the
bookmaker--well, I owe him seven thousand. 'Pay me when you can, Sir
Bertram,' he said, 'and shake hands on it.' And I shook hands with him,
but, Gregory--God forgive me--I've never paid him. The lands bring us in
about thirteen thousand, taxes five thousand, interest on the mortgages
a little more than the rest. Query--how do we live? God knows!"

There was a short silence. Gregory had thrown away his cigarette and his
hands were clenching the arms of his chair. His face was set. The ghost
of this threatened horror had risen up between them.

"It means breaking the entail, I suppose?" he muttered at last. "You and
I can do it."

Sir Bertram rose to his feet, fidgeted for a moment upon the hearth-rug,
then stooped down and laid his hand upon his son's shoulder. So far as
it was possible for him to show emotion, he was showing it then.

"My lad," he said, "I am the sixteenth baronet. You would be the
seventeenth. Sentiment, but hell all the same, isn't it? And, mark you,
before we can sign the papers, I swear that Henry will shoot us. He's
living in a panic. I feel his eyes upon me wherever I go."

"Is there any other way out at all?" Gregory asked despairingly.

His father once more disappeared into the inner room and returned
carrying the Image.

"Gregory," he confided, "I believe in the legend. If the jewels aren't
in this one they are in the other."

There was something in Sir Bertram's eyes which spoke of
enterprise--something definite to be attempted. Gregory responded to it
at once.

"I'll go back to China and have another try if you say so," he declared.

Sir Bertram glanced round the room as though he feared a listener. His
voice, which was always low, became a whisper.

"You needn't," he confided. "The Soul is up at the Great House."



                               CHAPTER II


Ralph Endacott, erstwhile professor of Oxford University and partner in
the great Oriental house of Johnson and Company, now an English country
gentleman, sat before wide-flung French windows leading out on to the
lawn, sunken gardens and miniature park of the Great House at Market
Ballaston. In front of him was an oak writing table upon which were pen
and ink and a steel-clamped coffer, apparently of great age but attached
to which was a modern Bramah lock. Upon the blotting paper were a few
sheets of yellow, unfamiliar-looking, thick paper, covered with weird
hieroglyphics; in his left hand a pair of magnifying glasses. The scent
of the roses from outside had disturbed him in the midst of his labour.
He rang a silver bell which stood upon the edge of the table--rang it a
second time. Claire, a flutter of cool white, swung herself out of a
hammock close at hand and approached lazily.

"What is it, Nunks dear?" she enquired. "You know very well that none of
the servants can hear that bell, only me."

"It was you I wanted," her uncle declared. "Tell me, child, in what
devil-sent spirit of idiocy did I waste all those years in a musty,
God-forsaken country, whose only charm is that no one can understand it
and no one ever will. Was I a fool or am I a fool now?"

She laughed softly, leaning against the side of the open window.

"You were a fool," she decided. "I was a fool too, because I didn't
believe in England. I didn't believe in the green, or the trees, the
flowers, the softness, the rest of it all."

"You were too young to be foolish," he said. "It is only the old who can
find the way to folly. Do you know that during the last few days I have
discovered some manuscripts which, if I had been seated in that
musk-scented den in the corner of the warehouse, with the smell of the
East in my nostrils and the soft, purring call of mystery all the time
in the atmosphere, would have sent me into a state of wild excitement.
Here, to-day, I am gently and pleasantly interested. I have learned
values."

"Tell me about the manuscripts," she begged, passing finally through the
window and throwing herself into an easy-chair close at hand.

"There is a love poem here," he confided, "written in his own
handwriting by an emperor to a singing girl. I shall lock it away. It
was not meant to be read by barbarians. Here are the details of the
first plot to overcome the monarchy, and here," he went on, "is a
document more interesting than any I have yet come across--more
difficult to decipher, because there are priestly words in it and
phrases not used in modern Chinese. However, I have mastered it so far
as to know what it is about. In this atmosphere it is strange even to
dream of it."

He paused for a moment. It was a lazy hour in a July afternoon. Even the
birds had ceased to sing, but there were bees humming amongst the
flowers and the sound of a reaping machine in a meadow on the other side
of the red brick wall. Every now and then the roses bent their heads in
a flutter of the light west breeze and lent wafts of perfume to an air
already sweet with the odour of verbena and heliotrope.

"What about that last manuscript?" she asked.

He tapped the strange piece of thick, stained paper beneath his fingers,
yellow in places, drooping at the edges, covered with what seemed to her
to be meaningless hieroglyphics in the faintest of pink-coloured ink.

"This," he said, "is the letter of the High Priest of the Temple of
Yun-Tse, addressed to the Emperor, and telling him what means he had
adopted for guarding the secret jewels."

"Yun-Tse," she murmured, "the home of the Body and the Soul?"

He nodded.

"These few lines," he continued, smoothing out the paper thoughtfully
with his long, bony forefinger, "to any one who can understand them,
might easily be worth one of the great fortunes of the world."

"What are you going to do with it?" she enquired curiously.

He made no immediate reply, first folding up the letter and replacing it
in the coffer, which he carefully locked. Then he rose to his feet and
led the way out into the gardens.

"Tell me about that letter," she begged once more, as they seated
themselves under the cedar tree.

"Part of the old story, at any rate, seems to be true," he confided.
"Those two Images have always contained a secret hiding place, and
somewhere inside them are stored the jewels of the temple. On the back
of the document are instructions in the cipher of the priests, which as
yet I have not been able to translate. I am not sure that I shall ever
attempt to."

"But why not?" she asked wonderingly.

"If I did," he murmured, "I should know how to appropriate the jewels."

"But don't you want them?" she persisted. "Wouldn't that be very
wonderful?"

He looked up through the boughs of the tree; a worn, tired-looking man,
over whose high cheek bones the skin seemed tightly drawn. In ordinary
European costume he appeared somehow to have shrunken, to have lost
flesh and a certain amount of presence.

"It is nothing," he said. "Since I arrived in England it has cost me
many a weary hour to invest my money. Yesterday I heard from the
accountants who are winding up the affairs of Johnson and Company, and
it seems that there are still great sums to come."

"All made in that strange warehouse!" she exclaimed.

"There and in Alexandria," he replied. "I went out to China, Claire, as
your father may have told you, giving up a Chair worth eight hundred a
year at Oxford, and owning, perhaps, a couple of thousand pounds. I
became sort of unofficial adviser to Johnson and Company simply because
there were things about China which no other European knew. I was very
useful to them without a doubt, and in the end they made me a partner.
Now that we are winding up the business, it seems that my share is worth
something between three and four hundred thousand pounds."

"Amazing!" the girl gasped.

"Here," he continued, "in these few sentences may lie another fortune. I
am an old man, and I ask myself what good could it do to me to place
those secret jewels in the markets of the world, to hang them round the
necks and the shoulders of American millionairesses and the world's
courtesanes? We cannot breathe sweeter air than this, or more delicious
perfumes. We cannot look upon fairer scenes. We could not eat more,
drink more or sleep more. For your clothes and such pleasures as you may
care to indulge in you have already carte blanche. You are not one of
those who will need money to buy herself a husband. So tell me, child,
what could we do with more money?"

"I can think of nothing," she acknowledged.

"Then, for the moment, at any rate, we will let the fortune remain where
it is," he decided, "and keep our fingers unstained from sacrilege. Is
this a fairy prince, Claire, or a very handsome young man in grey
tweeds?"

She drew a little, fluttering breath. Her fingers closed over his.

"Nunks," she said, "it is Gregory Ballaston."

"That is a young man," her uncle observed, "with whom I might have
something to say. Wave to him, Claire. He need not tug at that bell."

Gregory Ballaston, hat in hand, and probably less at his ease than on
any previous occasion in his life, crossed the lawn towards them.
Claire, leaning forward, watched him intently; her uncle with subdued
and somewhat sardonic amusement. His attitude towards them both was
entirely tentative. Claire offered her hand which he took gratefully.

"I have come," he announced, "to welcome you to Ballaston."

"Your obvious duty as our landlord," Endacott remarked, also offering
his hand. "Pray sit down."

Gregory dragged up a wicker chair, with an air of relief.

"When you spoke of settling down in Norfolk," he observed, turning to
Claire, "I had no idea that we might possibly become such near
neighbours."

"Nor I, at the time," she answered. "How beautiful your house is. I
spent quite half an hour this morning looking at it from the other side
of the garden."

"I hope," he said, a little anxiously, "that you are going to give us
the pleasure of seeing you there this evening."

"Your father has been kind enough to ask us to dine," Mr. Endacott
rejoined. "I have just despatched a note, accepting with much pleasure."

"I think you are very generous," Gregory declared, with a certain
contriteness in his tone.

"The adjective seems to me to demand explanation," Mr. Endacott
ruminated.

"You know very well, sir," Gregory continued, "that there are
circumstances which would have justified you in refusing this invitation
and refusing to meet me anywhere."

"Ah!" Mr. Endacott murmured. "That affair of the Image, of course."

Claire rose to her feet. Gregory waved her back again.

"Please listen, Miss Endacott," he begged. "I want you to hear what I
have to say. You know what happened?"

She assented gravely.

"My uncle has told me," she admitted.

"I can assure you, sir," Gregory went on, "that when I left those
extraordinary premises of yours, I meant to send you the thing straight
back. I had one last look at it, however, and the longer I looked, the
more uncertain I felt about the whole business. I kept telling myself
that it was a debt of honour. Then I kept on finding poisonous ideas in
my brain--ideas which I honestly believe I have never had before. I was
parting with perhaps a great treasure just on the turn of a card--a
Chinaman's turn of the card, too."

"You don't suggest," Mr. Endacott began----

"I suggest nothing," Gregory interrupted. "All I know is that my moral
self--if I may use rather a grandiloquent term--was completely upset. I
locked myself into my cabin with the Image. Soon after the ship sailed.
Of course I know," he went on, "this must all sound stupidly inadequate,
but there it is. Superstition or no superstition, I swear that that
Image has an evil influence. I have proved it."

Claire looked thoughtfully up into the trees; her uncle stroked his chin
with an air of profound meditation.

"Well," he enquired, "have you found the fortune yet?"

"Not yet," Gregory admitted. "My father has had an expert down and he
can discover no trace of any hiding place in it."

Mr. Endacott smiled very faintly.

"You must find that disappointing," he observed, "after all your
efforts."

"If the jewels are not in this one," Gregory said, "they are probably in
the other."

"Ah!" Mr. Endacott murmured.

"If it is not an impertinent question, sir," he proceeded, "is it true
that Johnson and Company are relinquishing the business?"

"Quite true."

"Then the other Image----?"

"The other Image is not for sale," Mr. Endacott said calmly.

"Who has it?" Gregory ventured.

"Well," Mr. Endacott confided, "the members of the firm were Wu Ling, a
nebulous Mr. Johnson and myself. When I consider," he continued, "the
extreme measures which you and your friend took to possess yourselves of
these Images--measures, by the way, which may be justified by precedent
but hardly by morality--I can scarcely, do you know, bring myself to
reveal whether it is the domicile of Wu Ling, the possible mansion of
Mr. Johnson in Alexandria, or my very conveniently near abode here,
which might be indicated as the scene of your future adventures."

Gregory was already sunburnt, but he felt his cheeks grow hotter.

"Well, I suppose I asked for that," he admitted grimly. "What about the
Image, which is at present in our possession? To whom do you consider
that it belongs?"

"The firm being now dissolved," Mr. Endacott mused, "the matter perhaps
requires reflection. I will answer you later on. In the meantime, I
shall leave you and my niece to better your acquaintance. My Eastern
habits prevail. I desire to sleep."

He made his way towards the house; a lank, shambling figure, yet not
without a certain dignity in his abstracted movements. Gregory glanced
anxiously towards his companion. She remained seated in her chair,
munching some chocolates from a box.

"Have one?" she invited, holding it out towards him.

He declined, but was conscious of a poignant sense of relief. With the
airy tact of her sex she had demonstrated her position. It was to be
peace, not war; oblivion, if not forgiveness.

"What an extraordinary stroke of fortune it is," he declared, "that you
should have chosen this particular corner of Norfolk to settle down in."

"It makes the world seem a small place, doesn't it?" she remarked,
frankly licking her delicately manicured fingers and placing the lid
upon the box with a great air of determination. "It was my aunt living
here, of course, which decided us."

"Madame," he confided, "has been the one picturesque figure in this
neighbourhood for years. She was always beautiful, and she is always on
the point of being cured. I believe that my father looks upon her as his
greatest friend."

"She is very attractive," Claire admitted. "She wears the most beautiful
clothes I have ever seen. I wonder whether it is a proof of vanity or of
an immense sense of self-respect which leads a woman who spends her
whole life upon a couch to take such pains with her appearance."

"If it be vanity, there is a leaven of philanthropy in it," he observed,
"because every one loves looking at her. Besides, I believe now she
really is going to get well. This new doctor who comes over from Norwich
has performed some wonderful cures. It isn't as though the weakness had
been born with her. It was all the result of that motor accident, you
know."

"It would be wonderful if she got well," Claire murmured.

They talked for a while of trifles; the absence of other neighbours, the
country around.

"When one gets over the spell of this lotuslike existence," she asked
him, "what is there to do here--in the way of exercise, I mean?"

He looked down at the sunken lawn.

"Your tennis court used to be good," he said. "One of ours is quite
playable and there are plenty of golf links a few miles away."

"Where does one buy horses?"

"At Norwich. Dad will tell you all about that. The hunting isn't bad. My
father is master of one of the packs that hunt near here. They begin
cubbing at the end of next month. The shooting parties will give you
plenty of exercise too, if you are fond of walking."

"I like all these things," she admitted, a little more earnestly, "and I
love this garden. The peace of it is almost stupefying. I feel somehow
or other that I should like to grow old in this atmosphere."

"You never would," he rejoined.

She laughed at him. Suddenly she was serious. She leaned forward in her
chair.

"In a few minutes," she said, "I must go in to see Madame. Before you
leave, though, I want to ask you just one thing. What was the chief
reason which made you in the first instance come over to China on that
mad adventure?"

"Money," he answered bluntly.

"But why do you need money? You have the most beautiful home I ever
saw."

He laughed with a bitterness which he took no pains to conceal.

"It is to keep that home," he explained, "that we need money. Perhaps
you scarcely understand the troubles that a certain class of English
people have had to face lately, especially people who come of
extravagant stock, like my father and me. It wasn't pure love of
adventure that took me out to China. It was the hope of saving Ballaston
if I succeeded."

"Is it really as bad as that?" she asked sympathetically.

"Worse," he rejoined. "I believe that my father has finally made up his
mind that there is no chance of saving the place."

She was thoughtful for several moments, affected even perhaps more than
she realised by the note of dejection in his tone. His enterprise, which
had presented itself before to her imagination as a sort of buccaneering
feat, not exactly reprehensible but faintly tinged with sordidness,
suddenly showed itself in a new light. She realised alike the chivalry
of it and the pathos, and how near he had been to success.

"Unless, after all, you discover the jewels," she observed, a little
abruptly.

"I am afraid there isn't much chance of that," he sighed. "Somehow, over
here it seems absurd to take these superstitions seriously, but I can't
get away from the feeling that if the jewels are in existence they will
never be discovered so long as the Images are separated."

She leaned a little towards him.

"The jewels do exist," she assured him softly.

A touch of the old frenzied earnestness came back to him. His eyes
glistened, not altogether with cupidity, but with the adventurer's pride
in success.

"How do you know that?" he demanded.

She hesitated for a few moments. Yet, after all, why should there be any
secrecy? The adventure, such as it had been, was finished. Here in this
quiet backwater of life there seemed something grotesque about it all.
Nevertheless she spoke uneasily, almost reluctantly.

"My uncle has discovered a manuscript," she confided. "The jewels are
there."

"In which Image?" he enquired breathlessly.

She shook her head.

"I cannot tell you any more," she said. "In fact, I do not know any
more. Everything rests with Uncle. If you can persuade him to let you
have a copy of the manuscript or to tell you what is in it, perhaps,
after all, you will find yourself rich again. If I can help I will."

"If one only knew in which Image!" he muttered.

"Why, what difference could that make?" she asked, smiling. "If they are
in yours, well, some day or other I am sure you will be able to secure
them. If they are in his, then I am afraid your adventure will have been
in vain."

The sunlight caught her hair as she leaned once more back against the
cushions. Gregory suddenly forgot the jewels. He was uneasy, unsure of
himself, curiously stirred by an unexpected wave of feeling. His sense
of proportion diminished. There had been a cataclysm and nothing
remained on earth but this old-world garden with its elm trees and its
odorous cedar, and Claire!

"It will never have been in vain," he declared, with a curious little
break in his tone.



                              CHAPTER III


If at times Mr. Endacott seemed a little out of his milieu at Ballaston
Hall that evening, Claire, on the other hand, was an instantaneous and
gorgeous success. In the Jacobean banquetting hall where she sat at her
host's right hand, her fresh, girlish beauty, with its additional charm
of a constant and piquant enthusiasm, seemed in exquisite contrast to
her majestic but gloomy surroundings; the great, dimly lit room, the
stately rows of oil paintings, the cumbersome but magnificent furniture,
impressive not because of any intrinsic art of selection, but because it
was true to its period and had grown old with the house. Sir Bertram,
whose attentions to the other sex, apart from times of necessity, had
become rarer with the years, was, before the evening was over, proving
himself not only a courteous, but even a devoted host, and Henry, who
voluntarily never addressed a woman at all, actually waited for
opportunities to attempt conversation in his old-fashioned, Thackerayan,
but courtly fashion. Gregory watched her success with complacent
amusement, content with temporary effacement, and resigned himself to
the entertainment of her uncle.

After dinner they entered upon a general and informal exploration of the
house, of the great picture gallery with its shining oak floor and its
circular carved balustrade, leading down to the hall below, the
Victorian drawing-room, its colourings quaintly sweet by the light of
the lamps, its perfume a fragrant mixture of lavender and potpourri,
curiously reminiscent of brocaded gowns, hooped skirts and vinaigrettes.
They looked into the powdering closet on their way out and lingered for
a few minutes on the south terrace, from which stretched a moonlit
panorama of Italian gardens with tall cypresses, broad walks leading
down to the lake. Claire became almost silent. She and Gregory had
drifted a little apart from the others.

"At least," she murmured sympathetically, "I realise now how terrible
the very thought of parting with your home must be."

"It has been ours since 1380," he told her. "Uncle Henry could tell you
the exact date and the name and record of every Ballaston since. I can't
pretend that my memory is as good. I never had much head for detail, but
we are all alike in our love for the place."

"I know I am very ignorant," she said, a little hesitatingly, "but your
pictures--the Gainsboroughs and Corots and Romneys, and all those
treasures too--surely they must be worth a great deal--a very great deal
of money."

"They are all heirlooms," he explained, "just as the land is entailed.
They belong to us as Ballastons only. We could not sell a single
picture. I don't know why I should tell you all this," he went on,
"except that just now and then you seem to think that I was only an
ordinary fortune hunter. I wasn't, you know, really. I went to China to
try to get the money to keep us going. It may have been the wrong way,
but it was the only way I was any good at. We haven't the instincts, any
of us, for making money by legitimate methods."

"You should do like so many young Englishmen," she suggested. "Come over
to the States and marry one of our millionairesses."

He made a little grimace.

"We all, even the worst of us, have our code," he reflected.
"Personally, I would sooner rob a man. Besides----"

She turned towards the open windows through which was an impression of
the faded but stately drawing-room, fine davenports and costly china,
with little pools of shaded light falling upon stretches of carpet
delicately blue, though threadbare in places.

"I think we had better go inside," she said, with sudden decision.

"Nevertheless," he murmured, as he followed her, "there is a 'besides'."

They found the others in the smaller library, standing in a little
semicircle round the Image of the Body. They had evidently only just
arrived, for the door of the main apartment was open behind them and
through it was a vista of liqueur glasses and coffee cups.

"You are an authority, I believe, Mr. Endacott, upon all matters
connected with the East," Sir Bertram remarked to his visitor.

Endacott nodded. He had adjusted his more formidable-looking spectacles,
through which he was steadfastly regarding the Image.

"I think," he admitted drily, "that I might be said to know more about
Chinese art and Chinese objets d'art than any other man alive."

"I gather from my son," Sir Bertram continued, "that you are acquainted
with the history of this particular Image."

"Intimately," was the somewhat sardonic reply. "The fellow statue to
this one--the Soul--was acquired, after the desecration of the temple,
by the firm with which I was connected in China. Their antiquity alone,
apart from their history, makes these twin Images intensely interesting.
They are reputed to have been the work of Yun-Tse, the priest after whom
the temple was named, and to have been fashioned for the purpose of
concealing the jewels and treasures of the temple in times of danger. I
see no reason to doubt the truth of the story."

"Amazing!" Sir Bertram murmured.

"Yun-Tse," Endacott proceeded, "was the first apostle of Chinese
arrestment. He preached the doctrine that China had advanced far enough
along the great avenues of art and science and knowledge. He looked
still farther ahead and he saw that material progress meant actual
retrogression in feeling, in beauty, in genuine achievement. It was he
who started the crusade against foreigners."

"From an æsthetic point of view," Henry Ballaston ventured a little
stiffly, "one can find little to admire in this very extraordinary piece
of work."

Endacott turned towards the speaker, his thin lips protruding.

"Only by contrast with its fellow," he retorted sharply. "It was the
wish of the sculptor, a wish which has been zealously kept through the
centuries, that the two statues shall never be separated. Each is the
complement of the other. Body and Soul commingled make one life. The
artist dragged aside the component parts and separated them. Here in
this one we have all that is gross and evil, unredeemed by any strain of
virtue, and in the other statue there is charity and spirituality
without a trace of the defiling qualities. They are parted now, perhaps
for ever. I cannot say that I regard with equanimity the action of the
person responsible for this deed of vandalism."

There was a moment's silence. Endacott's voice was contemptuous, almost
provocative. Gregory was on the point of speech, but Claire's fingers
suddenly pressed his arm.

"Your point of view, Mr. Endacott," Sir Bertram admitted courteously,
"is easily understood. Yet I am afraid that the spirit of loot has been
rampant in Englishmen throughout history, else the British Empire could
scarcely have existed. And speaking of loot," he went on, "we come to
the one really serious question concerning our possession here. Do you
honestly believe that at the present moment it is as it stands the
receptacle for a portion of the jewels of the temple?"

"I certainly do," was the curt reply.

Again silence; a little tremor of excitement amongst the group. Sir
Bertram laid his long, slim fingers upon the broad, shining edge of the
Image.

"But, my dear sir," he pointed out, "what possible place of concealment
could there be in, say, this particular Image? Examine it as carefully
as you will, you cannot find any sign of a join or aperture."

"The Chinese have with justice been called magicians," Endacott observed
drily. "At least, when they hide they hide. If there had been, as you
remark, any aperture or join to be seen, theirs would have been a clumsy
device at the best."

"If the jewels are there," Sir Bertram reflected, "and we can find no
other way, then the statue must be broken up."

Endacott turned towards his host. His manner and expression were alike
displeasing. The glance which flashed from behind his heavy spectacles
was one of utter contempt.

"You carry vandalism beyond the conceivable limits of thought," he
declared. "The person who could destroy work such as that would deserve
the fate which would probably befall him."

"There are times," Sir Bertram rejoined, "when necessity is compelling.
Let us turn this from an abstract to a concrete discussion. My son
risked his life to obtain this Image and the one which was unfortunately
lost--risked it in the belief that it contained jewels of great value.
Am I not right in saying, Mr. Endacott, that you could, if you would,
assist us in the matter of obtaining those jewels?"

"I could," Endacott replied quietly. "I have at the present moment a
manuscript in my possession which I believe would solve the riddle."

"You will not refuse your help then," Sir Bertram persisted.

Endacott did not hesitate for a moment. His tone was acid, his manner
brusque to the point of rudeness.

"I do most certainly and absolutely refuse," he said. "To have removed
the Images at all from their resting place was an unforgivable action.
This spirit of loot you speak of presents itself to me as an act of
common robbery. I refuse to countenance it. I refuse my help."

There was a brief silence; awkward, yet in a sense dramatic. Henry
Ballaston, who had been standing a little in the background, took a step
forward, then paused. The parchment-like pallor of his face was almost
ghastly. There were pin-pricks of fire in his cold, blue eyes.
Nevertheless, he said nothing. Such words as had risen to his lips he
repressed. Sir Bertram for a moment had looked frankly angry. He too,
however, remained silent. Mr. Endacott turned his back upon the Image
and strolled across towards the side-board.

"May I be privileged," he asked, "to smoke one more of your excellent
cigarettes? After which, I will beg you to excuse my niece and me. We
have the habit of retiring early."

Sir Bertram was at once the courteous host. The discussion was closed.

"I shall not attempt," he said, "to do my few treasures the injustice of
showing them by this light, but I hope, Mr. Endacott, that you will give
me another opportunity of asking your opinion on them--you and your
niece," he added, turning with a smile to Claire. "You know we have
quaint customs in England," he went on. "We have laws by reason of which
we become only the custodians of all our treasures. There are pictures
here of great value and great beauty, and three generations of my family
spent fortunes in collecting china."

"I shall be very happy to see your collection," Endacott assented. "I
know little about pictures; something, perhaps, of china."

"My brother Henry is our showman," Sir Bertram observed. "He gives the
whole of his time to the care of our treasures. By-the-by, my
sister--Lady Annistair--will be here on Sunday afternoon. You will,
perhaps, bring your niece to tea. It would be a good opportunity for a
preliminary inspection."

Endacott accepted without enthusiasm, but with a certain measured
politeness, which was as far as he ever progressed towards geniality.
Gregory escorted the departing guests to the already wide-flung hall
door. Claire made a little grimace at him, as they dropped behind for a
moment.

"I am so sorry," she whispered. "Perhaps he'll change his mind."

"In any case," he answered softly, "thank you for being sorry."

He walked out with them into the scented twilight and Claire waved him
another little farewell as they rolled off in the hired car. When he
returned to the library he found his father and his uncle both standing
before the Image. They turned at the sound of his approaching footsteps.
There was something a little suggestive in their unnatural silence.

"Pleasant fellow, your friend Endacott!" the former remarked easily.

"It is much to be hoped," Henry Ballaston said, in a low tone, "that he
will not persist in his present most unreasonable attitude."



                               CHAPTER IV


Sir Bertram, very lithe and debonair in his grey flannels and Panama
hat, issued from his front door, whistled to dogs who seemed to come to
him from all directions, and, humming snatches of music from an almost
forgotten Italian opera, stepped down from the terrace and strolled
across the park, keeping as far as possible in the shade of the great
oak trees. Arrived at the boundary he vaulted over the stile, exchanged
greetings right and left as he passed down the village street, and,
turning along the lane to the right, pushed open the gate of the Little
House and knocked at the door with his ash stick. At a word of command,
the dogs settled down to watch wistfully for the end of their vigil, and
Sir Bertram, admitted by an elderly and ungracious-looking domestic,
entered the little hall, where he laid his hat and stick upon an oak
chest, and afterwards passed into the long, low room, the door of which
the maid had opened. A woman lying upon a couch held out both her hands;
long, beautiful hands, ringless and almost transparently white. He
raised them to his lips and drew a chair to her side.

"You grow more beautiful every day, Angèle," was his greeting.

The faintest tinge of colour stole into her ivory pale cheeks, and her
eyes filled with a very affectionate light. There was not a single grey
thread in her carefully arranged golden-brown hair, yet it was obvious
that she was no longer a young woman.

"And you," she murmured, "I listen here sometimes for your footsteps,
and I look down the lane, and I can never tell whether it is you or
Gregory who comes. You are a wonderful person, especially considering
the life you lead," she added, with a little grimace.

"My dear," he said, "we are all the victims of predestination. It is
such a comfortable doctrine that I have embraced it permanently. I am a
Ballaston and Gregory will be one after me."

"So far as that is concerned, Henry also is a Ballaston," she reminded
him.

"Henry," he pointed out, "is not an elder son. It is the elder sons who
inherit the full measure of the virtues and vices of our family. Henry,
I admit, is a freak, God bless him!"

"So you had my relatives to dine last night," she remarked. "Tell me
what you think of my niece."

"The most amazingly attractive young person whom I have ever met in my
life," he replied, with what was for him enthusiasm. "As a rule I find
extreme youth overpowering--a mixture of shyness and precocity, you
know."

"She is certainly beautiful," Madame murmured. "Presently I shall get
used to her and like to have her near me. Just now I find youth a little
depressing. Gregory has altered."

"It is disappointment," his father sighed. "He had a stirring adventure,
though. I suppose he has told you all about it."

Madame nodded.

"After all," she said, "he brought one of the Images home."

"And a lot of good to us it is," Sir Bertram remarked ruefully. "There
is only one man who could help us, Angèle."

"Ralph?"

He nodded silently.

"A most impossible person," Madame sighed. "His feet are on the earth,
his head in the clouds and his heart in China. I am afraid, as a matter
of fact, that he utterly disapproved of Gregory's enterprise."

"Dog-in-the-mangerish, I call it," Sir Bertram grumbled. "You can't say
that jewels collected by the priests of a temple, which have been hidden
for practically a hundred years, belong now to any one in particular. I
am afraid I still have sufficient of the Francis Drake outlook to claim
that they belong to whoever has the courage and the wit to find them."

"The buccaneering spirit," she observed, with a faint smile of
amusement. "You always had it, my dear Bertram. Nothing, I am sure,
except the most rigid sense of honour, has kept you from robbing your
friends."

"I shall probably have to end my days doing that," he sighed, "in some
Continental Spa or other. Another year will see us through at
Ballaston."

She took his hand and held it.

"We won't believe that," she said softly. "Something must happen."

"I don't exactly see what."

"You ought to have married," she declared. "When I think of the young
women--heaps of them with any amount of money--who were in love with
you! You ought to have married again."

"I had the best reason in the world, dear Angèle, for remaining single,"
he replied. "We won't speak of that."

She turned her head towards the window and her beautiful eyes were for a
moment a little less clear. The window looked out on to a very pleasant
strip of garden, almost of the cottage variety, crowded with flowers and
with a long, narrow pergola still hung with roses. Inside, the room
itself, with its grey walls and hangings, its few French etchings, the
cabinet of choice china, seemed to possess also some measure of the
distinction of its owner.

"Bring me my mirror and vanity case from the table, please, Bertram,"
she begged. "Smoke, if you will. You will find your own make of
cigarettes there."

He did her bidding, his head almost touching the ceiling of the low room
when he rose to his feet. Madame busied herself with a very exquisite
little gold case, peering at herself meanwhile in the mirror.

"I have an idea," Sir Bertram remarked, as he lit a cigarette, "that
your brother dislikes me."

"Why?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"I suppose he has every reason to, Angèle, from a brother's point of
view, and most other people's, too."

"If any other person said that to me," she rejoined quietly, "I should
be very angry with them indeed. You have given me all that I have had
worth having in life--more than I ever dared to hope for. You give me
now what keeps me alive."

He took her fingers in his and held them. They were interrupted by the
entrance of a maid who brought a little tea table to her mistress' side;
a very dainty affair, with a Queen Anne silver teapot and two Sèvres
cups, thin bread and butter, cream and lemon.

"Miss Besant still going on all right?" he enquired, as soon as they
were alone again.

"She is good after her fashion," Madame acknowledged. "She is a
discontented creature with queer humours, and the usual moodiness of the
unmarried girl of thirty. God knows I'm trying enough! One can't blame
her if she gets jumpy sometimes. She does her best."

"And Sir James," he enquired; "has he been down this week?"

"He comes again on Monday," she answered. "I am keeping up
everything--massage, baths and diet. As a matter of fact, I think I'm
getting fat. Anna and Miss Besant were quite out of breath when they
carried me to my room last night. What do you think?"

She threw on one side the beautiful lace wrap which had covered her, and
her eyes looked towards him with faint, provocative enquiry. He passed
his hand along her arms, and gently over her body. She had the figure of
a thin but graceful child of fourteen, except that her feet and ankles
were more beautiful.

"I see no change in you," he assured her, "during all these years.
Illness seems to have kept you young. Do you know that you are still
very beautiful, Angèle?"

Again the faint flush, the gleam of softening happiness in her face.

"You mustn't turn my head, please," she begged.

"Then I must leave off talking," he replied, "for you are fast turning
mine. Shall I read to you?"

"De Musset, please. The little volume of later poems. I kept them for
you."

He read for half an hour, sympathetically and well. When he laid down
the volume her eyes thanked him.

"You are missing Ascot," she remarked, as he made preparations for
departure.

He nodded. "Between ourselves," he confided, "I owe my bookmaker just a
little beyond the limit of the amount with which I care to allow him to
credit me. I haven't a horse running, as you know, or in training. It
seems to me I shall have to get through the summer on golf and tennis. I
am going to try and keep the hounds, although of course it will be the
last season."

"Poor dear!" she murmured. "And poor idiot too! You know I have money,
Bertram--a great deal more than I need. I don't spend half of it, and
Ralph says there is more to come to me. Why mayn't I help?"

He bent down and kissed her tenderly.

"My dear," he said, "if ever the day comes when I can call myself your
husband, I may accept your bounty. Until then--well, we won't talk of
such matters."

A delicate little wrinkle of dissatisfaction furrowed her brows. She
shook her head at him.

"You are terribly obstinate," she sighed. "You will come on Thursday?"

"Without fail," he promised.

The dogs rose up from all sides as he passed out. He lingered for a
moment to talk to the rather sulky but not unpleasant-looking girl, who
was cutting some roses in the strip of front garden.

"Madame looks well," he observed. "I hope that you are still content
with the neighbourhood, Miss Besant?"

"I like it very much," she assured him.

"If the doctor decides to permit Madame's visit to the Hall next week,"
he added, "we shall have, I hope, the pleasure of seeing you there."

She thanked him a little stiffly. Sir Bertram whistled to his dogs,
gazed for a moment at the high red brick wall opposite, which encircled
the domain of the Great House, and, with a little bow of farewell,
turned towards the village.



                               CHAPTER V


That evening Endacott, in response to an urgent summons, rose somewhat
reluctantly from his chair under the cedar tree, finished his coffee and
offered a grudging explanation of his departure.

"Your aunt has sent in to say that she wishes to see me particularly,"
he confided to Claire. "Just the hour of the day when I like to rest!"

"What a pity!" she murmured. "Shall I come with you?"

He shook his head.

"No need for two of us to go on a fool's errand," he grumbled.

He crossed the lawn, passed down a gravel path, and, opening the postern
gate, made his way into the lane which divided the Great House and the
Little House. A moment or two later he was ushered into Madame's
drawing-room.

"You did not mind coming, Ralph?" she asked a little anxiously.

"As a rule," he admitted, selecting a chair close to her couch, "I
prefer my evenings undisturbed. Since you expressed a wish to see me,
however, I am here."

His tone seemed scarcely propitious. She looked at him wistfully. The
years, she decided, had treated him hardly. There was little of sympathy
in his face, little left of gentleness. Almost from the first she felt
that her task was hopeless.

"Sir Bertram came down to see me this afternoon," she began.

He nodded without speech, and waited.

"He comes down every other day when he is at Ballaston," she went on.
"No one in the world, Ralph, has ever been so kind to me."

"That," he rejoined, "may be a matter of opinion."

"But Ralph," she pleaded, "it isn't a matter of opinion at all. It is a
fact. I ought to know, oughtn't I? Look at me. What am I but a poor
invalid woman, the victim of a terrible accident. My limbs have been
almost useless for years. Even now I can scarcely move. I am a
depressing sight for any one. What but real affection and kindness could
bring him here day after day?"

"Did kindness," he asked bluntly, "prompt him to take you away from your
husband?"

"Bertram never took me away from Maurice," she expostulated. "Maurice
left me--left me for some Algerian dancing girl, for whom he bought a
villa at Cannes and on whom he squandered half his fortune. All the
world knows that. Bertram brought me back from Paris a crushed,
humiliated woman. It wasn't his fault that he was in the motor when the
accident happened."

"There have been different versions of the affair," Endacott declared
moodily.

Madame's eyes suddenly flashed.

"If you dare tell me that I may not love Bertram--that I do not love
him--that there is any sin in my loving him, then you are a fool!" she
cried. "Of course I love him. No one in the world could ever have been
so wonderful to a woman as he has been to me."

"His reputation," Endacott began----

"Ralph!" she interrupted indignantly. "You are too great a man to talk
such shibboleth. I dare say he has been a roué, and a profligate and a
great gambler. I dare say he has squandered his money, has been reckless
and selfish, but don't you understand, Ralph, he is of the sort of men
who could never treat a woman badly? I wish I could make you understand.
At least, believe me that Bertram has treated me from the moment we
first met--even when I was desperate, willing in my heart to consent to
anything--as though I were a thing almost sacred. He kept my
self-respect alive. I'm a broken creature now, but all there is in my
life worth having I owe to him."

Endacott moved a little uneasily in his chair.

"Well," he said, "we will not dig into the past. It is scarcely
profitable, anyhow. Your message said that you wished to see me
particularly this evening."

"Ralph," she begged, "we have drifted a long way apart, but we were
children together. Can't we talk in a little more friendly fashion?
Can't you look as though you remembered that we are still brother and
sister?"

He took her hand a little awkwardly.

"My dear Angèle," he pointed out, "the very fact that I chose to come
here is proof that I remember it. I returned to England partly for
Claire's sake, and partly because I wished to be near you. I admit that
I did not know that you were living in the shadow and the lustre of the
Ballaston régime, but that is nothing--prejudice, without a doubt. I
came. If I could make your life easier, I would be glad. Is it money? I
have plenty."

She shook her head.

"I want to save the Ballastons," she confided.

"Are they in any particular danger?" he asked coldly.

"You can't have lived here even this short time without knowing it," she
answered. "Bertram's father was a great gambler, and Bertram himself has
gambled. Quite true. He has raced and made a failure of it. That also is
true. He has kept expensive establishments everywhere, spent money like
water, lived altogether beyond his means. All quite true. Other men have
done this, Ralph, who are not worthless, and Bertram Ballaston is not
worthless. Every acre of the estate is mortgaged now. Unless they can
raise money within the next few months there is nothing left for them
but to break the entail, pay their debts and disappear."

Endacott was unmoved, his indifference apparent.

"Would the world be any the worse?" he ventured.

"We will leave the world out," she entreated. "It would break my heart."

"What can I do about it?" he asked, after a moment's pause.

"Perhaps nothing," she admitted. "I do not ask you to attempt
impossibilities."

"What do you ask?" he persisted doggedly.

"Bertram believes," she went on, "that in that Image which Gregory went
out to China to try to secure is hidden a treasure."

"Secure," he sneered, "is a quaint word."

"I won't argue with you about that, Ralph," she said. "The fact remains
that it was a dangerous adventure for a young man and it was undertaken
for a worthy object. He risked his life, didn't he, a dozen times over?
Perhaps he failed. You know best."

"What do I know?" he demanded.

"Whether he really has a chance of finding the treasure--whether the
story is true."

Endacott was silent for several moments, no longer indifferent, gazing
into the lamplit recesses of the room, the muscles around his eyes more
than once twitching.

"Supposing that it is true," he suddenly burst out, his long frame
distended, his thin lips parted so that his yellow teeth almost
protruded, his eyes steely--"supposing it is true that he has, say, a
portion of them in his grasp--the treasures which the priests of Yun-Tse
have collected through all the centuries--what are they but the emblems
of self-sacrifice, the gifts of men aiming towards spirituality, denying
themselves to give to some shadowy god? Think of it, Angèle--century
after century, denying themselves, those poor creatures who lived with
their heads bent to the land, feeding like cattle, living and dying like
sheep, denying themselves for the sake of that strange vein of
spirituality that runs through all so-called heathen races. Is all their
self-denial, all they went through, the result of it all, to go to
reinstate in luxury and prosperity a family of foreign roués and
gamblers?"

"Why go into the history of the treasure?" she demanded. "What about all
the treasures of Peru and Mexico, brought into the old world? Where did
they come from? Who asks? Who cares? What about the adventurers all the
world over, who wrenched from the new countries they risked their lives
to discover, gold and gems and metals and brought them to the
melting-pot of life? You were not always a sentimentalist, Ralph," she
went on, after a moment's half-choked pause. "You know perfectly well
that if the gems are there, whatever their history may be, they are no
good to any one hidden and unseen. If, on the other hand, they belong to
any one to-day, any one family, any one power, they belong to the family
who learned of their existence and whose son went out and risked his
life to acquire them."

"You are very eloquent, Angèle," he observed in a noncommittal manner.

"Every one who believes what they say is eloquent," she rejoined.

He rose to his feet and walked to the further end of the room abruptly
and without excuse. For several moments he looked out of the window,
first across to the red brick wall bordering his domain, and then down
the narrow lane at the end of which half a dozen villagers were gathered
together, sluggishly gossiping. Above the roofs of the village was the
sloping park, but the moon had not yet risen and here was only a sea of
obscurity. On his way back he poured himself out a glass of water and
drank it.

"Angèle," he said, "our lives have lain very far apart. I have seen very
little of you, understood very little of you. Did you love De
Fourgenet?"

"I have loved only one man," she replied, "and I have loved him, not, as
you believe, for his unworthiness, but for his worthiness. De Fourgenet
turned my head for a week--and neglected me for years. I loved Bertram
from the first day we met. He knew it and never once took advantage of
the knowledge."

"I would to God I felt convinced," he exclaimed, almost passionately,
"whether you tell the truth or lie to shield the man you love."

"I tell the truth," she assured him with fervour. "Anything there might
have been between Bertram and myself would have been at my seeking, not
his. He is of the race of evil-doers, if you must call him an
evil-doer--God knows they exist--to whom women are sacred."

Endacott thrust his hands into his trousers pockets and sank almost
sulkily lower into his chair. It was as though he were being convinced
against his will.

"Well," he confided, "here is the truth--as much of it as I know. The
Ballastons have one of the two Images. I have the other. Nothing from a
structural and material point of view suggests the presence of treasure
in their interior, and yet I believe that the jewels are there. For
years there has been deposited with us a coffer of manuscripts which
came first from the Summer Palace of the Emperor and afterwards from the
Temple of Yun-Tse. One of those manuscripts which I am now deciphering
professes to give precise instructions as to how to secure the jewels.
There are only a few passages which I cannot master. I am going to
London in a day or two to obtain from the British Museum a dictionary of
Mongolian dialects, which is the only thing I need to help me to
complete certain phrases. You might think that I could guess at them. I
cannot, because even the manuscript is in code. I need the actual
letters. I believe that the jewels are in one or both of the Images.
Within a week I shall know how to extract them."

She laid her fingers upon his arm.

"Ralph dear," she begged, "when that time comes--you are wealthy----"

He stopped her. For a moment the expression of almost superb scorn in
his face lent him an unusual and unaccustomed dignity.

"Angèle," he interrupted, "you do not understand. If I were a pauper, I
would refuse to supply the material needs of life with the accumulated
offerings of these peasant worshippers. But as it happens, money is no
temptation to me. I am already rich. In fairness the treasure such as it
is should go back to China. If I were a younger, stronger man, the
crowning joy of my life would be to take it back and to choose for
myself how to distribute it. That, however, can never be. I will try to
be fair from your point of view. China has a claim to the treasure. That
young man, Gregory Ballaston, may be said to also have a claim--a claim
which I should never have admitted for a single moment but for your
prayers. Leave it to me. I will decide."

There was between them a long and rather wonderful silence. The church
clock behind the cottages in the background chimed twice before either
of them spoke. Madame was lying flat on her back, her eyes watching the
moon rising slowly over the top of the red brick wall. Endacott, as
though overcome with a curious fit of exhaustion, was seated almost
huddled up in his chair. Finally he rose wearily to his feet.

"I am tired to-night, Angèle," he confessed. "We understand one
another?"

"We understand and I pray," she answered, grasping his hand.

He left the house then and, instead of immediately entering the postern
gate opposite, turned his face towards the village. There were a few
lights burning in the windows of the irregular row of houses, scarcely a
person in the street. He walked to the corner of the lane and looked
down the main thoroughfare. At its further end was a trough and a market
cross, on the stone balustrade of which some boys and girls were seated,
plunged in eloquent silence. From behind one of the drawn blinds came
the sound of a gramophone, and through the open door of the Ballaston
Arms the wheezing of a concertina. Up in the background some scattered
lights flashed out from the far-spread windows of the Hall, the outline
of which was not yet visible. Endacott retraced his steps slowly. In his
ears was a faint tinkling of other music, grotesque, monotonous, yet
thrilling; before his eyes a strange admixture of roofs; beneath his
nostrils an odour which never sprung from the soils of Norfolk; in his
brain a confused tumult of thoughts.

Claire, a little bored, a slim, white figure in the violet darkness,
leaned forward and waved her hand as he entered the postern gate.

"Nunks, what ages you have been!" she exclaimed. "Have you been with
Aunt Angèle all this time?"

"Not all the time," he admitted.

"Where have you been then?" she persisted. "You look half asleep."

He sank back into his chair. Again he seemed to hear the echo of some
tinkling instrument, to find in his nostrils a perfume more pungent even
than the perfume of the cedar tree. To him there was something ominous
in what seemed to be almost a message of recall.

"A long journey," he muttered, a little vaguely.



                               CHAPTER VI


It was only after he had shown her around the picture gallery on the
following Sunday afternoon that Claire properly appreciated Henry
Ballaston. She listened to his last little dissertation--stiff perhaps
and a trifle pedantic, and yet in its way eloquent--as to a supposed
Romney, with something more than interest, almost enthusiasm. Here was a
man who spoke from his heart of things he loved, and a man whom no one
in the world, meeting him casually, would have suspected of possessing
such a thing as a heart.

"Tell me what first made you love these things so," she begged.

She had seated herself upon the huge divan at the end of the gallery
from which, in the afternoon light, was a wonderful view on one side of
the great oil paintings which lined the staircase, and on the other,
through the wide-flung mullioned windows, a curiously beautiful vignette
of the park with its beech and oak trees, and beyond, at the top of the
slope, the famous home covert.

"I have had no other life," he told her calmly. "At Eton I developed no
tastes either for athletics or affairs. At Oxford they spoke of the
Church. The suggestion was repugnant to me. I had some inclinations
towards Roman Catholicism, but the Ballastons have always been a
Protestant family. I considered the army and discarded the idea. All the
time, wherever I was, I wanted to come back to Ballaston. In the end I
came back. The old librarian here had just died, and somehow or other I
drifted into his place. That was twenty-seven years ago and it seems
almost like yesterday."

"A wonderful life!" she murmured.

"It would have suited few other men," he rejoined. "It has suited me. I
have activities out of doors as well as within. There is scarcely a tree
in the park, for instance, whose history I could not tell you, nor an
acre of the gardens I have not watched through the winter and summer; I
have helped to protect the fruits and flowers from the frosts, and tried
my best to gather in the sunshine for them. Indoors, of course," he went
on, after a moment's pause, "has been the scene of my real labours, if
labours they can be called. I have catalogued the pictures and the
china, the armour and the various curios, after a style of my own, with
the history, so far as possible, of each of the masters, the date and a
copy of such criticisms as have appeared in the press. The catalogues,
you observe, are all written by hand."

She pored over the vellum-bound manuscript book which he had been
carrying, turning the pages, and glancing at the extracts written with
great care in a stiff, clerkly handwriting.

"Why, this must have taken you ages," she exclaimed.

"There are thirty-two similar volumes," he confided. "The compilation of
those alone took me four or five years. I am very fortunate in my
tastes, because, you see, I am not an ordinary custodian. I was born
with these pictures, these Titians, and Corots and Murillos on the lower
staircase, and those others, just as great but with lesser names, that
hang upon the left-hand side of the galleries. On rainy days I have
walked from end to end and seen something different each day and each
day of each year. That is how, I suppose, affection for a home and its
treasures grows. That is how, at any rate, in me has grown up a great
love for this house and all that it contains. It will never be mine--I
do not wish that it should, but I have my share in it. I am a Ballaston
and even if I were turned away--and neither Bertram nor Gregory would do
that--I think that my spirit would still haunt these staircases."

"You make one realise," she sighed, "how we waste our lives caring for
indifferent things."

"The choice is always with us," he reminded her gently. "In youth,
however, there are other tastes and inclinations which it is as well for
us to gratify. For instance, I see they have commenced to play tennis,
and Lady Annistair is looking towards the house. Shall we go down?"

"Not yet," she begged. "I am loving being just here. Tell me some more,
please."

"You are very sympathetic," he acknowledged, "and you see I am disposed
to take advantage of you. Sometimes indeed it is a relief to talk of
one's hobby. Bertram loves his home and the traditions of his family
almost as I do, but he has lived outside, moved in the great places.
They are a sentiment to him, whereas they are a religion to me. And
Gregory too--he is a little like that. It is only natural. To me no sort
of career has ever appealed. I suppose that is why I have filled my life
with this one thing. To-day we have only spoken of and looked at the
pictures, but there are other treasures. Every Ballaston for many
generations has collected china. One day I must show you our collection.
There is something more to be appreciated there than its mere
appearance. I will show you what design can really come to mean, what
age can do to colouring. Then you will laugh at me, perhaps, but I am
almost as foolish about our cellars. I have watched the laying down of
all our clarets mid sherries and ports and Madeiras. Season by season I
have given away or disposed of all of every vintage that disappointed.
That is why every one in the county speaks of the Ballaston cellars. I
cannot, alas, bring the new things which make life so easy and luxurious
to Ballaston. We have no electric light or heating, and I am afraid you
would laugh at our bathrooms. But there are some of our bedchambers
which are wonderful. King James' room, for instance, with the rosewood
bedstead and original damask, and the tapestries which were sent from
the Palace, has scarcely ever been touched."

"Let me ask you something," she begged. "May I? You will not think it
impertinent?"

"Ask me what you will, by all means, my dear young lady," he answered.
"You have come here quite unexpectedly, but you have captured all our
hearts. It will please me to tell you anything you care to know."

"Tell me then--there isn't really any fear that all this may have to
go?"

His face was suddenly the face of an old man. The primness of it, the
self-control, the sphinx-like mouth, all seemed to fall away together.
It was an old man looking at death.

"I cannot answer that question," he confessed, and even his voice was
different, metallic and toneless. "Bertram entered life with great
ideas, and unfortunately his wife, who was a gracious and charming lady,
and who would have been a great heiress, died when Gregory was born.
Then Gregory grew up very much in the same fashion as his father. The
war came and no Ballaston ever knew how to save money, or to save
himself at other people's expense. We are in terrible financial straits,
and all the time there have been fresh mortgages. I myself am not an
expert at business, but I have spent weary days and weeks thinking and
adding up and wondering. Unless there is money soon, it seems to me that
the lands must all go, and the house be sold up."

"It would break your hearts," she said softly.

"It would be death," he answered. "If I could save Ballaston," he went
on, a little added strength in his voice, a glow, although a steely one,
kindling in his eyes, "I would commit any crime on earth. I would kill,
I would murder, I would destroy, I would plunge my soul into immortal
misery to save the vandals from the auction rooms in London from coming
and laying their hands upon the pictures and china and trees, or the
furniture, and tramping about the rooms where history has been made.
Sometimes lately I have awakened in the night and found myself crying
out with fear, found great drops of sweat upon my body, and it hasn't
been a knife at my throat or any horror of that sort, but men with
catalogues, little Jew men with pince-nez, peering at the pictures; fat,
coarse-looking men floundering through the rooms and looking at the
hall-marks of my china through magnifying glasses."

He paused suddenly. When he spoke again he was a different being.

"My dear young lady," he apologised, "I beg your pardon. It is not often
that I let myself go like this. In fact, to tell you the truth, it has
never happened before. Will you excuse me if I hurry you downstairs now?
I know that they are waiting, and I must not monopolise you."

She rose to her feet, still silent, curiously indisposed for speech,
feeling in her youth and inexperience that deep though her sympathy and
even her understanding, she still had no words to offer.

"You see how one gets," he concluded, as they descended the stairs,
"through dwelling on one subject and one subject only. I am a man with
one idea, but for that idea I am willing to live; for that idea I would
be quite willing to die.--Here is my nephew Reginald--a little angry
with me, I fear, as the others will be, for having kept you so long."

A tall, fair boy, Gregory's younger cousin, who had come over from
Annistair with his mother, met them in the hall disconsolately.

"I say," he complained, "I think Uncle Henry has been most unfair. We
are all waiting to play tennis with you, Miss Endacott. No one will play
another set until you come. Gregory is fuming, the tea is cold, and
Mother is quite convinced that you have fallen down an oubliette--there
is one somewhere about the place, you know. You're in disgrace, Uncle
Henry, I can tell you!"

They all strolled out on to the lawn, and Claire made her apologies at
the tea table.

"Please remember my transatlantic weaknesses," she begged. "A house like
this is more wonderful than any museum. It is just illuminating.--No
tea, thanks. Some lemonade and one of those cakes."

Sir Bertram, who had been playing a single at tennis, shook his racket
at his brother.

"Henry," he declared, "you are sent to Coventry. I appointed you showman
with considerable self-sacrifice, and gave you half an hour. You have
been away for an hour and a quarter."

"And we haven't finished yet," Claire insisted. "I have had the most
interesting afternoon of my life. I don't believe there is another house
like Ballaston in the world."

"Did you bring home any treasures from China, Gregory?" his cousin asked
him. "What is that horrible-looking wooden Image in Uncle Henry's room?"

"That's about the only treasure I did bring home," was the somewhat grim
reply. "Worth about a million, I believe, if you knew how to handle
him."

"A most unprepossessing-looking object, my dear Gregory," his aunt
observed. "It may be valuable--I hope for your sake it is, if you didn't
give much for it--but as an ornament it is absolutely repulsive."

"Just what it is meant to be," Gregory confided. "It typifies material
fortune cut adrift from all redeeming inspiration. Material fortune is
the one thing which we do not associate with this house."

"Don't get gloomy, Greg," his cousin drawled. "Here comes my beloved
sister at last. Let's have a four. Aren't you going to play, Uncle
Bertram?"

"The elders," Sir Bertram replied, "are going to watch your prowess this
set."

"A jeer!" Gregory exclaimed. "Don't ever let my father take advantage of
you that way, Miss Endacott. He can give me fifteen and owe fifteen and
beat me when he feels like it."

They trooped back on to the tennis lawn, played, sat about under the
cedar trees, talked and gossiped until nearly seven o'clock. Claire
excused herself from playing in the last set and found a chair near
where Henry Ballaston was seated.

"I haven't thanked you half enough for this afternoon," she said
gratefully.

"I am afraid you must have found me very prolix," he rejoined. "You must
excuse an old man with one idea."

"I think the man with one idea," she answered, "is the most satisfactory
person in the world. As a rule he makes something of it.--You spoke this
afternoon for a moment of Sir Bertram's wife. Tell me more about her."

"My dear, there is not a great deal to tell," he replied. "She was a
little younger than Bertram, very beautiful, and devotedly attached to
him. She was the daughter of the Earl of Rutland, who has an estate on
the other side of the county. She died when Gregory was born. If she had
lived eighteen months longer, she would have inherited a fortune of
nearly three quarters of a million pounds. It was very unfortunate."

"Was Sir Bertram very much in love with her?"

"Very much indeed. In fact, so far as I know, he has only looked
seriously at one other woman since, and she too has come under the
shadow of a tragedy. We are not a fortunate family, Miss Endacott."

"That may come," she ventured reassuringly. "The treasure of the Image
may materialise after all. Somehow or other, I believe that it will."

"My dear," he said, "it is a very fantastic story for a simple-minded
man to believe, but if there's truth in it--if there should be truth in
it, then I must confess that I am moved by the same spirit which
prompted my brother to conceive the expedition and Gregory to risk his
life in carrying it out. If the jewels are there, no superstition, no
confused sense of morality, no fear even of being branded as a
wrong-doer, would stop me for one moment from taking them. In this
matter I sympathise with the more bellicose side of my family."

There was something almost threatening in his words. His eyes were held
by an approaching figure. She looked towards the ring-fence which
bordered the park. Mr. Endacott had just passed through a little gate
and was advancing towards them. In his rather sombre attire and drooping
black felt hat, he presented a strange appearance; an appearance half
grotesque, half sinister. With expressionless face, he shook hands with
Sir Bertram, who came forward to meet him. Although the sun was still
very powerful, his cheeks were colourless, he showed no sign of unusual
warmth.

"I regret my tardiness," he said, in reply to some polite speech from
his host. "I became absorbed in some work. I failed to notice the hour."

Sir Bertram led him away to be introduced to his sister. Claire was
suddenly aware that her companion had lapsed into speechlessness. His
eyes had followed the newcomer's every movement. They were fixed upon
him now in a curious, set gaze. There was an expression in his eyes and
about his mouth, which, for a moment, made her shiver.

"Mr. Ballaston!" she exclaimed.

He did not appear to hear her. Instead, he seemed to be muttering
something to himself. She saw his lips move but heard no sound.

"Mr. Ballaston!" she repeated.

He was himself again. He rose to his feet.

"I beg your pardon," he apologised. "I permitted my attention to wander.
The coming of your uncle reminds me of a task which I still have to
perform."

He left her with a little bow, and turning towards the house, stiff,
formal, precise, keeping always in the middle of the path and ascending
the grey stone steps with measured tread, disappeared a few moments
later through the wide-flung oak doors. She watched him until he was out
of sight, unaccountably disturbed. Then Gregory came and claimed her.
There was to be still another set of tennis.



                              CHAPTER VII


Endacott laughed cynically but not altogether unkindly when Claire had
finished her carefully prepared little speech that night after dinner.
Their coffee had been served as usual out of doors under the cedar tree
and Claire had returned with her uncle to the study, still pleading the
cause which the events of the afternoon had made to her almost vital. He
went at once to the sideboard and helped himself to a whisky and soda.

"It is fortunate, Claire," he said, "that I am a person of even
temperament; fortunate for you, perhaps, that I appreciate your presence
here and your companionship so much. I have listened to you, I think you
will admit, with patience. I shall now be as frank with you as I was
with your Aunt Angèle last evening."

He took a long gulp of his drink, uncovered a tobacco jar and filled his
small pipe. Afterwards he exchanged his dinner coat for a dressing gown
which had been placed on a chair in readiness, tied it round him and
seated himself at the writing table. He dragged the steel-clamped coffer
of manuscripts to his side and produced the key from his pocket. He did
not at once open it, however. He swung around and faced Claire.

"You women," he pronounced, "stir my anger with these violent
partialities. God knows your Aunt Angèle has nothing to love those
Ballastons for. Yet she in her pleading was even worse than you. Father
and son, they are both of the same mould; selfish, intolerant, proud,
good to look at, if you will, but parasites in the great world of deeds
and thoughts. I will grant them courage but I deny them principle. I ask
myself in wonder why I find you pleading for them? Well, I know. They
have the gifts women love, the gifts which make women miserable. Fools!
Your Aunt Angèle is a fool! You are a fool!"

"I don't think we are anything of the sort, Uncle," she retorted
bravely. "I can't even see that it is foolish to ask a perfectly
reasonable thing for people whom you like. Sir Bertram may be everything
that you say. I only know that I like him. I don't like bad people as a
rule, but I like him."

"And what about the son?" he demanded, his eyes narrowing, his thin but
bushy eyebrows coming together.

"I like him too," she declared stubbornly. "I was very angry with him on
the steamer coming over, but since then I think that I understand him
better."

"You are not fool enough to be in love with him?" he asked.

She stood for a moment without replying. The hand which was gripping the
back of the chair against which she was leaning moved convulsively. Her
eyes were a little misty, her tone, when she answered, almost indignant.

"That is a horrid question to ask, Uncle," she declared. "You may be a
very learned man, but you know nothing about girls--American girls,
anyhow. We don't fall in love. We leave that to the men. Of course I
know that Gregory Ballaston is of the same type as his father and they
naturally are not the type which would appeal to you, but I like him. I
like to play tennis with him, I like to have him talk to me, I like his
friends. He treats me charmingly. And I love dear Mr. Henry. I have
never spent a more interesting hour than I spent with him this
afternoon. He is delightful--a wonderful personality. To me it is a
tragedy to think that they are going to lose their home. If the story of
this treasure is true and you can help them to get the jewels, why don't
you? You don't want the money. You said the other day that you had more
than enough. They have one of the Images. The other one Gregory risked
his life to obtain. You don't want yours. Let them have both and tell
them how to get the jewels."

Endacott puffed at his pipe steadily. He had the appearance of seriously
considering the matter.

"You talk well, child," he admitted. "You remind me of your father. You
talk sense too. That pleases me. You shall have the truth from me, at
any rate. I believe in the treasure. I believe that in twenty-four hours
from now I shall know exactly how to obtain it. When I know how, I will
reconsider the whole matter impartially. I promise you that. It is
practically what I promised your aunt."

She made a little movement towards him, a gesture, an exclamation of
gratitude. He waved her back.

"Let me warn you," he continued, "my present inclinations are to devote
the treasure which I may discover to building a university in Pekin for
the benefit of young Englishmen and Americans who wish to study the
inner history and the truth about the greatest nation in the world, and,
if the treasure should realise sufficient money, to build others in
Boston and London for the benefit of the young Chinese. Ask yourself
now, would not the money be better spent in that way than in handing it
over to this piratical, degenerate family, to gamble away on horses and
women and every manner of extravagance; to breed another generation of
dissolute Ballastons who would lead the same life, and another very
likely after them? What do you think, Claire?"

The girl answered without hesitation.

"I would rather the Ballastons had the money."

"You won't argue the matter?"

"I can't. I would rather the Ballastons had the money. A part of it, at
any rate, belongs absolutely to them."

"Although Wu Ling actually won back the statue Gregory took home with
him?"

She hesitated this time, but only for a moment.

"You mustn't be angry with me, Uncle, but I have always had it in my
mind that Wu Ling is a Chinaman and that he dealt the cards."

Endacott sat quite still for a moment, gazing at his niece. Then he did
what was for him one of the rarest things in life: he began to laugh. He
laughed until the tears stood in his eyes, until he was compelled to
remove his spectacles and wipe them. When he had finished, he took
another gulp of his whisky and soda.

"Claire," he said, "you please me. You have done your cause no harm, at
any rate. Now listen. Andrews and the servants know, but I forgot to
tell you. I am leaving for London by the 7:40 train in the morning."

"Going to London!" she exclaimed.

His face, now that the fit of mirth had passed, seemed unnaturally stern
and strained.

"There is still one visit which I must pay to the British Museum," he
confided; "one sentence alone which troubles me. I know where to look
for the key, however. I shall return by the five o'clock train. As I
have promised you, I will then, so soon as I am sure of the treasure,
make up my mind as to its disposition. You had better go to bed now. Let
me repeat that you have done your cause no harm by our conversation this
evening. On the contrary, you have probably done good, but I wish now to
be alone. Good night!"

She came over and kissed him, thankful for that episode of humour,
somehow or other aware of a vein of more complete humanity in him during
the last hour. He accepted her salute perfunctorily, patted her hand and
waved her towards the door. As soon as she had departed, he turned the
key in the coffer.

For at least a couple of hours Endacott worked in peculiar fashion.
Stretched out before him was the sheet of paper upon which he was
writing, above it the manuscript, yellowed with age, which he was
continually studying. On his left were the Chinese dictionary, a
vellum-bound manuscript dictionary of phrases, having the appearance of
great age, and a collection of notes mostly compiled at the British
Museum and secured with a paper fastener. On the sheet in front of him
were set out the letters of the Chinese alphabet. At times he slowly
transposed these. One whole sentence had already taken to itself
concrete shape. Then, in the midst of his labours, he suddenly paused.
His pen remained stiff, his head was upraised. He listened. Outside it
seemed to him that the breathless calm of a hot summer night had formed
the background for a slight noise, the faint rattle of a pebble
displaced; a footstep, it almost seemed. He listened again. The night,
though light enough, was moonless, and he could only see a few yards
through the window. He opened the left-hand drawer of his bureau, thrust
his hand into its furthermost recesses, and drew out a small revolver.
Then he rose stealthily to his feet and hesitated. He had not passed the
greater part of his life in an undisciplined country without learning
certain precautions. To stand in front of that window was to expose
himself, a clearly defined mark for assault, if indeed there should be
marauders about. He leaned over and turned out the electric light,
crossed the room swiftly with the revolver in his hand, and passed
through the window into the garden. He stood still, listening, with his
back to the wall. There was an owl calling plaintively in the little
grove of trees between the miniature park and the kitchen garden. Then
silence--the faint barking of a dog a long way off--silence again, and
at no time anything unusual to be seen. Nevertheless he lingered.
Pebbles can scarcely become detached without human agency. His eyes
tried to pierce the shadows. There was a dark shrub near the wire
fence--or was it a shrub? He was suddenly convinced that it was the
stooping figure of a man. He started forward, crossing the lawn with
swift footsteps which gradually slackened. As he grew nearer he was
disillusioned. The shrub took to itself shape. Its similitude to a man
disappeared. He stood and looked around him. Behind was the gloomy
outline of the house, with one light burning in a top window from the
servants' quarters. Of the village one or two roof tops alone were
visible, but the lights had long since been extinguished. Around him was
a dimly seen vista of trees and shrubs and flower beds, a perfume in the
air--but silence. He walked slowly towards the house, the butt of his
revolver still gripped firmly in his hand. There was nothing to be seen
nor any sound to kindle anxiety, yet he was never devoid of that
uncatalogued sense which bespeaks the close presence of something
concealed, something inimical. He took to walking in circles. He was
imagining always some one stalking him from the rear. He reached the
study windows, however, without tangible sign of any intruder. He pushed
them open and entered. The room was in darkness. He found his way to the
switch and turned on the light. Instantly all his vague premonitions
materialised. The papers upon his desk were in disorder, the curtain in
front of the Soul had been dragged aside, although the Image still
remained there, smiling down upon him. He switched on another light and
looked round the room searchingly, his firmly held revolver following
his eyes. The room was empty. He looked towards the window. Almost at
that moment he heard the soft swinging-to and closing of the gate
leading from the back avenue. The intruder had apparently taken alarm
and departed.



                              CHAPTER VIII


Gregory, on presenting himself at the Great House on the following
morning, received the news of Mr. Endacott's absence with marked
interest.

"Gone to London, has he?" he observed. "That means that you're left
alone for the day."

"Scarcely a tragedy," she smiled. "There's my aunt across the way whom I
must go in and see some time, a perfectly delightful new piano that only
arrived this morning, dozens of books to read and, if I feel energetic
enough, I am going to practise mashie shots with the club you gave me."

"A thoroughly selfish programme," he pronounced.

"Why selfish?"

"Because it is a solitary one."

"Improve upon it then," she suggested.

"Easily," he assented. "I brought my two-seater round, anyhow, hoping
for the best, but with your uncle away the thing is preordained. I have
given you six lessons at golf in the park. You're doing thundering well,
but not well enough. Let's go to some real golf links."

She considered the matter.

"Where?" she enquired.

"Cromer," he answered promptly. "It may be rather crowded there but we
shall arrive late. We can choose two or three vacant holes, have some
lunch at the club house and motor home another way."

"I should love it," she acquiesced enthusiastically.

"I'll go and tune up the old bus while you get ready," he suggested.

It was a day which she never forgot; a day when all the little things
went right, into which no jarring note of incident or conversation was
ever introduced, when the sun shone, when everything which happened
seemed to become an aid to further content. They motored lazily along
the country lanes to the links, where Gregory was obliged to go and
fetch the professional to see his amazing pupil. Afterwards they
selected clubs, lunched, sat on the terrace for a time and motored by a
devious way homewards. A mile or so from Ballaston, just inside the
park, crossing which had afforded them a short cut, he stopped the car
in the shadow of a great beech tree. She looked at him enquiringly.

"Puncture?"

"Sheer fatigue," he rejoined mendaciously. "Great strain driving a car
like this. Do you mind, just for a moment?"

"Why, surely not," she answered, leaning back and taking out her
cigarette case. "It's perfectly delightful here. Won't you smoke?"

He shook his head.

"Not just for a moment," he answered, looking straight at the mascot
upon the bonnet of his car. "I want to talk and I'm a jolly bad hand at
it, anyway."

"You're not so hopeless," she assured him encouragingly. "You can go
straight on. I'll help you out when it's necessary."

She spoke lightly enough but already a queer little sense of excitement
warned her to keep her face turned away from his. The things which he
might say seemed incredible. She was passionately anxious and yet afraid
to hear them.

"You see, Miss Claire," he began, "I made a jolly bad start with you and
that makes me extra careful. I never thought I was going to turn
superstitious, but I can assure you of one thing--I haven't trusted
myself alone in Uncle Henry's room with that Image since I got back."

"I hope your Uncle Henry's behaviour," she began, with a faint smile----

"Oh, don't chaff," he interrupted. "I think it would take the devil
himself to persuade Uncle Henry to step out of the narrow paths. This is
what I wanted to say--Claire."

He paused again, unrebuked. His eyes looked up the avenue towards the
house. His slim fingers played nervously with the steering wheel.

"We're in for a big family smash, we Ballastons," he confided. "What
little there is left when it comes will have to go, of course, to the
governor and to Uncle Henry. For me there won't be anything. I'm not
complaining. I'm young enough still. I have wonderful health and,
although I'm an ass at all the things that money's made out of, I can
ride, I understand farming and horses and all that sort of thing. I have
made up my mind what to do. I am going out to Canada."

"Canada!" she murmured under her breath.

"Yes. I know some fellows there who are doing quite decently. I shall be
able to get just the sort of start I want. Now of course," he went on,
"under the circumstances, I ought not to say what I'm going to say to
you, but I am going to say it all the same. I asked you to marry me
once, Claire. It wasn't any good, of course. You had only seen the
rotten side of me then, but you understood. To-day I can't ask you to
marry me, but I want to tell you that I have all that feeling which a
man should have when he asks such a thing, and ten thousand times more
than most men have."

He paused again. She said nothing. Her face was turned even a little
farther away. He went on.

"Of course, I've done no particular good in the world--have been all
sorts of a rotter from one point of view--but I've kept moderately
straight about girls and here's the truth, anyhow. I never came near
caring for one before, and I love you."

"Gregory!" she whispered.

At the sight of her eyes, the sound of her voice, he was suddenly swept
almost off his feet. It was amazing.

"Sweetheart, you mustn't," he begged, holding her hand firmly. "I know
I'm doing wrong to tell you. On the other hand, it seems to me that I
would be doing wrong if I went away and you didn't know. So there you
are! I can't ask you to marry me, but I'm going to work like a horse as
soon as I get away, and if I have any of the luck of the Ballastons they
used to talk about, I shall only value it for one thing. I'm not asking
you for anything--not for a thought even, much less a promise--but if at
the end of a few years I see my way--I wonder----"

"You dear thing, Gregory," she interrupted. "Kiss me at once."

"You know I didn't mean this, Claire," he said, a little remorsefully,
as he stopped the car at the gates of the Great House.

"I hoped you did," she answered demurely.

"Idiot!" he smiled. "Remember, we're not engaged. You haven't promised
anything. You've been sweet and dear and given me just the stimulus for
work I needed."

"Supposing," she whispered, "that you found the treasure; you might not
have to go to Canada."

He shook his head gloomily.

"I daren't trust myself to think about that," he said. "Your uncle seems
to have made up his mind not to help us, and I'm beginning to lose faith
in the whole story."

"Still," she persisted, "if the story should turn out to be true--and
Uncle believes it--your home might be saved, and you would not have to
go abroad at all."

"It would be wonderful," he admitted.

"Don't give up hope then," she whispered. "Uncle was quite sweet to me
last night--absolutely different. He's gone to London--but there,
perhaps I ought not to tell you. Just wait. Something pleasant may
happen, after all."

The door was thrown open by Andrews, the butler. She gave Gregory her
hand which he held for a moment and raised to his lips. Her farewell
glance lingered long in his memory.



                               CHAPTER IX


Endacott, although abstracted, seemed for him to be in an almost genial
frame of mind when he obeyed the summons of the evening gong and,
meeting Claire in the hall, waited to enter the dining room with her.

"A tiring day, Uncle?" she asked him.

"Not particularly," he answered. "I made only two calls. Phillpots kept
me some time at the British Museum, or I could really have caught the
earlier train.--How is the piano?"

"I haven't tried it," she admitted.

"Your aunt all right to-day?"

"More confessions, Uncle. I haven't even seen her."

Endacott, as he took his place, removed his spectacles for a moment,
rubbed his eyes wearily, and then looked across at his niece.

"What have you been doing all day then?" he demanded.

Claire summoned up all her courage.

"Mr. Ballaston called for me and I went over to the Cromer Golf Links
with him," she confided. "I had a lesson at golf, some lunch, and
afterwards we came home through Blakeney."

Her uncle, rather to Claire's surprise, made no comment. The service of
dinner appeared to interest him more than usual, and he certainly ate
with appetite.

"Railway travelling agrees with me, I think," he remarked. "I feel that
I shall enjoy working this evening. After dinner I shall have a pipe on
the lawn with my coffee, and then--the half-hour which I have been
looking forward to for so long."

"Did you get what you wanted from Mr. Phillpots?" she asked him, with a
queer little note of eagerness in her tone.

"I did," he admitted. "Unless I am very much mistaken, I can fill in all
the missing spaces in that manuscript within an hour. By-the-by, Claire,
you didn't come down again last night after you had gone to bed, did
you, or hear anything unusual?"

She shook her head.

"I was much too sleepy. Why?"

He toyed nervously with some bread upon his plate. His eyes sought hers
almost furtively.

"Just an idea," he said. "I left my work for five or ten minutes and
walked around the garden. When I came back, my papers were all
disturbed."

"I didn't stir out of my room after I went upstairs," she assured him.
"Was anything missing? Were there any papers there that mattered?"

"As it happened there were not," he replied. "If it had been
to-night--well, it might have been different, although a manuscript in
Chinese, even though translated, as it will be, would be scarcely likely
to attract an ordinary thief, would it?"

She moved in her chair a little uneasily.

"I should think not," she replied. "In any case, if you were only out of
the room for a few minutes, who could have entered without your seeing
them?"

"Just so," he agreed. "As you suggest, it might have been fancy, or a
breath of wind from outside, or the opening of a door."

"You mustn't sit up too late to-night," she told him. "You are looking
very tired."

He nodded gently.

"All the work I have to do," he said, "will be finished in an hour.
Afterwards I may write a letter while you go in and see your aunt."

His sudden fit of what was for him almost garrulity, left him and he
relapsed into his usual silence, punctuated only by monosyllabic replies
to Claire's remarks. He accompanied her into the garden, however, at the
conclusion of the meal, and whilst they sat together over their coffee
he asked her an abrupt question.

"How old are you, Claire?"

"Twenty-one," she told him, "twenty-one last May."

"You are a sensible girl," he went on. "When I heard that I was going to
have a niece to look after and that she was coming out to China for me
to take her to England, I must confess that I was terrified. Such an
upheaval in my daily life seemed to me calamitous. I have been agreeably
surprised. Your coming has been a pleasure to me, Claire. I only wish
that you had come before."

Her eyes suddenly filled with tears. It was the first time he had ever
spoken to her in such a fashion.

"I am a poor adviser for a young girl," he continued, a little
regretfully, "and I am afraid that your aunt is hopelessly prejudiced in
the matter. I cannot bring myself to believe, however, that the society
of this young man, Gregory Ballaston, is a good thing for you. I
distrust the family ethics. I cannot help thinking that he is hoping
through you to arrive at the information which so far I have refused his
father and his uncle."

"I was with him for several hours to-day, Nunks, and he never even
mentioned it," she ventured. "He is going out to Canada in a month or so
to earn his own living."

Endacott sighed.

"I am full of prejudices," he confessed. "The last twenty years of my
life have been spent in abstractions, have passed like a dream, away
from the world which counts, which one ought really never to lose sight
of. I should be an ill-adviser to any one.--Go and play something."

Claire disappeared into the house and soon the sound of her music
drifted out in little ripples of melody through the perfumed stillness.
Her uncle listened for some time without any sign of pleasure or the
reverse. Then he rose to his feet and looked up across the roofs of the
village, over the green slopes in the background, to where a few lights
were slowly appearing from the windows of the Hall. Presently the music
ceased and Claire stole out to him. She passed her arm through his.

"It is a very beautiful home that, Uncle," she said softly. "Don't you
think it would be a sin to have it all broken up?"

"A better race might follow," he muttered.

She shook her head.

"They belong," she said gently.

He turned away with a little grunt and entered his study. For a few
minutes Claire flitted round the garden. There was a nightingale singing
somewhere in the distance to which she stopped to listen. Even the
noises from the village, through the gathering twilight, became almost
melodious. Presently she passed through the postern gate, strolled
across the lane and entered the drawing-room of the Little House through
the wide-flung windows. Madame lay stretched upon her couch, listless
and weary. She welcomed Claire with only the ghost of a smile.

"Where have you been all day, child?" she asked.

"Enjoying myself, I am afraid," was the remorseful reply. "Gregory came
and fetched me and we went over to Cromer."

"How did he seem?" Madame enquired, with a shade of interest, almost
eagerness, in her manner. "Was he very depressed?"

Claire shook her head, thankful for the twilight.

"He seemed very much as usual," she answered; "if anything a little
nicer. I enjoyed my day very much. The only thing I felt was that I was
neglecting you."

Madame made a faint gesture of denial.

"I am very glad to think that you had such a happy day, dear," she said.
"I am glad you came in for a moment, though. I don't know why it is, but
to-night I have nerves. Where is your uncle?"

"Working away as usual at his Chinese manuscripts," Claire replied. "He
went to London this morning and came back at five o'clock."

Madame nodded.

"I saw the car go with him and bring him back. I don't know how it is,
but the sight of every one to-day makes me uneasy. Even Bertram seemed
queer. He sat with me for an hour this afternoon. As a rule he soothes
me. To-day, somehow or other, he frightened me. I feel as though there
were a sort of psychological thunder in the air."

"Aunt, you mustn't let yourself imagine such foolish things," Claire
begged. "Everything and every one is as usual. Uncle, as a matter of
fact, was in remarkably good spirits this evening."

"Can any one help fancies and presentiments, my dear, who lies here hour
after hour, day by day, as I do," Madame sighed. "I know it is silly,
but instinct is stronger than reason, and Bertram, at any rate, was
strange to-day. Every now and then he left off talking and there seemed
to be something always behind his eyes."

Miss Besant entered the room and Claire called to her. She began to make
preparations with firm, capable fingers, for moving the couch. Claire
bent over and kissed her aunt.

"No more morbidness, please," she insisted. "I'll be over early
to-morrow morning. I may have some news for you."

"Your uncle has found what he wanted in London then?" Madame asked.

Claire nodded assent.

"He told me a short time ago," she confided, "that in half an hour he
would know everything there is to be known."

She crossed the lane and passed through the postern gate, gazing
wistfully over the roofs of the village houses towards the park. Her
preparations for the night, when she finally reached her room, took her
longer than usual. It was late when, after she had turned out the
lights, she moved to the window and stood there for a moment looking
out. Suddenly the little reminiscent smile upon her lips changed to one
of actuality, of real and instant pleasure. The moonlight was as yet
faint, but, crossing the stile which led from the park, she caught a
glimpse of a white shirt. For a moment she was tempted. He might be
coming even as far as the gardens, late though it was. Then she looked
back at her neatly folded clothes and shook her head.

"Claire," she soliloquised, "you're a sentimental idiot!"

After which she turned out the light, got into bed and slept soundly.

When she awoke the sun was shining into her room, the thrushes and
blackbirds were singing and there were sounds of unusual movement
downstairs. Still only half awake, she sat up, listening to the
footsteps upon the gravel beneath her window. There were voices too,
muffled, yet agitated. Then she heard one word--a dramatic, horrible
slur against the background of the summer morning.

"Dead!--Cold dead he were!"

For a moment she shook herself. She felt that she must be in a
nightmare. Then she became conscious of the reality of those footsteps
below, the renewed murmuring of awe-stricken voices. She sprang out of
bed. Before she could reach the window, she heard the same hoarse,
shocked voice, with its quaint Norfolk inflexion.

"Shot right through the head, that's what happened to him. Writing there
at the table with his papers lying all over the place. There's a
revolver on the floor. Police Sergeant Cloutson won't have it touched."

She leaned, screaming, out of the window. Amongst the little crowd below
were the village policeman, both the gardeners, and Mr. Wilkinson, the
clergyman.

"Tell me what has happened?" she cried out frantically.

They seemed all stricken dumb.

"Tell me, tell me what it is?" she insisted.

Mr. Wilkinson turned towards the front entrance.

"If you will put on a dressing gown and come to your door," he said, "I
will speak to you."

She met him halfway down the stairs. Her knees were trembling, and she
clung to the banisters for support.

"Tell me what it is?" she demanded. "Is it Uncle?"

"My dear young lady," he announced solemnly, "a terrible thing has
happened. You must prepare yourself for the worst. Your uncle has been
shot through the head, apparently at some time during the night. The
doctor is with him now, but--but he is quite dead."

"Dead!" she repeated mechanically.

"All his papers are in a state of great disorder," the clergyman
concluded. "I am afraid--it is a terrible thing to say, but I am afraid
there is no doubt that your uncle has been murdered."

                            END OF BOOK TWO

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                               BOOK THREE



                               CHAPTER I


The new tenant of the Great House, installed within twelve months of its
dramatic vacancy, issued one evening through the small postern gate, set
in the red brick wall which encircled his gardens, into the village
street. This was his first appearance since he had taken up his
residence in the neighbourhood, and he was consequently an object of
absorbed interest to such few loiterers as were about. An elderly
roadmender, who was making half-hearted assaults upon a broken piece of
road with a pickax which seemed too heavy for him, looked up curiously
and touched his hat. The postmistress, warned by a subordinate, hastened
immediately to the entrance of her establishment as though to consult
the church clock. Mr. Franks, the butcher at the corner of the street,
hurried out on the pretext of giving some parting instructions to a boy
who was just starting off on his bicycle with a special order for the
Hall, and Mrs. Moles, who kept a small general shop and was reputed to
know the genealogy, morals and predilections of every one within a dozen
miles around, stared unabashed over the top of her curtains.

The first impressions of the newcomer, to be privately exchanged within
the next hour or so, could scarcely fail to be favourable. Peter Johnson
appeared to be a man a little under medium height, sturdy, clean-shaven,
with bright, steady eyes, humorous mouth, brown, sun-dried complexion
and hair inclined to greyness. He wore a tweed knickerbocker suit, a
Homburg hat; he carried an ash stick, and his age might have been
anything between forty and fifty.

No one was more interested in their new neighbour who was now engaged in
making his leisurely way along the village street, than the three men in
the bar parlour of the Ballaston Arms. Conscious of their own
invisibility behind the muslin curtains, they yielded without restraint
to their curiosity.

"He do seem an ordinary kind of a man," Thomas Pank, the innkeeper
observed critically.

"A sportsman, maybe," Mr. Craske, the grocer, suggested, appreciating
the costume of the approaching figure.

Rawson, the butler from the Hall, shrugged his shoulders doubtfully.
Every one listened for his comment with interest. He was admitted to be
a man of the world and a person of considerable experience.

"I should say not," he decided. "He is wearing the clothes of a country
gentleman, but to my mind he wears them as though he weren't used to
them."

The only stranger in the neighbourhood, a young man of sandy complexion,
of silent habits, and with rather sleepy eyes, who had lodgings in the
farmhouse close by and was understood to be a schoolmaster taking a
prolonged vacation, set down his glass and intervened. He, too, was
watching the newcomer with some interest.

"He is asking for some shooting, Farmer Kershaw told me."

"That don't go to prove nothing," the innkeeper declared. "There's many
as shoots now out from Norwich and the big towns that don't know one end
of the gun from the other. What I say is that it's a queer thing that a
man with no friends around, a solitary man too, by all accounts, should
come and settle in a place like this, and in that particular house too.
Mysterious, I call it!"

"I am of the same opinion," Rawson agreed.

"Hold on, you chaps!" the innkeeper enjoined, in a tone of some
excitement. "He's coming right in here!"

The pseudo-schoolmaster, whose name was understood to be Fielding, was
the only one of the little company who did not show signs of
embarrassment as the latch of the door was lifted, the door itself
pushed open, and the subject of their conversation made his appearance.
The grocer had plunged rather too abruptly into the discussion of some
local topic with the butler, and the innkeeper was too taken aback to
conceal his astonishment at this unexpected visit. Mr. Johnson, however,
was one of those people who carry with them a composing influence and
the slight awkwardness was of very short duration.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen," he greeted them, glancing around with quiet
geniality. "I should like a whisky and soda, Mr. Landlord."

"That's right, sir," was the latter's prompt reply, as he turned to his
shelf.

"My name is Johnson--Peter Johnson," the newcomer continued,
establishing himself in a vacant easy-chair. "I have come to live for a
time at the Great House."

"Very glad to welcome you here, sir," Mr. Craske assured him civilly.

"Hope you'll find the place to your liking, sir," Rawson put in.

"I am very much obliged to you all," was the gratified rejoinder. "My
first impressions are entirely favourable. I have been a hard worker and
I need a little rest. So far as I can judge, this seems to me to be a
particularly tranquil neighbourhood."

There was for a moment an almost awkward hiatus in the conversation. The
innkeeper and the grocer exchanged glances. Rawson coughed.

"It has always been considered so in the past, sir," the latter
acknowledged.

"This being my first visit, you gentlemen will perhaps join me," Mr.
Johnson invited, as he received his whisky and soda.

Every one accepted the invitation, including the presumed schoolmaster,
who had not as yet spoken. Mr. Johnson observed him keenly from
underneath his rather heavily lidded eyes.

"Are you a native of these parts?" he enquired.

"I am more or less a stranger," was the somewhat reserved reply. "I,
like you, have come down for a little quiet."

"Can't say as your manner of living quiet would altogether suit me," the
grocer remarked cheerily. "The young gentleman's a naturalist, sir," he
explained, turning to the principal guest of the afternoon. "He goes
moth hunting with a net, round the mere side and across to Cranley Swamp
at night. That's not a job as would suit every one."

Mr. Johnson was politely interested. The young man smiled in
expostulatory fashion.

"I am only an amateur," he confessed, "and I only go out odd nights
during the week. I miss my sleep too much."

"You'll not be finding much company in these parts, I'm afraid," the
innkeeper observed, making polite conversation with the stranger.
"There's not so many of the gentry living round as there used to be."

Mr. Johnson showed signs of interest.

"Well," he said, "I'm a great reader and I'm fond of the country, so I
must make the best of it. Tell me something about my neighbours. Who
lives in the long, low house across the way from my garden gate?"

"That's what we do call the Little House, sir," the innkeeper replied.
"It belongs to a poor invalid lady, who don't seem to get any stronger.
De Fourgenet, her name is--or something like that--she having married a
foreigner. But most of the folk round here just call her 'Madame.' She's
an English lady but she have lived abroad a great deal. According to her
letters she do be some sort of a titled lady, but she don't seem to hold
to it herself."

"An invalid, eh?" Mr. Johnson enquired sympathetically.

"They do say, sir, that it's her spine," the grocer confided. "Anyway,
she's mostly lying down. Some time ago they took her to one of them
French places, but it don't seem to have done her much good."

"Aix-les-Bains, it was," the butler put in. "I've been there with my
gentlemen before now. In fact, it was through us, I think, that she went
there."

"Did it do her no good at all?"

"Some say it made a difference and some say it didn't," was the doubtful
reply. "Anyway, there's a physician comes to see her now once a month,
and she has massage regularly from Norwich. It looks as though there
were still some hope."

"Is she--er--inclined to be sociable?" her new neighbour enquired.

The grocer shook his head.

"I'm afraid she isn't disposed that way, sir," he declared. "She and the
Squire have been great friends all their lives, and he visits her
regular, but she don't see none of the other folk round if she can help
it."

"That doesn't sound encouraging," Mr. Johnson commented. "Does she live
quite alone?"

"She has a companion," the innkeeper answered--"a Miss Besant. A nice
proper-spoken young woman, but keeps herself to herself. There was a
niece too--lived at the Great House, she did--but she went away about a
year agone and she hasn't been in these parts since."

"As a neighbour," Mr. Johnson confessed, with a little sigh, "Madame
appears to be a wash-out. Let's hear about the rest of the folk."

"Well," the innkeeper continued, taking a modest pull at his own
tankard, "there do be the vicar, for sure, but he bain't no use to
nobody these days. A man more changed than he I never did see."

"A sombre, silent man he is now, surely," the grocer confirmed.

The butler nodded ponderous agreement.

"He used to dine with us once a week regular, but hasn't been near the
Hall since--not for eleven months. They say that he never stirs out of
his study now."

"I was looking over his garden wall only last night," the innkeeper
observed. "It do seem--the whole place--to be going to rack and ruin.
And he so proud of his garden, too."

"He has had some sort of a loss, perhaps," Mr. Johnson suggested.

"None as any one knows of," the butler affirmed. "He's a widower and
have lived alone ever since he came here. There are some who say that
he's had a falling out with the Squire, but if that be so, none of us
have heard of it."

"The Squire?" Mr. Johnson repeated hopefully. "And who might he be?"

The butler's manner betokened hurt surprise.

"The Squire, sir--my master--is Sir Bertram Ballaston of Ballaston
Hall."

"An old family?"

"The sixteenth baronet."

Mr. Johnson was properly impressed.

"Any family?" he enquired.

"One son--Mr. Gregory Ballaston. Then the Squire's brother--Mr. Henry
Ballaston--lives at the Hall with him," the butler added, after a
scarcely perceptible pause. "Not that he's much company for any one,
though."

"Indeed," Mr. Johnson murmured. "Is he too a recluse or an invalid?"

There seemed to be a marked disinclination to discuss the inmates of the
Hall. The innkeeper looked out of the window, Mr. Craske gazed into his
tankard, the young man remained still almost outside the conversation.

"Things up at the Hall," the butler confided, with some reserve, "are
not what they used to be. There have come a change over the place."

"A change indeed," the grocer sighed gloomily.

Mr. Johnson sensed reserves and prepared for departure.

"Well, I must be tiring you with all my questions," he declared
good-humouredly. "I'm going to ask you one more, though. Is it my fancy,
or wasn't this place--Market Ballaston--the scene of some sort of a
tragedy some time ago? The name--Market Ballaston--seemed familiar to me
directly I read the advertisement, but I couldn't recall what it was. If
it was anything serious, it must have been whilst I was abroad."

They all looked at him incredulously. The innkeeper picked up a glass
and began to wipe it. The grocer coughed nervously. Even the butler
seemed at a loss for words.

"You'll excuse us, sir," Mr. Craske said at last. "This is a very small
place, of course, and when a thing happens right in the midst of us like
what did happen, it seems to us somehow as though the whole world ought
to know about it. Still there was a lot of stir--a lot of stir in all
the London newspapers."

"I am a careless reader of the newspapers," Mr. Johnson confessed.
"Besides which, the last twenty years of my life, up to a few months
ago, have been spent, not only abroad, but a very long way abroad. Fill
up the glasses, Mr. Innkeeper. I have asked you so many questions that
you must allow me to be host once more. Now tell me what it was that
happened here."

They all exchanged glances. As though by common but unspoken consent the
butler became spokesman.

"There was a very terrible murder committed in this village, sir, just
about twelve months ago. A gentleman was killed in the night--shot
through the head, he was--and never a trace of the murderer from that
day to this."

"Good God!" Peter Johnson exclaimed, properly shocked. "I am beginning
to remember something about it."

"It was a gentleman of the name of Endacott, from foreign parts like
you," the butler continued, "own brother to Madame at the Little House.
He hadn't been here very long, but he was a harmless body and well
liked. He had dined with us at the Hall--him and his niece, a very
beautiful young lady--her as Mr. Pank spoke of, being also niece to
Madame--and it seemed as though we were going to become quite friendly.
One morning--there he was--seated at his desk where he used to work at
nights--shot through the head and stone dead, and a box of papers that
was by his side all scattered about anyhow. There was police come from
Norwich, and there was police come from Scotland Yard in London, but
from that day to this they do seem to have been fairly outwitted."

"What a terrible thing," Mr. Johnson exclaimed. "In a small place like
this, too! Where did it happen? Where did you say he lived?"

There was another embarrassed silence. This time it was the grocer who
intervened. There was a note of indignation in his tone.

"If the agent as let the property--Mr. Borroughes, I suppose it
was--said nothing about it, sir, then there's no doubt he was very much
to blame. The murder was committed in the Great House, where you've come
to live. Mr. Endacott and his niece were the last tenants."



                               CHAPTER II


Mr. Johnson subsided once more into the easy-chair from which he had
risen.

"This is most amazing!" he exclaimed. "A murder in the Great House only
twelve months ago!"

"It do seem most unaccountable, sir," the grocer ventured, "that you
never heard about it."

"I was abroad at the time and until a month or so ago," Mr. Johnson
explained, "and it is astonishing how you lose touch with things
altogether after a while. I sometimes didn't open an English newspaper
for a week at a time.--Well, well," he went on, "perhaps that's the
reason why they asked such an extraordinarily low rent for the house."

"It's a-many," the innkeeper observed, "who wouldn't live there rent
free--not that I'm saying that any educated person ought to take notice
of such," he added hastily. "It's a fine house and the gardens are
grand, and I only hope, sir, that you'll be comfortable and not be put
off, so to speak, by a thing that's passed and gone."

"And you say that the police have never even made an arrest," Mr.
Johnson asked incredulously. "Surely that's a very unusual thing in this
country?"

"Unusual it may be," the innkeeper admitted, "but a fact it is, all the
same. For weeks afterwards we had gentlemen from Scotland Yard almost
living in the place. One stayed here in this very inn and the questions
he did ask were surely ridiculous. But there wasn't one of them clever
enough to find out who killed Mr. Endacott."

The new tenant of the Great House finished his drink in silence and rose
to his feet.

"Well, gentlemen," he observed, "I strolled in here to make friends with
any of my new neighbors who might be around and make acquaintance with
the place, so to speak, but I certainly didn't expect to hear anything
like this."

"It's a bad start, I'm afraid, sir," the innkeeper regretted civilly,
"but you'd have been bound to have heard of it before long."

"Such a stir it did make," the grocer reflected. "Every morning and
every afternoon there was a fresh rumour, as you might say."

"But not a single arrest," Mr. Johnson repeated. "Most extraordinary!"

"I hope now that you know the worst as is to be told, sir," Rawson
ventured, "that you'll soon settle down here and like the
neighbourhood."

Mr. Johnson inclined his head gravely.

"I have no doubt that I shall," he declared. "In many respects the Great
House suits me perfectly. It is just the sort of garden I want to have,
the neighbourhood seems healthy, and it is not too far from the sea. I
wish you good afternoon, gentlemen!"

There was a little chorus of farewells. The new tenant took his
departure, swinging his stick and, though naturally a little thoughtful
after the news he had heard, there was nothing in his manner to indicate
that he intended to take it too seriously to heart. They watched him
from behind the muslin curtains until he opened the gate which led into
his gardens and disappeared.

"He do seem to me to have plenty of courage, and a proper man for the
neighbourhood," the innkeeper pronounced, wiping up his counter. "There
is a-many might have been struck all of a heap at being told what we had
to tell him."

"Any sort of tenant is better than none," the grocer sighed, "but a
family, I must confess, is what I was hoping for."

Rawson, as became his position, maintained a somewhat dubious attitude.

"I could wish," he observed, with a heavy frown, "that he had given us
some indication as to his previous occupation or station in life. His
coming in here and sitting down for a drink was friendly-like but not
exactly usual. To me he seemed scarcely the sort of man whom the Squire,
for instance, would be likely to take a fancy to."

"The Squire be a great gentleman," the grocer said reverently. "There
aren't many like him left in these parts. He's not likely to take up
with a stranger. Why should he?"

"Why, indeed?" Rawson assented. "Yet he seemed to take quite a fancy to
Mr. Endacott. Mr. Gregory, too, paid the young lady quite a lot of
attention."

"And no wonder," the innkeeper remarked. "She was a proper-looking young
lady. There ain't many in these parts could hold a candle to her for
looks. You're not very gay just now at the Hall, Mr. Rawson," he
continued.

The butler stifled a regretful sigh. Things at the Hall were a great
deal less gay than he was prepared to disclose.

"We're generally pretty quiet during the summer," he admitted. "The
Squire was never one for entertaining much before the shooting. I did
think that Mr. Gregory being at home might have made a little
difference, but he's due, they say, to start for foreign parts at any
moment.--Six o'clock, gentlemen. I wish you all good evening."

There was a simultaneous break-up of the little party. Rawson, ponderous
as ever and grey of complexion, notwithstanding his country life, first
made a dignified exit, and, walking a short way down the village street,
climbed the stile which led into the park. Mr. Craske crossed the street
and returned to the pleasant-looking, creeper-covered establishment
behind the long shop windows of which he and his father and grandfather
before him had dispensed groceries and gossip for the last hundred
years. Finally the young man, Fielding, took his silent departure,
mounting a motor bicycle which he had left leaning up against the wall.
He glanced at his watch and reflected for a few moments.

"Be going for a ride, Mr. Fielding?" the innkeeper, who had followed him
outside, enquired.

The young man looked up and down the sleepy sun-baked street, and
glanced at a signboard where the road forked.

"I may get as far as Norwich," he ruminated. "I'm wanting some new
flies."

"A pleasant ride and all this evening," the other observed. "Queer it do
seem these days to think of getting to Norwich and back afore dark. Them
things as you ride have made a power of difference in getting about."

The young man smiled.

"Twenty miles to Norwich," he remarked. "Forty minutes, taking it easy.
Yes, I think I shall run over there."

He swung on to his machine, which started at once, and in three quarters
of an hour he was writing out a telegram in a post office in Norwich.
Afterwards he made a pilgrimage to a sporting emporium in the main
street, and with the care of an expert selected a fresh assortment of
flies with which to tempt a particularly elusive but desirable trout.
Eight o'clock was striking as he passed once more through the village
street of Market Ballaston on his way back to his farmhouse lodgings. He
dismounted outside the Ballaston Arms and stood looking about him with
the air of one absorbing to the full the gentle atmosphere of peace,
beauty and rustic content.

At the end of the street, a row of houses, mostly of grey stone with
deep red tiles, opened out into the little market place, where an
ancient covered cross stood in the centre of a cobbled space. On a stone
trough three or four youths and two young women were seated in peaceful
and almost aggressive silence. Mr. Houghton, the bank manager, was
standing on the cool flagged pavement outside his neat little house,
smoking a cigarette and chatting with Foulds, the veterinary surgeon,
who had just driven up in his little two-seater car, whilst just across
the way, Mr. Craske's good-looking daughter had stepped out of the front
door to water the row of geraniums in the boxes before the windows. From
the Great House, set in somewhat severe isolation behind its encircling
red brick wall, came the clamorous summons of a dinner gong, and almost
immediately afterwards a similar invitation from the tinkling of Chinese
bells sounded from the Little House. The melody from the latter had
scarcely died away before, from the Hall, came the slow booming of the
alarm bell, rung nightly at the dinner hour.

The young man listened and into his sleepy eyes there crept a
speculative expression as they travelled beyond the village street,
beyond the park, up the great grass-bordered avenue towards the windows
of the Hall. It seemed almost as though he could see into the very
stately and undisturbed Jacobean dining room, see the three men who sat
together at the end of that desert of mahogany, frowned down upon by
lines of pictured ancestors, their slightest need anticipated by Rawson
and his well-trained subordinates, as though he could hear their languid
and stilted efforts at conversation, as though, perhaps, he could see
the ghosts behind their chairs. As though, when he swung round a moment
or two later, he could see into the more modest but still impressive
dining room of the Great House, where Mr. Peter Johnson sat alone,
before a far simpler repast, eating and drinking with a frown upon his
forehead, and lines about his mouth, no traces of which had appeared
during those more genial moments of his afternoon visit to the Ballaston
Arms; as though, turning still a little farther round, he could see even
into that quaint low dining room of the Little House, take note of the
invalid with golden hair and weary brown eyes, who lay upon her long
chair, drawn up by the side of the round table, the discontented but
earnest young woman who sat opposite to her, the harsh-featured maid,
their sole attendant.

In the end he sighed and abandoned his reflections. He entered the inn,
disturbing thereby Mr. Pank, the landlord, in the middle of his supper,
and drank a glass of gin and tonic. Then the quick explosions of his
bicycle disturbed once more the quiet, drowsy street, as he flashed
through the village on his homeward way.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Throughout the whole of that long summer day it had scarcely seemed
possible that there could be a more peaceful spot in the world than the
wide street, the cobbled market place, and the winding country lanes
which emptied themselves into the village of Market Ballaston. At three
o'clock on the following morning there was not only peace but silence,
absolute and complete. The two hundred and forty-three men, women and
children who made up its inhabitants, had passed into the land of
ghosts. Even the houses themselves, with their closed blinds and
sightless windows, breathed the very spirit of repose. The chiming of
the church clock, notwithstanding its silvery distinctness, seemed to
carry with it a note almost of apology to a sleeping world. Silence more
complete than ever followed the dying away of its last trembling note.
For some time not even an uneasy dog or a too eager denizen of the
farmyard ventured to disturb the moonlit pall of silence. Then came the
first sign of human movement.

The small postern gate set in the red brick wall which surrounded the
Great House was opened noiselessly and Peter Johnson stepped into the
lane. He stood there for a moment or two perfectly still, with the air
of a man listening--a hopeless task, it seemed, on such a night. Whilst
he listened, his eyes wandered up and down the street, away across the
churchyard and into the wood behind, past the steeple and over the
sleeping country to the horizon. It seemed, however, that if he watched
for any unusual sight or listened for any unusual sounds, both efforts
were in vain. After a few moments he took another step forward and, with
the postern gate still open, stood gazing thoughtfully and watchfully
over the medley of red-tiled roofs, up the great avenue beyond, to where
the imposing front of the Hall, with its long rows of uncurtained
windows, filled the background with a serene and brooding dignity. He
stood there perhaps for as long as five minutes, until he seemed to
become part of the dreaming landscape, a statue petrified by the
moonlight, the only living figure in that drama of repose, all the
geniality and kindliness drained somehow from his expression, a sinister
and watchful figure, alien and inimical.

Suddenly he seemed to stiffen. From the outside of a small wood
adjoining the Hall flashed a light--little more than a pin-prick of
fire, but vivid and distinct. Three times it flashed. Then it
disappeared. Peter Johnson, as silently as he had come, stepped back
and, vanishing through the postern gate, reëntered his own domains.



                              CHAPTER III


Mr. Peter Johnson, on the following morning, was indulging in the
harmless occupation of practising mashie shots with a dozen golf balls
over some shrubs upon the front lawn of the Great House, when Morton,
his newly engaged butler who had arrived a few days before from a
registry office at Norwich, sallied through the garden door, followed by
a young lady. Mr. Johnson promptly abandoned his diversion and came
forward.

"Miss Besant to see you, sir," the servant announced.

Mr. Johnson, without committing himself to speech, exhibited a certain
measure of cordiality. He held out a welcoming hand, which, after a
moment's hesitation, the girl accepted.

"I must apologise for coming in like this, Mr. Johnson," she said.
"Madame De Fourgenet, the lady to whom I am companion, insisted upon
it."

"I beg that you will not apologise," was the civil reply. "I am very
glad to see you. You are my opposite neighbour then, it seems."

"We live at the Little House," the young lady assented. "For over a
year--all the time that the place has been empty, in fact--your
gardener, Smith, has been accustomed to assist our one servant for half
an hour each day, cutting wood or something of that sort. Madame has the
strongest objection to having a stranger in the house, or even in the
garden, and she sent me across to ask whether it were possible to make
any arrangement by which we could continue to have the services of Smith
for that time each day."

Mr. Johnson made no immediate reply. He was exceedingly interested in
the young lady, and he seemed to be carrying out a line of thought with
regard to her. From the moment of her appearance her expression had not
changed. Her tone, which was level and indifferent, was the tone of a
person who had no concern in what she said; she spoke mechanically, as
though choosing the readiest words with the sole object of concluding an
unavoidable task. She was tall, inclined to be of full figure, paler
than she ought to have been, living in the country, with eyes which
seemed seldom fully open, masses of light brown hair brushed back from
her forehead, and a mouth whose discontented corners gave to her
expression a weary, almost a petulant note. No ordinary person, an
admirer of the sex, studying her as she had crossed the lawn, would
probably have troubled to look at her again; Mr. Johnson, however, was
not an ordinary person. It was one of his gifts to appreciate people for
what they were, not for what they seemed to be. He realised that there
were certain exceptional characteristics about the young woman who stood
waiting for his reply.

"Please don't hesitate to say so," she went on, half turning away, "if
you think Madame's request unreasonable. I really don't see myself why
you should consent. I am simply the bearer of a message."

"My dear young lady, pray sit down," Mr. Johnson invited, pushing a
wicker chair towards her. "Please assure Madame--I fear that her name is
a little beyond me--that I should be very glad indeed for Smith to
continue to render her the services which he has hitherto performed."

"As to remuneration," she began----

Mr. Johnson waved his hand.

"Pray settle that with the man himself," he begged. "I shall allow him
his half an hour off each day--he has an under gardener and can spare
the time. It is only a neighbourly action. Anything Madame may choose to
give him is no concern of mine."

"You are very kind," she said doubtfully, "but I do not think that
Madame will care to accept the man's services in your time without
seeing that you are recompensed."

"Make your own arrangements then," he suggested. "The matter is scarcely
worth serious discussion."

The young woman rose.

"You are very kind," she repeated. "You must excuse my having come to
see you in this informal fashion. It was Madame's desire, and I have to
obey orders."

"I will excuse it, my dear young lady," he declared, "on one condition."

"Condition?"

"That you sit down and talk to me for a minute or two."

"Why should I do that?" she asked, with a querulous uplifting of the
eyebrows, which he had already noticed were very fine and silky.

"Because we are neighbours," he replied. "Because I have just returned
to this country after many years spent abroad, and I am at times lonely.
Because I am quite sure that Madame can spare you for half an hour, and
because--here is a great idea--if I let you have my gardener for half an
hour, why shouldn't Madame, as you call her, let me have her companion
for the same length of time?"

She looked at him with mild curiosity. Her self-possession was so marked
as to indicate indifference.

"Is it my fancy," she asked, "or are you rather a strange person?"

"I like to talk," he confided. "All my life I have had to live amongst
silent people. That is finished. Agreeable society is one of the things
to which I have looked forward upon my return to England."

"Then why on earth did you come to Market Ballaston?" she demanded, with
unexpected vehemence. "You won't find any society here. Why did you
come? Why did you choose this place?"

She had without warning adopted an almost inquisitive tone, but his eyes
met hers steadily. He seemed to be trying to divine her sudden access of
interest.

"I came," he explained, "because I like a large house and gardens, when
I can afford them, and this place is very cheap. I had to settle down
somewhere, and this neighbourhood is as good as any other. As to the
people--well, if there is no one here who wants to be friendly, I must
make the best of it. I have been abroad for a great many years, but I
have a few friends left who will find me out in time."

The little spark of interest seemed to have entirely died out of her
manner.

"I see," she murmured. "The house certainly is a pleasant one. We
scarcely expected, though, to see it let so soon."

"Why not?"

"People have ideas. You know the story of the last tenant here?"

"I heard it after I had taken the house," he confided.

She pointed to the library window on the ground floor.

"He was shot one night in the study there," she told him.

"Terrible! And what seems more terrible still, I understand that the
murderer was never caught. Surely some one must have been suspected."

The girl shrugged her shoulders. She had accepted one of her companion's
cigarettes and was smoking lazily and with a certain measure of content.

"I think," she said, "that every one in the village has been suspected,
including Mr. Wilkinson the clergyman, myself, every one up at the Hall
and all the servants. The hard thing, however, has always been to
discover any possible motive."

"Nothing was taken from the room then, I suppose?" he enquired.

"Nothing that could be traced. Nothing apparently of any value. Mr.
Endacott had been occupied in the translation of some wonderful Chinese
manuscripts at the time the affair happened. The box containing them was
upset and the manuscripts were all over the place, but no one could tell
if any were missing, or if they were of any real value. Even his niece,
Miss Endacott, who ought to have known, had nothing whatever to say."

"What sort of a man was this predecessor of mine?" he asked.

"He had been a great scholar in his day," she answered, a little
doubtfully, "but really I only saw him once or twice. Some of the papers
called him the greatest living authority on Chinese art and antiquities.
He had spent nearly all his life out there."

"Of cheerful disposition?"

"Not very. He was exceedingly reserved and seemed all the time engrossed
in his work. He chose this part of the world, I think, to be near
Madame, but, considering that they were brother and sister, he saw very
little of her."

"And the young lady--his niece?"

"She was very attractive--I suppose you might say beautiful," was the
somewhat cold reply. "She left soon after the inquest and hasn't
returned yet. She is coming to stay with Madame, I believe, very
shortly."

"A most mysterious affair!" Mr. Johnson reflected. "Yet I dare say, if
one knew where to start, the solution would be very simple. Now,
supposing, Miss Besant, any one were to offer you the thing you most
desired in life to discover who fired that shot, where should you start
your investigations?"

She turned her head and looked at him. The sleepy droop of her eyelids
had for a moment gone, and he saw that her eyes themselves were
beautiful.

"I have not the faintest idea," she assured him. "Nature never meant me
for a detective. I have too little imagination."

There was a brief silence. The young lady began to make preparations for
departure.

"Tell me," her companion ventured; "now that I am settling down here, I
should like to be neighbourly. It is, of course, impossible for Madame
to come and see me--would it be possible for me to call upon her?"

"In a general way," she replied, after a moment's hesitation, "I should
have told you at once that it was altogether impossible. Madame detests
visitors--the outer gate is generally kept locked as a hint--but
curiously enough, she has shown the utmost interest in your coming. She
will bombard me with questions when I return. Unless what I say
satisfies her, it is very possible that she may consent to receive your
visit. Although," she added, "you won't get much amusement out of it."

"In any case," he said, "I hope before long that Madame may require some
other trifling service and that you will again be her ambassadress."

She left him, vouchsafing only the most casual of farewells, and passing
round the corner of the house without a backward glance. Mr. Johnson
watched her every step. An ordinary young woman without a doubt, wearing
ordinary clothes, saying ordinary things, and with an unusual gift for
concealment. Yet there was something in her very reticence which had its
allurement. Mr. Johnson, who was not a profound psychologist, although
he had always understood the men with whom he had had to deal, had a
flash of inspiration. She was ordinary, just as she was
reticent--because she was, by temperament, or circumstance, intensely
self-possessive. He came to the conclusion, as he returned to his
unaccustomed pursuit, and fluffed mashie shot after mashie shot, that
there existed a Miss Besant at present entirely unrevealed.

                  *       *       *       *       *

At precisely half-past three o'clock that afternoon there occurred what
was looked upon almost as a pageant in the village. With great ceremony
the very fine gates leading to the Hall were thrown open by the lodge
keeper, and, in the small old-fashioned brougham which only left the
Ballaston stables three or four times a year, drawn by a couple of dark
bay horses, whose sides shone like satin and whose harness glittered
from every point of view in iridescent splendour, Mr. Henry Ballaston,
on behalf of the family, came to call upon the newcomer at the Great
House. From the lodge gates onward the progress of the seldom seen
lesser autocrat of the village and neighbourhood was something like a
royal procession. The tradesmen hastened to their shop windows to
perform their salutes, the roadmender stood, bare-headed, looking
downward as one receiving a blessing. The solitary occupant of the
brougham sat with expressionless face, his hand raised all the time to
his hat. It was impressive and distinctly a survival.

Arrived at the somewhat inhospitable-looking gates of solid oak which
formed the entrance to the Great House, the footman sprang to the ground
and drew from its resting place amongst the ivy the knob of the
seldom-used bell. The gates were thrown open. Morton received the
visitor at the front door and escorted him to where his master lay
stretched in a basket chair under a cedar tree at the farthest corner of
the lawn.

"Mr. Henry Ballaston, sir," he announced.

Peter Johnson stumbled to his feet and Henry Ballaston removed his hat
in courtly and formal salute. He was strangely dressed for the country,
in a black cut away coat and grey checked trousers. The shape of his
collar belonged to a past generation. He wore a black satin tie folded
over and secured by a pearl pin, a bowler hat carried now in his hand,
and grey suède gloves.

"You are, I presume," he said, withdrawing the glove from his right hand
before extending it, "our new neighbour, Mr. Johnson. I have called on
behalf of my brother and myself for the purpose of welcoming you to this
neighbourhood."

Mr. Johnson took the outstretched hand and released it almost at once.
Here was a man, he decided, after his own heart--a man difficult to
read, of immense reticences.

"It is very kind of you to come," he said. "I am sure I scarcely
expected it. I have been given to understand that neither you nor your
brother pay many visits."

"I am afraid," Henry Ballaston assented, accepting the chair which
Morton had brought out, "that we are both a little neglectful of our
duties in that respect. You are so near a neighbour, however, that I
permitted myself the pleasure of devoting a spare half-hour to making
your acquaintance."

"Very kind of you, I am sure," Mr. Johnson repeated. "Fine old property,
yours."

"Ballaston Hall has many points of interest," the other admitted. "I
trust that we may soon have the pleasure of seeing you there. My
brother," he added, with a little sigh, "finds many calls upon his time.
He is Chairman of the Quarter Sessions, Lord Lieutenant of the County,
and he takes some interest in the political activities of our Member. He
is, furthermore, Master of the Hounds here, as I dare say you know. He
desired me to say, however, that he should look forward to the pleasure
of making your acquaintance.--You yourself are agreeably housed here."

"I like the place," its tenant admitted. "In many respects it suits me
admirably."

"I find it interesting and also laudable," Henry Ballaston observed--"as
no doubt do many other of your neighbours--that you were not deterred
from taking up your residence here on account of the tragedy--the
unfortunate accident--which befell the late owner of the house."

Mr. Johnson looked for a moment steadily across the iron fence close to
which they were seated. It was a typically restful summer afternoon.
From the distance came the soothing sound of a grass-cutting machine.
There was a murmur of bees amongst the roses, the faintest rustle of
west wind amongst the shrubs. All the time those cold blue eyes watched
him. There was no sign of anxiety or even of interest in Henry
Ballaston's expressionless face. His attitude remained stiff and formal.
His eyes never wavered in their steadfast gaze.

"I was not told of the incident to which you refer," Mr. Johnson
confided, "until after I had signed the contract. But, in any case, I
don't know that it would have made any difference. The quiet of this
place soothes me. To one who has lived a busy life in foreign cities,
there is a great attraction in the peaceful outlook of a village like
this."

"That is easily comprehensible," Henry Ballaston admitted judicially.
"Still there are many country places with attractions more obvious than
Market Ballaston can offer. Golf links in the immediate vicinity, for
instance; shooting or hunting."

"That may be so," the other agreed. "My life, however, has been too busy
a one to cultivate any taste for such things. I understand there are
excellent golf links in the neighbourhood, if later on I find it
necessary to seek amusement outside my gardens. Shooting, after a
fashion, I have at times indulged in. I gather, however, that there is
none to let within reasonable distance."

"No Ballaston shooting has been let for many years," was the somewhat
stiff reply. "From what part of the world, might I ask, Mr. Johnson, do
you come?"

"From all quarters of it. I am by birth an American, but I have
travelled a great deal of recent years. The English life is almost
unknown to me. It is, perhaps, for that reason that I appreciate these
surroundings."

Henry Ballaston nodded gravely.

"I trust," he said, "that you will find all your expectations realised.
It is a surprise to me," he added, "to learn that you are of American
birth. Your accent would not betray the fact."

"I left America," Mr. Johnson explained, "when I was nineteen years old,
and I have only once returned to New York. Since then I have learned to
speak many languages. My business has required it. As regards the
tragedy to which you have alluded," he went on, after a momentary pause,
"although having settled here I shall not allow myself to be disturbed
by it, I will confess that the story I was told last evening of the
murder in my library was rather a shock. Abroad we have always had a
very high opinion of the British detective service. It seems incredible
that in a small place like this such a crime should remain undetected."

"It is, I believe," was the cold admission, "a circumstance without
precedent."

"I gather that no clue or motive of any sort has been discovered?" Mr.
Johnson persisted. "From all that one can hear, the murdered man appears
to have been an entirely harmless individual and his belongings not in
the least likely to attract the ordinary type of criminal."

"There are other of your neighbors," Henry Ballaston surmised, with
marked aloofness, "who can tell you much more of the affair. So far as I
am concerned, it remains only an unpleasant memory.--We hope very
much--my brother and I--Mr. Johnson, that you will give us the pleasure
of your company at luncheon at the Hall."

"You are very kind, I am sure."

"If agreeable to you, and if you will pardon the short notice, we will
say to-morrow at one o'clock," the visitor suggested, rising. "My nephew
is at home for a short time before proceeding abroad. Otherwise we shall
be alone.--Once more, Mr. Johnson, I bid you welcome and trust that you
will derive all the pleasure you anticipate from your residence here."

The tenant of the Great House, a little speechless, escorted his visitor
to the front entrance before which the carriage was waiting. At their
approach a footman threw open the door of the brougham, the coachman sat
up in his seat, the horses, fretted from the flies, pawed the gravel.
Henry Ballaston, with a formal bow of farewell, took his seat and, with
the sun glittering upon the silver of the harness and the brightly
polished, shiny top of the brougham, this visit of ceremony was brought
to an end.

Back through the village street, with eyes looking this time neither to
the right nor to the left, through the lodge gates, where his hand
sought the brim of his hat in mechanical salute to the curtseying
doorkeeper, along the winding avenue, and through the iron gates up to
the great front of the Hall, Henry Ballaston passed on his return
journey and finally reached his destination. He entered the cool, lofty
hall, handed his hat and gloves to the footman who was waiting, and
hesitated for a moment. The door of the library was unexpectedly opened.
Sir Bertram strolled out as though by accident.

"Well, my dutiful brother?" he asked, his tone, though apparently
careless, betraying an underlying anxiety.

Henry waited until he had reached his brother's side.

"The man appears to be perfectly harmless," he confided. "He will take
lunch with us to-morrow."

"Good!" Sir Bertram approved. "I shall go and change now. I am going to
have a few sets of tennis with Gregory."

Henry Ballaston crossed the hall and, passing through the library,
entered the smaller room which had been devoted to his use. Gregory in
flannels and with a tennis racket under his arm, was apparently engaged
in examining one of the catalogues. He turned around as his uncle
entered.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed. "You back already!"

"My call I thought was of suitable length," was the measured rejoinder.

"What sort of a fellow is this new tenant of ours?" Gregory demanded.

His uncle paused for a moment. Gregory's fingers were nervously tapping
the vellum-bound manuscript which he held.

"A very ordinary sort of person," he pronounced, "who appears to have
found his way here entirely by accident."

Gregory replaced on the shelf the catalogue which he had been studying.
He failed to notice that he had been holding the volume upside down.

"Good of you to do the duty stunt, Uncle Henry," he observed.

"It has always been one of my few obligations," was the quiet reply.
"Mr. Johnson is lunching with us to-morrow."

"I sha'n't go over to Cromer until the afternoon then," Gregory
announced. "One may as well be civil, and I have rather a fancy to see
what the fellow is like."



                               CHAPTER IV


At half-past twelve on the following morning Mr. Peter Johnson, dressed
in a blue serge suit and patent shoes--a costume which, after much
deliberation, he deemed suitable for the enterprise on which he was
bent--mounted his two-seated car, drove through the village, exchanging
polite greetings with one or two of his recent acquaintances, and, after
a moment's wait at the lodge gates, proceeded at a subdued pace along
the winding road which crossed the park and up through the great avenue
to the front entrance of the Hall. He left his automobile in a secluded
place and found the door open as he mounted the steps. Rawson,
unrecognising, stony of face and feature, took his name. A footman
relieved him of his hat and gloves. Another subordinate, lurking in the
background, threw open the door of the library, into which the visitor
was ushered.

"Mr. Johnson," the man announced.

Henry Ballaston came forward and greeted his guest with punctilious
cordiality. Then he turned to his brother who had been lounging on the
hearth-rug, reading a newspaper, but who now came forward with
outstretched hand.

"This is my brother, Sir Bertram Ballaston--Mr. Johnson, our new tenant
at the Great House."

The two men shook hands; Mr. Johnson a little formally; his host with an
indifferent but pleasant courtesy. Sir Bertram had grown somewhat
thinner, perhaps, during the last twelve months of ever increasing
financial anxiety. His eyes seemed a trifle sunken and the weariness of
his mouth was a little more pronounced. His smile, however, as he
unbent, was as ingratiating as ever and his voice as insinuating.

"I am very glad to have this opportunity of meeting you, Mr. Johnson,"
he said. "You will excuse my having commissioned my brother to represent
the family. I happened to be engaged for some days and we were anxious
not to delay making your acquaintance."

"Your brother was very welcome," was the prompt assurance. "Very kind
and neighbourly of you to look me up at all. I am a complete stranger
here and, I may add, to England."

"Indeed," Sir Bertram murmured civilly. "Might one enquire then, whilst
congratulating ourselves upon your choice, what made you select this
particular part of the world for your abode?"

"Every one seems to ask me that question," Mr. Johnson observed. "I
imagine there was a certain amount of chance about it. I wished to
settle down in England for a time and from all I had heard I thought
Norfolk the most suitable locality. I went to an agent in Norwich, found
this house at what I considered a very low rental and established
myself."

"And why not indeed?" Sir Bertram demanded approvingly. "For any one who
wishes to live a really retired life amongst rural surroundings a better
choice could scarcely be made.--I am afraid, Mr. Johnson, that we cannot
offer you anything in the way of a modern apéritif. If a glass of
Amontillado sherry pleases you I think that you will find this
drinkable. My father was reputed to be a judge."

Rawson, who had entered with a tray, poured out three glasses from a
bottle reclining in a cradle, with something approaching reverence in
his manner. Mr. Johnson accepted the sherry and drank wine such as he
had never tasted before. Just as he was setting the glass down, the door
opened and Gregory entered. He came forward with all his father's grace
but a little more impetuously.

"This is my son Gregory," Sir Bertram announced. "Mr. Johnson,
Gregory--our new tenant."

Gregory's expression, as he had advanced to meet his father's guest, had
been one of polite but somewhat indifferent curiosity. He suddenly
stopped short, however. The light of amazed recognition flashed in his
eyes. For a brief period of time he was absolutely speechless.

"I am happy to meet you," Mr. Johnson said.

Gregory's hand for a moment sought his throat. The blank look of
non-recognition in the face of this suave, smooth-faced man was
arresting. Yet such a likeness could scarcely be possible. His brain was
still confused, afire with a surge of memories of that still, oily
river, the merciless sun, his flesh-biting bonds; afterwards the quiet,
cool warehouse, with its pungent odours, its jumble of merchandise, its
sombre silences. He became suddenly conscious of his father's surprise,
of Henry's questioning frown.

"Surely," he ventured at last, "we have met before?"

Mr. Johnson shook his head slowly.

"Not within my recollection," he acknowledged.

There was another, although a briefer silence, a matter now only of
seconds, but intense whilst it lasted. Gregory, looking a trifle dazed,
held out his hand. His eyes, however, remained fixed upon the other's
face and the wonder had never left them.

"So sorry to seem such an idiot," he murmured politely, "but even now I
am a little bewildered. We didn't meet fifteen months ago in China--Wu
Ling--the firm of Johnson and Company?"

The visitor shook his head. His smile was good-natured, but, to a keen
observer, a little sphinxlike. His eyes never wavered.

"You are mistaking me for some one else," he said. "My name is certainly
Johnson, but it is not an uncommon one and I am quite sure that this is
our first meeting."

"It is my memory which is at fault, then," Gregory observed, relapsing
with an effort into his usual self. "Glad to welcome you here, Mr.
Johnson. Rawson, am I to be allowed a glass of the sherry? Good! I need
it."

Luncheon was served with a certain measured but not ungraceful ceremony.
The food was excellent and, although the fact was not alluded to, the
guest of the meal, who possessed an instinctive appreciation of such
things, realised that he was drinking cabinet hock of an almost extinct
vintage. Conversation never flagged, but it was conducted upon a level
and in a spirit which were a little difficult to the visitor. There was
no attempt at humour or story telling. Even personal reminiscences and
questionings of all sorts were eschewed. There were grave remarks about
politics, county affairs, the prospects of the forthcoming shooting
season. Mr. Johnson ventured to express once more his hope of renting a
little shooting himself.

"I am afraid," his host regretted, "that such a thing is out of the
question for the moment. The Ballaston shooting extends for some
distance in every direction, and I do not allow my tenant farmers to
concede their sporting rights. We shall, of course, be happy for you to
shoot with us, whenever you feel inclined, but from the point of view of
sport I fear that you have chosen a somewhat unfavourable neighbourhood.
I speak of the immediate present. In the near future there may be
changes."

"The matter does not greatly concern me," was the equable reply. "I have
shot birds and beasts in different places, but I do not pretend to be a
sportsman. I shall find a great deal of occupation in my garden, in
country walks and motoring."

"I was telling my son this morning," Sir Bertram observed, "that I
consider our agent, Mr. Borroughes, was very much to blame for not
having told you the inner history of the Great House before you took
it."

"It would, perhaps, have been better," Mr. Johnson admitted. "At the
same time it would have made no difference to my plans. Were you,
by-the-by, personally acquainted with my unfortunate predecessor?"

"We had exchanged some few civilities," Sir Bertram replied. "Our
acquaintance, however, was nothing but that slight affair which exists
between neighbours. But for the unfortunate tragedy which occurred we
should probably have become more intimate. Mr. Endacott happened to be a
brother of an old friend of mine--the Comtesse de Fourgenet, who resides
at the Little House. It was for that reason, I imagine, that he elected
to settle down in this neighbourhood."

"There was a niece," Mr. Johnson ventured.

"A very charming young person," Sir Bertram conceded. "She naturally
enough left the neighbourhood very soon afterwards. I understand,
however, that she is expected shortly on a visit to the Little House."

Luncheon drew towards its close. A very wonderful port was served and
drunk, after preliminary encomiums, in respectful silence. Sir Bertram
rose to his feet.

"We shall find cigars and coffee in the library, Mr. Johnson," he said.
"If I cannot persuade you to drink another glass of wine we might,
perhaps, rise."

The four men left the room together. The guest of the morning, on his
way across the hall, looked about him with an interest which was
entirely genuine, for in his way he was a lover of beautiful things.
Gregory drew his attention to a famous picture opposite the foot of the
staircase and detained him until they became temporarily detached from
the others. After a casual reference, indifferently voiced, to a
world-famous old master his tone suddenly changed. It was intense,
curiously vibrant.

"I must ask you once more," he said quietly,--"I must ask you this--Mr.
Johnson. Do you remember a man--a brave fellow he was--who used to trade
up the Yun-Tse River amongst the villages? Wu Ling, they called him."

"Wu Ling?" Mr. Johnson repeated. "A Chinaman?"

"He passed as such," Gregory admitted. "He might have been anything. His
name even might have been Johnson."

The tenant of the Great House smiled tolerantly.

"Wu Ling," he commented, "is a very nice name. On the whole I prefer it
to my own. Mine is and always has been Johnson--Peter Johnson--Peter
Johnson of New York."

Gregory led the way towards the library. It seemed to him that there was
nothing more to be said.

"Sorry," he apologised. "I am pretty good at faces, as a rule, and I
never thought I could make a mistake about this one. Glad to hear you
are a neighbour, Mr. Johnson. We shall find the others in here."

He threw open the door of the library and ushered in his companion. His
father and uncle were talking together with their coffee cups in their
hands. They abandoned their conversation precipitately as the door
opened.

"I was afraid," Sir Bertram said, "that Gregory was commencing to show
you the pictures. You would find that rather a lengthy undertaking."

"An undertaking which would interest me very much," Mr. Johnson
declared. "I understand that one day a week visitors are permitted to
see over the Hall. I shall venture to present myself with the crowd."

"There is no necessity for you to do anything of the sort," Sir Bertram
assured him. "My housekeeper will be glad to show you over at any time.
Some of the paintings in the gallery are generally considered to be
quite worth inspection, and our tapestries are famous. The chapel has a
screen which, personally, I think the most beautiful in Norfolk. Perhaps
you would care to see it after you have drunk your coffee."

"I should like to very much," Mr. Johnson confessed.

Sir Bertram remained a courteous but reserved host, Henry, with
strenuous effort, imparting now and then a note of greater intimacy to
the conversation. Gregory remained silent though restless. After they
had finished their coffee, they glanced at some of the tapestries and
Sir Bertram led the way towards the chapel. They passed through the
smaller library which Henry claimed as his own.

"This is my little sanctum," he announced. "My brother leaves most
matters connected with the estate in my charge, and this is where I deal
with them before they pass on to Mr. Borroughes."

The visitor looked curiously around the lofty but somewhat severe
apartment, with its neatly arranged shelves of catalogues, its piles of
volumes of reference, its letter cases and many evidences of business
detail. An exceptionally large writing table filled the window recess,
on which stood a single bronze statue, several curios, a blotter and a
massive stationery rack. On the right-hand side the window panelling
took a wide, inward sweep, leaving a space, half platform, half
pedestal. In the centre stood a fine china bowl, filled with deep red
roses; on either side--the Body and the Soul.

Mr. Johnson gazed first at one of the Images, then at the other,
speechless, expressionless, but absorbed. All the cynical vice and
grotesque wickedness of the one leered at him from the left-hand side of
those drooping roses; from the right the kindly benevolent face of a
saint seemed to breathe out a strange atmosphere of peace and sanctity.
Mr. Johnson made no comment, attempted no criticism, yet his very
silence was in its way suggestive.

Gregory watched him with eager interest, conscious of a surging
resurrection of certain vague, far-fetched suspicions.

In the background Henry Ballaston, though his face showed no sign of
emotion, also watched. It was his movement which dispelled those few
seconds of paralysed silence. His voice, always a pleasant one
notwithstanding its formal note, was softer and lower even than usual,
but there was a curious glint in his cold blue eyes.

"You find our miniature Buddhas interesting, Mr. Johnson?" he asked.

The tenant of the Great House did not at first appear to hear him. His
eyes were fixed almost to rigidity.

"Both here!" he muttered. "Both!"

The effect of his exclamation was disconcerting. His three companions
closed in a little upon him. There was something menacing about their
silence.

"Both?" Sir Bertram repeated at last, with the air of a puzzled man.

Mr. Johnson appeared to awake from his lethargy.

"Say, it seems to me," he remarked, lapsing into his first Americanism,
"that those two ought to be worth a great sum of money. I've seen
photographs of them when I was travelling in the East. They were stolen
from a temple, somewhere in China, I think it was. Miniature Buddhas,
aren't they?"

"Stolen!" Sir Bertram murmured.

"Stolen!" Gregory echoed.

"This is very interesting," Henry declared. "They came into our
possession in a somewhat unusual fashion. You think that in the first
instance they were probably stolen?"

Mr. Johnson withdrew his eyes from them at last.

"I should say they surely were," he agreed. "I saw a photograph of them
in an American magazine about twelve months ago, with a gigantic Buddha
between them. They were quoted as having been stolen and being for some
reason or other, which I have forgotten, immensely valuable. Columns of
it there were, I remember. The young American who started out to get
them was discovered with his throat cut in the train from Pekin
southwards. Nobody seemed to know what had become of the Images."

There was a brief silence; a sudden, almost unaccountable lessening of
the tension of the last few minutes. Mr. Johnson loomed no longer as a
sinister figure of fate.

"The circumstances under which we came into possession of these Images,"
Henry intervened, "would seem to preclude the idea of their being the
ones referred to in your magazine article. Still, the story is
interesting."

Mr. Johnson turned away without further comment. The subject of the
Images was exhausted. The screen in the chapel beyond was inspected.
Presently he took a formal leave of his hosts.

"We shall hope to see more of you, Mr. Johnson," Sir Bertram said, as he
accompanied him on to the terrace. "We do not entertain much at present,
but my son will be giving some farewell shooting parties before his
departure abroad. We shall hope to number you amongst our guests."

"Very kind of you, I am sure," Mr. Johnson replied, climbing into his
car and thrusting in his clutch. "My visit and brief glimpse of your
treasures has been most enjoyable. Good day, Sir Bertram. Good day,
gentlemen."

He drove off. They stood watching him pass through the iron gates into
the park. Sir Bertram waved his hand light-heartedly, but neither of the
other two indulged in any farewell salute.

"An ordinary sort of fellow, but harmless, I believe," Sir Bertram
pronounced.

"There were moments when I thought otherwise, but on the whole I am
inclined to agree with you," Henry conceded, after a moment's
reflection.

Gregory's thoughts were too confused for speech. He watched the car
until it became a speck in the distance. Then he turned away and
followed the others into the house.



                               CHAPTER V


The afternoon was still young when Mr. Johnson passed through the park
gates of Ballaston Hall and drove slowly down the village street on his
way back to the Great House. He studied the sign-post which marked the
road to Norwich and hesitated. At that moment a young woman stepped out
of the grocer's shop and, recognising him, nodded in spiritless fashion.
Mr. Johnson fancied that he caught an almost wistful expression as she
glanced critically at his car. He drew up by the side of the cobbled
pavement.

"Good afternoon, Miss Besant," he said.

"Good afternoon," she rejoined, looking up as though surprised.

"I thought of motoring in to Norwich," he confided. "I wonder whether
you would care to come? It will take three quarters of an hour to an
hour and I need not stay there for many minutes."

"It sounds delightful," she admitted, "but I am afraid that it is quite
impossible. Madame is very restless to-day and I am quite sure that she
would not allow it."

"You might ask her," he suggested.

She hesitated.

"I might," she agreed doubtfully, "but I am afraid it would be scarcely
worth while asking you to wait."

"Nonsense. I have nothing to do," he replied cheerfully. "Jump in and
I'll drive you to the gate."

"I'd rather you waited at the corner," she begged. "I'll come back and
tell you, anyway."

Mr. Johnson obeyed instructions. He drew up at the point where a by-road
curved around to his own and the Little House and on to a chain of
rather remote villages, descended and glanced into his petrol tank, lit
a cigarette and settled down to wait. In a few minutes Miss Besant
reappeared. He was conscious of a measure of disappointment which rather
puzzled him when he saw that she was still without gloves or coat.
Nevertheless there was a slightly eager expression in her face.

"Madame has surprised me very much," she announced, as she paused by the
side of the car. "She seems willing for me to go, but she would like to
speak to you first."

"Delighted," Mr. Johnson replied, preparing to alight. "I proposed
myself as a visitor yesterday, as you may remember."

The young woman nodded.

"For some reason or another," she confided, "Madame is very curious
about you. Directly I mentioned your name and said that you were
outside, she told me to fetch you in. Please be careful what you say to
her. She is very peculiar and every one humours her. Whilst you are
talking I shall get my coat and gloves."

"I'll do my best," he promised her, as he held open the gate. "Don't
keep me too long. I can foresee that conversation with Madame will be
difficult. I hope she knows that I have lived abroad for a long time and
am unused to ladies' society."

"You'll manage all right," she assured him encouragingly.

She opened the front door and led him across the low, almost square
hall, oak-panelled to the ceiling and with several strange and, to Mr.
Johnson's taste, not yet educated to futurism, extremely bizarre
pictures upon the wall. Then she opened another door softly and beckoned
him to follow her.

"This is Mr. Johnson who has come to live at the Great House, Madame,"
she announced.

She left him then, and Mr. Johnson crossed the room towards the couch.
His curiosity concerning Madame rather increased as he bent down to take
her unexpectedly beautiful hand. She was lying flat on her back in a
sort of invalid chair, which was drawn up, as usual, to an open window,
and from her waist downwards she was covered by a beautiful Chinese wrap
of light texture. He was astonished by the lack of wrinkles in her face,
the clearness of its complexion, the absence of any sign of illness. A
lace scarf around her neck was fastened by an exquisite pin with ancient
paste gems, and the fingers of the hand which still remained in his
seemed ablaze with jewels, all of them with old-fashioned settings,
which contained, however, some really fine gems.

"So you are my new neighbour," she remarked abruptly.

Her voice gave Mr. Johnson further cause for surprise. It was very low
and very musical, but it possessed other qualities which he found it
difficult to define.

"I have come to live at the Great House for a time," he replied.

"Why have you come here?" she demanded.

He accepted the chair to which she had pointed imperiously.

"It is a most extraordinary thing," he said, "but every person I have
met since I came here has asked me the same question. Why should I not
choose to come and live a quiet life in Market Ballaston? The place
pleased me. I wished to live in the country--in Norfolk for choice--the
house and the surroundings were just what I wanted."

"I don't believe a word you're saying," she declared shortly.

Mr. Johnson, himself something of an adept in the art of guarded
conversation, was taken thoroughly aback. For a moment he could think of
nothing to say.

"Why do you want to come and live in a house in an out-of-the-way
village like this--a house, too, in which another man was murdered? Do
you wish me to believe that it was chance, or, perhaps, morbid
curiosity, or had you another reason?"

"My dear madame," Mr. Johnson assured her, "as to morbid curiosity, not
a soul even mentioned the matter to me till after I had paid over the
contract deposit and secured the lease of the house."

"Never mind whether they mentioned it or not," she persisted, her fine
eyes challenging his. "Do you mean to tell me that you didn't know about
it?"

Mr. Johnson, thoroughly on his guard now, adopted a soothing tone.

"How could I?" he expostulated. "I am a complete stranger to this
neighbourhood, and, as a matter of fact, I have spent most of my life
abroad."

"The man who was murdered," she continued--"you know he was my
brother--had also lived abroad. Had you met him?"

"Coincidences are scarcely likely to multiply themselves," he remarked
drily. "I hail from New York and your brother, I understand, had spent
most of his life in China."

She lay quite still for a moment, her hands clasped. She seemed to be
considering.

"There is an idea here," she recommenced abruptly, "that you are either
a detective or that you have come here determined, for some reason of
your own, to solve the mystery of my brother's murder, that you knew all
about it before you came, that you took the house on purpose. What about
that?"

Her eyes seemed to be trying to bore their way through to the back of
his head. Mr. Johnson remained imperturbable.

"My dear lady," he protested, "I can assure you that this is a foolish
fancy."

She had raised herself a little, and she sank back now amongst the
cushions. The hard insistence had gone from her eyes but she was still
uneasy.

"I hope," she said, "that you are speaking the truth. I hope you are."

"Mr. Endacott," he reflected, "was, as you have just reminded me, your
brother."

"He was," she admitted.

"Then why," he asked, "do you feel so strongly upon the matter? I mean,
supposing I were a detective--which I am not--or an amateur
criminologist, or anything of that sort, bent upon discovering the
secret of the crime at the Great House; surely you should welcome my
efforts. Why not?"

A gleam of horror lit her eyes.

"You know nothing about it," she cried. "It is not a matter for any one
to meddle with. Ralph was my brother, it is true, but he is dead and
there is an end of it. I am his nearest surviving relative. It is for me
to say. It is for no one else. If any one dares to interfere they shall
suffer."

Once more she sank back, exhausted, amongst her pillows. Mr. Johnson
bent over her with the air of a doctor soothing a refractory patient.

"My dear neighbour," he begged, "please believe that I am here for no
evil or malicious purpose whatsoever. Under no circumstances should I
ever take any course likely to bring distress upon you. I am not at all
the sort of person you think I am."

"I trust not," she acknowledged a little wearily. "Have you taken a
fancy to my companion?"

"I wouldn't go quite so far as that," he answered, smiling, "but I must
confess that I find her a very pleasant young person. I was just off
alone to Norwich and I thought that the ride there might amuse her."

"Very well," Madame decided, "you can take her. Come in and see me again
some time. Come as often as you like. I am not altogether satisfied
about you. I wish I were."

The door was quietly opened, and Miss Besant appeared, dressed for her
excursion. Madame waved her hand in a little gesture of dismissal.

"Is there anything I can do for you before I go?" the young woman asked.

"Nothing," was the curt reply. "It will take you, I suppose, an hour to
go to Norwich, an hour to frivol there, and an hour to return. See that
you do not exceed that time."

"Very good, Madame."

"And Mr. Johnson!"

"Madame," he answered, looking back from the door.

"Come and see me to-morrow about the same time, unless you are engaged.
If so, find out from Miss Besant what time will suit me. That is all.
Good afternoon."

Mr. Johnson followed his companion across the hall and out into the
street. He was feeling a little dazed.

"Madame," he remarked, "has a great deal of character, and also
vivacity, for an invalid."

The girl remained silent. She climbed into the car with a little murmur
of pleasure.

"Madame," she declared, settling herself down contentedly, "is very much
stronger than she used to be. I shouldn't be in the least surprised if
she recovered altogether, and then she won't need a companion any
longer."

Mr. Johnson swung round the corner with the skill of a practised driver.

"In that case," he observed, "my sympathies are divided."



                               CHAPTER VI


Mr. Johnson found plenty of time during the journey to Norwich to
exchange remarks with and take notice of his companion. The sulkiness of
her expression lightened considerably with the pleasure of the rapid
motion, the sense of freedom springing from this unexpected holiday. The
road wound its way between hedges from which the late honeysuckle still
drooped, through a tract of pleasant and varied country; corn fields
where harvesting machines with their musical mechanism were at work,
rich meadows where the cows stood knee-deep in flower-starred herbage,
across a great common where clumps of heather and gorse stretched away
to the borders of a thick, encircling wood. The Ballaston pheasants
strutted about on every side. From a slight rise in the road a mile or
so beyond the village they caught a glimpse of the back of the Hall.

"I lunched there to-day," Mr. Johnson confided.

The girl looked at him curiously.

"Who was there?" she enquired.

"Only Sir Bertram and his son and Mr. Henry Ballaston. I thought it was
rather decent of them to ask me."

She made no reply.

"Do you know them?" he asked.

"I see Sir Bertram often," she replied. "He comes down to the Little
House two or three times a week when he is here."

"And Mr. Henry?"

"Mr. Henry does not visit Madame to my knowledge."

"Do you know Sir Bertram's son, Gregory?" he continued.

She turned and looked at him. Her eyes were quite wide open now and he
was once more astonished to find how beautiful they were. Nevertheless
their expression at that moment was not pleasing. She seemed surprised
at his question--if such a thing were possible, a little frightened.

"I know him, of course," she replied. "He too visits Madame
occasionally."

"I am interested in the family," Mr. Johnson confessed, "and I have
faith in your instincts. What do you think of Gregory Ballaston?"

"What should I think of him?" she answered indifferently. "A
good-looking young man, run after at times by all the young women in the
county, a great sportsman, a great traveller, and, I suppose, a great
libertine. How on earth should I, Madame's companion, know or think
anything about him?"

"One forms impressions," he murmured.

"If I allowed myself to form any," she rejoined, "they would be
favourable. He treats me always just a little more politely, because I
am a dependent. If I were a silly girl, I dare say I should be like the
rest of them in this horrible neighbourhood."

"Why do you call it that?" he protested.

"I call it that," she rejoined, "because I detest nearly all the people
I know in it."

"Well, there don't seem to be many," he remarked good-humouredly, "even
if you include me."

"I certainly do not include you," she assured him. "You may disappoint
me like the others, but at the present moment you seem to me a very
simple, good-natured person, who actually takes the trouble to go out of
his way to do a kindness."

"Not in the least," he protested. "You're not suggesting, I hope, that
there is any kindness in driving you to Norwich?"

"Why not?" she retorted. "What else can it be?"

"It is certainly pleasanter for me," he pointed out, "to have you by my
side than to go alone."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Why?" she demanded. "I am not good-looking. I am not agreeable. I am
not amusing. If you are fond of gallivanting--well, I am sure that you
have sense enough to know that it doesn't appeal to me. How can I
possibly, therefore, be of any interest to you?"

He smiled.

"You're all there with the words," he acknowledged. "I rather depend
upon feelings. I only know that I feel it pleasanter to have you where
you are than to be alone. As a matter of fact, there are several of
those glib statements of yours I could quarrel with if I wished."

"Well?"

"Your manner," he admitted, "is rather difficult. No one could call you
particularly amiable. As to not being attractive, however, I differ from
you. I think if you took the slightest trouble about yourself--put your
hat on straight, for instance, gathered up those wisps of hair, and
indulged in a smile now and then--you would be distinctly good-looking."

For a moment her frown seemed even a little more sullen than ever. There
was a positive scowl upon her face, until to his amazement, she suddenly
burst out laughing. He saw then that she had the whitest of teeth and
the little flush of colour which had been gradually finding its way into
her cheeks completely dispelled the sallowness of her complexion. Her
eyes seemed to reflect her unexpectedly kindled sense of humour. She
straightened her hat and felt her hair.

"You really are a very nice person," she said. "You can go on talking
nonsense, if you want to. I rather like it. And if it will give you any
satisfaction, I will spend that hour during which you are going to leave
me alone in Norwich, at the hairdresser's."

"I knew I was right," he declared. "You're a good sort."

"So are you," she rejoined. "Let's be friends. I am going to start by
asking you a question."

"For God's sake," he begged, "don't ask me why I came to settle at
Market Ballaston."

"Why not?"

"Because every one's pestering me to death with the same thing," he
complained. "No one can get that murder out of their heads. It seems to
have absorbed every effort at individual thought in the whole place.
Why, I've seen men killed by the dozen. I've lived in a place where
there was a murder every day. Yet here they seem obsessed by their one
little tragedy. I can never get away from it. I go down to the village
inn. The tradespeople are just like the tradespeople in any other
village. I should like a little local information and gossip. Not a bit
of it. The murder, and nothing but the murder! I lunch at the Hall.
Before I have been there half an hour I know that I am an object of
suspicion. I must have come to the neighbourhood because of the murder.
Hang it all, in self-defense I shall have to set to work and find out
who _did_ kill this fellow Endacott, and tell you all about it."

"I hope you won't try," she begged earnestly.

"Another mystery!" he exclaimed. "What the mischief can it matter to
you?"

"I don't know," she answered. "I don't care much about any of these
people, but I don't like unhappiness. The man's dead. I think all over
the village the same feeling exists. I think they are afraid of what
might happen if the truth really came to light."

She leaned a little forward in the car, her eyes fixed upon the steeple
of the Cathedral, slowly emerging to definite form, slender, exquisite,
yet dominating, as it rose from amongst an incongruous mass of red-tiled
buildings. Mr. Johnson waited for several moments. Then, as he swung
into the main road, he broke the brief silence.

"That's queer," he confided. "I had formed the same impression myself.
Anyway, we will drop it for the present."

She nodded assent.

"I wonder if you realise," she said, "what a great holiday this is for
me. I have never been in Norwich. I have not been in a car for years. I
am enjoying myself thoroughly, and I am not going to think of another
disagreeable thing. Please put me down wherever you like and when you
have done your business, I will meet you wherever you say."

"Have you any shopping to do, beyond your visit to the hairdresser?" he
asked her.

"Shopping!" she repeated scornfully. "Why should I have any? Living the
sort of life I do, one needs no clothes. One thing does as well as
another. Still, the hairdresser will take a little time, and I can amuse
myself very well looking at the shop windows."

"I shall put you down in the market place," he decided. "I shall be gone
for about three quarters of an hour. At the end of that time I will meet
you at the tea shop you can see on our right hand. After that, if we
have any time to spare, we will look round the place together. Is that
agreed?"

"Delightful!" she assented.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The Chief Constable was in and happy to see Mr. Johnson. He was an
amiable ex-officer, as competent as could be expected, and exceedingly
popular in the county, of which he was a native.

"I am Major Holmes," he announced, glancing at the card which he still
held in his hand. "What can I do for you, Mr. Johnson?"

"Give me a little of your time, and a great deal of your patience," was
the quiet reply. "I have just come to live in your county at Market
Ballaston. I have taken the Great House there."

"The Great House," the other repeated reminiscently. "Oh, yes, I
remember, of course. So you are living there. The scene of a very
unfortunate tragedy which cost us a lot of time and trouble lately."

"So I hear," Mr. Johnson murmured.

Major Holmes leaned back in his chair.

"I am afraid," he confessed, "that Norfolk has added to the somewhat
scanty list of undiscovered crimes. We don't lay it too much to heart,
however, as Scotland Yard took the whole business out of our hands in
the early stages."

"A little unwise of them, perhaps," Mr. Johnson observed. "Local police
may not be so intelligent, but they are at least tenacious, and they
often have the better grasp of the situation."

The Chief Constable remained silent. He had his own opinion, but it was
not a matter for discussion with an outsider.

"I imagine," his visitor proceeded, "that it would be rather a score for
the county police if they were to achieve a success where Scotland Yard
has failed."

Major Holmes glanced across at his caller keenly.

"Have you brought me any information?" he asked.

"Yes," was the laconic reply.

The Chief Constable was startled but eager.

"God bless my soul!" he exclaimed, sitting up. "You're a welcome
visitor. Look here, let me ring for my Superintendent."

Mr. Johnson held out his hand.

"Not for the moment, if you please," he begged. "I would rather say what
I have to say to you in confidence. Afterwards, I understand the
information must be used in such manner as you think fit."

The other nodded.

"Very well," he agreed.

The tenant of the Great House squared himself up to the desk. He was a
different-looking man to the kindly person who had driven Miss Besant
over to Norwich.

"Major Holmes," he said, "I shall ask you to consider as private so much
of this conversation as does not come under the heading of official
information."

"Certainly."

"The murdered man, Endacott, and I were associated in a very large
business established in China, Alexandria and New York. We were together
for over twenty years. For the last ten years he was my partner. We
wound up the business a little over twelve months ago and he brought a
great fortune to England."

"You were his partner," Major Holmes repeated in a tone of considerable
surprise.

"No one in this neighbourhood knows of my connection with Endacott," Mr.
Johnson continued. "I have chosen to keep it secret. Now let me come to
the more precise information which I have to offer. A month or so before
Endacott left the East, a Chinese temple near Pekin was robbed, and two
statues, wooden Images they were, with a very peculiar history, were
stolen. There were two young men concerned in the robbery--an Englishman
and an American. The American got as far as the railway, and, although
he was murdered by a band of robbers who boarded the train, one of the
Images reached its destination. The Englishman was captured by the
priests, and as, by their religion, they are unable to shed blood, he
was handed over by them to a notorious river pirate with instructions
that he was to be thrown to the alligators. I heard of the affair in a
village where I was trading up the Yun-Tse River, rescued him from the
pirate and brought him down to the coast. The name of the young man was
Gregory Ballaston."

The Chief Constable stared across the table. It was an odd story to hear
told in such a matter-of-fact way in the law-abiding city of Norwich.

"Greg Ballaston!" he exclaimed. "Good Lord!"

"Mr. Gregory Ballaston," the narrator continued, "found his Image
waiting for him on the steamer, although his friend was dead. The second
of the Images, with which the robbers had decamped, came, by means of
indirect traffic with them, into my possession. I showed it to Mr.
Ballaston in my warehouse. He coveted it. If the old superstition were
true, his Image without mine was useless."

"How, useless?" Major Holmes asked, puzzled.

"Because both were supposed to contain, hidden somewhere in their
interior, a sacred treasure of jewels accumulated by the priests in the
temple. If I attempt to explain the matter more fully, you will think
that I am telling fairy stories, so I will content myself by saying
that, according to an ancient superstition, credited by many who had
knowledge of the affair, and also by these two young men, the possession
of one Image without the other was useless. Gregory Ballaston left for
England, taking his Image. The other, when we wound up the affairs of
the firm, was brought home to England by Ralph Endacott, together with a
number of old manuscripts from the temple, which had also come into our
possession. Up to, at any rate, a few days before his murder, that Image
stood in his study, the room where he was found shot. To-day that Image
is in Ballaston Hall."

Major Holmes sat for a moment or two without speaking. It was scarcely
to be wondered at that his prevailing impressions were of blank
incredulity.

"You are telling me a most extraordinary story, Mr. Johnson," he said
guardedly.

"The truth is sometimes extraordinary," the other agreed. "You can
easily verify, however, the correctness of the main points of my
statements. I can give you references, for instance, to my bankers in
London, who will assure you that I was the head of the firm in which Mr.
Endacott was partner, that I am a man of wealth and reputation, and in a
position to know the truth concerning these matters. Gregory Ballaston
half recognised me, but as out there I passed as a Chinaman, he is only
suspicious. I adopted the garb and speech of the Chinese very early in
life, because no confessed European has a chance of trading successfully
in the interior of the country. Gregory Ballaston is a young man against
whom I have no ill-feeling--in fact, I rather like him--but Endacott was
my associate for twenty years and I was responsible for the Image being
in his possession. It was arranged between us that, with the help of a
friend of his at the British Museum, he should obtain a translation of
the documents we had acquired concerning it, and we should then, on my
return to England, discuss the possibility of the existence of the
jewels. I am very certain that in his lifetime he would never willingly
have parted with the Image to Gregory Ballaston."

"And you say that that Image is now at Ballaston Hall?" the Major
demanded.

"It is there at the present moment," was the unequivocal reply. "I
lunched there to-day and saw it, together with the fellow Image which
Gregory Ballaston brought home."

The Chief Constable moved uneasily in his chair. The story to which he
had listened was barely credible, but there was something very
convincing about this rather ponderous man of slow speech and steady
eyes.

"You are a stranger in these parts, Mr. Johnson," he said, after a
moment's pause. "You probably don't know that the Ballastons are one of
our oldest and most prominent county families. Sir Bertram is Lord
Lieutenant at the present moment. He hunts the hounds and occupies a
great position."

"I am aware of that," Mr. Johnson replied. "I also know, as probably you
do, that the family are in great financial straits."

"It comes to this then," the Chief Constable summed up unwillingly. "You
are practically accusing young Ballaston not only of theft but of the
murder of your late partner, Endacott."

"I have not gone so far as that," the other pointed out. "I have
supplied you with a motive for the murder. I have given you information
that property belonging to the dead man--equally to me, by-the-by--is
now in the possession of the Ballastons."

"But is this Image really of great value?" Major Holmes asked. "Leaving
out the other improbabilities, could its possession be considered as a
possible incentive for the perpetration of such an atrocious crime?"

"The jewels supposed to be concealed in the two Images," Mr. Johnson
confided, "are estimated, if they exist at all, to be worth anything up
to a million pounds. It was Sir Bertram who first heard the story when
he was in the Diplomatic Service and persona grata at the late Emperor's
Court in China. He passed it on to his son, and without doubt the two
together planned the expedition."

Major Holmes felt a certain amount of conviction creeping in upon him.
It was only his sense of officialdom which enabled him to conceal his
growing sense of horror.

"You must forgive me, Mr. Johnson," he begged, "if I accept your story
with some reserves. As a man of common sense, I am sure you will see
that it has its incredible side, especially when one considers the great
position of the Ballastons and the horrible results which must ensue if
your story be proved true. By-the-by, didn't I hear that Gregory
Ballaston was going abroad again for some years?"

"It is that fact," Mr. Johnson admitted, "which has induced me to pay
you this visit instead of pursuing a few investigations myself."

Major Holmes pushed pen and paper across the table.

"Will you write down the address of your bankers," he invited, "to whom
I may refer? If you also care to give me a reference to your lawyers or
some private person, I must confess that I should proceed with more
confidence."

Mr. Johnson acquiesced without hesitation. There was something
convincing about the name of the bank and the solicitors, written in his
firm handwriting.

"You have no further suggestions to make, I suppose?" the Chief
Constable asked.

"None at all," Mr. Johnson replied, "except that I should much prefer
your keeping my intervention in this matter entirely secret for a short
time. You will probably place such investigations as you decide to make
in the hands of your subordinate who first took charge of the case. If
you can arrange to let him pay me a visit at the Great House, I should
be glad."

Major Holmes sat for a moment or two in silence.

"Let me see," he reflected, "Cloutson was the man who had the matter in
hand before we were overrun by the Scotland Yard people. He is
travelling inspector now for the northern part of the county. I shall
catch him to-night at Lynn and will have him return at once."

"There is one thing more I should tell you," Mr. Johnson concluded. "It
was my intention, before I heard of Gregory Ballaston's impending
departure, to deal with this matter myself. I have a young man from a
private detective agency stationed down at Ballaston. He watches,
however, for one purpose only."

"Unless you have any special reason for not telling me," the Chief
Constable suggested, "I think, especially as we are going to act, I had
better know what that one purpose is."

"I anticipate at some time or another," Mr. Johnson confided, "a
burglarious visit at the Great House from some one at Ballaston. Now
that I have discovered that the Image has already been stolen the
possibility is not so great, but it is obvious that as yet Gregory
Ballaston has not learned the secret of helping himself to the treasure.
Now there is one room--an annex to the study--locked and boarded, on the
windows of which Miss Endacott has had bars placed. I believed that the
Image was in there, but what certainly is there is the coffer of Chinese
manuscripts which Endacott brought home with him, and which we believed
to contain instructions as to the connection between the Images and the
treasure. I have examined that room, and, though of course a
professional burglar could manage it easily enough, it wouldn't be a
simple matter for an amateur to tackle. Still, having gone so far, I
expect Gregory Ballaston to make the last effort. That is why my young
man watches Ballaston Hall at night."

Major Holmes was a matter-of-fact man of limited vision, and once more
he had the sensation of having been plunged into a world of phantasies.

"Chinese manuscripts!" he muttered. "Images! Greg Ballaston! Finest
captain Oxford ever had, you know, Mr. Johnson, and captained the
Gentlemen two years. It's awfully hard for me to get a coherent grip of
this, especially when you sit there and tell me that you lived in the
East disguised as a Chinaman. The whole thing seems fantastic."

Mr. Johnson tapped with his forefinger the slip of paper upon which he
had written the two addresses.

"When you take up my references with the lawyers," he suggested, "write
to Mr. Stockton personally. Ask him his opinion of me as a man of
business, a practical man. You can have him down, if you like. My
affairs are of some importance to him and he would not hesitate to make
the journey. You must have confidence in me, because now that I have
moved in the matter at all, I wish to be sure of the end."

Major Holmes rose to his feet and opened the door for his visitor.

"You can rely upon my taking the necessary steps in the matter," he
promised. "The whole business is more painful to me than I can tell you,
but it will proceed from now on automatically. I will send Inspector
Cloutson in to see you the first time he is at Market Ballaston."

Mr. Johnson, as he walked down the hill from the Castle, glanced more
than once at the grim jail with its fortress-like walls and bare
windows. He was no sentimentalist. Fifteen years' trading upon the
Yun-Tse River had accustomed him to scenes of horror and bloodshed, but,
nevertheless, he gave a little shiver as he passed the nail-studded
entrance. It was here, only a week ago, that a man had been hanged. He
recalled the circumstances, only to dismiss the memory immediately. He
was concerned with more immediate events. He himself had started into
relentless motion the cumbersome machinery of the law. The memory of the
Chief Constable's room waxed faint. The tolling of the Castle clock
startled him. He glanced up. Above was the scaffold.



                              CHAPTER VII


Mr. Johnson was genuinely surprised at the expression in his companion's
face when, at the end of that drive home through the drowsy afternoon,
she put out her hand to wish him good-by. He forgot her shabby little
black lace hat with its two rather battered red roses, her scratched and
mended gloves, the thin ready-made wrap around her linen frock. She was
no longer a sulky, tired, young woman. For a single moment she was
beautiful.

"You have given me quite a wonderful afternoon, Mr. Johnson," she said,
"and I am ashamed of myself for having been so quiet all the way home. I
am afraid I must have seemed almost ungracious. I wasn't. I was just
enjoying it all, and--thank you!"

She was gone before he could do anything but return heartily the warm
pressure of her fingers, but she seemed to him to walk with a new grace
as she stepped lightly up the tiled path, turned the shining brass door
handle, and disappeared into the Little House. He turned round to his
car, but instead of making for his own heavy oak gates, he reversed
slowly down the lane, swung round in front of the Ballaston Arms and
entered. The same little company were assembled in the bar, with the
exception of Rawson and the addition of Walter Beavens, the local
wheelwright, and Tom Foulds, the veterinary surgeon.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen," Mr. Johnson said cheerfully. "A long and
dusty ride from Norwich, Mr. Landlord. I'll take a whisky and soda--a
large soda, please, and a piece of lemon, if you have such a thing."

He settled down into a chair with the air of a man who intends to make
himself at home, and began to fill his pipe. Mr. Craske was his
immediate neighbour. A little distance away the young man Fielding was
busy with a box of flies.

"So you had a look at the Hall this morning, sir," the grocer remarked.
"I saw you coming through the gates."

"I lunched there," Mr. Johnson confided. "A magnificent place it is, and
full of treasures, too! Why, the pictures and tapestries alone must be
worth a fortune."

Mr. Foulds joined in the conversation. He was a ruddy-faced young man,
inclined to be stout, dressed in somewhat sporting fashion, with riding
leggings which he was continually tapping with a switch.

"Worth a mint of money, those tapestries," he declared. "Came from
Versailles, some of them--the more modern ones--at the time of the
Revolution. Good pictures, too, any quantity of them. I should say the
contents of the Hall were worth the best part of half a million. Queer
situation, ain't it?"

"In what way?" Mr. Johnson enquired.

The young man wielded his switch assiduously.

"Well, it's no secret round here," he proclaimed, dropping his voice
nevertheless, "that Sir Bertram is devilish hard up. They don't know
where to turn for money, any of them. And yet with all that valuable
property they can't touch it."

"How's that?"

"Every yard of tapestry, every picture worth a snap of the fingers, is
an heirloom," Foulds explained. "Every acre of property is entailed. I
suppose there's plenty of money been raised on mortgages, but I think
they've come to the end of that, from what one hears. Shame, too! Fine
old family!"

"Sir Bertram, I suppose, has been extravagant?" Mr. Johnson suggested.

The veterinary surgeon glanced around.

"Well," he said, "our friend Rawson being absent, we may venture to
speak of his Lordship of the Manor freely. There isn't a person in the
county could find a word to say against him--him or Mr. Gregory
either--but I should say that for making the money fly they are just
about the limit."

"Mr. Gregory is reputed to have led a very fast life in town," the
grocer interposed timidly.

"And then I don't know as he was a patch on his father," was the
veterinary surgeon's complacent rejoinder.

"Mr. Henry seems to be the sober one of the family," Mr. Johnson
remarked.

"He's a character, he is," Foulds declared. "A real, old-fashioned,
Dickens character. You're right about him being the sober one, though.
He'd never spend a sixpence he could help, and I'd back his conscience
against the Archbishop of Canterbury's. Have a drink, Mr. Craske."

"With pleasure, Tom."

"Will you honour me, Mr. Johnson?"

"The honour is mine as the thirst certainly is," was the prompt
response. "Very kind of you, I am sure."

The young man Fielding, having succeeded with his fly, entered
diffidently into the conversation.

"Have the family a town house?" he enquired.

"Not now," Mr. Craske replied. "There was one in Grosvenor Square, but
that went ten years ago, the year Sir Bertram lost seventy thousand
pounds on the Derby."

"They spend most of their time down here then, I suppose?"

"I wouldn't say that," the grocer rejoined. "Mr. Gregory, soon after the
war, disappeared altogether for a year or so, and he's always taking
long trips abroad. The Squire, he just goes up to those things that the
gentry from everywhere seem to meet at--the Eton and Harrow, and Varsity
Cricket Matches at Lord's, and Ascot and Goodwood."

Mr. Johnson made an effort to bring the discussion back to what was to
him its point of greatest interest.

"These financial embarrassments of Sir Bertram and his son," he said, "I
presume there is nothing absolutely urgent about them."

"I wouldn't go so far as to admit that," Mr. Foulds replied cautiously.
"There was a rumour yesterday that there was a conference of lawyers in
London fixed for next week. Mr. Jenkins from Norwich--he's the lawyer
who deals chiefly with the mortgages--he did say last week that they
couldn't see the year through."

The entrance of Rawson interfered with the trend of the conversation. It
was a matter of etiquette at the Ballaston Arms that gossip concerning
the Hall was not indulged in while he was present unless he himself
introduced the subject. The butler greeted the tenant of the Great House
with the slightly extra respect to which his recent visit entitled him.

"Glad to see you at the Hall with us to-day, sir," he remarked. "You
will find the Squire a kindly gentleman and hospitable when he takes the
fancy."

"I found him most agreeable," Mr. Johnson acknowledged. "I enjoyed very
much, too, my brief glimpse of your marvellous art treasures."

"Marvellous they are," Rawson sighed, as he held up his glass to the
light. "A bit of tantalisation about them, though, as you might say.
Hundreds of thousands there, doing nobody any good."

"By the way," Mr. Johnson continued, "there were two wonderfully carved
wooden Images in Mr. Henry's room. Do they set much store by them?"

"I should say they did, sir. Rather a curious thing about those Images.
One of them is damned ugly. That's the one Mr. Gregory sent home from
abroad and that Mr. Henry seemed to take a fancy to. Mr. Gregory
himself, he has a sort of dislike to it. All the time it was in Mr.
Henry's room alone, he never went in if he could help it. Then, about a
year ago, the other one turned up. A nice bit of work, that. They're
side by side now, and Mr. Gregory don't seem to mind. I've seen him
handling them and looking at them for hour after hour, and Sir Bertram
too. There's a man been down from London to examine them--made me think
they might be worth a bit of money."

"I should think they very likely might be," Mr. Johnson agreed.

"It's a curious thing," the butler observed, filling his pipe, "that
more than once the Squire has been for having them broken up, but Mr.
Gregory wouldn't listen to it. They had almost words about it one
night."

"Broken up," Mr. Johnson repeated. "For what purpose?"

"I couldn't quite follow the argument, sir," Rawson admitted. "The
Squire seemed serious enough at the time, but Mr. Gregory had his own
way."

The tenant of the Great House rose to his feet a few minutes later, and,
amidst a little chorus of "good evenings", strolled out and, starting
his car, drove slowly up the lane homewards. Afterwards he left the
paved courtyard by a side entrance and paused for a minute or two to
look around lovingly at the old kitchen garden, the peaches ripening
upon the wall, the apple and pear trees full of fruit, the box-bordered
paths, and the little patches of cottage flowers in unexpected places.
He walked contentedly around his property, his hands behind his back,
his pipe still in his mouth, looked into his tomato house and approved
of its appearance, exchanged a few words with the gardener about the
trimming of a hedge, and passed out on to the lawn. Here he drew a chair
into the shade of a cedar tree and, still in a reflective frame of mind,
leaned back with half-closed eyes.

His peaceful surroundings seemed to fade away from him. He was back in
the steep tangled streets of a Chinese city, on a hand-borne 'rickshaw
out in the country, travelling up to the top of a hill, beyond which,
through the wood, gleamed the green dome of the Temple of Yun-Tse. He
was back on the turgid river where the cruel sun was blistering the deck
of his strange craft, and the sound of his little engine, suddenly
breaking the hot silence, brought consternation to the tall, evil figure
who had been leaning over the side of his boat to watch the oars thrust
through the opened places. He watched the coming to life of the young
Englishman, heard his talk, fancied that he smelled again the peculiar
odours of that strange warehouse. He saw Endacott once more in his
quaint costume, immersed in his beloved labours--dead now, for the sake
of the treasure which was still withheld.

The tenant of the Great House sat there until a very slight breeze
stirred the leaves of the tall elm trees and the church clock from
across the way struck seven. Then he rose to his feet, knocked out the
ashes from his pipe, and entered the house.

                  *       *       *       *       *

That rustle of west breeze which, heralding eventide, broke the calm of
the summer day, did not, as usual, die away with the setting of the sun.
A little bank of clouds crept up from the horizon, and the wind which
seemed to come suddenly from nowhere bent the tops of the trees and
drove them before it in black and broken pieces. The afterglow from the
sunset passed into a stormy obscurity. No rain fell but the wind ever
increased in volume and the darkness grew thicker. Mr. Johnson drank his
accustomed whisky and soda at ten o'clock and retired to his room a few
minutes later. He lay down, however, with a small alarm watch by his
side, and at three o'clock he left the silent house, passed through the
postern gate and into the street. The morning darkness at first baffled
him. He had to feel the wall to know where he was. He stood there with
the palm of his hand flat against it, looking in the direction of the
Hall. Suddenly, from the middle of the gulf of darkness, three little
flashes of light followed one another quickly. There was a brief
pause--then two more--then one. Mr. Johnson turned hurriedly back to the
house, changed from his sleeping attire and dressing gown back into his
discarded dinner clothes, slipped some cartridges into a revolver which
he took from his bedside, and, descending the stairs carefully, passed
into the library. Silence still reigned throughout the house, and
complete darkness. Mr. Johnson, with the composed mien and even pulse of
a man who is used to dangers, settled down to wait.



                              CHAPTER VIII


Towards half-past five in the morning Mr. Johnson was awakened from a
heavy slumber by the clamorous and increasing twitter of birds in the
shrubberies and gardens outside. He woke with the sensation of being
exceedingly uncomfortable and of being in an entirely unaccustomed spot.
He sat up, looking around him. He was on the floor of the library, his
revolver, with one barrel discharged, by his side, a dried but painful
cut upon his cheek bone, and with the haunting remains of a most
unpleasant odour still hanging about the room. He staggered to his feet
with poignant apprehensions of disaster. A panel in the door
communicating with the smaller apartment which it had been his purpose
to guard had been neatly cut out, and the spring lock apparently picked
from the other side. The door itself stood open. Inside, the
steel-clamped coffer in which Endacott had kept his manuscripts lay
upside down and empty upon the carpet. Mr. Johnson nodded slowly to
himself. It was a moment of great humiliation. After fifteen years of
adventurous life, of scraps with Chinese cutthroats, Malay thieves,
scamps of every sort, armed with every kind of weapon, he had,
notwithstanding ample warning, been tricked by an amateur. He made a
closer examination and realised how it must have happened. He had waited
in the darkness for the opening of the garden door, and the intruder,
whoever it might have been, had surprised him by coming in the other
way--there were, after all, a dozen windows on the ground floor by which
he might have entered--and stealing upon him from behind. He could
recall, even then with his dazed senses, as he leaned out to get a
little fresh air, the absolute noiselessness of that encounter. It was
less a sound than the consciousness of somebody's presence which had
made him suddenly alert, and then, before he could even turn, arms like
iron bands were around his throat and the handkerchief was pressed to
his nostrils. Night after night he had waited for what had happened, and
when his opportunity had come--well, this was the end of it!

He moved to the telephone, rang up the police station and, after a few
minutes' delay, conducted a conversation with the inspector in charge.
Afterwards he locked up the library, proceeded upstairs, took a bath,
changed into his ordinary tweed morning clothes, and drank several cups
of tea.

"Disturbed at all during the night, Morton?" he asked the butler.

"Can't say that I was, sir," the man replied, looking curiously at the
slight wound on his master's face.

"You sleep well then," was the latter's dry comment. "There was a
burglary here between three and four o'clock. Keep your mouth shut until
after the police have been."

"God bless my soul, sir!" the man exclaimed. "You look as though you'd
been hurt, sir."

"Nothing to speak of. I heard a noise and went down. Fellow got at me
before I could turn the light on. Remember, not a word, Morton. The
police sergeant will be here in a few minutes."

The sergeant came; a tall and ponderous man, slow of speech, persistent
and given to repetitions. He spent a thoroughly enjoyable hour, notebook
in hand, on a blank page of which he made a rough sketch of the room
itself and the window through which it was discovered that the intruder
had entered.

"And you miss nothing of value in any other part of the house, sir?" he
enquired for the sixth or seventh time, prior to taking his leave.

"Nothing that I can trace," Mr. Johnson replied. "You must remember that
I am only a sub-tenant. Nothing of my own is missing, nor any of the
familiar objects in the library."

The sergeant returned the book to his pocket.

"A mysterious affair," he pronounced. "Nothing gone, apparently, but a
pile of old papers. We must telephone to the lawyers who let the place
and interview the tenant. The inspector will be over this afternoon,
sir, and I dare say he will be along to see you."

The man took his leave and Mr. Johnson crossed the road and knocked at
the door of the Little House. Miss Besant opened it herself and greeted
him with a smile.

"I was just coming across," she said. "Madame wants to see you."

Mr. Johnson was ushered into the cool drawing-room, where Madame was
lying upon her couch. She held out one hand and with the other waved
imperiously to Miss Besant to depart.

"Something has happened--something happened last night!" she exclaimed.
"What was it?"

He took the chair to which she pointed, close to her side.

"A burglary," he confided. "I was coming in to ask you to communicate at
once with Miss Endacott. The whole of the papers in the chest which was
locked up in the inner library are gone."

"The burglar," she demanded breathlessly. "Has he been caught? Is there
any clue?"

"Not at present," Mr. Johnson acknowledged. "There hasn't been much
time."

"He got away then?"

"Yes, he got away."

She looked at the scar on her visitor's face.

"Did you see him?" she asked.

"I didn't see him but I felt him," Mr. Johnson rejoined, a little
ruefully. "We had scarcely more than a few seconds' scrap in the dark.
He came up from behind with a chloroformed handkerchief."

She lay back and closed her eyes. In a moment or two she seemed to
recover herself.

"Papers--nothing but papers stolen," she murmured. "That doesn't sound
like an ordinary burglary."

"It wasn't," he agreed.

"What do you think about it?" she asked eagerly.

"What is there to think?" he rejoined. "Some one wanted those papers. We
must communicate with Miss Endacott at once and ascertain what they were
and to whom they would be of value."

"You needn't trouble to do that," Madame confided; "my niece will be
here this afternoon. She is coming down to stay with me for a few days."

Mr. Johnson was thoughtful for a moment or two.

"Well," he observed, "it is perhaps opportune."

"What do you mean by that?" she demanded, nervously clasping and
unclasping her fingers.

He laid his hand upon hers soothingly.

"You are distressing yourself needlessly, Madame," he said. "I only mean
that her visit will make it unnecessary for us to communicate with her.
She will be able to tell us whether the papers were of great value."

There was another silence.

"I think I can solve that problem," Madame declared. "They are of no
value at all. The coffer contained a collection of Chinese manuscripts,
some of which my brother had already translated, and a few others which
he had not examined."

"Is that so?" Mr. Johnson observed. "Seems queer, doesn't it, if that
was all, that there should be bars on the windows and a double lock on
the door?"

"My niece will explain that," Madame replied. "There was one which he
translated just before he died, which might have had some value. Claire
did not feel like examining it at the time. She wished it kept safely,
however."

"I see," Mr. Johnson murmured.

"What do the police say about it?" she demanded.

"So far," was the somewhat sardonic rejoinder, "the police have been
represented by Sergeant May. His opinion is, I think, that it is a
mysterious affair."

"What do you think of it yourself?" she asked him suddenly.

"I think," he replied, "that the burglar, whoever he was, was after
those Chinese manuscripts and nothing else. Therefore I don't think it
was an ordinary sort of burglar at all. I should say not. It was some
one who knew what he wanted, and he seems to have got it."

"I wish I knew the truth about you," Madame sighed.

He smiled.

"Well," he said, "I'm a pretty obvious sort of person, aren't I?"

"No," she answered. "On the contrary, you puzzle me, you frighten me."

"Just why, at the present moment?" he asked tolerantly.

"Because," she confided, her eyes fixed upon his, "I don't understand
what you were doing in the lane out by your gate this morning about a
quarter of an hour before the burglary."

"Did you see me?" he enquired, after a moment's pause.

"Yes. I have seen you there other mornings at the same time. What do you
do? For whom do you watch?"

"I am a light sleeper," he explained. "Last night I fancied that I heard
some one stirring. I had a walk round the place. As it happens, you see,
I was right."

She shook her head.

"You were out in the lane," she persisted.

"Perhaps you think I committed the burglary myself," he suggested.

The eyes which were fixed upon his so steadily grew even more intense.

"I should not be surprised," she said. "I should not be surprised at
anything I heard about you. I do not believe that any of the stories you
tell about yourself are true. You frighten me, living there. I hate it."

"You have nothing to fear from me," he assured her. "I am a very
harmless person."

"But you haven't told the truth about yourself," she persisted.

There was the sound of hoofs in the lane. Madame looked out of the
window and a wonderful light swept over her face. Sir Bertram was
dismounting from the hack which he had ridden across the park. He handed
the reins to the roadmender who came hobbling up, threw away his
cigarette, and, with the familiarity of habitude, turned the handle of
the door and immediately afterwards entered the drawing-room. He nodded
to Mr. Johnson as he came over to Madame with outstretched hands.

"Dear Angèle," he said, "you see I anticipated the time of my usual
call. I thought perhaps that this news might have upset you."

"You have heard then?" she exclaimed.

"A lurid account of the affair was served up with my morning tea," Sir
Bertram replied. "My commiserations, Mr. Johnson. I am relieved to find
you in such good shape, however. The least sensational story is that you
were battered almost to death by several brawny-looking ruffians and had
already been moved to Norwich Infirmary."

"The report," Mr. Johnson declared, "is exaggerated."

"Anything of value gone?" the newcomer enquired.

"Miss Endacott is the only one who can tell us that," was the quiet
answer. "The box containing her uncle's manuscripts was broken open and
the manuscripts themselves have disappeared."

Sir Bertram drew up a chair and lit one of the cigarettes from the box
which Madame pushed towards him. His long, lean figure looked at its
best in the well-cut riding clothes he was wearing. The summer had
brought an extra tinge of brown sunburn into his cheeks. His eyes were
bright and clear. He seemed in the best of spirits and health.

"That lends quite a note of romance to the affair," he remarked. "I
wonder what our local Sherlock Holmes will make of it."

"He has pronounced the affair mysterious," Mr. Johnson confided. "I find
it so myself," he continued, a moment later. "One would not have
imagined that there were many people with a craze for Chinese
manuscripts."

"More useful to us than any one," Sir Bertram remarked. "Gregory has a
couple of wonderful wooden Images up at the Hall--you've seen them, Mr.
Johnson--which are supposed to be full of jewels if we could only
discover the key. That poor fellow Endacott knew all about it. He was at
work on some papers, which he had brought home with him from China, just
before his death, but up to then he had not come across anything that
helped us."

Mr. Johnson rose to his feet.

"If I might be permitted to pay my respects to Miss Endacott as soon as
she arrives," he begged, "I should be glad."

"Certainly," Madame assented.

"Is Miss Endacott expected here?" Sir Bertram asked.

"This afternoon," she replied. "I only heard last night."

For a single second there was a curious change in Sir Bertram's face.
The insouciance, almost the gaiety, seemed suddenly to have fallen away,
as though it had been a mask. His eyes were hard and tired. Then he
recovered himself.

"Opportune," he remarked lightly. "Come and see us again soon up at the
Hall, Mr. Johnson."

The latter bowed to Madame and turned away. There was something almost
menacing in his gravity.

"You are very kind, Sir Bertram," he said, as he took his leave.



                               CHAPTER IX


Mr. Johnson returned to find a motor car standing outside his door and
Major Holmes with a subordinate in colloquy with Morton. He led them
himself to the library, showed them the door with its picked lock, the
empty coffer and the window on the ground floor through which the
marauder had made an easy entrance. The Chief Constable was perplexed.

"You are only a sub-tenant here, I understand, Mr. Johnson?" he asked.

"Only a sub-tenant," the latter acknowledged.

"And you yourself have never been in this room? I gather that it was
locked up by Miss Endacott's instructions."

"Quite so."

"Then you really don't know what has been taken?"

"The contents of the coffer evidently," Mr. Johnson replied. "It was
always understood that it contained Chinese manuscripts which Mr.
Endacott brought home with him from abroad."

There was a moment's silence. Then Major Holmes continued.

"I have told Inspector Cloutson here," he said, "of your visit to me."

"And of my suspicions?"

"Yes."

The inspector coughed. He had a heavy but ingenuous countenance.
Disbelief was stamped upon it.

"Will you gentlemen follow me?" Mr. Johnson invited.

He led them on to the lawn, well away from the house. At a safe distance
he came to a standstill and pointed to the library.

"Endacott," he said, "was murdered for the possession of that other
wooden Image and for the manuscript which indicated the whereabouts of
the jewels. The object of the murder was achieved in part. A wooden
Image was taken. You will find it now at Ballaston Hall. For some reason
or another, the murderer failed to secure the document. He probably
heard some movement in the house. The burglary last night was undertaken
to secure it. Nothing else was touched, but the manuscripts are missing.
The only person to whom the manuscripts are useful is the possessor of
the Images."

Inspector Cloutson stroked his chin thoughtfully. He looked across
towards the great front of the Hall. His was not the type of brain to
quickly absorb suspicion, and much of this talk concerning wooden Images
and Chinese manuscripts he looked upon as fantastic--almost as fantastic
as the idea that a member of one of the great county families whom he
revered could so far forget their lofty station as to commit a
misdemeanour under the shadow of the law. Crime, in Inspector Cloutson's
opinion, was for the criminals. The idea of a Ballaston as a criminal
was grotesque.

"You refer to the Ballastons," Major Holmes observed, after a pause.

Mr. Johnson inclined his head.

"I refer to the Ballastons," he assented. "Wait, please, a moment."

Morton came towards them, followed by the young man who was interested
in moths. Mr. Johnson welcomed him pleasantly, but with no indication of
intimacy.

"Glad to see you, Fielding," he said. "I sent word down that those trout
flies had arrived. I'll show them to you directly. That will do,
Morton."

The butler departed. Mr. Johnson turned to the Chief Constable.

"This is Mr. Fielding," he announced. "He is a member of the firm of
Watts and Fielding, private enquiry agents. He has been staying in the
neighbourhood for the last month, making a few investigations for me."

The relations between the accredited representatives of the law and a
private enquiry agent were scarcely likely to be cordial. Major Holmes,
however, nodded slightly.

"To some extent, as I told you, I have been anticipating last night's
visit," Mr. Johnson continued. "Mr. Fielding, therefore, has spent a
considerable portion of his time after midnight watching the egress from
the Hall. He will tell you that this morning a man slipped out of one of
the side entrances, a door, in fact, which opened from the small library
into the garden, at ten minutes past three, and that he followed him to
this house."

"Is that a fact?" the Chief Constable asked gravely.

"That is a fact," Fielding replied. "I am prepared to swear to it."

"Did you recognise the man?" Major Holmes enquired.

The other shook his head.

"I was obeying orders in keeping strictly out of sight," he explained.
"I was not near enough to recognise him. Once before, some one left by
the same door at about the same time, but he looked behind in the park
and saw me, so nothing happened."

"If you saw this person enter these premises at that hour of the
morning," the Chief Constable enquired, "why did you not follow, in case
Mr. Johnson needed assistance?"

"My express orders were that he should do nothing of the sort," the
latter intervened. "I wished, for many reasons, to keep the matter in my
own hands. I have been used to scraps," he went on, "in every part of
the world. I understand jiu-jitsu, boxing and how to draw a gun as
quickly as any one. I never dreamed that I might be outwitted. The
visitor from the Hall who stole the manuscripts last night was too
clever for me.

"Now, sir," Mr. Johnson continued impressively, "I want everything done
in an orthodox fashion, and I know very well your prejudice, and a very
natural one, against the interference of private detectives. Mr.
Fielding will withdraw from the case from now onwards, but I do expect
that, on the basis of the information you have already received, you
will at once proceed with the necessary enquiries."

"I have no alternative but to do so," the Chief Constable admitted
reluctantly. "I must warn you, however, that I shall do so in the manner
which seems to me the most desirable. I shall approach Sir Bertram
himself."

"You will use your own discretion, of course," Mr. Johnson said, "but
action must be taken at once. There mustn't be time for any one to slip
off abroad, or anything of that sort. And I want you to remember this,
Major--when you've found last night's burglar, and that ought not to be
a difficult job, you should also be able to solve the mystery of my poor
friend Endacott's murder."

"That may be so, Mr. Johnson," the other answered, a little sadly. "I
can only say that I sincerely hope not. We shall probably meet later in
the day."

"I shall be here or in the neighbourhood," the other promised.

The Chief Constable and his subordinate entered the car and drove off.
They swung round the corner of the lane and a dozen curious pairs of
eyes saw them turn in at the park gates.

"What do you think of this, Cloutson?" the former asked.

"Bunkum!" was the prompt reply. "That's what I think--bunkum! And
between you and me, Major, I don't think much of that fellow Johnson. A
stranger to the neighbourhood. No one knows anything about him. Come
here for God knows why, and spinning yarns like this! Bunkum is what I
think of it! And as for this burglar, who else except that pettifogging
enquiry agent saw any one leave the Great House? Not a soul. We've heard
of jobs, Major, done from the inside, done by the victim, haven't we?
Those manuscripts, or whatever he calls them, were just as likely to be
valuable to Johnson as to any one else. Supposing he wanted them? Well,
he's gone the best way he could to help himself. If you ask me what I
think about our present errand, sir, I should call it a
mare's-nest--nothing more nor less. My idea of the job is to get Mr.
Johnson's dossier and search the Great House."

The Chief Constable smiled. He had not fully confided in his
subordinate. Yet, when he came to reflect upon the matter, Mr. Johnson's
bona fides had not yet been established. In the depths of his
companion's bucolic mind might lurk after all the germ of truth.



                               CHAPTER X


So far as the countenance of so perfect a servant as Rawson could betray
any expression at all, there was both welcome and a suggestion of
hospitality in his manner as he received the callers. Certainly, Sir
Bertram was in, Mr. Gregory was in, and Mr. Henry was in. Sir Bertram
appeared almost at that moment, coming out of the gun room with a rook
rifle under his arm.

"Hullo, Major!" he exclaimed genially. "Glad to see you. Warned in for
lunch, I hope."

"Very much obliged, Sir Bertram," was the somewhat hesitating reply. "To
tell you the truth----"

"Ah, business, I see," the other interrupted. "Come along to my den. It
is so long since I signed a warrant that upon my word I forgot I was a
magistrate. Bring the inspector with you, if you want him."

He led the way to a small and seldom used room, plainly furnished, where
he was accustomed at times to interview a tenant, seated himself on an
uncomfortable chair before a formal-looking desk, and pointed to an
easy-chair for his visitor.

"Nothing serious, I hope," he enquired.

Major Holmes waited until the door was closed.

"Sir Bertram," he began, "you have heard no doubt of the burglary at the
Great House."

"My dear Major!" was the reproachful reply. "This is a country village
in Norfolk and the burglary happened as long ago as last night. I have
heard seven versions of the affair and been given the names of at least
seven suspectedly guilty parties."

"I have come to call upon you in connection with that affair," Major
Holmes continued. "There is a person willing to declare upon oath that a
quarter of an hour before the burglary occurred last night some one was
seen to leave your house, cross the park, and enter the grounds of the
Great House through a gap in the hedge beyond the stable wall."

Sir Bertram sat quite still for a moment. Then his lips protruded
slightly and he whistled.

"Well, that's the eighth version," he observed. "I like the last one,
Holmes--spicy, to say the least of it!"

"This is not hearsay," the Chief Constable went on. "I have seen the
witness myself and heard the story from his own lips. I come to you
naturally for help, Sir Bertram. I want a list of your male domestics
and I wish to know from your staff whether any one was known or heard to
leave this house last night."

"Simple as A.B.C.," Sir Bertram declared, ringing the bell. "Rawson
keeps tabs on them all. We've a couple of lads--under footmen, I suppose
they'd call themselves--whom I don't know much about. The others are
about as likely to commit a burglary as I should be to rob a hen roost.
Send Rawson to me," he ordered the man who answered the bell.

It was a matter of seconds only before the butler made his appearance.
His master leaned back in his chair as he questioned him.

"Rawson," he asked, "do you know any one--any man--who could have left
this house between midnight and three or say four o'clock this morning?"

"Certainly not, sir," was the confident reply.

"You didn't hear any unusual sound in the night like a door opening or
anything of that sort?"

"Nothing, Sir Bertram."

"If you were told that some one had left this house at about three
o'clock and gone down to the Great House, what should you have to say
about it?"

"I should say that it was impossible, sir," Rawson asserted. "As you are
aware, sir, I sleep in my own quarters adjoining the butler's pantry on
the ground floor. My window and door were both wide open last night, and
I am a light sleeper. I was not once disturbed."

Sir Bertram turned to the Chief Constable.

"Did your informant specify the door which was made use of?"

"It was the door opening from the smaller library."

Sir Bertram glanced towards Rawson.

"See if that door is fastened," he directed. "Here, you'd better take
the inspector with you."

The two men left the room. Sir Bertram tapped a cigarette upon the table
and lit it.

"Where did you get hold of this cock-and-bull story, Holmes?" he asked.

The Chief Constable frowned.

"From a perfectly reliable source," he replied. "I have no doubt that
Rawson is honest, but I shall want the names of all your servants. I
shall also require to interview them all."

Sir Bertram smiled.

"Lord love us, you don't suppose I want to stand in the way of your
duty, Holmes?" he said. "When Rawson comes back, you shall have them all
up, one by one, and put them through the mill. By-the-by, there was
nothing much stolen, was there? I understand the burglar had only
tumbled out a coffer full of manuscripts."

"The manuscripts themselves are missing," Major Holmes confided.

"I have seen the lot," Sir Bertram observed carelessly. "Some of them
were curious. There wasn't one of them worth sixpence, intrinsically.
Endacott was supposed to have one telling us all about the treasure in
my Buddha heads, but it never materialised."

Rawson returned in due course, preceded by the inspector.

"The door is properly locked on the inside, sir," the latter announced.
"There are no evidences of any one having used that way out into the
grounds lately."

"So that's that," Sir Bertram observed, with a little shrug of the
shoulders.

"How many servants are there sleeping in the house?" Major Holmes
enquired.

"Eleven, sir," Rawson answered.

"I shall require to interview each one of them."

"Get along with it then," Sir Bertram assented resignedly. "Don't forget
we lunch at one. Rawson had better take you round to the servants'
quarters. When Major Holmes has finished, Rawson, bring him out on to
the lawn and serve some sherry."

He dismissed them all carelessly with a little wave of the hand, waited
until the door was closed, waited until some minutes afterwards before
his expression changed, or a sound escaped from his lips. Then he rose
slowly to his feet, lit another cigarette and looked reproachfully at
his shaking fingers.

"What a nerve these great criminals must have," he murmured to himself,
as he strolled out into the hall. "Henry--hullo, Henry!"

A still, motionless figure stood in the shadow of the staircase on the
first landing, looking downward; a figure so still that except for his
clothes he might have stepped out of one of the frames which lined the
wall.

"Are you coming down or going up or rooted?" Sir Bertram enquired.

"I will descend," Henry Ballaston replied.

He came down the stairs with slow yet even footsteps, one hand always
upon the carved balustrade.

"I heard voices," he said.

"Holmes is here from Norwich," Sir Bertram confided, "and the immortal
Cloutson with him--you know, the travelling inspector for the district.
They have an idea that some one crossed the park from the Hall last
night."

"In connection, I presume, with the burglary at the Great House," Henry
observed.

His brother nodded.

"A silly business! Have you seen anything of Gregory?"

"Not since breakfast time. He spoke of going to Norwich. He found he
wanted another trunk."

Sir Bertram sighed. The brothers walked out together through the fine
Gothic side entrance which led on to the lawns and gardens.

"You had no communication from Mr. Borroughes this morning, I suppose?"
Henry Ballaston asked, a little hesitatingly.

"Nothing," was the level reply. "There was a letter from Kershaw--the
lawyer fellow of whom Emily spoke so highly. He said that he had studied
the position from every point of view and regretted to find that he
could discover no means remaining by which sufficient money to pay the
overdue interest on the first mortgage could be legitimately raised. The
timber will be the only thing, and the timber is Ballaston."

"The timber is sacred," Henry agreed. "Has Mr. Kershaw examined the
position so far as regards the Romneys and the three Gainsboroughs?"

"Heirlooms, just the same as the others. They are not to be touched."

The brothers stood side by side upon the lawn, their faces turned
towards the house. Sir Bertram was his usual cool and gracious self.
Henry had somehow or other a suggestion of suspended life in his
colourless face, his stiff attitude, his cold eyes.

"Major Holmes is examining the servants?" he enquired.

"That was his idea."

"Will he wait until Gregory returns?"

"Very likely. As I think I told you, they seem to have come across some
one who can swear that they saw a man leaving the Hall last night, just
before the burglary took place."

"But there was no actual burglary," Henry objected.

"A quantity of documents appear to be missing," Sir Bertram confided.
"Holmes's attitude seemed to me a little suspicious. I fancy that some
one has been getting at him. I am not sure--I must confess to having
some doubts about this man Johnson."

"Doubts? Explain yourself, Bertram."

"Johnson's account of himself has never been an entirely credible one.
Do you remember the day when he lunched here and he saw the Images?"

"He certainly betrayed surprise," Henry reflected.

"Gregory has a queer idea about it, although it only made us laugh at
the time. He said he reminded him of the Chinaman who saved his life on
the Yun-Tse River, and who was an important person in the firm of
Johnson and Company."

"Mr. Johnson is not a Chinaman," Henry Ballaston replied confidently.

His brother took his arm and moved towards the house. Major Holmes was
standing in the entrance.

"No," Sir Bertram agreed, "but the Chinaman might have been Mr.
Johnson."



                               CHAPTER XI


The Chief Constable had little to report, but his air of uneasy
disquietude remained.

"I think," he announced, "that, so far as I can make out, the servants
are all right. Curiously enough, however, it seems that Gregory has a
key to the door in question, which he uses sometimes."

"Very probable," Sir Bertram assented. "He likes to come and go out of
the house at all times."

"I wonder when he'll be back?" Major Holmes enquired.

"He had very little to do," his father observed. "Found himself a trunk
short, or something of that sort. I thought he had bought all his outfit
in London, but I suppose he miscalculated."

"When does he go abroad?"

"Saturday week. Sails from Liverpool to Montreal, I think, by an Allan
liner."

"The county will miss him," the Chief Constable remarked, as he accepted
a glass of sherry from the tray which Rawson had just brought out.

"So, I am afraid, shall I," Sir Bertram admitted. "It is one of the
signs of approaching age when one begins to rely upon other people. I
remember the time when I used to find it devilish uncomfortable to have
a grown-up son. To-day--well, I would rather there were something he
could do in England. Shall we go in, Major? No use waiting for Gregory.
He's just as likely as not to lunch in Norwich."

Luncheon was at times a difficult function. Holmes was in a sense an
unwilling guest, and Sir Bertram was unusually silent. It was Henry,
with his stilted phrases and old-fashioned sense of the obligations of a
host, who kept conversation going. Towards the end of the meal, Gregory
put in an unexpected appearance. He shook hands with Holmes, of whose
presence he had obviously been informed, and apologised to his father.

"So sorry, Dad," he explained. "It took me some time to find just the
trunk I wanted, and then I remembered that I had ordered some riding kit
at Houghton's and I thought I might as well be tried on. Any news about
the burglary, Major?"

"Nothing of any moment at present," the latter replied.

Gregory busied himself for some time with his lunch, whilst the others
loitered. Afterwards they strolled out on to the lawn together for
coffee. As soon as it was served, Holmes set down his cup and faced the
situation.

"Gregory," he said, "I know you will remember that, as well as being
your friend, and I hope the friend of every one here, I am a government
official."

Gregory paused in the act of lighting a cigarette and stared at him.

"Why, that's all right," he assented. "What about it?"

"The police have evidence," Major Holmes continued, "that at about three
o'clock this morning--that is to say twenty minutes or so before the
burglary at the Great House was committed--some one was seen to leave
the Hall, cross the park and enter the Great House, or, at any rate, to
disappear in that neighbourhood."

Gregory finished lighting his cigarette.

"Where on earth did the police get hold of their information?" he
enquired. "From a poacher?"

"From a person whose word it would be a little difficult to upset," the
Chief Constable replied. "Acting on his information, I have come up here
to pay an official visit. I have interviewed all the servants without
result. I understand that you possess a key to the smaller library door
which you sometimes use."

"I often use it," Gregory admitted. "If I dine out or anything of that
sort, or come home by the mail from London, I use it to avoid undoing
all the bolts of the front door."

"Where was the key last night? Anywhere where any one could have got
hold of it?"

"I shouldn't have thought so. It's in my dressing room somewhere."

"You didn't lend it to any one?"

"Certainly not. No one has ever asked me for it."

"You didn't use it yourself?"

"Last night? No. I haven't used it for weeks."

Major Holmes nodded.

"Well," he said, "that's that! I now appeal to you all. Can you help me?
A reliable witness states that some one left the Hall through that
library door last night, was seen to walk across the park and, to all
reasonable supposition, was the person who assaulted and chloroformed
Mr. Johnson, and committed the burglary. You will realise that this is a
serious statement. Can any of you suggest anything which might throw
light upon the affair?"

"All that I can suggest," Gregory remarked, "is that your informant must
have been seeing spooks. Who is he? One of the villagers?"

"There need no longer be any secret about his identity," Major Holmes
decided. "Our informant is a private detective employed by Mr. Johnson."

There was an intense and ominous silence. Henry Ballaston drew his chair
a little farther back into the shade, as though he suddenly felt the sun
too strong. Sir Bertram whistled softly, but for once in his life seemed
guilty of an almost unnatural action. Gregory stood as though turned to
stone. Across his face for a moment there flitted an expression of
dismay. The Chief Constable saw it and his heart sank. It was Sir
Bertram's brain which moved the quickest.

"How the mischief did this Mr. Johnson get hold of a private detective
at a moment's notice?" he enquired.

"He has had him in the neighbourhood for some time," Major Holmes
replied. "His presence in the park last night was not accidental. He was
employed by Mr. Johnson in connection with certain theories which
he--Johnson--held as to the murder of Mr. Endacott."

"This is all most amazing," Sir Bertram observed.

"A very curious action on the part of a man who is a total stranger to
the neighbourhood," Henry put in.

The Chief Constable brooded for several moments. His official duty was
hard to follow. The whole circumstances were unusual. He faced the
situation from the common-sense point of view.

"Johnson may be a stranger to the neighbourhood," he admitted, "but I do
not think that his appearance here is so entirely casual as he tried to
make out. It transpires that he was a partner of Endacott's in the great
firm of Johnson and Company. I believe that the real object of his
coming here was to solve the mystery of Endacott's murder."

"Wu Ling, my God!" Gregory exclaimed, in genuine excitement. "The moment
I saw him I thought I recognised him. Then it seemed incredible. Why, of
course I was a fool ever to doubt it," he went on. "He played the
Chinaman out there to do his trading up in the villages. He had lived
there most of his life. It was easy enough. Then, when he finished with
the business and came back here, he Europeanised himself. My God, what a
fool I have been!"

"I don't know anything about that," Major Holmes observed. "He came to
me in Norwich a short time ago and he placed before me some very serious
information. I am using my own discretion in what I am about to say. By
now you must know just what I am up against. Again I appeal to you for
your help."

In the background Henry shook his head gravely. Sir Bertram, with the
slightest possible shrug of the shoulders, turned away and lit a
cigarette. Gregory, completely at his ease again, lolled a little deeper
in his wicker chair.

"My dear fellow," he expostulated, "how the deuce can any of us help
you? I tell you frankly, if any one left the house last night--and I
don't believe they did--I for one don't know anything about it. As to
the murder--well, if Mr. Johnson's private agent can find out anything
about that, the whole neighbourhood will be indebted to him. How on
earth is he likely to succeed, however, when you and Scotland Yard have
failed?"

"The murder, so far as our investigations took us," Major Holmes said
patiently, "was entirely lacking in direct motive. The burglary, on the
contrary, does seem to have had an extraordinary but clear object. The
burglar got away with a number of Chinese manuscripts. Amongst these
manuscripts----"

"I know what you are going to say," Gregory interrupted, smiling as
though in amusement, "but you're wrong, all the same. Old Endacott had
been through them. There wasn't one which could help the owner of the
Images to discover the treasure."

"Where are these infernal Images?" Major Holmes asked.

"They have been moved upstairs into my apartments," Henry Ballaston
intervened. "If it would afford you any satisfaction to inspect them, I
will take you there with pleasure."

"I should like to see them," Major Holmes decided.

They all returned to the house, Gregory quitting his chair with an air
of reluctance. The two Images stood in a small sitting room opening out
from Henry Ballaston's bedroom at the top of the house; an apartment of
extraordinary, almost monastic simplicity. They stood side by side on an
old black oak bureau, and against the white of the walls they showed up
with almost glaring effect.

"The Body and the Soul," Gregory pointed out. "I don't think they have
ever been worth what poor old Bill Hammonde and I went through for them.
They got Bill, too. Good chap, he was!"

"The legend is," Sir Bertram explained politely, "that those heads are
filled with jewels. Yet we have never been able to discover an opening
or aperture of any sort."

"If there is any truth in the story," Major Holmes suggested, "why don't
you break them up?"

Sir Bertram shivered.

"That, at least," he said, "one would keep for a last effort. Those
Images, Holmes, are nearly a thousand years old, and if you are any
judge of such things, you will see at once that they were carved by a
great artist. With their history I should imagine that their value at
Christie's would be at least several thousand pounds each, so long as
they are intact."

Major Holmes took one into his hands and set it down again, amazed at
the weight.

"Why, they're almost as heavy as bronze," he exclaimed.

"The wood of which they are fashioned is a species of teak wood--almost
extinct now," Sir Bertram explained. "Their weight, of course, is rather
an argument against their being hollow. On the other hand, they might be
hollow and filled with jewels."

"There is a further legend," Gregory confided, "that there is inside
some sort of infernal machine invented during the last century by the
priests, which would go off at any rough usage. That, I must say, seems
to me a bit thick. At the same time, the Chinese were always rather
great at explosives."

"I imagine," Major Holmes said, "that you will not let this superstition
stand in your way, provided you are unable to discover the secret
opening."

"As a last resort," Sir Bertram declared, "we have decided to destroy
the less pleasing of the Images."

"And I," Gregory announced, in a low tone, his eyes fixed upon the
leering Image of the Body, "mean to be the one to strike the blow. One
gets kind of superstitious over there, you know, Holmes," he went on. "I
lost possession of the other Image for a time. The robbers got off with
it when they raided the train and killed poor old Hammonde, but that
unpleasing-looking devil I brought home with me. All I can say is that I
don't want to be left alone with him again for a month or six weeks. You
wouldn't have much chance, would you, at the Norwich Assizes if you
pleaded that you had been driven to commit a murder through the
influence of an Image? A Chinese judge would have understood it. All I
know is that on that boat I was never myself."

"And here?" Holmes asked curiously.

"I kept out of the way of the thing when it was once here," Gregory
replied. "Uncle Henry took care of it then, and I think it would take
more than the power of an Image to move him from the paths of rectitude.
Then--through old Endacott, by-the-by--we got hold of the other one. So
now I don't mind. It is only when he's out of reach of the Soul that
that chap's supposed to do any harm."

"You were lucky to regain possession of the other Image," the Chief
Constable observed, after a moment's pause. "Through Mr. Endacott, I
think you said?"

"In a sort of way," Gregory answered coldly.

"You couldn't be a little more explicit?" the other persisted.

The silence which followed was portentous, charged with electricity. It
was Sir Bertram who laid his hand gently upon his son's shoulder.

"Gregory is rather sensitive about this business," he said. "Considering
all that he went through, I do not wonder at it. If ever it becomes
expedient for us to explain exactly how the second Image came into our
possession, we will do so. That moment scarcely seems to have yet
arrived."

Major Holmes abandoned the subject a little abruptly. He walked along
the great corridor with its rows of pictures upon one side and mullioned
windows on the other, speechless and absorbed. The whole place seemed
flooded with afternoon sunshine which found its way into the gloomiest
corners, touching some old suits of armour with a gleam of fire, tracing
zigzag hieroglyphics upon the smooth white stone floor. He had made up
his mind what course of action to adopt and it had not been an easy
task. He sent for Inspector Cloutson and stood making his adieux to his
hosts. At the last minute he drew Gregory on one side.

"I hear you are starting off on another of your long rambles, Gregory,"
he said.

"Something a little more permanent this time. I am going to try the Far
West first--lose myself for a year or two. Nothing definite seems to be
known just yet, but there are rumours that there have been some big
finds of gold right up the Yukon. If I don't have any luck, I shall come
back and try ranching. I've got a job out there."

"It's true then, what they are saying?" the Major continued diffidently.
"Things here are pretty bad?"

"Rotten," Gregory admitted. "Unless a miracle happens, such as those
jewels materialising, or something of that sort, Ballaston must go
before the autumn."

"It is bad news," the other sighed. "It is almost a tragedy. Enough to
drive any one crazy," he added, his rather kindly eyes resting for a
moment upon Gregory's face. "I am going to give you a word of advice, if
I may. We were at school together, and I practically owe my position
here to your father. I shall have to settle with my conscience for
saying it--I may decide to chuck up my job--but I'm going to say it. If
you've got your kit ready, move off. I don't like the look of things
down here for you. That's all."

For a moment Gregory was speechless--not exactly from surprise but from
some mixture of emotions which found outlet in speech difficult. Then he
suddenly took the hand which Holmes had extended and wrung it.

"You're a good fellow, Holmes," he said. "I don't like the look of
things myself, and that's a fact. I may pop off, if I see my way clear.
If I don't--well, you won't have any disagreeable duties to perform at
the Castle. I'll promise you that."

The inspector put in his appearance and the two men took their leave.
Gregory remained for a few minutes motionless upon the broad semicircle
of white stone stretching out from the front door, gazing after the
receding car. Presently his father moved up to his side.

"Holmes seems to have a bee in his bonnet, Gregory," he ventured
tentatively.

Gregory nodded.

"He's a good fellow," he declared. "It cost him something to do it, I
know, but he's given me the office. Advised me to clear out within the
next twenty-four hours. It's that fellow Johnson."

"Well, if you have made up your mind to go," Sir Bertram said, "why not?
They can't do anything in a desperate hurry, and you'll get a run for
your money at least out there."

Gregory seemed for a moment puzzled, then distressed. He turned and
looked at his father. Sir Bertram's expression, however, was
inscrutable. Finally he swung on his heel.

"At any rate," he decided, "I'll finish my packing."



                              CHAPTER XII


"Things do be happening round about here, for sure," Mr. Pank remarked,
as he moved down the whisky bottle from its shelf. "What it all may lead
to is more than a body can say, but I don't like the look of it, Mr.
Craske."

The grocer added less than his usual modicum of water to his whisky. His
aspect was gloomy. So also were the aspects of Mr. Franks, the butcher,
who had strolled across for news, and Walter Beavens, the wheelwright,
who had come on a similar errand.

"It's almost as bad," Mr. Craske declared, "as the week after the
murder. Every one went about then, as it were, on tiptoe. Now this
burglary, taken by itself, ain't anything to make special mention of.
Why, Mr. Johnson himself, he was in the morning after it happened, and
he treated it mostly as a joke."

"It's my belief," Mr. Pank pronounced, "that there's something more
serious brewing. There's Inspector Cloutson come to stop in the village.
There's Major Holmes, the Chief Constable, up and down from the Hall all
day. There's Mr. Johnson, he don't come near any more. Mr. Fielding--him
we took for a schoolmaster and whom they do say was a kind of
detective--he ain't been in. And Mr. Rawson--why, no one ain't seen him
for four days. We shall have news before long, and bad news, I'm afraid
it may be."

"There's wild talk going about," Mr. Craske sighed, "and what it may
mean, no one can say for sure, but what I do say is, reason is reason,
and is it likely that any one here could have a grudge against a poor
old harmless fellow like Mr. Endacott? All this talk of Images and
Chinese documents and suchlike seems as though it had come out of the
pages of one of these serial novels as folks read in the newspapers. I
don't take no stock of such stuff."

Mr. Franks pushed his tankard across to be refilled.

"There's one bit of bad news, at any rate, may be sprung upon us at any
moment," he said. "They do say that every servant in the Hall had a
month's notice yesterday. I heard that from Miss Shane, the
housekeeper's niece."

The landlord shook his head gloomily.

"Things do seem to be pointing that way," he admitted, "and Mr. Rawson
keeping away and all. If so be that it's true, it will be a sad loss.
The Squire be a proud man in his way, but he be a true gentleman, and so
be Mr. Henry, and a more popular young gent than Mr. Gregory has never
been known in the county. It's a wonderful property to have to give up."

"We'll get some one here, I suppose," Mr. Craske predicted
pessimistically, "who's made pots of money by being careful, and goes on
saving pots the same way. Some of those big houses, the way they do go
through their books and talk about the Stores to you! Why, here's Mr.
Rawson."

The butler entered, solemn, ponderous and dignified as ever. He raised
his black bowler hat in acknowledgment of the greetings which assailed
him from all sides and sank slowly into a chair.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen," he said. "Mr. Pank, I'll take double my
usual quantity of Scotch whisky."

"With me, Mr. Rawson," the grocer insisted. "We've missed you the last
few days."

Rawson sighed.

"I felt too worried in my mind for company," he confessed. "It's no
secret to you all, so why should I act mysterious about it. There's
skeery doings at the Hall."

There was a little rustle of interest. Rawson, disposed for gossip,
waited until his drink was placed in his hand and solemnly pledged its
donor.

"To begin with," he confided, "it's no secret now that we're in trouble.
We may have acted foolish," he went on. "Nothing, of course, can be said
for seventy thousand pounds lost at Newmarket, and a trifle more than
that last year. Foolish we may have been, but the gentry have always had
their weaknesses. The hounds have cost us a cool eight thousand a year
for the last five years, and subscriptions getting less all the time.
Then the taxes. It seems whatever sort of government we get these days
they want your money--fingers all itching for it. Get you all ways!
Income Tax and Land Tax--why, it's a wonder they don't grab the breath
out of your body. It's the first time such a thing's happened to me in
my career, but last night--you'll believe me, gentlemen--I had my
notice."

There was a murmur of sympathy. Rawson raised his glass and drank.

"It was Mr. Henry, as usual, who had to tackle the job," he continued.
"He sent for us one by one to his study, where he sat as prim and formal
as ever, with all his catalogues around and his books of reference.
'Rawson,' he said, 'you have been an excellent servant, but conditions
render it necessary for my brother and me to close this house for the
present. We are, in fact, ceasing to keep an establishment. I am
compelled, therefore, to ask you to accept a month's notice.' All very
proper and regular, gentlemen, but I could see that Mr. Henry were
feeling it. Mrs. Shane came out all crying. I seen him afterwards,
though, and he were just the same as usual, except that his face were as
white as parchment."

"It do be a sad loss for all," Mr. Pank declared. "There's no word of
anything but good in these parts for any of them--for the Squire, or Mr.
Henry, or Mr. Gregory either."

"As though this weren't trouble enough," Rawson proceeded portentously,
"there's all sorts of mysterious doings and rumours afloat, about enough
to drive a body crazy. You mind the young man Fielding, who called
himself a retired schoolmaster and sat in the corner pretending to make
flies?"

"The hypocrite!" Mr. Craske exclaimed.

"A detective, that's what he was," Rawson went on. "Not a police
detective, you understand, but one of them that goes about spying for a
living. Now he is up and swore that the night of the burglary he seen
some one leave the Hall by the oak library, which is Mr. Gregory's
private way almost, twenty minutes or half an hour before the burglary
were committed."

There was a little buzz of exclamations and remarks, a general feeling
of indignation against the pseudo-schoolmaster.

"If he were one of these paid spies," Mr. Craske enquired, "who were
paying him?"

"That I can't say for sure," the butler acknowledged, "but I have my
suspicions--very grave suspicions too."

"And whom might you be fancying to be the man, Mr. Rawson?" one of the
little group asked.

"Him as has taken the Great House--Mr. Johnson, by name," was the
injured reply. "We've had him up to lunch too, and treated him, as it
were, beyond his station. I'm glad to find he's not here to-day,
gentlemen. There's a word or two I might have had to say to him."

"It do seem most mysterious," the innkeeper declared. "What do you
suppose this Mr. Johnson has got to do with it all, Mr. Rawson, that
he's putting his oar in?"

"Mr. Johnson," the butler announced, "has come to these parts under
false pretences. There's many has wondered why he settled here and many
asked him the question, and all the time he answered innocent like that
he just wanted the country and the house suited him, and so on. Do you
mind--all on you--when he pretended to be surprised about the murder? He
knew about it all the time. He was Mr. Endacott's partner out somewhere
in foreign parts, and he settled down here in a mischievous kind of way
to make trouble and disturbance amongst his betters."

"Well, I never!" Mr. Pank exclaimed. "A pleasanter-spoken body never
came in the place or a more harmless looking. There's nothing fresh, is
there, Mr. Rawson, about the murder?"

"God knows!" was the butler's ponderous pronouncement. "There's strange
things all around us, and what they may mean or where they may lead to
we none of us can tell, at this present moment."

"There is Mr. Johnson," the grocer exclaimed, looking out over the
muslin blinds, "and Inspector Cloutson with him. Look at 'em walking
together, so confidential like."

"I'd like to know what they're saying," Mr. Craske confessed. "Heads
almost touching, as you might say. And did you see the Inspector turn
around and look across towards the Hall?"

The two men halted outside the postern gate. Presently they separated,
and, with a brief nod, Mr. Johnson entered his own domain, whilst
Inspector Cloutson turned and made his way back towards the police
station. The little company watched Mr. Johnson's retiring figure as
they had once watched his progress down the village street on the day of
his first visit.

"In my opinion," Rawson declared emphatically, "that's the man who's
brought most of the mischief into this neighbourhood. I'm not one to
wish any of my neighbours harm, but if the chap who broke into the Great
House the other night had been of my way of thinking, he'd have given
him one which would have kept him quiet for a bit longer than this."

                  *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Johnson moved rather wearily to his favourite seat under the cedar
tree, and sat there for several minutes in tired contemplation. He awoke
from a fit of brooding to find Katherine Besant crossing the lawn
towards him. She was bareheaded and it was obvious that she had been
running. He rose to his feet..

"Come and sit down," he begged.

"I can't stop," she answered. "I just came in. I wanted to have a word
or two with you."

He took her hands in his and looked at her steadily. She was a little
flushed with her hurrying, but it struck him that her hair was more
carefully arranged and that her linen frock, simple though its fashion,
was becoming. The slight eagerness in her manner, communicated also to
her expression, gave her an air of greater life and vivacity.

"Mr. Johnson," she exclaimed, "I really can't stop. I don't know when
Madame may want me. But what does it all mean? Every one seems wildly
unhappy, and it all seems to centre round you. What are you doing to
everybody? You were so kind to me."

"My dear," he replied gently, "it would take a long time to explain.
Very soon you will know everything."

"But the everything that I am to know seems as though it were going to
be horrible!" she cried. "Madame looks as if she were about to die every
moment. Sir Bertram rode away from seeing her this morning looking like
a ghost. They say that Mr. Gregory left last night for abroad. Miss
Endacott sent three notes to him yesterday. I know that she wanted him
to come to see her. He wouldn't. And the place seems full--full of
phosphorescence. It's like a pause before a thunder storm. No one seems
to know quite what to expect. Is it you who have been stirring up all
this trouble?"

He shook his head.

"The trouble, such as it is," he assured her solemnly, "was caused by
those who must suffer for it."

"Who are they?" she demanded.

He pointed over his shoulder towards the Hall.

"The Ballastons," he answered.

"But what have they done?"

He shook his head.

"Don't ask me too much," he begged. "It's an ugly story, and you'll know
it soon enough. Only, believe me, it isn't I who am bringing it all
about."

"But you could stop it," she expostulated.

"Nothing in the world could stop it," he answered. "I don't look like a
superstitious man, do I, Miss Besant?"

"I shouldn't have said so," she admitted.

"I have this belief, though," he went on, "which you may call
superstitious, or you may not. There are some things which a man who
meddles with must suffer for. I have seen it in my younger days in
Egypt, and I have seen it also in China. I have seen a man who posed as
a great savant and Egyptologist destroy a sacred tomb. The newspapers of
the world were filled with accounts of the treasure he discovered. He
died within a few months, and to this day no one knows how. And then
tell me this, by what right does a young man like Gregory Ballaston,
simply because he has courage and enterprise, and because he is faced
with ruin, dare to come out to a strange country, break into a sacred
temple and rob it? Well, he found no treasure, but for the evil which
has come because of his wrong-doing, you must not blame me who point the
finger to his guilt. You must blame something which neither you nor I
fully understand, but which is working for a punishment just as surely."

"But you don't think," she faltered, "you can't believe, that Gregory
Ballaston killed Mr. Endacott."

"The law will have to decide that," he answered gravely.

She sat for several moments, pensive and still. Then she rose to her
feet.

"I think it is all very horrible," she sighed.

"Life has its grim and terrible side," he declared, "but underlying it
all there is a sense of justice which has made us humans frame laws and
institute a code of punishment. The instinct to do this and abide by the
results is a part of nature itself. No one really escapes the
consequences of ill-doing. Will you promise me one thing, Miss Besant?"

She had been in the act of turning away. She paused.

"Everything may be changed here in a few days," he went on, "and, of
course, I may be pretty unpopular. Will you promise me that you will not
go away without seeing me?"

She hesitated for a moment. Then she gave him her hand quickly. To his
surprise there were tears in her eyes.

"I promise," she said. "You have been kind to me, at any rate. You are
the first person who has been really kind to me for years."

She moved away too quickly for him to detain her. Mr. Johnson returned
slowly to the house, over which the shadow of tragedy seemed once more
to be brooding.



                              CHAPTER XIII


"Doing me well for our farewell dinner, Dad," Gregory murmured
appreciatively, as he set down his glass with a little gesture of
reverence. "'70 Port."

Sir Bertram smiled pleasantly. It was not for the two footmen standing
motionless at either end of the magnificent sideboard, or even for
Rawson behind his master's chair, to know that this was anything but an
ordinary function. Conversation throughout the meal had taken no account
of possible catastrophe. They had talked of the sporting side of
Gregory's expedition; Sir Bertram himself had shot big game in Canada
more than once.

"There are only a few bottles left, I regret to say," Sir Bertram
remarked. "We started on the last bin at the commencement of the year."

"This is the Cockburn's shipping," Henry put in. "We have always
considered it the finer wine. If you will pass the decanter, Bertram, I
will indulge in my second glass."

Before the decanter was finished Rawson and his satellites had departed.
Sir Bertram glanced at his watch.

"You have nearly an hour," he said. "What time did you tell Holmes you
would leave?"

"At ten o'clock," Gregory replied. "The train leaves Norwich at
eleven-thirty."

Sir Bertram rose from his place. They strolled into the library, drank
coffee and liqueurs, and lit cigarettes. There was still nothing in
their conversation to indicate the great crisis. Henry was the first to
introduce a note of unexpectedness.

"If I may claim ten minutes of your time, Gregory," he said, "it would
gratify me if you would pay a visit to my room. You too, I trust,
Bertram," he added.

"Why, of course, Uncle," Gregory acquiesced. "I'll just fill my case
with these cigarettes, if you don't mind, Dad. May save me opening my
travelling bag."

"By all means," his father begged.

They ascended the great staircase, Gregory pausing every now and then to
look at one of his favourite pictures. Henry led the way to his own room
with its quaint air of monasticity and severity, accentuated by the
oriel-shaped windows. He closed the door carefully behind him.

"I should like before you depart, Gregory," he began, "to assure you
that my sympathies have been entirely with you in your gallant but
non-successful attempt to restore the fortunes of our family. I may, or
may not agree with you in your decision that these"--he waved his hand
towards the two Images--"should remain unbroken. There are times," he
went on, "when I fancy that our friend there with the very evil and
mocking leer is trying to boast of the treasures he possesses, and with
which he refuses to part. That, however, is an effort of the imagination
in which I seldom indulge. It occurred to me further that I should like,
before you leave, to prove to you that my sympathy with your enterprise
was not confined to a merely passive attitude. My actions may not have
been entirely judicious, but they were well-intentioned. It was I who on
a certain night made use of your key, entered the Great House in, I must
confess, a surreptitious manner, relieved myself of interference on the
part of Mr. Johnson, I am afraid in somewhat inconsiderate fashion, and
purloined the manuscripts, which I had hoped might help us towards the
discovery of the treasure."

The cigarette which Sir Bertram had been holding between his fingers
slipped on to the carpet and lay there almost unnoticed. He gazed at his
brother with a great astonishment in his face. Gregory, taken even more
by surprise, stared at him, speechless and open-mouthed. Neither of them
said a word. Henry stooped down, picked up the lighted cigarette, and
threw it into the fireplace.

"Henry, you're crazy!" Sir Bertram exclaimed at last.

"Uncle Henry!" Gregory cried.

Something which was finally a smile parted Henry's lips, as he pointed
to a neat package upon the table.

"These are the manuscripts," he said. "I regret to say that my
expedition was a failure. Nothing there helps us in any degree."

"But how the devil do you know?" Gregory demanded. "Whom did you get to
read them?"

"During the last few months," his uncle confided, "with a view to making
this enterprise a success, I have studied and read Chinese."

"God bless my soul!" Sir Bertram gasped.

"The language presented its difficulties," Henry admitted. "During my
last visit to London in January I consulted a Chinese scholar who put me
in the right way, and I have attained to a certain proficiency--enough,
at any rate, for the purpose. It struck me that Major Holmes's enquiries
into the matter were becoming somewhat unpleasant, and I thought,
therefore, that I would confide the truth to you, in case at any time
suspicion should fall upon another person. This parcel containing the
documents contains also a letter from me acknowledging my exploit and a
letter of apology to Miss Endacott, whose property I suppose they must
be considered. They are undamaged and, except for the slight injury to
Mr. Johnson, which I regret was necessary, the affair seems to me to be
trivial."

Gregory clasped his forehead.

"Trivial!" he groaned.

"There will, I fear, be a certain loss of dignity should I be called
upon to answer for my misdoing," Henry concluded, "but I can assure you
that I shall take no steps to evade any action which may ensue. That, I
think, is all. It only remains for me, Gregory, to wish you success
abroad. Of our own future here, we will not speak. Whilst the Ballaston
treasures and heirlooms remain intact my place is with them. A pleasant
voyage, Gregory!"

He shook hands and conducted them courteously to the door. His little
pat on his nephew's shoulder was the nearest approach to affection he
had ever shown. Gregory and his father descended the stairs almost in
silence. When they reached the hall, Gregory sank into a chair and held
his head in his hands.

"Dad, was that a dream?" he demanded. "I can't conceive it. Uncle Henry,
of all men in the world!"

"It is the Ballaston spirit concealed," Sir Bertram murmured.

For a quarter of an hour or so father and son sat in the great hall
without speech. There was a curiously intense silence, broken only by
the ticking of a large clock, and, through the wide-flung window, the
twittering of a nightingale preparing for his aftermath of song. Sir
Bertram rose at last to his feet.

"Let us walk on the terrace, Gregory," he suggested. "The car will be
round in a few minutes."

They strolled out together, Sir Bertram correct and debonair, from the
polish of his well-brushed hair to the pearl studs in his shirt and his
scrupulously cut dinner clothes; Gregory in travelling tweeds, prepared
for his journey. Sir Bertram took his son's arm as they commenced their
leisurely promenade.

"I am afraid," he said, in a tone of very rare gravity, "that it's all
up with us Ballastons, Gregory. You're young and fit though, and I've
got quite enough to amuse myself with--it will have to be France, I
suppose, or Spain. It's all a compromise, of course, and a cursed
compromise. There's only one place for an Englishman to live, and that's
on his own land. It's the devil's own luck to lose Ballaston, but we've
gone the limit, eh, Gregory, to try to keep it?"

"Yes," Gregory admitted. "We made a bid for it, at any rate--even Uncle
Henry!"

His tone had grown more serious. The shadow of something unspoken seemed
to be lying between them.

"Personally," Sir Bertram continued, "I regret nothing, I blame nobody
for anything. I consider that everything was justified. You have to make
a fresh start, Gregory. Don't do so with that somewhat bourgeois
impediment--a slurred conscience. What has been done has been done, and
is finished with."

Gregory for a moment did not reply. His puzzled eyes sought his
father's, but sought them in vain.

"For my part," Sir Bertram repeated steadily, "I regret nothing. It was
worth the effort. And as for Henry--God bless him!"

The lights of the car flashed from the stable yard.

"And so, my dear boy," his father concluded, in his ordinary tone, "you
swing your bundle, figuratively speaking, at the end of your stick, and
set out on your allegorical journey. Only, for God's sake, don't come
back Lord Mayor of London!"

Gregory had already taken his seat, the chauffeur's hand was upon the
change speeds gear, when Rawson hurried forward.

"There is another car coming up the avenue, sir," he announced. "Would
it be as well to wait for a moment?"

Gregory looked out of the window. He could see the twin lights flashing
in the distance, gleaming slantwise through the trees, then again pools
of light in the semi-darkness. For only a moment he hesitated, but,
during that moment, it seemed to him that he was taking leave of much
that was dear in life. Then he stepped out of the car and stood upon the
edge of the terrace.

"It might be as well, Rawson," he agreed, with somewhat elaborate
casualness.

"I wonder who the devil it can be at this time of the night?" Sir
Bertram speculated.

The car resolved itself into shape. Its very crudity, its ugliness,
seemed symbolic. The driver was in plain clothes, but he sat stiffly and
there was something official about his appearance. By his side was Major
Holmes. Behind sat Inspector Cloutson. The two latter descended as the
car drew up.

"Well, Major?" Sir Bertram exclaimed. "What new thunderbolt are you
going to launch?"

The Chief Constable rather avoided his eyes.

"We want a word with you, please," he confided, laying his hand lightly
upon Gregory's arm.

They all entered the house together. Sir Bertram led the way to the
library, thrust open the door and closed it again when they had all
entered.

"Now what the devil is it this time, Holmes?" he asked, a little
testily. "You mustn't be annoyed with me if I say that I am getting
rather tired of these visitations."

"I deeply regret the necessity for the present one," was the grave
reply. "Gregory Ballaston, I am sorry to tell you that Inspector
Cloutson here has a warrant for your arrest. I should strongly advise
you to make no reply to the charge and to come with us to Norwich."

"What is the charge?" Gregory demanded.

"A very serious one, I am afraid," Major Holmes announced. "I have, as a
matter of fact, two warrants; the first charging you, Gregory Ballaston,
with assault on one Peter Johnson, and burglary at the Great House on
the night of July 28th, and the second by which you stand charged with
the murder of Ralph Endacott at the Great House on June 30th of last
year. There is nothing to be gained by denial or comment or anything
else, at the present moment. I beg you, Gregory, not to attempt any
reply but to come with us."

The door behind had been opened so softly that no one heard it. They
were all standing motionless when Henry, with a brown paper parcel under
his arm, entered.

"But that is ridiculous, Major Holmes," he said quietly. "You must have
been very greatly misled. It was I who was guilty of the burglary. Here,
in this parcel, you will find all the documents I purloined, or I might
say borrowed, the instrument with which I cut out the panel of the door,
another with which I picked the lock--instruments, I may say, obtained
with the greatest possible difficulty from an establishment in London."

There was a moment's blank silence. Major Holmes's expression, after the
first shock of surprise, was one of complete incredulity.

"This is a very remarkable statement on your part, Mr. Ballaston," he
observed. "I presume you wish us to take note of what you say. At the
same time I have, I am sorry to remind you, a warrant against your
nephew on a more serious charge."

Henry Ballaston apologised with dignity.

"I regret," he said, "not to have mentioned the two affairs together. I,
also, on June 30th of last year, after a few words of unpleasant
discussion with Mr. Endacott, shot him through the head."

Once more there was a brief spell of breathless silence. Henry Ballaston
was entirely master of the situation, perfectly self-possessed, slightly
apologetic. Father and son were gazing into each other's eyes with
mutual and amazed interrogation.

"You see," Henry continued, in explanatory fashion, "Mr. Endacott was a
very unreasonable man. He admitted that he had made a translation of the
manuscript, but he refused to give it to me. He desired his niece to
profit by it. I suppose I must have lost my temper. I shot him and
secured the other Image, but could find no trace of the manuscript.
Hence my second effort within the last few days. Have I made myself
quite clear?"

Sir Bertram's fingers upon his son's arm had grown like the grip of a
vice. He leaned forward.

"Do you mean to say that you didn't do it, Greg?" he whispered hoarsely.

"Before God, I didn't!" was the passionate reply. "I thought it was
you."



                              CHAPTER XIV


Mr. Johnson, that same evening, was smoking the cigar of discontent,
drinking the coffee of bitterness, and sipping the brandy of fire.
Around him was all the stillness and the sweetness of the summer
twilight which he loved so much; stars burning in a violet sky, the
breath of roses in the air, the peaceful village sounds in his ears,
more lulling and soothing than absolute silence. Yet he was filled with
disquietude. He rose and, with his hands in his pockets, paced the long
strip of velvety lawn. What he had done, what he had worked for, seemed
to him to be a simple act of justice, yet with its accomplishment he was
acutely conscious of an intense isolation. No one was in sympathy with
him. Every one loved the wicked Ballastons. Even Katherine Besant had
left him, her eyes streaming with tears. Madame had sent imploring but
vain messages. In the village he felt that it was barely safe to show
himself. Then, when he was wondering where to look for consolation, the
postern gate opened quickly. Two women entered--Katherine Besant and
Claire. He moved forward to welcome them.

"Miss Endacott," Katherine explained, "wants to see you immediately and
talk to you. Take her away somewhere. I will wait."

"I am pleased to talk to Miss Endacott anywhere she wishes," Mr. Johnson
acquiesced.

"In the study, quickly," Claire begged.

She swung round upon him as soon as they had entered the room--superb,
beautiful but furious.

"Mr. Johnson," she began, "I have come to beseech you, to insist that
you move no further in this horrible affair. Nothing can bring my uncle
back to life; nothing can ever still the remorse of whoever killed him.
Beyond that, let it rest. I implore you, Mr. Johnson, to do nothing
more."

"My dear young lady," he replied gravely, "think of what you are
proposing. You can scarcely be content to let your uncle's murderer go
scot free."

"That is just what I do want," she persisted. "He gained nothing by it,
and--I am quite sure that, whoever it was, he was not altogether sane.
Even on the steamer--Mr. Johnson, I beg you to believe me--Gregory
Ballaston was under the influence of that horrible Image. All the time
he behaved quite strangely. As soon as he had parted from it, he was as
different as possible. If whoever killed my uncle came from the house
where that Image is--it's a terrible thing to say, but I honestly
believe it--they couldn't help it, they weren't responsible."

The tenant of the Great House shook his head.

"It is too late," he said.

"What do you mean, too late?" she demanded, with a sudden fear in her
eyes. "What have you done? What right have you to interfere, anyway?
Gregory Ballaston is going abroad to-night. That is the best thing that
could happen."

"It is nevertheless too late," Mr. Johnson declared. "The local police
have consulted with Scotland Yard by telephone, and they have decided
that the evidence they hold at present against Gregory Ballaston is
sufficient for them to stop his going abroad. They have issued two
warrants to-night. He will be arrested, I should say, within the next
few minutes."

She seemed suddenly to tower above him; white, passionate, menacing. Her
eyes blazed, her fingers seemed to seek a weapon. It was the first vital
fury of youth.

"You brute!" she exclaimed. "Oh, Gregory!"

For a moment the earth seemed to darken around her. Mr. Johnson groaned
as he led the half-fainting girl to a couch.

"Miss Endacott," he said, "this is a terrible business, but believe me,
justice must be done. Murder is an unforgivable crime. To take another
man's life--have you thought what it means?"

"What about my life?" she moaned. "Don't you understand? I was content
never to see him again. I lied about the Image to save him, but I love
him. If this horrible thing happens, I think that I shall kill you. I
shall either do that or die myself. I can't bear it, I tell you! I can't
bear it!"

She leaned forward in her chair and began to sob. Mr. Johnson mopped his
forehead feverishly. It was perhaps in his eager desire to escape from
the horror of the moment that he took particular note of the long key
which was attached to the chain which hung around her neck, and which
had temporarily escaped its resting place.

"What key is that?" he asked her sharply.

She took no notice at first. He repeated his question. She looked as
though she could have struck him.

"Key!" she echoed scornfully. "What does it matter? Why do you ask me
about keys at a moment like this? There's only one thing that
matters--he must be saved. You must do something. Take back something
you have said. Of course, I know he did it, or I should be with him at
this moment. He's not bad. He mustn't be killed. I--oh, my God!"

She began to sob again. He laid his hand upon her shoulder.

"Listen," he said, "I will do all that I can, I promise you, but you
must tell me what this key is. I have a reason for asking."

"It came from some safe-makers about eleven months ago," she answered
wearily. "They said it was the duplicate which my uncle had ordered the
last time he was in London."

He removed the chain from her neck, crossed the room and entered the
little annex, the door of which, since the burglary, had stood open, and
where, in a corner, a rusty old safe had been fitted into the wall. At
the first turn the key slipped in and the lock yielded. He swung the
door open. In the darkness there was the gleam of a bulky white
envelope. He took it out. It was addressed to Claire Endacott. He
examined it for a moment. Then he closed the safe and returned to the
library.

"Miss Endacott," he announced, "that key of yours has solved something
which has puzzled me for a very long time. It has opened the old safe
here. The other key to it was inside. This letter, as you see, is for
you. I have always felt convinced that your uncle, before his death, had
succeeded in making some sort of a translation of the document which he
possessed, indicating the whereabouts of the jewels. This is probably
the solution."

She flung the letter away and, but for his intervention, would have
trampled it with her foot upon the floor.

"Do something!" she begged. "You must stop what is going to happen. It
isn't fair. It isn't right!"

He rescued the letter and himself broke the seal. She snatched it from
his fingers.

"Don't waste time," she pleaded. "Do something! Letters! What does it
matter about letters?"

"It is from your uncle," he told her solemnly. "Probably the last thing
he ever wrote."

She tore open the envelope with quick, nervous fingers, anxious yet
reluctant. She began to read with a sort of sullen indifference. Then
she seemed suddenly galvanised into a new and amazingly altered state of
living. Mr. Johnson, as he watched her, was terrified. She sprang to her
feet and shrieked out at the top of her voice.

"Read it! Read it yourself!" she cried, gripping him by the arm, so that
her fingers bored their way into his flesh. "Read it and tell me that it
is the truth! Let me see too. Spell it out! Read it!"

Their heads touched. Her breath came hot upon his cheek. She grasped the
letter as though afraid it might be torn from her.

    The Great House,
    Saturday night.

    MY DEAR CLAIRE,

    I went to London this morning with the shadow of a fear--no
    more. I come back--doomed. You can hear all about it, if you
    like, from Sir Francis Moore, 18 Harley Street. Three months to
    live and much suffering! I think not. I shall end it to-night.
    You will be rich--much richer than you think. Malcolm's have my
    will. You and your aunt will share alike. I enclose in this
    letter a translation of a document which will tell you, unless
    the document lies, how to obtain the treasure in the Images. Use
    it as you will. I have no interest. I should have liked a year
    or two here, but I prefer what is to come to an increase of the
    agony of which I have already had a foretaste. I hope that you
    will be happy.

                                                     RALPH ENDACOTT.

He read it through word by word. She repeated them after him. Then a
calm seemed to come upon her which was almost unnatural.

"Take care of the letter," he enjoined. "Don't lose it."

He rushed out across the lawn and through the postern gate. Down the
great avenue from the house he could see the lights of two cars
flashing. He ran on to the crossroads and stood there with arms
extended. Presently they swung round the corner, and at the sight of him
were brought to a standstill with a grinding of the brakes. In the front
one were Major Holmes, Sir Bertram and Gregory, in the rear one Cloutson
and Henry Ballaston. Mr. Johnson gripped Major Holmes by the arm.

"Major," he exclaimed, "an amazing thing has happened. You must come
round to the Great House at once."

Major Holmes frowned.

"I am afraid, Mr. Johnson," he said, "it is too late for any sort of
intervention. The criminal has confessed."

Mr. Johnson was staggered, but still frantically eloquent.

"There can be nothing to confess," he insisted. "Come and I'll show you
the letter. I'll show you where I found it. You must come. You're in
charge of this case. I'm sane. It was I who wanted justice done. You
must see what has happened--see the open safe--read the letter!"

Major Holmes descended and gave an order to the sergeant behind. Both
cars were driven to the Great House. Almost pushed in by Mr. Johnson,
they crowded into the library. He pointed to the open safe, visible
through the door of the annex.

"Miss Endacott had the key," he explained. "I noticed it round her neck
to-night. It came a month after Mr. Endacott's death. I opened the safe
and found this letter that you must all read. I will swear that it is in
Ralph Endacott's handwriting. His niece will swear it. I took it from
the safe. Ralph Endacott shot himself. He was dying."

"He shot himself!" Gregory gasped.

"There isn't a doubt about it," Mr. Johnson declared. "The name of the
doctor is there. He was a dying man."

Across the room their eyes met--Gregory's and Claire's. It seemed as
though nothing could keep them apart. Without conscious movement he was
by her side, her hands in his. All the time, with slow, deliberate
emphasis, Major Holmes was reading the letter aloud, reading the words
penned by a dying man, the supreme yet ghastly irony of which no one
properly apprehended in those few minutes of immense relief.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Claire faltered, as soon as she could find
words.

Gregory glanced behind at the little group and drew her nearer and
nearer. A nightmare was passing from his brain.

"I thought it was Dad," he whispered, under his breath. "What could I
do?"

"The letter appears to be genuine," Major Holmes decided, looking up
with an air of great relief, "and the name of the doctor fortunately
provides us with corroborative evidence, but under the circumstances I
must confess that I fail to understand Mr. Henry Ballaston's position,"
he added, turning towards him.

The latter coughed a little nervously.

"It has never been my custom," he declared, "to countenance any
deviation from the truth in others or to indulge in anything approaching
a falsehood myself. I have to admit, however, that on the present
occasion I made a false statement, which I beg leave to withdraw. The
fact is," he confided, with a touch of that ingenuousness which was one
of his characteristics, "I never doubted for a moment that my nephew
Gregory, in the interests of the family, was guilty of this
misdemeanour. I am a useless person in this world. He is a young man and
our direct heir. I did what I thought best."

"But the Image?" Sir Bertram demanded in bewilderment--"the second Image
of the Soul? How on earth did that get to the Hall?"

"I brought it," was Henry's complacent reply.

"But when?" Gregory asked helplessly.

"On the night of Mr. Endacott's unfortunate decease," Henry replied. "I
must confess that on the previous evening I paid a surreptitious visit
here. I had no idea on that occasion of purloining the Image, but I was
anxious to secure, if possible, a translation of any of the Chinese
documents which Mr. Endacott was known to possess which might assist us
towards the recovery of the jewels. I found Mr. Endacott, however, at
work, and I was unfortunate enough to disturb him. During his brief
absence in the garden I endeavoured to peruse his papers, but his
unexpectedly prompt return forced me on that occasion to abandon the
enterprise. On the following evening I saw Gregory leave the house----"

"I came to see if you were still in the garden," Gregory interrupted,
turning to Claire.

"Precisely," Henry acquiesced, "but I was not at that time aware of
your--er--attachment, nor did I attribute any sentimental purpose to
your nocturnal excursion. I followed you--and at the side gate here,
after some considerable interval, I heard what I imagined to be a
muffled revolver shot. I crept from my place of concealment and entered
the library. Mr. Endacott was lying there, quite dead. I listened for a
moment. I was perhaps unnerved. I imagined that I heard your retreating
footsteps from the anteroom into the courtyard. I listened again. There
was nothing to be heard. The Image was lying on the floor by Mr.
Endacott's side. He had probably been examining it prior to his lamented
action and the fall of his body had displaced it. I considered. I
decided that your nerve, Gregory, had failed you, that having committed
the preliminary--er--misdeed, you had hurried away without the Image. I
accordingly picked it up and brought it home. I placed it by the side of
the other in my room. It has been there ever since. I saw the shock
which its presence caused you, my dear brother--you too, Gregory--but I
did not think an explanation advisable."

Sir Bertram laid his hand upon his son's shoulder.

"My God, Gregory," he muttered, "I thought--I thought, of course, that
it was you."

Gregory groaned.

"And I," he explained--"as I knew it wasn't I--thought it must be you."

"My God, these Ballastons!" Major Holmes exclaimed, with amazed fervour.

                  *       *       *       *       *

A wonderful half-hour! Sir Bertram had slipped away and was on his knees
by Madame's couch. Mr. Johnson, whilst every one else was talking
confusedly, hastened down to the cellar. Gregory led Claire out into the
garden. In his hand was the paper she had passed over to him.

"The Images," he whispered; "let's go and find them."

They drove in the limousine car, still laden with his luggage, through
the scented darkness, back to the Hall, his arms around her, her head
resting contentedly upon his shoulder. Whilst she waited, he ran
upstairs, to the amazement of Rawson and the footman who had admitted
him, and presently returned with the two Images. Rawson met him at the
foot of the stairs. His face was full of astonishment and piteous
appeal.

"You will excuse me, Mr. Gregory, sir," he begged. "If there's any
news----"

Gregory staggered past him, borne down by his burden.

"Everything's all right, Rawson," he exclaimed. "Mr. Endacott shot
himself--found out he was going to die, anyway. We shall be back, all
three of us, to sleep. I may not be going abroad at all. Get yourself a
bottle of wine, Rawson. Tell you more about it when we get back."

Another drive which seemed to pass like a dream; a dream during which
the agony of the last hour appeared to fade into nothingness. Then the
Great House again, the Images upon the library table, and a little crowd
gathered around. Mr. Johnson, to whom Gregory had passed the paper,
called out the instructions.

"You press the right eye of the Body," he directed, "and press at the
same time the inner lobe of the left ear. Then you move the Image
forward three times slowly, pressing most at the lowest point. Now
then!"

Gregory obeyed the instructions. At the end of the third movement there
was a slight noise inside like the whirring of a spring. A ticking
began. They stood a little distance away. Suddenly the right eye opened
and a stream of what seemed to be red and crystal and green fire came
out and discharged itself upon the tablecloth. Every one drew closer,
fascinated, breathless, until with a final whirring the shower ended.
Mr. Johnson passed his hands over the stones.

"The finest emeralds I ever saw," he declared. "There is one diamond
there I wouldn't dare to value.--Now for the Soul! You reverse the
process. Press the left eye and the lobe of the right ear."

This time, after the whirring ended, the left eye opened, and a slow
stream of pink and white pearls fell on to the table.

"The tears of Buddha," Mr. Johnson exclaimed. "It's the oldest
superstition on the river. 'When Buddha weeps, the tears are pearls.'"

Again they watched, spellbound. This stream continued even longer than
the other one. Then there was a little click and all was over. The eye
slipped back. The Image seemed to smile in beneficent fashion. Claire's
fingers tightened upon Gregory's arm.

"Without expert advice," Mr. Johnson pronounced, in an awed tone, "I
wouldn't take less than a million for them."

"They belong to you, every stone," Gregory whispered to his companion.

She laughed up at him.

"Does it matter?" she murmured.



                               CHAPTER XV


Once more five men, from a safe distance behind the muslin curtains,
watched the approach towards the village inn of the tenant of the Great
House. This time, however, conditions were different. The strip of road
lay clean and hard in the grip of a four days' frost. There were little
pools of ice near the pavement, the trees, leafless and stark, stood
motionless against the clear sky. Although it was early in the afternoon
the sun was already sinking beneath a bank of ominous-looking clouds.
Mr. Johnson, in thick tweeds and leggings, with a powdering of snow upon
his coat, carrying a gun over one shoulder and a cartridge bag suspended
from the other, made his appearance coming along the lane from the Hall.

"He do be a changed man, that, for sure," Mr. Pank observed.

"And for that matter," Mr. Craske put in, "his wife be a changed woman.
I mind when she used to come in for groceries for Madame, always looking
a little tired, almost sulky-like, as though there were nothing in life
worth caring about. Now, I do call her one of the best-looking women in
these parts. It's worth going a mile to see her and Mrs. Gregory
together, either on horseback or out with the beagles."

"They say," the innkeeper began----

"Hush!" Rawson interrupted. "I believe he's coming in."

Mr. Johnson had hesitated at the corner and glanced at his watch.
Instead of taking the turn to the Great House he swung towards the inn,
and, pausing for a moment outside to look down the breech of his gun,
entered with a cheery greeting. Rawson at once stood up. The newcomer
good-humouredly waved him back to his seat.

"Don't let me disturb any one," he begged, finding a convenient corner
for his gun and relapsing into the easy-chair which had been discreetly
vacated by Mr. Craske. "I'll take a warming drink, if you please, Mr.
Pank. A wineglassful of sloe gin, if you have it, and if any of you
gentlemen will join me, I shall be proud. I forgot my flask this
morning."

"You've been out along with Mr. Gregory, sir?" Rawson enquired.

"We've been after snipe on the mere side. Good sport, but chilly. I've
shot snipe in China before now, but they don't seem in such a hurry as
these Norfolk devils. Mr. Gregory wiped my eyes more than once."

"Mr. Gregory's a fine shot at what I may call the irregular birds," the
butler ventured, "snipe and woodcock and suchlike. You'll pardon me
saying so though, sir, I'd rather see you at the pheasants. I've noticed
the last twice that the Squire's put you at the awkward corners."

"Well, well," Mr. Johnson admitted, "it's a great life, this, if I could
only learn to stick on a horse. Mr. Foulds, you'll have to keep your eye
open for another one up to my weight. I had to miss a day's hunting last
week."

"I'll do that with pleasure, sir," the veterinary promised. "There's a
sale at Norwich next week. I'll be over yonder, surely."

Mr. Johnson drank his sloe gin and held out the glass for replenishment.

"Good warming stuff," he pronounced. "By-the-by, you may all like to
know that I heard from the Squire this morning. They found the villa at
Cannes in great shape, and her ladyship has walked a mile every day
since they've been there."

"It do seem wonderful!" the innkeeper declared.

"A most amazing recovery," Mr. Craske echoed. "To see her lying on that
chair month after month, no one would ever dream that she'd end her days
marrying and walking about like any one else. There's been a-many
changes in these parts, Mr. Johnson, sir, since you've come."

The latter nodded his head thoughtfully.

"There have indeed," he agreed.

"One did feel six months ago," the grocer continued, "as though some
sort of cloud were hanging over the village, what with the poor
gentleman as we thought had been murdered, and the police acting so
suspicious-like round the place, and all the time talk about the Hall
and the Ballaston lands coming under the hammer, and you, Mr. Johnson,
not half the cheerful gentleman you are now, looking so solemn as though
you had something on your mind all the time, if one might make so free."

"Things have changed certainly," Mr. Johnson acquiesced, knocking out
the ashes from his pipe and relighting it, preparatory to departure.
"The Ballaston mortgages, for instance, as every one knows, have been
paid up to the last farthing, and enough left over from Mr. Gregory's
little enterprise to keep every one in comfort for the rest of their
lives. No talk nowadays either of having to sell the old pictures or
bits of china that weren't heirlooms. There's Mr. Henry up at Christie's
once a month looking for missing pieces. He's starting a new catalogue
the first of the year."

"And the poor gentleman, as was supposed to have been murdered, found to
have shot himself!" Mr. Foulds remarked. "That sort of lifted a weight
from the place."

Mr. Johnson took up his gun.

"Well," he said, "we certainly seem in smooth water now. I am afraid I
was rather an unpopular resident at one time."

"Mr. Craske was the only one on us," the innkeeper rejoined with a grin,
"as had any complaint. He did say, when you came, as he was hoping for a
family man."

The tenant of the Great House turned and faced the little company. There
was a twinkle in his eyes and a gleam of mutual understanding passed
between them.

"Well," he exclaimed good-humouredly, "this is no sort of a place for
keeping secrets. You'll have another health to drink before long, I
hope. Good afternoon, every one."

He took his leave, and they watched him from behind the muslin blinds as
he walked briskly up the lane and entered his domain by the postern
gate.

"That do seem to me to be a proper sort of man," the innkeeper declared
emphatically.

                                THE END

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                               Novels by
                         E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM

    "He is past master of the art of telling a story. He has humor,
    a keen sense of the dramatic, and a knack of turning out a happy
    ending just when the complications of the plot threaten worse
    disasters."--The New York Times.

    "Mr. Oppenheim has few equals among modern novelists. He is
    prolific, he is untiring in the invention of mysterious plots,
    he is a clever weaver of the plausible with the sensational, and
    he has the necessary gift of facile narrative."--The Boston
    Transcript.

         A Prince of Sinners           The Curious Quest
         The Man and His Kingdom       The Wicked Marquis
         The Great Secret              The Box With Broken Seals
         Jeanne of the Marshes         The Great Impersonation
         The Lost Ambassador           The Devil's Paw
         A Daughter of the Marionis    Jacob's Ladder
         Havoc                         The Profiteers
         The Lighted Way               Nobody's Man
         The Survivor                  The Great Prince Shan
         A People's Man                The Evil Shepherd
         The Way of These Women        The Seven Conundrums
         The Pawns Count               Michael's Evil Deeds
         The Zeppelin's Passenger      The Mystery Road
         The Inevitable Millionaires   The Wrath to Come
         Stolen Idols                  The Passionate Quest

                  *       *       *       *       *

               BOSTON LITTLE, BROWN & COMPANY PUBLISHERS





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