She had not asked any questions, and she knew nothing of what Atkins had said about Heath; but her face was set and tense as she drove towards her bungalow. She was certainly thinking very definitely, quite as definitely as Hartley had been thinking as he watched the moonlight playing hide-and-seek with the shadows of the palm branches and the darkness of the trees, and her thoughts left no pleasant look upon her face or in her eyes; and yet Hartley, on his way to the bungalow where he lived, was thinking of her in a white dress and a shady hat, with a fleecy blue and white sky overhead and the scent of apple-blossom in the air.
The power of romance is strong in adolescence, but it is stronger still when the turnstile of years is reached and there is finality in the air. Hartley was built for platonics; Fate gave him the necessary touch of the commonplace that dispels romance and replaces it with a kind of deadly domesticity; and yet Hartley was unaware of the fact.
He had never thought of being "in love" with Mrs. Wilder, partly because he felt it would be "no use," and partly because she had never seemed to expect it from him, but as he walked along the road he began to find that her manner had of late altered considerably. She seemed to take an interest in him, and though she had always been his friend, her new attitude was charged with invisible electricity.
So far as Mrs. Wilder was concerned, Hartley was to her what a sitting hen would be to a sporting man. You couldn't shoot the confiding thing; but you might wring its neck if necessary, or push it out of the way with an impatient foot. She knew her power over him to a nicety, and she knew of his secret desire for "situations," because her instinct was never at fault; but she felt nothing more than contempt, slightly charged with pity towards him. Hartley was a good-natured, idiotic man, and Hartley had principles; Clarice Wilder had none herself, though she felt that they were definite factors in any game, but she also believed that principles were things that could be got over, or got at, by any woman who knew enough about life to manage such as Hartley.
All the same, it was not of Hartley that she thought. She had been quite truthful when she said that he had suggested Heath to her mind, and that she would have to consider his gaunt face and hollow cheeks during her drive.
If he had sat on the vacant seat beside her, the Rev. Francis Heath could hardly have been more clearly before her eyes, and could hardly have drawn her mind more strongly, and it was because of her thought of him that she preserved her steady look and strange eyes.
A strong woman, a woman with character, a woman who once she saw her way, was able to follow it faithfully, wherever it twisted, wherever it wound, and wherever it eventually brought her. No one could picture her flinching or turning back along a road she had set out to follow; if it had run in blood, she would have gone on in bare feet, not picking her steps, and yet Hartley dreamed of apple orchards and an Eve in a white muslin dress.
FINDS THE REV. FRANCIS HEATH READING GEORGE HERBERT'S POEMS, AND LEAVES HIM PLEDGED TO A POSSIBLY COMPROMISING SILENCE
The Reverend Francis Heath was sitting in his upstairs room, for of late he had avoided the veranda. It was the leisure hour of the day, the slow hour when the light wanes and it is too early to call for a lamp; the hour when memory or fear can both be poignant in tropical climates.
The house was very still, Atkins had gone to the Club and the servants had all returned to their own quarters. Outside, noises were many. Birds, with ugly, tuneless notes that were not songs but cries, flitted in the trees, and the rumble of traffic on the road came up in the evening air, broken occasionally by the shrill persistence of an exhaust whistle or the clamour of a motor-horn, and above all other sounds the long-drawn, occasional hoot from a ship anchored in the river highway. There was noise, and to spare, outside, but within everything was still, except for the chittering of a nest of bats in the eaves, and the sudden, relaxing creak of bamboo chairs, that behave sometimes as though ghosts sat restlessly in their arms.
The sunlight that fell into the garden and caught its green, turning it into flaming emerald, climbed in at Mr. Heath's window, and lay across his writing-table; it touched his shoulder and withdrew a little, touched the lines on his forehead for a moment, touched the open book before him, and fell away, followed by a shadow that grew deeper as it passed. It faded out of the garden like a memory that cannot be held back by human striving. The distances turned into shadowy blue, and from blue to purple, until only a few flecks of golden light across the pearl-silver told that it was gone eternally; that its hour was spent, for good or ill, and that Mangadone had come one evening nearer to the end of measureless Time; but the Rev. Francis Heath did not regard its going. His face was sad with a terrible, tragic sadness that is the sadness of life and not death, and yet it was of death and not of life that he thought. A little book of George Herbert's poems lay open before him and he had been reading it with a scholar's love of quaint phraseology:
"I made a posy, while the days ran by; Here will I smell my remnant out, and tie My life within this band. But Time did beckon to the flowers, and they, By noon, most cunningly did steal away, And wither'd in my hand."
He read the lines over and over again, and gave a deep, heart-broken sigh, bending his face between his hands, and bowing his shoulders as though under a heavy weight. His gaunt frame was thin and spare, his black alpaca coat hung on it like a sack, and his whole attitude spoke of sorrow. He might have been the presentment of an unwilling ghost, who stood with the Ferryman's farthing under his palm, waiting to be taken across the cheerless, dark waters to a limbo of drifting souls. He took his hands from before his face and clasped them over the book, looking out of the window to the evening shadows, as if he tried to find peace in the very act of contemplation.
The sad things he came in daily contact with had conquered his faith in life, though they had not succeeded in killing his trust in God's eventual plan of redemption; and his mind wandered in terrible places, places he had forced his way into, places he could never forget. He suffered from all a reformer's agony, an agony that is the small reflection of the great story of the mystic burden heavy as the sins of the whole world, and he tried, out of the simple, childlike fancy of the words he read, to grasp at a better mind.
Heath was one of those men who could not understand effortless faith; he was crushed by his own lack of success, and bowed down by his own failure. Since he could not rout the enemy single-handed, he believed that the battle was against the Hosts of the Lord. He knew no leisure from the war of his own thoughts, and as he clasped his hands, his face grew tense and set, and his eyes haggard and terrible. For a moment he sat very still, and his eyes followed the lines written by a man who had the faith of a little child:
"But Time did beckon to the flowers, and they, By noon, most cunningly did steal away."
Heath had never gathered flowers, either as a lesson to himself or a gift for others; they hardly spoke of careless beauty to him, they were emblems of lightness and thoughtlessness, and Heath had no time to stop and consider the lilies of the field.
He moved suddenly like a man who is awakened from a thought heavier than sleep, and listened with a hunted look, the look of a man who is afraid of footsteps; he stood up, gathering his loose limbs together and watching the door. Steps came up the staircase, steps that stumbled a little, and if Heath had possessed Mhtoon Pah's art of reading the walk of his fellow creatures, he would have known that he might expect a woman and not a man.
"Mr. Heath," a low voice called in the passage, and Heath's tension relaxed, giving place to surprise.
The voice was strange to him, and he passed his handkerchief over his face and walked to the door, just as his name was called again, in the same low, penetrating voice.
"Who wants me?" he asked, almost roughly, and then he saw a tall, dark woman standing at the top of the staircase.
"Mrs. Wilder," he said in surprise, and she made a little imperious movement with her hand.
"I did not call your servant, I came up, because I wanted to find you alone. You are alone?"
"Certainly, I am alone."
"May I come in?"
Heath held the door open for her to pass, and she walked in, looking around the darkening room with hard, curious eyes.
She took the chair he gave her, in silence, and sat down near the writing-table, and, feeling that she would speak after a time, Heath took his own place again and waited.
"I hardly know where to begin," she said, always speaking in the same low, intent voice. "Do you recall the evening of the twenty-ninth?"
An odd spasm caught Heath's face, and he paused for a moment before he answered.
"I do recall it."
"Perhaps you remember seeing me? I was riding along the road when I first passed you, and you were walking."
"I remember that I did pass you then, and also that I saw you later."
Heath's sombre eyes were on her face, and his fingers touched a gold cross that hung from his watch-chain.
"You passed me, and you passed Absalom, the Christian boy, and you have been questioned about Absalom."
"I have," he said heavily. "Why do you ask?"
Mrs. Wilder took a quick breath.
"Because I am afraid that you may be asked again. You understand, Mr. Heath, that I know it was the merest chance that brought you there that evening, but, as you were there, and as Mr. Hartley has got it into his head that you know something more than you have told him, I beg of you to bear in mind that if you mention my name you may get me into serious trouble. You would not do that willingly, I think?"
"I certainly would not. What motive took you there is a question for your own conscience. It is not for me to press that question, Mrs. Wilder."
She pressed her lips together tightly.
"I went there to see an old friend who was in great trouble."
"And yet you have to keep it secret?"
"Haven't we all our secrets, Mr. Heath?" Her voice was raised a little. "Will you pledge me your solemn word to keep this knowledge from anyone who asks?" She put her elbows on the table and drew closer to him.
"I will respect your confidence," he said slowly. "But is it likely that Hartley will ask me?"
Mrs. Wilder made a gesture of denial.
"I think not, but who can tell? This thing has been like lead on my mind and will not let me rest. Oh, Mr. Heath, if you knew what I have already paid, you would be sorry for me."
"I am sorry," he said gently. "More sorry for you than you can tell. You, too, saw Absalom, and spoke to him?"
"He has nothing to do with what I came here about,"—her tone grew impatient. "I only wanted to make sure that I was safe with you. It was no little thing that drove me to come. I am a proud woman, Mr. Heath, and I do not usually ask favours, yet I ask you now—"
"Not a favour," he said, taking her up quickly. "God knows I have every reason to help you if I can. Does Hartley suspect you? Does he question you? Does he try to wring admissions out of you?"
In the darkness Heath's voice rang hard and, metallic, like the voice of a man whose thoughts return upon something that maddens him.
"He has not done so, but he has asked me questions that made me frightened. It is a terrible thing to be afraid."
"And Joicey?" said Heath in a quiet voice. "I saw Joicey, but he did not stop to speak to me. Has he, too, been interrogated?"
"So far as I know, he has not. But this question presses only on me. What took you there is, I feel sure, easily accounted for, and what took Mr. Joicey there is not likely to be a matter of the smallest importance; it is I who suffer, it is on me that all this weight lies. If the police begin investigations they come close upon the fact that I went there to meet a man whom my husband has forbidden me to meet. Any little turn of evidence that involves me, any little accident that obliges me to admit it, and I am lost,"—her voice thrilled and pleaded.
"It is you who are lost," he echoed dully. "I can understand how you feel. If I can ease your burden or lessen the anxiety you suffer from, you may depend upon me, Mrs. Wilder. This matter is a dark road where I, too, walk blind, not knowing the path I follow, but, at least, I can give you my word that under no circumstances shall I be led to mention your name. You can be sure of that, Mrs. Wilder. If I can add your trouble to my own burden I shall not feel its weight, but I would counsel you to be honest with your husband. Tell him the truth."
"I will," said Mrs. Wilder, with an acquiescence that came too quickly. "I assure you that I will, but even when I do, you see what a position the least publicity places me in?"
Heath got up and paced the floor with long, restless strides.
"Publicity. The open avowal of a hidden thing; the knowledge that the whole world judges and condemns, and does not understand."
"That is what I feel."
After all, he was more human than she had expected. Clarice Wilder had looked upon the Rev. Francis as a hermit, an ascetic, whose comprehension was limited; and her eyes grew keen as she watched his gaunt figure.
"To be dragged down, to be accused, to be cast so low," he continued, in his sad, heavy voice, "so low that the lowest have cause to deride and to scorn." He stopped before her. "Is it true that I can save you from that?"
"It is true."
She did not tell him that she had lied to Draycott; it did not appear necessary; neither did she tell him that Draycott's memory was long and sure and unerring.
"Then, if there is one man in all God's universe,"—Heath cast out his arms as he spoke—"one man above all others whom you could appeal to, could trust most entirely, that man is myself. Give me your burden, your distress of mind, and I will take them; I cannot say more—"
"Of course, it may never be necessary for you to—to avoid telling Mr. Hartley," broke in Mrs. Wilder quickly. Heath was getting on her nerves, and she rose to her feet. "I cannot thank you sufficiently, and I fear that I have upset you, made you feel my own cares too profoundly,"—her voice grew almost tender. "I have never known such ready sympathy, but you feel too intensely, Mr. Heath. You make my little trouble your own, and you have made me very grateful. Are you in any trouble yourself?"
Heath stopped for a moment, an outline against the light of the window. She thought he was going to speak, and she waited with an odd feeling of excitement to hear what was coming, when he suddenly retired back into his usual manner.
A light was travelling up the staircase, casting great shadows before it, and when the boy came to the door of the Padre Sahib's room, he saw his master saying good-bye to a tall, dark lady who smiled at him and gave him her hand.
"Good night, Mr. Heath, I hardly know how to thank you sufficiently."
She hurried down the staircase, and as she walked out, she met Atkins coming in on his bicycle. He jumped off as he saw her, and spoke in surprise.
"I have just been calling on the Padre," replied Mrs. Wilder pleasantly, as he commented with ever-ready tactlessness upon her presence in the Compound. "One of my servants is ill; a member of his community. By the way, do you think that Mr. Heath is quite well himself?"
"Indeed I do not think so. He overworks. I have a great admiration for Heath."
"He must be rather depressing in the rains," she said, with a careless laugh. "He positively gave me the shivers. I can hardly envy you boxed up there with him. I believe he sees ghosts, and I think they must be horrid ghosts or he couldn't look as he does."
Her car was waiting down the road, and Atkins walked beside her and saw her get in. Mrs. Wilder was very charming to him; she leaned out and smiled at him again.
"Do take care of the Padre," she called as she drove off.
"There goes a sensible, good-looking woman," thought Atkins, and he thought highly of Mrs. Wilder for her visit to Heath. He said so to the Rector of St. Jude's as they dined together, remarking on the fact that very few women bothered about sick servants, and he was surprised at the cold lack of enthusiasm with which Heath accepted his remark.
"That was what she said?"
"Yes, and I call it unusual in a country where servants are treated like machines. I've never known Mrs. Wilder very well, but she is an interesting woman; don't you think so, Heath?"
"I don't know," said Heath absently. "I never form definite opinions about people on a slight knowledge of them."
Atkins felt snubbed, but he only laughed good-naturedly, and Heath relapsed into silence.
Mrs. Wilder was dining out that night, and she looked so superbly handsome and so defiantly well that everyone remarked upon her; and even Draycott Wilder, who might have been supposed to be used to her beauty and her wit, watched her with his slow, following look. Hartley was not at the dinner-party, but afterwards echoes of its success reached him, and a description of Mrs. Wilder herself that thrilled his romantic sense as he listened.
Hartley was worried about the Padre, and he had warned the policeman to watch the Compound at night; but all the watching in the world did not explain the cause of these visits. There was a connection somewhere and somehow between Heath and the missing Absalom, and Hartley wondered if he could venture to speak to Mrs. Wilder again about the night of the 29th of July, and implore her to let him know if she had seen Heath with Absalom.
It seemed, judging by what Atkins had heard, that Heath was paying for silence, and Hartley disliked the idea of working up evidence against the Padre. The more he thought of it the less he liked it, and yet his duty and his sense of responsibility would not let him rest. Mrs. Wilder had said that she had seen Heath and Absalom, and had then refused to say anything more, but Hartley saw in her reserve a suggestion of further knowledge that could not be ignored or denied.
Mhtoon Pah was quieter for the moment. He believed that Leh Shin was being cautiously tracked, and the pointing image had held no further traces of bloodshed upon his yellow hands. Hartley had grown to loathe the grinning figure, and to loathe the whole tedious, difficult tragedy of the lost boy. If it had lain in the native quarter he could have found interest in the excitement of the chase, but if it ramified into the Cantonment, Hartley had no mind for it. He was a man first, a sociable, kindly man, and, later, an officer of the law.
SHOWS HOW THE CLOAK OF DARKNESS OF ONE NIGHT HIDES MANY EMOTIONS, AND MRS. WILDER IS FRANKLY INQUISITIVE
Darkness brooded everywhere, but the gloom of night is a darkness that is impenetrable only to our eyes because we creatures of the hard glare of daylight cannot see in the strange clearness that brings out the stars. Only in the houses of men real darkness has its habitation. Under close roofs, confined within walls, shut into rooms, and lurking in corners: there, darkness may be found, and because man made it, it has its own special terror, as have all the creatures of man's hand. Dark, menacing and noiseless, the shadows flock in as daylight wanes, filing up like heavy thoughts and sad thoughts, and casting a gloom with their coming that is not the blackness of earth's restful night.
Mrs. Wilder paced her room with the steps of a woman whose heart drives sleep out with scorpion-whips of memory; and she went softly, for sound travels far at night, and Draycott Wilder, in the next room, was a light sleeper. She was thinking steadily, and she was trying to force her will across the distance into the stronghold of Hartley's inner consciousness.
Night brought no more rest to Mrs. Draycott Wilder than it did to Craven Joicey, the Banker, but Joicey did not sit in the dark. Madness lies in the dark for some minds, and he had turned on the electric light, that showed his face yellow and weary. On the wall the lizards, awakened by the sudden glare, resumed their fly-catching, and scuttled with a dry, scurrying sound over the walls, breaking the silence with a perpetual "chuck-chuck" as they chased each other. Joicey looked as though he was dreaming evil dreams, and nothing of his surroundings was real to him. The room became another room, the tables and chairs grew indistinct, the face of a small Gaudama on the mantel-piece became a living face that menaced him, and the "chuck-chuck" of the lizards, the rattle of dice falling on to a board at some remote distance miles and miles away, and yet strangely audible to his dull ears. Still he sat there, and flashes of fancies came and went. Sometimes he stood in an English garden, with a far-away sunlit glimpse of glittering waters, and a cuckoo crying in a wood of waving trees, and then he knew that he was a boy, and that he had forgotten everything that had happened since; and then, without warning, he was swept out of the garden and stood under Eastern trees, lost in a wild place, with the haunting face of the image at his shoulder. The face altered. Sometimes it was Mhtoon Pah's pointing man, and what he pointed at was never clear. The mistiness bothered him horribly.
The Durwan outside played on a wistful little flute, thinking that his master was asleep; he heard it, and it did not concern him; he was dead to all outward things just then, and the flute only added to the mystery of the dream that spun itself in his brain. He wandered in a place so near actual things and yet so far from them, that the gigantic mistake of it all, and the consciousness that the inner life could at times conquer the outer life, made him fall away between the two conditions, lost and helpless. His head nodded forward, and his lower lip dropped, and yet his eyes were open, as he sat facing the small squatting Buddha, whose changeless face changed only for him.
The three little flute-notes tripped out after each other with no semblance at a tune, repeating and reiterating the sound in the dark outside, and Joicey listened as though something of weight depended upon his hearing steadily. The sound was the one thing that made him know that he was real, and once it ceased, or he ceased to hear it, he would be across the gulf and terribly lost; a mind without a body, let loose in a world where there were no landmarks, no known roads, nothing but windy space, and he was afraid of that place, and feared terribly to go there.
Something shuffled on the stone veranda, another sound, and sound was of value to Craven Joicey, since it made a vital note in the circling numbness around him. He could hear whispering voices, and the thump of the Durwan's stick, as that musically-minded man walked round to the back of the house, where his lighted window showed that Craven Joicey did not sleep. Again a voice whispered, and a low sound of discreet knocking followed.
Joicey sprang up and called out hoarsely:
"Who is it?"
"Sahib, Sahib"—the Durwan's whine was apologetic. "Is the Sahib awake?"
"Who wants me?"
"Leh Shin, the Chinaman."
Joicey wiped his face with his handkerchief and pulled open the door with a violent movement.
"Come in," he said, trying to speak naturally. "What is it, Leh Shin?"
The Chinaman held a tweed hat in his hand and stole into the room like a shadow.
"What now, Leh Shin?"
Joicey spoke in Yunnanese with the fluency of long habit, and even though he was angry he kept his voice low as though he feared to be overheard.
"The Master of Masters will speak for me," said the Chinaman, standing before him. "All day the police stand near to my house, and at night they do not leave it. At one word from the Master, whose speech is constructed of gold and precious metals, they can be withdrawn, and for that word I wait—" He made a quick gesture with his tweed cap.
"You will gain nothing by coming to my house, you swine," said Joicey, his eyes staring and his veins standing out on his forehead. "I will see what Mr. Hartley will do, but if you drag in my name or refer him to me you will do yourself no good, do you hear? No good."
Leh Shin watched him passively and waited until he had finished.
"I will swear the oath," he said, blinking his eyes. "I will not speak the name of the Master, but my doors are locked, my house is a house for the water-rats, and until the big Lord frees me I am a poor man."
Joicey sat down heavily on a low chair.
"It shall be stopped," he said desperately. "I will see that there is no more of this police supervision; you may take my word for it."
The Chinaman stood still, moving one foot to the other.
"In dreams the Master has spoken these promises to me before. Can I be sure that it is not in a dream that the Master speaks again?"
"I am awake," said Joicey, bitterly. "Mr. Hartley is looking for the boy, and if the boy were found, all search would stop,"—he eyed the Chinaman carefully, but the mask-like face did not change.
"And the little boy? Perhaps, Ruler and King, the little boy is gone dead."
"You ask me that, you devil?"
"It is for the servant to ask," said Leh Shin, dropping his lids for a second.
"Now, get out," said Joicey, between his clenched teeth. "And if you come here to me again, at night, I'll kill you."
"The Great One will not do that," said Leh Shin, placidly. "My assistant waits for me. It would be known as fire is known when the forest is dry. To-morrow or next day, if the police are gone, my little house will be open again." He spoke the words with deep emphasis.
"Get out," said Joicey, turning away his head.
Leh Shin looked at him with a sudden, oblique glance like the flash of a knife.
"Speak no more, Lord of men and elephants; the Durwan is now outside the door, and he listens."
"Good-night," said Joicey loudly, and he clicked off the light and went to bed.
If the darkness was close in the large houses of the Cantonment, it was shut into the very essence of itself in the curio shop in Paradise Street. It hid the carved devils from one another, it obliterated the stone monsters that no one ever bought, and which had grown to belong to the shop itself; it dropped its black veil over the green dragons, and the china ladies, and the silver bowls and the little ivories, hiding everything out of sight; but it did not hide the figure outside in the street. The little man, with his pointed headdress and short jacket, had the clear darkness all to himself. He was just as polite by night as he was by day, and he bowed and ushered imaginary buyers up the stone steps with the same perpetual civility, and the same unceasing smile, that bagged out his varnished cheeks into joviality.
Dark as it was inside the shop, it must have been darker along the rat-burrows of stairs, and the loft-like rooms near the roof, but either up above or down below, the scent of cassia and sandal-wood clung everywhere inside the curio shop, smelling strongest around the glass cases and bales of delicate silks.
Mhtoon Pah's Durwan slept across the doorway, and was therefore the only object for the attention of the little man, and likewise, therefore, he did not point to his master, who came in, in the dead, heavy hours before dawn. He could not have been far; there was hardly any dust on his red velvet slippers, and he brushed what there was from them with a careful hand. As he placed his lamp on the floor, the light threw odd shadows up the walls, turning that of Mhtoon Pah himself into a grotesque and gigantic mass of darkness, and when he stooped and stood erect it jumped with a sudden living spring.
Mhtoon Pah moved about the shop on light feet. He bent here and there to examine some of the objects closely, with the manner and gesture of a man who loves beautiful things for their own sakes as well as for the profit he hoped to gain from their sale. When he had twice made a tour of inspection, he placed an alabaster Buddha in the centre of a carved table and sat down before it. The Buddha was dead white, with a red chain around his neck, and on his head a gold cap with long, gem-set ears hanging to the shoulders, and Mhtoon Pah sat long in front of the figure, swaying a little and moving his lips soundlessly. He appeared like a man who is self-mesmerized by the flame of a candle, and his face worked with suppressed and violent emotion; at any moment it seemed as though he might break the silence with some awful, passion-tossed sound.
Suddenly, he stopped in his voiceless worship, and, leaning forward quickly, extinguished the lamp. If he had heard any sound, it was apparently from below, for he crouched on the ground with his head close to the teak boarding, and crawled with slow, noiseless care towards the door. A silk curtain covered the window, hiding the interior of the shop from the street, and, when he reached the low woodwork above which it hung, he twitched the curtain back with a sudden movement of his hand and raised himself slowly until his head was on a level with the glass.
Mhtoon Pah grew suddenly rigid, and the thick black hair on his head seemed to bristle. Pressed close against the window, with only a slender barrier of glass between them, was the face of Leh Shin, the Chinaman. A ray of white moonlight fell across them both, and its clear radiance lighted up every feature of the curio dealer's face, changing its brown into a strange, ghastly pallor. For a moment they stood immovable, staring into each other's eyes, and the shadows behind Mhtoon Pah in the shop, and the shadows behind Leh Shin in the street, seemed to listen and wait with them, seemed to creep closer and enfold them, seemed to draw up and up on noiseless feet and hang suspended around them. The moment might have endured for years, so full was it of menace and passion, and then the man outside moved quickly and the moonlight flooded in across the face and shoulders of the Burman.
For a second longer he remained as though fascinated, and then Mhtoon Pah wrenched at the door and thundered back the heavy bolts. There were flecks of foam on his lips, and his eyes rolled as he dashed through the door and out down the steps, rending the air with cries of murder. He was too late, the Chinaman had gone. When the street flocked out to see what the disturbance meant, Mhtoon Pah was crouching on his steps in a kind of fit.
"I have seen the face of the slayer of Absalom," he shrieked, when the crowd had carried him in, and recovered him to his senses.
"Is he a devil?" asked a young Burman, in tones of joyful excitement. "A devil with iron claws has been seen several nights lately."
"A Chinese devil," groaned Mhtoon Pah, speaking through his clenched teeth. "One who shall yet be hanged for his crime."
"Ah! ah!" said the watchers. "He dreams that it is a man, but it is known that a devil has walked in Paradise Street, his jaws open. Certainly he has eaten little Absalom."
Dawn was breaking, the pale, still hour that is often the hour of death; and a cool breeze rippled in the date palms and in the flat green leaves of the rubber plants, and the festoons of succulent green growths that climbed up the houses of the Cantonments, and dawn found the Rev. Francis Heath sleeping quietly. He was lying with one arm under his head, and his worn face in almost child-like repose. Wherever he was, sleep had carried him to a place of peace and refreshment. When he awoke he would have forgotten his dream, but for the moment the dream sufficed, and he rested in the circle of its charm.
All the time that we are young and careless and happy, we are building retreats for memory that make harbours of rest in later years, when the storms come with force. All the old things that did not count, come back to calm and to restore. The school-room, where the light flickered on a special corner of the ceiling, telling the children to come out and play; the tapping of the laurels outside the church windows, and the musty smell of red rep cushions along the pew where the hours were very slow in passing; the white clover in the field behind the garden, got at easily through a hole in the privet hedge. The play of light and shadow over the hills of home, the dusk at nightfall, and the homely cawing of rooks. All the delicious things that went with the smell of ripe strawberries under nets, where thieving birds fluttered until the gardener let them free again; and the mystery of sparks flying up the chimney when the winter logs blazed. Every simple joy is stored away in some lumber corner of the minds of men, and when sleep comes, sometimes the old things are taken out again.
The Rev. Francis Heath, like the rest of the world, had his own secret doorway that led back to wonderland, and it may have been that he was far away from Mangadone in this child-world which is so hard to find again, as he slept, and the outside world grew from grey to green, and from green to misty gold. The sunlight flamed on the spire of the Pagoda, it danced up the brown river and threw long shadows before its coming, those translucent shadows that no artist has ever yet been able to paint. It turned the mohur trees blood-red, and the grass to shining emerald green, and Mangadone looked as though it had just come fresh from the hands of its Creator.
Mhtoon Pah, recovered from his fit, was in his shop early, and he himself went out to cleanse the effigy outside with a white duster, and to set his wares in order. It was a good day for sales, as a liner had come in and brought with it many rich Americans, and Mhtoon Pah was glad to sell to such as they. His stock-in-trade was beautiful and attractive, and in the centre of the table, where the unset stones glittered and shone on white velvet, there stood a bowl, a gold lacquer bowl of perfect symmetry and very great beauty. He poised it on his hands once or twice and examined it carefully. As it was already sold it was not to remain in the curio shop, but Mhtoon Pah was a careful man, and he desired that Mrs. Wilder should fetch it herself; besides, he liked her car to stand outside his shop, and he liked her to come in and look at his goods. Very few people who came in to look, went away without having bought several things they did not in the least want. Mhtoon Pah knew exactly how to lure by influence, and he knew that Mrs. Wilder could no more turn away from a grey-and-pink shot silk than Eve could refuse the forbidden fruit.
He spread out a sea-blue Mandarin's coat, embroidered with peaches, and small, crafty touches of black here and there, and looked at it with the loving eye of a connoisseur. His whole shop was a fountain of colour, and he was not unworthy of it in his silk petticoat. A ray of sunlight fell in through the door and touched a few threads of gold in the coat as Mhtoon Pah hung it up to good advantage, and turned to see a customer come in. It was the Rev. Francis Heath; and Mhtoon Pah's face fell. "Reverends" were not good buyers, specially when they had not any wives, and Mr. Heath took no notice of the attractive display as he stood, black and forbidding, in the centre of the shop.
"I have come here, Mhtoon Pah, to ask for news of Absalom," he said, meeting his eyes forcefully. "Where is he?"
Mhtoon Pah bowed low, as befitted the dignity of his guest, who was, after all, a Hypongyi, even though he wore no yellow robes.
"It is unknown," he said, in a heavy voice. "The Reverend himself might know, since the Reverend saw my little Absalom that night."
"You must have suspicions?"
Mhtoon Pah's face worked violently.
"Leh Shin," he whispered. "Look there for what is left."
Heath retreated before his fury.
"You yourself sent the boy there."
"Wah! Wah! I sent him and he did not return."
"What are you talking about?" said the fresh, gay voice of Mrs. Wilder. "Where is my lacquer bowl, Mhtoon Pah?" She came in, bright as the morning outside, and smiled at the Rev. Francis Heath. "So you have got it for me."
"I did not get it, Lady Sahib," said Mhtoon Pah. "It came here, how I know not. I found it outside my shop in the care of the wooden image when I went to dust his limbs this morning."
Mrs. Wilder laughed.
"In that case I shall not have to pay for it. But what do you mean, Mhtoon Pah?"
"It is blood money," said Mhtoon Pah, with a wild gasp. "Only one man knew of the bowl, only one man could have put it there. I shall tell Hartley Sahib; the Thakin will strike surely and swiftly."
"He will do nothing of the kind," said Mrs. Wilder, with a quick look at Heath. "Give me my bowl, Mhtoon Pah; you are letting yourself dream foolish things. Absalom"—she tapped the polished floor with her well-shaped foot—"will come back and explain everything himself, and then—whoever is responsible—will bear the penalty."
"They have tied his head to his elbows, and set snakes to sting him," said Mhtoon Pah. "This have they done, and worse things, Lady Sahib."
Mrs. Wilder shivered.
"Give me my bowl, you horrible old man. Absalom is blacking boots in a New York hotel, weeks ago.—Ah! what a coat! Are you buying anything, Mr. Heath?"
"I am going to the school," he answered slowly.
"Then let me drive you there. Send me up the Mandarin's coat, Mhtoon Pah, and I will haggle another day."
Heath followed her reluctantly down the steps. He wished she had not made a point of taking him in her motor, but he felt instinctively sorry for her, which fact, had she known it, would have surprised and affronted her.
"Will you come and dine with us one night?" she asked, looking at him with her fine eyes; "it would give us great pleasure, and I do not think you have met my husband."
"I rarely do dine out," said Heath, staring before him as the car backed round in the limited space of Paradise Street.
"Then make this an exception. I won't ask you to a function, just a quiet little family party."
"You are very kind."
He was still abstracted, and hardly seemed to hear her, and, when he got out and shut the door, she leaned from the window, smiling like weary royalty.
"I will write and arrange an evening later on. It is a promise, Mr. Heath."
"I will come," he replied, in the same preoccupied voice, as he raised his battered topi.
"What has he been doing?" she asked herself, in surprise, and again and again she put the same question to herself, not only that morning, but often, later on, and with ever-increasing curiosity.
MRS. WILDER IS PRESENTED IN A MELTING MOOD, AND DRAYCOTT WILDER IS FORCED TO RECALL THE LINES COMMENCING "A FOOL THERE WAS"
It was a bright morning with a high wind blowing and a breath of freshness in the air that has a charm to inspire a better outlook upon life. Everywhere it made itself felt in Mangadone, and like Pippa in the poem, the wind passed along, leaving everything and everybody a little better for its coming. It passed through the open veranda of the huge hospital, and touched the fever patients with its cool breath; it hurried through the Chinese quarter, blew along Paradise Street, dusting the gesticulating man, and went on up the river, pretending to make the brown water change its muddy mind and run backwards instead of forwards. It paid a little freakish attention to Mrs. Wilder's dark hair, and it cooled the back of Hartley's neck, as they rode along together, by the way of a lake.
They had met quite accidentally, and Hartley, who had been vaguely wishing for an opportunity to speak to Mrs. Wilder, seized upon it and offered himself as her escort. She agreed with complimentary readiness, and they turned along a wooded road, where the shadows were deep and where Hartley felt the gripping hands of romance loosen his heart-strings.
Mrs. Wilder listened to him, or appeared to do so, which is much the same in effect, and Hartley was not critical. She was a good listener, as women who have something else to think about often are; and so they rode along the twisting path, and the wind sang in the plumes of the bamboo trees, and Hartley believed that it sang a romantic lyric of platonic admiration, exquisitely hinted at by a tactful man, and properly appreciated by a very beautiful woman.
"By the way," she said carelessly, "have you found that wretched little Absalom yet? What a bother he has been since he took it into his head to go off to America, or wherever it is he went to."
"I am glad you mentioned him," said Hartley, his face growing suddenly serious. "I have a question or two that I want very much to ask you."
"A question or two? That sounds so very legal. Really, Mr. Hartley, I believe you credit me with having Absalom's body hanging up in one of my almirahs. Honestly, don't you really believe that I had a hand in putting him out of the way?"
She laughed her hard little laugh, and shot a look at him over her shoulder.
"You do know something, some little thing it may be, but something that might help me."
"About Absalom, or about someone else?"
"About whoever you saw him with."
Hartley pushed his pony alongside of hers, but her face revealed nothing, and was quite expressionless.
"Whoever I saw him with?" she echoed reflectively. "Ah, but it is so long ago, Mr. Hartley, I can't even remember now whether I was out or not that evening."
"You are only playing with me," said Hartley a little irritably. "The policeman on duty at the cross-roads below Paradise Street saw you."
Her face became suddenly so drawn and startled that Hartley regretted his words almost as he spoke them.
"Wait a minute, Mr. Hartley," she said, in a strained, hard voice. "You have to explain to me why you have asked your men questions connected with me."
"I did not ask questions; I was told."
She pulled up her pony, and, turning her head away from him, looked out silently over the dip of ground below them. Hartley did not break her silence. He saw that he had come close to some deep emotion, and he watched her curiously, but Mrs. Wilder, even if she was conscious of his look, appeared quite indifferent to it. He could form no idea along what road her silent concentration led her; but he knew that she pursued an idea that was compelling and strong. He knew enough of her to know that even her silence was not the silence that arises out of lack of subject for talk, but that it meant something as definite and clear as though she spoke direct words to him.
The Head of the Police would have given much at that moment to have been able to penetrate her thoughts, but he only stared at her with his blue eyes a little wider open than usual, and waited for her to speak. She looked before her steadily, but not with the eyes of a woman who dreams; Mrs. Wilder was thinking definitely, and while Hartley waited, her mind travelled at speed across years and came to a halt at the moment where she now found herself, and from that moment she looked out forcefully into the future.
Usually, in the tragic instants of life there is very little time for thought before the need for action forces the will, with relentless hands. Clarice Wilder knew as well as she knew anything that her position was one of some peril, and that much more than she could weigh or measure at that moment lay beyond the next spoken word. She was telling herself to be careful, steadying her nerve and reining in a desire to pour out a flood of circumstantial evidence, calculated to convince the Head of the Police.
If there is one thing more than another that the man or the woman driven against the ropes should avoid, it is prolixity; the snare that catches craft in its own net. Clarice Wilder desired to be overpowering, redundant and extreme in the wordy proof of her innocence of purpose that evening of July the 29th, but she held back and waited steadfastly until she was quite sure of herself again, and then she turned her head and glanced at Hartley with a smile.
"How silent you are," she said gently.
Hartley flushed and looked self-conscious.
"To be quite candid, that was what I was thinking of you," he replied awkwardly.
"What were we saying?" went on Mrs. Wilder. "Oh, of course, I remember. You thought I could tell you something about poor Mr. Heath, didn't you? I only wish I could, but it was so long ago. I do remember the evening. It was very hot and I rode along by the river to get some fresh air," her eyes grew hazy. "I can remember thinking that Mangadone looked as if it was a great ball of amber, with the sun shining through it, but as for being able to tell you what Mr. Heath was doing, or who he was with, it is impossible. You should have pinned me down to it the day you called on me, when this troublesome little boy first went off." She gathered up the reins, and Hartley mounted reluctantly. "I am so sorry. I would love to be able to help you, but I cannot remember."
If Hartley had been asked on oath how it was that Mrs. Wilder had led him clean away from the subject under discussion, to something infinitely more satisfying and interesting, he could not have sworn to it. They loitered by the road and came slowly back to the bungalow, where they parted at the gate, and he watched her go in, hoping she might turn her head, but she did not, and Hartley took his way towards his own house and thought very little of Absalom or the Rev. Francis Heath. One thing he did think of, and that was that Mrs. Wilder had looked at him earnestly, and said that she wished he was not "mixed up" in anything likely to bring uneasiness to the mind of the Rector of St. Jude's Church. "Mixed up" was a curious way of expressing his connection with the case, but Hartley felt that he knew what she meant. He pulled at his short moustache and wished with all his heart that he really did know; but all the wishes in the world could not help him out of a professional dilemma.
Mrs. Wilder had not looked round, though she very well knew that Hartley was waiting and hoping that she would, and once she had turned the first bend she touched the pony with her heel and cantered up the hill, throwing the reins to the syce who came in answer to her impatient call.
"Idiot," she said, as she shut the door of her room and flung her topi on the bed, and she repeated the word several times with increasing animosity and vigour. She hated Hartley at that moment, and felt under no further obligation to hide her real feelings; and then Mrs. Wilder sat down and thought hard.
The mental power of exaggerating danger is limitless, and she could not deny that her fear was playing tricks with her nerves. She knew that she had done creditably under the strain of acute nervous tension, but she felt also that much more of the same thing would be unendurable.
Draycott came in to luncheon, and she was there to receive him, but even to his careless eye, Clarice was oddly abstracted, and he glanced at her curiously, wondering what it was that occupied her mind and made her frown as she thought.
She could not get away from the grip of her morning interview. Try as she would, she could not shake it off. It caught her back in the middle of her talk, made her answer at random, and held her with a terrible power. She considered that there were a thousand other things she might have said or done, a hundred ways by which she might have appealed to Hartley, and yet her common sense told her that the less she said on the subject the better it would be, if, in the end, the Rev. Francis Heath was led into the awful pitfalls of cross-examination. Anyone may forget and recall facts later, but to state facts that may be used as evidence is to stand handcuffed before inexorable justice, and Mrs. Wilder had left her hands free.
"Is anything the matter?" Draycott jerked out the question as he got up to leave the room. "You seem rather silent."
Clarice laughed, and her laugh was slightly forced.
"I went for a ride this morning, and met Mr. Hartley. He is the most exhausting man I ever met."
"I hope you told him so," said Wilder shortly. "He's about here frequently enough, even though he does bore you."
Something in his voice made her eyes focus him very clearly and distinctly.
"I have a very good mind to tell him," she said easily, "but he is blessed with a skin that would turn the edge of any ordinary hatchet; he would think I was merely being 'funny.'"
"It's an odd fact," said Draycott with a sneer in his eyes, "that however much a woman complains of a man's stupidity, she will let him hang about her, and make a grievance of it, until she sees fit to drop him. When that moment arrives she can make him let go, and lower away all right. Just now Hartley is hanging on quite perceptibly, and if it entertains you to slang him behind his back, I suppose you will slang him, but he won't drop off before you've done with him, Clarice, if I know anything of your methods." Her face flushed and she began to look angry. "Mind you, I don't object to Hartley. As you say, he's a fool, a silly, trusting ass, the sort of man who is child's-play to a girl of sixteen. If you must have a string of loafers to prove that your attractions outwear anno domini, I must accept Hartley, and other Hartleys, so long as you continue to play the same game. Hartleys, I said, Clarice."
There was no doubt about the emphasis he laid upon the name.
"You flatter Mr. Hartley considerably," she said, but her voice was conciliatory and her laugh nervous.
"He represents a type; a type that some married men may be thankful continues to exist. God!" he broke out violently, "if he could hear you talk of him, it would be a lesson to the fool, but he won't hear you. No man ever does hear these things until the knowledge comes too late to be of any use to him. You have got to have your strings"—he shrugged his shoulders—"because your life isn't here, in this house; it is at the Club, and at dinners and races and so on, and to be left to your husband is the beginning of the end. Don't deny it, Clarice, it's no earthly use. Women like you have your own ideas of life, I suppose, and I ought to be thankful they're no worse."
He stood by the door all the time he spoke, and his colourless face and pale eyes never altered.
"You're talking absolute nonsense," said Mrs. Wilder, preserving an amiable tone. "We have to entertain, Draycott, and you can't round on me for what I have done for years. It has helped you on, and you know it."
"I wasn't talking of that," he said drearily. "I was talking of you. You're getting old, for a woman, Clarice, and when you're worried, as you are to-day, you show it; though how an imbecile like Hartley got at you to the extent of making you worried, I don't pretend to guess."
"Old," she said angrily. "You aren't troubling to be particularly polite."
"No, I'm damnably truthful; just because it makes me wonder at you all the more. You can go on smiling at any number of idiots, because you must have the applause, I suppose. You don't even believe in it—now."
His allusion was definite, and Mrs. Wilder felt about in her mind for some way to change the conversation. Quagmires are bad ground for walking, and she was in a hurry to reach terra firma again. She came round the table and slipped her arm through his.
"After all these years. Draycott—be a little generous."
If she had fought him, some deep, hidden anger in his cold heart would have flared up, but her gesture softened him and he patted her hand.
"I know," he said slowly. "Only I can't quite forget. I simply can't, Clarice."
She smiled at him and touched his face with a light hand.
"Shall I tell you why? Because even if I am old—and thirty-six isn't so very dreadful—you are still in love with me."
She went with him to the door and smiled as he drove away, smiled and waved as he reappeared round a distant bend, and watched him return her signal, and then she went back into the large drawing-room and her face grew grey and pinched, and she sat with her chin propped on her hands, thinking.
She had proved that there are more fools in the world than those who go about disguised as Heads of Police, and had added another specimen to the general list, but she found no mirth in the idea as she considered it.
IN WHICH CRAVEN JOICEY IS OVERCOME BY A SUDDEN INDISPOSITION, AND HARTLEY, WITHOUT LOOKING FOR HIM, FINDS THE MAN HE WANTED
It seemed to Hartley that Fate had dealt very hardly with him. He was interested in the case of the boy Absalom, and he felt that the possibility of clearing it up was well within reach, and then he found himself face to face with an unpleasant and painful duty.
All his gregarious sociable nature cried out against any act that would cause a scandal in Mangadone, the magnitude of which he could hardly gauge but only guess at; and yet, wherever he went, the thought haunted him. His feelings gave him no rest, and he remained inactive and listless for several days after his ride with Mrs. Wilder. If she had told him that she implored him personally to drop the case he could not have felt more certain that she desired him to do so. She worked indirectly upon his feelings, a much surer way with some natures than a direct appeal, and the thought brought something akin to misery into the mind and heart of the police officer.
Absalom had gone, leaving no visible footprint to indicate whither he had vanished, but the inexorable detail of circumstance after circumstance led on to a very definite conclusion. The wooden figure outside the curio dealer's shop pointed up his master's steps, and did no one any wrong, but the awful fixed finger of changeless fact indicated the creeper-covered bungalow of the Rev. Francis Heath.
Hartley sat in his room, his elbows on the writing-table, and stared out before him. A sluicing shower had come up suddenly, obscuring all the brightness of the day, and the eaves of the veranda dripped mournfully with a sound like the patter of a thousand tiny feet; the patter sounded like the falling of tears, and he wondered if Heath, too, listened to the light persistent noise, and read into it the footsteps of departing hopes and lost ideals, or merely all the terrible monotonous detail that preceded an act that was a crime.
Hartley had dealt considerably with criminal cases, but never with anything the least like the case of the boy Absalom, and the speculations that came across his mind were new to him. He realized that a criminal of the class of the Rev. Francis Heath is a criminal who is driven slowly, inch by inch, into action, and each inch given only at the cost of blood and tears. It was little short of ghastly to consider what Heath must have gone through and suffered, and what he still must suffer, and must continue to suffer as he went along the dark loneliness of the awful road into which he had turned.
People who have pity and to spare for the murdered body, or for the dupe who has suffered plunder, think very little of the agony of mind and the horror of the man who has held a good position, secure and honoured, and who falls into the bottomless abyss of crime and detection. Hartley had never considered it before. He was on the side of law and order, and he was incapable of even dimly visualizing any condition of affairs that could force him into illegal action, and yet he felt in the darkness after some comprehension of the mind of the Rector of St. Jude's Parish Church.
The rain passed over, and the veranda was crossed with strips of yellow sunlight, the pale washed sunlight of a wet evening, and still the drip from the eaves fell intermittently with its melancholy noise, so softly now, as hardly to be heard, and Hartley got up, and, putting on his hat, walked across the scrunching wet gravel, and out on to the road, making his way towards the Club.
Far away, gleams of light lay soft over the trees of the park, the green sad light that is only seen in damp atmospheres. There was no gladness in the day, only a sense of deficiency and sorrow, even in its lingering beauty; and the lake that reflected the trees and the sky was deadly still, with a brooding, waiting stillness. Hartley stopped as he went towards the further gates of the park, and watched the glassy reflections with troubled eyes. No breeze touched the woods into movement, and the long, yellow bars of evening light were full of dim stillness. The very lifelessness of it affected Hartley strangely. Except where, here and there, a flash of the low sunset caught the water, the whole prospect was motionless, and he stood like a man spellbound by the mystery of its silence.
Hartley had chosen the less frequented road through the Park, and there was no one in sight when he had stopped to look at the pale sheet of water with its mirrored reproduction of tree and sky. It held him strangely, and he felt a curious tension of his nerves, as though something was going to happen. The thought came, as such thoughts do come, out of nowhere in particular, and yet Hartley waited with a sense of discomfort.
When he turned away angry at his own momentary folly, he stooped and picked up a stone and threw it into the motionless beauty of the water, breaking it into a quick splash, marring the clearness, and confusing the straight, low band of gold cloud which broke under the widening circles. As he stooped, a man had come into sight, walking with a slow, heavy step, his eyes on the ground and his head bent. He came on with dragging feet and a dull, mechanical walk, the walk of a man who is tired in body and soul. He did not look at the lake, nor did he even see Hartley, who turned towards him at once with sudden relief.
When Hartley hailed him cheerfully, Joicey stopped dead and looked up, staring at him as though he were an apparition. He took off his hat and wiped his forehead.
"Where did you spring from, Hartley?" he asked. "I did not see anyone just now." There was more irritation than warmth in his greeting of the police officer.
"I was moonstruck by the edge of that confounded lake. It was so still that it got on my nerves."
"Nerves," said Joicey abruptly. "There's too much talk of nerves altogether in these days."
Joicey, like all large men with loud voices, was able to give an impression of solidity that is very refreshing and reviving at times, but, otherwise, Joicey was not looking entirely himself. He passed his handkerchief over his face again and laughed dully.
"You're going to the Club, I suppose?"
"I was going there, but now I'll join you and have a walk, if I may. It's early for the Club yet."
He turned and walked on beside the Banker, who appeared, if anything, less in the humour for conversation than was usual with him. They left the lake behind them, now a pallid gleam flecked with wavering light in a circle of deep shadows that reached out from the margin.
"Any news?" asked Hartley without enthusiasm.
"Not that I have heard."
Silence fell again, and they walked out on to the road. Pools of afternoon rain still lay here and there in the depressions, but Joicey took no heed of them, and splashed on, staining his white trousers with liquid mud.
"By the way," he said, clearing his throat as though his words stuck there, "have you heard anything more in connection with the disappearance of that boy you were talking of the other evening?"
Hartley did not reply for a moment, and just as he was about to speak, Mrs. Wilder's car passed, and Mrs. Wilder leaned forward to smile at the Head of the Police; a small buggy followed with some more friends of Hartley's, and then another car, and the road was clear again.
"I believe I am on the right track, but I don't like it, Joicey. I'm damned if I do."
"It comes too close to home,"—Hartley spoke with a jerk. "A hateful job—I thought I'd tell you—" He spoke in broken sentences, and his words affected the Banker very perceptibly.
"Can't you drop it?"
Joicey came to a standstill, and his voice was lowered almost to a whisper.
"I wish to Heaven I could, but it's a question of duty,"—he could hardly see Joicey's face in the gathering gloom. "I suppose you guess what I'm driving at, Joicey, though how you guess, I don't know."
"I think I'll say good night here, Hartley,"—the Banker's voice was unnatural and wavering. "I can't discuss it with you. It's got to be proved," he spoke more heatedly. "What have you got? Only the word of a stinking native. I tell you it's monstrous." He stopped and clutched Hartley's arm, and seemed as though he was staggering.
"What has come over you, Joicey; are you ill?"
"I'll sit down here for a moment,"—Joicey walked towards a low wall. "Sometimes I get these attacks. I'm better after they are over. Better, much better. Leave me here to go back by myself, Hartley. You need have no fear, I'm over it now; I'll rest for a little and then go my way quickly. Believe me, I'd rather be alone."
Very reluctantly, Hartley quitted him. He felt that Joicey was ill, and might even be beginning the horrible phase of "breaking up," which comes on with such fatal speed in a tropical climate. He went back after he had gone a mile along the road, but Joicey was no longer there. It was too late to think of going to the Club, for the road that Joicey and Hartley had followed led away from the residential quarter of Mangadone, and he disliked the idea of going back to his own bungalow and waiting through the dismal hour that lies across the evening between the time to come in and the time to dress for dinner.
Had there been a friendly house near, Hartley would have gone in on the chance of finding someone at home, but as there was not, he made the best of existing circumstances and took his way along the road towards his own bungalow. He could not deny that his walk with Joicey had only served to depress his spirits, and he was sorry to think that his friend was so obviously in bad health. The world seemed an uncomfortable place, full of gloomy surprises, and Hartley wished that he had a wife to go back to. Not a superb being like Mrs. Wilder, who was encircled by the halo of High Romance, but just an ordinary wife, with a friendly smile and a way of talking about everyday things while she darned socks. Somewhere in his domestic heart Hartley considered sock-mending a beautiful and symbolic act, and yet he could not picture Mrs. Wilder occupied in such a fashion.
A man with a wife to go back to is never at the same loose end as a man who has no need ever to be punctual for a solitary meal, and Hartley walked quickly because he wanted to get clear of his depression, rather than for any reason that compelled him to be up to time.
The gathering darkness drew out the flare over the city, and, here and there, lamps dotted the road, until, turning up a short cut, he was into the region of trams once more. The lighted cars, filled with gay Burmese and soldiers from the British Regiment, and European-clad, dark-skinned creatures of mixed races, looked cheerful and encouraged to better thoughts. Hartley crossed the busy thoroughfare below the Pagoda steps and went on quickly, for he recognized the outline of Mhtoon Pah on his way to burn amber candles before his newly-erected shrine. He was in no mood to talk to the curio dealer just then, and he avoided him carefully and plunged down a tree-bowered road that led to the bridge, and from the bridge to the hill-rise where his own gate stood open.
It pleased him to see that lamps were lighted in the house, and he felt conscious that he was hungry, and would be glad of dinner; he made up his mind to do himself well and rout the tormenting thoughts that pursued him, and to-morrow he would see Francis Heath and have the whole thing put on paper once and for all. He even whistled as he came along the short drive and under the portico, where a night-scented flower smelt strong and sweet. His boy met him with the information that there was a Sahib within waiting. A Sahib who had evidently come to stay, for a strange-looking servant in the veranda rose and salaamed, and sat down again by his master's kit with the patience of a man who looks out upon eternity.
Hartley hardly glanced at the servant. Visitors, tumbling from anywhere, were not altogether unusual occurrences. Men on the way back from a shoot in the jungles of Upper Burma, men who were old school friends and were doing a leisurely tour to Japan and America, men of his own profession who had leave to dispose of; all or any of these might arrive with a servant and a portmanteau. Whoever it was, Hartley was predisposed to give him a welcome. He had come just when he was wanted, and he hurried in, a light of pleasure in his blue eyes.
Near the lamp, a book of verses open on his knee, sat Hartley's unexpected guest. He was slim, dark, and vital, but where his arresting note of vitality lay would have been hard to explain. No one can tell exactly what it is that marks one man as a courageous man, and another as a coward, and yet, without need of any test, these things may be known and judged beforehand. The man whose eyes followed the lines:
"They say the Lion and the Lizard keep The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep"—
was as distinctive as he well could be, and yet his face was not expressive. His dark, narrow eyes were dull, and his finely-cut features small and perfect, rather than bold and strong; his long hands were the hands of a woman more than those of a man, and his figure was slight to boyishness.
When Hartley let his full joy express itself in husky, cheery words of surprise, his visitor said very little, but what he did say was spoken in a pleasant, low voice.
"Coryndon," said Hartley again. "Of all men on earth I wanted to see you most. You've done what you always do, come in the 'nick.'"
Coryndon smiled, a languid, half-amused gleam of mirth.
"I am only passing through, my job is finished."
"But you'll stay for a bit?"
"You said just now that I was here in the 'nick'; if the nick is interesting, I'll see."
"I'll go and arrange about your rooms," said Hartley, and he appeared twice his normal size beside his guest, as a St. Bernard might look standing by a greyhound. "We will talk afterwards."
Coryndon watched him go out without change of expression, and, sliding back into his chair, took up his book again.
"They say the Lion and the Lizard keep The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep."
Coryndon leaned back and half closed his eyes; the words seemed potent, as with a spell, and he called up a vision of the forsaken Palace where wild things lived and where revels were long forgotten—solitude and ruin that no one ever crossed to explore or to see—with the eyes of a man who can rebuild a mighty past. Solitude in the halls and marble stairways, ruin of time in the fretted screens, and broken cisterns holding nothing but dry earth. Nothing there now but the lion and the lizard, not even the ghost of a light footfall, or the tinkle of glass bangles on a rounded arm.
Coryndon had almost forgotten Hartley when he came back, flushed and pleased, and full of a host's anxiety about his guest's welfare.
"I hope you haven't been bored?"
"No," said Coryndon, touching the book, "I've been amusing myself in my own way," and he followed Hartley out of the room.
SHOWS HOW THE "WHISPER FROM THE DAWN OF LIFE" ENABLES CORYNDON TO TAKE THE DRIFTING THREADS BETWEEN HIS FINGERS
Very probably Hartley believed that he knew "all about" Coryndon; he knew at least, that the Government of India looked upon him as the best man they had to unravel the most intricate case that murder or forgery, coining or fraud of any sort, could tangle into mysterious knots. Coryndon had intuition and patience, and once he undertook a case he followed it through to the ultimate conclusion; and so it was that Coryndon stood alone, a department in himself, possibly aided by the police and the shadower, but capable of discovering anything, once he bent his mind to the business of elucidation.
Beyond the fact that he had been born somewhere in a jungle clearing in Upper Burma, and that at ten years old he had gone to India to a school in the Hills, then had vanished for years to reappear in the service of the Government, his story was not known to anyone except himself. No one doubted that he had "a touch of the country" in his blood. It displayed itself in unmistakable physical traits, and his knowledge of its many tongues and languages was the knowledge that first made him realize that his future career lay in India.
Colonel Coryndon, his father, died just as the boy was leaving school, and left him a little money; just enough to keep him from the iron yoke of clerkship, and to allow of his waiting for what he wanted. Behind his dark eyes lived a brain that could concentrate with the grip of a vise upon any subject that interested him, and he puzzled his masters at his school. Coryndon was a curious mixture of imagination and strong common sense; few realize that it is only the imaginative mind that can see behind the curtain that divides life from life, and discern motives.
He saw everything with an almost terrible clearness. Every detail of a room, every line in a face, every shop in a street he walked through, every man he spoke with, was registered in his indelible book of facts. This, in itself, is not much. Men can learn the habit of observation as they can train their minds to remember dates or historical facts, but, in the case of Coryndon, this art was inherent and his by birth. He started with it, and his later training of practising his odd capacity for recalling the smallest detail of every day that passed only intensified his power in this direction. With this qualification alone he could have been immensely useful as a secret agent, but in addition to this he had also his other gift, his intuition and power of altering his own point of view for that of another man, and seeing his subject through the eyes of everyone concerned in a question.
His nervous vitality was great, and there were plenty of well-educated native subordinates who believed him gifted with occult forces, since his ways of getting at his astonishing conclusions were never explained to any living soul, because Coryndon could not have explained them to himself.
His identity was well known at Headquarters, but beyond that limit it was carefully hidden from the lower branches of the executive, as too wide and too public recognition would have narrowed his sphere of action. As Wesley declared the whole world to be his parish, so the whole of Asia was Coryndon's sphere of action, and only at Headquarters was it ever known where he actually might be found, or what employment occupied his brain. He came like a rain-cloud blown up soundlessly on the east wind, and vanished like morning mists, and no one knew what he had learnt during his silent passing.
Men with voices like brass trumpets praised and encouraged him, and men who knew the dark byways of criminal investigation were hardly jealous of him. Coryndon was a freak, an exception, a man who stood beyond competition, and was as sure as he was mysterious. He was "explained" in a dozen ways. His face, to begin with, made disguise easy, and the touch of the country did much for him in this respect. He had played behind his father's up-country bungalow with little Burmese boys and talked in their speech before he knew any English; the Bazaar was an open book to him, and the mind of the native, so some men said with a shade of contempt, not too far from his own to make understanding impossible.
Besides all this, there were those other years, after he left the school under the high snow ranges, when Coryndon had vanished entirely, and of these years he never spoke. And yet, with all this, Coryndon was unmistakably a "Sahib," a man of unusual culture and brilliant ability. He had complete powers of self-control, and his one passion was his love of music, and though he never played for anyone else, men who had come upon him unawares had heard him playing to himself in a way that was as surprising as everything else about Coryndon surprised and astonished.
He had dreamed as a boy, and he still dreamed as a man. The subtle beauty of a line of verse led him into visionary habitations as fair as any ever disclosed to poet or artist. He could lose himself utterly in the lights and shadows of a passing day, while he watched for a doomed man at the entrance of a temple, or brooded over painted sores and cried to the rich for alms by a dusty roadside; a very different Coryndon to the Coryndon who looked at Hartley across the white cloth of the round dinner-table.
The truth about Coryndon was that he read the souls of men. Mhtoon Pah had boasted to Hartley that he read the walk of the world he looked at, but Coryndon went much further; and as Hartley talked about outward things, whilst the Boy and the Khitmutghar flitted in and out behind them, carrying plates and dishes, his guest was considering him with a quiet and almost moonstruck gravity of mind. He knew just how far Hartley could go, and he knew exactly what blocked him. Hartley was tied into the close meshes of circumstance; he argued from without and worked inward, and Coryndon had discovered the flaw in this process before he left his school.
When they were alone at last, Hartley pushed his chair closer to Coryndon and leaned forward.
"One moment." Coryndon's voice was lowered slightly, and he strolled to the door.
"Boy," he called, and with amazing alacrity Hartley's servant appeared.
"Tell my servant," he said, speaking in English, "that I want the cigar tin."
"Do you believe he was listening?"
"I am sure of it."
Hartley flushed angrily, and he was about to speak when Coryndon's man came into the room, salaaming on the threshold, carrying a black tin.
"Would you like a little stroll in the garden?" said Coryndon. "It would be pleasant before we sit down," and Hartley followed him out.
"Did you bring any cigars down?"
Hartley spoke for the sake of saying something, more than for any reasonable desire to know whether Coryndon had done so or not, and his reply was a low, amused laugh.
"In ten minutes Shiraz will do a little juggling for your servants," he said placidly. "There are no cigars in the tin. I hope you didn't want one, Hartley? He will probably tell them that I am a new arrival, picked up by him at Bombay. Whatever he tells them, they will find him amusing."
A misty moonlight lighted the garden with a soft, yellow haze, and the harsh rattling of night beetles sounded unusually loud and noisy in the silence.
"You said that you had just finished a job?"
"I have, and now I am on leave. The Powers have given me four months, and I am going to London to hear the Wagner Cycle. I promised myself that long ago, and unless something very special crops up to prevent me, I shall start in a week from now."
They took another silent turn.
"Did your last job work out?"
"Yes. It took a long time, but I got back into touch with things I had begun to forget, and it was interesting. Shall we go back into the house?"
"Come in here," said Hartley, taking his way into the sitting-room. "I have some notes in my safe that I want you to look at. The truth is, Coryndon, I'm tackling rather a nasty business, and if you can help me, I'll be eternally grateful to you. It has got on my nerves."
Coryndon bowed his head silently and drew up a chair near the table. All the time that Hartley talked to him, he listened with close attention. The Head of the Police went into the whole subject at length, telling the story as it had happened, and leaving out, so far as he knew, no point that bore upon the question. First he told of the disappearance of the boy Absalom, the grief and frantic despair of Mhtoon Pah, and his visit to Hartley in the very room where they sat.
"He was away from the curio shop that night, you say?"
"Yes, at the Pagoda. He is building a shrine there. His statement to me was that he went away just after dark, and the boy had already left an hour before."
Coryndon said nothing, but waited for the rest of the story, and, bit by bit, Hartley set it before him.
"Heath saw Absalom, and admitted it to me," he said, pulling at his short, red moustache. "Even then he showed a very curious amount of irritation, and refused to say anything further. Then he lied to me when I went to the house, and there is Atkins' testimony to the fact that he is paying a man to keep quiet."
"Has the man reappeared since?"
"Not since I had the house watched."
Coryndon's eyes narrowed and he moved his hands slightly.
"Next there is the very trifling evidence of Mrs. Wilder. It doesn't count for much, but it goes to prove that she knows something of Heath which she won't give away. She knows something, or she wouldn't screen him. That is simple deduction."
"Now, with reference to Joicey," went on Hartley, with a frown. "I don't personally think that Joicey knows or remembers whether he did see Heath. My Superintendent swears that he did go down Paradise Street on the night of the twenty-ninth, but Joicey is ill, and he said he wasn't in Mangadone then. He has been seedy for some time and may have mixed up dates."
"You attach no importance to him?"
"Practically none." Hartley leaned back in his chair and lighted a cheroot.
Coryndon touched the piece of silk rag with his hand.
"This rag business is out of place, taken in connection with Heath."
"I don't accuse Heath, Coryndon, but I believe that he knows where the boy went. The last thing that was told me by Mhtoon Pah was that the gold lacquer bowl that was ordered by Mrs. Wilder was found on the steps of the shop. Though what that means, the devil only knows. Mhtoon Pah considers it likely that the Chinaman, Leh Shin, put it there, but I have absolutely nothing to connect Leh Shin with the disappearance, and I have withdrawn the men who were watching the shop."
"Interesting," said Coryndon slowly.
"Can you give me any opinion? I'm badly in need of help."
Coryndon shook his head, his hand still touching the stained rag idly.
"I could give you none at all, on these facts."
Hartley looked at him with a fixed and imploring stare.
"In a place like this, to be the chief mover, the actual incentive to disclosing God knows what, is simply horrible," he said in a rough, pained voice. "I've done my share of work, Coryndon, and I've taken my own risks, but any cases I've had against white men haven't been against men like the Padre."
Coryndon gave a little short sigh that had weariness in its sound, weariness or impatience.
"What you have told me involves three principals, and a score of others." He was counting as he spoke. "Any one of them may be the man you are looking for, only circumstances indicate one in particular. You are satisfied that you have got the line. I could not confidently say that you have, unless I had been working the case myself, and had followed up every clue throughout."
Hartley got up and paced the room, his hands deep in the pockets of his dinner jacket.
"I am convinced that Heath will have to be forced to speak, and, I may as well be honest with you—I don't like forcing him."
Coryndon was not watching his host, he was leaning back in his chair, his eyes on a little spiral of smoke that circled up from his cigarette.
"I wish that damned little Absalom had never been heard of, and that it was anybody's business but mine to find him, if he is to be found."
If Coryndon's finely-cut lips trembled into an instantaneous smile, it passed almost at once, and he looked quietly round at Hartley, who still paced, looking like an overgrown schoolboy in a bad mood.
"I wish I could help you, Hartley, but I have not enough to go on. As you say, the case is unusual, and it makes it impossible for me to advise." He got up and stretched himself. "There is one thing I will do, if you wish it, and, from what you said, you may wish it; I will take over the whole thing—for my holiday, and the Wagner Cycle will have to wait."
Hartley came to a standstill before his guest.
"You'll do that, Coryndon?"
"The case interests me," said Coryndon, "otherwise, I should not suggest it." He paused for a moment and reflected. "I shall have to make your bungalow my headquarters; that is the simplest plan. Any absences may be accounted for by shooting trips and that sort of thing. That part of it is straightforward enough, and I can see the people I want to see."
"You shall have a free hand to do anything you like," said Hartley. "And any help that I can give you."
Coryndon looked at him for a moment without replying.
"Thank you, Hartley. Our methods are different, as you know, but when I want you, I will tell you how you can help me."
He walked across the room to where two tumblers and a decanter of whisky stood on a tray, and, pouring himself out a glass of soda water, sipped it slowly.
"Here are my notes," said Hartley, in a voice of great relief. "They will be useful for reference."
Coryndon folded them up and put them in his pocket.
"Most of what is there is also in my official report."
Coryndon nodded his head, and, opening the piano, struck a light chord. After a moment he sat down and played softly, and the air he played came straight from the high rocks that guard the Afghan frontier. Like a breeze that springs up at evening, the little love-song lilted and whispered under his compelling fingers, and the "Song of the Broken Heart" sang itself in the room of Hartley, Head of the Police. Where it carried Coryndon no one could guess, but it carried Hartley into a very rose-garden of sentimental fatuity, and when the music stopped he gave a deep grunting sigh of content.
"I'll get some honest sleep to-night," he said as they parted, and ten minutes afterwards he was lying under his mosquito-curtains, oblivious to the world.
Coryndon's servant, Shiraz, was squatting across the door that led into the veranda when his master came in, and he waited for his orders. He would have sat anywhere for weeks, and had done so, to await the doubtful coming of Coryndon, whose times and seasons no man knew.
When he was gone, Coryndon took out the bulky packet of notes and extracted the piece of rag, which he locked carefully away in a dispatch-box. He then cleared a little space on the floor, and put the papers lightly over one another. Setting a match to them, he watched them light up and curl into brittle tinder, and dissolve from that stage into a heap of charred ashes, which he gathered up with a careful hand and put into the soft earth of a fern-box outside his veranda door. This being done, he sat down and began to think steadily, letting the names drift through his brain, one by one, until they sorted themselves, and he felt for the most useful name to take first.
"Joicey, the Banker, is a man of no importance," he murmured to himself, and again he said, "Joicey the Banker."
It was nearly dawn when he got between the cool linen sheets, and was asleep almost as his dark head lay back against the soft white pillow.
SHOWS HOW A MAN MAY CLIMB A HUNDRED STEPS INTO A PASSIONLESS PEACE, AND RETURN AGAIN TO A WORLD OF SMALL TORMENTS
By the end of a week Coryndon had slipped into the ways of Mangadone, slipped in quietly and without causing much comment. He went to the Club with Hartley and made the acquaintance of nearly all his host's friends, and they, in return, gave him the casual notice accorded to a passing stranger who had no part or lot in their lives or interests. Coryndon was very quiet and listened to everything; he listened to a great deal in the first three days, and Fitzgibbon, a barrister, offered to take him round and show him the town.
Coryndon was "shown the town," but apparently he found a lasting joy in sight-seeing, and could witness the same sights repeatedly without failing interest. He climbed the steps to the Pagoda, under the guidance of Fitzgibbon, the first afternoon they met.
"Won't you come, too, Hartley?" asked the Barrister.
"Not if I know it. I've been there about sixty times. If Coryndon wants to see it, I'm thankful to let him go there with you."
Fitzgibbon, who had a craze for borrowing anything that he was likely to want, had persuaded Prescott, the junior partner in a rice firm, to lend him his car, and as he sat in the tonneau beside Coryndon, he pointed out the places of interest. Their way lay first through the residential quarter, and Hartley's guest saw the entrance gate and gardens of Draycott Wilder's house.
"The most interesting and certainly the best-looking woman in Mangadone lives there, a Mrs. Wilder. Hartley ought to have told you about her; he is rather favoured by the lady. Her husband is a rising civilian. Mrs. Wilder has bought Asia, and is wondering whether she'll buy Europe next."
Coryndon hardly appeared impressed or even interested.
"So she is a friend of Hartley's?" he said carelessly. "I hadn't heard that."
"It's something to be a friend of Mrs. Wilder—that is, in Mangadone."
They sped on over the level road, and the car swung through the streets that led towards the open space before the temple.
"That is the curio dealer's shop. Don't get any of your stuff there. The man's a robber."
"Which shop?" asked Coryndon patiently.
"We're past it now, but it was the one with a dancing man outside of it, a funny little effigy."
Coryndon's eyes were turned to the Pagoda, and he was evidently inattentive.
"It strikes you, doesn't it?" asked Fitzgibbon, in the tones of a gratified showman. "It always does strike people who haven't seen it before."
"Naturally, when one has not seen it before," echoed his companion, as the car drew up.
Coryndon stood for a moment looking at the entrance, and surveying the huge plaster dragons with their gaping mouths and vermilion-red tongues. They were ranged up a green slope, two on either side of the brown fretted roof that covered the steep tunnel that led up a flight of more than a hundred steps to the flat plateau, where the golden spire towered high over all, amid a crowd of lesser minarets.
Surrounded by baskets of roses and orchids, little silk-clothed Burmese girls sat on the entrance steps, and sold their wares. Fitzgibbon would have hurried on, but Coryndon, in true tripper fashion, stopped and bought an armful of blossoms.
"What am I to do with these things?" he asked helplessly.
"Oh, you'd better leave them before one of the Gaudamas, and acquire merit. If you let them all plunder you like this, we'll never get to the top."
Flight after flight, the two men climbed slowly, and Coryndon stood at intervals to watch the crowd that came up and down. The steps were so steep that the arch above them only disclosed descending feet, but Coryndon watched the feet appear first and then the rest of the hurrying or loitering men and women, and he sat on a seat beside a little gathering of yellow-robed Hypongyis until Fitzgibbon lost all patience.
"There is a whole town of piety to see up at the top. Come on, man; we have hours of it yet to get through. Don't waste time over those stalls. Every picture of the Buddha story was made in Birmingham."
Progressing a little faster, Fitzgibbon piloted Coryndon past a stall where yellow candles and bundles of joss-sticks in red paper cases were sold at a varying price.
"I must get some of these," objected Coryndon, who added a rupee's worth of incense and a white cheroot to his collection.
When they passed through the last archway and gained the plateau, he looked round with eyes that spoke his keen interest. Even though he had been there many times before, Coryndon looked at the sight with eyes that grew shadowed by the dreaming soul that lived within him.
Twilight was gathering behind the trees; only the gold-laced spires of a thousand minarets caught the last light of the sun. On the plateau below the great pillar, that glimmered like a golden sword from base to bell-hung Htee, lay what Fitzgibbon had described as "a little town of piety." A village of shrines and Pagodas, each built with seven roofs, open-fronted to disclose the holy place within; some large as a small chapel; some small, giving room only for the figure of the Gaudama. Here and there, the votive offerings had fallen into decay, and the gold-leaf covering the Buddha was black and dilapidated by the passing of years, for there is no merit to be acquired in rebuilding or renovating a sacred place. From innumerable shrines, uncounted Buddhas looked out with the same long, contemplative eyes; in bronze, in jade, in white and black marble, in grey stone and gilded ebony, the passionless face of the great Peace looked out upon his children.
Near to where Coryndon and the Barrister stood together, in the peach-coloured evening light, a large shrine with a fretted roof was thronged with worshippers, and Coryndon stood on the steps and looked in. The floor of black, polished marble dimly reflected the immense gold pillars that supported a lofty ceiling, lost entirely in the gloom, and before a blaze of candles and a floating veil of scented grey smoke a priest bowed himself, and prayed in a low, chanting voice. The face of the Lord Buddha behind the rails was lighted by the wind-blown flame of many tapers, so that it almost looked as though he smiled out of his far-away Nirvana upon his kneeling worshippers, who could ask nothing of him, not even mercy, since the salvation of a man is in his own hands.
Before the rails, a settle with low gilt legs was covered with offerings of flowers, that added their scent to the heavy air, and on a small table a feast of cakes and sweets was placed, to be distributed later on among the poor. Coryndon disposed of his burden of pink and white roses and little magenta prayer-flags, and lighted a bundle of joss-sticks, before they came out again and wandered on.
As the daylight faded the lights from the shrines and the small booths grew stronger, and the rising night wind, coming in from the river, rang the silver bells around the spires, filling the whole air with tinkling sound, and the slow-moving crowd around them laughed and joked, like people at a fair. His eyes still full of dreams, Coryndon followed with them, keeping one small packet of amber candles to light in honour of some other Buddha in another shrine.
"Funny devils, these Burmese," remarked the Barrister. "They never clean up anything. Look at the years of tallow collected under that spiked gate that is falling off its hinges. That black little Buddha inside must once have been a popular favourite, but no one gives him anything now."
They turned a corner past a booth where bottles full of pink and yellow fluid, and green leaves, wrapped around betel-nut, appeared to be the chief stock-in-trade, and a noise of hammering struck on their ears. Here a new shrine was being erected and was all but completed. A few Chinamen, who had been working at it, were putting their tools into canvas bags, preparatory to withdrawing like the remaining daylight.
"This is Mhtoon Pah's edifice," said Fitzgibbon, coming to a standstill. "He doesn't seem to have spared expense, either. Shall we go in?"
The shrine was not a very large one, and the entrance was like the entrance to a grotto at an Exhibition. Tiny facets of glass were crusted into grass-green cement, shining like a thousand eyes, and, seated on a vermilion lacquer dais, a Buddha, with heavy eyelids that hid his strange eyes, presided over an illumination of smoking flame. The smell of joss-sticks was heavy on the air, and the filigree cloak worn by the Buddha was enriched with red and green glass that shone and glittered.
"They say the caste-mark in his forehead is a real diamond," remarked the Barrister. "I don't suppose it is, but at least it is a good imitation."
Coryndon was not listening to him; he had gone close to the marble rails, and was lighting his little bunch of yellow tapers. He lighted them one by one, and put each one down on the floor very slowly and carefully, and when he had finished he turned round.
"Mhtoon Pah is the man who has the curio shop?" he asked.
"The very same. It gives you some idea of his percentage on sales, what?"
Coryndon joined in his laugh, and they went out again into the street of sanctity. Fitzgibbon was now getting exhausted, for his companion's desire to "do" the Pagoda was apparently insatiable; and he asked interminable questions that the Barrister was totally unable to answer.
Coryndon seemed to find something fresh and interesting around every corner. The white elephants delighted him, particularly where green creepers had grown round their trunks, giving them a realistic effect of enjoying a meal. The handles off very common English chests-of-drawers, that were set along a rail enclosing a sleeping Buddha, pleased him like a child, as did the bits of looking-glass with "Black and White Whisky," or "Apollinaris Water," inscribed across their faces.
"That sort of thing seems to attract them," explained Fitzgibbon. "In one of the shrines there is a fancy biscuit-box at a Buddha's feet. It has got 'Huntley and Palmer' on the top, and pictures of children and swans all around it. Funny devils, I always say so."
At length he had to drag Coryndon away, almost by main force.
"I'd like to have seen Mhtoon Pah," he objected. "He ought to be on view with his chapel."
"Shrine, Coryndon. You can see him in his shop," and they began the descent down the steep steps.
"Look," said the Barrister quickly, "there is Mhtoon Pah. No, not the man in white trousers, that's a Chinaman with a pigtail under his hat; the fat old thing in the short silk loongyi and crimson head-scarf."
Coryndon hardly glanced at him, as he passed with a scent of spice and sandal-wood in his garments; his attention had been attracted by a booth where men were eating curry.
"It is a curious custom to sell food in a place like this," he remarked to the Barrister.
"It's part of the Oriental mind," replied his guide. "No one understands it. No one ever will; so don't try and begin, or you'll wear yourself out."
When they got back to the Club it was already late, and the hall of the bar was crowded with men, standing together in groups, or sitting in long, uncompromising chairs under the impression that they were comfortable seats.