HotFreeBooks.com
The Pointing Man - A Burmese Mystery
by Marjorie Douie
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Hullo, Joicey," said the Barrister, as he fell over his legs. "I'm dog-beat. Been doing the Pagoda with Coryndon. Do you know each other—?" He waved his hand by way of introduction, and Coryndon took an empty chair beside the Banker, who heaved himself up a little in his seat, and signalled to a small boy in white, who was scuffling with another small boy, also in white, and ordered some drinks.

"I am new to it," explained Coryndon, and his voice sounded tired, as though the Pagoda had been a little too much for him.

Joicey did not reply; he was looking away, and Coryndon followed his eyes. Near the wide staircase, and just about to go up it, a man was standing, talking to a friend. He was dressed in an ill-cut suit of white, with a V-shaped inlet of black under his round collar; he held a topi of an old pattern under his arm, and the light showed his face cadaverous and worn. Joicey was holding the arm of his chair, and his under-lip trembled.

"Inexplicable," he muttered, and drank with a gulping sound.

"What did you say?" asked Coryndon politely.

"Say? Did I say anything? I can't remember that I did." The Banker's voice was irritable, and he still watched the clergyman.

"What strikes me about the Pagoda is the strong Chinese element in the design. I am told that there are a lot of Chinamen in Mangadone. I should like to see their quarter."

"Hartley should be able to arrange that for you."

Joicey was evidently growing tired of Coryndon's freshness and enthusiasm, and he passed his hand over his face, as though the damp heat of the night depressed his mind.

"Hartley is very busy," said Coryndon, with the determination of a man who intends to see what he has come to see. "I don't like to be perpetually badgering him. Could I go alone?"

"You could," said Joicey shortly.

"I want to miss nothing."

Coryndon turned his head away and looked at the crowded room, fixing his gaze on a whirring fan that hung low on a brass rod, and when he looked round again, Joicey had got up and was making his way out into the night. Fitzgibbon was surrounded by several other men, and there was no sign of his friend Hartley, so he got up and slipped out, standing hatless, until his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness.

The strong lights from the veranda encroached some way into the gloom, and, here and there, a few people still sat around basket tables, enjoying the evening air. Coryndon looked at them, with his head bent forward, a little like a cat just about to emerge through a door into a dark passage. For a little time, he stood there, watching and listening, and then he turned away and walked out along the footpath, as though in a hurry to get back to his bungalow.



XIII

PUTS FORWARD THE FACT THAT A SUDDEN FRIENDSHIP NEED NOT BE BASED UPON A SUDDEN LIKING; AND PASSES THE NIGHT UNTIL DAWN REVEALS A SHAMEFUL SECRET

Some ten days after Coryndon had taken up his quarters with Hartley, he informed his host that he intended to disappear for a time, and that he would take his servant, Shiraz, with him. He had been through every quarter of Mangadone before he set out to commence operations, and the whole town lay clear as a map in his mind.

Hartley was dining out, "dining at the Wilders'," he said casually, and he further informed Coryndon that Mrs. Wilder had asked him to bring his friend, but no amount of persuasion could induce Coryndon to forgo an evening by himself. He pointed out to Hartley that he never went into society, and that he found it a strain on his mind when he required to think anything through, and, with a greater show of reluctance than he really felt, Hartley conceded to his wish, and Coryndon sat down to a solitary meal. He ate very sparingly and drank plain soda water, and whilst he sat at the table his long, yellow-white fingers played on the cloth, and his eyes followed the swaying punkah mat with an odd, intense light in their inscrutable depths.

He had made Hartley understand that he never talked over a case, and that he followed it out entirely according to his own ideas, and Hartley honestly respected his reserve, making no effort to break it.

"When the hands are full, something falls to the ground and is lost," Coryndon murmured to himself as he got up and went to his room. "Shiraz," he called, "Shiraz," and the servant sprang like a shadow from the darkness in response to his master's summons.

"To-night I go out." Coryndon waved his hand. "To-morrow I go out, and of the third day—I cannot tell. Let it be known to the servant people that, like all travelling Sahibs, I wish to see the evil of the great city. I may return with the morning, but it may be that I shall be late."

"Inshallah, Huzoor," murmured Shiraz, bowing his head, "what is the will of the Master?"

"A rich man is marked among his kind; where he goes the eyes of all men turn to follow his steps, but the poor man is as a grain of sand in the dust-storm of a Northern Province. Great are the blessings of the humble and needy of the earth, for like the wind in its passing, they are invisible to the eyes of men."

Shiraz made no response; he lowered the green chicks outside the doors and windows, and opened a small box, battered with age and wear.

"The servant's box is permitted to remain in the room of the Lord Sahib," he said with a low chuckle. "When asked of my effrontery in this matter, I reply that the Lord Sahib is ignorant, that he minds not the dignity of his condition, and behold, it is never touched, though the leathern box of the Master has been carefully searched by Babu, the butler of Hartley Sahib, who knows all that lies folded therein."

While he spoke he was busy unwrapping a collection of senah bundles, which he took out from beneath a roll of dusters and miscellaneous rubbish, carefully placed on the top. The box had no lock and was merely fastened with a bit of thick string, tied into a series of cunning knots.

When he had finished unpacking, he laid a faded strip of brightly-coloured cotton on the bed, in company with a soiled jacket and a tattered silk head-scarf, and, as Shiraz made these preparations, Coryndon, with the aid of a few pigments in a tin box, altered his face beyond recognition. He wore his hair longer than that of the average man, and, taking his hair-brushes, he brushed it back from his temples and tied a coarse hank of black hair to it, and knotted it at the back of his head. He dressed quickly, his slight, spare form wound round the hips with a cotton loongyi, and he pulled on the coat over a thin, ragged vest, and sat down, while Shiraz tied the handkerchief around his head.

The art of make-up is, in itself, simple enough, but the very much more subtle art of expression is the gift of the very few. It was hard to believe that the slightly foreign-looking young man with Oriental eyes could be the pock-marked, poverty-stricken Burman who stood in his place.

Slipping on a light overcoat, he pulled a large, soft hat over his head, and walked out quickly through the veranda.

"Now, then, Shiraz," he called out in a quick, ill-tempered voice. "Come along with the lamp. Hang it; you know what I mean, the butti. These infernal garden-paths are alive with snakes."

Shiraz hastened after him, cringing visibly, and swinging a hurricane lamp as he went. When they had got clear of the house and were near the gate, Coryndon spoke to him in a low voice.

"Pull my boots off my feet." Shiraz did as he was bidden and slipped his master's feet into the leather sandals which he carried under his wide belt. "Now take the coat and hat, and in due time I shall return, though not by day. Let it be known that to-morrow we take our journey of seven days; and it may be that to-morrow we shall do so."

"Inshallah," murmured Shiraz, and returned to the house.

By night the streets of Mangadone were a sight that many legitimate trippers had turned out to witness. The trams were crowded and the native shops flared with light, for the night is cool and the day hot and stifling; therefore, by night a large proportion of the inhabitants of Mangadone take their pleasure out of doors. In the Berlin Cafe the little tables were crowded with those strange anomalies, black men and women in European clothes. There had been a concert in the Presentation Hall, and the audience nearly all reassembled at the Berlin Cafe for light refreshments when the musical programme was concluded.

Paradise Street was not behindhand in the matter of entertainment: there was a wedding festival in progress, and, at the modest cafe, a thick concourse of men talking and singing and enjoying life after their own fashion; only the house of Mhtoon Pah, the curio dealer, was dark, and it was before this house, close to the figure of the pointing man, that the weedy-looking Burman who had come out of Hartley's compound stopped for a moment or two. He did not appear to find anything to keep him there; the little man had nothing better to offer him than a closed door, and a closed door is a definite obstacle to anyone who is not a housebreaker, or the owner with a key in his pocket; so, at least, the Burman seemed to think, for he passed on up the street towards the river end.

From there to the colonnade where the Chinese Quarter began was a distance of half a by-street, and Coryndon slid along, apologetically close to the wall. He avoided the policeman in his blue coat and high khaki turban, and his manner was generally inoffensive and harmless as he sneaked into the low entrance of Leh Shin's lesser curio shop. A large coloured lantern hung outside the inner room, and a couple of candles did honour to the infuriated Joss who capered in colour on the wall.

All the hidden vitality of the man seemed to live in every line of his lithe body as he looked in, but it subsided again as he entered, and he stared vacantly around him.

There was no one in the shop but Leh Shin's assistant, who was finishing a meal of cold pork, and whose heavy shoulders worked with his jaws. He ceased both movements when Coryndon entered, and continued again as he spoke, the flap of his tweed hat shaking like elephants' ears. He informed Coryndon, who spoke to him in Yunnanese, that Leh Shin was out, so that if he had anything to sell, he would arrange the details of the bargain, and if he wanted to buy, he could leave the price of the article with the trusted assistant of Leh Shin.

It took Coryndon some time to buy what he needed, which appeared to be nothing more interesting than a couple of old boxes. The Burman needed these to pack a few goods in, as he meditated inhabiting the empty, rat-infested house next door but one to the shop of Leh Shin. Upon hearing that they were to be neighbours, the assistant grew sulky and informed Coryndon that trade was slack if he wished to sell anything, but his eyes grew crafty again when he was informed that his new acquaintance did not act for himself, but for a friend from Madras, who having made much money out of a Sahib, whose bearer he had been for some years, desired to open business in a small way with sweets and grain and such-like trifles, whereby to gain an honest living.

The assistant glanced at the clock, when, after much haggling, the deal was concluded, and the Burman knotted the remainder of his money in a small corner of his loongyi, and stood rubbing his elbows, looking at the Chinaman, who appeared restless.

"Where shall I find Leh Shin?" The Burman put the question suddenly. "In what house am I to seek him, assistant of the widower and the childless?"

The boy leered and jerked his thumb towards the direction of the river.

"Closed to-night, follower of the Way," he said with a smothered noise like a strangled laugh. "Closed to-night. Every door shut, every light hidden, and those who go and demand the dreams cannot pass in. I, only, know the password, since my master receives high persons." He spat on the floor.

Coryndon bowed his head in passive subjection.

"None else know my quantity," he murmured. "These thieves in the lesser streets would mix me a poison and do me evil."

The assistant scratched his head diligently and looked doubtfully at the Burman.

"And yet I cannot remember thy face."

"I have been away up the big river. I have travelled far to that Island, where I, with other innocent ones, suffered for no fault of mine."

Leh Shin's assistant looked satisfied. If the Burman were but lately returned from the convict settlement on the Andaman Islands, it was quite likely that he might not have been acquainted with him.

To all appearances, the bargain being concluded, and Leh Shin being absent from the shop, there was nothing further to keep the customer, yet he made no sign of wishing to leave, and, after a little preamble, he invited the assistant to drink with him, since, he explained, he needed company and had taken a fancy to the Chinese boy, who, in his turn, admitted to a liking for any man who was prepared to entertain him free of expense. Leh Shin's assistant could not leave the shop for another hour, so the Burman, who did not appear inclined to wait so long, went out swiftly, and came back with a bottle of native spirit.

Fired by the fumes of the potent and burning alcohol, the Chinaman became inquisitive, and wished to hear the details of the crime for which his new friend had so wrongfully suffered. He looked so evil, so greasy, and so utterly loathsome that he seemed to fascinate the Burman, who rocked himself about and moaned as he related the story of his wrong. His words so excited the ghoulish interest of his listener that his bloated body quivered as he drank in the details.

"And so ends the tale of his great evil; he that was my friend," said Coryndon, rising from his heels as he finished his story. "The hour grows late and there is no comfort in the night, since I may not find oblivion." He passed his hand stupidly over his forehead. "My memory is lost, flapping like an owl in the sunlight; once the road to the house by the river lay before me as the lines upon my open palm, but now the way is no longer clear."

"I have said that it is closed to-night, so none may enter. There is a password, but I alone know it, and I may not tell it, friend of an evil man."

"There are other nights," whined the Burman, "many of them in the passing of a year. When I have the knowledge of thee, then may I seek and find later." He rubbed his knees with an indescribable gesture of mean cringing.

The Chinese boy drank from the bottle and smacked his lips.

"Hear, then, thou convict," he said in a shrill hectoring voice. "By the way of Paradise Street, along the wharf and past the waste place where the tram-line ends and the houses stand far apart. Of the houses of commerce, I do not speak; of the mat houses where the Coringyhis live, I do not speak, but beyond them, open below to the water-snakes, and built above into a secret place, is the house we know of, but Leh Shin is not there for thee to-night, as I have already spoken."

He felt in the pouch at his waist for a rank black cigar, which he pushed into his mouth and lighted with a sulphur match.

"Who fries the mud fish when he may eat roast duck?" he said, with a harsh cackle that made the Burman start and stare at him.

"Aie! Aie! I do not understand thy words." The Burman's face grew blank and he went to the door.

"Neither do you need to, son of a chained monkey," retorted the boy, full of strong liquor and arrogance. "But I tell thee, I and my mate, Leh Shin, hold more than money between the finger and the thumb,"—he pinched his forefinger against a mutilated thumb. "More than money, see, fool; thou understandest nothing, thy brain is left along with thy chains in the Island which is known unto thee."

"Sleep well," said the Burman. "Sleep well, child of the Heavens, I understand thee not at all," and with a limp shrug of his shoulders, he slid out of the narrow door into the night.

Coryndon gave one glance at the sky; the dawn was still far off, but in spite of this he ran up the deserted colonnade and walked quickly down Paradise Street, which was still awake and would be awake for hours. Once clear of the lessening crowd and on to the wharf, he ran again; past the business houses, past the long quarter where the Coringyhis and coolie-folk lived, and, lastly, with a slow, lurking step, to the close vicinity of a house standing alone upon high supports. He skirted round it, but to all appearances it was closed and empty, and he sat down behind a clump of rough elephant-grass and tucked his heels under him.

His original idea, on coming out, had been merely to get into touch with Leh Shin, and make the way clear for his coming to the small, empty house close to the shop of the ineffectual curio dealer, and now he knew, through his fine, sharp instinct, that he was close upon the track of some mystery. It might have nothing to do with the disappearance of the Christian boy, Absalom, or it might be a thread from the hidden loom, but, in any case, Coryndon determined to wait and see what was going to happen. He was well used to long waiting, and the Oriental strain in his blood made it a matter of no effort with him. Someone was hidden in the lonely house, some man who paid heavily for the privacy of the waterside opium den, and Coryndon was determined to discover who that man was.

The night was fair and clear, and the murmur of the tidal river gentle and soothing, and as he sat, well hidden by the clump of grass, he went over the events of the evening and thought of the face of Leh Shin's assistant. Hartley had spoken of the bestial creature in tones of disgust, but Hartley had not seen him to the same peculiar advantage. Line by line, Coryndon committed the face to his indelible memory, looking at it again in the dark, and brooding over it as a lover broods over the face of the woman he loves, but from very different motives. He was assured that no cruelty or wickedness that mortal brain could imagine would be beyond the act of this man, if opportunity offered, and he was attracted by the psychological interest offered to him in the study of such a mind.

The ripples whispered below him, and, far away, he heard the chiming of a distant clock striking a single note, but he did not stir; he sat like a shadow, his eyes on the house, that rose black, silent, and, to all appearances, deserted, against the starry darkness of the sky. He had got his facts clear, so far as they went, and his mind wandered out with the wash of the water, and the mystery of the river flowed over him; the silent causeway leading to the sea, carrying the living on its bosom, and bearing the dead beneath its brown, sucking flow, full of its own life, and eternally restless as the sea tides ebbed and flowed, yet musical and wild and unchanged by the hand of man. Coryndon loved moving waters, and he remembered that somewhere, miles away from Mangadone, he had played along a river bank, little better than the small native children who played there now, and he saw the green jungle-clearing, the red road, and the roof of his father's bungalow, and he fancied he could hear the cry of the paddy-birds, and the voices of the water-men who came and went through the long, eventless days.

Even while he thought, he never moved his eyes from the house. Suddenly a light glimmered for a moment behind a window, and he sat forward quickly, forgetting his dream, and becoming Coryndon the tracker in the twinkling flash of a second. The inmates of the house were stirring at last, and Coryndon lay flat behind his clump of grass and hardly breathed.

He could hear a door open softly, and, though it was too dark to discern anything, he knew that there was a man on the veranda, and that the man slipped down the staircase, where he stood for a moment and peered about. He moved quietly up the path and watched it for a few minutes, and then slid back into the house again. Coryndon could hear whispers and a low, growled response, and then another figure appeared, a Sahib this time, by his white clothes. He used no particular caution, and came heavily down the staircase, that creaked under his weight, and took the track by which Coryndon had come.

Silhouetted against the sky, Coryndon saw the head and neck of a Chinaman, and he turned his eyes from the man on the path to watch this outline intently; it was thin, spare and vulture-like. Evidently Leh Shin was watching his departing guest with some anxiety, for he peered and craned and leaned out until Coryndon cursed him from where he lay, not daring to move until he had gone.

At last the silhouette was withdrawn and the Chinaman went back into the house. He had hardly done so when Coryndon was on his feet, running hard. He ran lightly and gained the road just as the man he followed turned the corner by Wharf Street and plodded on steadily. In the darkness of the night there are no shadows thrown, but this man had a shadow as faithful as the one he knew so well and that was his companion from sunrise to sunset, and close after him the poor, nameless Burman followed step for step through the long path that ended at the house of Joicey the Banker.

Coryndon watched him go in, heard him curse the Durwan, and then he ran once more, because the stars were growing pale and time was precious. He was weary and tired when he crept into the compound outside the sleeping bungalow on the hill-rise, and he stood at the gate and gave a low, clear cry, the cry of a waking bird, and a few minutes afterwards Coryndon followed Joicey's example and cursed the Durwan, kicking him as he lay snoring on his blanket.

"Open the door, you swine," he said in the angry voice of a belated reveller, "and don't wake the house with that noise."

Even when he was in his room and delivered himself over to the ministrations of Shiraz, he did not go to bed. He had something to think over. He knew that he had established the connection between Joicey the Banker and the spare, gaunt Chinaman who kept a shop for miscellaneous wares in the dark colonnade beyond Paradise Street. Joicey had a short memory: he had forgotten whether he had met the Rev. Francis Heath on the night of the 29th of July, and had imagined that he was not there, that he was away from Mangadone; and as Coryndon dropped off to sleep, he felt entirely convinced that, if necessary, he could help Joicey's memory very considerably.



XIV

TELLS HOW SHIRAZ, THE PUNJABI, ADMITTED THE FRAILTIES OF ORDINARY HUMANITY, AND HOW CORYNDON ATTENDED AFTERNOON SERVICE AND CONSIDERED THE VEXED QUESTION OF TEMPERAMENT.

The day following Coryndon's vigil outside the lonely house by the river was dull and grey, with a woolly sky and a tepid stillness that hung like a tangible weight in the air. Its drowsiness affected even the native quarter, but it in no way lessened the bustle of preparations for departure on the part of Coryndon, who ordered Shiraz to pack enough clothes for a short journey, and to hold himself in readiness to leave with his master shortly after sunrise the following day. His master also gave him leave to go to the Bazaar and return at his own discretion, as he was going out with Hartley Sahib.

It was about noon, when the sun had struggled clear of the heavy clouds, that Shiraz found himself in the dark colonnade locking an empty house behind him with his own key, and, being a stately, red-bearded follower of the Prophet, with a general appearance of wealth and dignity, he walked slowly until he came to the doorway of Leh Shin's shop. His step caused the Chinaman to look up from the string bed where he lay, gaunt, yellow and unsavoury, his dark clothes contrasting with the flowing white garments of the venerable man who regarded him through his spectacles.

"The hand of Allah has led me to this place," said Shiraz in his low, reflective tones. "I seek for a little prayer-mat and a few bowls of brass for my food; likewise, a bed for myself, and a bed of lesser value for my companion. Hast thou these things, Leh Shin?"

Leh Shin went into his back premises and returned with the bowls and the prayer-mat.

"The bed for thyself, O Haj, and the bed of lesser value for thy friend, I shall make shift to procure. Presently I will send my assistant, the eyes of my encroaching age, to bring what you need."

"It is well," said Shiraz, who was seated on a low stool near the door, and who looked with contemplative eyes into the shop.

Leh Shin huddled himself on to the string couch again, and the slow process of bargain-driving began. Pice by pice they argued the question, and at last Shiraz produced a handful of small coin, which passed from him to the Chinaman.

"I had already heard of thee," said Leh Shin, scratching his loose sleeves with his long, claw-like fingers. "But thy friend, the Burman, who spoke beforehand of thy coming, and who still recalls the mixture of his opium pipe, I cannot remember." He hunched his shoulders. "Yet even that is not strange. My house by the river is a house of many faces, yet all who dream wear the same face in the end," his voice crooned monotonously. "All in the end, from living in the world of visions, become the same."

Shiraz bowed his head with grave courtesy.

"It was also told to me that you served a rich master and have stored up wealth."

"The way of honesty is never the path to wealth," responded Shiraz, in tones of reproof. "So it is written in the Koran."

Leh Shin accepted the ambiguous reply with an unmoved face.

"Thy friend is under the hand of devils?"

He put the remark as an idle question.

"He is tormented," replied Shiraz, pulling at his beard. "He is much driven by thoughts of evil, committed, such is his dream, by another than himself; and yet the Sirkar hath said that the crime was his own. The ways of Allah are veiled, and Mah Myo is without doubt no longer reasonable; yet he is my friend, and doth greatly profit thereby."

"Ah, ah," said the Chinaman, placing a hubble-bubble before his guest, who condescended to shut the mouthpiece in under his long moustache, while he sat silently for nearly half an hour.

"Dost thou sell beautiful things, Leh Shin?" he asked. "I have a gift to bestow, and my mind troubles me. The Lady Sahib of my late master suffered misfortune. She was robbed by some unknown son of a jackal, and thereby lost jewels, the value of which was said to be great, though I know not of the value of such things."

Leh Shin curled his bare toes on the edge of his bed and looked at them with a great appearance of interest.

"Was the thief taken, O son of a Prophet?"

"He was not. I have cried in the veranda, to see the Lady Sahib's sorrow, and I have also prayed and made many offerings at the Mosque, but the thief escaped. Now that my service with the Lord Sahib is finished, and as he has assisted my poverty with small gifts, I would like to make a present to the Lady Sahib. Some trifling thing, costing a small sum in rupees, for her grief was indeed great, and it may avail to console her sorrow."

"For which sorrow thou, also, wept in the veranda," added Leh Shin.

"The Lady Sahib had many bowls of lacquer, some green, some red, some spotted like the back of a poison snake, but she lacked a golden bowl, and, should I be able to procure one for a moderate price, it would add greatly to her pleasure in remembering her servant, for, says not the Wise One, 'a gift is a small thing, but the hand that holds it may not be raised to smite.'"

Shiraz, all the time he was speaking, had regarded the Chinaman from behind his respectable gold-rimmed spectacles, and he noticed that Leh Shin did not seem to care for the subject of lacquer, for his face darkened and he stopped scratching.

"I deal not in lacquer," he said quickly. "Neither touch thou the accursed thing, O Shiraz. Leave it to Mhtoon Pah, who is a sorcerer and whose lies mount as high as the topmost pinnacle of the Pagoda." The Chinaman's lips drew back from his teeth, and he snarled like a dog. "I will not speak of him to thee, but I would that the face of Mhtoon Pah was under my heel, and his eyeballs under my thumbs."

"Yet this golden bowl has been in my thought," the voice of Shiraz flowed on evenly. "And I said that here, in Mangadone, I might find such an one. Thou art sure that lacquer is accursed to thine eyes, Leh Shin? That thou hast not such a bowl by thee, neither that thy assistant, when he seeks the bed for myself and the lesser bed for my friend, could not look craftily into the shop of this merchant, and ask the price as he passeth, if so be that Mhtoon Pah has such a bowl to sell?"

Leh Shin spat ferociously.

"There was a bowl, a bowl such as you describe, O servant of Kings, and I thought to procure it, for word was brought me that Mhtoon Pah had need of it, and I desired to hold it before him and withdraw it again, and to inspire his covetousness and rage and then to sell it from my own hand, but he leagues with devils and his power is great, for, behold, Honourable Haj, the bowl that was mine was lost by the man from the seas who was about to sell it to me. Lost, in all truth, and after the lapse of many days, Mhtoon Pah had it in his shop, and sold it to the Lady Sahib."

"The hands of a man of wealth are more than two," said Shiraz oracularly.

"Nay, not so, for all thy learning, Pilgrim from the Shrine of Mahomet. The hands of this merchant, at the time I speak, were as my hands, or thine," he held out his claws and snatched at the air as though it was his enemy's throat. "For his boy, his assistant, the Christian Absalom, who served him well, and whom Mhtoon Pah fed upon sweets from the vendor's stall, was suddenly taken from him, and has vanished, like the smoke of an opium pipe."

Shiraz expressed wonder, and agreed with Leh Shin that sorcery had been used, shaking his head gravely and at length rising to his feet.

"The shadows lengthen and the hour of prayer draws near. It is time for the follower of the Prophet to give a poor man's alms at the gate of the Mosque, and to pray and praise," he said. "Thy assistant tarries, Leh Shin; let him go forth with speed and place my purchase in thy keeping, since I met thee in a happy hour, and shall return upon the morrow from the Serai, where it is Allah's will that I pass the night in peace."

Walking with a slow, regular pace, he left the native quarter, and taking a tram, got out on the road below the bungalow where Hartley's servant waited in the veranda.

"Thy Sahib has cursed thy beard and thine age, and says that he will replace thee with a younger man if thy dealings in the Bazaar are of such long duration."

"Peace, owl," said Shiraz. "The Sahib can no more travel without my assistance than a babe of one day without his mother. Presently, when the Sahib has drunk a peg, he will return to reason."

"The Sahib is not within; he has but now gone out once more, asking from my Sahib for the loan of a prayer-book. Doubtless, there is a Tamasha at the 'Kerfedril,' and Coryndon Sahib goes thither to pray."

"I shall place the buttons in his shirt, and recover an eight-anna piece from the floor, which the master dropped yesterday, to deliver to him when he shall return. Seek to be honest in thy youth, my son, for in later life it will repay thee."

Hartley's boy had not been mistaken when he heard Coryndon ask for a prayer-book and saw him go out on foot. The small persistent bell outside St. Jude's Church was ringing with desperate energy to collect any worshippers who might feel inclined to assemble there for evensong, and the worshippers when collected under the tin roof numbered nearly a dozen.

It was a bare, barn-like Church, for the wealth of the Cantonment had flowed in the direction of the Cathedral. The punkah mats flapped languidly, and the lower part of the church was dark, only the chancel being lighted with ungainly punkah-proof lamps, and the two altar candles that threw their gleam on a plain gold cross, guttered in the heat. A strip of cocoa-nut matting lay along the aisle, and the chancel and altar steps were covered in sad, faded red. The organist did not attend except on Sundays or Feast Days, and the service was plain, conducted throughout by the Rev. Francis Heath.

Coryndon took a seat about half-way up the nave, and when Heath came into the church, he watched him with interest. He liked to watch a man, whom it was his business to study, without being disturbed, and Heath's face in profile, as he knelt at the reading desk, or in full sight as he stood to read the lesson, attracted the fixed gaze of, at least, one member of the small congregation. There was no sermon and the service was short, and as he sat quietly in his place, Coryndon wondered what frenzied moment of fear or despair could have driven this man into the company of Joicey and Mrs. Draycott Wilder, unconscious perhaps of their connection with him, but linked nevertheless by an invisible thread that wound around them all.

Beyond the fact that he had seen Mrs. Wilder, he had not taken her under the close observation of his mental microscope. She stood on one side until such time as he should have need to probe into her reasons for silence, and he wondered if Hartley was right, and if, by chance, the earnest face of the clergyman, with its burning, stricken eyes, had appealed to her sympathy. Could it be so, he asked himself once or twice, but the immediate question was the one that Coryndon gave his mind to answer, and just then he was forming an impression of the Rev. Francis Heath.

He looked at his hands, at his thin neck, at the hollows in his cheeks and the emotional quiver at the corner of his mouth, and he knew the man was a fanatic, a civilized fanatic, but desperately and even horribly in earnest. A believer in torment, a man who held the vigorous faith that makes for martyrdom and can also pile wood for the fires that burn the bodies of others for the eventual welfare of their souls. Unquestionably, the Rev. Francis Heath was a man not to be judged by an average inch rule, and Coryndon thought over him as he listened to his voice and watched his strained, tempest-tossed face. Whether he was involved in the disappearance of Absalom or not, he recognized that Heath was a strong man, and that his ill-balanced force would need very little to make him a violent man. It surprised him less to think that Hartley attached suspicion to the Rector of St. Jude's than it had at first, and he left the church with a very clear impression of the clergyman put carefully away beside his appreciation of Leh Shin's assistant. He had caught just a glimpse of the personality of the man, and was busy building it up bit by bit, working out his idea by first trying to fathom the temperament that dwelt in the spare body and drove and wore him hour after hour.

The Rev. Francis Heath had paid some Chinaman to keep silence, but though he might pay a Chinaman, he could do nothing with his own conscience, and it was with a hidden adversary that he wrestled day and night. Coryndon's face was pitiless as the face of a vivisecting surgeon. Had she known of his mission, Mrs. Wilder might have beaten her beautiful head on the stones under his feet, and she would have gained nothing whatever of concession or mercy.

Atkins and the Barrister were dining with Hartley that night, and as Coryndon never cared to hurry over his dressing, he went at once to his room and called Shiraz.

"All is well, my Master," said Shiraz, in a low voice. "But it would be wise if the Master were to curse his servant in a loud voice, since it is expected that he will do so, and the monkey-folk in the servants' quarter listen without, concealing their pleasure in the Sahib's wrath."

When the proceedings terminated and Coryndon had accepted his servant's long excuse for his delay, the doors were closed, Shiraz having first gone out to shake his fist at Hartley's boy.

"Thus much have I discovered, Lord Sahib," said Shiraz, when he had explained that the house was in readiness and the necessary furniture bought and stored temporarily at the shop of Leh Shin, the Chinaman. "There is an old hate between these two men, he of the devil shop, and the Chinaman, a hate as old as rust that eats into an iron bar."

Coryndon lay back in his chair and listened without remark.

"Among many lies told unto me, that is true; and again, among many lies, it is also true that he had not, neither did he ever possess, the gold lacquer bowl, on the subject of which my Master bade me question him. He knows not how Mhtoon Pah found it, but he believes that it was through a sorcery he practised, for the man is as full of evil as the chatti lifted from the brink of the well is full of water."

Coryndon smiled and glanced at Shiraz.

"And you think so also, grandson of a Tucktoo, for though you are old, your white hairs bring you no wisdom."

"I am the Sahib's servant, but who knoweth the ways of devils, since their footprints cannot be seen, neither upon the sand of the desert nor in the snows of the great hills?"

"Did he speak of Absalom?"

"He told me, Protector of the Poor, that the boy, though of Christian caste, was to Mhtoon Pah as the apple of his eye, and that he fed him upon sweets from the vendor's stall. Let it be said, for thy wisdom to unravel, that therefore Leh Shin felt mirth in his mind, knowing that the heart of his foe was wrung as the Dhobie wrings the soiled garment."

Shiraz fell silent and looked up from the floor at the face of his master, who got up and stretched himself.

"Is my bath ready, Shiraz?"

"All is prepared, though the pani walla, a worker of iniquity, steals the wood for his own burning; therefore, the water is not hot, and ill is done to the good name of Hartley Sahib's house."

When he was dressed he strolled into the drawing-room, and sat down at the piano, playing softly until Hartley came in.

"Shall you be away long, do you suppose?" he asked, looking with interest at Coryndon's smooth, black head.

"I may be, but it is impossible to tell. If I want you, I will send a message by Shiraz."

The dinner passed off without incident, and not once did Coryndon open the secret door of his mind, to add to the strange store of facts he had gathered there. He wanted nothing from Atkins, who knew less of the Rev. Francis Heath than he did himself, and he had to sustain his role of ignorance of the country. The two men stayed late, and it seemed to Coryndon that when men talk they do more than talk, they tell many things unconsciously.

Perhaps, if people realized, as Coryndon realized, the value of restrained speech, we should know less of our neighbours' follies and weaknesses than we do. There was a noticeable absence of interest in what anyone else had to say. Atkins had his own foible, Fitzgibbon his, and Hartley, who knew more of the ways of men, a more interesting, but not less egoistic platform from which he desired to speak. They seemed to stalk naked and unashamed before the eyes of the one man who never gave a definite opinion, and who never asserted his own theories or urged his own philosophy of life.

Coryndon listened because it amused him faintly, but he was glad when the party broke up and they left. What a planet of words it was, he thought, as he sat in his room and reflected over the day. Words that ought to carry value and weight, but were treated like so many loose pebbles cast into void space; and he wondered as he thought of it; and from wondering at the wordy, noisy world in which he found himself, he went on to wonder at the greater silence that was so much more powerful than words. "The value of mystery," was the phrase that presented itself to his mind.

During the evening, three men had enjoyed all the pleasure of self-betrayal, and, from the place where he stood, unable ever to express anything of his own nature in easy speech, he wondered at them, with almost childlike astonishment. Fitzgibbon, garrulous and loose of tongue, Atkins, precise and easily heated to wrath, conscious of some hidden fear that his dignity was not sufficiently respected, and Hartley, who had something to say, but who oversaid it, losing grip because of his very insistence. Not one of them understood the value of reserve, and all alike strove to proclaim themselves in speech, not knowing that speech is an unsound vehicle for the unwary, and that personality disowns it as a medium.

Out of the mouth of a man comes his own condemnation: let him prosper who remembers this truth. The value of mystery, the value of silence, and above all things, the supreme value of a tongue that is a servant and not a master; Coryndon considered these values and wondered again at the garrulity of men. Talk, the fluid, ineffectual force that fills the world with noise, that kills illusions and betrays every latent weakness; surely the high gods laughed when they put a tongue in the mouth of man. He pinched his lips together and his eyes lighted with a passing smile of mirth.

"In Burma, there are no clappers to the bells," he said to himself. "Each man must strike hard before sound answers to his hand, and truly it is well to think of this at times." And, still amused by the fleeting memory of the evening, he went to bed and slept.



XV

IN WHICH THE FURTHERING OF A STRANGE COMRADESHIP IS CONTINUED, AND A BEGGAR FROM AMRITZAR CRIES IN THE STREETS OF MANGADONE

Trade was slack in the shop of Leh Shin, the Chinaman. He had sat in the odorous gloom and done little else than feel his arms and rub his legs, for the greater part of the day. His new acquaintance, Shiraz, had taken over possession of his goods, scrutinizing them with care before he did so, in case the brass pots had been exchanged in the night for inferior pots of smaller circumference, and in the end he had departed into his own rat-burrow, two doors up the street, where his friend the Burman was already established in a gloomy corner. Leh Shin heard of this through his assistant, who had followed the coolie into the house, and investigated the premises as he stood about, with offers of assistance for his excuse.

"They have naught with them, save only a box that has no lock upon it, and also the boxes bought from thy shop, Leh Shin, but these are empty, for I looked closely, when they talked in the hither room, where they are minded to live. Jewels, didst thou say? Then that fox with the red beard has sold them and the money is stored in some place of security."

"Ah, ah," said the Chinaman, his eyes dull and fixed.

"And 'ah, ah' to thee," retorted the assistant, who found the response lacking in interest. "I would I knew where it was hidden."

With a sudden change of manner he squatted near the ear of Leh Shin and talked in a soft whisper.

"Is not the time ripe, O wise old man, is not the hour come when thou mayst go to the house of the white Sahib and demand a piece for closed lips?"

He pursed up his small mouth and pointed at it.

Leh Shin shook his head.

"I am already paid, and I will not demand further, lest he, whom we know of, come no more. Drive not the spent of strength; since the price is sufficient, I may not demand more, lest I sin in so doing."

The assistant glared at him with angry eyes.

"Fool, and thrice fool," he muttered under his breath, but Leh Shin did not heed him, and did not even appear to hear what he said. For a long time the old Chinaman seemed wrapped in his thought, and at last he got up, and leaving the shop, went towards the principal Joss House that faced the river.

Coryndon had chosen the empty shop in the Colonnade for two reasons. It was near Leh Shin, and near the strange assistant, who interested him nearly as much as Leh Shin himself, and also it had the additional advantage of being the last house in the block. A narrow alley full of refuse of every description lay between it and the next block, and the rickety house had doors that opened to the front, and to the side, and by way of a dark lane directly from the back, making ingress or egress a matter of wide choice.

The shop front was shuttered, and left to the rats and cockroaches, and up a flight of decrepit and shaky stairs, Shiraz had made what shift he could to provide comfort for his master in the least dilapidated room in the house. The walls were thin, and the plaster of the low ceiling was smoke-grimed and dirty. The "bed of lesser value" was stored away in the garret that lay beyond, and the prayer-mat was placed alongside the toil-worn wooden charpoy, that was at least fairly clean and had all four legs intact; and under this bed, the box that held a strange assortment of clothing was put safely away. At the bottom of another box, one of those bought by Coryndon himself from Leh Sin's assistant, Shiraz had laid a suit of tussore silk, a few shirts and collars, and anything that his master might require if he wished to revisit those "glimpses of the moon" in the Cantonments; for Shiraz neglected nothing, and had a genius for detail.

A hurricane lamp, that threw impartial light upon all sides, stood on a round table, and lighted the small room, and at one corner Coryndon sat, clad in his Burmese loongyi and white coat, thinking, his chin on his folded hands. He had taught himself to think without paper or pens, and to record his impressions with the same diligent care as though he wrote them upon paper. He could command his thoughts, and direct them towards one end and one issue, and he believed that notes were an abomination, and that, in his Service, memory was the only safe recorder of progress.

He was fully aware that he was hunting what might well be a cold line, and he thought persistently of Leh Shin, putting the other possible issues upon one side. Hartley had allowed himself to be dominated by a predisposition to account for everything through Heath, and Coryndon warned himself against falling into the same snare with Leh Shin. He thought of the Chinaman's shop, and he knew that it was built on the same plan as his own dwelling. There was no basement, and hardly any room beyond the open ground-floor apartment and the two upper rooms. Nowhere, in fact, to conceal anything; and its thin walls could not contain a single cry for help or prayer for mercy. It was possible to have drugged the boy and smothered him as he lay unconscious, but unless the murderers had chosen this method, Absalom could not have met his end in the Chinaman's shop. There remained the house by the river to investigate, and there remained hours and days, and possibly weeks, of close watching, that might reveal some tiny clue, and for that Coryndon was determined to wait and watch until it lay in the hollow of his palm.

Acting the part of a man more or less astray in his wits, he wandered out either late or early, with the vague, aimless step of a dreamer, and stood about, staring vacantly. Leh Shin's shop attracted him, and he would squat on the ground either just outside the narrow entrance, or just within, and, with flaccid, dropping mouth, stare at the hanging array of secondhand clothes, making himself a source of endless entertainment for the boy, who found him easy to annoy and distress, and consequently practised upon him with unwearying pleasure.

"Wise one, where are the jewels stolen by thy Master?" he asked, throwing the dregs of his drink over the Burman's bare feet.

"Jewels, jewels? Nay, friend, jewels are for the rich; for the Raj and the Prince; I have never seen one to hold in my hand and to consider closely. As for the Punjabi, he is no master of mine. I did him a service—nay, I have forgotten what the service was, as I forget all things, save only the guilt of the evil man, once my friend."

"Tell me once more thy story."

The Burman cowered down and whimpered.

"Since I put it into speech for thy ears, my trouble of mind has grown, like moonlight in the mist. I may not speak it again. They, yonder, would hear," he pointed at the clothes, that napped a little in the hot, heavy wind that came in strong with the scents and smells of the Bazaar.

"Oh, oh," said the boy, with a crackling laugh. "I will tell them not to speak or stir. I have power over them, and they shall repeat nothing. Tell me the story, fool, or I will drive thee from thy corner, and the children shall throw mud upon thee in the streets."

Again and again the drama was repeated, and as Coryndon became part of the day's amusement to Leh Shin's assistant, he grew to know exactly what both the boy and his master did during the hours of the day. Unknown and unsuspected, the Burman went in and out as they went in and out. He appeared at the house by the river, he sat with his legs dangling over the drop from the Colonnade into the streets, and he wore out the hours in idleness, the dust of the Bazaar powdering his hair and griming his face, but behind his vacant eyes, his quick brain was alive and burning, and he felt after Leh Shin with invisible hands.

Coryndon was never at the mercy of one idea only, and he began to see, very soon after he had investigated the two houses—the ramshackle shop and the riverside den—that if he intended to progress he could not afford to sit in the street and drink in the cafe opposite Leh Shin's dwelling for an interminable space of weeks. He had limitless patience, but he was quick of action, and saw any flaw in his own system as soon as a flaw appeared. Leh Shin was suspicious, and took precautions when he went out at night, and this in itself made it dangerous to be continually upon his heels in a character he knew and could recognize. So long as there was anything to gain by remaining in his Burmese clothing, Coryndon used it, avoiding the Chinaman and cultivating the society of his assistant, but he soon began to realize that if he were to follow as closely as he desired, he could not do so in his present disguise.

All day he sat watching the crowded street, shivering, though the sun was warm, and breaking his silence with complaints that the fever was upon him, and that he was sick, and that he could not eat. He whimpered and whined so persistently that the assistant drove him off, for he feared infection, and fancied he might be sickening for the plague.

"Neither come thou hither, until thou art fully recovered," he added, "lest I use my force upon thee."

If a certain beggar who had sat for a whole month outside the Golden Temple at Amritzar was to become reincarnated in the person of the idiot Burman, the Burman must have a reason to offer to the inquisitive for his temporary absence. Sickness is sudden and active in the streets of any Bazaar, and when Shiraz learnt that he was to keep within the house and report the various stages of the fever of his friend, he salaamed and drew out the battered box from under the bed, and folded away the loongyi and coat with care.

Coryndon explained his plan of coming and going when the streets were silent, and when he could do so without being noticed. If he came in the daytime and asked for alms, Shiraz was to open and call him in to receive food, but he would only do this in great emergency, as the beggar did not wish to establish any connection with the Punjabi. If, on the other hand, it was a matter of necessity for the Burman to reappear, Shiraz was to walk along the street and bestow alms in the beggar's bowl; and on the first opportunity Coryndon would return and make the necessary change. The first difficulty was to get out of the house, and to be in the street by twilight, when the close operation of watching would have to begin.

"The doors of the merciful are ever open to the poor; yet there is great danger in going out by the way of the Bazaar."

"There is a closed door at the back that I have well prepared," said Coryndon, pulling a bit of sacking over his bent shoulders. "Remember that an oiled hinge opens like the mouth of a wise man."

The addition of one to the brotherhood of vagrancy that is part of every Eastern Bazaar calls the attention of no one, and being a newcomer, Coryndon contented himself with accepting a pitch in a district where alms were difficult to obtain and small in value, but his humility did not keep him there long, and he made a place for himself at the top of Paradise Street, in the shadow of an arched doorway, where a house with carved shutters and horseshoe windows was slowly mouldering through the first stages of decay. From here he could see down the Colonnade, and also watch the shop of Mhtoon Pah, as he alternately cursed or blessed the passers, according to their gifts or their apathy.

The heavy, slouching figure of the assistant went by to take up his master's place in the waterside house, and the beggar wasted no time in glancing after him. He knew his destination, and had no need to trouble about the ungainly, walloping creature, who kicked him as he passed. It was fresh, out in the street, and pleasant, and in spite of his musty rags and his hidden face, Coryndon enjoyed the change of occupation.

He saw the place much as it had been on the evening of July the 29th. Mhtoon Pah came out and sat on his chair, smoking a cheroot, and observing the street. In a good humour it would appear, for when the beggar cringed past and sent up his plea for assistance, the curio dealer felt in his pouched waist-sash and threw him a coin.

"Be it requited to thee in thy next life, O Shrine-builder," murmured the beggar, and he squatted down on the ground a little further on.

He saw Shiraz come out and stand at the door, preparatory to setting forth to the Mosque. Saw him lock it carefully and proceed slowly and with great dignity through the crowd. He passed close to the beggar, but took no notice of him, lifting his garments lest they should touch him, and for this the beggar cursed him, to the entertainment of those who listened.

Blue shadows like wraiths of smoke enfolded the street at the far end, and the clatter and noise grew stronger as the houses filled after the day of toil. In one of the prosperous dwellings a gramophone was set near the window, and the song floated out over the street, the music-hall chorus from the merchant's house mingled in with the cry of vendors hawking late wares at cheap prices.

A hundred years ago, except for the gramophone and an occasional gharry, the street might have been the same. The same amber light that held only a short while after sunset, the same blue misty shadows, the same concourse of colour and caste, the same talk of food, and the same idle, loitering and inquisitive crowd.

Coryndon watched it with eyes of love. Half of his nature belonged to this place and was part of it. He understood their idleness, their small pleasures, their kindness and their cruelty; and though the dominance of the white race was strongest in him, he loved these half-brothers of his because he understood them.

Two young Hypongyi came past where he sat, and as they had nothing else to give, gave him their blessing and a look of pity.

"He did ill in his former life," said the elder of the two. "The balance is adjusted thus, and only thus."

"Great is the justice of the Law," replied the other, rubbing his shaven crown reflectively, and then some noise of music or laughter attracted them and they ran up the street to see what it might be, for they were young, and there was no reason why they should not enjoy simple pleasures.

Coryndon knew that Leh Shin would certainly go to the Joss House that night, and he knew that upon these occasions the Chinaman prayed long, and that it would be dark before he entered the place of worship. For another hour his time was free to watch the street, and without attaching any particular consequence to the fact, he saw Mhtoon Pah get up, rub his hands on his knees and lift his chair inside the door, which he closed with a noise of dragging chains and creaking bolts.

Slowly the last gleam withdrew, and the dust lost its effect of amber, and the trees grew dark, and little whispering winds clapped the palm leaves one on another with a dry, barking sound. Children still screamed and played, and dogs yelped and offered to show fight, and still people on foot came and went, and the dusk drew down a veil and the greater noise subsided into a lower key.

The beggar was no longer there, his place was empty and he had gone.



XVI

IN WHICH LEH SHIN IS BREATHED UPON BY A JOSS, AND EXPERIENCES THE TERROR OF A MAN WHO TOUCHES THE VEIL BEHIND WHICH THE IMMORTALS DWELL.

Of all the savage desires that riot in the hearts of men, the lust of revenge is probably the strongest. Civilization has done its best to control and curb wild impulse; but as long as a cruel wrong rankles, or a fierce longing to square an old account remains, there will be hands thrust out to take the naked sword of the Lord into their own finite grasp, and there will be men who will be content to pay the price so that they may see the desire of their eyes.

The Oriental has above the white races an illimitable patience in awaiting his hour for retribution, for the heart of the East does not forget and can hold a purpose silently through the dust-blown, sunlit years, waiting for the dawn of the appointed day.

When Leh Shin set out towards the Joss House, he was repeating a procedure that had become constant with him of late. He knew that a Joss was revengeful and terrible in matters of hate, therefore his prayer would be understood in the strange region of power where the Great Ones dwelt. His religion was a mixture of the teachings of Buddha, Confucius, and Shinto, for long absence from his own country and constant association with the Burmese and Japanese had blended and confused the original belief that he had learnt in far-away Canton. To this basis was added the grossest form of superstition, and the wildest fancies of a brain muddled with the fumes of opium, but the one thing clear to him was, that a Joss, though an immortal being, was able to comprehend hatred.

The gods punished terribly, slaying with plague and pestilence, destroying life by flood and years of famine, and so Leh Shin knew that they were very like men, taking full advantage of their fearful power and punishing the smallest neglect with the utmost rigour. He could appeal to a great invisible cruel brain and demand assistance for his own limited desire for revenge, knowing that it was an attribute of those whose help he sought, but he went in fear, with pricking nerves, because his belief was strong in the power of the monsters he worshipped.

The Joss House stood in a wide street near the river; a stone courtyard separated it from the thoroughfare, and the building itself was raised on a terrace, led up to by two shallow flights of steps. The roof was a marvel of sea-green mosaic, coiled over by dragons with flaming red tongues and staring glass eyes, each dragon a wonder of fretted fins and ivory teeth and claws. Upon each of the three roofs was set relief mosaic, of beautiful workmanship, representing houses and ships and bridges, with tiny men and women, and little trees, all as small as a child's plaything, but complete, proportioned and entire. Huge stone pillars covered with devils and crawling lizards supported the long portico that ran the full length of the building, and between each pillar an immense paper lantern gleamed like a dim moon.

Leh Shin stood outside for a few moments and then plunged in, like a man who is not sure of his nerve and cannot afford to wait too long lest his determination to face what lay inside should fail him. On feast days the Joss House was a gay place, full of lights and people crowding in and out, and there was no room for fear, for even a Joss is not alarming in company with many men, but when Leh Shin went in, the place was deserted, and it seemed to him that the unseen power was terribly near in the darkness.

It was a vast, lofty building inside, supported by gold pillars and black pillars, and in the centre near the door was a tank-shaped well where pots of flowering plants and palms were set with no particular eye to regularity or effect. As they shivered and rustled in the dark, they were full of a suggestion of the fear that made Leh Shin's heart as cold as a stone in a deep pool. Raised on a jade plinth, a low round pillar stood directly in front of the rose-red curtains that were drawn across the sanctuary space, and on the top of the pillar a bronze jar held one scented stick, that burned slowly, like a winking, drowsy eye, its slow spiral of incense creeping up into the air and losing itself in the high arches of the pointed roof. Between the pillar and the sanctuary itself, was a small table covered with an embroidered shawl, worked in spangles that glittered and shone, and beneath the table were a number of smooth stones.

Leh Shin locked his hands together and passed up the aisle, close to where the palm trees rustled and stirred, and fear was upon him like that of a hungry dog. He crossed a line of light cast by some candles, and it seemed to him that the curtains moved as he approached. The Joss House was apparently empty, and yet it did not seem empty. Invisible eyes watched behind the carved screens that shut out the priests' houses on either side, invisible ears might easily catch the lowest whisper of his prayer. Soundless impressions of moving things that had no shape haunted his consciousness, and he started in panic as his own shadow fell before him when he stepped across the burning candles and slid into the close alley between the table and the shrine.

He bent down suddenly and, feeling on the cold marble of the floor, took up two of the stones and beat them together with the loud clapping noise which proclaimed a suppliant. Bowed in the close space, he repeated his prayer the requisite number of times, and it seemed to Leh Shin that the Joss heard and accepted: the Joss who took visible shape in his mind, with a face half-human and half-bestial, and who capered with a drawn sword in his hand.

Over his head the heavy curtains swayed again, and the tittering noise from a nest of bats sounded like ghostly laughter. His prayer had drawn power to his aid, out of the unknown place where the gods live, and loosed it in response to his cry. He was only Leh Shin, a poor Chinaman who kept a miserable shop in the native quarter and an opium den down where the river water choked and gurgled at night, but he felt that he had touched something in the terrible shadows, and once more he beat the stones together, his face pouring with sweat. As the noise echoed up again, the last candle fell dying into a yellow pool of melted wax, and went out with an expiring flicker; and Leh Shin beat his hands against the darkness that shut upon him like a wall. He sprang to his feet and ran, and as he went wings seemed to bear down behind him. There was terror alive in the Joss House, and before that terror he fled panting and trembling, fearful that hands would close upon his black garments and drag him back, holding him until he went mad. As he made for the door he fancied he saw a shadowy form move in the gloom and clear his path, and it added the last touch of panic to his mind.

He leaned against an outer pillar for support, and gradually the noise of the street drew him back again to reality and to the solid facts of life once more. He had been badly scared, for in some cases when nothing that can be expressed in words takes place, an infinitely greater thing, that no words can express, has occurred mentally. To Leh Shin's bewildered mind it was clear that he had actually felt a Joss breathe upon him, and that he had heard its footsteps follow him across the marble floor; the Joss who had shaken the curtains and extinguished the candles.

Still bewildered, Leh Shin crossed the courtyard and sat down on the kerb; his head swam and he felt along his legs with shaking hands. A belated fruit seller went by, and he bought a handful of dates, stuck on a small rod and looking like immense beetles, and as he ate his confidence in life gradually returned. The Joss was at a safe distance in his house and there was the street to give courage to his heart; the street where men walked safe and secure, and where a worse fear than the fear of death did not prowl secretly.

After a little while, he got up from the stifling dust and walked slowly on. The streets flared with lights and the gold letters painted large on signboards in huge Chinese characters shone out, making a brave show. There were open restaurants where he could have gone in, and there were houses of entertainment, hung with paper lanterns, that invited passers with a sound of music, but Leh Shin continued his mechanical walk, having another purpose in his mind.

He turned out of the lighted glare of the shops and struck along a back alley, where one street lamp gave the sole illumination, and stopping at a low, arched door cut deep in a wall, he knocked and was admitted. Inside the entrance was another door heavily clamped with iron, which gave admission down a long, narrow passage to a room beyond. It was a small room, not unlike a prison, with heavy iron bars against the corridors, and it was quite bare of furniture except for two deal tables, around which a crowd of men stood playing for money with impassive faces and greedy, grasping hands. There was no mixture of race among the men who gambled; they were all Chinese, most of them clad in indigo-blue trousers and tight vests, though some of them wore white shirts and rakish straw hats. The young men had close-clipped hair and looked like clever bull-terriers, but the older men wore long pigtails wound round their heads in black, rope-like coils. The noise of dominoes thrown out by the man who held the bank and the rattle of dice were almost the only sounds in the room.

Under one table there was a small shrine, where a diminutive Joss presided over the fortunes of Chance, but Leh Shin did not go to it as was his usual habit before he began to play. He even eyed it uneasily and kept at the further end of the room.

He played with varying success for an hour, for two hours, and the third hour was running out before he shuffled off down the close passage, his scanty winnings tied in the corner of a rag stuffed into his belt, and was let out through the heavily barred doors into the street. The alley-way was deserted, and Leh Shin went down the kennel into the open place with the walk of a man who has something definite to do. A beggar, who had been sitting huddled under the wall of a house opposite, craned his neck out of the shadows, and followed him quickly.

Leh Shin had passed this last hour deliberately, so as to bring himself to some appointed place neither earlier nor later than he desired to get there, and Coryndon woke to the excitement of the chase again as he followed along the Colonnade. It was easy to walk quickly under the roof that ran from the entrance down to the turn that led into Paradise Street, and Leh Shin did not even pause as he passed his own doorway but made on rapidly until he came out at the far end. The hour was very late, and the street silent. A drop in the temperature had driven the sleepers who usually preferred the open to the closeness of walls, within, and the whole double row of houses slept with gaping windows and open doors.

Mhtoon Pah's curio shop was entirely closed. Every window had outer shutters fastened, and no gleam of light showed anywhere, up or down the high narrow front. When Leh Shin stopped in front of the doorway the beggar sat down opposite to him a little further down the street, his head bowed on his bosom. He watched Leh Shin prowl carefully round and climb with monkey-like agility from the rails to the window-ledge, where he peered in through the shutters, raising a broken lath to see into the interior.

Coryndon watched him with intent interest. The night was moonless, he knew that if a match were struck in the interior of the shop it would shine through the raised lath, and it was for that sight that his eyes strained and ached with intense concentration. The patience of the Chinaman made Coryndon feel that he was watching for something definite to happen, and at length a yellow bar cut suddenly across the dark. Coryndon's heart beat so loud that he feared its sound might be heard across the narrow street, and he gripped his hands together. The curio shop was no longer dark, for someone had come in with a lamp; Coryndon crept forward, his eyes on the Chinaman, who had slipped back on to the ground and had raced up the steps, beating against the door violently.

"Come out, father of lies, come out and speak with me. I have news of thy Absalom."

The beggar was at the foot of the steps now, close beside the dancing image, who smiled and called his attention to the rigid figure of Leh Shin.

"So thou hast news for me, unclean one? Of this shall the police hear full knowledge two hours after dawn. Where hast thou hidden the body of the boy who was the light of mine eyes, who was ever eager and honest in business?"

"Thou knowest, traitor," said the Chinaman, his voice hoarse with passion, "what is dark unto others is clear unto me. Have I not the tale of thy years written in the book of my mind?"

For a moment there was dead silence, and then a voice full of smooth malice and cruelty made answer to Leh Shin.

"Get thee to thy bed, fool."

"I wait," Leh Shin's voice cracked and trembled, "and when the hour that is already written for thy destruction comes like the night-bat, it is I who shall proclaim it to thee; thus I have demanded, and thus it shall fall out."

"O fruitful boaster, O friend of many years, thy words cause me great mirth. Get thee to thy kennel, lest I do indeed come forth and twist thy vulture's neck."

A laugh of scorn was the only response to Mhtoon Pah's threat, and the Chinaman turned and came down the steps.

"Alms, alms," whined a sleepy voice. "The poor are the children of the Holy One. I am blind and I know not the faces of men. Alms, alms, that thy merit may be written in the book."

"Ask of him that is in that house," said Leh Shin, pointing to the curio shop. "Strike him with thy pestilence that his fatness fall from him and his bones melt, and I will give thee golden rewards."

The secret passion of the words was so intense that the beggar was silenced, and Leh Shin passed on. He went from Paradise Street to a small burrow near the Colonnade, and turned into a mean house where the paper lantern still burned in token that the owners were awake. It was quite clean inside, and divided into large cubicles. In each cubicle was a table, covered with oilcloth, at the head of which was placed a red lacquer pillow and a little glass lamp that gave the only light needed in the long, low room. On the tables lay Burmen and Chinamen, some rigid in drugged sleep, and some smoking immense pipes with small, cup-like receptacles that held the opium. The proprietor was alert and wakeful as he flitted about, an American cigarette between his lips, in this strange garden of sleep.

"I am weary," said Leh Shin. "Let me rest here."

"It is great honour," replied the small, wizened old man, with the laugh. "What of thine own house by the river?"

"My limbs fail me. To-night my assistant supplies the needs of those who ask, for I had a business."

"And I trust thy business hath prospered with thee?"

Leh Shin stretched himself out on a table near the door.

"I await the hour of prosperity,"—he twisted a needle in the brown mass that was offered to him and held it over the lamp. "Evil are the days of a life whilst an old grudge burns like hot charcoal in the heart."

"It is even so," agreed the proprietor, and he hurried away from the noose of talk that Leh Shin would have cast around him.

The beggar, having followed Leh Shin as far as the opium den, returned along the Colonnade and knocked at the door of the house where Shiraz waited anxiously for his master.

"Is my bath prepared, Shiraz? I must wash before I sleep, and I shall sleep late."

Coryndon was weary. No one who has not watched through hours of strain and suspense knows the utter weariness of mind and body that follows upon the long effort of close attention, and he fell upon his bed in a huddled heap and slept for hour after hour, worn out in brain and body.



XVII

TELLS HOW CORYNDON LEARNS FROM THE REV. FRANCIS HEATH WHAT THE REV. FRANCIS HEATH NEVER TOLD HIM.

When Coryndon sat up in his bed, and recalled himself with a jerk from the drowsiness of night to the wakefulness of broad daylight, he called Shiraz to give to him instructions.

After dark, his master told him, he was going to return to the Cantonments, and during his absence there were some matters which he had decided to leave unreservedly in the hands of Shiraz. He was to cultivate his acquaintance with Leh Shin, the Chinaman, worming his way into his confidence and encouraging him to speak fully of the old hatred that was still like live fire between him and the wealthy curio dealer. Revenge may or may not take the shape and substance of the original wrong done, and the limited intelligence of the Chinaman would suggest payment in the same coin, so it was necessary for Coryndon to know the actual facts of the ancient grudge. Further than this, Shiraz was to go to the shop of Mhtoon Pah, and discover anything he could in the course of conversation with the Burman.

"Mark well all that is said, that when I return it may be disclosed to mine eyes through thy spectacles," he concluded, tying the ragged ends of his head-scarf over his forehead.

He went down the staircase with a slow, dragging step, leaning on the rail of the Colonnade when he got out into the street, and halting, with a vacant stare, outside the shop of Leh Shin.

"So thy devils have not yet caught thee and scalded thee with oil, or burned thee in quicklime?" jeered the boy, as he watched a coolie sweep out the shop.

He was chewing a raw onion, and he swung his legs idly, for there was nothing to do, and, on the whole, he was glad to have the mad Burman to bait for half an hour's entertainment.

"The sickness is heavy upon me, my legs are loaded as with wet sand, and my mouth is parched like a rock in the desert," whined the Burman plaintively.

"Nay, nay, not thy legs, and thy tongue. The legs and the mouth of the evil man, thy friend, O dolt."

The Burman shook his head stupidly.

"The will of the Holy Ones is that I shall recover, and my friend has said that I shall go a journey. I go by the terrain this night at sunset."

"Whither doth he send thee, unclean one?"

The Burman smiled with a sudden look of cunning.

"That is a word unspoken, and neither will I tell it. Thy desire to know what concerns thee not is as great as thy fatness."

With a doggedness that is often part of some forms of mania, the Burman squatted in the dust, and under no provocation could he be induced to speak. After midday he indicated by lifting his fingers to his mouth that he intended to go in search of food; having worked Leh Shin's assistant into a state of perspiring wrath by the simple process of reiterating in pantomime that he was dumb. It must be admitted that Coryndon got no small amount of pleasure out of his morning's entertainment, and he doubled himself up as though in pain as he dragged himself back to the house.

The vanished beggar's tracks were entirely obliterated, and when the Burman went off in a gharry in company with Shiraz, the whole street knew that he was being sent away on a secret mission of great importance.

To know something that other people do not know is to be in some way their superior. It is a popular fallacy to believe that we all of us are gifted with special insight. The dullest bore believes it of himself, but when it comes to the possession of an absolute fact superiority becomes unmistakable, particularly in circumscribed localities, and Leh Shin's assistant remembered how the sudden dumbness of the crazy Burman had irked his own soul. He told a little of what he professed to know, and having done so, refused to admit more, and so it was current in the Bazaar that the friend of the rich Punjabi was gone to receive money paid for jewels, and that the place of his destination was known only to Leh Shin's assistant, who, having sworn on oath, would by no means divulge the name of the place.

Even Leh Shin, who awoke late, appeared interested, and asked questions that made the gross, flabby boy think hard before he replied; and the mystery that attached itself to the departure of the Burman lent an added interest to Shiraz, who returned after the usual hour of prayer at the Mosque, and paced slowly up the street, meditating upon a verse from the Koran. The evening light softened and the shadows grew long, making the Colonnade dark a full hour before the street outside was wrapped in the smoky gloom of twilight and the charcoal fires were lighted to cook the evening meal, and by the time that the first clear globes of electric light dotted Paradise Street Coryndon was back in his room and dressed ready to go out to dinner.

Hartley received the wanderer with enthusiasm, and began at once by telling him that he had an invitation for him which was growing stale by long keeping. Mrs. Wilder was giving a very small party and both the Head of the Police and his friend were invited.

"I accepted definitely for myself, and conditionally for you," said Hartley cheerfully. "Now I will ring up Wilder and tell him that the prodigal has reappeared, and that you will come."

Coryndon submitted to the inevitable with a good grace; it was one of his best social qualifications, and arose from a keen sensitiveness that made it nearly impossible for him ever to disappoint anyone. He had hoped for a quiet evening, when he might expect to get to bed early and have time to think over every tiny detail of his time in the Mangadone Bazaar; but as this was not possible, he agreed with sufficient alacrity to deceive his kind host.

His face was drawn and tired, and his eyes were heavy; he noticed this as he glanced into his glass, but after all it did not matter. His social importance was small, and for to-night he was nothing more than an adjunct of Hartley, a mere postscript put in out of formal politeness. He was not going in order to please Mrs. Wilder—though, as she appeared on his mental list of names, she had her place in the structure that filled his mind—but to please Hartley. Any time would have done for Mrs. Wilder, she was but a cypher in the total, but if he had begged off to-night he would have had to hurt Hartley. Coryndon could never get away from the other man's point of view; it dogged him in great things and in small, and he was obliged to realize Hartley's pleasure in seeing him, and his further pleasure in carrying him off to a house where he himself enjoyed life thoroughly. Coryndon could as easily have disappointed a child, or been cruel to a small, wagging puppy as to Hartley in his present mood.

He knew that he would have to shut the door upon his dominating thought, unless something occurred to open it during the evening. Women liked to play with fire, and he wondered if Mrs. Wilder would show any inclination to fiddle with gunpowder, but he hardly expected that she would, though she had played some part in the extensive drama that reached from Heath's bungalow to the Colonnade in the Chinese quarter, leaving a gap between that his brain struggled with in vain.

It was like the imaginable space between life and death, where both conditions existed, and one was the key to the other. Something was lacking. One small master touch wanting to lay the whole thing bare of mystery. Coryndon's weary eyes reflected the state of his mind. He felt like an inventor who is baffled for the lack of a tiny clue that makes the impossible natural and easy, or a composer who hears a refrain and cannot call it into birth in clear defiant chords. To think too much when thought cannot carry the mind over the limiting barrier is to spend substance on fruitless effort, and Coryndon deliberately shut the door of his mind and put the key away before he started out with Hartley.

The night was clear as the two men went off together hatless through the soft moonlight. Neither Coryndon nor Hartley talked much as they walked by a short cut across the park to the Wilders' bungalow, a servant carrying a lantern going before them like a dim will-o'-the-wisp; the yellow lamplight paling into an ineffectual blur against the clear moonlight.

"I think it is only ourselves," said Hartley after a long pause. "You are looking a bit done, Coryndon, so you'll be glad if it isn't a late night."

Coryndon agreed, and conversation flagged again. They crossed the road, turned up the avenue and were lost in the shadows of the trees, coming out again into a white bay of light outside the door.

Everyone, man or woman, who is endowed at birth with a sensitive nature is subject to occasional inrushes of detachment that without warning cut him off from realities for moments or hours, converting everyday matters into the consistency of dream-life. It was through this medium that Coryndon saw Mrs. Wilder when he came into the large upstairs drawing-room. It would have annoyed her to know that she appeared indefinite and shadowy to his mind, just as it annoyed Alice when she was told that she was only "Something in the Red King's dream," but Coryndon could not help his sensations. Mrs. Wilder was smiling with her careless, easy, confident smile, and yet he saw only an unaccounted bit of the puzzle, that he could not fit in. She was dressed in the latest fashion, and talked with a kind of regal amiability, but nevertheless, she was not a real woman, a real hostess, or a positive entity; she was vague, and the touch of her floating personality added to the baffled sensation that drained Coryndon's mind of concentrated force, and made him physically exhausted.

Wilder had something to say to Hartley, and Coryndon handed himself over like a coat or an umbrella to Mrs. Wilder, who, he knew, was placing a low valuation upon him, and was already a little impatient at his lack of vitality. She was calling him a bore, behind her fine, hard eyes, and having exhausted Mangadone in a few sentences, wondered what sort of bore he really was. There were golf bores, fishing bores, and shooting bores, but Coryndon hardly appeared to belong to any of those families, and she began to suspect him of "superiority," a type of bore aggressive to others of his cult. Mrs. Wilder did not tolerate a type to which she herself undoubtedly owned to some slight connection, and she gave up all effort to awaken interest in the slim, weary young man, who looked half-asleep.

"Mr. Heath ought to be here directly," she said, in her loud, clear voice. "Draycott, don't forget to ask him to say grace."

If she had got up and taken Coryndon by the shoulders and shaken him, the effect could not have been more marked and sudden. All the dull feeling of detachment cleared off at once, and he knew that his senses were sharp and acute; his bodily fatigue fell away, and as he moved in his chair his eyes turned towards the door.

"I wish he would hurry," growled Wilder, a prey to the pessimism of the half-hour before dinner. "He is inexcusably late as it is."

As though his words had summoned the Rev. Francis Heath, footsteps mounting the staircase followed Wilder's remark, and the clergyman came into the room. Immediately upon his coming, conversation became general, and a few moments later the party was seated round a small table kept for intimate gatherings, and placed in the centre of the large teak-panelled room. An arrangement of plumbago and maidenhair, and pale blue shaded candles casting a dim light, carried out the saxe blue effect that Mrs. Wilder had evolved with the assistance of a ladies' paper that dealt with "effective and original table decoration."

In spite of Mrs. Wilder's efforts, assisted as they were by Hartley, conversation flagged for the first two courses. Heath was not exactly awkward, but he was conscious of the fact that he and Hartley had had an unpleasant interview, buried by the passing of a few weeks, but by no means peaceful in its grave. There was just a suggestion of strain in his manner, and he was evidently carrying through a duty in being there at all, rather than out for pleasant society.

Coryndon observed him carefully, particularly when he talked to his hostess. If she was helping to screen him, the clergyman was too honest not to show some sign of gratitude either in his manner or in his deep-set eyes, and yet no such indication was evident. Coryndon disassociated his mind from the history of the case, and saw austerity flavoured with a near approach to disapproval. Judging by externals, the Rev. Francis Heath held no very exalted opinion of his hostess.

"She has done nothing for him," he said to himself. "If obligation exists, it is the other way round," and he proceeded to watch Mrs. Wilder's manner towards her clerical guest with heightening interest.

Usually she was very sure of herself, more especially so in her own house, and surrounded with the evidences of her husband's official rank. When Mrs. Wilder talked to the poor, insignificant Padre who could be of no real social assistance to her, she changed her manner, the manner that she directed pointedly towards Coryndon, and became quelled and softened.

Mrs. Wilder, propitiatory and diffident, was, Coryndon felt, Mrs. Wilder caught out somehow and somewhere; perhaps on the night of the 29th of July, and as he considered it, Coryndon knew that the shoe was on a much smaller foot than Hartley had measured for it, and that the secret understanding between Heath and Mrs. Wilder was one-sided in its benefits.

Hartley had recounted the story of the fainting fit as a landmark by which he remembered where he was himself, and, adding this fact to what he observed, Coryndon put Mrs. Wilder on one side and mentally drew a red-ink line under her total. He knew all he needed to know about her, and she had no further interest for his mind. He talked to her husband when once he had satisfied himself definitely, and as dinner wore on the atmosphere became more genial and less strained than when it had begun.

"By the way," said Wilder carelessly, "was it ever discovered how that fellow Rydal got clear of the country?"

He spoke to Hartley, but Heath, who had been talking across the table to Coryndon, lost his place, stumbled and recovered himself with difficulty, and then lapsed into silence. Hartley had a few things to say about Rydal, but chief among them was the astounding fact that he had dodged the police, who were watching the wharves and jetties, and, so far as he knew, the man had never left Mangadone.

"Do you suppose that he got away disguised?"

"Impossible," said Hartley, with decision. "He was a big, fair Englishman with blue eyes. Nothing on earth could have made him look anything else. It was too risky to attempt that game."

Mrs. Wilder was not interested in Rydal, and she sprayed Coryndon with light, pointless conversation, leaving Heath to his meditations for the moment. Hartley would have enjoyed a private talk with his hostess because he loved her platonically, and because it was impossible he was distrait and jerky, trying to appear cordial towards Heath. It was one of those evenings that make everyone concerned wonder why they ever began it, and though Coryndon was of all the invited guests the one who found least favour in the eyes of his hostess, he was the only one who felt glad that he had come, and was perfectly convinced that it had been worth it.

The Rev. Francis Heath rose early to take his leave; and there was a distinct impression of relief when he had gone.

"That Padre is like wet blotting-paper," said Wilder, when he came back into the drawing-room. "No more duty invitations, Clarice, or else wait until I am out in camp."

"He is a bore," said Mrs. Wilder, throwing her late guest to the sharks without remorse. "But I suppose he can't help it. He may have something to worry him." She just indicated her point with a glance at Hartley, who murmured incoherently and became interested in his drink.

"Parsons are all alike," said Wilder, who fully believed that he stated an obvious fact. "I feel as if I ought to apologize for not going to church whenever I meet one."

"He is a bore," repeated Mrs. Wilder. "But he is finished with for the present."

Coryndon looked up.

"I suppose one is inclined to mix up a man with his profession, as people often mix up nationalities with races, forgetting that they are absolutely apart. Heath is not my idea of a clergyman."

"And what is your idea?" asked Mrs. Wilder, with a smile that was slightly encouraging.

"A man with less temperament," said Coryndon slowly. "Heath lacks a certain commonplace courage, because he feels things too much. He is not altogether honest with himself or his congregation, because he has the protective instinct over-developed. If I had a secret I should feel that it was perfectly safe with Heath."

A slow red stain showed itself on Mrs. Wilder's cheek, and she gave a hard, mechanical laugh.

"Are these the deductions of one evening? No wonder you are a silent man, Mr. Coryndon."

If Coryndon had been a cross-examining counsel instead of a guest at a dinner-party, he would have thanked Mrs. Wilder politely and told her that she might "step down." As it was, he assured her that he was only attracted by certain personalities, and that, usually speaking, he did not analyse his impressions.

"He is a bore," said Mrs. Wilder, making the statement for the third time that evening, and thus disposing of Heath definitely.

"It wasn't up to the usual mark," said Hartley, half-apologetically as he and Coryndon walked home together. "I felt so awkward about meeting Heath." He paused and looked at Coryndon, longing to put a question to him, but not wishing to break their agreement as to silence.

"Tell me about Rydal," said Coryndon in the voice of a man who shifts a conversation adroitly. "I don't remember your having mentioned the case."

Hartley had not much to tell. The man had been in a position of responsibility in the Mangadone Bank, and Joicey had given information against him the very day he absconded. Rydal was married, and the cruel part of the story lay in the fact that he had deserted his wife on her deathbed, fully aware that she was dying.

"She died the evening he left, or was supposed to have left. At all events, the evening he disappeared."

"And the date?"

Coryndon's eyes were turned on Hartley's face, and he heard him laugh.

"You'll hardly believe it, but it happened, like everything else, on the twenty-ninth of July."

"Can your boy look after me for a few days?" Coryndon asked quietly. "I was not able to bring my bearer with me, and I may have to be here for a little longer than I had expected."

"Of course he can."

They walked into the bungalow together, and it surprised and distressed Hartley to see how white and weary the face of his friend showed under the hanging lamp.

"I ought not to have dragged you out," he said remorsefully.

"I am very glad you did."

There was so much sincerity in Coryndon's tone that Hartley was satisfied, and he saw him into his room before he went off, whistling to his dog and calling out a cheery "Good night."



XVIII

THE REV. FRANCIS HEATH UNLOCKS HIS DOOR AND SHOWS WHAT LIES BEHIND

When Coryndon made up his mind to any particular course of action and time pressed, he left nothing to chance. Under ordinary circumstances, he was perfectly ready to wait and let things happen naturally; and so greatly did he adhere to this belief in chance that he always hesitated to make anything deliberately certain. Had he felt that he could allow time to bring circumstance into his grasp, he would have preferred to do so, but, as he sat on the side of his bed, his chota haziri untouched on a table at his elbow, he knew that every minute counted, and that he must come out of the shadow and deliberately face and force the position.

If he could always have worked in the dark he would have done so, and no one ever guessed how unwillingly he disclosed himself. He was a shadow in the great structure of criminal investigation, and he came and went like a shadow. When it was possible he vanished out of his completed case before his agency was detected, and as he sat thinking, he wondered if Hartley could not be trusted with the task that lay before him that day, but even as the thought came into his mind he decided against it. Opportunity must be nailed like false coin to the counter, and there could be no question of leaving a meeting to the last moment of chance. He had to make sure of his man; that was the first step.

During the course of an idle morning, Coryndon wandered to the church, and saw that at 5.30 p.m. the Rev. Francis Heath was holding service. After the service there would be a choir practice, and Coryndon, having made a mental note of the hour, went back to luncheon with Hartley.

The afternoon sunlight was dreaming in the garden, and the drowsy air was full of the scent of flowers. Coryndon had something to do, and he was wise enough to make no settled plan as to how he would do it, beforehand. He put away all thought of Absalom and the other lives connected with the disappearance of the Christian boy, and let his thoughts drift out, drawing in the light and colour of the world outside.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse