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CHAPTER XII A JAPANESE DIPLOMATIST
If Count Akira was indeed anxious to visit Beckleigh, he certainly did not betray much alacrity in accepting the Squire's cordial invitation. He did write to the effect that he would be delighted to come, but postponed his arrival until the second week in January. Official business, he stated, would keep him employed during the next few weeks, and he would be unable to leave his chief. Consequently there was only a family party present at the Christmas festivities. Mr. Colpster, being of a conservative nature, always kept these up in an old-fashioned, hospitable style. Indeed, he invited several friends to join on this occasion, as his nephew was at home, but the friends, having their own families and own festivities, declined to put in an appearance. The Squire was not sorry, as he disliked the trouble of entertaining visitors.

As it was, he gave the servants a dinner, and bestowed coals and blankets and hampers of wholesome food on the inhabitants of Hendle, Boatwain, and the other hamlets, all of which had at one time belonged to dead and gone Colpsters. For this reason did the Squire act so generously, and he hoped when the emerald was recovered--for he refused to believe that it had gone back to its shrine in Japan--that the future good fortune which would come with it would enable him to buy back the lost lands. Meanwhile, by acting as the lord of a lost manor, he retained the feudal allegiance of the villagers. There was something pathetic in the way in which the old man persistently looked forward to the rehabilitation of his family. He made sure that the Mikado Jewel would come back; he felt certain that the land would be recovered, and was convinced that when he passed away, the husband of Mara would start a new dynasty of Colpsters, through the female branch, whose glories would outshine the ancient line. But who Mara was to marry did not seem quite clear.

He spoke to the girl on the subject and suggested that she should become the wife of Theodore or Basil. Mara shuddered when he mentioned the first name, and her father noted the repugnance the shudder revealed.

"I don't approve much of Theodore myself," he said apologetically, "as he is extremely selfish. But he has no bad qualities which would lead him to waste money, and, moreover, he loves this place. You might do worse, dear."

"If Theodore was the only man on earth and offered me a kingdom, I would not marry him," said Mara, speaking decisively and in a firm way, which contrasted strongly with her usual indifference, "He is a bad man."

"My dear child, he has no vices. He neither drinks, nor gambles, nor----"

"If he had all the vices of which a human being is capable," interrupted Mara loudly, "I would not mind. But his bad qualities are inhuman. He is selfish and dangerous, and all his time is given to Black Magic."

The Squire laughed incredulously. "I know that Theodore dabbles in such things," he said disbelievingly; "but it is all imagination, Mara. There is no such a thing as any power to be obtained in that way."

"Yes there is. I know," said Mara, looking at her father significantly.

"Can you prove what you say, my dear?"

"No. And I don't want to talk any more about the matter. I won't marry my cousin Theodore, even if you leave the property away from me."

"I don't want to do that. You are my heiress, and my idea was for you to marry your cousin. Then he could take your name, and----"

"I shan't marry Theodore," cried Mara for the third time, and stamped.

"Basil, then. You can have no fault to find with Basil."

"I haven't, father, but"--Mara stopped, and a strange smile spread over her small, pale face--"I shall ask Basil to marry me, if you like," she said in an abrupt way. "He can but say no."

"He won't say no, my dear. Basil loves me too well to thwart my wishes. But it is his part to woo and yours to listen. Let him ask."

"I should have to wait a long time before he did that," said Mara dryly. "I wish to know the best or worst at once," and she left the room, still smiling strangely. Mr. Colpster could not understand why she smiled. But, then, neither he nor anyone else understood the girl, who seemed to hang between two worlds, the Seen and the Unseen, without making use of either, so indifferent was her attitude towards all things.

As it happened, Patricia was busy attending to the servants, as it was her housekeeping hour. Mara was thus enabled to find Basil alone, for when Miss Carrol was available he constantly followed at her heels like a faithful and adoring dog. But Patricia would not appear for some time, so the sailor read the daily paper in the smoking-room and solaced himself for the absence of the eternal feminine with his pipe. Mara knew where to find him, and entered in her light, noiseless way, to perch on the arm of his chair like a golden butterfly. Without any preamble she plunged into the reason for her intrusion into bachelor quarters.

"Basil, will you marry me?" she asked, coldly and calmly and unexpectedly.

Looking on his cousin as a child, the young man thought that she was joking, and laughed when he answered: "Of course. Will we start now for the church on the moors where all the Colpsters have been married?"

"I am in earnest, Basil," she said seriously.

"So am I," he rejoined lightly, "only it will be the marriage of Bottom and Titania with you, my airy elf," and he slipped his arm round her waist, looking at her with a smile on his handsome face.

Mara, who disliked being touched, even by Patricia, much more by this confident male thing--as she called Basil in her mind--slipped off the arm of the chair and floated like thistledown into the centre of the room.

"Don't be silly, Basil. I have just come from my father. He wants me to marry you or Theodore. I hate Theodore, and would sooner die than become his wife, but I told father that I would ask you to become my husband."

Basil saw that she really meant what she said, and, moreover, knew of his uncle's strong desire to unite the two branches of the dwindling Colpster family. Laying aside his pipe, he grew red to the roots of his closely-cropped hair. "I--I--don't want to," he stuttered ungallantly, and feeling very much confused. "I--I hope you don't mind."

A wintry smile gleamed on the girl's white face. "I should have minded a great deal had you really wished to marry me."

"Then why ask me?" demanded Basil, much relieved, but still confused.

"To set my father's mind at rest," replied Mara quietly, and as self-possessed as her cousin was disturbed. "Now that you have declined, I can tell him!" and she flitted towards the door.

"But, Mara!" Basil rose and ran across the room to catch her arm. "How can you be certain that I mean what I say?"

She turned on him with an amazed look. "You think that I am a child, Basil, but I am not. I have eyes and ears and common-sense. You will marry Patricia, will you not?"

Young Dane grew redder than ever. "I--I--have said nothing to her," he stammered nervously. "She--she doesn't know that I--that I----"

Mara's scornful laughter stopped his further speech, and she became quite friendly for so bloodless a person. "You silly boy!" she cried, ruffling what hair the barber had left him. "Patricia knows."

"But how can she?"

"Because she is a woman," said Mara impatiently. "Women are not like men, and don't require everything to be put into words. I saw from the moment you met Patricia that you loved her. I'm glad; I'm glad," she ended, with conviction, "as I don't want to marry you or anyone else."

Basil, with lover-like selfishness, did not pay attention to the end of her speech, but to the earlier part. "If you saw, then Miss Carrol must have seen."

"Miss Carrol!" mocked Mara, with dancing eyes. "Why not Patricia?"

"Oh!" the shy sailor blushed. "I shouldn't care to call her that."

His cousin took him by the coat-lapels and shook him with frail strength.

"Silly creature! If you have not the courage to take what you can get, Patricia will have nothing to do with you. Women like a bold lover."

"I don't believe she will ever return my love," sighed Basil dolefully.

"Oh, as to that, she returns it already."

"Mara!" he flushed again, this time with sheer delight, "do you think----"

"I don't think. I know, and I'm very glad, for Patricia is a darling. I hope that father, who is as fond of her as I am, will give her Beckleigh on condition that she marries you, who can't say 'Bo' to a goose."

Basil looked serious and sighed again. "I'm sorry to upset Uncle George's plans, for he has always been kind to me. But not even for the estate could I give up Miss--that is, Patricia."

"No one wants you to give up either," said Mara impatiently. "Father will no doubt give you Beckleigh."

"No, dear. That would not be right. You are the heiress."

"And what would I do with it? Keep a boarding-house, or start a convent of nuns? I would much rather have a small income and be able to move round as I please."

"You will marry some day, Mara. Mr. Right will come along."

"Mr. Right will never come along," cried Mara, and coloured crimson, which was unusual, "unless he comes from the other world."

"What do you mean?" asked the sailor, greatly puzzled by this weird speech.

"Oh, never mind," retorted Mara, pitying his lack of comprehension. "Sit down and dream of your Patricia. I am going to tell father that my heart is broken." And shooting a whimsical glance at the amazed and startled Basil she slipped out of the room.

Five minutes later Miss Carrol arrived, with her household work completed for the day. In spite of what Mara had told him, Basil would not follow the path she had pointed out. He was rather more attentive than usual to Patricia, and gave her to understand that he would wreck continents for her sake. But the modesty of a man, which is greater than that of a woman, kept his tongue quiet and his eyes unintelligent. Patricia did not entirely approve of this restrained attitude, as she knew that he loved her, and wished to be told so in plain English. She could not understand why he did not speak. But Basil himself understood very well. He waited for Patricia to give him a sufficiently strong hint that she adored him, and then he could lay himself at her feet. It did not seem right, so Basil thought, to act on what he had learned from Mara, as that would be taking advantage of illicit intelligence. But for the sailor's rigorous views of honour, the situation could have been adjusted then and there. All the same, it was not, because she could not speak and he would not.

As for Mara, she returned to her father and demonstrated to him very plainly that her cousin wished to marry Miss Carrol, and that when the time came he would do so. Colpster felt annoyed. Mara could not marry Basil, and would not many Theodore, so his plans for the future well-being of the family were all disarranged.

"What would you say if I gave Beckleigh to Basil?" he asked pointedly. "He could marry Patricia, you know, and take my name."

"I should be very glad," replied Mara quietly.

"Well, then, I won't," said her father, greatly annoyed. "You are the last of the direct line and should have the property."

"I wouldn't know what to do with it."

"You could live here when I am gone."

Mara raised her faint eyebrows. "All alone?" she questioned. "You know I would not allow Theodore to stay, and that Patricia would go with Basil, who is always moving round the world. Oh, I couldn't."

"What's to be done, then?" asked the Squire helplessly.

Mara threw her arms round his neck, a rare demonstration of affection from so usually a self-controlled girl. "Wait," she whispered, "wait and see what is about to happen."

"What is about to happen?"

"I don't know. But something is coming along to change all our lives."

"How do you know?"

"I can't tell you. I only feel that there is something in the air to----"

"Oh!" Colpster grew angry; "more of your occult rubbish. I wish you were an ordinary girl, Mara, and not a dreaming visionary. I shall wait until the emerald comes back, and then you must make up your mind to marry Theodore, since Basil's affections are engaged."

Mara reflected and thought how very certain Theodore was that the emerald had gone back to Japan never to return. The recollection gave her a chance of pacifying her father, and of securing her freedom. "Very well, then," she said quietly. "When you get the emerald, father, I shall marry him," and in this way the affair was settled for the time being. But think as she might, Mara could not guess how her father expected the Mikado Jewel to return to the Colpster family. And even if it did, she could not understand how its possession would affect things in any way.

Meanwhile the days and weeks passed by and the time drew near for the visit of Count Akira. Mara, although she said nothing, was looking forward to his arrival. Why, she did not know, for, as a rule, she was quite indifferent to those who came to Beckleigh Hall. In her heart, however, she felt that he was coming into her life, either for good or ill, and it was this feeling which made her say to her father that a change was about to take place. But she could not have put her feeling into words, and did not attempt to do so. With the fatalism which was inherent in her character, she waited passively, certain that what was meant to be would certainly become when the hour struck. There was nothing more to be said.

Theodore had duly told his uncle of the interview with Isa Lee, although for obvious reasons he said nothing about the séance with the grandmother. The Squire was, therefore, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Harry Pentreddle, as he then hoped to learn how and why the young man had stolen the emerald. Also, he might be able to guess who had snatched it from the hand of Patricia, and, if so, could then tell in whose possession it now was. A great deal depended upon what Pentreddle had to say, and Colpster watched daily for his coming. But Count Akira was the first to arrive, and in attending to a new and fascinating guest, the Squire almost forgot his anxiety to hear the evidence of young Pentreddle.

The Japanese came late in the evening, having arrived at Hendle by the express, to be driven to Beckleigh by Basil. The young man went to meet his friend, and brought him to the Hall in time to dress for dinner. It was not until the meal was in progress that Mara set eyes on him, and then she was so excited by his presence, although she did not show her feelings, that she could scarcely eat. What she had expected--vague as it was--had come true. This man from the Far East was the man who would change her life. Into what he would change it, and down what new path he would lead her, she could not say. All she knew was that with the hour had come the man.

Count Akira was a small, neat person, with a bronze-coloured skin, a clean-shaven face, black hair and black eyes, and a very dignified manner. At the first sight he did not look particularly impressive, as the European evening-dress did not entirely suit his aggressively Oriental appearance. But when those gathered in the drawing-room came to notice his keen, dark eyes, so observant and piercing, to listen to his carefully-worded speech, and to look at his nobly-formed head, they became aware that he was no ordinary man. Race was apparent in his gestures and glances and dominating manner, so quiet yet imperious. He came of a noble line accustomed to rule, and his personality made itself felt more and more as something strong and dangerous, while the hours passed. He was the past, the present, the future of the island empire, the epitome of Japan, the representative of the highest type of the Yellow Race, filled with far-reaching ambitions.

"Is it true that you worship the sun in Japan?" asked Theodore tactlessly.

Akira turned his shrewd eyes on the speaker, and smilingly displayed a set of snowy teeth. "Some do and some don't," he replied evasively; "but I assure you, Mr. Dane, that if you ever saw the sun in England you would worship him also, and with very good reason."

"Oh, we get the sun here," said the Squire patriotically.

"You get a name, but not the real central planet," said Akira, with a shrug. "Clouds and mist obscure his rays. Only in the East does the true sun exist. Is that not so, Dane?" he spoke to Basil, whom he always addressed in this way, although he was more ceremonious with Theodore.

"It is," assented the sailor, with a laugh. "And yet, Akira, when under your painfully blue skies and in your blazing sunshine, I have often longed for the cooling mists of England you so despise."

"That is quite poetical," smiled Patricia.

"Sailors are always poetical, although they don't show that side to landsmen. The solitary spaces of sea and sky, when one is driven back on one's self to think out high things, is enough to make any man poetical."

"Well," said Mara shrewdly, "if sailors don't show that side to landsmen, they probably show it to landswomen. Is that not so, Basil?" and she mischievously glanced from him to Patricia and back again.

"To some women," replied Basil briefly, and colouring through his tan.

"What! When a sailor has a wife in every port!" sneered Theodore; then aware that he had said more than he ought to in the presence of ladies, he quickly turned to Akira. "Perhaps, Count, you will tell us about Japan."

The little man blinked his keen eyes and politely assented. He made himself comfortable, and in many coloured words placed fairy-land before their eyes. With great charm of manner, he told of cool Buddhist temples, wherein weird ceremonies take place; he related the delightful legend of Jizo-Sama, that kindly god who protects dead children; he pictured the vivid life of toy cities, all colour and movement, and drew the attention of his fascinated hearers to the charm of Japanese and Chinese lettering, which lend themselves to fantastic and odd decoration. After a time he gave a description of a pilgrimage he had made to Fuji, that sacred mountain, which appears in a thousand and one pictures of Dai Nippon. "My country with Fuji-Yama left out is like Hamlet without the Prince," he said, smiling. "That mountain is the guardian genius of the land."

Then he told about the rice-fields, with their delicate springing green, of the cherry-orchards in blossom, of the pine forest where fox-women lurked, and sketched out many charming legends. His talk was like a page of Lafcadio Hearn, and Mara hung breathlessly on his words. As he proceeded, her breath became quick and short and her eyes grew larger. She looked at the narrator, through him, past him, as though all he described were passing before her like a panorama of byegone centuries. Suddenly she clapped her hands.

"I remember; I remember," she cried, rising unsteadily to her feet. "Your land is my land. I remember at last," and stopping suddenly, she sank unconscious at the feet of the astonished Japanese.




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