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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Mikado Jewel » CHAPTER XIII THE UNEXPECTED
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Next day Mara was quite her old indifferent self. With feminine craft, she denied what she had said, even though five witnesses were ready to repeat the words. "I didn't know what I was saying," said Mara impatiently. "Of course, the heat was too much for me."

"The heat?" repeated her father; "in January?"

"Beckleigh isn't England. My nerves are out of order.--Count Akira had some funny Japanese scent on his handkerchief.--Theodore was looking at me, and that always upsets me." And in this way she made idle excuses, none of which would hold water. "I wish you would leave me alone," she ended, angrily.

As there was nothing else for it, she was left alone, and the queer episode was passed over. Mara was polite to the Japanese and nothing more; but her eyes were constantly following him about, and she came upon him by design in unexpected places. Akira was too shrewd not to notice that he was an object of interest to this pale, golden-haired English maid, and inwardly was puzzled to think why she should pursue him in this secretive fashion. Mara everlastingly inquired about Japan, and about its people. She wished to know the manners and customs of the inhabitants, and entreated the Count to draw word-pictures of Far-Eastern landscapes. But he observed that she never asked him questions when anyone else was present. With a delicate sense of chivalry, he kept silent about this secret understanding which her odd conduct had brought about between them. For there was an understanding without doubt. Akira found himself wondering at times if she was really English, for towards him, at all events, she did not display the world-wide reserve for which the island race of the West is famous.

Of course, Squire Colpster seized the first opportunity to question his guest about the emerald. But Akira professed that he knew little more than the facts that there was such a stone and that it had been stolen some months before from the temple. "I have been to Kitzuki," said the Count, "as my religion is Shinto, and in Izumo is the oldest of our shrines. A very wonderful building it is, and was built in legendary ages by order of the Sun-goddess."

"But the same temple surely does not exist now?"

"Oh, no. It has been rebuilt twenty-eight times, and----"

The Squire interrupted him with an exclamation. "I remember! Lafcadio Hearn says that in one of his books."

"He was a very clever man, and loved our people," replied Akira quietly.

"Yes! yes!" Colpster nodded absently. "It is strange that he did not say anything about the Mikado Jewel."

"It is not generally shown to strangers," explained the Japanese. "I have seen it myself, of course."

"What is it like?"

"Like a chrysanthemum blossom of green jade with an emerald in the centre, Mr. Colpster. I believe it was given to the shrine by one of our Emperors, called Go Yojo."

"It was; and he received it from Shogun Ieyasu."

Akira fixed his sharp black eyes on the tired face of his host. "You seem--pardon me--to know a great deal about this jewel," he observed inquiringly.

"I ought to. The emerald belonged to our family centuries ago."

"You astonish me."

"I thought I would!" cried the Squire triumphantly. "Yes; an ancestor of mine gave the emerald to Queen Elizabeth, and she sent it, through an English pilot called Will Adams, to Akbar, the Emperor of India. Adams, however, was wrecked on your coasts, Count, and presented the jewel to Ieyasu."

"How very interesting," said Akira, his usually passive Oriental face betraying his wonder. "Thank you for telling me all this, Mr. Colpster. I must relate it to the priests of the Kitzuki Temple, when I return to my own land. I do so in a month or two," he added courteously.

"But the Jewel is now lost!"

"So I understand. I read the report of the death of your housekeeper."

Colpster gazed in astonishment at the little man. "Did that interest you?"

"Naturally," rejoined Akira, unmoved, "seeing that her death was connected with the Mikado Jewel."

"Are you sure that it is the same?" asked Colpster breathlessly.

"Assuredly, from the description. I expect the thief, whosoever he was, brought the emerald to London."

"But who stole it from Miss Carrol?"

Akira shrugged his shoulders and spread out his small hands. "Alas! I do not know. But you should, Mr. Colpster, seeing that the thief proposed to transfer it to your housekeeper through Miss Carrol?" He looked very directly at his host as he spoke.

The Squire reflected for a few minutes. "I will be frank with you, Count," he observed earnestly. "That emerald brought good luck to our family, and since it has left our possession, we have had misfortunes and losses. I wished to get back the jewel and gave Basil a sum of money to----"

"To offer to buy it back," interrupted Akira, nodding. "Yes, I know. You sent him on a dangerous errand, Mr. Colpster. But for me he would have been murdered, as perhaps you know."

"Basil told me the story," said Colpster, drawing himself up stiffly; "but I cannot really agree with you as to the danger. I merely offered to buy back what belonged to an ancestor of mine."

"Your ancestor parted with it," said Akira, readily and rather dryly, "so, as the stone has become a sacred one, it was impossible for the priests to take money for it. I know Dane had nothing to do with its disappearance."

"Ah!" the Squire became cautious. "I don't know who had anything to do with the theft. I wish I did."

"What then?"

"I would seek out the thief and regain the jewel."

"By your own showing the thief parted with the emerald to Miss Carrol," was Akira's quiet remark. "That it was taken from her is strange."

"Oh, I don't think so, Count. Some thief saw Miss Carrol looking at it--you remember, of course, the details given at the inquest--and snatched it."

Akira was silent for a few moments. "Mr. Colpster," he said earnestly, "if you are wise, you will make no attempt to regain this stone. It brought your family good luck centuries ago, but if it comes into your possession again, it will bring bad luck."

"How do you, know?"

"I don't know for certain; I don't even know why it was snatched from Miss Carrol, or where it is now," said Akira coldly, "but I do know," he added with great emphasis, "that since the emerald has been adapted to certain uses in the Shinto Temple at Kitzuki, the powers it possesses must be entirely changed."

"Oh, I don't believe it has such powers," said the Squire roughly.

"Yet you believe that it will bring you good luck," said Akira with a dry little cough. "Isn't that rather illogical, sir?"

Mr. Colpster could find no rejoinder to this very leading question, and dropped the subject. It was very plain that Akira knew very little about the matter, and also it was dangerous to speak to him on the subject. If, indeed, the jewel was in the possession of a London thief, it might be recovered sooner or later. And if Akira knew that it had again passed into the possession of the Colpster family, he might get his ambassador to claim it for Japan. The Squire rather regretted that he had spoken of the matter at all, since his explanation might arouse his guest's curiosity. But as the days passed away, and Akira did not again refer to the abruptly terminated conversation, Colpster thought that he was mistaken. The Japanese really was indifferent to the loss of the Jewel, and no doubt had never given the subject a second thought. But the Squire determined, should he learn anything from Harry Pentreddle, to keep his knowledge to himself.

"Akira doesn't care," he meditated; "but one never knows. If I can get the emerald by some miracle, he may want it for Kitzuki again. I shall hold my tongue for the future. I was a fool to speak of the matter."

Having decided to act in this manner, he warned Theodore and Basil and Mara not to refer in any way to the Mikado Jewel. Yet, strangely enough, he did not warn the person who knew most to hold her tongue. It therefore came about that one day, while Patricia was showing the gardens to Akira, he abruptly mentioned the subject of the inquest and incidentally touched on her adventure in Hyde Park.

"Were you not afraid, Miss Carrol?"

"Yes and no. I was not afraid until the emerald was taken from me," said Patricia frankly.

"Why?" asked the Count politely, and with seeming indifference.

She hesitated. "I fear you will think me silly." Then in reply to his wave of a hand that such an idea would never enter his head, she added hastily: "When I held the emerald I felt a power radiating out from it."

"Ah!" the Japanese started in spite of his usual self-command. "Then you have occult powers and sight and feeling and hearing?"

"I have not," replied Patricia, vexed with herself that she had spoken so freely. "I am a very commonplace person indeed, Count. I felt that feeling because I was worried and hungry."

"Naturally!" muttered Akira to himself; "you get in touch with it when the physical body is weak."

"Get in touch with what?" asked Patricia crossly, for she began to think that this beady-eyed little man was making game of her.

"With what you felt; with what you saw."

"I shan't say anything more about the matter." Patricia turned away with great dignity. "I'm sorry I spoke at all."

"Your secret is safe with me, Miss Carrol."

"It isn't a secret. Mr. Colpster and his two nephews know."

"I don't suppose they understand."

"Mr. Theodore Dane does!" snapped Miss Carrol fractiously, for the persistence of the man was getting on her nerves.

"Yes," said Akira with a ghostly smile; "in a way; but he doesn't know enough. Pity for him that he doesn't."

"What are you talking about, Count?"

"Nonsense!" he replied promptly; "after all, Miss Carrol, I am here to play."

"I wonder you came here at all to such a quiet place."

"Oh, I don't care for orgies, Miss Carrol. But if you ask me, I wonder also why I am here."

Patricia felt that he was speaking truthfully and turned on him with a look of amazement. From all she had seen of the small Japanese, she judged that he was a man who knew his own mind. As she looked, by some telepathic process he guessed what was in hers. "Sometimes I do," he answered; "but on this occasion I don't--exactly"--and he drawled the last word slowly.

Patricia almost jumped. "You are a very uncomfortable man," she remarked.

"The East and the West, dear lady--they never meet without misunderstandings."

This cryptic remark closed the conversation, and they went in to afternoon tea. Akira said no more, nor did he explain his puzzling conversation in the least. However, he still remembered it, for every time he looked at Patricia he smiled so enigmatically that the mother which is in every woman made her wish to slap him and send him to bed without any supper.

That same evening in the drawing-room a strange thing took place, which made Patricia wonder more than ever. Theodore had been performing some conjuring tricks with cards at which Akira smiled politely. Basil had sung, and she had played a sonata of Beethoven. Feeling tired, no doubt, of Shakespeare and the musical glasses, Mr. Colpster had stolen to his study to look at his beloved family tree. The young people had the drawing-room to themselves. As all save Mara--who invariably declined to contribute to the gaiety of any evening--had done his or her part, it was the turn of the Japanese.

"Amuse us in some way, Count," commanded Patricia, crossing to a sofa, and throwing herself luxuriously on the silken cushions.

"Alas! I am so foolish, I know not how to amuse. I have told you so much of my own country that you must be tired."

"No! No! No!" cried Mara, with shining eyes and an alert manner. "I never grow weary of hearing about Japan."

"Why?" asked the Count, half-closing his eyes.

Mara's face became strange and cold. "I don't know," she said, in a hesitating manner. "I seem to know Japan."

"But, Mara," cried Basil, staring, "you have never been there!"

"All the same I know it, and especially I know the Temple of Kitzuki."

"Ah! but you were there!" put in Theodore, glancing at the Count, whose eyes were curiously intent upon the girl's pale face.

"How? When?" he asked suddenly.

"She went in her astral body in search for the Mikado Jewel, and----"

"Don't talk of these things," interrupted Mara, in an angry tone. "The Count doesn't want to hear such rubbish."

"Of course; it is all rubbish," said Akira promptly; but Patricia, mindful of his afternoon conversation, did not believe that he spoke as he felt.

"Ah!" sneered Theodore quietly, "you are one of the scoffers. Yet I thought that the East believed in such things."

"We believe in much we never talk about," replied Akira calmly. Then there was a pause, until he suddenly produced from his pocket a bamboo flute. "I can play this," he said, with his eyes on Mara, as though he addressed himself to her; "it is a simple Japanese instrument. Have you a drum?"

Basil, who was addressed, laughed. "I don't think so. There's the dinner-gong."

"That will do," said Akira serenely. "Would you mind getting it and beating it rhythmically like a tom-tom--softly, of course, so as not to drown the notes of my flute. And a hand-bell," he added, casting his looks round the room.

"You are arranging an orchestra," laughed Basil, going out to fetch the gong.

"Here is a bell!" cried Mara, taking a small silver hand-bell from a table covered with nicknacks.

"Hold it, please."

"But what am I to do with it?" asked the girl, bewildered.

"The music I play will tell you," said Akira, somewhat grimly, and then Patricia began to see that there was some meaning in all this preparation. More, that the same was in some hidden way connected with Mara. However, she said nothing, but waited events.

Presently Basil, tall and slim, returned, carrying the brazen gong and sat down to flourish the stick. "Punch and Judy," said Basil; "now for it."

Akira said nothing. He looked at Patricia and Theodore, who were staring at him with astonishment, and at Basil laughing over the gong, and finally at Mara, who held the hand-bell and appeared puzzled. Suddenly the Japanese rose from his seat, and, crossing to the fire, threw something into it. Immediately a thick white smoke poured into the room, and a strong perfume came to Patricia's nostrils, which seemed to be familiar.

"The incense of Moses," she heard Theodore mutter; "hang it, the fellow does know something of these things!"

Mara also smelt the perfumed smoke. Her eyes grew fixed, her nostrils dilated and--as Patricia had seen in Theodore's room--she began to make a shaking motion with both hands. And, as formerly, she closed them together, holding the silver bell, mouth downward. As the fragrant smoke was wafted through the room, the shrill piping of the flute was heard, and Basil, according to his instructions, began to beat a low, muffled, monotonous accompaniment on the gong. The music sounded weird and Eastern, and was unlike anything Patricia had ever heard before. The stupefying incense and the smoke and the sobbing flute, wailing above the throbbing of the gong, made her head swim.

Suddenly Mara, as if she was moving in her sleep, rose slowly and walked into the centre of the room. There she began to move with swaying motion in a circle, shaking the silver bell with closed hands. Her feet scarcely made any figures, as she only walked rapidly round and round, but the upper part of her body swung from side to side, and bent backward and forward. It was like an Indian nautch, weird and uncanny. Basil seemed to think so, for he stopped his measured beating, but the smoke still wreathed itself through the room in serpentine coils, the flute shrilled loud and piercing, and Mara danced as in a dream. All at once she reeled and the bell crashed on the floor. Basil flung down the gong and sprang forward.

"She is fainting," he cried angrily, catching Mara in his arms. "Akira, what the devil does this mean? She is ill!"

"No! No!" said Mara, as the flute stopped and the scent of the incense grew faint. "I am not ill, I am--I am--what have I been doing?" and she looked vacantly round the room.

Akira laid aside his flute and spoke with suppressed excitement. "You have been performing the Miko dance," he said, trying to control himself.

"Miko! The dance of the Miko!" cried Mara, stretching out her hand; "I know, I remember. The Dance of the Divineress! At last. At----"

"Mara, you are ill!" cried Basil roughly, and catching her by the arm he hurried her, still protesting, out of the room.

"What does it mean?" asked Patricia, who had risen.

"Don't you know?" asked Akira, looking at Theodore.

"No," said Dane, puzzled and a trifle awed. "When Mara smells that scent, she always dances in that queer fashion. But I never saw her keep it up for so long as she has done to-night. Where did you get that incense!"

"It is an old Japanese incense," said Akira carelessly; then he turned to Patricia. "I now know why I have been brought here," he said.

"I don't understand," stammered the girl nervously.

"I shall explain. I did not intend to come to Beckleigh, but I was compelled to come. You, with your sixth sense, should know what I mean, Miss Carrol. I wondered why I was brought to this out-of-the-way place. Now I know. It was to meet a former Miko of the Temple of Kitzuki. Oh, yes, I am sure. I now know why Miss Colpster declared that she remembered my country and loved to hear me talk about it. She is a reincarnation of the dancing priestess who lived ages since in the province of Izumo."

"Do you believe that?" asked Patricia scornfully.

Akira nodded. "All Japanese believe in reincarnation," he said, in a decisive tone; "it is the foundation of their belief. You believe also?"

Theodore, to whom he spoke, nodded. "Yes. And I wish--I wish----" he turned pale.

Akira looked at him imperiously. "Wish nothing," he said; "she is not for you; she is not for the West; she is for Dai Nippon."


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