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CHAPTER XVIII PLEASURE
Count Akira did not return so soon to Beckleigh as he had promised, for he wrote that official business still detained him in London. But during the third week after his departure, his yacht, The Miko, steamed into the fairy bay and cast anchor a quarter of a mile off shore. It was Basil who espied her first immediately after breakfast, and he ran up a flag on the pole erected on the lawn. The Miko dipped her ensign in reply, and shortly a boat put off, which doubtless was bringing Akira on his return visit. Basil walked down to the beach to meet him.

There was a tiny pier on the right of the beach which ran into deep water, and the boat made for this. Basil, with his hands in his pockets, stared at the yacht. She was a graceful boat of some two thousand tons, and her hull was painted white while her one funnel was darkly blue. The chrysanthemum flag of Japan streamed from one of her mast-heads, and she looked a singularly beautiful object as she rocked on the blue waters of the bay. Basil judged from her lines that she was swift. But he had little time to take in much, as the boat which approached at a furious pace was a small steam launch. She came alongside the pier in a few minutes.

"And how is my good friend Dane?" asked Akira, hoisting himself up like a monkey and removing his cap. "You see, I am here as promised."

They shook hands, and Basil thought that Akira looked very workmanlike in his smart blue yachting dress. A wiry brown lithe little man was the Japanese, keen-eyed and alert. The most casual observer could see that, if necessary, he could make himself very disagreeable.

"I am glad to see you again, Akira," said Basil; "come up to the house."

The Count gave a few directions to the officer in charge of the launch and then placed himself at his friend's disposal. "All are well in your family, I hope?" he remarked, as they strolled up through the woods.

"My uncle has broken his leg, I regret to say."

"Indeed!" Akira looked shocked. "I am very sorry. How did it happen?"

Basil gave him a hasty description of the accident. "In fact, Akira," he added, with a puzzled look, "since you went away everything has gone wrong."

"What do you mean?" asked the Japanese quietly, and his face became entirely devoid of emotion.

"What I say. My uncle broke his leg and has lost a lawsuit, which he hoped to gain. Theodore and I have quarrelled, and the house is as dull as tombs."

"I hope Miss Carrol is not dull?" observed Akira politely.

Dane turned swiftly to observe the expression of the little man's face. He had said more than he meant to say on the impulse of the moment, and now that he had said so much, he deliberately said more. Apparently Akira, who was very sharp, had noted, during his visit, symptoms of lovemaking. It was just as well to let him know how matters stood, for, after all, the Japanese was not a bad little fellow. "Miss Carrol is engaged to marry me," said Basil, drawing a deep breath.

"I congratulate you, but I am not surprised. I saw much when I was here on my visit"--he paused; then went on shrewdly, "I do not wonder that you have had a quarrel with your brother."

"Never mind that, Akira," said Basil hastily; "I really did not intend to tell you that. It slipped out."

Akira nodded. "You must permit me to send you and Miss Carrol a present from my own country when I reach it," he remarked, changing the subject.

"It is very good of you. I am sure Miss Carrol will be delighted. When do you sail for the East?"

"To-morrow. I have secured an excellent appointment at Tokio."

"It is very good of you to anchor here, and delay your journey," said Basil cordially; and Akira gave a little laugh as the young man spoke.

"Oh, I had a reason," he said coolly. "I never do anything without a reason, Dane. I shall tell my reason to Mr. Colpster, if he is to be seen."

"Oh, yes. He is out of bed, although he has not yet left his room. The leg is mending splendidly, and he lies mostly on the sofa in his bedroom. I am sure he will be delighted to see you."

"And Miss Mara? Will she be delighted?"

Basil again gave a side glance, but was far from suspecting why the remark had been made. "Don't you make her dance any more," said Dane, nervously.

"No, I promise you that I won't do that," answered Akira, his face again becoming so unemotional that Basil could not tell what he was thinking about; "but you have not answered my question."

"Here is Mara to answer for herself," said Dane, and he spoke truly, for as they advanced towards the front door of the house, it opened suddenly and Mara flew out with sparkling eyes.

"Count Akira. I am so glad to see you again. Is that your boat? What a nice boat she is. When did you arrive and what are----"

"Mara, Mara, Mara!" remonstrated Basil laughing, "how can the man answer so many questions all at once?"

"I would need Gargantua's mouth as your Shakespeare says," observed Akira with a quiet smile, and his eyes also sparkled at the sight of the girl.

"Come inside, Akira, and I will tell Miss Carrol," said Dane hospitably.

He stepped into the house, but Akira did not follow immediately. He lingered behind with Mara, and, after a glance at the many windows of the house, he gave her hand a friendly shake. But his words were warmer than his gesture, for they were meant for Mara's private ear, while the handshake was for the benefit of any onlooker.

"I have come, you see. You are glad?" and his black eyes looked volumes.

Mara nodded, and from being a pale lily became a dewy rose. "Of course. Did I not promise to love you for seven lives?"

"Your father will not understand that," said Akira dryly.

Mara started. "Will you tell him?" she asked anxiously.

The Count bowed stiffly. "I am a Japanese gentleman," he said in cool and high-bred tones, "and so I can do nothing against my honour. I cannot take you with me unless your father consents."

"But he will not," breathed Mara, becoming pale with emotion.

"He will. Already this morning he has received a long letter from me, which I sent from London. It explains how I love you, and asks for your hand."

"But you are not of my religion!" whispered Mara distressed; "he may object to that."

"I think not, as your father, from what I saw, is of no particular religion himself. I have a special license in my pocket. We can be married to-day in your own church and by your own priest. When we reach Japan we can be married according to Shinto rites."

"But your family?"

"I have my uncle in London. On hearing all about you, he has agreed. There will be no trouble with my family."

Mara, still nervous, would have asked further questions and would have put forward further objections, but that Patricia made her appearance at the door. She looked singularly beautiful, although she was not so in Akira's eyes. He preferred the small features and colourless looks of Mara. Patricia's face was too boldly cut and too highly coloured to be approved of by an Oriental.

"How are you, Count?" said Miss Carrol, shaking hands.

"Very well; and you? But I need not ask, Miss Carrol." Akira laughed in a very sympathetic way for him. "Dane has told me."

"Oh!" Patricia blushed.

"I wish you all happiness, and may you be united for seven lives."

"What does that mean?"

"I know! I know!" cried Mara, clapping her hands and jumping; "in Japan we all believe in reincarnation, and lovers promise each other to love during seven earth-seasons."

"But you are not a Japanese, Mara," said Patricia, wondering that the girl should so boldly couple herself with Akira.

"Yes, I am," Mara asserted decidedly; "my body is English, but my soul is Japanese. I know now that I was a Miko in the Temple of Kitzuki three hundred years ago, and that I loved him," she pointed to Akira, who smiled assentingly.

"Oh, what nonsense!" said Miss Carrol, rather crossly; "it is your imagination, you silly child!" and then, before Mara could contradict her, she turned to the Count. "Mr. Colpster wants to see you," she remarked. "Will you follow me?"

"I want to come also," said Mara; and grasping Akira's hand she went into the house. They looked at one another adoringly and smiled.

At the bedroom door Patricia left them, as the Squire had intimated that he wished to see Akira privately. Miss Carrol therefore desired to take Mara downstairs with her, but the girl refused to go. "I have to speak to my father also," she declared obstinately, "and I must do so while the Count is present."

"As you please," replied Miss Carrol, finding it impossible to move the girl, and knowing Mara's obstinate disposition of old, "you will find me in the library when you come down."

"With Basil!" cried out Mara mischievously; and Patricia looked back to give a smiling nod. Then the two entered the bedroom.

Mr. Colpster was lying on the sofa near a large fire, wrapped in his dressing-gown, and looked thin, since his illness had rather pulled him down. He also appeared to be somewhat cross, and shook at Akira several sheets of blue paper with an angry air.

"I received your letter this morning," he said sharply, and without greeting his visitor in any way.

"That is good," said Akira politely, "it will save me the trouble of an explanation, Mr. Colpster."

"I think not," growled the Squire. "I must know more, and in any case I do not intend to consent."

"Oh, father, you must!" cried Mara, indignantly.

"Go down stairs, child," said her father quickly; "I wish to speak alone with this--this gentleman."

But Mara stood her ground. "What the Count has to say concerns me," she declared obstinately. "I shan't go!"

Colpster stormed vainly, while Akira looked on passively. But nothing would move Mara from the position which she had taken up. She simply laughed at her father, and in the end he had to yield a grudging consent to her remaining in the room.

"And now, sir," he said, when this was settled and again shaking the sheets of blue paper at Akira. "I understand from this that you wish to marry my daughter Mara. Of course, it is quite impossible!"

"Why?" asked Akira calmly, and holding Mara's hand.

"Because you are not an Englishman," spluttered the Squire.

"If I was a Frenchman, or a German, you would not object!" retorted the Count coolly. "Why not say that it is because I am not a European!"

"Very good then, I say it. You are of the yellow race, and Mara is of the white. Marriage between you is ridiculous."

"I don't think so, sir."

Mara looked at her father disdainfully. "I don't know why you talk so," she said with a shrug. "I intend to marry Count Akira to-day, and go away with him to-morrow, to Japan in our yacht."

"Our yacht, indeed!" echoed the Squire angrily, and then stared at the pale obstinate face of his daughter, framed in a nimbus of feathery golden hair. "Oh you are a minx! You never loved me!"

"I can't help that," said Mara doggedly; "I never loved anyone until I met with the Count. I couldn't understand myself until I danced that night in the drawing-room. Danced the Miko-kagura."

"What is that? What is she talking about?" Colpster turned to Akira.

The Count explained politely. "When I came here, sir, I noticed that Miss Colpster was greatly interested in what I had to say about my own country. And often, when I told her of things, she said that she remembered them."

"How could that be when she has never been out of England?"

"That is what puzzled me, until I, one night--by way of an experiment and to convince myself--placed on the fire some incense used in the Temple of Kitzuki, and played on a flute the music of the Miko-kagura, which is a holy dance. Miss Colpster rose and performed it perfectly. Then all the past came back to her, as she told me later."

"What past?" demanded the Squire, much bewildered.

"The past of her life in Japan, three hundred years ago."

"Oh, that is rubbish!"

"It is true!" cried Mara in a thrilling voice, and raised her arms. "I was a Miko of the Kitzuki Temple three hundred years ago. That is why I remembered about the emerald, when Theodore sent me into a trance. And for the same reason I could describe the shrine. I loved the Count then, when we wore other bodies, and promised to love him for seven lives. This time I have been born in England, but he has come for me here, and I am going with him to my native land."

"Oh, you are quite mad!" said Colpster furiously.

"Mad or sane, let me marry her, Mr. Colpster!" pleaded Akira. "From my letter you can see that I am going to occupy an excellent official position at Tokio, and that I am of very high rank in Japan, besides being wealthy. I love your daughter, because, I truly believe--strange as it may seem to you--that we loved three hundred years ago. I have a special license in my pocket, and if you consent we can go to your church this day and get married according to your religion. When we reach Japan we shall be married according to mine. Do you consent?"

"No! It's ridiculous! You have only known Mara a few weeks."

"I have loved her for three hundred years!" insisted Akira, smiling.

"I don't believe in that rubbish."

Mara seized her lover's hand. "I am tired of all this," she said in her old fashion, "why can't you leave me alone. I marry the Count!"

Colpster saw that, whether he gave his consent or not, she would certainly do so. And, after all, as he asked himself, what did it matter? Mara had never displayed any affection for any single person, since she had always lived in a dream-world of her own. Now that he had decided to leave the property to Basil and Patricia on condition that they assumed the name of Colpster, Mara was unnecessary. Finally, it was certain that she would be happier in Japan than in England, since there was evidently no future for her in the West. The Squire did not believe in reincarnation. All the same, he admitted that Mara's many oddities suggested that she was a soul born out of time and place. But that his daughter should marry one of the yellow race offended the old man's pride. He was just about to open his mouth and refuse permission again when Akira spoke blandly.

"If you consent," said Akira, "I will send you someone who can tell you who killed your housekeeper."

"How do you know?" asked Colpster, startled.

"I have been making inquiries in town. Consent, and you shall know all."

"And consent," said Mara, stepping up to her father and bending to whisper in his ear, "or I shall tell the Count that you have the emerald."

Colpster turned white. "How do you know?" he whispered back.

"I saw you slip it under your pillow one day. It is there now. If you don't let me marry the Count he shall take it from you now."

The Squire breathed heavily and dark circles appeared under his sunken eyes as Mara stepped back to stand beside her lover. He knew that his daughter did not love him, or anyone else, but he had never believed she would have spoken as she had done. Undoubtedly the theory of reincarnation was a correct one. She was an Eastern soul in a Western body. "I consent to the marriage," he said in cold, dry hard tones. "You can go to the church on the moor and get the affair settled. I cannot come myself, but Basil and Patricia can go with you. Mara, you had better tell your maid to pack your clothes, since you leave to-morrow."

"Everything is already packed," said Mara, turning at the door and looking cool and white and more shadowy than ever. "I shall come and say good-bye."

"No, don't!" shuddered the Squire, as she went out. "You go also, Akira."

The Count smiled blandly and walked to the door. "I shall keep my promise, sir, and to-night you will receive one who will be able to tell you the whole truth of what has puzzled you for so long."

When Akira disappeared, the Squire tore up the blue letter and threw the pieces into the fire. He had done with Mara: she was no longer any daughter of his. And, indeed, she never had been. Always cold: always indifferent: a very shadow of what a daughter should have been. He was well rid of her, this traitress, who would have surrendered the emerald. Colpster felt under his sofa pillow and pulled out the gem. It was wrapped in paper, and he unfolded this to gaze at it. A knock at the door made him hastily smuggle it away again. Basil entered immediately and looked worried.

"Is it true, uncle, that Akira and Mara are to be married?" he asked abruptly.

"Quite true. Akira has brought down a special license. Go with Patricia and see that all is shipshape."

"But, Uncle George, surely you don't want Mara to marry a Japanese?"

"What does it matter? Whether I give my consent or not, Mara will do what she wants to do. There is some rubbish about reincarnation between them--about loving for seven lives, or for three hundred years. I don't understand these things. But what I do understand," cried Colpster with cold fury, raising himself on his elbow, "is that Mara does not love me, and that I intend to cut her out of my will. Send Jarvis to Hendle and tell Curtis the lawyer to come over at once. You will have the property, Basil, and then can marry Patricia. Theodore can go away. I won't have him in the house after the way he has insulted your future wife. As to Mara, she can go to the devil! or to Japan. I never wish to set eyes on her again!"

"But what has she done?" asked Basil, bewildered.

The Squire could have told him, but did not intend to, since that would mean revealing that the Mikado Jewel was under the sofa pillow. "Never mind; I am well rid of her, and so are you, and so are we all. Only see that this Japanese marries her properly."

Dane argued, implored and stormed, but all to no purpose. His uncle vowed that if Mara remained, he would turn her penniless from the house, and Basil was sufficiently acquainted with his obstinate character to be certain that he would keep his word. Under the circumstances it seemed reasonable that Mara should lie on the bed she had made and the young man, making the best of a bad job, went away to get Patricia. He would act as Akira's best man, and Patricia could follow Mara as her solitary bridesmaid. Whatever might be the outcome of this sudden arrangement, Basil determined to see that the marriage was legal. And when he saw the joy and delight of Mara and the lover-like attentions of Akira, he began to think that his uncle had acted for the best. In the face of Mara's obstinacy, nothing else could be done, although Basil, being a true Englishman, did not relish the Japanese as a cousin-in-law. All the same, he approved of Akira's fine qualities, and knew that from a worldly point of view Mara was making a brilliant match.

Obeying instructions, he sent Jarvis for the Hendle lawyer, when, with the prospective bride and bridegroom, he and Patricia were on their way to the quaint old church on the moor, where so many Colpsters were buried. The clergyman could not disobey a special license, so that was all right, and he hoped to return later with the pair married. Indeed, had Basil possessed a special license himself, he also would have stood before the altar with Patricia, but such things were far beyond the means of a poor lieutenant of His Majesty's Navy.

Meanwhile, the Squire received Curtis and made a new will, which made no mention of Mara and Theodore, but left the entire Colpster estates to Basil, provided that he took the family name and married Patricia Carrol. When the testament had been duly signed, sealed and delivered, the Squire decided to keep it in his possession until the morrow, so that he could show it to the young couple. Curtis wished to take it with him, but Colpster refused, and finally departed without even a copy of the document. However, he promised to call the next day and take it with him for safety. Just as the lawyer departed, Theodore entered the bedroom.

"What's all this about?" he asked sharply.

His uncle looked at him with a frown. "What do you mean entering my room without knocking?" he demanded in his turn.

"I beg your pardon," said Theodore with forced politeness, "but everything seems at sixes and sevens since that infernal yacht came in. All the servants are getting themselves ready to go to the entertainment to-night, and I can't get anyone to answer my bell."

"Wait until Miss Carrol returns and she will see to things," said Colpster indifferently. "I can't be bothered."

"Where is Miss Carrol? I have been in my room all day, and when I came down I couldn't find anyone."

"Basil and Patricia have gone to attend the marriage of Mara and Akira."

Theodore stepped back and then stepped forward. He could scarcely believe his ears. "Have you allowed that?" he asked in consternation.

"Yes. Akira is a good match, and Mara loves him."

"But he's a Japanese?"

"What does that matter?"

"I don't believe in marriages between members of different races."

Colpster looked at him cynically. "What the devil does it matter what you believe! I agreed to the marriage for two, or rather, for three reasons. In the first place, Mara would have married in any case had I not consented. In the second, she threatened, if I did not agree, to tell Akira about the emerald, which he would then have taken from me. In the third place, Akira said that if I agreed, he would send someone to-night to tell me all about the murder of Martha and reveal the name of the person who did it."

"It was the priest with the scar on his cheek who did it," said Theodore in vigorous tones. "Will he--Akira that is--send him?"

"I don't know. Don't bother me!" said the Squire, turning over on his pillows. "I'll see him when you are all out of the house."

"I'm not going to that infernal entertainment," said Theodore snappishly, "as I don't approve of Mara marrying that yellow man. I shall stay here and listen to what this emissary of Akira's has to say."

"Oh, do what you like; do what you like; only don't bother me!" said Colpster again, and very sharply. "Clear out, please!"

"All right!" Theodore went towards the door; "only I want to say one thing. Curtis has been here. Have you cut Mara out of your will?"

"Yes; although it is no business of yours. When she marries Akira, she will have plenty of money."

"Well, then, I suppose," said Theodore, shooting his arrow, "you know that Patricia and Basil are engaged?"

"Yes, I am aware of that, and I wish them joy."

"Aren't you angry, uncle?" Theodore was astounded.

"No. Why should I be? I like Patricia."

"I fancied you loved her and wished to marry her."

Colpster rolled over and glared fiercely. He was annoyed that his secret should have been discovered by Theodore, of all people, since he hated him so ardently. "I never did wish to marry Patricia," he said furiously, and telling a smooth lie. "I look upon her as a daughter. I have always looked upon her as a daughter. When Basil told me that she had consented to be his wife, I was delighted. I am delighted."

"Oh!" growled Theodore, wincing and thrusting his hands deep into his pockets; "so you brought Curtis over to alter your will!"

"Yes! I have left everything to Basil and Patricia!"

"What about me?" Theodore by this time was ghastly pale.

"Oh, you can go to the devil!" said his uncle carelessly. "You insulted Miss Carrol, so I pay you out. The will cutting you off is here," he patted his pocket.

Before Theodore could express the rage which consumed him, there came the sound of advancing feet and the laughter of happy people. The door was suddenly thrown open by Basil, and Patricia entered, followed by the bridegroom and the bride, arm-in-arm English fashion.

"Allow me," said Patricia gaily, and in a ringing voice, "to present to you, Mr. Colpster, the Count and Countess Akira."



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