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CHAPTER XIX THE TRUTH
With the early darkness of February came a spectacle to delight and astonish the home-staying folk of Beckleigh. Suddenly at eight o'clock, when the entire household were gathered on the beach for transport in the launch to the yacht, The Miko became outlined in coloured fire. Radiant and weird against the gloom in red and blue and yellow and green, she flashed into being like a spectral Flying Dutchman. Never before had such a sight been seen in that quiet Devonshire bay, and loudly sounded the amazed voices of the servants, praising the gorgeous illumination. It was like magic to them, and several were heard to express a hope that the devil was not on board the ship of light. However, the Japanese officer in charge of the launch which puffed up spoke sufficient English to reassure them, and they all embarked for an evening's revelry.

The bride and bridegroom, with the two who had witnessed the marriage, had long since gone on board. Mara did not intend to set foot on English soil again, and had taken a final leave of her father. Colpster had not been unkind, although his farewell had been rather cold. But then the newly-made Countess Akira was cold herself and rarely demonstrative, so she did not mind in the least. In fact, Patricia, being a warmhearted Irish girl, reproved her for the coolness with which she took leave both of her parent and of her childhood's home.

"Oh, nonsense!" said Mara with her usual cry. "I wish you'd leave me alone, Patricia. I can't make a fuss when I don't feel the least sorry to go away."

"But surely, Mara, you are sad. You leave your home, your father, your native land, for ever it may be."

"Certainly for ever. And now that I know all about the past, now that I am the Count's wife, I don't look upon England as my native land."

"Mara, you surely do not really believe that you lived at Kitzuki as a priestess centuries ago?" said Patricia, shaking her head.

"I am sure that I did. I was a Miko, which means The Darling of the Gods."

"Did Count Akira tell you that translation?"

"No; I remembered it. I spoke Japanese ages ago. I am beginning to recollect all manner of things. And Akira gave me a book of Lafcadio Hearn's, which contains a description of a Miko-kagura. It is exactly what I danced on that evening, and is precisely what I did when I was at the Temple."

Patricia asked no more questions. The problem was beyond her. She saw that Mara firmly believed in reincarnation, and on that belief based her sudden marriage with Akira. The little man had known her only for a few weeks, and in the ordinary course of things would not have fallen in love with her so rapidly, if indeed at all, seeing that he was East, while she was West. Therefore, it really seemed as if what Mara believed was true, and that she had met her husband before in the Province of Izumo. In no other way could the puzzled Patricia account for the unexpected which had happened so quickly.

And she agreed with Basil that it was just as well that Mara had obtained her heart's desire in this strange way. Had she not met Akira, she would have gone on living in an unhealthy dreamland, and perhaps as she grew older would have lost her reason. But now she seemed to be a different girl as her formerly pale face was rosy with colour; she looked less shadowy, and strangest of all, she took a profound interest in the entertainments provided for the Beckleigh servants. This was particularly odd, for Mara never, when she was single, troubled about pleasures of any kind, and certainly took no interest in the likes or dislikes of other people. But over this revelry she presided like a queen, and for the first time in her strange life she appeared to be thoroughly happy.

"After all," said Patricia, to her lover who stood by her, while a sailor was singing some legend to the music of the biwa, "the Count is a very charming and highly-bred man."

"Oh, yes," assented Basil heartily, for having taken everything into consideration, he now quite approved of the turn affairs had taken. "He is one of the best is Akira. As good and clever a chap as ever lived. If you do want courtesy and good breeding, you can find them to perfection in a Japanese gentleman. Mara is lucky to get such a husband, considering what a strange nature she has."

"It is that very nature which has brought such a husband to her," said Patricia. "I hope and trust and pray she will be happy."

"I think so. Akira adores her. Strange when he is East and she is West."

Patricia shook her head. "Mara would never admit that, my dear. Only her body is West according to her; her soul is Eastern."

"Well," remarked Basil, looking somewhat puzzled, "I don't know much about this occult rubbish of which we have had so much lately, but I should think that the soul was of no country at all. It comes on the stage of the world dressed as a native of different countries just as it is told."

"As its Karma calls it."

"What the deuce is Karma?"

"The accumulated result of good and evil and----"

"Look here, Patricia!" interrupted the young man, slipping his arm within her own. "I have had enough of this jargon and occult rubbish. I half believe in it, and I half don't. At all events, I don't think it is healthy for either you or I to indulge in such things. Let us live as two healthy people, my darling, as we have plenty of work to do in this world before we leave it. You agree, don't you?"

"Of course I do. I should agree if you proposed to cut off my head."

"I prefer to leave it on your shoulders," laughed Basil, and slyly stole a kiss, for they were standing in the shadow. "Look at old Sims, how amazed he is at those Japanese dresses!"

They pressed forward to look. Some of the sailors were arrayed as samurai in antique armour of the Middle Ages of Japan, and were fighting with huge swords. All round flashed the many-coloured lights, and the little group of Devonshire folk sat and stood in their homely dresses, looking delightedly at the fairyland which had been brought before their astonished eyes. The dresses, the music, the unusual food, and the brown faces of the foreign sailors, fascinated them greatly. And, indeed, the spectacle was as pleasant to Basil and Patricia as to them, in spite of the fact that they knew more of the world beyond Beckleigh. As to Mara, she was flushed with enjoyment and so deeply interested in the brilliant spectacle before her that she did not notice the absence of her husband.

But he had slipped away silently, and was standing at the stern of the yacht, speaking softly to an Englishman. The light of a near lantern would have shown anyone who knew him that the man was Harry Pentreddle, and he was just getting ready to lower himself by a rope into a rowing boat, which was fastened alongside.

"You can get ashore in that," whispered Akira softly; "and, later, I shall send the launch to fetch you."

"I can row back again," protested Pentreddle. "You won't be able to get away quick enough," said Akira mysteriously.

"Away from what?"

"Never mind. Do what I told you to do, and bring me what I told you to bring me. Obey my instructions implicitly, or there may be danger."

"But I don't understand, sir."

"You understand enough for my purpose," broke in the Japanese smooth voice; "and you know why I ask you to go ashore to the Hall to-night."

"Yes, I know," said Harry grimly, and spat on his hands as he prepared to grasp the rope.

"You needn't go unless you like. I can go myself. Well?"

For answer Pentreddle clambered over the taffrail and swung himself by the rope into the small craft below. As he took the oars, Akira's voice was heard again even softer than before as he leaned over the side. "The launch will be waiting for you at the pier when you come out," he said. "Lose no time."

The boat shot away into the gloom, while Harry Pentreddle wondered why the little man was so insistent about his getting away quickly from the Hall, after what had to be done was accomplished. However, the sailor being aware of certain facts, was prepared to obey implicitly, and rowed hard to reach the land. There was no time to be lost, as the entertainment would not last for ever, and it was necessary that Harry should come back to The Miko before those on board returned to Beckleigh Hall.

It was a calm night, but cloudy and threatening. The rain of the last few weeks had stopped, and fine weather prevailed. But no stars were visible, and the moon was veiled heavily. As Pentreddle beached his boat near the pier, and dug her anchor into the damp sand, he felt a breath of wind, and looked into the semi-gloom to see that already white crests were forming on the waves. Afar off, The Miko looked like a fairy ship with her coloured lights glittering against the darkness. The wind was distinctly rising, as Pentreddle felt when he passed up the path to the Hall, and on glancing overhead he noted that the clouds were beginning to move. Already a few stars were revealed, and there was an occasional glimpse of a haggard moon lying on her back.

"It's going to be a nasty night," said the sailor. "Bad for those folk on board that yacht. They'll be sea-sick."

He chuckled, although he felt far from merry. The errand he was on was too serious to be treated lightly, and he was even nervous as to what would be the outcome of the same. But he strode on resolutely, nevertheless, and was soon standing at the front door of the Hall. The building was in darkness save for one window on the second storey near the angle of the wall. Pentreddle, acquainted with the building ever since he could walk, knew very well that this was one of the windows of the Squire's bedroom; on the other side of the wall there were two more. For a moment Pentreddle looked up at the light and noted that the tough arms of the ancient ivy grew up to the very sill of the window, and afforded a ladder to anyone who wished to descend in that way. He smiled grimly when he recalled this fact, which might be useful, and then opened the door.

It had not been locked, as there were no robbers at Beckleigh, and bolts and bars were not attended to very particularly. The hall should have had the central lamp lighted, but Pentreddle found the place entirely dark. He did not mind this, as he knew every inch of the way up to Squire Colpster's bedroom. There he would find the old gentleman, and he presumed that Mr. Dane--who had refused to come to the entertainment on The Miko--would be in his rooms at the back of the house. He walked softly up the stairs, as he did not wish to arouse Theodore, for reasons which he intended to impart to the old Squire.

Feeling his way in the darkness along the walls, and wishing that he had brought a lantern, Pentreddle gained the second storey and walked along the corridor towards the line of light which shone from under the bedroom door. On arriving immediately outside, he paused for a moment to listen. A sound of struggling struck his ear, and he became aware with a thrill that there was a fight going on between uncle and nephew. Considering Colpster's age this was unfair, so Pentreddle dashed open the door and shot into the room intent upon taking side with the weaker party.

"What's all this?" he shouted.

"Help, Harry, help! He's strangling me!" gasped Colpster, recognizing the voice. "Oh! help me! Help!"

Pentreddle did not waste any time in words. He darted forward, and gripping the shoulders of Theodore, who was holding his uncle down on the floor, he spun him to one side. The Squire, struggling to his feet, clawed at the sofa to rise, on seeing which Dane, who was crazy with rage, tried to slip past the sailor and tackle the old man again.

"Ah! would you?" cried Harry, who hated Theodore fervently, as, indeed, everyone did. "I'll show you," and in a moment his sinewy arms were round the big man and they wrestled desperately.

Theodore was ghastly white and his blue eyes blazed with unholy fire, as between closed teeth he cursed his antagonist. Huge as he was, the man had only that strength which comes with furious anger. He was flabby, and not at all muscular, since he never exercised himself in any way. Half on the floor and half on the pillows of the sofa, Colpster watched the fight with breathless interest, grasping in his hands a large envelope. The two men swayed and swung round the apartment, and Theodore fought like a tiger. But the wiry sailor was too much for him, and gradually Dane was forced to the floor where he lay struggling and kicking, with Pentreddle kneeling on his big chest. Harry hailed the half-fainting old man.

"Pull down that curtain cord near you, Squire, and throw it over," he panted.

Dane gurgled and tried to curse, but could not, as Pentreddle's brown hands gripped his fat throat. Colpster struggled across to the window and took with feeble hands the silken rope which draped the curtains on one side at no great height from the floor. He crawled back with it to Harry, who at once proceeded to bind Theodore's arms behind his back, and rolled him over for this purpose. Dane was so sick and breathless with the struggle and in such a bad condition for holding his own, that he had to submit.

"Now the other rope, Squire," commanded Harry, but seeing that the old man's strength had given out, he darted across himself to the window and speedily brought back what he required. In a few minutes Theodore, trussed like a fowl, was lying on the floor, face uppermost, and regained his breath sufficiently to curse.

"I'll have you arrested for this, Pentreddle," he said viciously.

Harry deigned no reply, as he had to attend to Colpster. On a small table near the bed was a decanter of port, with some glasses and a dish of biscuits. The sailor poured out a glass of the generous vintage, and held it to the Squire's lips. He drank it eagerly and demanded more. A second glass brought the colour back into his wan cheeks, and the light of life into his sunken eyes. Shortly he was able to sit up on the sofa and Harry arranged the pillows at his back. But all the time Colpster held on to the large envelope. Also, he fished about feebly under the pillow and brought out the Mikado Jewel.

"Thank heaven!" panted the old man feebly; "he has got neither."

"I'll get them yet, you old beast," growled Theodore, trying to break his bonds, but vainly. "I'll have that will and burn it. I'll get the emerald and sell it. Curse you! And you too, Pentreddle! What the devil do you mean binding me in this way?"

"I'll explain that to you later, sir," retorted Pentreddle, wiping his brow, and taking a glass of port himself. "With your permission, Squire," he said in a polite tone when he drank it.

"You arrived just in time," said the Squire, in stronger tones. "That wicked wretch would have killed me."

"Why?" asked Pentreddle quickly.

"He came up here and insisted that I should destroy the will I made in favour of his brother and Miss Carrol. Here it is," and Colpster passed along the large envelope. "Take it, Harry, and give it to Basil when he returns. It is not safe here."

"Shall I take the emerald?" asked Harry, putting the envelope containing the will in the breast-pocket of his pea-jacket.

Colpster snatched the gem to his breast and nursed it there like a baby.

"No! no! no!" he cried vehemently. "I can't part with that. I'll die before anyone shall have it but me. Give me more wine."

Still clutching the jewel he drank another glass of port, and became quite strong again with the stimulant. Meanwhile Theodore lay stiffly on the carpet, cursing volubly. Harry kicked him.

"Shut your mouth," said the sailor, "or I'll gag you."

"I'll have you arrested for this," repeated Theodore, impotently scowling.

"That's all right," said Pentreddle, and drawing a chair near the sofa he turned to the Squire. "Now, sir, we must have a talk."

"What's the matter?" asked Colpster in some alarm. "Where have you been to, and where have you come from?"

"I'll tell you, sir, if you'll listen. On the night I left here that Japanese Akira followed me up the road, when I was making for my friend and the trap on the moors."

"Ah!" Theodore groaned. "That was why he went to bed early. I knew that he was up to some game. He pretended to go to bed and--"

"And followed me. Quite right, sir. He did, and he told me all about the murder of my poor mother."

"What?" Colpster gasped. "Are you the person Akira said he would send to tell me all that I wished to know?"

Pentreddle nodded grimly. "I am the person. I went to London next day with Count Akira, and he introduced me to a person who knew all about the murder. I got it written down, signed and witnessed in a proper manner. Then I came here with the Count in his yacht, and arrived just in time to save that devil," he pointed to Theodore, "from committing a second crime."

"A second crime," echoed the Squire, bewildered. "I don't understand."

"It's a lie; a lie," howled Theodore, straining at his bonds. "If I were free I'd dash the lie down your throat."

"And my teeth too, you murdering beast," said Harry, clenching his hands. "I owe you one for the murder of my mother."

Colpster sprang to his feet with surprising alacrity, considering his late exhaustion. "Murder! Did--did--did," he pointed a shaking finger at the mass on the floor, "did he murder Martha?"

"Yes," said Harry sadly.

"It's a lie; a lie!" muttered Theodore again and again, struggling fiercely.

"It's the truth. Sit down, Mr. Colpster, and I'll tell you all about it. I have the document of an eye-witness signed and witnessed here," he touched his breast-pocket.

"An eye-witness?" said Colpster, resuming his seat heavily.

"Yes. That priest with the scar on his cheek I told you about, who saw me watching The Home of Art."

"He did it himself, you fool," roared Theodore, defending his lost cause.

"So I thought, and I was going out to Japan to kill him. But I know that you were with my mother on that night, for the priest saw you enter the house by the window. You tapped there, and my mother let you in. The priest was watching the house, as he fancied the emerald might be there. He got on to the balcony and peeped through the window. He saw you struggle with my mother, you brute, and stab her. Then you left the room and hunted the house for the emerald. When you came out the priest, thinking you might have it, waited at the gate and tried to seize you. You escaped and he lost you in the fog. But he retained hold of the white silk scarf you wore round your throat. It is here." Pentreddle took a folded square of silk from his pocket and shook it out. "Your name is in the corner, your name in full, hang you! Look, Squire! look!" And Harry, his hands shaking with emotion, pointed out the name "Theodore Dane" marked on the silk, with blue thread. "You see, sir. He is guilty."

"Oh!" the Squire groaned, as he saw the evidence of his nephew's wickedness, and he laid the emerald on the table so that he could the more easily cover his face with his hands "It's terrible--terrible. That one of my blood should be an assassin! That one of my blood should be hanged!"

"Oh, he won't be hanged!" said Harry, refolding the silk scarf and replacing it in his pocket. "I am going to leave him to Akira."

"What--what do you mean?" quavered Theodore, with sudden terror.

The young sailor walked over to him and looked into his face. "Akira told me that he would attend to your punishment. What he means I don't know. But what I do know is that these Japanese can make things very unpleasant for you. I have heard of their ingenuity in torturing."

"Torturing!" Theodore shrieked.

"Yes. Hanging's too good for you, beast that you are."

"Oh, Harry, don't--don't let Akira get hold of me!" screamed Dane, all his nerve broken down. "The law won't let him; the law won't let him!"

"He won't trouble about the law. He will send sailors ashore this very night and have you taken on board his yacht. When you are on the high seas he'll deal with you."

"No! no!" Theodore tried to kiss the man's foot and rolled over to do so.

Harry spurned him. "You worse than devil, try and be a man. You murdered a poor, weak woman and now you're frightened of your skin. Beast!"

Outside the wind had risen to wild fury. The whole house was shaken by the gusts which came howling from the bay. Harry strode to the window and looked out. He saw by the swaying of the festival lights that The Miko was dragging at her moorings. There was no time to be lost, if he wanted to carry out his promise to the Count. Colpster was lying limply on the sofa, while Theodore moaned and groaned on the floor. On the small table beside the sofa gleamed the emerald which had brought about all the trouble.

"Let me be arrested and hanged. I don't want to be tortured," wailed the man on the floor.

"Did you kill my mother?"

"Give me some wine and I'll tell you."

"I shan't," said Harry; then thought better of it, and poured a glass of port down his enemy's throat. "Now tell!"

"I really didn't mean to kill her," said Theodore, and Colpster raised his head to listen. "I followed Martha up to London, intending when she got the Mikado Jewel to make her give it to me."

"Why?" asked the Squire, looking very old and grey.

"Because you said that the one who produced the jewel would be your heir, curse you!" shrieked Theodore savagely; "You are the cause of all the beastly trouble. I learned from Martha in an indirect way that Harry was coming, and then I met him."

"Yes," said the sailor bitterly. "And like a fool I told you too much."

"You told me nothing," said Dane, scowling. "Your mother wanted the emerald for Basil. But I got into your room at the boarding-house you lived in at Pimlico, and I read your mother's letters."

"You did."

"Yes. She said that she would be alone on that night and would come to get the emerald. I went to the house to see if she had left. I knocked at the door, but no one came, so I went to the window and saw her lying on the sofa near the fire. I called out to her, and asked her to let me in."

"She couldn't get off the sofa, you fool!" cried the Squire.

"She could and she did. I said that I had found out that Harry had been killed by the Japanese for the sake of the emerald. Then she crawled to the window and let me in."

"You beast!" said Pentreddle, gritting his teeth. "You told a lie."

"Martha would not have admitted me if I had not done so. She got me into the room, and then I insisted that she should give the emerald."

"She hadn't got it."

"She wouldn't confess that she hadn't. Perhaps she feared lest I should intercept her messenger, Miss Carrol, on the way home, and rob her of the jewel. At all events, she gave me to understand nothing, and I really believed that the emerald was in her pocket. I tried to get it; then she brought out that damned stiletto and stabbed at me. I wrested it from her and in the struggle somehow I drove it into her throat."

"You intended to!" shouted the Squire, rising to shake his two clenched hands over the criminal.

"I swear I did not," panted Dane; "it was really an accident. When I saw what I had done I grew afraid. I thought that I heard someone outside----"

"So you did," interrupted Harry sharply; "It was the watching priest."

"If I'd known," Theodore scowled, and his eyes gleamed in a most murderous manner. "But I didn't. I saw that Martha was dead or dying, and opened the window to throw the stiletto into the area. Then I searched her clothing for the emerald and afterwards the bedrooms."

"Oh! And you say you did not murder her?" raged the Squire.

"Not intentionally. I swear that I did not. But seeing that she was dead, it was just as well to hunt for what I wanted. I found nothing, so I came down and got out by the window. Just outside the gate someone--that infernal priest as I now know--snatched at my shoulder and grabbed my scarf. I slipped him in the fog and--and--that's all."

"Quite enough too. You shall hang," cried the Squire.

"No," said Pentreddle, rising and making for the window, "he shan't hang." He threw up the window and the fierce gale came howling into the room. "I shall call up Akira's sailors," shouted the young man.

"Don't; don't!" screamed Dane. "They'll torture me."

"Serve you right," said his uncle fiercely. "You have brought shame and disgrace upon the family."

"Mr. Colpster," the Squire turned as he heard his name mentioned and saw that Harry had picked up the Mikado Jewel, "I take this back to Akira."

"You shan't! you shan't! It's mine!" and the old man dashed forward with outstretched hands while the wind drove wildly into the rooms.

A roar of laughter came from the bound man on the floor. "Ha! ha! ha!" he screamed. "Uncle, you're done for! you're done for! Ha! ha! ha!"

"Give! give! give!" whimpered Colpster, trying to seize Pentreddle. "It is mine! it is mine!"

"It belongs to the Temple of Kitzuki," said Harry, backing towards the window. "I stole it and now I am going to return it. I promised to do so, if Akira told me who murdered my mother. Keep back, sir! keep back!"

Theodore roared with laughter and twisted himself round to see what would happen. Colpster, his eyes filled with mad anger, dashed at Pentreddle, who evaded him dexterously, and before the Squire knew his intention, slipped like an eel out of the window.

Harry clambered down the ivy with the cleverness of a sailor and saw above him the wild despairing face of the Squire, while he heard the loud ironical laughter of the bound man. The rain was coming down in torrents dashed here and there by the wind. The sailor slipped and fell on his back, but was up again in a moment and made for the beach. He heard high above the sound of wind and wave the thin lamentations of Colpster, who saw the luck of his family being carried away for ever.

Pentreddle raced for the beach through the furious weather. There he shouted as he stumbled towards the pier, and immediately two Japanese took him by the shoulders to tumble him bodily into the launch. They seemed to be in a desperate hurry, for scarcely had he got his breath when he found that the launch was plunging at full speed through the turbulent water.

"What the devil is the hurry!" gasped Harry, shaking the water from his eyes.

The answer did not come from the Japanese, who were driving the boat out to sea at high pressure but from the land. There was a low, moaning sound, which boomed like an organ note above the tumult of the elements. It grew louder and more insistent, and droned like a giant bee. The mere sound was terrifying, and Harry saw the bronze faces of the sailors blanch with fear. Suddenly the note grew shrill, like a cry of triumph, and then came a loud crash, which seemed to shake the earth. Far and wide he could hear, even through the tempest, the splashing of great fragments into the sea, and the crumbling of mighty masses on the land. Then came a stillness and the wind dropped gradually to low whimperings.

"The cliff has fallen," said the Japanese officer; "it is the Earth Spirit."

"This," said Harry, his face grey with terror, and showed the Mikado Jewel flashing in the light of the lamps.

The sailors fell on their faces before its sinister glare. Only the officer, unable to desert his post, although his face was ghastly white and his limbs shook, continued to steer the launch seaward.



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