THE D’AVENANT MYSTERY
HORACE ANNESLEY VACHELL
Another delightful “Quinney” story: was Lord D’Avenant— known in China as “Old Nick” —poisoned, or—?
JOE QUINNEY, being somewhat of a pagan, said afterwards that the D’Avenant mystery had been solved by coincidence, but Susan, his wife, brought up in a cathedral town, thought otherwise.
The famous dealer happened to be staying at D’Avenant Old Hall when Lord D’Avenant was found dead in his library. Lord D’Avenant was better known as Mr. Nicholas Davenant, the head of a great firm trading with China and the Malay Archipelago. He bought D’Avenant Old Hall—and assumed the apostrophe of the ancient family—before his elevation to the peerage. Unkind persons affirmed that he was not even remotely of kin to the Simon Pure D’Avenants and that he had paid an immense sum for his title. This was untrue. Nicholas Davenant was the great-grandson of a D’Avenant, and his peerage was given to him because he had used his immense influence in China to obtain for theBritish Government certain important concessions.
Nevertheless Lord D’Avenant was known and feared in China, where he had spent most of his life, as “Old Nick.”
He called upon Quinney shortly after he had bought Old Hall.
“It’s full of oak,” he told the dealer.
Quinney’s eyes brightened. He loved oak.
“In shocking condition,” said his lordship, testily.
Quinney became alert. He had discovered a process by which painted, stained, and over-varnished panels could be restored to their right color and texture.
“I want you to take it in hand at once.”
Quinney chuckled and rubbed his hands.
“With great pleasure, my lord.”
“Also I have some very valuable Oriental china, a collection of forty years, made on the spot—in China, I mean—and you must find me the right cabinets.”
Quinney nodded. He had heard of the Davenant collection, but he had never seen it.
“My collection is unique,” said Lord D’Avenant. “I own one piece, Mr. Quinney, which is of a deep-blue color, very thin and intact. It rings like a beautiful glass. Small fragments of this rare porcelain are set as jewels and treasured as such. My bit is more than a thousand years old.”
Quinney licked his lips, as he replied, solemnly:—
“It will be a privilege, my lord, to examine such a gem.” But, alone with Susan, he confessed that he was not favorably impressed by his new patron’s appearance. “Looks like an old vulture, Susie.”
“Looks ain’t your strong point, Joe,” remarked his wife. Quinney assented cheerfully, staring at his hands, of which he was slightly vain, not without reason.
“Talons he has, my girl. And such a beak! But— brains! More than his rightful share of them. A very cunning and evil old bird!”
“You have nothing to do with him, Joe.”
He laughed, and told her what had passed at the first interview.
“To get good pay for doing such work, Susie, makes me forget that a black east wind is blowing.”
Susie shook her head mournfully.
“If he’s a wicked old sinner, I say—walk not in the ways of such.”
“Lord love you!” retorted the autocrat of Soho Square, “if I did business with saints only, me and you, dearie, would be in the poor-house.”
WITHIN a fortnight Quinney and his craftsmen were comfortably lodged in the ancient house.
Lord D’Avenant received him on arrival.
A housemaid ushered the dealer into the library, which was on the first floor and the least attractive of many
fine reception-rooms. The noble owner explained why he had chosen it.
“It’s next my bedroom, Mr. Quinney. I’m not a sound sleeper. I do a lot of work when I can’t sleep. Nice view— hey?”
An oriel window commanded the main approach. An immense desk was littered with papers and queer packages. Quinney noticed at once a faint odor like that of sandal-wood. The atmosphere was warm and slightly stuffy. Having opened the casement, Lord D’Avenant carefully closed it, and indicated a chair.
“Sit you down, Mr. Quinney.”
Quinney sat down, but his host, arrayed in a gorgeous dressing-gown, paced restlessly up and down, talking volubly.
“We have the place to ourselves. No flunkeys as yet. My own servant, and a maid or two. Nice and quiet— hey?”
“Very quiet, my lord.”
“One ought to be able to sleep here. Ever lie awake, tossin’ about?”
“Beastly—perfectly beastly. But I was always a bit of an owl.”
“You look owlish,” thought Quinney. He had a vision of his host flitting here and there by night, ready to pounce upon anything and everything. As a purchaser he had, indeed, pounced upon everything at D’Avenant, taking over nearly all the furniture and pictures and some rare plate.
“You and I, Mr. Quinney, must make this place a museum.”
Quinney rubbed his hands at the delightful prospect.
“There isn’t much rubbish, my Lord.”
“I take your word for that. I have expert knowledge of Oriental porcelain and Chinese lacquer. How long will you be over the oak?”
“That is quite impossible to say.” “I shall be here.”
“You are retiring from business, my lord?”
“Retiring? I? Not much! But I can attend to my business fr.om this room. It’s a funny business, Mr. Quinney. I deal with funny people. I lived my life in China. I can pass for a Chink. Not much making-up necessary.”
“You’ll never pass for a D’Aven'ant,” thought Quinney.
“I shall give you a cup of tea presently. I dare say you’ll want to look round by yourself. See you later.”
Quinney got up, nodded, and went out.
Alone, he wandered through the house, and then into the park. The village lay half a mile away, and he remembered that he had forgotten to bring tobacco. His mixture, however, could be bought at any inn. He decided to walk into the village.
Very soon he had passed through fine wrought.-iron gates which, somewhat to his astonishment, had to be unlocked. A rosy-cheeked maiden informed him demurely that such were his lordship’s orders. Quinney laughed.
“No admittance—except on business, my dear.”
“Yes, sir. That’s it. The villagers are rather miffed about it. There is talk of a right-of-way. But his lordship won’t hear of that.”
In the village more information was gleaned from the Boniface of the D’Avenant Arms. His lordship kept himself to himself, being rarely seen outside his own park. All the same, he subscribed liberally to local charities and paid high wages. Everybody hoped and believed that he would turn out to be an up-to-date and enlightened landlord of a much-impoverished estate.
Quinney strolled back to the house in time for tea, served in egg-shell china cups, infused for one minute and three-quarters only.
“You have never tasted such tea as that, Mr. Quinney?”
Quinney admitted that he had not a palate for the rarest growths of tea, adding that it would be a pleasure to drink hot water out of such cups.
“Loot,” said his host, in a high-pitched voice. “I annexed ’em from a mandarin under sentence of death. I’ve picked up a lot of loot in my time.”
He began to talk about porcelain of the earlier dynasties. Quinney was delighted. Then the old fellow showed him a couple of specimens, masterpieces of handicraft—a five-clawed dragon of the Ming period that probably had belonged to an emperor, and a superlative kylin.
“My best things are in the bedroom. Like to see ’em?”
The old man jumped up with the agility of a monkey, waving prehensile fingers.
“I’m going to surprise you,” he said.
Quinney followed him into the bedroom. Against the wall was a big steel cage. Lord D’Avenant touched a button, and immediately the cage was brilliantly illuminated.
The cage was full of magnificent pieces of Chinese porcelain. The mere sight of them seemed to rejuvenate Lord D’Avenant. He gripped Quinney’s arm.
“I have had two passions in my life: collecting the best Chinese porcelain, and this place. Some fools think I’m not a true D’Avenant. But I am. I saw this house when I was a boy, and I said to myself: ‘I'll have that, one day.’ Now—look at my stuff.”
“There’s nothing better in the Salting Collection.”
Lord D’Avenant snorted.
“There’s nothing half so good.”
At the end of twenty minutes, Quinney asked an interesting question:
“Are you insured against burglars, my lord?”
The old man cackled, rubbing together his thin brown fingers. Then he said, impressively:
“I can charge that cage and those steel shutters”— he pointed to the window—“with a high voltage that would electrocute any burglar who touched ’em. I’ve had to protect myself, Mr. Quinney, against enemies.” Again he cackled, adding slyly, “It isn’t very healthy to be an enemy of mine.”
When they returned to the library, a Chinaman, in spotless white, was removing the teacups. He presented the usual impassive countenance to the “white devil” of a foreigner, but when he left the room his master spoke of him with something approximating to affection.
“My servant, Quong. The most faithful fellow in the world. He has been with me for years. I saved his life; saved him from a hideous death. He is devoted to me. He has stolen for me, Mr. Quinney. If I told him to kill you, he would nod his head, and your number would be up.”
This was said with an air of such conviction that Quinney experienced a thrill—the first of many. Quong reappeared. He moved slowly and silently. D’Avenant spoke to him twice, not in pidgin English, but in the Cantonese dialect. As he vanished again, the old man said, with finality:
“He is the only man, Mr. Quinney, whom I trust unreservedly.”
Tj'OR several days Quinney saw little of his new patron. " Meals were served to the dealer in his own sittingroom. Twice he was invited to drink tea in the library. Upon the second occasion an incident took place that must be recorded. A telephone on the big desk began to buzz.
“London call,” said Lord D’Avenant. “Please excuse me.”
As he spoke he picked up the instrument. Quinney happened to be facing him. By this time the dealer was accustomed to his queer host’s ugliness, and kindlydisposed to an old man who had been consistently courteous to him. Suddenly, without warning, the evil that was in the yellow, lined countenance seemed to disfigure it. Quinney hardly recognized a harsh, querulous voice.
“Most certainly not. I refuse emphatically to see the man. He knows why. Tell him to go to the devil.”
He replaced the instrument and turned to Quinney.
“If he goes to the devil, Mr. Quinney, he will find himself in congenial company. Let me give you another cup of tea.”
Quinney, tingling with curiosity, remained silent. Before he returned to his labors, Quong came in. Immediately Lord D’Avenant began to speak with marked agitation. And then, for the first time, the Oriental mask fell from the face of the Chinaman. Evidently he, too, was agitated. Quinney, of course, couldn’t understand a word that was said. He divined that orders, very peremptory orders, were being given.
Quong inclined his head, like a mandarin, and withdrew. So did Quinney.
A WEEK later Lord D’Avenant was dead.
Quinney was half-dozing when a sharp knocking aroused him at half-past seven in the morning. The elderly housemaid came in, much flustered. Quong had found his master’s door locked—as usual —and could not get in.
“He thinks, sir, that something awful has happened.”
Afterwards Quinney admitted to Susan that the same dismal apprehension laid a strangle-hold on his vitals. Within a minute he had joined the frightened servants in the passage. He strode to the door of the bedroom and hammered upon it.
“Send for a gardener. We must break in.”
A. man appeared with a cold chisel and a hammer, but the stout oak door withstood for a time a severe assault. Quinney, ablaze with excitement, was the first to enter. Lord D’Avenant was not in bed, but the sheets and coverlets were disarranged. The steel cage was brilliantly illuminated. Quinney held up his hand.
“Don’t go near the cage or the windows!”
He rushed into the library, where the lights were burning. The library, like the bedroom, had been locked and
bolted upon the inside of the door leading to the passage. The door between library and bedroom was ajar.
Upon the Persian carpet, horribly contorted, clothed only in a dressing-gown and pyjamas, lay the old man.
Quinney touched his face, glancing at the fallen jaw and the glazed, open eyes.
“He is dead,” he said, solemnly. “Fetch a doctor. Nothing must be touched here till he comes.”
The servants filed out. Quinney went back into the bedroom and looked at the steel cage. With his amazing memory, he could almost swear that no precious object had been touched. He remarked, indeed, that one or two pieces had been added to the collection. The steel shutters guarding the windows were closed; the room, save the bed, was in order. Then he went out, leaving the gardener in charge of the shattered door, with instructions to allow nobody to pass through it. Quong, standing apart from the maids, was moaning. Quinney went up to him.
“Your master,” he said, “must have felt ill in the night. He went into the library, and died.”
Quong gesticulated violently.
“He velly strong man. He no die. I sabee. Man kill him. I tellee you, man kill him.”
The doctor arrived. He was able to affirm positively that death had taken place some hours previously. He stated also that he had exam ned Lord D’Avenant very thoroughly about a month before, having been called in to prescribe for insomnia.
“A month ago my patient was as sound a man physically as a man of his age can be. He lived very temperately. We must send for the police at once.” The local inspector was summoned, a man of intelligence and capacity. The doctor and he knew what to do, and did it. Quinney tried to choke down some breakfast.
At about ten the inspector sent for him. Quinney found him and the doctor in the dining-room.
“Lord D’Avenant didn’t die a natural death,” said the inspector. “You have seen much of him of late, Mr. Quinney. Has he given you any indication whatever that life had become tedious to him?”
“Very much the contrary. I have never met a man of his age with such astonishing vitality.”
“Quite so. Dr. Merriman thinks that poison has been administered or self-administered.”
“Not self-administered, inspector,” said Quinney. “I’d stake my life on that.”
“We shall know more after the autopsy. The Chinese servant was the last to see his master alive. He left him at ten-thirty in his bedroom. It appears to have been a whim of the deceased to bolt himself in. The bedroom and library doors, communicating with the corridor, were locked and bolted on the inside. That is certain. The windows in each room were shuttered with steel shutters. Between the hours of eleven at night and
seven in the morning a terrific voltage of electricity cha-ges these shutters and the cage in the bedroom. It is humanly certain that no person could have entered either room through the window. The chimneys are very narrow. I have examined carefully the walls, the floors, and the ceilings. There is no evidence of any struggle. Snow fell during the night, but before ten. There are no footsteps in the snow below the windows. I am forced to believe that suicide is the only logical conclusion.”
“The Chinaman doesn’t think so.”
“I can get nothing out of him.”
The doctor had to leave them. The inspector turned to Quinney.
“I’m going back to the library. Will you come with me? You might notice something, anything, out of the ordinary.”
Quinney, no fool in dealing with his fellows, decided that the local inspector was free, at any rate, from what he termed “swank.” He followed the official upstairs and into the library. The body had been laid, beneath a sheet, upon the bed in the next room. Quinney stared about him, as the inspector said, quietly:
“It is possible, of course, that poison was administered before half-past ten; but by whom? There are poisons that act slowly. In that case, it is almost certain that Lord D’Avenant would have rung the bell and summoned assistance. The servants tell me that the Chinaman was devoted to his master.”
“Who saved him from what Lord D’Avenant described to me as a hideous death. He trusted Quong—I quote his words—unreservedly.”
“In a murder case, Mr. Quinney, we always look for motives. Such a man might have had enemies.”
Quinney repeated what Lord D’Avenant had said about his enemies. The inspector made a note.
“How does the doctor know that he was poisoned?” “There were indications unmistakable to a medical man.”
“Who switches on the electricity?”
“The electrician had his instructions. He switched on the current at ten-thirty, and turned it off, as usual, at a few minutes past seven. I know the man personally.” “It must be suicide,” said Quinney; but, in his bones, he didn’t believe it.
HOME OFFICE experts conducted the post-mortem, confirming the conjecture of Dr. Merriman.
At the coroner’s inquest a verdict of suicide whilst of unsound mind was mercifully recorded. No other verdict seemed possible. No phial was found near the body. The experts testified that death had taken place after midnight, and that so violent a poison must have acted swiftly. Nobody could have entered the room after half-past ten. Nevertheless the junior partners of Davenant and Co. testified against the hypothesis of suicide. But they had to admit that the late head of the firm was odd and eccentric, and that they knew him only slightly. Since his return from China business matters were left, for the most part, in the hands of the London representatives. Still, he had talked to them frequently of his plans for the future. All his long life, they admitted reluctantly, he had been a man of mystery.
To the immense surprise of everybody, and most of all to the individual concerned, Lord D’Avenant left everything —apart from a few legacies and a substantial annuity to Quong—to the impoverished kinsman from whom he had bought Old Hall. That lucky youth immediately instructed Quinney to proceed with the restoration-work.
This young man, Arthur D’Avenant, said to Quinney at their first meeting: “There is a mystery here, Mr. Quinney.”
“I sha’n’t rest till it is solved.” Meanwhile, inevitably, the suspicions of an egregious public fastened themselves upon the faithful Quong. But from the moment when the Chinaman learnt that his master’s possessions had passed to a kinsman, he seemed to transfer his allegiance to that young man.
“I believe with you,” said Arthur D’Avenant, “that Quong is absolutely innocent. At the same time, I have a notion that we may find the murderer through him. How, I haven’t the least idea.”
Quong, unhappily, could only repeat, like a parrot, what he had said at first:
Continued on paye 36
Continued from page 17
“Bad man killee boss. You see. Sometime we catch him.”
He seemed to be quite unconscious that he was being watched.
The nine days’ excitement over the mystery died out when the experts were unable to find any trace of poison in the organs examined. Dr. Merriman said to Quinney:—
“This may be a case of Oriental revenge. We know nothing of their methods.”
AMONGST these curious visitors to the YA. Soho Square establishment came Benyon, the explorer. He drifted into the shop when Quinney happened to be reasonably at leisure. Benyon beat no bushes. He 'said, curtly:—•
“I am one of the few men, Mr. Quinney, who knew the late Lord D’Avenant.” Quinney pricked up his ears, as Benyon continued, placidly:—
“I met him in China.”
“You know China, sir?”
“I know parts of China as—as well, shall I say?—as Lord D’Avenant did. He was an assiduous collector. Where are his collections?”
“At D’Avenant Old Hall.”
“Could I see them? This is my card.” As Quinney stared blankly at an unfamiliar name, the great man added, quietly: “I think the secretary of the Royal Geographical Society will vouch for me.” Quinney said, briskly:—
“That’s quite all right, Mr. Benyon. I happen to be going down to D’Avenant the day after to-morrow. Will you come with me?”
“With great pleasure.”
And so it came to pass that Benyon, by a mere coincidence, so said Quinney, met Arthur D’Avenant. Benyon was taken to
the drawing-room, where two cabinets held all the finest bits.
“I knew that they were wonderful,” he murmured.
Further talk soon convinced Quinney that an expert of the first rank was in his company, and he hastened, as usual, to profit by such an opportunity.
“Some of these,” said Benyon, “have a value quite apart from what they might fetch at Christie’s as rare specimens of the earlier dynasties. I cannot imagine how D’Avenant got hold of them. Is there an illustrated catalogue of your treasures?” He turned to the young man.
“I am thinking of having one made— with Mr. Quinney’s kind assistance. If— if you would help us, Mr. Benyon—-?” Benyon said deliberately:—
“If you wish to keep this collection intact, Mr. D’Avenant, don’t have it catalogued!”
“Why ever not?”
“I can only say this out of knowledge which is, perhaps, my peculiar possession. No bribe, however great, would tempt me to carry that through Tibet.”
He indicated a h'ghly-decorated Buddhist figure.
“It is sacrosanct,” he added. “And so are these.”
“But we are not in Tibet, Mr. Benyon.” “Happily, we are not in Tibet.”
No more was said at the moment. After a time, Benyon observed, abruptly: "It’s an extraordinary thing to me that the late Lord D’Avenant committed suicide.” Arthur D’Avenant turned startled eyes to Quinney, who shrugged his sturdy shoulders.
Arthur D’Avenant dropped his pleasant voice to a whisper.
“Mr. Quinney and I dispute the
Continued on page 38
Continued from paye 36
coroner’s verdict. We—we believe that
my predecessor was—murdered.”
“Yes,” said Quinney.
“Why have you come to that conclusion?”
The facts were recited. Benyon made no comment, listening very attentively, till the Chinaman was mentioned.
“Is this man, Quong, here?”
“He is almost as devoted to me, Mr. Benyon, as he was to his master.”
“I—I should like to see him.”
Quong was summoned. Immediately Benyon addressed him in the Cantonese dialect. Quinney listened, mildly amused to the strangest concatenation of astounding and inarticulate noise. But he noticed that Quong seemed pleased and less of an image. Evidently he accepted Benyon as a superior being. At a sign from the distinguished traveler he bowed and went out.
“Well?” murmured Arthur D’Avenant. Benyon smiled, rather inscrutably.
“It is well,” he said, with emphasis. “I was not quite easy when I heard there was a Cantonese here. This man was his master’s slave. Brobably he is now yours. Might I see the library? It would be interesting—and possibly profitable—to attempt some reconstruction of this mysterious affair on the spot.”
The room was unlocked and unshuttered.
“He lay there,” said Quinney, “with his . knees arched. The pupils of the eyes were so turned up that only the whites were visible.”
“Ah! And nothing was found near him —no phial, no object that might be even remotely considered—lethal?”
“I told you that I knew Lord D’Avenant,” Benyon began. “But I didn’t know him well. Brobably nobody knew him well, except, possibly, the faithful Quong.”
“He was assuredly a very queer customer, Mr. Benyon.”
“From what knowledge I had of him,” continued Benyon, “it is grossly improbable that such a man, familiar as he must have been with rare and subtle drugs, should have taken a violent poison that contorted the body almost beyond recognition. Had he wished to kill himself, he would have selected some preparation of opium, and slid out of life easily and painlessly. There is a subtle poison known to me that produces the effects you have described, Mr. Quinney, and which leaves no trace in the human system.”
“A poison known to you?”
“Did the doctors discover any puncture?”
“I don’t think so.”
“The poison to which I refer is administered hypodermically. A slight prick from a needle suffices. It doesn’t act immediately. The prick may be so slight that the person pricked may be unconscious of it. The mark left would be hardly perceptible except to a very trained eye. The poison I mean has some of the characteristics of that extraordinary South American alkaloid, wourali. It paralyzes action and heightens sensation. The sufferer undergoes tortures and is unable to move or cry out.”
“Horrible!” ejaculated Quinney.
“This is my opinion,” he said slowly. “I agree with you that Lord D’Avenant was murdered. Brobably the police thought as much, and discreetly kept their thoughts to themselves. Scotland Yard dislikes unsolved mysteries. I can imagine that the verdict of the coroner’s jury was not displeasing. I take it that the cleverest wits were baffled. Nobody entered this room or bedroom. The late lord was alone when he died, alone when he was murdered. We fall back upon hypothesis. I submit that he was poisoned hypodermically. It is conceivable that an enemy, unable to get at him in any other way, sent him, by post, some tiny, insignificant article that a collector would be likely to handle. In handling it he met his death. I am looking for that insignificant article.”
He went on looking, but he didn’t find it. The same disappointment awaited him in the bedroom. Finally, he stood in front of the steel cage, now empty.
“You say this was lit up when you broke into the bedroom, Mr. Quinney?” “Yes.”
“We may infer that the unhappy man, perhaps unable to sleep, got out of bed—” “He had been in bed.”
“We may imagine that he got out of
bed, and was gloating over his treasures?” “I often do that,” admitted Quinney. “Then he passed into the library and began a letter. Whilst he was writing he may have felt the first effect of the poison. In less than a minute he would be paralyzed. In ten more he would be dead.” “God bless my soul!” exclaimed Quinney.
Benyon continued, imperturbably:— “I should like to call your attention to another hypothesis. Ypu may take it from me that some of the porcelain in the drawing-room is of supreme historical and religious interest. I can’t convey to you the fanatic attachment that certain objects inspire in their possessors. The happiness and prosperity, perhaps, of a remote community may be actually centred in one ugly little figure. If such a figure were stolen from its guarded shrine, the devotees would stick at nothing, at nothing, to recover it. The quest might extend over years.”
Arthur D’Avenant looked slightly uneasy.
“Let us suppose that an agent, the last man you might suspect, was instructed to recover such an object known to be in the possession of a man who guarded it like a Crown jewel. Would he hesitate to kill that man, if he thought that his successor might guard it less carefully?”
“This,” said Arthur D’Avenant, with a hard laugh, “is getting near the knuckle.” Benyon delivered the last thrust.
“I believe,” he said slowly, “that the murderer of Lord D’Avenant will come here. You need not seek him. I should be sorely tempted, knowing what I do, to let him help himself and go his way.” “Never!” said D’Avenant.
Benyon smiled and spread out his hands.
“It has been a most interesting afternoon,” he murmured.
ARTHUR D’AVENANT, being a dy young and healthy man, soon dismissed from an active mind the apprehensions excited by the explorer. He happened to be in love; approaching marriage with a charming girl engrossed his attention.
And nothing happened!
Quinney finished the oak. He was now regarded affectionately by Arthur D’Avenant as a friend, and as such heartily welcome to come and go as he pleased.
He went down, one week-end, with a superb Cromwellian table, to find a bride at home after her honeymoon. Quinney had met the young lady before. He told Susan that she was real porcelain, and prettily decorated.
Arthur D’Avenant led him aside.
“I’m worried about Quong, Mr. Quinney.”
“Ho! What’s up?”
“He is—at all hours of the night. I can get nothing out of him but this. He tells me that the 'bad man’ is coming. It seems to be mere intuition, but these Chinks are uncanny. For insiance, I wasn’t expecting you, but before I got your wire yesterday, Quong said to me: ‘Quinnee—he come. You see.’ And here you are, b’Jove!” Quinney took this seriously.
“This beats me, Mr. D’Avenant. After our talk with Mr. Benyon I began to wonder whether Quong had stayed on with you because he hoped that the ‘bad man’ would come back.”
“Quite likely,” admitted D’Avenant. Presently Quinney got Quong alone, and took his arm.
“What’s wrong with you, old chap?” Quong said, excitedly:—
“Bad man come velly soon. I sabee. You bet!”
“But how do you know?”
Quong’s pidgin English became involved.
“He—sailor-man. He come back. He wantee something. I no sabee what. Allee same, he come.”
That very night, his faith in Quong was abundantly justified.
Quong tapped upon his bedroom door about an hour after midnight. Quinney let him in. He hardly recognized the man. He seemed to be vibrating with excitement, as he whispered: —
“Bad man—he come. Now I catch him!”
“With your naked hands?” exclaimed Quinney.
Quong looked at his hands and smiled. “You likee come too?”
For answer, Quinney slipped a coat
Continued on page 40
Continued from page 38
over his pyjamas. Then he picked up a serviceable poker. Quong smiled again.
“I catch him! You see.”
Noiselessly the Chinaman turned the handle of the door and vanished. Quinney hesitated for one brief instant. He could see that the drawing-room was not altogether in darkness. The swiftness of the Oriental’s movements disconcerted him. He followed slowly, on tiptoe. As he entered he heard a crash. Instantly, Quinney switched on the electrics at the door. In front of one of the cabinets, two men lay upon the parquet. Silence succeeded the crash, and then a curious wheezing sound. Quinney realized that Quong was strangling the “bad man.”
He flung himself upon Quong, trying to tear the steel fingers from a thick throat. Quinney had strong muscles, but he had to strain them to the uttermost.
Suddenly the hold relaxed.
“God! You’ve killed him!”
Quong laughed, and stood up. Then bending swiftly, he ran his fingers over the man’s body. He held up a pistol.
“I tellee you, he velly bad man. I sabee.”
Very slowly, the prostrate man recovered consciousness. Quinney left him j alone.
j “Give me the pistol,” he said to Quong, i “and go you and fetch your boss.”
Quong nodded gleefully and slipped away.
Quinney saw that the glass door of the bigger cabinet had been broken open. Upon a table stood the small figure that ¡ Benyon was not anxious to carry through Tibet.
“You lie perfectly still,” said Quinney.
The man was gasping convulsively, but he lay crumpled up just where he had fallen.
D’Avenant came in, followed by the still smiling Quong.
QUINNEY may be trusted to finish the story in his own fashion, as he told it to the awe-stricken Susan some twenty-four hours later.
“He was a queer cove, my girl; a dark seafaring man, with gold rings in his ears. He could speak to Quong in his own lingo, and did so when he got back his powers of speech. They went at it hamrrer-andtongs, jabbering like monkeys. We had his
pistol, and we were three to one. Perhaps we ought to have tied him up till the police came. Anyway, we didn’t. I told you that the door of the cabinet was open. Upon the middle shelf stood a small Kang-He god, villainously ugly, coloured in bright turquoise. The mouth of the little beast was wide open. I particularly noticed it when the pieces were removed from the steel cage, because it wasn’t up to the mark of the other bits. But it was in the cage, and we supposed that it was intended to be put there. But, oddly enough, I didn’t remember seeing it when his lordship first showed me his treasures. Quong says that it must have been acquired in England, because he knows all the bits that came from China. As I was saying, Susie, we were taking a bit of an easy before sending for the police, and I suppose our man knew that the game was up. He jumped for the cabinet and grabbed the bright blue god or devil. And I saw him jab his thumb hard into the little beast’s mouth.
“Well, my dear, we had to send for a doctor before we sent for the police. When they came our man was dead, drawn up and contorted too. He died game, I must say. And when we got the blue monster out of his hand he owned up. He had worked for Lord D’Avenant in China. He had helped to steal the little figure from some Buddhist shrine. Afterwards, I dare say, he tried blackmail. Anyway, he got the sack. He boasted to us that he had sworn to kill his former master, and he had the devilish art of knowing how to to i.t. Collectors always stick their fingers into holes, just to see if the inside is polished properly. Bad bits are left in the rough. Inside the mouth of the blue beast he fixed a needle coated with that devilish poison. Mr. Benyon was right from first to last. Having killed his enemy, the man attempted to steal the figure. He knew what price he would get for it in China. That’s about all.”
“Mercy me!” exclaimed Susan. “This comes of worshipping sticks and stones. What a lesson for you, Joe!”
“I don’t steal ’em,” said Quinney.
“I wouldn’t trust you,” sighed Susan, “nor any other collector.”
“Mr. D’Avenant,” concluded Quinney, wiping a heated brow, “is a-going to send back the little mischief-maker to China. Mr. Benyon will attend to that. And now, Susie, if you’ve no objections, I shall take a glass of sherry.”