The General Died at Dawn
In which destiny marches to a macabre climax, a mystery is solved and a woman finds that which all women seek
CHARLES G. BOOTH
O’HARE had had a vague sense of voices near him for some time before three fingers of sunlight, reflected from a bit of metal on the capstan, brought him completely out of the deeps into which he had fallen.
Wong was bellowing: “This is a thing that men will not forget. It will be talked of in the singsong houses of Canton as long as there is water in the Yellow River. A bodyguard of nine men and a fool to His Excellency, and when that fool, who is my sister’s son ...” Wong’s voice creaked like a sprung board. “Men will die of laughter, but if we are not afraid to ascend to the dragon, our names will not stink in their nostrils and in time they will say it was the will of heaven.” Wong’s voice regained its volume. “Well, are you afraid? Do you prefer to have your children spit on your graves? If there is one who is afraid, let him stand up and I will knock his teeth down his throat. Let him stand up. I say!”
O’Hare understood the dialect in which Wong had spoken, and all this he heard, for his position—he lay on his back was near the forecastle from which it issued: but his head throbbed and he had not yet oriented himself to his surroundings and the words crashed meaninglessly on his eardrums. He laid his fingers over his eyes and vented his lungs with a noisy expulsion of breath.
I lis head span as he sat up and took it between his hands. He felt as if lie had been thrashed. The surface of his mind began to function first, and when he looked around he saw that the sun had not yet hoisted all of its circumference out of the sea. The fog was in retreat, thinning out, as it went, into pink-tinted scrolls and ribbons and powder puffs of a lovely angelic remoteness; yet there was nothing else of tenderness about the morning, for the bronze heave of the sea, full of light though it was, threw off only the cold glitter of gun-barrel steel.
O’Hare was massaging his head when his mind abruptly got itself back into focus and he remembered what had happened up to the moment Ramsgate had pitched overboard.
But there was something else afoot.
Wong’s oration had indicated as much. The forecastle was quiet enough now, yet lie knew it to full ot Yang’s men. None of them were on deck, apparently. I íe smelled incense burning. Irene and Conti and the other two were locked up, he supposed. Now what the devil impended? And where was Yang? He had an unnerving sense of being close to some macabre event that was beyond his capacity to anticipate. Yang’s threats had been concrete. This thing that he felt was something else. It was profound. It was as old as Cathay. It had the odor of that enigma which he had spent twenty years of his life despising.
O’Hare felt sick at the pit of his stomach.
He braced himself then. As he did so, he heard voices in the forecastle. I íe moved toward the door bent double, and rested on one knee a little to the right of the door.
“But I have two sons.”
“And if you go back to them they will spit at you.” “Our brothers will say we killed His Excellency."
“We would tell them the fool killed him.”
“Ho! and would they believe us? Such a thing as this never happened before.”
“There is a girl I have paid good silver for in Ningkaing.” “And if you go back, what will she whisper in the streets?”
“Yes, I should die of shame.”
“If our brothers did not kill you.”
“Wong is right. It is better to die like men.”
“Still it was good silver that I paid for that girl.”
“A man cannot take silver with him to Feng-tu.”
“No, but he can leave it to his sons.”
“Well, you have spent the silver. You cannot get it back.”
“I have sons, also. And an old father.”
“If you go back you will dishonor them.”
“It will go hard with the old head. He is blind.”
“Do not forget that we do not belong to ourselves.”
“That was the bargain we made.”
“It has been a great honor to guard His Excellency.”
“And how we have guarded him!”
“Our spirits will be faithful.”
“Yet we chatter like monkeys.”
Wong boomed forth again: “If there is one of you who is afraid, let him stand up and I will deal with him as I have said.”
He waited a moment, but there was no response, so he roared on: “Even my sister’s son holds his tongue. That is well. It is settled, then. Look to your rifles.”
“What shall we do with the fool?”
“The fool is my sister’s son.”
“That is so. But the foreigners?”
"Does a foreigner have a soul?” Wong boomed.
“I have often wondered.
Well, we shall see. It will be very amusing. To himself, a foreigner’s life is important.”
O’Hare had grasped the substance of what he had heard, but it was the casualness of these men that turned the sap in his bones to ice. What had happened and what they proposed to do about it were as highly colored as a Greek tragedy—“such a thing . . . never happened before” —yet their passive submission to what they chose to regard as the inevitable consequences of their ineptness was making the whole proceeding as prosaic as the smell of good black loam.
O Hare heard someone laugh. It was a light, shadowy sound, as faint as the rustle of a dead leaf. He turned and saw a man sitting in a chair which had been placed on the other side of the mainmast, opposite the poop bulkhead.
It was Yang.
at him and each was
’HARE had not noticed him on his first quick survey of the deck, yet he must have been there all the time, partly hidden by the mast. O’Hare was surprised. Yang, he had gathered, was dead ; killed by a certain “fool” who was the nephew of Wong. Battled by his own sensations, O’Hare stood erect. He had an odd feeling that he had lived for this moment. Or rather, that if he proved himself unequal to it he might better not have lived at all. Yet words were the only tools he could use, and how to select them he did not know. His temples were drumming, but he managed to lounge across the deck with his hands in his pockets.
Yang sat stiffly in the chair, his hands clasped over his belly, his head erect, his sweat-streaked face bloodless and raddled with agony. His scar had the raw look of a fresh wound. What was left of the living man was concentrated in his eyes, his sooty Northern eyes with their yellow flecks, and as O’Hare stopped in front of him it flared up, shot through with fever, into a sort of white heat that was yet tempered with irony. lie was alive, O’Hare realized, because his will had not let him die, but if he were not dead twenty minutes hence it would be a miracle.
For that matter, it would be a miracle if all of them weren’t !
The sun had come soaring up out of the horizon, and a spot of light was dancing on the ring of Yang’s little finger.
“This is a thing I never expected to see,” O’Hare said gravely. “Did you not tell me that a man with a destiny has nothing to fear but his destiny?”
A spasm of rage distorted Yang’s face; then his breath came away from him in a deep, agonized sigh and his voice all but lost itself in the shadows closing in upon him. “A man—a man cannot argue with his destiny. A man may misread the will of heaven.” He rested, his breathing labored, then made an effort that beaded his forehead with fresh sweat. “The fool ...” He was not able to continue.
“There is always a fool.” O’Hare said gently.
“The fool,” Yang whispered, “found the bone.”
"Where was it?”
“In the Englishman’s bag.”
“I cannot believe it,” O’Hare said in astonishment. Then he laughed. “But it does not matter. The fool found it, you say. And he wanted to keep it for himself. I can understand that. When your men tried to take it away from him, there was a fight. You interfered and this fool stabbed you—is that it?—and presently you will be dead. Now how could that have happened? Are these men not your bodyguard?”
“You are amused, Mr. O’Hare.” Yang’s voice had gathered a little strength. “Why do you not laugh?”
"It is hard for me to contain myself,” 0’IIare said. “But very soon you will be dead, and I cannot laugh at a dead man. Consider. You come from Shen Si with your bodyguard of nine men and a fool, and your nine men are not enough to save you from the knife of their fool. The situation is amusing, you must admit.” “Yes, it is very amusing,” Yang said. “In a little while . . . ” His eyes dosed and his breath escaped in a faint moan, and O’Hare, who was clinging tenaciously to the fleeting seconds that were measuring out the remaining span of Yang’s life, thought he was gone. O’Hare had begun to perceive the direction his words must take. But they must be clever words. They must be cut and polished to a microscopic exactitude and subtly attuned to the scale of Yang’s vanity. That meant time. As much as ten minutes, possibly^ And he might fail in the end because of the instability of human emotions. He saw Yang’s will assert itself and his eyes open with the feelings of a man under death sentence who has won a reprieve. “In a very
little while,” Yang said, “you and your friends will be dead also, Mr. O’Hare.”
“That is true,” O’Hare said. “Yet you do not laugh.” “I do not laugh.”
“But General Fu Ching-wei will laugh,” O’Hare said. “Fu is a great general. He has a clever mind. Undoubtedly he will laugh himself into a fit. He waited until you were gone, then bought half your army. Perhaps he has got the other half by this. If he has not, he will get it as soon as he hears you are dead. Perhaps he knows you are dead already. Perhaps he corrupted these men you brought with you. Yes, that must be it.”
“That is a lie,” Yang said, in a small, thick voice.
“How can you say that?” O’Hare considered the dying man with an eyebrow lift«!. "You brought nine men and a fool for your bodyguard. The nine men and the fool are alive, but you are as good as dead. When you are quite dead, they will throw you to the sharks. How can you say that Fu has not corrupted them? They will return to Shen Si. Fu will have a place for them and silver for their pockets. Probably the fool will become a captain.”
"They will not return,” Yang said.
“How is that?” O’Hare asked.
“They will be dead.”
“Who will have killed them?”
“They will have shot one another.”
“At whose command?”
“At my command.”
“And what ol my friends and me?”
“Do foreigners have souls?” Yang asked dryly. "My bodyguard will do anything 1 tell them. Their sergeant, Wong, is a man of merit. 1 le would have been a great lord.” Yang’s voice dissolved into silence, and O’l lare turned cold to his fingertips as he saw the Chinese strain forward in his chair with his eyeballs glazing. But once again the man’s magnificent will chocked the ebbing current of his life. He stared at O’Hare intently, his blurred features becoming plastic with disdain. “Besides, it is their will. They have lost face unbearably. How can they continue to live?” He added faintly: “A man’s life is not important.”
Oil ARE had again that awareness of a highly complex situation made simple. These people had their roots in the earth and the earth’s fertility was in their loins, and it had taken him twenty years to find that out. Their minds, as Yang had said, were simple. Their aura of subtlety was mainly an illusion; but for the West it was a fact and would remain a fact always, and that fact in itself was the subtlest of ironies.
O’Hare said: “These men of yours have sons and fathers and wives and silver. I cannot believe that they will choose to die.”
“A man’s life is nothing,” Yang said.
“As for their blind obedience to your will carrying them to the extreme of killing one another . . . ” O’Hare looked at Yang with amused contempt. “Now, that would be a marvellous tale to tell in the wine shops. But who would believe it? If your men were men—well ! But they are not. They are louts and fools. And if you”—O’Hare’s thin smile barbed the words—“if you were King Henry Christophe, who marched a regiment over a cliff to prove his mastery of his men’s bodies . . . But you are not. You are not even a good general. You are not even as good a general as Fu Ching-wei.”
Yang’s body leaped in his chair, and the dull yellow mask his face had turned into began to twitch as though it were being jerked with cords from behind. Apprehensive of his complete collapse, O’Hare had another bad moment; but Yang hadn’t done with life yet, it seemed. His agitations subsided. He rested his head against the mast and shut his eyes. O’Hare had an agreeable sense of the power of words. They were tools of precision, and there was nothing a man could not do with them. Yang’s lip was red where he had bitten it. O’Hare saw; and his hands, which were still locked over his belly, had reddened slightly between the fingers.
Yang’s voice, when he spoke, was scarcely audible. “What you believe is not important, Mr. O’Hare.”
“I was not thinking of myself.”
“Of what were you thinking?”
Behind his carefully sustained air of indifference, O’Hare was acutely conscious of the tenuousness of Yang’s hold on life, but he took his time. There was some talk in the forecastle, too. He caught the click of a rifle bolt.
“What I believe is not important, as you say,” O’Hare said slowly, “but what men will believe after this thing is finished—that is another matter. I may lx: wrong about your men. Perhaps they are brave fellows. I may be wrong about you. Perhaps you are a very great lord—as great a lord as King Henry Christophe! and your men will kill themselves at your command. But if that is so, it is a very remarkable thing and 1 ask you: Will the world believe it, when it is so much easier to believe folly of a dead man? Will Nanking believe it? Will General Fu Ching-wei?” “They will see our bodies.”
“True. And Nanking will say that Fu’s men did it. And Fu will say that Nanking did it. Or both will say that pirates did it. And the world will say that Yang’s men were fools who could not protect their own general, but that he was a poor fool, anyway. And why? Because no one alive saw the thing done.”
“They will see our rifles.” Yang’s voice floated out of him as unsubstantial as smoke. “They will understand.” “Do you believe that?” O’Hare tossed a contemptuous laugh at Yang. “You believe, do you, that those ten rifles will speak louder than the tongues of your enemies? How do you know that your enemies will not find your bodies? And if they are found by men friendly to you, can you Insure they will understand? And if they do understand, will Nanking and Fu Ching-wei choose to believe the tale? And if they do believe it, will they spread it about so your name will accumulate more credit among their enemies?” ( )’! Ianlaughed again. “Come! you are not a fool. You know as well as 1 do that Fu’s first act will be to destroy your prestige in Shen Si. Y our men were fools and louts. They could not even protect their own general. And if it should get about that you have been stabbed by one of your own bodyguard! Well, there you are. In a month your name will be a laughing-stock. They will sing verses about you in the pleasure houses. Your sons will die of shame. And why? Because ten dead fools with rilles in their hands anali you have to speak for you.”
Yang’s lips moved. "There is something in that.” “There is everything in it,” O’Hare said, lie put his hands behind his back so that Y ang could not see their agitation. “There is so much in it that what 1 am about to say is very important to you. The Englishman was to have sailed on the Orient. So was Marcelles. 1 cannot prove this, but I believe Marcelles hid that money in the Englishman’s bag. And I think Ramsgate killed Marcelles. 1 cannot prove that either. I tell you only what I believe. Well, Ramsgate is dead. The rest of us have done nothing to you. What would you gain by having us killed? Nothing. Not only would you lose merit in heaven, but who would tell the truth about this thing you say is going to happen? Who would say your men all died like brave fellows and that you were a very great lord, as great a lord as King Henry Christophe, who marched his men over a cliff? Who would stop the lies of Fu Ching-wei?” ( )’l hue shrugged. “That is all, except”—he smiled whimsically at Yang “that 1 am not sure they would lx lies.”
Yang’s eyes still were fixed on O’Hare, wide open and unnaturally brilliant; but he made no movement of any sort, not even so much as the flicker of an eyelid, in response to that final cynicism. In retrospect, O’Hare saw his words as poor tools ineptly used. His reasoning had been feeble and false. What Y ang’s vanity made of it would be determined in part by the cooling clay of his flesh.
After a long moment he heard the rustle of Yang’s breath, then: “Tell Wong I am ready . . I will show you . . . I will show you a thing.”
O’Hare straightened with a light-headed sensation. An impulse to burst into laughter almost overwhelmed him, but he raised his voice instead.
“Wong!” he shouted. “His Excellency is ready for you.” He went into the cabin. He sat down in the chair which Y’ang had occupied behind the teakwood table and covered his face with his hands.
A MOM ENT elapsed; then O’Hare heard men stumbling across the deck—in single file, he thought and the dull reluctance of their tread turned him sick. He thought for a moment he would have to leap to his feet and attempt to stop it, and get himself and the others shot for his pains. Wong growled an order. That “last mile” shuffle ceased, and the prolonged thud of grounded rifles sent a tremor through the ship.
“Excellent One,” Wong muttered.
Although O’Hare did not catch what he said, Y’ang must have spoken his failing mind, for Wong’s voice and the voices of his men suddenly burst into an uproar; then through this brass-throated tumult ran the thin scarlet thread of Y'ang’s final word. It ceased, and Wong roared his men into silence.
Then Wong said huskily: “That is so. Excellent One.” He lifted his voice ominously. “His Excellency is right. We shall gain merit in heaven, and there will lx witnesses to stop the lies of Fu Ching-wei. We shall lx remembered as brave men. If there is one of you who wishes to say that it is not settled, let him stand out and 1 will deal with him.” O’Hare still sat at Y'ang’s table with his head in his hands. At first, it was beyond belief; but as he heard Wong dispose himself and his men into lines of five each, man facing man at point-blank range, he knew that it was nothing of the sort.
This was China, where life was geared to a different tempo, and right conduct was frequently a Western convention thrown into reverse, as when a man revenged himself on his neighbor by killing himself on his neighbor’s doorstep. When the facts got around there would be quite a hullabaloo, with the usual drivel about the subtlety of the Chinese mind. As if anything could be less subtle than this beautiful simplification of the aspirations of General Y’ang! Y’ang’s motives were as ancient as the tyranny of King Henry Christophe. His men’s were akin to those of Abram with the lad. Isaac. They were still closer akin to the motives of the Balinese marching themselves and their women, clad in crimson and gold, down to engage the
Dutch, and after the first withering fire from the invaders, plunging their gold-damascened krises into the women’s breasts and slaying themselves.
A brazen-tongued command from Wong jerked O’Hare back to what was impending. He sat stiff-bodied and cold to his extremities, and with his tonsils burning. Wong spoke again. O’Hare heard the click of rifles brought up into the* extended position. Ten men with their roots in the good black loam were looking at death. He wondered what their thoughts were. The fool. The man with two sons. The man whose father was blind. The man who had paid good silver for a woman. O’Hare shivered. The moment was prolonging itself into infinity.
Then Yang uttered a word.
“ Kai pun!"
The volley made a single blast of sound that reverberated through the ship and filled the cabin with the bitter stench of powder smoke . . .
Presently, O’Hare looked up.
Through the open door he saw the butt end of a rifle, and a man’s boot standing on its scuffed heel, and General Y ang with his chin rest ing on his chest.
O’Hare gradually became aware of external sounds and impulses. He felt the eccentric lift and fall of theLiao-ping. He heard gulls screaming overhead, and the boom of sail aloft, and the creak and groan of ancient timbers, and the plash of the ageless Yangtze slipping down to the yellow waters. The next thing he heard was M. Conti talking rapidly behind a door on his left. The door had a padlock on it. The key was not visible. O’Hare got up slowly and walked stiffly across the cabin.
“All right,” he said. “I’ll have to get an axe or something and break in the door.”
A ray of sunlight fell on the birdcage and the thrush began to sing.
O’HARE found an axe in the chest in the forecastle. A few minutes later he had entered the forecastle again, flured-headed woman with him. The English girl had become hysterical, and Smallwood and Conti were getting her down into the launch. The wicker lantern which O’Hare had brought in, cast a pale yellow glow over Smallwood’s demolished club bag. his scattered personal belongings, the luggage stacked against the bulkhead, and the bank notes littered over the planking.
"It looks like a lot of money.” O’Hare frowned at the drift of currency at his feet. “Ï think I see what Marcelles was after. He had the twin of this bag in his room; I remember it distinctly now. Both of them bound for Marseilles. It was a clever idea.” Then he laughed softly. “If Smallwood had had any sort of notion ...”
The red-headed woman was unresponsive. O’Hare stared at her, but. the gloom that filled the upper half of the forecastle prevented him from making anything of her expression. He remained as he was for a moment, then began to gather up the 100-pound notes and the sheaves of French and American currency. He took pleasure in the crisp crackle of the money. He slapped the packages together with gusto. He had laid the money down on the chest and was reaching for his own luggage when Irene Mallory spoke. “Gerald.”
“What is it, Irene?”
“Does it mean everything to you?”
“The money?” O’Hare smiled at her. “Well, not quite everything.” Then he saw that her eyes were wet, and he put his hands on her arms. “What is the matter. Irene?” “I can’t help it, Gen y. This is my moment—and yours. We talked of recapturing a little of what we have lost. Don’t you see what I mean? This is our chance; we’ll never have another. It’s all tied up with that wretched money. I’m thinking of E Tsung and Li Feng and George Marcelles and Ramsgate, and now that horrible thing out there. We’ve got to make a clean incision. If we take that money, we’ll pay for it with whatever of decency is left in us.” She touched his cheek. “Does it mean so terribly much to you, Gerry?”
“I’m broke, Irene.”
“So am I. But we’ve got our tickets to Paris. And you’ve got your two good hands—that’s all I want of you. If anything of beauty is possible between us, that money would blight it.”
“It isn’t the money, Irene.”
“No. it’s your pride.”
“Yes,” he said, “it’s my pride.” He took her hands in his and kissed them, then let them go and stood looking at her. "Let me tell you something. I’ve spent the best twenty years of my life knocking about Asia. I made money—a lot of it but the other morning I stood on the Bund with a dollar-shilling in my pockets and watched the Orient move over to the Pootung side with the fog closing about her stern. It came over me then that Asia had whipped me. I was finished. That’s why I took that fifteen hundred dollars from you in Ramsgate’s office one last squeeze to salvage my pride with a steamship ticket. That s why I went after the Y'ang funds—to salvage my pride. At the last, a man’s pride is the one thing that matters to him. As you stand there 1 can only half see you. but I know you are beautiful. Y'our voice has moonlight in it, and your arms are cool and your eyes could make a man forget his folly.
and I love you. But if you were to say to me, ‘Y’ou can’t have both . . . ’ ”
“You’d choose the money?” Irene said, after a moment. “I’d choose the money,” O’Hare said huskily, “because of this damned pride that’s in me like a poison.”
She turned then and went out.
WITH IIIS shoulders sagging and his pride bitter in his mouth, O’Hare unlocked his own club bag and stowed the money away in it, his hands shaking beyond his power to control them. Bracing himself, he began tossing the other luggage out on to the deck. He was about this when Conti—who was unaware that the Yang funds had turned up—entered the forecastle.
“Monsieur,” he said.
“We’ll drop this stuff into the launch and clear out,” O’Hare said. “They’ve wrecked Smallwood’s bag.”
“We have been most fortunate. Monsieur, we owe you a debt of gratitude that we shall never be able to repay.” Conti regarded 0'IIare shrewdly. “You still intend to sail on the Orient, do you not, mon ami; you and madame and mademoiselle and M. Smallwood?”
“What time is it?” O’Hare asked.
“Twenty minutes to eight,” Conti answered. “If the Orient is not to sail until 1.30 p.m.—M. Pelletier told you it would be some twelve hours, did he not?—you will have time enough.”
O’Hare dropped the last piece of luggage outside, placed his back against the bulkhead, and scowled down at the sheet of rice paper without seam on which Conti was standing. “It looks as if those lads of Yang’s had put on a cricket fight,” he said abstractedly. “I’ve an idea that is what started the trouble.” And then; “I’m not sure that we should be able to sail.”
“And why not?”
“That out there, for one thing.”
“And what about that?” Conti asked. “YYing’s enterprise was entirely unofficial. Except ourselves—and possibly some members of the Yang party—no one living knows anything about it. We left my hotel. We return to it. You proceed to the Orient. Why should we be associated with what has occurred on this ship? If the Yang party should come to me, I shall tell them no more than I choose to. Their general, who was an outlaw, is dead. What can they do?”
“Nothing, I suppose,” O’Hare said moodily. “Their cause is lost. But there’s Ramsgate, you know.”
“Shanghai, monsieur has more than its quota of people who depart as mysteriously as they arrive—so." Conti snapped his fingers. “M. Ramsgate was a man of no reputation. Who will question his departure?”
“There’s something in that.” O’Hare spoke dubiously. “Y'ou haven’t forgotten Marcelles, have you?”
“Ah, that one!” Conti said with distaste. “He will be attended to, I assure you.”
“It will be necessary to dispose of his trunk.”
“I see,” O’Hare said grimly. “What will you do with it?” “I shall send it to a certain house in the Native City.” Conti twinkled at O’Hare. “I am old in the ways of iniquity. I have formed certain associations.”
“I can believe that,” O’Hare said grimly. “But it will be noon before we can get back to the Pierre Conti. Your people may have found him by then.”
“I do not think so. In the first place. I left word that M. Marcelles would not sail on the Orient today and that he was not to be disturbed, he was indisposed; and in the second place, if anyone should enter the room, the body is not in view. But if it should be discovered before we return ...” Conti shrugged. “Well, we should have to make the best of it. I do not think it will be. And now, can you not think of something else, mon ami?”
“Yes,” O’Hare said. “I can think of the Ingram girl’s natural repugnance at what you propose to do with Marcelles’ body, however she may feel toward him now.” “Ah, that little one,” Conti said sadly. “That little flower. There is a problem, oui. Well, she must be persuaded. I think it will be possible. She is indebted to all of us; to you especially. I believe she will realize that her first duty is to the living. Monsieur”—Conti inclined his head toward O’Hare and spoke very softly—“Messieurs Marcelles and Ramsgate are dead. If this affair should become official, I am afraid one or all of us will lx accused of murder. Do you not agree?”
“I am inclined to.” O’Hare’s expression was inscrutable. “Is that why you are prepared to take certain obvious risks?”
O’Hare smiled bleakly. “Now we are beginning to understand each other. While we are about it, we might as well go to the bottom of this business.”
“Monsieur!” Conti said agitatedly.
O’HARE continued to smile. “This is what I think. Conti. Marcelles did not come downstairs and write that cheque at the desk. He wrote it upstairs in his own room. He telephoned you: probably told you he had lost his room key and locked himself in. The Ingram girl heard
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The General Died at Dawn
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him talking to someone to you, over the telephone. She turned and went downstairs. You were still at the telephone when she left her key at the desk. After she had gone out you went upstairs, unlocked Marcelles’ door, went in. I íe told you he was leaving the hotel and that he would give you a cheque in payment of his account. Sitting at the table, he proceeded to write the cheque with my pen. That ebony-handled stiletto lay on the table. Marcelles had got it out of his trunk; probably tried to pick the lock with it. Well, you knew the sort of blackguard Marcelles was. You and the girl’s father were friends; you knew what she was getting herself into ...” O’Hare laughed goodhumoredly. “Am I correct?”
Conti had become pale. “So far, you are correct, monsieur. So far. I shall tell you. It was my intention to kill M. Marcelles. Because of mademoiselle and my regard for her father, as you say. But when the moment came when I saw him sitting there with his back toward me well, I could not do it. 1 could not do it.” Conti spoke agitatedly. “lie gave me the cheque. I went out. He bolted the door. That is all.”
“I )on’t excite yourself,” O’I Iare growled. ”1 intended only to congratulate you.”
“All!” Conti said explosively. He seemed immensely relieved. But when he had wiped his face with his handkerchief he regarded O’Hare with an altered, somewhat cunning expression. “But I should like to have you say you believe me, mon ami.”
“I’d rather not,” O’I lare said dryly.
Conti continued to regard O’Hare. "1 am sorry . . . May 1 venture to wish you enjoyment of the Yang funds?”
“What do you mean?” O’Hare spoke coldly.
Conti shrugged. “I mean that M. Marcelles was killed by M. Ramsgate, madame, or—yourself.”
The blood boiled up under OTIare’s mahogany façade. “So that’s to be the way of it?” Then he laughed. “Well, I refuse to accept the credit for another man’s good deed . . . We’d better be getting along. I intend to sail on the Orient—unless I am prevented.”
“Bien,” Conti said formally.
They piled the luggage on the row of lockers that ran along the starboard rail. Conti dropped down the Jacob’s ladder to the launch - a trim-looking, powerfully engined craft, half decked over—bobbing restlessly alongside. The red-headed woman was sitting up forward with her hands clasped over her knees and her head bent. Janice and Smallwood were in the stern.
O’Hare had seized the last piece of luggage—his own club bag—when he saw the red-headed woman looking up at him. Her eyes contained the unfevered stillness of deep water, and something within them reached up and touched him. He was crouching on the rail with one hand on his bag and his feet on the locker ledge. His body became rigid. No woman had ever looked at O’Hare like that before. Time stood still. They were completely alone. He had a queer, yeasty sensation, then his feeling of strain left him. It was not a thing he could describe. All he knew was that he and Irene Mallory belonged to each other, and that a man’s pride, in the end, was less than nothing.
“One minute.” he said.
O’Hare dropjx?d to the deck and strode into the forecastle, taking the bag with him. He unlocked the bag, felt for the money, all of it, and flung it against the bulkhead. When he emerged he was laughing softly, with his head thrown back and a peculiar brilliance in his gem-blue eyes. He went down into the launch and pressed Irene Mallory’s shoulders with his hands, smiling at her as he did so. She caught her breath and held it for a moment.
“Gerry !” she said.
When O’Hare turned, Conti was looking at a broad-brimmed black felt hat which he had picked up in the cockpit.
It was Mark Ramsgate’s hat.
* I 'IIE SINKING of the Liao-ping was not observed from the strangely hushed decks of the Prince of the Orient.
Kor the better part of two hours the liner had been under way, her third officer lying dead in his cabin with the KXf-ixnind note still clutched in his hand. Unless all the devils of ill luck were dogging her heels, Hong Kong would be her next stop. But although at the time she was some forty (xld miles south of the Liao-ping when the junk went down, steeped in that boreal glare which invested her last moments with a curiously impressive unreality, the shadow of the Chinese ship’s vanishment searched out the liner and added its macabre touch to the visitation of evil that already lay about her decks like a blight.
The liner’s aerial had picked up the information.
At a little after nine, O’l hire, coming up to the boat deck from Smallwood’s cabin, found Hie red-headed woman leaning on the starboard rail between two of the lifeboats.
“Better?” he said presently.
“It was dear of you to leave me alone, Gerry. I acted like a little fool. I can talk about it now.”
“You’ve been grand,” O’Hare said gently, and kissed her. “This thing has been tough enough to break the heart of a steam locomotive. When 1 saw them bringing that poor devil of a third officer aboard ...” O’Hare felt her shudder, and he stopped, slipping his arm about her. “I’m sorry, darling.”
She said quietly: “How are they taking it?”
“Smallwood’s a stout lad. The girl is pretty badly shaken, but she’ll be all right. You might go down and see her after a while. Smallwood still has his wings on, and I’ve an idea they are strong enough for both of them.” O’Hare stared abstractedly overside. There was a lash of wet, salty wind in their faces, and the howl of it in their ears. “Irene,” he said slowly, “if we have to turn daylight into this business, could you stand it?”
“I can stand anything now, Gerry.” “Good girl.” He pressed her shoulder. “This latest development has given us an alibi—of sorts. As things stand, we could tell our story with a pretty fair chance of having it accepted. It depends on Conti. We can’t let him down, of course. But he may have changed his mind, in view of what has happened. I hope he has. I told him to telegraph me at Hong Kong.” “Ramsgate, Gerry?” Irene asked. “You are sure?”
“I think I am.” 0’IIare blew a little cigarette smoke. “Smallwood and I have gone over it together. We are of the same opinion. This is what happened; what must have happened: Ramsgate was standing on the rail trying to locate the launch— there was a heavy fog, remember, and very little light. One of Yang’s men fired. Ramsgate dropjxid overboard. I supposed he was hit and would drown. So did the Chinese. I was knocked cold then. Now, Ramsgate wasn’t hit. I íe didn’t drown. He didn’t even fall into the river. The launch was directly under him. He fell athwart it, landed on his head and passed out. When he went overboard his hat was jammed down over his eyes. It was dry when we found it.”
“But what became of him?”
“He came back aboard the junk.”
Irene was startled. “But when? I don’t see how. or why.”
“Let’s see where Ramsgate’s hat takes us.” O’Hare said. “He had it on when he went overboard, jammed over his eyes. Conti picked it up in the launch, dry. We’ll build from that point. Ramsgate came to around dawn; probably about the time I did. He realized how he had come where he was, but he hadn’t the slightest
idea why he had been left there. He began to figure his chances of getting away. If he started the motor, Yang’s men would hear it and pot him with their rifles. If he cut the launch adrift, it was pretty sure to be seen before it had got out of range. He may have considered swimming for it. But that was as far as he had got when Yang’s lads went to work on one another with their rifles. What the volley signified he probably didn’t know, but when he heard me call to you and the others, he took a chance and looked over the rail. Perhaps he sized up the situation; I don’t know. At any rate, he knew he was safe. His next thought was for the Yang funds. Meanwhile, I’d got the axe and knocked that padlock off the door. The Ingram girl was in bad shape, and all four of us stayed with her in the cabin for at least five minutes. None of us left the cabin until she went with us. Ramsgate had plenty of time. He climbed aboard and slipped into the forecastle to have a look at Smallwood’s bag.
Irene made a sudden movement. “Gerry, he wouldn’t have done that unless ...” She did not complete the sentence.
“Exactly,” O’Hare said dryly. “We’ll discuss that presently, if you don’t mind. Ramsgate found the Yang funds and Smallwood’s bag taken apart. Two courses were open to him: He could show himself to the rest of us and insist on a division of the money, or he could conceal himself and see what happened. He took the second. My notion is that he hid himself up in the forecastle head—there would be room enough, provided we didn’t look around with the lantern—and we didn’t. He overheard my conversation with you and with Conti. By then, his plans were made. We believed him to be dead. Splendid. He’d let us go on believing that. You and I were the only ones who knew the Yang funds had turned up and I intended to grab them. Better and better. He’d let me involve myself in Marcelles’ death by keeping the money. Then he’d run me down and blackmail me for a division of the loot. It was a lovely idea, typically Ramsgate. Then I did the one absolutely unpredictable thing: I put the money back.” Irene made a slight sound suspiciously like laughter, and O’Hare swung her about. “What did you say?”
HTHE DECENT darkness obscured her expression. “I was going to say,” she told him gently, “that what you did was completely predictable. I was waiting for you to do it.”
“That is the nicest thing anyone ever said to me.”
“You are going to be sweet, Gerry.” She touched his cheek. “Go on, please. You are doing as nicely with your two or three facts as a paleontologist with a handful of bones.”
“From Ramsgate’s point of view, the set-up was perfect. There was the money, and he was supposed to be dead. If he showed up again he might find himself involved in the Marcelles murder. Obviously, the thing to do was to sit tight. He would remain aboard the Liao-ping until sunset, then he’d chop a couple of holes in the hull and take off in the sampan. The junk would sink. The Yang business would be completely rubbed out. Very fine indeed! He would head for Tsungming Island, the Saddle Islands, or the mainland, according to the drift of the junk. It would be dark then and he would not be identified as a foreigner, should some other craft pass close to him. He would lie low for a while, then get out of Asia. Presumably, he was dead. All he need do was keep his mouth shut and spend the money. That’s so much. Now we’d better look at the picture from the angle of Marcelles’ death.”
Maclean's Magazine, November I, 1936
Irene shivered. “I was afraid it was Conti.”
“So was I.”
“You are sure it wasn’t?”
“Judge for yourself,” O’Hare said. “As I see it, this is what happened: Conti left Marcelles and went downstairs. Marcelles bolted the door. A little later Ramsgate came back and ordered Marcelles to admit him. Marcelles refused. Ramsgate then threatened him with Yang. Marcelles thought it over and let him in. Ramsgate wanted the money and said so. Marcelles tried to convince him there wasn’t any, as he did me. but Ramsgate laughed in his face and told him to produce the loot unless he preferred to deal with Yang himself. Marcelles capitulated. He explained the club bag trick; how Smallwood was to convey the money to Marseilles unknowingly; how he, Marcelles, proposed to recover it. Probably Ramsgate insisted on seeing the other bag. As soon as he was sure about the funds, he killed Marcelles. He had to, or Marcelles would have exposed him to Yang. Ramsgate went back to his own room. His reason for letting the money remain in Smallwood’s bag was the same as Marcelles’ reason for putting it there. He decided to adopt Marcelles’ plan; sail when Smallwood sailed. That was my theory. To prove it, I have to show that Ramsgate reserved cabin space on the Orient.”
“And can you?” Irene asked.
“Yes. When we went ashore at noon today, my ideas as to the identity of Marcelles’ murderer were about equally divided between Conti and Ramsgate. I telephoned the Asia-Pacific Steamship Company. Ramsgate had made reservations on the Orient yesterday afternoon. That’s about all, I think. We know what happened to Cram. Ramsgate had laid his hands on half a million dollars gold, and Cram got in the way. The junk was some three miles off the Saddle Islands when Ramsgate dropped overboard. I shouldn’t be surprised if he made it—I noticed a swimming trophy in his office. Ramsgate seems to have won all round.”
“I refuse to admit that.” Irene spoke passionately. “If Ramsgate has the money—and he does have it—I can almost find it in my heart to pity him. You don’t want it, do you, Gerry?”
O’Hare took her into his arms. “I wasn’t even thinking of it,” he said gently. “Money in quantity never proved anything but a disappointment to me. It has a way of promising so much and yielding so little. Specifically, I was thinking of Cram. The poor devil couldn’t have had a chance with Ramsgate. Cram’s death is the bitterest part of all this bloody business. E Tsung, Li, the rest of them walked into it with their eyes open, but Cram merely happened to get in Ramsgate’s way. His death simply couldn’t have been foreseen ...” O’Hare became quiet, the redheaded woman still in his arms. He felt her sustaining nearness, a sense of warmth and light and rich well-being that shut out of his consciousness the lusty manifestations of the dark void around them. “I don’t know whether I can make you forget Cram, Irene.”
“I am not sure that I want you to.”
“My empty hands are all I have to give you.”
“I love your hands, Gerry; your strong, empty hands.”
O’Hare knew himself to be content.
EXCERPT from the North-China Daily
“. . .is reliably reported that Mr. Tung Meng-yu, nephew and Shanghai representative of General Fu Ching-wei, is about to place an order for three bombing planes with a well-known American aircraft corporation ... It was Mr. Tung, it will be remembered, who recovered a body that was later identified as that of Mr. Mark Ramsgate, a private enquiry agent, while he was cruising in the vicinity of the Saddle Islands one day last week. Mr. Tung ...”