FICTION

The General Died at Dawn!

Presenting: A Feature Novel of Mystery and Adventure in the Orient

CHARLES G. BOOTH August 15 1936
FICTION

The General Died at Dawn!

Presenting: A Feature Novel of Mystery and Adventure in the Orient

CHARLES G. BOOTH August 15 1936

The General Died at Dawn!

FICTION

Presenting: A Feature Novel of Mystery and Adventure in the Orient

CHARLES G. BOOTH

CAPTAIN DANIELS saw the Chinese junk through a thin mauve light. It had softened the lines of her varnished black hull, high stern, yellow dragon prow and brown matting sails to the point of evanescence. At the same time, she was beautiful in a sombre, sinister sort of way that made the regal elegance of the Prince Of The Orient appear slightly oppressive.

“She’s drifting, by the look of her, Mr. Cram,’’ he said morosely to his third officer.

“She’s drifting, sir,” Cram said after a moment. “There isn’t a man on her deck. As much of it as I can see. And her tiller’s lashed to the rail. Do you suppose they’ve abandoned ship?”

“If they have, they didn’t lose any time about it. She carries her sail trim enough for a Chinaman and she’s

holding her head up, although she’s a hit low in the water. There’s no telling what the heathen’ll do when the fear o’ God’s in his belly.”

“She has a sampan up on her deck,” Cram said.

Captain Daniels’s ill-humor was in a mishap to his sailing schedule. At Shanghai condenser trouble had cost him a twelve-hour delay in clearing the Whangpoo. And now, only four hours off the Bund, with her 500 passengers Europe-bound by Suez, this black-bellied Chinese junk she had raised on her starboard lx>w threatened to halt her handsome twenty-two-knot stride. Captain Daniels had followed the sea for nearly fifty years. He was steeped in its honorable tradition. Under certain circumstances certain things had to lx? done. A couple of hours after sunset there’d a smother of fog down from the Yellow Sea. And a Yellow Sea fog shrouding her sticks might mean grief for somebody’s underwriters.

Third Officer Cram said:

“She’s one of the junks, by the height of her poop and the fancy work on her tail, yet she’s pretty nearly as big as one of those black Pechihli traders. The Chinese are the lads for prettying up their ships, sir. That bird on her stern’ll be the phoenix. It’s their emblem of immortality, they tell me. A mighty handy craft, what with their light bows and their sjxxni bellies. You can put them about on a dime.”

Captain Daniels was aware of the handiness of most Chinese junks, but he was a man not given to discussion— especially with Cram, of whom he disapproved. Cram had a cocky, lighting face, and a way with the women under a Singailore moon; moreover, he was an American. That is to say, he came of a people whom Captain Daniels, Tynemouth born and British as suet pudding, sharply mistrusted on the serious ground that they had bitten the nand that fed them.

“You can put them about on a sixpence, Mr. Cram,” he said coldly.

Meanwhile, the sun had gone down behind Ning)x and the ragged line of the China coast had become an indigo smudge. Three miles astern, the low-lying Saddle Islands were dissolving into a molten heave that still cast coppery glints off its shifting planes and angles, although the light was fast going out of it.

Cram said suddenly: "There’s a flock of birds in her rigging, sir.”

“Scavenger birds, Mr. Cram,” Captain Daniels said harshly.

Megaphone in hand, he went to the starboard end of the bridge.

“Ahoy, there!” he bellowed. “Are you in trouble?”

The junk made no response.

Captain Daniels grunted and entered the pilot house. He moved the handles of the marine telegraphs up to the “stop” position.

“Put a boat overside, Mr. Cram, and see what’s the matter with her.” And to the quartermaster: “Starboard, m’lad. Handsomely.”

Cram said boldly: "This is going to pinch us again,

sir—”

“I’d thank you to remember your place, Mr. Cram.”

“Yes, sir.”

The third officer descended from the bridge.

V\ T’ATER boiled astern. The liner’s deck plates vibrated, W then became quiet as she was brought to. On the boat deck, just abaft the bridge, Mr. Cram mustered his boat’s crew.

The mauve light that hung in the firmament had deepened. It hung like a veil. And if it robbed the Chinese junk of its detail, it enhanced its illusion of beauty. The junk looked like a ship in a chapel stained-glass window with which the master had been familiar when he was a boy. But Captain Daniels was not deceived. 1 le had been around. He knew that beauty was sinful and deadly more often than not, and his instincts, those of a simple-minded man, apprehended evil in the junk. So profoundly was he moved that he actually considered rescinding his order.

Then he cursed himself for a fool and put the notion from him and thus laid up many a bad night for himself.

It was a little after six. Most of the boat-deck crowd had gone down to the bar or lounge, or to dress for dinner. The score or so that remained had quit the deck games and were lined along the starboard rail, watching the junk. Of these, all but two a man and a woman were in the vicinity of the gymnasium, which was just below the bridge.

The two who stood alone had stationed themselves at the rail near the starboard emergency which was at the after-end of the deck. They had been there when the junk was sighted fifteen minutes before. They had not moved since. Their bodies were rigid, and they stood as if their feet were rooted in the deck. They had not spoken for nearly live minutes.

The woman had elaborately disordered copjier-colored hair with capricious lights in it. She had a pale gold complexion and lovely hazel eyes, and she w as marvellously chic in beret and russet-brown travelling costume. Quite she was thirty-five.

The man was different. He appeared to be in his early forties. He was a large, powerful man with straw-colored

hair and eyebrows, and a gem-blue stare set in a rich mahogany face with startling yet impressive effect. There was something a little tremendous about him.

Their faces were strained. The woman’s was white. She had wept, and was holding a white linen handkerchief which the man had given her pressed against her lips.

“Can jxxiple like us get away from what they have been?” she said.

“We are getting away.”

"How can you say that?” Her eyes searched his. “With that out there. It’s the very last thing ...” And then, in accents sharp with horror: “Gerry, they are sending a boat. They’ll bring them here. I shall go mad if they do.” Her voice collapsed.

“Nó, they won’t. They’ll radio that British gunboat we passed a while back, then we’ll hit our stride again.”

The third officer mustered his crew. The exact ojxiration of lowering a boat was begun. The man led the copper-ha ired woman toward the extreme end of the rail, away from the boat.

SOME minutes later,

Mr. Cram and his boat’s crew came up alongside the junk’s jxirt quarter.

She was built of teak, varnished with wood oil, and her horizontal timbers, half sawn for greater strength, were joined at the ends to half-sawn diagonal beams. The height of her stern and the shallowness of her draft made her seem topheavy, although Mr.

Cram was inclined to agree with Captain 1 )aniels that she was taking in water. She carried a four-pronged anchor. Two windows of ground oyster shell were visible in her poop. A sponson. probably built into her with an eye to a bit of piracy when trade should be bad. extended along her sides. The poop was topjied by a green wooden rail, and underneath the rail ran a band of imperial yellow with a green and white floral design superimjiosed on it. On the prow, which was high but not so high as the decorated stern, the gilded dragon, an elaborately carved affair, slept with one eye ojien so that the junk might see where she was going.

“Ahoy, there!” Cram called.

A gull screamed.

The waist of the junk was some eight or ten feet above the waterline.

"Way enough," Cram said: and as the seamen pulled in their oars: “Harris, give Simpson a boost up. Step lively.” "Aye, aye. sir.”

Harris, his legs apart, shoved Simpson by the hips. caught hold of the rail, hoisted himself higher and leajied down on to the well deck.

“Throw us a line,” Cram called after him.

Instead, Simjison cried out suddenly in a throaty voice. He had picked himself up and stopped rigid, his back toward the junk’s rail. Now he shrank backward until he could retreat no farther. His calloused hands closed convulsively over the rail.

“What ails you?” Cram shouted. “Drop us a line.”

Simjison remained as he was. Not a sound came out ot him.

Cram said: “Give me a lift. Harris.”

Cram tumbled aboard and stood erect alongside oI Simpson.

I íe drew a sharji, short breath and his eyes bulged out oi his head. “Good lord !” he said in a muffled voice.

"There’s eleven of 'em, sir." Simpson spxike huskily over Cram’s uniformed shoulder. "Ten on their bellies and the one in the chair. I counted ’em. It give me a bit of a turn, sir, coming on ’em like that.”

The Chinese junk is an infinitely varied craft. Bulwarks that slope steeply up from waist to high are characteristic of certain of the sea-going carriers. Such a craft was the one that Cram had come aboard. Because of its steep after-bulwarks and high poop, together with the angle at which the liner had overhauled it, the after-end of the well-deck had not been visible from the bridge.

There were ten of the dead men prone. But not all of them were on their bellies. They lay in various attitudes. The ten were Chinese soldiers, and with a single exception the faces that were visible were those of hard-bitten old campaigners. Their drab uniforms fitted them tolerably well. Their belts and boots and the German Mauser rifles clutched in their hands or lying on the deck beside them were shi¡>shape. Two of the faces that were upturned had the level eyes of the Northern men. One of the level-eyed men, a pockmarked giant had three stripes on his sleeve.

The only exception to the general calloused appearance of tlie recumbent figures was a smooth-faced boy of twenty or so. He lay on his side. His eyes were wide open. He as if he had died dreaming of something or other.

But they all had one thing in common: Their bodies were stiffened in the awkward attitudes of abrupt, irrevocable death, and every one of them had died with a bullet through the front of his head.

'Fhe deck was bloody.

Tl IF GROUPING of the ten dead men was odd. Cram whistled softly. The ten men lay athwartships, between the mainmast and the jxxip bulkhead. They lay in groups of five each, the heads and rifles of each group pointing in the general direction of the heads and rifles of the other group. Less than a couple of feet separated the two groups, and the bodies in each lay close together; so close

indeed that several in each group touched one another.

The eleventh man was a Chinese officer of sujxrior type.

He sat in an elaborately carved teak chair with his back against the mainmast. He had died of stab wounds in the stomach. His chin rested on his chest, but his body was erect in its well-cut olive uniform, leather boots and Sam Browne belt; and although life liad long since left him, he still looked vital. His left hand lay clenched across his lap. Cram saw a jade ring on the little finger. An ideogram was cut in the stone.

This eleventh man also had the level eyes of the Northern people. His lean, smooth face had been cruel in life. A sword scar that extended from mouth to cheek-bone gave it a sardonic cast. But the man’s strength had been in his intellectual and moral qualities. had caught these and imprisoned them in an enduring expression of philosophic calm. He sat in the teak chair as though it were a throne and he belonged in it.

Meanwhile Simpson had found a line of split bamboo and cast it overside, and Wessels, the jx'tty officer, had come shinning up it and aboard. I le said, “Gawd !" in a curiously shattered voice.

“It’s ’orrible,” Simpson whis]x:red, and wijxxi his face with a bit of waste. "But it’s ’im in the chair as grilles me. sir. There’s a sort of an ’oly abaht ’im. Them others is just sojers.”

Wessels shivered. “W’ot d’yer mike of it, sir?”

“Couple of firing squads,” Cram muttered. "Five to a side. Got busy on each other at the same time. The lad in the chair probably give ’em the go sign.”

“They couldn’t ’ave done it. sir. if y’arsk me.” Wessels said disbelievingly.

“Why not? It was a blank set-up.”

"1 mean, they wouldn’t ’ave wanted to, sir. Not a lot of bkxxly Johns, Mr. Cram.”

“They did it,” Cram said. And then smartly: “You lads get back to the ship and tell the skipper. We’ll need some lanterns. I’ll stay here.”

Simpson and Wessels went overside.

The cleanliness of the junk was impressive. A hatch occupied the centre of the well-deck. Forward was the forecastle bulkhead, massively timbered, and pierced by a door which was o]xn. The foremast was beyond the bulkhead. Another door and a window pierced the poop bulkhead, just beyond the dead men. Aft, was the sampan which Cram liad noticed from the Orient, attached to a cumbersome hoisting tackle. Aloft, the lug-rigged bamboobattened brown matting rails hung dead.

Cram muttered : “She's better than a hundred years old, by the look of her.”

A row of lockers paralleled the starboard rail. Cram saw. and he found a Jacob's ladder of split bamtxx) hanging over the side. Cram moved toward the open door of the rather cramped forecastle. A piece of crumpled paper caught within the juncture of the door and the bulkhead attracted him, and he picked it up. The paper crackled as he straightened it out. Cram let go a sharp whistle.

“By the lord—”

A slight sound within the forecastle fell on his ears. He stood motionless for a moment, then laughed softly. Mr. Cram was an athletically minded lad, and nowadays, what with unions and company rules and such, a man seldom got a chance to use his fists. A glance toward the Prince Of The Orient riding in a blaze of light, and he braced his shoulders.

“Let’s have a look at the color of your hair, mister,” he said, and pushed into the forecastle.

ON THE bridge of the Prince of the Orient Captain Daniels heard what Pettv Officer Wessels had to with the bleak austerity of his countenance unmoved. Mr. Marchmont. the first officer and the social light of the ship’s executive staff —although he lacked Mr. Cram’s flair for the younger women—was less successful in concealing his emotions.

“It sounds horrible, sir.”

"This is the China Seas, Mr. Marchmont,” the master said dryly. “You’d better have a look at her. Take lanterns. You’ll know where to place them. Sparks will get hold of that British gunboat. And step lively.”

“Yes, sir.”

They made a quick business of getting across the intervening stretch of water. It was quite dark now. The junk loomed above them, forbidding and immense. Mr. Marchmont regarded it apprehensively. They came alongside, and he hauled himself up the split bamboo rope and dropped down on to the well-deck.

Cram wasn’t in view.

Marchmont had brought an electric torch with him. He flashed it on the group of dead men. Light danced on the blue steel of the soldiers’ rifles, and the ring on the officer’s hand became a spot of fire.

Marchmont’s long face lengthened.

Meanwhile, Wessels and Simpson had come aboard. They lighted the lanterns they had brought. The light rolled the darkness back and cast a quality of illusion ujx>n the scene. It mitigated the calloused look of the dead nine old campaigners. If made the smooth-faced boy with the wide-open eyes appear pathetically immature. Indeed, all the recumbent figures seemed to expand in a spiritual sense that made them akin to the man in the chair.

Mr. Marchmont said smartly: “Where is Mr. Cram?” “ ’E must be going through ’er quarters and ain’t ’card us, sir.”

"Mr. Cram!” Marchmont called. “Mr. Cram!”

The third officer did not answer. Marchmont called again. There was no response. Marchmont.’s pronouncedly British voice cracked a little the fourth and fifth and sixth times he called the third officer’s name. Then he at his men. They were looking at him, their eyes distended. The first officer drew his breath in with a faint hissing sound.

“Come with me,” he said sharply.

They followed him through the door in the poop bulkhead.

They flashed their lamps into a wood-panelled room of distinctly Chinese character. There were brushes and inkstone on a teak table, some chairs of teak, an ideographic scroll, a brass lamp and a hanging birdcage. When Mr. Marchmont turned his light on the birdcage a bird chirruped at him. It was a variety of thrush, the Hoa-mi; that is to say, “Flowery Eyebrows.”

There were two small rooms off this main One of them had been padlocked, but the clasp and staple had been torn violently away from the wood. Both rooms were empty except for some Chinese mats and a large brass bowl full of wilted cornflowers which stood on the window ledge of one of them. Marchmont picked up a woman’s handkerchief. It was a bit of lacy cambric faintly scented with the perfume of lilacs and initialled with the letter I.

Wessels whispered: “ ’E’s got to bí' ’ere somewhere, sir.” Simpson wiped his face with his bit of waste.

Mr. Marchmont went forward with his bony face yellow. In the era mix'd forecastle, which smelled of incense and was divided into two compartments by a lengthwise wooden partition, they found a statuette of Quan Yin, who is the friend of all the water folk. They found a red-ruled sheet of seamless rice paper spread out on the planking, and on it two tiny wicker cages about the size of an orange. One of the cages contained a snuff-colored cricket that chirped when Simpson held his lantern against the cage. They found a chest of tools, a variety of ship’s equipment, many sleeping mats, a small cooking furnace, food, some mess gear.

Outside, there was a capful of wind in the sails. The first officer ran a thin hand through his hair.

“We’ll look below,” he said.

Since Mr. Marchmont had come aboard, the junk had rolled sluggishly a couple of times, water thundering in her belly. She was noticeably lower than when Cram had set foot on her. Wessels and Simpson lifted the hatch, revealing a shallow hold half full of water and a short stationary ladder that led down into it. Mr. Marchmont descended to the shifting surface of the water, which stank and was black with filth, and searched it fore and aft, from bulkhead to bulkhead, with the beam of his torch. Water sloshed round his feet and ankles and boomed about the ship’s timbers.

“She’s beginning to settle, sir,”

Wessels said nervously.

Up on deck again, every inch of the craft gone over, Marchmont pressed his palms over his eyes and held them there until he felt the stare of his men burning the backs of his hands. When he uncovered his eyes and flashed the beam in their faces, he saw that their lips were drawn back over their teeth, as white as bone. His clipped voice said: “We’ll go down to the boat.”

As they pushed off from the junk, some obstruction bumped softly against the side of the lifeboat. The first officer’s light slanted sidewise and became still.

The oval of light had the effect of detaching Cram’s head from his body so that his congested dead face appeared to bob up and down like a cardboard mask. The eyes were wide open. Their stare was fixed and intent. The grey mouth was twisted into a derisive grimace not unsuggestive of what had been Third Officer Cram’s attitude toward the rather correct Mr. Marchmont. That dreadful buoyancy was the most unnerving thing that first officer had ever seen. Cram’s head then bumped against the side of the

boat with a faint thudding sound, and Marchmont’s tightened lips released a shuddering sigh.

His men were leaning on their oars with their eyes bulging.

Mr. Marchmont then remembered that he was the first officer of the crack Prince, of the Orient. He pulled the dead Cram, unaided, into the boat. That done, he made an odd discovery. Clutched in Cram’s right hand was a British bank note for £1(X).

Marchmont left it there.

In his best British voice he said crisply: “Put back to the ship, m’lads.”

Later, several hours later, with a scanty moon scudding up the firmament and steeped in the boreal glare cast by the great lamps of the British gunboat standing by, the Chinese junk went down. She sank by the stern, a sort of spectral majesty about her slow immersion; then, very quickly, she was gone completely, and only a little débris pitched about in the place where she had been . . .

Meanwhile, the Prince of the. Orient had resumed her twenty-two-knot stride into the night.

COME forty-eight hours before the sinking of the junk, ^ Gerald O’Hare had had a picture in his mind.

He had tried to rip it out, but the picture had stayed where it was. He had tramped the Bund and the Quai de France from the British Consulate to the Native City for three solid hours, trying to drug himself with the heady cosmopolitanism of what he saw and heard, but he had seen and heard it all before. Its grandeur of grey stone façade and its clash of color and race left him cold.

The picture in his mind was of a ship.

He had seen her first in the VVhangpoo several days before, moving up to lier berth at the Asia-Pacific docks on the Pootung side, a feather of smoke at two of her three gold-colored funnels. There had been a light fog that morning, but the sun had broken through to glitter her bright work ; then the fog had closed in on her stern as she swung toward Pootung, and she had dissolved with the effect of a lovely woman sinking into an embrace of veils.

O’Hare had gazed after her with his hat in his hand and the wind off the Whangpoo standing his straw-colored hair on end. In the casual negligence of his belted tweeds, he had the air of a man tearing through the world and taking life by the throat. That, in the main, was the sort of man he was, but it was the poet in him that beheld the crack Asia-Pacific liner yield herself to the soft tenuousness of the fog.

She w'as the Prince of the Orient. Wednesday morning she would sail with the tide, Europe-bound by Suez.

The ship had become the symbol of his bitterness.

During his twenty years of tearing about Asia. O’Hare

had seen and done everything. He had fought against Wrangel. He had gone after ivory and rubies and oil. He had clashed with the Japs over pearls. He had dredged the Amur fc. gold, whipping his coolies single-handed when they had attempted to knife him for his 10,000-ounce yield. Not less than a million dollars had slipped through O’Hare’s fingers; yet at forty-two he stood on the Shanghai Bund with a gnawing bitterness in his heart and his funds reduced to an English shilling and a Borneo dollar.

What galled him was his defeat at the hands of a contin-

ent toward which, like so many oi his race, he had assumed the rôle of master. He had thought himself predestined to success, and Asia had waited behind its yellow smile for him to become disillusioned by his own follies. Still in his health and sound of wind and limb, he nevertheless felt as empty as a sucked egg.

There was enough of the poet in O’Hare for him to understand that he had succumbed to the subtleties of an ancient system.

Or. as M. Conti had put it, to his “owm passion for enterprises.” And M. Conti, whose famous Hotel Pierre Conti in French Town catered almost exclusively to such as O’Hare, usually knew what he was talking about.

O’Hare had seen men as good as himself become less than nothing in treaty-]X)rt dives. An obsession that the scene of his defeat would rot him utterly unless he put himself on the other side of the globe had set its teeth in him. It filled him with horror. It flooded him with a panic strange to his nature. But here his pride blocked him. He wouldn’t leave except as a gentleman, with his bills paid—Conti was his creditor —and a first-class passage under his feet.

That was how the crack Prince of the Orient had become the symbol of his bitterness.

Fifteen hundred dollars Mex. would have cleared him at Conti’s and put him aboard the Orient in possession of the best the ship had to offer, aside from the sort of swank that he despised. His need of it had become a physical ache that nagged him night and day. It had made him a little crazy.

The Chinese Customs House clock showed a quarter to four.

Nanking Road was gorged with traffic, westbound most of it, although a counter-current bent on cocktails at the clubs and hotels along the Bund, was breasting the tide. There were more taxicabs, fewer rickshas, less coolie sweat nowadays. The British-trained Sikh traffic police always reminded O’Hare of immense, bearded boy scouts. O’Hare had no plans for the evening.

I íe thought he might walk up as far as the race course, where Nanking Road becomes Bubbling Well, then come back along the other side of the street and turn into Szechuan Road, with a view to seeing what he could get for his Borneo dollar and English shilling in the exchange shops. Wu was giving the best quotations on small money, he had heard. After that, he didn’t know.

More than anything else, he needed an excuse to explode into physical action. Liquor would have helped, but he was too much the Old China Hand to get any good out of his dollar-shilling in that direction. He began to scan faces, grimly hopeful that he might see one that he hated enough to stir himself into sending his fist crashing into it.

That gave him an idea.

People looked at him as he quickened his pace. They often looked at O’Hare. His gem-blue stare and his stride, when he put his legs into it, had something elemental about them; and the contrast between his bleached hair and his rich mahogany pigmentation was startling.

O’Hare swung into a narrow street of twoand threestory buildings. Some of them had shop fronts hung with Chinese banners. Others were office buildings occupied by brokers and agents in moderate circumstances. O’Hare went up a shabby stair and along a corridor until he came to a door with Mark Ramsgate, Investigator, printed on it in circumspect gilt letters. The small reception office within was empty, but another door indicated a room beyond.

O’Hare pushed through it.

A FAT MAN in a broad-brimmed black felt hat sat behind a flat-topped desk reading a New York paper. He looked at O’Hare over the top of his horn-rimmed glasses and chuckled.

“Why, hello, Mr. O’Hare,” he said.

“Ramsgate,” O’Hare said abruptly.

The fat man put his paper aside. He creaked forward in his chair, removed his glasses and slid them into a shagreened case which he had taken from a waistcoat pocket. He put the case away and spread his hands against the top of the desk as if he wished it to be understood that he was prepared to get up in a hurry. The fat man had a dead white skin, a smiling red mouth, and eyes as small, as black, as cold as a snake’s. His essential features were cushioned in fat, and his hands were dimpled at the knuckles. He wore a black suit and a black string tie, and he looked as if he had come down from Zion with a bible in his hand, then sold himself to Lucifer.

“I’ve come to collect that fifteen hundred,” O’Hare said.

“Ah! You’ve managed to locate those I.O.U.’s?”

“No.”

The fat man shook his head worriedly. “Mr. O’Hare, when we discussed the matter last week, I told you that 1 had no recollection of any such loan. In fact, I told you that I’d never seen you before. Then you gave me some ridiculous story about having advanced me fifteen hundred dollars four years ago? In Harbin, wasn’t it?”

“Vladivostock,” O’Hare said. His gem-blue eyes yielded a faint Siberian smile.

“Ah, yes Vladivostock.” The fat man frowned. ‘‘Some-

thing about a traveller's cheque the Russians insisted I had

Continued on page 30

The General Died at Dawn

Continued from page 8—Starts on page 5 --

no business with, wasn’t it? You’d given me fifteen hundred dollars to get me out of a nasty mess and had accepted my I.O.U.’s you said. And when I asked you where the I.O.U.’s were, you said you’d tom them up in front of my face. You were very unpleasant about it, too. I had to point my pistol at your head.” The fat man laughed quietly. “Well. I've still got my pistol, Mr. Ó’Hare. But I say what I said last week: Produce my I.Ö.U.’s and I’ll pay ’em. although I’ve never been in Harbin—

Vladivostok—at any time in my life.

O’Hare had taken in the details of the room. It was bright with color. On the desk stood an inkstand and an empty glass globe.

“You won’t need the bowl any more,’ O’Hare told him. and threw it over his shoulder. It shattered against the wall.

Ramsgate’s smile froze into a red-lipped grimace.

O’Hare pushed the inkstand into his lap.

Without waiting to observe the effect of this outrage, he turned and walked toward a water cooler. Above the cooler, on a three-cornered shelf, stood a silver swimming trophy with Ramsgate’s name on it and dated some fifteen years previously.

The fat man’s breath burst out of him in gusty squeals and the crash of his chair jarred the room. A mirror hung on the wall, and in it O’Hare saw the fat man prancing toward him with a blackjack.

O’Hare knew that Ramsgate’s fatness was a deception. His arms possessed the crushing strength of a gorilla, and he had the instincts of one. Another of the fat man’s assets was his diabolical coolness, but he appeared to have lost it.

O’Hare’s reaction co-ordinated everything that was in him: the nagging ache at his heart, his violent hatred of the fat man, the man-killing drive that is behind 190 odd pounds of bone and sinew properly concentrated. He sank his list in the fat man’s cushiony jaw with the thud of an axe chopping bone.

Ramsgate’s head snapix“d back. His body went after it, his arms flapping like an untethered flying jib, and he collided with the door through which O’Hare had entered. The door yielded, and the fat man stretched his length against the floor of the outer office. He lay still, his expression vacant.

O’Hare rubbed his knuckles.

“Do you treat all your clients like that, Mr. Ramsgate?’’

O’HARE had the instinctive wariness ol a cat, and his start of surprise as he looked round was no sharjxr than he designed it to be. She was a red-headed woman with gold lights in her hazel eyes, and she wore her green knitted silk ensemble with considerable effect. Now, O’Hare believed in destiny. As things stood, he had nothing to lose, and he’d go to hell for the 1.500 Mex. he needed.

“Oh, hello.” There was always something of lightning in O’Hare’s gem-blue smile. “I didn’t hear you. Come in. No, I'm a pretty good lad to get along with, most of the time.”

The woman's eyes said, "Now where have I seen that man before?” as plainly as if she had spoken the words. O’Hare was exhilarated. The situation had all the possibilities of roulette. Ramsgate should be cold for at least fifteen minutes. And the red-headed woman was good-looking to boot. But all that was on the surface of his mind. The picture within it had lost none of its bitter-sharp etching.

“Is he a bill collector?”

“No. Just another of those book-agent johnnies,” O’Hare said. “We’ll go into the other office.”

He closed the connecting door and pulled a chair up to the desk. The red-headed woman sat down, the gold light in her eyes became still.

O’Hare went over to the cooler, trickled water into a glass, drank, set the glass down and returned to the desk, where he righted the chair Ramsgate had sent over backward. He sat down with a businesslike, proprietory air and placed his hat on the floor.

The red-headed woman smiled. “I’m Mrs. Mallory,” she said.

“Mrs. Irene Mallory, by any chance?” O’Hare asked quickly.

“Thank you.”

“That makes it interesting,” O’Hare said.

The red-headed woman was regarding him meditatively. He knew her by reputation to be an extremely clever woman. In fact, Conti, who knew everything and everybody, had once described her to him as the “cleverest woman on the China Coast.” She probably played a good hand of poker. Likely enough she had come to play poker with Ramsgate. Life became definitely less sour. I f poker was what she wanted, and she had. say SI,500 in that green suede purse of hers—O’Hare’s feeling of revulsion didn’t last. She had some deviltry in her head, or she wouldn’t lx* here.

“Do you know George Marcelles?” she asked abruptly.

“Yang’s fiscal agent?’’ O'Hare had his own intimate recollections of General Yang. “Not ix?rsonally. I know some things about him.”

“What is your opinion of him?”

“Well, he’s as clever as a fox. He lias the ethics of an investment banker. And I suppose a couple of women have killed themselves over him. There was a Miss Winston-Parkes. And that little Eurasian girl -what was her name?”

“Lily Wing,” Irene Mallory said. “She drowned herself. I wonder somebody hasn’t shot him.”

“Mr. Ramsgate,” she said, “am I correct in my impression that you will do anything for money?”

"That’s quite a question, Mrs. Mallory.” “What about that man in the other room?”

“He’ll look after himself.”

“My purpose in coming to you was to ask you to locate someone. A man. He's here in Shanghai. A certain piece of work has to be done. He is the man to do it. But there isn’t time to find him. We’ve only got until tomorrow night.” O’Hare was intrigued by the way in which her eyes took fire. She was, he thought, the most attractive woman he had ever known. “So instead of asking you to find him ...” She stopjxxl and looked at O’Hare.

“You want me to handle it?”

“Yes.”

“You knew how much time you had when you came here?”

“You are not the sort of man I expected you to be, Mr. Ramsgate.”

“Who was this man you wanted me to find?”

“Gerald O’Hare.”

O’HARE’S mahogany façade had been disciplined by twenty years of shock and countershock, and he passed this revelation off with a slight elevation of his bleached eyebrows. Whether she had identified him or was merely impressed by his appearance, he could not divine. He did not ponder the matter. Two courses were ojxm to him: he could declare himself, and he could continue as Ramsgate. His decision was made by the picture in his mind. If he was going to deal off the bottom of the deck, he preferred to do it as Ramsgate. She was devilishly attractive.

“Oh,” he said, “What was it that O’Hare did, Mrs. Mallory?”

“He ran rice under Yang’s guns into Puchang. He went into Yen-Fe’s stronghold in the Yunling Mountains and brought Margaret Bradshaw out without paying the ransom. And when Clarke Bradshaw got drunk out at the racecourse and said his wife wasn’t worth the five thousand gold he had paid O’Hare for his trouble, O’Hare publicly thrashed him and threw the money in his face.”

“Oh, yes,” O’Hare said. “I remember.” He wondered grimly how the situation would shape itself if Ramsgate were to come charging in. “Who sent you to me?” “Conti. O’Hare is out of funds. He was at the Pierre Conti last week. Conti said he expected to collect some money from a man named Ramsgate. So here seemed to be the logical place to come.”

“Naturally,” O’Hare said dryly.

She went on: “But as I said, what has to be done must be done at once. Unless you can put your hands on O’Hare immediately I’d rather you undertook it yourself.” “It begins with Marcelles, I suppose?” “Yes. Mr. Ramsgate, you may attribute to me any motive you please. I shall not mind in the least. We are agreed that where women are concerned, George Marcelles is unspeakable. He’s staying at the Pierre Conti. So ami. There’s a young girl there --Janice Ingram. She’s just twenty. I’ve known her only a few days, but she’s a darling and I’ve become terribly fond of her. Her parents are English clergy people. She has just discovered that life is lovely, and she thinks George Marcelles the loveliest miracle of all. He met her in Bombay at the home of some

spinster aunts. They became engaged, and she is here to marry him. It’s got to be stopped.”

"Yon want we to stop it?”

“Before tomorrow night!" O’Hare looked at her searchingly and didn’t quite manage to convince himself that she was just another woman bent on holding her man. She added: “They are sailing on the Orient early Wednesday morning.”

He felt, himself trapped in a scheme of events, the design of which eluded him. At the same time the picture in his mind reasserted itself. His obsession of defeat by forces which he had always despised flooded him again with panic. Fifteen hundred dollars was what he needed. Fifteen hundred dollars would set him down in Marseilles. And if Marcelles wanted to take his girl along on the same boat, what of it ? As for this red-headed woman and her obvious swindle well, he had a better swindle.

“Are they to he married before they sail?” he asked.

“No. At sea, so Marcelles says. Janice is enchanted by the idea. Marcelles may intend to go through w ith it. I don’t know. She has some money. But whether he does or not, he’ll leave her within six months. He’ll break her heart. If it isn’t stopped, I mean. But it’s going to be stopped.” The red-headed woman stared at O’Hare, and he was stirred hv the intensity of her emotion. “I haven’t done many things in my life that I'm proud of, hut I’m going to take that child away from George Marcelles if 1 have to shoot him to do it.”

“Why don’t you tell her what she’s running into?”

“That’s what Conti said—he feels as deeply about it as I do. He and Gilbert Ingram. Janice’s father, were together a good deal in the old days.” She shrugged impatiently. “You men are such fools. Janice is quite certain George Marcelles is the most wonderful man she’s ever known. I can understand that, of course. I used to think so myself.” She smiled at O’Hare without bitterness. ‘Young girls adore that dark, distingué manner. And George Marcelles at forty is the George Marcelles who turned my head, plus what fifteen years of playing the wolf have taught him. He knows I can’t tell her, of course. I see it in his grin every time we meet. Yet I can’t just look on while lie spoils that child’s life. If I told her, she’d go to Marcelles and ask him if it was true. He’d tell her about meexactly. He has a tremendous gusto for detail. And when he’d stripped me naked and dissected me, bone from bone, she’d hate me. I could stand that if I’d succeeded in disillusioning her atxiut Marcelles, hut her loyal little soul would only gather him in closer than ever.” Irene Mallory added drearily: “ ‘ It’s so that we pay for our sins,’ as Conti puts it. But if I teere the sort of person to tell lier ... An English country vicarage and a year with her spinster aunts in Bombay— that is her background. She wouldn’t lielieve me. Why, even the aunts approved. They thought well enough of him to let her join him here.”

O’HARE said abstractedly: “I was

thinking of a Mrs. Irene Mallory who was clever enough to collect ten thousand dollars gold from Nanking for the name of that lad who shipped machine guns as sewing machines up the Yangtze. Then there was that Vincent-Lascelles dossier and that Vladinoff business—”

“Please!” Her expression had become a little desperate. “Mr. Ramsgate, it is {Xissible to become sick of one’s own cleverness. When that happens, the edge is gone off it. I suppose. Do you imagine I should be here if I felt myself capable of stopping George Marcelles?” O’Hare did not reply, and she continued bitterly: “You simply cannot bring yourself to believe in my disinterestedness-—is that it?”

O’Hare’s whimsical smile came again. ‘Tve been on the China Coast for twenty years, Mrs. Mallory.” He leaned forward. “What are you after?”

“I couldn’t possibly make you unterstand.”

“You could try.”

As she looked at him. that cxld quiescence in her hazel eyes again, he felt a quality of spirit in the woman that stirred him as deeply as it puzzled him. She said :

“I wonder if grey stone and weathered timber mean anything to you—a cottage in Normandy, say. On the crest of a hill, ix*rhaps. Poplars, certainly, and a brook, and steps of native stone. She laughed then. “Conti can’t believe I am finished with enterprises, so why should you?”

An impulse to put his own nostalgia into comparable terms almost overwhelmed O’Hare; instead, he said dryly: “Conti has a gift, for phrase-making.” And then, brusquely: “Can you give me a line

on Marcelles’ affairs? Do you know anything about his present relations with Yang?”

Irene said quietly: “I know that General Yang’s Shanghai funds amount to at least half a million gold, and that for several weeks his fiscal agent, George Marcelles, lias been turning them into francs, sterling and dollars. I also know that Yang is to arrive in Shanghai tonight.”

O’Hare chuckled cynically within himself. The information she had given him opened up unexpected vistas. So much for her disinterestedness. And he had almost fallen for her cottage-in-Normandy gag! Half a million gold was a gcxxi deal of money. The sum intrigued him, but he quickly freed himself from its spell. All he wanted was his bill at Conti’s paid and a passage home on the Orient. The woman was welcome to the loot, if she would get it. Yang was a worthy opponent in Shanghai or elsewhere. The menace of his name hung like a cloud over three provinces.

O’Hare said: “I admire his guts.

Nanking has a hundred thousand gold on his head. I’m sorry for Mr. Marcelles. Yang will drive little pieces of teakwood under his nails, if he catches him.”

“Marcelles has become alarmed,” the red-headed woman said slowly. “He and Janice were to have been married at the American Consulate in a couple of weeks. Then he changed his plans. No one knew they were sailing on the Orient until Janice told Conti and me in a burst of confidence this afternoon. Marcelles was there, and he seemed very much put out at her doing so. But I don’t believe he knows Yang is due here today.”

"Find the Yang funds,” O’Hare said. “Threaten him with exposure. He’d drop the girl quick enough then.”

“You have until Wednesday morning, Mr. Ramsgate.”

O’Hare tapjxîd down a cigarette. “Marcelles must have forged Yang’s signature pretty freely. He may have tampered with some invoices. Yang isn’t the sort of lad to leave any considerable sum on deposit for Marcelles to draw against as he felt like it. Once Marcelles is at sea he’ll be reasonably safe. Yang enjoys a gorxl deal of tolerance here, but he’s still an outlaw with a price on his head. He has no legal recourse.” O’Hare waited a moment. “This is going to be expensive, Mrs. Mallory.”

“I expect so.” She opened her purse.

“I shall want fifteen hundred dollars down,” O’Hare said.

She had a sheaf of new $100 bills in her purse. She counted off fifteen of the bills and extended them across the desk.

“Shall I give you a receipt?” he asked.

“It isn’t necessary.”

O’Hare heard a movement in the other and got up; not too hurriedly, however. “It's out of my line,” he said. “O’Hare ’s your man. But I’ll do what I can.”

“Yes, O'Hare is my man,” the woman said quietly.

Another door provided the room with direct access to the corridor, and O’Hare accompanied her to it. She was smiling faintly. As he opened the door, she looked up at him with her lips parted and her

color quickening, and he thought uneasily that she was going to speak; but the next moment she was gone. He shut the door.

He turned. Ramsgate stood just within the connecting door, his red-lipped smile painted across his white fat face.

"How much did you hear?” O’Hare said harshly.

The fat man laughed in his quiet way. “You have your fifteen hundred dollars, Mr. O’Hare,” he said. "Good afternoon.”

O’HARE picked up his hac and slammed his way out. The fat man’s laughter rippled in his ears all the way down to the street. But as he strode along with the wind in his face he threw back his shoulders and drew in a deep, exultant breath and put a cigarette between his lips. 1 le’d got what he’d wanted. He’d got his $1,500. He’d argue the ethics of it with himself when the planks of the Orient were beneath his feet.

Only he wished it hadn’t been the redheaded woman.

His emotions were too confused for accurate self-analysis. He turned into Nanking Road with an impetuosity that made people stare at him a little apprehensively. Asia had got him by the throat. If he didn’t get away at once the entire structure of his life would collapse. He was two persons; the Gerald O’Hare who had rooked Irene Mallory out of a passage to Europe, and the old Gerald O’Hare who despised this other, this recent Gerald O’Hare.

Vehemently he told himself he was on the way to book his passage in the AsiaPacific office on the Bund before it should close for the day, yet the next thing he knew he had turned into a barber shop for a shave. When he reached the Asia-Pacific office it was closed, and he cursed himself for his indecision. At the same time, he had a very definite sense of relief.

On the Bund day had turned into night, and the night had become a synthetic aurora borealis broken into its specific colors by prismatic action. O’Hare walked a little way, his mood simmering; then he crossed over to the harbor park and sat down.

Finishing his third cigarette, he left the park, hailed a ricksha and told the boy to take him to the Hotel Pierre Conti.

YOU HEARD of M. Conti and his hotel from Vladivostock to the Cape. Or you did if you were the sort of person who is impressed by the sort of tiling that M. Conti and his hotel represented. That is to say, of M. Conti, that he had a Rabelaisian mind; and of his hotel, that it lay between the upper and the under worlds of Europeanized Shanghai.

The hotel was a two-story building of brick and weathered stone, with an ironstudded door and a balcony that leaned out over the avenue. It was inconspicuous and discreet. If you had business with the fiscal agent of a Manchu war lord you probably met him at the Pierre Conti, in French Town. If you were a silk merchant from up river and found the clubs and hotels along the Bund a little tiresome, you more than likely made your way up to Papa Conti’s. If you were promoting a revolution or had been liquidated by one, or had a fine scheme for poaching in Japanese pearling waters, or knew of a cache of rubies up Burma way—in fact, if you contemplated almost any sort of romantic rascality, you were apt to be a guest of M. Conti’s.

Conti’s gnomelike face lighted up as O’Hare entered. Self-esteem was evident in the man, but so also was ebullient good humor.

“It is M. O’Hare!” he said emotionally. ‘‘Nom d’un nom!”

He took O’Hare into his arms and embraced him. He led him into his private room and fetched cognac glasses from a teakwood cabinet.

“About that bill, Conti—”

"Monsieur, I implore you.”

“Yes, I know.” O’Hare accepted the cognac. "You are a good fellow, Conti, but

the bill’s got to be paid. I had expected to have it for you before this. The lead I had blew up. I don’t know when I’ll have it now. I came to tell you.”

“Monsieur, I refuse to discuss it.” “That’s very decent of you.” And then: “I wish you’d tell Mrs. Mallory I’m here. Just tell her,” O’Hare said dryly, “that Mr. Ramsgate would like a word with her.” “Ah!” Conti stared at O’Hare with his black eyes sparkling, then he shrugged his powerful shoulders. ‘‘Très bien. But first we shall finish our cognacs.”

He went out. and O’Hare walked over to the window with a cigarette smoldering between his fingers. He was standing there when the red-headed woman came in.

"Mr. O’Hare,” she said quietly. “O’Hare!” He stared at her. “Conti told you?”

"I recognized you this afternoon.”

“Yet you let me go on making a fool of myself?”

"I supposed you knew what you were doing.”

He laughed shortly. “I thought I did. I preferred to do it as Mark Ramsgate. Didn’t it occur to you when you handed me that fifteen hundred that you weren't likely to see him again?”

Her eyes became bright with laughter. “Yet you are here, Mr. O’Hare.”

“Only because I couldn’t go on with it.” “Of course. But I knew you couldn’t.” “You must know me better than I know myself.”

“Perhaps I do.” She regarded him with that unfathomable expression he had caught during the afternoon. "What you did for Margaret Bradshaw and to Clarke Bradshaw afterward, are two of the things I shall always remember.”

"That was five years ago.” O’Hare spoke bleakly. "People change in this cursed climate.” Her eyes became as bleak as his voice. He plucked the sheaf of bills out of his waistcoat pocket and laid it on the corner of Conti’s desk. “When you handed me these I hadn’t the remotest idea of ever seeing you again.”

She did not touch the money, but looked at him curiously.

“I suppose you wanted it for some specific purpose.”

“Did you ever feel that the props would rot from under you unless you got out of a place?”

She looked at him oddly. “Where had you thought of going?”

“Europe,” O’Hare said. “On the Orient, Wednesday morning.”

The red-headed woman was dumbfounded.

“So am I,” she said. "This is destiny. But you are going to keep that money. You are going to earn it. Every penny of it. I have a dinner engagement; we’ve got just ten minutes. Sit down, Mr. O’Hare.”

IN BLACK velvet trimmed with kolinsky, the red-headed woman looked possibly twenty-four.

Rather clumsily, Henry Smallwood, with whom she was having dinner, had told her so. Irene had found his ineptness only a little less appealing than the compliment itself.

A guest who had not hitherto registered at the Pierre Conti was always a subject of conjecture to monsieur. Henry Smallwood had arrived during the middle afternoon with a steamer trunk and a brand new, eyefilling crocodile skin club bag.

He was a fairly tall, slender man with a questing look in his thin, eager face; and Conti, who had been in the lobby at the time, had put him down as an Englishman, about thirty-five, probably the chief teller in some English bank. Obviously not at all the sort of person that frequented the Pierre Conti. He had come off the Ningpo packet, it seemed.

Conti had invited Smallwood to step into his private room for a sip of cognac. Later, coming ujxjn Smallwood and Mrs. Mallory in the music room, Conti had presented him to her with a tender wonder that had stimulated the red-headed woman’s amazingly quick intuitions.

“Mr. Smallwood must have an enterprise, too,” she said.

Smallwood stared at her. “How on earth did you guess?”

Conti said dryly: “Everyone who comes to the Pierre Conti has an enterprise, mon ami.”

Smallwood looked at them earnestly. “Do you know, that word ‘enterprise’ expresses exactly what I have always felt about the Hotel Pierre Conti.”

“What is that, monsieur?”

“That here was the beginning of adventure, a ]x)int of departure. To me, the Pierre Conti always has been a symbol of the sort of thing 1 came out to the China Coast to find fifteen years ago, and missed entirely. I’m not at all clear, am I?”

“But you are,” Irene said in a humid voice.

“Ah !” Conti said. “And that is why you have come to us?”

‘‘I know I’m going to sound like a frightful assperhaps it’s your cognac, M. Conti—but—er . . .” He studied them anxiously. “Did either of you ever feel that you had wings on?”

“Mais oui,” Conti said warmly. “Once I had wings, monsieur.”

“And this is to be your adventure?” Irene said.

“After fifteen years of it !”

There was something of ecstasy in his tone, and Conti looked at him affectionately. “Monsieur, it is the experiences we have missed that make us dissatisfied with those we have had.”

"But what if we have had none?”

"Is that possible? Mon dieu!”

"You think it is not?” Smallwood’s voice shook. “Until the day before yesterday I was Messrs. Beasley and Company’s Ningpo resident manager. You are, of course, aware that Beasley and Company is a Hong Kong firm? London and Hong Kong?”

“But yes.”

“And that the firm does not maintain a branch in Shanghai?”

“Precisely.”

Irene interposed: “Are not Beasley and Company the Hong Kong representatives of General Yang?”

“They are.” Smallwood appeared to be unaware that Conti had lifted his eyebrows at Irene. “Beasley and Company never interested themselves in the Yangtze trade. Yet they have continued to maintain their Ningpo branch all these years after the bulk of the Ningpo trade shifted to Shanghai. Why, do you suppose?”

“Monsieur,” Conti said, “I cannot imagine.”

“Neither can I,” the red-headed woman said.

“I shall tell you.” Smallwood spoke heatedly. “When Mr. Horace Beasley founded the Hong Kong house in the eighteen-fifties, he also established the Ningpo branch. The branch did a fair business for a number of years, but after the drift to Shanghai began it gradually died. Why didn’t they close their Ningpo office? Why don’t they?” Smallwood’s vehemence increased. “Because Mr. Horace Beasley opened it in the eighteenfifties. Because they are so splendidly, gloriously, cursedly British. That is why, sir.”

“Parbleu!” M. Conti said.

SMALLWOOD proceeded quite bitterly: “Some rugs, a little silk, some lacquerware, some cloisonné, a few cases of cottons and woollens from Manchester— that is the extent of their present Ningpo business. I’ve had fifteen years of it. And when 1 chucked it the other day. jolly well sick of it I was.”

"But they would have transferred you, my friend?”

“Well, they didn’t.”

“You had requested them to?” Smallwood said a little stiffly: “Their present Hong Kong manager is an American. sir.”

"Ah!” Conti said. He smiled gently, comprehending!}’.

“But you could have resigned,” Irene pointed out.

“I had obligations.”

Conti beamed. “You are married, eh?” “My stipend never permitted of that. There were two younger brothers and a sister. They are on their own now.”

Conti looked at him tenderly.

Irene felt her eyes become moist. Smallwood proceeded: “But everything comes to an end. Even a blank wall has its d(x>r. An aunt in England died recently and left me five thousand pounds.” Smallwood’s eyes blazed. “And now I have wings on !”

M. Conti cleared his throat and looked at Irene Mallory, who was staring intently at the toe of her shoe. “You are to be with us a little while, monsieur?”

“Until Wednesday morning.”

“You are sailing then?”

“On the Prince of the Orient.” Smallwood’s eyes were shining. “Paris is lovely in the springtime, I’ve heard.”

Irene was startled.

It was then that Smallwood had timidly suggested that she have dinner with him f wo hours hence.

He said abruptly: “Will you think me entirely mad if 1 tell you I have the feeling that I have only just come alive?”

“What are you going to do about it?” Irene asked him.

He leaned toward her, his expression a little grim. “Do you know Miss Ingram?” “I do.”

“She’s the loveliest girl I’ve ever seen.” Irene had that exciting sense of destiny lying under her fingertips which always preceded the exercise of her remarkable talent for bringing things to pass. Smallwood’s ingenuousness and Janice’s naiveté were the two halves of the same penny. They were simply made to discover the universe together.

“M. Conti introduced us. We were in his private room. Miss Ingram is quite recently out from England, so we had a hit to talk about. Then a chap named Marcelles turned up.”

“Her fiancé.”

“So I gathered. His room is next to mine, Conti said.” Smallwood added ruefully: “I shall not pretend I like the

beggar.”

“I shouldn’t have expected you to.” “You don’t mean that he isn’t all right?” “Don’t I?”

“But, good lord! That girl’s an angel. You’ve only got to lcx)k at her. You don’t mean to say—”

“Mr. Smallwood,” Irene said deliberately, “George Marcelles is the biggest blackguard I’ve ever known. And I’ve led a very full life.” She smiled into his startled face. “Suppose we have our coffee in the music room.”

THEY FOUND the subject of their conversation at the piano executing a Chopin prelude with much brilliance. Marcelles’ flair for doing many things well had given him an attractive gloss. He was a tall, slender man with delicate hands and the stage manners of a matinée idol. There was something of the fencing foil about him, and he had a way of conveying subtle nuances of emotion by the lifting of an eyelash. His closely cropped hair had begun to grey and there were faintly defined pouches under his dark eyes; but he had a masseur and those evidences of his maturity suited his olive skin, and the effect was romantic, as he very well knew. He received Irene’s compliment on his playing with a sardonic grin. Janice and he were going to the dinner dance at the French Club.

“You play with a good deal of dash, Mr. Marcelles,” Smallwood said sincerely.

“Kind of you,” Marcelles drawled. “Er. didn’t 1 overhear you telling Miss Ingram that you had recently acquired wings?” Smallwood colored. “I expect you did.” “Wings are for the young in spirit. George.” Irene said lightly. “I expect Janice understood. By the way, Mr. Smallwood is connected with Beasley and Company, of Hong Kong.”

Marcelles’ start was scarcely perceptible. “Indeed.” he said coldly after a long moment.

Janice came in then, a cloak thrown over her arm, her English rose-petal face animated by what M. Conti called her “adorable naivete.” She was so completely everything that George Marcelles was not that you saw them together with consternation. 11er gown was the color of pale flame, and she carried her blonde head with a tilt that gave her a little of the fabulous elegance of a story-book princess. In her eyes, which were of a really remarkable blue, lived the very essence of her certainty of the miraculousness of everything. She believed in fairies and longed to tell you so.

Smallwood gained his feet perhaps a second or so before Marcelles did.

“Oh, I say, Miss Ingram !’’ he exclaimed.

“You look stunning, Janice," Marcelles said indulgently.

“Do you like it?” Her voice was high and excited. “I’m so glad. Aunt Sally loved it, but Aunt Agnes thought it the least bit on the— well, you know,—fast side. ” Janice appealed to Irene. “It isn’t, is it, Mrs. Mallory?”

Irene laughed. “We all vote with Aunt Sally, dear.” Marcelles held Janice’s cloak. She slipped into it enchanted by their admiration, although Irene, who was watching her closely, had seen her color quicken as Smallwood had sprung up. She wondered if the girl’s eyes were quite as untroubled as they might have been. “What have you been doing with yourself all day?” she asked.

“George took me window-shopping up Nanking Road. I wanted a fan I saw, but George said The Street of the Stationers was the place to buy fans. So we went there.”

“Soong’s,” Marcelles said, and possessed himself of Janice’s waist, his eyes resting ironically on the red-headed woman. “Tell them about it, honey.”

Janice was delighted to. “George is awfully good to me, Mrs. Mallory.”

“I can’t help myself, darling,” Marcelles said; and then, with a lazy grin for Irene: “Sometimes I threaten to tell Janice the truth about myself, but she always puts her fingers on my lips and assures me that she won’t believe a word of it.”

“ ‘By transparency on all sides it is possible to remain unrecognized,’ ” Irene quoted mildly.

“George is saving up his adventures until after we are married.” She added, with a small frown: “That was from

Lao-tse, wasn’t it? Some day you must tell me what George was like when you first saw him. He says he used to read the Tao-Teh King to you.”

“He reads beautifully,” Irene said. “But if he doesn’t make you happy you must write and tell me, and I’ll bedevil him for the rest of his life.”

HER HAND on Marcelles’ arm. Janice said suddenly: “George, why should

not the four of us go? I think it would be fun, don’t you?” She looked a little breathlessly at Irene. “Mrs. Mallory, couldn’t you persuade Mr. Smallwood—” ‘‘Oh, rather!” Smallwood cut in, flushing with pleasure. “What do you say, Mrs. Mallory?”

Marcelles seemed annoyed, and Irene said impishly: “What does Mr. Marcelles say?”

“Of course,” Marcelles said coldly. “Splendid—” Smallwood began: but Irene shook her head and his face fell.

“I couldn’t possibly,” she said to Janice. “It was nice of you to suggest it, though.” Janice seemed the least bit disappointed as Marcelles took her away; and Smallwood, downright glum, seated himself again with a sigh.

“What on earth can she see in that rotter?”

Irene smiled. She appreciated Conti’s motive in introducing Smallwood to Janice.

“He has the manner, Mr. Smallwood.” Irene finished her coffee and. proceeding leisurely into the lobby, ap-

proached the desk, smiling. Ling became obsequious at once. The red-headed woman tipped well.

“My key, Ling—two six two,” she said.

If Ling had pointed out that her room was 226, she would have said, “How stupid of me!” accepted her own key instead, and devised some other way of effecting her purpose; but her smile had its calculated effect, and Ling politely handed her the key to No. 262.

Marcelles’ room was near the end of the south wing. First assuring herself that she was unobserved. Irene unlocked the door; she then hurried downstairs.

“How stupid of me, Ling,” she said. “Mine is two two six. I must have asked for two six two.”

“Missy ketchum wlong key?” Ling said. “Velly solly.”

Upstairs in her own room, Irene possessed herself of an old-fashioned hatpin with an amber-colored glass head. She left the key on the inside of the door and the light on, closed the door and went along the corridor to Marcelles’ room. There was no one about. She entered the room, shut the door, turned on the light.

It was a large, square room with a high ceiling. A sizable bay window with an upholstered bench built into it overhung the hotel compound. The room contained a four-ix)ster Ixîd, a writing desk, a small centre table, all of polished redwood, a telephone on the wall, a couple of Japanese prints hung on the walls. Doors ojxined into a bathroom and a dressing room.

IN THE dressing room Irene found a large travelling trunk, a couple of valises, a chiffonier. Clothing hung on hangers. Shoes and hats occupied the several shelves. The luggage and the chiffonier were not locked. Irene went through them swiftly, expertly. She examined the linings of the valises, the bottom and sides of the trunk, the framework of the chiffonier. She felt the clothing on the hangers, looked under the hats and into the shoe's. She inspected the wallpaper and the skirting board. She turned up the linoleum.

Intelligence work had come her way from time to time.

One proceeded from point to point of a given interior. One was not deceived by the obvious. One depended entirely on the process of elimination. When every point of the given interior was exhausted, literally an inch at a time, one either had found the object óf one’s search or knew that it was not there. One left everything in its place. The technique had not changed since Bex: had stated it in his “Purloined Letter.”

Irene had not expected to find the Yang funds.

The bedroom, she was confident, would be equally barren. Marcelles unquestionably had put the Yang funds where he could lay his hands on them readily, but she doubted if he had hidden them in his hotel quarters. She was going through the room because she and O’Hare had agreed that they must not allow themselves to be deceived by the obvious.

She found herself thinking of O’Hare a good deal.

Irene pounded the pillows of the bed. She turned back the covers and went over the mattress meticulously with the hatpin. She reversed the mattress and repeated the process on the other side. She examined the joints of the bedstead. Then she carefully remade the bed and turned her attention to the other pieces of furniture. The desk. The two armchairs, especially their upholstery, which she prol>ed with the hatpin. The centre table. A bronze vase filled with chrysanthemums which stood on the table. She examined the rugs, the walls, the door and window frames, the upholstered seat in the bay window.

This seat was hinged. She lifted it. A coffin-like interior which she discovered contained nothing but old newspapers and magazines was exposed.

When she looked at her wrist watch it

was just three minutes after ten. She had been in the room almost an hour and a half. The dinner dance at the French Club should keep Janice and Marcelles occupied until twelve, at least.

“It isn’t here. I know that much,” she said.

The next move was O’Hare’s.

At precisely that moment she heard voices in the corridor. Her reaction was faster than thought. She switched off the light, slipped softly through the quick

darkness, and was in the dressing room, the door pulled to but not latched, just as a key rattled in the lock of the outer door.

The door opened.

She heard Marcelles mutter: “I must

have forgotten to lock it.”

The light went on then. The door closed.

Marcelles said: “Well, what is it?”

“Ramsgate, is the name, Mr. Marcelles. Mark Ramsgate. Here is my card.”

To be Continued