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[Illustration: Doctor Hill was watching him curiously. He took the cup and examined it.]
A Complete Novelette
Youth and high purpose face a desperate task in the turbulent hill country of China
“NOW then, where's that pipe of mine?”
Martinson fumbled in his pockets, irritably. Yut Lee—of the Cantonese Li family—regarded him calmly, then pushed a box of cigarets across the little teak table.
“There is pure tobacco, better than the stuff you smoke.”
Martinson took one of the cigarets and lighted it; one gathered he was not thinking about the tobacco at all. Before he twirled out the match, he shot a question at Yut Lee, almost savage in its directness.
“What do you get out of it? You're no altruist, Lee. It's all very well to tell me you want me to take a trip up country to the back end of nowhere to do good works—huh! All very well. But what do you get out of it?”
“Profit,” said Yut Lee placidly, folding his soft hands over his stomach and smiling.
“Sure—that goes without saying.” Martinson scowled slightly. “But how much?”
“There is more than one kind of profit, my friend,” said the yellow man gently. “There is tangible profit, which you understand, and a certain intangible profit—which I am afraid you do not understand.”
“Not where you're concerned,” said Martinson flatly, but his smile took offense from the words. “You know you can trust me, so come clean. Else, I'll not take the job. I don't like killing people.”
“So you drag me in, eh?”
Martinson laughed, and Yut Lee chuckled slightly. There fell a little silence. The two men smoked and sipped the thimble-cups of wine. Outside nuzzled all the noise of Shanghai—not the Shanghai of the Astor Hotel and post-offices and trams but another Shanghai altogether, lying back from the Wangpoo River and the French concession.
Hut-sen was its name, and before the flourishing foreign city had been imagined it was ancient. Otherwise and more simply, “The City.” Yut Lee had a shop out in Shanghai proper, where he sold silks and curios to tourists, but here in the old native city of tiny crooked streets and no gendarmes, he lived and had his being. His silk and curio shop was inside the Si Mun, the West Gate, on the street leading to the temple of Confucius.
Here in his private rooms, overlooking a little garden, the noise of the old city was shut out and everything was peaceful. Yut Lee knew well enough he could trust Martinson—most Chinese knew it. Martinson was not a successful man, but hoped to be some day. He had done a good bit of mining engineering up country and knew his way around. He was something under thirty; lean and quiet, too frank for his own good interests, and quite unable to lie—a peculiar trait which kept him down in the world but made him friends.
Martinson was not too sure of Yut Lee, though he knew the man rather well. Yut Lee was wealthy and respected, and among his own folk he did not call himself by this name, but by the name of Lee Yut Toi.
“You,” said Martinson suddenly, “have jumped at the end to be attained, but you have not explained the details between here and there. Suppose you start at the right place, and I'll wager you a dollar I can locate the joker.”
“I think I might lose,” said Yut Lee, smiling. He relaxed in his chair and took a fresh cigaret. “Very well, Mr. Martinson. At nine o'clock tonight you will leave your pension and accompany a boy I will send. He will take you to a launch in the river, my launch. You will go aboard, and for three days will journey upriver. The fourth morning you will land, take mules, and go into the Wu Shan hills.”
“That is,” said Martinson, “if I take the job.”
“Conceded. Once in the hills,” resumed Yut Lee, placidly, “you will come to what was once the White Lotus Temple, but it is now the Wu Shan Hospital, standing just above a tiny village. It serves all the hill district, many villages, where there is no town. It is conducted by a woman, one Doctor Hill. You follow me?”
Martinson grunted disgustedly, “Go on with your words of one syllable. You devil! You're trying to win that bet.”
Yut Lee grinned and pursued his level tone.
“You will stop there a little while, looking for silver mines in the neighborhood. There are none, but no matter. If a Frenchman arrives, you will watch him closely. If another American arrives, you will watch him more closely. You will see that no harm comes to Doctor Hill from these two. She will trust you, because I will give you a letter to her.”
“Who's the American in the case?” snapped Martinson.
“John Williams, formerly connected with the Woosung Silk Mills.”
MARTINSON grunted, and his eyes darkened. “I've heard of him. And—let's see! I've heard of this Wu Shan Hospital, too. Old temple taken over by Miss Hill's father, eh? Years ago. So the lady doctor has something the Frenchman and Williams are after, eh?”
“You want to win your bet,” said Yut Lee lazily. “Should I help you?”
“Confound you! This Williams, now—he's a bad egg. Mixed up in that affair in Canton last year—that looting, time of the Sun Yat Sen troubles. Hm! He's dealing heavily in faked antiques, and he's in with a bad gang,” ruminated Martinson. The other watched him with a lurking twinkle in the plump face. “Hm! He's in with the group of Young Chinese and foreign exporters. And who's the Frenchman?”
“Colonel Hamelet. A soldier, on leave from Indo-China.”
“Uh-huh.” Martinson frowned. “I've heard something about him—blowing around the foreign concession social parties and gambling over the line—yes. Saw him up at the Shanghai Club yesterday noon. He was with Arnold, the piebald half-Britisher who works in with the Jap dealers and sends shiploads of antiques to Paris to him! I begin to see now.
“Uh-huh.” Martinson took another cigaret. “Sort of clearing up. The lady doc needs cash and has found that some of her father's collected stuff may be valuable, so the buzzards are circling. And you want me to go look for a silver mine, huh? At that, I always claimed silver might be in those hills.”
Yut Lee appeared vastly amused by some inward joke.
“Perhaps you may find one,” he ventured.
“Likely now I'm going to win that dollar.”
Martinson's gray eyes shot a keen look at the placid Chinaman, and the latter nodded. He half expected to lose his bet, for Martinson was a surprising person at times. He knew some most astonishing things, apt to pop out at the most unexpected places.
“A long time ago,” he said quietly, “before you became the wealthy Lee Yut Toi, you were just a plain little Number One boy like a million others. You worked for a man who gave you help and some money. You have always felt in his debt. Now you want to pay off this debt, acting through me, to the man's daughter. There's your intangible profit.”
Yut Lee wriggled a little, as though rather uncomfortable. Then he felt in his clothes and produced a round silver American dollar, which he solemnly handed to Martinson.
“In a sense you are right,” he observed. “You will take the job?”
“I haven't said so,” returned Martinson, pocketing the dollar. “What do I get out of it?”
“A chance to use your brains.”
This startled Martinson a little. It showed him there was a good deal under the surface of things, for Yut Lee meant exactly what he said. In some ways, looks to the contrary, a Chinaman is the most obvious person alive.
“I know you wouldn't throw this job to me for nothing,” he ruminated, “You suspect something, is that it? You've an idea about tangible profits?”
Yut Lee nodded sententiously. “The superior man sees above the heads of the crowd—”
Martinson rose. “When you start quoting the Four Books, I quit. All right, I'll take on the job, being free at the moment. The letter to the lady?”
“My boy will bring it tonight.” Yut Lee lifted a hand. “There is one thing I should tell you. My interest in the matter is suspected, and it will be known you have called here and are going upriver. When you leave the boat at the little town of Hangow, under the White Horse Rapids, it would be well to keep your eyes open.”
“Huh!” said Martinson, regarding him fixedly. “So that's it! Which of them will be on my trail—Hamelet or Williams?”
“Probably they will combine against you.”
“All right.” Martinson picked up his hat. “Much obliged, Lee. Anything I pull out of the fire means a fifty-fifty split. Eh?”
“I think so,” said Yut Lee.
Martinson departed to his waiting rikisha. He had to visit the bank, and directed his runner to the bank, before returning to his lodgings in the Nanking Road. A glance at the tall clock-tower of the Hsinkwan showed it was ten minutes to three. He entered the bank, and as he was cashing a check, an attendant came to him with an envelope.
“Mr. Martinson, a messenger left this for you a few minutes ago.”
Martinson nodded, tore open the envelope, typed with his address, and found a typed line on an otherwise blank sheet. It read simply:
“Do not go upriver tonight, dangerous.”
Martinson tore it up, finished his business, and returned to his rikisha.
Who had sent this warning? He knew well enough—John Williams. But what swift work! The opposition knew already, as Yut Lee had foretold, that he was engaged in the affair. Well, he knew a few things himself.
He knew Williams for a thoroughly unscrupulous rascal, hand in glove with a bad element of natives and foreigners. He had met the man, and detested him utterly. Hamelet was very different—a suave French type, a cultured man, a polished gentleman entirely willing to sell his soul at the right price, and infinitely more dangerous because less brutal than Williams.
The Wu Shan hills run roughly east and west, rugged ribs of loess and granite hidingvalleys, towering high in queer curves and broken lines such as may be seen on any Chinese painting of mountains.
These hills seem to shadow the narrow streets and crooked, crowded houses of Hangow, the little river town. To this day Hangow regards all foreigners as devils akin to those who looted Pekin and made the white men a by-word of contempt from Yunnan to the Great Wall; and of late years the recrudescence of independence in young China had not lulled the ancient hatred.
Martinson, then, stepped ashore at Hangow to meet sullen, sidewise glances and a general air of “you had better go home again,” but this was no news, and he had seen enough of yellow China to disregard it. With him it was axiomatic that race is nothing—it is the man who counts, and given time one could overcome the worst of prejudices.
YUT LEE'S plans had not gone like clock work, for the launch had broken down. Instead of landing on the fourth morning at Hangow, Martinson reached there the fourth afternoon. On going ashore, he was met by a silent, dour, scowling hillman, the Number One and only boy provided by Yut Lee, who had three mules in tow—two for load, one for ride. Upon this silent one, who refused to give any name and only stared blankly at questions, Martinson bestowed the term of Toi, or Talented, and bidding his boatman a fitting adieu, set off into the hills. Toi looked like a bandit, proved to be a mute, and did not understand Martinson's Mandarin at all.
Whether or not any other white men had come recently to Hangow, could not be discovered.
During the remainder of the day, the two men made a scant five miles into the hill. Martinson was quite aware that in this queer mission he was taking his life in his hands, once he had left Shanghai. Piracy by land and water was rife everywhere. Soldiers were bandits, every ruler of a city held it for his own hand, every governor was a tu-chun or war lord to keep his place by right of force. So far as law was concerned, all interior China was chaos, and the only uniformity lay in the steadily augmenting hatred of foreigners. Thus, if Hamelet or Williams desired a reversion to force of arms, the Wu Shan hills made an excellent spot. Murder could be committed here with absolute impunity, as Martinson was aware.
Toward dark, the mute led him out of the rough hill road to a spring a hundred yards distant, beside a little shrine of Kwannin on the hill-flank. Here they camped for the night, and Martinson was thankful to escape the brick bed and many fleas of the usual inn. From some hiding place near-by, too, the Talented One produced an old Snider rifle and a bandolier of cartridges, with much evident pride.
With the next morning, they pushed on, meeting many people on the road yet passing through no villages, for the main track kept to winding hill-flanks and branch trails went off to the valley hamlets. By one of these Toi departed toward noon, signing Martinson to go on, and presently caught up again with a pair of chickens and some vegetables on his saddle.
Poor as the district was, small as the hidden-away villages were, the amount of traffic on the road show it was fairly well inhabited. They even met one calmly contemptuous and regal being, borne in a palanquin on the shoulders of servants, and with a retinue around him; a relic of the ancient imperial régime, perhaps.
Then they camped, again beside a mountain ridge and Martinson screwed some signs out of Toi which appeared to indicate they would reach their destination the next morning. Of any other white travelers he had heard or seen nothing. Fast river launches were plentiful, so that Hamelet and Williams might be ahead of him or behind him.
With sunrise, Martinson unbuttoned his sleeping bag, yawned, sat up—and saw Hamelet sitting on a boulder six feet away, watching him.
Martinson stared blankly for a moment. The mute, Toi, had apparently vanished into thin air. Hamelet smiled slightly, but remained silent, wary, alert. He was a thin, spare man of sallow face and grizzled black hair, with a short clipped mustache—a nervous type.
“Good morning!” said Martinson. “Been waiting long?”
“Not long,” said Hamelet in excellent English. “The opportunity was too good to miss, Mr. Martinson.”
“I see.” Martinson rubbed his eyes, stretched himself. “If you've come to breakfast, you might have made up the fire, anyhow.”
Hamelet's hand dropped, with unmistakable significance, and his rifle shifted.
“You'll have no more fires in these hills,” said the Frenchman quietly.
“Any positive statement includes a difference of opinion,” was Martinson's cheerful rejoinder. “You don't like my being here, then?”
“You were warned not to come.” Hamelet looked steadily at him, finger crooked on trigger and dark eyes unpleasantly resolute. “Since you came, I'm here to stop you, that's all. Good thing you were fool enough, or brave enough to come alone. So much the easier.”
Martinson smiled—Toi must be gone somewhere, and evidently Hamelet knew nothing of the mute.
“Bosh! They're not your hills,” he said, and reached under the head of his sleeping bag. Instantly Hamelet's thumb drew back the hammer of the rifle, but Martinson only produced a pair of socks. “Don't mind my dressing, I hope? My only pistol is somewhere there in the bag, out of reach as usual.”
“Dress, and get back to Hangow,” said the Frenchman.
“Or you'll murder me, eh?” Martinson grinned at him. “My dear chap, this melodrama does not impress me in the least, and if I had a gun within reach, I'd certainly take a shot at you to prove it! You know perfectly well you can't sit there in cold blood and slap a bullet into my heart.”
“I've no such intention,” said Hamelet coldly. “But I shall certainly slap one into your shoulder, which will be much more unpleasant, and then load you on a mule and send you back, You may choose between going sound or broken.”
MARTINSON carefully drew on one sock, then the other. There was no melodrama as he had just termed it, about the Frenchman; this man meant his words and would keep his promise to the letter. The cynical thin, heavy-lidded face was that of a man completely sure of himself, completely selfish, and utterly without any compunction; a coldly cruel face, and very materialistic. No idealism in this man.
“Rather queer you let me come through Hangow, isn't it?” Martinson asked.
“Not my fault—Williams was drunk, probably,” said the other.
Martinson nodded. Both had been ahead of him, then! He pulled on his breeches, stood up to fasten them, then sat down again on his sleeping bag and put on his boots, which laced high.
“No use talking terms, I suppose?” he ventured, as he drew the laces taut.
“Hardly,” and Hamelet laughed.
“No use asking for explanations?”
“Don't play the fool!”
“Any objections to saying precisely why you and Williams want to get rid of me?”
“None.” Hamelet smiled thinly. “Because we don't want you around.”
Martinson grinned. “Oh! Well, in that case—”
Lightning swift, his hand came up with a bit of rock, jagged, the size of an egg. His eyes gave no warning—the stone flew, smashed on the knuckles of the hand holding the rifle, biting flesh against iron.
Hamelet pressed the trigger, a flash too late. Martinson got the wind of the bullet as he followed the stone and bore Hamelet with his full weight. Decidedly unused to such close work as this, the Frenchman had not a chance; half strangled, his thin, fever-worn frame a toy in Martinson's hands, he relaxed and lay quiet.
Martinson drew back, seized the fallen rifle, ejected the empty shell and rattled another cartridge from magazine to chamber. As he did so, he glanced around to see the dark face of Toi showing momentarily, from above a boulder to one side, a surprised grin. Then the hillman sank from sight. So the rascal had been there all the time!
Hamelet got on his feet in a dazed way. Until now, Martinson had not been sure the man was alone, but the fact was now rather obvious. For a good half mile, the back trail was in view, and it was empty, while no one had appeared to help the Frenchman.
“Thought you could work the trick alone, eh?” said Martinson, a sudden hardening in his face muscles, and a glint in his eyes that caught Hamelet's attention. “I gave you one chance to talk terms—this is your last one. Want it?”
“No, thank you,” said Hamelet quietly, the sallow features very white. A sneer came to his eyes. “It is now you who are melodramatic, yes? Would you like to shoot me?”
“I would,” said Martinson so reflectively and steadily that Hamelet started slightly. “Yes, I would. If you give me half an excuse, I will. You're a dangerous rat, and I'd be glad of a reason to exterminate you, Hamelet. Now, I'll give you until I count three to face about and walk back to Hangow—or start for there. In default of which. I'll put a bullet in you and spare a mule. One, two—”
The Frenchman did not pause to argue; he could read those implacable gray eyes. He turned and walked away. For a little Martinson watched him, then turned to the boulders at one side.
“Confound you, Toi. Come out of it and get me something to eat!”
The mute appeared, grinning and fondling his old Snider.
Later in the morning, Martinson looked down upon the Temple of the White Lotus, from a curve in the track above it.
[Illustration: Martinson saw the glare of the sun on the paving, the strained-looking faces—then abruptly everything vanished. He fell sideways, knocking the table with his shoulder.]
The temple occupied a deep terrace in the flank of a huge hillside. Below was a village on the valley floor, from which the temple stood raised some hundreds of feet. This village was marked afar by a huge flame-tree on one side the little river, and a great blooming white magnolia on the other. Away off on the slope of a distant hill was another village and the regular quadrangles of terraced gardens of some kind.
As he looked, moving objects below caught his eye. Three mules and a man—too far for details to be distinct—were leaving the village below. The place was oddly deserted, and he could see no one in the rice paddies. Why were these mules going out? Somehow his mind flew to Hamelet and Williams—then he dismissed the whole thing and signed the mute to go on toward the temple.
Despite its altered use, the temple looked little changed at this distance and height, from any other hill temple, even to its ruinous features. The whole compound was enclosed by a stone wall, broken in places along the fore-court. Steps leading to an inner gateway were flanked by the usual lanterns and images; the central building was enclosed by an inner wall, and from it reared up a short, stumpy pagoda.
As Martinson looked, a white-clad woman's figure crossed the court and disappeared in the main building—incongruous figure in such a setting. And for the first time, Martinson spared a thought of wonder as to what sort of woman this Doctor Hill would prove.
NOT long past noon he approached the gateway of the temple, and turning to ask some question of Toi, he stared blankly. The mute had disappeared with his mule, whether by previous orders or by some caprice of his own, he could not have told. Martinson was angered, then shrugged and resumed his course, being too old a hand in China to wonder at anything. Perhaps the mute considered his work finished and had slipped away in order to avoid receiving any payment from the white man—not a very plausible conjecture, but possible enough.
Martinson dismounted before the gateway, and surveyed it in some astonishment. It preserved a masked entry, to avoid an entrance in a straight line which of course would admit devils, yet to the right of it was something new to him. This was a tall, ancient lotus-leaf of marble, against whose concave surface was carved in high relief, and in more than life size, a statue of Kwannin, goddess of mercy. In the top of this, set so as to illumine the image at night, was a tiny electric bulb. Martinson whistled to himself, then pulled a modern bell-handle at the gate.
For some time there was no response. Martinson was about to pull again, when the hinges creaked and he beheld a drill-clad Chinaman, his bland features unsurprised. He was tall, and had the slightly oblique eyes of a Manchu. Pulling together his Mandarin, which was fairly good, Martinson announced himself and handed the man one of his red visiting cards, made for use among natives.
The Manchu's gaze flickered past him to the mules, took in the two rifles, and raked the visitor's very soul with one brief glance.
“If you will be so good, come in,” he answered in perfect English. “I'll see if Doctor Hill can see you. The mules will be attended to. We are rather busy just now.”
“Thank you,” murmured Martinson, hiding his surprise.
He followed across the outer courtyard, mounted the long stairs of stone to the inner gate, and there found himself upon a flagged courtyard. At one side were gathered a dozen wretched hill-folk. Martinson's guide led him on, not into the main temple building but into that at the right-hand corner.
“Be so good as to wait here,” said the Manchu, and padded away.
Martinson found himself in a high-ceilinged room, pillared with the usual fragrant old beams, in sharp contrast with the plain deal table, the caned chairs, the medicine cabinet against the wall and the wholesale chemist's calendar hung on the whitewashed wall. Presently he caught the soft sound of approaching steps, and stood to face Doctor Hill.
A slight, gray-eyed little woman, with dark lines about her slightly questioning eyes, with brown hair and inconspicuous features—her like could be found a hundred times in Shanghai or any treaty port, he decided at first glance. She might be his own age or a bit younger.
“You wished to see me?” she asked, and her words flattened him.
He had expected welcome and greeting offered a white man in these lonely hills. He had meant to speak of silver mines, had fully intended to cloak the real object of his coming here—so far as he knew it himself—but he dismissed all of it instantly. This direct look from her eyes made any subterfuge seem a mean and lowly thing. His first impression of her was already swiftly altering. He bowed slightly.
“Mr. Martinson from Shanghai,” he said. “I don't know if you will remember a certain Yut Lee—or Lee Yut Toi, as you may have known him?”
Her brows lifted slightly. “Certainly I remember him, but—really, Mr. Martinson, our time is frightfully taken up here. I can't spare you much, I can't even welcome you or ask you to stop for tiffin with us; I'm sorry to seem inhospitable. As for Lee Yut Toi, I've not heard from him in a long time. I know my father helped him greatly, in many ways, and to the best of my knowledge never received a word of thanks for it.”
“Lee Yut has not forgotten,” said Martinson quietly, and paused. Something was wrong here in this place—he could sense it all around him. Now it came, swiftly, incisively.
“Then he has managed a very good appearance of forgetting,” she returned. “I'll have to ask you to come to the point at once, Mr. Martinson. I have thirty small-pox cases in the building and more waiting outside—and then there are the villages. I haven't had a chance to visit them yet. We are short of everything we need, including money, and a man named Williams will be—”
Momentarily staggered by this news, Martinson caught at the name. This frail little woman speaking so calmly of a small-pox epidemic, herself in the midst of it—
“You know Mr. Williams?” she answered with an appraising glance.
“A common name, but not a common man,” he said, and smiled. “Come Doctor, put the cards on the table! I'm here to help. Where does Williams come in? He's a thorough rascal.”
She appeared to regard him more seriously at this, as though the frankness of his appeal reached home to her. She sank into a chair and motioned him to another.
“I'm tired—please sit down,” she said. “Why it appears that this man Williams knew my father quite well, years ago, and he had heard of the cup of Wu Ti, the one thing my father prized most. I've sold a good many things to keep the hospital work going, but I hoped to keep the cup and take it home with me—I was going home next month. Then this epidemic came and has changed everything; small-pox is simply sweeping the whole district. I lack everything, have no money, have no means for taking the cup to the coast for sale, and dare not send it—”
“Is it so valuable, then?” asked Martinson.
“Yes,” she said simply. “Williams came here and tried, I'm sorry to say, the wrong tactics. He knew we were nearly helpless and it would be easy for him to set the villages against us. We must have lymph, a hundred things—well, no matter.”
HERE in these few words were the dry bones of a story Martinson could well enough piece together. The impersonal devotion and selflessness of this woman awed him. Martinson would have termed himself a flea-bitten cynic—yet he did not always look at what he might get out of a thing, despite his half-jesting words to Yut Lee in Shanghai. As he met the tired eyes of this woman, he knew that here was something bigger, higher, than any mere personal gain.
“Haven't you a man to spare?”
She made a helpless gesture. “No. Our cook has remained, and two old women—every one else has gone except Chan Tou, who admitted you. They are afraid.”
“Can you make out a list to send?”
“Yes, the list is ready. I hoped to get Williams to take it when he returned for the cup.”
“Good!” exclaimed Martinson briskly. “Get your list. Give me paper and a pen or pencil and I'll drop Yut Lee a line with the list. This chap Chan Tou—Manchu name, isn't it?—can get off right away. His business will be to reach Yut Lee, and Lee will see you get the stores safely. I'll see that you keep your cup.”
She leaned toward him. With the sudden light of renewed hope in her eyes, Martinson saw she had a beauty all her own—beauty of soul rather than of sense.
“Do you—do you mean it, Mr. Martinson?”
“It's simple enough. A Chinaman may seem to forget, but he remembers. I know Lee has not forgotten the past.”
“But I can't spare Chan Tou!” she exclaimed sharply. “It's impossible—”
Her eyes widened on him incredulous.
“You! But—with small-pox? You don't realize what it means—the sort of work to do. You don't know—”
“Nonsense,” said Martinson calmly. “I was through a bit of it last year in Yunnan, and was vaccinated, and know all about it, so I'm safe enough.”
She drew a deep breath. “But—why should you?”
“My job. Besides I made a bargain with Yut Lee.”
She questioned the nature of this bargain with searching gaze, but he only shook his head a little, and smiled. At this moment the Manchu appeared at the doorway, and Doctor Hill rose. She seemed like a new woman.
“Come in! This is Mr. Martinson who will stay and give us a hand, while you go after supplies.” She laughed a little, happily. “It's all arranged! Mr. Martinson, this is Chan Tou, my colleague and assistant.”
The Manchu came into the room and put out his hand, and Martinson met a hearty grip.
“We need all the help we can get,” said Chan Tou.
“You're from England?” asked Martinson. The other smiled.
“America—Johns Hopkins and Ann Arbor,” he returned. His eyes dwelt upon Martinson in a gaze that searched and probed until he nodded and smiled. “So you'll stay? Good. We can give you sixteen hours' work a day, Mr. Martinson, with just enough time to eat and no time to think. Ah!” He turned suddenly to the woman. “Doctor, that girl from Wu Wei—I have just seen her. You had better take charge of her at once.”
Doctor Hill moved to the door. “I must run—an urgent case. I'll send paper and a real pen, Mr. Martinson—excuse me, please—”
She departed hurriedly. Martinson again met the queerly probing gaze of the Manchu.
“So I am to go after supplies?”
“Yes. A man brought me here, a mute—” Martinson described his guide, but the other had not heard of such a man. He went on to tell of Yut Lee's interest in Doctor Hill, and at this Chan Tou nodded comprehension, thoughtfully. “You may be able to catch up with Toi on the back trail to Hangow. If not, you'll find Yut Lee's launch at Hangow—she was to wait there for some word from me. Take her and get off at once. I'll do my best to help here, and we may save the cup yet.”
“The cup!” the saffron face became masklike. “What do you know of Wu Ti's cup?”
“I'm here to save it for her,” said Martinson.
The other gave him half a minute of silent examination, then smiled again.
“Doctor Hill, her father, found the grave of Wu Ti,” he said quietly. “Wu Ti was an Emperor of the later Han dynasty, contemporary with Cæsar. He took the cup from the grave—well, here we are. If I can catch your mute, I shall send him to Shanghai and return here. And I think I can catch him.”
An old woman entered with paper, envelopes, a pen and a bottle of fluid ink.
“Write quickly,” said the Manchu. “I'll get ready—and if I catch your mute. I'll be back tonight.”
THOSE three mules he had noticed leaving the stricken village below, remained in the thoughts of Martinson. He could only surmise that they had belonged to Hamelet or Williams, and that something was afoot from the enemy's camp. However, nothing more turned up, and he dismissed the affair momentarily. Whatever the cup of Wu Ti might be, whatever its value, he knew it was something too large to be easily relinquished, but he had no space to think about it now. So far as his errand was concerned, he had a waiting part to play—in this sense only.
Chan Tou was absent a bare six hours, and returned during the night with word that he had caught the mute on the highway and had turned over the errand to him—Toi had promised to go direct to Shanghai with the letters. The Manchu reported that the mute was a small trader and hillman. And with his return, Chan gave Martinson his chance to leave.
“I am back, there is nothing to keep you now,” he said flatly.
“Yes,” said Martinson. “There is much.”
The Manchu met his eyes, smiled and departed.
Martinson knew little of hospital work, but he had the will to aid, and shirked nothing. He went about washing, disinfecting, doing all the loathsome tasks involved by tendance of the disease. Every bed in the main temple building was filled, and other cases camped in the courtyard, bedless, half-nourished, terrible. After a few days Martinson felt he had been years in the place.
Even though his run lay between his own room, the wards and courtyard, and the cool room in which he, Doctor Hill and Doctor Chan Tou met for meals, so that he knew nothing of the remainder of the place, it became intolerable. Each day added to the heat of its predecessor, since summer was at hand. Though a breeze swept the temple and they were in hill country, he well knew the fear behind the woman's eyes—the fear always coming when tropical summer treads on the heels of epidemic. Chan Tou knew it also, but no one mentioned it, since whether the dread become reality or not lay in the hands of a higher fate.
And the Manchu was magnificent, a tireless machine working with utter exactness, with entire lack of emotion almost. Once Martinson came upon him in the gateway, looking out across the empty fore-court and the valley, eyes lifting to the hill peaks closing off Hangow. He turned with a queer smile.
“There are times when a few days seem years,” he said laconically.
“If the messenger gets through,” said Martinson, “Yut Lee won't fail us.”
He included himself as a matter of course. Even these few days had changed him, taught him a lesson deep and high—that intangible profits are of incalculably more value than cash returns. Chan Tou nodded slowly.
“Six more days, perhaps five. We can only hold on and hope.”
AS THE days passed, still came no sign either of Hamelet or Williams. They knew he was here, and Williams had not returned for the cup; a significant item, and Martinson wondered why the thing might be so valuable. Still, he had little time to spare thought on extraneous matters. One day at lunch he spoke about any outside aid arriving, and Chan Tou smiled thinly.
“This is the age of democracy, of revolution, as I have cause to know. There will be one line in the foreign-language newspapers saying that a few cases of small-pox have been reported in the Wu Shan hills, but that the epidemic is confined to a limited area. Nothing short of—”
He hesitated oddly and did not conclude the sentence. Doctor Hill nodded, and Martinson sensed the unnamed dread. He felt the pull of it heavily, the suspense, the knowledge it might swoop suddenly upon them at any instant. Doctor Hill was looking badly again, he thought.
The heat had increased, and Martinson looked out to the stone fu-dogs by the gateway, seeing them quiver in the midday sun and stillness. The world slept in heat. He resolved to get another three graves dug before night and get ahead with his work, if he could.
Late that afternoon Martinson was out to the north of the temple boundary, by his improvised graveyard, when he saw a body of ragged men moving up from the slopes below. He divined trouble. The sick trooped in daily, and at all hours, but these were not sick, and all had staves, old matchlocks, cheek-guns. With them was the fantastic figure of a geomancer, hung with bits of paper and rags, shrilling on a gourd rattle,
Catching up his tools, Martinson hurried back to meet Chan Tou in the main gateway. “What is it?”
“Superstition,” said the Manchu, unmoved from his endless calm. “What has stirred it up is another matter. I must leave you, to combat it.”
“What with?” demanded Martinson skeptically. “Guns?”
With his thin smile, he motioned the white man to remain, and himself departed. Martinson lighted a cigaret and waited, inside the inner gateway. The hand of Williams or Hamelet might be in this, he reflected—he remembered what Doctor Hill had said, about a threat from Williams. The figure of the geomancer, the feng shui wizard, was enough to show, however, that much more was here than mere stirring-up. Perhaps Williams had only taken advantage of a condition.
Through a niche where stone had fallen. Martinson could peer out without being seen. The score of fierce hillmen swept through the outer gate and came straggling across the forecourt, talking loudly, yet somewhat taken aback by this silence and emptiness. The geomancer urged them on with his rattle. They halted before the inner gate, irresolute—then came the one thing Martinson least expected.
It was Chan Tou, coming with a swish of robes—no longer the drill-clad doctor, but now the old proud Manchu, clad in robe on robe—brocaded black silk, gay peach-bloom, and over all a flaring sun-yellow coat whereon a four-clawed dragon played. High-soled boots and mandarin's cap with jade button completed the costume. And thus Chan Tou opened the gate and stood there fronting the hillmen on the steps, high over them in every sense. Staring, the foremost went back a step, awe creeping into their faces.
“On your knees, sons of turtles,” ordered Chan Tou, and went on in words of the local dialect quite lost upon Martinson.
He got the biting scorn in the voice, however, and saw how no one man of the crowd kept his feet; even the geomancer knelt, and for an instant was dead silence. Such a trick never would have worked in a treaty-port or even in a city, but the country folk of China know little of the revolution, and Martinson realized the sheer logic of it as he marveled.
Chan Tou spoke again, and those who saw before them an apparition of the imperial days trembled. They replied, and presently two of them spoke in Mandarin, and to this Chan Tou made response in the same form, which Martinson quite understood.
“Where then is the man who said that we, the magic healers, have defiled your dead? Let him step forth.”
“He is not here, Lord,” faltered the geomancer.
Chan Tou laughed at them, a deep rolling laugh of scorn and anger.
“Sons of turtles!” he said in contempt, and flung open the gate, stepping aside. “Enter! We healers have given ourselves in your service: these twenty years you have gained healing in this place, free and at no charge. Now, since you desire it, let the hills be unpeopled by plague. Enter and take away your sick, that you may watch them die and see that the bodies remain undefiled—and you too shall then die. Take them; not one shall walk again, and you who take them shall sicken. Enter!”
THEY stared at him, a magnificent, even kingly figure. Some understood him, others did not, but all hung back. He beckoned them, and the geomancer rattled his gourd.
“Then begone,” said Chan Tou. “Send us your sick that we may heal them, or leave them to die at home, as ye will. Trouble us thus again, and I myself will come among you to blast you and your children!”
“The people sicken!” howled the geomancer suddenly. “It is your doing—”
“And you have failed to heal them?” said Chan Tou mockingly. “Good. Take this message. Let all not yet sick with the scourge come hither, to the temple gate, on the second day from now. Upon each one we will write a charm in blood that will guard them against this sickness, so they may walk among its victims without fear.”
“Give us the charm now!” cried a villager. “Give it now, lord!”
A smile touched the lips of Chan Tou. “So you may be immune, and then boast of how you terrorized the magic healers? Bear the message back, and return on the second day. None on whom the charm is written shall ever die of the scourge, and bring the children as well, that they be made immune. Go!”
A sudden burst of pleas went up from the men, and demands for forgiveness. Chan Tou swept out his arm, flung his order again, and then went. In his wholewas the arrogance of supreme authority, the concentrated power of generations, the consciousness that his command would be and must be obeyed.
The rabble faced about and trooped away toward the outer gate, and melted. The Manchu looked after them, then stepped inside the gateway and faced Martinson.
“So much for trappings, and a sense of what is due to oneself,” he observed.
“Did you learn who's behind it?” asked Martinson.
“They mentioned a foreign devil. That man Williams?”
“Perhaps, and perhaps another,” said Martinson. “Hard to say what's going on outside here. Day after tomorrow, eh? You're gambling.”
“We must,” said the other gravely. “If the vaccine doesn't arrive—well, it'll be bad! And we'll have full summer here in another week.”
Again the sense of dread, the chill implication. Martinson nodded.
“You'll have to show me how to vaccinate.”
The Manchu smiled.
“Dip the lancet and scratch. No time for niceties, once we start,” said Chan Tou. Then he added, over his shoulder—“If we start!”
Once, at their first meeting, Martinson had glimpsed something of the inner charm of Doctor Hill. He had learned that she was Evelyn Hill by name, but in the intense concentration of the work, in its awesome responsibility, he could not regard her as woman, lest he pity her—and she was none to be pitied.
Though he drew close to her, and she to him, they were machines, driving on while energy lasted and even beyond energy, intent only herself, upon the work. Martinson thought once or twice of his anticipations of this place, and smiled. Now the cup of Wu Ti and even Williams and Hamelet were little inconsequences in the back of his mind, and it seemed impossible that circumstance might ever push them to the front again.
So it was odd. the night before the vaccine arrived, to enter the dining-room and find Evelyn Hill broken down. The sun had dropped behind the western peak, no lights had been brought, and all he saw was a huddled figure in a chair. Hearing her dry sob, he hesitated, then crossed to her and laid his hand on her shoulder.
As he stood, unable to speak, one of the old women servants brought in a lighted lamp. Doctor Hill looked up and tried to smile through her tears.
“I'm not—one of those women—who can cry nicely,” she said. “I'm sorry.”
“Nonsense!” said Martinson cheerfully. “We'll see it all through with you. Does you good to find tears once in a while, anyhow.”
She had calmed herself to some extent.
“You don't know what your coming has meant,” she said. “Just the sight of one of my own people—I'd been here three years, you know, without a trip to the coast. And after that man Williams—the contrast—”
[Illustration: Doctor Hill was a machine driving on with her work while energy lasted.]
She reached up and took his hand, as though finding comfort in his touch. Martinson was embarrassed by her words, and stood silent, answering only with a firm pressure of his fingers. There was no hint of personal sentiment in the hand-clasp—it stood only for words unuttered.
“Yut Lee won't fail us,” said Martinson, all three seating themselves at the table.
“You have faith in our people, then?” said Chan Tou, who had come in and sat down, regarding him fixedly.
“Yes. Why not?”
“Few white people take a Chinaman at his real worth.”
“Do you take white people at their real worth?” asked Martinson dryly.
“No; at more than their worth, else not a European would be alive today between Tientsin and Yunnan-fu!”
His voice had a startling bitterness. Doctor Hill seemed about to protest, then checked herself. Chan Tou continued steadily.
“We have no cause to love your race. I except such as our friend here, whom I regard as one of the spirits sent to earth. And you, Mr. Martinson—”
“Thank you,” said Martinson, half angrily. The Manchu smiled at him.
“Today! We had our abuses, but under the imperial rule we were a people. Western thought penetrated China, culminating in the revolution. Now we are a harassed rabble oppressed by opportunists—thanks to the western nations. We owe you disruption, we see you carve the corpse of China, and still we see no sign of humanity, no consideration, no pity. And to all this, you add one crowning insult.”
A hint of ironic amusement showed in the Manchu's face.
“When the white races clothed themselves with the skins of beasts, we were a governed nation. Before you had an alphabet, we had books; your first philosophers rank with our later thinkers. And what do you send us? Missionaries!”
Doctor Hill smiled. “I like missionaries, some of them,” she said brightly. Suddenly, it broke upon Martinson how all this attack was aimed to divert her thoughts. “They are fearfully earnest, of course, and so rather ludicrous—but a good many of us take ourselves seriously. And they are good folk.”
[Illustration: Hamelet was a suave Frenchman, a cultured man willing to sell his soul at the right price.]
“And in the meantime,” said Martinson, smiling, we work together here.”
A smile came and went in the oblique eyes. Then, abruptly, Martinson came to his feet. He stared at them blankly.
“What's the matter?” demanded Doctor Hill.
“Just thought of something.” Martinson grinned. “Excuse me, will you? Back right off—”
He hurriedly left the room. In five minutes he was back again, bearing a crumpled envelope, which he held out to Doctor Hill with a rueful smile.
“I'm an awful fool! Yut Lee gave me this letter for you, and I sewed it under the shoulder of my waterproof for safe-keeping, and never unrolled the coat since. I thought of it once, but have been busy—”
She opened the missive, disclosing another enclosed envelope and a letter at which she glanced. Then she refolded them.
“Later,” she said, and looked at Martinson.
“And I forgot, too—we have two unclaimed casualties for you to deal with. Let us say, here in this room, at nine o'clock.”
“Nothing serious?” asked Martinson.
She shook her head. “No. It has kept this long, and can keep a bit more. You don't make a good postman, I'm afraid. Now I must get back to that poor girl—”
She rose and left them, a flash of laughter fading from her eyes. The Manchu also rose, and stood looking after her.
MARTINSON disposed of his “unclaimed casualties” in the graveyard outside the temple grounds on the hillside. He returned, had a wash-up, and repaired to the dining-room promptly at nine. He found Doctor Hill awaited him, and now she looked deadly pale and very tired, but he did not comment upon it.
“Well,” he said cheerfully, “anything very serious on the carpet?”
She took the lamp from the table and rose.
“We'll not talk of it here,” she said simply. “Come.”
He followed her from the room and along a corridor leading to her own private apartment. Short of her doorway, she halted and unlocked a small door set in the wall. This opened into a high-ceilinged room, stuffily cool and without windows. The bare stone walls, the beams and pillars of fragrant mannu-wood, were as they served the temple, but an exclamation broke from Martinson as he glanced around.
Hung on a frame near the door, the lamplight revealed the gorgeous robes Chan Tou had worn to impress the hillmen. Here and there were suits of ancient armor, one being the gorgeous peacock-plumed and gilded armor of the imperial palace guards; a few large carved marble pieces and some magnificent temple services in Ming brass and cloisonné stood about, and one long wall was given over to rudely built shelves, on which were all manner of folded tapestries and embroideries, rugs and large jades, and small boxes. A treasure chamber, this.
“No loot here, as I tell Doctor Chan,” she observed, with a slight smile lifting the weariness from her face. “My father collected all this; much of it he bought outright, and the remainder came to him as gifts.”
“I'm no dealer,” said Martinson slowly, “but I know what some of these things must be worth for export! This explains something—Hamelet's interest. This stuff fetches ten times the price in Paris it does in New York, although that's high enough.”
“Hamelet?” She questioned him in surprise.
“An associate of Williams, a Frenchman. I think they are in partnership. But look here, Doctor, is this room safe?”
“Safe as a bank,” and she gestured. “That way, a door goes into my bedroom. The other, by which we entered, is always locked. Yes, it's safe.”
“Perhaps,” Martinson shook his head slightly. “But it wasn't to show me—”
“No, not just these. You must see the cup, however, and then we can talk.”
She went to the shelves, by the door leading into her own room. Passing by the smaller boxes, such as were made to hold the various carved treasures whose greatest value to Orientals comes from the sense of touch, she pointed out a large box of teakwood bound with brass, on the lowest shelf.
“If you don't mind taking it out—it's too heavy for me,” she said. “Father had the box made to hold the cup, and it's frightfully heavy. It is not locked; you have only to push the two hasps.”
IN THE lamplight Martinson bent over to bring out the box by its handles, and grunted with surprise at its weight. The box was some thing over a foot square, but he guessed its weight at nearly fifty pounds; much of this, however, lay in the heavy wood and the large brasses.
Once he had it on the floor, he pushed open the hasps and disclosed an inner box of fine red teak, which he lifted to a shelf. This opened to show a padded, silk-lined interior, containing the cup of Wu Ti.
Doctor Hill watched him curiously, and, aware of the fact, Martinson said nothing. He took the cup from its box, held it in both hands to the light, and examined it closely. It was a heavy bronze vessel, a two-handled libation cup, showing very few traces of earth incrustation; but the patina, even as revealed in this artificial light, was something very marvelous. About the cup ran inscriptions in the ancient “tadpole” characters, and upon the bottom was incised another inscription. Martinson rubbed the bronze thoughtfully.
“I'm not an expert,” he said. “Still, I'm sophisticated enough to realize what we've lost and the Chinese have retained in the sense of touch! Is this early Han, or Chou?”
“Earlier still, I believe,” she responded. “Father took it from a mound half cut away by a river-course. The mound was locally known as the tomb of Wu Ti, and so it proved—he unfortunately got nothing else from it except fragments of an iron stove. This inscription on the bottom shows the cup was taken from a grave of the early Han dynasty and given to the Emperor Wu Ti; it was doubtless buried with him. The inscription around it is of the earliest known characters. It's a perfect piece, probably unequaled anywhere today.”
“All the traffic will bear.” She laughed a little, and for the instant was transfigured. “Anything a rich collector or a museum will pay. Now put it away again, please; I have Yut Lee's letter to show you.”
Obviously her interest did not lie in the value of the piece, though Martinson could comprehend what this value must be. Now he could quite understand why Hamelet and Williams were dimly allied with Japanese and unscrupulous Americans. For such a piece of bronze as this, a wealthy Chinaman would pay a small fortune; any Japanese collector would pay a large fortune, since the Japanese know their culture goes back to China and eagerly assimilate all the old Chinese pieces they can find; any American collector would pay two fortunes in the hope of leaving his name inscribed in a museum; and in Paris the highest price, perhaps, might be obtained, for in Paris anything Chinese, good or bad, went like hot cakes, at absurd values. This bit of bronze from a grave was worth more than any pirate's treasure ever hidden.
Carefully putting away the cup, Martinson replaced the heavy box on the shelf, then stood back. Doctor Hill had placed the lamp on a tabouret near-by, and now opened the missive he had given her that evening.
“The first part recounts what my father did for Yut Lee,” she said, and handing him the typed letter, pointed to the final portion. “Read this, and tell me what you make of it.”
Martinson held the paper to the light:
“Thus I have not forgotten the benefits bestowed on me by your honored father. It is now arranged that you may leave the hospital in two more months. Chan Tou remains, and others will come, so that your father's work shall not fail but shall grow. In this, I shall not appear.
“From my profits I have set apart one-fifth of the whole, to your use; the sum is already paid to your account. I have prospered, and make offering to the gods that I may still prosper. The sum is not a small one, and is to be administered as you elect. Should you refuse it, I will burn the notes to the benefit of the state and that the nostrils of your honored father may know my debt is partly paid.
“I send you a man. I think he may find many things in the Wu Shan, many intangible things more precious than silver or bronze. If this happens, give him the sealed letter herein contained. Otherwise I'll destroy it. He is a superior man after the precepts of the Master.”
Martinson looked up, his eyes glowing.
“Good!” he exclaimed heartily. “This means that everything will come out right for you—”
“But this gift!” she broke in, perturbed. “How can I take it?”
“Nonsense! Look upon it as a business investment. I know Yut Lee, and if you don't take it he'll do exactly as he says—burn the notes, as a matter of honor. He'll be mortally hurt, too, if you refuse.”
“But what does the final paragraph mean?” Her eyes searched him. “About finding things?”
“I don't know,” said Martinson, flushing a little. “That is—I suspect. I rather thought there might be silver around here in the hills. He may refer to that, but he's a queer fellow and has deep meanings. Let's wait and see. No chance of looking for silver now, anyway.”
“You're a free agent,” she reminded him. Martinson laughed.
“I'll lay claim to one line in this letter. He says he sent you a man—not a quitter! When had you planned to leave here?”
“In another month or so,” she said, frowning. “I had hoped—”
“And he has arranged everything over your head. By George, this is a big thing for you, Doctor! Solves all your problems. As for the enclosed letter, suppose you keep it a while. Yut Lee says exactly what he means; it's a puzzle with an automatic solution, but he won't help us solve it.”
HE GLANCED at his watch. “Ten o'clock! Well, you'd better get some rest. Tomorrow's the big day, if that mute gets back with the vaccine and supplies. Chan Tou has the wards for the night, I think?”
She nodded and held out her hand to him, with her evanescent smile.
“Good night, Mr. Martinson. I'm happy—and I'm very grateful to you.”
As he watched her away, an odd new feeling troubled Martinson. Yut Lee was a wise man; what had he meant in speaking of intangible things more precious than silver or bronze? Had he referred to Martinson's own subjective qualities, or was he speaking objectively? Could he have meant this slight, steel-strong woman like no other Martinson had ever met?
The query came and then passed, as he groped his way down the dark corridor to his own room, and was gone. He was too utterly weary even to make a light, or to let his thoughts dwell upon anything. He slipped off his clothes and turned in, swiftly. At four o'clock he must be up again, preparing for the day.
For all his weariness, he wakened after a time and passed into fitful dozing, until at length he became wide awake. He glanced at the luminous dial of his wrist-watch—one o'clock! Cursing the insomnia that seemed to have gripped him, he tried vainly to sleep. After a time he rolled over and then sat up, listening.
A noise, certainly—but the old temple was full of noises by night. Martinson damned his nerves, then caught the same noise recurrently, a ticking, rasping noise, followed by a slight splintering crack of rending wood. From half-drowsy protest he passed to alert wakefulness, a sense of something amiss. Perhaps, he thought, Chan Tou was unwilling to waken him to help cope with some emergency in the wards.
He reached for his trousers and drew them on, then a pair of felt-soled native slippers that made no noise on the stone floors. Again came a splintering crack, as he gained the corridor. He paused, listening.
A faint, dull odor reached him—the sweetish odor of chloroform. He sniffed, then caught a glow of light down the corridor. It came, he thought, from the door opening into the treasure chamber. The thought of danger leaped to his mind instantly, and as he turned he distinctly heard a muttered voice.
Hesitating no longer, he moved swiftly; oddly enough, upon his mind flashed the memory of three mules leaving the village below, on the day of his arrival. Then, as he came opposite the little door, the door that was always locked, it was suddenly flung wide. The smell of chloroform rushed upon him more heavily.
With it rushed a picture, a snapshot of the room, instantly springing to his vision. He saw the thin, dark figure of Hamelet, holding something shapeless in one hand, in the other a large electric torch. The door leading into Doctor Hill's bedroom stood open. Before him, coming from the treasure-room, was the burly shape of Williams, pistol in hand. Martinson took all this in at a glance, even as he leaped.
His fist caught Williams in the thick neck, staggered the man, rocked him. With his other hand Martinson knocked aside the pistol and heard it clatter down. Then Williams had him around the body with both arms, in a furious embrace; a shrill exclamation in French, the growling roar of an oath, and Martinson found himself fighting like mad, for his very life.
Williams had him by the throat now, grappling him savagely, trying to throttle him, while Martinson drove in short-arm blows. He was suddenly aware of Hamelet, behind, trying to get in a smash with the heavy electric torch; the light played weirdly about the place. Then the bulk of Williams, the great weight of him, bore Martinson back. They collided with a marble image and both men fell headlong.
For a moment they surged about the floor in a wild scramble—hitting out, lashing with foot and knee. Martinson was half erect when a kick sent him sprawling, and before he could recover, Williams was upon him, bearing him down. Something pressed into his shoulder. He writhed aside under the smashing weight of blows and flesh, his hands groped out—his fingers closed upon the fallen pistol.
He jerked it up. Williams saw it, and backed away, snarling an oath. Martinson came to one knee, swiftly, menacing—then a foot-scrape behind him. Too late! A thousand stars sprang out before his eyes, and he knew the blow had fallen. He tried to fire, and through his numbing blackness roared a tremendous noise; it might have been a shot, might have been the percussion of the blow. Then all went black.
Slowly Martinson struggled up out of unconsciousness to find everything silent around, blackness upon him, and the faint, stinging tang of chloroform heavy in his nostrils. He came to one elbow, then dragged himself erect, and stood reeling. Intolerable pain was in his head, and he put up one hand to find his hair wet, sticky, matted. Hamelet had reached him, then! Everything came back to him—and the open door.
HERE the smell was stronger. Beyond, he saw a bed, and the face of Evelyn Hill half obscured on the pillows by a wad of white cloth across mouth and nostrils. A strangled cry came from him, as the match fell. In darkness Martinson hurled himself forward, came to the bed, reached for the death-cloth and tore it away. With a vast sense of relief, he reached for the still arm, found it, and felt a faint pulse in the wrist. Then he stood up, lighted another match, and put fire to the lamp on the night-table beside the bed.
The door leading into the corridor was wide open. They had come this way, silencing her first, probably getting any keys she had, then had gone for the cup of Wu Ti. He stared at the still figure in bed, then everything rushed upon him—alarm, help, pursuit! He did not hesitate now, but hurried out into that passage, stumbled along corridor after corridor, came to the partitioned-off room at the end of the main wing where a light showed. Chan Tou would be here, on night duty—
Martinson came to the small room with the lighted lamp, and found it empty. Blood was trickling down his check, and he brushed it from his eye, came forward to the table where the charts lay clipped. Then, abruptly, came a step at the door and he looked up to see Chan Tou come swiftly into the room, in his hand a long native knife.
“Ah!” The Manchu came to a halt. “You—was it you who fired a shot at them?”
“Yes,” said Martinson dully. He found it hard to think. “Hamelet and Williams—they got the cup—you saw them?”
“I saw them, and failed to stop them, or rather one of them,” said Chan Tou. He glanced at his knife, put it away, then came nearer. “You're hurt? What's happened?”
“Doctor Hill—go look after her,” and Martinson dropped into the chair by the table. “Chloroformed. ”
Instantly Chan Tou was gone like a ghost.
Martinson could not follow. He sat there, feeling sick—the chloroform odor had nauseated him, seemed to permeate his whole being. He remained bent over the table, waiting, dull lethargy of body and mind upon him.
After long years, it seemed, he revived. Chan Tou was in the room again, bustling around, and came to the table with glass and brandy bottle. He poured out a stiff peg and forced it into Martinson's hand.
“Drink it,” he said coolly. “Doctor Hill will be quite all right. Sit still, now, and I'll dress your scalp would—luckily it was a glancing blow.”
“You said you'd failed to stop them?” muttered Martinson.
“One,” said the Manchu, falling to work. “I'll show you, when we're through here. I met a thin dark man, not Williams; probably your Frenchman. My knife reached him slightly, but failed to go home. He got away. Be quiet, now, please.”
When the dressing was finished, Martinson rose, feeling more himself again with the vigor of the brandy aiding him. Chan Tou motioned him, and took up the lamp. Together they passed out to the garden and crossed it to the side wall, where a stretch had crumbled into rubble and bricks. Chan Tou held up the lamp, and before him Martinson saw the body of Williams lying sprawled over the stones. He knelt, to rise again a moment later.
“Dead!” he said, staring. “Bullet through the body—why, it was my bullet! I did shoot after all, then! And Hamelet got away? With the cup?”
“Yes. We can go back and see if the cup is gone—you're sure he got it?”
Martinson shook his head. “No. But about burying this—”
“I'll attend to it before dawn.” A smile touched the lips of Chan Tou, the peculiar smile which comes to the lips of an Oriental only when his own peculiar brand of humor is uppermost. “One can hardly ask you to kill a man and bury him as well, eh? It is only fitting to divide the labor. I'll leave the other, the Frenchman, to you—if we ever find him.”
Martinson grunted and turned away.
Together they went back to the treasure chamber. Chan Tou indicated that Doctor Hill had passed into slumber, and might better be left to sleep peacefully—she was in no danger whatever. One of the marbles had been set against the door into her room, now closed.
It needed only a glance at the shelves to show them both the large teak box was gone.
“So.” exclaimed Chan Tou impassively, as he held up the lamp. “One of them failed, but the other succeed! Well, when a material possession resolves itself into an obsession and a danger, it is better gone. As is said in the passage upon Anger, in the second of the Four Books—”
“Damn the Four Books!” broke in Martinson. “The cup's gone, man!”
“So I see, and the interruption has cost you a valuable quotation. We can not follow the cup of Wu Ti—we have work here. At least, I have.”
Martinson's lips curved in a thinly ironic smile—at himself. He remembered Yut Lee, and his recent claim to a line in the letter Yut Lee had written—and now he murmured low words which the Manchu perhaps did not understand.
[Illustration: Chan Tou stood there fronting the hillmen on the steps. Staring, the foremost went back a step, awe creeping into their faces. “On your knees, sons of turtles,” ordered Chan Tou.]
“And the man has failed!”
Chan Tou glanced at him curiously, then took his arm.
“Better get back to bed now—you'll need sleep. Our supplies should come tomorrow!”
Martinson went, with the refrain still dragging at him. The man had failed.
AN HOUR past sunrise came the supplies.
Breakfast just finished, Martinson stood beside Chan Tou at the outer gate, and watched the approach of the string of six mules, with the mute Toi at their head. No diagrams were required to tell how the mute had hastened. The animals were staggering with exhaustion, the man was hollow-eyed, gaunt, bone-weary.
“You have done well,” said Chan Tou, his eyes avid. “Do you bring any letter?”
The mute shook his head.
“Did you meet a white man on the Hangow road, during the night or this morning?”
Toi nodded. He squatted down in the dust, and wrote with his finger. The Manchu leaned over, and uttered a sharp exclamation.
“Two hours before dawn—why, he's been traveling all night! He met a white man leading a lame mule bearing a small burden.”
“Hamelet,” said Martinson. “Was he hurt?”
“Apparently not,” returned Chan Tou, after questioning the mute, and chagrin came into his face. “My knife did not damage him much after all, it seems.”
“H'm!” Sudden hope leaped in Martinson. “He's pretty well done up, but you have my mules somewhere, and they're fresh. Send him after Hamelet! It's our one chance to get back the cup, Doctor.”
Chan Tou nodded. He broke into the hill dialect, speaking rapidly and earnestly. The mute listened, then came to his feet and nodded. Chan Tou smiled a little.
“He'll go—he knows where the mules are kept. You and I had better get to work, Mr. Martinson. Look down there!”
Martinson followed the pointing figure. Below, in the valley, he saw a group of figures, small in the sunlight.
“Those who seek the charm,” said the Manchu. “They will come in swarms—we have work ahead. Let's get the mules in and unload them.”
The mute hillman had already departed to seek the mules, and Martinson dismissed the cup from his mind. If Toi caught the Frenchman, well and good. If not, there was nothing to be done at present. Other things of greater import were pending.
Between them, the two got the mules into action, and Chan Tou led them across the forecourt to the inner gate—where they lay down and refused to budge. With an exultant laugh, the Manchu fell to unpacking, and Martinson joined him. Between them they got the stuff clear, and perceived that not only were medical supplies here, but other things as well—little tinned luxuries such as had been a long while absent from the Wu Shan Hospital. Chan Tou held up a small packet of foie gras tins, and laughed again.
“I'll get some of this to her at once, for breakfast—how it'll bring her around!”
The two old women came out to help, and in fifteen minutes the entire supply of stores was inside and stowed away. Doctor Hill's breakfast was sent to her room, and Martinson joined Chan Tou in preparing the vaccine. It was high time, for now the first comers were already waiting in the courtyard—men, women and children.
Then, as the two men worked. Doctor Hill suddenly appeared in the doorway, a shaken ghost of herself. Chan Tou did not reply to her greeting, but regarded her gravely.
“No work this morning, Doctor,” he said quietly.
“I'll feel quite all right—”
“Nothing doing,” said Martinson with emphasis. “We'll carry on first-chop, young lady—better half a day in bed than a breakdown! We'll need you this afternoon, and you'll help us more by getting ready.”
“Very well,” she assented. “Last night—it was Williams?”
“And Hamelet, the Frenchman. The cup's gone. No matter! The supplies are here.”
“And,” added Chan Tou, “Yut Lee has given with both hands, Doctor. Everything's all right now—”
“You're hurt!” She took a sudden step forward to Martinson, her eyes on his head. “Tell me what happened, quickly!”
“Had a bit of a row with the intruders, that's all.” Smiling, Martinson took her arm and turned her around. “We may get the cup back yet. Doctor—now, off to bed with you, and sleep! We can talk later; work's waiting just now.”
With a smile, she departed.
Leaving the wards to the two old women helpers, Chan Tou and Martinson presently were installed at the inner gate, at two tables placed in the shade of the wide tiled entrance. By this time, the inner court was crammed with hill folk, the outer court was filling, and from the valley below and the hill road above straggling groups were coming in rapidly. Chan Tou lifted his voice and called out to the crowd, who were pressing forward.
“Children first! While a child waits for the charm, we will write it on no grown man or woman. Bring forward the children.” He looked at Martinson and added, in English: “They are of tomorrow—if China should ever rise again, she will need all her children.”
The folk came thronging, at first in hesitant fear, then in growing comprehension. This scratching on the arm, this visible writing of a charm, was something they could understand.
Martinson applied himself. His head ached dully, and the morning sunlight hurt his eyes—things danced before him. On his table, weighting down a freed fluff of antiseptic cotton, was a paper-weight he had seen in his own room, an odd thing, a lump of stone varnished over. He must have brought it here, though he did not recollect having done so.
“Getting in bad shape,” he thought, as he worked.
It was rough, swift work, with the merest pretense of sterilizing the lancets after each incision. The shining “ghost knives” scratched and scratched, until Martinson felt his brain reel at the rank odor of unwashed humanity.
YET the time passed swiftly, and he was astonished when one of the old women brought tea and a bite to eat, and he realized it was noon. The heat increased, though there seemed no decrease in the flocks of people. Out of the mass, by good fortune, Chan Tou picked two men who were willing to stop at the temple and help in the work, and sent them on back to the wards. With instruction, they would learn fast.
The hours fled, and Martinson wondered dully where all the people came from—these hills had no towns, only straggling villages, yet the throngs seemed endless, and more were straggling in all the while.
“We're making headway,” observed Chan Tou, in a momentary pause. “Another two hours and we'll have them done. A week will see the epidemic ended, Martinson!”
Martinson straightened himself stiffly in his chair. The yellow-varnished paper-weight was dancing on the cotton—with an effort, he pulled himself together. A gnarled old man came to him, pulling rags from his shoulder, and Martinson applied the charm. The old man departed, Martinson saw the glare of the sun on the paving, the strained-looking faces of those waiting for their turn—then, abruptly, everything vanished. He fell sideways, knocking the table with his shoulder.
Chan Tou leaped to catch him, failed, and picked him up. A woman standing next in line leaned over and picked up the paper-weight, which had fallen, breaking asunder on the stones. She thrust it into the jacket of Chan Tou. The Manchu, regardless, ordered the crowd to wait and then carried Martinson back into the buildings, into his own room, and called one of the women to attend him. The broken paper-weight he put on the bedside table.
After a time, Martinson came around, sat up, and dismissed the old woman. He tried to rise, then sank back, and applied fresh water to the bandage about his temples. While he was at this a step sounded, and he looked up to see Doctor Hill.
“I heard about it,” she said. “I've slept too long—it's terrible—”
“Nonsense!” he said, and managed a smile. “It's the best thing ever. Sun crocked me a bit, no more. I'll be all right in a few minutes, and there's stacks to be done.”
“You can't go back to it!” she cried out in protest.
“But I can and will. It's an easy job, out there. You'd better stay and look after the wards—things must be a muddle, and I know new cases have been coming in. We've got two more helpers, at least.”
She came forward, then her hand went to the broken paper-weight on the table.
“Oh! My father's camel!”
“Your—what?” Martinson looked up and saw the varnished stone. “Oh, that! A camel?”
“Well, it looked something like one. We found it one day, not long before his death, out on the hillside beyond your graveyard. It looked curious, something like a camel, so he brought it home and varnished it to increase the resemblance. I kept it out of sentiment—and now it's broken. Well, no matter!”
Martinson gained his feet, and smiled.
He had no more than left the room when one of the two old women crept in and came to Doctor Hill, mumbling, half palsied with stark fear. At her words, the face of the white woman changed—was swept by a look of utter and terrible despair.
“You're sure, Mu Wan? Sure?”
Doctor Hill put out a hand to the bedside table, steadied herself, stood for a moment with eyes closed. Then she rallied.
“Very well, come and help me,” she said quietly. “And tell the others not to say a word to Doctor Chan—not a word. He hardly slept last night. I'll manage everything. Come.”
Back at his little table, Martinson gradually felt more himself, a wet-padded helmet over his bandages. The afternoon dragged; with relief inexpressible, Martinson saw the crowd thinning out, began to count those who remained in line. No others would be here today, at least. A few more tomorrow, perhaps—he could handle them himself.
It was nearing sunset when the last case was finished. Chan Tou had found another man willing to stay and help here, and was instructing him about taking the tables inside. Together Martinson and Chan Tou stiffly climbed the steps and entered the buildings. His iron endurance almost at an end, the Manchu reeled as he entered the dining-room, then sat down, too weary even to pour the tea for which he yearned. Martinson filled the cups.
“The big job's done, anyway,” he said.
“The last big job—if!” said Chan Tou.
Martinson went to the window looking out toward the valley and the west. The sun was in a bed of coppery cloud; every bush and blade on the parched earth looked shriveled and tortured. Memory, patience unending, terror for all others—China!
Twenty minutes later both men were sound asleep.
TOWARD morning, Martinson wakened to a cry. It came again, a long, shrill cry of agony. With thought of possible need, he groped for clothes and slippers, and presently went down the corridor. Coming to the main wards in the central building, he heard other cries. A vague apprehension seized him, and he turned to the little room with the light.
Doctor Hill was there, seated at the table, her head in her hands. At Martinson's step she looked up, her face ghastly.
“What is it?” he asked. “Nothing bad?”
“Odd!” she almost whispered wearily. “I didn't want to let you or Chan know until the morning—you know how it works? Erratic, terrible! It went down one ward and laid hands on every patient on one side, and never touched the others, nor those on the floor!”
“What?” demanded Martinson sharply. “What are you talking about, Doctor?”
“Black cholera. It's come.”
“Having been beaten with whips,” said Martinson, “we are now to be scourged with scorpions, it appears.”
He and Chan Tou sat at hurried breakfast. The Manchu shrugged.
“What do you expect! The heat is unbroken. They take off the bodies and bury them, perhaps six inches under the surface. They've no strength to dig graves. If a breath comes from a village, you can smell corruption. Pestilence was inevitable, unless rain came.”
“You've sent for help?”
“Got off one of our new men to Hangow. Official action won't help us much. You know how it strikes?”
Martinson nodded silently. Chan Tou went on. steadily.
“We've scotched the smallpox, fortunately. Doctor Hill can remain here—one will be enough. Our work lies out beyond, in the villages. We must disinfect, and burn where things have gone too far. Those dead here must be burned.”
“Thank heaven the main job here is ended!”
“There'll be enough for one,” said the Manchu grimly.
Over their coffee, they stole time for a cigaret. In this moment of rest and relaxation before taking up the new and terrible duties fronting them, Martinson for the first time remembered Hamelet, the cup of Wu Ti, and the mute. He questioned, and Chan Tou nodded gravely. “Toi's mule came in last night, with blood on the saddle. I sent out a man—he found the mute dead in the road, drilled by a bullet.”
So, then, Hamelet won, finally and irrevocably! Martinson felt a swift pang at the defeat, instantly gone. Too much was here to done, the task was too great, for him to bother about trifles. After all, valuable as it might be, the cup was only a trifle weighed against duty. Chan Tou read his thought and smiled thinly.
[Illustration: Martinson was not a successful man, but he hoped to be some day, soon.]
“What was it your apostle wrote—'Keep first things first?' Well, it holds.”
“It holds,” said Martinson. “Doctor Hill is asleep?”
The other nodded, and rose,
Now fell upon them three days of tremendous sheer physical work, far more to Martinson's taste than the awful wretched labor in the hospital itself, so that he pitied and wondered at Doctor Hill finding it easier here. He and Chan Tou rode together to the first village, and he watched the Manchu at work—disinfecting and whitewashing, having the shallow graves heaped higher with earth, working with his own hands, directing, persuading, a man-miracle who refused to tire. Not the least trouble lay with the geomancers, until Chan Tou shot one of them and so gainedover all.
Then Martinson went separately, taking a guide, for the whole district must be covered swiftly if the plague were to be checked and localized before it started a great sweep along the rivers and went coursing across all China. Of the danger to himself, Martinson did not think, had no time to think.
He and the others knew they were reasonably safe, so far as bodily condition and diet could make them. Outside of this, it was all chance, erratic, reasonless. In one village a child died and no one else. In another every soul was struck unto death, save one raving maniac, whom Martinson shot.
For it was war, ruthless for the sake of those unhurt. It meant hard riding from morn until night, exhausting work, nauseating work. To the great majority of those touched, death came with merciful rapidity; this was the black death of olden times, the concentrated poison of corruption acting on enfeebled bodies. If any opposed civilized treatment, as some did, they had to be destroyed for the good of the whole—no time here to argue. It was work as grim and terrible as it was hard.
With each night, Martinson came home exhausted, bathed, had a bite to eat, perhaps exchanged a few words with Chan Tou or Doctor Hill, and then flung himself down to sleep until dawn. Things here at the temple were going well—as though struck out by the more terrible scourge, the small-pox had ceased, few cases had come in, and the cholera here had been stayed.
The third day was the hardest for Martinson, visiting a village far in among the hills, the limit of the scourge. Only one man was down here, dead instantly, and the local geomancer gathered the crowd against the foreign devil who wanted to spray and burn. Martinson shot the wizard and two others, but he broke them and had his way, though two cheek-guns took pot-shots at him as he returned home that afternoon.
And, reaching home, he found Chan Tou in bed. This man, who had survived small-pox and cholera, enmity and exhaustion, had that afternoon been kicked by his own mule—two broken ribs and a mass of bruises. It was ironically humorous, viewed against the larger background of fearful tragedy.
THAT evening Martinson dined with Doctor Hill—almost a regular dinner, unhurried, enjoyable, their first real meal since his arrival. He knew that things were running well here, the back of the evil was broken, and the impressed helpers had brought her great relief. She looked almost rested.
“I'm glad you can smile!” said Martinson over the table, as he met her eyes. “You've a nice smile tucked away, Doctor. Feeling better in spite of the cup?”
“The cup? Oh! I had forgotten it.” She laughed, then sobered. “It's odd—how trifling it seems to me now! How terribly intent, even to crime, those men were upon getting it, while so much greater things held us all gripped here—”
Martinson nodded at her pause. “Yes. Well, it's about over now, and I'll take care of anything else that may come up in the way of cholera. I think we've checked it. We'll know before long—by the time official help arrives, at least! Tonight I'll sleep the sleep of the just. Hope it'll be my last tumble-in on the heels of supper, too. Tomorrow night I look forward to a chat and a visit.”
“You. Will it come true?”
“If you like, yes!” Her eyes danced in the lamplight. “By the way, where's my little camel? I want to glue it together again and keep it—I have sentiment, you know, even if I am a sawbones!”
“Your camel?” Martinson frowned blankly. “I don't understand.”
“Why, the queer piece of rock my father picked up near your graveyard one day—don't you remember my telling you about it? Just beyond the burial ground on the hill flank—”
“Oh, that!” Martinson remembered, and broke into a laugh. “The varnished chunk! Why, it's still on my bedside table, I think—I seem to remember it being there. I've been too weary to look at anything. I'll get it for you—”
“No, not now. Tomorrow. I'm off to bed myself—they can call me if anything goes wrong. By the way, Chan sent word he wanted to speak with you.”
“Then I'll see him and go to bed—will you come along to look in on him?”
She nodded. They left the dining-room together and went to the room of the Manchu, who had just finished his own meal. He looked up at them with his thin smile.
“The Doctor taking his own medicine, eh? It's strange, but restful, I confess. By the way, Mr. Martinson, I had a bit of bad news today.”
[Illustration: Yut Lee was wealthy and respected, and among his own folk in the native city, called himself Lee Yut Toi.]
Martinson grimaced. “What? Bubonic coming next or yellow fever?”
“Neither, I hope! I met a hillman from the village behind us, a third of the way to Hangow. We had overlooked it. He told me a man had died there this morning, and from the description, it looks like cholera. Can you ride over there tomorrow and see to it? We must not let the plague get past to the river, or all our work's wasted.”
Martinson nodded at once. “Of course. I'll take the guide along and look in at the village—better see the guide yourself so there'll be no mistake. This local dialect is past me. Smallpox over there?”
“A few cases, yes, but it hasn't gone to the other villages beyond. It must be the same story—half-buried bodies."
“Good,” promised Martinson. “Have the guide ready at sunrise, and we'll be off.”
There was to be no sunrise the next day, however. He wakened about dawn, as had become his custom, yet everything was dark. He glanced at his watch, found it past four o'clock, and came out of bed. Then he paused. A growling, rumbling reverberation shook the temple, then a sharp flash of lightning, and a heavier crack of thunder.
Dressed hurriedly, Martinson went out to the gateway and stood, gazing at the slowly lightening day and the torrential rain beating down, soaking the courtyard stones, washing down the tiles in tiny streams. The morning air was marvelously changed, cool and fresh, sweet with rain, and after a moment Martinson did a thing he had scarcely done since childhood.
He went to his knees on the stones.
Later, breakfast over, wrapped in slicker and mounted, he set off with his guide, the two mules plodding along sloppily. In half an hour the deluge was over, the clouds were clearing, and the sun was struggling in the east, but the good had been done. The awful heat was broken, the earth was green and fresh once more, and this meant the end of plague. It was good to be alive once more!
Riding, steadily, unhurried, he reverted to the almost forgotten luxury of thought. He took stock, and scarcely recognized himself. There was a different outlook, an enormous change—values had altered for him, and his former life, with everything in it, had receded and become trivial. He had lived years in these days, had been down among the roots of things, and now he stood appalled before those others—Doctor Hill and Chan Tou. What to him was a thing of days, a horror quickly passed, was to them life itself, service.
It awed him, this sense of his own littleness, and the greatness of the woman he had come to know. For, in stolen minutes, in brief exchanges of words, he had come to know her very well; he could see this, now he had time. He could divine how close they had become, he and she—and how far her spirit was above his!
The road was bad, but the mules were good. Martinson was still trying to know this new self when they rode down, away from the highway, into the ragged little village which they had sought. The guide knew what to ask for—the dead, and any who were sick.
MARTINSON found two dead. To his unutterable relief, however, no cholera. He could have laughed as he looked at the first corpse, so strong was the reaction; in place of cholera, the deadly pneumonia of the mountains, cold high above and hot below. He followed into the next house and saw the second dead man—shot through the body, the man had not died swiftly.
“Who did this?” demanded Martinson, and presently made himself understood. He could not understand the response, and demanded any sick folk. Of these were three, all sick, not with illness, but with bullet wounds. When he had dressed them, thankful there was no cholera, no small-pox, nothing, he probed for the cause.
At length he comprehended the cause as a madman, a foreign devil, who lay in a house at the end of the village, where he had been kept by riflemen watching the doors. Martinson went to it hurriedly, a thatched mud hut, half-ruined.
“Who's there?” he demanded, then tugged at the door and flung it open.
He saw the face of Hamelet peering out at him. …
That same afternoon, late, Doctor Hill was walking in the outer courtyard, where now no more huddled heaps of humanity lay awaiting treatment. Washed clean by the rain of morning, the ancient flagstones were smooth and white, touched with the beauty of ages. This was her first breath of freedom, and she found it very good.
Then she looked up to see mules approaching the gate, and went outside it to greet the guide who had departed with Martinson. She flung a quick, startled question at him.
“He is there,” and the guide pointed out along the hillside, past the burial ground. “He told me to bring this to you.”
He showed her the box of brass-bound teakwood he carried wrapped in a straw mantle, and she recognized it at once. Looking, she saw the figure of Martinson out there on the hillside, and turned from the box.
“Take it inside and give it to Doctor Chan,” she said, and hurried away.
Martinson, pacing slowly along, smoking, stopping to pick up a stone here and another there, turned at sight of her and came to meet her, smiling.
“So you found it!” she exclaimed.
“Found what?” he demanded quizzically.
“The cup, of course!”
“Yes.” He sobered. “You know how Hamelet got away with it? Chan Tou reached him with a knife—a slight wound in the thigh. I found Hamelet in that village this morning, done for. He knew it, too.”
“Done for?” She stared at him. “You mean, cholera?”
“No. Blood-poisoning and gangrene—pretty horrible, I can tell you. He had gone off his head at first and attacked the villagers. They penned him up in an old hut and left him. Well, there was nothing I could do for the poor chap except lend him my pistol—he had shot away all his cartridges.”
“You did—that!” she said slowly.
“Yes.” Martinson met her eyes steadily. “It was the most merciful thing. He wouldn't let me bring him here; in any case, it was a matter of hours. So the cup has come back to you.”
“Oh—the cup, the cup!” she muttered impatiently, as though she could have cursed it. “Yes, the cup!”
“Exactly. Damn the cup.” Martinson smiled. “As Chan Tou said, a thing which can so breed passion, is better gone. You'd better sell it, get rid of it, give it away—no matter. Its value is nothing to you.”
She gave him a swift, direct look which bored him through.
“What do you mean by that? Of course it is a good deal to me.”
Martinson offered her a cigaret, but she refused. He took one and lighted it, and snapped the match away.
“Remember speaking to me last night about your little camel?”
“I stuck the thing into my pocket before going to bed, so I'd be sure to remember it in the morning. Well, with the rain and all, I forgot it. Coming home, I had a look at it—here it is.”
He brought the broken, oddly shaped stone from his pocket, and with it two or three others he had been picking up. She took them from him, frowning in perplexity.
“Why the others?”
“Might be worth keeping,” and Martinson smiled. “Look at the inside of the varnished camel—same sort of stuff, isn't it? A ledge of it all along here.”
“Yes? But what is it?”
“Some stone, about twenty per cent. galena, and perhaps thirty per cent. silver—runs pretty high, I'd say at a guess.”
She stared at him, suddenly speechless. Martinson chuckled.
“Yes. I wonder what old Yut Lee suspected? Well, it's an odd chance about the camel, but here's your silver mine, and a good one. By the way, you haven't Yut Lee's enclosed letter, I suppose? I'm going to ask you for it. I've found a lot of intangible things.”
“Silver! why, it's incredible—the letter? Yes, it's here—you've put me all in a stupid daze with this news! I can't believe it yet!”
WONDERING, half between smiles and tears, she reached into her white uniform blouse and drew out Yut Lee's letter, and produced the inner sealed envelope, addressed to Martinson. He took it, tore it open. She looked from him to the stones in her hand, and back again.
“You'll be interested in this,” said Martinson quietly, a new note in his voice. “Let's read it together—here.”
She took one side of the typed sheet and leaned over, her cheek beside his, and read:
Have you found the silver? No matter, I have suspected for a long time silver was there. Now, being prosperous, I have acquired mineral rights from the government over an area all around the Wu Shan Hospital, and have the money for development. If you have not found the silver, then look. Our agreement was half shares, you will remember.
However, there are greater things than silver in the Wu Shan hills. You will either discover or pass by the intangible treasure; only in the consciousness of discovery will you seek to read this note, I think. And if you read it, know that I desire to compliment you—nothing more. There will not be a division of this intangible treasure, naturally, but a decision will have to be made—by the treasure itself. I shall burn prayers in hope of happiness.
Doctor Hill looked up from the three ideographs forming the name of Lee Yut Toi, and a slow color crept into her cheeks as she met the eyes of Martinson.
“Your decision, Eve!” he asked quietly.
“Eve?” she said, a question in her voice.
“Why, yes! Eve was the first woman. You'll always be Eve, to me.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed, as though comprehending. “But Eve didn't decide anything—she only got the blame!”
Yut Lee's letter fell unheeded to the ground between them, as their hands met.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1949, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 73 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.
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