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The Devil's Heirloom/Chapter XIII

XIIIEdit

Sherrod Guest never told the story of his tortures. Such as Irene had witnessed had been carried through more for the purpose of dragging a confession out of her than because of any further hope on the part of the tong that the secret of the manuals could be pried out of the man.

      Finally they had given her up, also, convinced that neither of the two was in possession of the silken rolls. From that time on the Chinese treated both well enough, but held on to them as a bait for Kuban Lacey— who must have the manuals. What might have occurred in that grisly subterranean chamber, had Cube come alone, is better unimagined. None of the prisoners believed that, given a free hand after obtaining what they sought, the Chinese would have failed to exact vengeance in full for the trouble to which they had been put by the search.

      Kohler Andrews paid the price of treachery, though the actuating reason for his torture was the fact that on many occasions his armed vigilance had frustrated plans of the tong. Once, also, a bullet from his revolver seriously wounded the chief of the conspirators, who thereafter thirsted for revenge. Before he died Andrews confessed to having sold three of Noah Lacey’s vases which should have been destroyed. These, the tong— watchful for a number of years for sign of someone using the secret— traced back easily enough to Noah Lacey and the latter’s laboratory.

      The fact that Lacey, in the meantime— well realizing how insecure his life was bound to become at some time— had ensconced himself in the fortress-like Brick Knob, did not balk the tong delegation. Taking their time to search, they located various men who had been employed in building Brick Knob, and learned every feature of the dwelling, including all electrical devices, the tunnel opening for the laboratory into the basement of an apartment building owned by Noah Lacey, and the secret stairs leading downward from the owner’s rooms to his laboratory.

      Then they set spies upon Lacey. Many times these men remained inside the house for hours without being discovered. Once, when Noah Lacey brought up his finished script of the first roll meaning to revise it at his leisure, they found and stole the English version. All of their cunning failed, however, to locate the tile cache.

      Despairing eventually of finding the manuals before Lacey somehow managed to translate them and send them out for publication, they decided to kill him, banking on the probability that in ensuing confusion the manuals would be brought to light, and that for a time, at least, none of Lacey’s heirs would imagine them valuable enough to guard with care.

      Except for the accidental intrusion of Irene and Cube, the murder never could have been suspected. The method of employing Noah Lacey’s own fungi as the agent of his destruction— even if guessed by American doctors— must have made the death seem an accident.

      Cube wasted no time in seeing to it that the fungus tanks were emptied. Also, while a certain investigation of his own was proceeding, he spirited the manuals out to the university, and gave them into the keeping of Doctor Benson, the professor of Oriental languages who had helped him earlier. Because new spies from the T’ao tong could not reach Chicago for some time, this seemed safe.

      Though the Chinatown rooms occupied by agents of the tong were only temporary accommodations— commandeered from the sleek Moy for the use to which they were put— certain records unearthed there by Harris proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the two manuals never had belonged by right to the T’ao tong, but had been stolen by them centuries ago from an historical museum. Noah Lacey simply had employed the tong’s own methods.

      As soon as he knew this, Cube gave qualified permission to his comrade to go ahead with the translation of the rolls, making only the stipulation that when the English volumes were completed that the ideographed rolls be returned to the Chinese Government. Guest readily consented to this, and accepted a loan of twenty thousand dollars— money which once had belonged to Noah Lacey— to enable him to pursue the task. When he visited Benson he found that professor wildly excited, and clamoring for a chance to do the actual work of translation. The danger did not frighten him in the least. Guest, glad of such an accomplished ally, made an arrangement by which the two set up a laboratory in a place known not even to Cube.

      While Benson translated, Guest worked out the processes practically, learning the ceramic art from the top down, as it were. The two men have been at work part of a year, at the present time. Occasionally an enthusiastic letter— enclosed in a plain envelope and post-marked New York City, which is not the place of their endeavor— comes to Cube, telling of great progress. Each one Cube burns carefully after reading it aloud to Irene.

      He takes no chances, in spite of the fact that one of the wounded Chinese sent back a message— carefully translated by Benson— to the effect that neither Cube nor Irene Jeffries ever would have the manuals again. What the tong would make of the message was problematical.

      Irene spent four days in the hospital recovering from her ordeal. Three young men— two of whom stared at each other inimically, and in speculative fashion at the third— delivered roses each day.

      Krahn knew he was not in the running, and laughed at himself ruefully— yet persisted until the day when both he and Harris, admitted together as visitors, found Cube seated on the edge of Irene’s bed, and that young woman wearing two full-blown roses in her cheeks that certainly had been given her personally by Lacey.

      Harris scowled, but his heavy shoulders came up in a shrug of resignation as Krahn, spying the solitaire on her third finger, thrust out a hand in generous congratulation of his successful rival.

      “Never was born lucky!” growled Harris. “But maybe this is the break. With Irene to look after, Lacey, you’ll never have time to butt into my cases any more.”

      “Don’t be too sure about that, Mr. Harris!” countered Irene, smiling as her arm replaced itself about the shoulders of her fiance. “Don’t you think we’d make a good team? Cube says we’ll just take the cases that you think are open-and-shut.”

      The police inspector’s reply was unintelligible, though vehement.