The same day that saw Dr. Marquet in Hanoi, visiting the cherubic Davignan, witnessed William Kent making confession of his imposture.
Perhaps the most cloistered and beautiful spot in all the Far East is the summer garden of the Kings of Anam, in Hué. Since the Kings of Anam have no more the powers of life and death, that summer garden has been copied. Just across the river, in the French city, lies the replica. It is upon a tiny scale, because Dr. Marquet was never a rich man.
Yet land is cheap in Indo-China, and labor cheaper; and Marie Marquet, they say, had only to draw upon the fountain of her soul to create an earthly paradise. Marie! Like a flower she was—a girl tall and slender, gold-crowned and frail.
There was nothing beautiful about her, in a physical sense. She had no queenly figure, no lovely features, you comprehend; but across her pale face lay those gray eyes of hers, a sword of finest steel. They were clear and level, and they seemed to pierce through men like a sword, quietly plumbing down into their souls and reading the hidden secrets there.
Men came frequently to the Marquet house—good men and bad; but few attained intimacy with Marie Marquet, who ruled this house and the beautiful garden, and the city, and half the broad miles of Anam. Of these few—a curious thing!—some were evil men, who beheld in Marie's gray eyes everything that they had lost and would never find again.
These men loved the girl strangely, a deep fear growing in their hearts. It was the little shallow clerks who came once and looked into Marie's eyes, and then came no more. All this pleased gentle old Marquet, who failed to understand his daughter, but reverenced her deeply.
Marie cared neither for balls nor for Residency functions. Instead of going to others, she drew others to her. Men came seeking most singular things—officials who lacked skill to rule, palace mandarins who brought gifts of jade and sought help, fools who had made mistakes and needed her strength behind their weakness. All of these looked into her gray eyes and dared speak no word of love.
Kent walked with her in the garden—a sweet place, with its fragments of ancient carvings from jungled cities, its gently fastooned orchids, its stone-bordered pools, and the curious sun-dial, where a stone mandarin pointed the hours with his button. Here there was peace. In this garden of her creating, Marie Marquet moved as a flower of the ages, a frail, swaying blossom tipped with palest gold.
"Will you spend all your life here," asked Kent, his eyes less somber than usual, "reading your father's manuscripts, delving in past ages, missing the joy of life?"
"Why not?" asked the girl. Her gray eyes lay level on his, a sword of steel held athwart his gaze. "I am happy."
"Happiness ends," said Kent harshly.
"Not when it is in the heart, monsieur." She paused and smiled. "What do you most desire?"
Kent lifted his head. There across the river rose the imperial city, forbidden to natives. It was the most glorious bit of architecture the Chinese race ever produced. The royal tombs transcended the northern Ming tombs in splendor of conception. Not Peking in all its glory was so beautiful as this palace city of the Kings of Anam.
"Over there they are happy," said Kent abruptly. "Gold is like dross to those mandarins. The chirping of women, the squandering of the senses, the outpouring of every physical allure—bah! Do you call that happiness?"
"No; it is you who call it happiness," said the girl. "What do you most desire?"
Kent looked at her. He was not a handsome man, but there was strength in his face.
"Your—your trust," he answered, with a break in his voice.
Her eyes did not falter, but a quiet smile came into them.
"You have it, monsieur."
"That is the trouble." Kent spoke impulsively, passionately. "I must tell you that I came to you under false pretenses. I lied to your father. I am William Kent, but I am not the English scientist. I am an American, a poor nobody, and I came here to steal!"
He regarded her fixedly. To his astonishment, her face did not change, nor her eyes.
"I guessed that long ago, monsieur," she said calmly. "But what does it matter? I know that your heart is good. The world hit you somehow—hit you very hard; and you determined to strike back. Well, what of it? You have not struck."
The spiritual force of the girl's personality stunned Kent, frightened him with its utter serenity, its crystal-clear acuity of vision. He did not realize that if this girl were flung out of her quiet garden into the abrupt turmoil and blunt rapacity of life, she would be helpless and confused before it all. He could see only the spiritual force in her, and it awed him.
He could make no answer to her words, but turned and walked away, his head down. He went to his own room overlooking the garden, and sat for a long while in silence, bitter reflections gnawing at his brain. Chief among these was the conviction that he was a fool.
"Love her? Of course I love her! I never knew love before, and never shall again," he told himself truly enough. "To what end? She would never marry me or love me. If I take the gold, I can't look into her eyes again. Without it, I couldn't ask her to marry me. Oh, the devil! I came here to get the gold. I'll get it!"
That was the stubborn substratum in the man. He could not forget the things he had seen in that city across the river, behind the stone walls and guards that surrounded the shadowy pomp of the princes and mandarins.
He thought again of the six great cabinets in the Can-Chanh room of the palace, of the museum in the Phung-Tien Temple, of the ugly little treasure-house just inside the walls. He thought of the gold tree with living jewels for flowers and leaves, of the great royal seal, the barbaric gems and raw gold. Yet, as he thought of these things, their luster had died for him. The wanderlust was stirring in his heart, the carelessness of money, the impulse to bid all his plans to the devil and to roam elsewhere.
"All because of gray eyes!" he said. "Why should I be double fool enough to hesitate now, after deciding on my course? She'll go out of my life forever. Nothing but manual labor ahead for me! Didn't I sweep the coast cities with a hearth-broom, looking for an opening?"
He fumbled for his pipe and went to the window. He looked out over the garden with hunger in his heart, seeking some stray glimpse of Marie. He saw her, and, with her, Michael Palologue—a handsome man, lean and long and tanned, a suggestion of the Hellene in his profile and in his dark curly hair.
Kent's eyes shadowed. That sight of Paléologue smiling into the eyes of Marie maddened him. The fellow could not be an honest man, for he guessed or knew Kent for an impostor, and yet had said nothing.
Turning away, Kent seized his hat and started from the gray stone house. The old Norman housekeeper halted him as he left, and thrust a letter into his hand. He went on without heeding it, his thoughts still upon Paléologue.
He had met Paléologue more than once, here in Hué. Now he knew that he actually hated the man. There was no reason for the vivid, sudden flame in his heart. Paléologue was invariably courteous, gay, debonair; yet Kent could not deny the thing inside of him.
As a matter of fact, Kent was in a period of transition. Ahead he could see only personal disaster. He was stubbornly resolved to have a try at the royal treasure across the river, even though he went to Noumea for it. He cared little about the gold in itself, but he was savage against the world—in the mood which makes weaker men declare that the world owes them a living. Marie Marquet had read him aright.
Kent came out of his bitter day-dream to find himself striding vigorously along the Rue Jules Ferry toward the Than-Thai Bridge, crushing a letter in his hand. He remembered the letter now. Slowing his pace, he came to a halt near the bridge, sought a strip of shade, and lighted his pipe. For a moment he watched the sunlit river, crowded with sampans, dwelling-craft, and traders, and spanned by the bright bridge, where rickshaws swung like butterflies, and where the brilliant palanquin of some mandarin shoved its way through the throngs of Chinese, natives, and French.
Now he looked at the letter. He was still thinking of other things, and so failed to feel any surprise that a letter should have reached him here in Hué, where he was pretending to be another man. It was from Saigon, and was addressed to him. He tore it open, tossed the envelope away, and read the typewritten communication.
For a little while his brain was slow to comprehend that this letter was meant for the William Kent who had been a merchant in Manila. A large export firm in Hanoi and Saigon, handling everything from cement to leather, was about to open a branch in Shanghai. All arrangements had been made with the Chinese authorities. What the firm now needed was a resident manager in Shanghai, preferably an American, to secure the Chinese trade that was desired. The letter went on:
We have been given your name, and have satisfied ourselves, dear monsieur, of your integrity, ability, and energy. Therefore we offer you the position with great pleasure and honor to ourselves. The remuneration for the first year will be five thousand American dollars, gold. After the first year, if our relations are mutually satisfactory, we will offer you a five-year contract with bonus terms which should more than double your salary.
"No use!" Kent murmured. "They'd ditch me in a minute after learning that I'd been up here on this fool impersonation stunt; and they'd be sure to learn it. If that isn't the devil's luck! Here's the chance of a lifetime, with one of the big firms—a clear hand up there in Shanghai, opportunity to go the limit without interference, a white man's salary! And I've played the fool."
He shrugged his shoulders, tore the letter into tiny scraps, and threw them away. It was the only answer he could give.
His smoldering eyes fell upon a party of tourists in tow of a guide. They were coming back from the palace city across the bridge. Nearly all were French; but, striding behind two excited school-teachers, Kent beheld a smooth-shaven, lantern-jawed man, obviously an American, whose face looked vaguely familiar.
The gaze of the two men clashed and held. The tourist turned from his party and came toward Kent, recognition in his eyes. His hand came out.
"Ah, Kent! This is luck, running into you! Heard you were up this way."
Kent shook hands.
"I can't place you," he said frankly, "Yet I know your face."
"Hawkins, of the Zamboanga Trading Company." Hawkins grinned boldly. "I ain't using that name now, y' understand."
Kent understood. He remembered Hawkins now—a man had vanished from Manila with a round sum of money—a thief, a criminal.
"Come along with me and have a drink, eh?" said Hawkins, half defiantly, as if daring Kent to associate with him. "I know where we can get real white man's tipple, Kent."
Kent smiled. Why not? Surely he could not hold himself as any better than this man! What was left to him save to drink, to strike back at the world, to become an outlaw? He passed his arm within that of Hawkins.
"You bet," he said. "Devil take the hindmost!"
That was his mood. It never occurred to him that this meeting was not accidental That it had been carefully planned.