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Chapter 1 How I Came To Meet Dr. Nikola

  • It was Saturday afternoon, about a quarter-past four o'clock if my memor_erves me, and the road, known as the Maloo, leading to the Bubbling Well, that single breathing place of Shanghai, was crowded. Fashionable barouches, C-spring buggies, spider-wheel dogcarts, to say nothing of every species of
  • 'rickshaw, bicycle, and pony, were following each other in one long processio_owards the Well. All the European portion of Shanghai, and a considerabl_ercentage of the native, had turned out to witness the finish of the pape_unt, which, though, not exciting in itself, was important as being the onl_musement the settlement boasted that afternoon. I had walked as far as th_orse Bazaar myself, and had taken a 'rickshaw thence, more from pride tha_ecause I could afford it. To tell the truth, which will pop out sooner o_ater, however much I may try to prevent it, I was keeping up appearances, an_hough I lay back in my vehicle and smoked my cheroot with a princely air, _as painfully conscious of the fact that when the ride should be paid for th_xchequer would scarcely survive the shock.
  • Since my arrival in Shanghai I had been more than usually unfortunate. I ha_ried for every billet then vacant, from those choice pickings at the top o_he tree among the high gods, to the secretaryship of a Eurasian hub o_ommunistical tendencies located somewhere on the confines of the native city, but always without success. For the one I had not the necessary influence, fo_he other I lacked that peculiar gift of obsequiousness which is so essentia_o prosperity in that particular line of business.
  • In the meantime my expenditure was going remorselessly on, and I very soon sa_hat unless something happened, and that quickly too, I had every prospect o_iding myself deprived of my belongings, sleeping on the Bund, and finall_iguring in that Mixed Court in the Magistrate's Yamen, which is so justl_readed by every Englishman, as the debtor of a Cochin China Jew. The positio_as not a cheerful one, look at it in whatever light I would, but I ha_xperienced it a good many times before, and had always come out of it, if no_ith an increased amount of self-respect, certainly without any  _very_  grea_egree of personal embarrassment.
  • Arriving at the Well, I paid off my coolie and took up a position near "th_ast jump," which I noticed was a prepared fence and ditch of considerabl_wkwardness. I was only just in time, for a moment later the horses came at i_ith a rush; some cleared it, some refused it, while others, adopting a middl_ourse, jumped on the top of it, blundered over, and finally sent their rider_pinning over their heads into the mud at the feet of their fairest friends.
  • It was not exactly an aesthetic picture, but it was certainly a very amusin_ne.
  • When the last horse, had landed, imagining the sport to be over for the day, _as in the act of moving away when there was a shout to stand clear, an_heeling round again, I was just in time to see a last horseman come dashin_t the fence. Though he rode with considerable determination, and wa_vidently bent on putting a good finish to his day's amusement, it was plai_hat his horse was not of the same way of thinking, for, when he was distan_bout half a dozen yards from the fence, he broke his stride, stuck his fee_nto the mud, and endeavoured to come to a standstill. The result was not a_ll what he expected; he slid towards the fence, received his rider's _quirt,_iciously administered, round his flank, made up his mind to jump too late, hit the top rail with his forehead, turned a complete somersault, and lande_ith a crash at my feet. His rider fell into the arms of the ditch, out o_hich I presently dragged him. When I got him on the bank he did not look _retty sight, but, on the other hand, that did not prevent him fro_ecognizing me.
  • "Wilfred Bruce, by all that's glorious!" he cried, at the same time rising t_is feet and mopping his streaming face with a very muddy pocket-handkerchief.
  • "This is a fortunate encounter, for do you know, I spent two hours thi_orning looking for you?"
  • "I am very sorry you should have had so much trouble," I answered; "but ar_ou sure you are not hurt?"
  • "Not in the least," he answered, and when he had scraped off as much mud a_ossible, turned to his horse, which had struggled to his feet and was gazin_tupidly about him.
  • "Let me first send this clumsy brute home," he said, "then I'll find my cart, and if you'll permit me I'll take you back to town with me."
  • We saw the horse led away, and, when we had discovered his dog-cart among th_rowd of vehicles waiting for their owners, mounted to our seats and se_ff—after a few preliminary antics on the part of the leader—on our return t_he settlement.
  • Once comfortably on our way George Barkston, whom, I might mention here, I ha_nown for more than ten years, placed his whip in the bucket and turned to me.
  • "Look here, Bruce," he said, flushing a little in anticipation of what he wa_bout to say, "I'm not going to mince matters with you, so let us com_traight to the point; we are old friends, and though we've not seen as muc_f each other during this visit to Shanghai as we used to do in the old day_hen you were deputy-commissioner of whatever it was, and I was your graceles_ubordinate, I think I am pretty well conversant with your present condition.
  • I don't want you to consider me impertinent, but I  _do_  want you to let m_elp you if I can."
  • "That's very good of you," I answered, not without a little tremor, however, as he shaved a well-built American buggy by a hair's breadth. "To tell th_onest truth, I want to get something to do pretty badly. There's a seriou_eficit in the exchequer, my boy. And though I'm a fairly old hand at the gam_f poverty, I've still a sort of pride left, and I have no desire to figure i_he Mixed Court next Wednesday on a charge of inability to pay my landlor_wenty dollars for board and lodging."
  • "Of course you don't," said Barkston warmly; "and so, if you'll let me hel_ou, I've an idea that I can put you on to the right track to something. Th_act is, there was a chap in the smoking-room at the club the other night wit_hom I got into conversation. He interested me more than I can tell you, fo_e was one of the most curious beings who, I should imagine, has ever visite_he East. I never saw such an odd-looking fellow in my life. Talk abou_yes—well, his were—augh! Why, he looked you through and through. You know ol_enwell, of the revenue-cutter  _Y-chang?_  Well, while I was talking to thi_ellow, after a game of pool, in he came.
  • "'Hallo! Barkston,' he said, as he brought up alongside the table, 'I though_ou were shooting with Jimmy Woodrough up the river? I'm glad to find you'r_ot, for I——' He had got as far as this before he became aware of m_ompanion. Then his jaw dropped; he looked hard at him, said something unde_is breath, and, shaking me by the hand, made a feeble excuse, and fled th_oom. Not being able to make it out at all, I went after him and found hi_ooking for his hat in the hall. 'Come, I say, Benwell, 'I cried;' what's up?
  • What on earth made you bolt like that? Have I offended you?' He led me on on_ide, so that the servants should not hear, and having done so sai_onfidentially: 'Barkston, I am not a coward; in my time I've tackle_uropeans, Zulus, Somalis, Malays, Japanese, and Chinese, to say nothing o_anilla and Solomon boys, and what's more, I don't mind facing them all again; but when I find myself face to face with Dr. Nikola, well, I tell you I don'_hink twice, I bolt! Take my tip and do the same.' As he might just as wel_ave talked to me in low Dutch for all I should have understood, I tried t_uestion him, but I might have spared myself the trouble, for I could ge_othing satisfactory out of him. He simply shook me by the hand, told the bo_n the hall to call him a 'rickshaw, and as soon as it drew up at the step_umped into it and departed. When I got back to the billiard-room Nikola wa_till there, practising losing hazards of extraordinary difficulty.
  • "'I've an opinion I've seen your friend before,' he said, as I sat down t_atch him. 'He is Benwell of the  _Y-chang,_  and if I mistake not Benwell o_he  _Y-chang_  remembers me.'
  • "'He seems to know you,' I said with a laugh.
  • "'Yes, Nikola continued after a little pause; 'I have had the pleasure o_eing in Mr. Benwell's company once before. It was in Haiphong.' Then wit_eculiar emphasis: 'I don't know what he thinks of the place, of course, bu_omehow I have an idea your friend will not willingly go near Haiphong again.'
  • After he had said this he remained silent for a little while, then he took _etter from his pocket, read it carefully, examined the envelope, and havin_ade up his mind on a certain point turned to me again.
  • "'I want to ask you a question,' he said, putting the cue he had been usin_ack into the rack. 'You know a person named Bruce, don't you? a man who use_o be in the Civil Service, and who has the reputation of being able t_isguise himself so like a Chinaman that even Li Chang Tung would not know hi_or a European?'
  • "'I do,' I answered; 'he is an old friend of mine; and what is more, he is i_hanghai at the present moment. It was only this morning I heard of him.'
  • "'Bring him to me," said Nikola quickly. 'I am told he wants a billet, and i_e sees me before twelve to-morrow night I think I can put him in the way o_btaining a good one. Now there you are, Bruce, my boy. I have done my bes_or you."
  • "And I am sincerely grateful to you," I answered. "But who is this man Nikola, and what sort of a billet do you think he can find me?"
  • "Who he is I can no more tell you than I can fly. But if he is not the firs_ousin of the Old Gentleman himself, well, all I can say is, I'm no hand a_inding relationships."
  • "I am afraid that doesn't tell me very much," I answered. "What's he like t_ook at?"
  • "Well, in appearance he might be described as tall, though you must not ru_way with the idea that he's what you would call a big man. On the contrary, he is most slenderly built. Anything like the symmetry of his figure, however, I don't remember to have met with before. His face is clean shaven, and i_lways deadly pale, a sort of toad-skin pallor, that strikes you directly whe_ou see him and the remembrance of which never leaves you again. His eyes an_air are as black as night, and he is as neat and natty as a new pin. When h_s watching you he seems to be looking through the back of your head into th_all behind, and when he speaks you've just got to pay attention, whether yo_ant to or not. All things considered, the less I see of him the better _hall like him."
  • "You don't give me a very encouraging report of my new employer. What on eart_an he want with me?"
  • "He's Apollyon himself," laughed Barkston, "and wants a  _maitre d'hotel._  _uppose he imagines you'll suit."
  • By this time we had left the Maloo and were entering the town.
  • "Where shall I find this extraordinary man?" I asked, as we drew near th_lace where I intended to alight.
  • "We'll drive to the club and see if he's there," said Barkston, whipping u_is horses. "But, putting all joking aside, he really seemed most anxious t_ind you, and as he knew I was going to look for you I don't doubt that h_ill have left some message for one of us there."
  • Having reached the Wanderers' Club, which is too well known to need an_escription here, Barkston went inside, leaving me to look after the horses.
  • Five minutes later he emerged again, carrying a letter in his hand.
  • "Nikola was here until ten minutes ago," he said, with a disappointe_xpression upon his handsome face; "unfortunately he's gone home now, but ha_eft this note for me. If I find you he begs that I will send you on to hi_ungalow without delay. I have discovered that it is Fere's old place in th_rench Concession, Rue de la Fayette; you know it, the third house on th_ight hand side, just past where that renegade French marquis shot his wife.
  • If you would care about it I'll give you a note to him, and you can dine, think it over quietly, and then take it on yourself this evening or not, a_leases you best."
  • "That would be the better plan," I said. "I should like to have a little tim_o collect my thoughts before seeing him."
  • Thereupon Barkston went back into the building, and when he returned, whic_as in something under a quarter of an hour, he brought the letter he ha_romised me in his hand. He jumped up and took the reins, the Chinese groo_prang out of the way, and we were off.
  • "Can I drive you round to where you are staying?" he asked.
  • "I don't think you can," I answered, "and for reasons which would be sure t_ommend themselves to you if I were to tell them. But I am very much oblige_o you all the same. As to Nikola, I'll think the whole matter carefully ou_his evening, and, if I approve, after dinner I'll walk over and present thi_etter personally."
  • I thereupon descended from the dogcart at the corner of the road, and havin_gain thanked my friend for the kindness he had shown me, bade him good-by_nd took myself off.
  • Reaching the Bund I sat myself down on a seat beneath a tree an_ispassionately reviewed the situation. All things considered it was a prett_omplicated one. Though I had not revealed as much to Barkston, who ha_erived such happiness from his position of guide, philosopher, and friend, this was not the first time I had heard of Nikola. Such a strange personalit_s his could not expect to go unremarked in a gossip-loving community such a_he East, and all sorts of stories had accordingly been circulated concernin_im. Though I knew my fellow-man too well to place credence in half of what _ad heard, it was impossible for me to prevent myself from feeling _onsiderable amount of curiosity about the man.
  • Leaving the Bund I returned to my lodgings, had my tea, and about eigh_'clock donned my hat again and set off in the direction of the Frenc_oncession. It was not a pleasant night, being unusually dark and incline_owards showery. The wind blew in fitful gusts, and drove the dust like hai_gainst one's face. Though I stood a good chance of obtaining what I wanted s_uch—employment, I cannot affirm with any degree of truth that I felt easy i_y mind. Was I not seeking to become connected with a man who was almos_niversally feared, and whose reputation was not such as would make mos_eople desire a closer acquaintance with him? This thought in itself was no_f a reassuring nature. But in the face of my poverty I could not afford to b_oo squeamish. So leaving the Rue de la Paix on my left hand I turned into th_ue de la Fayette, where Nikola's bungalow was situated, and having picked i_ut from its fellows, made my way towards it.
  • The compound and the house itself were in total darkness, but after I ha_wice knocked at the door a light came slowly down the passage towards me. Th_oor was opened, and a China boy stood before me holding a candle in his hand.
  • "Does Dr. Nikola live here?" I inquired, in very much the same tone as ou_oyhood's hero, Jack of Beanstalk climbing fame, might have used when he aske_o be admitted to the residence of the giant Fee-fo-fum. The boy nodded, whereupon I handed him my letter, and ordered him to convey it to his maste_ithout delay. With such celerity did he accomplish his mission that in les_han two minutes he had returned and was beckoning me to follow him.
  • Accordingly I accompanied him down the passage towards a small room on th_eft hand side. When I had entered it the door was immediately closed behin_e. There was no one in the apartment, and I was thus permitted an opportunit_f examining it to my satisfaction, and drawing my own conclusions before D_ikola should enter.
  • As I have said, it was not large, nor was its furniture, with a fe_xceptions, in any way extraordinary. The greater part of it was of the usua_ungalow type, neither better nor worse. On the left hand as one entered was _indow, which I observed was heavily barred and shuttered; between that an_he door stood a tall bookshelf, filled with works, standard and otherwise, o_lmost every conceivable subject, from the elementary principles o_imetallism to abstract Confucianism. A thick matting covered the floor and _eavy curtain sheltered a doorway on the side opposite to that by which I ha_ntered. On the walls were several fine engravings, but I noticed that the_ere all based on uncommon subjects, such as the visit of Saul to the Witch o_ndor, a performance of the magicians before Pharaoh, and the converting o_he dry bones into men in the desert. A clock ticked on the bookcase, but wit_hat exception there was nothing to disturb the silence of the room.
  • I suppose I must have waited fully five minutes before my ears caught th_ound of a soft footstep in an adjoining apartment, then the second doo_pened, the curtain which covered it was drawn slowly aside, and a man, wh_ould have been none other than Dr. Nikola, made his appearance. Hi_escription was exactly what Barkston had given me, even to the peculiar eye_nd, what proved to be an apt illustration, the white toad-coloured skin. H_as attired in faultless evening dress, and its deep black harmonized wel_ith his dark eyes and hair. What his age might have been I could not possibl_ell, but I afterwards discovered that he was barely thirty-eight. He crosse_he room to where I stood, holding out his hand as he did so and saying—
  • "Mr. Wilfred Bruce?"
  • "That is my name," I answered, "and I believe you are Dr. Nikola?"
  • "Exactly," he said, "I am Dr. Nikola; and now that we know each other, shal_e proceed to business?"
  • As he spoke he moved with that peculiar grace which always characterized hi_cross to the door by which he had entered, and having opened it, signed to m_o pass through. I did so, and found myself in another large room, possibl_orty feet long by twenty wide. Ac the further end was a lofty window, containing some good stained glass; the walls were hung with Japanes_apestry, and were ornamented with swords, battle-axes, two or three specimen_f Rajput armour, books galore, and a quantity of exceedingly valuable china.
  • The apartment was lit by three hanging lamps of rare workmanship and design, while scattered about the room were numberless cushioned chairs and divans, beside one of which I noticed a beautifully inlaid huqa of a certain shape an_ake that I had never before seen out of Istamboul.
  • "Pray sit down," said Dr. Nikola, and as he spoke he signed me to a chair a_he further end. I seated myself and wondered what would come next.
  • "This is not your first visit to China, I am given to understand," h_ontinued, as he seated himself in a chair opposite mine, and regarded m_teadfastly with his extraordinary eyes.
  • "It is not," I answered. "I am an old resident in the East, and I think I ma_ay I know China as well as any living Englishman."
  • "Quite so. You were present at the meeting at Quong Sha's house in th_anhsien on the 23rd August, 1907, if I remember aright, and you assisted Ma_oo to evade capture by the mandarins the week following."
  • "How on earth did you know that?" I asked, my surprise quite getting th_etter of me, for I had always been convinced that no other soul, save the ma_imself, was aware of my participation in that affair.
  • "One becomes aware of many strange things in the East," said Nikola, huggin_is knee and looking at me over the top of it, "and yet that littl_ircumstance I have just referred to is apt to teach one how much one migh_now, and how small after all our knowledge is of each other's lives. On_ould almost expect as much from brute beasts."
  • "I am afraid I don't quite follow you," I said simply.
  • "Don't you?" he answered. "And yet it is very simple after all. Let me giv_ou a practical illustration of my meaning. If you see anything in it othe_han I intend, the blame must be upon your own head."
  • Upon a table close to his chair lay a large sheet of white paper. This h_laced upon the floor. He then took a stick of charcoal in his hand an_resently uttered a long and very peculiar whistle. Next moment, without an_arning, an enormous cat, black as his master's coat, leapt down fro_omewhere on to the floor, and stood swishing his tail before us.
  • "There are some people in the world," said Nikola calmly, at the same tim_troking the great beast's soft back, "who would endeavour to convince yo_hat this cat is my familiar spirit, and that, with his assistance, I work al_orts of extraordinary magic. You, of course, would not be so silly as t_elieve such idle tales. But to bear out what I was saying just now let us tr_n experiment with his assistance. It is just possible I may be able to tel_ou something more of your life."
  • Here he stooped and wrote a number of figures up to ten with the charcoal upo_he paper, duplicating them in a line below. He then took the cat upon hi_nee, stroked it carefully, and finally whispered something in its ear.
  • Instantly the brute sprang down, placed its right fore-paw on one of th_umerals of the top row, while, whether by chance or magic I cannot say, i_erformed a similar action with its left on the row below.
  • "Twenty-four," said Nikola, with one of his peculiar smiles.
  • Then taking the piece of charcoal once more in his hand, and turning the pape_ver, he wrote upon it the names of the different months of the year. Placin_t on the floor he again said something to the cat, who this time stood upo_une. The alphabet followed, and letter by letter the uncanny beast spelt out
  • "Apia."
  • "On the 24th June," said Nikola, "of a year undetermined you were in Apia. Le_s see if we can discover the year."
  • Again he wrote the numerals up to ten, and immediately the cat, with fiendis_recision, worked out 1895.
  • "Is that correct?" asked this extraordinary person when the brute had finishe_ts performance.
  • It was quite correct, and I told him so.
  • "I'm glad of that. And now do you want to know any more?" he asked. "If yo_ish it I might perhaps be able to tell you your business there."
  • I did not want to know. And I can only ask you to believe that I had very goo_easons for not doing so. Nikola laughed softly, and pressed the tips of hi_ong white fingers together as he looked at me.
  • "Now tell me truthfully what you think of my cat?" said he.
  • "One might be excused if one endowed him with Satanic attributes," I answered.
  • "And yet, though you think it so wonderful, it is only because I hav_ubjected him to a curious form of education. There is a power latent i_nimals, and particularly in cats, which few of us suspect. And if animal_ave this power, how much more may men be expected to possess it. Do you know, Mr. Bruce, I should be very interested to find out exactly how far you thin_he human intelligence can go; that is to say, how far you think it ca_enetrate into the regions of what is generally called the occult?"
  • "Again I must make the excuse," I said, "that I do not follow you."
  • "Well, then, let me place it before you in a rather simpler form. If I may pu_t so bluntly, where should you be inclined to say this world begins an_nds?"
  • "I should say," I replied—this time without hesitation—"that it begins wit_irth and ends with death."
  • "And after death?"
  • "Well, what happens then is a question of theology, and one for the parsons t_ecide."
  • "You have no individual opinion?"
  • "I have the remnants of what I learned as a boy."
  • "I see; in that case you believe that as soon as the breath has forsaken thi_ortal body a certain indescribable part of us, which for the sake of argumen_e will denominate soul, leaves this mundane sphere and enters upon a ne_xistence in one or other of two places?"
  • "That is certainly what I was taught," I answered.
  • "Quite so; that was the teaching you received in the parish of High Walcombe, Somersetshire, and might be taken as a very good type of what your clas_hinks throughout the world, from the Archbishop of Canterbury down to th_arm labourer's child who walks three miles every seventh day to attend Sunda_chool. But in that self-same village, if I remember rightly, there was _ittle man of portly build whose adherents numbered precisely forty-fiv_ouls; he was called Father O'Rorke, and I have not the slightest doubt, i_ou had asked him, he would have given you quite a different account of wha_ecomes of that soul, or essence, if we may so call it, after it has left thi_ortal body. Tobias Smallcombe, who preaches in a spasmodic, windy way on th_reen to a congregation made up of a few enthusiasts, a dozen small boys, an_ handful of donkeys and goats, will give you yet another, and so on throug_umberless varieties of creeds to the end of the chapter. Each will claim th_rivilege of being right, and each will want you to believe exactly as h_oes. But at the same time we must remember, provided we would be quite fair, that there are not wanting scientists, admittedly the cleverest men of th_ay, who assert that, while all our friends are agreed that there  _is_  _ife after death—a spirit world, in fact—they are all wrong. If you will allo_e to give you my own idea of what you think, I should say that your opinio_s, that when you've done with the solid flesh that makes up Wilfred Bruce i_oesn't much matter what happens. But let us suppose that Wilfred Bruce, o_is mind, shall we say?—that part of him at any rate which is anxious, whic_hinks and which suffers—is destined to exist afterwards through endles_eons, a prey to continual remorse for all misdeeds: how would he regard deat_hen?"
  • "But before you can expect an answer to that question it is necessary that yo_hould prove that he does so continue to exist," I said.
  • "That's exactly what I desire and intend to do," said Nikola, "and it is t_hat end I have sought you out, and we are arguing in this fashion now. I_our time very fully occupied at present?"
  • I smiled.
  • "I quite understand," he said. "Well, I have got a proposition to make to you, if you will listen to me. Years ago and quite by chance, when the subject w_re now discussing, and in which I am more interested than you can imagine, was first brought properly under my notice, I fell into the company of a mos_xtraordinary man. He was originally an Oxford don, but for some reason h_ent wrong, and was afterwards shot by Balmaceda at Santiago during th_hilian war. Among other places, he had lived for many years in North-Wester_hina. He possessed one of the queerest personalities, but he told me som_onderful things, and what was more to the point, he backed them with proofs.
  • You would probably have called them clever conjuring tricks. So did I then, but I don't now. Nor do I think will you when I have done with you. It wa_rom that man and an old Buddhist priest, with whom I spent some time i_eylon, that I learnt the tiny fact which put me on the trail of what I am no_ollowing up. I have tracked it clue by clue, carefully and laboriously, wit_arying success for eight long years, and at last I am in the position to sa_hat I believe I have my thumb upon the key-note. If I can press it down an_btain the result I want, I can put myself in possession of information th_agnitude of which the world—I mean the European world, of course—has not th_lightest conception. I am a courageous man, but I will confess that th_rospect of what I am about to attempt almost frightens  _me._  It is neithe_ore nor less than to penetrate, with the help of certain Chinese secre_ocieties, into the most extraordinary seat of learning that you or any othe_en ever heard of, and when there to beg, borrow, or steal the marvellou_ecrets they possess. I cannot go alone, for a hundred reasons, therefore _ust find a man to accompany me; that man must be one in a thousand, and h_ust also necessarily be a consummate Chinese scholar. He must be pluck_eyond the average, he must be capable of disguising himself so that hi_ationality shall never for a moment be suspected, and he must go full_onvinced in his own mind that he will never return. If he is prepared t_ndertake so much I am prepared to be generous. I will pay him £5,000 dow_efore we start and £5,000 when we return, if return we do. What do you say t_hat?"
  • I didn't know what to say. The magnitude of the proposal, to leave the valu_f the honorarium out of the question, completely staggered me. I wanted mone_ore than I had ever done in my life before, and this was a sum beyond even m_ildest dreams; I also had no objection to adventure, but at the same time _ust confess this seemed too foolhardy an undertaking altogether.
  • "What can I say?" I answered. "It's such an extraordinary proposition."
  • "So it is," he said. "But as I take it, we are both extraordinary men. Had yo_een one of life's rank and file I should not be discussing it with you now. _ould think twice before I refused if I were you; Shanghai is such a_npleasant place to get into trouble in, and besides that, you know, nex_ednesday will see the end of your money, even if you do sell your watch an_hain, as you proposed to yourself to-night."
  • He said this with such an air of innocence that for the moment it did no_trike me to wonder how he had become acquainted with the state of m_inances.
  • "Come," he said, "you had better say yes."
  • "I should like a little more time to think it over," I answered. "I canno_ledge myself to so much without giving it thorough consideration. Even if i_ere not folly on my part it would scarcely be fair to you."
  • "Very good then. Go home and think about it. Come and see me to-morrow nigh_t this time and let me have your decision. In the meantime if I were you _ould say nothing about our conversation to any one."
  • I assured him I would not, and then he rose, and I understood that ou_nterview was at an end. I followed him into the hall, the black cat marchin_edately at our heels. In the verandah he stopped and held out his hand, saying with an indescribable sweetness of tone—
  • "I hope, Mr. Bruce, you will believe that I am most anxious for you_ompanionship. I don't flatter you, I simply state the truth when I affir_hat you are the only man in China whose co-operation I would ask. Now good- night. I hope you will come to me with a favourable answer to-morrow."
  • As he spoke, and as if to emphasize his request, the black cat, which up t_hat time had been standing beside him, now came over and began to rub it_ead, accompanying its action with a soft, purring noise, against my leg.
  • "I will let you know without fail by this time tomorrow evening," I said.
  • "Good-night."