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
"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 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.