"There are two points which we must hold in constant remembrance," sai_ikola. "The first is that you are _not_ a Chinaman, and the other is tha_f you go before the High Priest to-morrow morning and pose as one, he'l_ertainly find you out, and then we shall be ruined completely. If you ru_way I had better run too, for all the good I can get by stopping, but that _m resolved not to do. It has cost me many years' labour, to say nothing o_ome thousands of British sovereigns, to get as far as I have in thi_usiness, and come what may I am determined not to turn back."
"But in what way are we to get out of the difficulty?" I asked dejectedly. "I_ can't come before them and brazen the matter out, and I can't remain awa_or fear of confirming what they already suspect, and I can't leave th_onastery without drawing down suspicion on you, I must confess I don't se_hat _is_ to be done. I suppose we couldn't bribe the man to withdraw hi_harge?"
"Not to be thought of," said Nikola, with conviction. "Our lives would then b_imply dependent on his reading of the term 'good faith.' You ought to kno_hat sort of trust we could place in that."
"Could we force him to clear out, and thus let it be supposed that he ha_rought a false accusation against me, and was afraid to stay and face th_onsequences?"
"That is not possible either," said Nikola. "He would want to bargain with us, and, to be revenged on us, would turn traitor when we refused his demand. I_hat case it would be 'pull devil, pull baker,' and the one who could pull th_ongest would gain the day. No, you had better leave the situation to me. Le_e tackle it, and see what is to be done."
I did as he wished, and for nearly half an hour could hear him pacing up an_own his room. I did not intrude upon him, or interrupt him in any way. At th_nd of the time stated he abandoned his sentry-go and came in to me.
"I think I see my way," he said. "But when all is said and done it is almos_s desperate as either of the other remedies we thought of. You will have t_arry it out, and if you fail—well, Heaven have mercy upon both of us. Yo_ave saved my life before, I am going to trust it to you now; but remembe_his, if you do not carry out my plan exactly as I wish, you will never see m_live again. Give me your best attention, and endeavour to recollec_verything I tell you. It is now close on midnight; the gong for early servic_ill sound at half-past five, but it will be daylight an hour before that. B_ook or by crook I must get you out of this place within a quarter of an hour, and, even if you have to steal a horse to do it, you must be in Pekin befor_alf-past one. Once there you will find the house of Yoo Laoyeh, who lives a_he rear of Legation Street, near the chief gate of the Tartar city."
"But how am I going to get into the city at all?" I asked, amazed that h_hould have forgotten what struck me as a most hopeless barrier—the wall. "Th_ates are closed at sundown and are not opened again till sunrise."
"You'll have to climb the wall," he answered.
"But, as you know very well, that's altogether impossible," I said.
"Not a bit of it," he replied. "I will tell you of a place where it is quit_racticable. Do you remember the spot where you proposed to Miss Medwin?"
"Perfectly," I answered with a smile. "But how do you know it?"
"My dear fellow, I was within a hundred yards of you the whole time. No, yo_eed not look at me like that. I was not spying upon you. After the fashion o_he great Napoleon, I like to be prepared for every emergency, and, thinking _ight some day want to get into the city when the gates were shut, I utilize_ome spare time by taking a look at the wall. You see how useful that chanc_isit has proved. Well, two bastions from where you were seated that day th_tones are larger and more uneven than anywhere else along the whole of tha_ide of the city. To my certain knowledge three men have been in the habit o_limbing that portion of the ramparts for the last three years, betwee_idnight and sunrise, smuggling in goods to the city in order to avoid payin_he octroi duty, which, as you know, is levied during daylight. When you hav_ot over you will find a sentry posted on the other side; to him you will pa_hree taels, telling him at the same time that you intend returning in a_our, and that you will pay him the same amount for the privilege of gettin_ut. Having passed the sentry you will proceed into the town, find Yoo Laoyeh, and let him know the fix we are in. You may promise him the sum of £100 cas_f he falls in with your suggestions, and you must bring him back with you, willy-nilly, as fast as you can travel. I will meet you at the southern gate.
Knock four times, and as you knock, cough. That shall be the signal, and a_oon as I hear it I will open the gate. All that must be guarded agains_nside shall be my care. Everything outside must be yours. Now let us com_long, and discover by what means I can get you out."
Together we left the room, descended the stairs, and, crossing the ante- chamber, entered the big hall. The wind which, as I have already said, came i_hrough the narrow windows on either side rustled the long hangings till th_lace seemed peopled with a thousand silk-clad ghosts. Nikola crossed i_wiftly and left by the southern door. I followed close at his heels, an_ogether we passed unobserved through the great courtyard, keeping well in th_hadow of the building until we reached the first gate. Fortunately for u_his also was unguarded, but we could hear the monk, who was supposed to b_atching it, placidly snoring in the room beside it. Slipping the enormous ba_side we opened it quietly, passed through, and, crossing an open strip o_reen, made for the outer wall. Just, however, as we were about to turn th_orner that separated us from it, a sudden sound of voices caused us t_esitate.
"This way," whispered Nikola, seizing my wrist and dragging me to the left. "_an find you another exit. I noticed, yesterday, a big tree growing by th_ide of the wall."
Leaving the centre gate we turned to our left hand, as I have said, an_ollowed the wall we desired to surmount until we arrived at a large tre_hose higher branches more than overspread it.
"This is the very place for our purpose," said Nikola, coming to a halt. "Yo_ill have to climb the tree and crawl along the branches until you get on t_he wall, then you must let yourself down on the other side and be off to th_ity as hard as you can go. Good-bye, and may good luck go with you!"
I shook him by the hand and sprang into the branches. Hitherto it had seeme_s if I had been acting all this in a wonderfully vivid dream. Now, however, the rough bark of the tree roused me to the reality of my position. I climbe_ntil I came to the level of the wall, then, choosing a thick branch, made m_ay along it until I stood upon the solid masonry. Once there, only a drop o_bout twelve feet remained between me and freedom. Bidding Nikola, who wa_atching me, good-bye, in a whisper, I leant over the wall as far as I wa_ble, grasped the coping with both hands, and then let myself drop.
Once on the ground I ran across the open space towards a cluster of smal_wellings. In an enclosure adjoining one of them I could dimly make out _umber of ponies running loose, and knowing that if I could only secure one o_hese and find a saddle and bridle in the residence of its owner, I might b_n Pekin in under an hour, I resolved to make the attempt.
Creeping up to the nearest of the houses, I approached the door. Inside _ould hear the stertorous breathing of the occupants. A joss-stick burn_efore an image near at hand, and though it was well-nigh exhausted by th_ime I secured it, it still gave me sufficient light to look about me. _oment later I had a saddle and bridle down from a peg and was out among th_onies again.
Securing the most likely animal I saddled him, and as soon as I had done so, mounted and set off towards Pekin as fast as he could take me. The night wa_ark, but the track was plain; the little beast was more than willing, and a_ did not spare him, something less than three-quarters of an hour, countin_rom the time I had bidden Nikola good-bye, found me dismounting under th_reat wall of the city.
Having found a convenient spot, I tied up my pony, and when he was made secur_et to work and hunted along the wall until I came to the scaling place o_hich Nikola had told me.
As I reached it a light wind blew from over the plain, and sent the dus_ddying about me, otherwise not a sound disturbed the stillness of the night.
Then, having made sure that I was unobserved, and that I had chosen the righ_pot, I began to climb. It was no easy task. The stones were large and uneven.
Sometimes I got a good hold, but in many cases I had veritably to cling by m_ails. The strain was almost too much for my strength, and when I had bee_limbing for five minutes, and there still remained as much of the wall ahead, I began to despair of ever getting to the top. But I was not to be beaten; an_emembering how much depended upon my getting into the city, I dragged mysel_earily on, and at last crawled on to the summit. When I reached it I coul_ee the city spread out on the other side. A little to the left of where _tood was the place, to be for ever sacred in my eyes, where I had propose_o, and been accepted by, my sweetheart, while away to the right was tha_uarter of the town where at that moment she was in all probability asleep, and, I hoped, dreaming of me. As soon as, I recovered my breath I crossed th_all and descended by the steps on the other side.
I had scarcely reached the bottom before a man rose from a dark corner an_onfronted me. In the half light I could see that he was a Chinese soldie_rmed with a long spear. Telling him in a whisper, in answer to his inquiry, that I was a friend, I pressed the money that Nikola had given me for tha_urpose into his not unwilling hand, and as soon as he drew back, astonishe_t my munificence, sped past him and darted down the nearest street.
From the place where I had passed the sentry to the thoroughfare where Yo_aoyeh resided was a distance of about half a mile, and to reach it quickly i_as necessary that I should pass the Benfleets' abode. You may imagine wha_houghts occupied my brain as I stood in the silent street and regarded it.
Under that roof was sleeping the one woman who was all the world to me. _ould have given anything I possessed for five minutes' conversation with her; but as that was impossible I turned on my heel and made my way through a by- lane into the street I had been sent to find. The house was not a big one, an_t first glance did not strike me very favourably. But the style of buildin_id not matter if I found there the man I wanted. I knocked upon th_oor—which I discovered was heavily barred—but for some minutes got n_esponse; then, just as I was beginning to wonder in what way I could bes_anage to attract the attention of those inside, I heard a patter of bare fee_n the stone passage, and after much fumbling the door was opened and a ma_ppeared before me. One glance told me that he was not the person I wanted. _nquired if Yoo Laoyeh were at home, but from the answer I received I gathere_hat he had gone out earlier in the evening, and that he was probably at _eighbouring house playing _fan-tan._
Having asked the man if he would take me to him, and at the same time offerin_im a considerable bribe to do so, I was immediately conducted into the stree_gain, down one by-lane, up another, and finally brought to a standstil_efore one of the largest houses in that quarter. My guide was evidently wel_nown, for when the door was opened the keeper did not attempt to bar ou_assage, but permitted us to pass through to a fair-sized room at the back.
Here quite thirty Chinamen were busily engaged upon their favourite pastime, but though we scanned the rows of faces, the man for whom we were searchin_as not among the number. As soon as we were convinced of this fact we lef_hat room and proceeded to another, where the same game was also being carrie_n. Once more, however, we were doomed to disappointment; Laoyeh was not ther_ither.
Being anxious to obtain some news of him my guide interrogated one of th_layers, who remembered having seen our man about an hour before. He imagine_e had then gone into the room we had first visited. We returned there an_ade further inquiries, only to elicit the fact that he had been seen to leav_he house about half an hour before our arrival.
"Have no fear. I will find him for you," said my companion, and we thereupo_roceeded down the passage, past the doorkeeper, into the street again. Onc_ore we took up the chase, trying first one house and then another, to brin_p eventually in an opium den a little behind the English Legation. The oute_oom, or that nearest the street, was filled with customers, but our man wa_ot among them. The inner room was not quite so crowded, and here, after al_ur searching, we discovered the man we wanted. But there was this drawback, he had smoked his usual number of pipes and was now fast asleep.
By this time it was hard upon two o'clock, and at most I dared not remain i_he city more than another hour. At the same time it would be a most foolish, if not dangerous, proceeding to attempt to travel with my man in his presen_ondition. If he did nothing else he would probably fall over the wall an_reak his neck, and then I should either have to leave him behind or remain t_nswer inconvenient questions; but whatever happened I knew I must carry hi_ut of this house as quickly as possible to some place where I could endeavou_o bring him back to his senses. I said as much to the man who had found hi_or me, and then between us we got him on to his feet, and taking him b_ither arm led him off to his home. By the time we got him there he had in _mall measure recovered from the effects of his smoke. Then we set to work, using every means known to our experience, to bring him round, and by half- past two had so far succeeded as to warrant me in thinking I might set off o_y return journey.
"But what does your Excellency require of me?" asked Laoyeh, who was still _it mystified, though fortunately not so far gone as to be unable to recogniz_e.
"You are to come with me," I answered, taking good care before I spoke tha_he other man was well out of hearing, "to the Llamaserai, where Nikola want_ou. There is a hundred pounds English to be earned; how, I will tell you a_e go."
As soon as he heard Nikola's name and the amount of the reward, he seemed t_ecome himself again. We accordingly left the house and set off together fo_hat part of the wall where I had made my descent into the city. The sam_oldier was still on guard, and when I had placed the money I had promised hi_n his hand, he immediately allowed us to pass. Within twenty minutes o_eaving Yoo's house we were ready to descend the other side of the wall.
If I had found it difficult to ascend, I discovered that it was doubl_ifficult to descend. The night was now very dark, and it was well-nig_mpossible to see what we were doing. The cracks and crannies which were t_erve as resting-places for our feet seemed almost impossible to find, an_ight glad I was when the business was accomplished and we stood together o_terra firma_ at the bottom.
So far my visit to the city had proved eminently successful. But time wa_lipping by, and there was still the long distance out to the Serai to b_vercome. I went over to where the pony stood hitched to the tree, exactly a_ had left him, and placed my companion upon his back. He was almost, if no_uite, himself now, so urging the little animal into a canter we set off, h_iding and I running beside him. In this fashion, running and walking, we cam_o the southern gate of the great monastery. I had carried out my share of th_usiness, and when once I should have got Laoyeh inside, the direction of th_emainder would lie with Nikola.
Having turned the pony loose, his bridle and saddle upon his back, _pproached and knocked upon the door, coughing softly as I did so. Then littl_y little it opened, and we found Nikola standing upon the threshold. H_eckoned to us to enter, and without losing a moment we did as we wer_rdered. Daylight was close at hand, and the unmistakable chill of dawn was i_he air. It was very certain that I had returned none too soon.
Having passed through the gate, and fastened it behind us, we made for th_econd archway on our left. The sentry box—if one might call it by tha_ame—was still deserted, and the guard was snoring as placidly in his littl_oom at the side as when we had crept through nearly four hours before. Thi_ourtyard, like its predecessor, was empty; but to show the narrowness of ou_scape, I may say that as we crossed it we could distinctly hear the jabberin_f priests in the dormitories on either hand.
At last we reached the door of the big hall. Opening it carefully we spe_cross the floor and then up the stairs to our own apartments. Once inside, the door was quickly shut, and we were safe. Then Nikola turned to me, an_aid—
"Bruce, you have saved me a second time, and I can only say, as I said before, you will not find me ungrateful. But there is no time to lose. Yoo Laoyeh, come in here."
We passed into the inner room, and then Nikola opened a small box he ha_rought with his other impedimenta. Then bidding the man seat himself upon th_loor, he set to work with wonderful dexterity to change his appearance. Th_peration lasted about a quarter of an hour, and when it was completed Nikol_urned to me.
"Change clothes with him, Bruce, as quickly as you can."
When this was done I could hardly believe my own eyes, the likeness was s_onderful. There, standing before me, was an exact reproduction of myself. I_eight, build, dress, and even in feature, the resemblance was most striking.
But Nikola was not satisfied.
"You must be changed too," he said. "We must do the thing thoroughly, or no_t all. Sit down."
I did so, and he once more set to work. By the time I left his hands I was a_nlike my real self as a man could well be. No one could have recognized me, and in that case it was most unlikely that our secret would be discovered.
On the way from Pekin I had clearly explained to Laoyeh the part he would b_alled upon to play. Now Nikola gave the final touches to his education, an_hen all was completed.
"But, look here," I cried, as a thought struck me; "we have forgotten on_hing—the scar upon my arm."
"I had omitted that," said Nikola. "And it is just those little bits o_orgetfulness that hang people."
Then taking a long strip of native cloth from a chair he constructed a sling, which he placed round my neck. My left arm was placed in rough splints, whic_e procured from his invaluable medicine chest, and after it had been bandage_ felt I might also defy detection, as far as my wrist was concerned.
Half an hour later the great gong sounded for morning worship, and in a fe_oments we knew that the courtyards and halls would be filled with men. Actin_nder Nikola's instructions I descended to the hall alone, and choosing m_pportunity slipped in and mingled with the throng. I was not the onl_ripple, for there were half a dozen others with their arms in slings. Nor wa_he fact that I was a stranger likely to attract any undue attention, inasmuc_s there were mendicants and people of all sorts and descriptions passing int_he Serai directly the gates were opened at daylight.
I had not been in the hall very long before I saw Nikola hobble in on hi_tick and take his place beside the High Priest. Then the service commenced.
When it was at an end it was evident that something unusual was going to tak_lace, for the monks and their guests remained where they were, instead o_eaving the hall as usual. Then the High Priest mounted the small platform a_he further end and seated himself in the chair of justice. Nikola followe_nd took his place beside him, and presently two tall monks appeared bringin_ith them the man who had brought the accusation against me on the previou_vening. He seemed pretty certain of being able to prove his case, and I coul_ot help smiling as I watched his confident air. First the old High Priest, who it must be remembered was almost blind with age, addressed him. He sai_omething in reply, and then Nikola spoke. His voice was scarcely as loud a_sual, yet every word rang across the hall.
"Liar and traitor!" he said. "You have brought this charge against my faithfu_ervant for some devilish reason of your own. But old as I am I will meet it, and evil be upon you if it be proved that what you say is false."
He then turned to a monk standing beside him and said something to him; th_an bowed, and leaving the platform disappeared in the direction of ou_taircase. Presently he returned with Laoyeh, whose head was bent, and whos_ands were folded across his breast. He climbed the steps, and, when he ha_one so, accuser and accused confronted each other from either end of th_latform.
Then it was that I saw the cleverness of Nikola's scheme. He had arranged tha_he trial should take place after the morning service for the reason that, a_hat tune, the big hall would not be thoroughly lighted. As it proved, it wa_till wrapped in more than semi-darkness, and by the promptness with which h_ommenced business it was evident that he was resolved to dispose of th_atter in hand before it would be possible for any one to see too clearly.
First the man who brought the accusation against me was ordered to repeat hi_ale. In reply he gave a detailed description of our meeting in Canton and le_p, with a few unimportant reservations, to the stab he had given me upon th_rist. He then unhesitatingly asserted the fact that I was a _kueidzu,_ o_oreign devil, and dared the man who was taking my place to disprove it. Whe_e had finished, Nikola turned to the High Priest and said—
"My father, thou hast heard all that this wicked man hath said. He accuses m_ervant yonder—he himself being a thief and a would-be murderer by his ow_onfession—of being one of those barbarians whom we all hate and despise. _ave found my man faithful and true in all his dealings, yet if he is _oreign devil, as this fellow asserts, then he shall be punished. On the othe_and, if this rogue shall be proved to be in the wrong, and to have lied fo_he sake of gain, then it shall be my request to thee that I be allowed t_eal with him according to the powers with which thou knowest I am invested. _ave no fear; judge therefore between us."
When he had finished the old man rose and hobbled forward on his stick; h_ooked steadfastly from one to the other of the two men, and then, addressin_aoyeh, said—
"Come thou with me "; and took him into a small room leading out of the bi_all.
For nearly half an hour we sat in silence, wondering what the upshot of it al_ould be. I watched Nikola, who sat during the whole of the time with his chi_esting on his hand, staring straight before him.
At last our period of waiting was at an end. We heard the tapping of the Hig_riest's stick upon the floor, and presently he ascended the platform again.
Laoyeh followed him. Reaching his chair the old man signed for silence, and a_oon as he had obtained it, said—
"I have examined this man, and can swear that the charge this fellow ha_rought against him is without truth in every particular. Let justice b_one."
Then facing Nikola he continued—
"The rogue yonder waits for thee to do with him as thou wilt."
Nikola rose slowly from his chair and faced the unhappy man.
"Now, dog!" he cried. "By the words of thine own High Priest I have to dea_ith thee. Is it for this that thou earnest into the world. Thou hast dared t_align this my servant, and thy superior has sworn to it. Draw nearer to me."
The man approached a few paces, and it was easily seen that he was afraid.
Then for nearly a minute Nikola gazed fixedly at him, and I cannot remembe_ver to have seen those terrible eyes look so fierce. If you can imagine _abbit fascinated by a serpent you will have some notion of how the man face_is persecutor. Slowly, inch by inch, Nikola raised his right hand until i_ointed to a spot on the wall a little above the other's head. Then it bega_o descend again, and as it did so the fellow's head went down also until h_tood almost in a stooping posture.
"You see," said Nikola, "you are in my power. You cannot move unless I bid yo_o so."
"I cannot move," echoed the man almost unconsciously.
"Try how you will, you cannot stand upright," said Nikola.
"I cannot stand upright," repeated the man in the same monotonous voice, an_s he spoke I saw large drops of perspiration fall from his face upon th_loor. You may be sure that every eye in that large hall was riveted upo_hem, and even the High Priest craned forward in his chair in order that h_ight not lose a word.
"Look into my face," said Nikola, and his words cut the air like a shar_nife.
The man lifted his eyes and did as he was ordered, but without raising hi_ead.
"Now leave this place," said Nikola, "and until this time to-morrow you canno_tand upright like your fellow-men. It is my command, and you cannot disobey.
Let that help you to remember that for the future my servants must be sacred.
He pointed with his right hand to the doors at the end of the hall, and, ben_ouble, the man went down the aisle between the rows of gaping monks out int_he courtyard and the streaming sunshine. The High Priest had risen to hi_eet, and calling up a monk who stood beside him, said—
"Follow him, and be certain that he leaves the Serai."
Then approaching Nikola he said—
"My master, I see that, without a doubt, thou art he whom we were told t_xpect. In what way can thy servant prove of service to thee?"
"Grant me an interview and I will tell you," said Nikola.
"If my lord will follow me," said the old man, "we can talk in private." Nex_oment they disappeared into the room where the High Priest had conducted th_xamination of Laoyeh. Thereupon the congregation dispersed.
As soon as the hall was empty I seized my opportunity and went upstairs to ou_wn apartment. There I discovered Laoyeh. According to Nikola's instruction_e changed clothes again, and when he was himself once more, I gave him th_eddler's dress which Nikola had prepared for this occasion, and also th_eward which had been promised him. Then bidding him good-bye, I bade him ge_ut of the monastery as quickly as he could.
It was nearly an hour before Nikola joined me. When he did he could hardl_onceal his exultation.
"Bruce," he said, almost forgetting his usual caution in the excitement of th_oment, "I have discovered everything! I have got the chart, and I have learn_he password. I know where the monastery is, and at daybreak to-morrow mornin_e'll set out in search of it."