I was thoroughly tired out by my long day in the open, and I must have gone t_leep at once. It seemed to me that I was disturbed, during the night, by th_ound of voices without my door, and the movements of people in the hallway,
but I presume it was merely a dream. Just before daybreak, however, I foun_yself suffering somewhat from the cold, and got up to close one of th_indows, to shut off the draught. I had just turned toward the bed again, whe_ heard from the room across the hall, the one occupied by Mr. Ashton, _udden and terrible cry as of someone in mortal agony, followed by the soun_f a heavy body falling upon the floor. I also fancied I heard the quic_losing of a door or window, but of this I could not be sure. With _oreboding of tragedy heavily upon me, I hastily threw on some clothes and ra_nto the hall, calling loudly for help. Opposite me was the door of Mr.
Ashton's room. I rushed to it, and tried the knob, but found it locked. Fo_ome time I vainly attempted to force open the door, meanwhile repeating m_ries. Presently Major Temple came running through the hallway, followed b_is daughter and several of the servants. Miss Temple had thrown on a lon_ilk Chinese wrapper and even in the dim light of the hall I could not hel_bserving the ghastly pallor of her face.
"What's wrong here?" cried Major Temple, excitedly.
"I do not know, Sir," I replied, gravely enough. "I heard a cry which seeme_o come from Mr. Ashton's room, but I find his door locked."
"Break it in," cried Major Temple; "break it in at once." At his words, one o_he servants and myself threw our combined weight against the door, and afte_everal attempts, the fastening gave way, and we were precipitated headlon_nto the room. It was dark, and it seemed to me that the air was heavy an_ifeless. We drew back into the hall as one of the servants came running u_ith a candle, and Major Temple, taking it, advanced into the room, closel_ollowed by myself. At first our eyes did not take in the scene revealed b_he flickering candlelight, but in a few moments the gruesome sight before u_aused both Major Temple and myself to recoil sharply toward the doorway. Upo_he floor lay Robert Ashton in his nightclothes, his head in a pool of blood,
his hands outstretched before him, his face ghastly with terror. The Major a_nce ordered the servants to keep out of the room, then turned to his daughte_nd in a low voice requested her to retire. She did so at once, in a state o_errible excitement. He then closed the door behind us, and, after lightin_he gas, we proceeded to examine the body. Ashton was dead, although death ha_pparently occurred but a short time before as his body was still warm. In th_op of his head was found a deep circular wound, apparently made by som_eavy, sharp-pointed instrument, but there were no other marks of violence, n_ther wounds of any sort upon the body. I examined the wound in the hea_arefully, but could not imagine any weapon which would have left such a mark.
And then the wonder of the situation began to dawn upon me. The roo_ontained, besides the door by which we had entered, three windows, two facin_o the south and one to the west. All three were tightly closed and securel_astened with heavy bolts on the inside. There was absolutely no other mean_f entrance to the room whatever, except the door which we had broken open an_ rapid examination of this showed me that it had been bolted upon the inside,
and the catch into which the bolt slid upon the door-jamb had been torn fro_ts fastenings by the effort we had used in forcing it open. I turned to Majo_emple in amazement, and found that he was engaged in systematically searchin_r. Ashton's gladstone bag, which lay upon a chair near the bed. He examine_ach article in detail, heedless of the grim and silent figure upon the floo_eside him, and, when he had concluded, bent over the prostrate form of th_ead man and began a hurried search of his person and the surrounding floor. _bserved him in astonishment. "The police must never find it," I heard hi_utter; "the police must never find it." He rose to his feet with a_xclamation of disappointment. "Where can it be?" he muttered, half t_imself, apparently forgetful of my presence. He looked about the room an_hen with a sudden cry dashed at a table near the window. I followed hi_ovements and saw upon the table the small, green leather case from whic_shton had produced the emerald at dinner the night before. Major Temple too_p the case with a sigh of relief, and hastily opened it, then dashed it t_he floor with an oath. The case was empty.
"It's gone!" he fairly screamed. "My God, it's gone!"
"Impossible," I said, gravely. "The windows are all tightly shut and bolted.
We had to break in the door. No one could have entered or left this room sinc_r. Ashton came into it."
"Nonsense!" Major Temple snorted, angrily. "Do you suppose Ashton smashed i_is own skull by way of amusement?"
He turned to the bed and began to search it closely, removing the pillows,
feeling beneath the mattresses, even taking the candle and examining the floo_oot by foot. Once more he went over the contents of the portmanteau, the_gain examined the clothing of the dead man, but all to no purpose. Th_merald Buddha was as clearly and evidently gone as though it had vanishe_nto the surrounding ether.
During this search, I had been vainly trying to put together some intelligen_olution of this remarkable affair. There was clearly no possibility tha_shton had inflicted this wound upon himself in falling, yet the suppositio_hat someone had entered the room from without seemed nullified by the bolte_oor and windows. I proceeded to closer examination of the matter.
The body lay with its head toward the window in the west wall of the room, an_ome six or eight feet from the window, and an even greater distance from th_alls on either side. There was no piece of furniture, no heavy object,
anywhere near at hand. I looked again at the queer, round conical hole in th_op of the dead man's head. It had evidently been delivered from above. _lanced up, and saw only the dim, unbroken expanse of the ceiling above me,
papered in white. I turned, absolutely nonplused, to Major Temple, who stoo_taring with protruding eyes at something upon the floor near one of th_indows. He picked it up, and handed it to me. "What do you make of that?" h_sked, in a startled voice, handing me what appeared to be a small piece o_ough Chinese paper. Upon it was inscribed, in black, a single Chinese letter.
I glanced at it, then handed it back, with the remark that I could mak_othing of it.
"It is the symbol of the god," he said, "the Buddha. The same sign wa_ngraved upon the base of the emerald figure, and I saw it in the temple a_ing Yang, upon the temple decorations. What is it doing here?" Then his fac_ighted up with a sudden idea. He rushed to the door, and opened it. "Gibson,"
he called peremptorily, to his man without, "find Li Min and bring him here a_nce. Don't let him out of your sight for a moment."
The man was gone ten minutes or more, during which time Major Temple walke_xcitedly up and down the room, muttering continually something about th_olice.
"They must be notified," I said, at last. He turned to me with a queer, half-
frightened look. "They can do no good, no good, whatever," he cried. "This i_he work of one of the Chinese secret societies. They are the cleveres_riminals in the world. I have lived among them, and I know."
"Even the cleverest criminals in the world couldn't bolt a door or window fro_he outside," I said.
"Do not be too sure of that. I have known them to do things equally strange.
By inserting a thin steel wedge between the edge of the door and the jamb the_ight with infinite patience work the bolt to one side or the other. Thi_ellow, Li Min, I brought from China with me. He is one of the most faithfu_ervants I have ever known. He belongs to the higher orders of society—I mea_hat he is not of the peasant or coolie class. He represented to me that h_as suspected of belonging to the Reform Association, the enemies of th_revailing order of things, and was obliged to leave the country to save hi_ead. I do not know, I do not know—possibly he may have been sent to watch.
They knew in Ping Yang that I was after the emerald Buddha. Who knows? The_re an amazing people—an amazing people." He turned to me suddenly. "Did yo_ear any footsteps or other noises in the hallway during the night?"
I told him that I thought I had, but that I could not be sure, that my slee_ad been troubled, but that I had only awakened a few minutes before I hear_shton's cry. At this moment Gibson returned, with a scared look on his face.
Li Min, he reported, had disappeared. No one had seen him since the nigh_efore. His room had apparently been occupied, but the Chinaman was nowhere t_e found.
"The police must be notified at once," I urged.
"I will attend to it," said the Major. "First we must have some coffee."
He closed the door of the room carefully, after we left it, and, taking th_ey from the lock—it had evidently not been used by Mr. Ashton the nigh_efore—locked the door from the outside and ordered Gibson to remain in th_allway without and allow no one to approach.
We finished dressing and then had a hurried cup of coffee and some muffins i_he breakfast-room. It was by now nearly eight o'clock, and I suggested t_ajor Temple that if he wished, I would drive into Exeter with one of his men,
notify the police and at the same time get my luggage.
I assured him that I had no desire to inflict myself upon him further as _uest, but that the murder of Ashton and the necessity of my appearing as _itness at the forthcoming inquest made it imperative that I should remai_pon the scene until the police were satisfied to have me depart. At m_ention of the police the Major showed great uneasiness, as before.
"You need not say anything about the—the emerald," he said, slowly; "it woul_nly create unnecessary talk and trouble."
"I'm afraid I must," I replied. "It is evidently the sole motive for th_urder—it has disappeared, and unless the police are apprised of its part i_he case, I fail to see how they can intelligently proceed in their attempt_o unravel the mystery."
He shook his head slowly. "What a pity!" he remarked. "What a pity! If th_tone is ever found now, the authorities will hold it as the property of th_ead man or his relations, if indeed he has any. And it would have been th_rowning glory of my collection." It was evident that Major Temple was fa_ore concerned over the loss of the emerald than over the death of Rober_shton. "But they will never find it—never!" he concluded with a cunnin_mile, and an assurance that startled me. I wondered for a moment whethe_ajor Temple knew more about the mysterious death of Robert Ashton tha_ppeared upon the surface, but, recollecting his excited search of the dea_an's belongings, dismissed the idea as absurd. It recurred, however, fro_ime to time during my short drive to Exeter, and the thought came to me tha_f Major Temple could in any way have caused or been cognizant of the death o_obert Ashton from without the room—without entering it—his first act afte_oing so would naturally have been to search for the emerald in the hope o_ecuring it before the police had been summoned to take charge of the case. _egretted that I had not examined the floor of the attic above, to determin_hether any carefully fitted trap door, or hidden chimney or other opening t_he interior of the room below existed. I also felt that it was imperativ_hat a careful examination of the walls, as well as of the ground outsid_eneath the three windows, should be made without delay. It was even possible,
I conjectured, that a clever thief could have in some way cut out one of th_indow panes, making an opening through which the window might have bee_pened and subsequently rebolted, though just how the glass could then hav_een replaced was a problem I was not prepared to solve. There was n_uestion, however, that Robert Ashton was dead, and that whoever had inflicte_hat deadly wound upon his head, and made away with the emerald Buddha, mus_ave entered the room in some way. I was not yet prepared to base an_ypotheses upon the supernatural. As I concluded these reflections, we entere_he town by way of Sidwell street and I stopped at the Half Moon and secure_y luggage. We then drove to the police headquarters and I explained the cas_urriedly to the Chief Constable, omitting all details except those pertainin_irectly to Mr. Ashton's death. The Chief Constable sent one of his men int_n inner room, who returned in a moment with a small, keen-looking, ferret-
faced man of some forty-eight or fifty years of age, with gray hair, shar_ray eyes and a smooth-shaven face. He introduced him to me as Sergean_cQuade, of Scotland Yard, who it seemed, happened to be in the city upon som_ounterfeiting case or other, and suggested that he accompany me back to th_ouse. We had driven in Major Temple's high Irish cart, and, putting the ma_ehind, I took the reins and with Sergeant McQuade beside me, started back i_he direction of The Oaks. We had scarcely left the limits of the town behin_s, when I noticed a figure in blue plodding slowly along the muddy road ahea_f us, in the same direction as ourselves, and Jones, the groom upon the dra_ehind me said, in a low voice as we drew alongside, that it was Li Min, Majo_emple's Chinese servant, whose sudden disappearance earlier in the mornin_ad caused so much excitement. The Chinaman looked at us with a blandl_nnocent face and, nodding pleasantly, bade us good morning. I stopped th_art and ordered Jones to get down and accompany him back to the house, and o_o account to let him out of his sight. As we drove on I explained all th_ircumstances of the case in detail to Sergeant McQuade, and informed him o_y reason for placing Jones as guard over the Chinaman. No sooner had I don_o than the Sergeant, in some excitement, requested me to return with him t_xeter at once. I did not inquire into his reasons for this step, but turne_y horse's head once more toward the town, the Sergeant meanwhile plying m_ith questions, many of which I regretted my inability to answer to hi_atisfaction. They related principally to the exact time at which the murde_ad occurred, and how soon the disappearance of Li Min had been discovered. _ecided at once that the detective had concluded that Li Min had committed th_urder and had then hurried off to Exeter to place the emerald Buddha in th_ands of some of his countrymen in the town, and was now proceeding leisurel_ack with some plausible story and a carefully arranged alibi to explain hi_bsence from the house. I mentioned my conclusions to the Sergeant and sa_rom his reply that my assumption was correct. "I hope we are not too late,"
he exclaimed as he suggested my urging the horse to greater speed. "It i_bsolutely necessary that we prevent any Chinaman from leaving the town unti_his matter is cleared up. I'm afraid however, that they have a good start o_s. There is a train to London at eight, and, if our man got away on that, i_ill be no easy matter to reach him."
"Of course you can telegraph ahead," I ventured.
"Of course." The detective smiled. "But the train is not an express, and ther_re a dozen stations within fifty miles of here where anyone could leave th_rain before I can get word along the line." He looked at his watch. "It i_ow ten minutes of nine. I am sorry that you did not notify the police a_nce." I made no reply, not wishing to prejudice the detective against Majo_emple by explaining my desire to do this very thing and the latter'_isinclination to have it done. We had reached police headquarters by thi_ime, and the Sergeant disappeared within for perhaps five minutes, the_uickly rejoined me and directed me to drive to the Queen Street Station. _aited here for him quite a long time and at last he came back with a fac_xpressive of much dissatisfaction. "Two of them went up on the eight train,"
he growled. "One of them the clerk in the booking office remembers as keepin_ laundry in Frog Street. The other he had never seen. They took tickets fo_ondon, third class." He swung himself into the seat beside me and sat i_ilence all the way to the house, evidently thinking deeply.
When we arrived at The Oaks, very soon after, we found the Major waitin_mpatiently for us in the hall. Jones and Li Min had arrived, and the Majo_ad subjected the latter, he informed us, to a severe cross-examination, wit_he result that the Chinaman had denied all knowledge of Mr. Ashton's deat_nd explained his absence from the house by saying that he had gone into tow_he night before to see his brother who had recently arrived from China, and,
knowing the habit of the household to breakfast very late, had supposed hi_eturn at nine o'clock would pass unnoticed. I made Major Temple acquainte_ith Sergeant McQuade, and we proceeded at once to the room where lay all tha_ow remained of the unfortunate Robert Ashton.