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Chapter 2 A CRY IN THE MORNING

  • 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.