We sat in the dimly lighted library after dinner, having been joined b_ergeant McQuade who returned from Exeter about nine. I had not seen Mis_emple alone, since dinner, as she had retired to her room as soon as ou_ilent meal was over. The Major, after furnishing us with some excellen_igars, and some specially fine liqueur brandy, settled himself in his eas_hair and proceeded to tell us of his experiences, and those of Robert Ashton,
in the pursuit of the emerald Buddha. He seemed anxious to do this, to show t_he detective the probability of the murder of Ashton having occurred in a_ttempt upon the part of some Chinese secret or religious society to recove_he jewel. He showed no feeling of animosity toward the man from Scotland Yar_hether he felt it or not, and had either concluded that the latter's shar_uestioning of his daughter was justified by the curious and inexplicabl_ircumstances which surrounded the tragedy, or else was desirous of coverin_p his own knowledge of the matter by assuming a manner at once frank an_ngenuous.
"I spent almost all of last year," said the Major, "in traveling through th_nterior of China. I was for a long time stationed in India, and although _as placed upon the retired list nearly ten years ago, the spirit of the Eas_as called me, its fascination has drawn me toward the rising sun, ever since.
I had traveled extensively in India, Siam, Persia and even Japan, and wa_amiliar with most of the Chinese cities upon and near the coast, but th_nterior was to me until last year almost a sealed book. My daughter and _rrived at Pekin early last spring, and, after spending nearly a month in tha_ity, we began an extensive trip toward the West. I had made somewhat of _tudy of Chinese, while in India, having always been attracted by the art an_istory of that remarkable country, and during our stay in Pekin, and later,
while traveling inland, I managed to pick up enough of the local dialects t_ake myself understood. We traveled on horseback, and had a considerabl_etinue of native servants which we took along with us from Pekin. Th_xpedition was safe enough, barring the usual attempts of sneak thieves upo_ur stores, and while to persons not accustomed to traveling in such countrie_he journey would no doubt have been full of hardships, to us, familiar wit_uch work, it was fairly comfortable. We paid good prices for what we bough_n route, had no religious views to promulgate, and, by minding our ow_usiness strictly, we had no trouble with the natives of any serious moment. _ad managed to pick up a few samples of old porcelain and one or two excellen_vories of great age and beauty, but, beyond these, the trip had not yielde_uch in the way of curios for my collection, when in June we reached the cit_f Ping Yang. We found this place peculiarly interesting to us, with _opulation noticeably different from the inhabitants of the seaport towns, an_e remained there perhaps a month. I spent a good deal of time wandering abou_he town, looking at such examples of old bronzes, embroideries, curious bit_f jewelry, etc., as I could find in the shops and bazaars, and I frequentl_ad occasion to pass a small temple, maintained by the Buddhists in one of th_ower quarters of the town. Not over half of the Chinese are Buddhists, a_erhaps you may know, the number of devotees of that religion bein_onsiderably greater in the western and northwestern part of the empire,
toward Thibet, from which country the religion originally passed into China.
This temple, of which I speak, was a small one, but was notable because of th_act that a portion of the bone of the little finger of Buddha was preserved,
or said to be preserved, among the relics of the shrine. I had frequentl_bserved the priest, who had charge of the temple, sitting sunning himsel_utside its doorway as I passed, and on several occasions I had dropped som_oins into his hand with a salutation which would be equivalent to our Englis_ood luck. One day when I was passing, I remarked to one of my servants wh_as with me and who understood English fairly well, that I was curious to se_he interior of the shrine, and he, after a conversation with the templ_riest, informed me that, if I wished it, there would be no objection to m_oing so. I thereupon entered and found myself in a gloomy chamber diml_lluminated by several oil lamps hanging from the low ceiling. Around th_alls of the room hung some wonderful embroideries, which represented, so th_riest informed me, incidents in the life of Buddha. There were no seats, o_ourse, and the floor was of hard-packed clay. At the center of the rear en_f the room was a high wooden screen, elaborately carved, and lacquered i_ull red and gold. Through an opening in this screen I perceived a larg_ronze figure of the Buddha, before which was arranged, upon the low altar, _rofusion of flowers and food, offerings of the faithful to the deity. Ther_ere a number of small candles burning before the bronze figure, and behin_nd beyond it I saw a small room which evidently served as the living o_leeping chamber of the temple priest. After he had shown me everything in th_oom with much pride—he seemed a simple and earnest old fellow—I made ready t_epart and, before doing so, drew from my pocket a handful of the brass coins,
called cash, with which you are no doubt familiar, and thrust them into th_ld fellow's outstretched hands. He seemed deeply grateful and said a fe_ords in his native tongue to my servant, who turned to me with th_nformation that the priest was about to accord me an especial honor b_howing me the sacred relic of the Buddha. He approached the altar, and,
taking a key from his girdle, opened a small gold box covered with wonderfu_epoussé work, which stood directly in front of the sitting figure of the god,
and rested between his knees. Upon opening this box, he drew forth a smal_vory shrine, also elaborately carved, which he set upon the top of the firs_ox, and arranged so that the light from the candles fell upon it. He the_pened the ivory box with a small gold key, and I looked in. The relic of th_uddha, a small and insignificant looking piece of dirty brown bone, I pai_light attention to, for in that box, glistening and glowing with the mos_onderful color in the light of the candles, stood the emerald Buddha. Th_elic lay upon a piece of white silk, at the bottom of the box. There was _helf in the box, of ivory, half-way up its height, and upon this shelf,
occupying the upper half of the ivory casket, stood the emerald, its brillian_olor and marvelous workmanship rendered the more noticeable by the whit_ackground of the ivory. I inquired as to its history, through my servant, an_as informed that it had been brought to Ping Yang many centuries before, b_he priest who brought the relic from Thibet and founded the temple. He tol_e that it was an emerald, but neither the fact of its enormous size and valu_s a jewel nor its priceless beauty as an example of the most exquisit_orkmanship in the carving and cutting of gems that I had ever seen seemed t_ppeal to him. To him its value was solely of a religious nature: it was _tatue of the great teacher, carved by some devoted worshiper or patient mon_enturies before, and had always been venerated, next to the relic, as th_ost precious of all the temple's possessions. I told my servant to ask th_riest if they would sell it, but he seemed disinclined to make the reques_ntil I repeated my injunction rather sharply. When the message had bee_ranslated to the old man, he scowled darkly, his face lighting up with a loo_f sullen anger, and, hastily locking his treasures in their double box, h_urned without making any reply and began to usher us from the room. _epeated the request, this time using my own store of Chinese, and drew fort_ large roll of gold, but the priest waved me aside with an angry word, whic_ounded like a curse, and pointed to the door. There was nothing left but t_o, and I did so, though with the bitterest regret at leaving what _onsidered the most remarkable and unique of all the curios which I have eve_een in the whole course of my life and the one which I would have given mos_o possess. In the course of the next week I haunted the neighborhood of th_emple, and several times, finding the old priest sitting beside the door,
attempted to repeat my offer, but he invariably drew back with a look o_ntense hatred, and refused to listen to me. Upon my fourth or fifth attempt _ound him in company with several other Chinamen, evidently members of hi_ect, who regarded me with dark looks and muttered imprecations, and the nex_ime I appeared in the street I found myself surrounded by quite a mob o_xcited Chinamen who assailed me with fierce curses and cries, and even mad_s though to offer me personal violence. After this I felt that it would b_nsafe for me to venture into that quarter of the town again, and a few day_ater, finding that even in other sections of the city I was regarded wit_vident suspicion and dislike, I decided to leave the place and return t_ekin. We left Pekin early in August, and, after stopping at several of th_eaport cities, arrived early in October in Hong Kong where we made a stay o_everal weeks. It was here that I met Robert Ashton who, like myself, wa_raveling in China for the purpose of collecting rare examples of Chinese art,
and who, I soon found, possessed an extraordinary knowledge of the subject.
This knowledge, which is not common among us in the West, formed a bond o_ympathy between us, especially in that country so remote from home, where th_ight of an English face and the sound of one's native language are always s_elcome. During our stay there we saw a great deal of Mr. Ashton, and he soo_ecame very attentive to my daughter. She, like myself, has always felt a dee_nterest in Eastern art, and seemed rather to welcome Mr. Ashton's attentions,
and I was gratified to think that in him I might find a son-in-law who woul_ppreciate the collection, which has been my life work. I told him the stor_f my experiences in Ping Yang, in which he seemed deeply interested. H_nformed me that, although he had been in the city, he had never heard of th_merald Buddha. He intended going on to Pekin later in the autumn, an_roposed to me that he should attempt to secure the jewel for me. I told hi_hat I regarded its purchase as impossible, but he only laughed and said tha_e felt sure he could secure it. I made light of his claims, and, when he sai_n all seriousness one night that he would obtain it for me provided I woul_onsent to his marriage to my daughter, I agreed at once, both because I fel_is quest was an absolutely hopeless one and because I saw no objections t_im as a son-in-law in any event. I did not mention my agreement to m_aughter at the time, not wishing it to appear to her that I was bartering he_n return for a mere jewel. In fact I felt so certain that she would welcom_r. Ashton's advances that I preferred that she should remain in ignorance o_y compact with him. A few days later he departed for Pekin, and we returne_ome by way of India and Suez. On account of both my daughter's health and m_wn, we decided to take a house on the southwest coast for a time, my house i_ondon being under lease for a term of years, expiring this coming spring.
Upon my return I questioned my daughter with relation to Mr. Ashton, and wa_mazed and horrified to learn that, far from regarding him with sentiments o_steem, she bore toward him a feeling almost of aversion. I explained to he_he promise that I had made which it was now too late for me to recall, and a_y earnest request and almost at my command she wrote to Mr. Ashton, agreein_o abide by my wishes in the matter. That was six or eight months ago, and _eard nothing from him until two days ago when he telegraphed me fro_outhampton that he had arrived in England and would come to see me at once.
"His story, as he related it to me at dinner last night, was like an adventur_rom the Arabian Nights. After completing his business in Pekin, he had se_ut upon his long journey to Ping Yang with only a single native servant, _hinaman from the south, a Confucian, who was devoted to him, and owed him _ebt of gratitude for saving his life on one occasion. Accompanied only b_his man, he penetrated slowly to within about fifteen miles of the city o_ing Yang, and there, in a small village, he lived for over a month, in a_nconspicuous way. He spoke Chinese well, and, with the assistance of hi_ervant, got hold of a dress such as is worn by the Buddhist pilgrim monks i_hina, who, casting aside the things of this World, spend their life i_andering about from shrine to shrine, living on the alms of the faithful an_reaching the doctrines of their religion as they go. In this dress, wit_haven head and staff in hand, he had arrived, alone, in Ping Yang one evenin_t dusk and at once proceeded to the temple, the location of which I ha_arefully described to him. Arriving at the door, with an offering of flowers,
he entered, and, prostrating himself before the shrine, seemed lost in prayer.
There were a number of other worshipers in the temple at the time, and stil_thers came and went as the evening wore on, but Ashton continued in hi_lace, muttering his prayers and pretending to be in great agony of spirit.
Presently the hour grew late and one by one the worshipers departed, unti_nly Ashton and the old temple priest were left. The latter, in som_mpatience, came up to him, and informed him that the hour was late and tha_e had better continue his devotions upon the morrow. Ashton pretended to b_uffering from some sudden illness, and lay upon the floor moaning pitifully.
As the old monk bent over him to see whether he could hear his muttered word_shton suddenly seized him by the throat, and with his powerful hands choke_im into silence. He then gagged him with a piece of cloth which he ha_rought for the purpose, and, taking from his girdle the keys of the smal_hrine, proceeded to quickly open it and abstract the coveted emerald Buddha.
Escape was easy. The old priest, unable to utter a sound would be unable t_ive the alarm until the next morning, and by that time Ashton, who had lef_is servant with their horses at a retired spot outside the town, would b_iles away, journeying peaceably toward Pekin as an English traveler. Hi_scape, however, was not to be so easily effected. Whether the old pries_enetrated his disguise as he sprang upon him, or whether the uproar int_hich the town was thrown reached the house at which the disguise had bee_ssumed, he of course never knew, but it is certain that, after progressin_oward Pekin for two days, they became aware that they were being followed b_ numerous party of Chinese upon horseback, armed with pikes, bows and arrows,
and some muskets. They got wind of the pursuing party before they themselve_ere seen, and, swerving from the main road, abandoned their horses in _onely bit of wood, and while Ashton hid in the underbrush, his servant, afte_aiting until their pursuers had passed, went out and procured at a near-b_illage a set of Chinese clothing similar to his own, which Ashton donne_fter burying his own belongings in a swampy pond in the wood. From here o_is adventures were exciting and varied, but as they progressed in _outheasterly direction they got beyond the zone which had been affected b_he robbery of the temple, and at last succeeded in reaching the coast. Fro_ere they went north to Pekin, where the pseudo-Chinamen disappeared one nigh_nto the house where Ashton maintained his headquarters while in Pekin, an_he next morning Ashton appeared in European clothing, and began makin_rrangements to leave for his long trip to England. The rest of the story yo_now. He arrived here last night, and this morning he was found murdered an_he emerald Buddha has disappeared. God knows what influences have been a_ork in his taking off. As for me, I know no more about it than you do."
As Major Temple concluded his story, he gazed at Sergeant McQuade and mysel_n turn, then passed his hand nervously over his forehead, as though th_train of the tragedy had begun to tell upon him severely.
McQuade rose, and I did likewise, and, bidding the Major good-night we lef_he room, leaving him sitting dejectedly enough, I thought, in his easy chair,
patting the head of his great mastiff, Boris. It was past midnight when I lef_cQuade at the foot of the staircase, and, in spite of all the excitement o_he day, I found myself so worn out that I was asleep almost as soon as I ha_laced my head upon the pillow.