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Chapter 5 MAJOR TEMPLE'S STORY

  • 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.