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- Wild Youth, Volume 2. - 10/12 -

and a Chinaman entered--one of the two who had appeared so strangely on the scene the day before. He advanced to the Coroner with both hands loosely hanging in the great sleeves of his blue padded coat, his eyes blinking slowly underneath the brown forehead and the little black skullcap, and after making salutation with his arms, in curious, monotonous English with a quaint accent he said:

"Li Choo--Li Choo--he speak. He have to say. He send."

Holding up a piece of paper, he handed it to the Coroner and then stood blinking and immobile.

A few moments afterwards, the Coroner said: "I have received this note from Li Choo the Chinaman, sometime employed by the deceased Joel Mazarine. I will read it to you." Slowly he read:

"I say gloddam. That Orlando he not kill Mazaline. I say gloddam Mazaline. That Mazaline he Chlistian. He says Chlist his brother. Chlist not save him when Li Choo's fingers had Mazaline's thloat. That gloddam Mazaline I kill. That Mazaline kicked me, hit me with whip; where he kick, I sick all time. I not sleep no more since then. That Louise, it no good she stay with Mazaline. Confucius speak like this: 'Young woman go to young man; young bird is for green leaves, not dry branch.' That Louise good woman; that Orlando hell-fellow good. I kill Mazaline--gloddam, with my hands I kill. You want know all why Li Choo kill? You want kill Li Choo? You come!"

As the Coroner stopped reading, amid gasps of excitement, the Chinaman who had brought the notewith brown skin polished like a kettle, expressionless, save for the twinkling mystery of the brown eyesmade three motions of obeisance up and down with his hands clasped in the great sleeves, and then said:

"He not come you; you come him. He gleat man. He speak all--come. I show where."

"Where is he?" asked the Coroner.

The Chinaman did not reply for a moment. Then he said: "He sacrifice before you take him. He gleat man--come." He slip-slopped towards the door as though confident he would be followed.

Two minutes afterwards the Coroner, Orlando, the Young Doctor, Nolan Doyle and the rest stood at the low doorway of what looked like a great grave. It was, however, a big root-house used for storing vegetables in the winter-time. It had not been used since Mazarine arrived at Tralee. Into this place, nor far from the house, Li Choo and his two fellow countrymen had gone the day before, when Mazarine, in his rage, had come forth with the horsewhip to punish the "Chinky," as Li Choo was familiarly known on the ranch.

As they arrived at the vault-like place in the ground, which would hold many tons of roots, another Chinaman came to the doorway. He was one of the two who, in their sudden coming and going, had seemed like magic people to Mazarine the day before. He made upward and downward motions of respect with clasped hands in the blue sleeves, and presently, in perfect English, he said:

"In one minute Li Choo will receive you. It is the moment of sacrifice. You wish him to die for the death of Mazarine. So be it. It is right for him to die. You will hang him; that is your law. He will not prevent you. He has told the truth, but he is making the sacrifice. When that is done you will enter and take him to prison."

The two constables standing beside the Coroner made a move forward, as though to show they meant to enforce the law without any palaver.

The Chinaman raised the palms of both hands at them. "Not yet," he said. Then he looked at the Coroner. "You are master. Will you not prevent them?"

The Coroner motioned the constables back. "All right," he said. "You seem to speak good English."

"I come from England-from Oxford University," answered the Chinaman with dignity. "I have learned English for many years. I am the son of Duke Ki. I came to see my uncle, the brother of Duke Ki. He is making sacrifice before you take him."

"Well, I'm blasted," said Jonas Billings from the crowd. "Chinese dukes, eh! What's it all about?" "Reg'lar hocus-pocus," remarked the vagabond brother of Rigby the chemist.

At that moment little coloured lights suddenly showed in the darkness of the root-house, and there was the tinkling of a bell. Then a voice seemed calling, but softly, with a long, monotonous, thrilling note.

"Many may not come," said the Chinaman at the door to the Coroner, as he turned and entered the low doorway.

A minute afterwards the two constables held back the crowd from the doorway of the root-house, from the threshold of which a few wooden steps descended to the ground inside.

A strange sight greeted the eyes of those permitted to enter.

The root-house had been transformed. What had been a semi-underground place composed of scantlings, branches of trees and mother earth, with a kind of vaulted roof, had been made into a sort of Chinese temple. All round the walls were hung curtains of black and yellow, decorated with dragons in gold, and above, suspended by cords at the four corners, was a rug or banner of white ornamented with a great tortoise--the sacred animal of Chinese religion--with gold eyes and claws. All round the side of the room were set coloured lights, shaded and dim. Coming from the bright outer sunlight, the place in its shadowed state seemed half- sepulchral.

When the Coroner, Orlando, the Young Doctor and the others had accustomed themselves to the dimness, they saw at the end of the chamber--for such, in effect, it had been made with its trappings and decorations--a figure seated upon the ground. Near by the figure, on either hand, there were standards bearing banners, and the staffs holding the banners were, bound in white silk, with long streamers hanging down. Half enclosing the banners were fanlike screens. Along the walls also were flags with toothed edges. The figure was seated on a mat of fine bamboo in the midst of this strange scheme of decoration. Behind him, and drawn straight across the chamber, was a sheet of fine white cloth, embroidered with strange designs. He was clothed in a rich jacket of blue, and a pair of sandal-like shoes was placed neatly in front of the bamboo mat. On either side and in front of all, raised a little from the ground, were bowls or calabashes containing fruit, grain and dried and pickled meats. It was all orderly, circumspect, weird, and even stately though the place was small. Finally, in front of the motionless figure was a tiny brazier in which was a small fire.

Before the spectators had taken in the whole picture, the Chinaman who had entered with them came and stood on the right of the space occupied by the mat, near to the banners and the screens, and under a yellow light which hung from the vaulted roof.

The figure on the fine bamboo mat was Li Choo, but not the Li Choo which Tralee and Askatoon had known. He was seated with legs crossed in Oriental fashion and with head slightly bowed. His face was calm and dignified. It had an impassiveness which made an interminable distance between him and those who had till now looked upon him as a poor Chinky, doing a roustabout's work on a ranch, the handy-man, the Jack-of-all- trades. Yet in spite of the menial work which he had done, it was now to be seen that the despised Li Choo had still lived his own life, removed by centuries and innumerable leagues from his daily slavery.

As they looked at him, brooding, immobile, strange, he lifted his head, and the excessive brightness of his black eyes struck with a sense of awe all who saw. It was absurd that Li Choo, the hireling, "Yellowphiz," as he had also been called, should here command a situation with the authority of one who ruled.

Presently he spoke, not in broken English, but in Chinese. It was interpreted by the Chinaman standing on the right by the screens, in well cadenced, cultured English.

"I have to tell you," said Li Choo--the other's voice repeated the words after him--"that I am the son of greatness, of a ruler in my own land. It was by the Yang-tze-kiang, and there were riches and pleasant things in the days of my youth. In the hunt, at the tavern, I was first amongst them all. I had great strength. I once killed a bear with my bare hands. My hands had fame.

"I had office in the city where my cousin ruled. He was a bad man, and was soon forgotten, though his children mourn for him as is the custom. I killed him. He gave counsel concerning the city when there was war, but his counsel was that of a traitor, and the city was lost. Now behold, it is written that he who has given counsel about the country or its capital should perish with it when it comes into peril. He would not die--so I killed him; but not before he had heaped upon me baseness and shame. So I killed him.

"Yet it is written that when a minister kills his ruler, all who are in office with him shall without mercy kill him who did the deed. That is the law. It was the word of the Son of Heaven that this should be. But those who were in office with me would not kill me, because they approved of what I did. Yet they must kill me, since it was the law. What was there to do but in the night to flee, so that they who should kill me might not obey the law? Had I remained, and they had not obeyed the law, they also would have been slain."

He paused for a moment and then went on. "So I fled, and it is many years since by the Yang-tze-kiang I killed my ruler and saved my friends. Yet I had not been faithful to the ancient law, and so through the long years I have done low work among a low people. This was for atonement, for long ago by the Yang-tzekiang I should have died, and behold, I have lived until now. To save my friends from the pain of killing me I fled and lived; but at last here at this place I said to myself that I must die. So, secretly, I made this cellar into a temple.

"That was a year ago, and I sent to my brother the Duke Ki to speak to him what was in my mind, so that he might send my kinsmen to me, that when I came to die, it should be after the manner ordained by the Son of Heaven; that my body should be clothed according to the ancient rites by my own people, my mouth filled with rice, and the meats, and grains and fruits of sacrifice be placed on a mat at the east of my body when I died; that the curtain should be hung before my corpse; that I should be laid upon a mat of fine bamboo, and dressed, and prepared for my grave, and put into a noble coffin as becomes a superior man. Did not the Son of Heaven say that we speak of the end of a superior man, but we speak of the death of a small man? I was a superior man, but I have lived as a small man these many days; and now, behold, I am drawing near to my end as a superior man.

"I wished that nothing should be forgotten; that all should be done when I, of the house of the Duke Ki, came to my superior end. So, these my

Wild Youth, Volume 2. - 10/12

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