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- Tales of Chinatown - 50/57 -
eyes which I loathed, which everybody loathed who ever met the man. Of course I had no idea what all this portended, but I was very shortly to learn.
"While he was still looking at me, but stealing side-glances at a doorway before which was draped a most wonderful curtain of a sort of flamingo colour, this curtain was suddenly pulled aside, and a girl came in.
"Of course, you must remember that at the time of which I am speaking the scandal respecting the mandarin had not yet come to light. Consequently I had no idea who the girl could be. I saw she was a Eurasian. But of her striking beauty there could be no doubt whatever. She was dressed in magnificent robes, and she literally glittered with jewels. She even wore jewels upon the toes of her little bare feet. But the first thing that struck me at the moment of her appearance was that her presence there was contrary to her wishes and inclinations. I have never seen a similar expression in any woman's eyes. She looked at Adderley as though she would gladly have slain him!
"Seeing this look, his mocking smile in which there was something of triumph--of the joy of possession--turned to a scowl of positive brutality. He clenched his fists in a way that set me bristling. He advanced toward the girl--and although the width of the room divided them, she recoiled--and the significance of expression and gesture was unmistakable. Adderley paused.
"'So you have made up your mind to dance after all?' he shouted.
"The look in the girl's dark eyes was pitiful, and she turned to me with a glance of dumb entreaty.
"'No, no!' she cried. 'No, no! Why do you bring me here?'
"'Dance!' roared Adderley. 'Dance! That's what I want you to do.'
"Rebellion leapt again to the wonderful eyes, and she started back with a perfectly splendid gesture of defiance. At that my brutal and drunken host leapt in her direction. I was on my feet now, but before I could act the girl said a thing which checked him, sobered him, which pulled him up short, as though he had encountered a stone wall.
"'Ah, God!' she said. (She was speaking, of course, in her native tongue.) 'His hand! His hand! Look! His hand!'
"To me her words were meaningless, naturally, but following the direction of her positively agonized glance I saw that she was watching what seemed to me to be the shadow of someone moving behind the flame-like curtain which produced an effect not unlike that of a huge, outstretched hand, the fingers crooked, claw- fashion.
"'Knox, Knox!' whispered Adderley, grasping me by the shoulder.
"He pointed with a quivering finger toward this indistinct shadow upon the curtain, and:
"'Do you see it--do you see it?' he said huskily. 'It is his hand--it is his hand!'
"Of the pair, I think, the man was the more frightened. But the girl, uttering a frightful shriek, ran out of the room as though pursued by a demon. As she did so whoever had been moving behind the curtain evidently went away. The shadow disappeared, and Adderley, still staring as if hypnotized at the spot where it had been, continued to hold my shoulder as in a vise. Then, sinking down upon a heap of cushions beside me, he loudly and shakily ordered more champagne.
"Utterly mystified by the incident, I finally left him in a state of stupor, and returned to my quarters, wondering whether I had dreamed half of the episode or the whole of it, whether he did really possess that wonderful palace, or whether he had borrowed it to impress me."
I ceased speaking, and my story was received in absolute silence, until:
"And that is all you know?" said Burton.
"Absolutely all. I had to leave about that time, you remember, and afterward went to France."
"Yes, I remember. It was while you were away that the scandal arose respecting the mandarin. Extraordinary story, Knox. I should like to know what it all meant, and what the end of it was."
Dr. Matheson broke his long silence.
"Although I am afraid I cannot enlighten you respecting the end of the story," he said quietly, "perhaps I can carry it a step further."
"Really, Doctor? What do you know about the matter?"
"I accidentally became implicated as follows," replied the American: "I was, as you know, doing voluntary surgical work near Singapore at the time, and one evening, presumably about the same period of which Knox is speaking, I was returning from the hospital at Katong, at which I acted sometimes as anaesthetist, to my quarters in Singapore; just drifting along, leisurely by the edge of the gardens admiring the beauty of the mangroves and the deceitful peace of the Eastern night.
"The hour was fairly late and not a soul was about. Nothing disturbed the silence except those vague sibilant sounds which are so characteristic of the country. Presently, as I rambled on with my thoughts wandering back to the dim ages, I literally fell over a man who lay in the road.
"I was naturally startled, but I carried an electric pocket torch, and by its light I discovered that the person over whom I had fallen was a dignified-looking Chinaman, somewhat past middle age. His clothes, which were of good quality, were covered with dirt and blood, and he bore all the appearance of having recently been engaged in a very tough struggle. His face was notable only for its possession of an unusually long jet-black moustache. He had swooned from loss of blood."
"Why, was he wounded?" exclaimed Jennings.
"His hand had been nearly severed from his wrist!"
"I realized the impossibility of carrying him so far as the hospital, and accordingly I extemporized a rough tourniquet and left him under a palm tree by the road until I obtained assistance. Later, at the hospital, following a consultation, we found it necessary to amputate."
"I should say he objected fiercely?"
"He was past objecting to anything, otherwise I have no doubt he would have objected furiously. The index finger of the injured hand had one of those preternaturally long nails, protected by an engraved golden case. However, at least I gave him a chance of life. He was under my care for some time, but I doubt if ever he was properly grateful. He had an iron constitution, though, and I finally allowed him to depart. One queer stipulation he had made--that the severed hand, with its golden nail-case, should be given to him when he left hospital. And this bargain I faithfully carried out."
"Most extraordinary," I said. "Did you ever learn the identity of the old gentleman?"
"He was very reticent, but I made a number of inquiries, and finally learned with absolute certainty, I think, that he was the Mandarin Quong Mi Su from Johore Bahru, a person of great repute among the Chinese there, and rather a big man in China. He was known locally as the Mandarin Quong."
"Did you learn anything respecting how he had come by his injury, Doctor?"
Matheson smiled in his quiet fashion, and selected a fresh cigar with great deliberation. Then:
"I suppose it is scarcely a case of betraying a professional secret," he said, "but during the time that my patient was recovering from the effects of the anaesthetic he unconsciously gave me several clues to the nature of the episode. Putting two and two together I gathered that someone, although the name of this person never once passed the lips of the mandarin, had abducted his favourite wife."
"Good heavens! truly amazing," I exclaimed.
"Is it not? How small a place the world is. My old mandarin had traced the abductor and presumably the girl to some house which I gathered to be in the neighbourhood of Katong. In an attempt to force an entrance--doubtless with the amiable purpose of slaying them both--he had been detected by the prime object of his hatred. In hurriedly descending from a window he had been attacked by some weapon, possibly a sword, and had only made good his escape in the condition in which I found him. How far he had proceeded I cannot say, but I should imagine that the house to which he had been was no great distance from the spot where I found him."
"Comment is really superfluous," remarked Burton. "He was looking for Adderley."
"I agree," said Jennings.
"And," I added, "it was evidently after this episode that I had the privilege of visiting that interesting establishment."
There was a short interval of silence; then:
"You probably retain no very clear impression of the shadow which you saw," said Dr. Matheson, with great deliberation. "At the time perhaps you had less occasion particularly to study it. But are you satisfied that it was really caused by someone moving behind the curtain?"
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