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- Tales of Chinatown - 57/57 -


interested.

"He was found dead at the back of the native cantonments, with a knife in his heart!"

"Oh!" exclaimed Lady Dascot. "How positively ghastly! I don't think I want to see the dreadful thing!"

"Really!" murmured Madame de Medici, turning languidly to the speaker. "I do."

The Colonel stooped and reached into the safe. Then he began to take out object after object, box after box. Finally, he straightened himself again, and all saw that his face was oddly blanched.

"It's gone!" he whispered hoarsely. "The Key of the Temple of Heaven has been stolen!"

VI

MADAME SMILES

Rene entered his bedroom, locked the door, and seated himself on the bed; then he lowered his head into his hands and clutched at his hair distractedly. Since, on his uncle's own showing, no one knew that the Key of the Temple of Heaven had been in the safe, since, excepting himself (Rene) and the Colonel, no one else knew the lock combination, how the Key had been stolen was a mystery which defied conjecture. No one but the Colonel had approached within several yards of the safe at the time it was opened; so that clearly the theft had been committed prior to that time.

Now Rene sought to recall the details of a strange dream which he had dreamed immediately before awakening on the previous night; but he sought in vain. His memory could supply only blurred images. There had been a safe in his dream, and he--was it he or another?--had unlocked it. Also there had been an enormous ivory Buddha. . . . Yet, stay! it had not been enormous; it had been. . .

He groaned at his own impotency to recall the circumstances of that mysterious, perhaps prophetic dream; then in despair he gave it up, and stooping to a little secretaire, unlocked it with the idea of sending a note round to Annesley's chambers. As he did so he uttered a loud cry.

Lying in one of the pigeon-holes was a long piece of black silk, apparently torn from the lining of an opera hat. In it two holes were cut as if it were intended to be used as a mask. Beside it lay a little leather-covered box. He snatched it out and opened it. It was empty!

"Am I going mad?" he groaned. "Or------"

"You are wanted on the 'phone, sir."

It was the butler who had interrupted him. Rene descended to the telephone, dazedly, but, recognizing the voice of Annesley, roused himself.

"I'm leaving town to-night, Deacon," said Annesley, "for--well, many reasons. But before I go I must give you a warning, though I rely on you never to mention my name in the matter. Avoid the woman who calls herself Madame de Medici; she'll break you. She's an adventuress, and has a dangerous acquaintance with Eastern cults, and. . . I can't explain properly. . . ."

"Annesley! the Key!"

"It's the theft of the Key that has prompted me to speak, Deacon. Madame has some sort of power--hypnotic power. She employed it on me once, to my cost! Paul Harley, of Chancery Lane, can tell you more about her. The house she's living in temporarily used to belong to a notorious Eurasian, Zani Chada. To make a clean breast of it I daren't thwart her openly; but I felt it up to me to tell you that she possesses the secret of post-hypnotic suggestion. I may be wrong, but I think you stole that Key!"

"I!"

"She hypnotized you at some time, and, by means of this uncanny power of hers, ordered you to steal the Key of the Temple of Heaven in such and such a fashion at a certain hour in the night. . ."

"I had a strange seizure while I was at her house. . . ."

"Exactly! During that time you were receiving your hypnotic orders. You would remember nothing of them until the time to execute them--which would probably be during sleep. In a state of artificial somnambulism, and under the direction of Madame's will, you became a burglar!"

As Madame de Medici's car drove off from the house of Colonel Deacon, and Madame seated herself in the cushioned corner, up from amid the furs upon the floor, where, dog-like, he had lain concealed, rose the little yellow man from the Temple of Heaven. He extended eager hands toward her, kneeling there, and spoke:

"Quick! quick!" he breathed. "You have it? The Key of the Temple."

Madame held in her hand an ivory Buddha. Inverting it she unscrewed the pedestal, and out from the hollow inside the image dropped a gleaming Key.

"Ah!" breathed the yellow man, and would have clutched it; but Madame disdainfully raised her right hand which held the treasure, and with her left hand thrust down the clutching yellow fingers.

She dropped the Key between her white skin and the bodice of her gown, tossing the ivory figure contemptuously amid the fur.

"Ah!" repeated the yellow man in a different tone, and his eyes gleamed with the flame of fanaticism. He slowly uprose, a sinister figure, and with distended fingers prepared to seize Madame by the throat. His eyes were bloodshot, his nostrils were dilated, and his teeth were exposed like the fangs of a wolf.

But she pulled off her glove and stretched out her bare white hand to him as a queen to a subject; she raised the long curved lashes, and the great amber eyes looked into the angry bloodshot eyes.

The little yellow man began to breathe more and more rapidly; soon he was panting like one in a fight to the death who is all but conquered. At last he dropped on his knees amid the fur. . . and the curling lashes were lowered again over the blazing amber eyes that had conquered.

Madame de Medici lowered her beautiful white hand, and the little yellow man seized it in both his own and showered rapturous kisses upon it.

Madame smiled slightly.

"Poor little yellow man!" she murmured in sibilant Chinese, "you shall never return to the Temple of Heaven!"


Tales of Chinatown - 57/57

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