A Mysterious Letter

If Miss Wharf’s tragic death made a great sensation in Marport,
the announcement that Miss Rayner was married secretly to
Ainsleigh of Royabay made a still greater one. Some people
thought Olivia had behaved badly to her aunt, and these were
confirmed in their belief, by the story told by Miss Pewsey. But
others considered the marriage to be quite romantic, and,
knowing how Miss Wharf had tried to make her niece marry
Clarence, were pleased that the girl had thus circumvented the
schemes of the buccaneer. But, whether the critics were hostile
or favourable, they were all equally anxious to call at Royabay
and see its new mistress.

Mrs. Ainsleigh received them quietly, and with a dignity which
compelled all to refrain from making remarks, unpleasant or
otherwise. She settled down rapidly to her new position, and
after a time, everyone was quite on her side. Certainly, a few
ill-disposed people agreed with Miss Pewsey, who could not say
anything sufficiently bad about Mrs. Ainsleigh: but on the
whole, people were anxious to welcome the new mistress of the
great place of Marport. Rupert and Olivia appeared to be very
happy, and after all–as someone said, “the marriage was their
own business.”

A month after the installation of Olivia at Royabay, her husband
received a visitor in the person of Dr. Forge. That melancholy
man made his appearance one afternoon, when the young couple
were in the garden, and therefore, they could not refuse to see
him. Olivia, had she been able, would certainly have declined
the visit, as she was aware that Forge intended to marry Miss
Pewsey next month. As it was, she had to be polite and she was
coldly so. Rupert also, was not very genial. From what John
Petley had said, and from what Tung-yu had hinted, he began to
think that Forge was not the friend he pretended to be, and
consequently the young man was on his guard. Dr. Forge saw this,
and seized the opportunity when Olivia went within,–which she
did as soon as politeness permitted,–to speak to his quondam
ward.

“We don’t appear to be friends,” said the doctor.

“I don’t see how you can expect it,” replied Rupert coldly, “you
marry Miss Pewsey next month, and she has been, and is, Olivia’s
bitter enemy.”

“I am aware that my future wife is prejudiced,” said he
deliberately, “but I assure you Rupert, she did not scheme for
that money.”

Ainsleigh scoffed. “Why she spied on Olivia and told Miss Wharf,
what we would rather had been kept silent.”

“I don’t think you acted quite fairly towards Miss Wharf.”

“That is my business. I don’t intend to defend myself,” was the
young man’s reply, “did you come to discuss this matter?”

“No. I came to ask how this matter would effect your future.”

“In what way?”

“In the way you stand with your creditors.”

Rupert did not reply immediately. The two were walking on the
lawn, but Rupert entered the door of the Abbey and strolled
round the ruins with Forge by his side. He mistrusted the man
intensely. “I should like to know if you are my friend?” he
asked, giving utterance to this mistrust.

“Surely I am,” was the quiet reply, “why should you think me to
be otherwise. Because I marry Miss Pewsey?”

“No. You can marry whom you choose. I have nothing to do with
that. Dr. Forge, But when you were my guardian, why did you not
tell me that the property was so encumbered?”

“I wanted your boyhood to be unclouded. And also,” he added,
seeing Rupert make a gesture of contempt, “I thought you might
get money from China.”

Rupert started. “What do you mean by that?”

“Well,” said Forge deliberately and looking on the ground, “you
know that your father and I invested in a gold mine on the Hwei
River? Well we worked it for a long time until your father died
of dysentery–”

“Are you sure he died of dysentery?” asked Ainsleigh sharply.

“So far as I know he did,” was Forge’s patient reply, “as I told
you before, I was in Pekin when he died. But if you are in doubt
you should go to China and ask Lo-Keong.”

“What has he to do with it?”

“This much,” said Forge quietly, “and I am telling you, what I
have kept hitherto from every living creature. Your father and I
made money out of the mine–a great sum. I made the most–about
ten thousand pounds, but your father made at least eight
thousand.”

“And where is that money?” asked Rupert anxiously.

“Lo-Keong has it. Yes! I went to Pekin to get a concession with
regard to buying or leasing more land. I left your father with
Lo-Keong. He was at that time a kind of foreman. But also, he
was in the confidence of the rebellious Boxer leaders. These
threatened to undermine the power of the Dowager Empress, who
was not then, so strong as she is now. As a matter of fact,
Lo-Keong himself was a leader of the Boxers. He came to us in
disguise, and worked up until he became our foreman; but he did
this, because he heard that the mine was paying, and wanted
money–”

“Your money?” asked Ainsleigh deeply interested.

“Yes, and the money belonging to your father–in all, eighteen
thousand pounds. When I was at Pekin, your father, who did not
understand the Chinese so well as I did, managed to make
trouble–”

“In what way?”

“He interfered with the religion of the coolies in some way–a
most disastrous thing to do. Lo-Keong took advantage of the riot
and robbed your father of the eighteen thousand pounds.”

“And killed my father.”

“Ah,” said Forge quietly, “I really can’t say that. It was it
reported to me at Pekin that Markham had died of dysentery. He
was buried near the mine. I was advised not to go back, as the
Chinese were enraged against the foreign devils. Lo-Keong took
the money and returned to his Boxers, where, with the money, he
attained to even greater power, than he formerly had possessed.
Afterwards he deserted his party and came on the side of the
Empress Dowager. She is a clever woman and was glad to get him,
so he speedily rose high at court. Now, he is very powerful.”

“And still holds my father’s money.”

“Precisely, and mine also. I have been to China again and again,
to try and make Lo-Keong give up this money, and then, I
intended to pay you eight thousand pounds. But hitherto I have
failed. I am about to make a last attempt, as I sail for Canton
after Christmas. I had intended to go earlier, but I must marry
Miss Pewsey and leave her in charge of my house, as Mrs. Forge,
before I go. So now you know Rupert why I went so frequently to
China.”

“And what has the fan to do with all this?”

“Nothing so far as I know. It is Lo-Keong’s property and was a
bequest which he values. I understand that there is some secret
belonging to it, connected with political affairs, and which
make his enemies anxious to get hold of it.”

“Didn’t you know the secret, when you possessed the fan?”

“No,” said Forge viciously, “I wish I had known it. If it could
have damaged Lo-Keong I certainly should have made every use of
it. He keeps me out of ten thousand pounds, and it’s through his
influence with the Empress Dowager that I am prevented from
working the mine further. It is a rich mine, and if I worked it,
I could make a fortune. But Lo-Keong stopped that. I was a fool,
not to use the fan and make Lo-Keong give me the mine for it.”

“But you _did_ give him the fan.”

Forge looked confused for a moment. “Yes, I did,” said he after
a pause, “that is, it was taken from me. I got it from Tidman in
the way you know, and always expected trouble. But I expect Hwei
and Tung-yu did not find out at the time, that it had come to
this country, so I was left alone. Had they discovered, that I
was the possessor I should have been killed–”

“Or you might have got a large sum of money.”

“Quite so. It would have all depended if I gave the fan to Hwei
or to Tung-yu. I should have preferred the latter, but of course
I never knew the different days appointed by the god.”

“Then that business is really true.”

“I believe it is. But I never knew much about it, till Tung-yu
told me. Then it was too late, Miss Wharf had the fan, and it
was Hwei’s day. He took advantage of the chance.”

“Do you think he was here?”

“Yes. Certainly. He killed Miss Wharf.”

“But the verdict said that Tung-yu–”

“Pooh–pooh,” cried Forge snapping his long fingers. “Tung-yu
would not have dared to disobey the order of Kwang-ho the god.
Hwei is the culprit, but I said as little as I could about that,
I don’t want to be entangled in the matter again. But one of the
Chinamen has the fan, and by this time it is nearly at Pekin.
There doesn’t seem to be much chance of our getting that money
Rupert.”

“You did give the fan to Lo-Keong,” reiterated Ainsleigh.

“Well it was taken from me. I went to his palace and told him I
would give him the fan in exchange for the eighteen thousand
pounds. I then intended to come back and give you eight, to
clear off your mortgages and resolved to live on the remaining
ten which are rightfully my own. But Lo-Keong had me seized, and
the fan was taken from me. He then forbade me setting foot in
China again. But I am going, for all that,” said Forge
threateningly, “I shall go after Christmas. I am bound to get my
money and yours.”

“You kept that fan for a long time?”

“For two years only, and then, when I thought everything had
blown over, I took it to Lo-Keong with what result you know. Now
then, I have been plain with you Rupert. Surely you can see that
I am your friend.”

“Tung-yu said you were not. Doctor.”

“Naturally,” replied Forge, “he wanted to make bad blood between
us, so that I should not tell you this story. How does he
know–Tung-yu I mean–but what you might not go to China and
complain about Lo-Keong keeping this money.”

“I prefer to stop here with my wife,” said Ainsleigh. “But _you_
can complain.”

“And be hanged, or sliced, or shot, or fried. No thank you.
Remember what kind of treatment Tidman met with at the hands of
Hwei.”

“What. Was he the one-eyed Chinaman?”

“Yes. He’s the gentleman, and I hope he won’t come your way. He
is a beast. But by this time, he and Tung-yu are on their way
back to their own land. And now Rupert, I’ll say good-bye. As I
am poor myself, lacking this ten thousand pounds, rightfully
mine, which Lo-Keong detains, I can’t help you. But I’ll tell
you what I’ll do. I’ll get Miss Pewsey to extend that mortgage.”

“No, thank you all the same,” said Ainsleigh, throwing back his
head.

“I don’t want to be indebted to your wife.”

“She is not my wife _yet_,” said Forge significantly.

“But you intend to marry her.”

“Yes–yes–quite so.” Forge looked queerly at Rupert, as though
about to say something. Then he changed his mind and walked away
rapidly, without saying good-bye. Rupert returned to the house
and told his wife all that had taken place. She was still
doubtful of Forge’s good intentions.

“A decent man would not marry that wicked little woman.”

“Well,” said Rupert doubtfully, “from the way he spoke and
looked, I think Miss Pewsey marries him and not Forge, Miss
Pewsey.”

Mrs. Ainsleigh looked up quickly. “Has she got any hold over
him?”

“I don’t understand dear?”

“The same as she had over my aunt. Rupert, that little woman
looks frail, but she is strong, and has a will like iron. In
spite of her looks. Aunt Sophia was wax in Miss Pewsey’s hands.
She exercised a kind of hypnotic power over Aunt Sophia, and
that was how the will came to be made in her favour.”

“In that case, why not try and upset the will.”

“On a pretext of undue influence. It could be done certainly,
but I have no facts to go upon. But it seems to me, from what
you say, that Miss Pewsey has hypnotised Forge.”

“He’s not the kind of man to be hypnotised.”

“Yes, he is. He smokes opium. A man who would give way to that
vice, is not a strong man. But let her be and let him be also,
Rupert. I don’t believe about this money in China. It is no use
our building on that. If the place has to be sold at the end of
the year, we will take what we have left and go to Canada. So
long as I have my boy I don’t much care,” and she wreathed her
arms round his neck.

“Dear Olivia, I wish I wasn’t the hard-up wretch I am.”

“I would not have you, any other than you are. If money comes to
us, it will come honestly, not through the hands of Dr. Forge or
his future wife. Neither one is honest.”

Rupert would have argued this point, as he thought his wife was
a trifle hard. But Olivia stuck to her guns, and gradually all
reference to Forge and his story was dropped by tacit consent.
The young couple had quite enough to do, in talking of their
future, which was doubtful, to say the least of it. However
Rupert had arranged with the lawyers to hold over all claims for
another year. It only remained to get Miss Pewsey, who now held
the fatal mortgage, to extend the time. But Olivia would not
allow her husband to ask a favour of the bitter little woman as
she was sure,–and rightly so,–that it would not be granted.
The mortgage held by Miss Pewsey was for three thousand pounds,
and the two set their wits to work, to see if they could pay
this off by Christmas. Then, they would have a good few months
left to arrange other matters. If possible, Olivia wished to
keep Royabay, though the outlook was not cheering.

Another month slipped by, but few changes took place in Marport.
As it was now rather wintry, so many people did not come down to
the sea-side. Rupert and Olivia lived rather a lonely life at
the Abbey, but being very much in love, this did not disturb
them: in fact it was rather a pleasure. Sometimes Chris Walker
and his aunt called. Lady Jabe had got over her disappointment,
now that Olivia was poor, and constantly abused Miss Pewsey for
taking the money. She was making the unfortunate Chris pay
attentions to Lotty Dean, whose father was a grocer and had
ample wealth. Things were going on nicely in this quarter, and
Lady Jabe was pleased.

Clarence Burgh had left Marport and was now amusing himself in
London. Sometimes he came down to see his aunt, who was getting
ready for her bridal and still lived in Ivy Lodge. There, Forge
intended to remove when married, as the house was rent free, and
already he had given notice to Tidman as the Major told Rupert
one evening. “And I’m glad he’s going,” said the Major, as he
sat with his usual bottle of port before the fire, after dinner,
“I couldn’t stand seeing, that Pewsey cat in my house as Mrs.
Doctor Forge.”

“I wonder why he marries her?” said Rupert who was smoking on
the other side of the fire place.

“Because he is frightened of her, sir. That woman for some
reason makes everyone frightened of her–except me,” added the
Major swelling, “why even that young Burgh hardly comes to see
her, though he’s down here now–waiting for the wedding I
suppose. It comes off next week and a nice fright that Pewsey
cat will look as a bride.”

Rupert laughed. Olivia had left the room and retired to bed. The
Major, who had been fidgeting all the evening, looked round when
alone with his host. “I want to talk to you,” he said.

“What about? Haven’t you been talking all the evening.”

“Not on the subject nearest to my heart,” said Tidman sipping
his port. “I waited till Mrs. Ainsleigh went away, as I don’t
want to revive unpleasant memories.”

“Oh,” said Rupert with a shudder, “surely you are not going to
talk of the murder.”

“No–certainly not: but I am of the thing that caused it.”

Rupert sat up quickly. “The fan. Why that’s in China. Tung-yu
took it, after he–”

“Tung-yu did _not_ take it,” said the Major producing a letter.
“I thought he did, if you remember, for you and I saw him on the
beach on that night.”

“Yes. He was talking to a boatman.”

“Arranging for his flight,” said Tidman grimly, “and then he
went back, as I thought, and murdered that woman. But he
didn’t,” the Major paused to give full dramatic effect. “He
thinks I did it.”

“Oh, rubbish,” said Rupert. “If you can prove an alibi on my
behalf, I can prove one on yours. We walked and talked on the
beach, till nearly twelve. Then you went back to your bed, and I
returned to the ball-room. Immediately afterwards the body was
found. What makes Tung-yu accuse you, and why do you get a
letter from China?”

“It’s not from China, but from London.”

“Is Tung-yu there?” asked Ainsleigh, quickly.

“Yes. In some place in Rotherhithe. He writes from there, in
this letter. Read it,” and he passed it to his host.

Rupert glanced over the few lines which were very neatly written
on yellow paper. The letter was to the effect that if Major
Tidman would bring the fan to a certain place in Rotherhithe, he
would receive the money. “Humph,” said Ainsleigh, handing it
back, “so it seems that Tung-yu has not got the fan.”

“Yes, confound him, and he thinks _I_ have it, in which case he
must believe that I murdered Miss Wharf.”

Rupert nodded. “It looks like it,” said he, “what will you do?”

“I don’t know. I do not want another Canton adventure. I
thought,” here the Major hesitated, “I thought you might go.”

Ainsleigh did not burst out into a voluble refusal, as Tidman
expected, but stared at the fire. Seeing this, Tidman urged his
point. “I think if you went, you might get at the truth of the
matter,” he said. “If Tung-yu didn’t murder Miss Wharf, who did?
Will you go?”

Rupert still gazed at the fire. He was thinking of the eight
thousand pounds due to him, held by Lo-Keong and which, if
gained, would pay off Miss Pewsey. “Yes,” said he at length,
“I’ll go.”

It was a risk, as he knew, but the money was worth the risk.