Burgh’s Story

Next morning Major Tidman was seated in his well-furnished room
in the Bristol Hotel. From the window he commanded a fine view
of the mouth of the Thames, of the pier, and of the picturesque
lower town. But the view did not gain the attention of the
Major, worthy as it was of his notice. He seated himself at the
table which was spread for breakfast, and proceeded to make a
good meal. Perhaps he did not eat so well as usual for the Major
was worried, as was evident from the cross expression of his
face. On the previous night he had gone to see Forge, and had
told him how Miss Wharf became possessed of the fan. The doctor
had listened to him quietly, but had refrained from making any
observation, even when Tidman reminded him of his remark, as to
his life being at stake. The interview had on the whole been
unsatisfactory, and Tidman was not at all pleased. He wished to
learn the truth about the fan.

“There’s some secret connected with it,” muttered the Major,
while he devoured buttered eggs rapidly, “and that secret means
a lot of money. Five thousand pounds is worth having. I could
buy that plot of waste land near the church and build an hotel
there. I believe it would pay. Then there’s Forge’s life, which,
as he says, hangs on the fan, though in what way I can’t find
out. If I got the fan, I might be able to get something out of
him. I would make Forge and Tung-yu bid against one another, and
perhaps I’d get even more than is offered. Ainsleigh can’t say
anything against me now, as I am acting quite square and above
board. He’s got no enterprise,” thought the little man with some
scorn, “or he’d get Olivia to take the fan from her aunt and
make the money out of it. But if he won’t, I will, so I’ll see
Miss Wharf to-day and try what I can do. I daresay I’d get it
from her for a five pound note–that is if she hasn’t seen the
advertisement. She’s keen after money, too–as keen as I am.
Humph,” added Tidman, filling himself a second cup of coffee. “I
wonder why Tung-yu was such a fool as to tell Ainsleigh he was
willing to give five thousand. Anyone, not knowing the value of
the fan, would get it cheap. There’s a mystery about it, and the
mystery means money. I must get to the bottom of the affair.
Forge is no good, as he is holding his tongue: even when I told
him that Miss Pewsey stole it, he did not seem to mind. But
he’ll never marry her after this, so I’ve spoilt her chance of
marriage, the cat. Though why Forge should marry an old fiend
who is eighty, if she’s an hour, I can’t make out. But Forge was
always secretive,” ended the Major in disgust, and reached for
the _paté-de-foi-gras_.

His meal was interrupted by a smart young waiter, who intimated
that a lady and gentleman wished to see the Major. Tidman was
rather surprised at a call being paid at ten o’clock in the
morning: but he was still more surprised, when at the heels of
the waiter appeared Miss Pewsey and Dr. Forge. The latter looked
much his usual self, hungry, dismal, and like a bird of prey:
but Miss Pewsey had a colour in her cheeks and a fire in her
black eyes, which made her look younger. It seemed that her
errand was not a peaceful one.

“To what am I indebted–?” began the courtly Major, when the
little old maid cut him short with vinegary politeness.

“Indebted,” she said, standing very straight and stiff, and
quite ignoring the chair placed for her. “Oh, indeed,–how very
polite we are. Judas!” she snapped out the word with flaming
eyes. “Oh, Judas!”

“Really, Miss Pewsey—-”

“You’d like to see me in the dock would you?” cried Miss Pewsey
tossing her head and trembling with wrath, “I’m a thief am I–oh
you military fat Judas.”

“Did you come here to insult me?” asked Tidman growing purple.

“If you put it in that way I did,” sniffed the lady, “and also
to ask plainly, what you meant by stating to my promised husband
here, that I stole a fan from his cabinet?”

Tidman changed from purple to scarlet. He had not reckoned on
the doctor speaking to Miss Pewsey, and he turned a look of
reproach on his friend. The doctor immediately took up the
challenge, “I see you think I have been too free with my
tongue,” said he deliberately, “it is not my custom as you know.
But I told you Major that I was engaged to Miss Pewsey, and I
thought it only right that she should know the aspersions you
have cast on her character.”

“A character,” cried the lady, “which has stood the test of
years and which stands deservedly high. I am a Pewsey of Essex,”
she added as though the whole county belonged to her, “and never
before have I been accused of thieving–Judas,” she shot out the
name again, and the Major quailed. He saw that he was in the
wrong, owing to Forge’s betrayal, and had to make the best of
it.

“I am extremely sorry,” he said apologetically, “quite a
mistake.”

“Oh, indeed. A jury will give their opinion on that,” sniffed
the maiden.

“No! No I beg of you—-”

“The damages will be laid at five thousand pounds.”

“The price of the fan,” said Tidman starting.

“What do you mean by that?” asked Miss Pewsey, her eyes
glittering.

“I mean, just nothing.”

“Oh yes, you do. Make a clean breast of it Benjamin Tidman. Oh,
to think that the son of a farmer, who was almost a labourer,
should dare to speak evil of a Pewsey of Essex. But the law–the
law,” said the irate lady shaking a thin finger, “and five
thousand pounds.”

“Get it out of the fan.”

“Is it worth that?” asked Forge coldly.

“You heard what young Ainsleigh said,” answered Tidman as
coldly.

“Yes I remember; but we have not come about the price, but about
your libel on this lady.”

“I apologise,” said Tidman, seeing nothing else was to be done.

“Apology isn’t money,” snapped Miss Pewsey.

“Oh, if you want money, again I refer you to the fan.”

The Major was getting angry. He didn’t very much care if Miss
Pewsey did bring an action at the moment, though with saner
thoughts he would have been horrified at the idea. “I
apologise,” said he again, “but I was misled by Dr. Forge.”

“How were you misled by me?” demanded Forge impassively.

“You said you had the fan in your cabinet, and that it had been
stolen. Mrs. Bressy swore she did not take it, and I thought–”

“That I was the thief,” cried Miss Pewsey shrilly, “oh how clever
of you–how very, very clever. You thought that I got the key from the
watch-chain of Dr. Forge where he always carries it, to open the
cabinet and steal a fan, I knew nothing about it. I never even knew of
the existence of the fan–there Judas,” snapped the lady once more.

“Then I was mistaken, and Dr. Forge was mistaken also.”

“I confess that I did make a mistake,” said the doctor with a
sad face, “but that does not excuse your libelling the lady I
hope to call my wife. My memory is not so good as it was, and I
fear that the drugs I take to induce sleep have impaired what
memory I have left. I suffer from neuralgia,” added the doctor
turning to Miss Pewsey, “and in China I contracted the habit of
opium smoking, so–”

“Marriage will put that right,” said the lady patting his hand.
“I do not expect a perfect husband–”

“I never knew you expected a husband at all,” said Tidman
injudiciously.

“Ho,” cried Miss Pewsey drawing herself up. She had been
standing all the time, “another libel. I call Dr. Forge to
witness it.”

“I really think Tidman you’d better hold your tongue,” said the
doctor gently, “but I must explain, that I quite forgot that I
had parted with the fan. Yes. I received it from you, seven
years ago when I brought you home after that adventure in
Canton. Two years later I returned to China, to see Lo-Keong on
business, and I took the fan with me. He received it.”

“No,” said the Major shaking his bald head, “I can’t believe
that, Forge. You declared that you hated Lo-Keong and that the
fan would harm you and him also.”

“I do hate the man,” cried Forge looking more like a bird of
prey than ever, “but I got a concession about a gold mine, by
giving back the fan. I wanted the money more than Lo-Keong’s
life. As to my own life, it was in danger from the enemies of
the Mandarin, who want the fan to ruin him. That was why I spoke
as I did. Are you satisfied?”

“Not quite,” said Tidman who was puzzled, “how did the fan come
to England again?”

“My nephew Mr. Burgh will tell you that,” said Miss Pewsey,
“when he has administered the beating I have asked him to
inflict.”

“Beating,” shouted the Major snatching a knife from the
breakfast table, “let that young whelp dare to hint such a
thing, and I’ll kick him round Marport.”

“Clarence is not the man to be kicked.”

“Nor am I the man to be beaten, I have apologised and that is
quite enough. If you are not satisfied Miss Pewsey, you can
bring your action and I’ll defend it. Beating indeed,” snorted
Tidman, “I’d like to see anyone who would dare to lay a hand on
me,” and he looked very fierce as he spoke.

“Very good,” said Miss Pewsey in a stately manner, “if you will
tell me all about the fan, I shall ask Clarence to spare you the
beating.”

“Clarence can go to–” the Major mentioned a place which made
Miss Pewsey shriek and clap her fingers to her ears. “I am not
the least afraid of that cad and bounder–that–that—-”

“Libel again Major Tidman.”

“Pooh–Pooh,” said Forge rising, “let us go Lavinia.”

“Not till I hear about the fan. For the sake of my dear Sophia
who has the fan, I want to hear.”

“All I know, is, that the fan was advertised for—-”

“I saw the advertisement,” said Miss Pewsey, “but I said nothing to
dear Sophia, although I recognized the fan from the description in
the newspaper. She never looks at the papers, and trusts to me to tell
her the news.”

“So you kept from her a piece of news out of which she could
make five thousand pounds.”

“Really and truly,” said Miss Pewsey clutching her bag
convulsively and with glittering eyes, “who says so–who pays
it–who–?”

“One question at a time,” interrupted Tidman, now quite master
of himself. “Tung-yu, the man Ainsleigh saw at the Joss House in
Perry Street Whitechapel, offered five thousand pounds for the
return of the fan. Ainsleigh saw the advertisement and–”

“I know how he came to inquire about the fan,” said Miss Pewsey,
“Dr. Forge told me, but I did not know the amount offered.”

“Will you tell Miss Wharf now.”

“No,” said Miss Pewsey very decisively, “nor will any one else.
My Sophia’s health is delicate and if she had a shock like that
inflicted on her, she would die.”

“What the offer of five thousand pounds–”

“The chance of being killed,” said Miss Pewsey, “but I will
leave my nephew Mr. Burgh to explain that Major Tidman. I accept
your apology for thinking me a–but no,” cried the lady, “I
can’t bring myself to pronounce the nasty word. I am a Pewsey of
Essex. All is said in that, I think. Good morning, Major. My
abstinence from bringing an action lies in the fact, that you
will refrain from unsettling my Sophia’s mind by telling about
the fan. Good-morning. My Theophilus will we not go?”

Before the Major could recover from the bewilderment into which
he was thrown by this torrent of words, Miss Pewsey taking the
arm of the melancholy doctor had left the room. When alone
Tidman scratched his chin and swore. “There’s something in
this,” he soliloquised. “I believe the old woman wants to get
the money herself. By George, I’ll keep my eyes on her,” and the
Major shook his fist at the door, through which the fairy form
of Miss Pewsey had just vanished.

Later in the day Tidman dressed to perfection, walked up the
town twirling his stick, and beaming on every pretty woman he
came across. The stout old boy was not at all appalled by the
threat of Miss Pewsey regarding her buccaneering nephew’s
attentions. When he saw the gentleman in question bearing down
on him, he simply stopped and grasped his stick more firmly. If
there was to be a fight, the Major resolved to have the first
blow. But Burgh did not seem ready to make a dash. He sauntered
up to Tidman and looked at him smilingly, “Well met old pard,”
said he in his slangy fashion.

“My name to you, is Major Tidman,” said the old fellow coolly.

“I guess I know that much. Can’t we go a stretch along the lower
part of the town?”

“If there’s any row to come off,” said the Major, keeping a wary
eye on the young man. “I prefer it to take place here. On guard
sir–on guard.”

Clarence shrugged his shoulders and produced a cigarette. “Oh
that’s all right,” said he striking a match. “I guess my old
aunt’s been at you. I’m not going in for any row–not me.”

“Just as well for you,” said the Major sharply, “how dare you
threaten me, you–you–”

“Now I ask you,” said Clarence, “if I have threatened you? Go
slow. I guess the old girl’s been piling on the agony. She’s got
old Forge to fight her battles. When I make trouble,” added
Clarence musingly, “it will be for a pretty girl like Olivia.”

“You can have your desire for a row by telling that to young
Ainsleigh.”

“Huh,” said Burgh with contempt, “I guess I’d lay him out pretty
smart. I tell you, Major, I’m dead gone on that girl: but she
treats me like a lump of mud.”

“And quite right too,” said Tidman coolly, “you aren’t worthy of
her. Now Ainsleigh is.”

Clarence pitched away his cigarette with an irritable gesture.
“Don’t get me riz,” said he darkly, “or I’ll make the hair fly
with Ainsleigh.”

“Pooh. He’s quite able to look after himself.”

“Can he shoot?” demanded the buccaneer.

“Yes. And use his fists, and fence, and lay you out properly.
Confound you, sir, don’t you think I’ve travelled also. I’ve
been in the Naked Lands in my time, and have seen your sort
growing on the banana plants. You’re the sort to get lynched.”

“Oh, tie it up,” said Burgh with sudden anger, for these remarks
were not to his mind. “I want to tell you about the fan.”

“Why do you want to talk of that?” asked Tidman with suspicion,
“I don’t care a straw for the fan.”

“Oh, I reckon you do, Major. But you’re well out of it. If you’d
kept that fan there would have been trouble–yes, you may look,
but if you’d held on to that article you’d have been a corpse by
now.”

Tidman sneered, not at all terrified by these vague threats.
“What do you mean by this drivel?”

“Let’s come to anchor here,” said Clarence pulling up beside a
seat in a secluded part, near the old town beach. “I’ll spin the
yarn.”

“About the fan,” said the Major sitting promptly. “I confess I
am curious to know how it came to England again, after Forge
took it again to the Far East. Didn’t he give it to Lo-Keong?”

“So he says,” said Clarence with a side-long look at his
companion. “I don’t know myself. All I know is, that I got it
from a pirate.”

“From a pirate?”

“That’s so. I was in Chinese waters a year or so ago, and I
reckon pirates swarm in those parts–”

Tidman shivered. “Yes,” he admitted, “I had an adventure myself
in Canton with a pirate of sorts.”

“Old Forge told me something about it,” said Clarence lighting a
fresh cigarette, “but my yarn’s different. I was out with some
of the boys in Chinese water, and a pirate tried to board us. We
were down Borneo way, looking out for a ruby mine said to be in
those parts. My pals–there were two of them, and myself
engineering the job–hired a boat and cut across to Borneo. The
pirates tried to slit our throats and our Chinese crew tried to
help them. But we used our Winchesters and six shooters freely,
and shot a heap. The pirates cleared off and we brought our
barky into port safe enough.”

“But about the fan?”

“I’m coming to that. The Boss pirate was shot by me–a big six
foot Northern Chinee, got up, to kill, like a tin god. He had
this jade fan, and directed operations with it. When his pals
cleared I found him as dead as a coffin and nailed the fan. It
was pretty enough, but didn’t appeal to me much. I clapped it
away in my box, and when I reached England I offered it to Aunt
Lavinia. She wants me to marry Miss Rayner, and said I should
offer it to her, and cut out that aristocratic Ainsleigh chap.
Olivia–ripping name, ain’t it–well, she didn’t catch on, so I
thought I’d gain the goodwill of old Miss Wharf, and passed it
along to her.”

The Major listened in silence to this story, which seemed
reasonable enough. “Strange it should have come back to England,
and to a small place like this, where Forge had it,” he mused.
“A coincidence I suppose. By the way did you see the advertisement?”
he asked.

“You bet I did, and it made me sick to think I’d parted with the
fan. Leastways, it made me sick till I saw Hwei!”

“You mean Tung-yu.”

“No, I don’t. I mean the Chinee as calls himself Hwei, who put
that advertisement in every newspaper in London, and the United
Kingdom.”

“What, in everyone?” said the Major, “must have cost—-”

“A heap you bet. Major. Well I struck Hwei–”

“That’s the name of a river, man.”

“Maybe: but it’s what this celestial calls himself. I struck him
near the Mansion House, and knew him of old in Pekin I reckon,
where we chin-chined over some contraband biznai. I spoke to him
in Chinese–I know enough to get along on–and he told me he had
come to this country about Lo-Keong’s fan. I never said I’d got
it, though by that time I’d seen the advertisement. I know
Chinamen too well, to give myself away in that fashion. I pumped
him, and learned that Hwei intended to scrag the chap who held
the fan, so I concluded to lie low.”

“But he offered wealth to whomsoever gave it up.”

“Maybe. I don’t know exactly how the thing figures out. I guess
Hwei does the killing, and Tung-yu the rewarding. But you can
take it from me, Major, that unless Miss Wharf gets rid of that
fan she’ll have her throat cut. So I guess, you must be glad you
didn’t handle the biznai,” and Clarence puffed a serene cloud of
smoke.

“It’s more of a mystery than ever,” said the Major. And so it
was.