Dr. Forge

Royabay was distant five miles from Marport, a rising watering
place on the Essex coast. In fact so large was the town, and so
many the visitors, that it might be said to be quite risen,
though the inhabitants insisted that it had not yet attained the
height it yet would reach. But be this as it may, Marport was
popular and fashionable, and many retired gentlepeople lived in
spacious houses along the cliffs and in the suburbs. The ancient
town, which lay in a hollow, was left to holiday trippers, and
these came in shoals during the summer months. There was the
usual pier, the Kursaal, the theatre, many bathing machines and
many boarding houses–in fact the usual sort of things which go
to make up a popular watering-place. And the town had been in
existence–the new part at all events–for only fifteen years.
Like Jonah’s gourd it had sprung up in a night: but it certainly
showed no signs of withering. In fact its attractions increased
yearly.

Major Tidman was a wise man, and had not travelled over the
world with his eyes shut. He had seen colonial towns spring up
and fade away, and knew how the value of land increases. Thus,
when he returned to his own country with a certain sum of money,
he expended the same in buying land, and in building thereon.
This policy produced a lot of money, with which the Major bought
more land and more houses. Now, he possessed an avenue of
desirable villa residences in the suburbs which brought him in a
good income, and which, by reason of their situation, were never
empty. The Major did not live here himself. He was a bachelor
and fond of company: therefore he took up his quarters in the
Bristol Hotel, the most fashionable in Marport. As he had shares
in the company which built it, he managed to obtain his rooms at
a comparatively moderate rate. Here he lived all the year round,
save when he took a trip to the Continent, and, as the Bristol
was always full of people, the Major did not lack company. As he
was a good-humoured little man, with plenty of small talk and a
fund of out-of-the-way information, he soon became immensely
popular. In this way the crafty Major had all the comforts of
home and the delights of society without bearing the burden
of an establishment of his own. His sole attendant was a
weather-beaten one-eyed man, who acted as his valet, and who
knew how to hold his tongue.

Sometimes the Major would walk up town and inspect his property
with great pride. It was balm to his proud heart to walk up and
down the spacious avenue, and survey the red brick villas
smiling amidst trim gardens. Tidman’s birth was humble,–his
father had been a small tenant farmer of the Ainsleighs,–and he
had started life without even the proverbial shilling. For many
years he was absent from his native land, and returned to find
fortune waiting for him on the door step. To be sure he brought
a nest-egg home with him. Nevertheless, but for his astuteness
in buying land and in building he would not have acquired
such a good income. So the Major had some cause for self
congratulation, when he paced up and down Tidman’s Avenue.

Two days after his dinner with Rupert Ainsleigh, the Major spick
and span as usual,–he always looked as though he had stepped
out of a bandbox,–was strutting up the Avenue. Half way along
he came face to face with a withered little woman, who looked
like the bad fairy of the old nursery tales. She wore a poke
bonnet, a black dress and, strange to say, a scarlet shawl. Her
age might have been about fifty-five, but she looked even older.
With her dress picked up, and holding a flower in her hand, she
came mincing along smiling at the world with a puckered face and
out of a pair of very black and brilliant eyes. She looked a
quaint old-fashioned gentlewoman of the sort likely to possess a
good income, for it seemed that no pauper would have dared to
dress in so shabby and old-fashioned a manner. Consequently it
was strange that the gallant Major should have showed a
disposition to turn tail when he set eyes on her. She might
indeed have been the veritable witch she looked, so pale turned
Major Tidman’s ruddy face. But the old dame was not going to let
him escape in this way.

“Oh good morning,” she said in a sharp voice like a saw, “how
well you are looking dear Major Tidman–really so very well. I
never saw you look younger. The rose in your button-hole is not
more blooming. How do you keep your youth so? I remember you”–

But the Major cut her short. He had enough of flattering words
which he guessed she did not mean, and didn’t want her to
remember anything, for he knew her memory extended disagreeably
to the time when he had been a poor and humble nobody. “I’m in a
hurry Miss Pewsey,” he said twirling his stick, “good-morning
ma’am–morning.”

“If you’re going to see Dr. Forge,” said Miss Pewsey, her black
eyes glittering like jet. “I’ve just come from his house. He is
engaged.”

“I can wait I suppose, Miss Pewsey,” said Tidman bristling,
“that is, supposing I am calling on the doctor.”

“Then you really are: not on account of your health I’m sure. I
do hope you aren’t ill, dear Major. We all look forward to you
shining at the ball, which is to take place at the Hotel
Bristol.”

“I may be there, Miss Pewsey. I may be there,–in fact,” the
Major flourished his stick again, “I am one of the stewards.”

Miss Pewsey clapped together a pair of small claws encased in
shabby cotton gloves. “There,” she cried in a shriller voice
than ever, “I knew it. I said so to my Sophia. Of course you
know I always call dear Miss Wharf my Sophia; we have been
friends for years–oh yes, for years. We grew on one stem and–”

“You’ll excuse me, ma’am–”

“Oh yes–I know you are so busy. But I was saying, that you can
give me a ticket for my nephew, Mr. Burgh–”

“The tickets are for sale at the hotel,” said Tidman gruffly.

“Yes, but my poor nephew is poor. He also has come from foreign
parts Major as you did, and just as poor. You must give him a
ticket–oh really you must.” Miss Pewsey spoke with an emphasis
on every other word, and between her teeth as though she was
trying to prevent the speech escaping too rapidly. “Now, Major,”
she coaxed.

“I’ll see, ma’am–I’ll see.”

“Oh. I knew you would.” She clasped her hands again, “come
and see my Sophia–dear Miss Wharf, and then you can give
Clarence–that’s my nephew’s name, sweet isn’t it?–you can give
him the ticket. But don’t bring _him_,” added Miss Pewsey
jerking her old head backward in the direction of Dr. Forge’s
residence, “he’s there.”

“Who is there, ma’am?” demanded the Major with a start.

“Why that horrid Mr. Ainsleigh and–”

Miss Pewsey got no further. The Major uttered something naughty
under his breath, and taking off his hat with a flourish, bowed
his way along the road, pursued by the shrill injunctions of the
lady not to forget the ticket.

Tidman walked more rapidly and less jauntily than usual, and
stopped at Dr. Forge’s gate to wipe his red face, which had now
assumed its normal colour.

“By George,” said the old soldier, “that woman will marry me, if
I don’t take care. She ain’t safe–she shouldn’t be allowed out.
Pewsey–a cat–a cat–I always said so. Lavinia Pewsey cat, to
Benjamin Tidman gentleman. Not if I know it–ugh–ugh,” and he
walked up the steps to ring the bell. While waiting, his
thoughts went from Miss Pewsey to Rupert. “I thought he had gone
to town about that fan business,” said the Major fretting,
“what’s he doing calling on Forge without telling me,” and
Tidman seemed very much annoyed that Rupert should have taken
such a liberty.

True enough, he found young Ainsleigh sitting with Dr. Forge.
The doctor was a tall lean man with sad eyes, and a stiff
manner. He was dressed in a loose white flannel suit, in a most
unprofessional way. But everyone knew that Forge had money and
did not practise, save when the fancy took him. With his
watchful grey eyes and sad face and lantern jaws, Forge was not
a prepossessing object or a medical attendant to be desired.
Also his hands had a claw-like look, which, added to his thin
hooked nose, made him look like a hawk. He spoke very little
though, and what he did say was to the point: but he was not
popular like the Major. A greater contrast than this mummy and
handsome young Ainsleigh, can scarcely be imagined.

The Major came puffing into the room and looked around. It was a
small apartment furnished with Chinese curiosities. Rice-paper
painted in the conventional Chinese fashion adorned the walls: a
many-tasseled lantern gay with colour, dangled from the roof,
and in each corner of the room a fat mandarin squatted on a
pedestal. The furniture was of bamboo, and straw matting covered
the floor. A bookcase filled with medical volumes looked
somewhat out of place in this eastern room, as did the doctor’s
writing table, a large one covered with papers and books, and
strange looking Chinese scrips. The room was as queer as its
owner, and the atmosphere had that indescribable eastern smell,
which the Major remembered to have sniffed up at Canton under
disagreeable circumstances. Perhaps it was the revival of an
unpleasant memory that made him sit down so suddenly, or it
might have been the cold grey stony eyes of Forge.

“Well Major,” said Rupert who looked handsome and gay in
flannels, and who seemed to have lost his melancholy looks, “who
would have thought of seeing you here?”

“I came to ask Forge to keep the exterior of his house a little
more tidy,” said the Major with dignity, “the steps have not
been cleaned this morning, and there is straw in the garden,
while the shrubs and flowers are dying for want of water.”

Forge shrugged his thin shoulders, and nodded towards some
egg-shell china cups and a quaint looking tea-pot. But he did
not speak.

“No,” replied the Major to the silent invitation. “I never drink
tea in the afternoon–”

“Or at any time,” said Forge in a melancholy way. “I know you of
old. Ainsleigh, take another cup.”

“Not in the Chinese fashion,” said Rupert smiling, “you drink it
too hot for my taste and I like milk and sugar. But now I’ve
told you about the fan, I’ll leave you to chat with Tidman.”

“The fan,” said Tidman sitting up as straight as his stoutness
would let him, “ah yes–I forgot about that. Well?”

“Well,” echoed Rupert lighting a cigarette, “I called at the
joss house in Perry Street Whitechapel, and a nice sort of den
it is. A Chinaman, heard my explanation about my father’s
connection with Lo-Keong, and then told me that the fan had been
stolen from that gentleman, who is now a Mandarin.”

“Lo-Keong was well on the way to the highest post when I saw him
last,” said Forge preparing a roll of tobacco, “he was much in
favour at the court.”

“But I thought he was a Boxer,” said Tidman, “and surely—-”

“Oh he gave up the Boxers, and curried favour with the Dowager
Empress. That was seven years ago, when I was last in China. I
met you there Tidman.”

Again the disagreeable recollection of Canton crossed the
Major’s memory, and he nodded. “What about the fan?” he asked
Rupert again.

“It’s of great value,” said Ainsleigh, “at least this Chinaman
told me so. Lo-Keong is now a Mandarin, and is high in favour
with the Dowager Empress–”

“And consequently is hated by the Emperor,” murmured Forge.

“I don’t know, doctor, I’m not up in Chinese politics. However,
the fan was lost by Lo-Keong some years ago, and being a sacred
fan, he wants it back. This Chinaman Tung-Yu–”

“Oh,” said the Major, “then you didn’t see Hwei or Kan-su?”

“Those are names of a river and a province,” said the doctor.

“I know,” snapped Tidman, “but they were in the advertisement.”

“Tung-yu explained that they were used only for the purpose of
advertisement,” said Rupert, “but to make a long story short, I
told him that I had seen the fan–”

“You saw the fan,” asked Tidman directing a side look at Forge.

“A dream–a dream,” said the doctor.

“No,” insisted the young man. “I feel sure I have seen that fan,
I can’t think where. Perhaps it is amongst my father’s effects
sent from China by Lo-Keong years ago—-”

“Twenty years ago,” said Dr. Forge, “and Lo-Keong would hardly
send his own fan. I remember the things coming. I came home
immediately before. A Chinaman brought your father’s papers and
luggage to Royabay. He left them with your mother and went
away.”

“Were you not with my father when he died?” asked Rupert, “I
always understood you were.”

“No. I was at Pekin at the time. Your father and I were working
the mine together, and I went about some imperial concessions.
While there I heard that your father was dead.”

“Was he murdered?” asked Rupert earnestly.

“I really can’t say, Lo-Keong said that he died of dysentery,
but he was always a liar. He wouldn’t be so high in favour with
the Court if he wasn’t. Lying is a fine art in the Far East,
and–”

“Yes–Yes,” said Tidman impatiently, “but what has all this to
do with the fan?”

“I think it’s all of a piece myself,” said Rupert, “and I intend
to get to the bottom of it. I have seen that fan somewhere–but
I can’t think–I can’t,” he reflected and shook his head, “no.
But I have seen it doctor, so its no use your shrugging your
shoulders. I want to find it and get that five thousand pounds.”

“What?” cried the Major leaping up on his stout little legs.

“Lo-Keong is willing to give five thousand pounds for the return
of his fan,” said Ainsleigh, who had walked to the door, “and I
intend to earn it.”

“Against my advice,” said Forge looking up oddly.

Rupert laughed. “Oh you are afraid,” he said smiling.

“Of you, not of myself. I know what the Chinese are, and have
studied the race for years. I know how to deal with them; but
you will get into trouble if you meddle with this fan business.”

“And so I say,” cried Tidman emphatically.

“Why, what do you know of the Chinese, Major?” asked Rupert.

“More than I like to think of,” said the little man wiping his
bald head. “I went out to China for a trip seven years ago and
met with an adventure in Canton–ugh!”

“What sort of an adventure?”

“Ugh!” grunted the Major again, “don’t talk about it. It makes
me cold to think of it. The Chinese are demons. Forge got me out
of the trouble and I left China never to set foot in it again I
hope. Ainsleigh, if you want that curse of yours to be realised,
meddle with the fan. But if you want to keep your life and your
skin, leave the matter alone.”

“I’m going to get that five thousand pounds,” said Rupert,
obstinately, “as soon as I can recollect where I saw that fan.
The memory will come back to me. I am sure it will. Doctor you
won’t help me.”

“No,” said Forge decisively. “I advise you to leave the matter
alone.”

“In that case I must search it out myself. Good-day,” and
Ainsleigh strolled out of the room, light-heartedly enough, as
he whistled a gay tune. Major Tidman looked grimly at the closed
door, and then still more grimly at the doctor, who was paring
his nails.

“Our young friend is ambitious,” he said.

Forge laughed gently. “You can hardly blame him. He wants to
marry Miss Rayner and save his ancestral home, so I am quite
sure he will search for the fan.”

“He won’t find it then,” said the Major petulantly.

“Won’t he?” questioned Forge sweetly, “well, perhaps not. By the
way you want to see me Major. Mrs. Bressy tells me you called at
least twice yesterday.”

“Yes. She didn’t know when you would be back.”

“I never tell her. I like to take the old lady unawares. She is
a Dickens’ character, with a fondness for drink, and for taking
things which don’t belong to her. I always go away and come back
unexpectedly. Yesterday I was in Paris. Now I am at Marport.
Well?”

The Major had contained himself with difficulty all this time,
and had grown very red in the face. The colour changed to a
lively purple, as he burst out. “See here Forge what’s the use
of talking to me in this way. You have that fan.”

“Have I,” said Forge smiling gently.

“Yes. You know well enough that the very fan–the jade fan with
the five beads, was the cause of my getting into trouble in
Canton. You got me out of the trouble and you asked me to give
you the fan, when I thanked you.”

“And you refused,” said Forge still smiling.

“Well I did at first,” said Tidman sulkily. “I risked my life
over the beastly thing, and–”

Forge raised a thin hand. “Spare yourself the recital. I know.”

“Well then,” went on Tidman excitedly. “You asked again for it
when you came home, and I gave it to you. Ainsleigh is quite
right. He _did_ see the fan. I showed it to him one day before
you arrived. I see he has forgotten, but any stray thought may
revive his memory. I don’t want him to have the fan.”

“Why not?” asked Forge shutting his knife with a click.

“Because I want the five thousand pounds for myself. I’m not so
well off as people think, and I want”–

“You forget,” said Forge gently, “you gave me the fan.”

“And have you got it?”

“I have,” he nodded towards a cabinet of Chinese work adorned
with quaint figures, “it’s in there.”

“Give it to me back.”

“No. I think I’ll keep it.”

“What do you want to do with it?” asked Tidman angrily.

Forge rose and looked stern, “I want to keep it from Lo-Keong,”
he said savagely, “there’s some secret connected with that fan.
I can’t understand what the secret is or what the fan has to do
with it: but it means life and death to this Mandarin. He’d give
ten thousand,–twenty thousand to get that fan back. But he
shan’t.”

“Oh,” groaned the Major, “why did I give it to you. To think
that such a lot of money should go begging. If I had only known
what the fan was worth.”

“You knew nothing about it save as a curiosity.”

“How do you know,” demanded the Major.

Forge who had turned towards the cabinet wheeled round and
looked more like a hawk than ever as he pounced on the stout
man. “What do _you_ know?” and he clawed Tidman’s plump
shoulders.

“Let me go confound you,” blustered the Major, “what do you mean
by assaulting a gentleman”–

“A gentleman.” Forge suddenly released the Major and laughed
softly, “does Benjamin Tidman, old Farmer Tidman’s son call
himself so. Why I remember you–”

“Yes I know you do, and so does that infernal Pewsey cat.”

Forge suddenly became attentive. “Miss Pewsey if you please. She
is my friend. I may–” Forge halted and swallowed something. “I
may even marry her some day.”

“What,” shouted Tidman backing to the wall, “that old–old–”

“Gently my good Benjamin, gently.”

“But–but you’re not a marrying man.”

“We never know what we are till we die,” said Forge turning
again towards the black cabinet, “but you needn’t mention what I
have said. If you do,” Forge snarled like an angry cat and shot
one glance from his gray eyes that made Tidman shiver: then he
resumed his gentle tone. “About this fan. I’ll make a bargain
with you.”

“What’s that?” asked the Major avariciously.

“I’ll show you the fan, and if you can guess it’s secret, I’ll
let you give it to this Tung-yu or Hwei or Kan-su or whatever he
likes to call himself.”

“But you don’t want Lo-Keong to have the fan,” said the Major
doubtfully.

Forge opened the cabinet slowly. “So long as I learn the
secret he can have the fan. I want to ruin him. He’s a devil
and–ah–” he started back. “The fan–the fan–”

“What is it?” asked Tidman, craning over Forge’s shoulder at an
empty drawer, “where is the fan?”

“Lost,” cried Forge furiously, and looked like a dangerous grey
rat.

“Five thousand pounds gone,” moaned the Major.

“My life you fool–my life,” cried the doctor, “it is at stake.”