THE ADVERTISEMENT

One July evening in the first year of the present century, two
gentlemen were seated on the terrace of the mansion, known as
Royabay. A small rose-wood table was placed between the deep
arm-chairs, and thereon appeared wine, coffee, and a box of
cigars. The young host smoked a briar and sipped coffee, but his
guest, very wisely, devoted himself to superlative port and a
fragrant cigar. Major Tidman was a battered old soldier of
fortune, who appreciated good quarters and made the most of
civilised luxuries, when other people paid for them. He had done
full justice to a dinner admirably cooked and served, while
Ainsleigh, the master of the feast had merely trifled with his
food. Now, the wary Tidman gave himself up to the perfect
enjoyment of wine, cigar and the quiet evening, while his host
restlessly changed his position a dozen times in ten minutes and
gloomed misanthropically at the beautiful surroundings.

And these were very beautiful. From the moss-grown terrace
shallow steps descended to smooth lawns and rainbow-hued
flower-beds, and solemn pines girdled the open space, wherein
the house was set. And under the radiance of a saffron coloured
sky, stood the house, grey with centuries of wind and weather,
bleaching sun and drenching rains. With its Tudor battlements,
casements, diamond-paned and low oriel windows, half obliterated
escutcheons; its drapery of green ivy, and heavy iron-clamped
doors, it looked venerable, picturesque and peaceful. Tennyson
sang in the Palace of Art of just such a quiet “English home the
haunt of ancient peace.”

On the left, the circle of trees receded to reveal the majestic
ruins of an abbey, which had supplied the stones used to
construct the mansion. Built by the weak but pious Henry III.,
the Norman-French name Boyabbaye (King’s Abbey) still designated
the house of the courtier who had obtained the monastery from
another Henry, less pious, and more prone to destroy than to
build. The country folk had corrupted the name to Royabay, and
its significance was almost lost. But the owner of this fair
domain knew its meaning, and loved the ancient place, which had
been in the Ainsleigh family for over three hundred years. And
he loved it the more, as there was a possibility of its passing
away from him altogether.

Rupert was the last of the old line, poor in relations, and
poorer still in money. Till the reign of George the first the
Ainsleighs had been rich and famous: but from the time of the
Hanovarian advent their fortunes declined. Charles Ainsleigh had
thrown in his lot with the unlucky Stewarts, and paid for his
loyalty so largely as to cripple those who succeeded him.
Augustus, the Regency buck, wasted still further the diminished
property he inherited, and a Victorian Ainsleigh proved to be
just such another spendthrift. Followed this wastrel, Gilbert
more thrifty, who strove, but vainly, to restore the waning
fortunes of his race. His son Markham, endeavouring to acquire
wealth for the same purpose, went to the far East. But he died
in China,–murdered according to family tradition,–and on
hearing the news, his widow sickened and died, leaving an only
child to battle with the ancestral curse. For a curse there was,
as dire as that which over-shadowed the House of Atreus, and the
superstitious believed,–and with much reason,–that young
Rupert as one of the Ainsleighs, had to bear the burden of the
terrible anathema.

Major Tidman knew all these things very well, but being modern
and sceptical and grossly material, he discredited such occult
influence. Expressing his scornful surprise, that Rupert should
trouble his head about such fantasies, he delivered his opinion
in the loud free dictatorial speech, which was characteristic of
the bluff soldier. “Bunkum,” said the Major sipping his wine
with relish, “because an old monk driven to his last fortifications,
curses those who burnt him, you believe that his jabber has an
effect on the Ainsleighs.”

“They have been very unlucky since,” said Rupert gloomily.

“Not a bit of it–not a bit. The curse of Abbot Raoul, didn’t
begin to work,–if work it did, which I for one don’t believe,–until
many a long day after this place came to your family. I was born in
this neighbourhood sixty and more years ago,” added the Major, “and I
know the history of your family. The Ainsleighs were lucky enough till
Anne’s reign.”

“Till the first George’s reign,” corrected the young man, “so
far as money goes, that is. But not one of them died in his
bed.”

“Plenty have died in their beds since.”

“But have lost all their money,” retorted Rupert.

“It’s better to lose money than life,” said Tidman evasively.

“I’m not so certain of that Major. But you should talk with Mrs.
Pettley about Abbot Raoul’s curse. She believes in it.”

“And you Ainsleigh?”

Rupert shrugged his shoulders. “We certainly seem to be most
unlucky,” said he, declining to commit himself to an opinion.

“Want of brains,” snapped the Major, who was one of those men
who have a reason for everything, “your people wasted their
money, and refused to soil their hands with trade. Such
pig-headedness brings about misfortune, without the aid of a
silly old fool’s curse.”

“I don’t think Abbot Raoul was a fool,” protested the host
mildly, “on the contrary, he is said to have been a learned and
clever man. Aymas Ainsleigh, received the abbey from Henry
VIII., and burnt Abbot Raoul in his own cloisters,” he nodded
towards the ruins, “you can see the blackened square of grass
yonder, as a proof of the curse. Herbage will not grow there,
and never will, till the curse be lifted.”

“Huh,” said the Major with supreme contempt, “any chance of
that?”

Rupert smiled. “A chance that will never occur I fear. The
curse, or prophecy, or whatever you like to call it—-”

“I call it rubbish,” interpolated the sceptic.

“Well doubting Thomas, it runs like this,–rude enough verse as
you will see, but you can’t expect a doomed man to be particular
as to literary style,” and Rupert recited slowly:–

“My curse from the tyrants will never depart,
For a sword in the hands of the angel flashes:
Till Ainsleigh, poor, weds the poor maid of his heart,
And gold be brought forth from the holy ashes.”


“I spare you the ancient pronunciation Major.” Tidman filled
another glass with wine, and laughed scornfully. “I expect the
old monk made up the second line to rhyme with ashes,” he said
expanding his broad chest. “I’ve heard that rubbishy poetry
before. But haven’t the Ainsleighs always married poor girls?”

“Some did, but then they had money. It must be a poor Ainsleigh
to wed a poor girl to fulfil the third line. My father and
grandfather were both poor, but they married rich brides.”

“And what became of the cash?”

“It went–I don’t know how–but it went.”

“Gold turns to dry leaves in the hands of fools,” said Tidman
sagely, “there’s some sense in the old fairy tales. But the
fourth line? how can you get gold from ashes?”

Young Ainsleigh rose and began to pace the terrace. “I’m sure I
don’t know,” he said, “that’s the curse. If I marry Miss Rayner,
I certainly fulfil the third line. She is poor and I am a
pauper. Perhaps when the enigma of the third line is solved by
such a marriage the fourth line will be made clear.”

“I shouldn’t hang on to that poetry if I were you, Ainsleigh.
Let some one else solve the third line, and the fourth also if
he likes. My advice to you is to marry a dollar heiress.”

Rupert looked savage. “I love Miss Rayner, and I marry her, or
no one.”

Tidman selected another cigar carefully. “I think you are
wrong,” said he decisively, “you have only a small income it’s
true, but you have this grand old place, a fine old name, and
you ain’t bad-looking. I guess Miss Jonathan of N’Yr’k would
just jump at you.”

“I love Olivia Rayner,” repeated Ainsleigh doggedly.

“But the obstacles my dear Don Quixote,” argued the Major
lighting the cigar, “you are poor and she, at the most, will
inherit only a few hundreds a year from that aunt of hers. And
that mass of granite Miss Wharf, don’t like you, nor does her
companion, the Pewsey cat.”

“Why do you call her a cat–the harmless creature.”

“Because she is a cat,” said Tidman sturdily, “she’d scratch if
she got a chance for all her velvet paws. But she hates you as
old Miss Wharf does. Then there’s Lady Jabe–”

“Oh heavens,” said Rupert and made a wry face.

“You may well say that. She’s a bullying Amazon of uncertain
age. But she’ll do her best to catch Olivia for her nephew Chris
Walker.”

“Oh he’s a nice enough fellow,” said Rupert still pacing the
terrace. “I’ve got nothing to say against him, except that he’d
better keep out of my way. And after all Olivia would never
marry a clerk in a tea merchant’s firm.”

“But he’s nephew to Lady Jabe.”

“What of that. She’s only the widow of a knight and hasn’t a
penny to leave him. Why should she want him to marry Olivia?”

“Because Miss Wharf will leave Olivia five hundred a year. Lady
Jabe will then live on the young couple. And see here Ainsleigh,
if you marry Olivia with that income, you won’t be taking to
wife the poor girl mentioned in the curse.”

“Oh hang the curse,” said Rupert crossly.

“By all means,” said Tidman serenely, “you didn’t bring me here
to talk of that did you?”

“No. I want to ask your advice?”

“I’ve given it–unasked. Marry a dollar-heiress, and let old
Jabe make Olivia her niece-in-law. By doing so you will be
released from your pecuniary difficulties, and will also escape
the hatred of Miss Wharf and that Pewsey cat, who both hate
you.”

“I wonder why they do?”

“Hum,” said Tidman discreetly. He knew pretty well why Miss
Wharf hated his host, but he was too wise to speak, “something
to do with a love affair.”

“What’s that got to do with me?”

“Ask me another,” replied Major Tidman vulgarly, for he was not
going to tell a fiery young man like Rupert, that Markham
Ainsleigh, Rupert’s father, was mixed up in the romance, “and I
wish you would sit down,” he went on irritably “you’re walking
like a cat on hot bricks. What’s the matter with you?”

“What’s the matter,” echoed Ainsleigh returning to the
arm-chair.

“I asked you here to tell you.”

“Wait till I have another glass. Now fire ahead.” But Rupert did
not accept the invitation immediately. He looked at the lovely
scene spread out before him, and up to the sky which was now of
a pale primrose colour. There was a poetic vein in young
Ainsleigh, but troubles from his earliest childhood had
stultified it considerably. Ever since he left college had he
battled to keep the old place, but now, it seemed as if all his
trouble had been in vain. He explained his circumstances to the
Major, and that astute warrior listened to a long tale of
mortgages threatened to be foreclosed, of the sale of old and
valuable furniture, and of the disposal of family jewels. “But
this last mortgage will finish me,” said Rupert in conclusion.
“I can’t raise the money to pay it off. Miss Wharf will
foreclose, and then all the creditors will come down on me. The
deluge will come in spite of all I can do.”

Major Tidman stared. “Do you mean to say that Miss Wharf”–

“She holds the mortgage.”

“And she hates you,” said Tidman, his eyes bulging, “huh! This
is a nice kettle of fish.”

Rupert threw himself back in the deep chair with an angry look.
He was a tall finely built young man of twenty-five, of Saxon
fairness, with clear blue eyes and a skin tanned by an out-door
life. In spite of his poverty and perhaps because of it, he was
accurately dressed by a crack London tailor, and looked
singularly handsome in his well-fitting evening suit. Pulling
his well-trimmed fair moustache, he eyed the tips of his neat,
patent leather shoes gloomily, and waited to hear what the Major
had to say.

That warrior ruminated, and puffed himself out like the frog in
the fable. Tidman was thickset and stout, bald-headed and
plethoric. He had a long grey moustache which he tugged at
viciously, and on the whole looked a comfortable old gentleman,
peaceful enough when let alone. But his face was that of a
fighter and his grey eyes were hot and angry. All over the world
had the Major fought, and his rank had been gained in South
America. With enough to live on, he had returned to the cot
where he was born, and was passing his declining days very,
pleasantly. Having known Rupert for many years and Rupert’s
father before him, he usually gave his advice when it was asked
for, and knew more about the young man’s affairs than anyone
else did. But the extent of the ruin, as revealed by the late
explanation, amazed him. “What’s to be done?” he asked.

“That’s what I wish you to suggest,” said Rupert grimly, “things
are coming to a climax, and perhaps when the last Ainsleigh is
driven from home, Abbot Raoul will rest quiet in his grave. His
ghost walks you know. Ask Mrs. Pettley. She’s seen it, or him.”

“Stuff-stuff-stuff,” grumbled the Major staring, “let the ghost
and the curse and all that rubbish alone. What’s to be done?”

“Well,” said the young man meditatively, “either I must sell up,
and clear out to seek my fortune, leaving Olivia to marry young
Walker, or–”

“Or what?” asked Tidman seeing Rupert hesitating.

For answer Ainsleigh took a pocket-book from the lower ledge of
the table and produced therefrom a slip of printed paper.

“I cut that out of ‘The Daily Telegraph,'” said he handing it to
the Major, “what do you make of it?”

Tidman mounted a gold pince-nez and read aloud, as follows:–

“The jade fan of Mandarin Lo-Keong, with the four and half beads
and the yellow cord. Wealth and long life to the holder, who
gives it to Hwei, but death and the doom of the god Kwang-ho to
that one who refuses. Address Kan-su at the Joss-house of the
Five Thousand Blessings, 43 Perry Street, Whitechapel.”

“A mixture of the Far East and the Near West, isn’t it?” asked
Rupert, when the Major laid down the slip and stared.

“Lo-Keong,” said Tidman searching his memory, “wasn’t that the
man your father knew?”

“The same. That is why I cut out the slip, and why I asked you
to see me. You remember my father’s expedition to China?”

“Of course. He went there twenty years ago when you were five
years of age. I was home at the time–it was just before I went
to fight in that Janjalla Republic war in South America. I
wanted your father to come with me and see if he couldn’t make
money: but he was bent on China.”

“Well,” said Rupert, “I understood he knew of a gold-mine
there.”

“Yes, on the Hwei River,” Major Tidman snatched the slip of print and
read the lines again, “and here’s the name, Hwei–that’s strange.”

“But what’s stranger still,” said Rupert, bending forward “is,
that I looked up some papers of my father and learn that the
Hwei River is in the Kan-su province.”

“Address Kan-su,” murmured Tidman staring harder than ever.
“Yes. It seems as though this had something to do with your
father.”

“It _must_ have something to do with him,” insisted Rupert, “my
father found that gold-mine near the Hwei River in the Kan-su
province, and Lo-Keong was the Boxer leader who protected my
father from the enmity of the Chinese. I believe he sent my
father’s papers to England–at least so Dr. Forge says.”

“Forge,” cried Tidman rising, “quite so. He was with your
father. Why not see him, and ask questions.”

“I’ll do so. Perhaps he may tell me something about this fan.”

“What if he does?”

“I might find it.”

“And if you do?” asked the Major, his eyes protruding.

Rupert sprang to his feet and took up the slip. “Wealth and long
life to the holder who gives it to Hwei,” he read: then replaced
the slip in his pocket-book, “why shouldn’t I find that fan and
get enough money to pay off Miss Wharf and others and keep
Royabay.”

“But it’s such a mad idea?”

“I don’t see it. If it hadn’t to do with my father it would be,”
said Ainsleigh lighting his pipe, “but my father knew Lo-Keong,
and by the names Hwei and Kan-su, it seems as though the
locality of the gold-mine had something to do with the matter.
I’ll see old Forge and try to find this fan.”

“Oh,” said Tidman, a light breaking on him, “you think Lo-Keong
may have given the fan to your father?”

“Yes, and Forge may know what luggage and papers were sent home,
at the time my father died–”

“Was murdered you mean.”

“We can’t be sure of that,” said Rupert his face flushing, “but
I’ll find that out, and get hold of the fan also. It’s my chance
to make money, and I believe Providence has opened this way to
me.”