The Kang-He Vase - J.S. Fletcher - ebook
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The main character is Ben, a trainee lawyer who survived a difficult childhood and was cured of his illness. However, from childhood into his life, a malevolent uncle climbs. He asks the main character to plant him. At night, they hear a scream, on arrival they see a dead stranger. Can uncle be guilty of this?

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Liczba stron: 331

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Contents

CHAPTER I. FOOTSTEPS AT MIDNIGHT

CHAPTER II. UNCLE JOSEPH KREVIN

CHAPTER III. FIEND’S WORK

CHAPTER IV. THE LADY OF THE GRANGE

CHAPTER V. THE C.I.D. MAN

CHAPTER VI. THE CRAB AND LOBSTER INN

CHAPTER VII. HIGH-WATER MARK

CHAPTER VIII. THE KANG-HE VASE

CHAPTER IX. ODD JOB MAN

CHAPTER X. TOM SCRIPTURE

CHAPTER XI. THE FISH BAG

CHAPTER XII. THE PINK AND MAUVE PYJAMAS

CHAPTER XIII. THE RESULT OF VAINGLORY

CHAPTER XIV. UNDER EXAMINATION

CHAPTER XV. MELSIE ISLAND

CHAPTER XVI. THE BROWN HAND

CHAPTER XVII. THE STOVE-IN BOAT

CHAPTER XVIII. THIS TIME, THE KNIFE!

CHAPTER XIX. BROKEN CHINA

CHAPTER XX. THE SOFT-HEARTED MARINER

CHAPTER XXI. I HEAR STRANGE THINGS

CHAPTER XXII. THE SCARLET PATCH

CHAPTER XXIII. FAMILY HONOUR

CHAPTER I. FOOTSTEPS AT MIDNIGHT

I suppose the first thing to be set down in this history of black crime (into which a good deal of mystery, and some amount of love-making, will have to be duly chronicled) is the fact that at about four o’clock of a certain Spring afternoon some ten years ago, Nellie Apps, who carried out the meagre mail of our neighbourhood, came to the garden gate of our house with something that we very rarely received–a telegram. I was sitting in the porch when she came, being downstairs that day for either the first or second time after an illness that had attacked me just before leaving school, and had put off the start of my career as articled clerk to Lawyer Philbrick in Kingshaven, and it was I who took the buff envelope from her. But it was no sooner in my hand than out of it; my sister Keziah, senior to me by twenty years, had heard the click of the latch and seen Nellie Apps from the parlour window, and she was through the hall and the front door and had the flimsy thing from my fingers before you could have counted two. And on the instant she was tearing open the envelope–but she spoke, quickly, before that business was finished.

“Ben!” she exclaimed, in her sharp, decisive fashion, “I shouldn’t wonder if Mrs. Hozier is taken bad!”

Mrs. Hozier was Keziah’s great friend; a fellow-villager, who had lately married and gone to live in Kingshaven. At my age–eighteen–I was supposed–by Keziah–not to know much of such matters, but I had an idea that Mr. and Mrs. Hozier were expecting the advent of what might be a son and heir, and failing that, at least a daughter, and a shrewd suspicion that this event had transpired, or was about to transpire, came over me as Keziah smoothed out the sheet which she drew from its cover. But Keziah gave me no precise information; her hawk eyes had read the message, and her long fingers had crumpled up the paper and thrust it into her pocket, all in a second. She turned swiftly on Nellie Apps, who stood amongst the hollyhocks, staring at her.

“You needn’t wait!” she said peremptorily. “There’s no answer.” Then, as Nellie went away down the path, Keziah turned again, in more leisurely fashion, on me in my easy chair.

“Ben!” she went on. “I’ll have to go to Kingshaven! And at once! I promised I’d go, and go I must! And I shall have to be away for the night, and maybe for some of to-morrow,” she continued. “I can trust you, Ben?”

“Trust me, Keziah?” I inquired, wonderingly. “What about?”

She looked round, as if afraid that the thrushes and blackbirds might hear us, and she dropped her voice to a whisper–a reverential whisper.

“The family silver!” she said. “Never have I left it before! And if anything should happen to it–”

She paused, and I looked up at her tall, gaunt figure, amazed, even at my age, that a grown woman could be so wholly infatuated. The family silver was Keziah’s Old Man of the Sea: I doubt if ever a night of her life passed by which did not find her agitated with fear for the family silver’s safety: more than once, seeing her examination of locks, bolts, and bars, I had wished the family silver at the bottom of the creek. She talked of it as if its value were colossal; in sober truth it consisted of a silver teapot, a cream jug, and a sugar basin; six large and six small forks, six large and six small spoons, a dozen teaspoons and a couple of soup ladles. True, it had belonged to our great, or great-great grandmother, and Keziah affirmed that it had been made in the reign of Queen Anne; but even granting these facts, I saw no reason why our lives should be perpetually shadowed by the remembrance of its presence under our old roof. And I daresay I replied to Keziah rather drily and a little sneeringly.

“Not much chance of anything happening to it, I should think, Keziah!” said I. “You’ve taken good care of that!”

I referred to Keziah’s elaborate precautions for the safety of the family silver. It lay, swathed in multitudinous folds of soft paper and rolls of wash-leather, in an oak box, iron-cornered and double-locked, which was clamped down to the floor in Keziah’s bedroom, underneath her bed. The devil himself would have been hard put to it to get at that silver while Keziah was anywhere about, and up to now she always had been about, being one of those women who never take a holiday and would be utterly miserable if they did.

“I know–I know!” she agreed hastily. “Of course, one has to take great care when one’s in possession of family heirlooms like ours! But promise me, Ben, that you’ll not cross this threshold till I get back, and that you’ll keep both doors locked!”

“I can promise all that easy enough, Keziah,” said I, glancing at my wasted legs. “I don’t think I could walk to the end of the garden!”

“Oh, but you soon will do, Ben!” she answered, reassuringly. “You’re improving wonderfully, and this fine Spring weather’ll do you no end of good. You’re a deal stronger to-day than you were yesterday–I wouldn’t leave you if you weren’t, even for Mrs. Hozier. And you’ll manage, easy enough–you can get your own supper to-night and breakfast in the morning; you could even make shift to get your dinner to-morrow, if I’m not back in time. But–you’ll not leave the house, Ben?”

“You can bet on that, Keziah!” I assured her. “I shan’t!”

“Then we’ll have our tea, and I’ll put things to rights, and then I’ll make ready and catch the six o’clock train,” she said. “I don’t like going, Ben: I’m not one for leaving home at any time. But when you’ve promised a friend that you’ll stand by at a time of trouble–”

“Is Mrs. Hozier in trouble, then?” I inquired.

“Well, you’ll hear more about it when I’m back,” replied Keziah. “Maybe it’ll end up in rejoicing, but anyway, I’ve got to go. But tea first.”

We had our tea, and Keziah, punctilious about such matters, washed up the tea-things and put them in their place, before attiring herself in her best clothes, in which, as she scarcely ever wore them, she looked strangely out of place. She fussed about a great deal before setting off, seeing to the fastenings of doors and windows, and giving me a pile of instructions and admonitions, from counsel as to what to do in case burglars came, to the importance of taking my medicine at the exact minute and in the precise quantity, and I was thankful when at last, with an umbrella in one hand and an old-fashioned reticule in the other, she finally marched off, in a great hurry, to catch the train to Mrs. Hozier. She was a good woman, my sister Keziah, but she had a lot more of Martha than of Mary in her composition, and the house seemed delightfully quiet when her queer bonnet had disappeared behind the garden hedge. That was a beautiful Spring evening, and I continued to sit in my easy chair in the jasmine-covered porch. I had books by me, and newspapers, but I looked at neither; there were things far better worth looking at in front of me. Our old house, in which, according to Keziah, at least nine generations of our family of Heckitt had been born and had died, stood, a quaint survival of other days, in the very centre of a semicircle of coast line that turned inward from high cliffs on the West to a long, shelving promontory on the East. The sea came up to within fifty yards of our garden; a mile out lay the bar, marked all day long by its line of white surf, indicated all night by a signal-light; beyond the bar stretched the wide expanse of the English Channel. Our village, Middlebourne, lay behind the house; a collection of straggling farmsteads and cottages, through which ran the great high-road from London to Kingshaven; as far as we were concerned there might not have been any village there at all, for we were well out of it; from our windows and our garden we could only see three objects which had any relation to human life, and as regards two of them, it was a relation of the far past. Almost before our gate there stretched out into the shining waters of the creek a spit of sand, at the seaward extremity of which was a group of black, smooth-topped rocks–on them stood a stout post or pillar of dark wood, clamped about with heavy iron bands, and riveted firmly to the rock by iron supports; it had an arm projecting from it at its head, and from that swung an old lantern, which occasionally was lighted. But in the old days men had been hanged from that bar; pirates, smugglers, murderers, and then their bodies had swung in chains until the flesh dropped off on the surf-swept rocks beneath; hence the local name of the spit of sand and group of rocks–Gallowstree Point. A grisly, grim spot that, especially on moonlit nights!–and there was another, close by, scarcely less eerie, in the shape of the ruin of a tide-mill, long since disused, and now given over to the ravages of the rushing waters which had once turned its wheel. These things were of the dead, but there was a house of the living at the further end of the semicircular sweep of the creek. This was a solitary, ancient place, once a farmstead but now modernised into a private residence, known as Middlebourne Grange. It had the sea on one side, and a wide moat on the other three, and there was a high, solidly-built wall on all four sides, and within the wall a double line of high elms, fencing in and shading the house, and the only way into the place was by a bridge over the moat and through a door in the wall. It wore an air of seclusion and mystery, this moated and guarded house, and of its tenant at that time, a new-comer, none of us knew anything, except that she was a middle-aged woman named Miss Ellingham, who came from London, kept men-servants and three or four maids, and had staying with her a nephew, who was just about my own age, and of whom I was madly jealous at that time because I suspected him of casting sheep’s eyes on my girl, Pepita.

Pepita was the daughter–and only child–of Captain Lucas Marigold, a retired mariner who lived in a smart little box of a place in the village. He had a nice, shady garden, with a tall mast in it, from which he flew flags, and an arbour, in the shelter of which he sipped his grog, smoked his pipe, and told sea-tales: a brown-faced, gnarled old chap, who, I think, had married late in life–anyway, he must have been getting on when Pepita came into the world. For Pepita, at the time of which I am writing, was only seventeen–and a very sweet seventeen, too. Her mother being a Spaniard, and Pepita having taken after her more than after Marigold, though he, no doubt, had been a good-looking man in his better time, Pepita was a beauty of the dark order–dark hair, dark eyes, rich colouring. And whoever says that boys of eighteen cannot fall in love lies in his throat!–I was eighteen just then, and I was madly in love with Pepita, and properly miserable about it. For Pepita was one of those damsels who was happiest when not one but half-a-dozen swains are silly about them, and there was scarce a youngster of our neighbourhood who had not begun being particular about his necktie and his socks, and the cut of his best clothes, and the proper parting of his hair, all because Pepita Marigold looked as if you could eat her and die in sheer ravishment of ecstacy at the first mouthful. Pepita came along as I sat there in the porch. She had been to see me two or three times during the last stage of my illness, but her last visit had taken place a good week previously, and I had tormented myself every day since in wondering what she was after–if she was boating with the parson’s son, or birds’ nesting with the squire’s, or if Miss Ellingham’s nephew, Bryce, had inveigled her into going a-fishing with him. But there were no signs of mental disquietude on Pepita’s face: she looked as unconcerned and heart-whole as ever when, catching sight of me, she pushed open the garden gate and came up the path.

“Hello, Ben!” she exclaimed. “Out and about again?–hurrah!”

“Not much about, Pepita,” I answered. “I haven’t walked twenty yards so far–not been outside that hedge yet.”

“Come, now!” she said. “Come down to the Point!–it’ll do you good.”

“Can’t!” I replied. And I told her why–not forgetting Keziah’s admonitions about the family silver. Pepita’s big black eyes opened.

“Sakes!” she exclaimed. “You got to stop in that rambling old house all night through by just yourself, Ben? I’d be frightened to death!”

“Oh, that’s nothing!” said I. “I don’t mind. If I did hear anything, it would only be rats.”

“Bad enough, too,” she remarked. “What would you do, though, if robbers came? You ought to have a gun, like my old dad’s. I reckon that would blow half-a-dozen robbers into mincemeat, once you let it off!”

“And me, too!” I said, visualising a certain blunderbuss which Captain Marigold kept hung on a rafter of his parlour. “No, I think I’d rather do without, Pepita. And there aren’t any robbers round here, anyway.”

“Well, ghosts, then, Ben,” she insisted. “Ghosts! Seems to me this is just the place where you’d see a tidy lot.” She craned her neck and looked up at the ivy-covered front of the old house. “Which is your room?” she went on. “That one, isn’t it, over the porch? Well, now, I guess if you look out from your window, you can see Gallowstree Point and that old gibbet! Fancy that, now, on a moonlight night! If I saw it, I’d let out a scream that would lick any syren or fog-horn that ever sounded in the Channel!”

“You’re a baby, Pepita!” said I, indulgently. “You forget that I’m a man!”

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