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   Chapter 6 No.6

Ashton Kirk, Secret Agent By John T. McIntyre Characters: 13765

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The Visit of Okiu

For a moment there was a silence; then Fuller spoke.

"Japanese!" exclaimed he. "At this time of the night? They are original in their choice of hours, anyhow."

"Let them come in," said Ashton-Kirk, quietly.

The old woman turned her startled face toward him; her hands went up rebelliously.

"No," she said. "They must not come in-at this time above all others."

The singular eyes of the secret agent fixed themselves upon her steadily.

"Show them into the room across from the library," said he in an even tone. "It is necessary that I should speak to them."

The stern gray eyes met the dark ones squarely. There was no sign of weakening in them; the yellow tinge left the old face; the hands fell at her side.

"Very well," she said, after a moment. "But let it be understood that I lifted my voice against it."

Again she went to the door; they heard the bolt shot and a rush of air told them the door had opened. From where they stood they had no view of the entrance, as the stairway shut it off. Again there came the voices, then footsteps and once more the door closed. In a moment the old woman returned. She pointed down the hall.

"I have done what you ordered," she said. Then in an ominous tone she added: "And I trust no harm comes of it."

With that she went on, and they saw her enter the rear room once more. Ashton-Kirk spoke quietly to Fuller.

"Stand in the hall and busy yourself somehow."

"I understand," answered Fuller.

Ashton-Kirk approached the room into which the visitors had been shown, and went in.

Two men arose upon the entrance of the secret agent. One was the small gray-haired man Ashton-Kirk had seen weeding the lawn two days before; the other was larger in girth and taller; his face was yellow and as devoid of lines as that of an infant.

It was the latter who spoke.

"Do I see Dr. Morse?" he inquired. The accent was perfect, the voice soft, smooth and almost caressing. Ashton-Kirk, as he looked at him, saw that the lineless face was singularly expressionless; however, a pair of jetty eyes looked out piercingly from between the drooping lids and the chin protruded with much natural resolution.

"I am a friend of the family," said the secret agent. "If there is anything that I can do I shall be pleased."

The Japanese smiled.

"You are very good," said he. "But it is Dr. Morse whom I wish to see."

The voice was soft and purring; it was as though he were speaking to a child.

"If you will be kind enough to call him," suggested the speaker, "I will be obliged to you."

"That," said Ashton-Kirk, "is a thing which I should readily do if it could have any effect. But it would not. Dr. Morse is dead."

There was complete silence for a moment; a tall clock ticked solemnly at one side; its strokes now seemed to grow quicker and louder, like the heart-beats of a man fighting down an increasing excitement.

"Dead!" said the small man in a throaty voice.

"Not that, surely!" spoke the other, and one hand went out, as though in protest.

"He is dead," said the secret agent. "And more, he has been murdered."

"No, no," cried the small man. "That is horrible!"

The other approached a step or two; both hands were gesticulating as though he found it difficult to find words. And the hands were quite wonderful, slim and strong and beautifully shaped. Their color was a bright saffron, the fingers were long and as supple as those of a magician; their tips were delicately pointed, the nails rounded and gleaming.

"This what you tell us," said he, "is a frightful thing! Murdered! And by whom?"

Ashton-Kirk shook his head.

"That," said he, "is yet to be learned."

"But the police? They are not here?"

"No."

One of the wonderful hands touched the smaller man upon the shoulder.

"Humadi," said the gentle voice, "murder has been done and the police are not here."

The eyes of the gray-haired Japanese sought those of his companion; and a look as rapid as lightning passed between them.

"The West prides itself on many things," said Humadi, "but in Tokio, this would not be so."

"The officers will arrive in due course," said Ashton-Kirk, quietly. "But, in the meantime, if there is anything that I can do, I shall be, as I said before, much pleased."

"Will you permit me to sit down?" asked the taller of the two. "Thank you; and you will sit there, will you not?" As he spoke he smiled and pushed a chair toward the secret agent in such a way that it would bring his back toward the door if he sat in it. But Ashton-Kirk took it readily, without a sign that he noticed anything studied in the act.

"My name," said the Japanese, as he seated himself facing Ashton-Kirk, "is Okiu. My house is on the next street; the back you can see from the rear windows of this. On the second floor there is a room where I read and smoke and study. It is at the back, and there," with a wave of the hand, "I sat to-night."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"It is in the blood of all lands," proceeded Okiu, "to love its native literature. I have many quaint books and rare manuscripts; they are full of the, as you of the West call it, folk-lore of my people. I love it;" the soft voice seemed to caress the subject on which it dwelt; "I sit and smoke and dream for hours. The bright legends of the Samurai sound like music to the mind; and forgotten heroes rise before me in all their ancient power." Here he laughed gently. "You see," said he, "how filled I am with the subject, when I drift unconsciously into it at a time like this.

"To-night I was so engaged. I was deep in a book lately sent me by a friend, a reprint of a precious writing that I had never before seen. I became lost in its pages; two, three hours slipped by before I knew it. But when the clock struck ten, I got up and turned off the light, for I live very strictly," smilingly, "much as one of the recluses of the waste places of our own island. The night was beautiful, however, and I stood for a little looking out. The shadows fell in long lines and finally upon the edge of one of these-the shadow cast by this very house-I saw something stir."

The last word had hardly left his lips when there came a sharp swift rustle in the hall, an exclamation and the sound of a closing door.

"What is that?" cried Okiu, as he came to his feet.

"I'm inclined to think it's your friend," said Ashton-Kirk, as he lounged back in his chair. "I rather wondered why he went out into the hall."

Humadi appeared in the doorway, his manner apologetic, but a heavy furrow between his eyes. Fuller glanced in, over his shoulder.

"The gentleman made a mistake in the room," said he. "If I startled him in putting him right, I'm sorry."

"It is my place to ask pardon," said Humadi to Ashton-Kirk. "While you talked to my friend I stepped into the hall thi

nking to observe something which might be of value to the police when they came."

"I thank you for your interest," said the secret agent. "It is kind of you to trouble yourself. The door across the way leads to the room where the body lies, and it is as well that it be kept closed."

"It is for you to say," agreed Humadi, as he sat down, wearing a somewhat baffled look.

Okiu laughed softly, and the wonderful hands gestured appreciation.

"You do not know Humadi," he said to Ashton-Kirk; "you do not know him, or you would not wonder at him for this. His is one of the helpful natures; always is he desirous of being of assistance. To aid others is his one ambition."

"Ah, yes, to be sure." And Ashton-Kirk's fine white teeth shone in a smile of understanding. "One meets people of that sort now and then, but upon the whole such natures are rare."

"Rare, indeed! But the world," caressingly, "would be greatly the better if there were more." There was an instant's pause, then Okiu went on: "As I was saying, while I stood at my window, I saw a stirring just upon the edge of the shadow cast by this house. It was not a very marked movement, and at first I thought it must be something waving in the breeze. But after a little I knew that this was not so; the movement was too intelligent; I felt that there was some one lurking about on the lawn. Then I called Humadi; and when he came he said-what was it you said, Humadi?" turning to the gray-haired man.

"I said it must be men," said the other Japanese promptly. "And I said that there were more than one, and that they appeared to be thieves."

"He has such excellent vision," said Okiu, approvingly, to Ashton-Kirk. "He is many years older than I, but his eyes are like those of a boy. Yes, he said that they must be thieves, and I agreed with him. We watched for some time, but the shadows were so dense that we could make out little or nothing. Then suddenly we saw a man emerge into the moonlight."

"A tall man," said Ashton-Kirk, "broad in the shoulders, and carrying a leather bag."

Both Japanese turned their eyes upon him with swift surprise.

"You saw him?" cried Humadi.

"No, I merely fancied that it might be so."

The surprise died quickly out of Okiu's eyes; and in its place came a look that was peculiarly speculative; from the beginning he had regarded Ashton-Kirk with interest; but to this was now added surmise and, perhaps, quickening dread. But when he spoke his voice snowed no trace of this.

"Your imagination is excellent," purred he, gently; "indeed, it amounts to something like second sight. You are quite right, sir," his glance running over Ashton-Kirk; "he was tall and well set, and also young, judging by the ease with which he leaped over the fence. After this, as nothing more happened, I went to bed. But I could not sleep. I felt sure that something had occurred, and it troubled me. At last I got up, called to Humadi and came here to speak to Dr. Morse."

Here the Japanese arose; the smooth chubby face expressed no emotion, but the eyes, the hands, the whole body showed evidences of shock.

"I thought," said he, "to tell of a mere robbery; but I find something more terrible!" Then as though a thought had occurred to him. "But the others-the young lady? the young man? They met with no harm?"

The secret agent shook his head.

"No," replied he.

"That is well! The other is a frightful calamity, but even that could be worse." He seemed to hesitate for a space, then added in another tone: "You will express my sympathy to them?"

"I will," said Ashton-Kirk.

"I would not disturb them now," and Okiu gestured the idea from him. "No, that would not do. But I will leave my sorrow with you. It is fitter that it should be mentioned by an old friend of the family like yourself." Again there was a slight pause; the speaker looked at Ashton-Kirk inquiringly as he asked:

"Am I right in understanding you to say that you are an old friend of the family?"

"A friend, yes," answered Ashton-Kirk, readily. "But scarcely what could be called an old one."

"Ah!" The drooping lids almost hid the searching black eyes. "Then you have not known them long?"

"For two days merely."

"Two days!"

Again the glances of the yellow men met, and again did a rapid intelligence pass between them.

"Two days," repeated Okiu, softly. "That is odd, is it not?"

"Acquaintances must begin some time," protested the secret agent.

"To be sure. But that your acquaintance with Dr. Morse should begin last night, and that he should die to-night--"

"Well?" The keen eyes of Ashton-Kirk met the peering ones of Okiu inquiringly.

"Fate seemed determined that the friendship should not grow," answered the Japanese, gently. "It is strange how things come about, is it not?"

Ashton-Kirk also got upon his feet.

"Fate seldom consults us," he said, drily. "If it did, perhaps things would happen differently."

Just then there came the growing sound of voices without; the shuffle of feet was heard upon the walk and then more noisily upon the porch. The bell rang in long streams of sound.

"The police," said Ashton-Kirk, looking at his watch. "Their methods are as distinguishable as their uniforms."

Fuller looked in; the secret agent nodded and the young man stepped briskly toward the hall door. In another moment a thick-set man in a sergeant's dress entered the room, and with him were two patrolmen.

"How are you?" said the sergeant, nodding to the three men. "Members of the family?"

In a few moments the status of the Japanese was explained; the sergeant listened to their story of the prowler with satisfaction.

"There's the party we want," said he. "Had a bag, did he? Humph! Full of swag, I'll bet." He then took Okiu's name and address. "A headquarters man will go on this case, of course," continued the sergeant, "and he'll want to hear you tell about that. And in the meantime," stuffing his note-book into his breastpocket, "I'll have to ask you all to go. We've got to look things over, and get the hang of it all, and you can see how too many people would be in the way."

As Ashton-Kirk and Fuller emerged from the house, they found the two Japanese standing by the gate. Dixon, who had been waiting all this time, threw on the power at sight of his employer, and the engine of the big French car began to hum in the silence.

"Good-night," said Okiu, gently, a smile upon his smooth face. "I shall see you again, sir."

Ashton-Kirk waved his hand in answer; and as the car started off, and he and Fuller settled themselves back, the latter said:

"Did you notice the way that fellow said that? It sounded to me much as though he had something against you, and meant to get square."

"Perhaps," returned Ashton-Kirk quietly, "that is what he meant. One can never tell."

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