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Hour of Enchantment / A Mystery Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 9070

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

While Jeanne was making the rather disturbing discovery that when you take over a double's labors you take over her friends as well, Florence was listening to words that, now thrilling her to the very depths of her soul, and now slowing up her heart until her very blood ran cold, left her at last full of half-formed hopes and well established fears.

Every afternoon from four o'clock to six, she was given a rest from her duties on the Enchanted Island. During these periods of leisure she wandered through the grounds. The wonders of science and invention that were spread out before her never failed to hold her interest. For all this, she took pleasure at times in visiting the more bizarre attractions. To watch the Seminole Indians dive beneath a great alligator with his snapping jaws and thrashing tail, to watch the little brown man's conquest of the scaly monster, gave her a thrill. To study the quaint customs of men from the heart of Africa; to don a bathing suit and take a long, long slide into the blue waters, all these things held a charm for this sturdy, adventure-loving girl.

This day she had entered the Golden Temple of Jehol to study its varied treasures from the heart of China. These things charmed and fascinated her.

The place was crowded. With such a throng pushing through its narrow aisles, the temple had lost much of its charm. She was about to wander once more into the open air, when her attention was caught and held by a face.

To her own astonishment, she stood there and stared at the man until he turned and smiled at her. Then she felt ashamed.

"Want a book?"

It was the white man who had been born in China and had lived all his life there; the one who had so held Jeanne's attention and had all but drawn from her the secret of the three-bladed dagger and the chest of Oriental embroideries. Surely here was some one it was hard to overlook. The tone in which he spoke was matter-of-fact. Yet a strange light shone from his eyes.

There are meetings that appear to have been ordered by some power outside ourselves. The instant the thing has happened we know it. With a simple flash of an eye one soul says to the other: "We are kindred spirits. We were born to be friends."

"Where-where did all this come from?" she asked rather breathlessly.

"All this stuff, the idols, the trumpets, the tapestries?"


"From China. Much of it from far back in the interior, even in Mongolia. I-I had a hand in gathering it. All came from temples, ancient temples-hard to get at times."

The man, who was quite young, spoke with a curious accent.

"You are not American?"

"I belong to China."

"But you are not Chinese," she laughed.

"Not Mongolian; but if you are born in China, live there always, what are you then?" He showed his fine white teeth in a grin.

Looking her up and down, taking in her costume that told she was "one of them," he said in a tone quite low and aside:

"I'll be free in half an hour. What about a cup of coffee? I'll tell you about these things."

"All-all right."

"See you then?"


As she wandered out into the sunlight, something told her she had started one more friendship that would end in adventure. What she did not know was that she was about to be given one more chapter in the history of the mysterious Oriental chest and its temple treasures.

An hour after leaving the temple, she found herself seated at a narrow table in a dark little corner of a nearby coffee house, drinking black coffee and following every word of this most astonishing young man. His name, she had discovered, was Erik Nord. He had lived all his life in China and, as he expressed it, had "adventured all over the place."

"We'd gone into Mongolia, that cold, barren land where no one is wanted," he was saying. "The man I was with-I shall not tell you his name-had been commissioned to gather up a lot of this art treasure that is so rapidly disappearing from the decaying temples.

"There was a long-eared Chinaman who came near doing me in! Big knife and all that."

"A-a long-eared Chinaman!" Florence exclaimed.

"Longest ears I ever saw. Looked as if some plastic surgeon had spliced pieces on from some other fellow's ears-might have, too.

"It happened like this," he went on, taking no notice of her stare.

"We'd picked up some things, jolly unusual they were, too; gold and silver embroidery, rare old stuff, a bell and a knife-three-bladed affair-some rare old pieces of embroidery-"

"A knife!"

Florence was staring again. "Three-bladed!

"But of course," she added hurriedly, "they are common, I suppose. There is one over in the temple, isn't there?"

"I must not betray secrets," she was saying to herself. "Not to a man I have known for only an hour."

"This one was not common," Erik Nord said quietly. "The hilt was all studded with jewels, diamonds and rubies."

Once again Florence opened her mouth to speak, then thought better of it.

"We found these things," Erik Nord went on, after a moment, "in a rather extraordinary manner. It seems some American, a curious sort of fellow, but very real in his devotion to these people, had somehow talked the whole little city out of their temple worship. He'd turned the temple into a hospital for children, Chinese children." His voice trailed off into silence.

"Ever see any?" he asked a moment later.

"See what?" Florence asked, startled.

"Beg pardon. Ever see any Chinese children? No, of course not. Well, they're the cutest ever.


Drawing a thin metal case from his pocket, he shook a handful of cards from it, then spread them out on the table.

Florence stared in astonishment. Each card was a photograph, the picture of a Chinese child. Children asleep, children crying, laughing, romping. In their quaint costumes they were indeed fascinating.

"Little children." His voice dropped to a husky whisper. "The hospital was for them. The people had agreed that all the treasures of the temple should be sold and the money spent in equipping their hospital for children, the quaint little children of China.

"And then," his voice changed abruptly, "the treasures were all lost. I fear the money may never be paid. And it was entirely my own fault! Can you imagine what that means to me?"

Florence did not answer. She was thinking hard. And in her thoughts the mental image of a long-eared Chinaman was blended with flashes of a three-bladed knife and the pictures of a host of cute Chinese children.

When at last she broke the silence she was surprised to find that her voice, too, had taken on a suspicious hoarseness.

"You-you said there was a long-eared Chinaman?"

"Yes, that long-eared fellow. It-it was queer." He took a long pull at his black coffee. "He looked like some sort of monk, or priest. A Buddhist, I mean. He nearly got the chest of treasure from us.

"You see, it was entrusted to our care. It was sold all right, but wouldn't be paid for until delivered to the purchaser in America.

"He tried to knife the man I was with, this long-eared fellow did. Entered our tent at night. Fortunately, I was awake. I smashed him one just in time; nearly killed him. Thought I had, until he showed up in Tientsin and made a second attempt to rob us."

"But the treasure?" Florence tried to still her wildly beating heart, to seem calm, unconcerned. "The treasure? What happened?"

"That's just the question!" Erik Nord shrugged his broad shoulders. "It was entrusted to me. I sent the chest that contained it all-worth a lot of dollars I can tell you-to San Francisco in care of a friend. It arrived in due time. The friend paid the duty and re-shipped it to Chicago. As far as I know, it never arrived." He sat back and stared at the ceiling. "I trusted the wrong man. He bungled it somehow.

"That," he added in a whisper, "is one of the reasons I'm here. Somehow that long-eared Chinaman has beaten us. We've got to catch up with him. In time we'll get him, too."

"That man-"

Florence did not finish. What should she tell? All or nothing?

"Might not be the man," she assured herself. "Might not have been the same chest. Anyway, the chest is all I have left. That's worthless. What's the good of getting mixed up in an Oriental intrigue? Anyway, I'll talk it over with Jeanne."

Thus her mind ran, and all this time Erik Nord was studying her face.

"That man," she finished rather lamely, "must have been clever."

"Clever no end!

"Well, time to wander back." He rose. "It's been a pleasure to be with you. I'd like to know about America, the best of America."

"Do you think I belong to the best?" she laughed.

"You seem rather real." His smile was frank. "I don't like all this face-paint and jazz, pretty girls smoking cigarets, and all that. Well, I'm old-fashioned, I suppose. In China we put paint on the temples and burn incense in ancient copper dragons, not between young ladies' lips." He laughed good-naturedly, then ushered her into the twilight of the passing day.

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