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   Chapter 19 A SOUND IN THE NIGHT

Hour of Enchantment / A Mystery Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 6890

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Tell me about that mysterious land, China." Florence settled back in her place in the stupid little Dodge-Em that, refusing to travel farther, had left them stalled far out on the black waters of night.

"China." Erik Nord's tone was full of the enchanting melody of the Far East. "How is one to tell you of China? There are sampans where whole families live their lives away, sampans on the river and great cities on their banks. Farther up there are villages and on the river great old junks. Ships from out of the past, they loom before you in the dark. You never know whether they are manned by brigands who will rob you or soldiers who may take your possessions from you in the name of the law. You-"

"Listen!" Her hand was on his arm. There had come a sound from the water. "Do-do you think his Dodge-Em has stalled too? Wouldn't it be strange if we drifted together in the moonlight?"

"Nothing would suit me better!"

Florence believed him.

"But that long-eared one has the knife," she told herself as a thrill coursed up her spine. Closing her eyes she seemed to witness a battle on the water, a fight between a square-jawed white man from China whose ancestors had built boats that were good fifty years later, and a Chinaman inspired by who knows what superstitious terror.

"If only we'd sight him!" Nord's words came from between his teeth. "I think I might help out a bit, rip a board off this tub of ours and use it for a paddle or something."

"It seems pretty solid." Florence felt the boat over. "Besides, we haven't seen him, we've only caught a sound. It might not have been his boat. Probably his gas held out and he's gone back to land, vanished by now-the vanishing Chinaman."

"By the way," Erik's voice took on a new note, "how did it happen you recognized him out there on the water?"

"I-why, I've seen him before." She was stalling for time. Should she tell him all about the chest, the knife, the banners? She was not proud of the affair. They had been careless, she could see that now. And yet, if he knew, they might work together.

She looked away at the golden moon. Her eyes followed the path it painted across the water.

"Yes," she said, "I'll tell you. It was like this. We bought that chest full of your treasures at an auction sale, bought it for I-I'm ashamed to tell you how little. And now-now it's gone; all gone but the chest."

"Gone?"

"He got it, that long-eared one."

"Tell me about it." Erik leaned forward eagerly.

She told him all there was to tell, described the knife, the bell and all the banners as best she could.

"Gone!" he murmured. "All gone. You have missed much, and the little ones of China have missed more. There was a reward for the return of that chest, five hundred dollars.

"Five hun-"

"Five hundred in gold. With that you could have visited this land that seems to you so mysterious. With care you could have stayed a long time in China, delved into all manner of Oriental mysteries."

"I'll do it yet!" He saw her stout figure stiffen with resolve. "I'll get that long-eared one yet! You wait! You shall have all those treasures back, every one!"

"Splendid! But have a care, my friend. Have a care!" There was a note of warning in his voice. "Those Orientals are dangerous when some superstitious terror takes possession of them. There is something we do not know about those temple adornments; that knife and bell are forces

to fight demons. Who can say what demons have taken possession of our vanishing Chinaman? Have a care! Just when you wish for your very life's sake that he might vanish, you will find him insisting upon being very much of a present reality. He-"

"Listen!" Again her hand rested on his arm.

* * * * * * * *

There are certain people who "feel" events before they transpire. This, psychologists will tell you, is intuition. Jeanne's intuition caused her knees to tremble as she walked from the elevator to Lorena LeMar's apartment which, for the time, was her own.

"A trunk," she whispered. "A trunk beyond that door." By this time her key was in the lock. She wished to turn back; she willed to go forward. In the end courage won. She pushed open the door. She entered the room.

But she did not go far. One look was enough. The trunk, a huge affair such as is used by commercial traveling men, stood in the center of the room. Its lid was up. It was empty! And the whole apartment, as far as her startled eyes could take it in, was in a state of wild confusion.

Next, without exactly knowing how it happened, she found herself outside with the door locked behind her.

Her heart was beating painfully. As if to still its wild beating she clutched at her breast. Her brain was in a state of wild confusion. For some little time she could not think two thoughts in a row.

When at last her senses returned it all came to her in a flash. "It is that little yellow man with the long ears," she assured herself. "He or one of his friends. He believed that those things, those priceless banners and that curious bell from the temple, were in this place. He had himself strapped tight in that monstrous trunk and shipped himself to this hotel, 'To Miss LeMar's apartment.' To-"

She broke off. "He knows!" The thought fairly floored her. "This long-eared one knows I am not Lorena LeMar. He knows I am Petite Jeanne. Will he tell? Will he spoil all my fine plans?" Here indeed was a terrible probability.

"If I make it possible for him to have just what he wants," she whispered slowly, "perhaps he will go away and no one will know, no one but Florence and Miss LeMar and Tom Tobin, who will never tell."

Here indeed was temptation. She did not know that these treasures had been intended as a gift to a children's hospital, for the little ones of China. Florence had not told her. She only knew that at present they were her own, that she and Florence had bought them and had received a bill of sale for them.

Startling as was this revelation, it did not occupy her thoughts long. Her mind took a fresh turn.

"Florence," she whispered. "Where is she? The hour is late."

Once again her head was in a whirl. Where could Florence be?

"Perhaps she is in there! They may have found her. She may have been murd-"

She could not say the word. Her love for her big companion was all but compelling her to re-enter that room.

"He may still be there, that little yellow one with the long ears." She was fairly beside herself.

Should she call the house detective? This she feared to do. In the excitement of the moment she might give away the secret of her dual personality.

"No! No! I must not! I must be brave!"

Once again she approached the door. Her fingers trembled as she fitted key to lock, yet she did not turn back. The lock clicked. The door opened. She stepped inside. The door closed behind her.

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