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CHAPTER XVIII PLEASURE
Count Akira did not return so soon to Beckleigh as he had promised, for he wrote that official business still detained him in London. But during the third week after his departure, his yacht, The Miko, steamed into the fairy bay and cast anchor a quarter of a mile off shore. It was Basil who espied her first immediately after breakfast, and he ran up a flag on the pole erected on the lawn. The Miko dipped her ensign in reply, and shortly a boat put off, which doubtless was bringing Akira on his return visit. Basil walked down to the beach to meet him.

There was a tiny pier on the right of the beach which ran into deep water, and the boat made for this. Basil, with his hands in his pockets, stared at the yacht. She was a graceful boat of some two thousand tons, and her hull was painted white while her one funnel was darkly blue. The chrysanthemum flag of Japan streamed from one of her mast-heads, and she looked a singularly beautiful object as she rocked on the blue waters of the bay. Basil judged from her lines that she was swift. But he had little time to take in much, as the boat which approached at a furious pace was a small steam launch. She came alongside the pier in a few minutes.

"And how is my good friend Dane?" asked Akira, hoisting himself up like a monkey and removing his cap. "You see, I am here as promised."

They shook hands, and Basil thought that Akira looked very workmanlike in his smart blue yachting dress. A wiry brown lithe little man was the Japanese, keen-eyed and alert. The most casual observer could see that, if necessary, he could make himself very disagreeable.

"I am glad to see you again, Akira," said Basil; "come up to the house."

The Count gave a few directions to the officer in charge of the launch and then placed himself at his friend\'s disposal. "All are well in your family, I hope?" he remarked, as they strolled up through the woods.

"My uncle has broken his leg, I regret to say."

"Indeed!" Akira looked shocked. "I am very sorry. How did it happen?"

Basil gave him a hasty description of the accident. "In fact, Akira," he added, with a puzzled look, "since you went away everything has gone wrong."

"What do you mean?" asked the Japanese quietly, and his face became entirely devoid of emotion.

"What I say. My uncle broke his leg and has lost a lawsuit, which he hoped to gain. Theodore and I have quarrelled, and the house is as dull as tombs."

"I hope Miss Carrol is not dull?" observed Akira politely.

Dane turned swiftly to observe the expression of the little man\'s face. He had said more than he meant to say on the impulse of the moment, and now that he had said so much, he deliberately said more. Apparently Akira, who was very sharp, had noted, during his visit, symptoms of lovemaking. It was just as well to let him know how matters stood, for, after all, the Japanese was not a bad little fellow. "Miss Carrol is engaged to marry me," said Basil, drawing a deep breath.

"I congratulate you, but I am not surprised. I saw much when I was here on my visit"--he paused; then went on shrewdly, "I do not wonder that you have had a quarrel with your brother."

"Never mind that, Akira," said Basil hastily; "I really did not intend to tell you that. It slipped out."

Akira nodded. "You must permit me to send you and Miss Carrol a present from my own country when I reach it," he remarked, changing the subject.

"It is very good of you. I am sure Miss Carrol will be delighted. When do you sail for the East?"

"To-morrow. I have secured an excellent appointment at Tokio."

"It is very good of you to anchor here, and delay your journey," said Basil cordially; and Akira gave a little laugh as the young man spoke.

"Oh, I had a reason," he said coolly. "I never do anything without a reason, Dane. I shall tell my reason to Mr. Colpster, if he is to be seen."

"Oh, yes. He is out of bed, although he has not yet left his room. The leg is mending splendidly, and he lies mostly on the sofa in his bedroom. I am sure he will be delighted to see you."

"And Miss Mara? Will she be delighted?"

Basil again gave a side glance, but was far from suspecting why the remark had been made. "Don\'t you make her dance any more," said Dane, nervously.

"No, I promise you that I won\'t do that," answered Akira, his face again becoming so unemotional that Basil could not tell what he was thinking about; "but you have not answered my question."

"Here is Mara to answer for herself," said Dane, and he spoke truly, for as they advanced towards the front door of the house, it opened suddenly and Mara flew out with sparkling eyes.

"Count Akira. I am so glad to see you again. Is that your boat? What a nice boat she is. When did you arrive and what are----"

"Mara, Mara, Mara!" remonstrated Basil laughing, "how can the man answer so many questions all at once?"

"I would need Gargantua\'s mouth as your Shakespeare says," observed Akira with a quiet smile, and his eyes also sparkled at the sight of the girl.

"Come inside, Akira, and I will tell Miss Carrol," said Dane hospitably.

He stepped into the house, but Akira did not follow immediately. He lingered behind with Mara, and, after a glance at the many windows of the house, he gave her hand a friendly shake. But his words were warmer than his gesture, for they were meant for Mara\'s private ear, while the handshake was for the benefit of any onlooker.

"I have come, you see. You are glad?" and his black eyes looked volumes.

Mara nodded, and from being a pale lily became a dewy rose. "Of course. Did I not promise to love you for seven lives?"

"Your father will not understand that," said Akira dryly.

Mara started. "Will you tell him?" she asked anxiously.

The Count bowed stiffly. "I am a Japanese gentleman," he said in cool and high-bred tones, "and so I can do nothing against my honour. I cannot take you with me unless your father consents."

"But he will not," breathed Mara, becoming pale with emotion.

"He will. Already this morning he has received a long letter from me, which I sent from London. It explains how I love you, and asks for your hand."

"But you are not of my religion!" whispered Mara distressed; "he may object to that."

"I think not, as your father, from what I saw, is of no particular religion himself. I have a special license in my pocket. We can be married to-day in your own church and by your own priest. When we reach Japan we can be married according to Shinto rites."

"But your family?"

"I have my uncle in London. On hearing all about you, he has agreed. There will be no trouble with my family."

Mara, still nervous, would have asked further questions and would have put forward further objections, but that Patricia made her appearance at the door. She looked singularly beautiful, although she was not so in Akira\'s eyes. He preferred the small features and colourless looks of Mara. Patricia\'s face was too boldly cut and too highly coloured to be approved of by an Oriental.

"How are you, Count?" said Miss Carrol, shaking hands.

"Very well; and you? But I need not ask, Miss Carrol." Akira laughed in a very sympathetic way for him. "Dane has told me."

"Oh!" Patricia blushed.

"I wish you all happiness, and may you be united for seven lives."

"What does that mean?"

"I know! I know!" cried Mara, clapping her hands and jumping; "in Japan we all believe in reincarnation, and lovers promise each other to love during seven earth-seasons."

"But you are not a Japanese, Mara," said Patricia, wondering that the girl should so boldly couple herself with Akira.

"Yes, I am," Mara asserted decidedly; "my body is English, but my soul is Japanese. I know now that I was a Miko in the Temple of Kitzuki three hundred years ago, and that I loved him," she pointed to Akira, who smiled assentingly.

"Oh, what nonsense!" said Miss Carrol, rather crossly; "it is your imagination, you silly child!" and then, before Mara could contradict her, she turned to the Count. "Mr. Colpster wants to see you," she remarked. "Will you follow me?"

"I want to come also," said Mara; and grasping Akira\'s hand she went into the house. They looked at one another adoringly and smiled.

At the bedroom door Patricia left them, as the Squire had intimated that he wished to see Akira privately. Miss Carrol therefore desired to take Mara downstairs with her, but the girl refused to go. "I have to speak to my father also," she declared obstinately, "and I must do so while the Count is present."

"As you please," replied Miss Carrol, finding it impossible to move the girl, and knowing Mara\'s obstinate disposition of old, "you will find me in the library when you come down."

"With Basil!" cried out Mara mischievously; and Patricia looked back to give a smiling nod. Then the two entered the bedroom.

Mr. Colpster was lying on the sofa near a large fire, wrapped in his dressing-gown, and looked thin, since his illness had rather pulled him down. He also appeared to be somewhat cross, and shook at Akira several sheets of blue paper with an angry air.

"I received your letter this morning," he said sharply, and without greeting his visitor in any way.

"That is good," said Akira politely, "it will save me the trouble of an explanation, Mr. Colpster."

"I think not," growled the Squire. "I must know more, and in any case I do not intend to consent."

"Oh, father, you must!" cried Mara, indignantly.

"Go down stairs, child," said her father quickly; "I wish to speak alone with this--this gentleman."

But Mara stood her ground. "What the Count has to say concerns me," she declared obstinately. "I shan\'t go!"

Colpster stormed vainly, while Akira looked on passively. But nothing would move Mara from the position which she had taken up. She simply laughed at her father, and in the end he had to yield a grudging consent to her remaining in the room.

"And now, sir," he said, when this was settled and again shaking the sheets of blue paper at Akira. "I understand from this that you wish to marry my daughter Mara. Of course, it is quite impossible!"

"Why?" asked Akira calmly, and holding Mara\'s hand.

"Because you are not an Englishman," spluttered the Squire.

"If I was a Frenchman, or a German, you would not object!" retorted the Count coolly. "Why not say that it is because I am not a European!"

"Very good then, I say it. You are of the yellow race, and Mara is of the white. Marriage between you is ridiculous."

"I don\'t think so, sir."

Mara looked at her father disdainfully. "I don\'t know why you talk so," she said with a shrug. "I intend to marry Count Akira to-day, and go away with him to-morrow, to Japan in our yacht."

"Our yacht, indeed!" echoed the Squire angrily, and then stared at the pale obstinate face of his daughter, framed in a nimbus of feathery golden hair. "Oh you are a minx! You never loved me!"

"I can\'t help that," said Mara doggedly; "I never loved anyone until I met with the Count. I couldn\'t understand myself until I danced that night in the drawing-room. Danced the Miko-kagura."

"What is that? What is she talking about?" Colpster turned to Akira.

The Count explained politely. "When I came here, sir, I noticed that Miss Colpster was greatly interested in what I had to say about my own country. And often, when I told her of things, she said that she remembered them."

"How could that be when she has never been out of England?"

"That is what puzzled me, until I, one night--by way of an experiment and to convince myself--placed on the fire some incense used in the Temple of Kitzuki, and played on a flute the music of the Miko-kagura, which is a holy dance. Miss Colpster rose and performed it perfectly. The............
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