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CHAPTER XIX THE TRUTH
With the early darkness of February came a spectacle to delight and astonish the home-staying folk of Beckleigh. Suddenly at eight o\'clock, when the entire household were gathered on the beach for transport in the launch to the yacht, The Miko became outlined in coloured fire. Radiant and weird against the gloom in red and blue and yellow and green, she flashed into being like a spectral Flying Dutchman. Never before had such a sight been seen in that quiet Devonshire bay, and loudly sounded the amazed voices of the servants, praising the gorgeous illumination. It was like magic to them, and several were heard to express a hope that the devil was not on board the ship of light. However, the Japanese officer in charge of the launch which puffed up spoke sufficient English to reassure them, and they all embarked for an evening\'s revelry.

The bride and bridegroom, with the two who had witnessed the marriage, had long since gone on board. Mara did not intend to set foot on English soil again, and had taken a final leave of her father. Colpster had not been unkind, although his farewell had been rather cold. But then the newly-made Countess Akira was cold herself and rarely demonstrative, so she did not mind in the least. In fact, Patricia, being a warmhearted Irish girl, reproved her for the coolness with which she took leave both of her parent and of her childhood\'s home.

"Oh, nonsense!" said Mara with her usual cry. "I wish you\'d leave me alone, Patricia. I can\'t make a fuss when I don\'t feel the least sorry to go away."

"But surely, Mara, you are sad. You leave your home, your father, your native land, for ever it may be."

"Certainly for ever. And now that I know all about the past, now that I am the Count\'s wife, I don\'t look upon England as my native land."

"Mara, you surely do not really believe that you lived at Kitzuki as a priestess centuries ago?" said Patricia, shaking her head.

"I am sure that I did. I was a Miko, which means The Darling of the Gods."

"Did Count Akira tell you that translation?"

"No; I remembered it. I spoke Japanese ages ago. I am beginning to recollect all manner of things. And Akira gave me a book of Lafcadio Hearn\'s, which contains a description of a Miko-kagura. It is exactly what I danced on that evening, and is precisely what I did when I was at the Temple."

Patricia asked no more questions. The problem was beyond her. She saw that Mara firmly believed in reincarnation, and on that belief based her sudden marriage with Akira. The little man had known her only for a few weeks, and in the ordinary course of things would not have fallen in love with her so rapidly, if indeed at all, seeing that he was East, while she was West. Therefore, it really seemed as if what Mara believed was true, and that she had met her husband before in the Province of Izumo. In no other way could the puzzled Patricia account for the unexpected which had happened so quickly.

And she agreed with Basil that it was just as well that Mara had obtained her heart\'s desire in this strange way. Had she not met Akira, she would have gone on living in an unhealthy dreamland, and perhaps as she grew older would have lost her reason. But now she seemed to be a different girl as her formerly pale face was rosy with colour; she looked less shadowy, and strangest of all, she took a profound interest in the entertainments provided for the Beckleigh servants. This was particularly odd, for Mara never, when she was single, troubled about pleasures of any kind, and certainly took no interest in the likes or dislikes of other people. But over this revelry she presided like a queen, and for the first time in her strange life she appeared to be thoroughly happy.

"After all," said Patricia, to her lover who stood by her, while a sailor was singing some legend to the music of the biwa, "the Count is a very charming and highly-bred man."

"Oh, yes," assented Basil heartily, for having taken everything into consideration, he now quite approved of the turn affairs had taken. "He is one of the best is Akira. As good and clever a chap as ever lived. If you do want courtesy and good breeding, you can find them to perfection in a Japanese gentleman. Mara is lucky to get such a husband, considering what a strange nature she has."

"It is that very nature which has brought such a husband to her," said Patricia. "I hope and trust and pray she will be happy."

"I think so. Akira adores her. Strange when he is East and she is West."

Patricia shook her head. "Mara would never admit that, my dear. Only her body is West according to her; her soul is Eastern."

"Well," remarked Basil, looking somewhat puzzled, "I don\'t know much about this occult rubbish of which we have had so much lately, but I should think that the soul was of no country at all. It comes on the stage of the world dressed as a native of different countries just as it is told."

"As its Karma calls it."

"What the deuce is Karma?"

"The accumulated result of good and evil and----"

"Look here, Patricia!" interrupted the young man, slipping his arm within her own. "I have had enough of this jargon and occult rubbish. I half believe in it, and I half don\'t. At all events, I don\'t think it is healthy for either you or I to indulge in such things. Let us live as two healthy people, my darling, as we have plenty of work to do in this world before we leave it. You agree, don\'t you?"

"Of course I do. I should agree if you proposed to cut off my head."

"I prefer to leave it on your shoulders," laughed Basil, and slyly stole a kiss, for they were standing in the shadow. "Look at old Sims, how amazed he is at those Japanese dresses!"

They pressed forward to look. Some of the sailors were arrayed as samurai in antique armour of the Middle Ages of Japan, and were fighting with huge swords. All round flashed the many-coloured lights, and the little group of Devonshire folk sat and stood in their homely dresses, looking delightedly at the fairyland which had been brought before their astonished eyes. The dresses, the music, the unusual food, and the brown faces of the foreign sailors, fascinated them greatly. And, indeed, the spectacle was as pleasant to Basil and Patricia as to them, in spite of the fact that they knew more of the world beyond Beckleigh. As to Mara, she was flushed with enjoyment and so deeply interested in the brilliant spectacle before her that she did not notice the absence of her husband.

But he had slipped away silently, and was standing at the stern of the yacht, speaking softly to an Englishman. The light of a near lantern would have shown anyone who knew him that the man was Harry Pentreddle, and he was just getting ready to lower himself by a rope into a rowing boat, which was fastened alongside.

"You can get ashore in that," whispered Akira softly; "and, later, I shall send the launch to fetch you."

"I can row back again," protested Pentreddle. "You won\'t be able to get away quick enough," said Akira mysteriously.

"Away from what?"

"Never mind. Do what I told you to do, and bring me what I told you to bring me. Obey my instructions implicitly, or there may be danger."

"But I don\'t understand, sir."

"You understand enough for my purpose," broke in the Japanese smooth voice; "and you know why I ask you to go ashore to the Hall to-night."

"Yes, I know," said Harry grimly, and spat on his hands as he prepared to grasp the rope.

"You needn\'t go unless you like. I can go myself. Well?"

For answer Pentreddle clambered over the taffrail and swung himself by the rope into the small craft below. As he took the oars, Akira\'s voice was heard again even softer than before as he leaned over the side. "The launch will be waiting for you at the pier when you come out," he said. "Lose no time."

The boat shot away into the gloom, while Harry Pentreddle wondered why the little man was so insistent about his getting away quickly from the Hall, after what had to be done was accomplished. However, the sailor being aware of certain facts, was prepared to obey implicitly, and rowed hard to reach the land. There was no time to be lost, as the entertainment would not last for ever, and it was necessary that Harry should come back to The Miko before those on board returned to Beckleigh Hall.

It was a calm night, but cloudy and threatening. The rain of the last few weeks had stopped, and fine weather prevailed. But no stars were visible, and the moon was veiled heavily. As Pentreddle beached his boat near the pier, and dug her anchor into the damp sand, he felt a breath of wind, and looked into the semi-gloom to see that already white crests were forming on the waves. Afar off, The Miko looked like a fairy ship with her coloured lights glittering against the darkness. The wind was distinctly rising, as Pentreddle felt when he passed up the path to the Hall, and on glancing overhead he noted that the clouds were beginning to move. Already a few stars were revealed, and there was an occasional glimpse of a haggard moon lying on her back.

"It\'s going to be a nasty night," said the sailor. "Bad for those folk on board that yacht. They\'ll be sea-sick."

He chuckled, although he felt far from merry. The errand he was on was too serious to be treated lightly, and he was even nervous as to what would be the outcome of the same. But he strode on resolutely, nevertheless, and was soon standing at the front door of the Hall. The building was in darkness save for one window on the second storey near the angle of the wall. Pentreddle, acquainted with the building ever since he could walk, knew very well that this was one of the windows of the Squire\'s bedroom; on the other side of the wall there were two more. For a moment Pentreddle looked up at the light and noted that the tough arms of the ancient ivy grew up to the very sill of the window, and afforded a ladder to anyone who wished to descend in that way. He smiled grimly when he recalled this fact, which might be useful, and then opened the door.

It had not been locked, as there were no robbers at Beckleigh, and bolts and bars were not attended to very particularly. The hall should have had the central lamp lighted, but Pentreddle found the place entirely dark. He did not mind this, as he knew every inch of the way up to Squire Colpster\'s bedroom. There he would find the old gentleman, and he presumed that Mr. Dane--who had refused to come to the entertainment on The Miko--would be in his rooms at the back of the house. He walked softly up the stairs, as he did not wish to arouse Theodore, for reasons which he intended to impart to the old Squire.

Feeling his way in the darkness along the walls, and wishing that he had brought a lantern, Pentreddle gained the second storey and walked along the corridor towards the line of light which shone from under the bedroom door. On arriving immediately outside, he paused for a moment to listen. A sound of struggling struck his ear, and he became aware with a thrill that there was a fight going on between uncle and nephew. Considering Colpster\'s age this was unfair, so Pentreddle dashed open the door and shot into the room intent upon taking side with the weaker party.

"What\'s all this?" he shouted.

"Help, Harry, help! He\'s strangling me!" gasped Colpster, recognizing the voice. "Oh! help me! Help!"

Pentreddle did not waste any time in words. He darted forward, and gripping the shoulders of Theodore, who was holding his uncle down on the floor, he spun him to one side. The Squire, struggling to his feet, clawed at the sofa to rise, on seeing which Dane, who was crazy with rage, tried to slip past the sailor and tackle the old man again.

"Ah! would you?" cried Harry, who hated Theodore fervently, as, indeed, everyone did. "I\'ll show you," and in a moment his sinewy arms were round the big man and they wrestled desperately.

Theodore was ghastly white and his blue eyes blazed with unholy fire, as between closed teeth he cursed his antagonist. Huge as he was, the man had only that strength which comes with furious anger. He was flabby, and not at all muscular, since he never exercised himself in any way. Half on the floor and half on the pillows of the sofa, Colpster watched the fight with breathless interest, grasping in his hands a large envelope. The two men swayed and swung round the apartment, and Theodore fought like a tiger. But the wiry sailor was too much for him, and gradually Dane was forced to the floor where he lay struggling and kicking, with Pentreddle kneeling on his big chest. Harry hailed the half-fainting old man.

"Pull down that curtain cord near you, Squire, and throw it over," he panted.

Dane gurgled and tried to curse, but could not, as Pentreddle\'s brown hands gripped his fat throat. Colpster struggled across to the window and took with feeble hands the silken rope which draped the curtains on one side at no great height from the floor. He crawled back with it to Harry, who at once proceeded to bind Theodore\'s arms behind his back, and rolled him over for this purpose. Dane was so sick and breathless with the struggle and in such a bad condition for holding his own, that he had to submit.

"Now the other rope, Squire," commanded Harry, but seeing that the old man\'s strength had given out, he darted across himself to the window and speedily brought back what he required. In a few minutes Theodore, trussed like a fowl, was lying on the floor, face uppermost, and regained his breath sufficiently to curse.

"I\'ll have you arrested for this, Pentreddle," he said viciously.

Harry deigned no reply, as he had to attend to Colpster. On a small table near the bed was a decanter of port, with some glasses and a dish of biscuits. The sailor poured out a glass of the generous vintage, and held it to the Squire\'s lips. He drank it eagerly and demanded more. A second glass brought the colour back into his wan cheeks, and the light of life into his sunken eyes. Shortly he was able to sit up on the sofa and Harry arranged the pillows at his back. But all the time Colpster held on to the large envelope. Also, he fished about feebly under the pillow and brought out the Mikado Jewel.

"Thank heaven!" panted the old man feebly; "............
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