“He was found dead at the back of the native cantonments, with a knife in his heart!”
“Oh!” exclaimed Lady Dascot. “How positively ghastly! I don’t think I want to see the dreadful thing!”
“Really!” murmured Madame de Medici, turning languidly to the speaker. “I do.”
The Colonel stooped and reached into the safe. Then he began to take out object after object, box after box. Finally, he straightened himself again, and all saw that his face was oddly blanched.
“It’s gone!” he whispered hoarsely. “The Key of the Temple of Heaven has been stolen!”
Rene entered his bedroom, locked the door, and seated himself on the bed; then he lowered his head into his hands and clutched at his hair distractedly. Since, on his uncle’s own showing, no one knew that the Key of the Temple of Heaven had been in the safe, since, excepting himself (Rene) and the Colonel, no one else knew the lock combination, how the Key had been stolen was a mystery which defied conjecture. No one but the Colonel had approached within several yards of the safe at the time it was opened; so that clearly the theft had been committed prior to that time.
Now Rene sought to recall the details of a strange dream which he had dreamed immediately before awakening on the previous night; but he sought in vain. His memory could supply only blurred images. There had been a safe in his dream, and he—was it he or another?—had unlocked it. Also there had been an enormous ivory Buddha. . . . Yet, stay! it had not been enormous; it had been. . .
He groaned at his own impotency to recall the circumstances of that mysterious, perhaps prophetic dream; then in despair he gave it up, and stooping to a little secretaire, unlocked it with the idea of sending a note round to Annesley’s chambers. As he did so he uttered a loud cry.
Lying in one of the pigeon-holes was a long piece of black silk, apparently torn from the lining of an opera hat. In it two holes were cut as if it were intended to be used as a mask. Beside it lay a little leather-covered box. He snatched it out and opened it. It was empty!
“Am I going mad?” he groaned. “Or------”
“You are wanted on the ’phone, sir.”
It was the butler who had interrupted him. Rene descended to the telephone, dazedly, but, recognizing the voice of Annesley, roused himself.
“I’m leaving town to-night, Deacon,” said Annesley, “for—well, many reasons. But before I go I must give you a warning, though I rely on you never to mention my name in the matter. Avoid the woman who calls herself Madame de Medici; she’ll break you. She’s an adventuress, and has a dangerous acquaintance with Eastern cults, and. . . I can’t explain properly. . . .”
“Annesley! the Key!”