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BOOKS BY HAROLD MACGRATH

ADVENTURES OF KATHLYN
ARMS AND THE WOMAN
BEST MAN
CARPET FROM BAGDAD
DEUCES WILD
ENCHANTED HAT
GOOSE GIRL
HALF A ROGUE
HEARTS AND MASKS
LUCK OF THE IRISH: A ROMANCE
LURE OF THE MASK
MILLION DOLLAR MYSTERY
PARROT & CO.
PIDGIN ISLAND
PLACE OF HONEYMOONS
PRINCESS ELOPES
PUPPET CROWN
SPLENDID HAZARD
THE DRUMS OF JEOPARDY
THE GIRL IN HIS HOUSE
THE GREY CLOAK
THE MAN ON THE BOX
THE MAN WITH THREE NAMES
THE PAGAN MADONNA
THE PRIVATE WIRE TO WASHINGTON
THE YELLOW TYPHOON
VOICE OF THE FOG




[Illustration: "'Thank you for coming up,' said Cunningham. 'It makes me
feel that you trust me.'"]




THE
PAGAN MADONNA

BY
HAROLD MacGRATH

FRONTISPIECE
BY
W. H. D. KOERNER

GARDEN CITY, N. Y., AND TORONTO
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
1921




COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY

DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF TRANSLATION
INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES, INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN

COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY THE CURTIS PUBLISHING COMPANY




THE PAGAN MADONNA

CHAPTER I


Humdrum isn't where you live; it's what you are. Perhaps you are one of
those whose lives are bound by neighbourly interests. Imaginatively, you
never seek what lies under a gorgeous sunset; you are never stirred by any
longing to investigate the ends of rainbows. You are more concerned by
what your neighbour does every day than by what he might do if he were
suddenly spun, whirled, jolted out of his poky orbit. The blank door of an
empty house never intrigues you; you enter blind alleys without thrilling
in the least; you hear a cry in the night and impute it to some marauding
tom. Lord, what a life!

And yet every move you make is governed by Chance--the Blind Madonna of
the Pagan, as that great adventurer, Stevenson, called it. You never
stop to consider that it is only by chance that you leave home and arrive
at the office alive--millions and millions of you--poor old
stick-in-the-muds! Because this or that hasn't happened to you, you
can't be made to believe that it might have happened to someone else.
What's a wood fire to you but a shin warmer? And how you hate to walk
alone! So sheer off--this is not for you.

But to you, fenced in by circumstance, walls of breathless brick and
stone, suffocating with longing, you whose thought springs ever toward the
gorgeous sunset and the ends of rainbows; who fly in dreams across the
golden south seas to the far countries, you whose imagination transforms
every ratty old square-rigger that pokes down the bay into a Spanish
galleon--come with me.

For to admire an' for to see,
For to be'old this world so wide.

First off, Ling Foo, of Woosung Road, perhaps the most bewildered Chinaman
in all Shanghai last April. The Blind Madonna flung him into a great game
and immediately cast him out of it, giving him never an inkling of what
the game was about and leaving him buffeted by the four winds of wonder.

A drama--he was sure of that--had rolled up, touched him icily if
slightly, and receded, like a wave on the beach, without his knowing in
the least what had energized it in his direction. During lulls, for years
to come, Ling Foo's consciousness would strive to press behind the wall
for a key to the riddle; for years to come he would be searching the
International Bund, Nanking Road, Broadway and Bubbling Well roads for the
young woman with the wonderful ruddy hair and the man who walked with the
sluing lurch.

Ah, but that man--the face of him, beautiful as that of a foreign boy's,
now young, now old, as though a cobweb shifted to and fro across it! The
fire in those dark eyes and the silk on that tongue! Always that face
would haunt him, because it should not have been a man's but a woman's.
Ling Foo could not go to his gods for comparisons, for a million
variations of Buddha offered no such countenance; so his recollection
would always be tinged with a restless sense of dissatisfaction.

There were other faces in the picture, but with the exception of the
woman's and the man's he could not reassemble the features of any.

A wild and bitter night. The nor'easter, packed with a cold, penetrating
rain, beat down from the Yellow Sea, its insensate fury clearing the
highways of all save belated labourers and 'ricksha boys. Along the
Chinese Bund the sampans huddled even more closely together, and rocked
and creaked and complained. The inscrutable countenance of the average
Chinaman is the result of five thousand years of misery. It was a night
for hand warmers--little jigsawed brass receptacles filled with smoldering
punk or charcoal, which you carried in your sleeves and hugged if you
happened to be a Chinaman, as Ling Foo was.

He was a merchant. He sold furs, curios, table linen, embroideries. His
shop was out on the Woosung Road. He did not sit on his stool or in his
alcove and wait for customers. He made packs of his merchandise and
canvassed the hotels in the morning, from floor to floor, from room to
room. His curios, however, he left in the shop. That was his lure to bring
his hotel customers round in the afternoon, when there were generally
additional profits and no commissions. This, of course, had been the
_modus operandi_ in the happy days before 1914, when white men began the
slaughter of white men. Nowadays Ling Foo was off to the Astor House the
moment he had news of a ship dropping anchor off the bar twelve miles down
the Whangpoo River. The hour no longer mattered; the point was to beat his
competitors to the market--and often there was no market.

He did not call the white people foreign devils; he called them customers.
That they worshipped a bearded Buddha was no concern of his. Born in the
modern town, having spent twelve years in San Francisco, he was not
heavily barnacled with tradition. He was shrewd, a suave bargainer, and
as honest as the day is long. His English was fluent.

To-night he was angry with the fates. The ship was hours late. Moreover,
it was a British transport, dropping down from Vladivostok. He would be
wasting his time to wait for such passengers as came ashore. They would be
tired and hungry and uncomfortable. So at seven o'clock he lit a piece of
punk, dropped it into his hand warmer, threw his pack over his shoulders,
and left the cheery lobby of the hotel where he had been waiting since
five in the afternoon. He would be cold and wet and hungry when he reached
his shop.

Outside he called to a disconsolate 'ricksha boy, and a moment later
rattled across the bridge that spans the Soochow Creek. Even the Sikh
policeman had taken to cover. When he finally arrived home he was drenched
from his cap button to the wooden soles of his shoes. He unlocked the shop
door, entered, flung the pack on the floor, and turned on the electric
light. Twenty minutes later he was in dry clothes; hot rice, bean curd,
and tea were warming him; and he sat cross-legged in a little alcove
behind his till, smoking his metal pipe. Two or three puffs, then he would
empty the ash in a brass bowl. He repeated this action half a dozen times.
He was emptying the ash for the last time when the door opened violently
and a man lurched in, hatless and apparently drunk--a white man.

But instantly Ling Foo saw that the man was not drunk. Blood was streaming
down his face, which was gray with terror and agony. The man made a
desperate effort to save himself from falling, and dragged a pile of
embroidered jackets to the floor as he went down.

Ling Foo did not stir. It was not possible for him to move. The suddenness
of the spectacle had disconnected thought from action. He saw all this,
memorized it, even speculated upon it; but he could not move.

The door was still open. The rain slanted across the black oblong space.
He saw it strike the windows, pause, then trickle down. He could not see
what had become of the man; the counter intervened. A tingle ran through
Ling Foo's body, and he knew that his brain had gained control of his body
again. But before this brain could telegraph to his legs three men rushed
into the shop. A bubble of sound came into Ling Foo's throat--one of those
calls for help that fear smothers.

The three men disappeared instantly below the counter rim. Silence, except
for the voices of the rain and the wind. Ling Foo, tensely, even
painfully alive now, waited. He was afraid, and it was perfectly logical
fear. Perhaps they had not noticed him in the alcove. So he waited for
this fantastic drama to end.

The three men rose in unison. Ling Foo saw that they were carrying the
fourth between them. The man who carried the head and shoulders of the
victim--for Ling Foo was now certain that murder was abroad--limped oddly,
with a heave and a sluing twist. Ling Foo slid off his cushion and stepped
round the counter in time to see the night absorb the back of the man who
limped. He tried to recall the face of the man, but could not. His initial
terror had drawn for him three white patches where faces should have
been.

For several minutes Ling Foo stared at the oblong blackness; then with a
hysterical gurgle he ran to the door, slammed and bolted it, and leaned
against the jamb, sick and faint, yet oddly relieved. He would not now
have to account to the police for the body of an unknown white man.

A queer business. Nothing exciting ever happened along this part of
Woosung Road. What he had witnessed--it still wasn't quite
believable--belonged to the water front. Things happened there, for these
white sailors were a wild lot.

When the vertigo went out of his legs, Ling Foo cat-stepped over to the
scattered embroidered jackets and began mechanically to replace them on
the counter--all but two, for these were speckled with blood. He
contemplated them for a space, and at last picked them up daintily and
tossed them into a far corner. When the blood dried he would wash them out
himself.

But there was that darkening stain on the floor. That would have to be
washed out at once or it would be crying up to him eternally and recasting
the tragic picture. So he entered the rear of the shop and summoned his
wife.



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