Chapter Twenty-Nine. Mr. Mori Yada
 

Ayscough was on his guard as soon as he saw that smile. He had had some experience of various national characteristics in his time, and he knew that when an Eastern meets you with a frank and smiling countenance you had better keep all your wits about you. He began the exercise of his own with a polite bow--while executing it, he took a rapid inventory of Mr. Mori Yada. About--as near as he could judge--two or three and twenty; a black-haired, black-eyed young gentleman; evidently fastidious about his English clothes, his English linen, his English ties, smart socks, and shoes--a good deal of a dandy, in short--and, judging from his surroundings, very fond of English comfort--and not averse to the English custom of taking a little spirituous refreshment with his tobacco. A decanter stood on the table at his elbow; a syphon of mineral water reared itself close by; a tumbler was within reach of Mr. Yada's slender yellowish fingers.

"Servant, sir!" said Ayscough. "Detective Sergeant Ayscough of the Criminal Investigation Department--friend of mine, this, sir, Mr. Yada, I believe--Mr. Mori Yada?"

Mr. Yada smiled again, and without rising, indicated two chairs.

"Oh, yes!" he said in excellent English accents. "Pleased to see you--will you take a chair--and your friend! You want to talk to me?"

Ayscough sat down and unbuttoned his overcoat.

"Much obliged, sir," he said. "Yes--the fact is, Mr. Yada, I called to see you on a highly important matter that's arisen. Your name, sir, was given to me tonight by one of the junior house-surgeons at the hospital up the street--Dr. Pittery."

"Oh, yes, Dr. Pittery--I know," agreed Yada. "Yes?"

"Dr. Pittery tells me, sir," continued Ayscough, "that you know two Chinese gentlemen who are fellow-students of yours at the hospital, Mr. Yada?"

The Japanese bowed his dark head and blew out a mouthful of smoke from his cigar.

"Yes!" he answered readily, "Mr. Chang Li--Mr. Chen Li. Oh, yes!"

"I want to ask you a question, Mr. Yada," said Ayscough, bending forward and assuming an air of confidence. "When did you see those two gentlemen last--either of them?"

Yada leaned back in his comfortably padded chair and cast his quick eyes towards the ceiling. Suddenly he jumped to his feet.

"You take a little drop of whisky-and-soda?" he said hospitably, pushing a clean glass towards Ayscough. "Yes--I will get another glass for your friend, too. Help yourselves, please, then--I will look in my diary for an answer to your question. You excuse me, one moment."

He walked across the room to a writing cabinet which stood in one corner, and took up a small book that lay on the blotting-pad; while he turned over its pages, Ayscough, helping himself and Melky to a drink, winked at his companion with a meaning expression.

"I have not seen either Mr. Chang Li or Mr. Chen Li since the morning of the 18th November," suddenly said Yada. He threw the book back on the desk, and coming to the hearthrug, took up a position with his back to the fire and his hands in the pockets of his trousers. He nodded politely as his visitors raised their glasses to him. "Is anything the matter, Mr. Detective-Sergeant?" he asked.

Ayscough contrived to press his foot against Melky's as he gave a direct answer to this question.

"The fact of the case is, Mr. Yada," he said, "one of these two young men has been murdered! murdered, sir!"

Yada's well-defined eyebrows elevated themselves--but the rest of his face was immobile. He looked fixedly at Ayscough for a second or two--then he let out one word.

"Which?"

"According to Dr. Pittery--Chen Li," answered Ayscough. "Dr. Pittery identified him. Murdered, Mr. Yada, murdered! Knifed!--in the throat."

The reiteration of the word murdered appeared to yield the detective some sort of satisfaction--but it apparently made no particular impression on the Japanese. Again he rapped out one word.

"Where?"

"His body was found in the garden of the house they rented in Maida Vale," replied Ayscough. "Molteno Lodge. No doubt you've visited them there, Mr. Yada?"

"I have been there--yes, a few times," assented Yada. "Not very lately. But--where is Chang Li?"

"That's what we don't know--and what we want to know," said Ayscough. "He's not been seen at the hospital since the 20th. He didn't turn up there--nor Chen, either, at a class, that day. And you say you haven't seen them either since the 18th?"

"I was not at the hospital on the 19th," replied Yada. He threw away the end of his cigar, picked up a fresh one from a box which stood on the table, pushed the box towards his visitors, and drew out a silver match- box. "What are the facts of this murder, Mr. Detective-Sergeant?" he asked quietly. "Murder is not done without some object--as a rule."

Ayscough accepted the offered cigar, passed the box to Melky and while he lighted his selection, thought quietly. He was playing a game with the Japanese, and it was necessary to think accurately and quickly. And suddenly he made up his mind and assumed an air of candour.

"It's like this, Mr. Yada," he said. "I may as well tell you all about it. You've doubtless read all about this Praed Street mystery in the newspapers? Well, now, some very extraordinary developments have arisen out of the beginnings of that, it turns out."

Melky sat by, disturbed and uncomfortable, while Ayscough reeled off a complete narrative of the recent discoveries to the suave-mannered, phlegmatic, calmly-listening figure on the hearthrug. He did not understand the detective's doings--it seemed to him the height of folly to tell a stranger, and an Eastern stranger at that, all about the fact that there was a diamond worth eighty thousand pounds at the bottom of these mysteries and murders. But he discharged his own duties, and watched Yada intently--and failed to see one single sign of anything beyond ordinary interest in his impassive face.

"So there it is, sir," concluded Ayscough. "I've no doubt whatever that Chen Li called at Multenius's shop to pay the rent; that he saw the diamond in the old man's possession and swagged him for it; that Parslett saw Chen Li slip away from that side-door and, hearing of Multenius's death, suspected Chen Li of it and tried to blackmail him; that Chen Li poisoned Parslett--and that Chen Li himself was knifed for that diamond. Now--by whom? Chang Li has--disappeared!"

"You suspect Chang Li?" asked Yada.

"I do," exclaimed Ayscough. "A Chinaman--a diamond worth every penny of eighty thousand pounds--Ah!" He suddenly lifted his eyes to Yada with a quick enquiry. "How much do you know of these two?" he asked.

"Little--beyond the fact that they were fellow-students of mine," answered Yada. "I occasionally visited them--occasionally they visited me--that is all."

"Dr. Pittery says they weren't brothers?" suggested Ayscough.

"So I understood," assented Yada. "Friends."

"You can't tell us anything of their habits?--haunts?--what they usually did with themselves when they weren't at the hospital?" asked the detective.

"I should say that when they weren't at the hospital, they were at their house--reading," answered Yada, drily. "They were hard workers."

Ayscough rose from his chair.

"Well, much obliged to you, sir," he said. "As your name was mentioned as some sort of a friend of theirs, I came to you. Of course, most of what I've told you will be in all the papers tomorrow. If you should hear anything of this Chang Li, you'll communicate with us, Mr. Yada?"

The Japanese smiled--openly.

"Most improbable, Mr. Detective-Sergeant!" he answered. "I know no more than what I have said. For more information, you should go to the Chinese Legation."

"Good idea, sir--thank you," said Ayscough.

He bowed himself and Melky out; once outside the street-door he drew his companion away towards a part which lay in deep shadow. Some repairing operations to the exterior of a block of houses were going on there; underneath a scaffolding which extended over the sidewalk Ayscough drew Melky to a halt.

"You no doubt wondered why I told that chap so much?" he whispered. "Especially about that diamond! But I had my reasons--and particularly for telling him about its value."

"It isn't what I should ha' done, Mr. Ayscough," said Melky, "and it didn't ought to come out in the newspapers, neither--so I think! 'Tain't a healthy thing to let the public know there's an eighty-thousand pound diamond loose somewhere in London--and as to telling that slant-eyed fellow in there--"

"You wait a bit, my lad!" interrupted Ayscough. "I had my reasons--good 'uns. Now, look here, we're going to watch that door awhile. If the Jap comes out--as I've an idea he will--we're going to follow. And as you're younger, and slimmer, and less conspicuous than I am, if he should emerge, keep on the shadowy side of the street, at a safe distance, and follow him as cleverly as you can. I'll follow you."

"What new game's this?" asked Melky.

"Never mind!" replied Ayscough. "And, if it does come to following, and he should take a cab, contrive to be near--there's a good many people about, and if you're careful he'll never see you. And--there, now, what did I tell you? He's coming out, now! Be handy--more depends on it than you're aware of."

Yada, seen clearly in the moonlight which flooded that side of the street, came out of the door which they had left a few minutes earlier. His smart suit of grey tweed had disappeared under a heavy fur-collared overcoat; a black bowler hat surmounted his somewhat pallid face. He looked neither to right nor left, but walked swiftly up the street in the direction of the Euston Road. And when he had gone some thirty yards, Ayscough pushed Melky before him out of their retreat.

"You go first," he whispered, "I'll come after you. Keep an eye on him as far as you can--didn't I tell you he'd come out when we'd left? Be wary!"

Melky slipped away up the street on the dark side and continued to track the slim figure quickly advancing in the moonlight. He followed until they had passed the front of the hospital--a few yards further, and Yada suddenly crossed the road in the direction of the Underground Railway. He darted in at the entrance to the City-bound train, and disappeared, and Melky, uncertain what to do, almost danced with excitement until Ayscough came leisurely towards him. "Quick! quick!" exclaimed Melky. "He's gone down there--City trains. He'll be off unless you're on to him!"

But Ayscough remained quiescent and calmly relighted his cigar.

"All right, my lad," he said. "Let him go--just now. I've seen--what I expected to see!"