Roy Glashan's Library
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AIDAN DE BRUNE

SILVER BELLS

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover 2017



First published in Smith's Weekly, Sydney, NSW, 4 Aug 1928

First e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-11-25
Produced by Terry Walker, Colin Choat and Roy Glashan.

The text of this book is in the public domain in Australia.
All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.



THIS book is a product of a collaborative effort undertaken by Project Gutenberg Australia, Roy Glashan's Library and the bibliophile Terry Walker to collect, edit and publish the works of Aidan de Brune, a colourful and prolific Australian writer whose opus is well worth saving from oblivion.



Illustration


LOT 31: SMALL obelisk of pale jade—coloured the transparent green of deep, rolling seas—about six inches high. At the apex a silver bell of heavy metal, dulled and tarnished. From either side of the column came curved, silver arms, supporting similar, but smaller, bells.

"LOT 31, gents. Jade ornament. Very valuable. I'm told it belonged to the—er—Ming era."

The ruddy-faced auctioneer took the obelisk from the attendant and tinkled the silver bells with his pencil. "Quite unique, y'know. Any bids?"

"One pound!" Mary spoke involuntarily. She glanced down at the catalogue a man had thrust into her hands as she entered the room.

What was the man talking about? The sale was of the effects of "Adam Wyss, Esq., dc'd." What did he mean by saying the jade belonged to "Mr. Ming?"

"Twenty shillings—from the lady with the brown hat! Twenty shillings for this wonderful example of Chinese art! Why that's absurd, gentlemen. Any advance? Come on, I can't let It go at that!"

"Twenty-five." A man standing Just under the auctioneer spoke, glancing back at Mary over his shoulder. From a distant corner of the room the price was advanced another five shillings.

"Two pounds!" Mary coloured. All eyes turned in her direction.

"You won't get it that way, miss!" A quiet, tired voice at her shoulder spoke almost in a whisper. "No, don't let them see you talking to me."

Mary glanced furtively at the little bald-beaded man, standing beside her. For a moment small, gleaming, black eyes met hers, then turned uninterestedly towards the auctioneer.

"What do you mean?" The girl asked, lowly. "Only that we're all dealers here. They'll keep you out or run the price up on you. Want that Jade?"

"Yes."

"The bid's against you, lady." The big voice of the auctioneer, boomed across the room. "Another five bob, miss?"

"Guineas!" The little old man spoke before Mary could reply. He dropped his voice to a whisper. "What's your limit, miss?"

"Get it!" Mary spoke recklessly. In the bank lay five hundred golden sovereigns, untouched—the reward for the recovery of the Levy pearls. For days she had wandered about the streets of the city: pricing, longing, yet fearing to break that wonderful nest-egg. Now—she shrugged her shoulders impatiently—she wanted that strange, belled Jade for reasons she could not have explained to herself.

"Going! Going! Gone!" The fall of the hammer cut across the masterful voice that had ruled the bidding. "Mr Silas Maccabbee, isn't it? Thought I recognised you, Mr. Maccabbee, though you haven't favoured us much of late. Well, you've got a bargain, and all for three pounds five. Book it to you, Mr. Maccabbee?"

The old dealer nodded. Another lot was passed up to the auctioneer's table. Mary was no longer interested. She wandered out Into the garden before the house and found a chair under a shady tree. She felt strangely elated. The jade obelisk was hers!

The gentle tinkle of silver bells brought Mary from her reverie. She looked up to see Silas Maccabbee walking across the grass towards her, carrying the jade. He placed it on her knee, looking down into her eyes, a queer twisted smile on his almost bloodless lips.

"Three pounds, five shillings, and five per cent, commission. Should be ten per cent., m'dear, but I'll let you off with five. Quite a nice little ornament for a young girl like you. Cash, m'dear, of course. We don't give credit at sales, y'know."

"Three pounds eight shillings and three pence." Mary produced the unsoiled cheque book. "'Fraid I haven't so much cash, Mr. Maccabbee. Will a cheque do?"

"Do me!" The old dealer walked across the lawn and brought back a chair to where Mary sat. "Take my pen, m'dear; they won't cash cheques written in pencil. Got the name right? Silas M-a-c- c-a-b-b-e-e-!" He watched her draw the cheque, leaning forward with gnarled hands resting on skimpy knees, studying her closely. When she handed him the slip of paper he read it carefully then folded it and stowed it in a dilapidated bill-fold, nodding genially.

"Say!" Mary spoke suddenly. "Who's this 'Mr. Ming,' the auctioneer fellow talked about. That wasn't the name on the catalogue."

"Mr. Ming?" The old dealer looked puzzled, a moment. "Oh, I see. No, m'dear, there isn't a 'Mister Ming' now. The last one died quite a few years ago. So that's all you know about antiques! Now, why did you buy this? Mind, I'm not saying it's Ming, or anything, just now."

"I don't know." Mary frowned, slightly. "When I touched it I felt I just had to have it."

"I know." Old Silas nodded sagely. He was watching the girl stroke the little silver bells. "I know! It's just the soul of the genius that created it, calling to your soul. Well, well! If I'm guessing right that's not the last bit of stuff you'll buy. So, don't forget old Silas Maccabbee and his shop In Castlereagh Street. Number; 421a, m'dear. Everyone knows old Silas Maccabbee."

"Is It valuable?" Mary looked up from the Jade. "That man said..."

"That's part of his business." Old Silas laughed slightly. He stretched out his hand to take the little ornament. "The Jade looks good, but..."

"No, don't touch It!" She sprang to her feet and crossed the lawn. Halfway to the gate she paused and turned back to where the old dealer stood.

"Sorry I was rude, Mr. Maccabbee, but I couldn't bear anyone to touch It. Perhaps I'm mad, but I've a feeling that it was only made for me. Oh, hell!"

She turned quickly and almost ran out of the gate on to the road. Silas Maccabbee watched the girl run down the road and disappear around the corner. A quiet little smile came on his lips as he walked back to the house. He knew he would meet the girl again, one day. He had bought only one article at the sale—a small vase of Crown Derby—a delicate piece of china, almost transparent as jade.

A few words with the auctioneer's clerk and he left the house, carrying the vase under the voluminous folds of his frock-coat. The tram on which he rode to the city stopped at Market Street. Silas descended carefully to the road, still concealing the little vase under his coat. At the corner of Castlereagh Street he almost collided with two men, drawing back with a cry of alarm for his precious china.

"Hullo, Maccabbee." A firm hand caught the Utile dealer by the shoulder. "Why, it's ages since we met."

"Your fault, Mr. Greyson!" The beady eyes twinkled brightly. "There's the old shop. Just across the road. The door's always open for you to come in and smoke a pipe!"

"I know that." Detective-Sergeant Greyson looked down at the little dealer with almost affection.

"What have you got hiding under your coat? Another treasure?''

"Just a bit of china." Old Silas displayed his treasure with pride. "There was another piece I thought of buying—a piece of jade—but a young girl wanted it, and I let her have it."

"A girl?" The detective laughed. "Didn't think girls went in for that sort of thing."

"Just a slip of a girl." The dealer's eyes became reminiscent. "Big grey eyes under a wealth of deep-brown hair; eyes too big for the little, thin face. Quite young, but she understood—yes, she understood. Said it had always belonged to her. Said the man who carved it thousands of years ago worked it for her fingers to caress."

"Well!" Greyson laughed again. "By the way, Maccabbee, take care of yourself. Remember what I said last time I came to see you at the shop. I don't like you living there all alone. Why don't you get a decent young man assistant to live in with you? And, don't forget. Before you engage him let me run the rule over him. 'Day!"

The detectives moved on. At the corner Greyson stayed his companion, looking back after Silas Maccabbee. The old man was mounting the single step to his shop door, holding the vase under his coat while feeling In his pocket for the door-key. A slight, round-shouldered youth came slouching down the street, stopping to speak to the old man. Some warning instinct made the police officer turn to cross the road to the old man. Suddenly the crook made a grab at the vase concealed beneath the old dealer's coat. There was a moment's struggle, then the crook succeeded in wresting the piece of china from the old man. He held it in his hands a brief second, as if puzzled and surprised.

Seeing Greyson racing across the road he turned to fly, dashing the vase into the roadway, shattering it to fragments. Greyson let his companion continue the chase of the crook and turned back to where Silas Maccabbee sat humped on his doorstep.

"Hurt you, Silas?"

The old man shook his head, looking up at the detective with dimmed eyes.

"Get a look at that crook's face? What was he like? But that doesn't matter. Trevor'll run him down. Feel fit enough to come down to Headquarters with me? Trevor will take him there."

"It was a beautiful vase." The old man gazed sorrowfully at the scattered fragments of delicate china littering the roadway. "There was only that and the jade at the sale—and now both are gone. What was he like, you ask, Greyson? What does that matter? Let him go; neither you nor he can mend that broken vase. He didn't want the vase, although he snatched it."

"Well, you saw him." Greyson spoke impatiently. "What was he like?"

"Funny!" Old Silas crouched on the step, speaking musingly. "Looked to me something like a Chinaman. Now, If I'd bought the jade I might be able to understand."

"Who bought the Jade?" The detective shook the old man gently by the shoulder.

"The girl bought the Jade—or rather, I bought it for her. Just a bit of a girl—but likeable, Greyson." The dealer sat silent for some seconds. "Robert, do you know, I feel I made a mistake to-day. That Jade was genuine and I missed it—a Ming piece and I couldn't see it. But the girl did—and she knows nothing of things that matter. Yes, yes, It's true. The souls of those who create..."

Greyson lifted the old man to his feet and led him into the little shop. A quarter of an hour later Tom Trevor returned to the shop very crestfallen. The crook had managed to gain the busy shopping sections of Pitt Street, to lose his pursuer in the crowds.

MARY took the little Jade ornament home and set it on a table. For some time she hung over it, playing with the little silver bells—the small deep notes carrying peace and quietness to her tangled nerves. She had never felt so happy before. Always there had been unrest; vague longings; the desire to be with people; the urge to noise and motion. Now, the deep notes of the silver bells Ailed her thoughts with deep contentment. She would hardly leave the Jade to obtain a meal. When the light faded in the sky she undressed and crept Into bed; placing the jade on a table close to her side, so that she could reach out in the darkness and touch it.

Presently she fell asleep, her arm out-flung towards the jade. Slowly she awoke, to the little deep-toned booming of the silver bell. For some time she lay awake, puzzled, then laughed. In waking she had touched the little bell, setting it swinging. Yet the sound did not die away. It continued, a regular stroke on the thick metal, setting the air of the room throbbing.

She turned, cowering down under the bed-clothes, towards where the jade stood In the dark, regularly ringing out some message to her. It was a message; Mary recognised that as the bell continued to ring. It filled the air with the sound; with a strange warning that struck terror to her heart. She searched the darkness of the room with her eyes. There was nothing to be seen—yet the bell continued to ring.

Cautiously she felt out of the warm bed towards the jade, running her fingers up the cold, smooth stone. The little bell at the apex was slowly swinging—booming out some warning to her. She stilled the bell with her fingers and withdraw her hand. Almost Immediately the deep note rang out again. Now the warning note of danger was more insistent. With hands clasped across her cold face, stifling back the cry, that rose to her lips, she sat up, straining her eyes to see and understand what threatened her.

There was someone in the room.

Through the blackness a queer luminousness shone. It gathered and gradually assumed form—the form of a man with hands held high beside his strained, yellow face. The yellow face; the clutching talon hands, were approaching the bed. And, still the booming, warning bell, rang on.

Frozen with terror, Mary shrank back against the supporting pillows. Another bell joined In the clamour, ringing insistent warning through her brain. Now she could read the message: "Beware! Escape!"

Suddenly the bonds of terror relaxed. Mary threw herself from the bed and dashed to the door, shrieking. She could not find it and the ghastly yellow face had turned from the bed to follow her. With a cry of mortal terror she sank to the floor, clasping her hands before her eyes to shut out the fearful sight, Now, only the deep booming of the bells remained. Gradually they faded away Into a long silence.

"MARY! Mary!"

A voice was calling her; a voice she knew well. She opened her eyes to look up into Robert Greyson's strained face.

"You!" She looked round, to see she was again in her bed. "Oh, where Is he? The man with the yellow face!"

"Trevor's got him, Mary."

The detective soothed her with little pats on her shoulder. "My fault! I should have come to you directly Maccabbee was attacked. But I didn't understand at first. I didn't think the Chink was after the Jade.'

"The Jade? Oh, you mean the thing with the silver bells." Mary drew the bed-clothes around her. "Why did he want that? Where is it?"

"In my pocket."

Reluctantly Greyson produced the Jade and placed it on the little table. He strolled to the foot of the bed, resting his folded arms on the foot-rail.

"Look here, Mary; this isn't going on. I'm leaving this room for ten minutes, while you get dressed. Then I'm coming back to take you."

"To take me? Where?" Mary crouched lower into the protecting bed.

"There's to be an end of this nonsense. You can't live alone like this. 'Sides, Alice wants you." The police officer's voice was very gruff. "I'm going to take you home."

"Yes." Mary spoke after a long pause. She felt very small and helpless. "I think you...you're right. Oh, daddy...daddy Greyson, take me home...Quick!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.