The Jewels of Ling Ti
Various buyers of antiques in China, agents for collectors and dealers, compete with each other to acquire priceless objects. While some are honorable men, some are decidedly not.
Various buyers of antiques in China, agents for collectors and dealers, compete with each other to acquire priceless objects. While some are honorable, some are decidedly not. We meet Jim Hanecy and Toptit, two of the honorable men. We also meet Gramerfeld who is crooked as the day is long, and Benson who is worse, a murderer.
These men will conspire against each other and fight over treasures from Ling Ti, the Emperor Zhi of Han. The first story introduces the character of Toptit and sets the stage for the pursuit of the six Jewels of Ling Ti.
Little Tomtit (1920)
The Tale of the Tenth Tablet (1921)
The Emperor’s Amulet (1921)
A Tiger Hilt (1921)
Red Amber (1921)
The Ambassador’s Ring (1921)
The Image of Earth (1921)
Henry James O’Brien Bedford-Jones was born in Napanee, Ontario, Canada in 1887. After being encouraged to try writing by his friend, writer William Wallace Cook, Bedford-Jones began writing dime novels and pulp magazine stories. Bedford-Jones was an enormously prolific writer; the pulp editor Harold Hersey once recalled meeting Bedford-Jones in Paris, where he was working on two novels simultaneously, each story on its own separate typewriter.
He wrote over 100 novels, earning the nickname “King of the Pulps”.
The Jewels of Ling Ti has 7 illustrations taken from the reprint of these stories in The Sunday Star of Washington D.C. in 1921 and 1922.
Excerpt: Little Tomtit
WE WERE in the lounge room of the club, at Tientsin, at the moment.
“Business has nothing to do with romance,” observed Toptit sagely, “but the romance of business has a good deal to do with the business of romance, if you get my meaning.”
“That,” said Crayton, coarsely, “is because you’re a poet and a fool, Tomtit!”
A stiff silence followed. The boys discreetly vanished. We all thought that Toptit had been goaded far enough by Crayton, and we secretly hoped there would be a knockdown and a scandal, so that we could kick Crayton out of the club.
Toptit only smiled, and patted his dress-tie with an air of approval. He quite Ignored the “Tomtit” which Crayton invariably flung at him.
“My good Crayton,” he said pleasantly, “you don’t like me. Why?”
Crayton glared savagely at him.
“I’ll tell you why! Because you’ve come to China a green cub and are running wild up and down the coast, that’s why! You and your poetry and your dashed nonsense—it’ll ruin business for the rest of us!”
“Hope so,” said Toptit sweetly. “It won’t ruin my business, though! You can’t make friends among Chinese gentlemen by eulogizing their treasures in verse; I can. You go around buying jewels and paintings and things with money! I buy ’em with money plus poetry, which means a lot more to an impoverished classical scholar.”
“All bull!” growled Crayton, getting red. “You and your classical rot!”
Toptit regarded him with a maddening suavity.
“Ah!” he said, putting a singular meaning into the word. “Ah! Let me tell you something. I’m off for Fuchow in the morning, to get that screen from the old mandarin Wing.”
• • • • •
AT THIS Crayton came bouncing out of his chair. His hand slipped toward his armpit, and for an instant I thought he meant to shoot Toptit. Rank murder was in his eyes. Then he mastered himself, and stood there trembling with fury.
“Look here!” His voice was thick and hoarse. “I’ve been after that screen for a year. I mean to get it. I have an order for it. It’s mine! If you butt into my affairs, I’ll run you out of China! Understand that?”
Toptit, who was rather lanky, but singularly graceful and alert, bowed mockingly from his hips. That bow should have warned Crayton, for few men can manage it aright, and those few are dangerous.
“Thank you, my dear Crayton,” he answered, his wide and homely mouth transfigured by a smile of genuine pleasure. “I accept the challenge gladly! I return your verbal gauntlet with one small warning: Don’t forget that your wife lives in Chicago.”
Crayton rocked on his feet as though beneath a blow. His heavy, brutally dominant face became mottled, then was overspread by a mortal pallor. What the words meant, we did not know; but he knew. With a single virulent oath, he turned on his heel and left the club.
I buttonholed Toptit in one corner, and I was careful not to call him Tomtit by mistake.
“Half a mo’, old man! You don’t realize Crayton’s ability, I’m afraid. He’s a brute to have for an enemy. What’s that about his wife in Chicago?”
Toptit regarded me, and there was a peculiar shadow in his wide gray eyes.
“Nothing for publication,” he said curtly. “What’d you do in my place?”
“Leave China tomorrow,” I answered with sober emphasis. “I mean it! Crayton is wealthy. He is agent for several big dealers back home, also for a number of millionaire Jap clients. He sends out more antiques and museum pieces than the rest of you chaps combined. He has influence.”
“Ah!” said Toptit with an inane grin. “But don’t forget that I’m a poet! Thanks, old man. Thanks and all that. Now I must be off.”
I watched him go from the club and regretfully shook my head. He was rather new in China. I felt that if he interfered with Crayton’s affairs he would be murdered. You may think that is stretching it a bit; but if you know anything about the scarcity of antiquities in China, the jealousy and enmity and crime behind the securing of these pretty objects sold on Fifth Avenue for small fortunes—if you know about this, you’ll know that I am not exaggerating.
• • • • •
THE MANDARIN Wing, who lived in a charming old temple-suburb of Fukien, was a survival of the imperial regime. He clung to its traditions of art and concubines and ruthless ways; he was not old, but he was quite poor. All he had left was his family collection of art, and once every two years or so he sold a piece of this. It was like pulling a tooth. Wing had once been a diplomat in London, and was an educated gentleman, with cultivated appreciation of Occidental things, combined with passionate love for the artistry of his own people. Every agent and dealer in China was on the qui vive to get something from Wing’s treasures. You must understand that there are various classes of dealers. Some ship imitation junk to interior decorators, who value only colour; others supply wholesale bazaar dealers; the aristocrats of the profession seek really artistic things, museum pieces. Under this last head fell Crayton, who was a businessman, and Toptit, who was a poet.
Toptit naturally suggested Tomtit, and “Little Tomtit” had been fastened on the poet from the first.
“Calmly oblivious, he went his way and created chaos among his competitors. He had his own methods of doing business, and they were apt to be surprising at times. He came to Fukien with letters of introduction to Wing from an obscure Tientsin poet-painter, and the mandarin welcomed him with grave courtesy. There was no mention of business, though each man knew that the other man understood perfectly.
Immediately he came into the house Toptit perceived that something was terribly amiss. The servants were frightened. Wing himself, a stately man with wispy beard and moustaches, wore an air of preoccupation. The tea was inferior in quality. Host and guest, however, ignored all this and exchanged many compliments.
At dinner Toptit saw the screen for which he had come. It was the only object in the room, a screen of three panels. The centre panel held a painting on brown silk, showing a groom or syce with his horse beneath a gnarled tree. The two side panels were of blank brown silk, bearing only the vermilion seals of mandarins who had owned the screen.
Toptit expressed his admiration, and the mandarin discussed the screen with loving tenderness.
“You will observe that there are six ideographs,” said Wing complacently. “The first four read ‘Ku Mo San Mow.’ Old Syce and Traveling Horse. The others give the name of the artist, Chang Mow or Jung Moh—a Manchu name, I think. The artist is not remembered. The entire value of the picture, Mr. Toptit, lies in—”
“In the red robe of the old syce,” said Toptit. The mandarin beamed approval.
“Good, good! Yes, that red robe is painted with some precipitate of gold, and the secret of this dusky, gold-red paint has been lost for two centuries.”
“It’s the most beautiful red I ever saw in my life,” said Toptit sincerely. “That dusky gold running through it is magnificent. I suppose it is very valuable?”
“A Japanese millionaire has offered me ten thousand yen for it,” said Wing.
“Ah! It is worth double that. Unfortunately, I don’t suppose any ordinary dealer could offer more than a thousand dollars.”
Wing understood this bid perfectly, and smiled his bland smile.
“I would not sell that screen to any Nippon man for a million yen,” he said. For a brief instant his lips clenched into a thin, cruel smile. One gathered that he did not like the Japanese. “I have been informed that this screen was going to Japan in spite of me.”
This sounded like Crayton, who acted for a number of millionaire clients in Japan, where almost any price will be paid for Chinese works of art that are rare and authentic.
“The Nagasaki Herald refused to publish some of my verses,” said Toptit reflectively. “Ever since I have been prejudiced against Japan. Well, this screen is wonderful! I can imagine old Chang Mow sitting on a bridge and sketching this scene, the old syce propping one foot on a gnarled root and delivering his Samuel Weller philosophy, and the horse dozing nearby.”
The mandarin smiled, and presently the subject was changed to the Bolshevism running rife in the northern provinces. Art was not again mentioned that evening.
• • • • •
UPON the following morning, Toptit went into the city. He had attended one of the great American universities to which had come also certain alert young Chinese under the Boxer indemnity provision, and one of these yellow men lived in Fuchow. He was a fraternity brother of Toptit.
You will observe that Toptit exercised some sagacity in business affairs.
Directing his riksha to the South Gate road, in the native city, Toptit alighted and entered a wholesale establishment where cottons and silks were sold. He inquired for the proprietor and was ushered to an upstairs office, where he was presently shaking hands with a spectacled and delighted young Chinaman.
“I got your letter,” said Toptit, hauling out his pipe as he sat down, “and I came right along. I must thank you for the tip—that screen is a wonder!”
“Good! Old Wing will sell it to you?”
“Not yet,” Toptit smiled wryly. “Crayton is after it. And there seems to be trouble in the home. Now, old man, I’m here for help.”
“I’m darned glad!” exclaimed the yellow man beamingly. “The more help I can give, the gladder I’ll be. Looks to me as though the Japs had old Wing in a bad mess—perhaps your friend Crayton is behind it. Regular bully, isn’t he?”
“Rather,” and Toptit smiled. “You mentioned the mandarin’s daughter in your letter.”
The other nodded soberly. “She disappeared yesterday.”
“What!” Toptit sat up. “Why, Wing never hinted at such a thing—”
“Politeness, my dear fellow—courtesy to a guest would not allow him to be troubled with the worries of his host. She’s been attending the Women’s Medical School here in the city. It’s a Christian affair, you know. She disappeared yesterday; that’s all.”
“Toptit stared at his informant and frowned.
“What do you mean—disappeared? Kidnapped?”
“Call it that, for lack of proof. Do you know what will happen? Today or tomorrow old Wing will receive a polite note suggesting that he sell the Chang Mow screen to Crayton. What can he do? No Chinaman dares to infringe the sovereignty of the Japanese quarter. The mandarin might know exactly where Miss Tsing is held prisoner; he might know exactly where to find her, he might know exactly who carried her away—and what can he do? Just nothing. That’s straight goods, Toptit! Japanese magistrates would simply laugh at him. A Jap can walk into our city and shoot me, for instance. Then go back to his own quarter—and remain untouched!”
Toptit sucked at his pipe for a moment, regarding his informant narrowly.
“Look here!” he exclaimed suddenly. “How d’you know so much, anyhow?”
The young Chinaman made a weary gesture. “Because I was hoping to marry Miss Tsing in two months.”
Excerpt From: H. Bedford-Jones. “The Jewels of Ling Ti.”
More by H. Bedford-Jones