The Yellow Flower
The girl sat in a great chair before the fire, huddled, staring
into the glow of the smoldering logs.
Her dark hair clouded her face. The evening gown was twisted and
crumpled about her. There was no ornament on her; her arms, her
shoulders, the exquisite column of her throat were bare.
She sat with her eyes wide, unmoving, in a profound reflection.
The library was softly lig
ted; richly furnished, a little beyond
the permission of good taste. On a table at the girl's elbow
were two objects; a ruby necklace, and a dried flower. The
flower, fragile with age, seemed a sort of scrub poppy of a
delicate yellow; the flower of some dwarfed bush, prickly like a
The necklace made a great heap of jewels on the buhl top of the
table, above the intricate arabesque of silver and
It was nearly midnight. Outside, the dull rumble of London
seemed a sound, continuous, unvarying, as though it were the
distant roar of a world turning in some stellar space.
It was a great old house in Park Lane, heavy and of that gloomy
architecture with which the feeling of the English people, at an
earlier time, had been so strangely in accord. It stood before
St. James's Park oppressive and monumental, and now in the midst
of yellow fog its heavy front was like a mausoleum.
But within, the house had been treated to a modern re-casting,
not entirely independent of the vanity of wealth.
After the dinner at the Ritz, the girl felt that she could not go
on; and Lady Mary's party, on its way to the dancing, put her
down at the door. She gave the excuse of a crippling headache.
But it was a deeper, more profound aching that disturbed her.
She was before the tragic hour, appearing in the lives of many
women, when suddenly, as by the opening of a door, one realizes
the irrevocable aspect of a marriage of which the details are
beginning to be arranged. That hour in which a woman must
consider, finally, the clipping of all threads, except the single
one that shall cord her to a mate for life.
Until to-night, in spite of preparations on the way, the girl had
not felt this marriage as inevitable. Her aunt had pressed for
it, subtly, invisibly, as an older woman is able to do.
Her situation was always, clearly before her. She was alone in
the world; with very little, almost nothing. The estate her
father inherited he had finally spent in making great
explorations. There was no unknown taste of the world that he
had not undertaken to enter. The final driblets of his fortune
had gone into his last adventure in the Great Gobi Desert from
which he had never returned.
The girl had been taken by this aunt in London, incredibly rich,
but on the fringes of the fashionable society of England, which
she longed to enter. Even to the young girl, her aunt's plan was
visible. With a great settlement, such as this ambitious woman
could manage, the girl could be a duchess.
The marriage to Lord Eckhart in the diplomatic service, who would
one day be a peer of England, had been a lure dangled
unavailingly before her, until that night, when, on his return
from India, he had carried her off her feet with his amazing
incredible sacrifice. It was the immense idealism, the immense
romance of it that had swept her into this irrevocable thing.
She got up now, swiftly, as though she would again realize how
the thing had happened and stooped over the table above the heap
of jewels. They were great pigeon-blood rubies, twenty-seven of
them, fastened together with ancient crude gold work. She lifted
the long necklace until it hung with the last jewel on the table.
The thing was a treasure, an immense, incredible treasure. And
it was for this - for the privilege of putting this into her
hands, that the man had sold everything he had in England - and
endured what the gossips said - endured it during the five years
in India - kept silent and was now silent. She remembered every
detail the rumor of a wild life, a dissolute reckless life, the
gradual, piece by piece sale of everything that could be turned
into money. London could not think of a ne'er-do-well to equal
him in the memory of its oldest gossips - and all the time with
every penny, he was putting together this immense treasure - for
her. A dreamer writing a romance might imagine a thing like
this, but had it any equal in the realities of life?
She looked down at the chain of great jewels, and the fragment of
prickly shrub with its poppy-shaped yellow flower. They were
symbols, each, of an immense idealism, an immense conception of
sacrifice that lifted the actors in their dramas into gigantic
figures illumined with the halos of romance.
Until to-night it had been this ideal figure of Lord Eckhart that
the girl considered in this marriage. And to-night, suddenly,
the actual physical man had replaced it. And, alarmed, she had
drawn back. Perhaps it was the Teutonic blood in him - a
grandmother of a German house. And, yet, who could say, perhaps
this piece of consuming idealism was from that ancient extinct
Germany of Beethoven.
But the man and the ideal seemed distinct things having no
relation. She drew back from the one, and she stood on tip-toe,
with arms extended longingly toward the other.
What should she do?
Had the example of her father thrown on Lord Eckhart a golden
shadow? She moved the bit of flower, gently as in a caress. He
had given up the income of a leading profession and gone to his
death. His fortune and his life had gone in the same high
careless manner for the thing he sought. For the treasure that
he believed lay in the Gobi Desert - not for himself, but for
every man to be born into the world. He was the great dreamer,
the great idealist, a vague shining figure before the girl like
the cloud in the Hebraic Myth.
The girl stood up and linked her fingers together behind her
back. If her father were only here - for an hour, for a moment!
Or if, in the world beyond sight and hearing, he could somehow
get a message to her!
At this moment a bell, somewhere in the deeps of the house,
jangled, and she heard the old butler moving through the hall to
the door. The other servants had been dismissed for the night,
and her aunt on the preliminaries of this marriage was in Paris.
A moment later the butler appeared with a card on his tray. It
was a card newly engraved in some English shop and bore the name
"Dr. Tsan-Sgam." The girl stood for a moment puzzled at the
queer name, and then the memory of the strange outlandish human
creatures, from the ends of the world, who used sometimes to
visit her father, in the old time, returned, and with it there
came a sudden upward sweep of the heart - was there an answer to
her longing, somehow, incredibly on the way!
She gave a direction for the visitor to be brought in. He was a
big old man. His body looked long and muscular like that of some
type of Englishmen, but his head and his features were Mongolian.
He was entirely bald, as bald as the palm of a hand, as though
bald from his mother he had so remained to this incredible age.
And age was the impression that he profoundly presented. But it
was age that a tough vitality in the man resisted; as though the
assault of time wore it down slowly and with almost an
imperceptible detritus. The great naked head and the wide
Mongolian face were unshrunken; they presented, rather, the
aspect of some old child. He was dressed with extreme care, in
the very best evening clothes that one could buy in a London
He bowed, oddly, with a slow doubling of the body, and when he
spoke the girl felt that he was translating his words through
more than one language; as though one were to put one's sentences
into French or Italian and from that, as a sort of intermediary,
into English - as though the way were long, and unfamiliar from
the medium in which the man thought to the one in which he was
undertaking to express it. But at the end of this involved
mental process his English sentences appeared correctly, and with
an accurate selection in the words.
"You must pardon the hour, Miss Carstair," he said, in his slow,
precise articulation, "but I am required to see you and it is the
only time I have."
Then his eyes caught the necklace on the table, and advancing
with two steps he stooped over it.
For a moment everything else seemed removed, from about the man.
His angular body, in its unfamiliar dress, was doubled like a
finger; his great head with its wide Mongolian face was close
down over the buhl top of the table and his finger moved the heap
The girl had a sudden inspiration.
"Lord Eckhart got these jewels from you?"
The man paused, he seemed to be moving the girl's words backward
through the intervening languages.
Then he replied.
"Yes," he said, "from us."
The girl's inspiration was now illumined by a further light.
"And you have not been paid for them?"
The man stood up now. And again this involved process of moving
the words back through various translations was visible - and the
"Yes - " he said, "we have been paid."
Then he added, in explanation of his act.
"These rubies have no equal in the world - and the gold-work
attaching them together is extremely old. I am always curious to
He looked down at the girl, at the necklace, at the space about
them, as though he were deeply, profoundly puzzled.
"We had a fear," he said, " - it was wrong!"
Then he put his hand swiftly into the bosom pocket of his evening
coat, took out a thin packet wrapped in a piece of vellum and
handed it to the girl.
"It became necessary to treat with the English Government about
the removal of records from Lhassa and I was sent - I was
directed to get this packet to you from London. To-night, at
dinner with Sir Henry Marquis in St. James's Square, I learned
that you were here. I had then only this hour to come, as my
boat leaves in the morning." He spoke with the extreme care of
one putting together a delicate mosaic.
The girl stood staring at the thin packet. A single thought
alone consumed her.
"It is a message from - my - father."
She spoke almost in a whisper.
The big Oriental replied immediately.
"No," he said, "your father is beyond sight and hearing."
The girl had no hope; only the will to hope. The reply was
confirmation of what she already knew. She removed the thin
vellum wrapper from the packet. Within she found a drawing on a
plate of ivory. It represented a shaft of some white stone
standing on the slight elevation of what seemed to be a barren
plateau. And below on the plate, in fine English characters like
an engraving, was the legend, "Erected to the memory of Major
Judson Carstair by the monastery at the Head."
The man added a word of explanation.
"The Brotherhood thought that you would wish to know that your
father's body had been recovered, and that it had received
Christian burial, as nearly as we were able to interpret the
forms. The stone is a sort of granite."
The girl wished to ask a thousand questions: How did her father
meet his death, and where? What did they know? What had they
recovered with his body?
The girl spoke impulsively, her words crowding one another. And
the Oriental seemed able only to disengage the last query from
"Unfortunately," he said, "some band of the desert people had
passed before our expedition arrived, nothing was recovered but
the body. It was not mutilated."
They had been standing. The girl now indicated the big library
chair in which she had been huddled and got another for herself.
Then she wished to know what they had learned about her father's
The Oriental sat down. He sat awkwardly, his big body, in a kind
of squat posture, the broad Mongolian face emerging, as in a sort
of deformity, from the collar of his evening coat. Then he began
to speak, with that conscious effect of bringing his words
through various mediums from a distance.
"We endeavored to discourage Major Carstair from undertaking this
adventure. We were greatly concerned about his safety. The
sunken plateau of the Gobi Desert, north of the Shan States, is
exceedingly dangerous for an European, not so much on account of
murderous attacks from the desert people, for this peril we could
prevent; but there is a chill in this sunken plain after sunset
that the native people only can resist. No white man has ever
crossed the low land of the Gobi."
"And there is in fact no reason why any one should wish to cross
it. It is absolutely barren. We pointed out all this very
carefully to Major Carstair when we learned what he had in plan,
for as I have said his welfare was very pressingly on our
conscience. We were profoundly puzzled about what he was seeking
in the Gobi. He was not, evidently, intending to plot the region
or to survey any route, or to acquire any scientific data. His
equipment lacked all the implements for such work. It was a long
time before we understood the impulse that was moving Major
Carstair to enter this waste region of the Gobi to the north."
The man stopped, and sat for some moments quite motionless.
"Your father," he went on, "was a distinguished man in one of the
departments of human endeavor which the East has always
neglected; and in it he had what seemed to us incredible skill -
with ease he was able to do things which we considered
impossible. And for this reason the impulse taking him into the
Gobi seemed entirely incredible to us; it seemed entirely
inconsistent with this special ability which we knew the man to
possess; and for a long time we rejected it, believing ourselves
to be somehow misled."
The girl sat straight and silent, in her chair near the brass
fender to the right of the buhl table; the drawing, showing the
white granite shaft, held idly in her fingers; the illuminated
vellum wrapper fallen to the floor.
The man continued speaking slowly.
"When, finally, it was borne in upon us that Major Carstair was
seeking a treasure somewhere on the barren plateau of the Gobi,
we took every measure, consistent with a proper courtesy, to show
him how fantastic this notion was. We had, in fact, to exercise
a certain care lest the very absurdity of the conception appear
too conspicuously in our discourse."
He looked across the table at the girl.
The man's great bald head seemed to sink a little into his
shoulders, as in some relaxation.
"We brought out our maps of the region and showed him the old
routes and trails veining the whole of it. We explained the
topography of this desert plateau; the exact physical character
of its relief. There was hardly a square mile of it that we did
not know in some degree, and of which we did not possess some
fairly accurate data. It was entirely inconceivable that any
object of value could exist in this region without our knowledge
The man was speaking like one engaged in some extremely delicate
mechanical affair, requiring an accuracy almost painful in its
"Then, profoundly puzzled, we endeavored to discover what data
Major Carstair possessed that could in any way encourage him in
this fantastic idea. It was a difficult thing to do, for we held
him in the highest esteem and, outside of this bizarre notion, we
had before us, beyond any question, the evidence of his especial
knowledge; and, as I have said, his, to us, incredible skill."
He paused, as though the careful structure of the long sentence
had fatigued him.
"Major Carstair's explanations were always in the imagery of
romance. He sought `a treasure - a treasure that would destroy a
Kingdom.' And his indicatory data seemed to be the dried blossom
of our desert poppy."
Again the Oriental paused. He put up his hand and passed his
fingers over his face. The gaunt hand contrasted with the full
"I confess that we did not know what to do. We realized that we
had to deal with a nature possessing in one direction the exact
accurate knowledge of a man of science, and in another the wonder
extravagances of a child. The Dalai Lama was not yet able to be
consulted, and it seemed to us a better plan to say no more about
the impossible treasure, and address our endeavors to the
practical side of Major Carstair's intelligence instead. We now
pointed out the physical dangers of the region. The deadly chill
in it coming on at sunset could not fail to inflame the lungs of
a European, accustomed to an equable temperature, fever would
follow; and within a few days the unfortunate victim would find
his whole breathing space fatally congested."
The man removed his hand. The care in his articulation was
"Major Carstair was not turned aside by these facts, and we
permitted him to go on."
Again he paused as though troubled by a memory.
"In this course," he continued, "the Dalai Lama considered us to
have acted at the extreme of folly. But it is to be remembered,
in our behalf, that somewhat of the wonder at Major Carstair's
knowledge of Western science dealing with the human body was on
us, and we felt that perhaps the climatic peril of the Gobi might
present no difficult problem to him.
"We were fatally misled."
Then he added.
"We were careful to direct him along the highest route of the
plateau, and to have his expedition followed. But chance
intervened. Major Carstair turned out of the route and our
patrol went on, supposing him to be ahead on the course which we
had indicated to him. When the error was at last discovered, our
patrol was entering the Sirke range. No one could say at what
point on the route Major Carstair had turned out, and our search
of the vast waste of the Gobi desert began. The high wind on the
plateau removes every trace of human travel. The whole of the
region from the Sirke, south, had to be gone over. It took a
The man stopped like one who has finished a story. The girl had
not moved; her face was strained and white. The fog outside had
thickened; the sounds of the city seemed distant. The girl had
listened without a word, without a gesture. Now she spoke.
"But why were you so concerned about my father?"
The big Oriental turned about in the chair. He looked steadily
at the girl, he seemed to be treating the query to his involved
method of translation; and Miss Carstair felt that the man,
because of this tedious mental process, might have difficulty to
understand precisely what she meant.
What he wished to say, he could control and, therefore, could
accurately present - but what was said to him began in the
"What Major Carstair did," he said, "it has not been made clear
"No," she replied, "I do not understand."
The man seemed puzzled.
"You have not understood!"
He repeated the sentence; his face reflective, his great bare
head settling into the collar of his evening coat as though the
man's neck were removed.
He remained for a moment thus puzzled and reflective. Then he
began to speak as one would set in motion some delicate involved
machinery running away into the hidden spaces of a workshop.
"The Dalai Lama had fallen - he was alone in the Image Room. His
head striking the sharp edge of a table was cut. He had lost a
great deal of blood when we found him and was close to death.
Major Carstair was at this time approaching the monastery from
the south; his description sent to us from Lhassa contained the
statement that he was an American surgeon. We sent at once
asking him to visit the Dalai Lama, for the skill of Western
people in this department of human knowledge is known to us."
The Oriental went on, slowly, with extreme care.
"Major Carstair did not at once impress us. `What this man
needs,' he said, `is blood.' That was clear to everybody. One
of our, how shall I say it in your language, Cardinals, replied
with some bitterness, that the Dalai Lama could hardly be
imagined to lack anything else. Major Carstair paid no attention
to the irony. `This man must have a supply of blood,' he added.
The Cardinal, very old, and given to imagery in his discourse
answered, that blood could be poured out but it could not be
gathered up . . . and that man could spill it but only God could
"We interrupted then, for Major Carstair was our guest and
entitled to every courtesy, and inquired how it would be possible
to restore blood to the Dalai Lama; it was not conceivable that
the lost blood could be gathered up.
"He explained then that he would transfer it from the veins of a
healthy man into the unconscious body."
The Oriental hesitated; then he went on.
"The thing seemed to us fantastic. But our text treating the
life of the Dalai Lama admits of no doubt upon one point - `no
measure presenting itself in extremity can be withheld.' He was
in clear extremity and this measure, even though of foreign
origin, had presented itself, and we felt after a brief
reflection that we were bound to permit it."
"The result was a miracle to us. In a short time the Dalai Lama
had recovered. But in the meantime Major Carstair had gone on
into the Gobi seeking the fantastic treasure."
The girl turned toward the man, a wide-eyed, eager, lighted face.
"Do you realize," she said, "the sort of treasure that my father
sacrificed his life to search for?"
The Oriental spoke slowly.
"It was to destroy a Kingdom," he said.
"To destroy the Kingdom of Pain!" She replied, "My father was
seeking an anesthetic more powerful than the derivatives of
domestic opium. He searched the world for it. In the little,
wild desert flower lay, he thought, the essence of this treasure.
And he would seek it at any cost. Fortune was nothing; life was
nothing. Is it any wonder that you could not stop him? A
flaming sword moving at the entrance to the Gobi could not have
barred him out!"
The big Oriental made a vague gesture as of one removing
something clinging to his face.
"Wherefore this blindness?" he said.
The girl had turned away in an effort to control the emotion that
possessed her. But the task was greater than her strength; when
she came back to the table tears welled up in her eyes and
trickled down her face. Emotion seemed now to overcome her.
"If my father were only here," her voice was broken, "if he were
The big Oriental moved his whole body, as by one motion, toward
her. The house was very still; there was only the faint
crackling of the logs on the fire.
"We had a fear," he said. "It remains!"
The girl went over and stood before the fire, her foot on the
brass fender, her fingers linked behind her back. For sometime
she was silent. Finally she spoke, without turning her head, in
a low voice.
"You know Lord Eckhart?"
A strange expression passed over the Oriental's face.
"Yes, when Lhassa was entered, the Head moved north to our
monastery on the edge of the Gobi - the English sovereignty
extends to the Kahn line. Lord Eckhart was the political agent
of the English government in the province nearest to us."
When the girl got up, the Oriental also rose. He stood
awkwardly, his body stooped; his hand as for support resting on
the corner of the table. The girl spoke again, in the same
posture. Her face toward the fire.
"How do you feel about Lord Eckhart?"
"Feel!" The man repeated the word.
He hesitated a little.
"We trusted Lord Eckhart. We have found all English honorable."
"Lord Eckhart is partly German," the girl went on.
The man's voice in reply was like a foot-note to a discourse.
"Ah!" He drawled the expletive as though it were some Oriental
The girl continued. "You have perhaps heard that a marriage is
arranged between us."
Her voice was steady, low, without emotion.
For a long time there was utter silence in the room.
Then, finally, when the Oriental spoke his voice had changed. It
was gentle, and packed with sympathy. It was like a voice within
the gate of a confessional.
"Do you love him?" it said.
"I do not know."
The vast sympathy in the voice continued. "You do not know? - it
is impossible! Love is or it is not. It is the longing of
elements torn asunder, at the beginning of things, to be
The girl turned swiftly, her body erect, her face lifted.
"But this great act," she cried. "My father, I, all of our
blood, are moved by romance - by the romance of sacrifice. Look
how my father died seeking an antidote for the pain of the world.
How shall I meet this sacrifice of Lord Eckhart?"
Something strange began to dawn in the wide Mongolian face.
The girl came over swiftly to the table. She scattered the mass
of jewels with a swift gesture.
"Did he not give everything he possessed, everything piece by
piece, for this?"
She took the necklace up and twisted it around her fingers. Her
hands appeared to be a mass of rubies.
A great light came into the Oriental's face.
"The necklace," he said, "is a present to you from the Dalai
Lama. It was entrusted to Lord Eckhart to deliver."