Chapter XXXIV. Above and Below




"Thank the guid God I see ye alive, Dan," said Mary Kerry.

Having her husband's dressing-gown over her night attire, and her usually neat hair in great disorder, she stood just within the doorway of the little dining-room at Spenser Road, her face haggard and the fey light in her eyes. Kerry, seated in the armchair dressed as he had come in from the street, a parody of his neat self with mud on his shoes and streaks of green slime on his overall, raised his face from his hands and stared at her wearily.

"I awakened wi' a cry at some hour afore the dawn," she whispered stretching out her hands and looking like a wild-eyed prophetess of old. "My hairt beat sair fast and then grew caud. I droppit on my knees and prayed as I ha' ne'er prayed afore. Dan, Dan, I thought ye were gene from me."

"I nearly was," said Kerry, a faint spark of his old truculency lighting up the weary eyes. "The man from Whitehall only missed me by a miracle."

"'Twas the miracle o' prayer, Dan," declared his wife in a low, awe- stricken voice. "For as I prayed, a great comfort came to me an' a great peace. The second sight was wi' me, Dan, and I saw, no' yersel' --whereby I seemed to ken that ye were safe--but a puir dying soul stretched on a bed o' sorrow. At the fuit o' the bed was standing a fearsome figure o' a man--yellow and wicked, wi' his hands tuckit in his sleeves. I thought 'twas a veesion that was opening up tee me and that a' was about to be made clear, when as though a curtain had been droppit before my een, it went awe' an' I kenned it nae more; but plain--plain, I heerd the howling o' a dog."

Kerry started and clutched the arms of the chair.

"A dog!" he said. "A dog!"

"The howling o' a sma' dog," declared his wife; "and I thought 'twas a portent, an' the great fear came o'er me again. But as I prayed 'twas unfolder to me that the portent was no' for yersel' but for her--the puir weak hairt ye ha' tee save."

She ceased speaking and the strange fey light left her eyes. She dropped upon her knees beside Kerry, bending her head and throwing her arms about him. He glanced down at her tenderly and laid his hands upon her shoulders; but he was preoccupied, and the next moment, his jaws moving mechanically, he was staring straight before him.

"A dog," he muttered, "a dog!"

Mary Kerry did not move; until, a light of understanding coming into Kerry's fierce eyes, he slowly raised her and stood upright himself.

"I have it!" he said. "Mary, the case is won! Twenty men have spent the night and early morning beating the river bank so that the very rats have been driven from their holes. Twenty men have failed where a dog would have succeeded. Mary, I must be off."

"Ye're no goin' out again, Dan. Ye're weary tee death."

"I must, my dear, and it's you who send me."

"But, Dan, where are ye goin'?"

Kerry grabbed his hat and cane from the sideboard upon which they lay, and:

"I'm going for the dog!" he rapped.

Weary as he was and travel-stained, for once neglectful of that neatness upon which he prided himself, he set out, hope reborn in his heart. His assertion that the very rats had been driven from their holes was scarce an exaggeration. A search-party of twenty men, hastily mustered and conducted by Kerry and Seton Pasha, had explored every house, every shop, every wharf, and, as Kerry believed, every cellar adjoining the bank, between Limehouse Basin and the dock gates. Where access had been denied them or where no one had resided they had never hesitated to force an entrance. But no trace had they found of those whom they sought.

For the first time within Kerry's memory, or, indeed, within the memory of any member of the Criminal Investigation Department, Detective-Sergeant Coombes had ceased to smile when the appalling truth was revealed to him that Sin Sin Wa had vanished--that Sin Sin Wa had mysteriously joined that invisible company which included Kazmah, Mrs. Sin and Mrs. Monte Irvin. Not a word of reprimand did the Chief Inspector utter, but his eyes seemed to emit sparks. Hands plunged deeply in his pockets he had turned away, and not even Seton Pasha had dared to speak to him for fully five minutes.

Kerry began to regard the one-eyed Chinaman with a superstitious fear which he strove in vain to stifle. That any man could have succeeded in converting a chandu-khan such as that described by Mollie Gretna into a filthy deserted dwelling such as that visited by Kerry, within the space of some thirty-six hours, was well nigh incredible. But the Chief Inspector had deduced (correctly) that the exotic appointments depicted by Mollie were all of a detachable nature--merely masking the filthiness beneath; so that at the shortest notice the House of a Hundred Raptures could be dismantled. The communicating door was a larger proposition, but that it was one within the compass of Sin Sin Wa its effectual disappearance sufficiently demonstrated.

Doubtless (Kerry mused savagely) the appointments of the opium-house had been smuggled into that magically hidden cache which now concealed the conjurer Sin Sin Wa as well as the other members of the Kazmah company. How any man of flesh and blood could have escaped from a six-roomed house surrounded by detectives surpassed Kerry's powers of imagination. How any apartment large enough to contain a mouse, much less half a dozen human beings, could exist anywhere within the area covered by the search-party he failed to understand, nor was he prepared to admit it humanly possible.

Kerry chartered a taxicab by Brixton Town Hall and directed the man to drive to Princes Gate. To the curious glances of certain of his neighbors who had never before seen the Chief Inspector otherwise than a model of cleanliness and spruceness he was indifferent. But the manner in which the taxi-driver looked him up and down penetrated through the veil of abstraction which hitherto had rendered Kerry impervious to all external impressions, and:

"Give me another look like that, my lad," he snapped furiously, "and I'll bash your head through your blasted wind-screen."

A ready retort trembled upon the cabman's tongue, but a glance into the savage blue eyes reduced him to fearful silence. Kerry entered the cab and banged the door; and the man drove off positively trembling with indignation.

Deep in reflection the Chief Inspector was driven westward through the early morning traffic. Fine rain was falling, and the streets presented that curiously drab appearance which only London streets can present in all its dreary perfection. Workers bound Cityward fought for places inside trams and buses. A hundred human comedies and tragedies were to be witnessed upon the highways; but to all of them Kerry was blind as he was deaf to the din of workaday Babylon. In spirit he was roaming the bank of old Father Thames where the river sweeps eastward below Limehouse Causeway--wonder-stricken before the magic of the one-eyed wizard who could at will efface himself as an artist rubs out a drawing, who could camouflage a drug warehouse so successfully that human skill, however closely addressed to the task, failed utterly to detect its whereabouts. Above the discord of the busy streets he heard again and again that cry in the night which had come from a hapless prisoner whom they were powerless to succor. He beat his cane upon the floor of the cab and swore savagely and loudly. The intimidated cabman, believing these demonstrations designed to urge him to a greater speed, performed feats of driving calculated to jeopardize his license. But still the savage passenger stamped and cursed, so that the cabby began to believe that a madman was seated behind him.

At the corner of Kennington Oval Kerry was effectually aroused to the realities. A little runabout car passed his cab, coming from a southerly direction. Proceeding at a rapid speed it was lost in the traffic ahead. Unconsciously Kerry had glanced at the occupants and had recognized Margaret Halley and Seton Pasha. The old spirit of rivalry between himself and the man from Whitehall leapt up hotly within Kerry's breast.

"Now where the hell has he been!" he muttered.

As a matter of fact, Seton Pasha, acting upon a suggestion of Margaret's had been to Brixton Prison to interview Juan Mareno who lay there under arrest. Contents bills announcing this arrest as the latest public development in the Bond Street murder case were to be seen upon every newstand; yet the problem of that which had brought Seton to the south of London was one with which Kerry grappled in vain. He had parted from the Home office agent in the early hours of the morning, and their parting had been one of mutual despair which neither had sought to disguise.

It was a coincidence which a student of human nature might have regarded as significant, that whereas Kerry had taken his troubles home to his wife, Seton Pasha had sought inspiration from Margaret Halley; and whereas the guidance of Mary Kerry had led the Chief Inspector to hurry in quest of Rita Irvin's spaniel, the result of Seton's interview with Margaret had been an equally hurried journey to the big jail.

Unhappily Seton had failed to elicit the slightest information from the saturnine Mareno. Unmoved alike by promises or threats, he had coolly adhered to his original evidence.

So, while the authorities worked feverishly and all England reading of the arrest of Mareno inquired indignantly, "But who is Kazmah, and where is Mrs. Monte Irvin?" Sin Sin Wa placidly pursued his arrangements for immediate departure to the paddyfields of Ho-Nan, and sometimes in the weird crooning voice with which he addressed the raven he would sing a monotonous chant dealing with the valley of the Yellow River where the opium-poppy grows. Hidden in the cunning vault, the search had passed above him; and watchful on a quay on the Surrey shore whereto his dinghy was fastened, George Martin awaited the signal which should tell him that Kazmah and Company were ready to leave. Any time after dark he expected to see the waving lantern and to collect his last payment from the traffic.

At the very hour that Kerry was hastening to Princes Gate, Sin Sin Wa sat before the stove in the drug cache, the green-eyed joss upon his knee. With a fragment of chamois leather he lovingly polished the leering idol, crooning softly to himself and smiling his mirthless smile. Perched upon his shoulder the raven studied this operation with apparent interest, his solitary eye glittering bead-like. Upon the opposite side of the stove sat the ancient Sam Tuk and at intervals of five minutes or more he would slowly nod his hairless head.

The sliding door which concealed the inner room was partly open, and from the opening there shone forth a dim red light, cast by the paper- shaded lamp which illuminated the place. The coarse voice of the Cuban-Jewess rose and fell in a ceaseless half-muttered soliloquy, indescribably unpleasant but to which Sin Sin Wa was evidently indifferent.

Propped up amid cushions on the divan which once had formed part of the furniture of the House of a Hundred Raptures, Mrs. Sin was smoking opium. The long bamboo pipe had fallen from her listless fingers, and her dark eyes were partly glazed. Buddha-like immobility was claiming her, but it had not yet effaced that expression of murderous malice with which the smoker contemplated the unconscious woman who lay upon the bed at the other end of the room.

As the moments passed the eyes of Mrs. Sin grew more and more glazed. Her harsh voice became softened, and presently: "Ah!" she whispered; "so you wait to smoke with me?"

Immobile she sat propped up amid the cushions, and only her full lips moved.

"Two pipes are nothing to Cy," she murmured. "He smokes five. But you are not going to smoke?"

Again she paused, then:

"Ah, my Lucy. You smoke with me?" she whispered coaxingly.

Chandu had opened the poppy gates. Mrs. Sin was conversing with her dead lover.

"Something has changed you," she sighed. "You are different--lately. You have lots of money now. Your investments have been good. You want to become--respectable, eh?"

Slightly--ever so slightly--the red lips curled upwards. No sound of life came from the woman lying white and still in the bed. But through the partly open door crept snatches of Sin Sin Wa's crooning melody.

"Yet once," she murmured, "yet once I seemed beautiful to you, Lucy. For La Belle Lola you forgot that English pride." She laughed softly. "You forgot Sin Sin Wa. If there had been no Lola you would never have escaped from Buenos Ayres with your life, my Lucy. You forgot that English pride, and did not ask me where I got them from--the ten thousand dollars to buy your 'honor' back."

She became silent, as if listening to the dead man's reply. Finally:

"No--I do not reproach you, my dear," she whispered. "You have paid me back a thousand fold, and Sin Sin Wa, the old fox, grows rich and fat. Today we hold the traffic in our hands, Lucy. The old fox cares only for his money. Before it is too late let us go--you and I. Do you remember Havana, and the two months of heaven we spent there? Oh, let us go back to Havana, Lucy. Kazmah has made us rich. Let Kazmah die. . . . You smoke with me?"

Again she became silent, then:

"Very likely," she murmured; "very likely I know why you don't smoke. You have promised your pretty little friend that you will stay awake and see that nobody tries to cut her sweet white throat."

She paused momentarily, then muttered something rapidly in Spanish, followed by a short, guttural phrase in Chinese.

"Why do you bring her to the house?" she whispered hoarsely. "And you brought her to Kazmah's. Ah! I see. Now everybody says you are changed. Yes. She is a charming friend."

The Buddha-like face became suddenly contorted, and as suddenly grew placid again.

"I know! I know!" Mrs. Sin muttered harshly. "Do you think I am blind! If she had been like any of the others, do you suppose it would have mattered to me? But you respect her--you respect. . . ." Her voice died away to an almost inaudible whisper: "I don't believe you. You are telling me lies. But you have always told me lies; one more does not matter, I suppose. . . . How strong you are. You have hurt my wrists. You will smoke with me now?"

She ceased speaking abruptly, and abruptly resumed again:

"And I do as you wish--I do as you wish. How can I keep her from it except by making the price so high that she cannot afford to buy it? I tell you I do it. I bargain for the pink and white boy, Quentin, because I want her to be indebted to him--because I want her to be so sorry for him that she lets him take her away from you! Why should you respect her--"

Silence fell upon the drugged speaker. Sin Sin Wa could be heard crooning softly about the Yellow River and the mountain gods who sent it sweeping down through the valleys where the opium-poppy grows.

"Go, Juan," hissed Mrs. Sin. "I say--go!"

Her voice changed eerily to a deep, mocking bass; and Rita Irvin lying, a pallid wraith of her once lovely self, upon the untidy bed, stirred slightly--her lashes quivering. Her eyes opened and stared straightly upward at the low, dirty ceiling, horror growing in their shadowy depths.



Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Email:
Sonnet-a-Day Newsletter
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.
Email: