Chapter XXXIX. The Empty Wharf




The suspected area of Limehouse was closely invested as any fortress of old when Seton Pasha once more found himself approaching that painfully familiar neighborhood. He had spoken to several pickets, and had gathered no news of interest, except that none of them had seen Chief Inspector Kerry since some time shortly before dusk. Seton, newly from more genial climes, shivered as he contemplated the misty, rain-swept streets, deserted and but dimly lighted by an occasional lamp. The hooting of a steam siren on the river seemed to be in harmony with the prevailing gloom, and the most confirmed optimist must have suffered depression amid those surroundings.

He had no definite plan of action. Every line of inquiry hitherto followed had led to nothing but disappointment. With most of the details concerning the elaborate organization of the Kazmah group either gathered or in sight, the whereabouts of the surviving members remained a profound mystery. From the Chinese no information could be obtained. Distrust of the police resides deep within the Chinese heart; for the Chinaman, and not unjustly, regards the police as ever ready to accuse him and ever unwilling to defend him; knows himself for a pariah capable of the worst crimes, and who may therefore be robbed, beaten and even murdered by his white neighbors with impunity. But when the police seek information from Chinatown, Chinatown takes its revenge--and is silent.

Out on the river, above and below Limehouse, patrols watched for signals from the Asiatic quarter, and from a carefully selected spot on the Surrey side George Martin watched also. Not even the lure of a neighboring tavern could draw him from his post. Hour after hour he waited patiently--for Sin Sin Wa paid fair prices, and tonight he bought neither opium nor cocaine, but liberty.

Seton Pasha, passing from point to point, and nowhere receiving news of Kerry, began to experience a certain anxiety respecting the safety of the intrepid Chief Inspector. His mind filled with troubled conjectures, he passed the house formerly occupied by the one-eyed Chinaman--where he found Detective-Sergeant Coombes on duty and very much on the alert--and followed the bank of the Thames in the direction of Limehouse Basin. The narrow, ill-lighted street was quite deserted. Bad weather and the presence of many police had driven the Asiatic inhabitants indoors. But from the river and the docks arose the incessant din of industry. Whistles shrieked and machinery clanked, and sometimes remotely came the sound of human voices.

Musing upon the sordid mystery which seems to underlie the whole of this dingy quarter, Seton pursued his way, crossing inlets and circling around basins dimly divined, turning to the right into a lane flanked by high eyeless walls, and again to the left, finally to emerge nearly opposite a dilapidated gateway giving access to a small wharf.

All unconsciously, he was traversing the same route as that recently pursued by the fugitive Sin Sin Wa; but now he paused, staring at the empty wharf. The annexed building, a mere shell, had not escaped examination by the search party, and it was with no very definite purpose in view that Seton pushed open the rickety gate. Doubtless Kismet, of which the Arabs speak, dictated that he should do so.

The tide was high, and the water whispered ghostly under the pile- supported structure. Seton experienced a new sense of chill which did not seem to be entirely physical as he stared out at the gloomy river prospect and listened to the uncanny whisperings of the tide. He was about to turn back when another sound attracted his attention. A dog was whimpering somewhere near him.

At first he was disposed to believe that the sound was due to some other cause, for the deserted wharf was not a likely spot in which to find a dog, but when to the faint whimpering there was added a scratching sound, Seton's last doubts vanished.

"It's a dog," he said, "a small dog."

Like Kerry, he always carried an electric pocket-lamp, and now he directed its rays into the interior of the building.

A tiny spaniel, whining excitedly, was engaged in scratching with its paws upon the dirty floor as though determined to dig its way through. As the light shone upon it the dog crouched affrightedly, and, glancing in Seton's direction, revealed its teeth. He saw that it was covered with mud from head to tail, presenting a most woe-begone appearance, and the mystery of its presence there came home to him forcibly.

It was a toy spaniel of a breed very popular among ladies of fashion, and to its collar was still attached a tattered and muddy fragment of ribbon.

The little animal crouched in a manner which unmistakably pointed to the fact that it apprehended ill-treatment, but these personal fears had only a secondary place in its mind, and with one eye on the intruder it continued to scratch madly at the floor.

Seton acted promptly. He snapped off the light, and, replacing the lamp in his pocket, stepped into the building and dropped down upon his knees beside the dog. He next lay prone, and having rapidly cleared a space with his sleeve of some of the dirt which coated it, he applied his ear to the floor.

In spite of that iron control which habitually he imposed upon himself, he became aware of the fact that his heart was beating rapidly. He had learned at Leman Street that Kerry had brought Mrs. Irvin's dog from Prince's Gate to aid in the search for the missing woman. He did not doubt that this was the dog which snarled and scratched excitedly beside him. Dimly he divined something of the truth. Kerry had fallen into the hands of the gang, but the dog, evidently not without difficulty, had escaped. What lay below the wharf?

Holding his breath, he crouched, listening; but not a sound could he detect.

"There's nothing here, old chap," he said to the dog.

Responsive to the friendly tone, the little animal began barking loudly with high staccato notes, which must have been audible on the Surrey shore.

Seton was profoundly mystified by the animal's behavior. He had personally searched every foot of this particular building, and was confident that it afforded no hiding-place. The behavior of the dog, however, was susceptible of only one explanation; and Seton recognizing that the clue to the mystery lay somewhere within this ramshackle building, became seized with a conviction that he was being watched.

Standing upright, he paused for a moment, irresolute, thinking that he had detected a muffled shriek. But the riverside noises were misleading and his imagination was on fire.

That almost superstitious respect for the powers of Sin Sin Wa, which had led Chief Inspector Kerry to look upon the Chinaman as a being more than humanly endowed, began to take possession of Seton Pasha. He regretted having entered the place so overtly, he regretted having shown a light. Keen eyes, vigilant, regarded him. It was perhaps a delusion, bred of the mournful night sounds, the gloom, and the uncanny resourcefulness, already proven, of the Kazmah group. But it operated powerfully.

Theories, wild, improbable, flocked to his mind. The great dope cache lay beneath his feet--and there must be some hidden entrance to it which had escaped the attention of the search-party. This in itself was not improbable, since they had devoted no more time to this building than to any other in the vicinity. That wild cry in the night which had struck so mournful a chill to the hearts of the watchers on the river had seemed to come out of the void of the blackness, had given but slight clue to the location of the place of captivity. Indeed, they could only surmise that it had been uttered by the missing woman. Yet in their hearts neither had doubted it.

He determined to cause the place to be searched again, as secretly as possible; he determined to set so close a guard over it and over its approaches that none could enter or leave unobserved.

Yet Kismet, in whose omnipotence he more than half believed, had ordained otherwise; for man is merely an instrument in the hand of Fate.



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