Part 7 out of 7
seemed upon frothing milk.
The clangor of bells, of voices, and of churning screws died,
"Damn close shave!" cried Rogers. "It must be clear ahead; they've
just run into it."
One of the men on the lookout in the bows, who had never departed
from his duty for an instant throughout this frightful commotion,
"Cutter crossing our bow, sir! Getting back to her course."
"Keep her in view," roared Rogers.
"Keep her in view!"
"As she is, sir!"
Again they settled down to the pursuit, and it began to dawn upon
Stringer's mind that the boat ahead must be engined identically
with that of the police; for whilst they certainly gained nothing
upon her, neither did they lose.
"Try a hail," cried Rogers from the stern. "We may be chasing the
"Cutter 'hoy!" bellowed the man beside Stringer, using his hands in
lieu of a megaphone--"heave to!"
"Give 'em 'in the King's name!'" directed Rogers again.
"Cutter 'hoy," roared the man through his trumpeted hands,--"heave
to--in the King's name!"
Stringer glared through the fog, clutching at the shoulder of the
shouter almost convulsively.
"Take no notice, sir," reported the man.
"Then it's the gang!" cried Rogers from the stern; "and we haven't
made a mistake. Where the blazes are we?"
"Well on the way to Blackwall Reach, sir," answered someone. "Fog
"It's the rain that's doing it," said the man beside Stringer.
Even as he spoke, a drop of rain fell upon the back of Stringer's
hand. This was the prelude; then, with ever-increasing force, down
came the rain in torrents, smearing out the fog from the
atmosphere, as a painter, with a sponge, might wipe a color from
his canvas. Long tails of yellow vapor, twining--twining--but
always coiling downward, floated like snakes about them; and the
oily waters of the Thames became pock-marked in the growing light.
Stringer now quite clearly discerned the quarry--a very rakish-
looking motor cutter, painted black, and speeding seaward ahead of
them. He quivered with excitement.
"Do you know the boat?" cried Rogers, addressing his crew in
"No, sir," reported his second-in-command; "she's a stranger to me.
They must have kept her hidden somewhere." He turned and looked
back into the group of faces, all directed toward the strange
craft. "Do any of you know her?" he demanded.
A general shaking of heads proclaimed the negative.
"But she can shift," said one of the men. "They must have been
going slow through the fog; she's creeping up to ten or twelve
knots now, I should reckon."
"Your reckoning's a trifle out!" snapped Rogers, irritably, from
the stern; "but she's certainly showing us her heels. Can't we put
somebody ashore and have her cut off lower down?"
"While we're doing that," cried Stringer, excitedly, "she would
land somewhere and we should lose the gang!"
"That's right," reluctantly agreed Rogers. "Can you see any of her
Through the sheets of rain all peered eagerly.
"She seems to be pretty well loaded," reported the man beside
Stringer, "but I can't make her out very well."
"Are we doing our damnedest?" inquired Rogers.
"We are, sir," reported the engineer; "she hasn't got another oat
Rogers muttered something beneath his breath, and sat there glaring
ahead at the boat ever gaining upon her pursuer.
"So long as we keep her in sight," said Stringer, "our purpose is
served. She can't land anybody."
"At her present rate," replied the man upon whose shoulders he was
leaning, "she'll be out of sight by the time we get to Tilbury or
she'll have hit a barge and gone to the bottom!"
"I'll eat my hat if I lose her!" declared Rogers angrily. "How the
blazes they slipped away from the wharf beats me!"
"They didn't slip away from the wharf," cried Stringer over his
shoulder. "You heard what Sowerby said; they lay in the creek
below the wharf, and there was some passageway underneath."
"But damn it all, man!" cried Rogers, "it's high tide; they must be
a gang of bally mermaids. Why, we were almost level with the wharf
when we left, and if they came from BELOW that, as you say, they
must have been below water!"
"There they are, anyway," growled Stringer.
Mile after mile that singular chase continued through the night.
With every revolution of the screw, the banks to right and left
seemed to recede, as the Thames grew wider and wider. A faint
saltiness was perceptible in the air; and Stringer, moistening his
dry lips, noted the saline taste.
The shipping grew more scattered. Whereas, at first, when the fog
had begun to lift, they had passed wondering faces peering at them
from lighters and small steamers, tow boats and larger anchored
craft, now they raced, pigmy and remote, upon open waters, and
through the raindrift gray hulls showed, distant, and the banks
were a faint blur. It seemed absurd that, with all those vessels
about, they nevertheless could take no steps to seek assistance in
cutting off the boat which they were pursuing, but must drive on
through the rain, ever losing, ever dropping behind that black
A faint swell began to be perceptible. Stringer, who throughout
the whole pursuit thus far had retained his hold upon the man in
the bows, discovered that his fingers were cramped. He had much
difficulty in releasing that convulsive grip.
"Thank you!" said the man, smiling, when at last the detective
released his grip. "I'll admit I'd scarcely noticed it myself, but
now I come to think of it, you've been fastened onto me like a vise
for over two hours!"
"Two hours!" cried Stringer; and, crouching down to steady himself,
for the cutter was beginning to roll heavily, he pulled out his
watch, and in the gray light inspected the dial.
It was true! They had been racing seaward for some hours!
"Good God!" he muttered.
He stood up again, unsteadily, feet wide apart, and peered ahead
through the grayness.
The banks he could not see. Far away on the port bow a long gray
shape lay--a moored vessel. To starboard were faint blurs,
indistinguishable, insignificant; ahead, a black dot with a faint
comet-like tail--the pursued cutter--and ahead of that, again, a
streak across the blackness, with another dot slightly to the left
of the quarry . . .
He turned and looked along the police boat, noting that whereas,
upon the former occasion of his looking, forms and faces had been
but dimly visible, now he could distinguish them all quite clearly.
The dawn was breaking.
"Where are we?" he inquired hoarsely.
"We're about one mile northeast of Sheerness and two miles
southwest of the Nore Light!" announced Rogers--and he laughed, but
not in a particularly mirthful manner.
Stringer temporarily found himself without words.
"Cutter heading for the open sea, sir," announced a man in the
"Quite so," snapped Rogers. "So are you!"
"We have got them beaten," said Stringer, a faint note of triumph
in his voice. "We've given them no chance to land."
"If this breeze freshens much," replied Rogers, with sardonic
humor, "they'll be giving US a fine chance to sink!"
Indeed, although Stringer's excitement had prevented him from
heeding the circumstance, an ever-freshening breeze was blowing in
his face, and he noted now that, quite mechanically, he had removed
his bowler hat at some time earlier in the pursuit and had placed
it in the bottom of the boat. His hair was blown in the wind,
which sang merrily in his ears, and the cutter, as her course was
slightly altered by Rogers, ceased to roll and began to pitch in a
manner very disconcerting to the lands-man.
"It'll be rather fresh outside, sir," said one of the men,
doubtfully. "We're miles and miles below our proper patrol" . . .
"Once we're clear of the bank it'll be more than fresh," replied
Rogers; "but if they're bound for France, or Sweden, or Denmark,
that's OUR destination, too!" . . .
On--and on--and on they drove. The Nore Light lay astern; they
were drenched with spray. Now green water began to spout over the
nose of the laboring craft.
"I've only enough juice to run us back to Tilbury, sir, if we put
about now!" came the shouted report.
"It's easy to TALK!" roared Rogers. "If one of these big 'uns gets
us broadside on, our number's up!" . . .
"Cutter putting over for Sheppey coast, sir!" bellowed the man in
Stringer raised himself, weakly, and sought to peer through the
driving spray and rain-mist.
"By God! THEY'VE TURNED--TURTLE!" . . .
"Stand by with belts!" bellowed Rogers.
Rapidly life belts were unlashed; and, ahead, to port, to
starboard, brine-stung eyes glared out from the reeling craft.
Gray in the nascent dawn stretched the tossing sea about them; and
lonely they rode upon its billows.
"PORT! PORT! HARD A-PORT!" screamed the lookout.
But Rogers, grimly watching the oncoming billows, knew that to
essay the maneuver at that moment meant swamping the cutter.
Straight ahead they drove. A wave, higher than any they yet had
had to ride, came boiling down upon them . . . and twisting,
writhing, upcasting imploring arms to the elements--the implacable
elements--a girl, a dark girl, entwined, imprisoned in silken
garments, swept upon its crest!
Out shot a cork belt into the boiling sea . . . and fell beyond her
reach. She was swept past the cutter. A second belt was hurled
from the stern . . .
The Eurasian, uttering a wailing cry like that of a seabird, strove
to grasp it . . .
Close beside her, out of the wave, uprose a yellow hand, grasping--
seeking--clutching. It fastened itself into the meshes of her
floating hair . . .
"Here goes!" roared Rogers.
They plunged down into an oily trough; they turned; a second wave
grew up above them, threateningly, built its terrible wall higher
and higher over their side. Round they swung, and round, and
round . . .
Down swept the eager wave . . . down--down--down . . . It lapped
over the stern of the cutter; the tiny craft staggered, and paused,
tremulous--dragged back by that iron grip of old Neptune--then
leaped on--away--headed back into the Thames estuary, triumphant.
"God's mercy!" whispered Stringer--"that was touch-and-go!"
No living thing moved upon the waters.
Detective-Sergeant Sowerby reported himself in Inspector Dunbar's
room at New Scotland Yard.
"I have completed my inquiries in Wharf-end Lane," he said; and
pulling out his bulging pocketbook, he consulted it gravely.
Inspector Dunbar looked up.
"Anything important?" he asked.
"We cannot trace the makers of the sanitary fittings, and so forth,
but they are all of American pattern. There's nothing in the
nature of a trademark to be found from end to end of the place;
even the iron sluice-gate at the bottom of the brick tunnel has had
the makers' name chipped off, apparently with a cold chisel. So
you see they were prepared for all emergencies!"
"Evidently," said Dunbar, resting his chin on the palms of his
hands and his elbows upon the table.
"The office and warehouse staff of the ginger importing concern are
innocent enough, as you know already. Kan-Suh Concessions was
conducted merely as a blind, of course, but it enabled the
Chinaman, Ho-Pin, to appear in Wharf-end Lane at all times of the
day and night without exciting suspicion. He was supposed to be
the manager, of course. The presence of the wharf is sufficient to
explain how they managed to build the place without exciting
suspicion. They probably had all the material landed there labeled
as preserved ginger, and they would take it down below at night,
long after the office and warehouse Staff of Concessions had gone
home. The workmen probably came and went by way of the river,
also, commencing work after nightfall and going away before
business commenced in the morning."
"It beats me," said Dunbar, reflectively, "how masons, plumbers,
decorators, and all the other artisans necessary for a job of that
description, could have been kept quiet."
"Foreigners!" said Sowerby triumphantly. "I'll undertake to say
there wasn't an Englishman on the job. The whole of the gang was
probably imported from abroad somewhere, boarded and lodged during
the day-time in the neighborhood of Limehouse, and watched by Mr.
Ho-Pin or somebody else until the job was finished; then shipped
back home again. It's easily done if money is no object."
"That's right enough," agreed Dunbar; "I have no doubt you've hit
upon the truth. But now that the place has been dismantled, what
does it look like? I haven't had time to come down myself, but I
intend to do so before it's closed up."
"Well," said Sowerby, turning over a page of his notebook, "it
looks like a series of vaults, and the Rev. Mr. Firmingham, a local
vicar whom I got to inspect it this morning, assures me,
positively, that it's a crypt."
"A crypt! exclaimed Dunbar, fixing his eyes upon his subordinate.
"A crypt--exactly. A firm dealing in grease occupied the warehouse
before Kan-Suh Concessions rented it, and they never seem to have
suspected that the place possessed any cellars. The actual owner
of the property, Sir James Crozel, an ex-Lord Mayor, who is also
ground landlord of the big works on the other side of the lane, had
no more idea than the man in the moon that there were any cellars
beneath the place. You see the vaults are below the present level
of the Thames at high tide; that's why nobody ever suspected their
existence. Also, an examination of the bare walls--now stripped--
shows that they were pretty well filled up to the top with ancient
debris, to within a few years ago, at any rate."
"You mean that our Chinese friends excavated them?"
"No doubt about it. They were every bit of twenty feet below the
present street level, and, being right on the bank of the Thames,
nobody would have thought of looking for them unless he knew they
"What do you mean exactly, Sowerby?" said Dunbar, taking out his
fountain-pen and tapping his teeth with it.
"I mean," said Sowerby, "that someone connected with the gang must
have located the site of these vaults from some very old map or
"I think you said that the Reverend Somebody-or-Other avers that
they were a crypt?"
"He does; and when he pointed out to me the way the pillars were
placed, as if to support the nave of a church, I felt disposed to
agree with him. The place where the golden dragon used to stand
(it isn't really gold, by the way!) would be under the central
aisle, as it were; then there's a kind of side aisle on the right
and left and a large space at top and bottom. The pillars are
stone and of very early Norman pattern, and the last three or four
steps leading down to the place appear to belong to the original
structure. I tell you it's the crypt of some old forgotten Norman
church or monastery chapel."
"Most extraordinary!" muttered Dunbar.
"But I suppose it is possible enough. Probably the church was
burnt or destroyed in some other way; deposits of river mud would
gradually cover up the remaining ruins; then in later times, when
the banks of the Thames were properly attended to, the site of the
place would be entirely forgotten, of course. Most extraordinary!"
"That's the reverend gentleman's view, at any rate," said Sowerby,
"and he's written three books on the subject of early Norman
churches! He even goes so far as to say that he has heard--as a
sort of legend--of the existence of a very large Carmelite
monastery, accommodating over two hundred brothers, which stood
somewhere adjoining the Thames within the area now covered by
Limehouse Causeway and Pennyfields. There is a little turning not
far from the wharf, known locally--it does not appear upon any map--
as Prickler's Lane; and my friend, the vicar, tells me that he has
held the theory for a long time"--Sowerby referred to his notebook
with great solemnity--"that this is a corruption of Pre-aux-Clerce
"H'm!" said Dunbar; "very ingenious, at any rate. Anything else?"
"Nothing much," said Sowerby, scanning his notes, "that you don't
know already. There was some very good stuff in the place--
Oriental ware and so on, a library of books which I'm told is
unique, and a tremendous stock of opium and hashish. It's a
perfect maze of doors and observation-traps. There's a small
kitchen at the end, near the head of the tunnel--which, by the way,
could be used as a means of entrance and exit at low tide. All the
electric power came through the meter of Kan-Suh Concessions."
"I see," said Dunbar, reflectively, glancing at his watch; "in a
word, we know everything except" . . .
"What's that?" said Sowerby, looking up.
"The identity of Mr. King!" replied the inspector, reaching for his
hat which lay upon the table.
Sowerby replaced his book in his pocket.
"I wonder if any of the bodies will ever come ashore?" he said.
"God knows!" rapped Dunbar; "we can't even guess how many were
aboard. You might as well come along, Sowerby, I've just heard
from Dr. Cumberly. Mrs. Leroux" . . .
"Dying," replied the inspector; "expected to go at any moment. But
the doctor tells me that she may--it's just possible--recover
consciousness before the end; and there's a bare chance" . . .
"I see," said Sowerby eagerly; "of course she must know!"
The two hastened to Palace Mansions. Despite the lateness of the
hour, Whitehall was thronged with vehicles, and all the glitter and
noise of midnight London surrounded them.
"It only seems like yesterday evening," said Dunbar, as they
mounted the stair of Palace Mansions, "that I came here to take
charge of the case. Damme! it's been the most exciting I've ever
handled, and it's certainly the most disappointing."
"It is indeed," said Sowerby, gloomily, pressing the bell-button at
the side of Henry Leroux's door.
The door was opened by Garnham; and these two, fresh from the noise
and bustle of London's streets, stepped into the hushed atmosphere
of the flat where already a Visitant, unseen but potent, was
arrived, and now was beckoning, shadowlike, to Mira Leroux.
"Will you please sit down and wait," said Garnham, placing chairs
for the two Scotland Yard men in the dining-room.
"Who's inside?" whispered Dunbar, with that note of awe in his
voice which such a scene always produces; and he nodded in the
direction of the lobby.
"Mr. Leroux, sir," replied the man, "the nurse, Miss Cumberly, Dr.
Cumberly and Miss Ryland" . . .
"No one else?" asked the detective sharply.
"And Mr. Gaston Max," added the man. "You'll find whisky and
cigars upon the table there, sir."
He left the room. Dunbar glanced across at Sowerby, his tufted
brows raised, and a wry smile upon his face.
"In at the death, Sowerby!" he said grimly, and lifted the stopper
from the cut-glass decanter.
In the room where Mira Leroux lay, so near to the Borderland that
her always ethereal appearance was now positively appalling, a
hushed group stood about the bed.
"I think she is awake, doctor," whispered the nurse softly, peering
into the emaciated face of the patient.
Mira Leroux opened her eyes and smiled at Dr. Cumberly, who was
bending over her. The poor faded eyes turned from the face of the
physician to that of Denise Ryland, then to M. Max, wonderingly;
next to Helen, whereupon an indescribable expression crept into
them; and finally to Henry Leroux, who, with bowed head, sat in the
chair beside her. She feebly extended her thin hand and laid it
upon his hair. He looked up, taking the hand in his own. The eyes
of the dying woman filled with tears as she turned them from the
face of Leroux to Helen Cumberly--who was weeping silently.
"Look after . . . him," whispered Mira Leroux.
Her hand dropped and she closed her eyes again. Cumberly bent
forward suddenly, glancing back at M. Max who stood in a remote
corner of the room watching this scene.
Big Ben commenced to chime the hour of midnight. That frightful
coincidence so startled Leroux that he looked up and almost rose
from his chair in his agitation. Indeed it startled Cumberly,
also, but did not divert him from his purpose.
"It is now or never!" he whispered.
He took the seemingly lifeless hand in his own, and bending over
Mira Leroux, spoke softly in her ear:
"Mrs. Leroux," he said, "there is something which we all would ask
you to tell us; we ask it for a reason--believe me."
Throughout the latter part of this scene the big clock had been
chiming the hour, and now was beating out the twelve strokes of
midnight; had struck six of them and was about to strike the
SEVEN! boomed the clock.
Mira Leroux opened her eyes and looked up into the face of the
EIGHT! . . .
"Who," whispered Dr. Cumberly, "is he?"
In the silence following the clock-stroke, Mira Leroux spoke almost
"You mean . . . MR. KING?"
"Yes, yes! Did you ever SEE him?" . . .
Every head in the room was craned forward; every spectator tensed
up to the highest ultimate point.
"Yes," said Mira Leroux quite clearly; "I saw him, Dr. Cumberly . . .
He is" . . .
Mira Leroux moved her head and smiled at Helen Cumberly; then
seemed to sink deeper into the downy billows of the bed. Dr.
Cumberly stood up very slowly, and turned, looking from face to
"It is finished," he said--"we shall never know!"
But Henry Leroux and Helen Cumberly, their glances meeting across
the bed of the dead Mira, knew that for them it was not finished,
but that Mr. King, the invisible, invisibly had linked them.
TWELVE! . . .