Part Fourth. The Eye of Sin Sin Wa
Chapter XL. Coil of the Pigtail
 

The inner room was in darkness and the fume-laden air almost unbreathable. A dull and regular moaning sound proceeded from the corner where the bed was situated, but of the contents of the place and of its other occupant or occupants Kerry had no more than a hazy idea. His imagination supplied those details which he had failed to observe. Mrs. Monte Irvin, in a dying condition, lay upon the bed, and someone or some thing crouched on the divan behind Kerry as he lay stretched upon the matting-covered floor. His wrists, tied behind him, gave him great pain; and since his ankles were also fastened and the end of the rope drawn taut and attached to that binding his wrists, he was rendered absolutely helpless. For one of his fiery temperament this physical impotence was maddening, and because his own handkerchief had been tied tightly around his head so as to secure between his teeth a wooden stopper of considerable size which possessed an unpleasant chemical taste and smell, even speech was denied him.

How long he had lain thus he had no means of judging accurately; but hours--long, maddening hours--seemed to have passed since, with the muzzle of Sin Sin Wa's Mauser pressed coldly to his ear, he had submitted willy-nilly to the adroit manipulations of Mrs. Sin. At first he had believed, in his confirmed masculine vanity, that it would be a simple matter to extricate himself from the fastenings made by a woman; but when, rolling him sideways, she had drawn back his heels and run the loose end of the line through the loop formed by the lashing of his wrists behind him, he had recognized a Chinese training, and had resigned himself to the inevitable. The wooden gag was a sore trial, and if it had not broken his spirit it had nearly caused him to break an artery in his impotent fury.

Into the darkened inner chamber Sin Sin Wa had dragged him, and there Kerry had lain ever since, listening to the various sounds of the place, to the coarse voice, often raised in anger, of the Cuban- Jewess, to the crooning tones of the imperturbable Chinaman. The incessant moaning of the woman on the bed sometimes became mingled with another sound more remote, which Kerry for long failed to identify; but ultimately he concluded it to be occasioned by the tide flowing under the wharf. The raven was silent, because, imprisoned in his wicker cage, he had been placed in some dark spot below the counter. Very dimly from time to time a steam siren might be heard upon the river, and once the thudding of a screw-propeller told of the passage of a large vessel along Limehouse Reach.

In the eyes of Mrs. Sin Kerry had read menace, and for all their dark beauty they had reminded him of the eyes of a cornered rat. Beneath the contemptuous nonchalance which she flaunted he read terror and remorse, and a foreboding of doom--panic ill repressed, which made her dangerous as any beast at bay. The attitude of the Chinaman was more puzzling. He seemed to bear the Chief Inspector no personal animosity, and indeed, in his glittering eye, Kerry had detected a sort of mysterious light of understanding which was almost mirthful, but which bore no relation to Sin Sin Wa's perpetual smile. Kerry's respect for the one-eyed Chinaman had increased rather than diminished upon closer acquaintance. Underlying his urbanity he failed to trace any symptom of apprehension. This Sin Sin Wa, accomplice of a murderess self- confessed, evident head of a drug syndicate which had led to the establishment of a Home office inquiry--this badly "wanted" man, whose last hiding-place, whose keep, was closely invested by the agents of the law, was the same Sin Sin Wa who had smilingly extended his wrists, inviting the manacles, when Kerry had first made his acquaintance under circumstances legally very different.

Sometimes Kerry could hear him singing his weird crooning song, and twice Mrs. Sin had shrieked blasphemous execrations at him because of it. But why should Sin Sin Wa sing? What hope had he of escape? In the case of any other criminal Kerry would have answered "None," but the ease with which this one-eyed singing Chinaman had departed from his abode under the very noses of four detectives had shaken the Chief Inspector's confidence in the efficiency of ordinary police methods where this Chinese conjurer was concerned. A man who could convert an elaborate opium house into a dirty ruin in so short a time, too, was capable of other miraculous feats, and it would not have surprised Kerry to learn that Sin Sin Wa, at a moment's notice, could disguise himself as a chest of tea, or pass invisible through solid walls.

For evidence that Seton Pasha or any of the men from Scotland Yard had penetrated to the secret of Sam Tuk's cellar Kerry listened in vain. What was about to happen he could not imagine, nor if his life was to be spared. In the confession so curiously extorted from Mrs. Sin by her husband he perceived a clue to this and other mysteries, but strove in vain to disentangle it from the many maddening complexities of the case.

So he mused, wearily, listening to the moaning of his fellow captive, and wondering, since no sign of life came thence, why he imagined another presence in the stuffy room or the presence of someone or of some thing on the divan behind him. And in upon these dreary musings broke an altercation between Mrs. Sin and her husband.

"Keep the blasted thing covered up!" she cried hoarsely.

"Tling-a-Ling wantchee catchee bleathee sometime," crooned Sin Sin Wa.

"Hello, hello!" croaked the raven drowsily. "Smartest--smartest-- smartest leg"

"You catchee sleepee, Tling-a-Ling," murmured the Chinaman. "Mrs. Sin no likee you palaber, lo!"

"Burn it!" cried the woman, "burn the one-eyed horror!"

But when, carrying a lighted lantern, Sin Sin Wa presently came into the inner room, he smiled as imperturbably as ever, and was unmoved so far as external evidence showed.

Sin Sin Wa set the lantern upon a Moorish coffee-table which once had stood beside the divan in Mrs. Sin's sanctum at the House of a Hundred Raptures. A significant glance--its significance an acute puzzle to the recipient--he cast upon Chief Inspector Kerry. His hands tucked in the loose sleeves of his blouse, he stood looking down at the woman who lay moaning on the bed; and:

"Tchee, tchee," he crooned softly, "you hate no catchee die, my beautiful. You sniffee plenty too muchee 'white snow,' hoi, hoi! Velly bad woman tly makee you catchee die, but Sin Sin Wa no hate got for killee chop. Topside pidgin no good enough, lo!"

His thick, extraordinary long pigtail hanging down his back and gleaming in the rays of the lantern, he stood, head bowed, watching Rita Irvin. Because of his position on the floor, Mrs. Irvin was invisible from Kerry's point of view, but she continued to moan incessantly, and he knew that she must be unconscious of the Chinaman's scrutiny.

"Hurry, old fool!" came Mrs. Sin's harsh voice from the outer room. "In ten minutes Ah Fung will give the signal. Is she dead yet--the doll-woman?"

"She hate no catchee die," murmured Sin Sin Wa, "She still vella beautiful--tchee!"

It was at the moment that he spoke these words that Seton Pasha entered the empty building above and found the spaniel scratching at the paved floor. So that, as Sin Sin Wa stood looking down at the wan face of the unfortunate woman who refused to die, the dog above, excited by Seton's presence, ceased to whine and scratch and began to bark.

Faintly to the vault the sound of the high-pitched barking penetrated.

Kerry tensed his muscles and groaned impotently feeling his heart beating like a hammer in his breast. Complete silence reigned in the outer room. Sin Sin Wa never stirred. Again the dog barked, then:

"Hello, hello!" shrieked the raven shrilly. "Number one p'lice chop, lo! Sin Sin Wa! Sin Sin Wa!"

There came a fierce exclamation, the sound of something being hastily overturned, of a scuffle, and:

"Sin--Sin--Wa!" croaked the raven feebly.

The words ended in a screeching cry, which was followed by a sound of wildly beating wings. Sin Sin Wa, hands tucked in sleeves, turned and walked from the inner room, closing the sliding door behind him with a movement of his shoulder.

Resting against the empty shelves, he stood and surveyed the scene in the vault.

Mrs. Sin, who had been kneeling beside the wicker cage, which was upset, was in the act of standing upright. At her feet, and not far from the motionless form of old Sam Tuk who sat like a dummy figure in his chair before the stove, lay a palpitating mass of black feathers. Other detached feathers were sprinkled about the floor. Feebly the raven's wings beat the ground once, twice--and were still.

Sin Sin Wa uttered one sibilant word, withdrew his hands from his sleeves, and, stepping around the end of the counter, dropped upon his knees beside the raven. He touched it with long yellow fingers, then raised it and stared into the solitary eye, now glazed and sightless as its fellow. The smile had gone from the face of Sin Sin Wa.

"My Tling-a-Ling!" he moaned in his native mandarin tongue. "Speak to me, my little black friend!"

A bead of blood, like a ruby, dropped from the raven's beak. Sin Sin Wa bowed his head and knelt awhile in silence; then, standing up, he reverently laid the poor bedraggled body upon a chest. He turned and looked at his wife.

Hands on hips, she confronted him, breathing rapidly, and her glance of contempt swept him up and down.

"I've often threatened to do it," she said in English. "Now I've done it. They're on the wharf. We're trapped--thanks to that black, squalling horror!"

"Tchee, tchee!" hissed Sin Sin Wa.

His gleaming eye fixed upon the woman unblinkingly, he began very deliberately to roll up his loose sleeves. She watched him, contempt in her glance, but her expression changed subtly, and her dark eyes grew narrowed. She looked rapidly towards Sam Tuk but Sam Tuk never stirred.

"Old fool!" she cried at Sin Sin Wa. "What are you doing?"

But Sin Sin Wa, his sleeves rolled up above his yellow, sinewy forearms, now tossed his pigtail, serpentine, across his shoulder and touched it with his fingers, an odd, caressing movement.

"Ho!" laughed Mrs. Sin in her deep scoffing fashion, "it is for me you make all this bhobbery, eh? It is me you are going to chastise, my dear?"

She flung back her head, snapping her fingers before the silent Chinaman. He watched her, and slowly--slowly--he began to crouch, lower and lower, but always that unblinking regard remained fixed upon the face of Mrs. Sin.

The woman laughed again, more loudly. Bending her lithe body forward in mocking mimicry, she snapped her fingers, once--again--and again under Sin Sin Wa's nose. Then:

"Do you think, you blasted yellow ape, that you can frighten me?" she screamed, a swift flame of wrath lighting up her dark face.

In a flash she had raised the kimona and had the stiletto in her hand. But, even swifter than she, Sin Sin Wa sprang. . .

Once, twice she struck at him, and blood streamed from his left shoulder. But the pigtail, like an executioner's rope, was about the woman's throat. She uttered one smothered shriek, dropping the knife, and then was silent. . .

Her dyed hair escaped from its fastenings and descended, a ruddy torrent, about her as she writhed, silent, horrible, in the death-coil of the pigtail.

Rigidly, at arms-length, he held her, moment after moment, immovable, implacable; and when he read death in her empurpled face, a miraculous thing happened.

The "blind" eye of Sin Sin Wa opened!

A husky rattle told of the end, and he dropped the woman's body from his steely grip, disengaging the pigtail with a swift movement of his head. Opening and closing his yellow fingers to restore circulation, he stood looking down at her. He spat upon the floor at her feet.

Then, turning, he held out his arms and confronted Sam Tuk.

"Was it well done, bald father of wisdom?" he demanded hoarsely.

But old Sam Tuk seated lumpish in his chair like some grotesque idol before whom a human sacrifice has been offered up, stirred not. The length of loaded tubing with which he had struck Kerry lay beside him where it had fallen from his nerveless hand. And the two oblique, beady eyes of Sin Sin Wa, watching, grew dim. Step by step he approached the old Chinaman, stooped, touched him, then knelt and laid his head upon the thin knees.

"Old father," he murmured, "Old bald father who knew so much. Tonight you know all."

For Sam Tuk was no more. At what moment he had died, whether in the excitement of striking Kerry or later, no man could have presumed to say, since, save by an occasional nod of his head, he had often simulated death in life--he who was so old that he was known as "The Father of Chinatown."

Standing upright, Sin Sin Wa looked from the dead man to the dead raven. Then, tenderly raising poor Tling-a-Ling, he laid the great dishevelled bird--a weird offering--upon the knees of Sam Tuk.

"Take him with you where you travel tonight, my father," he said. "He, too, was faithful."

A cheap German clock commenced a muted clangor, for the little hammer was muffled.

Sin Sin Wa walked slowly across to the counter. Taking up the gleaming joss, he unscrewed its pedestal. Then, returning to the spot where Mrs. Sin lay, he coolly detached a leather wallet which she wore beneath her dress fastened to a girdle. Next he removed her rings, her bangles and other ornaments. He secreted all in the interior of the joss--his treasure-chest. He raised his hands and began to unplait his long pigtail, which, like his "blind" eye, was camouflage--a false queue attached to his own hair, which he wore but slightly longer than some Europeans and many Americans. With a small pair of scissors he clipped off his long, snake-like moustaches. . . .