The Yellow Claw

Contents:
Author: Sax Rohmer

XXXIX the Labyrinth

Feverishly, Max clutched at the last three books upon the shelf adjoining the gap. Of these, the center volume, a work bound in yellow calf and bearing no title, proved to be irremovable; right and left it could be inclined, but not moved outward. It masked the lever handle of the door!

But that door was locked.

Max, with upraised arms, swept the perspiration from his brows and eyes; he leant dizzily up against the door which defied him; his mind was working with febrile rapidity. He placed the pistol in his pocket, and, recrossing the room, mounted up again upon the shelves, and crept through into the apartment beyond, from which the yellow hand had protruded. He dropped, panting, upon the bed, then, eagerly leaping to the door, grasped the handle.

"Pardieu!" he muttered, "it is unlocked!"

Though the light was still burning in this room, the corridor outside was in darkness. He pressed the button of the ingenious lamp which was also a watch, and made for the door communicating with the cave of the dragon. It was readily to be detected by reason of its visible handle; the other doors being externally indistinguishable from the rest of the matting-covered wall.

The cave of the dragon proved to be empty, and in darkness. He ran across its polished floor and opened at random the door immediately facing him. A corridor similar to the one which he had just quitted was revealed. Another door was visible at one end, and to this he ran, pulled it open, stepped through the opening, and found himself back in the cave of the dragon!

"Morbleu!" he muttered, "it is bewildering—this!"

Yet another door, this time one of ebony, he opened; and yet another matting-lined corridor presented itself to his gaze. He swept it with the ray of the little lamp, detected a door, opened it, and entered a similar suite to those with which he already was familiar. It was empty, but, unlike the one which he himself had tenanted, this suite possessed two doors, the second opening out of the bathroom. To this he ran; it was unlocked; he opened it, stepped ahead . . . and was back again in the cave of the dragon.

"Mon dieu!" he cried, "this is Chinese—quite Chinese!"

He stood looking about him, flashing the ray of light upon doors which were opened and upon openings in the walls where properly there should have been no doors.

"I am too late!" he muttered; "they had information of this and they have ’unloaded.’ That they intend to fly the country is proven by their leaving Mrs. Leroux behind. Ah, nom d’un nom, the good God grant that they have left also." . . .

Coincident with his thoughts of her, the voice of Helen Cumberly reached his ears! He stood there quivering in every nerve, as: "Help! Help!" followed by a choking, inarticulate cry, came, muffled, from somewhere—he could not determine where.

But the voice was the voice of Helen Cumberly. He raised his left fist and beat his brow as if to urge his brain to super-activity. Then, leaping, he was off.

Door after door he threw open, crying, "Miss Cumberly! Miss Cumberly! Where are you? Have courage! Help is here!"

But the silence remained unbroken—and always his wild search brought him back to the accursed cave of the golden dragon. He began to grow dizzy; he felt that his brain was bursting. For somewhere—somewhere but a few yards removed from him—a woman was in extreme peril!

Clutching dizzily at the pedestal of the dragon, he cried at the top of his voice:—

"Miss Cumberly! For the good God’s sake answer me! Where are you?"

"Here, M. Max!" he was answered; "the door on your right . . . and then to your right again—quick! QUICK! Saints! she has killed me!"

It was Gianapolis who spoke!

Max hurled himself through the doorway indicated, falling up against the matting wall by reason of the impetus of his leap. He turned, leaped on, and one of the panels was slightly ajar; it was a masked door. Within was darkness out of which came the sounds of a great turmoil, as of wild beasts in conflict.

Max kicked the door fully open and flashed the ray of the torch into the room. It poured its cold light upon a group which, like some masterpiece of classic statuary, was to remain etched indelibly upon his mind.

Helen Cumberly lay, her head and shoulders pressed back upon the silken pillows of the bed, with both hands clutching the wrist of the Eurasian and striving to wrench the latter’s fingers from her throat, in the white skin of which they were bloodily embedded. With his left arm about the face and head of the devilish halfcaste, and grasping with his right hand her slender right wrist— putting forth all his strength to hold it back—was Gianapolis!

His face was of a grayish pallor and clammy with sweat; his crooked eyes had the glare of madness. The lithe body of the Eurasian writhing in his grasp seemed to possess the strength of two strong men; for palpably the Greek was weakening. His left sleeve was torn to shreds—to bloody shreds beneath the teeth of the wild thing with which he fought; and lower, lower, always nearer to the throat of the victim, the slender, yellow arm forced itself, forced the tiny hand clutching a poniard no larger than a hatpin but sharp as an adder’s tooth.

"Hold her!" whispered Gianapolis in a voice barely audible, as Max burst into the room. "She came back for this and . . . I followed her. She has the strength of . . . a tigress!"

Max hurled himself into the melee, grasping the wrist of the Eurasian below where it was clutched by Gianapolis. Nodding to the Greek to release his hold, he twisted it smartly upward.

The dagger fell upon the floor, and with an animal shriek of rage, the Eurasian tottered back. Max caught her about the waist and tossed her unceremoniously into a corner of the room.

Helen Cumberly slipped from the bed, and lay very white and still upon the garish carpet, with four tiny red streams trickling from the nail punctures in her throat. Max stooped and raised her shoulders; he glanced at the Greek, who, quivering in all his limbs, and on the verge of collapse, only kept himself upright by dint of clutching at the side of the doorway. Max realized that Gianapolis was past aiding him; his own resources were nearly exhausted, but, stooping, he managed to lift the girl and to carry her out into the corridor.

"Follow me!" he gasped, glancing back at Gianapolis; "Morbleu, make an effort! The keys—the keys!"

Laying Helen Cumberly upon one of the raised divans, with her head resting upon a silken cushion, Max, teeth tightly clenched and dreadfully conscious that his strength was failing him, waited for Gianapolis. Out from the corridor the Greek came staggering, and Max now perceived that he was bleeding profusely from a wound in the breast.

"She came back," whispered Gianapolis, clutching at the Frenchman for support. . . "the hellcat! . . . I did not know . . . that . . . Miss Cumberly was here. As God is my witness I did not know! But I followed . . . HER—Mahara . . . thank God I did! She has finished me, I think, but"—he lowered the crooked eyes to the form of Helen Cumberly—"never mind . . . Saints!"

He reeled and sank upon his knees. He clutched at the edge of his coat and raised it to his lips, wherefrom blood was gushing forth. Max stooped eagerly, for as the Greek had collapsed upon the floor, he had heard the rattle of keys.

"She had . . . the keys," whispered Gianapolis. "They have . . . tabs . . . upon them . . . Mrs. Leroux . . . number 3 B. The door to the stair"—very, very slowly, he inclined his head toward the ebony door near which Max was standing—"is marked X. The door . . . at the top—into garage . . . B."

"Tell me," said Max, his arm about the dying man’s shoulders—"try to tell me: who killed Mrs. Vernon and why?"

"MR. KING!" came in a rattling voice. "Because of the . . . carelessness of someone . . . Mrs. Vernon wandered into the room . . . of Mrs. Leroux. She seems to have had a fit of remorse . . . or something like it. She begged Mrs. Leroux to pull up . . . before . . . too late. Ho-Pin arrived just as she was crying to . . . Mrs. Leroux . . . and asking if she could ever forgive her . . . for bringing her here. . . . It was Mrs. Vernon who . . . introduced Mrs. . . . Leroux. Ho-Pin heard her . . . say that she . . . would tell . . . Leroux the truth . . . as the only means" . . .

"Yes, yes, morbleu! I understand! And then?"

"Ho-Pin knows . . . women . . . like a book. He thought Mrs. Vernon would . . . shirk the scandal. We used to send our women . . . to Nurse Proctor’s, then. . . to steady up a bit . . . We let Mrs. Vernon go . . . as usual. The scene with . . . Mrs. Leroux had shaken . . . her and she fainted . . . in the car . . . Victoria Street. . . . I was with her. Nurse Proctor had . . . God! I am dying! . . . a time with her; . . . she got so hysterical that they had to . . . detain her . . . and three days later . . . her husband died; Proctor, the . . . fool . . . somehow left a paper containing the news in Mrs. Vernon’s room. . . . They had had to administer an injection that afternoon . . . and they thought she was . . . sleeping." . . .

"Morbleu! Yes, yes!—a supreme effort, my friend!"

"Directly Ho-Pin heard of Vernon’s death, he knew that his hold . . . on Mrs. Vernon . . . was lost. . . . He . . . and Mahara . . . and . . . MR. KING . . . drove straight to . . . Gillingham . . . Street . . . to . . . arrange. . . . Ah! . . . she rushed like a mad woman into the street, a moment before . . . they arrived. A cab was passing, and" . . .

"I know this! I know this! What happened at Palace Mansions?"

The Greek’s voice grew fainter.

"Mr. King followed . . . her . . . upstairs. Too late; . . . but whilst Leroux was in . . . Cumberly’s flat . . . leaving door open . . . Mr. King went . . . in . . . Mahara . . . was watching . . . gave signal . . . whistle . . . of someone’s approach. It was thought . . . Mr. King . . . had secured ALL the message . . . Mrs. Vernon . . . was . . . writing. . . . Mr. King opened the door of . . . the lift-shaft . . . lift not working . . . climbed down that way . . . and out by door on . . . ground floor . . . when Mr. . . . the Member of Parliament . . . went upstairs." . . .

"Ah! pardieu! one last word! WHO IS MR. KING?"

Gianapolis lurched forward, his eyes glazing, half raised his arm— pointing back into the cave of the dragon—and dropped, face downward, on the floor, with a crimson pool forming slowly about his head.

An unfamiliar sound had begun to disturb the silence of the catacombs. Max glanced at the white face of Helen Cumberly, then directed the ray of the little lamp toward the further end of the apartment. A steady stream of dirty water was pouring into the cave of the dragon through the open door ahead of him.

Into the disc of light, leaped, fantastic, the witch figure of the Eurasian. She turned and faced him, threw up both her arms, and laughed shrilly, insanely. Then she turned and ran like a hare, her yellow silk dress gleaming in the moving ray. Inhaling sibilantly, Max leaped after her. In three strides he found his foot splashing in water. An instant he hesitated. Through the corridor ahead of him sped the yellow figure, and right to the end. The seemingly solid wall opened before her; it was another masked door.

Max crossed the threshold hard upon her heels. Three descending steps were ahead of him, and then a long brick tunnel in which swirled fully three feet of water, which, slowly rising, was gradually flooding the cave of the dragon.

On went the Eurasian, up to her waist in the flood, with Max gaining upon her, now, at every stride. There was a damp freshness in the air of the passage, and a sort of mist seemed to float above the water. This mist had a familiar smell. . . .

They were approaching the river, and there was a fog to-night!

Even as he realized the fact, the quarry vanished, and the ray of light from Max’s lamp impinged upon the opening in an iron sluice gate. The Eurasian had passed it, but Max realized that he must lower his head if he would follow. He ducked rapidly, almost touching the muddy water with his face. A bank of yellow fog instantly enveloped him, and he pulled up short, for, instinctively, he knew that another step might precipitate him into the Thames.

He strove to peer about him, but the feeble ray of the lamp was incapable of penetrating the fog. He groped with his fingers, right and left, and presently found slimy wooden steps. He drew himself closely to these, and directed the light upon them. They led upward. He mounted cautiously, and was clear of the oily water, now, and upon a sort of gangway above which lowered a green and rotting wooden roof.

Obviously, the tide was rising; and, after seeking vainly to peer through the fog ahead, he turned and descended the steps again, finding himself now nearly up to his armpits in water. He just managed to get in under the sluice gate without actually submerging his head, and to regain the brick tunnel.

He paused for a moment, hoping to be able to lower the gate, but the apparatus was out of his reach, and he had nothing to stand upon to aid him in manipulating it.

Three or four inches of water now flooded the cave of the golden dragon. Max pulled the keys from his pocket, and unlocked the door at the foot of the steps. He turned, resting the electric lamp upon one of the little ebony tables, and lifting Helen Cumberly, carried her half-way up the steps, depositing her there with her back to the wall. He staggered down again; his remarkable physical resources were at an end; it must be another’s work to rescue Mrs. Leroux. He stooped over Gianapolis, and turned his head. The crooked eyes glared up at him deathly.

"May the good God forgive you," he whispered. "You tried to make your peace with Him."

The sound of muffled blows began to be audible from the head of the steps. Max staggered out of the cave of the golden dragon. A slight freshness and dampness was visible in its atmosphere, and the gentle gurgling of water broke its heavy stillness. There was a new quality come into it, and, strangely, an old quality gone out from it. As he lifted the lamp from the table—now standing in slowly moving water—the place seemed no longer to be the cave of the golden dragon he had known. . . .

He mounted the steps again, with difficulty, resting his shaking hands upon the walls. Shattering blows were being delivered upon the door, above.

"Dunbar!" he cried feebly, stepping aside to avoid Helen Cumberly, where she lay. "Dunbar!" . . .

XL

DAWN AT THE NORE

The river police seemed to be floating, suspended in the fog, which now was so dense that the water beneath was invisible. Inspector Rogers, who was in charge, fastened up his coat collar about his neck and turned to Stringer, the Scotland Yard man, who sat beside him in the stern of the cutter gloomily silent.

"Time’s wearing on," said Rogers, and his voice was muffled by the fog as though he were speaking from inside a box. "There must be some hitch."

"Work it out for yourself," said the C. I. D. man gruffly. "We know that the office in Globe Road belongs to Gianapolis, and according to the Eastern Exchange he was constantly ringing up East 39951; that’s the warehouse of Kan-Suh Concessions. He garages his car next door to the said warehouse, and to-night our scouts follow Gianapolis and Max from Piccadilly Circus to Waterloo Station, where they discharge the taxi and pick up Gianapolis’ limousine. Still followed, they drive—where? Straight to the garage at the back of that wharf yonder! Neither Gianapolis, Max, nor the chauffeur come out of the garage. I said, and I still say, that we should have broken in at once, but Dunbar was always pigheaded, and he thinks Max is a tin god." . . .

"Well, there’s no sign from Max," said Rogers; "and as we aren’t ten yards above the wharf, we cannot fail to hear the signal. For my part I never noticed anything suspicious, and never had anything reported, about this ginger firm, and where the swell dope-shop I’ve heard about can be situated, beats me. It can’t very well be UNDER the place, or it would be below the level of the blessed river!"

"This waiting makes me sick!" growled Stringer. "If I understand aright—and I’m not sure that I do—there are two women tucked away there somewhere in that place"—he jerked his thumb aimlessly into the fog; "and here we are hanging about with enough men in yards, in doorways, behind walls, and freezing on the river, to raid the Houses of Parliament!"

"It’s a pity we didn’t get the word from the hospitals before Max was actually inside," said Rogers. "For three wealthy ladies to be driven to three public hospitals in a sort of semi-conscious condition, with symptoms of opium, on the same evening isn’t natural. It points to the fact that the boss of the den has UNLOADED! He’s been thoughtful where his lady clients were concerned, but probably the men have simply been kicked out and left to shift for themselves. If we only knew one of them it might be confirmed."

"It’s not worth worrying about, now," growled Stringer. "Let’s have a look at the time."

He fumbled inside his overcoat and tugged out his watch.

"Here’s a light," said Rogers, and shone the ray of an electric torch upon the watch-face.

"A quarter-to-three," grumbled Stringer. "There may be murder going on, and here we are." . . .

A sudden clamor arose upon the shore, near by; a sound as of sledge-hammers at work. But above this pierced shrilly the call of a police whistle.

"What’s that?" snapped Rogers, leaping up. "Stand by there!"

The sound of the whistle grew near and nearer; then came a voice— that of Sergeant Sowerby—hailing them through the fog.

"DUNBAR’S IN! But the gang have escaped! They’ve got to a motor launch twenty yards down, on the end of the creek" . . .

But already the police boat was away.

"Let her go!" shouted Rogers—"close inshore! Keep a sharp lookout for a cutter, boys!"

Stringer, aroused now to excitement, went blundering forward through the fog, joining the men in the bows. Four pairs of eyes were peering through the mist, the damnable, yellow mist that veiled all things.

"Curse the fog!" said Stringer; "it’s just our damn luck!"

"Cutter ’hoy!" bawled a man at his side suddenly, one of the river police more used to the mists of the Thames. "Cutter on the port bow, sir!"

"Keep her in sight," shouted Rogers from the stern; "don’t lose her for your lives!"

Stringer, at imminent peril of precipitating himself into the water, was craning out over the bows and staring until his eyes smarted.

"Don’t you see her?" said one of the men on the lookout. "She carries no lights, of course, but you can just make out the streak of her wake."

Harder, harder stared Stringer, and now a faint, lighter smudge in the blackness, ahead and below, proclaimed itself the wake of some rapidly traveling craft.

"I can hear her motor!" said another voice.

Stringer began, now, also to listen.

Muffled sirens were hooting dismally all about Limehouse Reach, and he knew that this random dash through the night was fraught with extreme danger, since this was a narrow and congested part of the great highway. But, listen as he might, he could not detect the sounds referred to.

The brazen roar of a big steamer’s siren rose up before them. Rogers turned the head of the cutter sharply to starboard but did not slacken speed. The continuous roar grew deeper, grew louder.

"Sharp lookout there!" cried the inspector from the stern.

Suddenly over their bows uprose a black mass.

"My God!" cried Stringer, and fell back with upraised arms as if hoping to fend off that giant menace.

He lurched, as the cutter was again diverted sharply from its course, and must have fallen under the very bows of the oncoming liner, had not one of the lookouts caught him by the collar and jerked him sharply back into the boat.

A blaze of light burst out over them, and there were conflicting voices raised one in opposition to another. Above them all, even above the beating of the twin screws and the churning of the inky water, arose that of an officer from the bridge of the steamer.

"Where the flaming hell are YOU going?" inquired this stentorian voice; "haven’t you got any blasted eyes and ears" . . .

High on the wash of the liner rode the police boat; down she plunged again, and began to roll perilously; up again—swimming it seemed upon frothing milk.

The clangor of bells, of voices, and of churning screws died, remote, astern.

"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, now reported:

"Cutter crossing our bow, sir! Getting back to her course."

"Keep her in view," roared Rogers.

"Port, sir!"

"How’s that?"

"Starboard, easy!"

"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 wrong boat!"

"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 lifting ahead."

"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 rakishlooking 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 general.

"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 people?"

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 in her!"

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 speck ahead.

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 bows, unnecessarily.

"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 the bows.

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.

XLI

WESTMINSTER—MIDNIGHT

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 were there."

"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 book."

"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 Lane."

"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" . . .

"Dead?"

"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 seventh.

SEVEN! boomed the clock.

Mira Leroux opened her eyes and looked up into the face of the physician.

EIGHT! . . .

"Who," whispered Dr. Cumberly, "is he?"

NINE!

In the silence following the clock-stroke, Mira Leroux spoke almost inaudibly.

"You mean . . . MR. KING?"

TEN!

"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" . . .

ELEVEN!

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 face.

"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! . . .

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Chicago: Sax Rohmer, "XXXIX the Labyrinth," The Yellow Claw, ed. Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934 and trans. Boswell, Robert Bruce in The Yellow Claw (New York: A. L. Burt Company, 1916), Original Sources, accessed February 7, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8EQLV7TNBJEL4ML.

MLA: Rohmer, Sax. "XXXIX the Labyrinth." The Yellow Claw, edited by Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934, and translated by Boswell, Robert Bruce, in The Yellow Claw, Vol. 22, New York, A. L. Burt Company, 1916, Original Sources. 7 Feb. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8EQLV7TNBJEL4ML.

Harvard: Rohmer, S, 'XXXIX the Labyrinth' in The Yellow Claw, ed. and trans. . cited in 1916, The Yellow Claw, A. L. Burt Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 7 February 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8EQLV7TNBJEL4ML.