THE CRAIG KENNEDY SERIES
THE ROMANCE OF ELAINE
A DETECTIVE NOVEL
Sequel to the "Exploits"
ARTHUR B. REEVE
I THE SERPENT SIGN
II THE CRYPTIC RING
III THE WATCHING EYE
IV THE VENGEANCE OF WU FANG
V THE SHADOWS OF WAR
VI THE LOST TORPEDO
VII THE GRAY FRIAR
VIII THE VANISHING MAN
IX THE SUBMARINE HARBOR
X THE CONSPIRATORS
XI THE WIRELESS DETECTIVE
XII THE DEATH CLOUD
XIII THE SEARCHLIGHT GUN
XIV THE LIFE CHAIN
XV THE FLASH
XVI THE DISAPPEARING HELMETS
XVII THE TRIUMPH OF ELAINE
THE ROMANCE OF ELAINE
THE SERPENT SIGN
Rescued by Kennedy at last from the terrible incubus of Bennett's persecution in his double life of lawyer and master criminal, Elaine had, for the first time in many weeks, a feeling of security.
Now that the strain was off, however, she felt that she needed rest and a chance to recover herself and it occurred to her that a few quiet days with "Aunt" Tabitha, who had been her nurse when she was a little girl, would do her a world of good.
She sent for Aunt Tabby, yet the fascination of the experiences through which she had just gone still hung over her. She could not resist thinking and reading about them, as she sat, one morning, with the faithful Rusty in the conservatory of the Dodge house.
I had told the story at length in the Star, and the heading over it caught her eye.
THE CLUTCHING HAND DEAD
Double Life Exposed by Craig Kennedy
Perry Bennett, the Famous Young Lawyer, Takes Poison—Kennedy Now on Trail of Master Criminal's Hidden Millions.
As Elaine glanced down the column, Jennings announced that Aunt Tabby, as she loved to call her old friend, had arrived, and was now in the library with Aunt Josephine.
With an exclamation of delight, Elaine dropped the paper and, followed by Rusty, almost ran into the library.
Aunt Tabby was a stout, elderly, jolly-faced woman, precisely the sort whom Elaine needed to watch over her just now.
"Oh, I'm so glad to see you," half laughed Elaine as she literally flung herself into her nurse's arms. "I feel so unstrung—and I thought that if I could just run off for a few days with you and Joshua in the country where no one would know, it might make me feel better. You have always been so good to me. Marie! Are my things packed? Very well. Then, get my wraps."
Her maid left the room.
"Bless your soul," mothered Aunt Tabby stroking her soft golden hair, "I'm always glad to have you in that fine house you bought me. And, faith, Miss Elaine, the house is a splendid place to rest in but I don't know what's the matter with it lately. Joshua says its haunts—"
"Haunts?" repeated Elaine in amused surprise. "Why, what do you mean?"
Marie entered with the wraps before Aunt Tabby could reply and Jennings followed with the baggage.
"Nonsense," continued Elaine gaily, as she put on her coat, and turned to bid Aunt Josephine good-bye. "Good-bye, Tabitha," said her real aunt. "Keep good care of my little girl."
"That I will," returned the nurse. "We don't have all these troubles out in the country that you city folks have."
Elaine went out, followed by Rusty and Jennings with the luggage.
"Now for a long ride in the good fresh air," sighed Elaine as she leaned back on the cushions of the Dodge limousine and patted Rusty, while the butler stowed away the bags.
The air certainly did, if anything, heighten the beauty of Elaine and at last they arrived at Aunt Tabby's, tired and hungry.
The car stopped and Elaine, Aunt Tabby and the dog got out. There, waiting for them, was "Uncle" Joshua, as Elaine playfully called him, a former gardener of the Dodges, now a plain, honest countryman on whom the city was fast encroaching, a jolly old fellow, unharmed by the world.
Aunt Tabby's was an attractive small house, not many miles from New York, yet not in the general line of suburban travel.
. . . . . . .
Kennedy and I had decided to bring Bennett's papers and documents over to the laboratory to examine them. We were now engaged in going over the great mass of material which he had collected, in the hope of finding some clue to the stolen millions which he must have amassed as a result of his villainy. The table was stacked high.
A knock at the door told us that the expressman had arrived and a moment later he entered, delivering a heavy box. Kennedy signed for it and started to unpack it.
I was hard at work, when I came across a large manila envelope carefully sealed, on which were written the figures "$7,000,000." Too excited even to exclaim, I tore the envelope open and examined the contents.
Inside was another envelope. I opened that. It contained merely a blank piece of paper!
With characteristic skill at covering his tracks, Bennett had also covered his money. Puzzled, I turned the paper over and over, looking at it carefully. It was a large sheet of paper, but it showed nothing.
"Huh!" I snorted to myself, "confound him."
Yet I could not help smiling at my own folly, a minute later, in thinking that the Clutching Hand would leave any information in such an obvious place as an envelope. I threw the paper into a wire basket on the desk and went on sorting the other stuff.
Kennedy had by this time finished unpacking the box, and was examining a bottle which he had taken from it.
"Come here, Walter," he called at length. "Ever see anything like that?"
"I can't say," I confessed, getting up to go to him. "What is it?"
"Bring a piece of paper." he added.
I went back to the desk where I had been working and looked about hastily. My eye fell on the blank sheet of paper which I had taken from Bennett's envelope, and I picked it up from the basket.
"Here's one," I said, handing it to him. "What are you doing?"
Kennedy did not answer directly, but began to treat the paper with the liquid from the bottle. Then he lighted a Bunsen burner and thrust the paper into the flame. The paper did not burn!
"A new system of fire-proofing," laughed Craig, enjoying my astonishment.
He continued to hold the paper in the flame. Still it did not burn.
"See?" he went on, withdrawing it, and starting to explain the properties of the new fire-proofer.
He had scarcely begun, when he stopped in surprise. He had happened to glance at the paper again, bent over to examine it more intently, and was now looking at it in surprise.
I looked also. There, clearly discernible on the paper, was a small part of what looked like an architect's drawing of a fireplace.
Craig looked up at me, nonplussed. "Where did you say you got that?" he asked.
"It was a blank piece of paper among Bennett's effects," I returned, as mystified as he, pointing at the littered desk at which I had been working.
Kennedy said nothing, but thrust the paper back again into the flame. Slowly, the heat of the burner seemed to bring out the complete drawing of the fireplace.
We looked at it, even more mystified. "What is it, do you suppose?" I queried.
"I think," he replied slowly, "that it was drawn with sympathetic ink. The heat of the burner brought it out into sight."
What was it about?
. . . . . . .
Elaine had gone to bed that night at Aunt Tabby's in the room which her old nurse had fixed up especially for her. It was a very attractive little room with dainty chintz curtains and covers and for the first time in many weeks Elaine slept soundly and fearlessly.
Down-stairs, in the living-room, Rusty also was asleep, his nose between his paws.
The living-room was in keeping with everything at Aunt Tabby's, plain, neat, homelike. On one side was a large fireplace that gave to it an air of quaint hospitality.
Suddenly Rusty woke up, his ears pointed at this fireplace. He stood a moment, listening, then, with a bark of alarm he sped swiftly from the living-room, up the stairs at a bound, until he came to Elaine's room.
Elaine felt his cold nose at her hand and stirred, then awoke.
"What is it, Rusty?" she asked, mindful of the former days when Rusty gave warning of the Clutching Hand and his emissaries.
Rusty wagged his tail. Something was wrong.
Elaine followed him down to the living-room. She went over and lighted the electric lamp on the table, then turned to Rusty.
"Well, Rusty?" she asked, almost as if he were human.
She had no need to repeat the question. Rusty was looking straight at the fireplace.
Elaine listened. Sure enough, she heard strange noises. Was that Aunt Tabby's "haunt"? Whatever it was, it sounded as if it came up from the very depths of the earth.
She could not make out just what it sounded like. It might have been some one striking a piece of iron, a bolt, with a sledge.
What was it?
She continued to listen in wonder, then ran to Aunt Tabby's bedroom door, on the first floor, and knocked.
Aunt Tabby woke up and shook Joshua.
"Aunt Tabby! Aunt Tabby!" called Elaine.
"Yes, my dear," answered the old nurse, now fully awake and straightening her nightcap. "Joshua!"
Together the old couple came out into the living-room, still in their nightclothes, Joshua yawning sleepily still.
"Listen!" whispered Elaine.
There was the noise again. This time it was more as though some one were beating a rat-tat-tat with something on a rock. It was weird, uncanny, as all stood there, none knowing where the strange noises came from.
"It's the haunts!" cried Aunt Tabby, trembling a bit. "For three nights now we've been hearing these noises."
Around and around the room they walked, still trying to locate the strange sounds. Were they under the floor? It was impossible to say. They gave it up and stood there, looking blankly at each other. Was it the work of human or superhuman hands?
Finally Joshua went to a table drawer and opened it. He took out a huge, murderous-looking revolver.
"Here, Miss Elaine," he urged, pressing it on her, "take this— keep it near you!"
The noises ceased at length, as strangely as they had begun.
Half an hour later, they had all gone back to bed and were asleep. But Elaine's sleep now was fitful, a constant procession of faces flitted before her closed eyes.
Suddenly, she woke with a start and stared into the semi-darkness. Was that face real, or a dream face? Was it the hideous helmeted face that had dragged her down into the sewer once? That man was dead. Who was this?
She gazed at the bedroom window, holding the huge revolver tightly. There, vague in the night light, appeared a figure. Surely that was no dream face of the oxygen helmet. Besides, it was not the same helmet.
She sat bolt upright and fired, pointblank, at the window, shivering the glass. A second later she had leaped from the bed, switched on the lights and was running to the sill.
Down-stairs, Aunt Tabby and Uncle Joshua had heard the shot. Joshua was now wide awake. He seized his old shotgun and ran out into the livingroom. Followed by Aunt Tabby, he hurried to Elaine.
"Wh-what was it?" he asked, puffing at the exertion of running up- stairs.
"I saw—a face—at the window—with some kind of thing over it!" gasped Elaine. "It was like one I saw once before."
Uncle Joshua did not wait to hear any more. With the gun pointed ahead of him, ready for instant action, he ran out of the room and into the garden, beneath Elaine's window.
He looked about for signs of an intruder. There was not a sound. No one was about, here.
"I don't see any one," he called up to Elaine and Atint Tabby in the window.
He happened to look down at the ground. Before him was a small box. He picked it up.
"Here's something, though," he said.
Joshua went back into the house.
"What is it?" asked Elaine as he rejoined the women.
She took the curious little box and unfastened the cover. As she opened it, she drew back. There in the box was a little ivory figure of a man, all hunched up and shrunken, a hideous figure. She recoiled from it—it reminded her too much of the Chinese devil-god she had seen,—and she dropped the box.
For a moment all stood looking at it in horrified amazement.
. . . . . . .
It was the afternoon following the day of our strange discovery of the fireplace done in sympathetic ink on the apparently blank sheet of paper in Bennett's effects, when the speaking-tube sounded and I answered it.
"Why—it's Elaine," I exclaimed.
Kennedy's face showed the keenest pleasure at the unexpected visit. "Tell her to come right up," he said quickly.
I opened the door for her.
"Why—Elaine—I'm awfully glad to see you," he greeted, "but I thought you were rusticating."
"I was, but, Craig, it seems to me that wherever I go, something happens," she returned. "You know, Aunt Tabby said there were haunts. I thought it was an old woman's fear—but last night I heard the strangest noises out there, and I thought I saw a face at the window—a face in a helmet. And when Joshua went out, this is what he found on the ground under my window."
She handed Kennedy a box, a peculiar affair which she touched gingerly and only with signs of the greatest aversion.
Kennedy opened it. There, in the bottom of the box, was a little ivory devil-god. He looked at it curiously a moment.
"Let me see," he ruminated, still regarding the sign. "The house you bought for Aunt Tabby, once belonged to Bennett, didn't it?"
Elaine nodded her head. "Yes, but I don't see what that can have to do with it," she agreed, adding with a shudder, "Bennett is dead."
Kennedy had taken a piece of paper from the desk where he had put it away carefully. "Have you ever seen anything that looks like this?" he asked, handing her the paper.
Elaine looked at the plan carefully, as Kennedy and I scanned her face. She glanced up, her expression showing plainly the wonder she felt.
"Why, yes," she answered. "That looks like Aunt Tabby's fireplace in the living-room."
Kennedy said nothing for a moment. Then he seized his hat and coat.
"If you don't mind," he said, "we'll go back there with you."
"Mind?" she repeated. "Just what I had hoped you would do."
. . . . . . .
Wu Fang, the Chinese master mind, had arrived in New York.
Beside Wu, the inscrutable, Long Sin, astute though he was, was a mere pigmy—his slave, his advance agent, as it were, a tentacle sent out to discover the most promising outlet for the nefarious talents of his master.
New York did not know of the arrival of Wu Fang, the mysterious— yet. But down in the secret recesses of Chinatown, in the ways that are devious and dark, the oriental crooks knew—and trembled.
Thus it happened that Long Sin was not permitted to enjoy even the foretaste of Bennett's spoils which he had forced from him after his weird transformation into his real self, the Clutching Hand, when the Chinaman had given him the poisoned draught that had put him into his long sleep.
He had obtained the paper showing where the treasure amassed by the Clutching Hand was hidden, but Wu Fang, his master, had come.
Wu had immediately established himself in the most sumptuous of apartments, hidden behind the squalid exterior of the ordinary tenement building in Chinatown.
The night following his arrival, Wu Fang was reclining on a divan, when his servant announced that Long Sin was at the door.
As Long Sin entered, it was evident that, cunning and shrewd though he was himself, Wu was indeed his master. He approached in fear and awe, cringing low.
"Have you brought the map with you?" asked Wu.
Long Sin bowed low again, and drew from under his coat the paper which he had obtained from Bennett. For a moment the two, master and slave in guile, bent over, closely studying it.
At one point in the map Long Sin's bony finger paused over a note which Bennett had made:
BEWARE POISONED GAS UPON OPENING COMPARTMENT.
"And you think you can trace it out?" asked Wu.
"Without a doubt," bowed Long Sin.
He went over to a bag near-by, which he had already sent up by another servant, and opened it. Inside was an oxygen helmet. He replaced it, after showing it to Wu.
"With the aid of the science of the white devil, we shall overcome the science of the white devil," purred Long Sin subtly.
Outside, Wu had already ordered a car to wait, and together the two drove off rapidly. Into the country, they sped, until at last they came to a lonely turn in a lonely road, somewhat removed from the section that was rapidly being built up as population reached out from the city, but on a single-tracked trolley line.
Long Sin alighted and disappeared with a parting word of instruction from Wu who remained in the car. The Chinaman carried with him the heavy bag with the oxygen helmet.
Along this interurban trolley the cars made only half-hourly trips at this time of night. Long Sin hurried down the road until he came to a trolley pole, then looked hastily at his watch. It was twenty minutes at least before the next car would pass.
Quickly, almost monkey-like, he climbed up the pole, carrying with him the end of a wire which he had taken from the bag.
Having thrown this over the feed wire, he slid quickly to the ground again. Then, carrying the other end of the wire in his rubber-gloved hands, he made his way through the underbrush, in and out, almost like the serpent he was, until he came to a passageway in the rough and uncleared hillside—a small opening formed by the rocks.
It was dark inside, but he did not hesitate to enter, carrying the wire and the bag with him.
. . . . . . .
It was nightfall before we arrived with Elaine at Aunt Tabby's. We entered the living-room and Elaine introduced us both to Aunt Tabby and her husband.
It was difficult to tell whether Elaine's old nurse was more glad to see her than the faithful Rusty who almost overwhelmed her even after so short an absence.
In the midst of the greetings, I took occasion to look over the living-room. It was a very cozy room, simply and tastefully furnished, and I fancied that I could see in the neatness of Aunt Tabby a touch of Elaine's hand, for she had furnished it for her faithful old friend.
I followed Kennedy's eyes, and saw that he was looking at the fireplace. Sure enough, it was the same in design as the fireplace which the heat had so unexpectedly brought out in sympathetic ink on the blank sheet of paper.
Kennedy lost no time in examining it, and we crowded around him as he went over it inch by inch, following the directions on the drawing.
At one point in the drawing a peculiar protuberance was marked. Kennedy was evidently hunting for that. He found it at last and pressed the sort of lever in several ways. Nothing seemed to happen. But finally, almost by chance, he seemed to discover the secret.
A small section at the side of the fireplace opened up, disclosing an iron ladder, leading down into one of those characteristic hiding-places in which the Clutching Hand used to delight.
Kennedy looked at the mysterious opening some time, as if trying to fathom the mystery.
"Let's go down and explore it," I suggested, taking a step toward the ladder.
Kennedy reached out and pulled me back. Then without a word he pressed the little lever and the door closed.
"I think we'd better wait a while, Walter," he decided. "I would rather hear Aunt Tabby's haunts myself."
He carefully went over not only the rest of the house but the grounds about it, without discovering anything.
Aunt Tabby, with true country hospitality, seemed unable to receive guests without feeding them, and, although we had had a big dinner at a famous road-house on the way out, still none of us could find it in our hearts to refuse her hospitality. Even that diversion, however, did not prevent us from talking of nothing else but the strange noises, and I think, as we waited, we all got into the frame of mind which would have manufactured them even if there had been none.
We were sitting about the room when suddenly the most weird and uncanny rappings began. Rusty was on his feet in a moment, barking like mad. We looked from one to another.
It was impossible to tell where the noises came from, or even to describe them. They were certainly not ghostly rappings. In fact, they sounded more like some twentieth century piece of machinery.
We listened a moment, then Kennedy walked over to the fireplace. "You can explore it with me now, Walter," he said quietly, touching the lever and opening the panel which disclosed the ladder.
He started down the ladder and I followed closely. Elaine was about to join us, when Kennedy paused on the topmost round and looked up at her.
"No, no, young lady," he said with mock severity, "you have been through enough already—you stay where you are."
Elaine argued and begged but Kennedy was obdurate. It was only when Aunt Tabby and Joshua added their entreaties that she consented reluctantly to remain.
Together, Craig and I descended into the darkness about eight or ten feet. There we found a passageway, excavated through the earth and rock, along which we crept. It was crooked and uneven, and we stumbled, but kept going slowly ahead.
Kennedy, who was a few feet in front of me, stopped suddenly and I almost fell over him.
"What is it?" I whispered.
. . . . . . .
Long Sin had made his way from the opening of the cave to the point on the plan which was marked by a cross, and there he had set up his electric drill which was connected to the trolley wire. He was working furiously to take advantage of the fifteen minutes or so before the next car would pass.
The tunnel had been widened out at this point into a small subterranean chamber. It was dug out of the earth and the roof was roughly propped up, most of the weight being borne by one main wooden prop which, in the dampness, had now become old and rotten.
On one side it was evident that Long Sin had already been at work, digging and drilling through the earth and rock. He had gone so far now that he had disclosed what looked like the face of a small safe set directly into the rock.
As he worked he would stop from time to time and consult the map. Then he would take up drilling again.
He had now come to the point on which Bennett had written his warning. Quickly he opened the bag and took out the oxygen helmet, which he adjusted carefully over his head. Then he set to work with redoubled energy.
It was that drill as well as his pounding on the rock which had so alarmed Elaine and Aunt Tabby the night before and which now had been the signal for Kennedy's excursion of discovery.
. . . . . . .
Our man, whoever he was, must have heard us approaching down the tunnel, for he paused in his work and the noise of the drill ceased.
He looked about a moment, then went over to the prop and examined it, looking up at the roof of the chamber above him. Evidently he feared that it was not particularly strong.
From our vantage point around the bend in the passageway we could see this strange and uncouth figure.
"Who is it, do you think?" I whispered, crouching back against the wall for fear that he might look even around a corner or through the earth and discover us.
As I spoke, my hand loosened a piece of rock that jutted out and before I knew it there was a crash.
"Confound it, Walter," exclaimed Kennedy.
Down the passageway the figure was now thoroughly on the alert, staring with his goggle-like eyes into the blackness in our direction. It was not the roof above him that was unsafe. He was watched, and he did not hesitate a minute to act.
He seized the bag and picked his way quickly through the passage as if thoroughly familiar with every turn of the walls and roughness of the floor.
We were discovered and if we were to accomplish anything, it was now or never.
Kennedy dashed forward and I followed close after him.
We were making much better time than our strange visitor and were gaining on him rapidly. Nearer and nearer we came to him, for, in spite of his familiarity with the cavern he was hampered by the outlandish head-gear that he wore.
It was only another instant, when Kennedy would have laid his hands on him.
Suddenly he half turned, raised his arm and dashed something to the earth much as a child explodes a toy torpedo. I fully expected that it was a bomb; but, as a moment later, I found that Kennedy and I were still unharmed, I knew that it must be some other product of this devilish genius.
The thickest and most impenetrable smoke seemed to pervade the narrow cavern!
"A Chinese smoke bomb!" sputtered and coughed Kennedy, as he retreated a minute, then with renewed vigor endeavored to penetrate the dense and opaque fumes.
We managed to go ahead still, but the intruder had exploded one after another of his peculiar bombs, always keeping ahead of the smoke which he created, and we found that under its cover he had made good his escape, probably reaching the entrance of the cave in the underbrush.
At the other end of the passageway, up in the living-room of the cottage, the draught had carried large quantities of the smoke. Elaine, Aunt Tabby and Joshua coughing and choking, saw it, and opened a window, which seemed to cause a current of air to sweep through the whole length of the passageway and helped to clear away the fumes rapidly.
Long Sin, meanwhile, had started to work his way through the bushes to reach the waiting car, with Wu, then paused and listened. Hearing no sound, he replaced the helmet which he had taken off.
Pursuit was now useless for us. With revolvers drawn, we crept back along the passageway until we came again to the chamber itself. There, on the floor, lay a bag of tools, opened, as though somebody had been working with them.
"Caught red-handed!" exclaimed Kennedy with great satisfaction.
He looked at the tools a minute and then at the electric drill, and finally an idea seemed to strike him. He took up the drill and advanced toward the safe. Then he turned on the current and applied the drill.
The drill was of the very latest design and it went quickly through the steel. But beyond that there was another thin steel partition. This Kennedy tackled next.
The drill went through and he withdrew it.
Instantly the most penetrating and nauseous odor seemed to pervade everything.
Kennedy cried out. But his warning was too late. We staggered back, overcome by the escaping gas and fell to the ground.
. . . . . . .
Long Sin, with his oxygen helmet on again, had returned to the passageway and was now stealthily creeping back.
He came to the chamber and there discovered us lying on the ground, overcome. He bent down and, to his great satisfaction, saw that we were really unconscious.
Quickly he moved over to the safe and pried open the last thin steel plate.
Inside was a small box. He picked it up and tried to open it, but it was locked. There was no time to work over it here, and he took it under his arm and started to leave.
He paused a moment to look at us, then took out a piece of paper and a pencil and on the paper wrote, "Thanks for your trouble." Beneath, it was signed by his special stamp—the serpent's head, mouth open and fangs showing.
Long Sin looked at us a moment, then a subtle smile seemed to spread over his face. At last he had us in his power.
He drew out a long, wicked-looking Chinese knife and stuck it through the note.
Then he felt the edge of the knife. It was keen.
. . . . . . .
In the sitting-room, Elaine, Aunt Tabby and Joshua had been listening intently at the fireplace but heard nothing.
They were now getting decidedly worried. Finally, the fumes which we had released made their way to the room. They were considerably diluted by fresh air by that time, but, although they were nauseous, were not sufficient to overcome any one. Still, the smell was terrible.
"I can't stand it any longer," cried Elaine. "I'm going down there to see what has become of them."
Aunt Tabby and Joshua tried to stop her, but she broke away from them and went down the ladder. Rusty leaped down after her.
Joshua tried to follow, but Aunt Tabby held him back. He would have gone, too, if she had not managed to strike the spring and shut the door, closing up the passageway.
Joshua got angry then. "You are making a coward of me," he cried, beating on the panel with the butt of his gun and struggling to open it.
He seemed unable to fathom the secret.
Elaine was now making her way as rapidly as she could through the tunnel, with Rusty beside her.
. . . . . . .
It was just as Long Sin had raised his knife that the sound of her footsteps alarmed him.
He paused and leaped to his feet.
There was no time for either to retreat. He started toward Elaine, and seized her roughly.
Back and forth over the rocky floor they struggled. As they fought,—she with frantic strength, he craftily,—he backed her slowly up against the prop that upheld the roof.
He raised his keen knife.
She recoiled. The prop, none too strong, suddenly gave way under her weight.
The whole roof of the chamber fell with a crash, earth and stone overwhelming Elaine and her assailant.
. . . . . . .
By this time Joshua had left the house and had gone out into the garden to get something to pry open the fireplace door.
Of a sudden, to his utter amazement, a few feet from him, it seemed as if the very earth sank in his garden, leaving a yawning chasm.
He looked, unable to make it out.
Before his very eyes a strange figure, the figure of Long Sin in his oxygen helmet, appeared, struggling up, as if by magic from the very earth, shaking the debris off himself, as a dog would shake off the water after a plunge in a pond.
Long Sin was gone in a moment.
Then again the earth began to move. A paw appeared, then a sharp black nose, and a moment later, Rusty, too, dug himself out.
Joshua had run into the house to get a spade when Rusty, like a shot, bolted for the house, took the window at a leap and all covered with earth landed before Joshua and Aunt Tabby.
"See!—he went down there—now he's here!" cried Aunt Tabby, pointing at the fireplace, then looking at the window.
Rusty was running back and forth from Joshua to the window.
"Follow him!" cried Aunt Tabby.
Rusty led the way back again to the garden, to the cave-in.
"Elaine!" gasped Aunt Tabby.
By this time Joshua was digging furiously. Rusty, too, seemed to understand. He threw back the earth with his paws, helping with every ounce of strength in his little body.
At last the spade turned up a bit of cloth.
"Elaine!" Aunt Tabby cried out again.
She was in a sort of little pocket, protected by the fortunate formation of the earth as it fell, yet almost suffocated, weak but conscious.
Aunt Tabby rushed up as Joshua laid down the spade and lifted out Elaine.
They were about to carry her into the house, when she cried weakly, but with all her remaining strength.
"No—no—Dig! Craig—Walter!" she managed to gasp.
Rusty, too, was still at it. Joshua fell to again. Man and dog worked with a will.
"There they are!" cried Elaine, as all three pulled us out, unconscious but still alive.
Though we did not know it, they carried us into the house, while Elaine and Aunt Tabby bustled about to get something to revive us.
At last I opened my eyes and saw the motherly Aunt Tabby bending over me. Craig was already revived, weak but ready now to do anything Elaine ordered, as she held his hand and stroked his forehead softly.
. . . . . . .
Meanwhile Long Sin had made his way to the automobile where his master, Wu, waited impatiently.
"Did you get it?" asked Wu eagerly.
Long Sin showed him the box.
"Hurry, master!" he cried breathlessly, leaping into the car and struggling to take off the helmet as they drove away. "They may be here—at any moment."
The machine was off like a shot and even if we had been able to follow, we could not now have caught it.
Back in Wu's sumptuous apartment, later, Wu and his slave, Long Sin, after their hurried ride, dismissed all the servants and placed the little box on the table. Wu rose and locked the door.
Then, together, they took a sharp instrument and tried to pry off the lid of the box.
The lid flew off. They gazed in eagerly.
Inside was a smaller box, which Wu seized eagerly and opened.
There, on the plush cushion lay merely a round knobbed ring!
Was this the end of their great expectations? Were Bennett's millions merely mythical?
The two stared at each other in chagrin.
Wu was the first to speak.
"Where there should have been seven million dollars," he muttered to himself, "why is there only a mystic ring?"
THE CRYPTIC RING
Kennedy had been engaged for some time in the only work outside of the Dodge case which he had consented to take for weeks.
Our old friend, Dr. Leslie, the Coroner, had appealed to him to solve a very ticklish point in a Tong murder case which had set all Chinatown agog. It was, indeed, a very bewildering case. A Chinaman named Li Chang, leader of the Chang Wah Tong, had been poisoned, but so far no one had been able to determine what poison it was or even to prove that there had been a poison, except for the fact that the man was dead, and Kennedy had taken the thing up in a great measure because of the sudden turn in the Dodge case which had brought us into such close contact with the Chinese.
I had been watching Kennedy with interest, for the Tong wars always make picturesque newspaper stories, when a knock at the door announced the arrival of Dr. Leslie, anxious for some result.
"Have you been able to find out anything yet?" he greeted Kennedy eagerly as Craig looked up from his microscope.
Kennedy turned and nodded. "Your dead man was murdered by means of aconite, of which, you know, the active principle is the deadly alkaloid aconitine."
Craig pulled down from the shelf above him one of his well-thumbed standard works on toxicology. He turned the pages and read:
"Pure aconite is probably the most actively poisonous substance with which we are acquainted. It does not produce any decidedly characteristic post-mortem appearances, and, in fact, there is no reliable chemical test to prove its presence. The chances of its detection in the body after death are very slight."
Dr. Leslie looked up. "Then there is no test, none?" he asked.
"There is one that is brand new," replied Kennedy slowly. "It is the new starch-grain test just discovered by Professor Reichert, of the University of Pennsylvania. The peculiarities of the starch grains of various plants are quite as great as those of the blood crystals, which, you will recall, Walter, we used once.
"The starch grains of the poison have remained in the wound. I have recovered them from the dead man's blood and have studied them microscopically. They can be definitely recognized. This is plainly a case of aconite poisoning—probably suggested to the Oriental mind by the poison arrows of the Ainus of Northern Japan."
Dr. Leslie and I both looked through the microscope, comparing the starch grains which Kennedy had discovered with those of scores of micro-photographs which lay scattered over the table.
"There are several treatments for aconite poisoning," ruminated Kennedy. "I would say that one of the latest and best is digitalin given hypodermically." He took down a bottle of digitalin from a cabinet, adding, "only it was too late in this case."
. . . . . . .
Just what the relations were between Long Sin and the Chong Wah Tong I have never been able to determine exactly. But one thing was certain: Long Sin on his arrival in New York had offended the Tong and now that his master, Wu Fang, was here the offence was even greater, for the criminal society brooked no rival.
In the dark recesses of a poorly furnished cellar, serving as the Tong headquarters, the new leader and several of his most trusted followers were now plotting revenge. Long Sin, they believed, was responsible for the murder, and, with truly Oriental guile, they had obtained a hold over Wu Fang's secretary.
Their plan decided on, the Chinamen left the headquarters and made their way separately up-town. They rejoined one another in the shelter of a rather poor house, before which was a board fence, in the vicinity of a fashionable apartment house. A moment's conference followed, and then the secretary glided away.
. . . . . . .
Wu had taken another apartment up-town in one of the large apartment houses near a parkway; for he was far too subtle to operate from his real headquarters back of the squalid exterior of Chinatown.
There Long Sin was now engaged in making all possible provisions for the safety of his master. Any one who had been walking along the boulevard and had happened to glance up at the roof of the tall apartment building might have seen Long Sin's figure silhouetted against the sky on the top of the mansard roof near a flagpole.
He had just finished fastening to the flagpole a stout rope which stretched taut across an areaway some twenty or thirty feet wide to the next building, where it was fastened to a chimney. Again and again he tested it, and finally with a nod of satisfaction descended from the roof and went to the apartment of Wu.
There, alone, he paused for a few minutes to gaze in wonder at the cryptic ring which had been the net result so far of his efforts to find the millions which Bennett, as the Clutching Hand, had hidden. He wore it, strangely enough, over his index finger, and as he examined it he shook his head in doubt.
Neither he nor his master had yet been able to fathom the significance of the ring.
Long Sin thought that he was unobserved. But outside, looking through the keyhole, was Wu's secretary, who had stolen in on the mission which had been set for him at the Tong headquarters.
Long Sin went over to a desk and opened a secret box in which Wu had placed several packages of money with which to bribe those whom he wished to get into his power. It was Long Sin's mission to carry out this scheme, so he packed the money into a bag, drew his coat more closely about him and left the room.
No sooner had he gone than the secretary hurried into the room, paused a moment to make sure that Long Sin was not coming back, then hurried over to a closet near-by.
From a secret hiding-place he drew out a small bow and arrow. He sat down at a table and hastily wrote a few Chinese characters on a piece of paper, rolling up the note into a thin quill which he inserted into a prepared place in the arrow.
Then he raised the window and deftly shot the arrow out.
Down the street, back of the board fence, where the final conference has taken place, was a rather sleepy-looking Chinaman, taking an occasional puff at a cigarette doped with opium.
He jumped to his feet suddenly. With a thud an arrow had buried itself quivering in the fence. Quickly he seized it, drew out the note and read it.
In the Canton vernacular it read briefly: "He goes with much money."
It was enough. Instantly the startling news overcame the effect of the dope, and the Chinaman shuffled off quickly to the Tong headquarters.
They were waiting for him there, and he had scarcely delivered the message before their plans were made. One by one they left the headquarters, hiding in doorways, basements and areaways along the narrow street.
. . . . . . .
Long Sin was making his rounds, visiting all those whom the glitter of Wu's money could corrupt.
Suddenly from the shadows of a narrow street, lined with the stores of petty Chinese merchants, half a dozen lithe and murderous figures leaped out behind Long Sin and seized him. He struggled, but they easily threw him down.
Any one who has visited Chinatown knows that at every corner and bend of the crooked streets stands a policeman. It was scarcely a second before the noise of the scuffle was heard, but it was too late. The half dozen Tong men had seized the money which Long Sin carried and had deftly stripped him of everything else of value.
The sound of the approaching policeman now alarmed them. Just as the new Tong leader had raised an axe to bring it down with crushing force on Long Sin's skull a shot rang out and the axe fell from the broken wrist of the Chinaman.
In another moment the policeman had seized him. Then followed a sharp fight in which the Tong men's knowledge of jiu-jitsu stood them in good stead. The policeman was hurled aside, the Tong leader broke away, and one by one his followers disappeared through dark hallways and alleyways, leaving the policeman with only two prisoners and Long Sin lying on the sidewalk.
But the ring and the money were gone.
"Are you hurt much?" demanded the burly Irish officer, assisting Long Sin to his feet, none too gently.
Long Sin was furious over the loss of the precious ring, yet he knew to involve himself in the white man's law would end only in disaster both for him and his master. He forced a painful smile, shook his head and managed to get away down the street muttering.
He made his way up-town and back to the apartment of Wu, and there, pacing up and down in a fury, attended to his wounds.
His forefinger, from which the ring had been so ruthlessly snatched, was a constant reminder to him of the loss. Any one who could have studied the vengefulness of his face would have seen that it boded ill for some one.
. . . . . . .
It was the day after her return from Aunt Tabby's that Kennedy called again upon Elaine to find that she and Aunt Josephine were engaged in the pleasant pastime of arranging an entertainment.
Jennings announced Craig and held back the portieres as he entered.
"Oh, good!" cried Elaine as she saw him. "You are just in time. I was going to send you this, but I should much rather give it to you."
She handed him a tastefully engraved sheet of paper which he read with interest:
Miss Elaine Dodge requests the honor of your presence at an Oriental Reception on April 6th, at 8 o'clock.
"Very interesting," exclaimed Craig enthusiastically. "I shall be delighted to come."
He looked about a moment at the library which Elaine was already rearranging for the entertainment.
"Then you must work," she cried gaily. "You are just in time to help me buy the decorations. No objections—come along."
She took Kennedy's arm playfully.
"But I have a very important investigation for the Coroner that I am—"
"No excuses," she cried, laughingly, dragging him out.
Among the many places which Elaine had down on her shopping list was a small Chinese curio shop on lower Fifth avenue.
They entered and were greeted with a profound bow by the proprietor. He was the new Tong leader, and this up-town shop was his cover. In actual fact, he was what might have been called a Chinese fence for stolen goods.
In their interest in the wealth of strange and curious ornaments displayed in the shop they did not notice that the Chinaman's wrist was bound tightly under his flowing sleeve.
Elaine explained what it was she wanted, and with Kennedy's aid selected a number of Chinese hangings and decorations. They were about to leave the shop when Elaine's eye was attracted by a little show case in which were many quaint and valuable Chinese ornaments in gold and silver and covered ivory.
"What an odd looking thing," she said, pointing out a nobbed ring which reposed on the black velvet of the case.
"Quite odd," agreed Kennedy.
The subtle Chinaman stood by the pile of hangings on the counter which Elaine had bought, overjoyed at such a large sale. Praising the ring to Elaine, he turned insinuatingly to Kennedy. There was nothing else for Craig to do—he bought the ring, and the Chinaman proved again his ability as a merchant.
From the curio shop where Elaine had completed her purchases they drove to Kennedy's laboratory.
I had been at work on a story for the Star when they entered.
"You will be there, too, Mr. Jameson?" coaxed Elaine, as she told of their morning's work.
I needed no urging.
We were in the midst of planning the entertainment when a slight cough behind me made me start and turn quickly.
There stood Long Sin, the astute Chinaman who had delivered the bomb to Kennedy and had betrayed Bennett. We had seen very little of him since then.
Long Sin bowed low and shuffled over closer to Kennedy. I noticed that Elaine eyed Long Sin sharply. But as yet we had seen no reason to suspect him, so cleverly had he covered his tracks. Kennedy, having used him once to capture Bennett, was still not unwilling to use him in attempting to discover where Bennett's hidden millions lay.
"I am in great trouble, Professor Kennedy," began Long Sin in a low tone. "You don't know the Chinese of the city, but if you did you would know what blackmailers there are among them. I have refused to pay blackmail to the Chong Wah Tong, and since then it has been trouble, trouble, trouble."
Kennedy looked up quickly at the name Chong Wah Tong, thinking of the investigation which the Coroner had asked him to make into the murder. He and Long Sin moved a few steps away, discussing the affair.
Elaine and I were still talking over the entertainment.
She happened to place her hand on the desk near Long Sin. My back was toward him and I did not see him start suddenly and look at her hand. On it was the ring—the ring which, unknown to us, Long Sin had found in the passageway under Aunt Tabby's garden, of which he had been robbed, and which now, by a strange chance, had come into Elaine's possession.
It was a peculiar situation for Long Sin, although as yet we did not know it. He could not lay claim to the mystic ring, for then Kennedy would make him prove his ownership, and the whole affair of which we still knew nothing would be exposed.
He acted quickly. Long Sin decided to recover the ring by stealth.
Elaine was still talking enthusiastically about her party, when Long Sin turned from Kennedy and moved toward us with a bow.
"The lady speaks of an Oriental reception," he remarked. "Would she care to engage a magician?"
Elaine turned to him surprised. "Do you mean that you are a magician?" she asked, puzzled.
Long Sin smiled quietly. He reached over and took a small bottle from Kennedy's laboratory table. Holding it in his hand almost directly before us, he made a few sleight-of-hand passes, and, presto! the bottle had disappeared. A few more passes, and a test tube appeared in its place. Before we knew it he had caused the test tube to disappear and the bottle to reappear. We all applauded enthusiastically.
"I don't think that is such a bad idea after all," nodded Kennedy to Elaine.
"Perhaps not," she agreed, a little doubtfully. "I hadn't intended to have such a thing, but—why, of course, that would interest everybody."
. . . . . . .
It was the night of the reception. The Dodge library was transformed. The Oriental hangings which Elaine and Kennedy had purchased seemed to breathe mysticism. At the far end of the room a platform had been arranged to form a stage on which Long Sin was to perform his sleight-of-hand. The drawing-room also was decorated like the library.
At the other end of the room Elaine and Aunt Josephine, in picturesque Oriental costume, were greeting the guests. Every one seemed to be delighted with the novelty of the affair.
We came in just a bit ahead of Long Sin, and Elaine greeted us.
Almost everybody had arrived when Elaine turned to the guests and introduced Long Sin with a little speech. Long Sin bowed and every one applauded. He made his way to the platform in the library and mounted it.
I shall not attempt to describe the amazing series of tricks which he performed. His hands and fingers seemed to move like lightning. Among other things, I remember he took up a cover from a table near-by. He held it up before us. Instantly it seemed that a flock of pigeons flew out of it around the room. How he did it I don't know. They were real pigeons, however, and the trick brought down the house.
Long Sin bowed.
Another of his feats which I recall was nothing less than kindling a fire on a small bit of tin and, as the flames mounted, he deliberately stepped into them, apparently as unharmed as a salamander.
So it went from one thing to another. The entertainment was brilliant in itself, but Long Sin seemed to put the finishing touch to it. In fact, I suppose that it was a couple of hours that he continued to amuse us.
He had finished and every one crowded about him to congratulate him on his skill. His only answer, however, was his inscrutable smile.
"This is wonderful, wonderful," I repeated as I happened to meet Elaine alone. We walked into the conservatory while the guests were crowding around Long Sin. She seated herself for the first time during the evening.
"May I get you an ice?" I suggested.
She thanked me, and I hurried off. As I passed through the drawing-room I did not notice that Long Sin had managed to escape further congratulations of the guests. Just then a waiter passed through with ices on a tray. I called to him and he stopped.
A moment later Long Sin himself took an ice from the tray and retreated back of the portieres. No one was about, and he hastily drew a bottle from his pocket. On the bottle was a Chinese label. He palmed the bottle, and any one who had chanced to see him would have noticed that he passed it two or three times over the ice, then, lifting the portieres, entered the drawing-room again.
He had made the circuit of the rooms in such a way as to bring himself out directly in my path. With a smile he stopped before me, rubbing both hands together.
"It is for Miss Elaine?" he asked.
By this time several of the guests who were fascinated with Long Sin gathered about us. Long Sin fluttered open a Chinese fan which he had used in his tricks, passed it over my hand, and in some incomprehensible way I felt the plate with the ice literally disappear from my grasp. My face must have shown my surprise. A burst of laughter from the other guests greeted me. I looked at Long Sin, half angry, yet unable to say anything, for the joke was plainly on me. He smiled, made another pass with the fan, and instantly the plate with the ice was back in my hand.
There was nothing for me but to take the joke in the spirit in which the other guests had taken it. I laughed with them and managed to get away.
Meanwhile Kennedy had been moving from one to another of the guests seeking Elaine. He had already taken an ice from the waiter and was going in the direction of the conservatory. There he found her.
"Won't you take this ice?" he asked, handing it to her.
"It is very kind of you," she said, "but I have already sent Walter for one."
Kennedy insisted and she took it.
She had already started to eat it when I appeared in the doorway. I was rather vexed at Long Sin for having delayed me, and I mumbled something about it.
Kennedy laughed, rather pleased at having beaten me.
"Never mind, Walter," he said with a smile, "I'll take it. And er- -I don't think that Elaine will object if you play the host for a little while with Aunt Josephine," he hinted.
I saw that three was a crowd and I turned to retrace my steps to the drawing-room.
Kennedy, however, was not alone. Back of the palms in the conservatory two beady black eyes were eagerly watching. Long Sin had noted every movement as his cleverly laid plan miscarried.
Chatting with animation, Kennedy tasted the ice. He had taken only a couple of spoonfuls when a look of wonder and horror seemed to spread over his face.
He rose quickly. A cold sweat seemed to break out all over him. His nerves almost refused to respond. His tongue seemed to be paralyzed and the muscles of his throat seemed to be like steel bands.
He took only a few steps, began to stagger, and finally sank down on the floor.
We rushed in from the library and drawing-room. There lay Kennedy on the floor, his face most terribly contorted. We gathered around him and he tried to raise himself and speak, but seemed unable to utter a sound.
He had fallen near the fountain and one hand drooped over into the water. As he fell back he seemed to have only just enough strength to withdraw his hand from the fountain. On the stone coping, slowly and laboriously, he moved his finger.
"What's the matter, old man?" I asked, bending over him.
There was no answer, but he managed to turn his head, and I followed the direction of his eyes.
With trembling finger he was tracing out, one by one, some letters. I looked and it flashed over me what he meant. He had written with the water:
I jumped up and almost without a word dashed out of the conservatory, down the hall and into the first car waiting outside.
"To the laboratory," I directed, giving the driver the directions, "and drive like the deuce!"
Fortunately there was no one to stop us, and I know we broke all the speed laws of New York. I dashed into the laboratory, almost broke open the cabinet, and seized the bottle of digitalin and a hypodermic syringe, then rushed madly out again and into the car.
Meanwhile some of the guests had lifted up Kennedy, too excited to notice Long Sin in his hiding-place. They had laid Craig down on a couch and were endeavoring to revive him. Some one had already sent for a doctor, but the aconite was working quickly on its victim, and he was slowly stiffening out. Elaine was frantic.
I scarcely waited for the car to stop in front of the house. I opened the door and rushed in.
Without a word I thrust the antidote and the syringe into the hands of the doctor and he went to work immediately. We watched with anxiety. Finally Kennedy's eyes opened and gradually his breathing seemed to become more normal.
The antidote had been given in time.
. . . . . . .
Kennedy was considerably broken up by the narrow escape which he had had, and, naturally, even the next morning, did not feel like himself.
In the excitement of leaving Elaine's we had forgotten the bottle of digitalin. As for myself, I had been so overjoyed at seeing my old friend restored that I would have forgotten anything.
Kennedy looked rather wan and peaked, but insisted on going to the laboratory as usual.
"Do you remember what became of the bottle of digitalin?" he asked, fumbling in the closet.
Mechanically I felt in my own pockets; it was not there. I shook my head.
"I don't seem to remember what became of it—perhaps we left it there. In fact, we must have left it there."
"I don't like to have such things lying around loose," remarked Kennedy, taking up his hat and coat with forced energy. "I think we had better get it."
Elaine had spent rather a sleepless night after the attempt to poison her which had miscarried and resulted in poisoning Kennedy.
To keep her mind off the thing, she had already started to take down the decorations. Jennings and Marie, as well as a couple of workmen, were restoring the library to its normal condition under the direction of Aunt Josephine.
The telephone rang and Elaine answered it. Her face showed that something startling had happened.
"It was Jameson," she cried, almost dropping the receiver, overcome.
They all hurried to her. "He says that Mr. Kennedy and he were visiting that Chinaman this morning and Mr. Kennedy suffered a relapse—is dying there, in the Chinaman's apartment. He wants us to come quickly and bring that medicine that they used last night. He says it is on the tabaret in the library. Marie, will you look for it? And, Jennings, get the car right away."
Jennings hurried from the room, and a moment later Marie had found the bottle behind some ornaments on the tabaret and came back with it.
Scarcely knowing what to do, Elaine, followed by Aunt Josephine, had rushed from the house, hatless and coatless, just as the car swung around from the garage in the rear. Jennings went out with the wraps. They seized them and leaped into the car, which started off swiftly.
It was only a matter of minutes when they pulled up before the apartment house where Wu had taken the suite from which Long Sin had telephoned the message in my name. Together Elaine and Aunt Josephine hurried in.
. . . . . . .
Kennedy went directly from the laboratory to the Dodge house.
I don't think I ever saw such an expression of surprise on anybody's face as that on Jennings's when he opened the door and saw us. He was aghast. Back of him we could see Marie. She looked as if she had seen a ghost.
"Is Miss Elaine in?" asked Kennedy.
Jennings was even too dumfounded to speak.
"Why, what's the matter?" demanded Kennedy.
"Then—er—you are not ill again?" he managed to blurt out.
"Ill again?" repeated Kennedy.
"Why," explained Jennings, "didn't Mr. Jameson just now telephone that you had had a relapse in the apartment of that Chinaman, and for Miss Elaine to hurry over there right away with that bottle of medicine?" Kennedy waited to hear no more. Seizing me by the arm, he turned and dashed down the steps and back again into the taxicab in which we had come.
. . . . . . .
In Wu's apartment Long Sin was giving his secretary and another Chinaman the most explicit instructions. As he finished each nodded and showed him a Chinese dirk concealed under his blouse.
Just then a knock sounded at the door. The secretary opened it, and Aunt Josephine and Elaine almost ran in. Before they knew it, the secretary had locked the door.
Long Sin rose and bowed with a smile.
"Where is Mr. Kennedy?" demanded Elaine. Long Sin bowed again, spreading out his hands, palm outward.
"Mr. Kennedy? He is not here."
Then, straightening up, he faced the two women squarely.
"You have a ring that means much to me," he said quickly. "The only way to get it from you was to bring you here."
He was pointing now at the ring on Elaine's finger. She looked at it a moment in surprise, then at the menacing Chinaman, and turned quickly. She ran to the door. It was locked.
Long Sin, motionless, smiled. "There is no way to get out," he murmured.
Aunt Josephine was standing now with her back to the door leading into another room. She happened to look up and saw the secretary, who was near her and half turned away. From where she was standing she could see the murderous dirk up his sleeve.
She acted instantly. Without a word she summoned all her strength and struck him. The secretary stumbled.
"Elaine," she cried, "look out! they have knives."
Before Elaine knew it Aunt Josephine had taken her by the arm, had pulled her into the back room, and, although Long Sin and the others had rushed forward, managed to slam the door and lock it.
The Chinamen set to work immediately to pry it open.
While they were at work on the doer, which was already swaying, Aunt Josephine and Elaine were running about, trying to find an outlet from the room.
There seemed to be no way out. Even the windows were locked.
"I don't know why they want the ring," whispered Aunt Josephine, "but they won't get it. Give it to me, Elaine."
She almost seized the ring, hiding it in her waist. As she did so the door burst open and Wu, Long Sin and the other Chinamen rushed in.
A second later they seized Elaine and Aunt Josephine.
. . . . . . .
Kennedy and I dashed up before the apartment house in which we knew that Long Sin lived, leaped out of the car and hurried in.
It was on the second floor, and we did not wait for the elevator but took the steps two at a time. Kennedy found the door locked. Instantly he whipped out his revolver and shot the lock in pieces. We threw ourselves against the door, the broken lock gave way and we rushed in through the front room.
No one was there, but in a back room we could hear sounds. It was Elaine and Aunt Josephine struggling with the Chinamen. Long Sin and the others had seized Elaine and Aunt Josephine was trying to help her just as we rushed in. With a blow Kennedy knocked out the secretary, while I struggled with the other Chinamen who blocked the way.
Then Kennedy went directly at Long Sin. They struggled furiously.
Long Sin, with his wonderful knowledge of jiu-jitsu, might not have been a match for six other Chinamen, but he was for one white man. With a mighty effort he threw Kennedy, rushed for the door and, as he passed through the outside room, seized a Tong axe from the wall.
Afraid of the wonderful jiu-jitsu, I had picked up the first thing handy, which was a tabaret. I literally broke it over the head of my Chinaman, then turned and dashed out after Long Sin just as Kennedy picked himself up and followed.
I caught up with the Chinaman and we had a little struggle, but he managed to break away and raised his axe threateningly. A shout from Kennedy caused him to turn and run down the flight of stairs, Kennedy closely behind him.
In the main hall of the apartment house were two elevator shafts facing the street entrance, some twenty-five or thirty feet away. Through the street door the janitor and two or three other men were running in. They had heard the noise of the fighting above.
Escape to the street was cut off. We were behind him on the flight of stairs.
Long Sin did not hesitate a moment. He ran to the elevator, the door of which was open, seized the elevator boy and sent him sprawling on the marble floor. Then he slammed the door and the elevator shot up.
Kennedy was only a few feet behind, and he took in the situation at a glance. He leaped into the other elevator, and before the surprised boy could interfere shot it up only a few feet behind Long Sin.
Up the two elevators rose, Kennedy firing as best he could at Long Sin, while the shots reverberated through the elevator shaft like cannon.
It was a wild race to the roof. Long Sin had the start, and as the elevator reached the top floor he flung it open, dashed out and through a door up to the roof itself.
A second later Kennedy's elevator stopped. Craig leaped out and fired his last shot at the legs of Long Sin as he disappeared at the top of the flight of stairs to the roof. He flung the revolver from him and followed.
Without a moment's hesitation Kennedy threw himself at Long Sin. They struggled with each other. Finally Long Sin managed to wrench one arm lose and raise the Tong axe over Kennedy's head.
Kennedy dodged back. As he did so he tripped on the very edge of the roof and went sliding down the slates of the mansard.
Fortunately he was able to catch himself in the gutter.
It was the opportunity that Long Sin wanted. He started across the rope, which he had stretched from this apartment house to the building across the court, with all the deftness of the most expert Chinese acrobat.
By this time I had reached the roof, followed by the janitor and the elevator boys.
Kennedy was now crawling up the mansard, helping himself as best he could by some of the ornamental ironwork. I hurried over with the janitor, and together we pulled him out of danger.
Long Sin had reached the roof on the opposite side as we ran across in the direction of the taut rope.
A moment later he returned and bowed at us mockingly, then disappeared behind a skylight.
Kennedy did not stop an instant.
"You fellows go down to the street and see if you can head him off that way," he cried. "Stay here, Walter."
Before I knew it he had seized the rope and was going across to the other building, hand over hand. It was a perilous undertaking, but his blood was up.
Kennedy had almost reached the other roof when suddenly from behind the skylight stepped Long Sin. With a wicked leer, he advanced to the edge of the roof, his axe upraised. I looked across the yawning chasm, horrified.
Slowly Long Sin raised the axe above his head, gathering all the strength which he had, waiting for Kennedy to approach closer. Kennedy stopped. Swiftly the axe descended, slashing the rope at one blow.
Like the weight of a pendulum Kennedy swung back against our own building, managing to keep his hold on the rope with superhuman strength.
I bent far over the edge of the roof, fully expecting to see him dashed to pieces at the bottom of the court.
There was a tremendous shattering of glass.
The rope had been just long enough to make him strike a window and he had gone crashing through the glass three floors below.
I dashed down the stairs and into the apartment. Kennedy was lying on the floor badly cut. I raised him up. He was dazed and considerably overcome; but as he staggered to his feet with my help I saw that no bones were broken.
"Help me, quick, Walter," he urged, moving toward the elevators.
Meanwhile Long Sin had quickly dived down into the next building. A few moments later he had come out on the ground floor at the rear.
Gazing about to see whether he was followed, he disappeared.
. . . . . . .
Back in the apartment, Elaine and Aunt Josephine were just about to run out when the two Chinamen who had been knocked out recovered. One of them threw himself on Elaine. Aunt Josephine tried to ward him off, but the other one struck her and threw her down.
Before she could recover they had seized Elaine.
With a hasty guttural exclamation they picked her up and ran out. Instead of going down-stairs they crossed the hallway, slamming the door behind them.
As Kennedy and I reached the ground floor we saw the janitor and one of the elevator boys on either side of Aunt Josephine.
"Elaine! Elaine!" she cried.
"What's the matter?" demanded Kennedy, leaning heavily on me.
"They have kidnapped her," cried Aunt Josephine.
Kennedy pulled himself together.
"Tell me, quick—how did it happen?" he demanded of Aunt Josephine.
"It was the ring," she cried, handing it to him.
Kennedy took the ring and looked at it for a moment. Then he turned to us blankly.
All the rooms were empty.
Elaine had been spirited away.
THE WATCHING EYE
Not a clue was left by the kidnappers when they so mysteriously spirited Elaine away from the apartment of Wu Fang. She had disappeared as completely as if she had vanished into the thin air.
Kennedy was frantic. Wu and Long Sin themselves seemed to have vanished, too. Where they held her, what had happened to her was a sealed book. And yet, no move of ours was made, no matter how secret, that it did not seem to be known to them. It was as though a weird, uncanny eye glared at us, watching everything.
Craig neglected no possibility in his eager search. He even visited the little house in the country which Elaine had given to Aunt Tabby, and spent several hours examining the collapsed subterranean chamber in the vain hope that it might yield a clue. But it had not.
It was half filled with debris from above, where the pillar had given way that night when we had all so nearly lost our lives. Still, there was enough room in what remained of the cavern so that we could move about.
Kennedy had even dug away some of the earth and rock, in the hope of discovering some trace of the strange visitor whom we had surprised at work. But here, also, he had found nothing.
It was maddening. What might at any moment be happening to Elaine- -and he powerless to help her?
Unescapably, he was forced to the conclusion that not only Elaine's amazing disappearance, but the tragic succession of events which had preceded it, had been caused, in some way, by the curiously engraved ring which Aunt Josephine had taken from Elaine.
Craig had taken possession of the mystic ring himself, and now, forced back on this sole clue, it had occurred to him that if the ring were so valuable, other attempts would, without doubt, be made to get possession of it.
I came into the laboratory, one afternoon, to find Kennedy surrounded by jeweler's tools, hard at work making an exact copy of the ring.
"What do you think of it, Walter?" he asked, holding up the replica.
"Perfect," I replied, admiringly. "What are you going to do with it?"
"I can't say—yet," answered Kennedy, forlornly, "but if I understand these Chinese criminals at all, I know that the only way we can ever track them is through some trick. Perhaps the replica will suggest something to us later."
He placed the copy in a velvet-lined box closely resembling that in which the real ring lay, and dropped both into his pocket.
"Let's see if Aunt Josephine has received any word," he remarked abruptly, putting on his hat and coat, and nodding to me to follow.
Kennedy and I were not the only visitors to the subterranean chamber where it had seemed that the clue to the Clutching Hand's millions might be found.
It was as though that hidden, watching eye followed us. The night after our own unsuccessful search, Wu Fang, accompanied by Long Sin, made his way into the cavern.
As they flashed their electric bull's-eyes about the place, they could see readily that we had already been digging there.
Wu examined the safe which had been broken into, while Long Sin repeated his experiences there.
"And you say there was nothing else in it?" demanded Wu.
"Nothing but the ring which they got from me," replied Long Sin, ruefully.
"Strange—very strange," ruminated Wu, still regarding the empty strong box.
Long Sin was now going over the walls of the cavern minutely, his close-set, beady black eyes examining every square inch of it.
A sudden low guttural exclamation caused Wu to turn to him quickly. Long Sin had discovered, back of the debris, a small oblong slot, cut into the rock. Above it were some peculiar marks.
Wu hurried over to his henchman, and together they tried to decipher what had been scratched on the rock.
As Long Sin's slender and sinister forefinger traced over the inscription, Wu suddenly caught him by the elbow.
"The ring!" he cried, as at last he interpreted the meaning of the cryptic characters.
But what about the ring? For a moment Wu looked at the slot in deep thought. Then he reached down and withdrew a ring from his own finger and dropped it through the slot.
They listened a moment. They could hear the ring tinkle as though it were running down some sort of track-like declivity inside the rock. Then, faintly, they could hear it drop. It had fallen into a little cup of a compartment below at their feet.
Nothing happened. Wu recovered his ring. But he had hit at last upon the Clutching Hand's secret!
Bennett had devised a ring-lock which would open, the treasure vault. No other ring except the one which he had so carefully hidden was of the size or weight that would move the lever which would set the machinery working to open the treasure house.
Again Wu tried another of his own rings, and a third time Long Sin dropped in a ring from his finger. Still there was no result.
"The ring which we lost is the key to the puzzle—the only key," exclaimed Wu Fang finally. "We must recover it at all hazard."
To his subtle mind a plan of action seemed to unfold almost instantly. "There is no good remaining here," he added. "And we have gained nothing by the capture of the girl, unless we can use her to recover the ring."
Long Sin followed his master with a sort of intuition. "If we have to steal it," he suggested deferentially, "it can be accomplished best by making use of Chong Wah Tong."
The Tong was the criminal band which they had offended, which had in fact stolen the ring from Long Sin and sold it to Elaine. Yet in a game such as this enmity could not last when it was mutually disadvantageous. Wu took the suggestion. He decided instantly to make peace with his enemies—and use them.
Later that night, in his car, Wu stopped near the little curio shop kept by the new Tong leader.
Long Sin alighted and entered the shop, while the Tong man eyed him suspiciously.
"My master has come to make peace," he began, saluting the Tong leader behind the counter.
Nothing, in reality, could have pleased the Tong men more, for in their hearts they feared the master-like subtlety of Wu Fang. The conference was short and Long Sin with a bow left quickly to rejoin Wu, while the Tong leader disappeared into a back room of the shop where several of the inner circle sat.
"All is well, master," reported Long Sin when he had made his way back to the car around the corner in which Wu was waiting.
Wu smiled and a moment later followed by his slave in crime entered the curio shop and passed through with great dignity into the room in the rear.
As the two entered, the Tong men bowed with great respect.
"Let us be enemies no more," began Wu briefly. "Let us rather help each other as brothers."
He extended his right hand, palm down, as he spoke. For a moment the Tong leader parleyed with the others, then stepped forward and laid his own hand, palm down, over that of Wu. One by one the others did the same, including Long Sin, the aggrieved.
Peace was restored.
Wu had risen to go, and the Tong men were bowing a respectful farewell. He turned and saw a large vase. For a moment he paused before it. It was an enormous affair and was apparently composed of a mosaic of rare Chinese enamels, cunningly put together by the deft and patient fingers of the oriental craftsmen. Extending from the widely curving bowl below was an extremely long, narrow, tapering neck.
Wu looked at it intently; then an idea seemed to strike him. He called the Tong leader and the others about him.
Quickly he outlined the details of a plan.
. . . . . . .
"Have you received any word yet?" asked Aunt Josephine anxiously, when Jennings had ushered us into the Dodge library.
Kennedy shook his head sadly. There was no need to repeat the question to Aunt Josephine. The tears in her eyes told only too plainly that she herself had heard nothing, either.
Craig bent over and placed his hand on her shoulder. For the moment, none of us could control our emotions.
A few minutes later, Jennings entered the room softly again. "The expressmen are outside, ma'am, with a large package," he said.
"A package?" inquired Aunt Josephine, looking up, surprised. "For me—are you sure?"
Jennings bowed and repeated his remark. Aunt Josephine followed him out into the hall.
There, already, the delivery men had set down a huge oriental vase with a remarkably long and narrow neck. It was, as befitted such a really beautiful object of art, most carefully crated. But to Aunt Josephine it came as a complete surprise. "I can't imagine who could have sent it," she temporized. "Are you quite sure it is for me?"
The expressman, with a book, looked up from the list of names down which he was running his finger. "This is Mrs. Dodge, isn't it?" he asked, pointing with his pencil to the entry with the address following it. There seemed to be no name of a shipper.
"Yes," she replied dubiously, "but I don't understand it. Wait just a moment"
She went to the library door. "Mr. Kennedy," she said, "may I trouble you and Mr. Jameson a moment?"
We followed her into the hall and there stood gazing at the mysterious gift while she related its recent history.
"Why not set it up in the library?" I suggested, seeing that the expressmen were getting restive at the delay. "If there is any mistake, they will send for it soon. No one ever gets anything for nothing."
Aunt Josephine turned to the expressmen and nodded. With the aid of Jennings they carried the vase into the library and there it was uncrated, while Kennedy continued to question the man with the book, without eliciting any further information than that he thought it had been reconsigned from another express company. He knew nothing more than that it had been placed on his wagon, properly marked and prepaid.
When Kennedy rejoined us, the vase had been completely uncrated, Aunt Josephine signed for it, and, grumbling a bit, the expressmen left. There we stood, nonplussed by the curious gift.
Craig walked around the vase, looking at it critically. I had a feeling of being watched, one of those sensations which psychologists tell us are utterly baseless and unfounded. I was glad I had not said anything about it when he tapped the vase with his cane, then stuck it down the long narrow neck, working it around as well as he could. The neck was so long and narrow, however, that his stick could not fully explore the inside of the vase, but it seemed to me to be quite empty.
"Well, there's nothing in it, anyhow," I ventured.
I had spoken too soon. Kennedy withdrew his cane and on the ferrule, adhering as though by some sticky substance, was a note. Kennedy pulled it off and unfolded it, while we gathered about him.
"Maybe it's from Elaine," cried Aunt Josephine, grasping at a straw.
DEAR AUNT JOSEPHINE,
This is a token that I am unharmed. Have Mr. Kennedy give the ring to the man at the corner of Williams and Brownlee Avenues at midnight to-night, and they will surrender me to him.—ELAINE.
P. S. Have him come alone or my life will be in danger.
We looked at each other in amazement.
"I thought something like this would happen," remarked Craig at length.
"Oh," cried Aunt Josephine, "it's too good to be true."
"We'll do it," exclaimed Kennedy quickly, "only this is the ring that we'll give them."
He drew from his pocket the replica of the ring which he had made and showed it to Aunt Josephine. Then he drew from another pocket the real ring, replacing the replica.
"Here's the real one," he said in a low tone. "Guard it as you would guard your life."
She took the ring, almost fearfully. It seemed as if nothing but misfortune had followed it. Still, she realized that it was necessary that she should take care of it, if the plan was to work.
"And, oh, Mr. Kennedy," she implored, as we rose to go, "please get back my little girl for me."
Craig clasped her hand. "I'll try my best," he replied fervently, patting her shoulder to cheer her up, as she sank into a chair.
Aunt Josephine was worn out with the sleepless nights of worry since Elaine's disappearance. After we had gone, she tried to eat dinner, but found that she had no appetite.
All the evening she sat in the library, with a book at which she stared, though she scarcely read a page. However, as the hours lengthened, she found herself nodding through sheer exhaustion.
It was getting late and her thoughts were still on Elaine, At the desk in the library, she was examining the curious ring, which she had taken from her jewel case, thinking of the terrible train of events that had followed it.
Although she had intended to sit up until she received some word from Kennedy that night, the long strain had told on her and in spite of her worry about Elaine, she decided, at length, to retire. She replaced the ring in the case, locked the case, and turned out the lights.
"Good night, Jennings," she said, as she passed the faithful old butler in the hall.
"Good night, ma'am," he replied, pausing on his rounds to see that the doors and windows were locked.
Aunt Josephine, clasping the jewel case tightly, mounted the stairs and entered her room. She locked the door carefully and put the jewelry case under her pillow. Then she switched off the light.
The moment Jennings's footsteps ceased down-stairs in the library, a small piece of the vase seemed to break away from the rest of the mosaic, as though it were knocked out from the inside. Then a large piece fell out, and another.
At last from the strange hiding-place a lithe figure, as shiny as though bathed in oil, naked except for a loin-cloth, seemed to squirm forth like a serpent. It was Wu Fang—the watchful eye which, literally as well as figuratively, had been leveled at us in one form or another ever since the kidnapping of Elaine.
Silently he tiptoed to the doorway and listened. There was not a sound. Just as noiselessly then he went back to the library table and muffling the telephone bell, took down the receiver. He whispered a number, waited, then whispered some directions.
A moment later he wormed his way out of the library and into the drawing-room. On he went cautiously, snake-like, up the stairs until he came to the door of Aunt Josephine's room.
He bent down and listened. There was no sound except Aunt Josephine's breathing. Silently he drew from a fold in the loin- cloth a screwdriver and removed the screws from the hinges of the door. Quietly he pushed the bedroom door open, pivoting it on the lock, just far enough open so that he could slip through.
Creeping along the floor, like a reptile whose sign he had assumed, he came nearer and nearer Aunt Josephine's bed. As he paused for a moment his quick eye seemed to catch sight of the bulging lump under her pillow. His long thin hand reached out for it.
Aunt Josephine moved restlessly in her sleep. Instantly he seized a murderous-looking Chinese dirk fastened to his side and raised it above her head ready to strike on the slightest outcry. She moved slightly, and relapsed into sound sleep again.
Holding the knife above her, Wu slowly and quietly removed the jewel-case from under her pillow.
. . . . . . .
In a country road-house Long Sin was waiting patiently. The telephone rang and the proprietor answered. Long Sin was at his side almost before he could hand over the receiver. It was Long Sin's master, Wu.
"Beware," came the whispered message over the wire. "Kennedy has made a false ring. I'll get the real one. By the great Devil of Gobi, you must cut him off."
"It is done," returned Long Sin, hanging up the receiver in great excitement.
He hurried out of the room and left the road-house. Down the road in an automobile, bound between two Chinamen, one at her head and the other at her feet, was Elaine, wrapped around in blankets, not even her face visible. The guards looked up startled as Long Sin streaked out of the shadow to the car.
"Quick!" he ordered. "The master will get the ring himself. I will take care of Kennedy."
An instant and they were gone, while Long Sin slunk back into the shadows from which he had come.
Through the underbrush the wily Chinaman made his way to an old barn, which stood back some distance from the road, and entered the front door. There was another door in the rear, and one quite large window.
In the dim light of a lantern hanging from a rafter could be seen several large barrels in a corner. Without a moment's hesitation, Long Sin seized a bucket and placed it under the spiggot of one of the barrels. The liquid poured forth into the bucket and he emptied the contents on the floor, filling the bucket again and again and swinging it right and left in every direction until the barrel had finally run dry.
Then he moved over to the window, which he examined carefully. Satisfied with what he had done, he drew a slip of paper from his pocket and hastily wrote a note, resting the paper on an old box. When he had finished writing, he folded up the note and thrust it into a little hollow carved Chinese figure which he took also from his pocket.
These were, apparently, his emergency preparations which he was ready to execute in case he received such a message from his master as he had actually received.
With a final hasty glance about he extinguished the lantern, letting the moonlight stream fitfully through the single window. Then he left the barn, with both front and rear doors open.
Taking advantage of every bit of shelter, he made his way across the field in the direction of the crossroads, finally dropping down behind a huge rock some yards from the finger post that pointed each way to Williams and Brownlee Avenues.
. . . . . . .
Late that night, Kennedy left his apartment prepared to follow the instructions in the note which had been so strangely delivered in the vase.
As he climbed into a roadster, he tucked the robe most carefully into a corner under the leather seat.
"For heaven's sake, Craig," I gasped from under the robe, "let me have a little air."
I had taken my place under the robe before the car was driven up before the apartment, lest some emissary of Wu Fang might be watching to see that there was no such trick.
"You'll get air enough when we get started, Walter," he laughed back under his breath, apparently addressing the engine.
Kennedy was a hard driver when he wanted to be and enough was at stake to-night to make him drive hard. He whizzed along in the roadster, and I was indeed glad enough to huddle up under the robe.
We had reached a point in the suburbs which was deserted and I did not recognize a thing when he pulled up by the side of the road with a jerk. I peered through a crease in the corner of the robe, and saw him slide out from under the wheel and stand by the side of the car, looking up and down. Ahead of us the road curved sharply and I had no idea what was there, though Kennedy seemed to know the place.
A moment later he pulled the robe partly off me, and bent down as though examining the batteries on the side of the car.
"Get out on the other side in the shadow of the car, Walter," he whispered hoarsely. "Go down the road a bit—only cut in and keep under cover. This is Williams Avenue. You'll see a big rock. Hide behind it. Ahead you'll see Brownlee Avenue. Be prepared for anything. I shall have to trust the rest to you. I don't know myself what's going to happen."
I slid out and went along the edge of the road, as Craig had directed, and finally crouched behind a huge rock, feeling on as much tension as if I had been a boy playing at Wild West. Only this might at any moment develop into the reality of a Wild Far East.
After a moment to give me a chance, Craig himself left the car pulled up close by the side of the road and went ahead on foot. At last he came to the cross-roads just around the bend, where in the moonlight he could read the sign: "Williams Avenue" and "Brownlee Avenue." He stood there a moment, then glanced at his watch which registered both hands approaching the hour of twelve. He gazed about at the deserted country. Had the appointment been a hoax, after all, a scheme to get him away from the city for some purpose?
Suddenly, at his feet in the dust of the road something heavy seemed to drop. He looked about quickly. No one was in sight.
He reached down and picked up a little Chinese figure. Tapping it with his knuckle, he examined it curiously. It was hollow.
From the inside he drew out a piece of paper. He strained his eyes in the moonlight and managed to make out:
The Serpent is all-wise, and his fang is fatal. You have signed the white girl's death warrant.
Beneath this sinister warning was stamped the serpent sign of Wu Fang.
It was not a hoax, and Kennedy stood there a moment gazing about in tense anxiety. Had that uncanny watching eye observed his every action? Was it staring at him now in the blackness?
. . . . . . .
Meanwhile, I had made my way stealthily, peering into the bushes and careful not even to step on anything that would make a noise and was now, as I have said, crouched behind the big rock to which Craig had directed me. I heard him go along the road and looked about cautiously, but could hear and see nothing else.
I had begun to wonder whether Kennedy might not have made a mistake when, suddenly, from behind the shadow of another rock, ahead of me, but toward Brownlee Avenue, I saw a tall, gaunt figure of a man rise in the moonlight, almost as if it had sprung from the very earth.
My heart gave a leap, as he quickly raised his right arm and hurled something as far as he could in the direction that Kennedy had taken. If it had been a bomb, followed by an explosion, I would not have been surprised. But no sound followed as the figure dropped back as if it had been a wraith.
I stole out from my own hiding-place in the shadow of my rock and darted quickly to the shelter of a bush, nearer the figure.
The figure was no wraith. It turned to steal away. I remembered Kennedy's parting words. If the man ever gained the darkness of a clump of woods, just beyond us, he was as good as safe. This was the time to act.
I leaped at him and we went down, rolling over and over in the underbrush and stubble. We fought fiercely, but I could not seem to get a glimpse of his face which was muffled.
He was powerful and stronger than I and after a tough tussle he broke loose. But I had succeeded, nevertheless. I had delayed him just long enough. Kennedy heard the sound of the struggle and was now crashing through the hedge at the cross-roads in our direction.
I managed to pick myself up, just as Kennedy reached my side and, together, we followed the retreating figure, as it made its way among the shadows. Across the open space before us we followed him and at last saw him dive into an old barn.
A moment later we followed hot-foot into the barn. As we entered, we could hear a peculiar grating noise, as though a door was swung on its rusty hinges. The front door was open. Evidently the man had gone through and closed the back door.
We threw ourselves against the back door. But it did not yield. There was no time to waste and we turned to rush out again by the way we had come, just as the front door was slammed shut.
The man had trapped us. He had left both doors open, had run through, braced the back door, then had rushed around outside just in time to brace the front door also.