Kategoria: Sensacja, thriller, horror Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1923

The Clue of the New Pin ebook

Edgar Wallace

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Opinie o ebooku The Clue of the New Pin - Edgar Wallace

Fragment ebooka The Clue of the New Pin - Edgar Wallace

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

About Wallace:

Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace (April 1, 1875–February 10, 1932) was a prolific British crime writer, journalist and playwright, who wrote 175 novels, 24 plays, and countless articles in newspapers and journals. Over 160 films have been made of his novels, more than any other author. In the 1920s, one of Wallace's publishers claimed that a quarter of all books read in England were written by him. (citation needed) He is most famous today as the co-creator of "King Kong", writing the early screenplay and story for the movie, as well as a short story "King Kong" (1933) credited to him and Draycott Dell. He was known for the J. G. Reeder detective stories, The Four Just Men, the Ringer, and for creating the Green Archer character during his lifetime. Source: Wikipedia

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Chapter 1


THE establishment of Yeh Ling was just between the desert of Reed Street and the sown of that great and glittering thoroughfare which is theatreland. The desert graduated down from the respectable, if gloomy, houses where innumerable milliners, modistes, and dentists had their signs before the doors and their workrooms and clinics on divers landings, to the howling wilderness of Bennet Street, and in this particular case the description often applied so lightly is aptly and faithfully affixed, for Bennet Street howled by day and howled in a shriller key by night. Its roadway was a playground for the progeny of this prolific neighbourhood, and a "ring" in which all manner of local blood-feuds were settled by waist-bare men, whilst their slatternly women squealed their encouragement or vocalized their apprehensions.

Yeh Ling's restaurant had begun at the respectable end of the street and he had specialized in strange Chinese dishes.

Later it had crept nearer and nearer and nearer to The Lights, one house after another having been acquired by the unhappy-looking Oriental, its founder.

Then, with a rush, it arrived on the main street, acquired a rich but sedate facia, a French chef, and a staff of Italian waiters under the popular Signor Maciduino, most urbane of maitres d'hotel, and because of gilded and visible tiles, became "The Golden Roof." Beneath those tiles it was a place of rosewood panelling and soft shaded lights. There was a gilded elevator to carry you to the first and second floors where the private dining-rooms were—these had doors of plate-glass, curtained diaphanously. Yeh Ling thought that this was carrying respectability a little too far, but his patron was adamant on the matter.

Certain rooms had no plate-glass doors, but these were very discreetly apportioned. One such was never under any circumstances hired to diners, however important or impeccable they might be. It was the end room, No. 6, near the service doorway which led through a labyrinth of crooked and cross passages to the old building in Reed Street. This remained almost unchanged as it had been in the days of Yeh Ling's earlier struggles. Men and women came here for Chinese dishes and were supplied by soft-footed waiters from Han-Kow, which was Yeh Ling's native province.

The patrons of the old establishment lamented the arrival of Yeh Ling's prosperity and sneered at his well-dressed customers. The well-dressed customers being, for the most part, entirely ignorant that their humble neighbours had existence, ate their expensive meals unmoved and at certain hours danced sedately to the strains of The Old Original South Carolina Syncopated Orchestra, which Yeh Ling had hired regardless of expense.

He only visited the fashionable part of his property on one day of the year, the Chinese New Year, a queer little figure in a swallow-tailed coat, white-vested, white-gloved, and tightly, as well as whitely, collared.

At other times he sat at ease midway between the desert and the sown in a pokey little parlour hung about with vivid pictures which he had cut from the covers of magazines. Here, in a black silk robe, he pulled at his long-stemmed pipe. At half-past seven every night, except Sundays, he went to a door which opened on to the street, and was the door of one of those houses which linked the two restaurants, and here he would wait, his hand upon the knob. Sometimes the girl came first, sometimes the old man. Whichever it was, they usually passed in without a word and went up to Room No. 6. With their arrival Yeh Ling went back to his parlour to smoke and write letters of great length and beauty to his son at Han-Kow, for Yeh Ling's son was a man of great learning and position, being both a poet and a scholar. He had been admitted a member of the Forest of Pencils, which is at least the equivalent of being elected an Academician.

Sometimes Yeh Ling would devote himself to the matter of his new building at Shanford and dream dreams of an Excellency who would be its honoured master—for all things are possible in a land which makes education a test of choice for Ambassadorial appointments.

He never saw the two guests depart. They found their way to the door alone, and soon after eight the room was empty, No waiter served them; their meals were placed in readiness on a small buffet, and as No. 6 was veiled from the observations of the curious by a curtain which stretched across the passage, only Yeh Ling knew them.

On the first Monday of every month, Yeh Ling went up to the room and kow-towed to its solitary occupant. The old man was always alone on these occasions. On such a Monday with a large lacquered cash-box in his hand and a fat book under his arm, Yeh Ling entered the presence of the man in No. 6, put down his impedimenta on the buffet, and did his reverence.

"Sit down," said Jesse Trasmere, and he spoke in the sibilant dialect of the lower provinces. Yeh Ling obeyed, hiding his hands respectfully in the full sleeves of his gown.


"The profits this week have fallen, excellency," said Yeh Ling, but without apology. "The weather has been very fine and many of our clients are out of town."

He exposed his hands to open the cash-box and bring out four packages of paper money. These he divided into two, three of the packages to the right and one to the left. The old man took the three packages, which were nearest to him, and grunted.

"The police came last night and asked to be shown over the houses," Yeh Ling went on impassively. "They desired to see the cellars, because they think always that Chinamen have smoke-places in their cellars."

"Humph!" said Mr. Trasmere. He was thumbing the money in his hand. "This is good, Yeh Ling."

He slipped the money into a black bag which was on the floor at his feet. Yeh Ling shook his head, thereby indicating his agreement.

"Do you remember in Fi Sang a man who worked for me?"

"The Drinker?"

The old man agreed to the appellation.

"He is coming to this country," said Mr. Trasmere, chewing on a tooth-pick. He was a hard-faced man between sixty and seventy. A rusty black frock-coat ill fitted his spare form, his old-fashioned collar was frayed at the edge, and the black shoe-string tie that encircled his lean throat had been so long in use that it had lost whatever rigidity it had ever possessed, and hung limp in two tangled bunches on either side of the knot. His eyes were a hard granite blue, his face ridged and scaled with callosities until it was lizard-like in its coarseness.

"Yes, he is coming to this country. He will come here as soon as he finds his way about town, and that will be mighty soon, for Wellington Brown is a traveller! Yeh Ling, this man is troublesome. I should be happy if he were sleeping on the Terraces of the Night."

Again Yeh Ling shook his head.

"He cannot be killed—here," he said. "The illustrious knows that my hands are clean—"

"Are you a man—or—wild-mind?" snarled the other. "Do I kill men or ask that they should be killed? Even on the Amur, where life is cheap, I have done no more than put a man to the torture because he stole my gold. No, this Drinker must be made quiet. He smokes the pipe of the Pleasant Experience. You have no pipe-room. I would not tolerate such a thing. But you know places… "

"I know a hundred and a hundred," said Yeh Ling, cheerfully for him.

He accompanied his master to the door, and when it had closed upon him he returned swiftly to his parlour and summoned a stunted man of his race.

"Go after the old man and see that no harm comes to him," he said.

It seemed from his tone almost as though this guardianship was novel, but in exactly the same words the shuffling Chinaman had received identical instructions every day for six years when the thud of the closing street-door came to Yeh Ling's keen ears. Every day except Sunday.

He himself never went out after Jesse Trasmere. He had other duties, which commenced at eleven and usually kept him busy until the early hours of the morning.

Chapter 2


MR. TRASMERE walked steadily and at one pace, keeping to the more populous streets. Then at exactly 8.21; he turned into Peak Avenue, that wide and pleasant thoroughfare where his house was situated. A man who had been idling away a wasted half-hour saw him and crossed the road.

"Excuse me, Mr. Trasmere."

Jesse shot a scowling glance at the interrupter of his reveries. The stranger was young and a head taller than the old man, well dressed, remarkably confident.


"You don't remember me—Holland? I called upon you about a year ago over the trouble you had with the municipality."

Jesse's face cleared.

"The reporter? Yes, I remember you. You had an article in your rag that was all wrong, sir—all wrong! You made me say that I had a respect for municipal laws, and that's a lie! I have no respect for municipal laws or lawyers. They're thieves and grafters!"

He thumped the ferrule of his umbrella on the ground to emphasize his disapproval.

"I shouldn't be surprised," said the young man, with a cheerful smile; "and if I made you toss around a few bouquets, that was faire bonne mine. I'd forgotten anyway, but it is the job of an interviewer to make his subject look good."

"Well, what do you want?"

"Our correspondent in Pekin has sent us the original proclamation of the insurgent, General Wing Su—or Sing Wu, I'm not sure which. These Chinese names get me rattled."

Tab Holland produced from his pocket a sheet of yellow paper covered with strange characters.

"We can't get in touch with our interpreters, and knowing that you are a whale—an authority on the language, the news-editor wondered if you would be so kind."

Jesse took the sheet reluctantly, gripped his bag between his knees, and put on his glasses.

"'Wing Su Shi, by the favour of heaven, humbly before his ancestors, speaks to all men of the Middle Kingdom… '" he began.

Tab, note-book in hand, wrote rapidly as the old man translated.

"Thank you, sir," he said when the other had finished.

There was an odd smirk of satisfaction on the old man's face, a strange, childlike pride in his accomplishment. "You have a remarkable knowledge of the language," said Tab politely.

"Born there," replied Jesse Trasmere complacently: "born in a go-down on the Amur River and could speak the three dialects before I was six. Beat the whole lot of 'em at their own books when I was so high! That all, mister?"

"That is all, and thank you," said Tab gravely, and lifted his hat.

He stood looking after the old man as he continued his walk. So that was Rex Lander's miserly uncle? He did not look like a millionaire, and yet, when he came to consider the matter, millionaires seldom looked their wealth.

He had settled the matter of the Wing Su proclamation and was immersed in a new Prison Report which had been published that day when he remembered an item of news which had come his way, and duly reported.

"Sorry, Tab," said the night-editor, "the theatre man has 'flu. Won't you go along and see the lady?"

Tab snorted, but went.

The dresser, hesitating, thought that Miss Ardfern was rather tired, and wouldn't to-morrow do?

"I'm tired, too," said Tab Holland wearily; "and tell Miss Ardfern that I haven't come to this darned theatre at eleven p.m. because I'm an autograph hunter, or because I'm collecting pictures of actresses I'm crazy about; I'm here in the sacred cause of publicity."

To the dresser, he was as a man who spoke a foreign language. Surveying him dubiously she turned the handle of the stained yellow door, and standing in the opening, talked to somebody invisible.

Tab had a glimpse of cretonne hangings, yawned, and scratched his head. He was not without elegance, except in moments of utter tiredness.

"You can come in," said the dresser, and Tab passed into a room that blazed with unshaded lights.

Ursula Ardfern had made her change and was ready to leave the theatre, except that her jacket was still hung on the back of one chair and her cloth cloak with the blue satin lining was draped over another. She had in her hand a brooch which she was about to put into an open jewel-case. Tab particularly noticed the brooch, A heart-shaped ruby was its centre piece.

He saw her pin it to the soft lining of the lid and close the case.

"I'm extremely sorry to worry you at this hour of the night, Miss Ardfern," he said apologetically, "and if you're annoyed with me, you have my passionate sympathy. And if you're not mad at me, I'd be glad of a little sympathy myself, for I've been in court all day following the Lachmere fraud trial."

She had been a little annoyed. The set of her pretty face told him that when he came in.

"And now you've come for another trial," she half-smiled. "What can I do for you, Mr.—?"

"Holland—Somers Holland of The Megaphone. The theatre reporter is sick, and we got a rumour to-night from two independent sources that you are to be married."

"And you came to tell me! Now, isn't that kind of you!" she mocked. "No, I am not going to be married. I don't think I ever shall marry; but you needn't put that in the newspaper, or people will think I am posing as an eccentric. Who is the lucky man, by the way?"

"That is the identical question that I have come to ask," Tab smiled.

"I am disappointed." Her lips twitched. "But I am not marrying. Don't say that I am wedded to my art, because I'm not, and please don't say that there is an old boy and girl courtship that will one day materialize, because there isn't. I just know nobody that I ever wanted to marry, and if I did I shouldn't marry him. Is that all?"

"That's about all, Miss Ardfern," said Tab. "I'm really sorry to have troubled you. I always say that to people I trouble, but this time I mean it."

"How did this information reach you?" she asked as she rose.

Tab's frown was involuntary.

"From a—a friend of mine," he said. "It is the first piece of news that he has ever given to me, and it is wrong. Good night, Miss Ardfern." His hand gripped hers, and she winced.

"I'm sorry!" He was all apologies and confusion.

"You're very strong!" she smiled, rubbing her hand, "and you aren't very well acquainted with us fragile women—didn't you say your name is Holland? Are you 'Tab' Holland?"

Tab coloured. It wasn't like Tab to feel, much less display, embarrassment.

"Why 'Tab'?" she asked, her blue eyes dancing.

"It is an office nickname," he explained awkwardly; "the boys say that I've a passion for making my exit on a good line… really, I believe it is the line on which the curtain falls… you'll understand that, Miss Ardfern, it is one of the conventions of the drama."

"A tab-line?" she said. "I have heard about you. I remember now. It was a man who was in the company I played with—Milton Braid."

"He was a reporter before he fell—before he went on the stage," said Tab.

He was not a theatre man and knew none of its disciples. This was the second actress he had met in his twenty-six years of life, and she was unexpectedly human. That she was also remarkably pretty he accepted without surprise. Actresses ought to be beautiful, even Ursula Ardfern, who was a great actress if he accepted the general verdict of the press and the ecstatic and prejudiced opinion of Rex Lander. But she had a sense of humour; a curious possession in an emotional actress, if he could believe all that he had read on the subject. She had grace and youth and naturalness. He would willingly have stayed, but she was unmistakably ending the interview.

"Good night, Mr. Holland."

He took her hand again, this time more gingerly, and she laughed outright at his caution.

On the dressing-table was the small brown jewel-case and a glimpse of it reminded him: "If there is anything you'd like to go in The Megaphone," he floundered—"there was a paragraph in the paper about your having more wonderful jewels than any other woman on the stage… "

He was being unaccountably gauche; he knew this and hated himself. It did not need her quick smile to tell him that she did not wish for that kind of publicity. And then the smile vanished, leaving her young face strangely hard.

"No… I don't think that my jewels and their value are very interesting. In the part I am playing now it is necessary to wear a great deal of jewellery—I wish it weren't. Good night I'm glad to upset the rumour."

"I'm sorry for the bridegroom," said Tab gallantly.

She watched him out of the room, and her mind was still intent upon this broad-shouldered towering young man when her dresser came in.

"I do wish, miss, you hadn't to carry those diamonds about with you," said the sad-faced dresser. "Mr. Stark, the treasurer, said he would put them in the theatre safe for you—and there's a night watchman."

"Mr. Stark told me that too," said the girl quietly, "but I prefer to take them with me. Help me with my coat, Simmons."

A few minutes later she passed through the stage-door. A small and handsome little car was drawn up opposite the door. It was closed and empty. She passed through the little crowd that had gathered to see her depart, stepped inside, placed the jewel-case on the floor at her feet, and started the machine.

The door-man saw it glide round the corner and went back to his tiny office.

Tab also saw the car depart. He grinned at himself for his whimsical and freakish act. If anybody had told him that he would wait at a stage-door for the pleasure of catching a glimpse of a popular actress, he would have been rude. Yet here he was, a furtive and abashed man, so ashamed of his weakness that he must look upon her from the darkest corner of the street!

"Well, well," said Tab with a sigh, "we live and learn."

His flat was in Doughty Street, and stopping only to telephone the result of the interview, he made his way home.

As he came into the sitting-room a man some two years his junior looked up over the top of the armchair in which he was huddled.

"Well?" he asked eagerly.

Tab went over to a large tobacco jar and filled his polished briar before he spoke.

"Is it true?" asked Rex Lander impatiently; "what a mysterious brute you are!"

"Rex, you're related to the Canards of Duckville," said the other, puffing solemnly. "You're a spreader of false tidings and a creator of alarm and despondency amongst the stage-door lizards—whose ancient fraternity I have this night joined, thanks to you."

Rex relaxed his strained body into a more easy and even less graceful posture.

"Then she isn't going to be married?" he said with a sigh.

"You meant well," said Tab, flopping into a chair, "and I know of no worse thing that you can say about a man than that he 'meant well!' But it isn't true. She's not going to be married. Where did you get hold of this story, Babe?"

"I heard it," said the other vaguely.

He was a boyish-looking young man with a pink-and-white complexion. His face was so round and cherubic that the appellation of "Babe" had good excuse, for he was plump of person and lazy of habit. They had been school-fellows, and when Rex had come to town at the command of his one relative, his uncle, the sour Mr. Jesse Trasmere, to take up a torturous training as an architect, these two had gravitated together and now shared Tab's small flat.

"What do you think of her?"

Tab thought before replying.

"She's certainly handicapped with good looks," he said cautiously. At another time he would have added a word of disparagement or would have spoken jokingly of Rex Lander's intense interest in the lady, but now, for some reason, he treated the other's inquiry with more seriousness than was his wont.

Ursula Ardfern stood for the one consistently successful woman management in town. Despite her youth she had chosen and cast her own plays, and in four seasons had not known the meaning of the word failure.

"She's quite… charming," Tab said. "Of course I felt a fool; interviewing actresses is off my beat anyway. Who is the letter from?" He glanced up at the envelope propped on the mantelpiece.

"From Uncle Jesse," said the other without looking up from his book. "I wrote to him, asking him if he would lend me fifty."

"And he said?—I saw him to-day by the way."

"Read it," invited Rex Lander with a grin.

Tab took down the envelope and extracted a thick sheet of paper written in a crabbed school-boy hand.

"DEAR REX" (he read). "Your quarterly allowance is not due until the twenty-first. I regret, therefore, that I cannot agree to your request. You must live more economically, remembering that when you inherit my money you will be thankful for the experience which economical living has given to you and which will enable you to employ the great wealth which will be yours, in a more judicious, far-seeing manner."

"He's a miserable old skinflint," said Tab, tossing the letter back to the mantelshelf. "Somebody was telling me the other day that he's worth a million—where did he make it?"

Rex shook his head.

"In China, I think. He was born there, and started in quite a humble way as a trader on the Amur River Goldfields. Then he bought property on which gold was discovered. I don't know," he said, scratching his chin, "that I ought to complain. After all, there may be a lot in all he says, and he has been a good friend of mine."

"How often have you seen him?"

"I spent a week with him last year," said Rex, with a little grimace at the memory. "Still," he hastened to add, "I owe him a lot. It may be if I wasn't such a lazy slug and didn't like expensive things, I could live within my income."

Tab pulled at his pipe in silence. Presently he said: "There are all sorts of rumours about old Jesse Trasmere. A fellow told me the other day that he is a known miser; keeps his money in the house, which of course is a romantic lie."

"He hasn't a banking account," said the other surprisingly, "and I happen to know that he does keep a very large sum of money at Mayfield. The house is built like a prison, and it has an underground strong-room which is the strongest room of its kind. I have never seen it, but I have seen him go down to it. Whether or not he sits down and gloats over his pieces of eight, I have never troubled to discover. But it is perfectly true, Tab," he said earnestly, "he has no banking account. Everything is paid out in cash. I suppose he does have transactions through banks, but I have never heard of them. As to his being a miser"—he hesitated—"well, he is not exactly generous. For example, six months ago he discovered that the man and his wife who looked after Mayfield, which is a very small house, were in the habit of giving the pieces of food left over to one of their poorer relatives, and he fired them on the spot! When I was there this year, he was shutting up all the rooms except his own bedroom and his dining-room, which he uses also as a study."

"What does he do for servants?" asked Tab, and the other shook his head.

"He has his valet, Walters, and two women who come in every day, one to cook and one to clean. But for the cook he has built a small kitchen away from the house."

"He must be a cheerful companion," said Tab.

"He is not exactly exhilarating. He has a fresh cook every month. I met Walters the other day and he told me that the new cook is the best they've had," admitted the other, and there followed a silent interval of nearly five minutes.

Then Tab got up and knocked the ashes from his pipe.

"She certainly is pretty," he said, and Rex Lander looked at him suspiciously, for he knew that Tab was not talking about the cook.

Chapter 3


MR. JESSE TRASMERE sat at the end of a long, and, except in his immediate vicinity, bare table. At his end it was laid, and Mr. Trasmere was slowly and deliberately enjoying a lean cutlet.

The room gave no suggestion of immense wealth and paid no silent tribute either to his artistic taste or his acquaintance with China. The walls were innocent of pictures, the furniture old, European, and shabby. Mr. Trasmere had bought it second-hand and had never ceased to boast of the bargain he had secured.

If there were no pictures, there were no books. Jesse Trasmere was not a reader, even of newspapers.

It was one o'clock in the afternoon, and through the folds of his dressing-gown the grey of his pyjama jacket showed open at his lean throat, for Mr. Trasmere had only just got out of bed. Presently he would dress in his rusty black suit and would be immensely wakeful until the dawn of to-morrow. He never went to bed until the grey showed in the sky, nor slept later than two o'clock in the afternoon.

At six-thirty, to the second, Walters, his valet, would assist him into his overcoat, a light one if it was warm, a heavy fur-lined garment if it was cold, and Mr. Trasmere would go for his walk and transact whatever business he found to his hand.

But before he left the house there was a certain ceremonial—the locking of doors, the banishment of the valet to his own quarters, and the disappearance of Mr. Trasmere through the door which led from his study-dining-room to the basement of the house. This done he would go out. Walters had watched him from one of the upper windows scores of times walking slowly down the street, an unfurled umbrella on one hand, a black bag in another. At eight-thirty to the minute he was back in the house. He invariably dined out. Walters would bring him a cup of black coffee, and at ten o'clock would retire to his own room, which was separated from the main building by a heavy door which Mr. Trasmere invariably locked.

Once in the early days of his service Walters had expostulated.

"Suppose there is a fire, sir," he complained.

"You can get through your bath-room window on to the kitchen, and if you can't drop to the ground from there you deserve to be burnt to death," snarled the old man. "If you don't like the job, you needn't stay. Those are the rules of my establishment, and there are no others."

So, night after night, Walters had gone to his room and Mr. Trasmere had shuffled after him in his slippered feet, had banged and locked the door upon him and had left Walters to solitude.

This procedure was only altered when the old man was taken ill one night and was unable to reach the door. Thereafter a key was hung in a small glass-fronted case, in very much the same way as fire-keys are hung. In the event of his illness, or of any other unexpected happening, Walters could secure the key and answer the bell above his bed-head. That necessity had not arisen.

Every morning the valet found the door unlocked. At what hour old Jesse came he could not discover, but he guessed that his employer stopped on his way to bed in the morning to perform this service.

Walters was never allowed an evening off. Two days a week he was given twenty-four hours' leave of absence, but he had to be in the house by ten.

"And if you are a minute later, don't come back," said Jesse Trasmere.

As the old man's valet Walters had exceptional opportunities for discovering something more about his master than Mr. Trasmere would care to have known. He was for a very particular reason anxious to know what the basement contained. Once he had met a man who had been engaged in the building of the house, and learnt that there was a room below, built of concrete; but though he had, with the greatest care and discretion, searched for keys which might, during the daily absence of his employer, reveal the secret of this underground room, he had never succeeded in laying his hand upon them. Mr. Trasmere had apparently only one key, a master-key, which he wore round his neck at night, and in the same inaccessible position in his clothing during the daytime, and Walters' search had been in vain, until one morning, when taking Mr. Trasmere his shaving-water, the servant found him suffering from one of those fainting fits which periodically overcame him. There was a cake of soap handy, and Walters was a resourceful man…

Mr. Trasmere looked up from his plate and fixed his servant with his grey-blue eyes.

"Has anybody called this morning?"

"No, sir."

"Have any letters come?"

"Only a few. They are on your desk, sir."

Mr. Trasmere grunted.

"Did you put the notice in the paper that I was leaving town for two or three days?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," said Walters.

Jesse Trasmere grunted again.

"A man is coming from China; I don't want to see him," he explained. He was oddly communicative at moments to his servant, but Walters, who knew his master extremely well, did not make the mistake of asking questions. "No, I don't want to see him." The old man chewed a toothpick reflectively, and his unattractive face bore an expression of distaste. "He was a partner of mine, twenty, thirty years ago, a card-playing, gambling, drinking man, who gave himself airs because—well, never mind what he gave himself airs about," he said impatiently, as though he anticipated a question which he should have known never would have been put to him. "He was that kind of man."

He stared at the fireless grate with its red brick walls and its microscopic radiator and clicked his lips.

"If he comes, he is not to be admitted. If he asks questions, you're not to answer. You know nothing… about anybody. Why he's coming at all… well, that doesn't matter. He's just trash, a soakin' dope. He had his chance, got under it, and went to sleep. Phew! That fellow! He might have been rich, but he sold all his shares. A soak! Rather drink than sit in the Empress of China's council… she's dead. White trash… nothing… h'm."

He glared up of a sudden and asked harshly:

"Why the hell are you listening?"

"Sorry, sir, I thought—"

"Get out!"

"Yes, sir," said Walters with alacrity.

For half an hour old Jesse Trasmere sat where the valet had left him, the red end of his toothpick leaping up and down eccentrically. Then he got up and, going to an old-fashioned bureau, opened the glass front.

He brought to the table a shallow bowl of white porcelain half filled with Indian ink. His second visit to the secretaire produced a thick pad of paper. It was unusually large, and its texture of a peculiar character. From an open-work iron box he took a long-handled brush, and sitting down again dipped the fine point into the ink.

Another long interval of inaction and he commenced to write, beginning at the top right-hand corner and working down the page. The grotesque and intricate Chinese characters appeared with magic rapidity. He finished one column and commenced another, and so until the page was covered except for two spaces beneath the last and the penultimate line.

Laying down the brush he felt, with the slow deliberation of age, in his right-hand waistcoat pocket and pulled out an ivory cylinder as big round as a large pencil. He slipped one end out and pressed it on the paper. When he took the stamp away there appeared within a red circle two Chinese characters. This was Jesse Trasmere's "hong," his sign manual; a thousand merchants from Shanghai to Fi Chen would honour cheques which bore that queer mark, and those for startling sums.

When the paper was dry he folded it into a small compass and getting up, went to the empty fireplace. Outside on the stairs a deeply interested Walters craned his neck to see what happened. From his position, and through the fanlight above the door, he commanded a view of at least a third of the room.

But now Jesse had passed out of sight, and although he stretched himself perilously he could not see what was happening. Only, when the old man reappeared the paper was no longer in his hand.

He touched a bell, and Walters came at once.

"Remember," he rasped, "I am not at home—to anybody!"

"Very good, sir," said Walters, a little impatiently.

Mr. Trasmere had gone out that afternoon when the visitor called.

It was unfortunate for the old man's scheme that the China mail had made a record voyage and had arrived thirty-six hours ahead of her scheduled time. Mr. Trasmere was not a reader of newspapers, or he would have learnt the fact in that morning's paper.

Walters answered the bell after some delay, for he was busily engaged in his own room on a matter that was entirely private to himself, and when he did answer the tinkling summons it was to find a brown-faced stranger standing on the broad step. He was dressed in an old suit which did not fit him, his linen was stained, and his boots were patched, but his manner would not have been out of place in Lorenzo the Magnificent.

With his hands thrust into his trousers pockets, his soiled soft hat on the back of his head, he met the inquiring and deferential gaze of Walters with a calm and insolent stare, for Mr. Brown was rather drunk.

"Well, well, my man," he said impatiently, "why the devil do you keep me waiting on the doorstep of my friend Jesse's house, eh?" He removed one of his hands from his pocket, possibly not the cleanest one, and tugged at his short grey beard.

"Mr.—er—Mr. Trasmere is out," said Walters, "I will tell him you have called. What name, sir?"

"Wellington Brown is my name, good fellow," said the stranger. "Wellington Brown from Chei-feu. I will come in and wait."

But Walters barred the way.

"Mr. Trasmere has given me strict orders not to admit anybody unless he is in the house," he said.

A wave of anger turned Wellington Brown's face to a deeper red.

"He has given orders!" he spluttered. "That I am not to be admitted—I, Wellington Brown, who made his fortune, the swindling old thief! He knows I am coming!"

"Are you from China, sir?" blurted Walters.

"I have told you, menial and boot-licking yellow-plush, that I am from Chei-feu. If you are illiterate, as you appear to be, I will explain to you that Chei-feu is in China."

"I don't care whether Chei-feu is in China or on the moon," said Walters obstinately. "You can't come in, Mr. Brown! Mr. Trasmere is away—he'll be away for a fortnight."

"Oh, won't I come in!"

The struggle was a brief one, for Walters was a man of powerful physique, and Wellington Brown was a man nearer sixty than fifty. He was flung against the stone wall of the porch and might, in his bemused condition, have fallen had not Walters' quick hand grabbed him back.

The stranger breathed noisily.

"I've killed men for that," he said jerkily, "shot 'em down like dogs! I'll remember this, flunkey!"

"I didn't want to hurt you," said Walters, aggrieved that any onus for the unpleasantness should rest on him.

The stranger raised his hand haughtily.

"I will settle accounts with your master—remember that, lackey! He shall pay, by God!"

With drunken dignity he walked unsteadily through the patch of garden that separated the house from the road, leaving Walters a puzzled man.