The Tomb of Ts’in - Edgar Wallace - ebook

The Tomb of Ts’in ebook

Edgar Wallace

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Opis

Inspector Tillizinni is back, this time involved in the quest to locate an ancient tomb of the Great Emperor – the first Emperor of the Chinese, who died two centuries before the birth of Christ and its world-changing secret. The Society of Joyful Intention – the most bloodthirsty organization the world has known. It concerns Tillizinni also, for Scotland Yard placed him on his mettle, set him a challenging task, which threatened at one time to bring ruin to the greatest detective in Europe. The story just moves from one scene to another with a very tenuous narrative thread keeping the reader turning the pages. Highly recommended for people who like to treat a mystery story as a solvable riddle!

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Liczba stron: 261

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Contents

INTRODUCTION

I. CAPTAIN TED TALHAM

II. THE MAN IN THE DRAWER

III. INTRODUCES MR. SOO

IV. THE AMULET OF JADE

V. MR. SOHO MAKES A DISCOVERY

VI. A CRIME OF TILLIZINNI

VII. AN AFTERNOON CALL

VIII. THE CELESTIAL WAY

IX. THE ABDUCTION

X. THE ROOMS BY THE CANAL

XI. CAPTAIN TALHAM’S PROGRESS

XII. THE MESSAGE OF THE DEAD

XIII. CAPTAIN TALHAM PROPOSES

XIV. AND RECEIVES HIS ANSWER

XV. SOO WHO CAME BACK

XVI. IN THE CITY OF HOO-SIN

XVII. THE TOMB LOCATED

XVIII. IN THE CAVERN OF THE DEAD

XIX. THE YAMEN OF T’SI SOO

XX. SOO “SAVES-FACE”

INTRODUCTION

HAD Tillizinni written this story of the tomb of Ts’in Hwang Ti (the King of Ts’in who became Emperor literally) from the notes he had upon the case, it might have made a greater and a better book.

You would have pardoned such extravagance of style as he displayed in his extraordinary narrative, remembering that he is of Italian birth and that English is too full of pitfalls to the foreigner for his liking. For of truth, though Tillizinni speaks and writes the three Arabics, Moorish (which I think is the purest), Turkish, and Russian, with considerable fluency, and though he knows at least seven dialects in the Chinese tongue, and can converse in most of the modern languages, yet English, with its bland and inviting simplicity, is a tongue which more than any other baffles and overawes him.

They say of Nicolò Tillizinni, his predecessor in the chair of Anthropology at Florence, and the benefactor and more than father, whose name Tillizinni bears, that he spoke all languages save Welsh; but I have reason for believing that he never completely mastered the niceties of our tongue.

Particularly did Tillizinni wish to write clearly in this story which I now tell (by his favour and at his request), for it is a story like none other I have ever heard or read.

It concerns the tomb of the Great Emperor–the first Emperor of the Chinese, who died two centuries before the birth of Christ; it concerns that extraordinary genius and adventurer, Captain Ted Talham–surely the most talkative man in the world; it concerns, too, that remarkable woman, Yvonne Yale, and last but not least, The Society of Joyful Intention–the most bloodthirsty organisation the world has known. It concerns Tillizinni also, for Scotland Yard placed him on his mettle, set him a challenging task, which threatened at one time to bring ruin to the greatest detective in Europe.

That it likewise brought him within an ace of losing his life, I should not think it worth while mentioning at this stage, but for the fact that scoffers might suppose that he held life dearer than fame.

Tillizinni has never greatly interested himself in Chinese affairs, and though he had been instrumental in bringing many men to their doom, yet, curiously enough, none of these have been inmates of the Celestial Kingdom; so that he welcomed with the welcome which a blasé mind offers to anything in the shape of novelty, the invitation of Scotland Yard to make himself acquainted with the Society of Joyful Intention. The story proper which is set forth here, begins with the surrounding of the China Packet.

On the 24th of November, in the year of the great storm, there went aground off the Goodwin Sands the China-Orient liner Wu-song. She was a modern steamer of six thousand tons, built by the Fanfield Company in 1900, and she traded between London and the China Sea. On the night in question she was homeward bound and was coming up the Channel at half speed, a precaution taken by her skipper as a result of a slight and patchy fog which lay on the Channel.

Off St. Margarets, for some unaccountable reason, she shifted her course, and before anybody seemed to realise what was happening, she was aground. No sea was running at the time, the storm, it will be remembered, occurred a fortnight later, and with the aid of two Dover tugs she was refloated.

That would seem rather a matter for the Trinity Masters than for Scotland Yard, but for the fact that in the natural excitement attendant upon the grounding, a very determined attempt was made to force the Stubb safe in the captain’s cabin. Here again Scotland Yard might have dismissed the matter as a mere commonplace attempt to secure the safe’s contents by some person or persons unknown, but for the fact that this was the third attempt which had been made during the voyage.

Coming through the Suez Canal the captain had been on the bridge–as is usual when a ship is making progress through the great waterway. He had left his steward in charge of his cabin, with instructions not to leave the apartment until he (the captain) returned. Half way through the Canal, with the ship’s searchlights showing, and a clear stretch of water before him, he had snatched a moment to go to his cabin to get a muffler, for the night was cold.

The cabin was on the boat deck and inaccessible to passengers except by invitation. To his surprise he had found the big room in darkness and had put one foot over the weather board to enter the cabin, when two men rushed past him, knocking him over in their hurry. He called for a quarter-master, entered the cabin, and discovered his steward lying gagged and bound on the floor.

The man had been sitting reading when he had found himself violently seized and gagged by two men, one of whom had switched out the light the moment the assault was made.

The steward struggled, but he was powerless in the hands of his assailants, and for a quarter of an hour he lay upon the floor, his back to the intruders, whilst they attacked the safe.

One cannot say, without reflecting upon an eminent firm of safe-makers, whether the burglary would have succeeded but for the captain’s return, but certain it is that the strangers had gone to work in a most scientific manner, and had made amazing progress in the short space of time.

The second attempt was made when the ship was two days out of Gibraltar, and was a half-hearted effort to blow open the door of the safe whilst the captain was conducting Church Service in the saloon. No guard had been left in the cabin, the captain thinking that the thieves would be scared at making any further attack, and, too, that they would hardly venture in broad daylight. Again they were disturbed and decamped unseen, leaving two pencils of nitro-glycerine to indicate their intentions.

Nor was the third, and final, and–one may suppose–desperate attempt any more successful; but this time the thieves were nearly caught. Captain Talham had seized his revolver the moment the ship went aground, for his crew was in the main Chinese, and he took no risks of a panic. When going back to his cabin to secure a lifebelt, he met the two indefatigable thieves, and there was a sharp exchange of shots.

This time the thieves were armed also. Again they evaded him and escaped in the fog.

Scotland Yard sent Tillizinni to interview the captain at the London docks, and he found him an average type of British seaman, kindly and communicative.

“The rum thing is,” he explained, “that there was no money in the safe–not so much as a brass farthing.”

“What did the safe contain?” asked Tillizinni. He took up a sheet of paper from his desk and read:

“Ship’s papers in envelope–confidential report on the working of the new condenser–and a green mailbag,” he said.

Tillizinni was interested.

“Green mailbag?”

The captain nodded.

“That’s the Ambassador’s bag and is brought from the Court of Pekin to the ship by special messenger, and taken from me in London by a man from the Embassy.”

“You see,” he explained, “the Chinese Government always sends its mails like that–its Embassy mails, I mean. I bring ‘em every trip. They don’t trust the Embassy despatches over the Trans-Siberian Railway. They think that the Russians go through ‘em.”

“I see,” said Tillizinni.

It was very clear what the objective had been.

The green mailbag offered an irresistible temptation to somebody who knew its contents.

“There was nothing else?”

He shook his head.

“Nothing,” he said.

There was little to do save to continue inquiries at the Chinese Embassy. Here, however, Tillizinni met with a check. A letter from the Embassy informed him that nothing of the slightest importance was contained in the bag. The letter continued:

“In this particular mail there were no official documents whatever, the bag being made up of a number of his Excellency’s personal effects. These were in the nature of rare Chinese documents which his Excellency had sent for from his home in Che-foo, to assist him in the writing of an article which he is preparing for the North American Review. As Signor Tillizinni may know, his Excellency is an enthusiastic student of Chinese history, and has the finest private collection of historical documents relating to China in the world.”

This letter came to Tillizinni at a moment when he had ample time to devote to the elucidation of the problem.

Our Italian friend was and is a peculiar man. He credited thieves of persistent characters, such as these men undoubtedly possessed, with intelligence out of the ordinary.

Whosoever made the attempt upon the safe of the China boat were well aware of the “worthlessness” of the safe’s contents, and it was apparent that, worthless or not, the burglars had decided that to have them was worth the risk.

The passenger list was a small one, but it took a week to sort them out and establish their innocence. For the most part they were Customs officials and British officers returning home on leave; and the week-end found me with only two “doubtfuls.”

The first of these was almost beyond suspicion. A Mr. de Costa, a ship-owner of sorts, was one, and Captain Talham was another.

Mr. de Costa, whom Tillizinni visited was, I should imagine, descended from a Portuguese family. A short, stout man, rather yellow of face, and bearing traces of his descent. He seemed the last person in the world to be suspected of commonplace felony.

Of Captain Talham, only fragmentary information was obtainable, He had apparently held a commission in a regiment of Irregular Horse during the South African war, and at the conclusion of hostilities he had gone to China in search of the adventure which at that time the great empire offered.

Beyond the fact that he had gone to China as far inland as Lau-tcheu; that he had been arrested later at Saigon in Cochin China, over some dispute with a French naval officer, and that he had a few months in Kuala Kangsan in Perak, little could be learnt about him. Later Tillizinni was destined to meet him, and discover much at first hand, for just as there was none so perfectly acquainted with his life, so there was none as willing to talk so freely about Captain Talham–as Captain Talham.

Here, then, with the conclusion of Tillizinni’s unsatisfactory inquiries, the incident of the China Packet might have closed and have been relegated to the obscurity which is reserved for petty felonies, but for the events which followed the publication of the Ambassador’s article.

From hereon I tell the story, suppressing nothing save that which may appear too flattering to Tillizinni. Such of the events which Tillizinni did not actually witness, I have written from information afforded me by the principal actors in this strangest of modern dramas.

*     *

*

Here let me say one word about the title which heads this chapter. I have lumped together many acts of Signor Tillizinni and have described them as “Just Crimes,” and I think that I have excellent reason for so describing them.

Tillizinni has always been a law unto himself. He worked on the solid basis that society was a lamb which must at all costs be protected from the wolves of the world, and to afford that protection he invoked the law of that land in which he was residing.

Sometimes the written law did not exactly cover a case, or presented a loop-hole through which an evil-doer might crawl unscratched. Tillizinni filled the hole–unlawfully. It was always better for a criminal to take his chance with the law than to take a chance with Tillizinni–that I know; that also many villains discovered too late for the knowledge to be of practical service.

I. CAPTAIN TED TALHAM

A MAN walked carelessly through Hyde Park with the air of one who had no destination. He was tall and straight, his shoulders were thrown back, his chin had that upward lift which seems part of the physiognomy of all who have followed a soldier’s career. His face, lean and well-featured, was tanned with the tan of strong suns and keen cold winds, and though the day was chilly and a boisterous breeze swept across the bare spaces of the Park, he wore neither overcoat nor muffler. The upturned moustache and the shaggy eyebrows suggested truculence; the threadbare suit, for all its evidence of pressing and ironing, suggested that he had found patches of life none too productive.

A close examination might have revealed little darns at the extremities of his trousers, for he had a trick of brushing his heels together as he walked–a trick disastrous to garments already enduring more than their normal share of wear.

He walked carelessly, swinging his gold-headed malacca cane–incongruously magnificent–and whistling softly and musically as he moved.

The Park was almost deserted, for it was dusk, and the weather conditions were neither ideal nor inviting. Occasionally the gusty wind bore down a flake or two of snow and the skies overhead were sullen and grey.

He had reached the Ranger’s House before he examined a cheap metal watch, which was affixed to his person by no more pretentious guard than a broad ribbon, bearing a suspicious resemblance to a lady’s shoe-lace.

The watch had stopped–he arrested his progress to wind it, deliberately and with great earnestness. This done, he continued his stroll, bearing down towards the Serpentine.

He stood for a few moments cheerfully contemplating the dreary stretch of water, and three sad water-fowl, which came paddling toward him in the hope of sustenance, paddled away again, sadder than ever, for he offered no greater assistance to life than a cheerful chirrup.

He turned as a sharp footstep came to him from the gravelled path. A girl was walking quickly toward him from the Kensington end of the Park. Something in her face attracted his attention–if ever fear was written in a human countenance it was written in hers. Then, into view round a clump of bushes, came three men. They were small of stature, and it needed no second glance to tell him their nationality, for despite their European dress and their hard Derby hats, they wore their clothes in the négligé style which the Oriental alone can assume.

The girl saw the tall man and came towards him.

“I’m so sorry to trouble,” she said breathlessly, “but these men have been following me for two days–but never so openly–”

She stopped and appeared to be on the verge of tears.

He bowed, a little slyly, and glanced at the three Chinamen, who now stood a dozen paces away, as though uncertain as to what was the next best move.

With a jerk of his head he beckoned them, and after a moment’s consultation they obeyed the gesture.

“What do you want?” he asked.

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