With squealing brakes the car shaved an acute corner and slid on locked wheels to a dead halt so unexpected that it was Sofia who plunged floundering to the floor, while Victor only by a minor miracle escaped catapulting through the front windows.
The next instant, as Sofia struggled to her knees, the door behind her was wrenched open from without and, at a sign from Victor, rough hands laid hold of the girl and dragged her out bodily.
In a passion of despair, she lost her senses for a time and like a madwoman fought, shrieking, biting, kicking, clawing, scratching....
With returning lucidity she found herself, panting and dishevelled, arms pinned to her sides, struggling on for all that, being hustled by some half a dozen men across a narrow sidewalk of uneven flagstones.
Simultaneously the shutter of perceptions snapped, photographing permanently upon the super-sensitized film of conscious memory the glimpsed vista of a grim, mean street whose repellent uglinesses grinned through the boding twilight like lineaments of some monstrous mask of evil.
Then she tripped on a low stone step, stumbled, and was half-carried, half-thrown into a narrow and malodorous hallway.
Between her and the sweet liberty of the rain-washed air a door crashed like the crack of doom.
THE SEVEN BRASS HINGES
Into a space perhaps four feet in width from wall to wall and seven deep from the front door to the foot of a cramped flight of crazy wooden stairs, some ten people were crowded, Sofia and the maid Chou Nu in a knot of excited men.
In the saffron glow of an ill-trimmed paraffin lamp smoking in a wall bracket, desperate faces, yellow and brown and white, consulted one another with rolling eyeballs and strange tongues clamorous. Sofia heard the broken rustling of heavy respirations; she saw uncouth gesticulations carve the shadows; her nostrils were revolted by effluvia of unclean bodies, garments saturate with opium smoke and curious cookery, breaths sour with alcohol.
Two were busy at the door, under the direction of Prince Victor, setting stout bars into iron sockets. When they had finished, Victor elbowed them out of his way and thrust back the slide of a narrow horizontal peephole, through which he reconnoitred.
The tall, thin body stiffened as he looked, and without turning he flung an open hand behind him and snapped a demand in Chinese. Somebody slipped a revolver into his palm. Levelling it he sent a volley crashing through the peephole. Yells responded, and in the hush that fell upon the final shot a noise of fugitive feet scraping and stumbling on cobbles. A bullet struck the door a sounding thump and all but penetrated, raising a bump on the inner face of its thick oaken panels; and Victor shut the slide and turned back.
Subservient silence saluted him. He spoke in Chinese, issuing (Sofia gathered) instructions for the defense of the house. One by one the men designated dropped out of the group about her. Three shuffled off into a room adjoining the hallway. Two others ran briskly up the stairs. A sixth Victor directed to stand by the barred door. His chauffeur and another Chinaman he told off for his personal attendance.