Outraged emotion overcame me utterly, and with my arms thrown across the box, I slipped into unconsciousness.
Many poignant recollections are mine, more of them bitter than sweet; but no one of them all can compare with the memory of that moment of my awakening.
Weymouth was supporting me, and my throat still tingled from the effects of the brandy which he had forced between my teeth from his flask. My heart was beating irregularly; my mind yet partly inert. With something compound of horror and hope I lay staring at one who was anxiously bending over the Inspector’s shoulder, watching me.
It was Nayland Smith.
A whole hour of silence seemed to pass, ere speech became possible; then—
“Smith!” I whispered, “are you ...”
Smith grasped my outstretched, questing hand, grasped it firmly, warmly; and I saw his gray eyes to be dim in the light of the several lanterns around us.
“Am I alive?” he said. “Dear old Petrie! Thanks to you, I am not only alive, but free!”
My head was buzzing like a hive of bees, but I managed, aided by Weymouth, to struggle to my feet. Muffled sounds of shouting and scuffling reached me. Two men in the uniform of the Thames Police were carrying a limp body in at the low doorway communicating with the infernal Joy-Shop.
“It’s Fletcher,” said Weymouth, noting the anxiety expressed in my face. “His missing lady friend has given him a nasty wound, but he’ll pull round all right.”
“Thank God for that,” I replied, clutched my aching head. “I don’t know what weapon she employed in my case, but it narrowly missed achieving her purpose.”
My eyes, throughout, were turned upon Smith, for his presence there, still seemed to me miraculous.
“Smith,” I said, “for Heaven’s sake enlighten me! I never doubted that you were ...”
“In the wooden chest!” concluded Smith grimly, “Look!”
He pointed to something that lay behind me. I turned, and saw the box which had occasioned me such anguish. The top had been wrenched off and the contents exposed to view. It was filled with a variety of gold ornaments, cups, vases, silks, and barbaric brocaded raiment; it might well have contained the loot of a cathedral. Inspector Weymouth laughed gruffly at my surprise.
“What is it?” I asked, in a voice of amazement.
“It’s the treasure of the Si-Fan, I presume,” rapped Smith. “Where it has come from and where it was going to, it must be my immediate business to ascertain.”
“Then you ...”
“I was lying, bound and gagged, upon one of the upper shelves in the opium-den! I heard you and Fletcher arrive. I saw you pass through later with that she-devil who drove the cab to-day ...”
“Then the cab ...”
“The windows were fastened, unopenable, and some anaesthetic was injected into the interior through a tube—that speaking-tube. I know nothing further, except that our plans must have leaked out in some mysterious fashion. Petrie, my suspicions point to high quarters. The Si-Fan score thus far, for unless the search now in progress brings it to light, we must conclude that they have the brass coffer.”