“Brace up! Brace up, Petrie—and thank God you are alive! ...”
I was sitting beside Sir Baldwin Frazer on a wooden bench, under a leafless tree, from the ghostly limbs whereof rain trickled down upon me! In the gray light, which, I thought, must be the light of dawn, I discerned other trees about us and an open expanse, tree-dotted, stretching into the misty grayness.
“Where are we?” I muttered—“where ...”
“Unless I am greatly mistaken,” replied my bedraggled companion, “and I don’t think I am, for I attended a consultation in this neighborhood less than a week ago, we somewhere on the west side of Wandsworth Common!”
He ceased speaking; then uttered a suppressed cry. There came a jangling of coins, and dimly I saw him to be staring at a canvas bag of money which he held.
“Merciful heavens!” he said, “am I mad—or did I really perform that operation? And can this be my fee? ...”
I laughed loudly, wildly, plunging my wet, cold hands into the pockets of my rain-soaked overcoat. In one of them, my fingers came in contact with a piece of cardboard. It had an unfamiliar feel, and I pulled it out, peering at it in the dim light.
“Well, I’m damned!” muttered Frazer—“then I’m not mad, after all!”
It was the Queen of Hearts!
Fully two weeks elapsed ere Nayland Smith’s arduous labors at last met with a slight reward. For a moment, the curtain of mystery surrounding the Si-Fan was lifted, and we had a glimpse of that organization’s elaborate mechanism. I cannot better commence my relation of the episodes associated with the Zagazig’s cryptogram than from the moment when I found myself bending over a prostrate form extended upon the table in the Inspector’s room at the River Police Depot. It was that of a man who looked like a Lascar, who wore an ill-fitting slop-shop suit of blue, soaked and stained and clinging hideously to his body. His dank black hair was streaked upon his low brow; and his face, although it was notable for a sort of evil leer, had assumed in death another and more dreadful expression.
Asphyxiation had accounted for his end beyond doubt, but there were marks about his throat of clutching fingers, his tongue protruded, and the look in the dead eyes was appalling.
“He was amongst the piles upholding the old wharf at the back of the Joy-Shop?” said Smith tersely, turning to the police officer in charge.
“Exactly” was the reply. “The in-coming tide had jammed him right up under a cross-beam.”
“What time was that?’
“Well, at high tide last night. Hewson, returning with the ten o’clock boat, noticed the moonlight glittering upon the knife.”
The knife to which the Inspector referred possessed a long curved blade of a kind with which I had become terribly familiar in the past. The dead man still clutched the hilt of the weapon in his right hand, and it now lay with the blade resting crosswise upon his breast. I stared in a fascinated way at this mysterious and tragic flotsam of old Thames.