Ho-Pin stood watching him.
Soames—in his eyes that indescribable expression seen in the eyes of a bird placed in a cobra’s den—met the Chinaman’s gaze. This gaze was no different from that which habitually he directed upon the people of the catacombs. His yellow face was set in the same mirthless smile, and his eyebrows were raised interrogatively. For the space of ten seconds, he stood watching the man on the bed. Then:—
“You wreturn vewry soon, Mr. Soames?” he said, softly.
Soames groaned like a dying man, whispering:
“I was... taken ill—very ill."...
“So you wreturn befowre the time awranged for you?”
His metallic voice was sunk in a soothing hiss. He smiled steadily: he betrayed no emotion.
“Yes... sir,” whispered Soames, his hair clammily adhering to his brow and beads of perspiration trickling slowly down his nose.
“And when you wreturn, you see and you hear—stwrange things, Mr. Soames?”
Soames, who was in imminent danger of becoming physically ill, gulped noisily.
“No, sir,” he whispered,—tremulously, “I’ve been—in here all the time.”
Ho-Pin nodded, slowly and sympathetically, but never removed the glittering eyes from the face of the man on the bed.
“So you hear nothing, and see nothing?”
The words were spoken even more softly than he had spoken hitherto.
“Nothing,” protested Soames. He suddenly began to tremble anew, and his trembling rattled the bed. “I have been—very ill indeed, sir.”
Ho-Pin nodded again slowly, and with deep sympathy.
“Some medicine shall be sent to you, Mr. Soames,” he said.
He turned and went out slowly, closing the door behind him.
ABRAHAM LEVINSKY BUTTS IN
At about the time that this conversation was taking place in Ho-Pin’s catacombs, Detective-Inspector Dunbar and Detective-Sergeant Sowerby were joined by a third representative of New Scotland Yard at the appointed spot by the dock gates. This was Stringer, the detective to whom was assigned the tracing of the missing Soames; and he loomed up through the rain-mist, a glistening but dejected figure.
“Any luck?” inquired Sowerby, sepulchrally.
Stringer, a dark and morose looking man, shook his head.
“I’ve beaten up every ‘Chink’ in Wapping and Limehouse, I should reckon,” he said, plaintively. “They’re all as innocent as babes unborn. You can take it from me: Chinatown hasn’t got a murder on its conscience at present. BRR! it’s a beastly night. Suppose we have one?”
Dunbar nodded, and the three wet investigators walked back for some little distance in silence, presently emerging via a narrow, dark, uninviting alleyway into West India Dock Road. A brilliantly lighted hostelry proved to be their objective, and there, in a quiet corner of the deserted billiard room, over their glasses, they discussed this mysterious case, which at first had looked so simple of solution if only because it offered so many unusual features, but which, the deeper they probed, merely revealed fresh complications.