The tankards being refilled and my friend having sampled the contents of his own:
“That ain’t all,” he continued. “I thought I’d keep it as a sort of relic, like. What ’appened? I’ll tell you. Amongst the crew there’s three Chinks—see? We ain’t through the canal before one of ’em, a new one to me—Li Ping is his name—offers me five bob for the pigtail, which he sees me looking at one mornin’. I give him a punch on the nose an’ ’e don’t renew the offer: but that night (we’re layin’ at Port Said) ‘e tries to pinch it! I dam’ near broke his neck, and ’e don’t try any more. To-night”—he extended his right arm forensically—“a deppitation of Chinks waits on me at the dock gates; they explains as from a patriotic point of view they feels it to be their dooty to buy that pigtail off of me, and they bids a quid, a bar of gold—a Jimmy o’ Goblin!”
He snapped his fingers contemptuously and emptied his pewter. A sense of what was coming began to dawn on me. That the “hold-up” near the riverside formed part of the scheme was possible, and, reflecting on my rough treatment of the two Chinamen, I chuckled inwardly. Possibly, however, the scheme had germinated in my acquaintance’s mind merely as a result of an otherwise common assault, of a kind not unusual in these parts, but, whether elaborate or comparatively simple, that the story of the pigtail was a “plant” designed to reach my pocket, seemed a reasonable hypothesis.
“I told him to go to China,” concluded the object of my suspicion, again rapping upon the counter, “and you see what come of it. All I got to say is this: If they’re so bloody patriotic, I says one thing: I ain’t the man to stand in their way. You done me a good turn to-night, mate; I’m doing you one. ’Ere’s the bloody pigtail, ’ere’s my empty mug. Fill the mug and the pigtail’s yours. It’s good for a quid at the dock gates any day!”
My suspicions vanished; my interest arose to boiling point. I refilled my acquaintance’s mug, pressed a sovereign upon him (in honesty I must confess that he was loath to take it), and departed with the pigtail coiled neatly in an inner pocket of my jacket. I entered the house in Wade Street by the side door, and half an hour later let myself out by the front door, having cast off my dockland disguise.
HOW I LOST IT
It was not until the following evening that I found leisure to examine my strange acquisition, for affairs of more immediate importance engrossed my attention. But at about ten o’clock I seated myself at my table, lighted the lamp, and taking out the pigtail from the table drawer, placed it on the blotting-pad and began to examine it with the greatest curiosity, for few Chinese affect the pigtail nowadays.
I had scarcely commenced my examination, however, when it was dramatically interrupted. The door bell commenced to ring jerkily. I stood up, and as I did so the ringing ceased and in its place came a muffled beating on the door. I hurried into the passage as the bell commenced ringing again, and I had almost reached the door when once more the ringing ceased; but now I could hear a woman’s voice, low but agitated: