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28. The Gilded Joss
London was fog-bound. The threat of the past week had been no empty one.
Towards the hour of each wintry sunset had come the yellow racks, hastening
dusk and driving folks more speedily homeward to their firesides. The dull reports
of fog-signals had become a part of the metropolitan bombilation, but hitherto the
choking mist had not secured a strangle-hold.
Now, however, it had triumphed, casting its thick net over the city as if eager to
stifle the pulsing life of the new Babylon. In the neighborhood of the Docks its
density was extraordinary, and the purlieus of Limehouse became mere
mysterious gullies of smoke impossible to navigate unless one were very familiar
with their intricacies and dangers.
Chief Inspector Kerry, wearing a cardigan under his oilskins, tapped the pavement
with the point of his malacca like a blind man. No glimmer of light could he
perceive. He could not even see his companion.
"Hell!" he snapped irritably, as his foot touched a brick wall, "where the devil are
you, constable?"
"Here beside you, sir," answered P.C. Bryce, of K Division, his guide.
"Which side?"
"Here, sir."
The constable grasped Kerry's arm.
"But we've walked slap into a damn brick wall!"
"Keep the wall on your left, sir, and it's all clear ahead."
"Clear be damned!" said Kerry. "Are we nearly there?"
"About a dozen paces and we shall see the lamp--if it's been lighted."
"And if not we shall stroll into the river, I suppose?"
"No danger of that. Even if the lamp's out, we shall strike the iron pillar."
"I don't doubt it," said Kerry grimly.
They proceeded at a slow pace. Dull reports and a vague clangor were audible.
These sounds were so deadened by the clammy mist that they might have
proceeded from some gnome's workshop deep in the bowels of the earth. The
blows of a pile-driver at work on the Surrey shore suggested to Kerry's mind the
phantom crew of Hendrick Hudson at their game of ninepins in the Katskill
Mountains. Suddenly:
"Is that you, Bryce?" he asked.
"I'm here, sir," replied the voice of the constable from beside him.
"H'm, then there's someone else about." He raised his voice. "Hi, there! have you
lost your way?"
Kerry stood still, listening. But no one answered to his call.
"I'll swear there was someone just behind us, Bryce!"
"There was, sir. I saw someone, too. A Chinese resident, probably. Here we are!"
A sound of banging became audible, and on advancing another two paces, Kerry
found himself beside Bryce before a low closed door.
"Hello! hello!" croaked a dim voice. "Number one p'lice chop, lo! Sin Sin Wa!"