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33 Chinese Magic
Detective-Sergeant Coombes and three assistants watched the house of Sin Sin
Wa, and any one of the three would have been prepared to swear "on the Book"
that Sin Sin Wa was sleeping. But he who watches a Chinaman watches an
illusionist. He must approach his task in the spirit of a psychical inquirer who seeks
to trap a bogus medium. The great Robert Houdin, one of the master wizards of
modern times, quitted Petrograd by two gates at the same hour according to
credible witnesses; but his performance sinks into insignificance beside that of a
Chinese predecessor who flourished under one of the Ming emperors. The palace
of this potentate was approached by gates, each having twelve locks, and each
being watched by twelve guards. Nevertheless a distinguished member of the
wizard family not only gained access to the imperial presence but also departed
again unseen by any of the guards, and leaving all the gates locked behind him! If
Detective-Sergeant Coombes had known this story he might not have experienced
such complete confidence.
That door of Sin Sin Wa's establishment which gave upon a little backyard was
oiled both lock and hinge so that it opened noiselessly. Like a shadow, like a ghost,
Sin Sin Wa crept forth, closing the door behind him. He carried a sort of canvas kit-
bag, so that one observing him might have concluded that he was "moving."
Resting his bag against the end wall, he climbed up by means of holes in the
neglected brickwork until he could peer over the top. A faint smell of tobacco
smoke greeted him: a detective was standing in the lane below. Soundlessly, Sin
Sin Wa descended again. Raising his bag he lifted it lovingly until it rested upright
upon the top of the wall and against the side of the house. The night was dark and
still. Only a confused beating sound on the Surrey bank rose above the murmur of
sleeping London.
From the rubbish amid which he stood, Sin Sin Wa selected a piece of rusty barrel-
hoop. Cautiously he mounted upon a wooden structure built against the end wall
and raised himself upright, surveying the prospect. Then he hurled the fragment of
iron far along the lane, so that it bounded upon a strip of corrugated roofing in a
yard twice removed from his own, and fell clattering among a neighbor's rubbish.
A short exclamation came from the detective in the lane. He could be heard
walking swiftly away in the direction of the disturbance. And ere he had gone six
paces, Sin Sin Wa was bending like an inverted U over the wall and was lowering
his precious bag to the ground. Like a cat he sprang across and dropped
noiselessly beside it.
"Hello! Who's there?" cried the detective, standing by the wall of the house which
Sin Sin Wa had selected as a target.
Sin Sin Wa, bag in hand, trotted, soft of foot, across the lane and into the shadow
of the dock-building. By the time that the C.I.D. man had decided to climb up and
investigate the mysterious noise, Sin Sin Wa was on the other side of the canal
and rapping gently upon the door of Sam Tuk's hairdressing establishment.