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The Black Smoke
Up an uncarpeted stair Cyrus Kilfane led the party, and into a kind of lumber-room
lighted by a tin oil lamp and filled to overflowing with heterogeneous and unsavory
rubbish. Here were garments, male and female, no less than five dilapidated
bowler hats, more tea-chests, broken lamps, tattered fragments of cocoanut-
matting, steel bed-laths and straw mattresses, ruins of chairs--the whole diffusing
an indescribably unpleasant odor.
Opening a cupboard door, Kilfane revealed a number of pendent, ragged
garments, and two more bowler hats. Holding the garments aside, he banged upon
the back of the cupboard--three blows, a pause, and then two blows.
Following a brief interval, during which even Mollie Gretna was held silent by the
strangeness of the proceedings,
"Who is it?" inquired a muffled voice.
"Cy and the crowd," answered Kilfane.
Thereupon ensued a grating noise, and hats and garments swung suddenly
backward, revealing a doorway in which Mrs. Sin stood framed. She wore a
Japanese kimona of embroidered green silk and a pair of green and gold brocaded
slippers which possessed higher heels than Rita remembered to have seen even
Mrs. Sin mounted upon before. Her ankles were bare, and it was impossible to
determine in what manner she was clad beneath the kimona. Undoubtedly she had
a certain dark beauty, of a bold, abandoned type.
"Come right in," she directed. "Mind your head, Lucy."
The quartette filed through into a carpeted corridor, and Mrs. Sin reclosed the false
back of the cupboard, which, viewed from the other side, proved to be a door fitted
into a recess in the corridor of the adjoining house. This recess ceased to exist
when a second and heavier door was closed upon the first.
"You know," murmured Kilfane, "old Sin Sin has his uses, Lola. Those doors are
perfectly made."
"Pooh!" scoffed the woman, with a flash of her dark eyes; "he is half a ship's
carpenter and half an ape!"
She moved along the passage, her arm linked in that of Sir Lucien. The others
followed, and:
"Is she truly married to that dreadful Chinaman?" whispered Mollie Gretna.
"Yes, I believe so," murmured Kilfane. "She is known as Mrs. Sin Sin Wa."
"Oh!" Mollie's eyes opened widely. "I almost envy her! I have read that Chinamen
tie their wives to beams in the roof and lash them with leather thongs until they
swoon. I could die for a man who lashed me with leather thongs. Englishmen are
so ridiculously gentle to women."
Opening a door on the left of the corridor, Mrs. Sin displayed a room screened off
into three sections. One shaded lamp high up near the ceiling served to light all the
cubicles, which were heated by small charcoal stoves. These cubicles were
identical in shape and appointment, each being draped with quaint Chinese
tapestry and containing rugs, a silken divan, an armchair, and a low, Eastern table.