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The Traffic
Sir Lucien came out into the alley wearing a greasy cloth cap pulled down over his
eyes and an old overall, the collar turned up about a red woollen muffler which
enveloped the lower part of his face. The odor of the outfit was disgusting, but this
man's double life had brought him so frequently in contact with all forms of
uncleanness, including that of the Far East, compared with which the dirt of the
West is hygienic, that he suffered it without complaint.
A Chinese "boy" of indeterminable age, wearing a slop-shop suit and a cap, was
waiting outside the door, and when Sin Sin Wa appeared, carefully locking up, he
muttered something rapidly in his own sibilant language.
Sin Sin Wa made no reply. To his indoor attire he had added a pea-jacket and a
bowler hat; and the oddly assorted trio set off westward, following the bank of the
Thames in the direction of Limehouse Basin. The narrow, ill-lighted streets were
quite deserted, but from the river and the riverside arose that ceaseless jangle of
industry which belongs to the great port of London. On the Surrey shore whistles
shrieked, and endless moving chains sent up their monstrous clangor into the
night. Human voices sometimes rose above the din of machinery.
In silence the three pursued their way, crossing inlets and circling around basins
dimly divined, turning to the right into a lane flanked by high, eyeless walls, and
again to the left, finally to emerge nearly opposite a dilapidated gateway giving
access to a small wharf, on the rickety gates bills were posted announcing, "This
Wharf to Let." The annexed building appeared to be a mere shell. To the right
again they turned, and once more to the left, halting before a two-story brick house
which had apparently been converted into a barber's shop. In one of the grimy
windows were some loose packets of cigarettes, a soapmaker's advertisement,
and a card:
Opening the door with a key which he carried, the boy admitted Sir Lucien and Sin
Sin Wa to the dimly-lighted interior of a room the pretensions of which to be
regarded as a shaving saloon were supported by the presence of two chairs, a
filthy towel, and a broken mug. Sin Sin Wa shuffled across to another door, and,
followed by Sir Lucien, descended a stone stair to a little cellar apparently intended
for storing coal. A tin lamp stood upon the bottom step.
Removing the lamp from the step, Sin Sin Wa set it on the cellar floor, which was
black with coal dust, then closed and bolted the door. A heap of nondescript litter
lay piled in a corner of the cellar. This Sin Sin Wa disturbed sufficiently to reveal a
movable slab in the roughly paved floor. It was so ingeniously concealed by coal
dust that one who had sought it unaided must have experienced great difficulty in
detecting it. Furthermore, it could only be raised in the following manner:
A piece of strong iron wire, which lay among the other litter, was inserted in a
narrow slot, apparently a crack in the stone. About an inch of the end of the wire
being bent outward to form a right angle, when the seemingly useless piece of