The Yellow Claw HTML version

The World Above
The night had set in grayly, and a drizzle of fine rain was falling. West India Dock Road
presented a prospect so uninviting that it must have damped the spirits of anyone but a
Soames, buttoned up in a raincoat kindly lent by Mr. Gianapolis, and of a somewhat
refined fit, with a little lagoon of rainwater forming within the reef of his hat-brim,
trudged briskly along. The necessary ingredients for the manufacture of mud are always
present (if invisible during dry weather) in the streets of East- end London, and already
Soames' neat black boots were liberally bedaubed with it. But what cared Soames? He
inhaled the soot- laden air rapturously; he was glad to feel the rain beating upon his face,
and took a childish pleasure in ducking his head suddenly and seeing the little stream of
water spouting from his hat-brim. How healthy they looked, these East-end workers,
these Italian dock-hands, these Jewish tailors, these nondescript, greasy beings who
sometimes saw the sun. Many of them, he knew well, labored in cellars; but he had learnt
that there are cellars and cellars. Ah! it was glorious, this gray, murky London!
Yet, now that temporarily he was free of it, he realized that there was that within him
which responded to the call of the catacombs; there was a fascination in the fume-laden
air of those underground passages; there was a charm, a mysterious charm, in the cave of
the golden dragon, in that unforgettable place which he assumed to mark the center of the
labyrinth; in the wicked, black eyes of the Eurasian. He realized that between the
abstraction of silver spoons and deliberate, organized money-making at the expense of
society, a great chasm yawned; that there may be romance even in felony.
Soames at last felt himself to be a traveler on the highroad to fortune; he had become
almost reconciled to the loss of his bank balance, to the loss of his place in the upper
world. His was the constitution of a born criminal, and, had he been capable of subtle
self-analysis, he must have known now that fear, and fear only, hitherto had held him
back, had confined him to the ranks of the amateurs. Well, the plunge was taken.
Deep in such reflections, he trudged along through the rain, scarce noting where his steps
were leading him, for all roads were alike to-night. His natural inclinations presently
dictated a halt at a brilliantly lighted public house; and, taking off his hat to shake some
of the moisture from it, he replaced it on his head and entered the saloon lounge.
The place proved to be fairly crowded, principally with local tradesmen whose
forefathers had toiled for Pharaoh; and conveying his glass of whisky to a marble-topped
table in a corner comparatively secluded, Soames sat down for a consideration of past,
present, and future; an unusual mental exercise. Curiously enough, he had lost something
of his old furtiveness; he no longer examined, suspiciously, every stranger who
approached his neighborhood; for as the worshipers of old came by the gate of Fear into
the invisible presence of Moloch, so he--of equally untutored mind--had entered the
presence of Mr. King! And no devotee of the Ammonite god had had greater faith in his
potent protection than Soames had in that of his unseen master. What should a servant of
Mr. King fear from the officers of the law? How puny a thing was the law in comparison
with the director of that secret, powerful, invulnerable organization whereof to-day he
(Soames) formed an unit!