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ANTHONY M. RUD

THE VENGEANCE
OF THE WAH FU TONG

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First published in The Green Book Magazine, May 1918

Reprinted in The Sovereign Magazine, January 1920
This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2021-05-18
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The Green Book Magazine, May 1918, with "The Vengeance of the Wah Fu Tong"



Detective Masters ventures into underground
Chinatown, and a hair-raising adventure follows.




Illustration

I whistled shrilly. At that moment a heavy body hit
me in the back, and strong hands seized my throat.



SPUTTERING, choking and holding my nose, I made my way around the exhibition canvases and back to the little bay-window alcove where Jigger Masters had ensconced himself temporarily during the decorating of his own apartment.

"In the name of the great Joss!" I exclaimed, looking down contemptuously at the slimy mess he was mixing in a beaker. "This is the olfactory limit! I can stand for white mice, and the stench of your tobacco, but this odor couldn't be breathed by a physiological chemist!"

"I'll have it bottled in just a second," he replied, stirring in the last of some light greenish powder. "I must do so before the ether in the collodion evaporates." As he spoke to me, he removed the cork from a small flask, pouring in the semi-liquid mass and then recorking the bottle, to the infinite relief of my nose.

"All right!" I grumbled. "I hope no visitors arrive to look at my paintings, though. No living being could survive the atmosphere of this studio for long and still feel like purchasing. What is the horrid stuff—asafetida?"

Masters grinned evasively. "I know your studio rule," he answered. "You're not likely to have any buyers here early. The visitors who do come won't mind the smell."

It was the truth, and I knew it, but a certain something in his tone made me glance sharply at him. He leaned back in his swivel-chair, extending his thin, corded arms in a luxurious stretch.

"I think you're going to insult my visitors," I began, ready to stand upon my dignity. The twinkle in his eye made me stop, however. I had found by bitter experience that pretense never went far with Masters.

"Why, it seems to me," he said in a tone just light enough so that I felt sure he was leading up to something further and more serious, "that the only visitors of note we have had here during the past three days have been laundrymen! Either the Orientals must suddenly have taken up art, or—"

"Do you know," I interrupted, "that I have been thinking of painting King Chow Lee one of these days? He is one of the most picturesque Chinamen I ever have seen. He comes around often enough, too."

"Wasn't he here this morning?" inquired Jigger with interest. His black eyes caught mine sharply, in spite of the smile.

"Yes, and yesterday, and the day before—as you said when you started to insult me."

"It wasn't insult." Masters suddenly became serious. He arose from the chair, threw up the window-shade and beckoned to me. "Look out there on the curb in front of the Meadow Terrace apartments. What do you see?"

I obeyed, but the only human being in sight was a beggar, seated on the curb in utter dejection, with his crutches leaning on his shoulder. "That beggar is all I see," I answered slowly. Because I was well aware that Masters rarely called anything commonplace to my attention, I was reluctant to seem uninterested, but the beggar looked to me just like any one of a thousand to be seen on the streets of the city.

"Yes," answered Masters impatiently, "but have you ever seen a Chinese beggar before?"

"Thousands of them, in the Shantung Province of China," I returned. "They all look like that."

"Yes, but in New York?"

I reflected. "It seems that I can't remember any Chinese mendicants in this city," I answered at last, looking again from the window at the beggar. Just at that moment I saw the wretch raise his head and gaze steadfastly in our direction. "He seems to find something of interest here!" I exclaimed with a qualm of uneasiness.

"Precisely! There are no Chinese beggars in New York. I know that." Masters drew me from the window. "Therefore when one turns up, and acts as though he cared more about this alcove window than any coins he might pick up. I start wondering myself—particularly, when we suddenly are besieged by King Chow Lee. Let me see, didn't he use to come only once a week?"

I started. "Of course! And I told him just this morning that we wouldn't have anything for him until next Friday, but he only bowed and smiled. I didn't think he understood!"

Masters suddenly gripped my arm. "Exhibit C!" he whispered. "Watch the entrance of this building!" As I started to comply, leaning my head out of the front window, I saw Jigger remove one of the slippers he was wearing, then turn and hurl it with all his might at the outside door of the studio.

I heard a slight sound in the hallway, and then, as I craned my neck outward, a tall, slim Chinaman in a black silk coat and trousers burst out the door and made his way swiftly southward. Without a word, although every nerve was thrilling. I turned, strode to my chiffonier, removed my two automatics and laid them on the table before Masters. "Well, what's the program?" I queried.

He shook his head. "Nothing for you—yet."

"Don't you intend to do something?" I asked excitedly. "Why, they're after you!"

"Surely!" Masters retorted with a smile. "I have known it for twenty-four hours, and nothing could suit me better! It's a result of that unfortunate smuggling-case Bennett wished on me last month."

"But you succeeded in catching the smugglers, didn't you?"

Masters smiled wryly. "Yes, but Chief Bennett and I knew at the time that the opium-smuggling was only a symptom. As chief of police he is utterly unable to get at the real trouble, and he looks to me for aid in cleaning up one of the most dangerous organizations in the world!"

"What is that?" I gasped. "A Chinese crime-ring?"

"Worse than that! It is an international organization—the Wah Fu Tong, as it is called. Every one of those smugglers was a member. That is why I am receiving these little favors now."

"What is the purpose of this tong?"

Masters shrugged his shoulders expressively. "If I tried to catalogue the activities of those Chinese criminals, my enumeration would take an hour. A few of the most ordinary are murder, rape, kidnaping, arson, blackmail and thievery. The tong has been in existence for centuries. It has branches in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, besides an organization in China itself. Probably one fifth of all the Chinese in our large cities, however, are connected in some way with it, although it has never been proved that the tong exists for any lawbreaking purpose outside of the branch here in New York."

He walked to the door and opened it, intending to glance down the hallway. As he did so, a small sheet of yellow paper fell at his feet. It had been wedged in the crack above the doorknob.

Masters picked it up, scanned it hastily and then handed it to me, closing the door again. "That's their signature," he said gravely, indicating a scrawl on the paper which looked like nothing more to me than an inverted washbowl with many splashes of water trickling from its sides, done in black ink with one of their long, silky-haired writing-brushes. "During the past year over thirty white men in this city have received a slip like this. Usually it has been a threat in connection with some blackmailing scheme. However, except for two who wisely allowed themselves to be victimized, and one other who fled the State, every one of this thirty disappeared within a week of the time he received this notice!"

When actual physical danger presents itself, I am able to take care of myself at least as well as the next man, but this unintelligible threat made me shiver. "What does the character stand for?" I asked.

"That is what I propose to find out! I have just a suspicion now. But Hoffman, I am going to ask you to cooperate with me again in this matter, if you will."

"Anything in the world that lies in my power, Jigger!" I exclaimed impulsively. "I haven't had a subject worthy of the name since I painted Mrs. Voorhees—Mrs. Yaryan, I mean. The portrait of her and that picture of the drugged barkeeper sold the best of any of my work for the past three years. Whether you believe it or not, I get real inspiration as well as material and excitement out of my little escapades with you!"

Masters smiled deprecatingly. "Well, if it will make you known, in time, as the Franz Hals of the American underworld, it will be no more than your due. But I know you too thoroughly to imagine that."

"Let me in on our course of action," I interrupted uncomfortably. "Are you taking any measures of precaution?"

"None at all—that is, unless talking over the matter with you and Chief Bennett is a precaution; and of course it is, of a certain kind. I am taking none of the kind you mean, though."

"But aren't you afraid they'll shoot you or knock you on the head?"

"No indeed!" Masters shook his head decidedly. "Chinks don't work that way. They are probably the most finished criminals in the world when it comes to doing away with a man they hate. I simply shall disappear, just as did Kendall, Swanson and the rest of the twenty-seven of whom I spoke to you."

"You're going to put yourself in their power?" I asked, almost unable to believe my own ears.

Masters nodded gravely. "Frankly, it is a chance I do not like to take," he admitted, "but I can see no other way. Charley Sing has baffled all the cleverest men in the country; he can do it, for his subordinates are all Chinese. Every one is loyal to him, for every Chinaman knows the long arm of the tong."

"Who is Charley Sing?"

"The king of Chinatown, they call him. Really he is a moving force in the Wah Fu Tong, but no one ever has been able to prove it. I knew last month that I was dealing with him indirectly when I ran down those smugglers. Sing runs a big wholesale grocery down in Chinatown, supplying the chop-suey houses all over the city, but that is not his main business."

"Well, I can't see where I come in!" I broke in with a degree of impatience. "What do you expect me to do—sit around and twiddle my thumbs?"

"No." Masters appeared to consider. Then he sat down at the writing-table in the corner, jerked out a sheet of note-paper, scribbled a few words upon it and thrust it into an envelope. Sealing this, he thrust it into my hand. "If you want something to do right this moment, take this note to Basil Bennett. It is important!"

"Why don't you phone it to him?" I asked suspiciously.

"If you didn't have a party line in this studio, I should do so. Also I should go myself, if I did not trust you so fully."

I had no answer to this; so I hurried out, ran my little automobile from the garage and hastened to police headquarters.


BENNETT received me immediately, tore open the note, read it and then handed it over to me without comment.

"Bennett," it read, "I am sending Hoffman to you because the Chinks are around the house, and I don't want him killed uselessly. If your men are watching, it will be O.K. In case anything extraordinary turns up, I shall try to communicate with Hoffman. Let him read this, and tell him to scan any note from me carefully. —J.M."

The last word was underscored.

"That's what I call the double cross!" I exclaimed disgustedly. "Masters tells me that he is going to need me, and then he sends me away like a naughty boy!"

Bennett regarded me thoughtfully. "I wouldn't get angry, if I were you," he suggested. "You know J.M. well enough to realize that he never overlooks a bet. He didn't send you here because he didn't want you with him, but because he did! I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the minute you left, a dozen Chinamen invaded your studio. That was the way Masters had it figured. He knew that if you stayed, you would put up too realistic a fight, and probably get knocked on the head. As it is, he is planning to use you—just how, I don't know; but if I were in your shoes, I'd go back to the studio and paint, or read a book or something, until I heard from him."

I turned on my heel, thoroughly disgruntled, but he detained me. "Before you go back, let me find out how matters stand there. It might be the worst sort of anticlimax for you to start now," he said, reaching for his desk-phone. I waited while he called a number, and saw his heavy face light up with serious satisfaction.

"Snappy work!" he exclaimed, hanging up the receiver. "Less than ten minutes after you left, an ambulance drove up before your studio and a patient was carried down on a stretcher and taken away."

"Was—was he badly hurt?" I stammered, a great fear gripping me that I might never see Masters alive again.

"No, of course not," retorted Bennett quietly. "You don't know much about Chinese methods, do you?"

"No. I have traveled in China, but I never met any worse criminal types than the hold-up coolies of Shantung."

"These are the same. It isn't generally known, but of the two hundred thousand Chinese now in the United States, it is doubtful if there are as many as twenty from the other provinces. Only the Shantung natives have the initiative required to venture into foreign lands—or to become criminals.

"The method of these men with whom we are dealing is a strange mixture of Oriental cunning and tradition with Occidental aggressiveness. If a Chink here has it in for you, he doesn't knife or shoot you from a dark alley like a Black Hander; he captures you alive, takes you to some underground cavern under the streets and drowns you slowly in a vat, or boils you in oil, or—"

"And you allowed Masters, the most valuable man you have, to be taken by these fiends?" I asked hotly.

"Cool down, friend!" Bennett left his chair and placed one of his big hands on my shoulders. "Masters is taking a desperate chance, I'll admit. There is not another detective, either in this city or in any other, that I would ask to do what he is doing, although I am giving him every protection in my power. The game is worth the candle, however. That tong has been responsible for half a hundred murders, and the Lord only knows how many thousands of other crimes, during the eight years I have been in charge. It is just possible that we may never see Masters again, but I would be willing to wager odds upon him even against Charley Sing!"

"Well, so be it!" I answered, but my heart was in my boots. "I wish only I could be in it too."

"You will!" declared Bennett. "I have told two plain-clothes men to watch your studio. If you want them for anything, just run the front shade up and down a couple of times."


WITH that assurance I had to be content. I left the office, took my car and drove slowly back to the studio. Because I thought there might be a chance to use it later, I left it in the street instead of putting it back in the garage.

As I mounted the stairs, a pungent odor struck my nostrils. The nearer I got to my studio, the stronger it became, and I recognized it as the stench of the mixture Masters had been preparing earlier in the day. Inside the studio itself it was unbearable. I gasped for breath and had a hard time to control a feeling of nausea until I could fling the windows wide open.

There naturally occurred to me an explanation of this—that Masters had been in a struggle, and the flask, which I had seen him drop in his coat pocket, had been smashed. This theory went to pieces shortly, for in tidying up the few traces of conflict—a rumpled rug, an overturned chair and a broken rose-vase were all—I came upon the flask. It was lying under the edge of Masters' bed, empty but whole!

My speculations on this point were cut short, however, by the telephone. I wasted no time in answering, for my nerves were jumpy. The voice was Bennett's, but evidently it was a far different Bennett than the cool, self-confident man I had left only twenty minutes previously.

"It's up to you!" he yelled. "Those damn' Chinks gave my men the slip! I had Chinatown flooded with my men,—three hundred of them,—but that ambulance didn't go there!"

"Well, what can I do?" I asked, resentment welling up in me. "Wasn't something like this what you expected?"

Bennett disregarded my question. "He'll let you know, somehow, if it's humanly possible," he went on excitedly. "He promised that. When he does, you take every plain-clothes man in town and get Masters! Raid every joint in town if necessary!"

"But how will I get hold of them?" I queried, the blood starting anew through my veins at the prospect of real action.

"They'll get hold of you! I have a hundred on the way up there now. You just go ahead as if you were alone, if he sends a message."

I put up the receiver. A light knock had sounded upon the studio door.

Hastily cramming two loaded automatics into my coat pockets, I threw open the door. King Chow Lee stood there, bowing, scraping and smiling as usual.

"Laundree to-day?" he inquired.

"No, nothing," I answered, bitterly disappointed. I had hoped to see a different messenger. I started to close the door, but Lee, after glancing up and down the hall, slid inside the studio.

"Let' from big man!" he announced, fishing in his blouse with his fingers. Bowing and grinning, he handed over to me a folded sheet of the same paper on which the sinister threat to Masters had come. I unfolded the note.

It was from Masters undoubtedly, for it was written in his painful long-hand. The style, however, sounded alarmingly like King Chow Lee himself. "Most Illustrious Hoffman," it said. "You must go most immediately with much honored messenger. I have fifty blessings, fancy, plain. Any old clothes good enough. Must decide to follow right now though. —Yours Inscrutably, J.M."

I read through the note rapidly, and had to smile at its queer phraseology. "Scan it carefully!" had been Masters' admonition. I did so, for I knew that something more than blessings awaited me at the other end of the road.

Hastily I read it backward, but that made no sense. Then I tried every other word, but that was even less satisfactory. Then I read every third word, and something like a message resulted. "Go with messenger. Fifty plainclothes must follow, though. —J.M." was what I got out of it. Masters evidently wanted to be sure that ample strength was in that rescue party!

"Allee right! I go with you," I said to the expectant Lee. He bowed and grinned more widely than ever. Then, adjusting the sack of laundry over his shoulder, he led the way down the hall and to the back stairs of the building. "Me got wagon out there!" he explained, pointing at the alley.


I FELT certain qualms at leaving so suddenly, and especially by the back entrance. What if those men of Bennett's had not yet arrived? "Darn it!" I exclaimed on the spur of the moment, "it's going to rain, and I left the windows open!" Without finding out whether King Chow Lee approved of my course of action or not, I ran back into the studio, slammed down the windows and then raised and lowered one of the shades furiously. Across the street a banana peddler suddenly left his fruit and came toward the building, to my infinite relief.

As I joined Lee again in the rear, I saw that the sun had come out again from under the clouds, and that his smile was a trifle less joyful than it had been; but what did I care? As I climbed into his rickety cart. I felt so confident that I deliberately threw Masters' crumpled note into an ash-can, just as a bent-over relic was about to empty that receptacle. If Lee saw, he made no sign, but as we turned the corner, I saw the ash-man staring after us.

King Chow Lee drove quickly, turned many corners and soon had me completely fuddled in regard to directions. Although I questioned him several times lightly in regard to our destination, he seemed to become very dense suddenly. To all my queries he returned the same answer, "Yes, we go!" accompanied by many noddings and grins.


THROUGH the crowded tenement district at the edge of Chinatown our dilapidated vehicle threaded its way. I kept my eyes open for signs of Bennett's men but saw none. I comforted myself with the thought that if I had been able to distinguish them from the motley of faces that pressed in on us from every side, the Chinese themselves would have had as little difficulty.

Suddenly Lee pulled up before a wooden shack that seemed to be the dirtiest of all. "Him here!" he said shortly, jumping out and beckoning with his crooked forefinger.

It looked villainous enough to me, but I scarcely could back out. Thrusting my hands deep into my pockets, where the automatics rested, I followed my guide. Throwing open the door, he disclosed two flights of stairs, one going up and one descending into pitch darkness. To my dismay he chose the lower flight.

I knew that if I followed him blindly I should not be my own master five seconds longer; so I jumped backward, threw open the door once more, and whistled shrilly between my fingers in the manner that Jigger had taught me.

At that moment a heavy body hit me in the back, and strong hands seized my throat. I wriggled free and shot twice, just as a rush of men burst through the open doorway. Italian peddlers, Greek peanut-vendors and street riff-raff they seemed, but I knew that under the tattered garments each of them wore a police badge, and I rejoiced.

"This way!" I shouted, running toward the dark stairway. As I did so, I stumbled over a body, which proved to be that of King Chow Lee. My bullets evidently had taken effect.

The crowd that streamed in seemed unending, and I was pressed down the flight of stairs by sheer weight of numbers. Lighting matches, I proceeded. It was nothing more nor less than a damp and dingy cellar, with a roof less than five feet from the earth beneath. Not a scrap of furniture was in the place, and the walls rose blankly on all sides.

"Where are we going?" asked a hoarse voice beside me.

"Hanged if I know!" I replied. "Light a torch or a lantern, and we'll try to find out!"

Several of the men produced electric flashlights, and with one of these I set to examining the walls. I felt sure that some means of entrance into a further room must exist, else Lee never would have led me here—unless, of course, he meant to murder me himself. This last possibility I dismissed, however, for Masters must have had a different idea in mind in asking me to bring fifty plain-clothes men.

"Step back a minute, and I'll find it for you if there's any door to be found!" It was the hoarse-voiced peddler again, but we all gladly gave over the assignment to him. Crouching on the soft earth floor, he went over it on his hands and knees. In a moment he veered at right angles, and then like a bloodhound on a scent, he made straight for one of the barest spots of all.

"Bring up an ax and chop here!" he commanded; but no sooner had the words left his lips than a shot blazed in the darkness, and he crumbled. Every revolver in the crowd came out at the same moment, and a volley went through the wall that would have dismayed a regiment.

I picked up our hoarse-voiced guide, but life was ebbing fast. "It's right there," he groaned, waving his hand feebly at the wall which now our axes were attacking. "The door to Chinatown. I saw the ground was worn down hard." He gulped, and my arms held a corpse.

I laid him down reverently and then ran to the wall, where a panel already had been broken in. One idea obsessed me: somewhere back in that smelly place that lay beyond, Masters was a captive.

"Come on, boys!" I cried. "Let's hit it together. It's only wood, and we can break through!"

A dozen or more drew back at my command, and then, like one of the old tandem football-formations, we smashed through the wall with our shoulders, falling heels-over-head as we did so, down a short flight of eight or ten stairs. Two wounded Chinamen lay there, but we wasted no time on them.


FIFTY feet farther on, in a tunnel-like passageway, three more of the Orientals stood. As we sprawled heels-over-head down the stairs, they opened fire. I saw one of my companions jump as a bullet struck him, and then the onrush of the others began. Seizing the small lantern that lighted the passage, they made for the little group of defenders. There was a cracking of revolvers.

I hurried up, but the three were down on the ground now, begging for mercy. The detectives knocked them over the head, and we went on. Just beyond, the tunnel widened into a room where two score mats lay on the floor. From this council-chamber, or whatever it was, the tunnel forked.

Several of our pigtailed foes came running in, just in time to meet the leaden hail from our revolvers. My companions charged up the left branch, from which these had come; but I, knowing that I could be of no more use to the others, chose the right fork. This was darker and more smelly than any of the passages so far. I drew my automatics, and holding them before me, I crept stealthily forward.

The rattle of revolver-fire grew fainter as I progressed, until it ceased entirely. I knew that this was because the intervening curves of the tunnels had a tendency to silence all sounds. I was alone!

This knowledge raised the gooseflesh on my forearms. Alone in the heart of underground Chinatown! It was more of a sensation than I had bargained for. I stopped and listened, pressing myself against one of the soft walls.

A faint wailing, like nothing so much as a baby crying, came to my ears. I tiptoed down the passage a little farther and listened again. The sound was nearer! I could distinguish now that there was something gruesome about that wailing. It was not that of an infant; it was the cry of a man in death-agony!

I pressed on. The pitch-dark passage jogged. Just as I came to the turn, a Chinaman bearing a lantern approached at a shuffling trot. I hid myself in a protecting niche in the earth, and when he got opposite, I sprang.

Throttling him so he could not cry out, I bore him to the ground. When I had him in my power fully, I picked up one of my revolvers and the lantern he had dropped. Covering him with the muzzle, I bade him rise. "Now lead me to that room where that man is crying!" I commanded.

The customary blank look was my reward. "I'll count three!" I gritted. "If you can't understand English, that's your own loss!" I crooked my finger about the trigger. "One—two—"

"Come on!" He spoke without a trace of an accent, and nodded his head down the passage in the direction he had come. I followed, holding my automatic within a foot of his back, but feeling, nevertheless, that I was enjoying my last five minutes of life here on earth.

My guide came to a stop before a blank wall. "He's in there!" he said unemotionally.

"He?" I echoed aghast, for the cries within were horrible beyond all imagination. "Who do you mean—J.M.?"

"Yes, J.M!" he retorted, grinning, and made a lunge under my weapon at my legs.

I had been waiting for just some such tactics, however, and when he jumped forward, I met his bowed head with a powerful kick from my heavy shoes. The Chinaman dropped over, completely out. Not wishing to take any chances, however, I rapped him once more with the butt of my revolver.

The cries from within froze my blood, but when I came to try the wall that lay between me and Masters, I wished that I had not been so precipitate in making sure of my guide. I was faced by a panel of wood just like that one which the plain-clothes men had smashed when we entered, but I had no ax or implement of any kind.

Luck favored me, however, for just as I was considering running back to the entrance, the whole panel started to swing ponderously outward, and a wizened Chinee shuffled out. I greeted him with a shot which sent him tumbling; and then, as the door-spring started to pull it closed again, I caught it and flung it open.

For a minute I was too busy shooting to look about much, for six Orientals threw themselves at me instanter. Five of them went down, but as I pulled the trigger for the sixth, it fell on an empty chamber, and the Oriental, a big fellow with forty more pounds of beef and muscle than I carried, closed with me.


LIKE a Chinese wrestler, he made a grab for my hair; as I dodged, he caught me by the back of the head, but I fought my way free. Then, in a twinkling of an eye, the memory of a trick I had seen worked at the gymnasium came to me.

I released the slight hold I had upon him and seized his arms just back of the elbows. Then, as quickly as if I had been struck down from behind, I fell on my back to the floor, thrusting my right foot, at the same moment, into the pit of my opponent's stomach. By exerting all my leg-strength I pulled him off his feet; and then with a strong kick I threw him head on against the wall. Before he could stagger up and clinch, I finished him with an uppercut to the jaw.

Then, winded and exhausted, I staggered to where Masters lay on the floor. To my intense astonishment,—I had not had a chance either to look at him or listen to his cries since I entered the chamber,—he was laughing!


Illustration

To my intense astonishment, Masters was laughing!


"I guess I didn't make any mistake in relying on you, Bert!" he called. "But for the love of all that's holy, come here and release me!"

I obeyed, looking him over curiously, for he did indeed present a strange spectacle. Bound hand and foot, he also was nearly naked, and on his bare abdomen was inverted what looked like a tin wash-basin. On the top of this a small fire was burning. First I threw this to one side.

"Heavens!" I cried. "What fiendish thing is this?" Three dead rats lay under the basin, on Masters' naked abdomen. I threw them off also, and made all haste to unfasten the cords which bound him.

"It is a fiendish thing!" Masters answered as he arose and stretched his cramped muscles. "Do you know the idea of it?"

I shook my head, and my flesh crept at the thought of what my friend must have endured.

"Shantung torture," he said grimacing. "They keep this form for their very worst and most hated enemies—I was honored. They put the live rats under this basin and start the fire. The idea is to have the rats burrow through—"

"Enough!" I cried, overcome with horror. "But how did you manage to kill the rats? I thought I heard you shrieking as if you were in death-agony!"

"You heard me, all right! That was the only way I could convince my tormentors that they should not finish me immediately. A Chinaman would rather hear his foe scream than save his own life."


AT that moment a contingent of the plain-clothes force burst in upon us. Seeing Masters and myself unharmed, they shouted in triumph.

"We've cleaned them out!" yelled one enthusiast. "Oh, look here!" They dragged in the unconscious Chinaman whom I had knocked out after he had guided me to the chamber. "Charley Sing!"

"Is he dead?" I inquired with a strange sense of detachment from it all.

"No, he'll live to go to the chair!" The others picked up my victim, but Masters stopped them.

"Give me his coat and trousers before you take him away," he requested. "I don't want to go out on the street in this garb."


THE detective who seemed to be the leader did as Masters asked, throwing the garments on the floor and then leaving with the unconscious captive.

"Now tell me, before I burst with curiosity," I urged, "how you managed to kill those rats before they—they burrowed!"

Masters smiled. "Do you remember the awful stench in your studio this morning?"

I admitted that it was fresh in my memory.

"Well, I was mixing collodion—you know, that is an ether-solution that surgeons use with cotton as a covering for small wounds—with asafetida and a certain distillate of Indian hemp that is much like hashish in some of its properties. Look!"

To my astonishment he peeled off what looked a great deal like a square of skin, from his chest and abdomen.

"There's nothing like preparedness," he said, smiling again. "The rats hated to touch it, and when the fire drove them to nibbling it, the poison in it killed them almost immediately!"


THE END


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