The Rotherhithe Den

As a rule, Rupert told his wife everything, thinking there could
be no happiness, unless a married couple were frank with one
another. Also, he frequently went to Olivia for advice,
believing in the keen feminine instinct, which usually sees what
is hidden from the denser masculine understanding. But on this
occasion, he refrained from revealing the object of his visit to
London, as he knew she would be feverishly anxious, all the time
he was absent. It was just possible that Hwei might be at
Rotherhithe instead of Tung-yu, and then Rupert might meet with
a death similar to that of Miss Wharf. Certainly he had not the
fan, and never did possess it; but how was he to convince a
distrustful Asiatic of that.

Therefore, Rupert went to town one afternoon by the nine o’clock
evening train from Marport, and Olivia thought, he was merely
going to see his lawyer on business connected with Miss Pewsey’s
mortgage. Her husband was to return the next day in time for
luncheon, and, as he had often run up to town before, Olivia had
no misgivings. Had she been aware of the danger he was going
into, she assuredly would not have let him go. Mrs. Ainsleigh
had led an unhappy life, and now that things were brighter, she
certainly did not wish to see her days clouded, by the loss of
the husband whom she loved so dearly.

As what money there was, went to keep up Royabay, its master was
too poor to travel first class. But he was lucky enough to find
a third class smoking carriage empty, and sat down very content.
Owing to the nature of his errand, he wished to be alone, to
think out his mode of procedure. Tung-yu would not be an easy
person to deal with, still less would Hwei, should he happen to
be on the spot, and Ainsleigh had little knowledge of the
Chinese character. From what Forge said, he judged it to be
dangerous.

There were few people travelling by the train, and Rupert quite
believed that he would have the compartment to himself. But just
as the train was moving off, a man dashed into the carriage and
dropped breathlessly on the seat. “I guess that was a narrow
squeak,” he gasped.

“Mr. Burgh,” said Rupert, by no means pleased.

“Well, I am surprised,” said the buccaneer, “if it ain’t
Ainsleigh.”

“Mr. Ainsleigh,” was Rupert’s reply, for he disliked the man too
much to tolerate this familiarity.

“Oh, shucks,” retorted Burgh wiping his forehead, “’tisn’t any
use putting on frills with me, sir. I guess I’m as good a man as
you, any day.”

“Let us admit you are better,” said Rupert coldly, “and cease
conversation.”

But this Mr. Burgh was not inclined to do. “I reckon this old
tram won’t stop at any station for half an hour,” said he
pulling out a long black cigar, “so I don’t see why we should
sit like dummies for thirty minutes. Come along, let’s yarn. You
think I’m a wrong un’. Well, I guess I’m no holy Bill if that’s
what you mean. But I surmise that I’m friendly enough with you,
Ainsleigh.”

“Our last interview was not of a friendly character.”

“You bet. You laid me out proper, and gave it to me pretty free.
I respect a man who knocks me down. I thought you’d curl up when
faced, Ainsleigh, but I see you’re a fighter. That being so, why
I climb down. Not that I’m a coward–oh, no–not by a long
chalk: but I know how to size up things.”

“And how do you size them up in this case?”

“Well,” said Clarence lighting up, “I guess you’ve got the bulge
on me. I was sweet on your wife, but you aimed a bulls-eye, and
I got left. That being so, I conclude to leave other man’s goods
alone.”

“Meaning Mrs. Ainsleigh,” said Rupert dryly, “thank you.”

“Oh, no thanks. I’ve got enough sins already without putting a
gilded roof on my iniquities. See here,” Clarence leaned forward
and looked agreeable, though his wicked black eyes snapped fire,
“why shouldn’t you and I be friends?”

Rupert did not reply at once. He did not like Burgh, who was an
aggressive bully of the Far West. All the same, something might
be learned from Burgh, relative to the murder, and to the
Chinaman. He knew Hwei and knew something of the fan, so Rupert
resolved to be on reasonably friendly terms with the buccaneer
in the hope of learning something likely to be of use. If Mr.
Burgh had a lantern, there was no reason why Ainsleigh should
not use the light to illuminate his somewhat dark path.
Therefore, when Rupert did speak, it was to express a wish
to be friendly. Yet, strange to say, as soon as he showed a
disposition to come forward, Clarence, the wary, showed an equal
disposition to retire. “Ho,” said the buccaneer, “I guess you
want my help, or you wouldn’t be so friendly all at once.”

“I am friendly by your own desire,” said Ainsleigh dryly, “if
you like, we need not talk, but can part as enemies.”

“No,” said Burgh throwing himself indolently back on the
cushions, “fact is, I need you and you need me.”

“How do I need you?” asked Rupert sharply.

“Well,” drawled Clarence, eying the clear-cut face of his late
enemy, “it’s just this way. Aunt Lavinia’s an old cat. She was
all square with me, so long as she thought I’d hitch up long-side
Miss Rayner—-”

“Mrs. Ainsleigh if you please, and leave out her name.”

“Right oh. I’ll use it only once. Aunty thought I’d annex the
cash, and Mrs. Ainsleigh, and that she would live on the pair of
us. But as things are Aunty has the cash and you’ve got the
lady, so I am left–yes sir. I guess I’ve been bested by Aunty,
Well sir, I calculate I’m not a millionaire, and I want cash to
start out on the long trail. Aunty won’t part, shabby old puss
that she is; but I reckon if you’ll help me, I’ll rake in the
dollars slick.”

“Why should I help you?”

“To get square about that murder.”

Rupert drew back, “Do you know?—-”

“Oh I know nothing for certain, or I shouldn’t take you into
partnership, but I believe I can spot the person.”

“Surely you don’t think Miss Pewsey—-”

“Oh no. She wouldn’t harm anyone, unless she was on the right
side. She’s a cat, but is clever enough to keep herself from
being lynched. ‘Sides, she was comfortable enough with old
Wharf, and wouldn’t have sent her to camp out in the New
Jerusalem, by strangling. But Aunty’s going to hitch up
long-side old Forge—-”

“And he?” asked Rupert secretly excited, but looking calm
enough.

“Go slow. I don’t know anything for certain, but I guess Forge
had a finger in the pie. He wanted the fan you know.”

“Nonsense! He had the fan for two years and made no use of it.”

“I reckon not. He didn’t know its secret–and the secret’s worth
money I judge.”

“Do you know the secret?”

“No. If I’d known I shouldn’t have passed the article along to
old Wharf. But I’m hunting for the secret, and when I find it
out, I’ll shake old Forge’s life out for that fan.”

“But Tung-yu has the fan?”

“Ho!” snorted the buccaneer, “and Tung-yu’s gone to China with
Hwei and the fan. Shucks! They gassed that at the inquest, but
the poppy-cock don’t go down along o’ me. No Sir. I guess old
Forge has the article. Now you sail in with me, and find out.”

“How can I?”

“Well,” said the buccaneer reflectively, “your father was a
friend of the doctor’s and he’s chums with you. Just you get him
to be confidential like, and then—-”

“Forge is the last man to be confidential with anyone,” said
Rupert coldly, “and if this be your scheme I can’t help you.
There is not a shred of evidence to prove that Forge killed Miss
Wharf.”

“No. That’s a frozen fact; but I guess I’m going to straighten
out Forge to pay out Aunty. Then both will have to part with
cash for my going on the long trail. I’m in the dark now, but
later—-”

An end was put to Mr. Burgh’s chatter by the stoppage of the
train at a station, and by the entrance of a joyful party of
father, mother and three children. These last returning from a
happy day in the country made themselves agreeable by crying.
Clarence closed his mouth, and only bent forward to say one last
word to Rupert, “I reckon we’ll talk of this to-morrow when I
get back to Marport,” said he, “I’m putting up at the Bristol,
and aunty’s footing the bill.”

Ainsleigh nodded and buried himself in his own thoughts. He did
not see how Clarence could bring the crime home to Dr. Forge,
but the buccaneer evidently had his suspicions. Rupert resolved
to keep in with Burgh on the chance that something might come of
the matter. He saw well enough that Clarence, in desperate want
of money, would do all in his power to prove Forge guilty and
would then blackmail him and Miss Pewsey, or, as she would then
be, Mrs. Forge. This last design which Rupert suspected Burgh
entertained, he resolved should not be put into practice: but if
Forge was guilty, he would be arrested and tried. Therefore when
Clarence parted with Ainsleigh at the Liverpool street station,
the latter was moderately friendly.

“‘Night,” said the buccaneer wringing Ainsleigh’s hand. “See you
to-morrow at Marport. Keep it dark,” and he winked and disappeared.

Ainsleigh moved towards the barrier to give up his ticket. As he
did so he was roughly jostled, but could not see the person who
thus banged against him. He left the station however, with the
feeling that he was being followed, and kept looking back to see
if, amongst the crowd, there was any special person at his
heels. But he could see no one with his eyes on him. Yet the
feeling continued even when he got into the underground train,
which was to take him to Rotherhithe.

The young man had put on a shabby suit of blue serge for the
adventure and,–as the night was rainy,–wore a heavy overcoat,
the same in fact, which he had left in the cloak-room of the
Bristol hotel on that memorable occasion. The compartment was
filled with a rather rough set of workmen going home, and some
were the worse for liquor. However Rupert sitting quietly in his
own corner was not disturbed and arrived in Rotherhithe without
trouble. He was thankful for this, as he did not wish to have a
row when engaged on a secret errand.

It was dark and stormy when he stepped out into the street, but
as the address given in the letter written to Major Tidman, was
that of a narrow street close at hand–Rupert had looked it up
in the Directory,–he did not take a cab. On his way along the
streaming pavement he again had the sensation of being followed,
and felt for the revolver, with which he had very wisely
provided himself. But nothing happened, and he arrived at the
mouth of the narrow street which was called Penters Alley. There
were few people about, as the ragged loafers were within, not
caring to face the pelting rain in their light attire. Rupert
stepped cautiously down the side street, and saw in the distance
a Chinese lantern, which he knew, marked the house he was to
enter. This token had been set forth in the letter.

Just as the young man was half way down, a dark figure, which
had crept up behind him, darted forward and aimed a blow at him.
Rupert dodged and tried to close: but at that moment another
figure dashed between the two men and delivered a right-hander.
There was a stifled cry of rage and the clash of a knife on the
wet pavement. Then the first assailant cleared off, and Rupert
found himself facing his rescuer. “Just in time,” said Clarence
Burgh.

“What, you here,” said Rupert surprised. “I left you at the
station.

“I guess that’s so, but I followed you–”

“And by what right–”

“That’s square enough,” replied Burgh, “you’d agreed to work
along with me on this racket.”

“Not altogether. I had not made up my mind.”

“Well I guess you’ll make it up now Mr. Ainsleigh. It was a
good job I came after you as I did, or this would have been into
your ribs,” and he held up a long knife which he had picked up.

“I am much obliged,” said Ainsleigh, “but–”

“Well if you’re obliged, let me go along with you and see you
through this game. I don’t know what it is, but I’m on for
larks.”

Ainsleigh reflected, and on the impulse of the moment trusted
the man. Clarence had undoubtedly saved his life, and it would
be just as well to take him. Also Clarence could do no harm, as
Tung-yu and Hwei would see to that. “Very good,” said Ainsleigh,
“come along. I’m going to where that Chinese lantern is.”

Clarence gave a long whistle and smote his leg, “Gad,” said he
between his teeth, “you’re on the Chinese racket again.”

“Oh, behalf of Major Tidman,” and Rupert rapidly gave details.

Burgh whistled again, “Ho,” he laughed, “so they think Tidman’s
the strangler. Well I guess not. Forge for my money. Let’s heave
ahead Ainsleigh, and see what the Chinkeys have to say.”

The two moved on and stopped under the lantern. A sharp
knock at a closed door brought forth a Chinese boy, who was
dressed–queerly enough–all in red. Rupert recalled Tidman’s
adventure at Canton, and did not like the look of things. But
Clarence pushed past him and addressed the boy.

“We’ve come to see Tung-yu,” said he, “give this brat the
letter, Ainsleigh.”

The boy took the letter and instead of looking at it by the
light of the lantern, smelt it carefully. Then Ainsleigh
remembered that it was strongly perfumed with some queer scent.
Clarence cackled.

“Rummy coves these Chinese beasts,” said he politely.

Evidently the boy was satisfied, for he threw open the door, and
the two adventurers entered. They passed along a narrow corridor
to a second door. On this being opened, they turned down a long
passage to the right and were conducted by the red boy into a
small room decorated in Chinese fashion, somewhat after the
style of that in Dr. Forge’s house. At the end there was a
shrine with a hideous god set up therein, and before this,
smoked some joss sticks giving out a strange perfume. A
tasselled lantern hung from the ceiling. The chairs and table,
elegant in design were of carved black wood, and the walls were
hung with gaily pictured paper. The room was neat and clean, but
pervaded by that strange atmosphere of the East which brings
back curious memories to those who have travelled into those
parts. After conducting them into this room, the red boy
vanished and the men found themselves alone.

“Well I reckon we’ve got to make ourselves comfortable,” said
the buccaneer sitting, “rum shanty–just like an opium den I
know of, down ‘Frisco way. Ho! I wonder how Tung-yu’s escaped
the police?”

“I wonder rather who it was that tried to knife me,” said Rupert
sitting.

Clarence looked queer. “We’ll talk of that when we get through
with this business. Here’s some fairy.”

Even while he spoke a tall lean Chinaman entered noiselessly. He
had a rather fierce face and one eye. Burgh started up.

“Hwei,” said he amazed. “I thought you had lighted out for
‘Frisco.”