Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tales of Chinatown THE KNIGHT ERRANT

Recognizing the superior strength of his captors, young Kerry soon gave up struggling. The thrill of his first real adventure entered into his blood. He remembered that he was the son of his father, and he realized, being a quick-witted lad, that he was in the grip of enemies of his father. The panic which had threatened him when first he had recognized that he was in the hands of Chinese, gave place to a cold rage--a heritage which in later years was to make him a dangerous man.

He lay quite passively in the grasp of someone who held him fast, and learned, by breathing quietly, that the presence of the muffler about his nose and mouth did not greatly inconvenience him. There was some desultory conversation between the two men in the car, but it was carried on in an odd, sibilant language which the boy did not understand, but which he divined to be Chinese. He thought how every other boy in the school would envy him, and the thought was stimulating, nerving. On the very first day of his holidays he was become the central figure of a Chinatown drama.

The last traces of fear fled. His position was uncomfortable and his limbs were cramped, but he resigned himself, with something almost like gladness, and began to look forward to that which lay ahead with a zest and a will to be no passive instrument which might have surprised his captors could they have read the mind of their captive.

The journey seemed almost interminable, but young Kerry suffered it in stoical silence until the car stopped and he was lifted and carried down stone steps into some damp, earthy-smelling place. Some distance was traversed, and then many flights of stairs were mounted, some bare but others carpeted.

Finally he was deposited in a chair, and as he raised his hand to the scarf, which toward the end of the journey had been bound more tightly about his head so as to prevent him from seeing at all, he heard a door closed and locked.

The scarf was quickly removed. And Dan found himself in a low- ceilinged attic having a sloping roof and one shuttered window. A shadeless electric lamp hung from the ceiling. Excepting the cane-seated chair in which he had been deposited and a certain amount of nondescript lumber, the attic was unfurnished. Dan rapidly considered what his father would have done in the circumstances.

"Make sure that the door is locked," he muttered.

He tried it, and it was locked beyond any shadow of doubt.

"The window."

Shutters covered it, and these were fastened with a padlock.

He considered this padlock attentively; then, drawing from his pocket one of those wonderful knives which are really miniature tool-chests, he raised from a grove the screw-driver which formed part of its equipment, and with neatness and dispatch unscrewed the staple to which the padlock was attached!

A moment later he had opened the shutters and was looking out into the drizzle of the night.

The room in which he was confined was on the third floor of a dingy, brick-built house; a portion of some other building faced him; down below was a stone-paved courtyard. To the left stood a high wall, and beyond it he obtained a glimpse of other dingy buildings. One lighted window was visible--a square window in the opposite building, from which amber light shone out.

Somewhere in the street beyond was a standard lamp. He could detect the halo which it cast into the misty rain. The glass was very dirty, and young Kerry raised the sash, admitting a draught of damp, cold air into the room. He craned out, looking about him eagerly.

A rainwater-pipe was within reach of his hand on the right of the window and, leaning out still farther, young Kerry saw that it passed beside two other, larger, windows on the floor beneath him. Neither of these showed any light.

Dizzy heights have no terror for healthy youth. The brackets supporting the rain-pipe were a sufficient staircase for the agile Dan, a more slippery prisoner than the famous Baron Trenck; and, discarding his muffler and his Burberry, he climbed out upon the sill and felt with his thick-soled boots for the first of these footholds. Clutching the ledge, he lowered himself and felt for the next.

Then came the moment when he must trust all his weight to the pipe. Clenching his teeth, he risked it, felt for and found the third angle, and then, still clutching the pipe, stood for a moment upon the ledge of the window immediately beneath him. He was curious respecting the lighted window of the neighbouring house; and, twisting about, he bent, peering across--and saw a sight which arrested his progress.

The room within was furnished in a way which made him gasp with astonishment. It was like an Eastern picture, he thought. Her golden hair dishevelled and her hands alternately clenching and unclenching, a woman whom he considered to be most wonderfully dressed was pacing wildly up and down, a look of such horror upon her pale face that Dan's heart seemed to stop beating for a moment!

Here was real trouble of a sort which appealed to all the chivalry in the boy's nature. He considered the window, which was glazed with amber-coloured glass, observed that it was sufficiently open to enable him to slip the fastening and open it entirely could he but reach it. And--yes!--there was a rain- pipe!

Climbing down to the yard, he looked quickly about him, ran across, and climbed up to the lighted window. A moment later he had pushed it widely open.

He was greeted by a stifled cry, but, cautiously transferring his weight from the friendly pipe to the ledge, he got astride of it, one foot in the room. Then, by exercise of a monkey-like agility, he wriggled his head and shoulders within.

"It's all right," he said softly and reassuringly; "I'm Dan Kerry, son of Chief Inspector Kerry. Can I be of any assistance?"

Her hands clasped convulsively together, the woman stood looking up at him.

"Oh, thank God!" said the captive. "But what are you going to do? Can you get me out?"

"Don't worry," replied Dan confidently. "Father and I can manage it all right!"

He performed a singular contortion, as a result of which his other leg and foot appeared inside the window. Then, twisting around, he lowered himself and dropped triumphantly upon a cushioned divan. At that moment he would have faced a cage full of man-eating tigers. The spirit of adventure had him in its grip. He stood up, breathing rapidly, his crop of red hair more dishevelled than usual.

Then, before he could stir or utter any protest, the golden- haired princess whom he had come to rescue stooped, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed him.

"You darling, brave boy!" she said. "I think you have saved me from madness."

Young Kerry, more flushed than ever, extricated himself, and:

"You're not out of the mess yet," he protested. "The only difference is that I'm in it with you!"

"But where is your father?"

"I'm looking for him."


"Oh! he's about somewhere," Dan assured her confidently.

"But, but----" She was gazing at him wide-eyed, "Didn't he send you here?"

"You bet he didn't," returned young Kerry. "I came here on my own accord, and when I go you're coming with me. I can't make out how you got here, anyway. Do you know whose house this is?"

"Oh, I do, I do!"


"It belongs to a man called Chada."

"Chada? Never heard of him. But I mean, what part of London is it in?"

"Whatever do you mean? It is in Limehouse, I believe. I don't understand. You came here."

"I didn't," said young Kerry cheerfully; "I was fetched!"

"By your father?"

"Not on your life. By a couple of Chinks! I'll tell you something." He raised his twinkling blue eyes. "We are properly up against it. I suppose you couldn't climb down a rain-pipe?"

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