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- The Exploits of Elaine - 50/58 -

afternoon, when her lawyer, Perry Bennett, dropped in unexpectedly.

He had hardly greeted them when the butler, Jennings, in his usual impassive manner announced that Aunt Josephine was wanted on the telephone.

No sooner were Elaine and Bennett alone, than Elaine, turning to him, exclaimed impulsively, "I'm so glad you have come. I have been longing to see you and to tell you about a strange dream I have had."

"What was it?" he asked, with instant interest.

Leaning back in her chair and gazing before her tremulously, Elaine continued, "Last night, I dreamed that father came to me and told me that if I would give up Kennedy and put my trust in you, I would find the Clutching Hand. I don't know what to think of it."

Bennett, who had been listening intently, remained silent for a few moments. Then, putting down his tea cup, he moved over nearer to Elaine and bent over her.

"Elaine," he said in a low tone, his remarkable eyes looking straight into her own, "you must know that I love you. Then give me the right to protect you. It was your father's dearest wish, I believe, that we should marry. Let me share your dangers and I swear that sooner or later there will be an end to the Clutching Hand. Give me your answer, Elaine," he urged, "and make me the happiest man in all the world."

Elaine listened, and not unsympathetically, as Bennett continued to plead for her answer.

"Wait a little while--until to-morrow," she replied finally, as if overcome by the recollections of her weird dream and the unexpected sequel of his proposal.

"Let it be as you wish, then," agreed Bennett quietly.

He took her hand and kissed it passionately.

An instant later Aunt Josephine returned. Elaine, unstrung by what had happened, excused herself and went into the library.

She sank into one of the capacious arm chairs, and passing her hand wearily over her throbbing forehead, closed her eyes in deep thought. Involuntarily, her mind travelled back over the rapid succession of events of the past few weeks and the part that she had thought, at least, Kennedy had come to play in her life.

Then she thought of their recent misunderstanding. Might there not be some simple explanation of it, after all, which she had missed? What should she do?

She solved the problem by taking up the telephone and asking for Kennedy's number.

I was chatting with Craig in his laboratory, and, at the same time, was watching him in his experimental work. Just as a call came on the telephone, he was pouring some nitro-hydrochloric acid into a test tube to complete a reaction.

The telephone tinkled and he laid down the bottle of acid on his desk, while he moved a few steps to answer the call.

Whoever the speaker was, Craig seemed deeply interested, and, not knowing who was talking on the wire, I was eager to learn whether it was anyone connected with the case of the Clutching Hand.

"Yes, this is Mr. Kennedy," I heard Craig say.

I moved over toward him and whispered eagerly, "Is there anything new?"

A little impatient at being interrupted, Kennedy waved me off. It occurred to me that he might need a pad and pencil to make a note of some information and I reached over the desk for them.

As I did so my arm inadvertently struck the bottle of acid, knocking it over on the top of the desk. Its contents streamed out saturating the telephone wires before I could prevent it. In trying to right the bottle my hand came in contact with the acid which burned like liquid fire, and I cried out in pain.

Craig hastily laid down the receiver, seized me and rushed me to the back of the laboratory where he drenched my hand with a neutralizing liquid.

He bound up the wounds caused by the acid, which proved to be slight, after all, and then returned to the telephone.

To his evident annoyance, he discovered that the acid had burned through the wires and cut off all connection.

Though I did not know it, my hand was, in a sense at least, the hand of fate.

At the other end of the line, Elaine was listening impatiently for a response to her first eager words of inquiry. She was astounded to find, at last, that Kennedy had apparently left the telephone without any explanation or apology.

"Why--he rang off," she exclaimed angrily to herself, as she hung up the receiver and left the room.

She rejoined her Aunt Josephine and Bennett who had been chatting together in the drawing room, still wondering at the queer rebuff she had, seemingly, experienced.

Bennett rose to go, and, as he parted from Elaine, found an opportunity to whisper a few words reminding her of her promised reply on the morrow.

Piqued, at Kennedy, she flashed Bennett a meaning glance which gave him to understand that his suit was not hopeless.

In the center of a devious and winding way, quite unknown to all except those who knew the innermost secrets of the Chinese quarter and even unknown to the police, there was a dingy tenement house, apparently inhabited by hardworking Chinamen, but in reality the headquarters of the notorious devil worshippers, a sect of Satanists, banned even in the Celestial Empire.

The followers of the cult comprised some of the most dangerous Chinese criminals, thugs, and assassins, besides a number of dangerous characters who belonged to various Chinese secret societies. At the head of this formidable organization was Long Sin, the high priest of the Devil God, and Long Sin had, as we knew, already joined forces with the notorious Clutching Hand.

The room in which the uncanny rites of the devil worshippers were conducted was a large apartment decorated in Chinese style, with highly colored portraits of some of the devil deities and costly silken hangings. Beside a large dais depended a huge Chinese gong.

On the dais itself stood, or rather sat, an ugly looking figure covered with some sort of metallic plating. It almost seemed to be the mummy of a Chinaman covered with gold leaf. It was thin and shrunken, entirely nude.

Into this room came Long Sin attired in an elaborate silken robe. He advanced and kowtowed before the dais with its strange figure, and laid down an offering before it, consisting of punk sticks, little dishes of Chinese cakes, rice, a jar of oil, and some cooked chicken and pork. Then he bowed and kowtowed again.

This performance was witnessed by twenty or thirty Chinamen who knelt in the rear of the room. As Long Sin finished his devotions they filed past the dais, bowing and scraping with every sign of abject reverence both for the devil deity and his high priest.

At the same time an aged Chinaman carrying a prayer wheel entered the place and after prostrating himself devoutedly placed the machine on a sort of low stool or tabourette and began turning it slowly, muttering. Each revolution of this curious wheel was supposed to offer a prayer to the god of the netherworld.

A few moments later, Long Sin, who had been bowing before the metallic figure in deepest reverence, suddenly sprang to his feet. His glazed eye and excited manner indicated that he had received a message from the lips of the strange idol.

The worshippers who had prostrated themselves in awe at the sight of their high priest in the unholy frenzy, all rose to their feet and crowded forward. At the same time Long Sin advanced a step to meet them, holding his arms outstretched as if to compel silence while he delivered his message.

Long Sin struck several blows on the resounding gong and then raised his voice in solemn tones.

"Ksing Chau, the Terrible, demands a consort. She is to be foreign--fair of face and with golden hair."

Amazed at this unexpected message, the Chinamen prostrated themselves again and their unhallowed devotions terminated a few moments later amid suppressed excitement as they filed out.

At the same time, in a room of the adjoining house, the Clutching Hand himself was busily engaged making the most elaborate preparations for some nefarious scheme which his fertile mind had evolved.

The room had been fitted up as a medium's seance parlor, with black hangings on the walls, while at one side there was a square cabinet of black cloth, with a guitar lying before it.

Two of the Clutching Hand's most trusted confederates and a hard- faced woman of middle age, dressed in plain black, were putting the finishing touches to this apartment, when their Chief entered.

Clutching Hand gazed about the room, now and then giving an order or two to make more effective the setting for the purpose which he had in mind.

Finally he nodded in approval and stepped over to the fire place where logs were burning brightly in a grate.

The Exploits of Elaine - 50/58

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