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- The Romance of Elaine - 10/62 -
Still, there was enough room in what remained of the cavern so that we could move about.
Kennedy had even dug away some of the earth and rock, in the hope of discovering some trace of the strange visitor whom we had surprised at work. But here, also, he had found nothing.
It was maddening. What might at any moment be happening to Elaine- -and he powerless to help her?
Unescapably, he was forced to the conclusion that not only Elaine's amazing disappearance, but the tragic succession of events which had preceded it, had been caused, in some way, by the curiously engraved ring which Aunt Josephine had taken from Elaine.
Craig had taken possession of the mystic ring himself, and now, forced back on this sole clue, it had occurred to him that if the ring were so valuable, other attempts would, without doubt, be made to get possession of it.
I came into the laboratory, one afternoon, to find Kennedy surrounded by jeweler's tools, hard at work making an exact copy of the ring.
"What do you think of it, Walter?" he asked, holding up the replica.
"Perfect," I replied, admiringly. "What are you going to do with it?"
"I can't say--yet," answered Kennedy, forlornly, "but if I understand these Chinese criminals at all, I know that the only way we can ever track them is through some trick. Perhaps the replica will suggest something to us later."
He placed the copy in a velvet-lined box closely resembling that in which the real ring lay, and dropped both into his pocket.
"Let's see if Aunt Josephine has received any word," he remarked abruptly, putting on his hat and coat, and nodding to me to follow.
Kennedy and I were not the only visitors to the subterranean chamber where it had seemed that the clue to the Clutching Hand's millions might be found.
It was as though that hidden, watching eye followed us. The night after our own unsuccessful search, Wu Fang, accompanied by Long Sin, made his way into the cavern.
As they flashed their electric bull's-eyes about the place, they could see readily that we had already been digging there.
Wu examined the safe which had been broken into, while Long Sin repeated his experiences there.
"And you say there was nothing else in it?" demanded Wu.
"Nothing but the ring which they got from me," replied Long Sin, ruefully.
"Strange--very strange," ruminated Wu, still regarding the empty strong box.
Long Sin was now going over the walls of the cavern minutely, his close-set, beady black eyes examining every square inch of it.
A sudden low guttural exclamation caused Wu to turn to him quickly. Long Sin had discovered, back of the debris, a small oblong slot, cut into the rock. Above it were some peculiar marks.
Wu hurried over to his henchman, and together they tried to decipher what had been scratched on the rock.
As Long Sin's slender and sinister forefinger traced over the inscription, Wu suddenly caught him by the elbow.
"The ring!" he cried, as at last he interpreted the meaning of the cryptic characters.
But what about the ring? For a moment Wu looked at the slot in deep thought. Then he reached down and withdrew a ring from his own finger and dropped it through the slot.
They listened a moment. They could hear the ring tinkle as though it were running down some sort of track-like declivity inside the rock. Then, faintly, they could hear it drop. It had fallen into a little cup of a compartment below at their feet.
Nothing happened. Wu recovered his ring. But he had hit at last upon the Clutching Hand's secret!
Bennett had devised a ring-lock which would open, the treasure vault. No other ring except the one which he had so carefully hidden was of the size or weight that would move the lever which would set the machinery working to open the treasure house.
Again Wu tried another of his own rings, and a third time Long Sin dropped in a ring from his finger. Still there was no result.
"The ring which we lost is the key to the puzzle--the only key," exclaimed Wu Fang finally. "We must recover it at all hazard."
To his subtle mind a plan of action seemed to unfold almost instantly. "There is no good remaining here," he added. "And we have gained nothing by the capture of the girl, unless we can use her to recover the ring."
Long Sin followed his master with a sort of intuition. "If we have to steal it," he suggested deferentially, "it can be accomplished best by making use of Chong Wah Tong."
The Tong was the criminal band which they had offended, which had in fact stolen the ring from Long Sin and sold it to Elaine. Yet in a game such as this enmity could not last when it was mutually disadvantageous. Wu took the suggestion. He decided instantly to make peace with his enemies--and use them.
Later that night, in his car, Wu stopped near the little curio shop kept by the new Tong leader.
Long Sin alighted and entered the shop, while the Tong man eyed him suspiciously.
"My master has come to make peace," he began, saluting the Tong leader behind the counter.
Nothing, in reality, could have pleased the Tong men more, for in their hearts they feared the master-like subtlety of Wu Fang. The conference was short and Long Sin with a bow left quickly to rejoin Wu, while the Tong leader disappeared into a back room of the shop where several of the inner circle sat.
"All is well, master," reported Long Sin when he had made his way back to the car around the corner in which Wu was waiting.
Wu smiled and a moment later followed by his slave in crime entered the curio shop and passed through with great dignity into the room in the rear.
As the two entered, the Tong men bowed with great respect.
"Let us be enemies no more," began Wu briefly. "Let us rather help each other as brothers."
He extended his right hand, palm down, as he spoke. For a moment the Tong leader parleyed with the others, then stepped forward and laid his own hand, palm down, over that of Wu. One by one the others did the same, including Long Sin, the aggrieved.
Peace was restored.
Wu had risen to go, and the Tong men were bowing a respectful farewell. He turned and saw a large vase. For a moment he paused before it. It was an enormous affair and was apparently composed of a mosaic of rare Chinese enamels, cunningly put together by the deft and patient fingers of the oriental craftsmen. Extending from the widely curving bowl below was an extremely long, narrow, tapering neck.
Wu looked at it intently; then an idea seemed to strike him. He called the Tong leader and the others about him.
Quickly he outlined the details of a plan.
. . . . . . .
"Have you received any word yet?" asked Aunt Josephine anxiously, when Jennings had ushered us into the Dodge library.
Kennedy shook his head sadly. There was no need to repeat the question to Aunt Josephine. The tears in her eyes told only too plainly that she herself had heard nothing, either.
Craig bent over and placed his hand on her shoulder. For the moment, none of us could control our emotions.
A few minutes later, Jennings entered the room softly again. "The expressmen are outside, ma'am, with a large package," he said.
"A package?" inquired Aunt Josephine, looking up, surprised. "For me--are you sure?"
Jennings bowed and repeated his remark. Aunt Josephine followed him out into the hall.
There, already, the delivery men had set down a huge oriental vase with a remarkably long and narrow neck. It was, as befitted such a really beautiful object of art, most carefully crated. But to Aunt Josephine it came as a complete surprise. "I can't imagine who could have sent it," she temporized. "Are you quite sure it is for me?"
The expressman, with a book, looked up from the list of names down which he was running his finger. "This is Mrs. Dodge, isn't it?" he asked, pointing with his pencil to the entry with the address following it. There seemed to be no name of a shipper.
"Yes," she replied dubiously, "but I don't understand it. Wait
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