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Chapter 23 - The Chase

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« on: December 30, 2022, 09:38:08 am »

Rupert stared at the wounded woman amazed. How came Miss Pewsey into this den? He was so astonished, that he forgot to call for assistance. Miss Pewsey gave a moan and opened her eyes. At once she recognised Ainsleigh, for the light from the tasselled lantern overhead, fell full on his amazed face.

"So you are safe," said Miss Pewsey with difficulty, "didn't Tung-yu kill you."

"I have just arrived," said Rupert, "your nephew has gone out followed by Tung-yu."

"I hope he'll catch him," muttered Miss Pewsey, "Tung-yu stabbed me. Clarence snatched the papers and ran away leaving me here to die."

"How did you get the papers?" asked Rupert startled.

"I got them from Clarence—he asked me to come up here, and—oh," she fell back insensible. Rupert thought she was dead and forgetting where he was, cried loudly for assistance. He heard footsteps approaching and Lo-Keong in sober attired entered. The stately Chinaman was roused out of his usual self. He appeared disturbed and his face was distorted. "Rodgers and his men are chasing Tung-yu," said Lo-Keong grasping Rupert's arm, "go after them. Tung-yu has the papers."

"But Miss Pewsey."

Lo-Keong started back. "That woman," he cried, as startled as Rupert had been, "pooh, let her die. She deserves her fate. She has been the cause of the trouble. Go—go, Mr. Ainsleigh—go after Tung-yu."

"But Miss Pewsey!" repeated Rupert, seeing the woman open her eyes, and recognising that life yet remained.

"I'll see to her. I'll get a doctor." Lo-Keong struck the gong near the door. "But get me those papers. All my life depends upon them. Remember—one hundred thousand pounds—go—go. It may be too late. Don't allow Tung-yu to escape."

Rupert was quite bewildered as the Chinaman pushed him out of the door. Then, recognising that he could do nothing to help Miss Pewsey, and that Lo-Keong, for his own sake would do all he could to keep her alive, so that he might learn how the packet came into her possession, Rupert ran out of the house, and found the street filled with screaming Chinamen and chattering Europeans. Some policemen were coming down the alley from the main thoroughfare, and everyone appeared to be alarmed. The ragged mob rushed into various doors, at the sight of the officers, but the Chinamen still continued to cackle and scream. Suddenly Rupert heard a revolver shot, and wondered if the Major had got into trouble. Remembering that Burgh, with Tung-yu in pursuit, had gone down the alley towards the water, he raced in the same direction, and at once, two policemen, seeing him go, followed. There was no time to undeceive them, so Rupert ran on, eager to come up with Burgh. He had the papers, according to Miss Pewsey, and in spite of Lo-Keong's statement, Ainsleigh suspected that Miss Pewsey was right. Else Tung-yu would not be in pursuit of the buccaneer. As Rupert tore down the moonlit alley, he heard the high clear voice of the Mandarin calling on the police to stop. Then the tumult recommenced.

It mattered little to Ainsleigh. As he raced blindly on, he felt a thrill of joy in his veins. It seemed to him that he had never lived before, and that this man-hunt was the climax of life. At the end of the Alley he came on a dilapidated wharf, which ran out into the turbid water, and saw a stout figure dancing on this. At once he hurried down to find Major Tidman, who recognised him at once.

"There was a boat waiting," gasped the Major seizing Rupert's arm. "Burgh jumped into it and pushed off. Tung-yu came after, and as the boat was already in mid-stream he plunged into the water."

"Where is Hwei?"

"Rodgers and his men are after him. I fired a shot, and I believe, I hit Tung-yu, as he was swimming. Who has the papers?"

"Burgh. Keep a look out for him. I'll run along the bank," and before the Major could expostulate, Ainsleigh dashed up the wharf and ran along the bank of the river.

He did this because his quick eye had seen a black head bobbing in the water below the wharf. The swimmer was evidently making for the near shore. Rupert did not know if it was Tung-yu or Hwei, but hurried at top speed along the bank, in the hope of catching the man when he came ashore. He sped along a kind of narrow way, for here the old houses of Rotherhithe came down, almost to the water's edge. There were lights in some of the windows, but for the most part, these were in darkness. To Rupert's left, loomed the house, and on his right was the river bank, shelving down to the glittering water. A few piles ran out into the stream, and as the river was low, there were acres of evil-smelling mud. The man was making for the bank and battling hard against the stream, which was sweeping him down. Rupert shouted, and seeing him on the bank, the swimmer seemed to stop, apparently dreading the reception he would get.

Finally he resumed his stroke, and made for a wharf, some distance down. Ainsleigh ran for this, but was stopped by a wooden fence. He managed to climb over, and raced on to the wharf; but the swimmer was nowhere to be seen.

Suddenly, Rupert caught sight of a figure crawling up the bank a little distance below, and again ran up the wharf to the pathway. The man who had landed caught sight of him, and leaping on to the hard path, ran along the river bank, but in a swaying manner, as though his powers of endurance were exhausted. Considering how hard he had battled with the current, probably the man's strength had given out and Rupert, feeling fresh and fit, thought he would have no difficulty in catching up. But the man ran hard, and then dropped out of sight below the bank. Apparently he had taken to the river again. Rupert raced down so quickly, as to overshoot the mark, where the man had slipped down. While looking round, he caught sight of him again. He ran up the bank and dodged into a narrow side street. Rupert was after him in a moment. The man had vanished round a corner—so Ainsleigh thought—but when Rupert came after, he saw the street in the moonlight was perfectly empty, and turned back. The fugitive had tricked him, by dodging into a dark corner, and was again on the bank. He leaped on the wharf, and scrambled down the piles to a boat which swung at the end of a long rope. While he hauled this in painfully, and pantingly, Rupert leaped on him. The man looked up with an oath, and closed with his pursuer. It was Burgh.

"The papers—the papers," gasped Rupert, "you give them up."

"I'll kill you first," said Burgh setting his teeth, and, exhausted as he was, he struggled with preternatural strength. The two men swung and swayed on the edge of the wharf, till Burgh tripped up his opponent and both fell into the water. Rupert still held his grip, and felt the body of Burgh grow heavy. He rose to the surface, dragging at the buccaneer, and, as the two had fallen into shallow water, Rupert staggered on to the evil-smelling mud. He was obliged to let go Burgh, who, apparently, had been playing possum, for he rose to his feet and made a feeble attempt to climb the bank. Seeing this, Rupert, who was almost exhausted himself with the long pursuit and the cold doûche, struck out, and Burgh, with a cry of rage fell flat into the mud. The next moment Rupert was kneeling on his chest. "The papers, you scoundrel," he said between his teeth.

"Haven't got them. Tung-yu——"

"You lie. Give me those papers, or I'll tear your clothes off to find them."

Burgh tried to utter a taunting laugh, but the effort was too much for his strength. He stopped suddenly, and with a sob closed his eyes. The body became inert, and as Rupert could see no wound, he concluded that the buccaneer had fainted. At once he removed his knee, and began his search. He went deliberately through the pockets of the insensible man, and finally came across a packet bound in red brocade. It was in Burgh's breast, next to the skin. Rupert, with this in his hand, rose with a gasp of relief. He had the papers after all, and now, could hope to get the money from the Mandarin. He slipped the important packet into his pocket, and then producing a flask of brandy, he forced a few drops between the clenched teeth of his antagonist. He did not wish the man to die, and moreover, he was desirous of questioning him. In a few moments Burgh opened his eyes. "You," he said, as soon as he recovered his scattered senses, and he made an effort to rise.

"No you don't," said Rupert pushing him back, "you'll try and reach for your revolver."

"Go slow," muttered Burgh, lying on his back in the mud. "I give in, Ainsleigh. You've won."

"I've got the papers, if that's what you mean. They shall be given to Lo-Keong."

"And you'll get the five thousand."

"I'll get one hundred thousand," said Rupert, keeping a watchful eye on his late opponent.

"Huh," said Burgh with a groan, "what luck. And all I have got, is a ducking. Let me up and give me some more brandy. Remember, I saved your life from Forge, Ainsleigh."

"Quite so, and you tried to kill me just now," said Rupert dryly. "I think we are quits. However, here's the brandy, and you can sit up. No treachery mind, or I'll shoot you," and Rupert pulled out his Derringer.

The buccaneer gave a grunt and sat up with an effort. "I'm not up to a row," he gasped. "There's no fight left in me. Great Scott, to think I was so near success. I'll be poor for the rest of my life, I guess."

"You'll be hanged for the murder of Miss Wharf, you mean."

Burgh took a deep draught of the brandy, which put new life into his veins. He actually grinned when he took the flask from his lips. "I reckon that's not my end," said he. "I never killed the old girl. No sir—not such a flat."

"Then who did kill her?"

"Find out," was the ungracious response.

"See here, Burgh," said Rupert, swinging himself on to a pile of the wharf. "I mean to get to the bottom of this business, once and for all. The papers shall be given to the Marquis and then, I hope, we shall hear the last of this fan business. But I must know who killed—"

"There—there," said Burgh with a shrug, and after another drink, "I cave in: you've got the bulge on me. But I guess, if you want to keep those papers, you'd best clear out, Tung-yu will be along soon looking for them. I leaped into a boat and pushed out, but that Chinese devil swam after, and when I got into trouble with the oars, he climbed on board with a long knife. I jumped over-board and made for the bank, where you raced me down. But I guess Tung-yu will bring that craft of his ashore, and he's hunting for me like a dog as he is."

"Rodgers, and Hwei, and Lo-Keong, and a lot of policemen are hunting for Tung-yu," said Rupert coolly, "so you need give yourself no further trouble. Tell me why you killed Miss Wharf?"

"I didn't, confound you," growled Burgh.

"Then you know who did?"

"Yes—it was Forge."

"That's a lie. Forge wrote to my wife, and denied that you gave him the tie."

"Then Tidman killed the old girl."

"No. He was with me on the beach. Come now, you shan't get off in this way. Tell me who is guilty?"

"If I do, will you let me go?"

"I make no bargains. Out with it."

Burgh looked black, but being tired out and at the mercy of Rupert's revolver, he growled sulkily, "It was Aunt Lavinia."

"Miss Pewsey—that frail little woman—impossible."

"Frail," echoed the Buccaneer with scorn, "she's as tough as hickory and as wicked a little devil as ever breathed. Why, she learned about the fan from Forge when he was delirious, and gave away the show to Lo-Keong in China—"

"I know that. And she wished Olivia to have the fan, that she might be killed."

"That's so, you bet. But old Wharf got it, and so, was killed."

"But not by Tung-yu, or Hwei."

"No." Burgh took a final drink, and having emptied the flask, flung it into the river. Then he took out a cigarette, which was dry enough to light. When smoking, he began to laugh. "Well this is a rum show," said he. "I guess you've got all the fun. I'm sold proper."

"Tell me your story," said Rupert imperatively, "I want to get back to Penter's Alley to see your aunt."

"Oh, I guess she's a goner by this time," said Burgh easily, "Tung-yu knifed her."

"You mean Hwei. I found him wiping the knife."

"No. Tung-yu stuck her, and dropped the knife. Aunty was just passing the packet to Hwei, when Tung-yu stabbed her. I reckon he intended to grab the packet, but I was too sharp for him, and caught it away from his hand. Then I raced out and he after me. Hwei stayed behind to clean the knife, I reckon."

"No, he followed you two almost immediately."

"Then both Chinamen will be here soon. You'd best cut."

"Not till I learn the truth."

"I've told you the truth," snapped Burgh, in a weary voice. "My old aunt strangled Miss Wharf. Yes. Aunty told me of the tie, and asked me to get it for her. I didn't know what she wanted to do with it, so I did. I took it out of your pocket when Dalham was out of the room. Then I gave it to aunty. She told Miss Wharf that Tung-yu wanted to see her on the steps, after eleven. Miss Wharf went there and then aunty followed and sat down beside her on the steps. I guess she kept her in talk and then slipped the tie round her old throat and pulled with all her might. And she's strong, I can tell you," added Clarence confidentially. "She nearly broke my arm one day twisting it. Miss Wharf hadn't time to call out, and was a deader in two minutes, for aunty froze on to her like death."

"Death indeed," murmured Rupert with a shudder.

"Well then aunty bucked up round by the front of the hotel with the fan in her pocket and left the tie round the neck of the old girl, so that you might hang. All went well, but the next day I went to aunty and asked for the fan. She was very sick, as she intended to sell it that day to Tung-yu. But Tung-yu had cut along with Hwei in the yacht, both thinking they might be accused of the murder. They thought that old Tidman did the biznai," grinned Burgh, "and I let them think so, having my own game to play with aunty."

"Well," said Ainsleigh shortly, "and what did you do?"

"I told aunty I'd split if I didn't get the fan, so she passed it along to me. Then I learned about the secret from Tung-yu—the waving in the smoke you know. I found out the kind of smoke from Forge—"

"And repaid him by a lying accusation."

"That's so," said Burgh coolly, "there ain't no flies on me. But let's heave ahead. It's cold sitting here."

"Go on then," said Ainsleigh sharply.

"Well I learned about the picture, and guessed about the abbey. The picture was plain enough. I came that day you found me, to see the place."

"And stole the packet then?"

"No, I waited till night and rigged myself up as the Abbot. I knew it would make anyone sick who saw a monk about at that hour."

"Not me," said Ainsleigh, "if I had caught you—"

"Well you very nearly did," confessed Burgh candidly, "I came at night and climbed all four trees before I nipped the box. Then I prized it open and climbed down leaving the box, so that Lo-Keong might get sold when he came to look. Just as I got down, that old housekeeper of yours screeched, and cut. I was startled, and dropped the fan. Not wishing to leave that behind, I began to look for it. Then you and the butler turned up and I lighted out sharp."

"What happened next?"

"Well I wanted the money, but not knowing the days of Hwei and Tung-yu, thought I might get stabbed, instead of the money. So I took the packet to Aunty, and asked her to go up, telling her Tung-yu would give her the money. She fell into the trap."

"But she knew that Hwei—"

"It wasn't Hwei's day," said Burgh, "at least it turned out so, though I didn't know it at the time, and so sent on Aunty to get the cash. I intended to pull the dollars out of her when she did get them, or leave her to die if Hwei knifed her."

"You blackguard."

"Go slow," said Burgh coolly, "aunty was no friend to you. I say, do you know why aunty wanted me to marry Olivia. It was because I'm married already and if—"

He got no further. Rupert knocked him backwards into the mud. Burgh leaped to his feet, and suddenly cried, "Look behind." Rupert did so very foolishly, and Burgh flung himself forward. But all the same Burgh was right to warn Ainsleigh. A man was staggering along the wharf. He was in Chinese dress.

"Knife him, Tung-yu," cried Burgh, struggling with Rupert, "I'll hold him. He's got the papers."

The Chinaman gave a screech and hurled himself on the pair. Rupert wrenched himself away from Burgh and struck out at Tung-yu. At the same moment he heard another cry, and Hwei came leaping down the wharf. Before Tung-yu could turn, his enemy was on him, and as Rupert was again closing in death grips with Burgh, he had no time to see what was taking place. He could hear the Chinamen snarling like angry cats on the wharf, and was himself fighting in the mud with Burgh for his life. Luckily Rupert got his hand free and it was the one which held the revolver. He fired at random—three shots.

There was a shout in the distance: but at that moment, the buccaneer seized him by the throat and threw him down. Rupert with a strangled cry felt himself being forced beneath the water, and thought the end had come. He could hear the struggle between Hwei and Tung-yu going on furiously, and hear also very faintly the deep laughter of his opponent. Then he lost consciousness. Everything became dark, and Rupert's last thought was that all his pains had been in vain. He would die, and Olivia would be a widow.

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