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CHAPTER XXXIII.

IN THE PRESENCE.

The cursing gentleman and his two friends were awaiting us upon the pavement. I said a word of a kind to the long ’un.

“Look here, my bald-headed friend, I don’t quite know who you are, or what you want, but I’ve seen enough of your little ways to know they’re funny; so if you take my advice you’ll make yourself scarce before there’s trouble.”

He held out his hands. Looking, on the dirty pavement of that shabby street, like a fish out of water.

“The Great Joss! The Great Joss! He is in there—give him back to us—then we go.”

I reflected. After all there was some reason in the creature. He was almost as much interested in Mr. Batters as I was. Considering how Mr. Batters had treated me I didn’t see why he shouldn’t learn what an object of interest he really was. It might occasion him agreeable surprise. The fellow was in such dead earnest. It beat me how he and his friends had got where they were. Reminding me of the flocks of migratory birds which one meets far out at sea. Goodness only knows by what instinct they pursue the objects of their search. I turned to Mr. Paine.

“This gentleman was high priest, or something of the kind, in the temple in which Mr. Batters was Number One God.”

“Number One God?”

“That’s about the size of it. He was a god when I first made his acquaintance. This gentleman’s own particular. Since he and his friends have come a good many thousand miles to get another peep at him. I don’t think there’ll be much harm in letting him have one if it’s to be got. So, so far as I’m concerned, right reverend sir, you can stop and see the fun.”

Mr. Paine stared. He didn’t understand. The look with which he regarded the foreign gentleman wasn’t friendly. The experience he had had of his peculiar methods was a trifle recent. Perhaps it rankled.

I turned my attention to the house in front of which the lot of us were standing, cabs and all.

“The question is, since no one seems inclined to open the door, how we are going to get in to enable us to pay our little morning call.”

Rudd practically suggested one way by hurling himself against the door as if he had been a battering ram. He might as well have tried his luck against a stone wall. As much impression would have been made. When I ran my stick over it, it sounded to me like a sheet of metal.

Luke proffered his opinion.

“You’ll want a long chisel for this job. Or a pair. Nothing else ’ll do it. That door’s been put there to keep people out. Not to let ’em in. It’ll be like breaking into a strong room.”

Luke proved right. All our efforts were unavailing. That door had been built to keep folks out.

“If this is going to be a case for chisels,” said Rudd, “we’d better start on it at once, before those police come interfering.”

We were already centres of attraction to a rapidly increasing crowd. Our goings-on provided entertainment of a kind they didn’t care to miss. Long before we had put that job through the police did come. What is more, we were glad to see them.

Rudd fetched a pair of crowbars from an ironmonger’s shop close by. With his assistance, and acting under his instructions, we started to shift that door. We never got beyond the starting. We might as well have tried to shift the monument. He rigged up contrivances; tried dodges. There was the door just as tight as ever. And just as we were thinking of breaking the heads of some of the members of that interested crowd, up the police did come.

Mr. Paine explained to them what we were after. Then he and the young lady and Rudd went off with one of them to the station, while another stayed behind. In course of time they returned, together with an inspector, three more policemen, and two specimens of the British working man, who were wheeling something on a barrow. The interest of the crowd increased. The new arrivals were received with cheers.

Those workmen, in conjunction with Isaac Rudd, fitted up a machine upon the pavement. It was some kind of a drill I believe. Presently not one but half a dozen holes had been cut right through that door. Into these were inserted crowbars of a different construction to those we had been using. We all lent a hand. And the door was open.

The crowd pressed forward.

“Keep back!” cried the inspector.

And the police kept them back.

The inspector entered, with the young lady, Mr. Paine, Rudd and I. The rest were kept out, including the cursing gentleman and his two friends, which seemed hard on them after all they must have gone through. But it was little that they lost. At the beginning anyhow.

For as soon as we set foot inside the passage we found that there was another door defying us. It seemed to lead into a room upon our left. Rudd called one of the workmen in to consult with him. They sounded the door, they sounded the wall, and concluded that the shortest way into the room was through the wall. So soon the house was being knocked to pieces before our eyes. There was sheet iron on the other side that wall. But they were through it in what seemed no time. And there was a great hole, large enough to admit of the passage of a man.

And on the other side of this hole stood Susie.

She stared at us, and we stared at her, neither understanding who the other was. But when I did understand I felt as if my legs were giving way. And something inside me set up a clamour which was deafening. And when she saw it was me she called out:

“Max!”

She was through that wall like a flash of lightning. I had her in my arms almost before I knew it.

“Susie!” I said. “My sweet!”

I could tell by the way of her that she knew more about wives than she did when I saw her last. And that she had grown reconciled to the idea of being one. And perhaps a bit more than reconciled. The fates be thanked.

Miss Blyth was in the room with her. Alive and sound, and, indeed, unhurt. They had been frightened out of their wits when they heard us, and at the noise we made, thinking they were going to be murdered, at the least.

“Where’s your father?” I asked.

“When he brought her in,” she answered—meaning Miss Blyth—“he went out, shutting the door behind him, taking the key. He left us prisoners. We’ve been prisoners ever since. We’ve heard and seen nothing of him. Where he is I don’t know. Unless he’s above.”

He was above. In a room at the top of the house. With another door to it. So that we had to get through the wall again.

He had had a sort of throne rigged up. Intending, maybe, to have an imitation of the one which he had occupied when I had first come upon him in the temple. If that was so the imitation was a precious poor one. But he was on it. Dead. And cold. He had been gone some hours.

Whether he had committed suicide, or whether the end had come to him in the ordinary course of nature, there was nothing to show.

A colony of snakes was in the room. Those favourites of his. One shared the throne with the Great Joss. It was on the seat, in front of him, where his legs ought to have been. My idea was that the thing had killed him. But it seemed that that was not the case. The creatures were declared not to be venomous. And there was no mark of a snake-bite about him anyhow.

While we stood looking at the throne, and what was on it, there was a movement behind. The cursing gentleman and his two friends came in. At sight of the Great Joss they threw themselves on their faces, and bit the floor. I never saw men so scared. Or so surprised. I had a sort of notion that they had supposed him to be immortal, and that he couldn’t die. When the body came to be examined, and it was discovered what a torso it really was, and to what prolonged and hideous tortures the man must have been subjected, one began to understand that they might have had reasons of their own for thinking so. It might very well have been incomprehensible to them why, if he could die, he hadn’t died.

At the foot of the throne was the little doll-like thing which I had seen perched on the head of the fifty thousand pound monstrosity. He had called it the God of Fortune. Saying that where it was he was not far away.

The case seemed to present an illustration of the truth of his words. The doll was broken to atoms. The Great Joss and the God of Fortune seemed to have come to an end together.