A weird melody those tinkling brasses toned out as life itself hung in the balance of a chime when Dorus Noel and Chu Chul matched cunning in the Grottos of Chinatown...
'Well, I’m damned,” said Dorus Noel, “if this isn’t the queerest day I ever spent! Three hours on Park Avenue, at a tea given by the elite to a Chinese actor. And China’s best though he is, is still an actor, than which profession there is none lower in China. He was made over by all the society folks as though he had been a king or something.”
As Dorus Noel spoke, ostensibly to his Chinese “boy”, his hands absent-mindedly fingered the strange gifts which had come to him during his absence at the tea. He scarcely saw the ancient musical instruments, much as he liked such things, for a moment or two, because he was thinking of Mei Ying, the actor. From the second he had clasped hands with the actor—doing it with his tongue in his cheek because his society hosts expected it of him—he had had a feeling of repulsion. There had been something unclean about Mei Ying. He had felt sure, too, that he had seen something akin to hatred in the eyes of the gorgeously, orientally gowned actor.
He shrugged his shoulders, though, and gave closer attention to the three-barred frame, shaped oddly like an “H” with an extra bar across its middle and one across the top, containing the nine bells, three bells to each bar.
Those bells were the Chinese musical scale and were sounded by a little wooden mallet which was part of the gift.
The other instrument was the oldest known to the Chinese. It looked like a teapot and one played it by blowing into the spout. Where the lid should have been were twenty-four resonance tubes, with holes in the sides. One played them by fast manipulation of the fingers, and one had almost to inherit the art of playing them.
How was Dorus Noel to guess that both the instrument of the nine bells and that of the twentyfour resonance tubes were really weapons of murder—and the strangest and most horrible that had ever come to Chinatown?
Bells of Pell Street
Publication date: 19/10/2015
A weird melody those tinkling brasses toned out...
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