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Dr Fu-Manchu is back once again! His very existence seemingly proves him immune from natural laws, a deathless incarnation of evil! Brand new editions of the world-famous novels featuring one of the most iconic characters of the 20th Century, standing alongside Sherlock Holmes and James Bond.And this time the Devil Doctor is not alone. Sir Denis Nayland Smith and his associates learn of a deadly organization that stalks the shadows. Their goal is to undermine the balance of global power, and they allow no one to stand in their way. They are the terrorist assassins known as the Si-Fan."The hand that held my arm was bony and clawish; I could detect the presence of incredibly long finger nails--nails long as those of some buried vampire of the black ages! Choking down a cry of horror, I opened my eyes... and looked into the face of my guide. It was Dr. Fu-Manchu!"
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CHAPTER I: THE TRAVELER FROM TIBET
CHAPTER II: THE MAN WITH THE LIMP
CHAPTER III: “SAKYA MUNI”
CHAPTER IV: THE FLOWER OF SILENCE
CHAPTER V: JOHN KI’S
CHAPTER VI: THE SI-FAN MOVE
CHAPTER VII: CHINATOWN
CHAPTER VIII: ZARMI OF THE JOY-SHOP
CHAPTER IX: FU-MANCHU
CHAPTER X: THE TÛLUN-NÛR CHEST
CHAPTER XI: IN THE FOG
CHAPTER XII: THE VISITANT
CHAPTER XIII: THE ROOM BELOW
CHAPTER XIV: THE GOLDEN POMEGRANATES
CHAPTER XV: ZARMI REAPPEARS
CHAPTER XVI: I TRACK ZARMI
CHAPTER XVII: I MEET DR. FU-MANCHU
CHAPTER XVIII: QUEEN OF HEARTS
CHAPTER XIX: “ZAGAZIG”
CHAPTER XX: THE NOTE ON THE DOOR
CHAPTER XXI: THE SECOND MESSAGE
CHAPTER XXII: THE SECRET OF THE WHARF
CHAPTER XXIII: ARREST OF SAMARKAN
CHAPTER XXIV: CAFÉ DE L’EGYPTE
CHAPTER XXV: THE HOUSE OF HASHISH
CHAPTER XXVI: “THE DEMON’S SELF”
CHAPTER XXVII: ROOM WITH THE GOLDEN DOOR
CHAPTER XXVIII: THE MANDARIN KI-MING
CHAPTER XXIX: LAMA SORCERY
CHAPTER XXX: MEDUSA
CHAPTER XXXI: THE MARMOSET
CHAPTER XXXII: SHRINE OF SEVEN LAMPS
CHAPTER XXXIII: AN ANTI-CLIMAX
CHAPTER XXXIV: GRAYWATER PARK
CHAPTER XXXV: THE EAST TOWER
CHAPTER XXXVI: THE DUNGEON
CHAPTER XXXVII: THREE NIGHTS LATER
CHAPTER XXXVIII: THE MONK’S PLAN
CHAPTER XXXIX: THE SHADOW ARMY
CHAPTER XL: THE BLACK CHAPEL
“Who’s there?” I called sharply.
I turned and looked across the room. The window had been widely opened when I entered, and a faint fog haze hung in the apartment, seeming to veil the light of the shaded lamp. I watched the closed door intently, expecting every moment to see the knob turn. But nothing happened.
“Who’s there?” I cried again, and, crossing the room, I threw open the door.
The long corridor without, lighted only by one inhospitable lamp at a remote end, showed choked and yellowed with this same fog so characteristic of London in November. But nothing moved to right nor left of me. The New Louvre Hotel was in some respects yet incomplete, and the long passage in which I stood, despite its marble facings, had no air of comfort or good cheer; palatial it was, but inhospitable.
I returned to the room, reclosing the door behind me, then for some five minutes or more I stood listening for a repetition of that mysterious sound, as of something that both dragged and tapped, which already had arrested my attention. My vigilance went unrewarded. I had closed the window to exclude the yellow mist, but subconsciously I was aware of its encircling presence, walling me in, and now I found myself in such a silence as I had known in deserts but could scarce have deemed possible in fog-bound London, in the heart of the world’s metropolis, with the traffic of the Strand below me upon one side and the restless life of the river upon the other.
It was easy to conclude that I had been mistaken, that my nervous system was somewhat overwrought as a result of my hurried return from Cairo—from Cairo where I had left behind me many a fondly cherished hope. I addressed myself again to the task of unpacking my steamer-trunk and was so engaged when again a sound in the corridor outside brought me upright with a jerk.
A quick footstep approached the door, and there came a muffled rapping upon the panel.
This time I asked no question, but leapt across the room and threw the door open. Nayland Smith stood before me, muffled up in a heavy traveling coat, and with his hat pulled down over his brows.
“At last!” I cried, as my friend stepped in and quickly reclosed the door.
Smith threw his hat upon the settee, stripped off the great-coat, and pulling out his pipe began to load it in feverish haste.
“Well,” I said, standing amid the litter cast out from the trunk, and watching him eagerly, “what’s afoot?”
Nayland Smith lighted his pipe, carelessly dropping the match-end upon the floor at his feet.
“God knows what is afoot this time, Petrie!” he replied. “You and I have lived no commonplace lives; Dr. Fu-Manchu has seen to that; but if I am to believe what the Chief has told me to-day, even stranger things are ahead of us!”
I stared at him wonder-stricken.
“That is almost incredible,” I said; “terror can have no darker meaning than that which Dr. Fu-Manchu gave to it. Fu-Manchu is dead, so what have we to fear?”
“We have to fear,” replied Smith, throwing himself into a corner of the settee, “the Si-Fan!”
I continued to stare, uncomprehendingly.
“I always knew and you always knew,” interrupted Smith in his short, decisive manner, “that Fu-Manchu, genius that he was, remained nevertheless the servant of another or others. He was not the head of that organization which dealt in wholesale murder, which aimed at upsetting the balance of the world. I even knew the name of one, a certain mandarin, and member of the Sublime Order of the White Peacock, who was his immediate superior. I had never dared to guess at the identity of what I may term the Head Center.”
He ceased speaking, and sat gripping his pipe grimly between his teeth, whilst I stood staring at him almost fatuously. Then—
“Evidently you have much to tell me,” I said, with forced calm.
I drew up a chair beside the settee and was about to sit down.
“Suppose you bolt the door,” jerked my friend.
I nodded, entirely comprehending, crossed the room and shot the little nickel bolt into its socket.
“Now,” said Smith as I took my seat, “the story is a fragmentary one in which there are many gaps. Let us see what we know. It seems that the despatch which led to my sudden recall (and incidentally yours) from Egypt to London and which only reached me as I was on the point of embarking at Suez for Rangoon, was prompted by the arrival here of Sir Gregory Hale, whilom attaché at the British Embassy, Peking. So much, you will remember, was conveyed in my instructions.”
“Furthermore, I was instructed, you’ll remember, to put up at the New Louvre Hotel; therefore you came here and engaged this suite whilst I reported to the chief. A stranger business is before us, Petrie, I verily believe, than any we have known hitherto. In the first place, Sir Gregory Hale is here——”
“In the New Louvre Hotel. I ascertained on the way up, but not by direct inquiry, that he occupies a suite similar to this, and incidentally on the same floor.”
“His report to the India Office, whatever its nature, must have been a sensational one.”
“He has made no report to the India Office.”
“What! made no report?”
“He has not entered any office whatever, nor will he receive any representative. He’s been playing at Robinson Crusoe in a private suite here for close upon a fortnight—id est since the time of his arrival in London!”
I suppose my growing perplexity was plainly visible, for Smith suddenly burst out with his short, boyish laugh.
“Oh! I told you it was a strange business,” he cried.
“Is he mad?”
Nayland Smith’s gaiety left him; he became suddenly stern and grim.
“Either mad, Petrie, stark raving mad, or the savior of the Indian Empire—perhaps of all Western civilization. Listen. Sir Gregory Hale, whom I know slightly and who honors me, apparently, with a belief that I am the only man in Europe worthy of his confidence, resigned his appointment at Peking some time ago, and set out upon a private expedition to the Mongolian frontier with the avowed intention of visiting some place in the Gobi Desert. From the time that he actually crossed the frontier he disappeared for nearly six months, to reappear again suddenly and dramatically in London. He buried himself in this hotel, refusing all visitors and only advising the authorities of his return by telephone. He demanded that I should be sent to see him; and—despite his eccentric methods—so great is the Chief’s faith in Sir Gregory’s knowledge of matters Far Eastern, that behold, here I am.”
He broke off abruptly and sat in an attitude of tense listening. Then—
“Do you hear anything, Petrie?” he rapped.
“A sort of tapping?” I inquired, listening intently myself the while.
Smith nodded his head rapidly.
We both listened for some time, Smith with his head bent slightly forward and his pipe held in his hands; I with my gaze upon the bolted door. A faint mist still hung in the room, and once I thought I detected a slight sound from the bedroom beyond, which was in darkness. Smith noted me turn my head, and for a moment the pair of us stared into the gap of the doorway. But the silence was complete.
“You have told me neither much nor little, Smith,” I said, resuming for some reason, in a hushed voice. “Who or what is this Si-Fan at whose existence you hint?”
Nayland Smith smiled grimly.
“Possibly the real and hitherto unsolved riddle of Tibet, Petrie,” he replied—"a mystery concealed from the world behind the veil of Lamaism.” He stood up abruptly, glancing at a scrap of paper which he took from his pocket—"Suite Number 14a,” he said. “Come along! We have not a moment to waste. Let us make our presence known to Sir Gregory— the man who has dared to raise that veil.”
“Lock the door!” said Smith significantly, as we stepped into the corridor.
I did so and had turned to join my friend when, to the accompaniment of a sort of hysterical muttering, a door further along, and on the opposite side of the corridor, was suddenly thrown open, and a man whose face showed ghastly white in the light of the solitary lamp beyond, literally hurled himself out. He perceived Smith and myself immediately. Throwing one glance back over his shoulder he came tottering forward to meet us.
“My God! I can’t stand it any longer!” he babbled, and threw himself upon Smith, who was foremost, clutching pitifully at him for support. “Come and see him, sir—for Heaven’s sake come in! I think he’s dying; and he’s going mad. I never disobeyed an order in my life before, but I can’t help myself—I can’t help myself!”
“Brace up!” I cried, seizing him by the shoulders as, still clutching at Nayland Smith, he turned his ghastly face to me. “Who are you, and what’s your trouble?”
“I’m Beeton, Sir Gregory Hale’s man.”
Smith started visibly, and his gaunt, tanned face seemed to me to have grown perceptively paler.
“Come on, Petrie!” he snapped. “There’s some devilry here.”
Thrusting Beeton aside he rushed in at the open door—upon which, as I followed him, I had time to note the number, 14a. It communicated with a suite of rooms almost identical with our own. The sitting-room was empty and in the utmost disorder, but from the direction of the principal bedroom came a most horrible mumbling and gurgling sound—a sound utterly indescribable. For one instant we hesitated at the threshold—hesitated to face the horror beyond; then almost side by side we came into the bedroom….
Only one of the two lamps was alight—that above the bed; and on the bed a man lay writhing. He was incredibly gaunt, so that the suit of tropical twill which he wore hung upon him in folds, showing if such evidence were necessary, how terribly he was fallen away from his constitutional habit. He wore a beard of at least ten days’ growth, which served to accentuate the cavitous hollowness of his face. His eyes seemed starting from their sockets as he lay upon his back uttering inarticulate sounds and plucking with skinny fingers at his lips.
Smith bent forward peering into the wasted face; and then started back with a suppressed cry.
“Merciful God! can it be Hale?” he muttered. “What does it mean? what does it mean?”
I ran to the opposite side of the bed, and placing my arms under the writhing man, raised him and propped a pillow at his back. He continued to babble, rolling his eyes from side to side hideously; then by degrees they seemed to become less glazed, and a light of returning sanity entered them. They became fixed; and they were fixed upon Nayland Smith, who bending over the bed, was watching Sir Gregory (for Sir Gregory I concluded this pitiable wreck to be) with an expression upon his face compound of many emotions.
“A glass of water,” I said, catching the glance of the man Beeton, who stood trembling at the open doorway.
Spilling a liberal quantity upon the carpet, Beeton ultimately succeeded in conveying the glass to me. Hale, never taking his gaze from Smith, gulped a little of the water and then thrust my hand away. As I turned to place the tumbler upon a small table the resumed the wordless babbling, and now, with his index finger, pointed to his mouth.
“He has lost the power of speech!” whispered Smith.
“He was stricken dumb, gentlemen, ten minutes ago,” said Beeton in a trembling voice. “He dropped off to sleep out there on the floor, and I brought him in here and laid him on the bed. When he woke up he was like that!”
The man on the bed ceased his inchoate babbling and now, gulping noisily, began to make quick nervous movements with his hands.
“He wants to write something,” said Smith in a low voice. “Quick! hold him up!” He thrust his notebook, open at a blank page, before the man whose movement were numbered, and placed a pencil in the shaking right hand.
Faintly and unevenly Sir Gregory commenced to write—whilst I supported him. Across the bent shoulders Smith silently questioned me, and my reply was a negative shake of the head.
The lamp above the bed was swaying as if in a heavy draught; I remembered that it had been swaying as we entered. There was no fog in the room, but already from the bleak corridor outside it was entering; murky, yellow clouds steaming in at the open door. Save for the gulping of the dying man, and the sobbing breaths of Beeton, there was no sound. Six irregular lines Sir Gregory Hale scrawled upon the page; then suddenly his body became a dead weight in my arms. Gently I laid him back upon the pillows, gently his finger from the notebook, and, my head almost touching Smith’s as we both craned forward over the page, read, with great difficulty, the following:—
“Guard my diary…. Tibetan frontier … Key of India. Beware man …
with the limp. Yellow … rising. Watch Tibet … the Si-Fan….”
From somewhere outside the room, whether above or below I could not be sure, came a faint, dragging sound, accompanied by a tap—tap—tap….
THE FAINT DISTURBANCE FADED INTO silence again. Across the dead man’s body I met Smith’s gaze. Faint wreaths of fog floated in from the outer room. Beeton clutched the foot of the bed, and the structure shook in sympathy with his wild trembling. That was the only sound now; there was absolutely nothing physical so far as my memory serves to signalize the coming of the brown man.
Yet, stealthy as his approach had been, something must have warned us. For suddenly, with one accord, we three turned upon the bed, and stared out into the room from which the fog wreaths floated in.
Beeton stood nearest to the door, but, although he turned, he did not go out, but with a smothered cry crouched back against the bed. Smith it was who moved first, then I followed, and close upon his heels burst into the disordered sitting-room. The outer door had been closed but not bolted, and what with the tinted light, diffused through the silken Japanese shade, and the presence of fog in the room, I was almost tempted to believe myself the victim of a delusion. What I saw or thought I saw was this:—
A tall screen stood immediately inside the door, and around its end, like some materialization of the choking mist, glided a lithe, yellow figure, a slim, crouching figure, wearing a sort of loose robe. An impression I had of jet-black hair, protruding from beneath a little cap, of finely chiseled features and great, luminous eyes, then, with no sound to tell of a door opened or shut, the apparition was gone.
“You saw him, Petrie!—you saw him!” cried Smith.
In three bounds he was across the room, had tossed the screen aside and thrown open the door. Out he sprang into the yellow haze of the corridor, tripped, and, uttering a cry of pain, fell sprawling upon the marble floor. Hot with apprehension I joined him, but he looked up with a wry smile and began furiously rubbing his left shin.
“A queer trick, Petrie,” he said, rising to his feet; “but nevertheless effective.”
He pointed to the object which had occasioned his fall. It was a small metal chest, evidently of very considerable weight, and it stood immediately outside the door of Number 14a.
“That was what he came for, sir! That was what he came for! You were too quick for him!”
Beeton stood behind us, his horror-bright eyes fixed upon the box.
“Eh?” rapped Smith, turning upon him.
“That’s what Sir Gregory brought to England,” the man ran on almost hysterically; “that’s what he’s been guarding this past two weeks, night and day, crouching over it with a loaded pistol. That’s what cost him his life, sir. He’s had no peace, day or night, since he got it….”
We were inside the room again now, Smith bearing the coffer in his arms, and still the man ran on:
“He’s never slept for more than an hour at a time, that I know of, for weeks past. Since the day we came here he hasn’t spoken to another living soul, and he’s lain there on the floor at night with his head on that brass box, and sat watching over it all day.”
“‘Beeton!’ he’d cry out, perhaps in the middle of the night—’Beeton— do you hear that damned woman!’ But although I’d begun to think I could hear something, I believe it was the constant strain working on my nerves and nothing else at all.
“Then he was always listening out for some one he called ‘the man with the limp.’ Five and six times a night he’d have me up to listen with him. ‘There he goes, Beeton!’ he’d whisper, crouching with his ear pressed flat to the door. ‘Do you hear him dragging himself along?’
“God knows how I’ve stood it as I have; for I’ve known no peace since we left China. Once we got here I thought it would be better, but it’s been worse.
“Gentlemen have come (from the India Office, I believe), but he would not see them. Said he would see no one but Mr. Nayland Smith. He had never lain in his bed until to-night, but what with taking no proper food nor sleep, and some secret trouble that was killing him by inches, he collapsed altogether a while ago, and I carried him in and laid him on the bed as I told you. Now he’s dead—now he’s dead.”
Beeton leant up against the mantelpiece and buried his face in his hands, whilst his shoulders shook convulsively. He had evidently been greatly attached to his master, and I found something very pathetic in this breakdown of a physically strong man. Smith laid his hands upon his shoulders.
“You have passed through a very trying ordeal,” he said, “and no man could have done his duty better; but forces beyond your control have proved too strong for you. I am Nayland Smith.”
The man spun around with a surprising expression of relief upon his pale face.
“So that whatever can be done,” continued my friend, “to carry out your master’s wishes, will be done now. Rely upon it. Go into your room and lie down until we call you.”
“Thank you, sir, and thank God you are here,” said Beeton dazedly, and with one hand raised to his head he went, obediently, to the smaller bedroom and disappeared within.
“Now, Petrie,” rapped Smith, glancing around the littered floor, “since I am empowered to deal with this matter as I see fit, and since you are a medical man, we can devote the next half-hour, at any rate, to a strictly confidential inquiry into this most perplexing case. I propose that you examine the body for any evidences that may assist you determining the cause of death, whilst I make a few inquiries here.”
I nodded, without speaking, and went into the bedroom. It contained not one solitary item of the dead man’s belongings, and in every way bore out Beeton’s statement that Sir Gregory had never inhabited it. I bent over Hale, as he lay fully dressed upon the bed.
Saving the singularity of the symptom which had immediately preceded death—viz., the paralysis of the muscles of articulation—I should have felt disposed to ascribe his end to sheer inanition; and a cursory examination brought to light nothing contradictory to that view. Not being prepared to proceed further in the matter at the moment I was about to rejoin Smith, whom I could hear rummaging about amongst the litter of the outer room, when I made a curious discovery.
Lying in a fold of the disordered bed linen were a few petals of some kind of blossom, three of them still attached to a fragment of slender stalk.
I collected the tiny petals, mechanically, and held them in the palm of my hand studying them for some moments before the mystery of their presence there became fully appreciable to me. Then I began to wonder. The petals (which I was disposed to class as belonging to some species of Curcas or Physic Nut), though bruised, were fresh, and therefore could not have been in the room for many hours. How had they been introduced, and by whom? Above all, what could their presence there at that time portend?
“Smith,” I called, and walked towards the door carrying the mysterious fragments in my palm. “Look what I have found upon the bed.”
Nayland Smith, who was bending over an open despatch case which he had placed upon a chair, turned—and his glance fell upon the petals and tiny piece of stem.
I think I have never seen so sudden a change of expression take place in the face of any man. Even in that imperfect light I saw him blanch. I saw a hard glitter come into his eyes. He spoke, evenly, but hoarsely:
“Put those things down——there, on the table; anywhere.”
I obeyed him without demur; for something in his manner had chilled me with foreboding.
“You did not break that stalk?”
“No. I found it as you see it.”
“Have you smelled the petals?”
I shook my head. Thereupon, having his eyes fixed upon me with the strangest expression in their gray depths, Nayland Smith said a singular thing.
“Pronounce, slowly, the words Sâkya Mûni,‘” he directed.
I stared at him, scarce crediting my senses; but——
“I mean it!” he rapped. “Do as I tell you.”
“Sâkya Mûni,” I said, in ever increasing wonder.
Smith laughed unmirthfully.
“Go into the bathroom and thoroughly wash your hands,” was his next order. “Renew the water at least three times.” As I turned to fulfill his instructions, for I doubted no longer his deadly earnestness: “Beeton!” he called.
Beeton, very white-faced and shaky, came out from the bedroom as I entered the bathroom, and whist I proceeded carefully to cleanse my hands I heard Smith interrogating him.
“Have any flowers been brought into the room today, Beeton?”
“Flowers, sir? Certainly not. Nothing has ever been brought in here but what I have brought myself.”
“You are certain of that?”
“Who brought up the meals, then?”
“If you’ll look into my room here, sir, you’ll see that I have enough tinned and bottled stuff to last us for weeks. Sir Gregory sent me out to buy it on the day we arrived. No one else had left or entered these rooms until you came to-night.”
I returned to find Nayland Smith standing tugging at the lobe of his left ear in evident perplexity. He turned to me.
“I find my hands over full,” he said. “Will you oblige me by telephoning for Inspector Weymouth? Also, I should be glad if you would ask M. Samarkan, the manager, to see me here immediately.”
As I was about to quit the room—
“Not a word of our suspicions to M. Samarkan,” he added; “not a word about the brass box.”
I was far along the corridor ere I remembered that which, remembered earlier, had saved me the journey. There was a telephone in every suite. However, I was not indisposed to avail myself of an opportunity for a few moments’ undisturbed reflection, and, avoiding the lift, I descended by the broad, marble staircase.
To what strange adventure were we committed? What did the brass coffer contain which Sir Gregory had guarded night and day? Something associated in some way with Tibet, something which he believed to be “the key of India” and which had brought in its train, presumably, the sinister “man with a limp.”
Who was the “man with the limp”? What was the Si-Fan? Lastly, by what conceivable means could the flower, which my friend evidently regarded with extreme horror, have been introduced into Hale’s room, and why had I been required to pronounce the words “Sâkya Mûni”?
So ran my reflections—at random and to no clear end; and, as is often the case in such circumstances, my steps bore them company; so that all at once I became aware that instead of having gained the lobby of the hotel, I had taken some wrong turning and was in a part of the building entirely unfamiliar to me.
A long corridor of the inevitable white marble extended far behind me. I had evidently traversed it. Before me was a heavily curtained archway. Irritably, I pulled the curtain aside, learnt that it masked a glass-paneled door, opened this door—and found myself in a small court, dimly lighted and redolent of some pungent, incense-like perfume.
One step forward I took, then pulled up abruptly. A sound had come to my ears. From a second curtained doorway, close to my right hand, it came—a sound of muffled tapping, together with that of something which dragged upon the floor.
Within my brain the words seemed audibly to form: “The man with the limp!”
I sprang to the door; I had my hand upon the drapery … when a woman stepped out, barring the way!
No impression, not even a vague one, did I form of her costume, save that she wore a green silk shawl, embroidered with raised white figures of birds, thrown over her head and shoulders and draped in such fashion that part of her face was concealed. I was transfixed by the vindictive glare of her eyes, of her huge dark eyes.
They were ablaze with anger—but it was not this expression within them which struck me so forcibly as the fact that they were in some way familiar.
Motionless, we faced one another. Then—
“You go away,” said the woman—at the same time extending her arms across the doorway as barriers to my progress.
Her voice had a husky intonation; her hands and arms, which were bare and of old ivory hue, were laden with barbaric jewelry, much of it tawdry silverware of the bazaars. Clearly she was a half-caste of some kind, probably a Eurasian.
I hesitated. The sounds of dragging and tapping had ceased. But the presence of this grotesque Oriental figure only increased my anxiety to pass the doorway. I looked steadily into the black eyes; they looked into mine unflinchingly.
“You go away, please,” repeated the woman, raising her right hand and pointing to the door whereby I had entered. “These private rooms. What you doing here?”
Her words, despite her broken English, served to recall to me the fact that I was, beyond doubt, a trespasser! By what right did I presume to force my way into other people’s apartments?
“There is some one in there whom I must see,” I said, realizing, however, that my chance of doing so was poor.
“You see nobody,” she snapped back uncompromisingly. “You go away!”
She took a step towards me, continuing to point to the door. Where had
I previously encountered the glance of those splendid, savage eyes?
So engaged was I with this taunting, partial memory, and so sure, if the woman would but uncover her face, of instantly recognizing her, that still I hesitated. Whereupon, glancing rapidly over her shoulder into whatever place lay beyond the curtained doorway, she suddenly stepped back and vanished, drawing the curtains to with an angry jerk.
I heard her retiring footsteps; then came a loud bang. If her object in intercepting me had been to cover the slow retreat of some one she had succeeded.
Recognizing that I had cut a truly sorry figure in the encounter, I retraced my steps.
By what route I ultimately regained the main staircase I have no idea; for my mind was busy with that taunting memory of the two dark eyes looking out from the folds of the green embroidered shawl. Where, and when, had I met their glance before?
To that problem I sought an answer in vain.
The message despatched to New Scotland Yard, I found M. Samarkan, long famous as a mâitre d’ hôtel in Cairo, and now host of London’s newest and most palatial khan. Portly, and wearing a gray imperial, M. Samarkan had the manners of a courtier, and the smile of a true Greek.
I told him what was necessary, and no more, desiring him to go to suite 14a without delay and also without arousing unnecessary attention. I dropped no hint of foul play, but M. Samarkan expressed profound (and professional) regret that so distinguished, though unprofitable, a patron should have selected the New Louvre, thus early in its history, as the terminus of his career.
“By the way,” I said, “have you Oriental guests with you, at the moment?”
“No, monsieur,” he assured me.
“Not a certain Oriental lady?” I persisted.
M. Samarkan slowly shook his head.
“Possibly monsieur has seen one of the ayahs? There are several
Anglo-Indian families resident in the New Louvre at present.”
An ayah? It was just possible, of course. Yet …
“WE ARE DEALING NOW,” SAID Nayland Smith, pacing restlessly up and down our sitting-room, “not, as of old, with Dr. Fu-Manchu, but with an entirely unknown quantity—the Si-Fan.”
“For Heaven’s sake!” I cried, “what is the Si-Fan?”
“The greatest mystery of the mysterious East, Petrie. Think. You know, as I know, that a malignant being, Dr. Fu-Manchu, was for some time in England, engaged in ‘paving the way’ (I believe those words were my own) for nothing less than a giant Yellow Empire. That dream is what millions of Europeans and Americans term ‘the Yellow Peril! Very good. Such an empire needs must have——”
Nayland Smith stopped his restless pacing immediately in front of me.
“Why not an empress, Petrie!” he rapped.
His words were something of a verbal thunderbolt; I found myself at loss for any suitable reply.
“You will perhaps remind me,” he continued rapidly, “of the lowly place held by women in the East. I can cite notable exceptions, ancient and modern. In fact, a moment’s consideration by a hypothetical body of Eastern dynast-makers not of an emperor but of an empress. Finally, there is a persistent tradition throughout the Far East that such a woman will one day rule over the known peoples. I was assured some years ago, by a very learned pundit, that a princess of incalculably ancient lineage, residing in some secret monastery in Tartary or Tibet, was to be the future empress of the world. I believe this tradition, or the extensive group who seek to keep it alive and potent, to be what is called the Si-Fan!”
I was past greater amazement; but—
“This lady can be no longer young, then?” I asked.
“On the contrary, Petrie, she remains always young and beautiful by means of a continuous series of reincarnations; also she thus conserves the collated wisdom of many ages. In short, she is the archetype of Lamaism. The real secret of Lama celibacy is the existence of this immaculate ruler, of whom the Grand Lama is merely a high priest. She has, as attendants, maidens of good family, selected for their personal charms, and rendered dumb in order that they may never report what they see and hear.”
“Smith!” I cried, “this is utterly incredible!”
“Her body slaves are not only mute, but blind; for it is death to look upon her beauty unveiled.”
I stood up impatiently.
“You are amusing yourself,” I said.
Nayland Smith clapped his hands upon my shoulders, in his own impulsive fashion, and looked earnestly into my eyes.
“Forgive me, old man,” he said, “if I have related all these fantastic particulars as though I gave them credence. Much of this is legendary, I know, some of it mere superstition, but—I am serious now, Petrie— part of it is true.”
I stared at the square-cut, sun-tanned face; and no trace of a smile lurked about that grim mouth. “Such a woman may actually exist, Petrie, only in legend; but, nevertheless, she forms the head center of that giant conspiracy in which the activities of Dr. Fu-Manchu were merely a part. Hale blundered on to this stupendous business; and from what I have gathered from Beeton and what I have seen for myself, it is evident that in yonder coffer"—he pointed to the brass chest standing hard by—"Hale got hold of something indispensable to the success of this vast Yellow conspiracy. That he was followed here, to the very hotel, by agents of this mystic Unknown is evident. But,” he added grimly, “they have failed in their object!”
A thousand outrageous possibilities fought for precedence in my mind.
“Smith!” I cried, “the half-caste woman whom I saw in the hotel …”
Nayland Smith shrugged his shoulders.
“Probably, as M. Samarkan suggests, an ayah!“ he said; but there was an odd note in his voice and an odd look in his eyes.
“Then again, I am almost certain that Hale’s warning concerning ‘the man with the limp’ was no empty one. Shall you open the brass chest?”
“At present, decidedly no. Hale’s fate renders his warning one that
I dare not neglect. For I was with him when he died; and they cannot
know how much I know. How did he die? How did he die? How was the
Flower of Silence introduced into his closely guarded room?”
“The Flower of Silence?”
Smith laughed shortly and unmirthfully.
“I was once sent for,” he said, “during the time that I was stationed in Upper Burma, to see a stranger—a sort of itinerant Buddhist priest, so I understood, who had desired to communicate some message to me personally. He was dying—in a dirty hut on the outskirts of Manipur, up in the hills. When I arrived I say at a glance that the man was a Tibetan monk. He must have crossed the river and come down through Assam; but the nature of his message I never knew. He had lost the power of speech! He was gurgling, inarticulate, just like poor Hale. A few moments after my arrival he breathed his last. The fellow who had guided me to the place bent over him—I shall always remember the scene—then fell back as though he had stepped upon an adder.
“‘He holds the Flower Silence in his hand!’ he cried—’the Si-Fan! the
Si-Fan!’—and bolted from the hut.”
“When I went to examine the dead man, sure enough he held in one hand a little crumpled spray of flowers. I did not touch it with my fingers naturally, but I managed to loop a piece of twine around the stem, and by that means I gingerly removed the flowers and carried them to an orchid-hunter of my acquaintance who chanced to be visiting Manipur.
“Grahame—that was my orchid man’s name—pronounced the specimen to be an unclassified species of jatropha; belonging to the Curcas family. He discovered a sort of hollow thorn, almost like a fang, amongst the blooms, but was unable to surmise the nature of its functions. He extracted enough of a certain fixed oil from the flowers, however, to have poisoned the pair of us!”
“Probably the breaking of a bloom …”
“Ejects some of this acrid oil through the thorn? Practically the uncanny thing stings when it is hurt? That is my own idea, Petrie. And I can understand how these Eastern fanatics accept their sentence— silence and death—when they have deserved it, at the hands of their mysterious organization, and commit this novel form of hara-kiri. But I shall not sleep soundly with that brass coffer in my possession until I know by what means Sir Gregory was induced to touch a Flower of Silence, and by what means it was placed in his room!”
“But, Smith, why did you direct me to-night to repeat the words,
Smith smiled in a very grim fashion.
“It was after the episode I have just related that I made the acquaintance of that pundit, some of whose statements I have already quoted for your enlightenment. He admitted that the Flower of Silence was an instrument frequently employed by a certain group, adding that, according to some authorities, one who had touched the flower might escape death by immediately pronouncing the sacred name of Buddha. He was no fanatic himself, however, and, marking my incredulity, he explained that the truth was this;—
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