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The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu
A MIDNIGHT SUMMONS
"When did you last hear from Nayland Smith?" asked my visitor.
I paused, my hand on the syphon, reflecting for a moment.
"Two months ago," I said; "he's a poor correspondent and rather soured, I fancy."
"What--a woman or something?"
"Some affair of that sort. He's such a reticent beggar, I really know very little about it."
I placed a whisky and soda before the Rev. J. D. Eltham, also sliding the tobacco jar nearer to his hand. The refined and sensitive face of the clergy-man offered no indication of the truculent character of the man. His scanty fair hair, already gray over the temples, was silken and soft-looking; in appearance he was indeed a typical English churchman; but in China he had been known as "the fighting missionary," and had fully deserved the title. In fact, this peaceful-looking gentleman had directly brought about the Boxer Risings!
"You know," he said, in his clerical voice, but meanwhile stuffing tobacco into an old pipe with fierce energy, "I have often wondered, Petrie--I have never left off wondering--"
"That accursed Chinaman! Since the cellar place beneath the site of the burnt-out cottage in Dulwich Village--I have wondered more than ever."
He lighted his pipe and walked to the hearth to throw the match in the grate.
"You see," he continued, peering across at me in his oddly nervous way, "one never knows, does one? If I thought that Dr. Fu-Manchu lived; if I seriously suspected that that stupendous intellect, that wonderful genius, Petrie, er--" he hesitated characteristically--"survived, I should feel it my duty--"
"Well?" I said, leaning my elbows on the table and smiling slightly.
"If that Satanic genius were not indeed destroyed, then the peace of the world, may be threatened anew at any moment!"
He was becoming excited, shooting out his jaw in the truculent manner I knew, and snapping his fingers to emphasize his words; a man composed of the oddest complexities that ever dwelt beneath a clerical frock.
"He may have got back to China, Doctor!" he cried, and his eyes had the fighting glint in them. "Could you rest in peace if you thought that he lived? Should you not fear for your life every time that a night-call took you out alone? Why, man alive, it is only two years since he was here among us, since we were searching every shadow for those awful green eyes! What became of his band of assassins--his stranglers, his dacoits, his damnable poisons and insects and what-not --the army of creatures--"
He paused, taking a drink.
"You--" he hesitated diffidently--"searched in Egypt with Nayland Smith, did you not?"
"Contradict me if I am wrong," he continued; but my impression is that you were searching for the girl--the girl--Karamaneh, I think she was called?"
"Yes," I replied shortly; "but we could find no trace--no trace."
"More than I knew," I replied, "until I realized that I had--lost her."
"I never met Karamaneh, but from your account, and from others, she was quite unusually--"
"She was very beautiful," I said, and stood up, for I was anxious to terminate that phase of the conversation.
Eltham regarded me sympathetically; he knew something of my search with Nayland Smith for the dark-eyed, Eastern girl who had brought romance into my drab life; he knew that I treasured my memories of her as I loathed and abhorred those of the fiendish, brilliant Chinese doctor who had been her master.
Eltham began to pace up and down the rug, his pipe bubbling furiously; and something in the way he carried his head reminded me momentarily of Nayland Smith. Certainly, between this pink-faced clergyman, with his deceptively mild appearance, and the gaunt, bronzed, and steely- eyed Burmese commissioner, there was externally little in common; but it was some little nervous trick in his carriage that conjured up through the smoky haze one distant summer evening when Smith had paced that very room as Eltham paced it now, when before my startled eyes he had rung up the curtain upon the savage drama in which, though I little suspected it then, Fate had cast me for a leading role.
I wondered if Eltham's thoughts ran parallel with mine. My own were centered upon the unforgettable figure of the murderous Chinaman. These words, exactly as Smith had used them, seemed once again to sound in my ears: "Imagine a person tall, lean, and feline, high shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long magnetic eyes of the true cat green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science, past and present, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the 'Yellow Peril' incarnate in one man."
This visit of Eltham's no doubt was responsible for my mood; for this singular clergyman had played his part in the drama of two years ago.
"I should like to see Smith again," he said suddenly; "it seems a pity that a man like that should be buried in Burma. Burma makes a mess of the best of men, Doctor. You said he was not married?"
"No," I replied shortly, "and is never likely to be, now."
"Ah, you hinted at something of the kind."
"I know very little of it. Nayland Smith is not the kind of man to talk much."
"Quite so--quite so! And, you know, Doctor, neither am I; but"--he was growing painfully embarrassed--"it may be your due--I--er--I have a correspondent, in the interior of China--"
"Well?" I said, watching him in sudden eagerness.
"Well, I would not desire to raise--vain hopes--nor to occasion, shall I say, empty fears; but--er . . . no, Doctor!" He flushed like a girl--"It was wrong of me to open this conversation. Perhaps, when I know more--will you forget my words, for the time?"
The telephone bell rang.
"Hullo!" cried Eltham--"hard luck, Doctor!"--but I could see that he welcomed the interruption. "Why!" he added, "it is one o'clock!"
I went to the telephone.
"Is that Dr. Petrie?" inquired a woman's voice.
"Yes; who is speaking?"
"Mrs. Hewett has been taken more seriously ill. Could you come at once?"
"Certainly," I replied, for Mrs. Hewett was not only a profitable patient but an estimable lady--" I shall be with you in a quarter of an hour."
I hung up the receiver.
"Something urgent?" asked Eltham, emptying his pipe.
"Sounds like it. You had better turn in."
"I should much prefer to walk over with you, if it would not be intruding. Our conversation has ill prepared me for sleep."
"Right!" I said; for I welcomed his company; and three minutes later we were striding across the deserted common.
A sort of mist floated amongst the trees, seeming in the moonlight like a veil draped from trunk to trunk, as in silence we passed the Mound pond, and struck out for the north side of the common.
I suppose the presence of Eltham and the irritating recollection of his half-confidence were the responsible factors, but my mind persistently dwelt upon the subject of Fu-Manchu and the atrocities which he had committed during his sojourn in England. So actively was my imagination at work that I felt again the menace which so long had hung over me; I felt as though that murderous yellow cloud still cast its shadow upon England. And I found myself longing for the company of Nayland Smith. I cannot state what was the nature of Eltham's reflections, but I can guess; for he was as silent as I.
It was with a conscious effort that I shook myself out of this morbidly reflective mood, on finding that we had crossed the common and were come to the abode of my patient.
"I shall take a little walk," announced Eltham; for I gather that you don't expect to be detained long? I shall never be out of sight of the door, of course."
"Very well," I replied, and ran up the steps.
There were no lights to be seen in any of the windows, which circumstance rather surprised me, as my patient occupied, or had occupied when last I had visited her, a first-floor bedroom in the front of the house. My knocking and ringing produced no response for three or four minutes; then, as I persisted, a scantily clothed and half awake maid servant unbarred the door and stared at me stupidly in the moonlight.
"Mrs. Hewett requires me?" I asked abruptly.
The girl stared more stupidly than ever.
"No, sir," she said, "she don't, sir; she's fast asleep!"
"But some one 'phoned me!" I insisted, rather irritably, I fear.
"Not from here, sir," declared the now wide-eyed girl. "We haven't got a telephone, sir."
For a few moments I stood there, staring as foolishly as she; then abruptly I turned and descended the steps. At the gate I stood looking up and down the road. The houses were all in darkness. What could be the meaning of the mysterious summons? I had made no mistake respecting the name of my patient; it had been twice repeated over the telephone; yet that the call had not emanated from Mrs. Hewett's house was now palpably evident. Days had been when I should have regarded the episode as preluding some outrage, but to-night I felt more disposed to ascribe it to a silly practical joke.
Eltham walked up briskly.
"You're in demand to-night, Doctor," he said. "A young person called for you almost directly you had left your house, and, learning where you were gone, followed you."
"Indeed!" I said, a trifle incredulously. "There are plenty of other doctors if the case is an urgent one."
"She may have thought it would save time as you were actually up and dressed," explained Eltham; "and the house is quite near to here, I understand."
I looked at him a little blankly. Was this another effort of the unknown jester?
"I have been fooled once," I said. "That 'phone call was a hoax--"
"But I feel certain," declared Eltham, earnestly, "that this is genuine! The poor girl was dreadfully agitated; her master has broken his leg and is lying helpless: number 280, Rectory Grove."
"Where is the girl?" I asked, sharply.
"She ran back directly she had given me her message."
"Was she a servant?"
"I should imagine so: French, I think. But she was so wrapped up I had little more than a glimpse of her. I am sorry to hear that some one has played a silly joke on you, but believe me--" he was very earnest --"this is no jest. The poor girl could scarcely speak for sobs. She mistook me for you, of course."
"Oh!" said I grimly "well, I suppose I must go. Broken leg, you said? --and my surgical bag, splints and so forth, are at home!"
"My dear Petrie!" cried Eltham, in his enthusiastic way--"you no doubt can do something to alleviate the poor man's suffering immediately. I will run back to your rooms for the bag and rejoin you at 280, Rectory Grove."
"It's awfully good of you, Eltham--"
He held up his hand.
"The call of suffering humanity, Petrie, is one which I may no more refuse to hear than you."
I made no further protest after that, for his point of view was evident and his determination adamant, but told him where he would find the bag and once more set out across the moonbright common, he pursuing a westerly direction and I going east.
Some three hundred yards I had gone, I suppose, and my brain had been very active the while, when something occurred to me which placed a new complexion upon this second summons. I thought of the falsity of the first, of the improbability of even the most hardened practical joker practising his wiles at one o'clock in the morning. I thought of our recent conversation; above all I thought of the girl who had delivered the message to Eltham, the girl whom he had described as a French maid - whose personal charm had so completely enlisted his sympathies. Now, to this train of thought came a new one, and, adding it, my suspicion became almost a certainty.
I remembered (as, knowing the district, I should have remembered before) that there was no number 280 in Rectory Grove.
Pulling up sharply I stood looking about me. Not a living soul was in sight; not even a policeman. Where the lamps marked the main paths across the common nothing moved; in the shadows about me nothing stirred. But something stirred within me--a warning voice which for long had lain dormant.
What was afoot?
A breeze caressed the leaves overhead, breaking the silence with mysterious whisperings. Some portentous truth was seeking for admittance to my brain. I strove to reassure myself, but the sense of impending evil and of mystery became heavier. At last I could combat my strange fears no longer. I turned and began to run toward the south side of the common--toward my rooms--and after Eltham.
I had hoped to head him off, but came upon no sign of him. An all- night tramcar passed at the moment that I reached the high road, and as I ran around behind it I saw that my windows were lighted and that there was a light in the hall.
My key was yet in the lock when my housekeeper opened the door.
"There's a gentleman just come, Doctor," she began--
I thrust past her and raced up the stairs into my study.
Standing by the writing-table was a tall, thin man, his gaunt face brown as a coffee-berry and his steely gray eyes fixed upon me. My heart gave a great leap--and seemed to stand still.
It was Nayland Smith!
"Smith," I cried. "Smith, old man, by God, I'm glad to see you!"
He wrung my hand hard, looking at me with his searching eyes; but there was little enough of gladness in his face. He was altogether grayer than when last I had seen him--grayer and sterner.
"Where is Eltham?" I asked.
Smith started back as though I had struck him.
"Eltham!" he whispered--"Eltham! is Eltham here?"
"I left him ten minutes ago on the common--"
Smith dashed his right fist into the palm of his left hand and his eyes gleamed almost wildly.
"My God, Petrie!" he said, "am I fated always to come too late?"
My dreadful fears in that instant were confirmed. I seemed to feel my legs totter beneath me.
"Smith, you don't mean--"
"I do, Petrie!" His voice sounded very far away. "Fu-Manchu is here; and Eltham, God help him . . . is his first victim!"
Smith went racing down the stairs like a man possessed. Heavy with such a foreboding of calamity as I had not known for two years, I followed him--along the hall and out into the road. The very peace and beauty of the night in some way increased my mental agitation. The sky was lighted almost tropically with such a blaze of stars as I could not recall to have seen since, my futile search concluded, I had left Egypt. The glory of the moonlight yellowed the lamps speckled across the expanse of the common. The night was as still as night can ever be in London. The dimming pulse of a cab or car alone disturbed the stillness.
With a quick glance to right and left, Smith ran across on to the common, and, leaving the door wide open behind me, I followed. The path which Eltham had pursued terminated almost opposite to my house. One's gaze might follow it, white and empty, for several hundred yards past the pond, and further, until it became overshadowed and was lost amid a clump of trees.
I came up with Smith, and side by side we ran on, whilst pantingly, I told my tale.
"It was a trick to get you away from him!" cried Smith. "They meant no doubt to make some attempt at your house, but as he came out with you, an alternative plan--"
Abreast of the pond, my companion slowed down, and finally stopped.
"Where did you last see Eltham?" he asked rapidly.
I took his arm, turning him slightly to the right, and pointed across the moonbathed common.
"You see that clump of bushes on the other side of the road?" I said. "There's a path to the left of it. I took that path and he took this. We parted at the point where they meet--"
Smith walked right down to the edge of the water and peered about over the surface.
What he hoped to find there I could not imagine. Whatever it had been he was disappointed, and he turned to me again, frowning perplexedly, and tugging at the lobe of his left ear, an old trick which reminded me of gruesome things we had lived through in the past.
"Come on," he jerked. "It may be amongst the trees."
From the tone of his voice I knew that he was tensed up nervously, and his mood but added to the apprehension of my own.
"What may be amongst the trees, Smith?" I asked.
He walked on.
"God knows, Petrie; but I fear--"
Behind us, along the highroad, a tramcar went rocking by, doubtless bearing a few belated workers homeward. The stark incongruity of the thing was appalling. How little those weary toilers, hemmed about with the commonplace, suspected that almost within sight from the car windows, in a place of prosy benches, iron railings, and unromantic, flickering lamps, two fellow men moved upon the border of a horror-land!
Beneath the trees a shadow carpet lay, its edges tropically sharp; and fully ten yards from the first of the group, we two, hatless both, and sharing a common dread, paused for a moment and listened.
The car had stopped at the further extremity of the common, and now with a moan that grew to a shriek was rolling on its way again. We stood and listened until silence reclaimed the night. Not a footstep could be heard. Then slowly we walked on. At the edge of the little coppice we stopped again abruptly.
Smith turned and thrust his pistol into my hand. A white ray of light pierced the shadows; my companion carried an electric torch. But no trace of Eltham was discoverable.
There had been a heavy shower of rain during the evening just before sunset, and although the open paths were dry again, under the trees the ground was still moist. Ten yards within the coppice we came upon tracks--the tracks of one running, as the deep imprints of the toes indicated.
Abruptly the tracks terminated; others, softer, joined them, two sets converging from left and right. There was a confused patch, trailing off to the west; then this became indistinct, and was finally lost upon the hard ground outside the group.
For perhaps a minute, or more, we ran about from tree to tree, and from bush to bush, searching like hounds for a scent, and fearful of what we might find. We found nothing; and fully in the moonlight we stood facing one another. The night was profoundly still.
Nayland Smith stepped back into the shadows, and began slowly to turn his head from left to right, taking in the entire visible expanse of the common. Toward a point where the road bisected it he stared intently. Then, with a bound, he set off.
"Come on, Petrie!" he cried. " There they are!"
Vaulting a railing he went away over a field like a madman. Recovering from the shock of surprise, I followed him, but he was well ahead of me, and making for some vaguely seen object moving against the lights of the roadway.
Another railing was vaulted, and the corner of a second, triangular grass patch crossed at a hot sprint. We were twenty yards from the road when the sound of a starting motor broke the silence. We gained the graveled footpath only to see the taillight of the car dwindling to the north!
Smith leaned dizzily against a tree.
"Eltham is in that car!" he gasped. "Just God! are we to stand here and see him taken away to--"
He beat his fist upon the tree, in a sort of tragic despair. The nearest cab-rank was no great distance away, but, excluding the possibility of no cab being there, it might, for all practical purposes, as well have been a mile off.
The beat of the retreating motor was scarcely audible; the lights might but just be distinguished. Then, coming in an opposite direction, appeared the headlamp of another car, of a car that raced nearer and nearer to us, so that, within a few seconds of its first appearance, we found ourselves bathed in the beam of its headlights.
Smith bounded out into the road, and stood, a weird silhouette, with upraised arms, fully in its course!
The brakes were applied hurriedly. It was a big limousine, and its driver swerved perilously in avoiding Smith and nearly ran into me. But, the breathless moment past, the car was pulled up, head on to the railings; and a man in evening clothes was demanding excitedly what had happened. Smith, a hatless, disheveled figure, stepped up to the door.
"My name is Nayland Smith," he said rapidly--Burmese Commissioner." He snatched a letter from his pocket and thrust it into the hands of the bewildered man. "Read that. It is signed by another Commissioner--the Commissioner of Police."
With amazement written all over him, the other obeyed.
"You see," continued my friend, tersely--"it is carte blanche. I wish to commandeer your car, sir, on a matter of life and death!".
The other returned the letter.
"Allow me to offer it!" he said, descending. "My man will take your orders. I can finish my journey by cab. I am--"
But Smith did not wait to learn whom he might be.
"Quick!" he cried to the stupefied chauffeur--"You passed a car a minute ago--yonder. Can you overtake it?"
"I can try, sir, if I don't lose her track."
Smith leaped in, pulling me after him.
"Do it!" he snapped."There are no speed limits for me. Thanks! Goodnight, sir!"
We were off! The car swung around and the chase commenced.
One last glimpse I had of the man we had dispossessed, standing alone by the roadside, and at ever increasing speed, we leaped away in the track of Eltham's captors.
Smith was too highly excited for ordinary conversation, but he threw out short, staccato remarks.
"I have followed Fu-Manchu from Hongkong," he jerked. "Lost him at Suez. He got here a boat ahead of me. Eltham has been corresponding with some mandarin up-country. Knew that. Came straight to you. Only got in this evening. He--Fu-Manchu--has been sent here to get Eltham. My God! and he has him! He will question him! The interior of China--a seething pot, Petrie! They had to stop the leakage of information. He is here for that."
The car pulled up with a jerk that pitched me out of my seat, and the chauffeur leaped to the road and ran ahead. Smith was out in a trice, as the man, who had run up to a constable, came racing back.
"Jump in, sir--jump in!" he cried, his eyes bright with the lust of the chase; "they are making for Battersea!"
And we were off again.
Through the empty streets we roared on. A place of gasometers and desolate waste lots slipped behind and we were in a narrow way where gates of yards and a few lowly houses faced upon a prospect of high blank wall.
"Thames on our right," said Smith, peering ahead. "His rathole is by the river as usual. Hi!"-- he grabbed up the speaking-tube--"Stop! Stop!"
The limousine swung in to the narrow sidewalk, and pulled up close by a yard gate. I, too, had seen our quarry--a long, low bodied car, showing no inside lights. It had turned the next corner, where a street lamp shone greenly, not a hundred yards ahead.
Smith leaped out, and I followed him.
"That must be a cul de sac," he said, and turned to the eager-eyed chauffeur. "Run back to that last turning," he ordered, "and wait there, out of sight. Bring the car up when you hear a police-whistle."
The man looked disappointed, but did not question the order. As he began to back away, Smith grasped me by the arm and drew me forward.
"We must get to that corner," he said, "and see where the car stands, without showing ourselves."
THE WIRE JACKET
I suppose we were not more than a dozen paces from the lamp when we heard the thudding of the motor. The car was backing out!
It was a desperate moment, for it seemed that we could not fail to be discovered. Nayland Smith began to look about him, feverishly, for a hiding-place, a quest in which I seconded with equal anxiety. And Fate was kind to us--doubly kind as after events revealed. A wooden gate broke the expanse of wall hard by upon the right, and, as the result of some recent accident, a ragged gap had been torn in the panels close to the top.
The chain of the padlock hung loosely; and in a second Smith was up, with his foot in this as in a stirrup. He threw his arm over the top and drew himself upright. A second later he was astride the broken gate.
"Up you come, Petrie!" he said, and reached down his hand to aid me.
I got my foot into the loop of chain, grasped at a projection in the gatepost and found myself up.
"There is a crossbar on this side to stand on," said Smith.
He climbed over and vanished in the darkness. I was still astride the broken gate when the car turned the corner, slowly, for there was scanty room; but I was standing upon the bar on the inside and had my head below the gap ere the driver could possibly have seen me.
"Stay where you are until he passes," hissed my companion, below. "There is a row of kegs under you."
The sound of the motor passing outside grew loud--louder--then began to die away. I felt about with my left foot; discerned the top of a keg, and dropped, panting, beside Smith.
"Phew!" I said--"that was a close thing! Smith--how do we know--"
"That we have followed the right car?" he interrupted. "Ask yourself the question: what would any ordinary man be doing motoring in a place like this at two o'clock in the morning?"
"You are right, Smith," I agreed. "Shall we get out again?"
"Not yet. I have an idea. Look yonder."
He grasped my arm, turning me in the desired direction.
Beyond a great expanse of unbroken darkness a ray of moonlight slanted into the place wherein we stood, spilling its cold radiance upon rows of kegs.
"That's another door," continued my friend--I now began dimly to perceive him beside me. "If my calculations are not entirely wrong, it opens on a wharf gate--"
A steam siren hooted dismally, apparently from quite close at hand.
"I'm right!" snapped Smith. "That turning leads down to the gate. Come on, Petrie!"
He directed the light of the electric torch upon a narrow path through the ranks of casks, and led the way to the further door. A good two feet of moonlight showed along the top. I heard Smith straining; then--
"These kegs are all loaded with grease!" he said, "and I want to reconnoiter over that door."
"I am leaning on a crate which seems easy to move," I reported. "Yes, it's empty. Lend a hand."
We grasped the empty crate, and between us, set it up on a solid pedestal of casks. Then Smith mounted to this observation platform and I scrambled up beside him, and looked down upon the lane outside.
It terminated as Smith had foreseen at a wharf gate some six feet to the right of our post. Piled up in the lane beneath us, against the warehouse door, was a stack of empty casks. Beyond, over the way, was a kind of ramshackle building that had possibly been a dwelling-house at some time. Bills were stuck in the ground-floor window indicating that the three floors were to let as offices; so much was discernible in that reflected moonlight.
I could hear the tide, lapping upon the wharf, could feel the chill from the river and hear the vague noises which, night nor day, never cease upon the great commercial waterway.
"Down!" whispered Smith. "Make no noise! I suspected it. They heard the car following!"
I obeyed, clutching at him for support; for I was suddenly dizzy, and my heart was leaping wildly--furiously.
"You saw her?" he whispered.
Saw her! yes, I had seen her! And my poor dream-world was toppling about me, its cities, ashes and its fairness, dust.
Peering from the window, her great eyes wondrous in the moonlight and her red lips parted, hair gleaming like burnished foam and her anxious gaze set upon the corner of the lane--was Karamaneh . . . Karamaneh whom once we had rescued from the house of this fiendish Chinese doctor; Karamaneh who had been our ally; in fruitless quest of whom,--when, too late, I realized how empty my life was become--I had wasted what little of the world's goods I possessed;--Karamaneh!
"Poor old Petrie," murmured Smith--"I knew, but I hadn't the heart--He has her again--God knows by what chains he holds her. But she's only a woman, old boy, and women are very much alike--very much alike from Charing Cross to Pagoda Road."
He rested his hand on my shoulder for a moment; I am ashamed to confess that I was trembling; then, clenching my teeth with that mechanical physical effort which often accompanies a mental one, I swallowed the bitter draught of Nayland Smith's philosophy. He was raising himself, to peer, cautiously, over the top of the door. I did likewise.
The window from which the girl had looked was nearly on a level with our eyes, and as I raised my head above the woodwork, I quite distinctly saw her go out of the room. The door, as she opened it, admitted a dull light, against which her figure showed silhouetted for a moment. Then the door was reclosed.
"We must risk the other windows," rapped Smith.
Before I had grasped the nature of his plan he was over and had dropped almost noiselessly upon the casks outside. Again I followed his lead.
"You are not going to attempt anything, singlehanded--against him?" I asked.
"Petrie--Eltham is in that house. He has been brought here to be put to the question, in the medieval, and Chinese, sense! Is there time to summon assistance?"
I shuddered. This had been in my mind, certainly, but so expressed it was definitely horrible--revolting, yet stimulating.
"You have the pistol," added Smith--"follow closely, and quietly."
He walked across the tops of the casks and leaped down, pointing to that nearest to the closed door of the house. I helped him place it under the open window. A second we set beside it, and, not without some noise, got a third on top.
His jaw muscles were very prominent and his eyes shone like steel; but he was as cool as though he were about to enter a theater and not the den of the most stupendous genius who ever worked for evil. I would forgive any man who, knowing Dr. Fu-Manchu, feared him; I feared him myself--feared him as one fears a scorpion; but when Nayland Smith hauled himself up on the wooden ledge above the door and swung thence into the darkened room, I followed and was in close upon his heels. But I admired him, for he had every ampere of his self-possession in hand; my own case was different.
He spoke close to my ear.
"Is your hand steady? We may have to shoot."
I thought of Karamaneh, of lovely dark-eyed Karamaneh whom this wonderful, evil product of secret China had stolen from me--for so I now adjudged it.
"Rely upon me!" I said grimly. "I . . ."
The words ceased--frozen on my tongue.
There are things that one seeks to forget, but it is my lot often to remember the sound which at that moment literally struck me rigid with horror. Yet it was only a groan; but, merciful God! I pray that it may never be my lot to listen to such a groan again.
Smith drew a sibilant breath.
"It's Eltham!" he whispered hoarsely --"they're torturing--"
"No, no!" screamed a woman's voice--a voice that thrilled me anew, but with another emotion--
"Not that, not--"
I distinctly heard the sound of a blow. Followed a sort of vague scuffling. A door somewhere at the back of the house opened--and shut again. Some one was coming along the passage toward us!
"Stand back!" Smith's voice was low, but perfectly steady. "Leave it to me!"
Nearer came the footsteps and nearer. I could hear suppressed sobs. The door opened, admitting again the faint light--and Karamaneh came in. The place was quite unfurnished, offering no possibility of hiding; but to hide was unnecessary.
Her slim figure had not crossed the threshold ere Smith had his arm about the girl's waist and one hand clapped to her mouth. A stifled gasp she uttered, and he lifted her into the room.
I stepped forward and closed the door. A faint perfume stole to my nostrils--a vague, elusive breath of the East, reminiscent of strange days that, now, seemed to belong to a remote past. Karamaneh! that faint, indefinable perfume was part of her dainty personality; it may appear absurd--impossible--but many and many a time I had dreamt of it.
"In my breast pocket," rapped Smith; "the light."
I bent over the girl as he held her. She was quite still, but I could have wished that I had had more certain mastery of myself. I took the torch from Smith's pocket, and, mechanically, directed it upon the captive.
She was dressed very plainly, wearing a simple blue skirt, and white blouse. It was easy to divine that it was she whom Eltham had mistaken for a French maid. A brooch set with a ruby was pinned at the point where the blouse opened--gleaming fierily and harshly against the soft skin. Her face was pale and her eyes wide with fear.
"There is some cord in my right-hand pocket," said Smith; "I came provided. Tie her wrists."
I obeyed him, silently. The girl offered no resistance, but I think I never essayed a less congenial task than that of binding her white wrists. The jeweled fingers lay quite listlessly in my own.
"Make a good job of it!" rapped Smith, significantly.
A flush rose to my cheeks, for I knew well enough what he meant.
"She is fastened," I said, and I turned the ray of the torch upon her again.
Smith removed his hand from her mouth but did not relax his grip of her. She looked up at me with eyes in which I could have sworn there was no recognition. But a flush momentarily swept over her face, and left it pale again.
"We shall have to--gag her--"
"Smith, I can't do it!"
The girl's eyes filled with tears and she looked up at my companion pitifully.
"Please don't be cruel to me," she whispered, with that soft accent which always played havoc with my composure. "Every one--every one-is cruel to me. I will promise--indeed I will swear, to be quiet. Oh, believe me, if you can save him I will do nothing to hinder you." Her beautiful head drooped. "Have some pity for me as well."
"Karamaneh" I said. "We would have believed you once. We cannot, now."
She started violently.
"You know my name!" Her voice was barely audible. "Yet I have never seen you in my life--"
"See if the door locks," interrupted Smith harshly.
Dazed by the apparent sincerity in the voice of our lovely captive-- vacant from wonder of it all--I opened the door, felt for, and found, a key.
We left Karamaneh crouching against the wall; her great eyes were turned towards me fascinatedly. Smith locked the door with much care. We began a tip-toed progress along the dimly lighted passage.
From beneath a door on the left, and near the end, a brighter light shone. Beyond that again was another door. A voice was speaking in the lighted room; yet I could have sworn that Karamaneh had come, not from there but from the room beyond--from the far end of the passage.
But the voice!--who, having once heard it, could ever mistake that singular voice, alternately guttural and sibilant!
Dr. Fu-Manchu was speaking!
"I have asked you," came with ever-increasing clearness (Smith had begun to turn the knob), "to reveal to me the name of your correspondent in Nan-Yang. I have suggested that he may be the Mandarin Yen-Sun-Yat, but you have declined to confirm me. Yet I know" (Smith had the door open a good three inches and was peering in) "that some official, some high official, is a traitor. Am I to resort again to the question to learn his name?"
Ice seemed to enter my veins at the unseen inquisitor's intonation of the words "the question." This was the Twentieth Century, yet there, in that damnable room . . .
Smith threw the door open.
Through a sort of haze, born mostly of horror, but not entirely, I saw Eltham, stripped to the waist and tied, with his arms upstretched, to a rafter in the ancient ceiling. A Chinaman who wore a slop-shop blue suit and who held an open knife in his hand, stood beside him. Eltham was ghastly white. The appearance of his chest puzzled me momentarily, then I realized that a sort of tourniquet of wire-netting was screwed so tightly about him that the flesh swelled out in knobs through the mesh. There was blood--
"God in heaven!" screamed Smith frenziedly--"they have the wire-jacket on him! Shoot down that damned Chinaman, Petrie! Shoot! Shoot!"
Lithely as a cat the man with the knife leaped around--but I raised the Browning, and deliberately--with a cool deliberation that came to me suddenly--shot him through the head. I saw his oblique eyes turn up to the whites; I saw the mark squarely between his brows; and with no word nor cry he sank to his knees and toppled forward with one yellow hand beneath him and one outstretched, Clutching--clutching-- convulsively. His pigtail came unfastened and began to uncoil, slowly, like a snake.
I handed the pistol to Smith; I was perfectly cool, now; and I leaped forward, took up the bloody knife from the floor and cut Eltham's lashings. He sank into my arms.
"Praise God," he murmured, weakly. "He is more merciful to me than perhaps I deserve. Unscrew . . . the jacket, Petrie . . . I think . . . I was very near to . . .. weakening. Praise the good God, Who . . . gave me . . . fortitude . . ."
I got the screw of the accursed thing loosened, but the act of removing the jacket was too agonizing for Eltham--man of iron though he was. I laid him swooning on the floor.
"Where is Fu-Manchu?"
Nayland Smith, from just within the door, threw out the query in a tone of stark amaze. I stood up--I could do nothing more for the poor victim at the moment--and looked about me. The room was innocent of furniture, save for heaps of rubbish on the floor, and a tin oil-lamp hung, on the wall. The dead Chinaman lay close beside Smith. There was no second door, the one window was barred, and from this room we had heard the voice, the unmistakable, unforgettable voice, of Dr. Fu-Manchu.
But Dr. Fu-Manchu was not there!
Neither of us could accept the fact for a moment; we stood there, looking from the dead man to the tortured man who only swooned, in a state of helpless incredulity.
Then the explanation flashed upon us both, simultaneously, and with a cry of baffled rage Smith leaped along the passage to the second door. It was wide open. I stood at his elbow when he swept its emptiness with the ray of his pocket-lamp.
There was a speaking-tube fixed between the two rooms!
Smith literally ground his teeth.
"Yet, Petrie," he said, "we have learnt something. Fu-Manchu had evidently promised Eltham his life if he would divulge the name of his correspondent. He meant to keep his word; it is a sidelight on his character."
"Eltham has never seen Dr. Fu-Manchu, but Eltham knows certain parts of China better than you know the Strand. Probably, if he saw Fu-Manchu, he would recognize him for whom he really is, and this, it seems, the Doctor is anxious to avoid."
We ran back to where we had left Karamaneh.
The room was empty!
"Defeated, Petrie!" said Smith, bitterly. "The Yellow Devil is loosed on London again!"
He leaned from the window and the skirl of a police whistle split the stillness of the night.
THE CRY OF A NIGHTHAWK
Such were the episodes that marked the coming of Dr. Fu-Manchu to London, that awakened fears long dormant and reopened old wounds--nay, poured poison into them. I strove desperately, by close attention to my professional duties, to banish the very memory of Karamaneh from my mind; desperately, but how vainly! Peace was for me no more, joy was gone from the world, and only mockery remained as my portion.
Poor Eltham we had placed in a nursing establishment, where his indescribable hurts could be properly tended: and his uncomplaining fortitude not infrequently made me thoroughly ashamed of myself. Needless to say, Smith had made such other arrangements as were necessary to safeguard the injured man, and these proved so successful that the malignant being whose plans they thwarted abandoned his designs upon the heroic clergyman and directed his attention elsewhere, as I must now proceed to relate.
Dusk always brought with it a cloud of apprehensions, for darkness must ever be the ally of crime; and it was one night, long after the clocks had struck the mystic hour "when churchyards yawn," that the hand of Dr. Fu-Manchu again stretched out to grasp a victim. I was dismissing a chance patient.
"Good night, Dr. Petrie," he said.
"Good night, Mr. Forsyth," I replied; and, having conducted my late visitor to the door, I closed and bolted it, switched off the light and went upstairs.
My patient was chief officer of one of the P. and O. boats. He had cut his hand rather badly on the homeward run, and signs of poisoning having developed, had called to have the wound treated, apologizing for troubling me at so late an hour, but explaining that he had only just come from the docks. The hall dock announced the hour of one as I ascended the stairs. I found myself wondering what there was in Mr. Forsyth's appearance which excited some vague and elusive memory. Coming to the top floor, I opened the door of a front bedroom and was surprised to find the interior in darkness.
"Smith!" I called.
"Come here and watch!" was the terse response. Nayland Smith was sitting in the dark at the open window and peering out across the common. Even as I saw him, a dim silhouette, I could detect that tensity in his attitude which told of high-strung nerves.
I joined him.
"What is it?" I said, curiously.
"I don't know. Watch that clump of elms."
His masterful voice had the dry tone in it betokening excitement. I leaned on the ledge beside him and looked out. The blaze of stars almost compensated for the absence of the moon and the night had a quality of stillness that made for awe. This was a tropical summer, and the common, with its dancing lights dotted irregularly about it, had an unfamiliar look to-night. The clump of nine elms showed as a dense and irregular mass, lacking detail.
Such moods as that which now claimed my friend are magnetic. I had no thought of the night's beauty, for it only served to remind me that somewhere amid London's millions was lurking an uncanny being, whose life was a mystery, whose very, existence was a scientific miracle.
"Where's your patient?" rapped Smith.
His abrupt query diverted my thoughts into a new channel. No footstep disturbed the silence of the highroad; where was my patient?
I craned from the window. Smith grabbed my arm.
"Don't lean out," he said.
I drew back, glancing at him surprisedly.
"For Heaven's sake, why not?"
"I'll tell you presently, Petrie. Did you see him?"
"I did, and I can't make out what he is doing. He seems to have remained standing at the gate for some reason."
"He has seen it!" snapped Smith. "Watch those elms."
His hand remained upon my arm, gripping it nervously. Shall I say that I was surprised? I can say it with truth. But I shall add that I was thrilled, eerily; for this subdued excitement and alert watching of Smith could only mean one thing:
And that was enough to set me watching as keenly as he; to set me listening; not only for sounds outside the house but for sounds within. Doubts, suspicions, dreads, heaped themselves up in my mind. Why was Forsyth standing there at the gate? I had never seen him before, to my knowledge, yet there was something oddly reminiscent about the man. Could it be that his visit formed part of a plot? Yet his wound had been genuine enough. Thus my mind worked, feverishly; such was the effect of an unspoken thought--Fu-Manchu.
Nayland Smith's grip tightened on my arm.
"There it is again, Petrie!" he whispered.