Part 3 out of 5
Out over the table billowed a sort of yellowish-green cloud--
an oily vapor--and an inspiration, it was nothing less,
born of a memory and of some words of my beautiful visitor,
came to me.
"RUN, SMITH!" I screamed. "The door! the door, for your life!
Fu-Manchu sent that box!" I threw my arms round him.
As he bent forward the moving vapor rose almost to his nostrils.
I dragged him back and all but pitched him out on to the landing.
We entered my bedroom, and there, as I turned on the light,
I saw that Smith's tanned face was unusually drawn,
and touched with pallor.
"It is a poisonous gas!" I said hoarsely; "in many respects
identical with chlorine, but having unique properties which prove
it to be something else--God and Fu-Manchu, alone know what!
It is the fumes of chlorine that kill the men in the bleaching
powder works. We have been blind--I particularly. Don't you see?
There was no one in the sarcophagus, Smith, but there was enough
of that fearful stuff to have suffocated a regiment!"
Smith clenched his fists convulsively.
"My God!" he said, "how can I hope to deal with the author of such a scheme?
I see the whole plan. He did not reckon on the mummy case being overturned,
and Kwee's part was to remove the plug with the aid of the string--after Sir
Lionel had been suffocated. The gas, I take it, is heavier than air."
"Chlorine gas has a specific gravity of 2.470," I said;
"two and a half times heavier than air. You can pour it from
jar to jar like a liquid--if you are wearing a chemist's mask.
In these respects this stuff appears to be similar; the points
of difference would not interest you. The sarcophagus would
have emptied through the vent, and the gas have dispersed,
with no clew remaining--except the smell."
"I did smell it, Petrie, on the stopper, but, of course,
was unfamiliar with it. You may remember that you were
prevented from doing so by the arrival of Sir Lionel?
The scent of those infernal flowers must partially have
drowned it, too. Poor, misguided Strozza inhaled the stuff,
capsized the case in his fall, and all the gas--"
"Went pouring under the conservatory door, and down the steps, where Kwee
was crouching. Croxted's breaking the window created sufficient draught
to disperse what little remained. It will have settled on the floor now.
I will go and open both windows."
Nayland raised his haggard face.
"He evidently made more than was necessary to dispatch Sir Lionel Barton,"
he said; "and contemptuously--you note the attitude, Petrie?--
contemptuously devoted the surplus to me. His contempt is justified.
I am a child striving to cope with a mental giant. It is by no wit
of mine that Dr. Fu-Manchu scores a double failure."
I WILL tell you, now of a strange dream which I dreamed, and of the stranger
things to which I awakened. Since, out of a blank--a void--this vision
burst in upon my mind, I cannot do better than relate it, without preamble.
It was thus:
I dreamed that I lay writhing on the floor in agony indescribable.
My veins were filled with liquid fire, and but that stygian darkness
was about me, I told myself that I must have seen the smoke arising
from my burning body.
This, I thought, was death.
Then, a cooling shower descended upon me, soaked through skin
and tissue to the tortured arteries and quenched the fire within.
Panting, but free from pain, I lay--exhausted.
Strength gradually returning to me, I tried to rise; but the carpet
felt so singularly soft that it offered me no foothold.
I waded and plunged like a swimmer treading water; and all about me
rose impenetrable walls of darkness, darkness all but palpable.
I wondered why I could not see the windows. The horrible idea
flashed to my mind that I was become blind!
Somehow I got upon my feet, and stood swaying dizzily.
I became aware of a heavy perfume, and knew it for some
kind of incense.
Then--a dim light was born, at an immeasurable distance away.
It grew steadily in brilliance. It spread like a bluish-red stain--
like a liquid. It lapped up the darkness and spread throughout the room.
But this was not my room! Nor was it any room known to me.
It was an apartment of such size that its dimensions filled me with a
kind of awe such as I never had known: the awe of walled vastness.
Its immense extent produced a sensation of sound. Its hugeness had
a distinct NOTE.
Tapestries covered the four walls. There was no door visible.
These tapestries were magnificently figured with golden dragons;
and as the serpentine bodies gleamed and shimmered in the
increasing radiance, each dragon, I thought, intertwined its
glittering coils more closely with those of another.
The carpet was of such richness that I stood knee-deep in its pile.
And this, too, was fashioned all over with golden dragons; and they
seemed to glide about amid the shadows of the design--stealthily.
At the farther end of the hall--for hall it was--a huge table
with dragons' legs stood solitary amid the luxuriance of the carpet.
It bore scintillating globes, and tubes that held living organisms,
and books of a size and in such bindings as I never had imagined,
with instruments of a type unknown to Western science--a heterogeneous
litter quite indescribable, which overflowed on to the floor,
forming an amazing oasis in a dragon-haunted desert of carpet.
A lamp hung above this table, suspended by golden chains from
the ceiling-which was so lofty that, following the chains upward,
my gaze lost itself in the purple shadows above.
In a chair piled high with dragon-covered cushions a man sat
behind this table. The light from the swinging lamp fell fully
upon one side of his face, as he leaned forward amid the jumble
of weird objects, and left the other side in purplish shadow.
From a plain brass bowl upon the corner of the huge table smoke
writhed aloft and at times partially obscured that dreadful face.
From the instant that my eyes were drawn to the table and to the man
who sat there, neither the incredible extent of the room, nor the nightmare
fashion of its mural decorations, could reclaim my attention.
I had eyes only for him.
For it was Dr. Fu-Manchu!
Something of the delirium which had seemed to fill my veins
with fire, to people the walls with dragons, and to plunge me
knee-deep in the carpet, left me. Those dreadful, filmed green
eyes acted somewhat like a cold douche. I knew, without removing
my gaze from the still face, that the walls no longer lived,
but were merely draped in exquisite Chinese dragon tapestry.
The rich carpet beneath my feet ceased to be as a jungle and became
a normal carpet--extraordinarily rich, but merely a carpet.
But the sense of vastness nevertheless remained, with the uncomfortable
knowledge that the things upon the table and overflowing about it
were all, or nearly all, of a fashion strange to me.
Then, and almost instantaneously, the comparative sanity which I had
temporarily experienced began to slip from me again; for the smoke
faintly penciled through the air--from the burning perfume on the table--
grew in volume, thickened, and wafted towards me in a cloud of gray horror.
It enveloped me, clammily. Dimly, through its oily wreaths, I saw
the immobile yellow face of Fu-Manchu. And my stupefied brain acclaimed him
a sorcerer, against whom unwittingly we had pitted our poor human wits.
The green eyes showed filmy through the fog. An intense pain shot
through my lower limbs, and, catching my breath, I looked down.
As I did so, the points of the red slippers which I dreamed that I wore
increased in length, curled sinuously upward, twined about my throat
and choked the breath from my body!
Came an interval, and then a dawning like consciousness;
but it was a false consciousness, since it brought with it the idea
that my head lay softly pillowed and that a woman's hand caressed
my throbbing forehead. Confusedly, as though in the remote past,
I recalled a kiss--and the recollection thrilled me strangely.
Dreamily content I lay, and a voice stole to my ears:
"They are killing him! they are killing him! Oh! do you not understand?"
In my dazed condition, I thought that it was I who had died, and that this
musical girl-voice was communicating to me the fact of my own dissolution.
But I was conscious of no interest in the matter.
For hours and hours, I thought, that soothing hand caressed me.
I never once raised my heavy lids, until there came a resounding
crash that seemed to set my very bones vibrating--a metallic,
jangling crash, as the fall of heavy chains. I thought that, then,
I half opened my eyes, and that in the dimness I had a fleeting
glimpse of a figure clad in gossamer silk, with arms covered
with barbaric bangles and slim ankles surrounded by gold bands.
The girl was gone, even as I told myself that she was an houri,
and that I, though a Christian, had been consigned by some error
to the paradise of Mohammed.
Then--a complete blank.
My head throbbed madly; my brain seemed to be clogged--inert; and though
my first, feeble movement was followed by the rattle of a chain, some moments
more elapsed ere I realized that the chain was fastened to a steel collar--
that the steel collar was clasped about my neck.
I moaned weakly.
"Smith!" I muttered, "Where are you? Smith!"
On to my knees I struggled, and the pain on the top of my skull grew
all but insupportable. It was coming back to me now; how Nayland Smith
and I had started for the hotel to warn Graham Guthrie; how, as we
passed up the steps from the Embankment and into Essex Street,
we saw the big motor standing before the door of one of the offices.
I could recall coming up level with the car--a modern limousine;
but my mind retained no impression of our having passed it--
only a vague memory of a rush of footsteps--a blow. Then, my vision
of the hall of dragons, and now this real awakening to a worse reality.
Groping in the darkness, my hands touched a body that lay close beside me.
My fingers sought and found the throat, sought and found the steel
collar about it.
"Smith," I groaned; and I shook the still form. "Smith, old man--
speak to me! Smith!"
Could he be dead? Was this the end of his gallant fight with Dr. Fu-Manchu
and the murder group? If so, what did the future hold for me--
what had I to face?
He stirred beneath my trembling hands.
"Thank God!" I muttered, and I cannot deny that my joy was tainted
with selfishness. For, waking in that impenetrable darkness, and yet obsessed
with the dream I had dreamed, I had known what fear meant, at the realization
that alone, chained, I must face the dreadful Chinese doctor in the flesh.
Smith began incoherent mutterings.
"Sand-bagged! . . . Look out, Petrie! . . . He has us at last! . . .
Oh, Heavens!" . . .He struggled on to his knees, clutching at my hand.
"All right, old man," I said. "We are both alive!
So let's be thankful."
A moment's silence, a groan, then:
"Petrie, I have dragged you into this. God forgive me--"
"Dry up, Smith," I said slowly. "I'm not a child.
There is no question of being dragged into the matter.
I'm here; and if I can be of any use, I'm glad I am here!"
He grasped my hand.
"There were two Chinese, in European clothes--lord, how my head throbs!--
in that office door. They sand-bagged us, Petrie--think of it!--
in broad daylight, within hail of the Strand! We were rushed
into the car--and it was all over, before--" His voice grew faint.
"God! they gave me an awful knock!"
"Why have we been spared, Smith? Do you think he is saving us for--"
"Don't, Petrie! If you had been in China, if you had seen
what I have seen--"
Footsteps sounded on the flagged passage. A blade of light crept
across the floor towards us. My brain was growing clearer.
The place had a damp, earthen smell. It was slimy--some noisome cellar.
A door was thrown open and a man entered, carrying a lantern.
Its light showed my surmise to be accurate, showed the
slime-coated walls of a dungeon some fifteen feet square--
shone upon the long yellow robe of the man who stood watching us,
upon the malignant, intellectual countenance.
It was Dr. Fu-Manchu.
At last they were face to face--the head of the great Yellow Movement,
and the man who fought on behalf of the entire white race.
How can I paint the individual who now stood before us--
perhaps the greatest genius of modern times?
Of him it had been fitly said that he had a brow like Shakespeare and a face
like Satan. Something serpentine, hypnotic, was in his very presence.
Smith drew one sharp breath, and was silent. Together, chained to the wall,
two mediaeval captives, living mockeries of our boasted modern security,
we crouched before Dr. Fu-Manchu.
He came forward with an indescribable gait, cat-like yet awkward,
carrying his high shoulders almost hunched. He placed the lantern
in a niche in the wall, never turning away the reptilian gaze
of those eyes which must haunt my dreams forever. They possessed
a viridescence which hitherto I had supposed possible only in the eye
of the cat--and the film intermittently clouded their brightness--
but I can speak of them no more.
I had never supposed, prior to meeting Dr. Fu-Manchu, that so intense
a force of malignancy could radiate--from any human being. He spoke.
His English was perfect, though at times his words were oddly chosen;
his delivery alternately was guttural and sibilant.
"Mr. Smith and Dr. Petrie, your interference with my plans has gone too far.
I have seriously turned my attention to you."
He displayed his teeth, small and evenly separated,
but discolored in a way that was familiar to me.
I studied his eyes with a new professional interest,
which even the extremity of our danger could not wholly banish.
Their greenness seemed to be of the iris; the pupil was
oddly contracted--a pin-point.
Smith leaned his back against the wall with assumed indifference.
"You have presumed," continued Fu-Manchu, "to meddle with a
world-change. Poor spiders--caught in the wheels of the inevitable!
You have linked my name with the futility of the Young China Movement--
the name of Fu-Manchu! Mr. Smith, you are an incompetent meddler--
I despise you! Dr. Petrie, you are a fool--I am sorry for you!"
He rested one bony hand on his hip, narrowing the long
eyes as he looked down on us. The purposeful cruelty
of the man was inherent; it was entirely untheatrical.
Still Smith remained silent.
"So I am determined to remove you from the scene of your blunders!"
"Opium will very shortly do the same for you!" I rapped at him savagely.
Without emotion he turned the narrowed eyes upon me.
"That is a matter of opinion, Doctor," he said. "You may have lacked
the opportunities which have been mine for studying that subject--
and in any event I shall not be privileged to enjoy your advice
in the future."
"You will not long outlive me," I replied. "And our deaths will not
profit you, incidentally; because--" Smith's foot touched mine.
"Because?" inquired Fu-Manchu softly.
"Ah! Mr. Smith is so prudent! He is thinking that I have FILES!"
He pronounced the word in a way that made me shudder. "Mr. Smith
has seen a WIRE JACKET! Have you ever seen a wire jacket?
As a surgeon its functions would interest you!"
I stifled a cry that rose to my lips; for, with a shrill whistling sound,
a small shape came bounding into the dimly lit vault, then shot upward.
A marmoset landed on the shoulder of Dr. Fu-Manchu and peered grotesquely
into the dreadful yellow face. The Doctor raised his bony hand and fondled
the little creature, crooning to it.
"One of my pets, Mr. Smith," he said, suddenly opening
his eyes fully so that they blazed like green lamps.
"I have others, equally useful. My scorpions--have you
met my scorpions? No? My pythons and hamadryads?
Then there are my fungi and my tiny allies, the bacilli.
I have a collection in my laboratory quite unique. Have you ever
visited Molokai, the leper island, Doctor? No? But Mr. Nayland
Smith will be familiar with the asylum at Rangoon!
And we must not forget my black spiders, with their diamond eyes--
my spiders, that sit in the dark and watch--then leap!"
He raised his lean hands, so that the sleeve of the robe fell back
to the elbow, and the ape dropped, chattering, to the floor and ran
from the cellar.
"O God of Cathay!" he cried, "by what death shall these die--
these miserable ones who would bind thine Empire, which is boundless!"
Like some priest of Tezcat he stood, his eyes upraised to the roof,
his lean body quivering--a sight to shock the most unimpressionable mind.
"He is mad!" I whispered to Smith. "God help us, the man
is a dangerous homicidal maniac!"
Nayland Smith's tanned face was very drawn, but he shook his head grimly.
"Dangerous, yes, I agree," he muttered; "his existence is a danger
to the entire white race which, now, we are powerless to avert."
Dr. Fu-Manchu recovered himself, took up the lantern and,
turning abruptly, walked to the door, with his awkward, yet feline gait.
At the threshold be looked back.
"You would have warned Mr. Graham Guthrie?" he said, in a soft voice.
"To-night, at half-past twelve, Mr. Graham Guthrie dies!"
Smith sat silent and motionless, his eyes fixed upon the speaker.
"You were in Rangoon in 1908?" continued Dr. Fu-Manchu--
"you remember the Call?"
From somewhere above us--I could not determine the exact direction--
came a low, wailing cry, an uncanny thing of falling cadences, which, in that
dismal vault, with the sinister yellow-robed figure at the door, seemed to
pour ice into my veins. Its effect upon Smith was truly extraordinary.
His face showed grayly in the faint light, and I heard him draw a hissing
breath through clenched teeth.
"It calls for you!" said Fu-Manchu. "At half-past twelve it calls
for Graham Guthrie!"
The door closed and darkness mantled us again.
"Smith," I said, "what was that?" The horrors about us were playing
havoc with my nerves.
"It was the Call of Siva!" replied Smith hoarsely.
"What is it? Who uttered it? What does it mean?"
"I don't know what it is, Petrie, nor who utters it.
But it means death!"
THERE may be some who could have lain, chained to that noisome cell,
and felt no fear--no dread of what the blackness might hold.
I confess that I am not one of these. I knew that Nayland
Smith and I stood in the path of the most stupendous genius
who in the world's history had devoted his intellect to crime.
I knew that the enormous wealth of the political group backing
Dr. Fu-Manchu rendered him a menace to Europe and to America
greater than that of the plague. He was a scientist trained
at a great university--an explorer of nature's secrets, who had
gone farther into the unknown, I suppose, than any living man.
His mission was to remove all obstacles--human obstacles--
from the path of that secret movement which was progressing
in the Far East. Smith and I were two such obstacles;
and of all the horrible devices at his command, I wondered,
and my tortured brain refused to leave the subject, by which
of them were we doomed to be dispatched?
Even at that very moment some venomous centipede might
be wriggling towards me over the slime of the stones,
some poisonous spider be preparing to drop from the roof!
Fu-Manchu might have released a serpent in the cellar,
or the air be alive with microbes of a loathsome disease!
"Smith," I said, scarcely recognizing my own voice, "I can't bear
this suspense. He intends to kill us, that is certain, but--"
"Don't worry," came the reply; "he intends to learn our plans first."
"You heard him speak of his files and of his wire jacket?"
"Oh, my God!" I groaned; "can this be England?"
Smith laughed dryly, and I heard him fumbling with the steel
collar about his neck.
"I have one great hope," he said, "since you share
my captivity, but we must neglect no minor chance.
Try with your pocket-knife if you can force the lock.
I am trying to break this one."
Truth to tell, the idea had not entered my half-dazed mind, but I
immediately acted upon my friend's suggestion, setting to work with
the small blade of my knife. I was so engaged, and, having snapped
one blade, was about to open another, when a sound arrested me.
It came from beneath my feet.
"Smith," I whispered, "listen!"
The scraping and clicking which told of Smith's efforts ceased.
Motionless, we sat in that humid darkness and listened.
Something was moving beneath the stones of the cellar.
I held my breath; every nerve in my body was strung up.
A line of light showed a few feet from where we lay.
It widened--became an oblong. A trap was lifted,
and within a yard of me, there rose a dimly seen head.
Horror I had expected--and death, or worse. Instead, I saw
a lovely face, crowned with a disordered mass of curling hair;
I saw a white arm upholding the stone slab, a shapely arm
clasped about the elbow by a broad gold bangle.
The girl climbed into the cellar and placed the lantern on the stone floor.
In the dim light she was unreal--a figure from an opium vision, with her
clinging silk draperies and garish jewelry, with her feet encased in little
red slippers. In short, this was the houri of my vision, materialized.
It was difficult to believe that we were in modern, up-to-date England;
easy to dream that we were the captives of a caliph, in a dungeon
in old Bagdad.
"My prayers are answered," said Smith softly. "She has come
to save YOU."
"S-sh!" warned the girl, and her wonderful eyes opened widely, fearfully.
"A sound and he will kill us all."
She bent over me; a key jarred in the lock which had broken my penknife--
and the collar was off. As I rose to my feet the girl turned and
released Smith. She raised the lantern above the trap, and signed
to us to descend the wooden steps which its light revealed.
"Your knife," she whispered to me. "Leave it on the floor.
He will think you forced the locks. Down! Quickly!"
Nayland Smith, stepping gingerly, disappeared into the darkness.
I rapidly followed. Last of all came our mysterious friend, a gold band about
one of her ankles gleaming in the rays of the lantern which she carried.
We stood in a low-arched passage.
"Tie your handkerchiefs over your eyes and do exactly as I
tell you," she ordered.
Neither of us hesitated to obey her. Blind-folded, I allowed
her to lead me, and Smith rested his hand upon my shoulder.
In that order we proceeded, and came to stone steps,
which we ascended.
"Keep to the wall on the left," came a whisper.
"There is danger on the right."
With my free hand I felt for and found the wall, and we pressed forward.
The atmosphere of the place through which we were passing was steamy,
and loaded with an odor like that of exotic plant life. But a faint animal
scent crept to my nostrils, too, and there was a subdued stir about me,
Now my feet sank in a soft carpet, and a curtain brushed my shoulder.
A gong sounded. We stopped.
The din of distant drumming came to my ears.
"Where in Heaven's name are we?" hissed Smith in my ear;
"that is a tom-tom!"
The little hand grasping mine quivered nervously. We were near a door
or a window, for a breath of perfume was wafted through the air;
and it reminded me of my other meetings with the beautiful woman
who was now leading us from the house of Fu-Manchu; who, with her
own lips, had told me that she was his slave. Through the horrible
phantasmagoria she flitted--a seductive vision, her piquant loveliness
standing out richly in its black setting of murder and devilry.
Not once, but a thousand times, I had tried to reason out the nature
of the tie which bound her to the sinister Doctor.
"Quick! This way!"
Down a thickly carpeted stair we went. Our guide opened a door, and led us
along a passage. Another door was opened; and we were in the open air.
But the girl never tarried, pulling me along a graveled path, with a fresh
breeze blowing in my face, and along until, unmistakably, I stood upon
the river bank. Now, planking creaked to our tread; and looking downward
beneath the handkerchief, I saw the gleam of water beneath my feet.
"Be careful!" I was warned, and found myself stepping into
a narrow boat--a punt.
Nayland Smith followed, and the girl pushed the punt off and poled
out into the stream.
"Don't speak!" she directed.
My brain was fevered; I scarce knew if I dreamed and was waking,
or if the reality ended with my imprisonment in the clammy cellar
and this silent escape, blindfolded, upon the river with a girl for our
guide who might have stepped out of the pages of "The Arabian Nights"
were fantasy--the mockery of sleep.
Indeed, I began seriously to doubt if this stream whereon we floated,
whose waters plashed and tinkled about us, were the Thames, the Tigris,
or the Styx.
The punt touched a bank.
"You will hear a clock strike in a few minutes,"
said the girl, with her soft, charming accent, "but I rely
upon your honor not to remove the handkerchiefs until then.
You owe me this."
"We do!" said Smith fervently.
I heard him scrambling to the bank, and a moment later a soft hand
was placed in mine, and I, too, was guided on to terra firma.
Arrived on the bank, I still held the girl's hand, drawing her towards me.
"You must not go back," I whispered. "We will take care of you.
You must not return to that place."
"Let me go!" she said. "When, once, I asked you to take me from him,
you spoke of police protection; that was your answer, police protection!
You would let them lock me up--imprison me--and make me betray him!
For what? For what?" She wrenched herself free. "How little
you understand me. Never mind. Perhaps one day you will know!
Until the clock strikes!"
She was gone. I heard the creak of the punt, the drip of the water
from the pole. Fainter it grew, and fainter.
"What is her secret?" muttered Smith, beside me.
"Why does she cling to that monster?"
The distant sound died away entirely. A clock began to strike;
it struck the half-hour. In an instant my handkerchief was off,
and so was Smith's. We stood upon a towing-path. Away to the left
the moon shone upon the towers and battlements of an ancient fortress.
It was Windsor Castle.
"Half-past ten," cried Smith. "Two hours to save Graham Guthrie!"
We had exactly fourteen minutes in which to catch the last
train to Waterloo; and we caught it. But I sank into a corner
of the compartment in a state bordering upon collapse.
Neither of us, I think, could have managed another twenty yards.
With a lesser stake than a human life at issue, I doubt if we
should have attempted that dash to Windsor station.
"Due at Waterloo at eleven-fifty-one," panted Smith.
"That gives us thirty-nine minutes to get to the other side
of the river and reach his hotel."
"Where in Heaven's name is that house situated?
Did we come up or down stream?"
"I couldn't determine. But at any rate, it stands close to the riverside.
It should be merely a question of time to identify it. I shall set
Scotland Yard to work immediately; but I am hoping for nothing.
Our escape will warn him."
I said no more for a time, sitting wiping the perspiration
from my forehead and watching my friend load his cracked briar
with the broadcut Latakia mixture.
"Smith," I said at last, "what was that horrible wailing we heard,
and what did Fu-Manchu mean when he referred to Rangoon?
I noticed how it affected you."
My friend nodded and lighted his pipe.
"There was a ghastly business there in 1908 or early in 1909,"
he replied: "an utterly mysterious epidemic. And this beastly
wailing was associated with it."
"In what way? And what do you mean by an epidemic?"
"It began, I believe, at the Palace Mansions Hotel, in the cantonments.
A young American, whose name I cannot recall, was staying there on business
connected with some new iron buildings. One night he went to his room,
locked the door, and jumped out of the window into the courtyard.
Broke his neck, of course."
"Apparently. But there were singular features in the case.
For instance, his revolver lay beside him, fully loaded!"
"In the courtyard?"
"In the courtyard!"
"Was it murder by any chance?"
Smith shrugged his shoulders.
"His door was found locked from the inside; had to be broken in."
"But the wailing business?"
"That began later, or was only noticed later. A French doctor,
named Lafitte, died in exactly the same way."
"At the same place?"
"At the same hotel; but he occupied a different room.
Here is the extraordinary part of the affair: a friend shared
the room with him, and actually saw him go!"
"Saw him leap from the window?"
"Yes. The friend--an Englishman--was aroused by the uncanny wailing.
I was in Rangoon at the time, so that I know more of the case of Lafitte
than of that of the American. I spoke to the man about it personally.
He was an electrical engineer, Edward Martin, and he told me that the cry
seemed to come from above him."
"It seemed to come from above when we heard it at Fu-Manchu's house."
"Martin sat up in bed, it was a clear moonlight night--
the sort of moonlight you get in Burma. Lafitte, for some reason,
had just gone to the window. His friend saw him look out.
The next moment with a dreadful scream, he threw himself forward--
and crashed down into the courtyard!"
"Martin ran to the window and looked down.
Lafitte's scream had aroused the place, of course.
But there was absolutely nothing to account for the occurrence.
There was no balcony, no ledge, by means of which anyone could
reach the window."
"But how did you come to recognize the cry?"
"I stopped at the Palace Mansions for some time;
and one night this uncanny howling aroused me.
I heard it quite distinctly, and am never likely to forget it.
It was followed by a hoarse yell. The man in the next room,
an orchid hunter, had gone the same way as the others!"
"Did you change your quarters?"
"No. Fortunately for the reputation of the hotel--a first-class establishment--
several similar cases occurred elsewhere, both in Rangoon, in Prome
and in Moulmein. A story got about the native quarter, and was fostered
by some mad fakir, that the god Siva was reborn and that the cry was his call
for victims; a ghastly story, which led to an outbreak of dacoity and gave
the District Superintendent no end of trouble."
"Was there anything unusual about the bodies?"
"They all developed marks after death, as though they had been strangled!
The marks were said all to possess a peculiar form, though it was not
appreciable to my eye; and this, again, was declared to be the five
heads of Siva."
"Were the deaths confined to Europeans?"
"Oh, no. Several Burmans and others died in the same way.
At first there was a theory that the victims had contracted leprosy and
committed suicide as a result; but the medical evidence disproved that.
The Call of Siva became a perfect nightmare throughout Burma."
"Did you ever hear it again, before this evening?"
"Yes. I heard it on the Upper Irrawaddy one clear,
moonlight night, and a Colassie--a deck-hand--leaped from
the top deck of the steamer aboard which I was traveling!
My God! to think that the fiend Fu-Manchu has brought
That to England!"
"But brought what, Smith?" I cried, in perplexity.
"What has he brought? An evil spirit? A mental disease?
What is it? What CAN it be?"
"A new agent of death, Petrie! Something born in a plague-spot of Burma--
the home of much that is unclean and much that is inexplicable.
Heaven grant that we be in time, and are able to save Guthrie."
THE train was late, and as our cab turned out of Waterloo Station
and began to ascend to the bridge, from a hundred steeples rang
out the gongs of midnight, the bell of St. Paul's raised above
them all to vie with the deep voice of Big Ben.
I looked out from the cab window across the river to where, towering above
the Embankment, that place of a thousand tragedies, the light of some
of London's greatest caravanserais formed a sort of minor constellation.
From the subdued blaze that showed the public supper-rooms I looked
up to the hundreds of starry points marking the private apartments
of those giant inns.
I thought how each twinkling window denoted the presence of some
bird of passage, some wanderer temporarily abiding in our midst.
There, floor piled upon floor above the chattering throngs,
were these less gregarious units, each something of a mystery
to his fellow-guests, each in his separate cell; and each as remote
from real human companionship as if that cell were fashioned,
not in the bricks of London, but in the rocks of Hindustan!
In one of those rooms Graham Guthrie might at that moment be sleeping,
all unaware that he would awake to the Call of Siva, to the summons of death.
As we neared the Strand, Smith stopped the cab, discharging the man
outside Sotheby's auction-rooms.
"One of the doctor's watch-dogs may be in the foyer," he said thoughtfully,
"and it might spoil everything if we were seen to go to Guthrie's rooms.
There must be a back entrance to the kitchens, and so on?"
"There is," I replied quickly. "I have seen the vans delivering there.
But have we time?"
"Yes. Lead on."
We walked up the Strand and hurried westward. Into that narrow court,
with its iron posts and descending steps, upon which opens a well-known
wine-cellar, we turned. Then, going parallel with the Strand,
but on the Embankment level, we ran round the back of the great hotel,
and came to double doors which were open. An arc lamp illuminated
the interior and a number of men were at work among the casks,
crates and packages stacked about the place. We entered.
"Hallo!" cried a man in a white overall, "where d'you think you're going?"
Smith grasped him by the arm.
"I want to get to the public part of the hotel without being seen
from the entrance hall," he said. "Will you please lead the way?"
"Here--" began the other, staring.
"Don't waste time!" snapped my friend, in that tone of authority
which he knew so well how to assume. "It's a matter of life and death.
Lead the way, I say!"
"Police, sir?" asked the man civilly.
"Yes," said Smith; "hurry!"
Off went our guide without further demur. Skirting sculleries, kitchens,
laundries and engine-rooms, he led us through those mysterious labyrinths
which have no existence for the guest above, but which contain the machinery
that renders these modern khans the Aladdin's palaces they are.
On a second-floor landing we met a man in a tweed suit, to whom our
cicerone presented us.
"Glad I met you, sir. Two gentlemen from the police."
The man regarded us haughtily with a suspicious smile.
"Who are you?" he asked. "You're not from Scotland Yard,
at any rate!"
Smith pulled out a card and thrust it into the speaker's hand.
"If you are the hotel detective," he said, "take us without delay
to Mr. Graham Guthrie."
A marked change took place in the other's demeanor on glancing
at the card in his hand.
"Excuse me, sir," he said deferentially, "but, of course,
I didn't know who I was speaking to. We all have instructions
to give you every assistance."
"Is Mr. Guthrie in his room?"
"He's been in his room for some time, sir. You will want to get there
without being seen? This way. We can join the lift on the third floor."
Off we went again, with our new guide. In the lift:
"Have you noticed anything suspicious about the place to-night?" asked Smith.
"I have!" was the startling reply. "That accounts for your
finding me where you did. My usual post is in the lobby.
But about eleven o'clock, when the theater people began to come
in I had a hazy sort of impression that someone or something
slipped past in the crowd--something that had no business
in the hotel."
We got out of the lift.
"I don't quite follow you," said Smith. "If you thought you saw
something entering, you must have formed a more or less definite
impression regarding it."
"That's the funny part of the business," answered the man doggedly.
"I didn't! But as I stood at the top of the stairs I could
have sworn that there was something crawling up behind a party--
two ladies and two gentlemen."
"A dog, for instance?"
"It didn't strike me as being a dog, sir. Anyway, when the party passed me,
there was nothing there. Mind you, whatever it was, it hadn't come
in by the front. I have made inquiries everywhere, but without result."
He stopped abruptly. "No. 189--Mr. Guthrie's door, sir."
"Hallo!" came a muffled voice; "what do you want?"
"Open the door! Don't delay; it is important."
He turned to the hotel detective.
"Stay right there where you can watch the stairs and the lift,"
he instructed; "and note everyone and everything that passes this door.
But whatever you see or hear, do nothing without my orders."
The man moved off, and the door was opened. Smith whispered
in my ear:
"Some creature of Dr. Fu-Manchu is in the hotel!"
Mr. Graham Guthrie, British resident in North Bhutan, was a big,
thick-set man--gray-haired and florid, with widely opened eyes of the true
fighting blue, a bristling mustache and prominent shaggy brows.
Nayland Smith introduced himself tersely, proffering his card
and an open letter.
"Those are my credentials, Mr. Guthrie," he said; "so no doubt
you will realize that the business which brings me and my friend,
Dr. Petrie, here at such an hour is of the first importance."
He switched off the light.
"There is no time for ceremony," he explained. "It is now twenty-five minutes
past twelve. At half-past an attempt will be made upon your life!"
"Mr. Smith," said the other, who, arrayed in his pajamas,
was seated on the edge of the bed, "you alarm me very greatly.
I may mention that I was advised of your presence in
England this morning."
"Do you know anything respecting the person called Fu-Manchu--Dr. Fu-Manchu?"
"Only what I was told to-day--that he is the agent of an
advanced political group."
"It is opposed to his interests that you should return to Bhutan.
A more gullible agent would be preferable. Therefore, unless you
implicitly obey my instructions, you will never leave England!"
Graham Guthrie breathed quickly. I was growing more used to the gloom,
and I could dimly discern him, his face turned towards Nayland Smith,
whilst with his hand he clutched the bed-rail. Such a visit as ours,
I think, must have shaken the nerve of any man.
"But, Mr. Smith," he said, "surely I am safe enough here!
The place is full of American visitors at present,
and I have had to be content with a room right at the top;
so that the only danger I apprehend is that of fire."
"There is another danger," replied Smith. "The fact that
you are at the top of the building enhances that danger.
Do you recall anything of the mysterious epidemic which broke
out in Rangoon in 1908--the deaths due to the Call of Siva?"
"I read of it in the Indian papers," said Guthrie uneasily.
"Suicides, were they not?"
"No!" snapped Smith. "Murders!"
There was a brief silence.
"From what I recall of the cases," said Guthrie, "that seems impossible.
In several instances the victims threw themselves from the windows
of locked rooms--and the windows were quite inaccessible."
"Exactly," replied Smith; and in the dim light his revolver
gleamed dully, as he placed it on the small table beside the bed.
"Except that your door is unlocked, the conditions to-night
are identical. Silence, please, I hear a clock striking."
It was Big Ben. It struck the half-hour, leaving the stillness complete.
In that room, high above the activity which yet prevailed below,
high above the supping crowds in the hotel, high above the starving
crowds on the Embankment, a curious chill of isolation swept about me.
Again I realized how, in the very heart of the great metropolis, a man
may be as far from aid as in the heart of a desert. I was glad that I
was not alone in that room--marked with the death-mark of Fu-Manchu;
and I am certain that Graham Guthrie welcomed his unexpected company.
I may have mentioned the fact before, but on this occasion it became
so peculiarly evident to me that I am constrained to record it here--
I refer to the sense of impending danger which invariably preceded a
visit from Fu-Manchu. Even had I not known that an attempt was to be
made that night, I should have realized it, as, strung to high tension,
I waited in the darkness. Some invisible herald went ahead of the
dreadful Chinaman, proclaiming his coming to every nerve in one's body.
It was like a breath of astral incense, announcing the presence
of the priests of death.
A wail, low but singularly penetrating, falling in minor cadences
to a new silence, came from somewhere close at hand.
"My God!" hissed Guthrie, "what was that?"
"The Call of Siva," whispered Smith.
"Don't stir, for your life!"
Guthrie was breathing hard.
I knew that we were three; that the hotel detective was within hail;
that there was a telephone in the room; that the traffic of
the Embankment moved almost beneath us; but I knew, and am not
ashamed to confess, that King Fear had icy fingers about my heart.
It was awful--that tense waiting--for--what?
Three taps sounded--very distinctly upon the window.
Graham Guthrie started so as to shake the bed.
"It's supernatural!" he muttered--all that was Celtic in his blood
recoiling from the omen. "Nothing human can reach that window!"
"S-sh!" from Smith. "Don't stir."
The tapping was repeated.
Smith softly crossed the room. My heart was beating painfully.
He threw open the window. Further inaction was impossible.
I joined him; and we looked out into the empty air.
"Don't come too near, Petrie!" he warned over his shoulder.
One on either side of the open window, we stood and looked down
at the moving Embankment lights, at the glitter of the Thames,
at the silhouetted buildings on the farther bank, with the Shot
Tower starting above them all.
Three taps sounded on the panes above us.
In all my dealings with Dr. Fu-Manchu I had had to face nothing so uncanny
as this. What Burmese ghoul had he loosed? Was it outside, in the air?
Was it actually in the room?
"Don't let me go, Petrie!" whispered Smith suddenly.
"Get a tight hold on me!"
That was the last straw; for I thought that some dreadful
fascination was impelling my friend to hurl himself out!
Wildly I threw my arms about him, and Guthrie leaped
forward to help.
Smith leaned from the window and looked up.
One choking cry he gave--smothered, inarticulate--and I found him slipping
from my grip--being drawn out of the window--drawn to his death!
"Hold him, Guthrie!" I gasped hoarsely. "My God, he's going!
My friend writhed in our grasp, and I saw him stretch his arm upward.
The crack of his revolver came, and he collapsed on to the floor,
carrying me with him.
But as I fell I heard a scream above. Smith's revolver went
hurtling through the air, and, hard upon it, went a black shape--
flashing past the open window into the gulf of the night.
"The light! The light!" I cried.
Guthrie ran and turned on the light. Nayland Smith, his eyes
starting from his head, his face swollen, lay plucking at a silken
cord which showed tight about his throat.
"It was a Thug!" screamed Guthrie. "Get the rope off! He's choking!"
My hands a-twitch, I seized the strangling-cord.
"A knife! Quick!" I cried. "I have lost mine!"
Guthrie ran to the dressing-table and passed me an open penknife.
I somehow forced the blade between the rope and Smith's swollen neck,
and severed the deadly silken thing.
Smith made a choking noise, and fell back, swooning in my arms.
When, later, we stood looking down upon the mutilated thing which had
been brought in from where it fell, Smith showed me a mark on the brow--
close beside the wound where his bullet had entered.
"The mark of Kali," he said. "The man was a phansigar--
a religious strangler. Since Fu-Manchu has dacoits in his
service I might have expected that he would have Thugs.
A group of these fiends would seem to have fled into Burma;
so that the mysterious epidemic in Rangoon was really an outbreak
of thuggee--on slightly improved lines! I had suspected something
of the kind but, naturally, I had not looked for Thugs near Rangoon.
My unexpected resistance led the strangler to bungle the rope.
You have seen how it was fastened about my throat?
That was unscientific. The true method, as practiced
by the group operating in Burma, was to throw the line
about the victim's neck and jerk him from the window.
A man leaning from an open window is very nicely poised:
it requires only a slight jerk to pitch him forward.
No loop was used, but a running line, which, as the victim fell,
remained in the hand of the murderer. No clew! Therefore we
see at once what commended the system to Fu-Manchu."
Graham Guthrie, very pale, stood looking down at the dead strangler.
"I owe you my life, Mr. Smith," he said. "If you had come
five minutes later--"
He grasped Smith's hand.
"You see," Guthrie continued, "no one thought of looking for a Thug in Burma!
And no one thought of the ROOF! These fellows are as active as monkeys,
and where an ordinary man would infallibly break his neck, they are entirely
at home. I might have chosen my room especially for the business!"
"He slipped in late this evening," said Smith. "The hotel detective saw him,
but these stranglers are as elusive as shadows, otherwise, despite their
having changed the scene of their operations, not one could have survived."
"Didn't you mention a case of this kind on the Irrawaddy?" I asked.
"Yes," was the reply; "and I know of what you are thinking.
The steamers of the Irrawaddy flotilla have a corrugated-iron
roof over the top deck. The Thug must have been lying up there
as the Colassie passed on the deck below."
"But, Smith, what is the motive of the Call?" I continued.
"Partly religious," he explained, "and partly to wake the victims!
You are perhaps going to ask me how Dr. Fu-Manchu has obtained power over
such people as phansigars? I can only reply that Dr. Fu-Manchu has secret
knowledge of which, so far, we know absolutely nothing; but, despite all,
at last I begin to score."
"You do," I agreed; "but your victory took you near to death."
"I owe my life to you, Petrie," he said. "Once to your strength of arm,
and once to--"
"Don't speak of her, Smith," I interrupted.
"Dr. Fu-Manchu may have discovered the part she played!
In which event--"
"God help her!"
UPON the following day we were afoot again, and shortly at handgrips with
the enemy. In retrospect, that restless time offers a chaotic prospect,
with no peaceful spot amid its turmoils.
All that was reposeful in nature seemed to have become
an irony and a mockery to us--who knew how an evil demigod
had his sacrificial altars amid our sweetest groves.
This idea ruled strongly in my mind upon that soft autumnal day.
"The net is closing in," said Nayland Smith.
"Let us hope upon a big catch," I replied, with a laugh.
Beyond where the Thames tided slumberously seaward showed the roofs
of Royal Windsor, the castle towers showing through the autumn haze.
The peace of beautiful Thames-side was about us.
This was one of the few tangible clews upon which thus
far we had chanced; but at last it seemed indeed that we
were narrowing the resources of that enemy of the white race
who was writing his name over England in characters of blood.
To capture Dr. Fu-Manchu we did not hope; but at least there
was every promise of destroying one of the enemy's strongholds.
We had circled upon the map a tract of country cut by the Thames,
with Windsor for its center. Within that circle was the house from
which miraculously we had escaped--a house used by the most highly
organized group in the history of criminology. So much we knew.
Even if we found the house, and this was likely enough, to find it
vacated by Fu-Manchu and his mysterious servants we were prepared.
But it would be a base destroyed.
We were working upon a methodical plan, and although our cooperators
were invisible, these numbered no fewer than twelve--all of them
experienced men. Thus far we had drawn blank, but the place for which
Smith and I were making now came clearly into view: an old mansion
situated in extensive walled grounds. Leaving the river behind us,
we turned sharply to the right along a lane flanked by a high wall.
On an open patch of ground, as we passed, I noted a gypsy caravan.
An old woman was seated on the steps, her wrinkled face bent,
her chin resting in the palm of her hand.
I scarcely glanced at her, but pressed on, nor did I notice that my friend
no longer was beside me. I was all anxiety to come to some point from
whence I might obtain a view of the house; all anxiety to know if this
was the abode of our mysterious enemy--the place where he worked amid
his weird company, where he bred his deadly scorpions and his bacilli,
reared his poisonous fungi, from whence he dispatched his murder ministers.
Above all, perhaps, I wondered if this would prove to be the hiding-place of
the beautiful slave girl who was such a potent factor in the Doctor's plans,
but a two-edged sword which yet we hoped to turn upon Fu-Manchu. Even
in the hands of a master, a woman's beauty is a dangerous weapon.
A cry rang out behind me. I turned quickly. And a singular
sight met my gaze.
Nayland Smith was engaged in a furious struggle with the old gypsy woman!
His long arms clasped about her, he was roughly dragging her out into
the roadway, she fighting like a wild thing--silently, fiercely.
Smith often surprised me, but at that sight, frankly, I thought that
he was become bereft of reason. I ran back; and I had almost reached
the scene of this incredible contest, and Smith now was evidently hard put
to it to hold his own when a man, swarthy, with big rings in his ears,
leaped from the caravan.
One quick glance he threw in our direction, and made off towards the river.
Smith twisted round upon me, never releasing his hold of the woman.
"After him, Petrie!" he cried. "After him. Don't let him escape.
It's a dacoit!"
My brain in a confused whirl; my mind yet disposed to a belief that my friend
had lost his senses, the word "dacoit" was sufficient.
I started down the road after the fleetly running man.
Never once did he glance behind him, so that he evidently had occasion
to fear pursuit. The dusty road rang beneath my flying footsteps.
That sense of fantasy, which claimed me often enough in those days
of our struggle with the titanic genius whose victory meant the victory
of the yellow races over the white, now had me fast in its grip again.
I was an actor in one of those dream-scenes of the grim Fu-Manchu drama.
Out over the grass and down to the river's brink ran the gypsy
who was no gypsy, but one of that far more sinister brotherhood,
the dacoits. I was close upon his heels. But I was not
prepared for him to leap in among the rushes at the margin
of the stream; and seeing him do this I pulled up quickly.
Straight into the water he plunged; and I saw that he held some
object in his hand. He waded out; he dived; and as I gained
the bank and looked to right and left he had vanished completely.
Only ever--widening rings showed where he had been.
I had him.
For directly he rose to the surface he would be visible from
either bank, and with the police whistle which I carried I could,
if necessary, summon one of the men in hiding across the stream.
I waited. A wild-fowl floated serenely past, untroubled by this
strange invasion of his precincts. A full minute I waited.
From the lane behind me came Smith's voice:
"Don't let him escape, Petrie!"
Never lifting my eyes from the water, I waved my hand reassuringly.
But still the dacoit did not rise. I searched the surface in all
directions as far as my eyes could reach; but no swimmer showed
above it. Then it was that I concluded he had dived too deeply,
become entangled in the weeds and was drowned. With a final glance
to right and left and some feeling of awe at this sudden tragedy--
this grim going out of a life at glorious noonday--I turned away.
Smith had the woman securely; but I had not taken five steps towards
him when a faint splash behind warned me. Instinctively I ducked.
From whence that saving instinct arose I cannot surmise,
but to it I owed my life. For as I rapidly lowered my head,
something hummed past me, something that flew out over the grass bank,
and fell with a jangle upon the dusty roadside. A knife!
I turned and bounded back to the river's brink. I heard a faint
cry behind me, which could only have come from the gypsy woman.
Nothing disturbed the calm surface of the water. The reach was lonely
of rowers. Out by the farther bank a girl was poling a punt along,
and her white-clad figure was the only living thing that moved upon
the river within the range of the most expert knife-thrower.
To say that I was nonplused is to say less than the truth; I was amazed.
That it was the dacoit who had shown me this murderous attention
I could not doubt. But where in Heaven's name WAS he?
He could not humanly have remained below water for so long;
yet he certainly was not above, was not upon the surface,
concealed amongst the reeds, nor hidden upon the bank.
There, in the bright sunshine, a consciousness of the eerie possessed me.
It was with an uncomfortable feeling that my phantom foe might be aiming
a second knife at my back that I turned away and hastened towards Smith.
My fearful expectations were not realized, and I picked up the little weapon
which had so narrowly missed me, and with it in my hand rejoined my friend.
He was standing with one arm closely clasped about the apparently
exhausted woman, and her dark eyes were fixed upon him with
an extraordinary expression.
"What does it mean, Smith?" I began.
But he interrupted me.
"Where is the dacoit?" he demanded rapidly.
"Since he seemingly possesses the attributes of a fish,"
I replied, "I cannot pretend to say."
The gypsy woman lifted her eyes to mine and laughed.
Her laughter was musical, not that of such an old hag as Smith
held captive; it was familiar, too.
I started and looked closely into the wizened face.
"He's tricked you," said Smith, an angry note in his voice.
"What is that you have in your hand?"
I showed him the knife, and told him how it had come into my possession.
"I know," he rapped. "I saw it. He was in the water not
three yards from where you stood. You must have seen him.
Was there nothing visible?"
The woman laughed again, and again I wondered.
"A wild-fowl," I added; "nothing else."
"A wild-fowl," snapped Smith. "If you will consult your
recollections of the habits of wild-fowl you will see
that this particular specimen was a RARA AVIS. It's an
old trick, Petrie, but a good one, for it is used in decoying.
A dacoit's head was concealed in that wild-fowl! It's useless.
He has certainly made good his escape by now."
"Smith," I said, somewhat crestfallen, "why are you detaining
this gypsy woman?"
"Gypsy woman!" he laughed, hugging her tightly as she made
an impatient movement. "Use your eyes, old man."
He jerked the frowsy wig from her head, and beneath was a cloud
of disordered hair that shimmered in the sunlight.
"A wet sponge will do the rest," he said.
Into my eyes, widely opened in wonder, looked the dark eyes
of the captive; and beneath the disguise I picked out the charming
features of the slave girl. There were tears on the whitened lashes,
and she was submissive now.
"This time," said my friend hardly, "we have fairly captured her--
and we will hold her."
From somewhere up-stream came a faint call.
Nayland Smith's lean body straightened; he stood alert, strung up.
Another call answered, and a third responded.
Then followed the flatly shrill note of a police whistle,
and I noted a column of black vapor rising beyond the wall,
mounting straight to heaven as the smoke of a welcome offering.
The surrounded mansion was in flames!
"Curse it!" rapped Smith. "So this time we were right. But, of course,
he has had ample opportunity to remove his effects. I knew that.
The man's daring is incredible. He has given himself till the very
last moment--and we blundered upon two of the outposts."
"I lost one."
"No matter. We have the other. I expect no further arrests,
and the house will have been so well fired by the Doctor's
servants that nothing can save it. I fear its ashes will afford
us no clew, Petrie; but we have secured a lever which should
serve to disturb Fu-Manchu's world."
He glanced at the queer figure which hung submissively in his arms.
She looked up proudly.
"You need not hold me so tight," she said, in her soft voice.
"I will come with you."
That I moved amid singular happenings, you, who have borne with me
thus far, have learned, and that I witnessed many curious scenes;
but of the many such scenes in that race--drama wherein Nayland
Smith and Dr. Fu-Manchu played the leading parts, I remember none
more bizarre than the one at my rooms that afternoon.
Without delay, and without taking the Scotland Yard men into
our confidence, we had hurried our prisoner back to London,
for my friend's authority was supreme. A strange trio we were,
and one which excited no little comment; but the journey came
to an end at last. Now we were in my unpretentious sitting-room--
the room wherein Smith first had unfolded to me the story
of Dr. Fu-Manchu and of the great secret society which sought
to upset the balance of the world--to place Europe and America
beneath the scepter of Cathay.
I sat with my elbows upon the writing-table, my chin in my hands;
Smith restlessly paced the floor, relighting his blackened
briar a dozen times in as many minutes. In the big arm-chair
the pseudogypsy was curled up. A brief toilet had converted
the wizened old woman's face into that of a fascinatingly pretty girl.
Wildly picturesque she looked in her ragged Romany garb.
She held a cigarette in her fingers and watched us
through lowered lashes.
Seemingly, with true Oriental fatalism, she was quite reconciled to her fate,
and ever and anon she would bestow upon me a glance from her beautiful
eyes which few men, I say with confidence, could have sustained unmoved.
Though I could not be blind to the emotions of that passionate Eastern soul,
yet I strove not to think of them. Accomplice of an arch-murderer she
might be; but she was dangerously lovely.
"That man who was with you," said Smith, suddenly turning
upon her, "was in Burma up till quite recently. He murdered
a fisherman thirty miles above Prome only a mouth before I left.
The D.S.P. had placed a thousand rupees on his head.
Am I right?"
The girl shrugged her shoulders.
"Suppose--What then?" she asked.
"Suppose I handed you over to the police?" suggested Smith.
But he spoke without conviction, for in the recent past we
both had owed our lives to this girl.
"As you please," she replied. "The police would learn nothing."
"You do not belong to the Far East," my friend said abruptly.
"You may have Eastern blood in your veins, but you are no
kin of Fu-Manchu."
"That is true," she admitted, and knocked the ash from her cigarette.
"Will you tell me where to find Fu-Manchu?"
She shrugged her shoulders again, glancing eloquently in my direction.
Smith walked to the door.
"I must make out my report, Petrie," he said. "Look after the prisoner."
And as the door closed softly behind him I knew what was
expected of me; but, honestly, I shirked my responsibility.
What attitude should I adopt? How should I go about my delicate task?
In a quandary, I stood watching the girl whom singular circumstances
saw captive in my rooms.
"You do not think we would harm you?" I began awkwardly.
"No harm shall come to you. Why will you not trust us?"
She raised her brilliant eyes.
"Of what avail has your protection been to some of those others,"
she said; "those others whom HE has sought for?"
Alas! it had been of none, and I knew it well. I thought I grasped
the drift of her words.
"You mean that if you speak, Fu-Manchu will find a way of killing you?"
"Of killing ME!" she flashed scornfully. "Do I seem one
to fear for myself?"
"Then what do you fear?" I asked, in surprise.
She looked at me oddly.
"When I was seized and sold for a slave," she answered slowly,
"my sister was taken, too, and my brother--a child."
She spoke the word with a tender intonation, and her slight accent
rendered it the more soft. "My sister died in the desert.
My brother lived. Better, far better, that he had died, too."
Her words impressed me intensely.
"Of what are you speaking?" I questioned. "You speak of
slave-raids, of the desert. Where did these things take place?
Of what country are you?"
"Does it matter?" she questioned in turn. "Of what country am I?
A slave has no country, no name."
"No name!" I cried.
"You may call me Karamaneh," she said. "As Karamaneh I was
sold to Dr. Fu-Manchu, and my brother also he purchased.
We were cheap at the price he paid." She laughed shortly, wildly.
"But he has spent a lot of money to educate me. My brother is all
that is left to me in the world to love, and he is in the power
of Dr. Fu-Manchu. You understand? It is upon him the blow will fall.
You ask me to fight against Fu-Manchu. You talk of protection.
Did your protection save Sir Crichton Davey?"
I shook my head sadly.
"You understand now why I cannot disobey my master's orders--why, if I would,
I dare not betray him."
I walked to the window and looked out. How could I answer her arguments?
What could I say? I heard the rustle of her ragged skirts, and she who called
herself Karamaneh stood beside me. She laid her hand upon my arm.
"Let me go," she pleaded. "He will kill him! He will kill him!"
Her voice shook with emotion.
"He cannot revenge himself upon your brother when you are in no way to blame,"
I said angrily. "We arrested you; you are not here of your own free will."
She drew her breath sharply, clutching at my arm, and in her eyes I
could read that she was forcing her mind to some arduous decision.
"Listen." She was speaking rapidly, nervously. "If I help you
to take Dr. Fu-Manchu--tell you where he is to be found ALONE--
will you promise me, solemnly promise me, that you will immediately
go to the place where I shall guide you and release my brother;
that you will let us both go free?"
"I will," I said, without hesitation. "You may rest assured of it."
"But there is a condition," she added.
"What is it?"
"When I have told you where to capture him you must release me."
I hesitated. Smith often had accused me of weakness
where this girl was concerned. What now was my plain duty?
That she would utterly decline to speak under any circumstances
unless it suited her to do so I felt assured. If she spoke
the truth, in her proposed bargain there was no personal element;
her conduct I now viewed in a new light. Humanity, I thought,
dictated that I accept her proposal; policy also.
"I agree," I said, and looked into her eyes, which were aflame
now with emotion, an excitement perhaps of anticipation,
perhaps of fear.
She laid her hands upon my shoulders.
"You will be careful?" she said pleadingly.
"For your sake," I replied, "I shall."
"Not for my sake."
"Then for your brother's."
"No." Her voice had sunk to a whisper. "For your own."
A COOL breeze met us, blowing from the lower reaches of the Thames.
Far behind us twinkled the dim lights of Low's Cottages,
the last regular habitations abutting upon the marshes.
Between us and the cottages stretched half-a-mile of lush land
through which at this season there were, however, numerous dry paths.
Before us the flats again, a dull, monotonous expanse beneath the moon,
with the promise of the cool breeze that the river flowed round
the bend ahead. It was very quiet. Only the sound of our footsteps,
as Nayland Smith and I tramped steadily towards our goal,
broke the stillness of that lonely place.
Not once but many times, within the last twenty minutes,
I had thought that we were ill-advised to adventure
alone upon the capture of the formidable Chinese doctor;
but we were following out our compact with Karamaneh;
and one of her stipulations had been that the police must
not be acquainted with her share in the matter.
A light came into view far ahead of us.
"That's the light, Petrie," said Smith. "If we keep that straight before us,
according to our information we shall strike the hulk."
I grasped the revolver in my pocket, and the presence
of the little weapon was curiously reassuring.
I have endeavored, perhaps in extenuation of my own fears,
to explain how about Dr. Fu-Manchu there rested an atmosphere
of horror, peculiar, unique. He was not as other men.
The dread that he inspired in all with whom he came in contact,
the terrors which he controlled and hurled at whomsoever
cumbered his path, rendered him an object supremely sinister.
I despair of conveying to those who may read this account
any but the coldest conception of the man's evil power.
Smith stopped suddenly and grasped my arm.
We stood listening. "What?" I asked.
"You heard nothing?"
I shook my head.
Smith was peering back over the marshes in his oddly alert way.
He turned to me, and his tanned face wore a peculiar expression.
"You don't think it's a trap?" he jerked. "We are trusting her blindly."
Strange it may seem, but something within me rose in arms
against the innuendo.
"I don't," I said shortly.
He nodded. We pressed on.
Ten minutes' steady tramping brought us within sight of the Thames.
Smith and I both had noticed how Fu-Manchu's activities centered
always about the London river. Undoubtedly it was his highway,
his line of communication, along which he moved his mysterious forces.
The opium den off Shadwell Highway, the mansion upstream,
at that hour a smoldering shell; now the hulk lying off the marshes.
Always he made his headquarters upon the river. It was significant;
and even if to-night's expedition should fail, this was a clew
for our future guidance.
"Bear to the right," directed Smith. "We must reconnoiter
before making our attack."
We took a path that led directly to the river bank.
Before us lay the gray expanse of water, and out upon it
moved the busy shipping of the great mercantile city.
But this life of the river seemed widely removed from us.
The lonely spot where we stood had no kinship with human activity.
Its dreariness illuminated by the brilliant moon, it looked
indeed a fit setting for an act in such a drama as that wherein
we played our parts. When I had lain in the East End opium den,
when upon such another night as this I had looked out upon
a peaceful Norfolk countryside, the same knowledge of aloofness,
of utter detachment from the world of living men, had come to me.
Silently Smith stared out at the distant moving lights.
"Karamaneh merely means a slave," he said irrelevantly.
I made no comment.
"There's the hulk," he added.
The bank upon which we stood dipped in mud slopes to the level
of the running tide. Seaward it rose higher, and by a narrow inlet--
for we perceived that we were upon a kind of promontory--
a rough pier showed. Beneath it was a shadowy shape in the patch
of gloom which the moon threw far out upon the softly eddying water.
Only one dim light was visible amid this darkness.
"That will be the cabin," said Smith.
Acting upon our prearranged plan, we turned and walked up on
to the staging above the hulk. A wooden ladder led out and down
to the deck below, and was loosely lashed to a ring on the pier.
With every motion of the tidal waters the ladder rose and fell,
its rings creaking harshly, against the crazy railing.
"How are we going to get down without being detected?" whispered Smith.
"We've got to risk it," I said grimly.
Without further words my friend climbed around on to the ladder
and commenced to descend. I waited until his head disappeared
below the level, and, clumsily enough, prepared to follow him.
The hulk at that moment giving an unusually heavy heave,
I stumbled, and for one breathless moment looked down upon
the glittering surface streaking the darkness beneath me.
My foot had slipped, and but that I had a firm grip upon the top rung,
that instant, most probably, had marked the end of my share
in the fight with Fu-Manchu. As it was I had a narrow escape.
I felt something slip from my hip pocket, but the weird
creaking of the ladder, the groans of the laboring hulk,
and the lapping of the waves about the staging drowned the sound
of the splash as my revolver dropped into the river.
Rather, white-faced, I think, I joined Smith on the deck.
He had witnessed my accident, but--
"We must risk it," he whispered in my ear. "We dare not turn back now."
He plunged into the semi-darkness, making for the cabin,
I perforce following.
At the bottom of the ladder we came fully into the light streaming out
from the singular apartments at the entrance to which we found ourselves.
It was fitted up as a laboratory. A glimpse I had of shelves loaded
with jars and bottles, of a table strewn with scientific paraphernalia,
with retorts, with tubes of extraordinary shapes, holding living organisms,
and with instruments--some of them of a form unknown to my experience.
I saw too that books, papers and rolls of parchment littered the bare
wooden floor. Then Smith's voice rose above the confused sounds
about me, incisive, commanding:
"I have you covered, Dr. Fu-Manchu!"
For Fu-Manchu sat at the table.
The picture that he presented at that moment is one which persistently
clings in my memory. In his long, yellow robe, his masklike,
intellectual face bent forward amongst the riot of singular objects upon
the table, his great, high brow gleaming in the light of the shaded
lamp above him, and with the abnormal eyes, filmed and green,
raised to us, he seemed a figure from the realms of delirium.
But, most amazing circumstance of all, he and his surroundings tallied,
almost identically, with the dream-picture which had come to me as I
lay chained in the cell!
Some of the large jars about the place held anatomy specimens.
A faint smell of opium hung in the air, and playing with the tassel
of one of the cushions upon which, as upon a divan, Fu-Manchu was seated,
leaped and chattered a little marmoset.
That was an electric moment. I was prepared for anything--
for anything except for what really happened.
The doctor's wonderful, evil face betrayed no hint of emotion.
The lids flickered over the filmed eyes, and their greenness grew
momentarily brighter, and filmed over again.
"Put up your hands!" rapped Smith, "and attempt no tricks."
His voice quivered with excitement. "The game's up,
Fu-Manchu. Find something to tie him up with, Petrie."
I moved forward to Smith's side, and was about to pass him
in the narrow doorway. The hulk moved beneath our feet
like a living thing groaning, creaking--and the water lapped
about the rotten woodwork with a sound infinitely dreary.
"Put up your hands!" ordered Smith imperatively.
Fu-Manchu slowly raised his hands, and a smile dawned upon
the impassive features--a smile that had no mirth in it,
only menace, revealing as it did his even, discolored teeth,
but leaving the filmed eyes inanimate, dull, inhuman.
He spoke softly, sibilantly.
"I would advise Dr. Petrie to glance behind him before he moves."
Smith's keen gray eyes never for a moment quitted the speaker.
The gleaming barrel moved not a hair's-breadth. But I glanced
quickly over my shoulder--and stifled a cry of pure horror.
A wicked, pock-marked face, with wolfish fangs bared, and jaundiced
eyes squinting obliquely into mine, was within two inches of me.
A lean, brown hand and arm, the great thews standing up like cords,
held a crescent-shaped knife a fraction of an inch above my jugular vein.
A slight movement must have dispatched me; a sweep of the fearful weapon,
I doubt not, would have severed my head from my body.
"Smith!" I whispered hoarsely, "don't look around.
For God's sake keep him covered. But a dacoit has his knife
at my throat!"
Then, for the first time, Smith's hand trembled. But his glance never wavered
from the malignant, emotionless countenance of Dr. Fu-Manchu. He clenched
his teeth hard, so that the muscles stood out prominently upon his jaw.
I suppose that silence which followed my awful discovery prevailed
but a few seconds. To me those seconds were each a lingering death.
There, below, in that groaning hulk, I knew more of icy terror
than any of our meetings with the murder-group had brought
to me before; and through my brain throbbed a thought:
the girl had betrayed us!
"You supposed that I was alone?" suggested Fu-Manchu. "So I was."
Yet no trace of fear had broken through the impassive yellow
mask when we had entered.
"But my faithful servant followed you," he added. "I thank him.
The honors, Mr. Smith, are mine, I think?"
Smith made no reply. I divined that he was thinking furiously.
Fu-Manchu moved his hand to caress the marmoset, which had leaped
playfully upon his shoulder, and crouched there gibing at us
in a whistling voice.
"Don't stir!" said Smith savagely. "I warn you!"
Fu-Manchu kept his hand raised.
"May I ask you how you discovered my retreat?" he asked.
"This hulk has been watched since dawn," lied Smith brazenly.
"So?" The Doctor's filmed eyes cleared for a moment.
"And to-day you compelled me to burn a house, and you
have captured one of my people, too. I congratulate you.
She would not betray me though lashed with scorpions."
The great gleaming knife was so near to my neck that a sheet of notepaper
could scarcely have been slipped between blade and vein, I think;
but my heart throbbed even more wildly when I heard those words.
"An impasse," said Fu-Manchu. "I have a proposal to make.
I assume that you would not accept my word for anything?"
"I would not," replied Smith promptly.
"Therefore," pursued the Chinaman, and the occasional guttural
alone marred his perfect English, "I must accept yours.
Of your resources outside this cabin I know nothing.
You, I take it, know as little of mine. My Burmese friend and
Doctor Petrie will lead the way, then; you and I will follow.
We will strike out across the marsh for, say, three hundred yards.
You will then place your pistol on the ground, pledging me your
word to leave it there. I shall further require your assurance
that you will make no attempt upon me until I have retraced
my steps. I and my good servant will withdraw, leaving you,
at the expiration of the specified period, to act as you see fit.
Is it agreed?"
Smith hesitated. Then:
"The dacoit must leave his knife also," he stipulated.
Fu-Manchu smiled his evil smile again.
"Agreed. Shall I lead the way?"
"No!" rapped Smith. "Petrie and the dacoit first; then you; I last."
A guttural word of command from Fu-Manchu, and we left the cabin,
with its evil odors, its mortuary specimens, and its strange instruments,
and in the order arranged mounted to the deck.
"It will be awkward on the ladder," said Fu-Manchu. "Dr. Petrie,
I will accept your word to adhere to the terms."
"I promise," I said, the words almost choking me.
We mounted the rising and dipping ladder, all reached the pier,
and strode out across the flats, the Chinaman always under close
cover of Smith's revolver. Round about our feet, now leaping ahead,
now gamboling back, came and went the marmoset. The dacoit,
dressed solely in a dark loin-cloth, walked beside me, carrying his
huge knife, and sometimes glancing at me with his blood-lustful eyes.
Never before, I venture to say, had an autumn moon lighted such
a scene in that place.
"Here we part," said Fu-Manchu, and spoke another word to his follower.
The man threw his knife upon the ground.
"Search him, Petrie," directed Smith. "He may have a second concealed."
The Doctor consented; and I passed my hands over the man's scanty garments.
"Now search Fu-Manchu."
This also I did. And never have I experienced a similar sense
of revulsion from any human being. I shuddered, as though I
had touched a venomous reptile.
Smith drew down his revolver.
"I curse myself for an honorable fool," he said. "No one could
dispute my right to shoot you dead where you stand."
Knowing him as I did, I could tell from the suppressed passion
in Smith's voice that only by his unhesitating acceptance
of my friend's word, and implicit faith in his keeping it,
had Dr. Fu-Manchu escaped just retribution at that moment.
Fiend though he was, I admired his courage; for all this he,
too, must have known.
The Doctor turned, and with the dacoit walked back.
Nayland Smith's next move filled me with surprise.
For just as, silently, I was thanking God for my escape,
my friend began shedding his coat, collar and waistcoat.
"Pocket your valuables, and do the same," he muttered hoarsely.
"We have a poor chances but we are both fairly fit.
To-night, Petrie, we literally have to run for our lives."
We live in a peaceful age, wherein it falls to the lot of few
men to owe their survival to their fleetness of foot.
At Smith's words I realized in a flash that such was to be
our fate to-night.
I have said that the hulk lay off a sort of promontory.
East and west, then, we had nothing to hope for. To the south
was Fu-Manchu; and even as, stripped of our heavier garments,
we started to run northward, the weird signal of a dacoit rose
on the night and was answered--was answered again.
"Three, at least," hissed Smith; "three armed dacoits. Hopeless."
"Take the revolver," I cried. "Smith, it's--"
"No," he rapped, through clenched teeth. "A servant of the Crown
in the East makes his motto: `Keep your word, though it break
your neck!' I don't think we need fear it being used against us.
Fu-Manchu avoids noisy methods."
So back we ran, over the course by which, earlier, we had come.
It was, roughly, a mile to the first building--a deserted cottage--
and another quarter of a mile to any that was occupied.
Our chance of meeting a living soul, other than Fu-Manchu's dacoits,
was practically nil.
At first we ran easily, for it was the second half-mile that would
decide our fate. The professional murderers who pursued us ran
like panthers, I knew; and I dare not allow my mind to dwell
upon those yellow figures with the curved, gleaming, knives.
For a long time neither of us looked back.
On we ran, and on--silently, doggedly.
Then a hissing breath from Smith warned me what to expect.
Should I, too, look back? Yes. It was impossible to resist
the horrid fascination.
I threw a quick glance over my shoulder.
And never while I live shall I forget what I saw.
Two of the pursuing dacoits had outdistanced their fellow
(or fellows), and were actually within three hundred yards of us.
More like dreadful animals they looked than human beings,
running bent forward, with their faces curiously uptilted.
The brilliant moonlight gleamed upon bared teeth, as I could see,
even at that distance, even in that quick, agonized glance,
and it gleamed upon the crescent-shaped knives.
"As hard as you can go now," panted Smith. "We must make an attempt
to break into the empty cottage. Only chance."
I had never in my younger days been a notable runner; for Smith I
cannot speak. But I am confident that the next half-mile was done
in time that would not have disgraced a crack man. Not once again did
either of us look back. Yard upon yard we raced forward together.
My heart seemed to be bursting. My leg muscles throbbed with pain.
At last, with the empty cottage in sight, it came to that pass with me
when another three yards looks as unattainable as three miles.
Once I stumbled.
"My God!" came from Smith weakly.
But I recovered myself. Bare feet pattered close upon our heels,
and panting breaths told how even Fu-Manchu's bloodhounds were hard
put to it by the killing pace we had made.
"Smith," I whispered, "look in front. Someone!"
As through a red mist I had seen a dark shape detach itself
from the shadows of the cottage, and merge into them again.
It could only be another dacoit; but Smith, not heeding,
or not hearing, my faintly whispered words, crashed open
the gate and hurled himself blindly at the door.
It burst open before him with a resounding boom, and he pitched forward
into the interior darkness. Flat upon the floor he lay, for as,
with a last effort, I gained the threshold and dragged myself within,
I almost fell over his recumbent body.
Madly I snatched at the door. His foot held it open.
I kicked the foot away, and banged the door to. As I turned,
the leading dacoit, his eyes starting from their sockets,
his face the face of a demon leaped wildly through the gateway.
That Smith had burst the latch I felt assured, but by some divine
accident my weak hands found the bolt. With the last ounce
of strength spared to me I thrust it home in the rusty socket--
as a full six inches of shining steel split the middle panel
and protruded above my head.
I dropped, sprawling, beside my friend.
A terrific blow shattered every pane of glass in the solitary window,
and one of the grinning animal faces looked in.
"Sorry, old man," whispered Smith, and his voice was barely audible.
Weakly he grasped my hand. "My fault. I shouldn't have let, you come."
From the corner of the room where the black shadows lay flicked
a long tongue of flame. Muffled, staccato, came the report.
And the yellow face at the window was blotted out.
One wild cry, ending in a rattling gasp, told of a dacoit gone
to his account.
A gray figure glided past me and was silhouetted against the broken window.
Again the pistol sent its message into the night, and again came
the reply to tell how well and truly that message had been delivered.
In the stillness, intense by sharp contrast, the sound
of bare soles pattering upon the path outside stole to me.
Two runners, I thought there were, so that four dacoits must
have been upon our trail. The room was full of pungent smoke.
I staggered to my feet as the gray figure with the revolver
turned towards me. Something familiar there was in that long,
gray garment, and now I perceived why I had thought so.
It was my gray rain-coat.
"Karamaneh," I whispered.
And Smith, with difficulty, supporting himself upright, and holding
fast to the ledge beside the door, muttered something hoarsely,
which sounded like "God bless her!"
The girl, trembling now, placed her hands upon my shoulders with that quaint,
pathetic gesture peculiarly her own.
"I followed you," she said. "Did you not know I should follow you?
But I had to hide because of another who was following also.
I had but just reached this place when I saw you running towards me."
She broke off and turned to Smith.
"This is your pistol," she said naively. "I found it in your bag.
Will you please take it!"
He took it without a word. Perhaps he could not trust himself to speak.
"Now go. Hurry!" she said. "You are not safe yet."
"But you?" I asked.
"You have failed," she replied. "I must go back to him.
There is no other way."
Strangely sick at heart for a man who has just had a miraculous
escape from death, I opened the door. Coatless, disheveled figures,
my friend and I stepped out into the moonlight.
Hideous under the pale rays lay the two dead men,
their glazed eyes upcast to the peace of the blue heavens.
Karamaneh had shot to kill, for both had bullets in their brains.
If God ever planned a more complex nature than hers--a nature more
tumultuous with conflicting passions, I cannot conceive of it.
Yet her beauty was of the sweetest; and in some respects she