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Bat Wing

Bat Wing

Author:Sax Rohmer


Toward the hour of six on a hot summer’s evening Mr. Paul Harley was seated in his private office in Chancery Lane reading through a number of letters which Innes, his secretary, had placed before him for signature. Only one more remained to be passed, but it was a long...
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  Toward the hour of six on a hot summer’s evening Mr. Paul Harley wasseated in his private office in Chancery Lane reading through a numberof letters which Innes, his secretary, had placed before him forsignature. Only one more remained to be passed, but it was a long,confidential report upon a certain matter, which Harley had prepared forHis Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department.He glanced with a sigh of weariness at the little clock upon his tablebefore commencing to read.

  “Shall detain you only a few minutes, now, Knox,” he said.

  I nodded, smiling. I was quite content to sit and watch my friend atwork.

  Paul Harley occupied a unique place in the maelstrom of vice andambition which is sometimes called London life. Whilst at present heheld no official post, some of the most momentous problems of Britishpolicy during the past five years, problems imperilling inter-staterelationships and not infrequently threatening a renewal of the worldwar, had owed their solution to the peculiar genius of this man.

  No clue to his profession appeared upon the plain brass plate attachedto his door, and little did those who regarded Paul Harley merely as asuccessful private detective suspect that he was in the confidenceof some who guided the destinies of the Empire. Paul Harley’s work inConstantinople during the feverish months preceding hostilities withTurkey, although unknown to the general public, had been of amost extraordinary nature. His recommendations were never adopted,unfortunately. Otherwise, the tragedy of the Dardanelles might have beenaverted.

  His surroundings as he sat there, gaze bent upon the typewritten pages,were those of any other professional man. So it would have seemed to thecasual observer. But perhaps there was a quality in the atmosphere ofthe office which would have told a more sensitive visitor that it wasthe apartment of no ordinary man of business. Whilst there were filingcabinets and bookshelves laden with works of reference, many of themlegal, a large and handsome Burmese cabinet struck an unexpected note.

  On closer inspection, other splashes of significant colour must havebeen detected in the scheme, notably a very fine engraving of EdgarAllan Poe, from the daguerreotype of 1848; and upon the man himself laythe indelible mark of the tropics. His clean-cut features had that hintof underlying bronze which tells of years spent beneath a merciless sun,and the touch of gray at his temples only added to the eager, almostfierce vitality of the dark face. Paul Harley was notable because ofthat intellectual strength which does not strike one immediately,since it is purely temperamental, but which, nevertheless, invests itspossessor with an aura of distinction.

  Writing his name at the bottom of the report, Paul Harley enclosed thepages in a long envelope and dropped the envelope into a basket whichcontained a number of other letters. His work for the day was ended, andglancing at me with a triumphant smile, he stood up. His office was apart of a residential suite, but although, like some old-time burgher ofthe city, he lived on the premises, the shutting of a door which led tohis private rooms marked the close of the business day. Pressing a bellwhich connected with the public office occupied by his secretary, PaulHarley stood up as Innes entered.

  “There’s nothing further, is there, Innes?” he asked.

  “Nothing, Mr. Harley, if you have passed the Home Office report?”

  Paul Harley laughed shortly.

  “There it is,” he replied, pointing to the basket; “a tedious andthankless job, Innes. It is the fifth draft you have prepared and itwill have to do.”

  He took up a letter which lay unsealed upon the table. “This is theRokeby affair,” he said. “I have decided to hold it over, after all,until my return.”

  “Ah!” said Innes, quietly glancing at each envelope as he took it fromthe basket. “I see you have turned down the little job offered by theMarquis.”

  “I have,” replied Harley, smiling grimly, “and a fee of five hundredguineas with it. I have also intimated to that distressed nobleman thatthis is a business office and that a laundry is the proper place to takehis dirty linen. No, there’s nothing further to-night, Innes. You canget along now. Has Miss Smith gone?”

  But as if in answer to his enquiry the typist, who with Innes made upthe entire staff of the office, came in at that moment, a card in herhand. Harley glanced across in my direction and then at the card, with awry expression.

  “Colonel Juan Menendez,” he read aloud, “Cavendish Club,” and glancedreflectively at Innes. “Do we know the Colonel?”

  “I think not,” answered Innes; “the name is unfamiliar to me.”

  “I wonder,” murmured Harley. He glanced across at me. “It’s an awfulnuisance, Knox, but just as I thought the decks were clear. Is itsomething really interesting, or does he want a woman watched? However,his name sounds piquant, so perhaps I had better see him. Ask him tocome in, Miss Smith.”

  Innes and Miss Smith retiring, there presently entered a man of moststriking and unusual presence. In the first place, Colonel Menendez musthave stood fully six feet in his boots, and he carried himself like agrandee of the golden days of Spain. His complexion was extraordinarilydusky, whilst his hair, which was close cropped, was iron gray. Hisheavy eyebrows and curling moustache with its little points were equallyblack, so that his large teeth gleamed very fiercely when he smiled. Hiseyes were large, dark, and brilliant, and although he wore an admirablycut tweed suit, for some reason I pictured him as habitually wearingriding kit. Indeed I almost seemed to hear the jingle of his spurs.

  He carried an ebony cane for which I mentally substituted a crop, andhis black derby hat I thought hardly as suitable as a sombrero. His agemight have been anything between fifty and fifty-five.

  Standing in the doorway he bowed, and if his smile was Mephistophelean,there was much about Colonel Juan Menendez which commanded respect.

  “Mr. Harley,” he began, and his high, thin voice afforded yetanother surprise, “I feel somewhat ill at ease to--how do you sayit?--appropriate your time, as I am by no means sure that what I have tosay justifies my doing so.”

  He spoke most fluent, indeed florid, English. But his sentences at timeswere oddly constructed; yet, save for a faint accent, and his frequentinterpolation of such expressions as “how do you say?”--a sort ofnervous mannerism--one might have supposed him to be a Britisher who hadlived much abroad. I formed the opinion that he had read extensively,and this, as I learned later, was indeed the case.

  “Sit down, Colonel Menendez,” said Harley with quiet geniality.“Officially, my working day is ended, I admit, but if you have noobjection to the presence of my friend, Mr. Knox, I shall be most happyto chat with you.”

  He smiled in a way all his own.

  “If your business is of a painfully professional nature,” he added,“I must beg you to excuse me for fourteen days, as I am taking a badlyneeded holiday with my friend.”

  “Ah, is it so?” replied the Colonel, placing his hat and cane upon thetable, and sitting down rather wearily in a big leathern armchair whichHarley had pushed forward. “If I intrude I am sorry, but indeed mybusiness is urgent, and I come to you on the recommendation of myfriend, Senor Don Merry del Val, the Spanish Ambassador.”

  He raised his eyes to Harley’s face with an expression of peculiarappeal. I rose to depart, but:

  “Sit down, Knox,” said Harley, and turned again to the visitor. “Pleaseproceed,” he requested. “Mr. Knox has been with me in some of the mostdelicate cases which I have ever handled, and you may rely upon hisdiscretion as you may rely upon mine.” He pushed forward a box ofcigars. “Will you smoke?”

  “Thanks, no,” was the answer; “you see, I rarely smoke anything but mycigarettes.”

  Colonel Menendez extracted a slip of rice paper from a little packetwhich he carried, next, dipping two long, yellow fingers into his coatpocket, he brought out a portion of tobacco, laid it in the paper, andalmost in the twinkling of an eye had made, rolled, and lighted a verycreditable cigarette. His dexterity was astonishing, and seeing mysurprise he raised his heavy eyebrows, and:

  “Practice makes perfect, is it not said?” he remarked.

  He shrugged his shoulders and dropped the extinguished match in an ashtray, whilst I studied him with increasing interest. Some dread, real orimaginary, was oppressing the man’s mind, I mused. I felt my presence tobe unwelcome, but:

  “Very well,” he began, suddenly. “I expect, Mr. Harley, that you will bedisposed to regard what I have to tell you rather as a symptom of whatyou call nerves than as evidence of any agency directed against me.”

  Paul Harley stared curiously at the speaker. “Do I understand you tosuspect that someone is desirous of harming you?” he enquired.

  Colonel Menendez slowly nodded his head.

  “Such is my meaning,” he replied.

  “You refer to bodily harm?”

  “But yes, emphatically.”

  “Hm,” said Harley; and taking out a tin of tobacco from a cabinet besidehim he began in leisurely manner to load a briar. “No doubt you havegood reasons for this suspicion?”

  “If I had not good reasons, Mr. Harley, nothing could have induced me totrouble you. Yet, even now that I have compelled myself to come here, Ifind it difficult, almost impossible, to explain those reasons to you.”

  An expression of embarrassment appeared upon the brown face, and nowColonel Menendez paused and was plainly at a loss for words with whichto continue.

  Harley replaced the tin in the cupboard and struck a match. Lighting hispipe he nodded good humouredly as if to say, “I quite understand.” As amatter of fact, he probably thought, as I did, that this was a familiarcase of a man of possibly blameless life who had become subject tothat delusion which leads people to believe themselves threatened bymysterious and unnameable danger.

  Our visitor inhaled deeply.

  “You, of course, are waiting for the facts,” he presently resumed,speaking with a slowness which told of a mind labouring for the rightmode of expression. “These are so scanty, I fear, of so, shall I say,phantom a kind, that even when they are in your possession you willconsider me to be merely the victim of a delusion. In the first place,then, I have reason to believe that someone followed me from my home toyour office.”

  “Indeed,” said Paul Harley, sympathetically, for this I perceivedwas exactly what he had anticipated, and merely tended to confirm hissuspicion. “Some member of your household?”

  “Certainly not.”

  “Did you actually see this follower?”

  “My dear sir,” cried Colonel Menendez, excitement emphasizing hisaccent, “if I had seen him, so much would have been made clear, somuch! I have never seen him, but I have heard him and felt him--felt hispresence, I mean.”

  “In what way?” asked Harley, leaning back in his chair and studying thefierce face.

  “On several occasions on turning out the light in my bedroom andlooking across the lawn from my window I have observed the shadow ofsomeone--how do you say?--lurking in the garden.”

  “The shadow?”

  “Precisely. The person himself was concealed beneath a tree. When hemoved his shadow was visible on the ground.”

  “You were not deceived by a waving branch?”

  “Certainly not. I speak of a still, moonlight night.”

  “Possibly, then, it was the shadow of a tramp,” suggested Harley. “Igather that you refer to a house in the country?”

  “It was not,” declared Colonel Menendez, emphatically; “it was not. Iwish to God I could believe it had been. Then there was, a month ago, anattempt to enter my house.”

  Paul Harley exhibited evidence of a quickening curiosity. He hadperceived, as I had perceived, that the manner of the speaker differedfrom that of the ordinary victim of delusion, with whom he had becomeprofessionally familiar.

  “You had actual evidence of this?” he suggested.

  “It was due to insomnia, sleeplessness, brought about, yes, I will admitit, by apprehension, that I heard the footsteps of this intruder.”

  “But you did not see him?”

  “Only his shadow”


  “You can obtain the evidence of all my household that someone hadactually entered,” declared Colonel Menendez, eagerly. “Of this, atleast, I can give you the certain facts. Whoever it was had obtainedaccess through a kitchen window, had forced two locks, and was comingstealthily along the hallway when the sound of his footsteps attractedmy attention.”

  “What did you do?”

  “I came out on to the landing and looked down the stairs. But even theslight sound which I made had been sufficient to alarm the midnightvisitor, for I had never a glimpse of him. Only, as he went swiftlyback in the direction from which he had come, the moonlight shining inthrough a window in the hall cast his shadow on the carpet.”

  “Strange,” murmured Harley. “Very strange, indeed. The shadow told younothing?”

  “Nothing at all.”

  Colonel Menendez hesitated momentarily, and glanced swiftly across atHarley.

  “It was just a vague--do you say blur?--and then it was gone. But--”

  “Yes,” said Harley. “But?”

  “Ah,” Colonel Menendez blew a cloud of smoke into the air, “I come nowto the matter which I find so hard to explain.”

  He inhaled again deeply and was silent for a while.

  “Nothing was stolen?” asked Harley.

  “Nothing whatever.”

  “And no clue was left behind?”

  “No clue except the filed fastening of a window and two open doors whichhad been locked as usual when the household retired.”

  “Hm,” mused Harley again; “this incident, of course, may have been anisolated one and in no way connected with the surveillance of which youcomplain. I mean that this person who undoubtedly entered your housemight prove to be an ordinary burglar.”

  “On a table in the hallway of Cray’s Folly,” replied Colonel Menendez,impressively--“so my house is named--stands a case containingpresentation gold plate. The moonlight of which I have spoken wasshining fully upon this case, and does the burglar live who will passsuch a prize and leave it untouched?”

  “I quite agree,” said Harley, quietly, “that this is a very big point.”

  “You are beginning at last,” suggested the Colonel, “to believe that mysuspicions are not quite groundless?”

  “There is a distinct possibility that they are more than suspicions,”agreed Harley; “but may I suggest that there is something else? Have youan enemy?”

  “Who that has ever held public office is without enemies?”

  “Ah, quite so. Then I suggest again that there is something else.”

  He gazed keenly at his visitor, and the latter, whilst meeting the lookunflinchingly with his large dark eyes, was unable to conceal the factthat he had received a home thrust.

  “There are two points, Mr. Harley,” he finally confessed, “almostcertainly associated one with the other, if you understand, but boththese so--shall I say remote?--from my life, that I hesitate to mentionthem. It seems fantastic to suppose that they contain a clue.”

  “I beg of you,” said Harley, “to keep nothing back, however remote itmay appear to be. It is sometimes the seemingly remote things whichprove upon investigation to be the most intimate.”

  “Very well,” resumed Colonel Menendez, beginning to roll a secondcigarette whilst continuing to smoke the first, “I know that you areright, of course, but it is nevertheless very difficult for me toexplain. I mentioned the attempted burglary, if so I may term it, inorder to clear your mind of the idea that my fears were a myth. The nextpoint which I have concerns a man, a neighbour of mine in Surrey. BeforeI proceed I should like to make it clear that I do not believe for amoment that he is responsible for this unpleasant business.”

  Harley stared at him curiously. “Nevertheless,” he said, “there must besome data in your possession which suggest to your mind that he has someconnection with it.”

  “There are, Mr. Harley, but they belong to things so mystic and faraway from ordinary crime that I fear you will think me,” he shruggedhis great shoulders, “a man haunted by strange superstitions. Do you say‘haunted?’ Good. You understand. I should tell you, then, that althoughof pure Spanish blood, I was born in Cuba. The greater part of mylife has been spent in the West Indies, where prior to ‘98 I held anappointment under the Spanish Government. I have property, not only inCuba, but in some of the smaller islands which formerly were Spanish,and I shall not conceal from you that during the latter years of myadministration I incurred the enmity of a section of the population. DoI make myself clear?”

  Paul Harley nodded and exchanged a swift glance with me. I formed arapid mental picture of native life under the governorship of ColonelJuan Menendez and I began to consider his story from a new viewpoint.Seemingly rendered restless by his reflections, he stood up and beganto pace the floor, a tall but curiously graceful figure. I noticed thebulldog tenacity of his chin, the intense pride in his bearing, and Iwondered what kind of menace had induced him to seek the aid of PaulHarley; for whatever his failings might be, and I could guess at thenature of several of them, that this thin-lipped Spanish soldier knewthe meaning of fear I was not prepared to believe.

  “Before you proceed further, Colonel Menendez,” said Harley, “might Iask when you left Cuba?”

  “Some three years ago,” was his reply. “Because--” he hesitatedcuriously--“of health motives, I leased a property in England, believingthat here I should find peace.”

  “In other words, you were afraid of something or someone in Cuba?”

  Colonel Menendez turned in a flash, glaring down at the speaker.

  “I never feared any man in my life, Mr. Harley,” he said, coldly.

  “Then why are you here?”

  The Colonel placed the stump of his first cigarette in an ash tray andlighted that which he had newly made.

  “It is true,” he admitted. “Forgive me. Yet what I said was that I neverfeared any man.”

  He stood squarely in front of the Burmese cabinet, resting one hand uponhis hip. Then he added a remark which surprised me.

  “Do you know anything of Voodoo?” he asked.

  Paul Harley took his pipe from between his teeth and stared at thespeaker silently for a moment. “Voodoo?” he echoed. “You mean negromagic?”


  “My studies have certainly not embraced it,” replied Harley, quietly,“nor has it hitherto come within my experience. But since I have livedmuch in the East, I am prepared to learn that Voodoo may not be anegligible quantity. There are forces at work in India which we inEngland improperly understand. The same may be true of Cuba.”

  “The same _is_ true of Cuba.”

  Colonel Menendez glared almost fiercely across the room at Paul Harley.

  “And do I understand,” asked the latter, “that the danger which youbelieve to threaten you is associated with Cuba?”

  “That, Mr. Harley, is for you to decide when all the facts shall be inyour possession. Do you wish that I proceed?”

  “By all means. I must confess that I am intensely interested.”

  “Very well, Mr. Harley. I have something to show you.”

  From an inside breast pocket Colonel Menendez drew out a gold-mountedcase, and from the case took some flat, irregularly shaped objectwrapped in a piece of tissue paper. Unfolding the paper, he strodeacross and laid the object which it had contained upon the blotting padin front of my friend.

  Impelled by curiosity I stood up and advanced to inspect it. It was ofa dirty brown colour, some five or six inches long, and appeared toconsist of a kind of membrane. Harley, his elbow on the table, wasstaring down at it questioningly.

  “What is it?” I said; “some kind of leaf?”

  “No,” replied Harley, looking up into the dark face of the Spanishcolonel; “I think I know what it is.”

  “I, also, know what it is.” declared Colonel Menendez, grimly. “But tellme what to you it seems like, Mr. Harley?”

  Paul Harley’s expression was compounded of incredulity, wonder, andsomething else, as, continuing to stare at the speaker, he replied:

  “It is the wing of a bat.”