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The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu

The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu

Author:Sax Rohmer


“When did you last hear from Nayland Smith?” asked my visitor. I paused, my hand on the syphon, reflecting for a moment. “Two months ago,” I said; “he’s a poor correspondent and rather soured, I fancy.” “What--a woman or something?”
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  “When did you last hear from Nayland Smith?” asked my visitor.

  I paused, my hand on the syphon, reflecting for a moment.

  “Two months ago,” I said; “he’s a poor correspondent and rather soured,I fancy.”

  “What--a woman or something?”

  “Some affair of that sort. He’s such a reticent beggar, I really knowvery little about it.”

  I placed a whisky and soda before the Rev. J. D. Eltham, also slidingthe tobacco jar nearer to his hand. The refined and sensitive face ofthe clergy-man offered no indication of the truculent character of theman. His scanty fair hair, already gray over the temples, was silken andsoft-looking; in appearance he was indeed a typical English churchman;but in China he had been known as “the fighting missionary,” and hadfully deserved the title. In fact, this peaceful-looking gentleman haddirectly brought about the Boxer Risings!

  “You know,” he said, in his clerical voice, but meanwhile stuffingtobacco into an old pipe with fierce energy, “I have often wondered,Petrie--I have never left off wondering--”


  “That accursed Chinaman! Since the cellar place beneath the site of theburnt-out cottage in Dulwich Village--I have wondered more than ever.”

  He lighted his pipe and walked to the hearth to throw the match in thegrate.

  “You see,” he continued, peering across at me in his oddly nervous way,“one never knows, does one? If I thought that Dr. Fu-Manchu lived; ifI seriously suspected that that stupendous intellect, that wonderfulgenius, Petrie, er--” he hesitated characteristically--“survived, Ishould feel it my duty--”

  “Well?” I said, leaning my elbows on the table and smiling slightly.

  “If that Satanic genius were not indeed destroyed, then the peace of theworld, may be threatened anew at any moment!”

  He was becoming excited, shooting out his jaw in the truculent manner Iknew, and snapping his fingers to emphasize his words; a man composed ofthe oddest complexities that ever dwelt beneath a clerical frock.

  “He may have got back to China, Doctor!” he cried, and his eyes had thefighting glint in them. “Could you rest in peace if you thought that helived? Should you not fear for your life every time that a night-calltook you out alone? Why, man alive, it is only two years since he washere among us, since we were searching every shadow for those awfulgreen eyes! What became of his band of assassins--his stranglers, hisdacoits, his damnable poisons and insects and what-not--the army ofcreatures--”

  He paused, taking a drink.

  “You--” he hesitated diffidently--“searched in Egypt with Nayland Smith,did you not?”

  I nodded.

  “Contradict me if I am wrong,” he continued; “but my impression is thatyou were searching for the girl--the girl--Karamaneh, I think she wascalled?”

  “Yes,” I replied shortly; “but we could find no trace--no trace.”

  “You--er--were interested?”

  “More than I knew,” I replied, “until I realized that I had--lost her.”

  “I never met Karamaneh, but from your account, and from others, she wasquite unusually--”

  “She was very beautiful,” I said, and stood up, for I was anxious toterminate that phase of the conversation.

  Eltham regarded me sympathetically; he knew something of my search withNayland Smith for the dark-eyed, Eastern girl who had brought romanceinto my drab life; he knew that I treasured my memories of her as Iloathed and abhorred those of the fiendish, brilliant Chinese doctor whohad been her master.

  Eltham began to pace up and down the rug, his pipe bubbling furiously;and something in the way he carried his head reminded me momentarily ofNayland Smith. Certainly, between this pink-faced clergyman, with hisdeceptively mild appearance, and the gaunt, bronzed, and steely-eyedBurmese commissioner, there was externally little in common; but it wassome little nervous trick in his carriage that conjured up through thesmoky haze one distant summer evening when Smith had paced that veryroom as Eltham paced it now, when before my startled eyes he had rung upthe curtain upon the savage drama in which, though I little suspected itthen, Fate had cast me for a leading role.

  I wondered if Eltham’s thoughts ran parallel with mine. My own werecentered upon the unforgettable figure of the murderous Chinaman. Thesewords, exactly as Smith had used them, seemed once again to sound in myears: “Imagine a person tall, lean, and feline, high shouldered, with abrow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, andlong magnetic eyes of the true cat green. Invest him with all the cruelcunning of an entire Eastern race accumulated in one giant intellect,with all the resources of science, past and present, and you have amental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the ‘Yellow Peril’ incarnate in oneman.”

  This visit of Eltham’s no doubt was responsible for my mood; for thissingular clergyman had played his part in the drama of two years ago.

  “I should like to see Smith again,” he said suddenly; “it seems a pitythat a man like that should be buried in Burma. Burma makes a mess ofthe best of men, Doctor. You said he was not married?”

  “No,” I replied shortly, “and is never likely to be, now.”

  “Ah, you hinted at something of the kind.”

  “I know very little of it. Nayland Smith is not the kind of man to talkmuch.”

  “Quite so--quite so! And, you know, Doctor, neither am I; but”--he wasgrowing painfully embarrassed--“it may be your due--I--er--I have acorrespondent, in the interior of China--”

  “Well?” I said, watching him in sudden eagerness.

  “Well, I would not desire to raise--vain hopes--nor to occasion, shallI say, empty fears; but--er... no, Doctor!” He flushed like a girl--“Itwas wrong of me to open this conversation. Perhaps, when I knowmore--will you forget my words, for the time?”

  The telephone bell rang.

  “Hullo!” cried Eltham--“hard luck, Doctor!”--but I could see that hewelcomed the interruption. “Why!” he added, “it is one o’clock!”

  I went to the telephone.

  “Is that Dr. Petrie?” inquired a woman’s voice.

  “Yes; who is speaking?”

  “Mrs. Hewett has been taken more seriously ill. Could you come at once?”

  “Certainly,” I replied, for Mrs. Hewett was not only a profitablepatient but an estimable lady--“I shall be with you in a quarter of anhour.”

  I hung up the receiver.

  “Something urgent?” asked Eltham, emptying his pipe.

  “Sounds like it. You had better turn in.”

  “I should much prefer to walk over with you, if it would not beintruding. Our conversation has ill prepared me for sleep.”

  “Right!” I said; for I welcomed his company; and three minutes later wewere striding across the deserted common.

  A sort of mist floated amongst the trees, seeming in the moonlight likea veil draped from trunk to trunk, as in silence we passed the Moundpond, and struck out for the north side of the common.

  I suppose the presence of Eltham and the irritating recollection of hishalf-confidence were the responsible factors, but my mind persistentlydwelt upon the subject of Fu-Manchu and the atrocities which he hadcommitted during his sojourn in England. So actively was my imaginationat work that I felt again the menace which so long had hung over me; Ifelt as though that murderous yellow cloud still cast its shadow uponEngland. And I found myself longing for the company of Nayland Smith.I cannot state what was the nature of Eltham’s reflections, but I canguess; for he was as silent as I.

  It was with a conscious effort that I shook myself out of this morbidlyreflective mood, on finding that we had crossed the common and were cometo the abode of my patient.

  “I shall take a little walk,” announced Eltham; “for I gather that youdon’t expect to be detained long? I shall never be out of sight of thedoor, of course.”

  “Very well,” I replied, and ran up the steps.

  There were no lights to be seen in any of the windows, whichcircumstance rather surprised me, as my patient occupied, or hadoccupied when last I had visited her, a first-floor bedroom in the frontof the house. My knocking and ringing produced no response for three orfour minutes; then, as I persisted, a scantily clothed and halfawake maid servant unbarred the door and stared at me stupidly in themoonlight.

  “Mrs. Hewett requires me?” I asked abruptly.

  The girl stared more stupidly than ever.

  “No, sir,” she said, “she don’t, sir; she’s fast asleep!”

  “But some one ‘phoned me!” I insisted, rather irritably, I fear.

  “Not from here, sir,” declared the now wide-eyed girl. “We haven’t got atelephone, sir.”

  For a few moments I stood there, staring as foolishly as she; thenabruptly I turned and descended the steps. At the gate I stood lookingup and down the road. The houses were all in darkness. What could be themeaning of the mysterious summons? I had made no mistake respecting thename of my patient; it had been twice repeated over the telephone; yetthat the call had not emanated from Mrs. Hewett’s house was now palpablyevident. Days had been when I should have regarded the episode aspreluding some outrage, but to-night I felt more disposed to ascribe itto a silly practical joke.

  Eltham walked up briskly.

  “You’re in demand to-night, Doctor,” he said. “A young person calledfor you almost directly you had left your house, and, learning where youwere gone, followed you.”

  “Indeed!” I said, a trifle incredulously. “There are plenty of otherdoctors if the case is an urgent one.”

  “She may have thought it would save time as you were actually up anddressed,” explained Eltham; “and the house is quite near to here, Iunderstand.”

  I looked at him a little blankly. Was this another effort of the unknownjester?

  “I have been fooled once,” I said. “That ‘phone call was a hoax--”

  “But I feel certain,” declared Eltham, earnestly, “that this is genuine!The poor girl was dreadfully agitated; her master has broken his leg andis lying helpless: number 280, Rectory Grove.”

  “Where is the girl?” I asked, sharply.

  “She ran back directly she had given me her message.”

  “Was she a servant?”

  “I should imagine so: French, I think. But she was so wrapped up I hadlittle more than a glimpse of her. I am sorry to hear that some one hasplayed a silly joke on you, but believe me--” he was very earnest--“thisis no jest. The poor girl could scarcely speak for sobs. She mistook mefor you, of course.”

  “Oh!” said I grimly, “well, I suppose I must go. Broken leg, yousaid?--and my surgical bag, splints and so forth, are at home!”

  “My dear Petrie!” cried Eltham, in his enthusiastic way--“you no doubtcan do something to alleviate the poor man’s suffering immediately. Iwill run back to your rooms for the bag and rejoin you at 280, RectoryGrove.”

  “It’s awfully good of you, Eltham--”

  He held up his hand.

  “The call of suffering humanity, Petrie, is one which I may no morerefuse to hear than you.”

  I made no further protest after that, for his point of view was evidentand his determination adamant, but told him where he would find thebag and once more set out across the moonbright common, he pursuing awesterly direction and I going east.

  Some three hundred yards I had gone, I suppose, and my brain had beenvery active the while, when something occurred to me which placed a newcomplexion upon this second summons. I thought of the falsity of thefirst, of the improbability of even the most hardened practical jokerpractising his wiles at one o’clock in the morning. I thought of ourrecent conversation; above all I thought of the girl who had deliveredthe message to Eltham, the girl whom he had described as a Frenchmaid--whose personal charm had so completely enlisted his sympathies.Now, to this train of thought came a new one, and, adding it, mysuspicion became almost a certainty.

  I remembered

as, knowing the district, I should have remembered before

that there was no number 280 in Rectory Grove.

  Pulling up sharply I stood looking about me. Not a living soul wasin sight; not even a policeman. Where the lamps marked the main pathsacross the common nothing moved; in the shadows about me nothingstirred. But something stirred within me--a warning voice which for longhad lain dormant.

  What was afoot?

  A breeze caressed the leaves overhead, breaking the silence withmysterious whisperings. Some portentous truth was seeking for admittanceto my brain. I strove to reassure myself, but the sense of impendingevil and of mystery became heavier. At last I could combat my strangefears no longer. I turned and began to run toward the south side of thecommon--toward my rooms--and after Eltham.

  I had hoped to head him off, but came upon no sign of him. An all-nighttramcar passed at the moment that I reached the high road, and as I ranaround behind it I saw that my windows were lighted and that there was alight in the hall.

  My key was yet in the lock when my housekeeper opened the door.

  “There’s a gentleman just come, Doctor,” she began--

  I thrust past her and raced up the stairs into my study.

  Standing by the writing-table was a tall, thin man, his gaunt face brownas a coffee-berry and his steely gray eyes fixed upon me. My heart gavea great leap--and seemed to stand still.

  It was Nayland Smith!

  “Smith,” I cried. “Smith, old man, by God, I’m glad to see you!”

  He wrung my hand hard, looking at me with his searching eyes; but therewas little enough of gladness in his face. He was altogether grayer thanwhen last I had seen him--grayer and sterner.

  “Where is Eltham?” I asked.

  Smith started back as though I had struck him.

  “Eltham!” he whispered--“Eltham! is Eltham here?”

  “I left him ten minutes ago on the common--”

  Smith dashed his right fist into the palm of his left hand and his eyesgleamed almost wildly.

  “My God, Petrie!” he said, “am I fated always to come too late?”

  My dreadful fears in that instant were confirmed. I seemed to feel mylegs totter beneath me.

  “Smith, you don’t mean--”

  “I do, Petrie!” His voice sounded very far away. “Fu-Manchu is here; andEltham, God help him... is his first victim!”