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The Devil Doctor

The Devil Doctor

Author:Sax Rohmer


"When did you last hear from Nayland Smith?" asked my visitor. I paused, my hand on the siphon, 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 siphon, reflecting for a moment.

  "Two months ago," I said: "he's a poor correspondent and rathersoured, 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 clergyman offered no indication to the truculent character of theman. His scanty fair hair, already grey over the temples, was silkenand soft-looking: in appearance he was indeed a typical Englishchurchman; but in China he had been known as "the fightingmissionary," and had fully deserved the title. In fact, thispeaceful-looking gentleman had directly brought about the BoxerRisings!

  "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 ofthe burnt-out cottage in Dulwich Village--I have wondered more thanever."

  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 nervousway--"one never knows, does one? If I thought that Dr. Fu-Manchu lived;if I 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 ofthe world might be threatened anew at any moment!"

  He was becoming excited, shooting out his jaw in the truculent mannerI knew, and snapping his fingers to emphasize his words; a mancomposed of the oddest complexities that ever dwelt beneath a clericalfrock.

  "He may have got back to China, doctor!" he cried, and his eyes hadthe fighting glint in them. "Could you rest in peace if you thoughtthat he lived? Should you not fear for your life every time that anight-call took you out alone? Why, man alive, it is only two yearssince he was here amongst us, since we were searching every shadow forthose awful green eyes! What became of his band of assassins--hisstranglers, his dacoits, his damnable poisons and insects andwhat-not--the army of creatures--"

  He paused, taking a drink.

  "You"--he hesitated diffidently--"searched in Egypt with NaylandSmith, did you not?"

  I nodded.

  "Contradict me if I am wrong," he continued; "but my impression isthat you were searching for the girl--the girl--Kâramanèh, I thinkshe was called?"

  "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--losther."

  "I never met Kâramanèh, but from your account, and from others, shewas quite 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 searchwith Nayland Smith for the dark-eyed Eastern girl who had broughtromance into my drab life; he knew that I treasured my memories of heras I loathed and abhorred those of the fiendish, brilliant Chinesedoctor who had been her master.

  Eltham began to pace up and down the rug, his pipe bubbling furiously;and something in the way he carried his head reminded me momentarilyof Nayland Smith. Certainly, between this pink-faced clergyman, withhis deceptively mild appearance, and the gaunt, bronzed andsteely-eyed Burmese commissioner, there was externally little incommon; but it was some little nervous trick in his carriage thatconjured up through the smoke-haze one distant summer evening whenSmith had paced that very room as Eltham paced it now, when before mystartled eyes he had rung up the curtain upon the savage drama inwhich, though I little suspected it then, Fate had cast me for aleading rôle.

  I wondered if Eltham's thoughts ran parallel with mine. My own werecentred upon the unforgettable figure of the murderous Chinaman. Thesewords, exactly as Smith had used them, seemed once again to sound inmy ears: "Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered,with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shavenskull and long magnetic eyes of the true cat green. Invest him withall the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race accumulated in onegiant intellect, with all the resources of science, past and present,and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the 'Yellow Peril'incarnate in one man."

  This visit of Eltham's no doubt was responsible for my mood; for 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 totalk much."

  "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."It was wrong of me to open this conversation. Perhaps, when I knowmore--will you forget my words, for the time?"

  The 'phone 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 atonce?"

  "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 laterwe were striding across the deserted common.

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

  I suppose the presence of Eltham and the irritating recollection ofhis half-confidence were the responsible factors, but my mindpersistently dwelt upon the subject of Fu-Manchu and the atrocitieswhich he had committed during his sojourn in England. So actively wasmy imagination at work that I felt again the menace which so long hadhung over me; I felt as though that murderous yellow cloud still castits shadow upon England. And I found myself longing for the company ofNayland Smith. I cannot state what was the nature of Eltham'sreflections, but I can guess; for he was as silent as I.

  It was with a conscious effort that I shook myself out of thismorbidly reflective mood, on finding that we had crossed the commonand were come to 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 thefront of the house. My knocking and ringing produced no response forthree or four minutes; then, as I persisted, a scantily clothed andhalf-awake maid-servant unbarred the door and stared at me stupidly inthe moonlight.

  "Mrs. Hewett requires me?" I asked abruptly.

  The girl stared more stupidly than ever.

  "No, sir," she said: "she don't, sir; she's fast asleep!"

  "But some one 'phoned me!" I insisted, rather irritably, I fear.

  "Not from here, sir," declared the now wide-eyed girl. "We haven't gota telephone, 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 bethe meaning of the mysterious summons? I had made no mistakerespecting the name of my patient; it had been twice repeated over thetelephone; yet that the call had not emanated from Mrs. Hewett's housewas now palpably evident. Days had been when I should have regardedthe episode as preluding some outrage, but to-night I felt moredisposed to ascribe it to 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 whereyou were 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 theunknown jester?

  "I have been fooled once," I said. "That 'phone call was a hoax--"

  "But I feel certain," declared Eltham earnestly, "that this isgenuine! The poor girl was dreadfully agitated; her master has brokenhis leg and is lying helpless: number 280 Rectory Grove."

  "Where is the girl?" I asked sharply.

  "She ran back directly she had given me her message."

  "Was she a servant?"

  "I should imagine so: French, I think. But she was so wrapped up I hadlittle more than a glimpse of her. I am sorry to hear that some onehas played a silly joke on you, but believe me"--he was veryearnest--"this is no jest. The poor girl could scarcely speak forsobs. She mistook me for 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 wasevident and his determination adamantine, but told him where he wouldfind the bag and once more set out across the moon-bright common, hepursuing a westerly 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 anew complexion upon this second summons. I thought of the falsity ofthe first, of the improbability of even the most hardened practicaljoker practising his wiles at one o'clock in the morning. I thought ofour recent conversation; above all I thought of the girl who haddelivered the message to Eltham, the girl whom he had described as aFrench maid--whose personal charm had so completely enlisted hissympathies. Now, to this train of thought came a new one, and, addingit, my suspicion became almost a certainty.

  I remembered

as, knowing the district, I should have rememberedbefore

that there was no number 280 Rectory Grove.

  Pulling up sharply, I stood looking about me. Not a living soul was insight; 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 forlong had lain dormant.

  What was afoot?

  A breeze caressed the leaves overhead, breaking the silence withmysterious whisperings. Some portentous truth was seeking foradmittance to my brain. I strove to reassure myself, but the sense ofimpending evil and of mystery became heavier. At last I could combatmy strange fears no longer. I turned and began to run towards thesouth side of the common--towards my rooms--and after Eltham.

  I had hoped to head him off, but came upon no sign of him. Anall-night tramcar passed at the moment that I reached the high-road,and as I ran around behind it I saw that my windows were lighted andthat there was a light in the hall.

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

  "There's a gentleman just come, doctor," she began.

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

  Standing by the writing-table was a tall thin man, his gaunt facebrown as a coffee-berry and his steely grey eyes fixed upon me. Myheart gave a great leap--and seemed to stand still.

  It was Nayland Smith!

  "Smith!" I cried. "Smith, old man, by God, I'm glad to see you!"

  He wrung my hand hard, looking at me with his searching eyes; butthere was little enough of gladness in his face. He was altogethergreyer than when last I had seen him--greyer 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 hiseyes gleamed almost wildly.

  "My God, Petrie!" he said, "am I fated _always_ to come too late?"

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

  "Smith, you don't mean--"

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