The Devil Doctor by Sax Rohmer
Chapter I. A Midnight Summons
"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?"
"Some affair of that sort. He's such a reticent beggar, I really know very little about it."
I placed a whisky and soda before the Rev. J. D. Eltham, also sliding the tobacco jar nearer to his hand. The refined and sensitive face of the clergyman offered no indication to the truculent character of the man. His scanty fair hair, already grey over the temples, was silken and soft-looking: in appearance he was indeed a typical English churchman; but in China he had been known as "the fighting missionary," and had fully deserved the title. In fact, this peaceful-looking gentleman had directly brought about the Boxer Risings!
"You know," he said in his clerical voice, but meanwhile stuffing tobacco into an old pipe with fierce energy, "I have often wondered, Petrie--I have never left off wondering--"
"That accursed Chinaman! Since the cellar place beneath the site of the burnt-out cottage in Dulwich Village--I have wondered more than ever."
He lighted his pipe and walked to the hearth to throw the match in the grate.
"You see," he continued, peering across at me in his oddly nervous way--"one never knows, does one? If I thought that Dr. Fu-Manchu lived; if I seriously suspected that that stupendous intellect, that wonderful genius, Petrie, er"--he hesitated characteristically--"survived, I should feel it my duty--"
"Well?" I said, leaning my elbows on the table and smiling slightly.
"If that Satanic genius were not indeed destroyed, then the peace of the world might be threatened anew at any moment!"
He was becoming excited, shooting out his jaw in the truculent manner I knew, and snapping his fingers to emphasize his words; a man composed of the oddest complexities that ever dwelt beneath a clerical frock.
"He may have got back to China, doctor!" he cried, and his eyes had the fighting glint in them. "Could you rest in peace if you thought that he lived? Should you not fear for your life every time that a night-call took you out alone? Why, man alive, it is only two years since he was here amongst us, since we were searching every shadow for those awful green eyes! What became of his band of assassins--his stranglers, his dacoits, his damnable poisons and insects and what-not--the army of creatures--"
He paused, taking a drink.
"You"--he hesitated diffidently--"searched in Egypt with Nayland Smith, did you not?"
"Contradict me if I am wrong," he continued; "but my impression is that you were searching for the girl--the girl--Karamaneh, I think she was called?"
"Yes," I replied shortly; "but we could find no trace--no trace."
"More than I knew," I replied, "until I realized that I had--lost her."
"I never met Karamaneh, but from your account, and from others, she was quite unusually--"
"She was very beautiful," I said, and stood up, for I was anxious to terminate that phase of the conversation.
Eltham regarded me sympathetically; he knew something of my search with Nayland Smith for the dark-eyed Eastern girl who had brought romance into my drab life; he knew that I treasured my memories of her as I loathed and abhorred those of the fiendish, brilliant Chinese doctor who had been her master.
Eltham began to pace up and down the rug, his pipe bubbling furiously; and something in the way he carried his head reminded me momentarily of Nayland Smith. Certainly, between this pink-faced clergyman, with his deceptively mild appearance, and the gaunt, bronzed and steely-eyed Burmese commissioner, there was externally little in common; but it was some little nervous trick in his carriage that conjured up through the smoke-haze one distant summer evening when Smith had paced that very room as Eltham paced it now, when before my startled eyes he had rung up the curtain upon the savage drama in which, though I little suspected it then, Fate had cast me for a leading role.
I wondered if Eltham's thoughts ran parallel with mine. My own were centred upon the unforgettable figure of the murderous Chinaman. These words, exactly as Smith had used them, seemed once again to sound in my ears: "Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull and long magnetic eyes of the true cat green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science, past and present, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the 'Yellow Peril' incarnate in one man."
This visit of Eltham's no doubt was responsible for my mood; for this singular clergyman had played his part in the drama of two years ago.
"I should like to see Smith again," he said suddenly; "it seems a pity that a man like that should be buried in Burma. Burma makes a mess of the best of men, doctor. You said he was not married?"
"No," I replied shortly, "and is never likely to be, now."
"Ah, you hinted at something of the kind."
"I know very little of it. Nayland Smith is not the kind of man to talk much."
"Quite so--quite so! And, you know, doctor, neither am I; but"--he was growing painfully embarrassed--"it may be your due--I--er--I have a correspondent, in the interior of China--"
"Well?" I said, watching him in sudden eagerness.
"Well, I would not desire to raise--vain hopes--nor to occasion, shall I say, empty fears; but--er ... no, doctor!" He flushed like a girl. "It was wrong of me to open this conversation. Perhaps, when I know more--will you forget my words, for the time?"
The 'phone bell rang.
"Hullo!" cried Eltham--"hard luck, doctor!"--but I could see that he welcomed the interruption. "Why!" he added, "it is one o'clock!"
I went to the telephone.
"Is that Dr. Petrie?" inquired a woman's voice.
"Yes; who is speaking?"
"Mrs. Hewett has been taken more seriously ill. Could you come at once?"
"Certainly," I replied, for Mrs. Hewett was not only a profitable patient but an estimable lady. "I shall be with you in a quarter of an hour."
I hung up the receiver.
"Something urgent?" asked Eltham, emptying his pipe.
"Sounds like it. You had better turn in."
"I should much prefer to walk over with you, if it would not be intruding. Our conversation has ill prepared me for sleep."
"Right!" I said, for I welcomed his company; and three minutes later we were striding across the deserted common.
A sort of mist floated amongst the trees, seeming in the moonlight like a veil draped from trunk to trunk, as in silence we passed the Mound Pond, and struck out for the north side of the common.
I suppose the presence of Eltham and the irritating recollection of his half-confidence were the responsible factors, but my mind persistently dwelt upon the subject of Fu-Manchu and the atrocities which he had committed during his sojourn in England. So actively was my imagination at work that I felt again the menace which so long had hung over me; I felt as though that murderous yellow cloud still cast its shadow upon England. And I found myself longing for the company of Nayland Smith. I cannot state what was the nature of Eltham's reflections, but I can guess; for he was as silent as I.
It was with a conscious effort that I shook myself out of this morbidly reflective mood, on finding that we had crossed the common and were come to the abode of my patient.
"I shall take a little walk," announced Eltham; "for I gather that you don't expect to be detained long? I shall never be out of sight of the door, of course."
"Very well," I replied, and ran up the steps.
There were no lights to be seen in any of the windows, which circumstance rather surprised me, as my patient occupied, or had occupied when last I had visited her, a first-floor bedroom in the front of the house. My knocking and ringing produced no response for three or four minutes; then, as I persisted, a scantily clothed and half-awake maid-servant unbarred the door and stared at me stupidly in the moonlight.
"Mrs. Hewett requires me?" I asked abruptly.
The girl stared more stupidly than ever.
"No, sir," she said: "she don't, sir; she's fast asleep!"
"But some one 'phoned me!" I insisted, rather irritably, I fear.
"Not from here, sir," declared the now wide-eyed girl. "We haven't got a telephone, sir."
For a few moments I stood there, staring as foolishly as she; then abruptly I turned and descended the steps. At the gate I stood looking up and down the road. The houses were all in darkness. What could be the meaning of the mysterious summons? I had made no mistake respecting the name of my patient; it had been twice repeated over the telephone; yet that the call had not emanated from Mrs. Hewett's house was now palpably evident. Days had been when I should have regarded the episode as preluding some outrage, but to-night I felt more disposed to ascribe it to a silly practical joke.
Eltham walked up briskly.
"You're in demand to-night, doctor," he said. "A young person called for you almost directly you had left your house, and, learning where you were gone, followed you."
"Indeed!" I said, a trifle incredulously. "There are plenty of other doctors if the case is an urgent one."
"She may have thought it would save time as you were actually up and dressed," explained Eltham; "and the house is quite near to here, I understand."
I looked at him a little blankly. Was this another effort of the unknown jester?
"I have been fooled once," I said. "That 'phone call was a hoax--"
"But I feel certain," declared Eltham earnestly, "that this is genuine! The poor girl was dreadfully agitated; her master has broken his leg and is lying helpless: number 280 Rectory Grove."
"Where is the girl?" I asked sharply.
"She ran back directly she had given me her message."
"Was she a servant?"
"I should imagine so: French, I think. But she was so wrapped up I had little more than a glimpse of her. I am sorry to hear that some one has played a silly joke on you, but believe me"--he was very earnest--"this is no jest. The poor girl could scarcely speak for sobs. She mistook me for you, of course."
"Oh!" said I grimly; "well, I suppose I must go. Broken leg, you said?--and my surgical bag, splints and so forth, are at home!"
"My dear Petrie!" cried Eltham, in his enthusiastic way, "you no doubt can do something to alleviate the poor man's suffering immediately. I will run back to your rooms for the bag and rejoin you at 280 Rectory Grove."
"It's awfully good of you, Eltham--"
He held up his hand.
"The call of suffering humanity, Petrie, is one which I may no more refuse to hear than you."
I made no further protest after that, for his point of view was evident and his determination adamantine, but told him where he would find the bag and once more set out across the moon-bright common, he pursuing a westerly direction and I going east.
Some three hundred yards I had gone, I suppose, and my brain had been very active the while, when something occurred to me which placed a new complexion upon this second summons. I thought of the falsity of the first, of the improbability of even the most hardened practical joker practising his wiles at one o'clock in the morning. I thought of our recent conversation; above all I thought of the girl who had delivered the message to Eltham, the girl whom he had described as a French maid--whose personal charm had so completely enlisted his sympathies. Now, to this train of thought came a new one, and, adding it, my suspicion became almost a certainty.
I remembered (as, knowing the district, I should have remembered before) that there was no number 280 Rectory Grove.
Pulling up sharply, I stood looking about me. Not a living soul was in sight; not even a policeman. Where the lamps marked the main paths across the common nothing moved; in the shadows about me nothing stirred. But something stirred within me--a warning voice which for long had lain dormant.
What was afoot?
A breeze caressed the leaves overhead, breaking the silence with mysterious whisperings. Some portentous truth was seeking for admittance to my brain. I strove to reassure myself, but the sense of impending evil and of mystery became heavier. At last I could combat my strange fears no longer. I turned and began to run towards the south side of the common--towards my rooms--and after Eltham.
I had hoped to head him off, but came upon no sign of him. An all-night tramcar passed at the moment that I reached the high-road, and as I ran around behind it I saw that my windows were lighted and that there was a light in the hall.
My key was yet in the lock when my housekeeper opened the door.
"There's a gentleman just come, doctor," she began.
I thrust past her and raced up the stairs to my study.
Standing by the writing-table was a tall thin man, his gaunt face brown as a coffee-berry and his steely grey eyes fixed upon me. My heart gave a great leap--and seemed to stand still.
It was Nayland Smith!
"Smith!" I cried. "Smith, old man, by God, I'm glad to see you!"
He wrung my hand hard, looking at me with his searching eyes; but there was little enough of gladness in his face. He was altogether greyer 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 his eyes gleamed almost wildly.
"My God, Petrie!" he said, "am I fated always to come too late?"
My dreadful fears in that instant were confirmed. I seemed to feel my legs totter beneath me.
"Smith, you don't mean--"
"I do, Petrie!" His voice sounded very far away. "Fu-Manchu is here; and Eltham, God help him ... is his first victim!"