The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
We quitted the wrecked launch but a few seconds before her stern settled down into the river. Where the mud-bank upon which we found ourselves was situated we had no idea. But at least it was terra firma and we were free from Dr. Fu-Manchu.
Smith stood looking out towards the river.
"My God!" he groaned. "My God!"
He was thinking, as I was, of Weymouth.
And when, an hour later, the police boat located us (on the mud-flats below Greenwich) and we heard that the toll of the poison cellars was eight men, we also heard news of our brave companion.
"Back there in the fog, sir," reported Inspector Ryman, who was in charge, and his voice was under poor command, "there was an uncanny howling, and peals of laughter that I'm going to dream about for weeks--"
Karamaneh, who nestled beside me like a frightened child, shivered; and I knew that the needle had done its work, despite Weymouth's giant strength.
Smith swallowed noisily.
"Pray God the river has that yellow Satan," he said. "I would sacrifice a year of my life to see his rat's body on the end of a grappling-iron!"
We were a sad party that steamed through the fog homeward that night. It seemed almost like deserting a staunch comrade to leave the spot--so nearly as we could locate it--where Weymouth had put up that last gallant fight. Our helplessness was pathetic, and although, had the night been clear as crystal, I doubt if we could have acted otherwise, it came to me that this stinking murk was a new enemy which drove us back in coward retreat.
But so many were the calls upon our activity, and so numerous the stimulants to our initiative in those times, that soon we had matter to relieve our minds from this stress of sorrow.
There was Karamaneh to be considered--Karamaneh and her brother. A brief counsel was held, whereat it was decided that for the present they should be lodged at a hotel.
"I shall arrange," Smith whispered to me, for the girl was watching us, "to have the place patrolled night and day."
"You cannot suppose--"
"Petrie! I cannot and dare not suppose Fu-Manchu dead until with my own eyes I have seen him so!"
Accordingly we conveyed the beautiful Oriental girl and her brother away from that luxurious abode in its sordid setting. I will not dwell upon the final scene in the poison cellars lest I be accused of accumulating horror for horror's sake. Members of the fire brigade, helmed against contagion, brought out the bodies of the victims wrapped in their living shrouds. . . .
From Karamaneh we learned much of Fu-Manchu, little of herself.
"What am I? Does my poor history matter--to anyone?" was her answer to questions respecting herself.
And she would droop her lashes over her dark eyes.
The dacoits whom the Chinaman had brought to England originally numbered seven, we learned. As you, having followed me thus far, will be aware, we had thinned the ranks of the Burmans. Probably only one now remained in England. They had lived in a camp in the grounds of the house near Windsor (which, as we had learned at the time of its destruction, the Doctor had bought outright). The Thames had been his highway.
Other members of the group had occupied quarters in various parts of the East End, where sailormen of all nationalities congregate. Shen-Yan's had been the East End headquarters. He had employed the hulk from the time of his arrival, as a laboratory for a certain class of experiments undesirable in proximity to a place of residence.
Nayland Smith asked the girl on one occasion if the Chinaman had had a private sea-going vessel, and she replied in the affirmative. She had never been on board, however, had never even set eyes upon it, and could give us no information respecting its character. It had sailed for China.
"You are sure," asked Smith keenly, "that it has actually left?"
"I understood so, and that we were to follow by another route."
"It would have been difficult for Fu-Manchu to travel by a passenger boat?"
"I cannot say what were his plans."
In a state of singular uncertainty, then, readily to be understood, we passed the days following the tragedy which had deprived us of our fellow-worker.
Vividly I recall the scene at poor Weymouth's home, on the day that we visited it. I then made the acquaintance of the Inspector's brother. Nayland Smith gave him a detailed account of the last scene.
"Out there in the mist," he concluded wearily, "it all seemed very unreal."
"I wish to God it had been!"
"Amen to that, Mr. Weymouth. But your brother made a gallant finish. If ridding the world of Fu-Manchu were the only good deed to his credit, his life had been well spent."
James Weymouth smoked awhile in thoughtful silence. Though but four and a half miles S.S.E. of St. Paul's the quaint little cottage, with its rustic garden, shadowed by the tall trees which had so lined the village street before motor 'buses were, was a spot as peaceful and secluded as any in broad England. But another shadow lay upon it to-day--chilling, fearful. An incarnate evil had come out of the dim East and in its dying malevolence had touched this home.
"There are two things I don't understand about it, sir," continued Weymouth. "What was the meaning of the horrible laughter which the river police heard in the fog? And where are the bodies?"
Karamaneh, seated beside me, shuddered at the words. Smith, whose restless spirit granted him little repose, paused in his aimless wanderings about the room and looked at her.
In these latter days of his Augean labors to purge England of the unclean thing which had fastened upon her, my friend was more lean and nervous-looking than I had ever known him. His long residence in Burma had rendered him spare and had burned his naturally dark skin to a coppery hue; but now his gray eyes had grown feverishly bright and his face so lean as at times to appear positively emaciated. But I knew that he was as fit as ever.
"This lady may be able to answer your first question," he said. "She and her brother were for some time in the household of Dr. Fu-Manchu. In fact, Mr. Weymouth, Karamaneh, as her name implies, was a slave."
Weymouth glanced at the beautiful, troubled face with scarcely veiled distrust. "You don't look as though you had come from China, miss," he said, with a sort of unwilling admiration.
"I do not come from China," replied Karamaneh. "My father was a pure Bedawee. But my history does not matter." (At times there was something imperious in her manner; and to this her musical accent added force.) "When your brave brother, Inspector Weymouth, and Dr. Fu-Manchu, were swallowed up by the river, Fu-Manchu held a poisoned needle in his hand. The laughter meant that the needle had done its work. Your brother had become mad!"
Weymouth turned aside to hide his emotion. "What was on the needle?" he asked huskily.
"It was something which he prepared from the venom of a kind of swamp adder," she answered. "It produces madness, but not always death."
"He would have had a poor chance," said Smith, "even had he been in complete possession of his senses. At the time of the encounter we must have been some considerable distance from shore, and the fog was impenetrable."
"But how do you account for the fact that neither of the bodies have been recovered?"
"Ryman of the river police tells me that persons lost at that point are not always recovered--or not until a considerable time later."
There was a faint sound from the room above. The news of that tragic happening out in the mist upon the Thames had prostrated poor Mrs. Weymouth.
"She hasn't been told half the truth," said her brother-in-law. "She doesn't know about--the poisoned needle. What kind of fiend was this Dr. Fu-Manchu?" He burst out into a sudden blaze of furious resentment. "John never told me much, and you have let mighty little leak into the papers. What was he? Who was he?"
Half he addressed the words to Smith, half to Karamaneh.
"Dr. Fu-Manchu," replied the former, "was the ultimate expression of Chinese cunning; a phenomenon such as occurs but once in many generations. He was a superman of incredible genius, who, had he willed, could have revolutionized science. There is a superstition in some parts of China according to which, under certain peculiar conditions (one of which is proximity to a deserted burial-ground) an evil spirit of incredible age may enter unto the body of a new-born infant. All my efforts thus far have not availed me to trace the genealogy of the man called Dr. Fu-Manchu. Even Karamaneh cannot help me in this. But I have sometimes thought that he was a member of a certain very old Kiangsu family--and that the peculiar conditions I have mentioned prevailed at his birth!"
Smith, observing our looks of amazement, laughed shortly, and quite mirthlessly.
"Poor old Weymouth!" he jerked. "I suppose my labors are finished; but I am far from triumphant. Is there any improvement in Mrs. Weymouth's condition?"
"Very little," was the reply; "she has lain in a semi-conscious state since the news came. No one had any idea she would take it so. At one time we were afraid her brain was going. She seemed to have delusions."
Smith spun round upon Weymouth.
"Of what nature?" he asked rapidly.
The other pulled nervously at his mustache.
"My wife has been staying with her," he explained, "since--it happened; and for the last three nights poor John's widow has cried out at the same time--half-past two--that someone was knocking on the door."
"That door yonder--the street door."
All our eyes turned in the direction indicated.
"John often came home at half-past two from the Yard," continued Weymouth; "so we naturally thought poor Mary was wandering in her mind. But last night--and it's not to be wondered at--my wife couldn't sleep, and she was wide awake at half-past two."
Nayland Smith was standing before him, alert, bright-eyed.
"She heard it, too!"
The sun was streaming into the cozy little sitting-room; but I will confess that Weymouth's words chilled me uncannily. Karamaneh laid her hand upon mine, in a quaint, childish fashion peculiarly her own. Her hand was cold, but its touch thrilled me. For Karamaneh was not a child, but a rarely beautiful girl-- a pearl of the East such as many a monarch has fought for.
"What then?" asked Smith.
"She was afraid to move--afraid to look from the window!"
My friend turned and stared hard at me.
"A subjective hallucination, Petrie?"
"In all probability," I replied. "You should arrange that your wife be relieved in her trying duties, Mr. Weymouth. It is too great a strain for an inexperienced nurse."