The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer
Chapter XXXI. "My Shadow Lies Upon You"
I suppose I did not awake very readily. Following the nervous vigilance of the past six months, my tired nerves, in the enjoyment of this relaxation, were rapidly recuperating. I no longer feared to awake to find a knife at my throat, no longer dreaded the darkness as a foe.
So that the voice may have been calling (indeed, had been calling) for some time, and of this I had been hazily conscious before finally I awoke. Then, ere the new sense of security came to reassure me, the old sense of impending harm set my heart leaping nervously. There is always a certain physical panic attendant upon such awakening in the still of night, especially in novel surroundings. Now, I sat up abruptly, clutching at the rail of my berth and listening.
There was a soft thudding on my cabin door, and a voice, low and urgent, was crying my name.
Through the open porthole the moonlight streamed into my room, and save for a remote and soothing throb, inseparable from the progress of a great steamship, nothing else disturbed the stillness; I might have floated lonely upon the bosom of the Mediterranean. But there was the drumming on the door again, and the urgent appeal:
"Dr. Petrie! Dr. Petrie!"
I threw off the bedclothes and stepped on to the floor of the cabin, fumbling hastily for my slippers. A fear that something was amiss, that some aftermath, some wraith of the dread Chinaman, was yet to come to disturb our premature peace, began to haunt me. I threw open the door.
Upon the gleaming deck, blackly outlined against a wondrous sky, stood a man who wore a blue greatcoat over his pyjamas, and whose unstockinged feet were thrust into red slippers. It was Platts, the Marconi operator.
"I'm awfully sorry to disturb you, Dr. Petrie," he said, "and I was even less anxious to arouse your neighbor; but somebody seems to be trying to get a message, presumably urgent, through to you."
"To me!" I cried.
"I cannot make it out," admitted Platts, running his fingers through disheveled hair, "but I thought it better to arouse you. Will you come up?"
I turned without a word, slipped into my dressing-gown, and with Platts passed aft along the deserted deck. The sea was as calm as a great lake. Ahead, on the port bow, an angry flambeau burned redly beneath the peaceful vault of the heavens. Platts nodded absently in the direction of the weird flames.
"Stromboli," he said; "we shall be nearly through the Straits by breakfast-time."
We mounted the narrow stair to the Marconi deck. At the table sat Platts' assistant with the Marconi attachment upon his head--an apparatus which always set me thinking of the electric chair.
"Have you got it?" demanded my companion as we entered the room.
"It's still coming through," replied the other without moving, "but in the same jerky fashion. Every time I get it, it seems to have gone back to the beginning--just Dr. Petrie--Dr. Petrie."
He began to listen again for the elusive message. I turned to Platts.
"Where is it being sent from?" I asked.
Platts shook his head.
"That's the mystery," he declared. "Look!"--and he pointed to the table; "according to the Marconi chart, there's a Messagerie boat due west between us and Marseilles, and the homeward-bound P. & O. which we passed this morning must be getting on that way also, by now. The Isis is somewhere ahead, but I've spoken to all these, and the message comes from none of them."
"Then it may come from Messina."
"It doesn't come from Messina," replied the man at the table, beginning to write rapidly.
Platts stepped forward and bent over the message which the other was writing.
"Here it is!" he cried, excitedly; "we're getting it."
Stepping in turn to the table, I leaned over between the two and read these words as the operator wrote them down:
Dr. Petrie--my shadow . . .
I drew a quick breath and gripped Platts' shoulder harshly. His assistant began fingering the instrument with irritation.
"Lost it again!" he muttered.
"This message," I began . . .
But again the pencil was traveling over the paper:
--lies upon you all . . . end of message.
The operator stood up and unclasped the receivers from his ears. There, high above the sleeping ship's company, with the carpet of the blue Mediterranean stretched indefinitely about us, we three stood looking at one another. By virtue of a miracle of modern science, some one, divided from me by mile upon mile of boundless ocean, had spoken --and had been heard.
"Is there no means of learning," I said, "from whence this message emanated?"
Platts shook his head, perplexedly.
"They gave no code word," he said. "God knows who they were. It's a strange business and a strange message. Have you any sort of idea, Dr. Petrie, respecting the identity of the sender?"
I stared him hard in the face; an idea had mechanically entered my mind, but one of which I did not choose to speak, since it was opposed to human possibility.
But, had I not seen with my own eyes the bloody streak across his forehead as the shot fired by Karamaneh entered his high skull, had I not known, so certainly as it is given to man to know, that the giant intellect was no more, the mighty will impotent, I should have replied:
"The message is from Dr. Fu-Manchu!"
My reflections were rudely terminated and my sinister thoughts given new stimulus, by a loud though muffled cry which reached me from somewhere in the ship, below. Both my companions started as violently as I, whereby I knew that the mystery of the wireless message had not been without its effect upon their minds also. But whereas they paused in doubt, I leaped from the room and almost threw myself down the ladder.
It was Karamaneh who had uttered that cry of fear and horror!
Although I could perceive no connection betwixt the strange message and the cry in the night, intuitively I linked them, intuitively I knew that my fears had been well-grounded; that the shadow of Fu-Manchu still lay upon us.
Karamaneh occupied a large stateroom aft on the main deck; so that I had to descend from the upper deck on which my own room was situated to the promenade deck, again to the main deck and thence proceed nearly the whole length of the alleyway.
Karamaneh and her brother, Aziz, who occupied a neighboring room, met me, near the library. Karamaneh's eyes were wide with fear; her peerless coloring had fled, and she was white to the lips. Aziz, who wore a dressing-gown thrown hastily over his night attire, had his arm protectively about the girl's shoulders.
"The mummy!" she whispered tremulously--the mummy!"
There came a sound of opening doors, and several passengers, whom Karamaneh cries had alarmed, appeared in various stages of undress. A stewardess came running from the far end of the alleyway, and I found time to wonder at my own speed; for, starting from the distant Marconi deck, yet I had been the first to arrive upon the scene.
Stacey, the ship's doctor, was quartered at no great distance from the spot, and he now joined the group. Anticipating the question which trembled upon the lips of several of those about me:
"Come to Dr. Stacey's room," I said, taking Karamaneh arm; "we will give you something to enable you to sleep." I turned to the group. "My patient has had severe nerve trouble," I explained, "and has developed somnambulistic tendencies."
I declined the stewardess' offer of assistance, with a slight shake of the head, and shortly the four of us entered the doctor's cabin, on the deck above. Stacey carefully closed the door. He was an old fellow student of mine, and already he knew much of the history of the beautiful Eastern girl and her brother Aziz.
"I fear there's mischief afoot, Petrie," he said.
"Thanks to your presence of mind, the ship's gossips need know nothing of it."
I glanced at Karamaneh who, since the moment of my arrival had never once removed her gaze from me; she remained in that state of passive fear in which I had found her, the lovely face pallid; and she stared at me fixedly in a childish, expressionless way which made me fear that the shock to which she had been subjected, whatever its nature, had caused a relapse into that strange condition of forgetfulness from which a previous shock had aroused her. I could see that Stacey shared my view, for:
"Something has frightened you," he said gently, seating himself on the arm of Karamaneh chair and patting her hand as if to reassure her. "Tell us all about it."
For the first time since our meeting that night, the girl turned her eyes from me and glanced up at Stacey, a sudden warm blush stealing over her face and throat and as quickly departing, to leave her even more pale than before. She grasped Stacey's hand in both her own--and looked again at me.
"Send for Mr. Nayland Smith without delay!" she said, and her sweet voice was slightly tremulous. "He must be put on his guard!"
I started up.
"Why?" I said. "For God's sake tell us what has happened!"
Aziz who evidently was as anxious as myself for information, and who now knelt at his sister's feet looking at her with that strange love, which was almost adoration, in his eyes, glanced back at me and nodded his head rapidly.
"Something"--Karamaneh paused, shuddering violently--"some dreadful thing, like a mummy escaped from its tomb, came into my room to-night through the porthole . . ."
"Through the porthole?" echoed Stacey, amazedly.
"Yes, yes, through the porthole! A creature tall and very, very thin. He wore wrappings--yellow wrappings--swathed about his head, so that only his eyes, his evil gleaming eyes, were visible. . . . From waist to knees he was covered, also, but his body, his feet, and his legs were bare . . .
"Was he--?" I began . . .
"He was a brown man, yes"--Karamaneh divining my question, nodded, and the shimmering cloud of her wonderful hair, hastily confined, burst free and rippled about her shoulders. "A gaunt, fleshless brown man, who bent, and writhed bony fingers--so!"
"A thug!" I cried.
"He--it--the mummy thing--would have strangled me if I had slept, for he crouched over the berth--seeking--seeking . . ."
I clenched my teeth convulsively.
"But I was sitting up--"
"With the light on?" interrupted Stacey in surprise.
"No," added Karamaneh; "the light was out." She turned her eyes toward me, as the wonderful blush overspread her face once more. "I was sitting thinking. It all happened within a few seconds, and quite silently. As the mummy crouched over the berth, I unlocked the door and leaped out into the passage. I think I screamed; I did not mean to. Oh, Dr. Stacey, there is not a moment to spare! Mr. Nayland Smith must be warned immediately. Some horrible servant of Dr. Fu-Manchu is on the ship!"