Authors: Sax Rohmer
“Take him away,” Gallaho growled, “we’ll find enough evidence later. Book him in on a charge of smuggling.”
any hours had elapsed, hours of bitter disappointment, before Nayland Smith and I found ourselves at his flat in Whitehall.
Fey had nothing to report. Smith glanced significantly at the television set which in some unaccountable manner Dr. Fu-Manchu had converted to his private uses.
“No sir.” Fey shook his head.
When he had gone out:
“It seems almost incredible,” said Smith, beginning to pace up and down the carpet, “that this man whom I held in the hollow of my hand has slipped away! Every point of egress was watched, every, officer afloat and ashore notified for miles around.”
“Perhaps he doubled back?”
Nayland Smith began to tug at the lobe of his left ear.
“Impossible to predict his movements. I am beginning to wonder if it is time I retired from the unequal contest. It is many years since Doctor Fu-Manchu first crossed my path. It was in a swampy district of Burma and I was nearly counted out in the first round.”
He suddenly pulled up his sleeve and rolled back his shirt cuff, revealing a wicked-looking wound upon the forearm. “A primitive weapon, but a deadly one. An arrow, steeped in snake’s venom.”
He rolled his sleeve down again.
“You should never be alone, Smith. You need a bodyguard.”
“I assure you I rarely go about alone. Why do you suppose I drag six feet of newspaper correspondent about with me? You are my bodyguard, Kerrigan! But Fu-Manchu’s methods are of a kind from which no bodyguard could protect me. I am saved by my utter futility. I believe he is laughing at me.”
“He has small cause for laughter. Although you have failed to destroy him you have foiled him all along.”
Nayland Smith’s grim face relaxed in a smile.
“Then I can’t account for it. He must enjoy the sport, or I shouldn’t be alive!”
“Do you think he was making for the open sea?”
“I have a strong suspicion that he was. It has occurred to me that this mysterious radio plant which he controls may be on some vessel.”
“Such a vessel would require a pretty tall mast.”
“Not at all. Fu-Manchu is probably half a century ahead of what we call modern radio. However, I can do no more. We can hang the Thugs, no doubt, but like Fu-Manchu, what we want to do is to strike at the ‘nerves and brain.’ ”
He dropped into an armchair and began to load his pipe; then, looking up, he stared across at me.
“Judging from what you told me in the train,” he said, “I gather that your feelings about this girl Ardatha remain the same. Am I right?”
I felt acutely uncomfortable under that piercing scrutiny, but I replied:
“Yes, I am afraid you are, Smith. You see, although a criminal, she doesn’t realise that she is a criminal. In any case she has certainly saved my life. No one else could have given the warning.”
Nayland Smith nodded, proceeded with the filling of his pipe and lighted it carefully.
“A cunning scheme,” he muttered, standing up and walking about again. “Dictatorships with their ruthless methods have brought in crowds of willing recruits. Don’t you see it, Kerrigan? There are thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, living today, embittered by injustice, willing, eager, to enter into a blood feud against those who have destroyed husbands, children, families, wrecked their homes. The Si-Fan, always powerful, working for a dimly seen end, an end never appreciated by the West, today has become a mighty instrument of vengeance—and that flaming sword, Kerrigan, is firmly held by Doctor Fu-Manchu.”
He stared from the window awhile, and I watched the grim outline of his features.
“One thing, and it looks as though the clue had eluded me,” he said suddenly, “is this: What was Fu-Manchu doing in Essex? Assuming, as the radio experts believe, that this mysterious interference came from somewhere in that area, even that it came from a vessel lying on the Essex shore—we still come back to the same point. What was Fu-Manchu doing there?”
He turned and stared at me fixedly.
“That problem is worrying me badly,” he added.
Frankly, it had not occurred to me before, but so stated I saw the significance of the thing. I was considering it while Nayland Smith resumed his restless promenade, when, preceded by a gentle rap, Fey opened the door and entered.
“Chief Detective Inspector Gallaho.”
Hot on the words came Gallaho, wrenching his tightly fitting bowler from his close-cropped skull and leaving a mark like a scar around his brow.
“Yes?” snapped Smith and took a step forward. “What is it? You have news!”
“News, yes!” the detective answered bitterly—“but has it come too late?”
He pulled out his pocket case and withdrew a slip of paper which he tossed on to the desk in front of Smith. As Smith, picked it up I sprang to my feet and hurried forward. Over his shoulder I read—it was written in pencil, in plain block letters—the following:
The Council of Seven of the Si-Fan grants you twelve hours, in which to carry out its orders.
President of the Council
Nayland Smith’s expression had something wild in it as he turned to Gallaho.
“To whom was this sent?” he snapped.
“Doctor Martin Jasper.”
Smith’s expression changed; his face became almost blank.
“Who the devil is Doctor Martin Jasper?”
“I have looked him up, sir. He has a row of degrees; he’s a research man and for some time was technical director of the great Caxton armament factory up in the north.”
“Armament factory? I begin to understand. Where does he live?”
“That’s the significant thing, sir. It may account for the presence of Doctor Fu-Manchu where we found him—or rather, where we
lost him. This Doctor Martin Jasper lives at a house called Great Oaks just on the Suffolk border, not ten miles, as the crow flies, from the Monks’ Arms.”
t was a cross-country journey and the night was misty and moonless; but although unknown to us by name clearly enough Dr. Martin Jasper was someone of importance in the eyes of the Si-Fan.
Smith attacked the matter with feverish energy.
A special train was chartered. The railway officials were given twenty-five minutes in which to clear the line. Arrangements were made for a car to meet us at our journey’s end. And at about that hour when after-theatre throngs are congesting the West End thoroughfares, we set out in the big Rolls, Fey at the wheel.
Nayland Smith’s special powers (which enabled him to ignore traffic regulations) and the wizard driving of Fey, resulted in a dash through London’s crowded streets which even I, who had known so many thrills, found exciting.
Smith uttered scarcely a word either to myself or to Gallaho, until arriving at the terminus he was assured by a flustered stationmaster that the special was ready to start. Once on board and whirling through that dark night, he turned to the inspector.
“Now, Gallaho, the full facts!”
“Well sir”—Gallaho steadied himself against the arm rest, for the solitary coach was rocking madly—“I have very little to add.” He pulled out his notebook. “This is what I jotted down during the telephone conversation.”
“The local police are not in charge then?” Smith snapped.
“No sir, and I took the step of requesting that they shouldn’t be notified.”
“It was a Mr Bailey, the doctor’s private secretary, who called up the Yard.”
“At ten-seventeen—so we’ve wasted no time! This was what he told me.” He consulted his notes. “The doctor, who is engaged upon experiments of great importance in his private laboratory, had alarmed his secretary by his behaviour—that is in the last week or so. He seemed to be in deadly fear of something or someone, so Mr Bailey told me. But whatever was bothering him he kept it to himself. It came to a head though last Wednesday. Something reduced Doctor Jasper to such a state of utter panic that he abandoned work in his laboratory and for hours walked up and down his study. Today he was even worse. In fact Mr Bailey said he looked positively ill. But somewhere around noon as the result, it seems, of a long telephone conversation—”
“Mr Bailey didn’t know—but as a result, the doctor resumed work, although apparently on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He worked right on up till tonight, refusing to break off for dinner. His behaviour so alarmed his secretary that Mr Bailey took the liberty of searching the study to see if he could find any evidence pointing to the cause of it.”
“And he found—”
“The original of the message I showed you.”
“No other message?”
“Nothing that he could in any way connect with the remarkable behaviour of his employer. He went to the laboratory, which is separate from the house, but Doctor Jasper refused to unlock the door and said that on no account was he to be disturbed. Very wisely, Mr Bailey called up Scotland Yard, and that’s about all I know.”
Onward we raced through the black night, at one point passing very near to the scene of my last meeting with Ardatha. Within me I fought desperately to solve the mystery of those enigmatic eyes. Even when she looked at me with scorn, mocked me, fought with me, they seemed to mirror a second Ardatha, submerged, all but hidden perhaps from herself—a frightened soul who appealed, appealed for help—protection.
The whistle shrieked wildly. We went through stations at nightmare speed. Once we roared past a sidetracked express. I had a fleeting glimpse of lighted windows, staring faces.
A useful-looking Daimler met us at the station where we were received with some ceremony by the stationmaster. But brushing all inquiries aside, Smith climbed into the car followed by myself and Gallaho, and we set out for Great Oaks. Once on the way Smith glanced at his watch.
“I take it you don’t know, Gallaho, at what time the original of this message was received?”
“No, Mr Bailey couldn’t tell me.”
Then having followed a high and badly kept yew hedge for some distance, the car was turned in between twin stone pillars and
began to mount a drive which ascended slightly through a grove of magnificent oaks. I saw the house ahead. A low-pitched, irregular building, the characteristics of Great Oaks were difficult to discern, but the place was evidently of considerable age.
“Hullo!” muttered Smith; “what’s this? ’Some new development?”
Light streamed out into the porch and I could see that the front door was open.
As our car swung around and was pulled up before the steps two men ran down. They evidently had been awaiting us.
Smith sprang out to meet them. Gallaho and I followed. One of the pair was plainly a butler; the other, a youngish, dark-haired man with a short military moustache, whom I assumed normally to be of healthy colouring but who looked pale in the reflected light, stepped forward and introduced himself.
“My name is Horace Bailey,” he said in an agitated voice. “Do you come from Scotland Yard?”
“We do,” said Gallaho. “I’m Detective Inspector Gallaho—this is Sir Denis Nayland Smith, and Mr Kerrigan.”
“Thank God you’re here!” cried Bailey, and glanced aside at the butler, who nodded sympathetically.
Both faces, I saw as we all entered Great Oaks, were stamped by an expression of horrified amazement.
“I have a foreboding,” said Smith, glancing about the entrance hall in which we found ourselves, “that I come too late.”
Mr Bailey slowly inclined his head and something like a groan came from the butler.
“Good God, Kerrigan! A second score to the enemy!”
He dropped down on a leather-covered couch set in a recess over which hung a trophy of antlers. For a moment his amazing vitality, his electrical energy, seemed to have deserted him, and I saw a man
totally overcome. As I stepped towards him he looked up haggardly.
“The facts, Mr Bailey, if you please.” He spoke more slowly than I remembered ever to have heard him speak. “When did it happen? Where? How?”