The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu
IN what order we dashed down to the drawing-room I cannot recall. But none was before me when I leaped over the threshold and saw Miss Eltham prone by the French windows.
These were closed and bolted, and she lay with hands outstretched in the alcove which they formed. I bent over her. Nayland Smith was at my elbow.
"Get my bag" I said. "She has swooned. It is nothing serious."
Her father, pale and wide-eyed, hovered about me, muttering incoherently; but I managed to reassure him; and his gratitude when, I having administered a simple restorative, the girl sighed shudderingly and opened her eyes, was quite pathetic.
I would permit no questioning at that time, and on her father's arm she retired to her own rooms.
It was some fifteen minutes later that her message was brought to me. I followed the maid to a quaint little octagonal apartment, and Greba Eltham stood before me, the candlelight caressing the soft curves of her face and gleaming in the meshes of her rich brown hair.
When she had answered my first question she hesitated in pretty confusion.
"We are anxious to know what alarmed you, Miss Eltham."
She bit her lip and glanced with apprehension towards the window.
"I am almost afraid to tell father," she began rapidly. "He will think me imaginative, but you have been so kind. It was two green eyes! Oh! Dr. Petrie, they looked up at me from the steps leading to the lawn. And they shone like the eyes of a cat."
The words thrilled me strangely.
"Are you sure it was not a cat, Miss Eltham?"
"The eyes were too large, Dr. Petrie. There was something dreadful, most dreadful, in their appearance. I feel foolish and silly for having fainted, twice in two days! But the suspense is telling upon me, I suppose. Father thinks"—she was becoming charmingly confidential, as a woman often will with a tactful physician—"that shut up here we are safe from—whatever threatens us." I noted, with concern, a repetition of the nervous shudder. "But since our return someone else has been in Redmoat!"
"Whatever do you mean, Miss Eltham?"
"Oh! I don't quite know what I do mean, Dr. Petrie. What does it ALL mean? Vernon has been explaining to me that some awful Chinaman is seeking the life of Mr. Nayland Smith. But if the same man wants to kill my father, why has he not done so?"
"I am afraid you puzzle me."
"Of course, I must do so. But—the man in the train. He could have killed us both quite easily! And—last night someone was in father's room."
"In his room!"
"I could not sleep, and I heard something moving. My room is the next one. I knocked on the wall and woke father. There was nothing; so I said it was the howling of the dog that had frightened me."
"How could anyone get into his room?"
"I cannot imagine. But I am not sure it was a man."
"Miss Eltham, you alarm me. What do you suspect?"
"You must think me hysterical and silly, but whilst father and I have been away from Redmoat perhaps the usual precautions have been neglected. Is there any creature, any large creature, which could climb up the wall to the window? Do you know of anything with a long, thin body?"
For a moment I offered no reply, studying the girl's pretty face, her eager, blue-gray eyes widely opened and fixed upon mine. She was not of the neurotic type, with her clear complexion and sun-kissed neck; her arms, healthily toned by exposure to the country airs, were rounded and firm, and she had the agile shape of a young Diana with none of the anaemic languor which breeds morbid dreams. She was frightened; yes, who would not have been? But the mere idea of this thing which she believed to be in Redmoat, without the apparition of the green eyes, must have prostrated a victim of "nerves."
"Have you seen such a creature, Miss Eltham?"
She hesitated again, glancing down and pressing her finger-tips together.
"As father awoke and called out to know why I knocked, I glanced from my window. The moonlight threw half the lawn into shadow, and just disappearing in this shadow was something—something of a brown color, marked with sections!"
"What size and shape?"
"It moved so quickly I could form no idea of its shape; but I saw quite six feet of it flash across the grass!"
"Did you hear anything?"
"A swishing sound in the shrubbery, then nothing more."
She met my eyes expectantly. Her confidence in my powers of understanding and sympathy was gratifying, though I knew that I but occupied the position of a father-confessor.
"Have you any idea," I said, "how it came about that you awoke in the train yesterday whilst your father did not?"
"We had coffee at a refreshment-room; it must have been drugged in some way. I scarcely tasted mine, the flavor was so awful; but father is an old traveler and drank the whole of his cupful!"
Mr. Eltham's voice called from below.
"Dr. Petrie," said the girl quickly, "what do you think they want to do to him?"
"Ah!" I replied, "I wish I knew that."
"Will you think over what I have told you? For I do assure you there is something here in Redmoat—something that comes and goes in spite of father's 'fortifications'? Caesar knows there is. Listen to him. He drags at his chain so that I wonder he does not break it."
As we passed downstairs the howling of the mastiff sounded eerily through the house, as did the clank-clank of the tightening chain as he threw the weight of his big body upon it.
I sat in Smith's room that night for some time, he pacing the floor smoking and talking.
"Eltham has influential Chinese friends," he said; "but they dare not have him in Nan-Yang at present. He knows the country as he knows Norfolk; he would see things!
"His precautions here have baffled the enemy, I think. The attempt in the train points to an anxiety to waste no opportunity. But whilst Eltham was absent (he was getting his outfit in London, by the way) they have been fixing some second string to their fiddle here. In case no opportunity offered before he returned, they provided for getting at him here!"
"But how, Smith?"
"That's the mystery. But the dead dog in the shrubbery is significant."
"Do you think some emissary of Fu-Manchu is actually inside the moat?"
"It's impossible, Petrie. You are thinking of secret passages, and so forth. There are none. Eltham has measured up every foot of the place. There isn't a rathole left unaccounted for; and as for a tunnel under the moat, the house stands on a solid mass of Roman masonry, a former camp of Hadrian's time. I have seen a very old plan of the Round Moat Priory as it was called. There is no entrance and no exit save by the steps. So how was the dog killed?"
I knocked out my pipe on a bar of the grate.
"We are in the thick of it here," I said.
"We are always in the thick of it," replied Smith. "Our danger is no greater in Norfolk than in London. But what do they want to do? That man in the train with the case of instruments—WHAT instruments? Then the apparition of the green eyes to-night. Can they have been the eyes of Fu-Manchu? Is some peculiarly unique outrage contemplated—something calling for the presence of the master?"
"He may have to prevent Eltham's leaving England without killing him."
"Quite so. He probably has instructions to be merciful. But God help the victim of Chinese mercy!"
I went to my own room then. But I did not even undress, refilling my pipe and seating myself at the open window. Having looked upon the awful Chinese doctor, the memory of his face, with its filmed green eyes, could never leave me. The idea that he might be near at that moment was a poor narcotic.
The howling and baying of the mastiff was almost continuous.
When all else in Redmoat was still the dog's mournful note yet rose on the night with something menacing in it. I sat looking out across the sloping turf to where the shrubbery showed as a black island in a green sea. The moon swam in a cloudless sky, and the air was warm and fragrant with country scents.
It was in the shrubbery that Denby's collie had met his mysterious death—that the thing seen by Miss Eltham had disappeared. What uncanny secret did it hold?
Caesar became silent.
As the stopping of a clock will sometimes awaken a sleeper, the abrupt cessation of that distant howling, to which I had grown accustomed, now recalled me from a world of gloomy imaginings.
I glanced at my watch in the moonlight. It was twelve minutes past midnight.
As I replaced it the dog suddenly burst out afresh, but now in a tone of sheer anger. He was alternately howling and snarling in a way that sounded new to me. The crashes, as he leapt to the end of his chain, shook the building in which he was confined. It was as I stood up to lean from the window and commanded a view of the corner of the house that he broke loose.
With a hoarse bay he took that decisive leap, and I heard his heavy body fall against the wooden wall. There followed a strange, guttural cry … and the growling of the dog died away at the rear of the house. He was out! But that guttural note had not come from the throat of a dog. Of what was he in pursuit?
At which point his mysterious quarry entered the shrubbery I do not know. I only know that I saw absolutely nothing, until Caesar's lithe shape was streaked across the lawn, and the great creature went crashing into the undergrowth.
Then a faint sound above and to my right told me that I was not the only spectator of the scene. I leaned farther from the window.
"Is that you, Miss Eltham?" I asked.
"Oh, Dr. Petrie!" she said. "I am so glad you are awake. Can we do nothing to help? Caesar will be killed."
"Did you see what he went after?"
"No," she called back, and drew her breath sharply.
For a strange figure went racing across the grass. It was that of a man in a blue dressing-gown, who held a lantern high before him, and a revolver in his right hand. Coincident with my recognition of Mr. Eltham he leaped, plunging into the shrubbery in the wake of the dog.
But the night held yet another surprise; for Nayland Smith's voice came:
"Come back! Come back, Eltham!"
I ran out into the passage and downstairs. The front door was open. A terrible conflict waged in the shrubbery, between the mastiff and something else. Passing round to the lawn, I met Smith fully dressed. He just had dropped from a first-floor window.
"The man is mad!" he snapped. "Heaven knows what lurks there! He should not have gone alone!"
Together we ran towards the dancing light of Eltham's lantern. The sounds of conflict ceased suddenly. Stumbling over stumps and lashed by low-sweeping branches, we struggled forward to where the clergyman knelt amongst the bushes. He glanced up with tears in his eyes, as was revealed by the dim light.
"Look!" he cried.
The body of the dog lay at his feet.
It was pitiable to think that the fearless brute should have met his death in such a fashion, and when I bent and examined him I was glad to find traces of life.
"Drag him out. He is not dead," I said.
"And hurry," rapped Smith, peering about him right and left.
So we three hurried from that haunted place, dragging the dog with us. We were not molested. No sound disturbed the now perfect stillness.
By the lawn edge we came upon Denby, half dressed; and almost immediately Edwards the gardener also appeared. The white faces of the house servants showed at one window, and Miss Eltham called to me from her room:
"Is he dead?"
"No," I replied; "only stunned."
We carried the dog round to the yard, and I examined his head. It had been struck by some heavy blunt instrument, but the skull was not broken. It is hard to kill a mastiff.
"Will you attend to him, Doctor?" asked Eltham. "We must see that the villain does not escape."
His face was grim and set. This was a different man from the diffident clergyman we knew: this was "Parson Dan" again.
I accepted the care of the canine patient, and Eltham with the others went off for more lights to search the shrubbery. As I was washing a bad wound between the mastiff's ears, Miss Eltham joined me. It was the sound of her voice, I think, rather than my more scientific ministration, which recalled Caesar to life. For, as she entered, his tail wagged feebly, and a moment later he struggled to his feet—one of which was injured.
Having provided for his immediate needs, I left him in charge of his young mistress and joined the search party. They had entered the shrubbery from four points and drawn blank.
"There is absolutely nothing there, and no one can possibly have left the grounds," said Eltham amazedly.
We stood on the lawn looking at one another, Nayland Smith, angry but thoughtful, tugging at the lobe of his left ear, as was his habit in moments of perplexity.