The Third of the
by SAX ROHMER
NIGHT fell on Redmoat. I glanced from the window at the nocturne in silver and green which lay beneath me. To the west of the shrubbery, with its broken canopy of elms and beyond the copper beech which marked the center of its mazes, a gap offered a glimpse of the Waverney, where it swept into a broad. Faint birdcalls floated over the water. These, with the whisper of leaves, alone claimed the ear.
Ideal rural peace, and the music of an English summer evening; but to my eyes, every shadow holding fantastic terrors; to my ears, every sound a signal of dread. For the deathful hand of Fu-Manchu was stretched over Redmoat, at any hour to loose strange Oriental horrors upon its inmates.
"Well," said Nayland Smith, joining me at the window, "we had dared to hope him dead, but we know now that he lives!"
The Rev. J. D. Eltham coughed nervously, and I turned, leaning my elbow upon the table, and studied the play of expression upon the refined, sensitive face of the clergyman.
"You think I acted rightly in sending for you, Mr. Smith?"
Nayland Smith smoked furiously.
"Mr. Eltham," he replied, "you see in me a man groping in the dark. I am to-day no nearer to the conclusion of my mission than upon that day when I left Mandalay. You offer me a clue. I am here! Your affair, I believe, stands thus: A series of attempted burglaries, or something of the kind, has alarmed your household. Yesterday, returning here from London with your daughter, you were both drugged in some way, and, occupying a compartment to yourselves, you both slept. Your daughter awoke, and saw some one else in the carriage—a yellow-faced man, who held a case of instruments in his hands."
"Yes. I was of course unable to enter into particulars over the telephone. The man was standing by one of the windows. Directly he observed that my daughter was awake, he stepped toward her—"
"What did he do with the case in his hands?"
"She did not notice—or did not mention having noticed. In fact, as was natural, she was so frightened that she recalls nothing more beyond the fact that she strove to arouse me, without succeeding, felt hands grasp her shoulders—and swooned."
"But some one used the emergency cord and stopped the train!"
"Greba has no recollection of having done so."
"Hm! Of course no yellow-faced man was on the train! When did you awake?"
"I was aroused by the guard, but only when he hat repeatedly shaken me."
"Upon reaching Great Yarmouth you immediately called up Scotland Yard? You acted very wisely, sir. How long were you in China?"
Mr. Eltham's slate of surprise was almost comical.
"It is perhaps not strange that you should be aware of my residence in China, Mr. Smith," he said; "but my not having mentioned it may seem so. The fact is"—his sensitive face flushed in palpable embarrassment—"I left China under what I may term an episcopal cloud! I have lived in retirement ever since. Unwittingly—I solemnly declare to you, Mr. Smith, unwittingly—I stirred up certain deep-seated prejudices in my endeavors to do my duty—my duty. I think you asked me how long I was in China? I was there from 1896 until 1900—four years."
"I recall the circumstances, Mr. Eltham," said Smith, with an odd note in his voice. "I have been endeavoring to think where I had come across the name, and a moment ago I remembered. I am happy to have met you, sir."
The clergyman blushed again like a girl, and slightly inclined his head, with its scanty fair hair.
"Has Redmoat, as its name implies, a moat round it? I was unable to see in the dusk."
"It remains. Redmoat—a corruption of round moat—was formerly a priory, disestablished by the eighth Henry in 1536." His pedantic manner was quaint at times. "But the moat is no longer flooded. In fact, we grow cabbages in part of it! If you refer to the strategic strength of the place"—he smiled, but his manner was embarrassed again—"it is considerable. I have barbed-wire fencing, and—other arrangements. You see, it is a lonely spot," he added apologetically. "And now, if you will excuse me, we will resume these gruesome inquiries after the more pleasant affairs of dinner."
HE left us.
"Who is our host?" I asked, as the door closed.
"You are wondering what caused the 'episcopal cloud'?" he suggested. "Well, the deep-seated prejudices which our reverend friend stirred up culminated in the Boxer Risings!"
"Good Heavens, Smith!" I said, for I could not reconcile the diffident personality of the clergyman with the memories which those words awakened.
"He evidently should be on our danger list," my friend continued quickly, "but he has so completely effaced himself of recent years that I think it probable that some one else has only just recalled his existence to mind! The Rev. J. D. Eltham, my dear Petrie, though he may be a poor hand at saving souls, at any rate has saved a score of Christian women from death—and worse!"
"J. D. Eltham—" I began.
"Is 'Parson Dan'!" rapped Smith—"the 'Fighting Missionary!' the man who with a garrison of a dozen cripples and a German doctor held the hospital at Nan-Yang against two hundred Boxers! That's who the Rev. J. D. Eltham is! But what he is up to now I have yet to find out. He is keeping something back—something which has made him an object of interest to young China!"
"Redmoat," said the Rev. J. D. Eltham, "has latterly become the theatre of strange doings."
He stood on the hearthrug in his library. A shaded lamp upon the big table and candles in ancient sconces upon the mantelpiece afforded dim illumination. Mr. Eltham's nephew, Vernon Denby, lolled smoking on the window seat and I sat near him. Nayland Smith paced restlessly up and down the room.
"Some months ago, almost a year," continued the clergyman, "a burglarious attempt was made upon the house. There was an arrest, and the man confessed that he had been tempted by my collection—" He waved his hand vaguely toward the several cabinets about the shadowed room.
"It was shortly afterward that I allowed my hobby for playing at forts to run away with me." He smiled an apology. "I virtually fortified Redmoat—against trespassers of any kind, I mean. You have seen that the house stands upon a kind of large mound. This is artificial, being the buried ruins of a Roman outwork, a portion of the ancient castrum." Again he waved indicatively, this time toward the window.
"When it was a priory it was completely isolated and defended by its environing moat. To-day it is completely surrounded by barbed-wire fencing! Below this fence, on the east, is a narrow stream, a tributary of the Waverney; on the north and west, the highroad, but nearly twenty feet below, and the banks are perpendicular. On the south is the remaining part of the moat—now my kitchen garden; but from there up to the level of the house is nearly twenty feet again, and the barbed wire must be counted with.
"The entrance, as you know, is by way of a kind of cutting. There is a gate at the foot of the steps (they are some of the original steps of the priory, Dr. Petrie) and another gate at the head."
He paused, and smiled around upon us boyishly.
"My secret defenses remain to be mentioned," he resumed; and opening a cupboard he pointed to a row of batteries, with a number of electric bells upon the wall behind. "The more vulnerable spots are connected at night with these bells," he said triumphantly. "Any attempt to scale the barbed wire or to force either gate would set two or more of these ringing! A stray cow raised one false alarm," he added, "and a careless rook threw us into a perfect panic on another occasion!"
He was so boyish—so nervously brisk and acutely sensitive—that it was difficult to see in him the hero of the Nan-Yang hospital. I could only suppose that he had treated the Boxers' raid in the same spirit wherein he met would-be trespassers within the precincts of Redmoat. It had been an escapade of which he was afterward ashamed, as, faintly, he was ashamed of his "fortifications."
"But," rapped Smith, "it was not the visit of the burglar which prompted these elaborate precautions!"
Mr. Eltham coughed nervously.
"I am aware," he said, "that, having invoked official aid, I must be perfectly frank with you, Mr. Smith. It was the burglar who was responsible for my continuing the wire fence all round the grounds, but the electrical contrivance followed later as a result of several disturbed nights. My servants grew uneasy about some one who came, they said, after dusk. No one could describe this nocturnal visitor, but certainly we found traces. I must admit that.
"Then I received what I may term a warning. My position is a peculiar one—a peculiar one. My daughter, too, saw this prowling person over by the Roman castrum, and described him as a yellow man. It was the incident in the train, following closely upon this other, which led me to speak to the police, little as I desired to court publicity."
NAYLAND SMITH walked to a window and looked across the sloping lawn to where the shadows of the shrubbery lay. A dog was howling dismally somewhere.
"Your defenses are not impregnable after all, then?" he jerked. "On our way up this evening Mr. Denby was telling us about the death of his collie a few nights ago."
The clergyman's face clouded.
"That certainly was alarming," he confessed. "I had been in London for a few days, and during my absence Vernon came down, bringing the dog with him. On the night of his arrival it ran, barking, into the shrubbery yonder, and did not come out. He went to look for it with a lantern, and found it lying among the bushes, quite dead. The poor creature had been dreadfully beaten about the head."
"The gates were locked," Denby interrupted, "and no one could have got out of the grounds without a ladder and some one to assist him. But there was no sign of a living thing about. Edwards and I searched every corner."
"How long has that other dog taken to howling?" inquired Smith.
"Only since Rex's death," said Denby quickly.
"It is my mastiff." explained the clergyman, "and he is confined in the yard. He is never allowed on this side of the house."
Nayland Smith wandered aimlessly about the library.
"I am sorry to have to press you. Mr. Eltham." he said, "but what was the nature of the warning to which you referred, and from whom did it come?"
Mr. Eltham hesitated for a long time.
"I have been so unfortunate." he said, at last, "in my previous efforts that I feel assured of your hostile criticism when I tell you that I am contemplating an immediate return to Ho-Nan!"
SMITH jumped round upon him as though moved by a spring.
"Then you are going back to Nan-Yang?" he cried. "Now I understand! Why have you not told me before? That is the key for which I have vainly been seeking. Your troubles date from the time of your decision to return?"
"Yes—I must admit it," confessed the clergyman, diffidently.
"And your warning came from China?"
"From a Chinaman?"
"From the Mandarin Yen-Sun-Yat."
"Yen-Sun-Yat! My good sir! He warned you to abandon your visit? And you reject his advice! Listen to me!" Smith was intensely excited now. his eyes bright, his lean figure curiously strung up—alert. "The Mandarin Yen-Sun-Yat is one of the seven!"
"I do not follow you. Mr. Smith."
"No, sir! China to-day is not the China of '98. It is a huge secret machine, and Ho-Nan one of its most important wheels! But if. as I understand, this official is a friend of yours, believe me he has saved your life! You would be a dead man now if it were not for your friend in China! My dear sir, you must accept his counsel."
Then, for the first time since I had made his acquaintance. "Parson Dan" showed through the surface of the Rev. J. D. Eltham.
"No, sir!" replied the clergyman—and the change in his voice was startling—"I am called to Nan-Yang. Only One may deter my going!"
The admixture of deep spiritual reverence with intense truculence in his voice was dissimilar from anything I ever had heard.
"Then only One can protect you." cried Smith, "for, by Heaven, no man will be able to do so! Your presence in Ho-Nan can do no possible good at present. It must do harm. Your experience in 1900 should be fresh in your memory!"
"Hard words, Mr. Smith!"
"The class of missionary work which you favor, sir, is injurious to international peace. At the present moment. Ho-Nan is a barrel of gunpowder: you would be the lighted match. I do not willingly stand between any man and what he chooses to consider his duty—but I insist that you abandon your visit to the interior of China!"
"You insist, Mr. Smith?"
"As your guest I regret the necessity of reminding you that I hold authority to enforce it!'
DENBY fidgeted uneasily. The tone of the conversation was growing harsh and the atmosphere of the library' portentous with brewing storms.
There was a short, silent interval.
"This is what I had feared, and expected." said the clergyman. "This was my reason for not seeking official protection."
"The phantom Yellow Peril." said Nayland Smith, "to-day materializes under the very eyes of the Western world!"
"The 'Yellow Peril'! My dear Mr. Smith!"
"You scoff, sir—and so do others! We take the proffered right hand of friendship nor inquire if the hidden left holds a knife! The peace of the world is at stake. Mr. Eltham. Unknowingly, you tamper with tremendous issues."
Mr. Eltham drew a deep breath, thrusting both hands in his pockets.
"You are painfully frank, Mr. Smith." he said, "but I like you for it! I will reconsider my position and talk this matter over again with you to-morrow."
Thus, then, the storm blew over. Yet I had never experienced such an overwhelming sense of imminent peril—of a sinister presence—as oppressed me at that moment. The very atmosphere of Redmoat was impregnated with Eastern devilry: it loaded the air like some evil perfume. And then through the silence cut a throbbing of a woman in direst fear.
My God! it's Greba!" whispered Mr. Eltham.
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 the windows 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 toward 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 some one 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 some one 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 while 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 anemic 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 any 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 while 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'! Cæsar 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 and the clank! clank! of the tightening chain as he threw the weight of his big body upon it sounded eerily through the house.
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. Hut while 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's is actually inside Redmoat?"
"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 rat bole 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. I had seen Fu-Manchu—once. But 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 smells.
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?
Cæsar 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 leaped 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 command 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 Cæsar'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? Cæsar 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 band. Coincident with my recognition of Mr. Eltham he leaped lunging 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 down-stairs. 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 had just dropped from a first-floor window.
"The man is mad!" he snapped. "Can he know what lurks there? He should not have gone alone!"
Together we ran toward 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 among 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 Cæsar 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.
WITH the first coming of light, Eltham, Smith, and I tested the electrical contrivances from every point. They were in perfect order. It became more and more incomprehensible how anyone could have entered and quitted Redmoat during the night. The barbed-wire fencing was intact and bore no signs of having been tampered with.
Smith and I undertook an exhaustive examination of the shrubbery.
At the spot where we had found the dog, some five paces to the west of the copper beech, the grass and weeds were trampled and the surrounding laurels and rhododendrons bore evidence of a struggle—but no human footprint could be found.
"The ground is dry," said Smith. "We cannot expect much."
"In my opinion," I said, "some one tried to get at Cæsar; his presence is dangerous. And in his rage he broke loose."
"I think so too," agreed Smith. "But why did this person make for here? And how, having mastered the dog, get out of Redmoat? I am open to the possibility of some one's getting in during the day while the gates are open and hiding until dusk. But how in the name of all that's wonderful does he get out? He must possess the attributes of a bird!"
I thought of Greba Eltham's statements, reminding my friend of her description of the thing which she had seen passing into this strangely haunted shrubbery.
"That line of speculation soon takes us out of our depth, Petrie!" he said. "Let us stick to what we can understand, and that may help us to a clearer idea of what at present is incomprehensible. My view of the case to date stands thus:
"(1) Eltham, having rashly decided to return to the interior of China, is warned by an official whose friendship he has won in some way to stay in England.
"(2) I know this official for one of the yellow group represented in England by Dr. Fu-Manchu.
"(3) Several attempts, of which we know but little, to get at Eltham are frustrated, presumably by his curious 'defenses.' An attempt in a train fails owing to Miss Eltham's distaste for refreshment-room coffee. An attempt here fails owing to her insomnia.
"(4) During Eltham's absence from Redmoat certain preparations are made for his return. These lead to:
"(a) The death of Denby's collie.
"(b) The things heard and seen by Miss Eltham.
"(c) The things heard and seen by us all last night.
"So that the clearing up of my fourth point—id est. the discovery of the nature of these preparations—becomes our immediate concern. The prime object of these preparations, Petrie, was to enable some one to gain access to Eltham's room. The other events are incidental. The dogs had to be got rid of, for instance; and there is no doubt that Miss Eltham's wakefulness saved her father a second time."
"But from what? For Heaven's sake, from what?"
SMITH glanced about into the light-patched shadows.
"From a visit by some one—perhaps by Fu-Manchu himself!" he said in a hushed voice. "The object of that visit I hope we may never learn, for that would mean that it had been achieved!"
"Smith," I said, "I do not altogether understand you, but do you think he has some incredible creature hidden here somewhere? It would be like him!"
"I begin to suspect the most formidable creature in the known world to be hidden here. I believe Fu-Manchu is somewhere inside Redmoat!"
Our conversation was interrupted at this point by Denby, who came to report that he had examined the moat, the road-side, and the bank of the stream, but found no footprints or clue of any kind.
"No one left the grounds of Redmoat last night, I think!" he said. And his voice had awe in it.
That day dragged slowly on. A party of us scoured the neighborhood for traces of strangers, examining every foot of the Roman ruin hard by, but vainly.
"May not your presence here induce Fu-Manchu to abandon his plans?" I asked Smith.
"I think not," he replied. "You see, unless we can prevail upon him, Eltham sails in a fortnight. So the doctor has no time to waste. Furthermore, I have an idea that his arrangements are of such a character that they must go forward. He might turn aside, of course, to assassinate me, if opportunity arose! Rut we know, from experience, that he permits nothing to interfere with his schemes."
THE climax of that extraordinary business was reached very quickly, and there in that quiet Norfolk home we found ourselves at handgrips with one of the mysterious horrors which characterized the operations of Dr. Fu-Manchu. It was upon us before we realized it. There is no incidental music to the dramas of real life.
As we sat on the little terrace in the creeping twilight, I remember thinking how the peace of the scene gave the lie to my fears that we bordered upon tragic things. Then Cæsar, who had been a docile patient all day, began howling again, and I saw Greba Eltham shudder.
I caught Smith's eye and was about to propose our retirement indoors, when the party was broken up in a more turbulent fashion. I suppose it was the presence of the girl which prompted Denby to the rash act—a desire to personally distinguish himself. Rut. as I recalled afterward, his gaze had rarely left the shrubbery since dusk, save to seek her face, and now he leaped wildly to his feet, overturning his chair, and dashed across the grass to the trees!
"Did you see it?" he yelled. "Did you see it?"
HE evidently carried a revolver. For from the edge of the shrubbery a shot sounded, and in the flash we saw Denby with the weapon raised.
"Greba! go in and fasten the windows!" cried Eltham. "Mr. Smith! will you enter the bushes from the West! Dr. Petrie! East! Edwards! Edwards!"—and he was off across the lawn with the nervous activity of a cat.
As I made off in an opposite direction I heard the gardener's voice from the lower gate, and I saw Eltham's plan. It was to surround the shrubbery.
Two more shots and two flashes from the dense heart of greenwood. Then a loud cry—I thought, from Denby—and a second, muffled one.
Following—silence, only broken by the howling of the mastiff.
I sprinted through the rose garden, leaped heedlessly over a bed of geranium and heliotrope, and plunged in among the bushes and under the elms. Away on the left I heard Edwards shouting and Eltham's answering voice.
"Denby!" I cried, and yet louder. "Denby!"
But the silence fell again.
Dusk was upon Redmoat now, but, from sitting in the twilight, my eyes had grown accustomed to gloom and I could see fairly well what lay before me. Not daring to think what might lurk above, below, around me, I pressed on into the midst of the thicket.
"Vernon!" came Eltham's voice from one side.
"Bear more to the right, Edwards!" I heard Nayland Smith cry directly ahead of me.
With an eerie and indescribable sensation of impending disaster upon me, I thrust my way through to a gray patch which marked a break in the elm roof. At the foot of the copper beech I almost fell over Eltham. Then Smith plunged into view. Lastly, Edwards the gardener rounded a big rhododendron and completed the party.
WE stood quite still for a moment.
A faint breeze whispered through the beech leaves.
"Where is he?"
I cannot remember who put it into words, I was too dazed with amazement to notice. Then Eltham began shouting.
"Vernon! Vernon! Vernon!"
His voice pitched higher upon each repetition. There was something horrible about that vain calling, under the whispering beech, with shrubs banked about us cloaking God alone could know what.
From the back of the house came Cæsar's faint reply.
"Quick! lights!" rapped Smith. "Every lamp you have!"
Off we went, dodging laurels and privets, and poured out onto the lawn a disordered company. Eltham's face was deathly pale and his jaw set hard. He met my eye.
"God forgive me!" he said. "I could do murder to-night!"
He was a man composed of strange perplexities.
It seemed an age before the lights were found. But at last we returned to the bushes, really after a very brief delay, and ten minutes sufficed us to explore the entire shrubbery, for it was not extensive. We found his revolver, but there was no one there—nothing.
When we all stood again on the lawn, I thought that I had never seen Smith so haggard.
"What in Heaven's name can we do?" he muttered. "What does it mean?"
HE expected no answer, for there was none to offer one.
"Search! Everywhere!" said Eltham hoarsely.
He ran off into the rose garden and began beating about among the flowers like a madman, muttering, "Vernon! Vernon!"
For close upon an hour we all searched. We searched every square yard, I think, within the wire fencing, and found no trace. Miss Eltham slipped out in the confusion and joined with the rest of us in that frantic hunt. Some of the servants assisted, too.
It was a group terrified and awe-stricken which came together again on the terrace. One and then another would give up, until only Eltham and Smith were missing. Then they came back together from examining the steps to the lower gate. Eltham dropped onto a rustic seat and sank his head in his hands.
Nayland Smith paced up and down like a newly caged animal, snapping his teeth together and tugging at his ear.
Possessed by some sudden idea, or pressed to action by his tumultuous thoughts, he snatched up a lantern and strode silently off across the grass and to the shrubbery once more. I followed him. I think his idea was that he might surprise anyone who lurked there, He surprised himself, and all of us.
For right at the margin he tripped and fell flat. I ran to him.
He had fallen over the body of Denby, which lay there!
DENBY bad not been there a few moments before, and how he came to be there now we dared not conjecture. Mr. Eltham joined us, uttered one short, dry sob, and dropped upon his knees. Then we were carrying Denby back to the house, with the mastiff howling a marche funèbre.
We laid him on the grass where it sloped down from the terrace. Nayland Smith's haggard face was terrible. But the stark horror of the thing inspired him to that which, conceived earlier, had saved Denby. Twisting suddenly to Eltham, he roared in a voice audible beyond the river:
"We are fools! Loose the dog."
"But the dog—" I began.
Smith clapped his hand over my mouth.
"I know he's crippled!" he whispered. "But if anything human lurks there, the dog will lead us to it! If a man is there, he will fly! Why did we not think of it before? Fools! fools!" He raised his voice again. "Keep him on leash, Edwards! He will lead us!"
The scheme succeeded.
Edwards barely had started on his errand when bells began ringing inside the house!
"Wait!" snapped Eltham, and rushed indoors.
A moment later he was out again, his eyes gleaming madly.
"Above the moat!" he panted. And we were off en masse round the edge of the trees.
It was dark above the moat; but not so dark as to prevent our seeing a narrow ladder of thin bamboo joints and silken cord hanging by two hooks from the top of the twelve-foot wire fence. There was no sound.
"He's out!" screamed Eltham. "Down the steps!"
We all ran our best and swiftest. But Eltham outran us. Like a fury he tore at bolts and bars and like a fury sprang out into the road. Straight and white it showed to the acclivity by the Roman ruin. But no living thing moved upon it. The distant baying of the dog was borne to our ears.
"Curse it! he's crippled!" hissed Smith. "Without him, as well pursue a shadow!"
A FEW hours later the shrubbery yielded up its secret, a simple enough one. A big cask sunk in a pit, with a laurel shrub cunningly affixed to its movable lid, which was further disguised with tufts of grass. A slender bamboo-jointed rod lay near the fence. It had a hook on the top and was evidently used for attaching the ladder.
"It was the end of this ladder which Miss Eltham saw," said Smith, "as he trailed it behind him into the shrubbery when she interrupted him in her father's room. He and whomever he had with him doubtless slipped in during the daytime while Eltham was absent in London, bringing the prepared cask and all necessary implements with them. They concealed themselves somewhere—probably in the shrubbery and during the night made the unite. The excavated earth would be disposed of in the flower beds; the dummy bush they probably had ready. You see, the problem of getting in was never a big one. But owing to the 'defenses' it was impossible (while Eltham was in residence at any rate) to get out after dark! For Fu-Manchu's purposes, then, a working base inside Redmoat was essential. His servant—for he needed assistance—must have been in hiding somewhere outside; Heaven knows where! During the day, they could come or go by the gates, as we have already noted."
"You think it was the doctor himself?"
"It seems possible! Who else has eyes like the eyes Miss Eltham saw from the window last night?"
There remains to tell the nature of the outrage whereby Fu-Manchu had planned to prevent Eltham's leaving England for China. This we learned from Denby. For Denby was not dead!
I was easy to divine that he had stumbled upon the fiendish visitor at the very entrance to his burrow; had been stunned (judging from the evidence, with a sandbag) and dragged down into the cache, to which he must have lain in such dangerous proximity as to render detection of the dummy bush possible in removing him. The quickest expedient, then, had been to drag him beneath. When the search of the shrubbery was concluded his body had been borne to the edge of the bushes and laid where we found it.
Why his life had been spared I cannot conjecture, but provision had been made against his recovering consciousness and revealing the secret of the shrubbery. The ruse of releasing the mastiff alone bad terminated the visit of the unbidden guest within Redmoat.
Denby made a very slow recovery, and even when convalescent, consciously added not one fact to those we already had collated, for the reason that his memory had completely left him! This, in my opinion, as in those of the several specialists consulted, was due, not to the blow on the head, but to the presence, slightly below and to the right of the first cervical curve of the spine, of a minute puncture—undoubtedly caused by a hypodermic syringe. Thus, unconsciously, poor Denby furnished the last link in the chain; for undoubtedly by means of this operation Fu-Manchu had designed to efface from Eltham's mind his plans of return to Ho-Nan.
The nature of the fluid which could produce such mental symptoms was a mystery—a mystery which defied Western science; one of the many strange secrets of Dr. Fu-Manchu.
Ho-Nan—Have abandoned visit. Eltham.
I UNDERLINED the above, which appeared in the personal column of a daily paper a few days after our sojourn in Norfolk, and laid the journal beside Smith's plate on the breakfast table.
"I am glad, for Eltham's sake—and for the girl's," was his comment. "But it marks another victory for Fu-Manchu! Just Heaven! why is retribution delayed!"