The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu/Chapter XIII
I WILL tell you, now of a strange dream which I dreamed, and of the stranger things to which I awakened. Since, out of a blank—a void—this vision burst in upon my mind, I cannot do better than relate it, without preamble. It was thus:
I dreamed that I lay writhing on the floor in agony indescribable. My veins were filled with liquid fire, and but that stygian darkness was about me, I told myself that I must have seen the smoke arising from my burning body.
This, I thought, was death.
Then, a cooling shower descended upon me, soaked through skin and tissue to the tortured arteries and quenched the fire within. Panting, but free from pain, I lay—exhausted.
Strength gradually returning to me, I tried to rise; but the carpet felt so singularly soft that it offered me no foothold. I waded and plunged like a swimmer treading water; and all about me rose impenetrable walls of darkness, darkness all but palpable. I wondered why I could not see the windows. The horrible idea flashed to my mind that I was become blind!
Somehow I got upon my feet, and stood swaying dizzily. I became aware of a heavy perfume, and knew it for some kind of incense.
Then—a dim light was born, at an immeasurable distance away. It grew steadily in brilliance. It spread like a bluish-red stain—like a liquid. It lapped up the darkness and spread throughout the room.
But this was not my room! Nor was it any room known to me.
It was an apartment of such size that its dimensions filled me with a kind of awe such as I never had known: the awe of walled vastness. Its immense extent produced a sensation of sound. Its hugeness had a distinct note.
Tapestries covered the four walls. There was no door visible. These tapestries were magnificently figured with golden dragons; and as the serpentine bodies gleamed and shimmered in the increasing radiance, each dragon, I thought, intertwined its glittering coils more closely with those of another. The carpet was of such richness that I stood knee-deep in its pile. And this, too, was fashioned all over with golden dragons; and they seemed to glide about amid the shadows of the design—stealthily.
At the farther end of the hall—for hall it was—a huge table with dragons' legs stood solitary amid the luxuriance of the carpet. It bore scintillating globes, and tubes that held living organisms, and books of a size and in such bindings as I never had imagined, with instruments of a type unknown to Western science—a heterogeneous litter quite indescribable, which overflowed on to the floor, forming an amazing oasis in a dragon-haunted desert of carpet. A lamp hung above this table, suspended by golden chains from the ceiling—which was so lofty that, following the chains upward, my gaze lost itself in the purple shadows above.
In a chair piled high with dragon-covered cushions a man sat behind this table. The light from the swinging lamp fell fully upon one side of his face, as he leaned forward amid the jumble of weird objects, and left the other side in purplish shadow. From a plain brass bowl upon the corner of the huge table smoke writhed aloft and at times partially obscured that dreadful face.
From the instant that my eyes were drawn to the table and to the man who sat there, neither the incredible extent of the room, nor the nightmare fashion of its mural decorations, could reclaim my attention. I had eyes only for him.
For it was Dr. Fu-Manchu!
Something of the delirium which had seemed to fill my veins with fire, to people the walls with dragons, and to plunge me knee-deep in the carpet, left me. Those dreadful, filmed green eyes acted somewhat like a cold douche. I knew, without removing my gaze from the still face, that the walls no longer lived, but were merely draped in exquisite Chinese dragon tapestry. The rich carpet beneath my feet ceased to be as a jungle and became a normal carpet—extraordinarily rich, but merely a carpet. But the sense of vastness nevertheless remained, with the uncomfortable knowledge that the things upon the table and overflowing about it were all, or nearly all, of a fashion strange to me.
Then, and almost instantaneously, the comparative sanity which I had temporarily experienced began to slip from me again; for the smoke faintly penciled through the air—from the burning perfume on the table—grew in volume, thickened, and wafted towards me in a cloud of gray horror. It enveloped me, clammily. Dimly, through its oily wreaths, I saw the immobile yellow face of Fu-Manchu. And my stupefied brain acclaimed him a sorcerer, against whom unwittingly we had pitted our poor human wits. The green eyes showed filmy through the fog. An intense pain shot through my lower limbs, and, catching my breath, I looked down. As I did so, the points of the red slippers which I dreamed that I wore increased in length, curled sinuously upward, twined about my throat and choked the breath from my body!
Came an interval, and then a dawning like consciousness; but it was a false consciousness, since it brought with it the idea that my head lay softly pillowed and that a woman's hand caressed my throbbing forehead. Confusedly, as though in the remote past, I recalled a kiss—and the recollection thrilled me strangely. Dreamily content I lay, and a voice stole to my ears:
"They are killing him! they are killing him! Oh! do you not understand?"
In my dazed condition, I thought that it was I who had died, and that this musical girl-voice was communicating to me the fact of my own dissolution.
But I was conscious of no interest in the matter.
For hours and hours, I thought, that soothing hand caressed me. I never once raised my heavy lids, until there came a resounding crash that seemed to set my very bones vibrating—a metallic, jangling crash, as the fall of heavy chains. I thought that, then, I half opened my eyes, and that in the dimness I had a fleeting glimpse of a figure clad in gossamer silk, with arms covered with barbaric bangles and slim ankles surrounded by gold bands. The girl was gone, even as I told myself that she was an houri, and that I, though a Christian, had been consigned by some error to the paradise of Mohammed.
Then—a complete blank.
* * * * * * * *
My head throbbed madly; my brain seemed to be clogged—inert; and though my first, feeble movement was followed by the rattle of a chain, some moments more elapsed ere I realized that the chain was fastened to a steel collar—that the steel collar was clasped about my neck.
I moaned weakly.
"Smith!" I muttered, "Where are you? Smith!"
On to my knees I struggled, and the pain on the top of my skull grew all but insupportable. It was coming back to me now; how Nayland Smith and I had started for the hotel to warn Graham Guthrie; how, as we passed up the steps from the Embankment and into Essex Street, we saw the big motor standing before the door of one of the offices. I could recall coming up level with the car—a modern limousine; but my mind retained no impression of our having passed it—only a vague memory of a rush of footsteps—a blow. Then, my vision of the hall of dragons, and now this real awakening to a worse reality. Groping in the darkness, my hands touched a body that lay close beside me. My fingers sought and found the throat, sought and found the steel collar about it.
"Smith," I groaned; and I shook the still form. "Smith, old man—speak to me! Smith!"
Could he be dead? Was this the end of his gallant fight with Dr. Fu-Manchu and the murder group? If so, what did the future hold for me— what had I to face?
He stirred beneath my trembling hands.
"Thank God!" I muttered, and I cannot deny that my joy was tainted with selfishness. For, waking in that impenetrable darkness, and yet obsessed with the dream I had dreamed, I had known what fear meant, at the realization that alone, chained, I must face the dreadful Chinese doctor in the flesh.
Smith began incoherent mutterings.
"Sand-bagged! . . . Look out, Petrie! . . . He has us at last! . . . Oh, Heavens!" . . . He struggled on to his knees, clutching at my hand.
"All right, old man," I said. "We are both alive! So let's be thankful."
A moment's silence, a groan, then:
"Petrie, I have dragged you into this. God forgive me—"
"Dry up, Smith," I said slowly. "I'm not a child. There is no question of being dragged into the matter. I'm here; and if I can be of any use, I'm glad I am here!"
He grasped my hand.
"There were two Chinese, in European clothes—lord, how my head throbs!—in that office door. They sand-bagged us, Petrie—think of it!—in broad daylight, within hail of the Strand! We were rushed into the car—and it was all over, before—" His voice grew faint. "God! they gave me an awful knock!"
"Why have we been spared, Smith? Do you think he is saving us for—"
"Don't, Petrie! If you had been in China, if you had seen what I have seen—"
Footsteps sounded on the flagged passage. A blade of light crept across the floor towards us. My brain was growing clearer. The place had a damp, earthen smell. It was slimy—some noisome cellar. A door was thrown open and a man entered, carrying a lantern. Its light showed my surmise to be accurate, showed the slime-coated walls of a dungeon some fifteen feet square—shone upon the long yellow robe of the man who stood watching us, upon the malignant, intellectual countenance.
It was Dr. Fu-Manchu.
At last they were face to face—the head of the great Yellow Movement, and the man who fought on behalf of the entire white race. How can I paint the individual who now stood before us—perhaps the greatest genius of modern times?
Of him it had been fitly said that he had a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan. Something serpentine, hypnotic, was in his very presence. Smith drew one sharp breath, and was silent. Together, chained to the wall, two mediæval captives, living mockeries of our boasted modern security, we crouched before Dr. Fu-Manchu.
He came forward with an indescribable gait, cat-like yet awkward, carrying his high shoulders almost hunched. He placed the lantern in a niche in the wall, never turning away the reptilian gaze of those eyes which must haunt my dreams forever. They possessed a viridescence which hitherto I had supposed possible only in the eye of the cat—and the film intermittently clouded their brightness—but I can speak of them no more.
I had never supposed, prior to meeting Dr. Fu-Manchu, that so intense a force of malignancy could radiate—from any human being. He spoke. His English was perfect, though at times his words were oddly chosen; his delivery alternately was guttural and sibilant.
"Mr. Smith and Dr. Petrie, your interference with my plans has gone too far. I have seriously turned my attention to you."
He displayed his teeth, small and evenly separated, but discolored in a way that was familiar to me. I studied his eyes with a new professional interest, which even the extremity of our danger could not wholly banish. Their greenness seemed to be of the iris; the pupil was oddly contracted—a pin-point.
Smith leaned his back against the wall with assumed indifference.
"You have presumed," continued Fu-Manchu, "to meddle with a world-change. Poor spiders—caught in the wheels of the inevitable! You have linked my name with the futility of the Young China Movement—the name of Fu-Manchu! Mr. Smith, you are an incompetent meddler—I despise you! Dr. Petrie, you are a fool—I am sorry for you!"
He rested one bony hand on his hip, narrowing the long eyes as he looked down on us. The purposeful cruelty of the man was inherent; it was entirely untheatrical. Still Smith remained silent.
"So I am determined to remove you from the scene of your blunders!" added Fu-Manchu.
"Opium will very shortly do the same for you!" I rapped at him savagely.
Without emotion he turned the narrowed eyes upon me.
"That is a matter of opinion, Doctor," he said. "You may have lacked the opportunities which have been mine for studying that subject—and in any event I shall not be privileged to enjoy your advice in the future."
"You will not long outlive me," I replied. "And our deaths will not profit you, incidentally; because—" Smith's foot touched mine.
"Because?" inquired Fu-Manchu softly. "Ah! Mr. Smith is so prudent! He is thinking that I have files!" He pronounced the word in a way that made me shudder. "Mr. Smith has seen a wire jacket! Have you ever seen a wire jacket? As a surgeon its functions would interest you!"
I stifled a cry that rose to my lips; for, with a shrill whistling sound, a small shape came bounding into the dimly lit vault, then shot upward. A marmoset landed on the shoulder of Dr. Fu-Manchu and peered grotesquely into the dreadful yellow face. The Doctor raised his bony hand and fondled the little creature, crooning to it.
"One of my pets, Mr. Smith," he said, suddenly opening his eyes fully so that they blazed like green lamps. "I have others, equally useful. My scorpions—have you met my scorpions? No? My pythons and hamadryads? Then there are my fungi and my tiny allies, the bacilli. I have a collection in my laboratory quite unique. Have you ever visited Molokai, the leper island, Doctor? No? But Mr. Nayland Smith will be familiar with the asylum at Rangoon! And we must not forget my black spiders, with their diamond eyes—my spiders, that sit in the dark and watch—then leap!"
He raised his lean hands, so that the sleeve of the robe fell back to the elbow, and the ape dropped, chattering, to the floor and ran from the cellar.
"O God of Cathay!" he cried, "by what death shall these die—these miserable ones who would bind thine Empire, which is boundless!"
Like some priest of Tezcat he stood, his eyes upraised to the roof, his lean body quivering—a sight to shock the most unimpressionable mind.
"He is mad!" I whispered to Smith. "God help us, the man is a dangerous homicidal maniac!"
Nayland Smith's tanned face was very drawn, but he shook his head grimly.
"Dangerous, yes, I agree," he muttered; "his existence is a danger to the entire white race which, now, we are powerless to avert."
Dr. Fu-Manchu recovered himself, took up the lantern and, turning abruptly, walked to the door, with his awkward, yet feline gait. At the threshold be looked back.
"You would have warned Mr. Graham Guthrie?" he said, in a soft voice. "To-night, at half-past twelve, Mr. Graham Guthrie dies!"
Smith sat silent and motionless, his eyes fixed upon the speaker.
"You were in Rangoon in 1908?" continued Dr. Fu-Manchu—"you remember the Call?"
From somewhere above us—I could not determine the exact direction—came a low, wailing cry, an uncanny thing of falling cadences, which, in that dismal vault, with the sinister yellow-robed figure at the door, seemed to pour ice into my veins. Its effect upon Smith was truly extraordinary. His face showed grayly in the faint light, and I heard him draw a hissing breath through clenched teeth.
"It calls for you!" said Fu-Manchu. "At half-past twelve it calls for Graham Guthrie!"
The door closed and darkness mantled us again.
"Smith," I said, "what was that?" The horrors about us were playing havoc with my nerves.
"It was the Call of Siva!" replied Smith hoarsely.
"What is it? Who uttered it? What does it mean?"
"I don't know what it is, Petrie, nor who utters it. But it means death!"