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John Bolen brings his extensive theater, film, and television experience to audiobooks. His recent television appearances include CIA: Masters of Deception on the Discovery Channel, and his recent film work includes The Land and The Inn Outside the World.
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The Hand of Fu-Manchu
By Sax Rohmer
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated
All rights reserved.
THE TRAVELER FROM TIBET
"Who's there?" I called sharply.
I turned and looked across the room. The window had been widely opened when I entered, and a faint fog haze hung in the apartment, seeming to veil the light of the shaded lamp. I watched the closed door intently, expecting every moment to see the knob turn. But nothing happened.
"Who's there?" I cried again, and, crossing the room, I threw open the door.
The long corridor without, lighted only by one inhospitable lamp at a remote end, showed choked and yellowed with this same fog so characteristic of London in November. But nothing moved to right nor left of me. The New Louvre Hotel was in some respects yet incomplete, and the long passage in which I stood, despite its marble facings, had no air of comfort or good cheer; palatial it was, but inhospitable.
I returned to the room, reclosing the door behind me, then for some five minutes or more I stood listening for a repetition of that mysterious sound, as of something that both dragged and tapped, which already had arrested my attention. My vigilance went unrewarded. I had closed the window to exclude the yellow mist, but subconsciously I was aware of its encircling presence, walling me in, and now I found myself in such a silence as I had known in deserts but could scarce have deemed possible in fog-bound London, in the heart of the world's metropolis, with the traffic of the Strand below me upon one side and the restless life of the river upon the other.
It was easy to conclude that I had been mistaken, that my nervous system was somewhat overwrought as a result of my hurried return from Cairo—from Cairo where I had left behind me many a fondly cherished hope. I addressed myself again to the task of unpacking my steamer-trunk and was so engaged when again a sound in the corridor outside brought me upright with a jerk.
A quick footstep approached the door, and there came a muffled rapping upon the panel.
This time I asked no question, but leapt across the room and threw the door open.
Nayland Smith stood before me, muffled up in a heavy traveling coat, and with his hat pulled down over his brows.
"At last!" I cried, as my friend stepped in and quickly reclosed the door.
Smith threw his hat upon the settee, stripped off the greatcoat, and pulling out his pipe began to load it in feverish haste.
"Well," I said, standing amid the litter cast out from the trunk, and watching him eagerly, "what's afoot?"
Nayland Smith lighted his pipe, carelessly dropping the match-end upon the floor at his feet.
"God knows what is afoot this time, Petrie!" he replied. "You and I have lived no commonplace lives; Dr. Fu-Manchu has seen to that—but if I am to believe what the Chief has told me to-day, even stranger things are ahead of us!"
I stared at him wonder-stricken.
"That is almost incredible," I said. "Terror can have no darker meaning than that which Dr. Fu-Manchu gave to it. Fu-Manchu is dead, so what have we to fear?"
"We have to fear," replied Smith, throwing himself into a corner of the settee, "the Si-Fan!"
I continued to stare, uncomprehendingly.
"I always knew and you always knew," interrupted Smith in his short, decisive manner, "that Fu-Manchu, genius that he was, remained nevertheless the servant of another or others. He was not the head of that organization which dealt in wholesale murder, which aimed at upsetting the balance of the world. I even knew the name of one, a certain mandarin, and member of the Sublime Order of the White Peacock, who was his immediate superior. I had never dared to guess at the identity of what I may term the Head Center."
He ceased speaking, and sat gripping his pipe grimly between his teeth, whilst I stood staring at him almost fatuously. Then—
"Evidently you have much to tell me," I said, with forced calm.
I drew up a chair beside the settee and was about to sit down.
"Suppose you bolt the door," jerked my friend.
I nodded, entirely comprehending, crossed the room, and shot the little nickel bolt into its socket.
"Now," said Smith as I took my seat, "the story is a fragmentary one in which there are many gaps. Let us see what we know. It seems that the despatch which led to my sudden recall (and incidentally yours) from Egypt to London and which only reached me as I was on the point of embarking at Suez for Rangoon, was prompted by the arrival here of Sir Gregory Hale, whilom attaché at the British Embassy, Peking. So much, you will remember, was conveyed in my instructions."
"Furthermore, I was instructed, you'll remember, to put up at the New Louvre Hotel; therefore you came here and engaged this suite whilst I reported to the chief. A stranger business is before us, Petrie, I verily believe, than any we have known hitherto. In the first place, Sir Gregory Hale is here—"
"In the New Louvre Hotel. I ascertained on the way up, but not by direct inquiry, that he occupies a suite similar to this, and incidentally on the same floor."
"His report to the India Office, whatever its nature, must have been a sensational one."
"He has made no report to the India Office."
"What! Made no report?"
"He has not entered any office whatever, nor will he receive any representative. He's been playing at Robinson Crusoe in a private suite here for close upon a fortnight—id est since the time of his arrival in London!"
I suppose my growing perplexity was plainly visible, for Smith suddenly burst out with his short, boyish laugh.
"Oh! I told you it was a strange business," he cried.
"Is he mad?"
Nayland Smith's gaiety left him; he became suddenly stern and grim.
"Either mad, Petrie, stark raving mad, or the savior of the Indian Empire—perhaps of all Western civilization. Listen. Sir Gregory Hale, whom I know slightly and who honors me, apparently, with a belief that I am the only man in Europe worthy of his confidence, resigned his appointment at Peking some time ago, and set out upon a private expedition to the Mongolian frontier with the avowed intention of visiting some place in the Gobi Desert. From the time that he actually crossed the frontier, he disappeared for nearly six months, to reappear again suddenly and dramatically in London. He buried himself in this hotel, refusing all visitors and only advising the authorities of his return by telephone. He demanded that I should be sent to see him, and—despite his eccentric methods—so great is the Chief's faith in Sir Gregory's knowledge of matters Far Eastern, that behold, here I am."
He broke off abruptly and sat in an attitude of tense listening. Then—
"Do you hear anything, Petrie?" he rapped.
"A sort of tapping?" I inquired, listening intently myself the while.
Smith nodded his head rapidly.
We both listened for some time, Smith with his head bent slightly forward and his pipe held in his hands, I with my gaze upon the bolted door. A faint mist still hung in the room, and once I thought I detected a slight sound from the bedroom beyond, which was in darkness. Smith noted me turn my head, and for a moment the pair of us stared into the gap of the doorway. But the silence was complete.
"You have told me neither much nor little, Smith," I said, resuming, for some reason, in a hushed voice. "Who or what is this Si-Fan at whose existence you hint?"
Nayland Smith smiled grimly.
"Possibly the real and hitherto unsolved riddle of Tibet, Petrie," he replied, "a mystery concealed from the world behind the veil of Lamaism." He stood up abruptly, glancing at a scrap of paper which he took from his pocket. "Suite Number 14a," he said. "Come along! We have not a moment to waste. Let us make our presence known to Sir Gregory—the man who has dared to raise that veil."CHAPTER 2
THE MAN WITH THE LIMP
"Lock the door!" said Smith significantly, as we stepped into the corridor.
I did so and had turned to join my friend when, to the accompaniment of a sort of hysterical muttering, a door further along, and on the opposite side of the corridor, was suddenly thrown open, and a man whose face showed ghastly white in the light of the solitary lamp beyond literally hurled himself out. He perceived Smith and myself immediately. Throwing one glance back over his shoulder, he came tottering forward to meet us.
"My God! I can't stand it any longer!" he babbled, and threw himself upon Smith, who was foremost, clutching pitifully at him for support. "Come and see him, sir—for Heaven's sake, come in! I think he's dying, and he's going mad. I never disobeyed an order in my life before, but I can't help myself—I can't help myself!"
"Brace up!" I cried, seizing him by the shoulders as, still clutching at Nayland Smith, he turned his ghastly face to me. "Who are you, and what's your trouble?"
"I'm Beeton, Sir Gregory Hale's man."
Smith started visibly, and his gaunt, tanned face seemed to me to have grown perceptively paler.
"Come on, Petrie!" he snapped. "There's some devilry here."
Thrusting Beeton aside, he rushed in at the open door—upon which, as I followed him, I had time to note the number, 14a. It communicated with a suite of rooms almost identical with our own. The sitting-room was empty and in the utmost disorder, but from the direction of the principal bedroom came a most horrible mumbling and gurgling sound—a sound utterly indescribable. For one instant, we hesitated at the threshold—hesitated to face the horror beyond; then, almost side by side, we came into the bedroom....
Only one of the two lamps was alight—that above the bed—and on the bed a man lay writhing. He was incredibly gaunt, so that the suit of tropical twill which he wore hung upon him in folds, showing, if such evidence were necessary, how terribly he was fallen away from his constitutional habit. He wore a beard of at least ten days' growth, which served to accentuate the cavitous hollowness of his face. His eyes seemed to be staring from their sockets as he lay upon his back uttering inarticulate sounds and plucking with skinny fingers at his lips.
Smith bent forward, peering into the wasted face, and then started back with a suppressed cry.
"Merciful God! Can it be Hale?" he muttered. "What does it mean? What does it mean?"
I ran to the opposite side of the bed, and placing my arms under the writhing man, raised him and propped a pillow at his back. He continued to babble, rolling his eyes from side to side hideously; then, by degrees, they seemed to become less glazed, and a light of returning sanity entered them. They became fixed, and they were fixed upon Nayland Smith, who, bending over the bed, was watching Sir Gregory (for Sir Gregory I concluded this pitiable wreck to be) with an expression upon his face compound of many emotions.
"A glass of water," I said, catching the glance of the man Beeton, who stood trembling at the open doorway.
Spilling a liberal quantity upon the carpet, Beeton ultimately succeeded in conveying the glass to me. Hale, never taking his gaze from Smith, gulped a little of the water and then thrust my hand away. As I turned to place the tumbler upon a small table, he resumed the wordless babbling, and now, with his index finger, pointed to his mouth.
"He has lost the power of speech!" whispered Smith.
"He was stricken dumb, gentlemen, ten minutes ago," said Beeton in a trembling voice.
"He dropped off to sleep out there on the floor, and I brought him in here and laid him on the bed. When he woke up, he was like that!"
The man on the bed ceased his inchoate babbling and now, gulping noisily, began to make quick nervous movements with his hands.
"He wants to write something," said Smith in a low voice. "Quick! Hold him up!" He thrust his notebook, open at a blank page, before the man whose movements were numbered, and placed a pencil in the shaking right hand.
Faintly and unevenly, Sir Gregory commenced to write—whilst I supported him. Across the bent shoulders, Smith silently questioned me, and my reply was a negative shake of the head.
The lamp above the bed was swaying as if in a heavy draught; I remembered that it had been swaying as we entered. There was no fog in the room, but already from the bleak corridor outside it was entering, murky, yellow clouds steaming in at the open door. Save for the gulping of the dying man and the sobbing breaths of Beeton, there was no sound. Six irregular lines Sir Gregory Hale scrawled upon the page; then suddenly, his body became a dead weight in my arms. Gently I laid him back upon the pillows, lifted his finger from the notebook, and, my head almost touching Smith's as we both craned forward over the page, read, with great difficulty, the following:
"Guard my diary.... Tibetan frontier ... Key of India. Beware man ... with the limp. Yellow ... rising. Watch Tibet ... the Si-Fan...."
From somewhere outside the room, whether above or below I could not be sure, came a faint dragging sound, accompanied by a tap—tap—tap....CHAPTER 3
The faint disturbance faded into silence again. Across the dead man's body I met Smith's gaze. Faint wreaths of fog floated in from the outer room. Beeton clutched the foot of the bed, and the structure shook in sympathy with his wild trembling. That was the only sound now; there was absolutely nothing physical, so far as my memory serves, to signalize the coming of the brown man.
Yet, stealthy as his approach had been, something must have warned us. For suddenly, with one accord, we three turned upon the bed and stared out into the room from which the fog wreaths floated in.
Beeton stood nearest to the door, but although he turned, he did not go out, and with a smothered cry, he crouched back against the bed. Smith it was who moved first, then I followed, and close upon his heels I burst into the disordered sitting-room. The outer door had been closed but not bolted, and what with the tinted light, diffused through the silken Japanese shade, and the presence of fog in the room, I was almost tempted to believe myself the victim of a delusion. What I saw or thought I saw was this:
A tall screen stood immediately inside the door, and around its end, like some materialization of the choking mist, glided a lithe, yellow figure, a slim, crouching figure, wearing a sort of loose robe. An impression I had of jet-black hair, protruding from beneath a little cap, of finely chiseled features and great, luminous eyes; then, with no sound to tell of a door opened or shut, the apparition was gone.
"You saw him, Petrie! You saw him!" cried Smith.
In three bounds, he was across the room, had tossed the screen aside and thrown open the door. Out he sprang into the yellow haze of the corridor, tripped, and, uttering a cry of pain, fell sprawling upon the marble floor. Hot with apprehension, I joined him, but he looked up with a wry smile and began furiously rubbing his left shin.
"A queer trick, Petrie," he said, rising to his feet, "but nevertheless effective."
He pointed to the object which had occasioned his fall. It was a small metal chest, evidently of very considerable weight, and it stood immediately outside the door of Number 14a.
"That was what he came for, sir! That was what he came for! You were too quick for him!"
Beeton stood behind us, his horror-bright eyes fixed upon the box.
"Eh?" rapped Smith, turning upon him.
"That's what Sir Gregory brought to England," the man ran on almost hysterically, "that's what he's been guarding these past two weeks, night and day, crouching over it with a loaded pistol. That's what cost him his life, sir. He's had no peace, day or night, since he got it...."
We were inside the room again now, Smith bearing the coffer in his arms, and still the man ran on.
"He's never slept for more than an hour at a time, that I know of, for weeks past. Since the day we came here, he hasn't spoken to another living soul, and he's lain there on the floor at night with his head on that brass box, and sat watching over it all day.
"'Beeton!' he'd cry out, perhaps in the middle of the night—'Beeton—do you hear that damned woman!' But although I'd begun to think I could hear something, I believe it was the constant strain working on my nerves and nothing else at all.
Excerpted from The Hand of Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer. Copyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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