"YOUR extraordinary proposal fills me with horror, Mr. Smith!"
The sleek little man in the dress suit, who looked like a head waiter (but was the trusted legal adviser of the house of Southery) puffed at his cigar indignantly. Nayland Smith, whose restless pacing had led him to the far end of the library, turned, a remote but virile figure, and looked back to where I stood by the open hearth with the solicitor.
"I am in your hands, Mr. Henderson," he said, and advanced upon the latter, his gray eyes ablaze. "Save for the heir, who is abroad on foreign service, you say there is no kin of Lord Southery to consider. The word rests with you. If I am wrong, and you agree to my proposal, there is none whose susceptibilities will suffer--"
"My own, sir!"
"If I am right, and you prevent me from acting, you become a murderer, Mr. Henderson."
The lawyer started, staring nervously up at Smith, who now towered over him menacingly.
"Lord Southery was a lonely man," continued my friend. "If I could have placed my proposition before one of his blood, I do not doubt what my answer had been. Why do you hesitate? Why do you experience this feeling of horror?"
Mr. Henderson stared down into the fire. His constitutionally ruddy face was pale.
"It is entirely irregular, Mr. Smith. We have not the necessary powers--"
Smith snapped his teeth together impatiently, snatching his watch from his pocket and glancing at it.
"I am vested with the necessary powers. I will give you a written order, sir."
"The proceeding savors of paganism. Such a course might be admissible in China, in Burma--"
"Do you weigh a life against such quibbles? Do you suppose that, granting MY irresponsibility, Dr. Petrie would countenance such a thing if be doubted the necessity?"
Mr. Henderson looked at me with pathetic hesitance.
"There are guests in the house--mourners who attended the ceremony to-day. They--"
"Will never know, if we are in error," interrupted Smith. "Good God! why do you delay?"
"You wish it to be kept secret?"
"You and I, Mr. Henderson, and Dr. Petrie will go now. We require no other witnesses. We are answerable only to our consciences."
The lawyer passed his hand across his damp brow.
"I have never in my life been called upon to come to so momentous a decision in so short a time," he confessed. But, aided by Smith's indomitable will, he made his decision. As its result, we three, looking and feeling like conspirators, hurried across the park beneath a moon whose placidity was a rebuke to the turbulent passions which reared their strangle-growth in the garden of England. Not a breath of wind stirred amid the leaves. The calm of perfect night soothed everything to slumber. Yet, if Smith were right (and I did not doubt him), the green eyes of Dr. Fu-Manchu had looked upon the scene; and I found myself marveling that its beauty had not wilted up. Even now the dread Chinaman must be near to us.
As Mr. Henderson unlocked the ancient iron gates he turned to Nayland Smith. His face twitched oddly.
"Witness that I do this unwillingly," he said--"most unwillingly."
"Mine be the responsibility," was the reply.
Smith's voice quivered, responsive to the nervous vitality pent up within that lean frame. He stood motionless, listening--and I knew for whom he listened. He peered about him to right and left-- and I knew whom he expected but dreaded to see.
Above us now the trees looked down with a solemnity different from the aspect of the monarchs of the park, and the nearer we came to our journey's end the more somber and lowering bent the verdant arch-- or so it seemed.
By that path, patched now with pools of moonlight, Lord Southery had passed upon his bier, with the sun to light his going; by that path several generations of Stradwicks had gone to their last resting-place.
To the doors of the vault the moon rays found free access. No branch, no leaf, intervened. Mr. Henderson's face looked ghastly. The keys which he carried rattled in his hand.
"Light the lantern," he said unsteadily.
Nayland Smith, who again had been peering suspiciously about into the shadows, struck a match and lighted the lantern which he carried. He turned to the solicitor.
"Be calm, Mr. Henderson," he said sternly. "It is your plain duty to your client."
"God be my witness that I doubt it," replied Henderson, and opened the door.
We descended the steps. The air beneath was damp and chill. It touched us as with clammy fingers; and the sensation was not wholly physical.
Before the narrow mansion which now sufficed Lord Southery, the great engineer whom kings had honored, Henderson reeled and clutched at me for support. Smith and I had looked to him for no aid in our uncanny task, and rightly.
With averted eyes he stood over by the steps of the tomb, whilst my friend and myself set to work. In the pursuit of my profession I had undertaken labors as unpleasant, but never amid an environment such as this. It seemed that generations of Stradwicks listened to each turn of every screw.
At last it was done, and the pallid face of Lord Southery questioned the intruding light. Nayland Smith's hand was as steady as a rigid bar when he raised the lantern. Later, I knew, there would be a sudden releasing of the tension of will--a reaction physical and mental-- but not until his work was finished.
That my own hand was steady I ascribed to one thing solely-- professional zeal. For, under conditions which, in the event of failure and exposure, must have led to an unpleasant inquiry by the British Medical Association, I was about to attempt an experiment never before essayed by a physician of the white races.
Though I failed, though I succeeded, that it ever came before the B.M.A., or any other council, was improbable; in the former event, all but impossible. But the knowledge that I was about to practice charlatanry, or what any one of my fellow-practitioners must have designated as such, was with me. Yet so profound had my belief become in the extraordinary being whose existence was a danger to the world that I reveled in my immunity from official censure. I was glad that it had fallen to my lot to take at least one step-- though blindly--into the FUTURE of medical science.
So far as my skill bore me, Lord Southery was dead. Unhesitatingly, I would have given a death certificate, save for two considerations. The first, although his latest scheme ran contrary from the interests of Dr. Fu-Manchu, his genius, diverted into other channels, would serve the yellow group better than his death. The second, I had seen the boy Aziz raised from a state as like death as this.
From the phial of amber-hued liquid which I had with me, I charged the needle syringe. I made the injection, and waited.
"If he is really dead!" whispered Smith. "It seems incredible that he can have survived for three days without food. Yet I have known a fakir to go for a week."
Mr. Henderson groaned.
Watch in hand, I stood observing the gray face.
A second passed; another; a third. In the fourth the miracle began. Over the seemingly cold clay crept the hue of pulsing life. It came in waves--in waves which corresponded with the throbbing of the awakened heart; which swept fuller and stronger; which filled and quickened the chilled body.
As we rapidly freed the living man from the trappings of the dead one, Southery, uttering a stifled scream, sat up, looked about him with half-glazed eyes, and fell back. "My God!" cried Smith.
"It is all right," I said, and had time to note how my voice had assumed a professional tone. "A little brandy from my flask is all that is necessary now."
"You have two patients, Doctor," rapped my friend.
Mr. Henderson had fallen in a swoon to the floor of the vault.
"Quiet," whispered Smith; "HE is here."
He extinguished the light.
I supported Lord Southery. "What has happened?" he kept moaning. "Where am I? Oh, God! what has happened?"
I strove to reassure him in a whisper, and placed my traveling coat about him. The door at the top of the mausoleum steps we had reclosed but not relocked. Now, as I upheld the man whom literally we had rescued from the grave, I heard the door reopen. To aid Henderson I could make no move. Smith was breathing hard beside me. I dared not think what was about to happen, nor what its effects might be upon Lord Southery in his exhausted condition.
Through the Memphian dark of the tomb cut a spear of light, touching the last stone of the stairway.
A guttural voice spoke some words rapidly, and I knew that Dr. Fu-Manchu stood at the head of the stairs. Although I could not see my friend, I became aware that Nayland Smith had his revolver in his hand, and I reached into my pocket for mine.
At last the cunning Chinaman was about to fall into a trap. It would require all his genius, I thought, to save him to-night. Unless his suspicions were aroused by the unlocked door, his capture was imminent.
Someone was descending the steps.
In my right hand I held my revolver, and with my left arm about Lord Southery, I waited through ten such seconds of suspense as I have rarely known.
The spear of light plunged into the well of darkness again.
Lord Southery, Smith and myself were hidden by the angle of the wall; but full upon the purplish face of Mr. Henderson the beam shone. In some way it penetrated to the murk in his mind; and he awakened from his swoon with a hoarse cry, struggled to his feet, and stood looking up the stair in a sort of frozen horror.
Smith was past him at a bound. Something flashed towards him as the light was extinguished. I saw him duck, and heard the knife ring upon the floor.
I managed to move sufficiently to see at the top, as I fired up the stairs, the yellow face of Dr. Fu-Manchu, to see the gleaming, chatoyant eyes, greenly terrible, as they sought to pierce the gloom. A flying figure was racing up, three steps at a time (that of a brown man scantily clad). He stumbled and fell, by which I knew that he was hit; but went on again, Smith hard on his heels.
"Mr. Henderson!" I cried, "relight the lantern and take charge of Lord Southery. Here is my flask on the floor. I rely upon you."
Smith's revolver spoke again as I went bounding up the stair. Black against the square of moonlight I saw him stagger, I saw him fall. As he fell, for the third time, I heard the crack of his revolver.
Instantly I was at his side. Somewhere along the black aisle beneath the trees receding footsteps pattered.
"Are you hurt, Smith?" I cried anxiously.
He got upon his feet.
"He has a dacoit with him," he replied, and showed me the long curved knife which he held in his hand, a full inch of the blade bloodstained. "A near thing for me, Petrie."
I heard the whir of a restarted motor.
"We have lost him," said Smith.
"But we have saved Lord Southery," I said. "Fu-Manchu will credit us with a skill as great as his own."
"We must get to the car," Smith muttered, "and try to overtake them. Ugh! my left arm is useless."
"It would be mere waste of time to attempt to overtake them," I argued, "for we have no idea in which direction they will proceed."
"I have a very good idea," snapped Smith. "Stradwick Hall is less than ten miles from the coast. There is only one practicable means of conveying an unconscious man secretly from here to London."
"You think he meant to take him from here to London?"
"Prior to shipping him to China; I think so. His clearing-house is probably on the Thames."
"A yacht, presumably, is lying off the coast in readiness. Fu-Manchu may even have designed to ship him direct to China."
Lord Southery, a bizarre figure, my traveling coat wrapped about him, and supported by his solicitor, who was almost as pale as himself, emerged from the vault into the moonlight.
"This is a triumph for you, Smith," I said.
The throb of Fu-Manchu's car died into faintness and was lost in the night's silence.
"Only half a triumph," he replied. "But we still have another chance-- the raid on his house. When will the word come from Karamaneh?"
Southery spoke in a weak voice.
"Gentlemen," he said, "it seems I am raised from the dead."
It was the weirdest moment of the night wherein we heard that newly buried man speak from the mold of his tomb.
"Yes," replied Smith slowly, "and spared from the fate of Heaven alone knows how many men of genius. The yellow society lacks a Southery, but that Dr. Fu-Manchu was in Germany three years ago I have reason to believe; so that, even without visiting the grave of your great Teutonic rival, who suddenly died at about that time, I venture to predict that they have a Von Homber. And the futurist group in China knows how to MAKE men work!"
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