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Chapter 34 - Ramin's Story

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« on: January 04, 2023, 06:38:32 am »

AND then at last came a day when Petrie announced to me privately that Ramin was ready, was anxious, to be questioned; to tell his own story.

“Only you and I, Greville,” he stipulated. “It remains dangerous ground, and Barton is liable to prove an irritant. . . .”

We, Petrie and I, had tea with Ramin on the balcony of his room overlooking the Pyramids. It was Sunday. The tourist season was now in nearly full flower. Camels with grotesquely poor riders paced up the slope to that little plateau which contains two of the wonders of the world: the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx. There were many cars. In the garden, smart Egyptians and their women occupied the best tables, regarding English, French, and American tourists with thinly veiled amusement.

Ramin looked almost ethereal after his strange nervous illness. But, now that the fear phase had passed, I saw that he regarded me with a queer aloofness.

When his story was told, I understood. . . .

“Of course, Shan, Dr. Petrie has made it all clear to me. You should be grateful to him. I think he has saved me from . . .

“It was that night when you called for me at Shepheard’s—but of course, I’m forgetting; you know nothing about it! You see, Shan, after your disappearance on the evening of our arrival, I was simply in a frenzy. They kept it from me for a long time—Uncle and Sir Denis and the doctor. But at last they had to tell me, of course.

“I didn’t know what to do with myself. I began to think that my crazy behaviour was attracting attention—and I rushed up to my room. I hadn’t been there more than five minutes when one of the servants brought me a note—from you!

“It was a forgery!” I cried. “It must have been!”

“Don’t interrupt, Greville,” said Petrie quietly. “These are the facts. Remember that they relate to a period during which your own evidence is not available.”

Good heavens! it was true. A great part of that night was a blank to me. . . .

“It was from you,” Ramin went on. “You asked me to tell no one, but to come out at once and join you. . . . I couldn’t wait for the lift: I simply raced downstairs and out onto the terrace. An Egyptian chauffeur in a blue uniform met me and showed me where you were waiting——”

I was waiting! Where?”

“Just opposite the hotel, beside a French landaulet. Of course, I ran across to you. Shan! you simply hauled me in! You were grim to the nth degree! But I was so utterly happy that at first I thought of nothing except that I had found you again.

“Then—oh, heavens . . . Shan!”

“Don’t let the memory upset you, Ramin,” said Petrie. “It’s all passed and done with. You know, he’s the third victim, as I have told you. All three of us, Greville, at various times, have had similar experiences at the hands of our Chinese friend.”

“I understand,” I replied, watching Ramin; “I begin to understand. Please go on.”

“It came to me, that you were mad! I saw, in a flash what had happened—because something like it had once happened to me. I fought with you—oh, my God, how I fought; it was terrible! Then, when I realized it was useless, I tried to will you to know what you were doing.

“We passed through Gizeh Village and were out on the causeway to here when the driver pulled up suddenly. A tall man dressed in black was standing in the roadway. He came forward to the right of the car—and I recognized him—“It was Dr. Fu Manchu!”

“Ramin!”

“I began to collapse. I couldn’t stand much more. He spoke to you. I didn’t hear the words; but—Shan . . . you fell back on the seat as though you were—dead. . . .

“It was the last straw. I believe I made a fool of myself—or they may have drugged me; but I passed away.

“When I opened my eyes again, after a thousand years of nightmare, I found myself in a strange, but delightful room. I was lying on a couch wrapped in a dressing gown; and an old negress sat sewing near me. . . .

“It turned out to be part of a suite in a house which must have been right outside Cairo; because all I could see from the little windows in the mushrabiyeh screens was miles and miles of desert. I suppose the negress was a servant of Dr. Fu Manchu, but she was certainly a sweet old thing.

“My first waking thought, Shan, was about you! But the old woman could tell me nothing. She merely said over and over again, ‘Don’t fret, child; it will sure be all right.’

“I spent a whole day in those three small rooms. It was quite impossible to get out, and the old negress never left me. No one else came near us. She did all she could to make me comfortable, but I refused to touch food. I have never passed through such a day in my life. I felt myself to be slowly going mad with suspense. Once, a long way over the desert, I saw some camels; that was towards evening. Otherwise, I saw nothing. . . .

“At sunset the negress lighted the lamps; and she had only just done so when I heard the sound of a gong somewhere in the house below.

“By this time I was in a state of suppressed frenzy, and when I heard that sound I wanted to shriek. The old woman gave me a warning glance, whispered, ‘Don’t fret, child; it will sure be all right,’ and went and stood by the door.

“I heard footsteps outside; the door was unlocked—and Dr. Fu Manchu came in!

“He was dressed as I remembered him in London—but the horrible thing was that he seemed to be much younger! I must have been nearer to crashing than I knew at the time; for I can’t recall one word that he said to me, except that he made me understand, Shan, that your life depended upon me.

“Evidently he saw that I was likely to collapse at any moment. He spoke to the old negress in some language I had never heard—and then forced me to drink a glass of some rather sweet white wine.

“After that I remember him watching me very intently and speaking again. His voice seemed to fade away, and his awful eyes to grow larger and larger——”

“Like a green lake!” I burst in, “which swallowed you up! I know. I know!”

How do you know?” Petrie asked sharply. “When did you derive that curious impression?”

He was studying me keenly: and at once I grasped the significance of my words. They echoed some submerged memory of the hiatus! But, in the moment of uttering them, that memory slipped back again into the limbo of the subconscious.

“No good, Doctor,” I said, shaking my head. “You were right—but it’s gone! Go on, Ramin.”

Ramin, who seemed intuitively to have seized upon the purpose underlying Petrie’s question, looked at me pathetically, and then: “I know you know, Shan,” he went on. “But you can’t remember—nor can I. Because I woke in a gloomy stone chamber, lit by a round green lamp——”

“The King’s Chamber, Greville,” Petrie interpolated. “Ramin had never seen it before, it seems.”

“Dr. Fu Manchu was sitting by a small table, and there was a big stone sarcophagus just behind him. I was standing in front of him. There was no one else there; and the silence was dreadful.

“ ‘Behind this coffer,’ he said, and pointed with an incredibly long finger, ‘you will find a mattress and cushions. Lie there, whatever happens, and make no sign—until I clap my hands. Then stand up. Shan Greville’s life depends upon you. This is your part of the bargain.’

“I heard a gong—somewhere a long way off.

“ ‘To your place,’ said Dr. Fu Manchu in that voice which seems to make every word sound like a command, ‘and remember, when I clap my hands . . .’

“What happened after that, Shan, you know.”

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