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Chapter 51 - Conjunctives

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« on: January 04, 2023, 10:32:53 pm »

UPON the events of the next few days I prefer not to dwell. At my first interview with Sir Lionel, following the loss of the relics of the Masked Prophet, I believed for one hectic moment that he would attempt to strangle me with his own hands.

Perhaps it was the presence of Nayland Smith, alone, which prevented him from making an assault. I can see him now, pacing up and down the Museum Room, clenching and relaxing his big fists, and looking murder from underneath tufted eyebrows.

“No possible blame attaches to Greville,” said Sir Denis.

The chief growled inarticulately.

“And I would remind you that in somewhat similar circumstances, and not so long ago, you personally assisted the same lady to open the Tomb of the Black Ape, in the Valley of the Kings, and to walk away with its contents. Rather a good parallel, I think?”

Sir Lionel stood still, staring hard at the speaker, then:

“Damn it!” he admitted—“you’re right!”

He transferred his stare to Petrie, and finally to me.

“Forget my somewhat harsh criticisms, Greville,” he said. “Unlike Smith, I often say more than I mean. But this cancellation of my address to the Royal Society is going to set poisoned tongues wagging.”

This was true enough. Not only had he been deprived of that hour of triumph in anticipation of which he had lived for many months past, but unpleasant whispers were going around the more scholarly clubs. Scotland Yard, working secretly, had put its vast machinery in motion in an endeavour to trace Fah Lo Suee.

They failed, as indeed we all knew they must fail. Servants of Dr. Fu Manchu pursued secret avenues of travel upon which the Customs and the police apparently had no check. There was a theory held at Scotland Yard, and shared, I believe, by our old friend Weymouth, that the Chinese doctor worked in concert with what is known as the “underworld.”

This theory Nayland Smith declined to entertain.

“His organization is infinitely superior to anything established among the criminal classes,” he declared. “He would not stoop to use such instruments.”

However, the chief’s resiliency of character was not the least amazing of his attributes; and within forty-eight hours he was deep in a book dealing with the Masked Prophet, of which he designed to publish a limited edition, illustrated by selected photographs of Ramin’s.

“I don’t know why I allow you to issue your rotten accounts of my expeditions, Greville!” he shouted one day, when I entered the library and found him at work.

He was surrounded by masses of records and untidy heaps of manuscript notes, portfolios, and what-not. Two shorthand typists were in attendance.

“Their scientific value is nil, and they depict me personally as a cross between a large ape and a human half-wit. . . .”

In the meantime he had relaxed no jot of his publicity campaign, to which an added piquancy was given by what happened at the Athenæum Club.

Following a heated argument there with Sir Wallace Syms, the chief challenged him to a duel within hearing of fully twelve members!

Ramin’s decision to abandon society and to join his eccentric uncle in the capacity of photographer had brought down upon his head the wrath of Lady Ettrington.

In many respects those days were the worst I have ever lived through. . . .

But I moved under a cloud. Since the loss of the relics I had felt in some indefinable way that of actual danger from Dr. Fu Manchu there was none. His last project had failed; but I was convinced that failure and success alike left him unmoved. Over and over again I discussed the matter with Nayland Smith and Petrie, and with Superintendent Weymouth, who had been staying somewhere in the Midlands but who was now back in London prior to returning to Cairo.

“In the old days,” he said on one occasion, “Fu Manchu was operating under cover, and he stuck at nothing to get rid of those who picked up any clue to his plans. From what you tell me now it appears that in this last job he had nothing to hide.”

This, then, was not the shadow which haunted me: it was the memory of Fah Lo Suee. . . .

To what extent aided by those strange drugs of which her father alone possessed the secret I was unable to decide, but definitely she had power to throw some sort of spell upon me, under which I became her helpless slave. Ramin knew something, but not all, of the truth.

He knew that I had followed Fah Lo Suee from Shepheard’s that night in Cairo, but of what had happened later he knew nothing; nor of what had happened in Bruton Street.

But something there was which he knew and had known from the first: that Fah Lo Suee possessed a snake-like fascination to which I was liable to succumb. And he knew that this incalculable woman experienced a kind of feline passion for me.

Often, when we had been separated, I surprised a question in his eyes. Perhaps he knew that I dreaded meeting Fu Manchu’s daughter as greatly as he dreaded it herself.

And all the time, while I looked on, Sir Lionel dictated chapter after chapter of his book, and at the same time several papers to scientific publications which he occasionally favoured with contributions; interviewed representatives of the Press; wrote insulting letters to the Times; in short, thoroughly enjoyed himself.

“You’ve got a good job!” he shouted. “Damn it! I pay you a thousand a year!—and you must make something out of your ridiculous books!”

The discussion was not carried any further. I realized that it was one I should never have begun.

I had his sister Lady Ettrington to cope with, also. This led to a tremendous row between brother and sister. It took place by way of a draw, in which both parties exhibited the celebrated Barton temperament in its most lurid form.

“You can go to the devil!” was Sir Lionel’s final politeness. It had all blown over, however, which was the way with storms in this peculiar family.

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