My brain reeled, and a weakness, mental and physical, threatened to conquer me completely. Indeed, I think I must have succumbed, sapped as my strength had been by the drug administered to me, if the sound of a creaking stair had not arrested my attention and by the menace which it conveyed afforded a new stimulus.
Some one was creeping down from the landing above—coming to my room! The creatures of the Yellow doctor, having despatched Nayland Smith, were approaching stealthily, stair by stair, to deal with me!
From my grip I took out the Browning pistol. The Chinese doctor’s servants should have a warm reception. I burned to avenge my friend, who I was persuaded, lay murdered in the room above. I partially closed the door and took up a post immediately behind it. Nearer came the stealthy footsteps—nearer.... Now the one who approached had turned the angle of the passage....
Within sight of my door he seemed to stop; a shaft of white light crept through the opening, across the floor and on to the wall beyond. A moment it remained so—then was gone. The room became plunged in darkness.
Gripping the Browning with nervous fingers I waited, listening intently; but the silence remained unbroken. My gaze set upon the spot where the head of this midnight visitant might be expected to appear, I almost held my breath during the ensuing moments of frightful suspense.
The door was opening; slowly—slowly—by almost imperceptible degrees. I held the pistol pointed rigidly before me and my gaze remained fixed intently on the dimly seen opening. I suppose I acted as ninety-nine men out of a hundred would have done in like case. Nothing appeared.
Then a voice—a voice that seemed to come from somewhere under the floor snapped:—
“Good God! it’s Petrie!”
I dropped my gaze instantly ... and there, looking up at me from the floor at my feet, I vaguely discerned the outline of a human head!
“Smith!” I whispered.
Nayland Smith—for indeed it was none other—stood up and entered the room.
“Thank God you are safe, old man,” he said. “But in waiting for one who is stealthily entering a room, don’t, as you love me, take it for granted that he will enter upright. I could have shot you from the floor with ease! But, mercifully, even in the darkness, I recognized your Arab slippers!”
“Smith,” I said, my heart beating wildly, “I thought you were drugged— murdered. The port contained an opiate.”
“I guessed as much!” snapped Smith. “But despite the excellent tuition of Dr. Fu-Manchu, I am still childishly trustful; and the fact that I did not partake of the crusted ’45 was not due to any suspicions which I entertained at that time.”
“But, Smith, I saw you drink some port.”
“I regret to contradict you, Petrie, but you must be aware that the state of my liver—due to a long residence in Burma—does not permit me to indulge in the luxury of port. My share of the ’45 now reposes amid the moss in the tulip-bowl, which you may remember decorated the dining table! Not desiring to appear churlish, by means of a simple feat of legerdemain I drank your health and future happiness in claret!