“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 attache 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!”