Words failed me altogether; wonder succeeded wonder! What was coming? What did it all mean?
“I have selected you, rather than Mr. Commissioner Nayland Smith,” continued the mandarin, “as the recipient of those secrets which I am about to impart, for the reason that your friend might possibly be acquainted with my appearance. I will confess there was a time when I must have regarded you with animosity, as one who sought the destruction of the most ancient and potent organization in the world— the Si-Fan.”
As he uttered the words he raised his right hand and touched his forehead, his mouth, and finally his breast—a gesture reminiscent of that employed by Moslems.
“But my first task is to assure you,” he resumed, “that the activities of that Order are in no way inimical to yourself, your country or your King. The extensive ramifications of the Order have recently been employed by a certain Dr. Fu-Manchu for his own ends, and, since he was (I admit it) a high official, a schism has been created in our ranks. Exactly a month ago, sentence of death was passed upon him by the Sublime Prince, and since I myself must return immediately to China, I look to Mr. Nayland Smith to carry out that sentence.”
I said nothing; I remained bereft of the power of speech.
“The Si-Fan,” he added, repeating the gesture with his hand, “disown Dr. Fu-Manchu and his servants; do with them what you will. In this envelope”—he held up a sealed package—“is information which should prove helpful to Mr. Smith. I have now a request to make. You were conveyed here in the garments which your wore at the time that my servants called upon you.” (I was hatless and wore red leathern slippers.) “An overcoat and a hat can doubtless be found to suit you, temporarily, and my request is that you close your eyes until permission is given to open them.”
Is there any one of my readers in doubt respecting my reception of this proposal? Remember my situation, remember the bizarre happening that had led up to it; remember, too, ere judging me, that whilst I could not doubt the unseen presence of Chinamen unnumbered surrounding that strange apartment with the golden door, I had not the remotest clue to guide me in determining where it was situated. Since the duration of my unconsciousness was immeasurable, the place in which I found myself might have been anywhere, within say, thirty miles of Fleet Street!
“I agree,” I said.
The mandarin bowed composedly.
“Kindly close your eyes, Dr. Petrie,” he requested, “and fear nothing. No danger threatens you.”
I obeyed. Instantly sounded the note of a gong, and I became aware that the golden door was open. A soft voice, evidently that of a cultured Chinaman, spoke quite close to my ear—
“Keep your eyes tightly closed, please, and I will help you on with this coat. The envelope you will find in the pocket and here is a tweed cap. Now take my hand.”