“Exactly; afraid. There is some deep mystery here that I cannot fathom. In the first place, if they had really meant you to remain ignorant of the place at which the episodes described by you occurred, they would scarcely have dropped you at the end of Portland Place.”
“You mean ...?”
“I mean that I don’t believe you were taken to the Chinese Legation at all. Undoubtedly you saw the mandarin Ki-Ming; I recognize him from your description.”
“You have met him, then?”
“No; but I know those who have. He is undoubtedly a very dangerous man, and it is just possible——”
He hesitated, glancing at me strangely.
“It is just possible,” he continued musingly, “that his presence marks the beginning of the end. Fu-Manchu’s health may be permanently impaired, and Ki-Ming may have superceded him.”
“But, if what you suspect, Smith, be only partly true, with what object was I seized and carried to that singular interview? What was the meaning of the whole solemn farce?”
“Its meaning remains to be discovered,” he answered; “but that the mandarin is amicably disposed I refuse to believe. You may dismiss the idea. In dealing with Ki-Ming we are to all intents and purposes dealing with Fu-Manchu. To me, this man’s presence means one thing: we are about to be subjected to attempts along slightly different lines.”
I was completely puzzled by Smith’s tone.
“You evidently know more of this man, Ki-Ming, than you have yet explained to me,” I said.
Nayland Smith pulled out the blackened briar and began rapidly to load it.
“He is a graduate,” he replied, “of the Lama College, or monastery, of Rache-Churan.
“This does not enlighten me.”
Having got his pipe going well—
“What do you know of animal magnetism?” snapped Smith.
The question seemed so wildly irrelevant that I stared at him in silence for some moments. Then—
“Certain powers sometimes grouped under that head are recognized in every hospital to-day,” I answered shortly.
“Quite so. And the monastery of Rache-Churan is entirely devoted to the study of the subject.”
“Do you mean that that gentle old man——”
“Petrie, a certain M. Sokoloff, a Russian gentleman whose acquaintance I made in Mandalay, related to me an episode that took place at the house of the mandarin Ki-Ming in Canton. It actually occurrd in the presence of M. Sokoloff, and therefore is worthy of your close attention.
“He had had certain transactions with Ki-Ming, and at their conclusion received an invitation to dine with the mandarin. The entertainment took place in a sort of loggia or open pavilion, immediately in front of which was an ornamental lake, with numerous waterlilies growing upon its surface. One of the servants, I think his name was Li, dropped a silver bowl containing orange-flower water for pouring upon the hands, and some of the contents lightly sprinkled M. Sokoloff’s garments.