He spoke the words in such a fashion that they seemed physically to chill me. The shadows of the room grew menacing; the very silence became horrible. I longed with a terrible longing for company, for the strength that is in numbers; I would have had the place full to overflowing—for it seemed that we two, condemned by the mysterious organization called the Si-Fan, were at that moment surrounded by the entire arsenal of horrors at the command of Dr. Fu-Manchu. I broke that morbid silence. My voice had assumed an unnatural tone.
“Why do you dread this man, Ki-Ming, so much?”
“Because he must be aware that I know he is in London.”
“Dr. Fu-Manchu has no official status. Long ago, his Legation denied all knowledge of his existence. But the mandarin Ki-Ming is known to every diplomat in Europe, Asia and American almost. Only I, and now yourself, know that he is a high official of the Si-Fan; Ki-Ming is aware that I know. Why, therefore, does he risk his neck in London?”
“He relies upon his national cunning.”
“Petrie, he is aware that I hold evidence to hang him, either here or in China! He relies upon one thing; upon striking first and striking surely. Why is he so confident? I do not know. Therefore I am afraid.”
Again a cold shudder ran icily through me. A piece of coal dropped lower into the dying fire—and my heart leapt wildly. Then, in a flash, I remembered something.
“Smith!” I cried, “the letter! We have not looked at the letter.”
Nayland Smith laid his pipe upon the mantelpiece and smiled grimly. From his pocket he took out square piece of paper, and thrust it close under my eyes.
“I remembered it as I passed your borrowed garment—which bear no maker’s name—on my way to the bedroom for matches,” he said.
The paper was covered with Chinese characters!
“What does it mean?” I demanded breathlessly.
Smith uttered a short, mirthless laugh.
“It states that an attempt of a particularly dangerous nature is to be made upon my life to-night, and it recommends me to guard the door, and advises that you watch the window overlooking the court, and keep your pistol ready for instant employment.” He stared at me oddly. “How should you act in the circumstances, Petrie?”
“I should strongly distrust such advice. Yet—what else can we do?”
“There are several alternatives, but I prefer to follow the advice of Ki-Ming.”
The clock of St. Paul’s chimed the half-hour: half-past two.
From my post in the chair by the window I could see two sides of the court below; that immediately opposite, with the entrance to some chambers situated there, and that on the right, with the cloisteresque arches beyond which lay a maze of old-world passages and stairs whereby one who knew the tortuous navigation might come ultimately to the Embankment.