Authors: Sax Rohmer
Tags: #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction
Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward (15 February 1883 - 1 June 1959),
better known as Sax Rohmer, was a prolific English novelist. He is
most remembered for his series of novels featuring the master
criminal Dr. Fu Manchu. Born in Birmingham he had an entirely
working class education and early career before beginning to write.
His first published work was in 1903, the short story The
Mysterious Mummy for Pearson's Weekly. He made his early living
writing comedy sketches for music hall performers and short stories
and serials for magazines. In 1909 he married Rose Knox. He
published his first novel Pause! anonymously in 1910 and the first
Fu Manchu story, The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu, was serialized over
1912-13. It was an immediate success with its fast paced story of
Sir Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie facing the worldwide
conspiracy of the 'Yellow Peril'. The Fu Manchu stories, together
with those featuring Gaston Max or Morris Klaw, made Rohmer one of
the most successful and well-paid writers in of the 1920s and
1930s. But Rohmer was very poor at handling his wealth. After World
War II the Rohmers moved to New York. Rohmer died in 1959 due to an
outbreak of avian influenza ("Asian Flu"). [From Wikipedia]
"A gentleman to see you, Doctor."
From across the common a clock sounded the half-hour.
"Ten-thirty!" I said. "A late visitor. Show him up, if you
I pushed my writing aside and tilted the lamp-shade, as
footsteps sounded on the landing. The next moment I had jumped to
my feet, for a tall, lean man, with his square-cut, clean-shaven
face sun-baked to the hue of coffee, entered and extended both
hands, with a cry:
"Good old Petrie! Didn't expect me, I'll swear!"
It was Nayland Smith-whom I had thought to be in Burma!
"Smith," I said, and gripped his hands hard, "this is a
delightful surprise! Whatever-however-"
"Excuse me, Petrie!" he broke in. "Don't put it down to the
sun!" And he put out the lamp, plunging the room into darkness.
I was too surprised to speak.
"No doubt you will think me mad," he continued, and, dimly, I
could see him at the window, peering out into the road, "but before
you are many hours older you will know that I have good reason to
be cautious. Ah, nothing suspicious! Perhaps I am first this time."
And, stepping back to the writing-table he relighted the lamp.
"Mysterious enough for you?" he laughed, and glanced at my
unfinished MS. "A story, eh? From which I gather that the district
is beastly healthy-what, Petrie? Well, I can put some material in
your way that, if sheer uncanny mystery is a marketable commodity,
ought to make you independent of influenza and broken legs and
shattered nerves and all the rest."
I surveyed him doubtfully, but there was nothing in his
appearance to justify me in supposing him to suffer from delusions.
His eyes were too bright, certainly, and a hardness now had crept
over his face. I got out the whisky and siphon, saying:
"You have taken your leave early?"
"I am not on leave," he replied, and slowly filled his pipe. "I
am on duty."
"On duty!" I exclaimed. "What, are you moved to London or
"I have got a roving commission, Petrie, and it doesn't rest
with me where I am to-day nor where I shall be to-morrow."
There was something ominous in the words, and, putting down my
glass, its contents untasted, I faced round and looked him squarely
in the eyes. "Out with it!" I said. "What is it all about?"
Smith suddenly stood up and stripped off his coat. Rolling back
his left shirt-sleeve he revealed a wicked-looking wound in the
fleshy part of the forearm. It was quite healed, but curiously
striated for an inch or so around.
"Ever seen one like it?" he asked.
"Not exactly," I confessed. "It appears to have been deeply
"Right! Very deeply!" he rapped. "A barb steeped in the venom of
a hamadryad went in there!"
A shudder I could not repress ran coldly through me at mention
of that most deadly of all the reptiles of the East.
"There's only one treatment," he continued, rolling his sleeve
down again, "and that's with a sharp knife, a match, and a broken
cartridge. I lay on my back, raving, for three days afterwards, in
a forest that stank with malaria, but I should have been lying
there now if I had hesitated. Here's the point. It was not an
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that it was a deliberate attempt on my life, and I am
hard upon the tracks of the man who extracted that venom-patiently,
drop by drop-from the poison-glands of the snake, who prepared that
arrow, and who caused it to be shot at me."
"What fiend is this?"
"A fiend who, unless my calculations are at fault is now in
London, and who regularly wars with pleasant weapons of that kind.
Petrie, I have traveled from Burma not in the interests of the
British Government merely, but in the interests of the entire white
race, and I honestly believe-though I pray I may be wrong-that its
survival depends largely upon the success of my mission."
To say that I was perplexed conveys no idea of the mental chaos
created by these extraordinary statements, for into my humdrum
suburban life Nayland Smith had brought fantasy of the wildest. I
did not know what to think, what to believe.
"I am wasting precious time!" he rapped decisively, and,
draining his glass, he stood up. "I came straight to you, because
you are the only man I dare to trust. Except the big chief at
headquarters, you are the only person in England, I hope, who knows
that Nayland Smith has quitted Burma. I must have someone with me,
Petrie, all the time-it's imperative! Can you put me up here, and
spare a few days to the strangest business, I promise you, that
ever was recorded in fact or fiction?"
I agreed readily enough, for, unfortunately, my professional
duties were not onerous.
"Good man!" he cried, wringing my hand in his impetuous way. "We
"To-night! I had thought of turning in, I must admit. I have not
dared to sleep for forty-eight hours, except in fifteen-minute
stretches. But there is one move that must be made to-night and
immediately. I must warn Sir Crichton Davey."
"Sir Crichton Davey-of the India-"
"Petrie, he is a doomed man! Unless he follows my instructions
without question, without hesitation-before Heaven, nothing can
save him! I do not know when the blow will fall, how it will fall,
nor from whence, but I know that my first duty is to warn him. Let
us walk down to the corner of the common and get a taxi."
How strangely does the adventurous intrude upon the humdrum;
for, when it intrudes at all, more often than not its intrusion is
sudden and unlooked for. To-day, we may seek for romance and fail
to find it: unsought, it lies in wait for us at most prosaic
corners of life's highway.
The drive that night, though it divided the drably commonplace
from the wildly bizarre-though it was the bridge between the
ordinary and the outre-has left no impression upon my mind. Into
the heart of a weird mystery the cab bore me; and in reviewing my
memories of those days I wonder that the busy thoroughfares through
which we passed did not display before my eyes signs and
It was not so. I recall nothing of the route and little of
import that passed between us (we both were strangely silent, I
think) until we were come to our journey's end. Then:
"What's this?" muttered my friend hoarsely.
Constables were moving on a little crowd of curious idlers who
pressed about the steps of Sir Crichton Davey's house and sought to
peer in at the open door. Without waiting for the cab to draw up to
the curb, Nayland Smith recklessly leaped out and I followed close
at his heels.
"What has happened?" he demanded breathlessly of a
The latter glanced at him doubtfully, but something in his voice
and bearing commanded respect.
"Sir Crichton Davey has been killed, sir."
Smith lurched back as though he had received a physical blow,
and clutched my shoulder convulsively. Beneath the heavy tan his
face had blanched, and his eyes were set in a stare of horror.
"My God!" he whispered. "I am too late!"
With clenched fists he turned and, pressing through the group of
loungers, bounded up the steps. In the hall a man who unmistakably
was a Scotland Yard official stood talking to a footman. Other
members of the household were moving about, more or less aimlessly,
and the chilly hand of King Fear had touched one and all, for, as
they came and went, they glanced ever over their shoulders, as if
each shadow cloaked a menace, and listened, as it seemed, for some
sound which they dreaded to hear. Smith strode up to the detective
and showed him a card, upon glancing at which the Scotland Yard man
said something in a low voice, and, nodding, touched his hat to
Smith in a respectful manner.
A few brief questions and answers, and, in gloomy silence, we
followed the detective up the heavily carpeted stair, along a
corridor lined with pictures and busts, and into a large library. A
group of people were in this room, and one, in whom I recognized
Chalmers Cleeve, of Harley Street, was bending over a motionless
form stretched upon a couch. Another door communicated with a small
study, and through the opening I could see a man on all fours
examining the carpet. The uncomfortable sense of hush, the group
about the physician, the bizarre figure crawling, beetle-like,
across the inner room, and the grim hub, around which all this
ominous activity turned, made up a scene that etched itself
indelibly on my mind.
As we entered Dr. Cleeve straightened himself, frowning
"Frankly, I do not care to venture any opinion at present
regarding the immediate cause of death," he said. "Sir Crichton was
addicted to cocaine, but there are indications which are not in
accordance with cocaine-poisoning. I fear that only a post-mortem
can establish the facts-if," he added, "we ever arrive at them. A
most mysterious case!"
Smith stepping forward and engaging the famous pathologist in
conversation, I seized the opportunity to examine Sir Crichton's
The dead man was in evening dress, but wore an old
smoking-jacket. He had been of spare but hardy build, with thin,
aquiline features, which now were oddly puffy, as were his clenched
hands. I pushed back his sleeve, and saw the marks of the
hypodermic syringe upon his left arm. Quite mechanically I turned
my attention to the right arm. It was unscarred, but on the back of
the hand was a faint red mark, not unlike the imprint of painted
lips. I examined it closely, and even tried to rub it off, but it
evidently was caused by some morbid process of local inflammation,
if it were not a birthmark.
Turning to a pale young man whom I had understood to be Sir
Crichton's private secretary, I drew his attention to this mark,
and inquired if it were constitutional. "It is not, sir," answered
Dr. Cleeve, overhearing my question. "I have already made that
inquiry. Does it suggest anything to your mind? I must confess that
it affords me no assistance."
"Nothing," I replied. "It is most curious."
"Excuse me, Mr. Burboyne," said Smith, now turning to the
secretary, "but Inspector Weymouth will tell you that I act with
authority. I understand that Sir Crichton was-seized with illness
in his study?"
"Yes-at half-past ten. I was working here in the library, and he
inside, as was our custom."
"The communicating door was kept closed?"
"Yes, always. It was open for a minute or less about
ten-twenty-five, when a message came for Sir Crichton. I took it in
to him, and he then seemed in his usual health."
"What was the message?"
"I could not say. It was brought by a district messenger, and he
placed it beside him on the table. It is there now, no doubt."
"And at half-past ten?"
"Sir Crichton suddenly burst open the door and threw himself,
with a scream, into the library. I ran to him but he waved me back.
His eyes were glaring horribly. I had just reached his side when he
fell, writhing, upon the floor. He seemed past speech, but as I
raised him and laid him upon the couch, he gasped something that
sounded like 'The red hand!' Before I could get to bell or
telephone he was dead!"
Mr. Burboyne's voice shook as he spoke the words, and Smith
seemed to find this evidence confusing.
"You do not think he referred to the mark on his own hand?"
"I think not. From the direction of his last glance, I feel sure
he referred to something in the study."
"What did you do?"
"Having summoned the servants, I ran into the study. But there
was absolutely nothing unusual to be seen. The windows were closed
and fastened. He worked with closed windows in the hottest weather.
There is no other door, for the study occupies the end of a narrow
wing, so that no one could possibly have gained access to it,
whilst I was in the library, unseen by me. Had someone concealed
himself in the study earlier in the evening-and I am convinced that
it offers no hiding-place-he could only have come out again by
passing through here."
Nayland Smith tugged at the lobe of his left ear, as was his
habit when meditating.
"You had been at work here in this way for some time?"
"Yes. Sir Crichton was preparing an important book."
"Had anything unusual occurred prior to this evening?"
"Yes," said Mr. Burboyne, with evident perplexity; "though I
attached no importance to it at the time. Three nights ago Sir
Crichton came out to me, and appeared very nervous; but at times
his nerves-you know? Well, on this occasion he asked me to search
the study. He had an idea that something was concealed there."
"Some THING or someone?"
"'Something' was the word he used. I searched, but fruitlessly,
and he seemed quite satisfied, and returned to his work."
"Thank you, Mr. Burboyne. My friend and I would like a few
minutes' private investigation in the study."