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|The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu||Sax Rohmer|
|Page 4 of 5||
"Due at Waterloo at eleven-fifty-one," panted Smith. "That gives us thirty-nine minutes to get to the other side of the river and reach his hotel."
"Where in Heaven's name is that house situated? Did we come up or down stream?"
"I couldn't determine. But at any rate, it stands close to the riverside. It should be merely a question of time to identify it. I shall set Scotland Yard to work immediately; but I am hoping for nothing. Our escape will warn him."
I said no more for a time, sitting wiping the perspiration from my forehead and watching my friend load his cracked briar with the broadcut Latakia mixture.
"Smith," I said at last, "what was that horrible wailing we heard, and what did Fu-Manchu mean when he referred to Rangoon? I noticed how it affected you."
My friend nodded and lighted his pipe.
"There was a ghastly business there in 1908 or early in 1909," he replied: "an utterly mysterious epidemic. And this beastly wailing was associated with it."
"In what way? And what do you mean by an epidemic?"
"It began, I believe, at the Palace Mansions Hotel, in the cantonments. A young American, whose name I cannot recall, was staying there on business connected with some new iron buildings. One night he went to his room, locked the door, and jumped out of the window into the courtyard. Broke his neck, of course."
"Apparently. But there were singular features in the case. For instance, his revolver lay beside him, fully loaded!"
"In the courtyard?"
"In the courtyard!"
"Was it murder by any chance?"
Smith shrugged his shoulders.
"His door was found locked from the inside; had to be broken in."
"But the wailing business?"
"That began later, or was only noticed later. A French doctor, named Lafitte, died in exactly the same way."
"At the same place?"
"At the same hotel; but he occupied a different room. Here is the extraordinary part of the affair: a friend shared the room with him, and actually saw him go!"
"Saw him leap from the window?"
"Yes. The friend--an Englishman--was aroused by the uncanny wailing. I was in Rangoon at the time, so that I know more of the case of Lafitte than of that of the American. I spoke to the man about it personally. He was an electrical engineer, Edward Martin, and he told me that the cry seemed to come from above him."
"It seemed to come from above when we heard it at Fu-Manchu's house."
"Martin sat up in bed, it was a clear moonlight night-- the sort of moonlight you get in Burma. Lafitte, for some reason, had just gone to the window. His friend saw him look out. The next moment with a dreadful scream, he threw himself forward-- and crashed down into the courtyard!"
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