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|The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu||Sax Rohmer|
|Page 1 of 5||
DUSK was falling when we made our way in the direction of Maple Cottage. Nayland Smith appeared to be keenly interested in the character of the district. A high and ancient wall bordered the road along which we walked for a considerable distance. Later it gave place to a rickety fence.
My friend peered through a gap in the latter.
"There is quite an extensive estate here," he said, "not yet cut up by the builder. It is well wooded on one side, and there appears to be a pool lower down."
The road was a quiet one, and we plainly heard the tread-- quite unmistakable--of an approaching policeman. Smith continued to peer through the hole in the fence, until the officer drew up level with us. Then:
"Does this piece of ground extend down to the village, constable?" he inquired.
Quite willing for a chat, the man stopped, and stood with his thumbs thrust in his belt.
"Yes, sir. They tell me three new roads will be made through it between here and the hill."
"It must be a happy hunting ground for tramps?"
"I've seen some suspicious-looking coves about at times. But after dusk an army might be inside there and nobody would ever be the wiser."
"Burglaries frequent in the houses backing on to it?"
"Oh, no. A favorite game in these parts is snatching loaves and bottles of milk from the doors, first thing, as they're delivered. There's been an extra lot of it lately. My mate who relieves me has got special instructions to keep his eye open in the mornings!" The man grinned. "It wouldn't be a very big case even if he caught anybody!" "No," said Smith absently; "perhaps not. Your business must be a dry one this warm weather. Good-night."
"Good-night, sir," replied the constable, richer by half-a-crown--"and thank you."
Smith stared after him for a moment, tugging reflectively at the lobe of his ear.
"I don't know that it wouldn't be a big case, after all," he murmured. "Come on, Petrie."
Not another word did he speak, until we stood at the gate of Maple Cottage. There a plain-clothes man was standing, evidently awaiting Smith. He touched his hat.
"Have you found a suitable hiding-place?" asked my companion rapidly.
"Yes, sir," was the reply. "Kent--my mate--is there now. You'll notice that he can't be seen from here."
"No," agreed Smith, peering all about him. "He can't. Where is he?"
"Behind the broken wall," explained the man, pointing. "Through that ivy there's a clear view of the cottage door."
"Good. Keep your eyes open. If a messenger comes for me, he is to be intercepted, you understand. No one must be allowed to disturb us. You will recognize the messenger. He will be one of your fellows. Should he come--hoot three times, as much like an owl as you can."
We walked up to the porch of the cottage. In response to Smith's ringing came James Weymouth, who seemed greatly relieved by our arrival.
"First," said my friend briskly, "you had better run up and see the patient."
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