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|The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu||Sax Rohmer|
The Sacred Order
|Page 5 of 6||
Suddenly the guttural voice began:
"You come at an opportune time, Mr. Commissioner Nayland Smith, and Dr. Petrie; at a time when the greatest man in China flatters me with a visit. In my absence from home, a tremendous honor has been conferred upon me, and, in the hour of this supreme honor, dishonor and calamity have befallen! For my services to China--the New China, the China of the future--I have been admitted by the Sublime Prince to the Sacred Order of the White Peacock."
Warming to his discourse, he threw wide his arms, hurling the chattering marmoset fully five yards along the corridor.
"O god of Cathay!" he cried, sibilantly, "in what have I sinned that this catastrophe has been visited upon my head! Learn, my two dear friends, that the sacred white peacock brought to these misty shores for my undying glory, has been lost to me! Death is the penalty of such a sacrilege; death shall be my lot, since death I deserve."
Covertly Smith nudged me with his elbow. I knew what the nudge was designed to convey; he would remind me of his words--anent the childish trifles which sway the life of intellectual China.
Personally, I was amazed. That Fu-Manchu's anger, grief, sorrow and resignation were real, no one watching him, and hearing his voice, could doubt.
"By one deed, and one deed alone, may I win a lighter punishment. By one deed, and the resignation of all my titles, all my lands, and all my honors, may I merit to be spared to my work--which has only begun."
I knew now that we were lost, indeed; these were confidences which our graves should hold inviolate! He suddenly opened fully those blazing green eyes and directed their baneful glare upon Nayland Smith.
"The Director of the Universe," he continued, softly, "has relented toward me. To-night, you die! To-night, the arch-enemy of our caste shall be no more. This is my offering--the price of redemption . . ."
My mind was working again, and actively. I managed to grasp the stupendous truth--and the stupendous possibility.
Dr. Fu-Manchu was in the act of clapping his hands, when I spoke.
"Stop!" I cried.
He paused, and the weird film, which sometimes became visible in his eyes, now obscured their greenness, and lent him the appearance of a blind man.
"Dr. Petrie," he said, softly, "I shall always listen to you with respect."
"I have an offer to make," I continued, seeking to steady my voice. "Give us our freedom, and I will restore your shattered honor--I will restore the sacred peacock!"
Dr. Fu-Manchu bent forward until his face was so close to mine that I could see the innumerable lines which, an intricate network, covered his yellow skin.
"Speak!" he hissed. "You lift up my heart from a dark pit!"
"I can restore your white peacock," I said; "I and I alone, know where it is!"--and I strove not to shrink from the face so close to mine.
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