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|The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu||Sax Rohmer|
|Page 2 of 5||
As Mr. Henderson unlocked the ancient iron gates he turned to Nayland Smith. His face twitched oddly.
"Witness that I do this unwillingly," he said--"most unwillingly."
"Mine be the responsibility," was the reply.
Smith's voice quivered, responsive to the nervous vitality pent up within that lean frame. He stood motionless, listening--and I knew for whom he listened. He peered about him to right and left-- and I knew whom he expected but dreaded to see.
Above us now the trees looked down with a solemnity different from the aspect of the monarchs of the park, and the nearer we came to our journey's end the more somber and lowering bent the verdant arch-- or so it seemed.
By that path, patched now with pools of moonlight, Lord Southery had passed upon his bier, with the sun to light his going; by that path several generations of Stradwicks had gone to their last resting-place.
To the doors of the vault the moon rays found free access. No branch, no leaf, intervened. Mr. Henderson's face looked ghastly. The keys which he carried rattled in his hand.
"Light the lantern," he said unsteadily.
Nayland Smith, who again had been peering suspiciously about into the shadows, struck a match and lighted the lantern which he carried. He turned to the solicitor.
"Be calm, Mr. Henderson," he said sternly. "It is your plain duty to your client."
"God be my witness that I doubt it," replied Henderson, and opened the door.
We descended the steps. The air beneath was damp and chill. It touched us as with clammy fingers; and the sensation was not wholly physical.
Before the narrow mansion which now sufficed Lord Southery, the great engineer whom kings had honored, Henderson reeled and clutched at me for support. Smith and I had looked to him for no aid in our uncanny task, and rightly.
With averted eyes he stood over by the steps of the tomb, whilst my friend and myself set to work. In the pursuit of my profession I had undertaken labors as unpleasant, but never amid an environment such as this. It seemed that generations of Stradwicks listened to each turn of every screw.
At last it was done, and the pallid face of Lord Southery questioned the intruding light. Nayland Smith's hand was as steady as a rigid bar when he raised the lantern. Later, I knew, there would be a sudden releasing of the tension of will--a reaction physical and mental-- but not until his work was finished.
That my own hand was steady I ascribed to one thing solely-- professional zeal. For, under conditions which, in the event of failure and exposure, must have led to an unpleasant inquiry by the British Medical Association, I was about to attempt an experiment never before essayed by a physician of the white races.
Though I failed, though I succeeded, that it ever came before the B.M.A., or any other council, was improbable; in the former event, all but impossible. But the knowledge that I was about to practice charlatanry, or what any one of my fellow-practitioners must have designated as such, was with me. Yet so profound had my belief become in the extraordinary being whose existence was a danger to the world that I reveled in my immunity from official censure. I was glad that it had fallen to my lot to take at least one step-- though blindly--into the FUTURE of medical science.
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