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|The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu||Sax Rohmer|
|Page 1 of 4||
I started to my feet as a tall, bearded man swung open the door and hurled himself impetuously into the room. He wore a silk hat, which fitted him very ill, and a black frock coat which did not fit him at all.
"It's all right, Petrie!" cried the apparition; "I've leased the Gables!"
It was Nayland Smith! I stared at him in amazement
"The first time I have employed a disguise," continued my friend rapidly, "since the memorable episode of the false pigtail." He threw a small brown leather grip upon the floor. "In case you should care to visit the house, Petrie, I have brought these things. My tenancy commences to-night!"
Two days had elapsed, and I had entirely forgotten the strange story of the Gables which Inspector Weymouth had related to us; evidently it was otherwise with my friend, and utterly at a loss for an explanation of his singular behavior, I stooped mechanically and opened the grip. It contained an odd assortment of garments, and amongst other things several gray wigs and a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles.
Kneeling there with this strange litter about me, I looked up amazedly. Nayland Smith, with the unsuitable silk hat set right upon the back of his head, was pacing the room excitedly, his fuming pipe protruding from the tangle of factitious beard.
"You see, Petrie," he began again, rapidly, "I did not entirely trust the agent. I've leased the house in the name of Professor Maxton . . ."
"But, Smith," I cried, "what possible reason can there be for disguise?"
"There's every reason," he snapped.
"Why should you interest yourself in the Gables?"
"Does no explanation occur to you?"
"None whatever; to me the whole thing smacks of stark lunacy."
"Then you won't come?"
"I've never stuck at anything, Smith," I replied, "however undignified, when it has seemed that my presence could be of the slightest use."
As I rose to my feet, Smith stepped in front of me, and the steely gray eyes shone out strangely from the altered face. He clapped his hands upon my shoulders.
"If I assure you that your presence is necessary to my safety," he said--"that if you fail me I must seek another companion--will you come?"
Intuitively, I knew that he was keeping something back, and I was conscious of some resentment, but nevertheless my reply was a foregone conclusion, and--with the borrowed appearance of an extremely untidy old man--I crept guiltily out of my house that evening and into the cab which Smith had waiting.
The Gables was a roomy and rambling place lying back a considerable distance from the road. A semicircular drive gave access to the door, and so densely wooded was the ground, that for the most part the drive was practically a tunnel--a verdant tunnel. A high brick wall concealed the building from the point of view of any one on the roadway, but either horn of the crescent drive terminated at a heavy, wrought-iron gateway.
Smith discharged the cab at the corner of the narrow and winding road upon which the Gables fronted. It was walled in on both sides; on the left the wall being broken by tradesmen's entrances to the houses fronting upon another street, and on the right following, uninterruptedly, the grounds of the Gables. As we came to the gate:
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