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|The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu||Sax Rohmer|
Under The Elms
|Page 3 of 4||
"The pagan gods fight upon our side," said Smith strangely. "Elms have a dangerous habit of shedding boughs in still weather--particularly after a storm. Pan, god of the woods, with this one has performed Justice's work of retribution."
"I don't understand. Where was this man--"
"Up the tree, lying along the bough which fell, Petrie! That is why he left no footmarks. Last night no doubt he made his escape by swinging from bough to bough, ape fashion, and descending to the ground somewhere at the other side of the coppice."
He glanced at me.
"You are wondering, perhaps," he suggested, what caused the mysterious light? I could have told you this morning, but I fear I was in a bad temper, Petrie. It's very simple: a length of tape soaked in spirit or something of the kind, and sheltered from the view of any one watching from your windows, behind the trunk of the tree; then, the end ignited, lowered, still behind the tree, to the ground. The operator swinging it around, the flame ascended, of course. I found the unburned fragment of the tape last night, a few yards from here."
I was peering down at Fu-Manchu's servant, the hideous yellow man who lay dead in a bower of elm leaves.
"He has some kind of leather bag beside him," I began--
"Exactly!" rapped Smith. "In that he carried his dangerous instrument of death; from that he released it!"
"What your fascinating friend came to recapture this morning."
"Don't taunt me, Smith!" I said bitterly. "Is it some species of bird?"
"You saw the marks on Forsyth's body, and I told you of those which I had traced upon the ground here. They were caused by claws, Petrie!"
"Claws! I thought so! But what claws?"
"The claws of a poisonous thing. I recaptured the one used last night, killed it--against my will--and buried it on the mound. I was afraid to throw it in the pond, lest some juvenile fisherman should pull it out and sustain a scratch. I don't know how long the claws would remain venomous."
"You are treating me like a child, Smith," I said slowly. "No doubt I am hopelessly obtuse, but perhaps you will tell me what this Chinaman carried in a leather bag and released upon Forsyth. It was something which you recaptured, apparently with the aid of a plate of cold turbot and a jug of milk! It was something, also, which Karamaneh had been sent to recapture with the aid--"
"Go on," said Nayland Smith, turning the ray to the left, "what did she have in the basket?"
"Valerian," I replied mechanically.
The ray rested upon the lithe creature that I had shot down.
It was a black cat!
"A cat will go through fire and water for valerian," said Smith; "but I got first innings this morning with fish and milk! I had recognized the imprints under the trees for those of a cat, and I knew, that if a cat had been released here it would still be hiding in the neighborhood, probably in the bushes. I finally located a cat, sure enough, and came for bait! I laid my trap, for the animal was too frightened to be approachable, and then shot it; I had to. That yellow fiend used the light as a decoy. The branch which killed him jutted out over the path at a spot where an opening in the foliage above allowed some moon rays to penetrate. Directly the victim stood beneath, the Chinaman uttered his bird cry; the one below looked up, and the cat, previously held silent and helpless in the leather sack, was dropped accurately upon his head!"
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