Friday, February 18, 2011
Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu, Part Five – “The Coughing Horror”
“The Coughing Horror” was the fifth installment of Sax Rohmer’s Fu-Manchu and Company. The story was first published in Collier’s on April 3, 1915 and was later expanded to comprise Chapters 14-17 of the second Fu-Manchu novel, The Devil Doctor first published in the UK in 1916 by Cassell and in the US by McBride & Nast under the variant title, The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu.
The story sees Rohmer return to fine form with Dr. Petrie awakening to Nayland Smith’s strangled cries for help from the room above his. He bursts through Smith’s door in time to hear a strange coughing sound from the window and the crack of a whip before he spies what appears to be a grey-skinned snake retracted from Smith’s neck and pulled bodily out the window as if it were riding a beam of light. Petrie provides much-needed medical attention for his friend has barely escaped this seemingly supernatural assassination attempt.
Interestingly, Smith insists there were small hairy fingers around his throat, but his bed is four feet from the window and no human could have reached him nor is there any explanation for the ghostly sight Petrie glimpsed. Smith was awakened by the sound of the mysterious creature coughing and tried fighting it off. He scratched off a layer of grey hairy skin which he shows to Petrie. They are still puzzled on how to rationally explain these bizarre sights, sounds, and sensations.
Inspector Weymouth has completed a house-to-house search of the East End and is convinced that Fu-Manchu has fled the area. He proceeds to relate the plight of one of his men in the East End, Burke who is now in hiding on his cousin’s farm. Burke knows some secret of Fu-Manchu’s and, fearing for his life, has shirked his duty as a police officer. Unfortunately for the man, Karamaneh has located him and he has subsequently twice scared off a coughing creature that went on all fours and attempted to enter the farmhouse by night. Smith tells Weymouth about his own experience with the coughing horror and the trio resolves they must hasten to the farmhouse that night in an attempt to save Burke’s life.
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