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Title: Fangs of Gold
Author: Robert E. Howard
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Language: English
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Fangs of Gold
Robert E. Howard



"This is the only trail into the swamp, mister." Steve Harrison's
guide pointed a long finger down the narrow path which wound in and
out among the live-oaks and cypresses. Harrison shrugged his massive
shoulders. The surroundings were not inviting, with the long shadows
of the late afternoon sun reaching dusky fingers into the dim recesses
among the moss-hung trees.

"You ought to wait till mornin'," opined the guide, a tall lanky
man in cowhide boots and sagging overall. "It's gittin' late, and we
don't want to git catched in the swamp after night."

"I can't wait, Rogers," answered the detective. "The man I'm after
might get clean away by morning."

"He'll have to come out by this path," answered Rogers as they
swung along. "Ain't no other way in or out. If he tries to push
through to high ground on the other side, he'll shore fall into a
bottomless bog, or git et by a gator. There's lots of them. I reckon
he ain't much used to swamps?"

"I don't suppose he ever saw one before. He's city-bred."

"Then he won't das't leave the beaten path," confidently predicted
Rogers.

"On the other hand, he might, not realizing the danger," grunted
Harrison.

"What'd you say he done?" pursued Rogers, directing a jet of
tobacco juice at a beetle crawling through the dark loam.

"Knocked an old Chinaman in the head with a meat-cleaver and stole
his life-time savings--ten thousand dollars, in bills of a thousand
each. The old man left a little granddaughter who'll be penniless if
this money isn't recovered. That's one reason I want to get this rat
before he loses himself in a bog. I want to recover that money, for
the kid."

"And you figure the Chinaman seen goin' down this path a few days
ago was him?"

"Couldn't be anybody else," snapped Harrison. "We've hounded him
half way across the continent, cut him off from the borders and the
ports. We were closing in on him when he slipped through, somehow.
This was about the only place left for him to hide. I've chased him
too far to delay now. If he drowns in the swamp, we'll probably never
find him, and the money will be lost, too. The man he murdered was a
fine, honest old Chinaman. This fellow, Woon Shang, is bad all the way
through."

"He'll run into some bad folks down here," ruminated Rogers.
"Nothin' but niggers live in these swamplands. They ain't regular
darkies like them that live outside. These came here fifty or sixty
years back--refugees from Haiti, or somewhere. You know we ain't far
from the coast. They're yeller-skinned, and don't hardly ever come out
of the swamp. They keep to theirselves, and they don't like strangers.
_What's that?"_

They were just rounding a bend in the path, and something lay on
the ground ahead of them--something black, and dabbled with red, that
groaned and moved feebly.

"It's a nigger!" exclaimed Rogers. "He's been knifed."

It took no expert to deduce that. They bent over him and Rogers
voiced profane recognition. "Why, I know this feller! He ain't no
swamp rat. He's Joe Corley, that razored up another nigger at a dance
last month and lit out. Bet he's been hidin' in the swamp ever since.
Joe! Joe Corley!"

The wounded man groaned and rolled up his glassy eyes; his skin
was ashy with the nearness of approaching death.

"Who stabbed you, Joe?" demanded Rogers.

"De Swamp Cat!" The gasp was scarcely audible. Rogers swore and
looked fearfully about him, as if expecting something to spring on
them from the trees.

"I wuz tryin' to git outside," muttered the Negro.

"What for?" demanded Rogers. "Didn't you know you'd git jailed if
they catched you?"

"Ruther go to de jail-house dan git mixed up--in de devilment--
dey's cookin' up--in de swamp." The voice sank lower as speech grew
more difficult.

"What you mean, Joe?" uneasily demanded Rogers.

"Voodoo niggers," muttered Corley disjointedly. "Took dat Chinaman
'stead uh me--didn't want me to git away, though--then John
Bartholomew--uuuugh!"

A trickle of blood started from the corner of his thick lips, he
stiffened in brief convulsion and then lay still.

"He's dead!" whispered Rogers, staring down the swamp path with
dilated eyes.

"He spoke of a Chinaman," said Harrison. "That clinches it that
we're on the right trail. Have to leave him here for the time being.
Nothing we can do for him now. Let's get going."

"You aim to go on, after this?" exclaimed Rogers.

"Why not?"

"Mr. Harrison," said Rogers solemnly, "you offered me a good wage
to guide you into this here swamp. But I'm tellin' you fair there
ain't enough money to make me go in there now, with night comin' on."

"But why?" protested Harrison. "Just because this man got into a
fight with one of his own kind--"

"It's more 'n just that," declared Rogers decisively. "This nigger
was tryin' to git out of the swamp when they got him. He knowed he'd
git jailed on the outside, but he was goin' anyway; that means
somethin' had scared the livin' daylights out of him. You heard him
say it was the Swamp Cat that got him?"

"Well?"

"Well, the Swamp Cat is a crazy nigger that lives in the swamp.
It's been so long since any white folks claimed they seen him, I'd
begun to believe he was just a myth the 'outside' niggers told to
scare people away from the swamp. But this shows he ain't. He killed
Joe Corley. He'll kill us if he catches us in the dark. Why, by golly,
he may be watchin' us right now!" This thought so disturbed Rogers
that he drew a big six-shooter with an enormous length of barrel, and
peered about, masticating his quid with a rapidity that showed his
mental perturbation.

"Who's the other fellow he named, John Bartholomew?" inquired
Harrison.

"Don't know. Never heard of him. Come on, let's shove out of here.
We'll git some boys and come back after Joe's body."

"I'm going on," growled Harrison, rising and dusting his hands.

Rogers stared. "Man, you're plumb crazy! You'll git lost--"

"Not if I keep to the path."

"Well, then, the Swamp Cat'll git you, or them gators will--''

"I'll take my chance," answered Harrison brusquely. "Woon Shang's
somewhere in this swamp. If he manages to get out before I get my
hands on him, he may get clean away. I'm going after him."

"But if you'll wait we'll raise a posse and go after him first
thing in the mornin'," urged Rogers.

Harrison did not attempt to explain to the man his almost
obsessional preference for working alone. With no further comment he
turned and strode off down the narrow path. Rogers yelled after him:
"You're crazy as Hell! If you git as far as Celia Pompoloi's hut, you
better stay there tonight! She's the big boss of them niggers. It's
the first cabin you come to. I'm goin' back to town and git a posse,
and tomorrow mornin' we'll--'' The words became unintelligible among
the dense growth as Harrison rounded a turn that shut off the sight of
the other man.

As the detective strode along he saw that blood was smeared on the
rotting leaves, and there were marks as if something heavy had been
dragged over the trail. Joe Corley had obviously crawled for some
distance after being attacked. Harrison visualized him dragging
himself along on his belly like a crippled snake. The man must have
had intense vitality to have gotten so far with a mortal wound in his
back. And his fear must have been desperate to so drive him.

Harrison could no longer see the sun, but he knew it was hanging
low. The shadows were gathering, and he was plunging deeper and deeper
into the swamp. He began to glimpse patches of scummy ooze among the
trees, and the path grew more tortuous as it wound to avoid these
slimy puddles. Harrison plunged on without pausing. The dense growth
might lend concealment to a desperate fugitive, but it was not in the
woods, but among the scattered cabins of the swamp dwellers that he
expected to find the man he hunted. The city-bred Chinaman, fearful of
solitude and unable to fend for himself, would seek the company of
men, even of black men.

The detective wheeled suddenly. About him, in the dusk, the swamp
was waking. Insects lifted strident voices, wings of bats or owls beat
the air, and bullfrogs boomed from the lily pads. But he had heard a
sound that was not of these things. It was a stealthy movement among
the trees that marched in solid ranks beside the trail. Harrison drew
his .45 and waited. Nothing happened. But in primitive solitudes a
man's instincts are whetted. The detective felt that he was being
watched by unseen eyes; he could almost sense the intensity of their
glare. Was it the Chinaman, after all?

A bush beside the trail moved, without a wind to stir it. Harrison
sprang through the curtain of creeper-hung cypresses, gun ready,
snarling a command. His feet sank in slimy ooze, he stumbled in
rotting vegetation and felt the dangling strands of moss slap against
his face. There was nothing behind the bush, but he could have sworn
that he saw a shadowy form move and vanish among the trees a short
distance away. As he hesitated, he glanced down and saw a distinct
mark in the loam. He bent closer; it was the print of a great, bare,
splay foot. Moisture was oozing into the depression. A man _had_ been
standing behind that bush.

With a shrug Harrison stepped back into the trail. That was not
the footprint of Woon Shang, and the detective was not looking for
anybody else. It was natural that one of the swamp dwellers would spy
on a stranger. The detective sent a hail into the gathering darkness,
to assure the unseen watcher of his friendly intentions. There was no
reply. Harrison turned and strode on down the trail, not feeling
entirely at ease, as he heard, from time to time, a faint snapping of
twigs and other sounds that seemed to indicate someone moving along a
course paralleling the path. It was not soothing to know that he was
being followed by some unseen and possibly hostile being.

It was so dark now that he kept the path more by feel than by
sight. About him sounded weird cries of strange birds or animals, and
from time to time a deep grunting reverberation that puzzled him until
he recognized it as the bellow of a bull alligator. He wondered if the
scaly brutes ever crawled up on the trail, and how the fellow that was
shadowing him out there in the darkness managed to avoid them. With
the thought another twig snapped, much closer to the trail than
before. Harrison swore softly, trying to peer into the Stygian gloom
under the moss-festooned branches. The fellow was closing in on him
with the growing darkness.

There was a sinister implication about the thing that made
Harrison's flesh creep a bit. This reptile-haunted swamp-trail was no
place for a fight with an insane Negro--for it seemed probable that
the unknown stalker was the killer of Joe Corley. Harrison was
meditating on the matter when a light glimmered through the trees
ahead of him. Quickening his steps he came abruptly out of the
darkness into a grey twilight.

He had reached an expanse of solid ground, where the thinning
trees let in the last grey light of the outer dusk. They made a black
wall with waving fringes all about a small clearing, and through their
boles, on one side, Harrison caught a glimmer of inky water. In the
clearing stood a cabin of rough-hewn logs, and through a tiny window
shone the light of an oil lamp.

As Harrison emerged from among the growth he glanced back, but saw
no movement among the ferns, heard no sound of pursuit. The path,
dimly marked on the higher ground, ran past the cabin and vanished in
the further gloom. This cabin must be the abode of that Celia Pompoloi
Rogers had mentioned. Harrison strode to the sagging stoop and rapped
on the handmade door.

Inside there was movement, and the door swung open. Harrison was
not prepared for the figure that confronted him. He had expected to
see a bare-footed slattern; instead he saw a tall, rangily powerful
man, neatly dressed, whose regular features and light skin portrayed
his mixed blood.

"Good evening, sir." The accent hinted of education above the
average.

"Name's Harrison," said the detective abruptly, displaying his
badge. "I'm after a crook that ran in here--a Chinese murderer, named
Woon Shang. Know anything about him?"

"Yes, sir," the man replied promptly. "That man went past my cabin
three days ago."

"Where is he now?" demanded Harrison.

The other spread his hands in a curiously Latin gesture.

"I can not say. I have little intercourse with the other people
who live in the swamp, but it is my belief that he is hiding among
them somewhere. I have not seen him pass my cabin going back up the
path."

"Can you guide me to these other cabins?"

"Gladly, sir; by daylight."

"I'd like to go tonight," growled Harrison.

"That's impossible, sir," the other protested. "It would be most
dangerous. You ran a great risk in coming this far alone. The other
cabins are further back in the swamp. We do not leave our huts at
night; there are many things in the swamp which are dangerous to human
beings."

"The Swamp Cat, for instance?" grunted Harrison.

The man cast him a quick glance of interrogation.

"He killed a colored man named Joe Corley a few hours ago," said
the detective. "I found Corley on the trail. And if I'm not mistaken,
that same lunatic has been following me for the past half hour."

The mulatto evinced considerable disquiet and glanced across the
clearing into the shadows.

"Come in," he urged. "If the Swamp Cat is prowling tonight, no man
is safe out of doors. Come in and spend the night with me, and at dawn
I will guide you to all the cabins in the swamp."

Harrison saw no better plan. After all, it was absurd to go
blundering about in the night, in an unknown marsh. He realized that
he had made a mistake in coming in by himself, in the dusk; but
working alone had become a habit with him, and he was tinged with a
strong leaven of recklessness. Following a tip he had arrived at the
little town on the edge of the swamplands in the mid-afternoon, and
plunged on into the woods without hesitation. Now he doubted the
wisdom of the move.

"Is this Celia Pompoloi's cabin?" he asked.

"It was," the mulatto replied. "She has been dead for three weeks.
I live here alone. My name is John Bartholomew."

Harrison's head snapped up and he eyed the other with new
interest. John Bartholomew; Joe Corley had muttered that name just
before he died.

"Did you know Joe Corley?" he demanded.

"Slightly; he came into the swamp to hide from the law. He was a
rather low grade sort of human, though naturally I am sorry to hear of
his death."

"What's a man of your intelligence and education doing in this
jungle?" the detective asked bluntly.

Bartholomew smiled rather wryly. "We can not always choose our
environments, Mr. Harrison. The waste places of the world provide
retreat for others than criminals. Some come to the swamps like your
Chinaman, fleeing from the law. Others come to forget bitter
disappointments forced upon them by circumstances."

Harrison glanced about the cabin while Bartholomew was putting a
stout bar in place across the door. It had but two rooms, one behind
the other, connected by a strongly built door. The slab floor was
clean, the room scantily furnished; a table, benches, a bunk built
against the wall, all hand-made. There was a fireplace, over which
hung primitive cooking utensils, and a cloth-covered cupboard.

"Would you like some fried bacon and corn pone?" asked
Bartholomew. "Or perhaps a cup of coffee? I do not have much to offer
you, but--"

"No, thanks, I ate a big meal just before I started into the
swamp. Just tell me something about these people."

"As I said, I have little intercourse with them," answered
Bartholomew. "They are clannish and suspicious, and keep much to
themselves. They are not like other colored people. Their fathers came
here from Haiti, following one of the bloody revolutions which have
cursed that unfortunate island in the past. They have curious customs.
Have you heard of the worship of Voodoo?"

Harrison nodded.

"These people are Voodooists. I know that they have mysterious
conclaves back in the swamps. I have heard drums booming in the night,
and seen the glow of fires through the trees. I have sometimes felt a
little uneasy for my safety at such times. Such people are capable of
bloody extremes, when their primitive natures are maddened by the
bestial rites of the Voodoo."

"Why don't the whites come in here and stop it?" demanded
Harrison.

"They know nothing about it. No one ever comes here unless he is a
fugitive from the law. The swamp people carry on their worship without
interference.

"Celia Pompoloi, who once occupied this very hut, was a woman of
considerable intelligence and some education; she was the one swamp
dweller who ever went 'outside,' as they call the outer world, and
attended school. Yet, to my actual knowledge, she was the priestess of
the cult and presided over their rituals. It is my belief that she met
her fate at last during one of those saturnalias. Her body was found
in the marshes, so badly mangled by the alligators that it was
recognizable only by her garments."

"What about the Swamp Cat?" asked Harrison.

"A maniac, living like a wild beast in the marshes, only
sporadically violent; but at those times a thing of horror."

"Would he kill the Chinaman if he had a chance?"

"He would kill anyone when his fit is on him. You said the
Chinaman was a murderer?"

"Murderer and thief," grunted Harrison. "Stole ten grand from the
man he killed."

Bartholomew looked up as with renewed interest, started to speak,
then evidently changed his mind.

Harrison rose, yawning. "Think I'll hit the hay," he announced.

Bartholomew took up the lamp and led his guest into the back room,
which was of the same size as the other, but whose furnishings
consisted only of a bunk and a bench.

"I have but the one lamp, sir," said Bartholomew. "I shall leave
it with you."

"Don't bother," grunted Harrison, having a secret distrust of oil
lamps, resultant from experiencing an explosion of one in his boyhood.
"I'm like a cat in the dark. I don't need it."

With many apologies for the rough accommodations and wishes for a
good night's sleep, Bartholomew bowed himself out, and the door
closed. Harrison, through force of habit, studied the room. A little
starlight came in through the one small window, which he noticed was
furnished with heavy wooden bars. There was no door other than the one
by which he had entered. He lay down on the bunk fully dressed,
without even removing his shoes, and pondered rather glumly. He was
beset by fears that Woon Shang might escape him, after all. Suppose
the Chinaman slipped out by the way he had come in? True, local
officers were watching at the edge of the swampland, but Woon Shang
might avoid them in the night. And what if there _was_ another way
out, known only to the swamp people? And if Bartholomew was as little
acquainted with his neighbors as he said, what assurance was there
that the mulatto would be able to guide him to the Chinaman's hiding
place? These and other doubts assailed him while he lay and listened
to the soft sounds of his host's retiring, and saw the thin line of
light under the door vanish as the lamp was blown out. At last
Harrison consigned his doubts to the devil, and fell asleep.

CHAPTER II



Murder Tracks



It was a noise at the windows, a stealthy twisting and wrenching at
the bars, that awakened him. He woke quickly, with all his facilities
alert, as was his habit. Something bulked in the window, something
dark and round, with gleaming spots in it. He realized with a start
that it was a human head he saw, with the faint starlight shining on
rolling eyes and bared teeth. Without shifting his body, the detective
stealthily reached for his gun; lying as he was in the darkness of the
bunk, the man watching him could scarcely have seen the movement. But
the head vanished, as if warned by some instinct.

Harrison sat up on his bunk, scowling, resisting the natural
impulse to rush to the window and look out. That might be exactly what
the man outside was wanting. There was something deadly about this
business; the fellow had evidently been trying to get in. Was it the
same creature that had followed him through the swamp? A sudden
thought struck him. What was more likely than that the Chinaman had
set a man to watch for a possible pursuer? Harrison cursed himself for
not having thought of it before.

He struck a match, cupped it in his hand, and looked at his watch.
It was scarcely ten o'clock. The night was still young. He scowled
abstractedly at the rough wall behind the bunk, minutely illuminated
in the flare of the match, and suddenly his breath hissed between his
teeth. The match burned down to his fingers and went out. He struck
another and leaned to the wall. Thrust in a chink between the logs was
a knife, and its wicked curved blade was grimly smeared and clotted.
The implication sent a shiver down Harrison's spine. The blood might
be that of an animal--but who would butcher a calf or a hog in that
room? Why had not the blade been cleansed? It was as if it had been
hastily concealed, after striking a murderous blow.

He took it down and looked at it closely. The blood was dried and
blackened as if at least many hours had elapsed since it had been let.
The weapon was no ordinary butcher knife--Harrison stiffened. _It was
a Chinese dagger._ The match went out and Harrison did what the
average man would have done. He leaned over the edge of the bunk, the
only thing in the room that would conceal an object of any size, and
lifted the cloth that hung to the floor. He did not actually expect to
find the corpse of Woon Shang beneath it. He merely acted through
instinct. Nor did he find a corpse. His hand, groping in the dark,
encountered only the uneven floor and rough logs; then his fingers
felt something else--something at once compact and yielding, wedged
between the logs as the knife had been.

He drew it forth; it felt like a flat package of crisp paper,
bound with oiled silk. Cupping a match in his hand, he tore it open.
Ten worn bills met his gaze; on each bill was the numerals of $1,000.
He crushed the match out and sat in the dark, mental pictures tumbling
rapidly across his consciousness.

So John Bartholomew had lied. Doubtless he had taken in the
Chinaman as he had taken in Harrison. The detective visualized a dim
form bending in the darkness above a sleeping figure in that same
bunk--a murderous stroke with the victim's own knife.

He growled inarticulately, with the chagrin of the cheated
manhunter, certain that Woon Shang's body was rotting in some slimy
marsh. At least he had the money. Careless of Bartholomew to hide it
there. But was it? It was only by an accidental chain of circumstances
that he had found it--

He stiffened again. Under the door he saw a thin pencil of light.
Had Bartholomew not yet gone to bed? But he remembered the blowing out
of the lamp. Harrison rose and glided noiselessly to the thick door.
When he reached it he heard a low mumble of voices in the outer room.
The speakers moved nearer, stood directly before the door. He strained
his ears and recognized the crisp accents of John Bartholomew. "Don't
bungle the job," the mulatto was muttering. "Get him before he has a
chance to use his gun. He doesn't suspect anything. I just remember
that I left the Chinaman's knife in the crack over the bunk. But the
detective will never see it, in the dark. He had to come butting in
here, this particular night. We can't let him see what he'd see if he
lived through this night."

"We do de job quick and clean, mastah," murmured another voice,
with a guttural accent different from any Harrison had ever heard, and
impossible to reproduce.

"Alright; we haven't anything to fear from Joe Corley. The Swamp
Cat carried out my instructions."

"Dat Swamp Cat prowlin' 'round outside right now," muttered
another man. "Ah don't like him. Why can't he do dis job?"

"He obeys my orders; but he can't be trusted too far. But we can't
stand here talking like this. The detective will wake up and get
suspicious. Throw open that door and rush him. Knife him in his bunk--
"

Harrison always believed that the best defense was a strong
offensive. There was but one way out of this jam. He took it without
hesitation. He hurled a massive shoulder against the door, knocking it
open, and sprang into the outer room, gun leveled, and barked: "Hands
up, damn you!"

There were five men in that room; Bartholomew, holding the lamp
and shading it with his left hand, and four others, four lean, rangy
giants in nondescript garments, with yellow, sinister features. Each
man of the four had a knife in his hand.

They recoiled with yells of dismay as Harrison crashed upon them.
Automatically their hands went up and their knives clattered on the
floor. For an instant the white man was complete master of the
situation, Bartholomew turning ashy as he stared, the lamp shaking in
his hands.

"Back up against that wall!" snapped Harrison.

They obeyed dumbly, rendered incapable of action by the shock of
surprise. Harrison knew that it was John Bartholomew, more than these
hulking butchers, that he had to fear.

"Set that lamp on the table," he snapped. "Line up there with
them--_ha!_"

Bartholomew had stooped to lower the lamp to the table--then quick
as a cat he threw it crashing to the floor, ducking behind the table
with the same motion. Harrison's gun crashed almost simultaneously,
but even in the bedlam darkness that followed, the detective knew he
had missed. Whirling, he leaped through the outer door. Inside the
dark cabin he would have no chance against the knives for which the
Negroes were already groping on the floor, mouthing like rabid dogs.
As Harrison raced across the clearing he heard Bartholomew's furious
voice yelling commands. The white man did not take the obvious route,
the beaten trail. He rounded the cabin and darted toward the trees on
the other side. He had no intention of fleeing until he was run down
from behind. He was seeking a place where he could turn at bay and
shoot it out with a little advantage on his side. The moon was just
coming up above the trees, emphasizing, rather than illuminating the
shadows.

He heard the Negroes clamoring out of the cabin and casting about,
momentarily at a loss. He reached the shadows before they rounded the
hut, and glancing back through the bushes, saw them running about the
clearing like hunting dogs seek a spoor, howling in primitive blood-
lust and disappointment. The growing moonlight glittered on the long
knives in their hands.

He drew back further among the trees, finding the ground more
solid underfoot than he had expected. Then he came suddenly upon the
marshy edge of a stretch of black water. Something grunted and
thrashed amidst it, and two green lamps burned suddenly like jewels on
the inky water. He recoiled, well knowing what those twin lights were.
And as he did so, he bumped full into something that locked fierce
arms like an ape about him.

Harrison ducked and heaved, bowing his powerful back like a great
cat, and his assailant tumbled over his head and thumped on the
ground, still clutching the detective's coat with the grip of a vise.
Harrison lunged backward, ripping the garment down the back, wrenching
his arms from the sleeves, in his frenzy to free himself.

The man leaped to his feet on the edge of the pool, snarling like
a wild beast. Harrison saw a gaunt half naked black man with wild
strands of hair caked with mud hanging over a contorted mask of a
face, the thick loose lips drooling foam. This, indeed, he knew, was
the dread Swamp Cat.

Still grasping Harrison's torn coat brainlessly in his left hand,
his right swept up with a sheen of sharp steel, and even as he sensed
the madman's intention, the detective ducked and fired from the hip.
The thrown knife hummed by his ear, and with the crash of the shot the
Swamp Cat swayed and pitched backward into the black pool. There was a
threshing rush, the waters stormed foamily, there was a glimpse of a
blunted, reptilian snout, and the trailing body vanished with it.

Harrison stepped back, sickened, and heard behind him the shouting
progress of men through the bushes. His hunters had heard the shot. He
drew back into the shadows among a cluster of gum trees, and waited,
gun in hand. An instant later they rushed out upon the bank of the
pool, John Bartholomew and his dusky knife-fighters.

They ranged the bank, gaping, and then Bartholomew laughed and
pointed to a blood-stained piece of cloth that floated soggily on the
foam-flecked waters.

"The fool's coat! He must have run right into the pool, and the
'gator's got him! I can see them tearing at something, over there
among the reeds. Hear those bones crack?" Bartholomew's laugh was
fiendish to hear.

"Well," said the mulatto, "we don't have to worry about him. If
they send anybody in after him, we'll just tell them the truth: that
he fell into the water and got grabbed by the gators, just like Celia
Pompoloi."

"She wuz a awful sight when us foun' huh body," muttered one of
the swamp Negroes.

"We'll never find that much of him," prophesied Bartholomew.

"Did he say what de Chinaman done?" asked another of the men.

"Just what the Chinaman said; that he'd murdered a man."

"Wish he'd uh robbed uh bank," murmured the swamp dweller
plaintively. "Wish he'd uh brung uh lot uh money in wid him."

"Well, he didn't," snapped Bartholomew. "You saw me search him.
Now get back to the others and help them watch him. These Chinese are
slippery customers, and we can't take any chances with him. More white
men may come looking for him tomorrow, but if they do, they're welcome
to all of him they can find!" He laughed with sinister meaning, and
then added abruptly: "Hurry and get out of here. I want to be alone.
There are spirits to be communed with before the hour arrives, and
dread rites that I must perform alone. Go!"

The others bent their heads in a curious gesture of subservience,
and trooped away, in the direction of the clearing. He followed
leisurely.

Harrison glared after them, turning what he had heard over in his
mind. Some of it was gibberish, but certain things were clear. For one
thing, the Chinaman was obviously alive, and imprisoned somewhere.
Bartholomew had lied about his own relations with the swamp people;
one of them he certainly was not; but he was just as certainly a
leader among them. Yet he had lied to them about the Chinaman's money.
Harrison remembered the mulatto's expression when he had mentioned it
to him. The detective believed that Bartholomew had never seen the
money; that Woon Shang, suspicious, had hidden it himself before he
was attacked.

Harrison rose and stole after the retreating Negroes. As long as
they believed him dead, he could conduct his investigations without
being harried by pursuit. His shirt was of dark material and did not
show in the darkness, and the big detective was trained in stealth by
adventures in the haunted dives of Oriental quarters where unseen eyes
always watched and ears were forever alert.

When he came to the edge of the trees, he saw the four giants
trooping down the trail that led deeper into the swamp. They walked in
single file, their heads bent forward, stooping from the waist like
apes. Bartholomew was just going into the cabin. Harrison started to
follow the disappearing forms, then hesitated. Bartholomew was in his
power. He could steal up on the cabin, throw his gun on the mulatto
and make him tell where Woon Shang was imprisoned--maybe. Harrison
knew the invincible stubbornness of the breed. Even as he ruminated,
Bartholomew came out of the cabin and stood peering about with a
strange furtiveness. He held a heavy whip in his hand. Presently he
glided across the clearing toward the quarter where the detective
crouched. He passed within a few yards of Harrison's covert, and the
moonlight illumined his features. Harrison was astounded at the change
in his face, at the sinister vitality and evil strength reflected
there.

Harrison altered his plans and stole after him, wishing to know on
what errand the man went with such secrecy. It was not difficult.
Bartholomew looked neither back nor sidewise, but wound a tortuous way
among inky pools and clusters of rotting vegetation that looked
poisonous, even in the moonlight. Presently the detective crouched
low; ahead of the mulatto there was a tiny hut, almost hidden among
the trees which trailed Spanish moss over it like a grey veil.
Bartholomew looked carefully about him, then drew forth a key and
manipulated a large padlock on the door. Harrison was convinced that
he had been led to the prison of Woon Shang.

Bartholomew disappeared inside, closing the door. A light gleamed
through the chinks of the logs. Then came a mumble of voices, too
indistinct for Harrison to tell anything about them; that was followed
by the sharp, unmistakable crack of a whip on bare flesh, and a shrill
cry of pain. Enlightenment came to Harrison. Bartholomew had come
secretly to his prisoner, to torture the Chinaman--and for what reason
but to make him divulge the hiding place of the money, of which
Harrison had spoken? Obviously Bartholomew had no intentions of
sharing that money with his mates.

Harrison began to work his way stealthily toward the cabin, fully
intending to burst in and put a stop to that lashing. He would
cheerfully have shot down Woon Shang himself, had the occasion arisen,
but he had a white man's abhorrence of torture. But before he reached
the hut, the sounds ceased, the light went out and Bartholomew
emerged, wiping the perspiration of exertion from his brow. He locked
the door, thrust the key in his pocket, and turned away through the
trees, trailing his whip in his hand. Harrison, crouching in the
shadows, let him go. It was Woon Shang he was after. Bartholomew could
be dealt with later.

When the mulatto had disappeared, Harrison rose and strode to the
door of the hut. The absence of guards was rather puzzling, after the
conversation he had overheard, but he wasted no time on conjecture.
The door was secured by a chain made fast to a big hasp driven deep
into a log. He thrust his gun barrel through this hasp, and using it
as a lever, pried out the hasp with no great difficulty.

Pulling open the door he peered in; it was too dark to see, but he
heard somebody's breath coming in jerky hysterical sobs. He struck a
match, looked--then glared. The prisoner was there, crouching on the
dirt floor. But it was not Woon Shang. It was a woman.

She was a mulatto, young, and handsome in her way. She was clad
only in a ragged and scanty chemise, and her hands were bound behind
her. From her wrists a long strand of rawhide ran to a heavy staple in
the wall. She stared wildly at Harrison, her dark eyes reflecting both
hope and terror. There were tear stains on her checks.

"Who the devil are you?" demanded the detective.

"Celia Pompoloi!" Her voice was rich and musical despite its
hysteria. "Oh, white man, for God's sake let me go! I can't stand it
any more. I'll die; I know I will!"

"I thought you _were_ dead," he grunted.

"John Bartholomew did it!" she exclaimed. "He persuaded a yellow
girl from 'outside' into the swamp, and then he killed her and dressed
her in my clothes, and threw her into the marsh where the alligators
would chew the body till nobody could tell it wasn't me. The people
found it and thought it was Celia Pompoloi. He's kept me here for
three weeks and tortured me every night."

"Why?" Harrison found and lighted a candle stump stuck on the
wall. Then he stooped and cut the rawhide thongs that bound her hands.
She climbed to her feet, chafing her bruised and swollen wrists. In
her scanty garb the brutality of the floggings she had received was
quite apparent.

"He's a devil!" Her dark eyes flashed murderously; whatever her
wrongs, she obviously was no meek sufferer. "He came here posing as a
priest of the Great Serpent. He said he was from Haiti, the lying dog.
He's from Santo Domingo, and no more priest than you are. _I_ am the
proper priestess of the Serpent, and the people obeyed me. That's why
he put me out of the way. I'll kill him!"

"But why did he lick you?" asked Harrison.

"Because I wouldn't tell him what he wanted to know," she muttered
sullenly, bending her head and twisting one bare foot behind the other
ankle, school-girl fashion. She did not seem to think of refusing to
answer his questions. His white skin put him beyond and outside swamp-
land politics.

"He came here to steal the jewel, the heart of the Great Serpent,
which we brought with us from Haiti, long ago. He is no priest. He is
an impostor. He proposed that I give the Heart to him and run away
from my people with him. When I refused, he tied me in this old hut
where none can hear my screams; the swamp people shun it, thinking
it's haunted. He said he'd keep beating me until I told him where the
Heart was hidden, but I wouldn't tell him--not though he stripped all
the flesh from my bones. I alone know that secret, because I am a
priestess of the Serpent, and the guardian of its heart."

This was Voodoo stuff with a vengeance; her matter-of-fact manner
evinced an unshaken belief in her weird cult.

"Do you know anything about the Chinaman, Woon Shang?" he
demanded.

"John Bartholomew told me of him in his boastings. He came running
from the law and Bartholomew promised to hide him. Then he summoned
the swamp men, and they seized the Chinaman, though he wounded one of
them badly with his knife. They made a prisoner of him--"

"Why?"

Celia was in that vengeful mood in which a woman recklessly tells
everything, and repeats things she would not otherwise mention.

"Bartholomew came saying he was a priest of old time. That's how
he caught the fancy of the people. He promised them an _old_
sacrifice, of which there has not been one for thirty years. We have
offered the white cock and the red cock to the Great Serpent. But
Bartholomew promised them the _goat-without-horns_. He did that to get
the Heart into his hands, for only then is it taken from its secret
hiding place. He thought to get it into his hands and run away before
the sacrifice was made. But when I refused to aid him, it upset his
plans. Now he can not get the Heart, but he must go through with the
sacrifice anyway. The people are becoming impatient. If he fails them,
they will kill him.

"He first chose the 'outside' black man, Joe Corley, who was
hiding in the swamp, for the sacrifice; but when the Chinaman came,
Bartholomew decided he would make a better offering. Bartholomew told
me tonight that the Chinaman had money, and he was going to make him
tell where he hid it, so he would have the money, and the Heart, too,
when I finally gave in and told him--"

"Wait a minute," interposed Harrison. "Let me get this straight.
What is it that Bartholomew intends doing with Woon Shang?"

"He will offer him up to the Great Serpent," she answered, making
a conventional gesture of conciliation and adoration as she spoke the
dread name.

"A _human_ sacrifice?"

"Yes."

"Well, I'll be damned!" he muttered. "If I hadn't been raised in
the South myself, I'd never believe it. When is this sacrifice to take
place?"

"Tonight!"

"Eh, what's that?" He remembered Bartholomew's cryptic
instructions to his henchmen. "The devil! Where does it happen, and
what time?"

"Just before dawn; far back in the swamp."

"I've got to find Woon Shang and stop it!" he exclaimed. "Where is
he imprisoned?"

"At the place of the sacrifice; many men guard him. You'd never
find your way there. You'd drown and get eaten by the gators. Besides,
if you did get there, the people would tear you to pieces."

"You lead me there and I'll take care of the people," he snarled.
"You want revenge on Bartholomew. All right; guide me there and I'll
see that you get plenty. I've always worked alone," he ruminated
angrily, "but the swamp country isn't River Street."

"I'll do it!" Her eyes blazed and her white teeth gleamed in a
mask of passion. "I'll guide you to the place of the Altar. We'll
kill him, the yellow dog!"

"How long will it take us to get there?"

"I could go there in an hour, alone. Guiding you, it will take
longer. Much longer, the way we must go. You can't travel the road I
would take, alone."

"I can follow you anywhere you walk," he grunted, slightly
nettled. He glanced at his watch, then extinguished the candle. "Let's
get going. Take the shortest route and don't worry about me. I'll keep
up."

She caught his wrist in a fierce grasp and almost jerked him out
of the door, quivering with the eagerness of a hunting hound.

"Wait a minute!" A thought struck him. "If I go back to the cabin
and capture Bartholomew--"

"He will not be there; he is well on his way to the Place of the
Altar; better that we beat him there."

CHAPTER III

Voodoo Lair

As long as he lived Harrison remembered that race through the
swamp, as he followed Celia Pompoloi along pathless ways that seemed
impossible. Mire caught at his feet, and sometimes black scummy water
lapped about his ankles, but Celia's swift sure feet always found
solid ground where none seemed possible, or guided him over bogs that
quaked menacingly beneath their weight. She sprang lightly from
hummock to hummock, or slid between snaky pools of black slime where
unseen monsters grunted and wallowed. Harrison floundered after her,
sweating, half nauseated with the miasmic reek of the oozy slime that
plastered him; but all the bulldog was roused in him, and he was ready
to wade through swamps for a week if the man he hunted was at the
other end of the loathsome journey. Dank misty clouds had veiled the
sky, through which the moon shone fitfully, and Harrison stumbled like
a blind man, depending entirely on his guide, whose dusky half-naked
body was all but invisible to him at times in the darkness.

Ahead of them he began to hear a rhythmic throbbing, a barbaric
pulsing that grew as they advanced. A red glow flickered through the
black trees.

"The flames of the sacrifice!" gasped Celia, quickening her pace.
"Hasten!"

Somewhere in his big, weary body Harrison found enough reserve
energy to keep up with her. She seemed to run lightly over bogs that
engulfed him to the knees. She possessed the swamp dweller's instinct
for safe footing. Ahead of them Harrison saw the shine of something
that was not mud, and Celia halted at the verge of a stretch of
noisome water.

"The Place of the Altar is surrounded by water on all sides but
one," she hissed. "We are in the very heart of the swamp, deeper than
anyone ever goes except on such occasions as these. There are no
cabins near. Follow me! I have a bridge none knows of except myself."

At a point where the sluggish stream narrowed to some fifty feet,
a fallen tree spanned it. Celia ran out upon it, balancing herself
upright. She swayed across, a slim ghostly figure in the cloudy light.
Harrison straddled the log and hitched himself ignominiously along.

He was too weary to trust _his_ equilibrium. His feet dangled a
foot or so above the black surface, and Celia, waiting impatiently on
the further bank as she peered anxiously at the distant glow, cast him
a look over her shoulder and cried a sudden urgent warning.

Harrison jerked up his legs just as something bulky and grisly
heaved up out of the water with a great splash and an appalling clash
of mighty fangs. Harrison fairly flung himself over the last few feet
and landed on the further bank in a more demoralized condition than he
would have admitted. A criminal in a dark room with a knife was less
nerve-shaking than these ghoulish slayers of the dark waters.

The ground was firmer; they were, as Celia said, on a sort of
island in the heart of the marshes. The girl threaded her supple way
among the cypresses, panting with the intensity of her emotions.
Perspiration soaked her; the hand that held Harrison's wrist was wet
and slippery.

A few minutes later, when the glow in the trees had grown to an
illuminating glare, she halted and slipped to the damp mold, drawing
her companion with her. They looked out upon a scene incredible in its
primitive starkness.

There was a clearing, free of underbrush, circled by a black wall
of cypress. From its outer edge a sort of natural causeway wandered
away into the gloom, and over that low ridge ran a trail, beaten by
many feet. The trail ended in the clearing, the ultimate end of the
path that Harrison had followed into the swamp. On the other side of
the clearing there was a glimpse of dusky water, reflecting the
firelight.

In a wide horseshoe formation, their backs to the causeway, sat
some fifty men, women and children, resembling Celia Pompoloi in
complexion. Harrison had not supposed that so many people inhabited
the swamp. Their gaze was fixed on an object in the center of the
opening of the human horseshoe. This was a great block of dark wood
that had an unfamiliar appearance, as of an altar, brought from afar.
There was an intolerable suggestion about that block, and the
misshapen, leering figure that rose behind it--a fantastically carven
idol, to whose bestial features the flickering firelight lent life and
mobility. Harrison intuitively knew that this monstrosity was never
carved in America. The yellow people had brought it with them from
Haiti, and surely their black ancestors had brought it originally from
Africa. There was an aura of the Congo about it, the reek of black
squalling jungles, and squirming faceless shapes of a night more
primeval than this. Harrison was not superstitious, but he felt
gooseflesh rise on his limbs. At the back of his consciousness dim
racial memories stirred, conjuring up unstable and monstrous images
from the dim mists of the primitive, when men worshipped such gods as
these.

Before the idol, near the block, sat an old crone, striking a bowl
tom-tom with quick staccato strokes of her open hands; it growled and
rumbled and muttered, and the squatting Negroes swayed and chanted
softly in unison. Their voices were low, but they hummed with a note
of hysteria. The fire struck gleams from their rolling eyeballs and
shining teeth.

Harrison looked in vain for John Bartholomew and Woon Shang. He
reached out a hand to get his companion's attention. She did not heed
him. Her supple figure was tense and quivering as a taut wire under
his hand. A sudden change in the chanting, a wild wolfish baying,
brought him about again.

Out of the shadows of the trees behind the idol strode John
Bartholomew. He was clad only in a loin cloth, and it was as if he had
doffed his civilized culture with his clothing. His facial expression,
his whole bearing, were changed; he was like an image of barbarism
incarnate. Harrison stared at the knotted biceps, the ridged body
muscles which the firelight displayed. But something else gripped his
whole attention. With John Bartholomew came another, unwillingly, at
the sight of whom the crowd gave tongue to another bestial yell.

About Bartholomew's mighty left hand was twisted the pigtail of
Woon Shang, whom he dragged after him like a fowl to the chopping
block. The Chinaman was stark naked, his yellow body gleaming like old
ivory in the fire. His hands were bound behind his back, and he was
like a child in the grasp of his executioner. Woon Shang was not a
large man; beside the great mulatto he seemed slimmer than ever. His
hysterical panting came plainly to Harrison in the silence that fell
tensely as the shouting ceased and the Negroes watched with eyes that
gleamed redly. His straining feet tore at the sod as he struggled
against the inexorable advance of his captor. In Bartholomew's right
hand shone a great razor-edged crescent of steel. The watchers sucked
in their breath loudly; in a single stride they had returned to the
jungle whence they had crawled; they were mad for the bloody
saturnalia their ancestors had known.

In Bartholomew's face Harrison read stark horror and mad
determination. He sensed that the mulatto was not enjoying this
ghastly primordial drama into which he had been trapped. He also
realized that the man must go through with it, and that he would go
through with it. It was more than the jewel heart of the serpent-god
for which Bartholomew strove now; it was the continued dominance of
these wolfish devil-worshippers on which his life depended.

Harrison rose to one knee, drew and cocked his revolver and
sighted along the blue barrel. The distance was not great, but the
light was illusive. But he felt he must trust to the chance of sending
a slug crashing through John Bartholomew's broad breast. If he stepped
out into the open and tried to arrest the man, the Negroes, in their
present fanatical frenzy, would tear him to pieces. If their priest
was shot down, panic might seize them. His finger was crooking about
the trigger when something was thrown into the fire. Abruptly the
flames died down, throwing everything into deep shallow. As suddenly
they flared up again, burning with a weird green radiance. The dusky
faces looked like those of drowned corpses in the glow.

In the moment of darkness Bartholomew had reached the block. His
victim's head was thrust down upon it, and the mulatto stood like a
bronze image, his muscular right arm lifted, poising above his head
the broad steel crescent. And then, before could strike the blow that
would send Woon Shang's head rolling to the misshapen feet of the
grinning idol, before Harrison could jerk the trigger, something froze
them all in their places.

Into the weird glow moved a figure, so lithely that it seemed to
float in the uncertain light rather than move on earthly feet. A groan
burst from the Negroes, and they came to their feet like automatons.
In the green glow that lent her features the aspect of death, with
perspiration dripping from her draggled garment, Celia Pompoloi looked
hideously like the corpse of a drowned woman newly risen from a watery
grave.

_"Celia!"_

It was a scream from a score of gaping months. Bedlam followed.

"Celia Pompoloi! Oh Gawd, she done come back from de watah! Done
come back from Hell!"

"Yes, you dogs!" It was a most unghostly scream from Celia. "It's
Celia Pompoloi, come back from Hell to send John Bartholomew there!"

And like a fury she rushed across the green-lit space, a knife she
had found somewhere glittering in her hand. Bartholomew, momentarily
paralyzed by the appearance of his prisoner, came to life. Releasing
Woon Shang he stepped aside and swung the heavy beheading knife with
all his power. Harrison saw the great muscles leap up under his glossy
skin as he struck. But Celia's spring was that of a swamp panther. It
carried her inside the circular sweep of the weighted blade, and her
knife flashed as it sank to the hilt under John Bartholomew's heart.
With a strangled cry he reeled and fell, dragging her down with him as
she strove to wrench her blade free.

Abandoning it she rose, panting, her hair standing on end, her
eyes starting from her head, her red lips writhing back in a curl of
devilish rage. The people shrieked and gave back from her, still
evidently in the grip of the delusion that they looked on one risen
from the dead.

"Dogs!" she screamed, an incarnation of fury. "Fools! Swine! Have
you lost your reason, to forget all my teachings, and let this dead
dog make of you the beasts your fathers were? Oh--!" Glaring about for
a weapon she caught up a blazing fire-brand and rushed at them,
striking furiously. Men yelped as the flames bit them, and the sparks
showered. Howling, cursing, and screaming they broke and fled, a
frenzied mob, streaming out across the causeway, with their maddened
priestess at their heels, screaming maledictions and smiting with the
splintering fagot. They vanished in the darkness and their clamor came
back faintly.

Harrison rose, shaking his head in wonder, and went stiffly up to
the dying fire. Bartholomew was dead, staring glassily up at the moon
which was breaking through the scattering clouds. Woon Shang crouched
babbling incoherent Chinese as Harrison hauled him to his feet.

"Woon Shang," said the detective wearily, "I arrest you for the
murder of Li-keh-tsung. I warn you that anything you say will be used
against you."

That formula seemed to invest the episode with some sanity, in
contrast to the fantastic horror of the recent events. The Chinaman
made no struggle. He seemed dazed, muttering: "This will break the
heart of my honorable father; he had rather see me dead than
dishonored."

"You ought to have thought of that before," said Harrison heavily.
Through force of habit he cut Woon Shang's cords and reached for his
handcuffs before he realized that they had been lost with his coat.

"Oh, well," he sighed. "I don't reckon you'll need them. Let's get
going."

Laying a heavy hand on his captive's naked shoulder, Harrison half
guided, half pushed him toward the causeway. The detective was dizzy
with fatigue, but combined with it was a muddled determination to get
his prisoner out of the swamp and into a jail before he stopped. He
felt he had no more to fear from the swamp people, but he wanted to
get out of that atmosphere of decay and slime in which he seemed to
have been wandering for ages. Woon Shang took note of his condition
with furtive side-long glances, as the stark fear died out of the
Chinaman's beady black eyes to be replaced by one of craft.

"I have ten thousand dollars," he began babbling. "I hid it before
the Negroes made me prisoner. I will give you all of it if you will
let me go...."

"Oh, shut up!" groaned Harrison wearily, giving him an exasperated
shove. Woon Shang stumbled and went to his knees, his bare shoulder
slipping from Harrison's grasp. The detective was stooping, fumbling
for him when the Chinaman rose with a chunk of wood in his hand, and
smote him savagely on the head. Harrison staggered back, almost
falling, and Woon Shang, in a last desperate bid for freedom, dashed,
not for the neck of land between which himself and Harrison stood, but
straight toward the black water that glimmered beyond the fringe of
cypresses. Harrison fired mechanically and without aim, but the
fugitive kept straight on and hit the dusky water with a long dive.

Woon Shang's bobbing head was scarcely visible in the shadows of
the overhanging ferns. Then a wild shriek cut the night; the water
threshed and foamed, there was the glimpse of a writhing, horribly
contorted yellow body and of a longer, darker shape, and then the
blood-streaked waters closed over Woon Shang forever.

Harrison exhaled gustily and sank down on a rotting log.

"Well," he said wearily, aloud, "that winds _that_ up. It's better
this way. Woon's family had rather he died this way than in the chair,
and they're decent folks, in spite of him. If this business had come
to trial, I'd have had to tell about Celia shoving a knife into that
devil Bartholomew, and I'd hate to see her on trial for killing that
rat. This way it can be smoothed over. He had it coming to him. And
I've got the money that's coming to old Li-keh-tsung's granddaughter.
And it's me for the feather beds and fried steaks of civilization."



THE END





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