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Title: The Black Abbot Author: Perley Poore Sheehan * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0603681h.html Edition: 1 Language: English Character set encoding: Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit Date first posted: July 2006 Date most recently updated: July 2006 This eBook was produced by: Richard Scott Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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SHANKING, one of the old capitals of China--"the Mountain Capital," according to its name; with at one time maybe a million inhabitants in it--and not so many fewer right now, Shattuck reflected. A swarming big city. An armed camp, really. And he wondered if he hadn't been rash, after all, as his friends had warned him he would be, for coming here alone.
Pelham Rutledge Shattuck, sometimes known as Captain Trouble. If he was the heir of Kubla Khan--as not only he himself but a fair slice of Asia was now believing him to be--there was nothing special about his looks to indicate such a glittering destiny. Under thirty; trim and hard, with eyes that were a sort of ice-blue in a lean brown face. But, for the rest of him, he might have been any young American not too prosperous, washed up in China. There were plenty of them; mostly, however, down on the Coast. Not here in Shanking.
If there was another white man, of any kind as a matter of fact, in this yellow man's town, Shattuck certainly hadn't seen him--nor heard of him.
Shanking was too far out of the way. "Shan", meaning mountain or mountains; said mountains, in the present instance being the Snowy Range, China's end of the Himalayas, the piled up and rifted frontier separating China from Tibet. Meaning, in other words, that this was the Chinese Far West.
Wide open, too. Swarming with soldiers, rather more than ninety-nine percent, of whom would be, or were now, out-and-out bandits. Mercenaries, anyway. The followers of three rival war-lords; and a toss-up which one they'd be following tomorrow.
Shattuck, dressed in the leather and khaki of an engineer or mining prospector, turned into Shanking's Broadway. Only Broadway, he saw, was not the name of it.
"T'ung T'ien Chieh!"
"Road to Heaven Street," he translated, from the figures blazoned on a banner. "And it might be, at that," he added, with a premonition of danger. Heaven--or the other place--maybe right ahead.
IT wasn't that he was just a lone white man in this mob. He was Shadak Khan, Captain Trouble, heir of Kubla. He was Kubla Khan himself back on earth again--and practically unarmed except for the bamboo stick in his hand and the compact little automatic stored away against his solar plexus.
The Road to Heaven Street billowed up light and noisy in the early night. So far as Shanking was concerned, the fleet was in. Thousands of soldiers, most of them with money, and everything offered that soldiers like to buy--especially when touched up with a slug or two of samhu, the Chinese Whisky.
SQUEALS and gongs, a noisy surf of voices, a steady throb of drums, an unending tangle of music that you heard only when you listened to it. And smells--all sorts; underlaid with the hearty and vile, but scaling up, through cook-shop smells, and opium and alcohol, to musk, to a whiff of incense. This place to the left looked good to Shattuck--the Stone Jewel Castle, the Shi-Pao-Shih, according to the street-banners; gambling and what have you; big as a public market and lit up like a house on fire. And crowded, roaring. He was looking for information.
So far he'd circulated through the streets without any trouble. Almost without comment. The crowds were too occupied. Now and then a covey of gamins would notice him and set up a cry. But his ready, good-natured retort in a Chinese as fluent and tart as their own would set them on their way again.
And there may have been something else about him. Kids are the same the world over, with uncanny perceptions. Like wonks--the dogs that swarm through Chinese streets--and disappear in times of famine.
There was nothing especially, anyway, in the appearance of Shattuck to attract attention. Too many uniforms. Too many strangers. All sorts of clothes. Shanking had been a frontier mountain for more than a thousand years--for five thousand maybe.
Deep in the brilliant and crowded interior of the Stone Jewel Castle, Shattuck found a small vacant table and signaled a waiter. He ordered tea. "For yourself," he said, and gave the waiter a dollar.
"And would the honorable gentleman like a lady companion to drink tea with him?"
Shattuck thought not. And he quoted the well-known proverb that clouds--and women---were poetic only when far enough away. The waiter's manners were perfect. He was an elderly man, quick and bright, who might have been a poet himself in his off moments. The dollar had touched him.
"T'zu hou, ta-jen!"--"At your excellency's service!"
And with this pleasant phrase still sounding in his brain, Shattuck heard another:
"K'an yang kou!"--"Look at the foreign dog!"
The steps leading up to a fight are never very clear; nor, as a rule, worth reporting at any length.
Shattuck had looked in the direction of the speaker. The voice had come in a snarling drawl with a touch of the foreign--or, at any rate, of the far backwoods in it. There were four men at the neighboring table. They were big men, all of them.
And they might have been soldiers, or just outlaws from the hills--"tiger men," as the Chinese call them; bad men, anyway; robbers and killers; and dressed in makeshift uniforms they'd stolen, most likely, from murdered men.
IT WAS the appearance of them, and the thought of what they were, rather than that remark that fired Shattuck's dangerous temper. This was doubly so when he singled out the man he couldn't mistake as the one who had spoken. He was evidently the leader of the four--hard and brazen as a boulder, with much of the Tibetan about him.
His sneering grin disappeared under the steady look from Shattuck's ice-blue eyes. And Shattuck's eyes, incidentally, had now taken on other icy qualities.
Shattuck spoke softly and coldly.
"Before you talk of foreigners," he said, in his perfect high-country dialect, "you'd better learn the language."
The man did lack speech, but his mind functioned rather quickly--although it must have been along familiar lines. He spat--blowing a good mouthful and with Shattuck unquestionably his target. And his aim was good at that. The only reason, in fact, that he missed was that Shattuck---quicker than the eye, it seemed--had slipped aside and come to his feet.
And all in the same second he had cut the spitter across the face with his bamboo stick.
THERE are some phrases that a man picks up and never forgets, whatever the language he hears them in--like some one unforgettable face he may have seen in a strange port. The face comes back. The circumstances disappear.
And that was Tibetan. "Kill him!" was what it meant.
The spitter's three friends were coming to their feet a split-second after that first blow of Shattuck's. All Tibetans carry knives. All of them--iron or brass or beautiful steel filigreed with gold. But deadly; never washed; septic as the claws of a leopard. Shattuck got in another blow--backhanded this time, at Number Two. He speared Number Three under the chin with the ferule of the bamboo as if the stick had been a saber.
This, he recollected, was the Road to Heaven Street. He also recalled--as if in a gust of red lightning--that he'd come to Shanking not to fight but to investigate. He'd come here to find out what he could about that mysterious wizard of a new Tibetan war-lord known as the "Black Abbot."
The native names shocked through his head. Maybe he was hearing them. There was a howling, squealing human whirlpool developing about him and he was in the vortex of it.
"Kara Kanpo!"--all same for one the "Black Abbot." There was another name: "Namche Goro!"--like saying "our Lord of the Dark," just about.
THE trouble with the Tibetans was that they were getting in each other's way in these first few seconds. The leader of the four lost two seconds getting at his knife. His new tunic was bothering him.
Just as the knife came out--a foot in length and ugly as an adder--Shattuck was able to hit him again.
This, Shattuck again remembered, was like another fight--in the dim, dim past--the one when Michman-der, the Afghan, had called him a Fighting Fool. Was that what he really was? He hadn't started this fight, But he was fighting with all he had--not only body and heart, but brain!
His stick was broken. He grabbed a chair and with this he poked and struck. At the same time he said things, in Chinese, in the Four Rivers dialect.
"Down with the barbarians," he said.
All Tibetans were barbarians to the people of Shanking--an old border hate, going back through the centuries.
Shattuck sprung another card. In a crowd like this, it should have been an ace of trumps.
"Up, Boxers!" he said. "Have you forgotten the Fist?"
"I Ho Huan!"
THERE must have been some of the old Boxers present. Or new ones--the Patriotic Harmony Fist was being revived in a thousand Chinese towns. "Huan" was fist, for fighting. "Ho" was harmony, for we'd fight as one. "I" meant just holy or patriotic, the two words the same thing anyway when you got right down to it.
A mixed crowd and a big one. This was a battle royal--a dozen or twenty fights starting up all at once, and some of them with a dozen or a score of fighters in the mill at that--screeching, biting, cutting, trying for strangle holds. It was like a cat-fight--its speed the only thing that staved off wholesale murder. No one stayed in one place long enough to finish the job, or get finished, except here and there.
Flashes of red lightning and a growing rush and shock of thunder.
Shattuck was still on his feet and he headed for the door.
It was a case of fighting every inch--fighting every second. There were shots. That was bad. Anyone might get hit. Someone was--right in the tangle in front of Shattuck; a little sing-song girl--a mu-tsai, with a face like porcelain--and a splotch of red in the middle of her forehead.
Shattuck caught her as she wilted. And this, he knew, was about the end of the fight for him. War, this was; but war always had things like this that he hated.
Still, at that! A swift end--or a dragged out misery. War was just ordinary life speeded up---concentrated--eighty years in as many seconds.
He had a club in his hand, part of a chair-back. The girl hung limp on his arm, light as a bird.
All this, thought and action, had been as hot and swift as a swirl of flame. And, suddenly and all at once, Shattuck was aware that the flame was dying out--not only for himself but for others. An uncanny feeling. It was as if a breath of cold paralysis had hit the place.
There'd been no one specially notable sound in that riot of sounds--nothing that could have passed as a signal of command. But you now began to notice sounds that you hadn't noticed before--the collapse of a table, the shifting of feet as people pressed for the doors, a panting of lungs, then the outside noises of the street getting themselves heard again.
And then, after a couple of straining seconds, a sort of general whisper--in more dialects than any one man could learn in a lifetime, yet all of them understandable. It was more like a whisper you heard in your own brain, in the undefinable language of hunch or premonition:
"Black Abbot--Lord of the Dark!"
SHATTUCK had been hearing whispers something like that for months. There was a High Priest of Darkness reaching out for control of the world. Sometimes he was the Kara Kanpo, sometimes the Namche Goro--the Midnight Apostle, so to speak. But by whatever title he was known, he was always the same. The titles meant the same thing. They meant the Black Abbot.
"A Tsen," as the Tibetans called him, "One of the Mighty," He'd already got the Dalai Lama under his thumb and was holding him as a hostage. He had the Red Sect back of him, the Bon-po, which was supposed to be the oldest religion in the world and dealt in magic.
IN any case, if he controled the Dalai Lama, the Black Abbot would also be master of the Dalai Lama's palace, the Potala, in Lhassa. That meant gold. Treasure had been pouring, trickling, pouring again, into the caves of the Potala for years. None had ever come out. Not until now, when the Black Abbot had decided that his hour was at hand.
In exchange for some small part of the Potala gold, arms had been coming into Tibet by every caravan that crossed the Western Gobi.
One of these caravans Shattuck had captured himself long ago, back in the Little Valley of the Soaring Meditation. It had marked the beginning of his own rise to fame. That fight had marked him as the reincarnation of Kubla Khan. The old Bogdo of the Soaring Meditation Lamasery had told him so, had given him Kubla's sword.
Rumors of the appearance of the Black Abbot had reached him in the middle of the Gobi, when he'd come into contact with the Arghati, the hidden people, guardians of Shamballah, the "Kingdom Come" of the next world Buddha, the great Maitreya, Lord of the World. Before Maitreya could appear, the Black Abbot would have to be destroyed. The destroyer would be the heir to Kubla's sword, Shadak Khan.
"Me, Shadak Khan," said Shattuck to himself.
And there for a moment he was feeling like two different persons possessed of a single body. There was the Pelham Rutledge Shattuck, educated mostly in New York, American from away back. And there was the Shadak Khan who, American still, had happened to be born in China, brought up in China, and who, through a series of accidents, had returned to China to find the sword of the great Kubla ready to his hand.
He wished that he had the sword with him now. But he'd left it back in Kansu, in Minchow, to rule there during his absence.
Old stuff! Fairy tales!
So the American part of himself was calling all this talk about Black Abbots and the coming of a new world-king who would be a King of Peace. Yet, suddenly, here and now, Shattuck felt that this American part of himself was nothing but a very little boy. The other self--his real self--went back through the ages. And age after age, this older self had been sopping up experience, dealing out death and receiving it, learning about things both visible and invisible, getting evidence of things forgotten and things to come.
CURIOUS, but all this flashing through his thought while he still stood there with the dead girl lying in the hollow of his arm--almost, it seemed, as if she were telling him of things she was discovering now. He listened as if to a silent Chinese whisper.
Shanking, at any rate, had known something about the coming of the great Tibetan war-lord. While the local war-lords fought and squabbled among themselves, the reports kept coming in from over the mountains. Pilgrims, spies, coolies, Chiarung--the "Back Valley Peoples"--all told the same story. The Black Abbot was coming. He was coming with an army.
And at last he had come.
DURING the several minutes that must have followed before Shattuck was face to face with one of the strangest men he was ever to meet, that feeling of the weird hung about him. It wasn't the fact that he had a dead girl in the crook of his arm. He'd been too often in contact with death for that to affect him--at any rate, in this highly special way. Death--that was but the turning out of a light; no more, no less. It might be with regret, as at the closing of a half-read story. Generally, not even this regret. You called it a day, turned out the light and went to sleep!
For a little space, he was occupied with looking for a place to put the girl. He laid her on the clean matting of a deserted fan-tan table.
He still had his club. A touch told him that he hadn't lost the little gun over his stomach.
Soldiers were now clearing the place--military police; in neat woolen uniforms, he noticed; European cut but with Tibetan boots. Those boots were another reminder of the Black Abbot. A new warlord--the super-war-lord--come out of Tibet. It was to find out about him that Shattuck had come over into the Four River country from Kansu.
These soldiers, whoever they were, spoke well for their chief. Real soldiers these were---disciplined, efficient; each armed with a club like a baseball bat, and in the end of the bat a steel hook. A Japanese invention that was--better than fingers for nabbing, jerking, or all-round punishment.
And the way those soldiers trotted about clearing the place was fine and awful. Smack, prod, hook. Chinese mobs never were noisy under punishment.
A gang of ten or twelve Chinamen thickened about Shattuck. They were big men of various ages--some in straight Chinese dress, several in uniforms with the green tab and chop of the Shanking army.
They were Huans, Fists, they were telling Shattuck: good Boxers. They'd stood by him in the fight. Now it was time to go--go quickly. They would show him where. They knew who he was. The White Chinaman--the one and only White Boxer--Chi Tsu, what! And Chi Tsu was the Chinese name of Kubla Khan.
A squad of those soldiers came running up with orders for the Chinamen to follow the rest. They seemed to be ignoring the presence of the white man. But the very way they ignored him singled him out. Shattuck felt it himself.
"Go!" he told his volunteer friends.
"You will be killed!"
Before the hurried parley could go further, the corporal in charge of the clearing squad swung his club and the hook caught one of the Chinese civilians by the throat.
"Ah-ai!" he went--a powerful man, but helpless. In another moment the hook might have torn out his windpipe.
BUT the corporal wielding the hooked club was also at a momentary disadvantage--like a swordsman with his blade wedged in a bone. And Shattuck jumped him--this time with no weapons but his hands. The corporal lost his grip on the club and the club swung free as Shattuck tightened his clutch about the fellow's throat.
Instantly there had been another killing. He who had been hooked had released the steel from his neck. All in a single, half-blind gesture he banged it down on the corporal's skull.
Shattuck, the moment his hands were free, had jerked the gun from under his shirt.
"Halt!" he barked.
WITH the corporal's squad covered, he ventured a look over his shoulder.
He would never forget that first impression. It was as if he'd seen a skeleton standing there--a skeleton shrouded in black--nothing but the death's head showing--the face of a skull with a dangling scant mustache and beard that might have been tatters of crepe.
You think fast on such occasions. Shattuck did, at any rate. This was Asia, the frontier of Tibet. There were queer things in Tibet--things that the outside world had whispered about since time of mind: "Rollang," for example, the Tibetan magic of resurrecting the dead. But he wouldn't let himself go along these lines. If he did, he'd be crazy. If he lost his head now, he was gone.
He saw that his squad were held for the moment by something more than his gun.
Shattuck took a quick step back and away and as he did so he swung his gun onto the man in black. The move may have been not a second too soon. There'd been a clicking of breech-locks and a breath of stealthy movement somewhere else in the room. Shattuck knew that he himself would now be covered. At any instant--at the slightest signal, the faintest nod of Fate--and there'd be a crash of fire, himself pitching headlong--his own light out.
He spoke softly.
"Do we go together?" he asked that black ghost of a figure.
There was a longish pause--long enough for Shattuck to think how queer this was.
The Shi-Pao-Shih. The Stone Jewel Castle. In America they'd be calling it the Diamond Palace. Gambling palace after a battle. Crowds on the run but the gaudy lanterns still shimmering red and gold. Dead girl on the fan-tan table. And the Black Abbot--the future ruler of Asia, maybe--standing there covered by a gun made in the U. S. A.
"I would talk with you--in private," the Black Abbot said.
IT WAS Shattuck's turn to pause. His senses were telling him pretty much what he couldn't see. A hundred--maybe two hundred--soldiers now in the room straining to let fly at him, his own gun trained on that black figure that had the say-so as to what might happen next.
Unless Shattuck himself let fly.
That was a chance that the Black Abbot himself must have measured. Yet he hadn't winced. That voice of his--suggesting a private conference--had come as smooth and well modulated as if he'd been speaking to one of his own ministers of state--if he had any. His language, by the way, had been flawless Chinese.
"You," said Shattuck, "are the Black Abbot."
"They call me that."
"And me? Who am I?"
"American--Meikuo-jin; here on a pass issued at Minkow, Kansu Province."
There was no change of expression on the bony white face. Only the dark eyes were alive---fixed and brilliant, like the eyes of a bat. A man above the average height, appearing taller still because of that black robe he wore--the yakhair khalat of the Tibetan common people, but longer and clean. There was a red braid showing on the edge, suggesting that the garment might have been lined with red. The feet of the Great One were shod in red and black Tibetan boots of heavy felt.
SHATTUCK obeyed an impulse he couldn't explain. Deliberately, he returned his weapon to its holster under his shirt. He knew--and the Black Abbot knew he knew it--that the same spy who had reported his passing the Shanking Ta Hung Men---the Great Red Gate--might as easily as not have been given an order to kill him as soon as he entered the city.
"On a pass issued at Minkow," said Shattuck. "By whom?"
"By him who sent you here," the Abbot replied.
Not since the first word had passed between them had there been any use of complimentary terms on either side. Their language had been as naked as swords out for business.
"This man knows who I am," said Shattuck to himself, "or he wouldn't bother to answer me." He turned to the Chinese brethren who'd volunteered to help him in his fight. "Go quietly," he told them. "And you, comrade," he said to the man with the wounded neck who'd killed the soldier, "take care of your scratch. And a good night's sleep."
They were all so frightened they were sweating. But, at that, their courage was greater than their fear. They would have lingered or taken the White Great Man with them.
"Go," Shattuck repeated. "And I will watch you on your way."
He could feel the situation growing tenser. At least he was having the chance to do a little needed scouting on his own. From there where he stood he could see that the Road to Heaven Street--so crowded when he entered this place--was now practically deserted. That meant the street out there was patrolled by the Black Abbot's men.
And his guess had been right so far as the interior of the Stone Jewel Castle itself was concerned. Soldiers all around--not armed with merely hooked clubs either. A shine of metal. A tightening web of nerves and muscles. Shattuck felt like a jack rabbit in a cordon of greyhounds. Almost.
This was no playtime. There were other sleepers on the floor besides the Tibetan corporal. The girl who'd been shot lay on her table like a broken, gaily dressed doll--not quite life-sized. The wound on her porcelain forehead was black. Just two little trickles of blood had come out and clotted there, crooked, complex, yet with a suggestion of art--of design.
Shattuck felt an inner thrill, a start. It was something confined to heart and brain. His eyes were steady and cool as they came again to the sinister shape of the Black Abbot.
"I must ask you to excuse me," Shattuck said, "for keeping you waiting for even this little while. As a matter of fact I came to Shanking to find out about you. I had heard stories about your gifts of magic."
"Later!" said the Black Abbot. "We'll talk about that and other things at our leisure. This is not the place."
HIS black eyes narrowed. He had a slight movement of the hand that was like a checked command, Shattuck held steady. It took all his will power to do so. His life was hanging by a thread. But the thread was growing stronger. The mark he had seen on the girl's forehead was like a Chinese symbol--an ideagraph--brushed onto an ivory tablet. He could see it--with the eyes of his brain--all the time that his outer eyes were fixed on the Abbot's white face.
So far, the Abbot hadn't moved since Shattuck had first seen him. They were all of twenty feet apart, with a scattering of chairs and tables between them--too far for a rush when so many guns were ready to crash.
But now it was as if the dead girl had come to his aid. A little while ago she had seemed to whisper. Now she had as if spoken again--more loudly, unmistakably.
"Did you ever hear of Feng Wang?" Shattuck asked. Feng Wang was the King of Hell. The Abbot stared. Head of the Bon-pos, Satan worshipers--the old Red Sect of Tibet. "He's written his signature on this girl's forehead." Shattuck said. "Would you like to see?"
The Black Abbot hesitated. He took a step forward. Americans, even more than most white men, had a reputation for a magic of their own in the East.
The Black Abbot overcame his hesitation. He came forward. His curiosity became a fascination. Sure enough, this was magic, and a magic he could understand. He circled the fan-tan table like a gaunt black shadow.
"Feng Wang!" he whispered. "Perhaps! But not well done. The character is broken--"
Shattuck was suddenly pressing at his side.
"Don't move! Don't speak!" said Shattuck softly. "Feng Wang has a finger on your back."
THE Chinese have a saying that he who rides a tiger can't dismount. Shattuck thought of that---in the back of his brain. In such a case, he told himself, the only thing to do was to ride the tiger to a finish.
"Let us get this clear," he said aloud--just loud enough for the Black Abbot himself to hear. "I am here on a pass from Shadak Khan. The pass itself is magic, else now I wouldn't be alive. He has become master of Kansu. With his own hand he killed two war-lords there--Yu, the Green Shiver; Wang, surnamed the Terrible. With his own hand he wiped out the Spider Tong, the killers and blackmailers."
HE paused. There'd been a hint of shifting movement from some far part of the room. Then, over in another direction, a paper lantern had mysteriously caught fire.
Shattuck barked an order to put out the fire. It struck him with a strangeness--something far from pleasant--when no one moved.
"Shall I tell them?" the Black Abbot breathed.
"Not unless you would die," said Shattuck. "Shadak Khan is willing to add to his tally--and you next. My hand is his."
The burning lantern flared, then died down.
"I would tell you something," said the Black Abbot.
"Then, first, point with your finger to the Satan mark and tell me what you have to say as if explaining what you see. Softly."
The gaunt figure in the black cloak did as he was told--quietly, with an air of meditation. There was that touch of the actor about him that all the great ones of the earth possess to some degree. His voice, when he spoke, came in a lulling whisper.
"You tell me far less than I know about Shadak Khan," he said. "The secret writings of Tibet have foretold his coming since time began. Captain Trouble, the Essence of Battle, Way-Maker for the Maitreya. I came down out of Tibet to offer him my help."
"Me. And why not? I'm not blind to the movement of the stars. This is the end of the Black Age--end of the Great Night. The Shadak Khan has already established himself at the Koko Nor--the Valley of the Blue Lake--where all the caravans from the North come into Tibet. I didn't disturb him there. I chose to come the more dangerous and crowded way, down into the Sze-chuen--the Four Rivers."
There was truth in what the Black Abbot said--enough of truth, at any rate, to flavor the rest of it.
"I know what goes on and is being said in the outside world," the Black Abbot continued; and again he put out a long lean finger as if to demonstrate an explanation. "They say a force from Tibet invades China--a hint to old rivals to invade Tibet. Children and fools! Children and fools! They don't know that with the rise of the Great Day Tibet will dominate the world again--first China, then India, then Russia, then the world!"
The actor in the Black Abbot was rising---some emotional self that would never have been suspected as an occupant of that skeleton frame. The Black Abbot had not only raised his voice. He was making gestures.
Just as Shattuck pressed forward with a command on his lips, the climax came like the suffocating pall of death itself.
THE thing had happened so fast--with such a fierce unexpectedness--that it was practically over before Shattuck could realize what had happened. He was in a stifling blackness. He'd been tripped and thrown. He was down on his back in a twisted heap and on top of him there was a crushing, writhing weight.
He had a moment of clairvoyance such as the dying are said to have--or such as the newborn have, according to some doctors of the East: Why babies use their first breath for a cry of pain.
The Black Abbot, leading up to his attack by that growing vehemence of word and gesture, had ended by thrusting back his robe in such a way as completely to blanket the enemy. Then he must have completed this much of the attack by a wrestling trick. Hatha Yoga, Tantrick magic--they abounded in physical secrets developed and polished through a score of centuries.
THOSE straining soldiers--aware all along, most likely, that something was wrong--had come running.
By a desperate effort, Shattuck got an almost dislocated arm into action. He reached his gun. He fired. He heard a muffled scream. But a gun-butt or a club thudded gun and hand before he could fire again. At the same time the stifling cloak became more stifling still. Invisible hands were drawing it tight--then tighter yet--across his nose and mouth--across his straining throat.
He struggled. He fought. But it was as if he'd been taken under a landslide. His consciousness was slipping. While his heart pumped pain and yet more pain into a crazy retort already overcharged.
When he awoke--too sore and lazy to open his eyes right away--it was to a dim perception of familiar sounds. Vaguely he remembered having come into the Stone Jewel Castle and ordering tea. Had he fallen asleep in his chair? Had he been drugged? Not, he decided, by that lost poet of a waiter. Yet the sounds he was hearing--somewhat strained and far away--were undoubtedly the sounds he'd just been hearing in the Shi-Pao-Shih.
It called for an effort, but he opened his eyes.
HE was in a strange room, lit by lanterns, solidly lacquered in red. In the red a dark cloud moved and focused. And memory was back on him with a rush as he recognized the Black Abbot standing over him.
Shattuck tried to sit up. A single try was enough. Just then it was. There was a thin silk noose about his neck that tightened, then held.
He knew that trick--a halter that could choke almost to the point of strangulation. But not quite. Otherwise, there'd be danger of suicide--especially in case of torture meant to be long drawn out.
The same movement told him that his hands and feet were tied--hard and fast, this time, and spread-eagle style.
He shut his eyes and again his ears were active. The Black Abbot had evidently established his headquarters on the upper floor of the Stone Jewel pleasure-house. Shattuck had heard of such things. Perhaps the contrast was pleasant after the bleak living of Tibet.
"Kara Kanpo," said Shattuck; the "Black Abbot."
And now he could open his eyes with no hint of weakness in them. He'd buried regret, buried fear. He was still alive and confronted with the business of life.
"I suggested," said the Black Abbot, moderately and correctly, "that I would talk to you in private."
"Because there was no room in Asia--nor the world--for two Shadak Khans."
"Why do you tell me that?"
"Because of your pretense."
"You fool! You dare to ask me? Signing your own passport with the seal of the Conqueror!"
So he's found that out, Shattuck reflected. "Go on," he said aloud.
"Look at me," the Black Abbot said. "You might as well use your eyes for you won't have them long." His voice had become a sort of falsetto hum.
Shattuck waited. The muted squeals and music, rattle and whir from the gambling-rooms polluted the silence of the red chamber.
"Is there no better reason why I should look at you?" Shattuck asked.
"Yes," the Black Abbot replied. "For the real Shadak Khan, he's myself!"
THE Black Abbot had either a curious sense of humor or a queer gift for the refinements of torture. For a time he'd appeared to forget Shattuck entirely. He ordered tea. He smoked a pipe, and the odor of this was that of English tobacco flavored with a drug that Shattuck couldn't identify. And all the time that he was doing this he wound and rewound and played off the same old roll of a mechanical piano just back of Shattuck's head. What the tune was, Shattuck would never know. Here and there was a bar or a phrase that seemed vaguely familiar at first. But the rest was clatter and bang, a stuttering lapse, then a fresh explosion of clanging discord.
Shattuck shut not only his eyes but his ears. He did this by a mental effort, remembering that he'd been practically crazy once--from a blow on his head--and might get that way again. Gradually, he controlled his breathing as well. The silk cord was near the strangulation point about his neck.
A quietness descended about him. It was with a start that he discovered that he may have slept, if only for a few seconds. The quiet had become a real silence.
He opened his eyes.
HE saw a blurred outline of the Black Abbot leaning close, his white face as dead as a mask cut from marble but his black eyes dripping venom. Closer, there was something else. It was the point of a knife. And now Shattuck's eyes could follow the broad foreshortening of the blade.
One of the old Tibetan ritual knives, he noticed. There was a tradition about such things---proven, according to many. Knives like that could be sent to kill at a distance, far away from the magician-owner. But requiring an enormous effort, so it was said. As a result of which that form of murder had fallen into abeyance.
For a second the point of the knife was touching an eyelid--leaving a sting behind it like that of a poisonous insect.
"There must be an alternative," said Shattuck.
The knife was lifted away.
"There is," the Black Abbot said. "You will write a confession."
"That you were a liar, a defiler of graves, and that you fled your own country after murdering your parents. You will say that I saved you from starvation; and then, having learned who I was, the true and predestined Shadak Khan, you abused my bounty by setting up this claim of your own."
"And what would I get from such a bargain?"
"Your life, your eyes."
The voice was almost caressing as the Black Abbot said this. But again the point of the knife had touched an eyelid, resting there for a second, leaving its sting.
"No one would believe such a confession even if I wrote it," said Shattuck.
"Oh, yes they would. You'd read it tomorrow yourself at the Place of the Big Market. Then, when we've finished with the Four River Country, we'll go on to Kansu. You'll read your confession again in the Square of the Yamen at Minchow."
"I would save my eyes," said Shattuck.
"I've heard," said the Black Abbott, "that white men weaken readily under torture." He meditated, white and implacable, with his face overhanging Shattuck's and his knife weaving about with what seemed almost like a gesture of regret. "If you fail me now," he said softly, "I'll have the nose off your face as well and expose you like that to the public with a confession for you of my own composition."
"Black Abbot," said Shattuck, "but grant me the means to think and write--tea, ink, and the use of one hand."
"A scribe might write it even better than you," said the Abbot.
"HE might," said Shattuck. "But again, I might also decide to die. Have you forgotten the Feng Wang chop on the face of that dead girl downstairs? You're not the only magician in this room."
"Tea and ink we have already," said the Abbot, after thought. "And the use of one hand."
He began cutting the cords that bound Shattuck's right hand.
Hand and arm were nearly paralyzed, but even that small measure of liberty was like a breath of free air to a drowning man. As the wrist came free, some uncontrollable impulse had swept over Shattuck to fight again. The arm came up like a lunging snake that coiled and struck.
The first blow had caught the Black Abbot across the face, bringing him backward, lunging with his knife, finding nothing at first but empty air. Shattuck jerked head and neck against his own. Fighting as instinctively as a mongoose attacking a cobra, his teeth had fastened onto a cord of the neck and held.
And now, that one free hand of his was fighting for his knife.
THE news had been spreading through Shanking ever since that riot at the Stone Jewel Castle first broke out. Shadak Khan, war-lord of Kansu, had come to town. His coming had been a direct challenge to the Black Abbot, he whom no one had dared to challenge before.
The Lieus began to pluck up courage.
The Lieus had been the big family in the Four River Country for generations. Under the old régime they'd been dukes and princes. The Revolution had seen them prosper even more than ever before. Now they were governors and generals in one of the richest sections of China, a region as big as France.
But they'd got to fighting among themselves. Three Lieus and each of them a war-lord in the modern style, each with an army at his personal command.
They'd been fighting each other off and on for the past five years--while the Black Abbot watched and waited.
Sze-Chuen, meaning Four Rivers; China's Far West.
The Black Abbot had timed his blow. With Tibet at his back and the Four Rivers at his feet, he'd be the first war-lord of Asia, if--he could get that white interloper of a Shadak Khan out of the way.
But the people of the Four Rivers also had been thinking a lot about what had been going on in the neighboring province of Kansu where the heir of Kubla Khan had appeared. There was something about his coming there that was like the emergence of a local mountain-top from the mist--in the early morning--touched with rose, the color of hope.
THE Four River Country was a place of legend, like most mountain countries. It was next door to Tibet, white-haired mother of all mystery, as local poet Chih Nu once said. There was that old legend that Chi-Tsu--known to the rest of the world as Kubla Khan--would be coming back. All this like a mountain cloud, misty and mysterious. And then, there was Chi-Tsu, sure enough--in Kansu, in old Minchow--knocking wicked war-lords on the head and giving the people a chance to live again in peace.
There never had been any very strong anti-foreign feeling in the Sze-Chuen for several reasons. Not very many white foreigners came this way. Such anti-foreign feeling as there was beat itself out against the age-old contempt and hatred for the "Mantzu"--those "Western Barbarians" over in Tibet. The feeling had sufficient grounds, at that. Most of the Tibetan border tribes were robbers.
But, somehow, the old Society of the Patriotic Harmony Fist--the I Ho Huan, otherwise, the Boxers--had been gaining strength here in Shanking lately. When it was learned that Shadak Khan, down in Kansu, was pushing the organization, the Shanking Boxers not only doubled their strength overnight; the I Ho Huan began to mean something else. The "Fist" was meant to smash not only foreign enemies but Chinese enemies as well...
It was a little old waiter of the Stone Jewel Castle who came running to the headquarters of the Shanking Boxers along toward midnight with word that the Black Abbot had taken Shadak Khan captive and was about to cut off his nose and gouge out his eyes. He told a circumstantial story.
First of all, early this night, Shadak Khan had appeared at the Stone Jewel Castle. It was Shadak Khan, as proven by three facts: The man was white, yet spoke the language like a native son; he'd ordered tea and refused the society of ladies; he'd given him--himself, Wing Te--one dollar, and here it was.
Those brethren, moreover, who'd been with the "White Boxer" at the time of the riot had been circulating through the town accumulating a following as they went. They were already a good-sized mob by the time they came to the Boxer headquarters. They got there just in time to hear the story that Wing Te had to tell.
SHANKING was a labyrinth of hutungs--twisting narrow lanes--and these began to flood out a human torrent, like so many feeders of the Yangste in a season of freshets. Men, and most of them armed. If they hadn't fought in the army of one Lieu, then it had been in the army of another---deserting at last, stealing their arms. Even if you couldn't sell a rifle as a rifle, you could always sell it for iron. Practically all of the rickshaws in Shanking now had rifle-barrels for axles.
Just this side of the Stone Jewel Palace, the mob met a company of the Black Abbot's men. The mob rolled over them.
As if oiled and accelerated by this first contact with forthright battle, the mob rolled on for another mile--meeting more Tibetans--killing them--all they could catch.
IT was by a roundabout way that the leaders of the mob came back to the Stone Jewel Castle. They came up to it by a hutung at the rear. But by this time the place was surrounded.
Thousands were packed into the Road to Heaven Street.
They'd been shouting their "I Ho Huan" and gradually adding to this that other word that was like a mantram: "Shadak! Shadak!"
A full-throated cry, barking and exploding like light artillery. When one of those moments of mob-prescience seemed to sweep the street and there was almost full silence.
And then, there along a balcony, they saw the blare and bob of a dozen big lanterns--the sort that were used in the Stone Jewel Palace gambling rooms, and this was just above those rooms. The lanterns pulled away and left a space into which one man staggered carrying another. The silence of the mob suddenly broke into a roar.
That was Shadak Khan up there--half-naked, torn and bloody; looking though somehow even to Chinese eyes, the Fighting Fool. And the thing he carried--that also they recognized, with that curious, thousand-eyed and thousand-brained prescience of the mob; it was the body of the Black Abbot.
Comparative silence fell again, then they heard the white man shout: "Hey, you, Brethren of the Fist! Want another war-lord?"
And he flung the body of the Black Abbot over to them, down there into the street.
Shattuck slept late.
He had the better of ten thousand guardians to see that he wasn't disturbed. The rest of his potential guardians were out hunting--not only Tibetans, either, this time, but Lieus, the former dukes and war-lords. Both Lieus and Tibetans were on the run--the former to the east and the latter to the west--but both of them leaving rich loot back of them.
SHATTUCK slept, but every so often he'd rouse himself and swab some wound or other with stuff that had been given him by old Doctor Wu. He was covered with wounds. The Black Abott had almost got him--fighting as he was with only his teeth and one arm. But at last the knife had dropped and it was he who'd got it.
Almost the worst of it was lying there afterward with the dead Abbott in his arms, waiting to get back enough strength to free himself. It had been like that when the Brethren of the Fist broke in and organized their lantern parade.
Doctor Wu came in, a fine old Chinese gentleman with no more idea of germs than a little child, yet a pretty good doctor, at that.
"Chu dien, dahren!"
It was as if he'd said, "Greetings, Oh, distinguished patient!" And he'd added an inquiry as to how his distinguished patient felt.
"Fine!" Shattuck answered in the vernacular; and he thanked and complimented the fine old man. "Only," said Shattuck, "I'm feeling pretty hungry."
"Excellent," said Doctor Wu. "And I have brought you something that is not only food but a marvelous specific--for liver, lungs and heart. I refer to the celebrated yang yu, or foreign root. He opened up a silk handkerchief and produced a potato. One slice," he said, "every half-hour."
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