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Title: Skull-Face
Author: Robert E. Howard
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eBook No.: 0608141.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2006
Date most recently updated: December 2007

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Skull-Face
Robert E. Howard



Chapter 1. The Face in the Mist



_"We are no other than a moving row_
_Of Magic Shadow-shapes that come and go."_

   --Omar Khayyam

The horror first took concrete form amid that most unconcrete of
all things--a hashish dream. I was off on a timeless, spaceless
journey through the strange lands that belong to this state of being,
a million miles away from earth and all things earthly; yet I became
cognizant that something was reaching across the unknown voids--
something that tore ruthlessly at the separating curtains of my
illusions and intruded itself into my visions.

I did not exactly return to ordinary waking life, yet I was
conscious of a seeing and a recognizing that was unpleasant and seemed
out of keeping with the dream I was at that time enjoying. To one who
has never known the delights of hashish, my explanation must seem
chaotic and impossible. Still, I was aware of a rending of mists and
then the Face intruded itself into my sight. I though at first it was
merely a skull; then I saw that it was a hideous yellow instead of
white, and was endowed with some horrid form of life. Eyes glimmered
deep in the sockets and the jaws moved as if in speech. The body,
except for the high, thin shoulders, was vague and indistinct, but the
hands, which floated in the mists before and below the skull, were
horribly vivid and filled me with crawling fears. They were like the
hands of a mummy, long, lean and yellow, with knobby joints and cruel
curving talons.

Then, to complete the vague horror which was swiftly taking
possession of me, a voice spoke--imagine a man so long dead that his
vocal organ had grown rusty and unaccustomed to speech. This was the
thought which struck me and made my flesh crawl as I listened.

"A strong brute and one who might be useful somehow. See that he
is given all the hashish he requires."

Then the face began to recede, even as I sensed that I was the
subject of conversation, and the mists billowed and began to close
again. Yet for a single instant a scene stood out with startling
clarity. I gasped--or sought to. For over the high, strange shoulder
of the apparition another face stood out clearly for an instant, as if
the owner peered at me. Red lips, half-parted, long dark eyelashes,
shading vivid eyes, a shimmery cloud of hair. Over the shoulder of
Horror, breathtaking beauty for an instant looked at me.



Chapter 2. The Hashish Slave



_"Up from Earth's center through the Seventh Gate_
_I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate."_

   --Omar Khayyam

My dream of the skull-face was borne over that usually uncrossable
gap that lies between hashish enchantment and humdrum reality. I sat
cross-legged on a mat in Yun Shatu's Temple of Dreams and gathered the
fading forces of my decaying brain to the task of remembering events
and faces.

This last dream was so entirely different from any I had ever had
before, that my waning interest was roused to the point of inquiring
as to its origin. When I first began to experiment with hashish, I
sought to find a physical or psychic basis for the wild flights of
illusion pertaining thereto, but of late I had been content to enjoy
without seeking cause and effect.

Whence this unaccountable sensation of familiarity in regard to
that vision? I took my throbbing head between my hands and laboriously
sought a clue. A living dead man and a girl of rare beauty who had
looked over his shoulder. Then I remembered.

Back in the fog of days and nights which veils a hashish addict's
memory, my money had given out. It seemed years or possibly centuries,
but my stagnant reason told me that it had probably been only a few
days. At any rate, I had presented myself at Yun Shatu's sordid dive
as usual and had been thrown out by the great Negro, Hassim, when it was
learned I had no more money.

My universe crashing to pieces about me, and my nerves humming
like taut piano wires for the vital need that was mine, I crouched in
the gutter and gibbered bestially, till Hassim swaggered out and
stilled my yammerings with a blow that felled me, half-stunned.

Then as I presently rose, staggeringly and with no thought save of
the river which flowed with cool murmur so near me--as I rose, a light
hand was laid like the touch of a rose on my arm. I turned with a
frightened start, and stood spellbound before the vision of loveliness
which met my gaze. Dark eyes limpid with pity surveyed me and the
little hand on my ragged sleeve drew me toward the door of the Dream
Temple. I shrank back, but a low voice, soft and musical, urged me,
and filled with a trust that was strange, I shambled along with my
beautiful guide.

At the door Hassim met us, cruel hands lifted and a dark scowl on
his ape-like brow, but as I cowered there, expecting a blow, he halted
before the girl's upraised hand and her word of command, which had
taken on an imperious note.

I did not understand what she said, but I saw dimly, as in a fog,
that she gave the black man money, and she led me to a couch where she
had me recline and arranged the cushions as if I were king of Egypt
instead of a ragged, dirty renegade who lived only for hashish. Her
slim hand was cool on my brow for a moment, and then she was gone and
Yussef Ali came bearing the stuff for which my very soul shrieked--and
soon I was wandering again through those strange and exotic countries
that only a hashish slave knows.

Now as I sat on the mat and pondered the dream of the skull-face, I
wondered more. Since the unknown girl had led me back into the dive, I
had come and gone as before, when I had plenty of money to pay Yun
Shatu. Someone certainly was paying him for me, and while my
subconscious mind had told me it was the girl, my rusty brain had
failed to grasp the fact entirely, or to wonder why. What need of
wondering? So someone paid and the vivid-hued dreams continued, what
cared I? But now I wondered. For the girl who had protected me from
Hassim and had brought the hashish for me was the same girl I had seen
in the skull-face dream.

Through the soddenness of my degradation the lure of her struck
like a knife piercing my heart and strangely revived the memories of
the days when I was a man like other men--not yet a sullen, cringing
slave of dreams. Far and dim they were, shimmery islands in the mist
of years--and what a dark sea lay between!

I looked at my ragged sleeve and the dirty, claw-like hand
protruding from it; I gazed through the hanging smoke which fogged the
sordid room, at the low bunks along the wall whereon lay the blankly
staring dreamers--slaves, like me, of hashish or of opium. I gazed at
the slippered Chinamen gliding softly to and fro bearing pipes or
roasting balls of concentrated purgatory over tiny flickering fires. I
gazed at Hassim standing, arms folded, beside the door like a great
statue of black basalt.

And I shuddered and hid my face in my hands because with the faint
dawning of returning manhood, I knew that this last and most cruel
dream was futile--I had crossed an ocean over which I could never
return, had cut myself off from the world of normal men or women.
Naught remained now but to drown this dream as I had drowned all my
others--swiftly and with hope that I should soon attain that Ultimate
Ocean which lies beyond all dreams.

So these fleeting moments of lucidity, of longing, that tear aside
the veils of all dope slaves--unexplainable, without hope of
attainment.

So I went back to my empty dreams, to my phantasmagoria of
illusions; but sometimes, like a sword cleaving a mist, through the
high lands and the low lands and seas of my visions floated, like
half-forgotten music, the sheen of dark eyes and shimmery hair.

You ask how I, Stephen Costigan, American and a man of some
attainments and culture, came to lie in a filthy dive of London's
Limehouse? The answer is simple--no jaded debauchee, I, seeking new
sensations in the mysteries of the Orient. I answer--Argonne! Heavens,
what deeps and heights of horror lurk in that one word alone! Shell-
shocked--shell-torn. Endless days and nights without end and roaring
red hell over No Man's Land where I lay shot and bayoneted to shreds
of gory flesh. My body recovered, how I know not; my mind never did.

And the leaping fires and shifting shadows in my tortured brain
drove me down and down, along the stairs of degradation, uncaring
until at last I found surcease in Yun Shatu's Temple of Dreams, where
I slew my red dreams in other dreams--the dreams of hashish whereby a
man may descend to the lower pits of the reddest hells or soar into
those unnamable heights where the stars are diamond pinpoints beneath
his feet.

Not the visions of the sot, the beast, were mine. I attained the
unattainable, stood face to face with the unknown and in cosmic
calmness knew the unguessable. And was content after a fashion, until
the sight of burnished hair and scarlet lips swept away my dream-built
universe and left me shuddering among its ruins.



Chapter 3. The Master of Doom



_"And He that toss'd you down into the Field,_
_He knows about it all--He knows! He knows!"_

   --Omar Khayyam

A hand shook me roughly as I emerged languidly from my latest
debauch.

"The Master wishes you! Up, swine!"

Hassim it was who shook me and who spoke.

"To Hell with the Master!" I answered, for I hated Hassim--and
feared him.

"Up with you or you get no more hashish," was the brutal response,
and I rose in trembling haste.

I followed the huge black man and he led the way to the rear of
the building, stepping in and out among the wretched dreamers on the
floor.

"Muster all hands on deck!" droned a sailor in a bunk. "All
hands!"

Hassim flung open the door at the rear and motioned me to enter. I
had never before passed through that door and had supposed it led into
Yun Shatu's private quarters. But it was furnished only with a cot, a
bronze idol of some sort before which incense burned, and a heavy
table.

Hassim gave me a sinister glance and seized the table as if to
spin it about. It turned as if it stood on a revolving platform and a
section of the floor turned with it, revealing a hidden doorway in the
floor. Steps led downward in the darkness.

Hassim lighted a candle and with a brusque gesture invited me to
descend. I did so, with the sluggish obedience of the dope addict, and
he followed, closing the door above us by means of an iron lever
fastened to the underside of the floor. In the semi-darkness we went
down the rickety steps, some nine or ten I should say, and then came
upon a narrow corridor.

Here Hassim again took the lead, holding the candle high in front
of him. I could scarcely see the sides of this cave-like passageway
but knew that it was not wide. The flickering light showed it to be
bare of any sort of furnishings save for a number of strange-looking
chests which lined the walls--receptacles containing opium and other
dope, I thought.

A continuous scurrying and the occasional glint of small red eyes
haunted the shadows, betraying the presence of vast numbers of the
great rats which infest the Thames waterfront of that section.

Then more steps loomed out of the dark in front of us as the
corridor came to an abrupt end. Hassim led the way up and at the top
knocked four times against what seemed the underside of a floor. A
hidden door opened and a flood of soft, illusive light streamed
through.

Hassim hustled me up roughly and I stood blinking in such a
setting as I had never seen in my wildest flights of vision. I stood
in a jungle of palm trees through which wriggled a million vivid-hued
dragons! Then, as my startled eyes became accustomed to the light, I
saw that I had not been suddenly transferred to some other planet, as
I had at first thought. The palm trees were there, and the dragons,
but the trees were artificial and stood in great pots and the dragons
writhed across heavy tapestries which hid the walls.

The room itself was a monstrous affair--inhumanly large, it seemed
to me. A thick smoke, yellowish and tropical in suggestion, seemed to
hang over all, veiling the ceiling and baffling upward glances. This
smoke, I saw, emanated from an altar in front of the wall to my left.
I started. Through the saffron-billowing fog two eyes, hideously large
and vivid, glittered at me. The vague outlines of some bestial idol
took indistinct shape. I flung an uneasy glance about, marking the
oriental divans and couches and the bizarre furnishings, and then my
eyes halted and rested on a lacquer screen just in front of me.

I could not pierce it and no sound came from beyond it, yet I felt
eyes searing into my consciousness through it, eyes that burned
through my very soul. A strange aura of evil flowed from that strange
screen with its weird carvings and unholy decorations.

Hassim salaamed profoundly before it and then, without speaking,
stepped back and folded his arms, statue-like.

A voice suddenly broke the heavy and oppressive silence.

"You who are a swine, would you like to be a man again?"

I started. The tone was inhuman, cold--more, there was a
suggestion of long disuse of the vocal organs--the voice I had heard
in my dream!

"Yes," I replied, trance-like, "I would like to be a man again."

Silence ensued for a space; then the voice came again with a
sinister whispering undertone at the back of its sound like bats
flying through a cavern.

"I shall make you a man again because I am a friend to all broken
men. Not for a price shall I do it, nor for gratitude. And I give you
a sign to seal my promise and my vow. Thrust your hand through the
screen."

At these strange and almost unintelligible words I stood
perplexed, and then, as the unseen voice repeated the last command, I
stepped forward and thrust my hand through a slit which opened
silently in the screen. I felt my wrist seized in an iron grip and
something seven times colder than ice touched the inside of my hand.
Then my wrist was released, and drawing forth my hand I saw a strange
symbol traced in blue close to the base of my thumb--a thing like a
scorpion.

The voice spoke again in a sibilant language I did not understand,
and Hassim stepped forward deferentially. He reached about the screen
and then turned to me, holding a goblet of some amber-colored liquid
which he proffered me with an ironical bow. I took it hesitatingly.

"Drink and fear not," said the unseen voice. "It is only an
Egyptian wine with life-giving qualities."

So I raised the goblet and emptied it; the taste was not
unpleasant, and even as I handed the beaker to Hassim again, I seemed
to feel new life and vigor whip along my jaded veins.

"Remain at Yun Shatu's house," said the voice. "You will be given
food and a bed until you are strong enough to work for yourself. You
will use no hashish nor will you require any. Go!"

As in a daze, I followed Hassim back through the hidden door, down
the steps, along the dark corridor and up through the other door that
let us into the Temple of Dreams.

As we stepped from the rear chamber into the main room of the
dreamers, I turned to the Negro wonderingly.

"Master? Master of what? Of Life?"

Hassim laughed, fiercely and sardonically.

"Master of Doom!"



Chapter 4. The Spider and the Fly



_"There was the Door to which I found no Key;_
_There was the Veil through which I might not see."_

   --Omar Khayyam

I sat on Yun Shatu's cushions and pondered with a clearness of
mind new and strange to me. As for that, all my sensations were new
and strange. I felt as if I had wakened from a monstrously long sleep,
and though my thoughts were sluggish, I felt as though the cobwebs
which had dogged them for so long had been partly brushed away.

I drew my hand across my brow, noting how it trembled. I was weak
and shaky and felt the stirrings of hunger--not for dope but for food.
What had been in the draft I had quenched in the chamber of mystery?
And why had the "Master" chosen me, out of all the other wretches of
Yun Shatu's, for regeneration?

And who was this Master? Somehow the word sounded vaguely
familiar--I sought laboriously to remember. Yes--I had heard it, lying
half-waking in the bunks or on the floor--whispered sibilantly by Yun
Shatu or by Hassim or by Yussef Ali, the Moor, muttered in their low-
voiced conversations and mingled always with words I could not
understand. Was not Yun Shatu, then, master of the Temple of Dreams? I
had thought and the other addicts thought that the withered Chinaman
held undisputed sway over this drab kingdom and that Hassim and Yussef
Ali were his servants. And the four China boys who roasted opium with
Yun Shatu and Yar Khan the Afghan and Santiago the Haitian and Ganra
Singh, the renegade Sikh--all in the pay of Yun Shatu, we supposed--
bound to the opium lord by bonds of gold or fear.

For Yun Shatu was a power in London's Chinatown and I had heard
that his tentacles reached across the seas into high places of mighty
and mysterious tongs. Was that Yun Shatu behind the lacquer screen?
No; I knew the Chinaman's voice and besides I had seen him puttering
about in the front of the Temple just as I went through the back door.

Another thought came to me. Often, lying half-torpid, in the late
hours of night or in the early grayness of dawn, I had seen men and
women steal into the Temple, whose dress and bearing were strangely
out of place and incongruous. Tall, erect men, often in evening dress,
with their hats drawn low about their brows, and fine ladies, veiled,
in silks and furs. Never two of them came together, but always they
came separately and, hiding their features, hurried to the rear door,
where they entered and presently came forth again, hours later
sometimes. Knowing that the lust for dope finds resting-place in high
positions sometimes, I had never wondered overmuch, supposing that
these were wealthy men and women of society who had fallen victims to
the craving, and that somewhere in the back of the building there was
a private chamber for such. Yet now I wondered--sometimes these
persons had remained only a few moments--was it always opium for which
they came, or did they, too, traverse that strange corridor and
converse with the One behind the screen?

My mind dallied with the idea of a great specialist to whom came
all classes of people to find surcease from the dope habit. Yet it was
strange that such a one should select a dope-joint from which to
work--strange, too, that the owner of that house should apparently
look on him with so much reverence.

I gave it up as my head began to hurt with the unwonted effort of
thinking, and shouted for food. Yussef Ali brought it to me on a tray,
with a promptness which was surprizing. More, he salaamed as he
departed, leaving me to ruminate on the strange shift of my status in
the Temple of Dreams.

I ate, wondering what the One of the screen wanted with me. Not
for an instant did I suppose that his actions had been prompted by the
reasons he pretended; the life of the underworld had taught me that
none of its denizens leaned toward philanthropy. And underworld the
chamber of mystery had been, in spite of its elaborate and bizarre
nature. And where could it be located? How far had I walked along the
corridor? I shrugged my shoulders, wondering if it were not all a
hashish-induced dream; then my eye fell upon my hand--and the scorpion
traced thereon.

"Muster all hands!" droned the sailor in the bunk. "All hands!"

To tell in detail of the next few days would be boresome to any
who have not tasted the dire slavery of dope. I waited for the craving
to strike me again--waited with sure sardonic hopelessness. All day,
all night--another day--then the miracle was forced upon my doubting
brain. Contrary to all theories and supposed facts of science and
common sense the craving had left me as suddenly and completely as a
bad dream! At first I could not credit my senses but believed myself
to be still in the grip of a dope nightmare. But it was true. From the
time I quaffed the goblet in the room of mystery, I felt not the
slightest desire for the stuff which had been life itself to me. This,
I felt vaguely, was somehow unholy and certainly opposed to all rules
of nature. If the dread being behind the screen had discovered the
secret of breaking hashish's terrible power, what other monstrous
secrets had he discovered and what unthinkable dominance was his? The
suggestion of evil crawled serpent-like through my mind.

I remained at Yun Shatu's house, lounging in a bunk or on cushions
spread upon the floor, eating and drinking at will, but now that I was
becoming a normal man again, the atmosphere became most revolting to
me and the sight of the wretches writhing in their dreams reminded me
unpleasantly of what I myself had been, and it repelled, nauseated me.

So one day, when no one was watching me, I rose and went out on
the street and walked along the waterfront. The air, burdened though
it was with smoke and foul scents, filled my lungs with strange
freshness and aroused new vigor in what had once been a powerful
frame. I took new interest in the sounds of men living and working,
and the sight of a vessel being unloaded at one of the wharfs actually
thrilled me. The force of longshoremen was short, and presently I
found myself heaving and lifting and carrying, and though the sweat
coursed down my brow and my limbs trembled at the effort, I exulted in
the thought that at last I was able to labor for myself again, no
matter how low or drab the work might be.

As I returned to the door of Yun Shatu's that evening--hideously
weary but with the renewed feeling of manhood that comes of honest
toil--Hassim met me at the door.

"You been where?" he demanded roughly.

"I've been working on the docks," I answered shortly.

"You don't need to work on docks," he snarled. "The Master got
work for you."

He led the way, and again I traversed the dark stairs and the
corridor under the earth. This time my faculties were alert and I
decided that the passageway could not be over thirty or forty feet in
length. Again I stood before the lacquer screen and again I heard the
inhuman voice of living death.

"I can give you work," said the voice. "Are you willing to work
for me?"

I quickly assented. After all, in spite of the fear which the
voice inspired, I was deeply indebted to the owner.

"Good. Take these."

As I started toward the screen a sharp command halted me and
Hassim stepped forward and reaching behind took what was offered. This
was a bundle of pictures and papers, apparently.

"Study these," said the One behind the screen, "and learn all you
can about the man portrayed thereby. Yun Shatu will give you money;
buy yourself such clothes as seamen wear and take a room at the front
of the Temple. At the end of two days, Hassim will bring you to me
again. Go!"

The last impression I had, as the hidden door closed above me, was
that the eyes of the idol, blinking through the everlasting smoke,
leered mockingly at me.

The front of the Temple of Dreams consisted of rooms for rent,
masking the true purpose of the building under the guise of a
waterfront boarding house. The police had made several visits to Yun
Shatu but had never got any incriminating evidence against him.

So in one of these rooms I took up my abode and set to work
studying the material given me.

The pictures were all of one man, a large man, not unlike me in
build and general facial outline, except that he wore a heavy beard
and was inclined to blondness whereas I am dark. The name, as written
on the accompanying papers, was Major Fairlan Morley, special
commissioner to Natal and the Transvaal. This office and title were
new to me and I wondered at the connection between an African
commissioner and an opium house on the Thames waterfront.

The papers consisted of extensive data evidently copied from
authentic sources and all dealing with Major Morley, and a number of
private documents considerably illuminating on the major's private
life.

An exhaustive description was given of the man's personal
appearance and habits, some of which seemed very trivial to me. I
wondered what the purpose could be, and how the One behind the screen
had come in possession of papers of such intimate nature.

I could find no clue in answer to this question but bent all my
energies to the task set out for me. I owed a deep debt of gratitude
to the unknown man who required this of me and I was determined to
repay him to the best of my ability. Nothing, at this time, suggested
a snare to me.



Chapter 5. The Man on the Couch



_"What dam of lances sent thee forth to jest at dawn with Death?"_
   --Kipling

At the expiration of two days, Hassim beckoned me as I stood in
the opium room. I advanced with a springy, resilient tread, secure in
the confidence that I had culled the Morley papers of all their worth.
I was a new man; my mental swiftness and physical readiness surprized
me--sometimes it seemed unnatural.

Hassim eyed me through narrowed lids and motioned me to follow, as
usual. As we crossed the room, my gaze fell upon a man who lay on a
couch close to the wall, smoking opium. There was nothing at all
suspicious about his ragged, unkempt clothes, his dirty, bearded face
or the blank stare, but my eyes, sharpened to an abnormal point,
seemed to sense a certain incongruity in the clean-cut limbs which not
even the slouchy garments could efface.

Hassim spoke impatiently and I turned away. We entered the rear
room, and as he shut the door and turned to the table, it moved of
itself and a figure bulked up through the hidden doorway. The Sikh,
Ganra Singh, a lean sinister-eyed giant, emerged and proceeded to the
door opening into the opium room, where he halted until we should have
descended and closed the secret doorway.

Again I stood amid the billowing yellow smoke and listened to the
hidden voice.

"Do you think you know enough about Major Morley to impersonate
him successfully?"

Startled, I answered, "No doubt I could, unless I met someone who
was intimate with him."

"I will take care of that. Follow me closely. Tomorrow you sail on
the first boat for Calais. There you will meet an agent of mine who
will accost you the instant you step upon the wharfs, and give you
further instructions. You will sail second class and avoid all
conversation with strangers or anyone. Take the papers with you. The
agent will aid you in making up and your masquerade will start in
Calais. That is all. Go!"

I departed, my wonder growing. All this rigmarole evidently had a
meaning, but one which I could not fathom. Back in the opium room
Hassim bade me be seated on some cushions to await his return. To my
question he snarled that he was going forth as he had been ordered, to
buy me a ticket on the Channel boat. He departed and I sat down,
leaning my back against the wall. As I ruminated, it seemed suddenly
that eyes were fixed on me so intensely as to disturb my sub-mind. I
glanced up quickly but no one seemed to be looking at me. The smoke
drifted through the hot atmosphere as usual; Yussef Ali and the
Chinese glided back and forth tending to the wants of the sleepers.

Suddenly the door to the rear room opened and a strange and
hideous figure came haltingly out. Not all of those who found entrance
to Yun Shatu's back room were aristocrats and society members. This
was one of the exceptions, and one whom I remembered as having often
entered and emerged therefrom. A tall, gaunt figure, shapeless and
ragged wrappings and nondescript garments, face entirely hidden.
Better that the face be hidden, I thought, for without doubt the
wrapping concealed a grisly sight. The man was a leper, who had
somehow managed to escape the attention of the public guardians and
who was occasionally seen haunting the lower and more mysterious
regions of East End--a mystery even to the lowest denizens of
Limehouse.

Suddenly my supersensitive mind was aware of a swift tension in
the air. The leper hobbled out the door, closed it behind him. My eyes
instinctively sought the couch whereon lay the man who had aroused my
suspicions earlier in the day. I could have sworn that cold steely
eyes glared menacingly before they flickered shut. I crossed to the
couch in one stride and bent over the prostrate man. Something about
his face seemed unnatural--a healthy bronze seemed to underlie the
pallor of complexion.

"Yun Shatu!" I shouted. "A spy is in the house!"

Things happened then with bewildering speed. The man on the couch
with one tigerish movement leaped erect and a revolver gleamed in his
hand. One sinewy arm flung me aside as I sought to grapple with him
and a sharp decisive voice sounded over the babble which broke forth.

"You there! Halt! Halt!"

The pistol in the stranger's hand was leveled at the leper, who
was making for the door in long strides!

All about was confusion; Yun Shatu was shrieking volubly in
Chinese and the four China boys and Yussef Ali were rushing in from
all sides, knives glittering in their hands.

All this I saw with unnatural clearness even as I marked the
stranger's face. As the fleeing leper gave no evidence of halting, I
saw the eyes harden to steely points of determination, sighting along
the pistol barrel--the features set with the grim purpose of the
slayer. The leper was almost to the outer door, but death would strike
him down ere he could reach it.

And then, just as the finger of the stranger tightened on the
trigger, I hurled myself forward and my right fist crashed against his
chin. He went down as though struck by a trip-hammer, the revolver
exploding harmlessly in the air.

In that instant, with the blinding flare of light that sometimes
comes to one, I knew that the leper was none other than the Man Behind
the Screen!

I bent over the fallen man, who though not entirely senseless had
been rendered temporarily helpless by that terrific blow. He was
struggling dazedly to rise but I shoved him roughly down again and
seizing the false beard he wore, tore it away. A lean bronzed face was
revealed, the strong lines of which not even the artificial dirt and
grease-paint could alter.

Yussef Ali leaned above him now, dagger in hand, eyes slits of
murder. The brown sinewy hand went up--I caught the wrist.

"Not so fast, you black devil! What are you about to do?"

"This is John Gordon," he hissed, "the Master's greatest foe! He
must die, curse you!"

John Gordon! The name was familiar somehow, and yet I did not seem
to connect it with the London police nor account for the man's
presence in Yun Shatu's dope-joint. However, on one point I was
determined.

"You don't kill him, at any rate. Up with you!" This last to
Gordon, who with my aid staggered up, still very dizzy.

"That punch would have dropped a bull," I said in wonderment; "I
didn't know I had it in me."

The false leper had vanished. Yun Shatu stood gazing at me as
immobile as an idol, hands in his wide sleeves, and Yussef Ali stood
back, muttering murderously and thumbing his dagger edge, as I led
Gordon out of the opium room and through the innocent-appearing bar
which lay between that room and the street.

Out in the street I said to him: "I have no idea as to who you are
or what you are doing here, but you see what an unhealthful place it
is for you. Hereafter be advised by me and stay away."

His only answer was a searching glance, and then he turned and
walked swiftly though somewhat unsteadily up the street.



Chapter 6. The Dream Girl



_"I have reached these lands but newly_
_From an ultimate dim Thule."_

   --Poe

Outside my room sounded a light footstep. The doorknob turned
cautiously and slowly; the door opened. I sprang erect with a gasp.
Red lips, half-parted, dark eyes like limpid seas of wonder, a mass of
shimmering hair--framed in my drab doorway stood the girl of my
dreams!

She entered, and half-turning with a sinuous motion, closed the
door. I sprang forward, my hands outstretched, then halted as she put
a finger to her lips.

"You must not talk loudly," she almost whispered. "He did not say
I could not come; yet--"

Her voice was soft and musical, with just a touch of foreign
accent which I found delightful. As for the girl herself, every
intonation, every movement proclaimed the Orient. She was a fragrant
breath from the East. From her night-black hair, piled high above her
alabaster forehead, to her little feet, encased in high-heeled pointed
slippers, she portrayed the highest ideal of Asiatic loveliness--an
effect which was heightened rather than lessened by the English blouse
and skirt which she wore.

"You are beautiful!" I said dazedly. "Who are you?"

"I am Zuleika," she answered with a shy smile. "I--I am glad you
like me. I am glad you no longer dream hashish dreams."

Strange that so small a thing should set my heart to leaping
wildly!

"I owe it all to you, Zuleika," I said huskily. "Had not I dreamed
of you every hour since you first lifted me from the gutter, I had
lacked the power of even hoping to be freed from my curse."

She blushed prettily and intertwined her white fingers as if in
nervousness.

"You leave England tomorrow?" she said suddenly.

"Yes. Hassim has not returned with my ticket--" I hesitated
suddenly, remembering the command of silence.

"Yes, I know, I know!" she whispered swiftly, her eyes widening.
"And John Gordon has been here! He saw you!"

"Yes!"

She came close to me with a quick lithe movement.

"You are to impersonate some man! Listen, while you are doing
this, you must not ever let Gordon see you! He would know you, no
matter what your disguise! He is a terrible man!"

"I don't understand," I said, completely bewildered. "How did the
Master break me of my hashish craving? Who is this Gordon and why did
he come here? Why does the Master go disguised as a leper--and who is
he? Above all, why am I to impersonate a man I never saw or heard of?"

"I cannot--I dare not tell you!" she whispered, her face paling.
"I--"

Somewhere in the house sounded the faint tones of a Chinese gong.
The girl started like a frightened gazelle.

"I must go! _He_ summons me!"

She opened the door, darted through, halted a moment to electrify
me with her passionate exclamation: "Oh, be careful, be very careful,
sahib!"

Then she was gone.



Chapter 7. The Man of the Skull



_"What the hammer? What the chain?_
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
_Dare its deadly terrors clasp?"_

   --Blake

A while after my beautiful and mysterious visitor had left, I sat
in meditation. I believed that I had at last stumbled onto an
explanation of a part of the enigma, at any rate. This was the
conclusion I had reached: Yun Shatu, the opium lord, was simply the
agent or servant of some organization or individual whose work was on
a far larger scale than merely supplying dope addicts in the Temple of
Dreams. This man or these men needed co-workers among all classes of
people; in other words, I was being let in with a group of opium
smugglers on a gigantic scale. Gordon no doubt had been investigating
the case, and his presence alone showed that it was no ordinary one,
for I knew that he held a high position with the English government,
though just what, I did not know.

Opium or not, I determined to carry out my obligation to the
Master. My moral sense had been blunted by the dark ways I had
traveled, and the thought of despicable crime did not enter my head. I
was indeed hardened. More, the mere debt of gratitude was increased a
thousand-fold by the thought of the girl. To the Master I owed it that
I was able to stand up on my feet and look into her clear eyes as a
man should. So if he wished my services as a smuggler of dope, he
should have them. No doubt I was to impersonate some man so high in
governmental esteem that the usual actions of the customs officers
would be deemed unnecessary; was I to bring some rare dream-producer
into England?

These thoughts were in my mind as I went downstairs, but ever back
of them hovered other and more alluring suppositions--what was the
reason for the girl, here in this vile dive--a rose in a garbage-
heap--and who was she?

As I entered the outer bar, Hassim came in, his brows set in a
dark scowl of anger, and, I believed, fear. He carried a newspaper in
his hand, folded.

"I told you to wait in opium room," he snarled.

"You were gone so long that I went up to my room. Have you the
ticket?"

He merely grunted and pushed on past me into the opium room, and
standing at the door I saw him cross the floor and disappear into the
rear room. I stood there, my bewilderment increasing. For as Hassim
had brushed past me, I had noted an item on the face of the paper,
against which his black thumb was tightly pressed as if to mark that
special column of news.

And with the unnatural celerity of action and judgment which
seemed to be mine those days, I had in that fleeting instant read:

 *African Special Commissioner Found Murdered!*

*The body of Major Fairlan Morley was yesterday discovered in a
rotting ship's hold at Bordeaux...*

No more I saw of the details, but that alone was enough to make me
think! The affair seemed to be taking on an ugly aspect. Yet--

Another day passed. To my inquiries, Hassim snarled that the plans
had been changed and I was not to go to France. Then, late in the
evening, he came to bid me once more to the room of mystery.

I stood before the lacquer screen, the yellow smoke acrid in my
nostrils, the woven dragons writhing along the tapestries, the palm
trees rearing thick and oppressive.

"A change has come in our plans," said the hidden voice. "You will
not sail as was decided before. But I have other work that you may do.
Mayhap this will be more to your type of usefulness, for I admit you
have somewhat disappointed me in regard to subtlety. You interfered
the other day in such manner as will no doubt cause me great
inconvenience in the future."

I said nothing, but a feeling of resentment began to stir in me.

"Even after the assurance of one of my most trusted servants," the
toneless voice continued, with no mark of any emotion save a slightly
rising note, "you insisted on releasing my most deadly enemy. Be more
circumspect in the future."

"I saved your life!" I said angrily.

"And for that reason alone I overlook your mistake--this time!"

A slow fury suddenly surged up in me.

"This time! Make the best of it this time, for I assure you there
will be no next time. I owe you a greater debt than I can ever hope to
pay, but that does not make me your slave. I have saved your life--the
debt is as near paid as a man can pay it. Go your way and I go mine!"

A low, hideous laugh answered me, like a reptilian hiss.

"You fool! You will pay with your whole life's toil! You say you
are not my slave? I say you are--just as black Hassim there beside you
is my slave--just as the girl Zuleika is my slave, who has bewitched
you with her beauty."

These words sent a wave of hot blood to my brain and I was
conscious of a flood of fury which completely engulfed my reason for a
second. Just as all my moods and senses seemed sharpened and
exaggerated those days, so now this burst of rage transcended every
moment of anger I had ever had before.

"Hell's fiends!" I shrieked. "You devil--who are you and what is
your hold on me? I'll see you or die!"

Hassim sprang at me, but I hurled him backward and with one stride
reached the screen and flung it aside with an incredible effort of
strength. Then I shrank back, hands outflung, shrieking. A tall, gaunt
figure stood before me, a figure arrayed grotesquely in a silk
brocaded gown which fell to the floor.

From the sleeves of this gown protruded hands which filled me with
crawling horror--long, predatory hands, with thin bony fingers and
curved talons--withered skin of a parchment brownish-yellow, like the
hands of a man long dead.

The hands--but, oh God, the face! A skull to which no vestige of
flesh seemed to remain but on which taut brownish-yellow skin grew
fast, etching out every detail of that terrible death's-head. The
forehead was high and in a way magnificent, but the head was curiously
narrow through the temples, and from under penthouse brows great eyes
glimmered like pools of yellow fire. The nose was high-bridged and
very thin; the mouth was a mere colorless gash between thin, cruel
lips. A long, bony neck supported this frightful vision and completed
the effect of a reptilian demon from some medieval hell.

I was face to face with the skull-faced man of my dreams!



Chapter 8. Black Wisdom



_"By thought a crawling ruin,_
By life a leaping mire.
By a broken heart in the breast of the world
_And the end of the world's desire."_

   --Chesterton

The terrible spectacle drove for the instant all thought of
rebellion from my mind. My very blood froze in my veins and I stood
motionless. I heard Hassim laugh grimly behind me. The eyes in the
cadaverous face blazed fiendishly at me and I blanched from the
concentrated satanic fury in them.

Then the horror laughed sibilantly.

"I do you a great honor, Mr. Costigan; among a very few, even of
my own servants, you may say that you saw my face and lived. I think
you will be more useful to me living than dead."

I was silent, completely unnerved. It was difficult to believe
that this man lived, for his appearance certainly belied the thought.
He seemed horribly like a mummy. Yet his lips moved when he spoke and
his eyes flamed with hideous life.

"You will do as I say," he said abruptly, and his voice had taken
on a note of command. "You doubtless know, or know of, Sir Haldred
Frenton?"

"Yes."

Every man of culture in Europe and America was familiar with the
travel books of Sir Haldred Frenton, author and soldier of fortune.

"You will go to Sir Haldred's estate tonight--"

"Yes?"

_"And kill him!"_

I staggered, literally. This order was incredible--unspeakable! I
had sunk low, low enough to smuggle opium, but to deliberately murder
a man I had never seen, a man noted for his kindly deeds! That was too
monstrous even to contemplate.

"You do not refuse?"

The tone was as loathly and as mocking as the hiss of a serpent.

"Refuse?" I screamed, finding my voice at last. "Refuse? You
incarnate devil! Of course I refuse! You--"

Something in the cold assurance of his manner halted me--froze me
into apprehensive silence.

"You fool!" he said calmly. "I broke the hashish chains--do you
know how? Four minutes from now you will know and curse the day you
were born! Have you not thought it strange, the swiftness of brain,
the resilience of body--the brain that should be rusty and slow, the
body that should be weak and sluggish from years of abuse? That blow
that felled John Gordon--have you not wondered at its might? The ease
with which you mastered Major Morley's records--have you not wondered
at that? You fool, you are bound to me by chains of steel and blood
and fire! I have kept you alive and sane--I alone. Each day the life-
saving elixir has been given you in your wine. You could not live and
keep your reason without it. And I and only I know its secret!"

He glanced at a queer timepiece which stood on a table at his
elbow.

"This time I had Yun Shatu leave the elixir out--I anticipated
rebellion. The time is near--ha, it strikes!"

Something else he said, but I did not hear. I did not see, nor did
I feel in the human sense of the word. I was writhing at his feet,
screaming and gibbering in the flames of such hells as men have never
dreamed of.

Aye, I knew now! He had simply given me a dope so much stronger
that it drowned the hashish. My unnatural ability was explainable
now--I had simply been acting under the stimulus of something which
combined all the hells in its makeup, which stimulated, something like
heroin, but whose effect was unnoticed by the victim. What it was, I
had no idea, nor did I believe anyone knew save that hellish being who
stood watching me with grim amusement. But it had held my brain
together, instilling into my system a need for it, and now my
frightful craving tore my soul asunder.

Never, in my moments of worst shell-shock or my moments of
hashish-craving, have I ever experienced anything like that. I burned
with the heat of a thousand hells and froze with an iciness that was
colder than any ice, a hundred times. I swept down to the deepest pits
of torture and up to the highest crags of torment--a million yelling
devils hemmed me in, shrieking and stabbing. Bone by bone, vein by
vein, cell by cell I felt my body disintegrate and fly in bloody atoms
all over the universe--and each separate cell was an entire system of
quivering, screaming nerves. And they gathered from far voids and
reunited with a greater torment.

Through the fiery bloody mists I heard my own voice screaming, a
monotonous yammering. Then with distended eyes I saw a golden goblet,
held by a claw-like hand, swim into view--a goblet filled with an
amber liquid.

With a bestial screech, I seized it with both hands, being dimly
aware that the metal stem gave beneath my fingers, and brought the
brim to my lips. I drank in frenzied haste, the liquid slopping down
onto my breast.



Chapter 9. Kathulos of Egypt



_"Night shall be thrice night over you,_
_And Heaven an iron cope."_

   --Chesterton

The Skull-faced One stood watching me critically as I sat panting
on a couch, completely exhausted. He held in his hand the goblet and
surveyed the golden stem, which was crushed out of all shape. This my
maniac fingers had done in the instant of drinking.

"Superhuman strength, even for a man in your condition," he said
with a sort of creaky pedantry. "I doubt if even Hassim here could
equal it. Are you ready for your instructions now?"

I nodded, wordless. Already the hellish strength of the elixir was
flowing through my veins, renewing my burnt-out force. I wondered how
long a man could live as I lived being constantly burned out and
artificially rebuilt.

"You will be given a disguise and will go alone to the Frenton
estate. No one suspects any design against Sir Haldred and your
entrance into the estate and the house itself should be a matter of
comparative ease. You will not don the disguise--which will be of
unique nature--until you are ready to enter the estate. You will then
proceed to Sir Haldred's room and kill him, breaking his neck with
your bare hands--this is essential--"

The voice droned on, giving the ghastly orders in a frightfully
casual and matter-of-fact way. The cold sweat beaded my brow.

"You will then leave the estate, taking care to leave the imprint
of your hand somewhere plainly visible, and the automobile, which will
be waiting for you at some safe place nearby, will bring you back
here, you having first removed the disguise. I have, in case of
complications, any amount of men who will swear that you spent the
entire night in the Temple of Dreams and never left it. But there must
be no detection! Go warily and perform your task surely, for you know
the alternative."

I did not return to the opium house but was taken through winding
corridors, hung with heavy tapestries, to a small room containing only
an oriental couch. Hassim gave me to understand that I was to remain
here until after nightfall and then left me. The door was closed but I
made no effort to discover if it was locked. The Skull-faced Master
held me with stronger shackles than locks and bolts.

Seated upon the couch in the bizarre setting of a chamber which
might have been a room in an Indian zenana, I faced fact squarely and
fought out my battle. There was still in me some trace of manhood
left--more than the fiend had reckoned, and added to this were black
despair and desperation. I chose and determined on my only course.

Suddenly the door opened softly. Some intuition told me whom to
expect, nor was I disappointed. Zuleika stood, a glorious vision
before me--a vision which mocked me, made blacker my despair and yet
thrilled me with wild yearning and reasonless joy.

She bore a tray of food which she set beside me, and then she
seated herself on the couch, her large eyes fixed upon my face. A
flower in a serpent den she was, and the beauty of her took hold of my
heart.

"Steephen!" she whispered, and I thrilled as she spoke my name for
the first time.

Her luminous eyes suddenly shone with tears and she laid her
little hand on my arm. I seized it in both my rough hands.

"They have set you a task which you fear and hate!" she faltered.

"Aye," I almost laughed, "but I'll fool them yet! Zuleika, tell
me--what is the meaning of all this?"

She glanced fearfully around her.

"I do not know all"--she hesitated--"your plight is all my fault
but I--I hoped--Steephen, I have watched you every time you came to
Yun Shatu's for months. You did not see me but I saw you, and I saw in
you, not the broken sot your rags proclaimed, but a wounded soul, a
soul bruised terribly on the ramparts of life. And from my heart I
pitied you. Then when Hassim abused you that day"--again tears started
to her eyes--"I could not bear it and I knew how you suffered for want
of hashish. So I paid Yun Shatu, and going to the Master I--I--oh, you
will hate me for this!" she sobbed.

"No--no--never--"

"I told him that you were a man who might be of use to him and
begged him to have Yun Shatu supply you with what you needed. He had
already noticed you, for his is the eye of the slaver and all the
world is his slave market! So he bade Yun Shatu do as I asked; and
now--better if you had remained as you were, my friend."

"No! No!" I exclaimed. "I have known a few days of regeneration,
even if it was false! I have stood before you as a man, and that is
worth all else!"

And all that I felt for her must have looked forth from my eyes,
for she dropped hers and flushed. Ask me not how love comes to a man;
but I knew that I loved Zuleika--had loved this mysterious oriental
girl since first I saw her--and somehow I felt that she, in a measure,
returned my affection. This realization made blacker and more barren
the road I had chosen; yet--for pure love must ever strengthen a man--
it nerved me to what I must do.

"Zuleika," I said, speaking hurriedly, "time flies and there are
things I must learn; tell me--who are you and why do you remain in
this den of Hades?"

"I am Zuleika--that is all I know. I am Circassian by blood and
birth; when I was very little I was captured in a Turkish raid and
raised in a Stamboul harem; while I was yet too young to marry, my
master gave me as a present to--to _Him_."

"And who is he--this skull-faced man?"

"He is Kathulos of Egypt--that is all I know. My master."

"An Egyptian? Then what is he doing in London--why all this
mystery?"

She intertwined her fingers nervously.

"Steephen, please speak lower; always there is someone listening
everywhere. I do not know who the Master is or why he is here or why
he does these things. I swear by Allah! If I knew I would tell you.
Sometimes distinguished-looking men come here to the room where the
Master receives them--not the room where you saw him--and he makes me
dance before them and afterward flirt with them a little. And always I
must repeat exactly what they say to me. That is what I must always
do--in Turkey, in the Barbary States, in Egypt, in France and in
England. The Master taught me French and English and educated me in
many ways himself. He is the greatest sorcerer in all the world and
knows all ancient magic and everything."

"Zuleika," I said, "my race is soon run, but let me get you out of
this--come with me and I swear I'll get you away from this fiend!"

She shuddered and hid her face.

"No, no, I cannot!"

"Zuleika," I asked gently, "what hold has he over you, child--dope
also?"

"No, no!" she whimpered. "I do not know--I do not know--but I
cannot--I never can escape him!"

I sat, baffled for a few moments; then I asked, "Zuleika, where
are we right now?"

"This building is a deserted storehouse back of the Temple of
Silence."

"I thought so. What is in the chests in the tunnel?"

"I do not know."

Then suddenly she began weeping softly. "You too, a slave, like
me--you who are so strong and kind--oh Steephen, I cannot bear it!"

I smiled. "Lean closer, Zuleika, and I will tell you how I am
going to fool this Kathulos."

She glanced apprehensively at the door.

"You must speak low. I will lie in your arms and while you pretend
to caress me, whisper your words to me."

She glided into my embrace, and there on the dragon-worked couch
in that house of horror I first knew the glory of Zuleika's slender
form nestling in my arms--of Zuleika's soft cheek pressing my breast.
The fragrance of her was in my nostrils, her hair in my eyes, and my
senses reeled; then with my lips hidden by her silky hair I whispered,
swiftly:

"I am going first to warn Sir Haldred Frenton--then to find John
Gordon and tell him of this den. I will lead the police here and you
must watch closely and be ready to hide from _Him_--until we can break
through and kill or capture him. Then you will be free."

"But you!" she gasped, paling. "You must have the elixir, and only
he--"

"I have a way of outdoing him, child," I answered.

She went pitifully white and her woman's intuition sprang at the
right conclusion.

"You are going to kill yourself!"

And much as it hurt me to see her emotion, I yet felt a torturing
thrill that she should feel so on my account. Her arms tightened about
my neck.

"Don't, Steephen!" she begged. "It is better to live, even--"

"No, not at that price. Better to go out clean while I have the
manhood left."

She stared at me wildly for an instant; then, pressing her red
lips suddenly to mine, she sprang up and fled from the room. Strange,
strange are the ways of love. Two stranded ships on the shores of
life, we had drifted inevitably together, and though no word of love
had passed between us, we knew each other's heart--through grime and
rags, and through accouterments of the slave, we knew each other's
heart and from the first loved as naturally and as purely as it was
intended from the beginning of Time.

The beginning of life now and the end for me, for as soon as I had
completed my task, ere I felt again the torments of my curse, love and
life and beauty and torture should be blotted out together in the
stark finality of a pistol ball scattering my rotting brain. Better a
clean death than--

The door opened again and Yussef Ali entered.

"The hour arrives for departure," he said briefly. "Rise and
follow."

I had no idea, of course, as to the time. No window opened from
the room I occupied--I had seen no outer window whatever. The rooms
were lighted by tapers in censers swinging from the ceiling. As I rose
the slim young Moor slanted a sinister glance in my direction.

"This lies between you and me," he said sibilantly. "Servants of
the same Master we--but this concerns ourselves alone. Keep your
distance from Zuleika--the Master has promised her to me in the days
of the empire."

My eyes narrowed to slits as I looked into the frowning, handsome
face of the Oriental, and such hate surged up in me as I have seldom
known. My fingers involuntarily opened and closed, and the Moor,
marking the action, stepped back, hand in his girdle.

"Not now--there is work for us both--later perhaps." Then in a
sudden cold gust of hatred, "Swine! Ape-man! When the Master is
finished with you I shall quench my dagger in your heart!"

I laughed grimly.

"Make it soon, desert-snake, or I'll crush your spine between my
hands."



Chapter 10. The Dark House



_"Against all man-made shackles and a man-made hell--_
_Alone--at last--unaided--I rebel!"_

   --Mundy

I followed Yussef Ali along the winding hallways, down the steps--
Kathulos was not in the idol room--and along the tunnel, then through
the rooms of the Temple of Dreams and out into the street, where the
street lamps gleamed drearily through the fogs and a slight drizzle.
Across the street stood an automobile, curtains closely drawn.

"That is yours," said Hassim, who had joined us. "Saunter across
natural-like. Don't act suspicious. The place may be watched. The
driver knows what to do."

Then he and Yussef Ali drifted back into the bar and I took a
single step toward the curb.

"Steephen!"

A voice that made my heart leap spoke my name! A white hand
beckoned from the shadows of a doorway. I stepped quickly there.

"Zuleika!"

"Shhh!"

She clutched my arm, slipped something into my hand; I made out
vaguely a small flask of gold.

"Hide this, quick!" came her urgent whisper. "Don't come back but
go away and hide. This is full of elixir--I will try to get you some
more before that is all gone. You must find a way of communicating
with me."

"Yes, but how did you get this?" I asked amazedly.

"I stole it from the Master! Now please, I must go before he
misses me."

And she sprang back into the doorway and vanished. I stood
undecided. I was sure that she had risked nothing less than her life
in doing this and I was torn by the fear of what Kathulos might do to
her, were the theft discovered. But to return to the house of mystery
would certainly invite suspicion, and I might carry out my plan and
strike back before the Skull-faced One learned of his slave's
duplicity.

So I crossed the street to the waiting automobile. The driver was
a Negro whom I had never seen before, a lanky man of medium height. I
stared hard at him, wondering how much he had seen. He gave no
evidence of having seen anything, and I decided that even if he had
noticed me step back into the shadows he could not have seen what
passed there nor have been able to recognize the girl.

He merely nodded as I climbed in the back seat, and a moment later
we were speeding away down the deserted and fog-haunted streets. A
bundle beside me I concluded to be the disguise mentioned by the
Egyptian.

To recapture the sensations I experienced as I rode through the
rainy, misty night would be impossible. I felt as if I were already
dead and the bare and dreary streets about me were the roads of death
over which my ghost had been doomed to roam forever. A torturing joy
was in my heart, and bleak despair--the despair of a doomed man. Not
that death itself was so repellent--a dope victim dies too many deaths
to shrink from the last--but it was hard to go out just as love had
entered my barren life. And I was still young.

A sardonic smile crossed my lips--they were young, too, the men
who died beside me in No Man's Land. I drew back my sleeve and
clenched my fists, tensing my muscles. There was no surplus weight on
my frame, and much of the firm flesh had wasted away, but the cords of
the great biceps still stood out like knots of iron, seeming to
indicate massive strength. But I knew my might was false, that in
reality I was a broken hulk of a man, animated only by the artificial
fire of the elixir, without which a frail girl might topple me over.

The automobile came to a halt among some trees. We were on the
outskirts of an exclusive suburb and the hour was past midnight.
Through the trees I saw a large house looming darkly against the
distant flares of nighttime London.

"This is where I wait," said the Negro. "No one can see the
automobile from the road or from the house."

Holding a match so that its light could not be detected outside
the car, I examined the "disguise" and was hard put to restrain an
insane laugh. The disguise was the complete hide of a gorilla!
Gathering the bundle under my arm I trudged toward the wall which
surrounded the Frenton estate. A few steps and the trees where the
Negro hid with the car merged into one dark mass. I did not believe he
could see me, but for safety's sake I made, not for the high iron gate
at the front, but for the wall at the side where there was no gate.

No light showed in the house. Sir Haldred was a bachelor and I was
sure that the servants were all in bed long ago. I negotiated the wall
with ease and stole across the dark lawn to a side door, still
carrying the grisly "disguise" under my arm. The door was locked, as I
had anticipated, and I did not wish to arouse anyone until I was
safely in the house, where the sound of voices would not carry to one
who might have followed me. I took hold of the knob with both hands,
and, exerting slowly the inhuman strength that was mine, began to
twist. The shaft turned in my hands and the lock within shattered
suddenly, with a noise that was like the crash of a cannon in the
stillness. An instant more and I was inside and had closed the door
behind me.

I took a single stride in the darkness in the direction I believed
the stair to be, then halted as a beam of light flashed into my face.
At the side of the beam I caught the glimmer of a pistol muzzle.
Beyond a lean shadowy face floated.

"Stand where you are and put up your hands!"

I lifted my hands, allowing the bundle to slip to the floor. I had
heard that voice only once but I recognized it--knew instantly that
the man who held that light was John Gordon.

"How many are with you?"

His voice was sharp, commanding.

"I am alone," I answered. "Take me into a room where a light
cannot be seen from the outside and I'll tell you some things you want
to know."

He was silent; then, bidding me take up the bundle I had dropped,
he stepped to one side and motioned me to precede him into the next
room. There he directed me to a stairway and at the top landing opened
a door and switched on lights.

I found myself in a room whose curtains were closely drawn. During
this journey Gordon's alertness had not relaxed, and now he stood,
still covering me with his revolver. Clad in conventional garments, he
stood revealed a tall, leanly but powerfully built man, taller than I
but not so heavy--with steel-gray eyes and clean-cut features.
Something about the man attracted me, even as I noted a bruise on his
jawbone where my fist had struck in our last meeting.

"I cannot believe," he said crisply, "that this apparent
clumsiness and lack of subtlety is real. Doubtless you have your own
reasons for wishing me to be in a secluded room at this time, but Sir
Haldred is efficiently protected even now. Stand still."

Muzzle pressed against my chest, he ran his hand over my garments
for concealed weapons, seeming slightly surprized when he found none.

"Still," he murmured as if to himself, "a man who can burst an
iron lock with his bare hands has scant need of weapons."

"You are wasting valuable time," I said impatiently. "I was sent
here tonight to kill Sir Haldred Frenton--"

"By whom?" the question was shot at me.

"By the man who sometimes goes disguised as a leper."

He nodded, a gleam in his scintillant eyes.

"My suspicions were correct, then."

"Doubtless. Listen to me closely--do you desire the death or
arrest of that man?"

Gordon laughed grimly.

"To one who wears the mark of the scorpion on his hand, my answer
would be superfluous."

"Then follow my directions and your wish shall be granted."

His eyes narrowed suspiciously.

"So that was the meaning of this open entry and non-resistance,"
he said slowly. "Does the dope which dilates your eyeballs so warp
your mind that you think to lead me into ambush?"

I pressed my hands against my temples. Time was racing and every
moment was precious--how could I convince this man of my honesty?

"Listen; my name is Stephen Costigan of America. I was a
frequenter of Yun Shatu's dive and a hashish addict--as you have
guessed, but just now a slave of stronger dope. By virtue of this
slavery, the man you know as a false leper, whom Yun Shatu and his
friends call 'Master,' gained dominance over me and sent me here to
murder Sir Haldred--why, God only knows. But I have gained a space of
respite by coming into possession of some of this dope which I must
have in order to live, and I fear and hate this Master. Listen to me
and I swear, by all things holy and unholy, that before the sun rises
the false leper shall be in your power!"

I could tell that Gordon was impressed in spite of himself.

"Speak fast!" he rapped.

Still I could sense his disbelief and a wave of futility swept
over me.

"If you will not act with me," I said, "let me go and somehow I'll
find a way to get to the Master and kill him. My time is short--my
hours are numbered and my vengeance is yet to be realized."

"Let me hear your plan, and talk fast," Gordon answered.

"It is simple enough. I will return to the Masterís lair and tell
him I have accomplished that which he sent me to do. You must follow
closely with your men and while I engage the Master in conversation,
surround the house. Then, at the signal, break in and kill or seize
him."

Gordon frowned. "Where is this house?"

"The warehouse back of Yun Shatu's has been converted into a
veritable oriental palace."

"The warehouse!" he exclaimed. "How can that be? I had thought of
that first, but I have carefully examined it from without. The windows
are closely barred and spiders have built webs across them. The doors
are nailed fast on the outside and the seals that mark the warehouse
as deserted have never been broken or disturbed in any way."

"They tunneled up from beneath," I answered. "The Temple of Dreams
is directly connected with the warehouse."

"I have traversed the alley between the two buildings," said
Gordon, "and the doors of the warehouse opening into that alley are,
as I have said, nailed shut from without just as the owners left them.
There is apparently no rear exit of any kind from the Temple of
Dreams."

"A tunnel connects the buildings, with one door in the rear room
of Yun Shatu's and the other in the idol room of the warehouse."

"I have been in Yun Shatu's back room and found no such door."

"The table rests upon it. You noted the heavy table in the center
of the room? Had you turned it around the secret door would have
opened in the floor. Now this is my plan: I will go in through the
Temple of Dreams and meet the Master in the idol room. You will have
men secretly stationed in front of the warehouse and others upon the
other street, in front of the Temple of Dreams. Yun Shatu's building,
as you know, faces the waterfront, while the warehouse, fronting the
opposite direction, faces a narrow street running parallel with the
river. At the signal let the men in this street break open the front
of the warehouse and rush in, while simultaneously those in front of
Yun Shatu's make an invasion through the Temple of Dreams. Let these
make for the rear room, shooting without mercy any who may seek to
deter them, and there open the secret door as I have said. There
being, to the best of my knowledge, no other exit from the Master's
lair, he and his servants will necessarily seek to make their escape
through the tunnel. Thus we will have them on both sides."

Gordon ruminated while I studied his face with breathless
interest.

"This may be a snare," he muttered, "or an attempt to draw me away
from Sir Haldred, but--"

I held my breath.

"I am a gambler by nature," he said slowly. "I am going to follow
what you Americans call a hunch--but God help you if you are lying to
me!"

I sprang erect.

"Thank God! Now aid me with this suit, for I must be wearing it
when I return to the automobile waiting for me."

His eyes narrowed as I shook out the horrible masquerade and
prepared to don it.

"This shows, as always, the touch of the master hand. You were
doubtless instructed to leave marks of your hands, encased in those
hideous gauntlets?"

"Yes, though I have no idea why."

"I think I have--the Master is famed for leaving no real clues to
mark his crimes--a great ape escaped from a neighboring zoo earlier in
the evening and it seems too obvious for mere chance, in the light of
this disguise. The ape would have gotten the blame of Sir Haldred's
death."

The thing was easily gotten into and the illusion of reality it
created was so perfect as to draw a shudder from me as I viewed myself
in a mirror.

"It is now two o'clock," said Gordon. "Allowing for the time it
will take you to get back to Limehouse and the time it will take me to
get my men stationed, I promise you that at half-past four the house
will be closely surrounded. Give me a start--wait here until I have
left this house, so I will arrive at least as soon as you."

"Good!" I impulsively grasped his hand. "There will doubtless be a
girl there who is in no way implicated with the Master's evil doings,
but only a victim of circumstances such as I have been. Deal gently
with her."

"It shall be done. What signal shall I look for?"

"I have no way of signaling for you and I doubt if any sound in
the house could be heard on the street. Let your men make their raid
on the stroke of five."

I turned to go.

"A man is waiting for you with a car, I take it? Is he likely to
suspect anything?"

"I have a way of finding out, and if he does," I replied grimly,
"I will return alone to the Temple of Dreams."



Chapter 11. Four Thirty-Four



_"Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before."_
   --Poe

The door closed softly behind me, the great dark house looming up
more starkly than ever. Stooping, I crossed the wet lawn at a run, a
grotesque and unholy figure, I doubt not, since any man had at a
glance sworn me to be not a man but a giant ape. So craftily had the
Master devised!

I clambered the wall, dropped to the earth beyond and made my way
through the darkness and the drizzle to the group of trees which
masked the automobile.

The Negro driver leaned out of the front seat. I was breathing
hard and sought in various ways to simulate the actions of a man who
has just murdered in cold blood and fled the scene of his crime.

"You heard nothing, no sound, no scream?" I hissed, gripping his
arm.

"No noise except a slight crash when you first went in," he
answered. "You did a good job--nobody passing along the road could
have suspected anything."

"Have you remained in the car all the time?" I asked. And when he
replied that he had, I seized his ankle and ran my hand over the soles
of his shoe; it was perfectly dry, as was the cuff of his trouser leg.
Satisfied, I climbed into the back seat. Had he taken a step on the
earth, shoe and garment would have showed it by the telltale dampness.

I ordered him to refrain from starting the engine until I had
removed the apeskin, and then we sped through the night and I fell
victim to doubts and uncertainties. Why should Gordon put any trust in
the word of a stranger and a former ally of the Master's? Would he not
put my tale down as the ravings of a dope-crazed addict, or a lie to
ensnare or befool him? Still, if he had not believed me, why had he
let me go?

I could but trust. At any rate, what Gordon did or did not do
would scarcely affect my fortunes ultimately, even though Zuleika had
furnished me with that which would merely extend the number of my
days. My thought centered on her, and more than my hope of vengeance
on Kathulos was the hope that Gordon might be able to save her from
the clutches of the fiend. At any rate, I thought grimly, if Gordon
failed me, I still had my hands and if I might lay them upon the bony
frame of the Skull-faced One--

Abruptly I found myself thinking of Yussef Ali and his strange
words, the import of which just occurred to me, _"The Master has
promised her to me in the days of the empire!"_

The days of the empire--what could that mean?

The automobile at last drew up in front of the building which hid
the Temple of Silence--now dark and still. The ride had seemed
interminable and as I dismounted I glanced at the timepiece on the
dashboard of the car. My heart leaped--it was four thirty-four, and
unless my eyes tricked me I saw a movement in the shadows across the
street, out of the flare of the street lamp. At this time of night it
could mean only one of two things--some menial of the Master watching
for my return or else Gordon had kept his word. The Negro drove away
and I opened the door, crossed the deserted bar and entered the opium
room. The bunks and the floor were littered with the dreamers, for
such places as these know nothing of day or night as normal people
know, but all lay deep in sottish slumber.

The lamps glimmered through the smoke and a silence hung mist-like
over all.



Chapter 12. The Stroke of Five



_"He saw gigantic tracks of death,_
_And many a shape of doom."_

   --Chesterton

Two of the China boys squatted among the smudge fires, staring at
me unwinkingly as I threaded my way among the recumbent bodies and
made my way to the rear door. For the first time I traversed the
corridor alone and found time to wonder again as to the contents of
the strange chests which lined the walls.

Four raps on the underside of the floor, and a moment later I
stood in the idol room. I gasped in amazement--the fact that across a
table from me sat Kathulos in all his horror was not the cause of my
exclamation. Except for the table, the chair on which the Skull-faced
One sat and the altar--now bare of incense--the room was perfectly
bare! Drab, unlovely walls of the unused warehouse met my gaze instead
of the costly tapestries I had become accustomed to. The palms, the
idol, the lacquered screen--all were gone.

"Ah, Mr. Costigan, you wonder, no doubt."

The dead voice of the Master broke in on my thoughts. His serpent
eyes glittered balefully. The long yellow fingers twined sinuously
upon the table.

"You thought me to be a trusting fool, no doubt!" he rapped
suddenly. "Did you think I would not have you followed? You fool,
Yussef Ali was at your heels every moment!"

An instant I stood speechless, frozen by the crash of these words
against my brain; then as their import sank home, I launched myself
forward with a roar. At the same instant, before my clutching fingers
could close on the mocking horror on the other side of the table, men
rushed from every side. I whirled, and with the clarity of hate, from
the swirl of savage faces I singled out Yussef Ali, and crashed my
right fist against his temple with every ounce of my strength. Even as
he dropped, Hassim struck me to my knees and a Chinaman flung a man-
net over my shoulders. I heaved erect, bursting the stout cords as if
they were strings, and then a blackjack in the hands of Ganra Singh
stretched me stunned and bleeding on the floor.

Lean sinewy hands seized and bound me with cords that cut cruelly
into my flesh. Emerging from the mists of semi-unconsciousness, I
found myself lying on the altar with the masked Kathulos towering over
me like a gaunt ivory tower. About in a semicircle stood Ganra Singh,
Yar Khan, Yun Shatu and several others whom I knew as frequenters of
the Temple of Dreams. Beyond them--and the sight cut me to the heart--
I saw Zuleika crouching in a doorway, her face white and her hands
pressed against her cheeks, in an attitude of abject terror.

"I did not fully trust you," said Kathulos sibilantly, "so I sent
Yussef Ali to follow you. He reached the group of trees before you and
following you into the estate heard your very interesting conversation
with John Gordon--for he scaled the house-wall like a cat and clung to
the window ledge! Your driver delayed purposely so as to give Yussef
Ali plenty of time to get back--I have decided to change my abode
anyway. My furnishings are already on their way to another house, and
as soon as we have disposed of the traitor--you!--we shall depart
also, leaving a little surprize for your friend Gordon when he arrives
at five-thirty."

My heart gave a sudden leap of hope. Yussef Ali had misunderstood,
and Kathulos lingered here in false security while the London
detective force had already silently surrounded the house. Over my
shoulder I saw Zuleika vanish from the door.

I eyed Kathulos, absolutely unaware of what he was saying. It was
not long until five--if he dallied longer--then I froze as the
Egyptian spoke a word and Li Kung, a gaunt, cadaverous Chinaman,
stepped from the silent semicircle and drew from his sleeve a long
thin dagger. My eyes sought the timepiece that still rested on the
table and my heart sank. It was still ten minutes until five. My death
did not matter so much, since it simply hastened the inevitable, but
in my mind's eye I could see Kathulos and his murderers escaping while
the police awaited the stroke of five.

The Skull-face halted in some harangue, and stood in a listening
attitude. I believe his uncanny intuition warned him of danger. He
spoke a quick staccato command to Li Kung and the Chinaman sprang
forward, dagger lifted above my breast.

The air was suddenly supercharged with dynamic tension. The keen
dagger-point hovered high above me--loud and clear sounded the skirl
of a police whistle and on the heels of the sound there came a
terrific crash from the front of the warehouse!

Kathulos leaped into frenzied activity. Hissing orders like a cat
spitting, he sprang for the hidden door and the rest followed him.
Things happened with the speed of a nightmare. Li Kung had followed
the rest, but Kathulos flung a command over his shoulder and the
Chinaman turned back and came rushing toward the altar where I lay,
dagger high, desperation in his countenance.

A scream broke through the clamor and as I twisted desperately
about to avoid the descending dagger, I caught a glimpse of Kathulos
dragging Zuleika away. Then with a frenzied wrench I toppled from the
altar just as Li Kung's dagger, grazing my breast, sank inches deep
into the dark-stained surface and quivered there.

I had fallen on the side next to the wall and what was taking
place in the room I could not see, but it seemed as if far away I
could hear men screaming faintly and hideously. Then Li Kung wrenched
his blade free and sprang, tigerishly, around the end of the altar.
Simultaneously a revolver cracked from the doorway--the Chinaman spun
clear around, the dagger flying from his hand--he slumped to the
floor.

Gordon came running from the doorway where a few moments earlier
Zuleika had stood, his pistol still smoking in his hand. At his heels
were three rangy, clean-cut men in plain clothes. He cut my bonds and
dragged me upright.

"Quick! Where have they gone?"

The room was empty of life save for myself, Gordon and his men,
though two dead men lay on the floor.

I found the secret door and after a few seconds' search located
the lever which opened it. Revolvers drawn, the men grouped about me
and peered nervously into the dark stairway. Not a sound came up from
the total darkness.

"This is uncanny!" muttered Gordon. "I suppose the Master and his
servants went this way when they left the building--as they are
certainly not here now!--and Leary and his men should have stopped
them either in the tunnel itself or in the rear room of Yun Shatu's.
At any rate, in either event they should have communicated with us by
this time."

"Look out, sir!" one of the men exclaimed suddenly, and Gordon,
with an ejaculation, struck out with his pistol barrel and crushed the
life from a huge snake which had crawled silently up the steps from
the blackness beneath.

"Let us see into this matter," said he, straightening.

But before he could step onto the first stair, I halted him; for,
flesh crawling, I began dimly to understand something of what had
happened--I began to understand the silence in the tunnel, the absence
of the detectives, the screams I had heard some minutes previously
while I lay on the altar. Examining the lever which opened the door, I
found another smaller lever--I began to believe I knew what those
mysterious chests in the tunnel contained.

"Gordon," I said hoarsely, "have you an electric torch?"

One of the men produced a large one.

"Direct the light into the tunnel, but as you value your life, do
not put a foot upon the steps."

The beam of light struck through the shadows, lighting the tunnel,
etching out boldly a scene that will haunt my brain all the rest of my
life. On the floor of the tunnel, between the chests which now gaped
open, lay two men who were members of London's finest secret service.
Limbs twisted and faces horribly distorted they lay, and above and
about them writhed, in long glittering scaly shimmerings, scores of
hideous reptiles.

The clock struck five.



Chapter 13. The Blind Beggar Who Rode



_"He seemed a beggar such as lags_
_Looking for crusts and ale."_

   --Chesterton

The cold gray dawn was stealing over the river as we stood in the
deserted bar of the Temple of Dreams. Gordon was questioning the two
men who had remained on guard outside the building while their
unfortunate companion went in to explore the tunnel.

"As soon as we heard the whistle, sir, Leary and Murken rushed the
bar and broke into the opium room, while we waited here at the bar
door according to orders. Right away several ragged dopers came
tumbling out and we grabbed them. But no one else came out and we
heard nothing from Leary and Murken; so we just waited until you came,
sir."

"You saw nothing of a giant Negro, or of the Chinaman Yun Shatu?"

"No, sir. After a while the patrolmen arrived and we threw a
cordon around the house, but no one was seen."

Gordon shrugged his shoulders; a few cursory questions had
satisfied him that the captives were harmless addicts and he had them
released.

"You are sure no one else came out?"

"Yes, sir--no, wait a moment. A wretched old blind beggar did come
out, all rags and dirt and with a ragged girl leading him. We stopped
him but didn't hold him--a wretch like that couldn't be harmful."

"No?" Gordon jerked out. "Which way did he go?"

"The girl led him down the street to the next block and then an
automobile stopped and they got in and drove off, sir."

Gordon glared at him.

"The stupidity of the London detective has rightfully become an
international jest," he said acidly. "No doubt it never occurred to
you as being strange that a Limehouse beggar should ride about in his
own automobile."

Then impatiently waving aside the man, who sought to speak
further, he turned to me and I saw the lines of weariness beneath his
eyes.

"Mr. Costigan, if you will come to my apartment we may be able to
clear up some new things."



Chapter 14. The Black Empire



_"Oh the new spears dipped in life-blood as the woman_

shrieked in vain!

_Oh the days before the English! When will those days come
again?"_

   --Mundy

Gordon struck a match and absently allowed it to flicker and go
out in his hand. His Turkish cigarette hung unlighted between his
fingers.

"This is the most logical conclusion to be reached," he was
saying. "The weak link in our chain was lack of men. But curse it, one
cannot round up an army at two o'clock in the morning, even with the
aid of Scotland Yard. I went on to Limehouse, leaving orders for a
number of patrolmen to follow me as quickly as they could be got
together, and to throw a cordon about the house.

"They arrived too late to prevent the Master's servants slipping
out of the side doors and windows, no doubt, as they could easily do
with only Finnegan and Hansen on guard at the front of the building.
However, they arrived in time to prevent the Master himself from
slipping out in that way--no doubt he lingered to effect his disguise
and was caught in that manner. He owes his escape to his craft and
boldness and to the carelessness of Finnegan and Hansen. The girl who
accompanied him--"

"She was Zuleika, without doubt."

I answered listlessly, wondering anew what shackles bound her to
the Egyptian sorcerer.

"You owe your life to her," Gordon rapped, lighting another match.
"We were standing in the shadows in front of the warehouse, waiting
for the hour to strike, and of course ignorant as to what was going on
in the house, when a girl appeared at one of the barred windows and
begged us for God's sake to do something, that a man was being
murdered. So we broke in at once. However, she was not to be seen when
we entered."

"She returned to the room, no doubt," I muttered, "and was forced
to accompany the Master. God grant he knows nothing of her trickery."

"I do not know," said Gordon, dropping the charred match stem,
"whether she guessed at our true identity or whether she just made the
appeal in desperation.

"However, the main point is this: evidence points to the fact
that, on hearing the whistle, Leary and Murken invaded Yun Shatu's
from the front at the same instant my three men and I made our attack
on the warehouse front. As it took us some seconds to batter down the
door, it is logical to suppose that they found the secret door and
entered the tunnel before we affected an entrance into the warehouse.

"The Master, knowing our plans beforehand, and being aware that an
invasion would be made through the tunnel and having long ago made
preparations for such an exigency--"

An involuntary shudder shook me.

"--the Master worked the lever that opened the chest--the screams
you heard as you lay upon the altar were the death shrieks of Leary
and Murken. Then, leaving the Chinaman behind to finish you, the
Master and the rest descended into the tunnel--incredible as it
seems--and threading their way unharmed among the serpents, entered
Yun Shatu's house and escaped therefrom as I have said."

"That seems impossible. Why should not the snakes turn on them?"

Gordon finally ignited his cigarette and puffed a few seconds
before replying.

"The reptiles might still have been giving their full and hideous
attention to the dying men, or else--I have on previous occasions been
confronted with indisputable proof of the Master's dominance over
beasts and reptiles of even the lowest or most dangerous orders. How
he and his slaves passed unhurt among those scaly fiends must remain,
at present, one of the many unsolved mysteries pertaining to that
strange man."

I stirred restlessly in my chair. This brought up a point for the
purpose of clearing up which I had come to Gordon's neat but bizarre
apartments.

"You have not yet told me," I said abruptly, "who this man is and
what is his mission."

"As to who he is, I can only say that he is known as you name
him--the Master. I have never seen him unmasked, nor do I know his
real name nor his nationality."

"I can enlighten you to an extent there," I broke in. "I have seen
him unmasked and have heard the name his slaves call him."

Gordon's eyes blazed and he leaned forward.

"His name," I continued, "is Kathulos and he claims to be an
Egyptian."

"Kathulos!" Gordon repeated. "You say he claims to be an
Egyptian--have you any reason for doubting his claim of that
nationality?"

"He may be of Egypt," I answered slowly, "but he is different,
somehow, from any human I ever saw or hope to see. Great age might
account for some of his peculiarities, but there are certain lineal
differences that my anthropological studies tell me have been present
since birth--features which would be abnormal to any other man but
which are perfectly normal in Kathulos. That sounds paradoxical, I
admit, but to appreciate fully the horrid inhumanness of the man, you
would have to see him yourself."

Gordon sat at attention while I swiftly sketched the appearance of
the Egyptian as I remembered him--and that appearance was indelibly
etched on my brain forever.

As I finished he nodded.

"As I have said, I never saw Kathulos except when disguised as a
beggar, a leper or some such thing--when he was fairly swathed in
rags. Still, I too have been impressed with a strange difference about
him--something that is not present in other men."

Gordon tapped his knee with his fingers--a habit of his when
deeply engrossed by a problem of some sort.

"You have asked as to the mission of this man," he began slowly.
"I will tell you all I know."

"My position with the British government is a unique and peculiar
one. I hold what might be called a roving commission--an office
created solely for the purpose of suiting my special needs. As a
secret service official during the war, I convinced the powers of a
need of such office and of my ability to fill it.

"Somewhat over seventeen months ago I was sent to South Africa to
investigate the unrest which has been growing among the natives of the
interior ever since the World War and which has of late assumed
alarming proportions. There I first got on the track of this man
Kathulos. I found, in roundabout ways, that Africa was a seething
cauldron of rebellion from Morocco to Cape Town. The old, old vow had
been made again--the Negroes and the Mohammedans, banded together,
should drive the white men into the sea.

"This pact has been made before but always, hitherto, broken. Now,
however, I sensed a giant intellect and a monstrous genius behind the
veil, a genius powerful enough to accomplish this union and hold it
together. Working entirely on hints and vague whispered clues, I
followed the trail up through Central Africa and into Egypt. There, at
last, I came upon definite evidence that such a man existed. The
whispers hinted of a living dead man--a _skull-faced_ man. I learned
that this man was the high priest of the mysterious Scorpion society
of northern Africa. He was spoken of variously as Skull-face, the
Master, and the Scorpion.

"Following a trail of bribed officials and filched state secrets,
I at last trailed him to Alexandria, where I had my first sight of him
in a dive in the native quarter--disguised as a leper. I heard him
distinctly addressed as 'Mighty Scorpion' by the natives, but he
escaped me.

"All trace vanished then; the trail ran out entirely until rumors
of strange happenings in London reached me and I came back to England
to investigate an apparent leak in the war office.

"As I thought, the Scorpion had preceded me. This man, whose
education and craft transcend anything I ever met with, is simply the
leader and instigator of a world-wide movement such as the world has
never seen before. He plots, in a word, the overthrow of the white
races!

"His ultimate aim is a black empire, with himself as emperor of
the world! And to that end he has banded together in one monstrous
conspiracy the black, the brown and the yellow."

"I understand now what Yussef Ali meant when he said 'the days of
the empire,'" I muttered.

"Exactly," Gordon rapped with suppressed excitement. "Kathulos'
power is unlimited and unguessed. Like an octopus his tentacles
stretch to the high places of civilization and the far corners of the
world. And his main weapon is--dope! He has flooded Europe and no
doubt America with opium and hashish, and in spite of all efforts it
has been impossible to discover the break in the barriers through
which the hellish stuff is coming. With this he ensnares and enslaves
men and women.

"You have told me of the aristocratic men and women you saw coming
to Yun Shatu's dive. Without doubt they were dope addicts--for, as I
said, the habit lurks in high places--holders of governmental
positions, no doubt, coming to trade for the stuff they craved and
giving in return state secrets, inside information and promise of
protection for the Master's crimes.

"Oh, he does not work haphazardly! Before ever the black flood
breaks, he will be prepared; if he has his way, the governments of the
white races will be honeycombs of corruption--the strongest men of the
white races will be dead. The white men's secrets of war will be his.
When it comes, I look for a simultaneous uprising against white
supremacy, of all the colored races--races who, in the last war,
learned the white men's ways of battle, and who, led by such a man as
Kathulos and armed with white men's finest weapons, will be almost
invincible.

"A steady stream of rifles and ammunition has been pouring into
East Africa and it was not until I discovered the source that it was
stopped. I found that a staid and reliable Scotch firm was smuggling
these arms among the natives and I found more: the manager of this
firm was an opium slave. That was enough. I saw Kathulos' hand in the
matter. The manager was arrested and committed suicide in his cell--
that is only one of the many situations with which I am called upon to
deal.

"Again, the case of Major Fairlan Morley. He, like myself, held a
very flexible commission and had been sent to the Transvaal to work
upon the same case. He sent to London a number of secret papers for
safekeeping. They arrived some weeks ago and were put in a bank vault.
The letter accompanying them gave explicit instructions that they were
to be delivered to no one but the major himself, when he called for
them in person, or in event of his death, to myself.

"As soon as I learned that he had sailed from Africa I sent
trusted men to Bordeaux, where he intended to make his first landing
in Europe. They did not succeed in saving the major's life, but they
certified his death, for they found his body in a deserted ship whose
hulk was stranded on the beach. Efforts were made to keep the affair a
secret but somehow it leaked into the papers with the result--"

"I begin to understand why I was to impersonate the unfortunate
major," I interrupted.

"Exactly. A false beard furnished you, and your black hair dyed
blond, you would have presented yourself at the bank, received the
papers from the banker, who knew Major Morley just intimately enough
to be deceived by your appearance, and the papers would have then
fallen into the hands of the Master.

"I can only guess at the contents of those papers, for events have
been taking place too swiftly for me to call for and obtain them. But
they must deal with subjects closely connected with the activities of
Kathulos. How he learned of them and of the provisions of the letter
accompanying them, I have no idea, but as I said, London is
honeycombed with his spies.

"In my search for clues, I often frequented Limehouse disguised as
you first saw me. I went often to the Temple of Dreams and even once
managed to enter the back room, for I suspected some sort of
rendezvous in the rear of the building. The absence of any exit
baffled me and I had no time to search for secret doors before I was
ejected by the giant black man, Hassim, who had no suspicion of my true
identity. I noticed that very often the leper entered or left Yun
Shatu's, and finally it was borne on me that past a shadow of doubt
this supposed leper was the Scorpion himself.

"That night you discovered me on the couch in the opium room, I
had come there with no especial plan in mind. Seeing Kathulos leaving,
I determined to rise and follow him, but you spoiled that."

He fingered his chin and laughed grimly.

"I was an amateur boxing champion in Oxford," said he, "but Tom
Cribb himself could not have withstood that blow--or have dealt it."

"I regret it as I regret few things."

"No need to apologize. You saved my life immediately afterward--I
was stunned, but not too much to know that that brown devil Yussef Ali
was burning to cut out my heart."

"How did you come to be at Sir Haldred Frenton's estate? And how
is it that you did not raid Yun Shatu's dive?"

"I did not have the place raided because I knew somehow Kathulos
would be warned and our efforts would come to naught. I was at Sir
Haldred's that night because I have contrived to spend at least part
of each night with him since he returned from the Congo. I anticipated
an attempt upon his life when I learned from his own lips that he was
preparing, from the studies he made on this trip, a treatise on the
secret native societies of West Africa. He hinted that the disclosures
he intended to make therein might prove sensational, to say the least.
Since it is to Kathulos' advantage to destroy such men as might be
able to arouse the Western world to its danger, I knew that Sir
Haldred was a marked man. Indeed, two distinct attempts were made upon
his life on his journey to the coast from the African interior. So I
put two trusted men on guard and they are at their post even now.

"Roaming about the darkened house, I heard the noise of your
entry, and, warning my men, I stole down to intercept you. At the time
of our conversation, Sir Haldred was sitting in his unlighted study, a
Scotland Yard man with drawn pistol on each side of him. Their
vigilance no doubt accounts for Yussef Ali's failure to attempt what
you were sent to do.

"Something in your manner convinced me in spite of yourself," he
meditated. "I will admit I had some bad moments of doubt as I waited
in the darkness that precedes dawn, outside the warehouse."

Gordon rose suddenly and going to a strong box which stood in a
corner of the room, drew thence a thick envelope.

"Although Kathulos has checkmated me at almost every move," he
said, "I have not been entirely idle. Noting the frequenters of Yun
Shatu's, I have compiled a partial list of the Egyptian's right-hand
men, and their records. What you have told me has enabled me to
complete that list. As we know, his henchmen are scattered all over
the world, and there are possibly hundreds of them here in London.
However, this is a list of those I believe to be in his closest
council, now with him in England. He told you himself that few even of
his followers ever saw him unmasked."

We bent together over the list, which contained the following
names: "Yun Shatu, Hongkong Chinese, suspected opium smuggler--keeper
of Temple of Dreams--resident of Limehouse seven years. Hassim, ex-
Senegalese Chief--wanted in French Congo for murder. Santiago, Negro--
fled from Haiti under suspicion of voodoo worship atrocities. Yar
Khan, Afridi, record unknown. Yussef Ali, Moor, slave-dealer in
Morocco--suspected of being a German spy in the World War--an
instigator of the Fellaheen Rebellion on the upper Nile. Ganra Singh,
Lahore, India, Sikh--smuggler of arms into Afghanistan--took an active
part in the Lahore and Delhi riots--suspected of murder on two
occasions--a dangerous man. Stephen Costigan, American--resident in
England since the war--hashish addict--man of remarkable strength. Li
Kung, northern China, opium smuggler."

Lines were drawn significantly through three names--mine, Li
Kung's and Yussef Ali's. Nothing was written next to mine, but
following Li Kung's name was scrawled briefly in Gordon's rambling
characters: "Shot by John Gordon during the raid on Yun Shatu's." And
following the name of Yussef Ali: "Killed by Stephen Costigan during
the Yun Shatu raid."

I laughed mirthlessly. Black empire or not, Yussef Ali would never
hold Zuleika in his arms, for he had never risen from where I felled
him.

"I know not," said Gordon somberly as he folded the list and
replaced it in the envelope, "what power Kathulos has that draws
together black men and yellow men to serve him--that unites world-old
foes. Hindu, Moslem and pagan are among his followers. And back in the
mists of the East where mysterious and gigantic forces are at work,
this uniting is culminating on a monstrous scale."

He glanced at his watch.

"It is nearly ten. Make yourself at home here, Mr. Costigan, while
I visit Scotland Yard and see if any clue has been found as to
Kathulos' new quarters. I believe that the webs are closing on him,
and with your aid I promise you we will have the gang located within a
week at most."



Chapter 15. The Mark of the Tulwar



_"The fed wolf curls by his drowsy mate_
_In a tight-trod earth; but the lean wolves wait."_

   --Mundy

I sat alone in John Gordon's apartments and laughed mirthlessly.
In spite of the elixir's stimulus, the strain of the previous night,
with its loss of sleep and its heartrending actions, was telling on
me. My mind was a chaotic whirl wherein the faces of Gordon, Kathulos
and Zuleika shifted with numbing swiftness. All the mass of
information Gordon had given to me seemed jumbled and incoherent.

Through this state of being, one fact stood out boldly. I must
find the latest hiding-place of the Egyptian and get Zuleika out of
his hands--if indeed she still lived.

A week, Gordon had said--I laughed again--a week and I would be
beyond aiding anyone. I had found the proper amount of elixir to use--
knew the minimum amount my system required--and knew that I could make
the flask last me four days at most. Four days! Four days in which to
comb the rat-holes of Limehouse and Chinatown--four days in which to
ferret out, somewhere in the mazes of East End, the lair of Kathulos.

I burned with impatience to begin, but nature rebelled, and
staggering to a couch, I fell upon it and was asleep instantly.

Then someone was shaking me.

"Wake up, Mr. Costigan!"

I sat up, blinking. Gordon stood over me, his face haggard.

"There's devil's work done, Costigan! The Scorpion has struck
again!"

I sprang up, still half-asleep and only partly realizing what he
was saying. He helped me into my coat, thrust my hat at me, and then
his firm grip on my arm was propelling me out of his door and down the
stairs. The street lights were blazing; I had slept an incredible
time.

"A logical victim!" I was aware that my companion was saying. "He
should have notified me the instant of his arrival!"

"I don't understand--" I began dazedly.

We were at the curb now and Gordon hailed a taxi, giving the
address of a small and unassuming hotel in a staid and prim section of
the city.

"The Baron Rokoff," he rapped as we whirled along at reckless
speed, "a Russian free-lance, connected with the war office. He
returned from Mongolia yesterday and apparently went into hiding.
Undoubtedly he had learned something vital in regard to the slow
waking of the East. He had not yet communicated with us, and I had no
idea that he was in England until just now."

"And you learned--"

"The baron was found in his room, his dead body mutilated in a
frightful manner!"

The respectable and conventional hotel which the doomed baron had
chosen for his hiding-place was in a state of mild uproar, suppressed
by the police. The management had attempted to keep the matter quiet,
but somehow the guests had learned of the atrocity and many were
leaving in haste--or preparing to, as the police were holding all for
investigation.

The baron's room, which was on the top floor, was in a state to
defy description. Not even in the Great War have I seen a more
complete shambles. Nothing had been touched; all remained just as the
chambermaid had found it a half-hour since. Tables and chairs lay
shattered on the floor, and the furniture, floor and walls were
spattered with blood. The baron, a tall, muscular man in life, lay in
the middle of the room, a fearful spectacle. His skull had been cleft
to the brows, a deep gash under his left armpit had shorn through his
ribs, and his left arm hung by a shred of flesh. The cold, bearded face
was set in a look of indescribable horror.

"Some heavy, curved weapon must have been used," said Gordon,
"something like a saber, wielded with terrific force. See where a
chance blow sank inches deep into the windowsill. And again, the thick
back of this heavy chair has been split like a shingle. A saber,
surely."

"A tulwar," I muttered, somberly. "Do you not recognize the
handiwork of the Central Asian butcher? Yar Khan has been here."

"The Afghan! He came across the roofs, of course, and descended to
the window-ledge by means of a knotted rope made fast to something on
the edge of the roof. About one-thirty the maid, passing through the
corridor, heard a terrific commotion in the baron's room--smashing of
chairs and a sudden short shriek which died abruptly into a ghastly
gurgle and then ceased--to the sound of heavy blows, curiously
muffled, such as a sword might make when driven deep into human flesh.
Then all noises stopped suddenly.

"She called the manager and they tried the door and, finding it
locked, and receiving no answer to their shouts, opened it with the
desk key. Only the corpse was there, but the window was open. This is
strangely unlike Kathulos' usual procedure. It lacks subtlety. Often
his victims have appeared to have died from natural causes. I scarcely
understand."

"I see little difference in the outcome," I answered. "There is
nothing that can be done to apprehend the murderer as it is."

"True," Gordon scowled. "We know who did it but there is no
proof--not even a fingerprint. Even if we knew where the Afghan is
hiding and arrested him, we could prove nothing--there would be a
score of men to swear alibis for him. The baron returned only
yesterday. Kathulos probably did not know of his arrival until
tonight. He knew that on the morrow Rokoff would make known his
presence to me and impart what he learned in northern Asia. The
Egyptian knew he must strike quickly, and lacking time to prepare a
safer and more elaborate form of murder, he sent the Afridi with his
tulwar. There is nothing we can do, at least not until we discover the
Scorpion's hiding-place; what the baron had learned in Mongolia, we
shall never know, but that it dealt with the plans and aspirations of
Kathulos, we may be sure."

We went down the stairs again and out on the street, accompanied
by one of the Scotland Yard men, Hansen. Gordon suggested that we walk
back to his apartment and I greeted the opportunity to let the cool
night air blow some of the cobwebs out of my mazed brain.

As we walked along the deserted streets, Gordon suddenly cursed
savagely.

"This is a veritable labyrinth we are following, leading nowhere!
Here, in the very heart of civilization's metropolis, the direct enemy
of that civilization commits crimes of the most outrageous nature and
goes free! We are children, wandering in the night, struggling with an
unseen evil--dealing with an incarnate devil, of whose true identity
we know nothing and whose true ambitions we can only guess.

"Never have we managed to arrest one of the Egyptian's direct
henchmen, and the few dupes and tools of his we have apprehended have
died mysteriously before they could tell us anything. Again I repeat:
what strange power has Kathulos that dominates these men of different
creeds and races? The men in London with him are, of course, mostly
renegades, slaves of dope, but his tentacles stretch all over the
East. Some dominance is his: the power that sent the Chinaman, Li
Kung, back to kill you, in the face of certain death; that sent Yar
Khan the Moslem over the roofs of London to do murder; that holds
Zuleika the Circassian in unseen bonds of slavery.

"Of course we know," he continued after a brooding silence, "that
the East has secret societies which are behind and above all
considerations of creeds. There are cults in Africa and the Orient
whose origin dates back to Ophir and the fall of Atlantis. This man
must be a power in some or possibly all of these societies. Why,
outside the Jews, I know of no oriental race which is so cordially
despised by the other Eastern races, as the Egyptians! Yet here we
have a man, an Egyptian by his own word, controlling the lives and
destinies of orthodox Moslems, Hindus, Shintos and devil-worshippers.
It's unnatural.

"Have you ever"--he turned to me abruptly--"heard the ocean
mentioned in connection with Kathulos?"

"Never."

"There is a widespread superstition in northern Africa, based on a
very ancient legend, that the great leader of the colored races would
come out of the sea! And I once heard a Berber speak of the Scorpion
as 'The Son of the Ocean.'"

"That is a term of respect among that tribe, is it not?"

"Yes; still I wonder sometimes."



Chapter 16. The Mummy Who Laughed



_"Laughing as littered skulls that lie_

_After lost battles turn to the sky_

_An everlasting laugh."_

   --Chesterton

"A shop open this late," Gordon remarked suddenly.

A fog had descended on London and along the quiet street we were
traversing the lights glimmered with the peculiar reddish haze
characteristic of such atmospheric conditions. Our footfalls echoed
drearily. Even in the heart of a great city there are always sections
which seem overlooked and forgotten. Such a street was this. Not even
a policeman was in sight.

The shop which had attracted Gordon's attention was just in front
of us, on the same side of the street. There was no sign over the
door, merely some sort of emblem, something like a dragon. Light
flowed from the open doorway and the small show windows on each side.
As it was neither a cafe nor the entrance to a hotel we found
ourselves idly speculating over its reason for being open. Ordinarily,
I suppose, neither of us would have given the matter a thought, but
our nerves were so keyed up that we found ourselves instinctively
suspicious of anything out of the ordinary. Then something occurred
which was distinctly out of the ordinary.

A very tall, very thin man, considerably stooped, suddenly loomed
up out of the fog in front of us, and beyond the shop. I had only a
glance of him--an impression of incredible gauntness, of worn,
wrinkled garments, a high silk hat drawn close over the brows, a face
entirely hidden by a muffler; then he turned aside and entered the
shop. A cold wind whispered down the street, twisting the fog into
wispy ghosts, but the coldness that came upon me transcended the
wind's.

"Gordon!" I exclaimed in a fierce, low voice; "my senses are no
longer reliable or else Kathulos himself has just gone into that
house!"

Gordon's eyes blazed. We were now close to the shop, and
lengthening his strides into a run he hurled himself into the door,
the detective and I close upon his heels.

A weird assortment of merchandise met our eyes. Antique weapons
covered the walls, and the floor was piled high with curious things.
Maori idols shouldered Chinese josses, and suits of medieval armor
bulked darkly against stacks of rare oriental rugs and Latin-make
shawls. The place was an antique shop. Of the figure who had aroused
our interest we saw nothing.

An old man clad bizarrely in red fez, brocaded jacket and Turkish
slippers came from the back of the shop; he was a Levantine of some
sort.

"You wish something, sirs?"

"You keep open rather late," Gordon said abruptly, his eyes
traveling swiftly over the shop for some secret hiding-place that
might conceal the object of our search.

"Yes, sir. My customers number many eccentric professors and
students who keep very irregular hours. Often the night boats unload
special pieces for me and very often I have customers later than this.
I remain open all night, sir."

"We are merely looking around," Gordon returned, and in an aside
to Hansen: "Go to the back and stop anyone who tries to leave that
way."

Hansen nodded and strolled casually to the rear of the shop. The
back door was clearly visible to our view, through a vista of antique
furniture and tarnished hangings strung up for exhibition. We had
followed the Scorpion--if he it was--so closely that I did not believe
he would have had time to traverse the full length of the shop and
make his exit without our having seen him as we came in. For our eyes
had been on the rear door ever since we had entered.

Gordon and I browsed around casually among the curios, handling
and discussing some of them but I have no idea as to their nature. The
Levantine had seated himself cross-legged on a Moorish mat close to
the center of the shop and apparently took only a polite interest in
our explorations.

After a time Gordon whispered to me: "There is no advantage in
keeping up this pretense. We have looked everywhere the Scorpion might
be hiding, in the ordinary manner. I will make known my identity and
authority and we will search the entire building openly."

Even as he spoke a truck drew up outside the door and two burly
Negroes entered. The Levantine seemed to have expected them, for he
merely waved them toward the back of the shop and they responded with
a grunt of understanding.

Gordon and I watched them closely as they made their way to a
large mummy-case which stood upright against the wall not far from the
back. They lowered this to a level position and then started for the
door, carrying it carefully between them.

"Halt!" Gordon stepped forward, raising his hand authoritatively.

"I represent Scotland Yard," he said swiftly, "and have sanction
for anything I choose to do. Set that mummy down; nothing leaves this
shop until we have thoroughly searched it."

The Negroes obeyed without a word and my friend turned to the
Levantine, who, apparently not perturbed or even interested, sat
smoking a Turkish water-pipe.

"Who was that tall man who entered just before we did, and where
did he go?"

"No one entered before you, sir. Or, if anyone did, I was at the
back of the shop and did not see him. You are certainly at liberty to
search my shop, sir."

And search it we did, with the combined craft of a secret service
expert and a denizen of the underworld--while Hansen stood stolidly at
his post, the two Negroes standing over the carved mummy-case watched
us impassively and the Levantine sitting like a sphinx on his mat,
puffing a fog of smoke into the air. The whole thing had a distinct
effect of unreality.

At last, baffled, we returned to the mummy-case, which was
certainly long enough to conceal even a man of Kathulos' height. The
thing did not appear to be sealed as is the usual custom, and Gordon
opened it without difficulty. A formless shape, swathed in moldering
wrappings, met our eyes. Gordon parted some of the wrappings and
revealed an inch or so of withered, brownish, leathery arm. He
shuddered involuntarily as he touched it, as a man will do at the
touch of a reptile or some inhumanly cold thing. Taking a small metal
idol from a stand nearby, he rapped on the shrunken breast and the
arm. Each gave out a solid thumping, like some sort of wood.

Gordon shrugged his shoulders. "Dead for two thousand years anyway
and I don't suppose I should risk destroying a valuable mummy simply
to prove what we know to be true."

He closed the case again.

"The mummy may have crumbled some, even from this much exposure,
but perhaps it did not."

This last was addressed to the Levantine who replied merely by a
courteous gesture of his hand, and the Negroes once more lifted the
case and carried it to the truck, where they loaded it on, and a
moment later mummy, truck and Negroes had vanished in the fog.

Gordon still nosed about the shop, but I stood stock-still in the
center of the floor. To my chaotic and dope-ridden brain I attribute
it, but the sensation had been mine, that through the wrappings of the
mummy's face, great eyes had burned into mine, eyes like pools of
yellow fire, that seared my soul and froze me where I stood. And as
the case had been carried through the door, I knew that the lifeless
thing in it, dead, God only knows how many centuries, was laughing,
hideously and silently.



Chapter 17. The Dead Man from the Sea



_"The blind gods roar and rave and dream_

_Of all cities under the sea."_

   --Chesterton

Gordon puffed savagely at his Turkish cigarette, staring
abstractedly and unseeingly at Hansen, who sat opposite him.

"I suppose we must chalk up another failure against ourselves.
That Levantine, Kamonos, is evidently a creature of the Egyptian's and
the walls and floors of his shop are probably honeycombed with secret
panels and doors which would baffle a magician."

Hansen made some answer but I said nothing. Since our return to
Gordon's apartment, I had been conscious of a feeling of intense
languor and sluggishness which not even my condition could account
for. I knew that my system was full of the elixir--but my mind seemed
strangely slow and hard of comprehension in direct contrast with the
average state of my mentality when stimulated by the hellish dope.

This condition was slowly leaving me, like mist floating from the
surface of a lake, and I felt as if I were waking gradually from a
long and unnaturally sound sleep.

Gordon was saying: "I would give a good deal to know if Kamonos is
really one of Kathulos' slaves or if the Scorpion managed to make his
escape through some natural exit as we entered."

"Kamonos is his servant, true enough," I found myself saying
slowly, as if searching for the proper words. "As we left, I saw his
gaze light upon the scorpion which is traced on my hand. His eyes
narrowed, and as we were leaving he contrived to brush close against
me--and to whisper in a quick low voice: 'Soho, 48.'"

Gordon came erect like a loosened steel bow.

"Indeed!" he rapped. "Why did you not tell me at the time?"

"I don't know."

My friend eyed me sharply.

"I noticed you seemed like a man intoxicated all the way from the
shop," said he. "I attributed it to some aftermath of hashish. But no.
Kathulos is undoubtedly a masterful disciple of Mesmer--his power over
venomous reptiles shows that, and I am beginning to believe it is the
real source of his power over humans.

"Somehow, the Master caught you off your guard in that shop and
partly asserted his dominance over your mind. From what hidden nook he
sent his thought waves to shatter your brain, I do not know, but
Kathulos was somewhere in that shop, I am sure."

"He was. He was in the mummy-case."

"The mummy-case!" Gordon exclaimed rather impatiently. "That is
impossible! The mummy quite filled it and not even such a thin being
as the Master could have found room there."

I shrugged my shoulders, unable to argue the point but somehow
sure of the truth of my statement.

"Kamonos," Gordon continued, "doubtless is not a member of the
inner circle and does not know of your change of allegiance. Seeing
the mark of the scorpion, he undoubtedly supposed you to be a spy of
the Master's. The whole thing may be a plot to ensnare us, but I feel
that the man was sincere--Soho 48 can be nothing less than the
Scorpion's new rendezvous."

I too felt that Gordon was right, though a suspicion lurked in my
mind.

"I secured the papers of Major Morley yesterday," he continued,
"and while you slept, I went over them. Mostly they but corroborated
what I already knew--touched on the unrest of the natives and repeated
the theory that one vast genius was behind all. But there was one
matter which interested me greatly and which I think will interest you
also."

From his strong box he took a manuscript written in the close,
neat characters of the unfortunate major, and in a monotonous droning
voice which betrayed little of his intense excitement he read the
following nightmarish narrative:

"This matter I consider worth jotting down--as to whether it has
any bearing on the case at hand, further developments will show. At
Alexandria, where I spent some weeks seeking further clues as to the
identity of the man known as the Scorpion, I made the acquaintance,
through my friend Ahmed Shah, of the noted Egyptologist Professor Ezra
Schuyler of New York. He verified the statement made by various
laymen, concerning the legend of the 'ocean-man.' This myth, handed
down from generation to generation, stretches back into the very mists
of antiquity and is, briefly, that someday a man shall come up out of
the sea and shall lead the people of Egypt to victory over all others.
This legend has spread over the continent so that now all black races
consider that it deals with the coming of a universal emperor.
Professor Schuyler gave it as his opinion that the myth was somehow
connected with the lost Atlantis, which, he maintains, was located
between the African and South American continents and to whose
inhabitants the ancestors of the Egyptians were tributary. The reasons
for his connection are too lengthy and vague to note here, but
following the line of his theory he told me a strange and fantastic
tale. He said that a close friend of his, Von Lorfmon of Germany, a
sort of free-lance scientist, now dead, was sailing off the coast of
Senegal some years ago, for the purpose of investigating and
classifying the rare specimens of sea life found there. He was using
for his purpose a small trading-vessel, manned by a crew of Moors,
Greeks and Negroes.

"Some days out of sight of land, something floating was sighted,
and this object, being grappled and brought aboard, proved to be a
mummy-case of a most curious kind. Professor Schuyler explained to me
the features whereby it differed from the ordinary Egyptian style, but
from his rather technical account I merely got the impression that it
was a strangely shaped affair carved with characters neither cuneiform
nor hieroglyphic. The case was heavily lacquered, being watertight and
airtight, and Von Lorfmon had considerable difficulty in opening it.
However, he managed to do so without damaging the case, and a most
unusual mummy was revealed. Schuyler said that he never saw either the
mummy or the case, but that from descriptions given him by the Greek
skipper who was present at the opening of the case, the mummy differed
as much from the ordinary man as the case differed from the
conventional type.

"Examination proved that the subject had not undergone the usual
procedure of mummification. All parts were intact just as in life, but
the whole form was shrunk and hardened to a wood-like consistency.
Cloth wrappings swathed the thing and they crumbled to dust and
vanished the instant air was let in upon them.

"Von Lorfmon was impressed by the effect upon the crew. The Greeks
showed no interest beyond that which would ordinarily be shown by any
man, but the Moors, and even more the Negroes, seemed to be rendered
temporarily insane! As the case was hoisted on board, they all fell
prostrate on the deck and raised a sort of worshipful chant, and it
was necessary to use force in order to exclude them from the cabin
wherein the mummy was exposed. A number of fights broke out between
them and the Greek element of the crew, and the skipper and Von
Lorfmon thought best to put back to the nearest port in all haste. The
skipper attributed it to the natural aversion of seamen toward having
a corpse on board, but Von Lorfmon seemed to sense a deeper meaning.

"They made port in Lagos, and that very night Von Lorfmon was
murdered in his stateroom and the mummy and its case vanished. All the
Moor and Negro sailors deserted ship the same night. Schuyler said--
and here the matter took on a most sinister and mysterious aspect--
that immediately afterward this widespread unrest among the natives
began to smolder and take tangible form; he connected it in some
manner with the old legend.

"An aura of mystery, also, hung over Von Lorfmon's death. He had
taken the mummy into his stateroom, and anticipating an attack from
the fanatical crew, had carefully barred and bolted door and
portholes. The skipper, a reliable man, swore that it was virtually
impossible to affect an entrance from without. And what signs were
present pointed to the fact that the locks had been worked from
within. The scientist was killed by a dagger which formed part of his
collection and which was left in his breast.

"As I have said, immediately afterward the African cauldron began
to seethe. Schuyler said that in his opinion the natives considered
the ancient prophecy fulfilled. The mummy was the man from the sea.

"Schuyler gave as his opinion that the thing was the work of
Atlanteans and that the man in the mummy-case was a native of lost
Atlantis. How the case came to float up through the fathoms of water
which cover the forgotten land, he does not venture to offer a theory.
He is sure that somewhere in the ghost-ridden mazes of the African
jungles the mummy has been enthroned as a god, and, inspired by the
dead thing, the black warriors are gathering for a wholesale massacre.
He believes, also, that some crafty Moslem is the direct moving power
of the threatened rebellion."

Gordon ceased and looked up at me.

"Mummies seem to weave a weird dance through the warp of the
tale," he said. "The German scientist took several pictures of the
mummy with his camera, and it was after seeing these--which strangely
enough were not stolen along with the thing--that Major Morley began
to think himself on the brink of some monstrous discovery. His diary
reflects his state of mind and becomes incoherent--his condition seems
to have bordered on insanity. What did he learn to unbalance him so?
Do you suppose that the mesmeric spells of Kathulos were used against
him?"

"These pictures--" I began.

"They fell into Schuyler's hands and he gave one to Morley. I
found it among the manuscripts."

He handed the thing to me, watching me narrowly. I stared, then
rose unsteadily and poured myself a tumbler of wine.

'"Not a dead idol in a voodoo hut," I said shakily, "but a monster
animated by fearsome life, roaming the world for victims. Morley had
seen the Master--that is why his brain crumbled. Gordon, as I hope to
live again, _that face is the face of Kathulos_!"

Gordon stared wordlessly at me.

"The Master hand, Gordon," I laughed. A certain grim enjoyment
penetrated the mists of my horror, at the sight of the steel-nerved
Englishman struck speechless, doubtless for the first time in his
life.

He moistened his lips and said in a scarcely recognizable voice,
"Then, in God's name, Costigan, nothing is stable or certain, and
mankind hovers at the brink of untold abysses of nameless horror. If
that dead monster found by Von Lorfmon be in truth the Scorpion,
brought to life in some hideous fashion, what can mortal effort do
against him?"

"The mummy at Kamonos'--" I began.

"Aye, the man whose flesh, hardened by a thousand years of non-
existence--that must have been Kathulos himself! He would have just
had time to strip, wrap himself in the linens and step into the case
before we entered. You remember that the case, leaning upright against
the wall, stood partly concealed by a large Burmese idol, which
obstructed our view and doubtless gave him time to accomplish his
purpose. My God, Costigan, with what horror of the prehistoric world
are we dealing?"

"I have heard of Hindu fakirs who could induce a condition closely
resembling death," I began. "Is it not possible that Kathulos, a
shrewd and crafty Oriental, could have placed himself in this state
and his followers have placed the case in the ocean where it was sure
to be found? And might not he have been in this shape tonight at
Kamonos'?"

Gordon shook his head.

"No, I have seen these fakirs. None of them ever feigned death to
the extent of becoming shriveled and hard--in a word, dried up.
Morley, narrating in another place the description of the mummy-case
as jotted down by Von Lorfmon and passed on to Schuyler, mentions the
fact that large portions of seaweed adhered to it--seaweed of a kind
found only at great depths, on the bottom of the ocean. The wood, too,
was of a kind which Von Lorfmon failed to recognize or to classify, in
spite of the fact that he was one of the greatest living authorities
on flora. And his notes again and again emphasize the enormous age of
the thing. He admitted that there was no way of telling how old the
mummy was, but his hints intimate that he believed it to be, not
thousands of years old, but millions of years!

"No. We must face the facts. Since you are positive that the
picture of the mummy is the picture of Kathulos--and there is little
room for fraud--one of two things is practically certain: the Scorpion
was never dead but ages ago was placed in that mummy-case and his life
preserved in some manner, or else--he was dead and has been brought to
life! Either of these theories, viewed in the cold light of reason, is
absolutely untenable. Are we all insane?"

"Had you ever walked the road to hashish land," I said somberly,
"you could believe anything to be true. Had you ever gazed into the
terrible reptilian eyes of Kathulos the sorcerer, you would not doubt
that he was both dead and alive."

Gordon gazed out the window, his fine face haggard in the gray
light which had begun to steal through them.

"At any rate," said he, "there are two places which I intend
exploring thoroughly before the sun rises again--Kamonos' antique shop
and Soho 48."



Chapter 18. The Grip of the Scorpion



_"While from a proud tower in the town_

_Death looks gigantically down."_

   --Poe

Hansen snored on the bed as I paced the room. Another day had
passed over London and again the street lamps glimmered through the
fog. Their lights affected me strangely. They seemed to beat, solid
waves of energy, against my brain. They twisted the fog into strange
sinister shapes. Footlights of the stage that is the streets of
London, how many grisly scenes had they lighted? I pressed my hands
hard against my throbbing temples, striving to bring my thoughts back
from the chaotic labyrinth where they wandered.

Gordon I had not seen since dawn. Following the clue of "Soho 48"
he had gone forth to arrange a raid upon the place and he thought it
best that I should remain under cover. He anticipated an attempt upon
my life, and again he feared that if I went searching among the dives
I formerly frequented it would arouse suspicion.

Hansen snored on. I seated myself and began to study the Turkish
shoes which clothed my feet. Zuleika had worn Turkish slippers--how
she floated through my waking dreams, gilding prosaic things with her
witchery! Her face smiled at me from the fog; her eyes shone from the
flickering lamps; her phantom footfalls re-echoed through the misty
chambers of my skull.

They beat an endless tattoo, luring and haunting till it seemed
that these echoes found echoes in the hallway outside the room where I
stood, soft and stealthy. A sudden rap at the door and I started.

Hansen slept on as I crossed the room and flung the door swiftly
open. A swirling wisp of fog had invaded the corridor, and through it,
like a silver veil, I saw her--Zuleika stood before me with her
shimmering hair and her red lips parted and her great dark eyes.

Like a speechless fool I stood and she glanced quickly down the
hallway and then stepped inside and closed the door.

"Gordon!" she whispered in a thrilling undertone. "Your friend!
The Scorpion has him!"

Hansen had awakened and now sat gaping stupidly at the strange
scene which met his eyes.

Zuleika did not heed him.

"And oh, Steephen!" she cried, and tears shone in her eyes, "I
have tried so hard to secure some more elixir but I could not."

"Never mind that," I finally found my speech. '"Tell me about
Gordon."

"He went back to Kamonos' alone, and Hassim and Ganra Singh took
him captive and brought him to the Master's house. Tonight assemble a
great host of the people of the Scorpion for the sacrifice."

"Sacrifice!" A grisly thrill of horror coursed down my spine. Was
there no limit to the ghastliness of this business?

"Quick, Zuleika, where is this house of the Master's?"

"Soho, 48. You must summon the police and send many men to
surround it, but you must not go yourself--"

Hansen sprang up quivering for action, but I turned to him. My
brain was clear now, or seemed to be, and racing unnaturally.

"Wait!" I turned back to Zuleika. "When is this sacrifice to take
place?"

"At the rising of the moon."

"That is only a few hours before dawn. Time to save him, but if we
raid the house they'll kill him before we can reach them. And God only
knows how many diabolical things guard all approaches."

"I do not know," Zuleika whimpered. "I must go now, or the Master
will kill me."

Something gave way in my brain at that; something like a flood of
wild and terrible exultation swept over me.

"The Master will kill no one!" I shouted, flinging my arms on
high. "Before ever the east turns red for dawn, the Master dies! By
all things holy and unholy I swear it!"

Hansen stared wildly at me and Zuleika shrank back as I turned on
her. To my dope-inspired brain had come a sudden burst of light, true
and unerring. I knew Kathulos was a mesmerist--that he understood
fully the secret of dominating another's mind and soul. And I knew
that at last I had hit upon the reason of his power over the girl.
Mesmerism! As a snake fascinates and draws to him a bird, so the
Master held Zuleika to him with unseen shackles. So absolute was his
rule over her that it held even when she was out of his sight, working
over great distances.

There was but one thing which would break that hold: the magnetic
power of some other person whose control was stronger with her than
Kathulos'. I laid my hands on her slim little shoulders and made her
face me.

"Zuleika," I said commandingly, "here you are safe; you shall not
return to Kathulos. There is no need of it. Now you are free."

But I knew I had failed before I ever started. Her eyes held a
look of amazed, unreasoning fear and she twisted timidly in my grasp.

"Steephen, please let me go!" she begged. "I must--I must!"

I drew her over to the bed and asked Hansen for his handcuffs. He
handed them to me, wonderingly, and I fastened one cuff to the bedpost
and the other to her slim wrist. The girl whimpered but made no
resistance, her limpid eyes seeking mine in mute appeal.

It cut me to the quick to enforce my will upon her in this
apparently brutal manner but I steeled myself.

"Zuleika," I said tenderly, "you are now my prisoner. The Scorpion
cannot blame you for not returning to him when you are unable to do
so--and before dawn you shall be free of his rule entirely."

I turned to Hansen and spoke in a tone which admitted of no
argument.

"Remain here, just without the door, until I return. On no account
allow any strangers to enter--that is, anyone whom you do not
personally know. And I charge you, on your honor as a man, do not
release this girl, no matter what she may say. If neither I nor Gordon
have returned by ten o'clock tomorrow, take her to this address--that
family once was friends of mine and will take care of a homeless girl.
I am going to Scotland Yard."

"Steephen," Zuleika wailed, "you are going to the Master's lair!
You will be killed. Send the police, do not go!"

I bent, drew her into my arms, felt her lips against mine, then
tore myself away.

The fog plucked at me with ghostly fingers, cold as the hands of
dead men, as I raced down the street. I had no plan, but one was
forming in my mind, beginning to seethe in the stimulated cauldron
that was my brain. I halted at the sight of a policeman pacing his
beat, and beckoning him to me, scribbled a terse note on a piece of
paper torn from a notebook and handed it to him.

"Get this to Scotland Yard; it's a matter of life and death and it
has to do with the business of John Gordon."

At that name, a gloved hand came up in swift assent, but his
assurance of haste died out behind me as I renewed my flight. The note
stated briefly that Gordon was a prisoner at Soho 48 and advised an
immediate raid in force--advised, nay, in Gordon's name, commanded it.

My reason for my actions was simple; I knew that the first noise
of the raid sealed John Gordon's doom. Somehow I first must reach him
and protect or free him before the police arrived.

The time seemed endless, but at last the grim gaunt outlines of
the house that was Soho 48 rose up before me, a giant ghost in the
fog. The hour grew late; few people dared the mists and the dampness
as I came to a halt in the street before this forbidding building. No
lights showed from the windows, either upstairs or down. It seemed
deserted. But the lair of the scorpion often seems deserted until the
silent death strikes suddenly.

Here I halted and a wild thought struck me. One way or another,
the drama would be over by dawn. Tonight was the climax of my career,
the ultimate top of life. Tonight I was the strongest link in the
strange chain of events. Tomorrow it would not matter whether I lived
or died. I drew the flask of elixir from my pocket and gazed at it.
Enough for two more days if properly eked out. Two more days of life!
Or--I needed stimulation as I never needed it before; the task in
front of me was one no mere human could hope to accomplish. If I drank
the entire remainder of the elixir, I had no idea as to the duration
of its effect, but it would last the night through. And my legs were
shaky; my mind had curious periods of utter vacuity; weakness of brain
and body assailed me. I raised the flask and with one draft drained
it.

For an instant I thought it was death. Never had I taken such an
amount.

Sky and world reeled and I felt as if I would fly into a million
vibrating fragments, like the bursting of a globe of brittle steel.
Like fire, like hell-fire the elixir raced along my veins and I was a
giant! A monster! A superman!

Turning, I strode to the menacing, shadowy doorway. I had no plan;
I felt the need of none. As a drunken man walks blithely into danger,
I strode to the lair of the Scorpion, magnificently aware of my
superiority, imperially confident of my stimulation and sure as the
unchanging stars that the way would open before me.

Oh, there never was a superman like that who knocked commandingly
on the door of Soho 48 that night in the rain and the fog!

I knocked four times, the old signal that we slaves had used to be
admitted into the idol room at Yun Shatu's. An aperture opened in the
center of the door and slanted eyes looked warily out. They slightly
widened as the owner recognized me, then narrowed wickedly.

"You fool!" I said angrily. "Don't you see the mark?"

I held my hand to the aperture.

"Don't you recognize me? Let me in, curse you."

I think the very boldness of the trick made for its success.
Surely by now all the Scorpion's slaves knew of Stephen Costigan's
rebellion, knew that he was marked for death. And the very fact that I
came there, inviting doom, confused the doorman.

The door opened and I entered. The man who had admitted me was a
tall, lank Chinaman I had known as a servant at Kathulos. He closed
the door behind me and I saw we stood in a sort of vestibule, lighted
by a dim lamp whose glow could not be seen from the street for the
reason that the windows were heavily curtained. The Chinaman glowered
at me undecided. I looked at him, tensed. Then suspicion flared in his
eyes and his hand flew to his sleeve. But at the instant I was on him
and his lean neck broke like a rotten bough between my hands.

I eased his corpse to the thickly carpeted floor and listened. No
sound broke the silence. Stepping as stealthily as a wolf, fingers
spread like talons, I stole into the next room. This was furnished in
oriental style, with couches and rugs and gold-worked drapery, but was
empty of human life. I crossed it and went into the next one. Light
flowed softly from the censers which were swung from the ceiling, and
the Eastern rugs deadened the sound of my footfalls; I seemed to be
moving through a castle of enchantment.

Every moment I expected a rush of silent assassins from the
doorways or from behind the curtains or screen with their writhing
dragons. Utter silence reigned. Room after room I explored and at last
halted at the foot of the stairs. The inevitable censer shed an
uncertain light, but most of the stairs were veiled in shadows. What
horrors awaited me above?

But fear and the elixir are strangers and I mounted that stair of
lurking terror as boldly as I had entered that house of terror. The
upper rooms I found to be much like those below and with them they had
this fact in common: they were empty of human life. I sought an attic
but there seemed no door letting into one. Returning to the first
floor, I made a search for an entrance into the basement, but again my
efforts were fruitless. The amazing truth was borne in upon me: except
for myself and that dead man who lay sprawled so grotesquely in the
outer vestibule, there were no men in that house, dead or living.

I could not understand it. Had the house been bare of furniture I
should have reached the natural conclusion that Kathulos had fled--but
no signs of flight met my eye. This was unnatural, uncanny. I stood in
the great shadowy library and pondered. No, I had made no mistake in
the house. Even if the broken corpse in the vestibule were not there
to furnish mute testimony, everything in the room pointed toward the
presence of the Master. There were the artificial palms, the lacquered
screens, the tapestries, even the idol, though now no incense smoke
rose before it. About the walls were ranged long shelves of books,
bound in strange and costly fashion--books in every language in the
world, I found from a swift examination, and on every subject--outre
and bizarre, most of them.

Remembering the secret passage in the Temple of Dreams, I
investigated the heavy mahogany table which stood in the center of the
room. Bur nothing resulted. A sudden blaze of fury surged up in me,
primitive and unreasoning. I snatched a statuette from the table and
dashed it against the shelf-covered wall. The noise of its breaking
would surely bring the gang from their hiding-place. But the result
was much more startling than that!

The statuette struck the edge of a shelf and instantly the whole
section of shelves with their load of books swung silently outward,
revealing a narrow doorway! As in the other secret door, a row of
steps led downward. At another time I would have shuddered at the
thought of descending, with the horrors of the other tunnel fresh in
my mind, but inflamed as I was by the elixir, I strode forward without
an instant's hesitancy.

Since there was no one in the house, they must be somewhere in the
tunnel or in whatever lair to which the tunnel led. I stepped through
the doorway, leaving the door open; the police might find it that way
and follow me, though somehow I felt as if mine would be a lone hand
from start to grim finish.

I went down a considerable distance and then the stair debouched
into a level corridor some twenty feet wide--a remarkable thing. In
spite of the width, the ceiling was rather low and from it hung small,
curiously shaped lamps which flung a dim light. I stalked hurriedly
along the corridor like old Death seeking victims, and as I went I
noted the work of the thing. The floor was of great broad flags and
the walls seemed to be of huge blocks of evenly set stone. This
passage was clearly no work of modern days; the slaves of Kathulos
never tunneled there. Some secret way of medieval times, I thought--
and after all, who knows what catacombs lie below London, whose
secrets are greater and darker than those of Babylon and Rome?

On and on I went, and now I knew that I must be far below the
earth. The air was dank and heavy, and cold moisture dripped from the
stones of walls and ceiling. From time to time I saw smaller passages
leading away in the darkness but I determined to keep to the larger
main one.

A ferocious impatience gripped me. I seemed to have been walking
for hours and still only dank damp walls and bare flags and guttering
lamps met my eyes. I kept a close watch for sinister-appearing chests
or the like--saw no such things.

Then as I was about to burst into savage curses, another stair
loomed up in the shadows in front of me.



Chapter 19. Dark Fury



_"The ringed wolf glared the circle round_

_Through baleful, blue-lit eye,_

Not unforgetful of his debt.

Quoth he, 'I'll do some damage yet

_Or ere my turn to die!'"_

   --Mundy

Like a lean wolf I glided up the stairs. Some twenty feet up there
was a sort of landing from which other corridors diverged, much like
the lower one by which I had come. The thought came to me that the
earth below London must be honeycombed with such secret passages, one
above the other.

Some feet above this landing the steps halted at a door, and here
I hesitated, uncertain as to whether I should chance knocking or not.
Even as I meditated, the door began to open. I shrank back against the
wall, flattening myself out as much as possible. The door swung wide
and a Moor came through. Only a glimpse I had of the room beyond, out
of the corner of my eye, but my unnaturally alert senses registered
the fact that the room was empty.

And on the instant, before he could turn, I smote the Moor a
single deathly blow behind the angle of the jawbone and he toppled
headlong down the stairs, to lie in a crumpled heap on the landing,
his limbs tossed grotesquely about.

My left hand caught the door as it started to slam shut and in an
instant I was through and standing in the room beyond. As I had
thought, there was no occupant of this room. I crossed it swiftly and
entered the next. These rooms were furnished in a manner before which
the furnishings of the Soho house paled into insignificance. Barbaric,
terrible, unholy--these words alone convey some slight idea of the
ghastly sights which met my eyes. Skulls, bones and complete skeletons
formed much of the decorations, if such they were. Mummies leered from
their cases and mounted reptiles ranged the walls. Between these
sinister relics hung African shields of hide and bamboo, crossed with
assagais and war daggers. Here and there reared obscene idols, black
and horrible.

And in between and scattered about among these evidences of
savagery and barbarism were vases, screens, rugs and hangings of the
highest oriental workmanship; a strange and incongruous effect.

I had passed through two of these rooms without seeing a human
being, when I came to stairs leading upward. Up these I went, several
flights, until I came to a door in a ceiling. I wondered if I was
still under the earth. Surely the first stairs had let into a house of
some sort. I raised the door cautiously. Starlight met my eyes and I
drew myself warily up and out. There I halted. A broad flat roof
stretched away on all sides and beyond its rim on all sides glimmered
the lights of London. Just what building I was on, I had no idea, but
that it was a tall one I could tell, for I seemed to be above most of
the lights I saw. Then I saw that I was not alone.

Over against the shadows of the ledge that ran around the roof's
edge, a great menacing form bulked in starlight. A pair of eyes
glinted at me with a light not wholly sane; the starlight glanced
silver from a curving length of steel. Yar Khan the Afghan killer
fronted me in the silent shadows.

A fierce wild exultation surged over me. Now I could begin to pay
the debt I owed Kathulos and all his hellish band! The dope fired my
veins and sent waves of inhuman power and dark fury through me. A
spring and I was on my feet in a silent, deathly rush.

Yar Khan was a giant, taller and bulkier than I. He held a tulwar,
and from the instant I saw him I knew that he was full of the dope to
the use of which he was addicted--heroin.

As I came in he swung his heavy weapon high in the air, but ere he
could strike I seized his sword wrist in an iron grip and with my free
hand drove smashing blows into his midriff.

Of that hideous battle, fought in silence above the sleeping city
with only the stars to see, I remember little. I remember tumbling
back and forth, locked in a death embrace. I remember the stiff beard
rasping my flesh as his dope-fired eyes gazed wildly into mine. I
remember the taste of hot blood in my mouth, the tang of fearful
exultation in my soul, the onrushing and upsurging of inhuman strength
and fury.

God, what a sight for a human eye, had anyone looked upon that
grim roof where two human leopards, dope maniacs, tore each other to
pieces!

I remember his arm breaking like rotten wood in my grip and the
tulwar falling from his useless hand. Handicapped by a broken arm, the
end was inevitable, and with one wild uproaring flood of might, I
rushed him to the edge of the roof and bent him backward far out over
the ledge. An instant we struggled there; then I tore loose his hold
and hurled him over, and one single shriek came up as he hurtled into
the darkness below.

I stood upright, arms hurled up toward the stars, a terrible
statue of primordial triumph. And down my breast trickled streams of
blood from the long wounds left by the Afghan's frantic nails, on neck
and face.

Then I turned with the craft of the maniac. Had no one heard the
sound of that battle? My eyes were on the door through which I had
come, but a noise made me turn, and for the first time I noticed a
small affair like a tower jutting up from the roof. There was no
window there, but there was a door, and even as I looked that door
opened and a huge black form framed itself in the light that streamed
from within. Hassim!

He stepped out on the roof and closed the door, his shoulders
hunched and neck outthrust as he glanced this way and that. I struck
him senseless to the roof with one hate-driven smash. I crouched over
him, waiting some sign of returning consciousness; then away in the
sky close to the horizon, I saw a faint red tint. The rising of the
moon!

Where in God's name was Gordon? Even as I stood undecided, a
strange noise reached me. It was curiously like the droning of many
bees.

Striding in the direction from which it seemed to come, I crossed
the roof and leaned over the ledge. A sight nightmarish and incredible
met my eyes.

Some twenty feet below the level of the roof on which I stood,
there was another roof, of the same size and clearly a part of the
same building. On one side it was bounded by the wall; on the other
three sides a parapet several feet high took the place of a ledge.

A great throng of people stood, sat and squatted, close-packed on
the roof--and without exception they were Negroes! There were hundreds
of them, and it was their low-voiced conversation which I had heard.
But what held my gaze was that upon which their eyes were fixed.

About the center of the roof rose a sort of teocalli some ten feet
high, almost exactly like those found in Mexico and on which the
priests of the Aztecs sacrificed human victims. This, allowing for its
infinitely smaller scale, was an exact type of those sacrificial
pyramids. On the flat top of it was a curiously carved altar, and
beside it stood a lank, dusky form whom even the ghastly mask he wore
could not disguise to my gaze--Santiago, the Haiti voodoo fetish man.
On the altar lay John Gordon, stripped to the waist and bound hand and
foot, but conscious.

I reeled back from the roof edge, rent in twain by indecision.
Even the stimulus of the elixir was not equal to this. Then a sound
brought me about to see Hassim struggling dizzily to his knees. I
reached him with two long strides and ruthlessly smashed him down
again. Then I noticed a queer sort of contrivance dangling from his
girdle. I bent and examined it. It was a mask similar to that worn by
Santiago. Then my mind leaped swift and sudden to a wild desperate
plan, which to my dope-ridden brain seemed not at all wild or
desperate. I stepped softly to the tower and, opening the door, peered
inward. I saw no one who might need to be silenced, but I saw a long
silken robe hanging upon a peg in the wall. The luck of the dope
fiend! I snatched it and closed the door again. Hassim showed no signs
of consciousness but I gave him another smash on the chin to make sure
and, seizing his mask, hurried to the ledge.

A low guttural chant floated up to me, jangling, barbaric, with an
undertone of maniacal blood-lust. The Negroes, men and women, were
swaying back and forth to the wild rhythm of their death chant. On the
teocalli Santiago stood like a statue of black basalt, facing the
east, dagger held high--a wild and terrible sight, naked as he was
save for a wide silken girdle and that inhuman mask on his face. The
moon thrust a red rim above the eastern horizon and a faint breeze
stirred the great black plumes which nodded above the voodoo man's
mask. The chant of the worshipers dropped to a low, sinister whisper.

I hurriedly slipped on the death mask, gathered the robe close
about me and prepared for the descent. I was prepared to drop the full
distance, being sure in the superb confidence of my insanity that I
would land unhurt, but as I climbed over the ledge I found a steel
ladder leading down. Evidently Hassim, one of the voodoo priests,
intended descending this way. So down I went, and in haste, for I knew
that the instant the moon's lower rim cleared the city's skyline, that
motionless dagger would descend into Gordon's breast.

Gathering the robe close about me so as to conceal my white skin,
I stepped down upon the roof and strode forward through rows of black
worshipers who shrank aside to let me through. To the foot of the
teocalli I stalked and up the stair that ran about it, until I stood
beside the death altar and marked the dark red stains upon it. Gordon
lay on his back, his eyes open, his face drawn and haggard, but his
gaze dauntless and unflinching.

Santiago's eyes blazed at me through the slits of his mask, but I
read no suspicion in his gaze until I reached forward and took the
dagger from his hand. He was too much astonished to resist, and the
black throng fell suddenly silent. That he saw my hand was not that of
a Negro it is certain, but he was simply struck speechless with
astonishment. Moving swiftly I cut Gordon's bonds and hauled him
erect. Then Santiago with a shriek leaped upon me--shrieked again and,
arms flung high, pitched headlong from the teocalli with his own
dagger buried to the hilt in his breast.

Then the black worshipers were on us with a screech and a roar--
leaping on the steps of the teocalli like black leopards in the
moonlight, knives flashing, eyes gleaming whitely.

I tore mask and robe from me and answered Gordon's exclamation
with a wild laugh. I had hoped that by virtue of my disguise I might
get us both safely away but now I was content to die there at his
side.

He tore a great metal ornament from the altar, and as the
attackers came he wielded this. A moment we held them at bay and then
they flowed over us like a black wave. This to me was Valhalla! Knives
stung me and blackjacks smashed against me, but I laughed and drove my
iron fists in straight, steam-hammer smashes that shattered flesh and
bone. I saw Gordon's crude weapon rise and fall, and each time a man
went down. Skulls shattered and blood splashed and the dark fury swept
over me. Nightmare faces swirled about me and I was on my knees; up
again and the faces crumpled before my blows. Through far mists I
seemed to hear a hideous familiar voice raised in imperious command.

Gordon was swept away from me but from the sounds I knew that the
work of death still went on. The stars reeled through fogs of blood,
but Hell's exaltation was on me and I reveled in the dark tides of
fury until a darker, deeper tide swept over me and I knew no more.



Chapter 20. Ancient Horror



_"Here now in his triumph where all things falter,_

_Stretched out on the spoils that his own hand spread,_

_As a God self-slain on his own strange altar,_

_Death lies dead."_

   --Swinburne

Slowly I drifted back into life--slowly, slowly. A mist held me
and in the mist I saw a Skull--

I lay in a steel cage like a captive wolf, and the bars were too
strong, I saw, even for my strength. The cage seemed to be set in a
sort of niche in the wall and I was looking into a large room. This
room was under the earth, for the floor was of stone flags and the
walls and ceiling were composed of gigantic blocks of the same
material. Shelves ranged the walls, covered with weird appliances,
apparently of a scientific nature, and more were on the great table
that stood in the center of the room. Beside this sat Kathulos.

The sorcerer was clad in a snaky yellow robe, and those hideous
hands and that terrible head were more pronouncedly reptilian than
ever. He turned his great yellow eyes toward me, like pools of livid
fire, and his parchment-thin lips moved in what probably passed for a
smile.

I staggered erect and gripped the bars, cursing.

"Gordon, curse you, where is Gordon?"

Kathulos took a test-tube from the table, eyed it closely and
emptied it into another.

"Ah, my friend awakes," he murmured in his voice--the voice of a
living dead man.

He thrust his hands into his long sleeves and turned fully to me.

"I think in you," he said distinctly, "I have created a
Frankenstein monster. I made of you a superhuman creature to serve my
wishes and you broke from me. You are the bane of my might, worse than
Gordon even. You have killed valuable servants and interfered with my
plans. However, your evil comes to an end tonight. Your friend Gordon
broke away but he is being hunted through the tunnels and cannot
escape.

"You," he continued with the sincere interest of the scientist,
"are a most interesting subject. Your brain must be formed differently
from any other man that ever lived. I will make a close study of it
and add it to my laboratory. How a man, with the apparent need of the
elixir in his system, has managed to go on for two days still
stimulated by the last draft is more than I can understand."

My heart leaped. With all his wisdom, little Zuleika had tricked
him and he evidently did not know that she had filched a flask of the
life-giving stuff from him.

"The last draft you had from me," he went on, "was sufficient only
for some eight hours. I repeat, it has me puzzled. Can you offer any
suggestion?"

I snarled wordlessly. He sighed.

"As always the barbarian. Truly the proverb speaks: 'Jest with the
wounded tiger and warm the adder in your bosom before you seek to lift
the savage from his savagery.'"

He meditated a while in silence. I watched him uneasily. There was
about him a vague and curious difference--his long fingers emerging
from the sleeves drummed on the chair arms and some hidden exultation
strummed at the back of his voice, lending it unaccustomed vibrancy.

"And you might have been a king of the new regime," he said
suddenly. "Aye, the new--new and inhumanly old!"

I shuddered as his dry cackling laugh rasped out.

He bent his head as if listening. From far off seemed to come a
hum of guttural voices. His lips writhed in a smile.

"My black children," he murmured. "They tear my enemy Gordon to
pieces in the tunnels. They, Mr. Costigan, are my real henchmen and it
was for their edification tonight that I laid John Gordon on the
sacrificial stone. I would have preferred to have made some
experiments with him, based on certain scientific theories, but my
children must be humored. Later under my tutelage they will outgrow
their childish superstitions and throw aside their foolish customs,
but now they must be led gently by the hand.

"How do you like these under-the-earth corridors, Mr. Costigan?"
he switched suddenly. "You thought of them--what? No doubt that the
white savages of your Middle Ages built them? Faugh! These tunnels are
older than your world! They were brought into being by mighty kings,
too many eons ago for your mind to grasp, when an imperial city
towered where this crude village of London stands. All trace of that
metropolis has crumbled to dust and vanished, but these corridors were
built by more than human skill--ha ha! Of all the teeming thousands
who move daily above them, none knows of their existence save my
servants--and not all of them. Zuleika, for instance, does not know of
them, for of late I have begun to doubt her loyalty and shall
doubtless soon make of her an example."

At that I hurled myself blindly against the side of the cage, a
red wave of hate and fury tossing me in its grip. I seized the bars
and strained until the veins stood out on my forehead and the muscles
bulged and crackled in my arms and shoulders. And the bars bent before
my onslaught--a little but no more, and finally the power flowed from
my limbs and I sank down trembling and weakened. Kathulos watched me
imperturbably.

"The bars hold," he announced with something almost like relief in
his tone. "Frankly, I prefer to be on the opposite side of them. You
are a human ape if there was ever one."

He laughed suddenly and wildly.

"But why do you seek to oppose me?" he shrieked unexpectedly. "Why
defy me, who am Kathulos, the Sorcerer, great even in the days of the
old empire? Today, invincible! A magician, a scientist, among ignorant
savages! Ha ha!"

I shuddered, and sudden blinding light broke in on me. Kathulos
himself was an addict, and was fired by the stuff of his choice! What
hellish concoction was strong enough, terrible enough to thrill the
Master and inflame him, I do not know, nor do I wish to know. Of all
the uncanny knowledge that was his, I, knowing the man as I did, count
this the most weird and grisly.

"You, you paltry fool!" he was ranting, his face lit
supernaturally.

"Know you who I am? Kathulos of Egypt! Bah! They knew me in the
old days! I reigned in the dim misty sea lands ages and ages before
the sea rose and engulfed the land. I died, not as men die; the magic
draft of life everlasting was ours! I drank deep and slept. Long I
slept in my lacquered case! My flesh withered and grew hard; my blood
dried in my veins. I became as one dead. But still within me burned
the spirit of life, sleeping but anticipating the awakening. The great
cities crumbled to dust. The sea drank the land. The tall shrines and
the lofty spires sank beneath the green waves. All this I knew as I
slept, as a man knows in dreams. Kathulos of Egypt? Faugh! _Kathulos
of Atlantis_!"

I uttered a sudden involuntary cry. This was too grisly for
sanity.

"Aye, the magician, the sorcerer.

"And down the long years of savagery, through which the barbaric
races struggled to rise without their masters, the legend came of the
day of empire, when one of the Old Race would rise up from the sea.
Aye, and lead to victory the black people who were our slaves in the
old days.

"These brown and yellow people, what care I for them? The blacks
were the slaves of my race, and I am their god today. They will obey
me. The yellow and the brown peoples are fools--I make them my tools
and the day will come when my black warriors will turn on them and
slay at my word. And you, you white barbarians, whose ape-ancestors
forever defied my race and me, your doom is at hand! And when I mount
my universal throne, the only whites shall be white slaves!

"The day came as prophesied, when my case, breaking free from the
halls where it lay--where it had lain when Atlantis was still
sovereign of the world--where since her empery it had sunk into the
green fathoms--when my case, I say, was smitten by the deep sea tides
and moved and stirred, and thrust aside the clinging seaweed that
masks temples and minarets, and came floating up past the lofty
sapphire and golden spires, up through the green waters, to float upon
the lazy waves of the sea.

"Then came a white fool carrying out the destiny of which he was
not aware. The men on his ship, true believers, knew that the time had
come. And I--the air entered my nostrils and I awoke from the long,
long sleep. I stirred and moved and lived. And rising in the night, I
slew the fool that had lifted me from the ocean, and my servants made
obeisance to me and took me into Africa, where I abode a while and
learned new languages and new ways of a new world and became strong.

"The wisdom of your dreary world--ha ha! I who delved deeper in
the mysteries of the old than any man dared go! All that men know
today, I know, and the knowledge beside that which I have brought down
the centuries is as a grain of sand beside a mountain! You should know
something of that knowledge! By it I lifted you from one hell to
plunge you into a greater! You fool, here at my hand is that which
would lift you from this! Aye, would strike from you the chains
whereby I have bound you!"

He snatched up a golden vial and shook it before my gaze. I eyed
it as men dying in the desert must eye the distant mirages. Kathulos
fingered it meditatively. His unnatural excitement seemed to have
passed suddenly, and when he spoke again it was in the passionless,
measured tones of the scientist.

"That would indeed be an experiment worthwhile--to free you of the
elixir habit and see if your dope-riddled body would sustain life.
Nine times out of ten the victim, with the need and stimulus removed,
would die--but you are such a giant of a brute--"

He sighed and set the vial down.

"The dreamer opposes the man of destiny. My time is not my own or
I should choose to spend my life pent in my laboratories, carrying out
my experiments. But now, as in the days of the old empire when kings
sought my counsel, I must work and labor for the good of the race at
large. Aye, I must toil and sow the seed of glory against the full
coming of the imperial days when the seas give up all their living
dead."

I shuddered. Kathulos laughed wildly again. His fingers began to
drum his chair arms and his face gleamed with the unnatural light once
more. The red visions had begun to seethe in his skull again.

"Under the green seas they lie, the ancient masters, in their
lacquered cases, dead as men reckon death, but only sleeping. Sleeping
through the long ages as hours, awaiting the day of awakening! The old
masters, the wise men, who foresaw the day when the sea would gulp the
land, and who made ready. Made ready that they might rise again in the
barbaric days to come. As did I. Sleeping they lie, ancient kings and
grim wizards, who died as men die, before Atlantis sank. Who,
sleeping, sank with her but who shall arise again!

"Mine the glory! I rose first. And I sought out the site of old
cities, on shores that did not sink. Vanished, long vanished. The
barbarian tide swept over them thousands of years ago as the green
waters swept over their elder sister of the deeps. On some, the
deserts stretch bare. Over some, as here, young barbarian cities
rise."

He halted suddenly. His eyes sought one of the dark openings that
marked a corridor. I think his strange intuition warned him of some
impending danger but I do not believe that he had any inkling of how
dramatically our scene would be interrupted.

As he looked, swift footsteps sounded and a man appeared suddenly
in the doorway--a man disheveled, tattered and bloody. John Gordon!
Kathulos sprang erect with a cry, and Gordon, gasping as from
superhuman exertion, brought down the revolver he held in his hand and
fired point-blank. Kathulos staggered, clapping his hand to his
breast, and then, groping wildly, reeled to the wall and fell against
it. A doorway opened and he reeled through, but as Gordon leaped
fiercely across the chamber, a blank stone surface met his gaze, which
yielded not to his savage hammerings.

He whirled and ran drunkenly to the table where lay a bunch of
keys the Master had dropped there.

"The vial!" I shrieked. "Take the vial!" And he thrust it into his
pocket.

Back along the corridor through which he had come sounded a faint
clamor growing swiftly like a wolf-pack in full cry. A few precious
seconds spent with fumbling for the right key, then the cage door
swung open and I sprang out. A sight for the gods we were, the two of
us! Slashed, bruised and cut, our garments hanging in tatters--my
wounds had ceased to bleed, but now as I moved they began again, and
from the stiffness of my hands I knew that my knuckles were shattered.
As for Gordon, he was fairly drenched in blood from crown to foot.

We made off down a passage in the opposite direction from the
menacing noise, which I knew to be the black servants of the Master in
full pursuit of us. Neither of us was in good shape for running, but
we did our best. Where we were going I had no idea. My superhuman
strength had deserted me and I was going now on willpower alone. We
switched off into another corridor and we had not gone twenty steps
until, looking back, I saw the first of the black devils round the
corner.

A desperate effort increased our lead a trifle. But they had seen
us, were in full view now, and a yell of fury broke from them to be
succeeded by a more sinister silence as they bent all efforts to
overhauling us.

There a short distance in front of us we saw a stair loom suddenly
in the gloom. If we might reach that--but we saw something else.

Against the ceiling, between us and the stairs, hung a huge thing
like an iron grille, with great spikes along the bottom--a portcullis.
And even as we looked, without halting in our panting strides, it
began to move.

"They're lowering the portcullis!" Gordon croaked, his blood-
streaked face a mask of exhaustion and will.

Now the blacks were only ten feet behind us--now the huge grate,
gaining momentum, with a creak of rusty, unused mechanism, rushed
downward. A final spurt, a gasping straining nightmare of effort--and
Gordon, sweeping us both along in a wild burst of pure nerve-strength,
hurled us under and through, and the grate crashed behind us!

A moment we lay gasping, not heeding the frenzied horde who raved
and screamed on the other side of the grate. So close had that final
leap been, that the great spikes in their descent had torn shreds from
our clothing.

The blacks were thrusting at us with daggers through the bars, but
we were out of reach and it seemed to me that I was content to lie
there and die of exhaustion. But Gordon weaved unsteadily erect and
hauled me with him.

"Got to get out," he croaked; "go to warn--Scotland Yard--
honeycombs in heart of London--high explosives--arms--ammunition."

We blundered up the steps, and in front of us I seemed to hear a
sound of metal grating against metal. The stairs ended abruptly, on a
landing that terminated in a blank wall. Gordon hammered against this
and the inevitable secret doorway opened. Light streamed in, through
the bars of a sort of grille. Men in the uniform of London police were
sawing at these with hacksaws, and even as they greeted us, an opening
was made through which we crawled.

"You're hurt, sir!" One of the men took Gordon's arm.

My companion shook him off.

"There's no time to lose! Out of here, as quick as we can go!"

I saw that we were in a basement of some sort. We hastened up the
steps and out into the early dawn which was turning the east scarlet.
Over the tops of smaller houses I saw in the distance a great gaunt
building on the roof of which, I felt instinctively, that wild drama
had been enacted the night before.

"That building was leased some months ago by a mysterious
Chinaman," said Gordon, following my gaze. "Office building
originally--the neighborhood deteriorated and the building stood
vacant for some time. The new tenant added several stories to it but
left it apparently empty. Had my eye on it for some time."

This was told in Gordon's jerky swift manner as we started
hurriedly along the sidewalk. I listened mechanically, like a man in a
trance. My vitality was ebbing fast and I knew that I was going to
crumple at any moment.

"The people living in the vicinity had been reporting strange
sights and noises. The man who owned the basement we just left heard
queer sounds emanating from the wall of the basement and called the
police. About that time I was racing back and forth among those cursed
corridors like a hunted rat and I heard the police banging on the
wall. I found the secret door and opened it but found it barred by a
grating. It was while I was telling the astounded policemen to procure
a hacksaw that the pursuing Negroes, whom I had eluded for the moment,
came into sight and I was forced to shut the door and run for it
again. By pure luck I found you and by pure luck managed to find the
way back to the door.

"Now we must get to Scotland Yard. If we strike swiftly, we may
capture the entire band of devils. Whether I killed Kathulos or not I
do not know, or if he can be killed by mortal weapons. But to the best
of my knowledge all of them are now in those subterranean corridors
and--"

At that moment the world shook! A brain-shattering roar seemed to
break the sky with its incredible detonation; houses tottered and
crashed to ruins; a mighty pillar of smoke and flame burst from the
earth and on its wings great masses of debris soared skyward. A black
fog of smoke and dust and falling timbers enveloped the world, a
prolonged thunder seemed to rumble up from the center of the earth as
of walls and ceilings falling, and amid the uproar and the screaming I
sank down and knew no more.



Chapter 21. _The Breaking of the Chain_

_"And like a soul belated,_

_In heaven and hell unmated;_

_By cloud and mist abated;_

_Come out of darkness morn."_

   --Swinburne

There is little need to linger on the scenes of horror of that
terrible London morning. The world is familiar with and knows most of
the details attendant to the great explosion which wiped out a tenth
of that great city with a resultant loss of lives and property. For
such a happening some reason must needs be given; the tale of the
deserted building got out, and many wild stories were circulated.
Finally, to still the rumors, the report was unofficially given out
that this building had been the rendezvous and secret stronghold of a
gang of international anarchists, who had stored its basement full of
high explosives and who had supposedly ignited these accidentally. In
a way there was a good deal to this tale, as you know, but the threat
that had lurked there far transcended any anarchist.

All this was told to me, for when I sank unconscious, Gordon,
attributing my condition to exhaustion and a need of the hashish to
the use of which he thought I was addicted, lifted me and with the aid
of the stunned policemen got me to his rooms before returning to the
scene of the explosion. At his rooms he found Hansen, and Zuleika
handcuffed to the bed as I had left her. He released her and left her
to tend to me, for all London was in a terrible turmoil and he was
needed elsewhere.

When I came to myself at last, I looked up into her starry eyes
and lay quiet, smiling up at her. She sank down upon my bosom,
nestling my head in her arms and covering my face with her kisses.

"Steephen!" she sobbed over and over, as her tears splashed hot on
my face.

I was scarcely strong enough to put my arms about her but I
managed it, and we lay there for a space, in silence, except for the
girl's hard, racking sobs.

"Zuleika, I love you," I murmured.

"And I love you, Steephen," she sobbed. "Oh, it is so hard to part
now--but I'm going with you, Steephen; I can't live without you!"

"My dear child," said John Gordon, entering the room suddenly,
"Costigan's not going to die. We will let him have enough hashish to
tide him along, and when he is stronger we will take him off the habit
slowly."

"You don't understand, sahib; it is not hashish Steephen must
have. It is something which only the Master knew, and now that he is
dead or is fled, Steephen cannot get it and must die."

Gordon shot a quick, uncertain glance at me. His fine face was
drawn and haggard, his clothes sooty and torn from his work among the
debris of the explosion.

"She's right, Gordon," I said languidly. "I'm dying. Kathulos
killed the hashish-craving with a concoction he called the elixir.
I've been keeping myself alive on some of the stuff that Zuleika stole
from him and gave me, but I drank it all last night."

I was aware of no craving of any kind, no physical or mental
discomfort even. All my mechanism was slowing down fast; I had passed
the stage where the need of the elixir would tear and rend me. I felt
only a great lassitude and a desire to sleep. And I knew that the
moment I closed my eyes, I would die.

"A strange dope, that elixir," I said with growing languor. "It
burns and freezes and then at last the craving kills easily and
without torment."

"Costigan, curse it," said Gordon desperately, "you can't go like
this! That vial I took from the Egyptian's table--what is in it?"

"The Master swore it would free me of my curse and probably kill
me also," I muttered. "I'd forgotten about it. Let me have it; it can
no more than kill me and I'm dying now."

"Yes, quick, let me have it!" exclaimed Zuleika fiercely,
springing to Gordon's side, her hands passionately outstretched. She
returned with the vial which he had taken from his pocket, and knelt
beside me, holding it to my lips, while she murmured to me gently and
soothingly in her own language.

I drank, draining the vial, but feeling little interest in the
whole matter. My outlook was purely impersonal, at such a low ebb was
my life, and I cannot even remember how the stuff tasted. I only
remember feeling a curious sluggish fire burn faintly along my veins,
and the last thing I saw was Zuleika crouching over me, her great eyes
fixed with a burning intensity on me. Her tense little hand rested
inside her blouse, and remembering her vow to take her own life if I
died I tried to lift a hand and disarm her, tried to tell Gordon to
take away the dagger she had hidden in her garments. But speech and
action failed me and I drifted away into a curious sea of
unconsciousness.

Of that period I remember nothing. No sensation fired my sleeping
brain to such an extent as to bridge the gulf over which I drifted.
They say I lay like a dead man for hours, scarcely breathing, while
Zuleika hovered over me, never leaving my side an instant, and
fighting like a tigress when anyone tried to coax her away to rest.
Her chain was broken.

As I had carried the vision of her into that dim land of
nothingness, so her dear eyes were the first thing which greeted my
returning consciousness. I was aware of a greater weakness than I
thought possible for a man to feel, as if I had been an invalid for
months, but the life in me, faint though it was, was sound and normal,
caused by no artificial stimulation. I smiled up at my girl and
murmured weakly:

"Throw away your dagger, little Zuleika; I'm going to live."

She screamed and fell on her knees beside me, weeping and laughing
at the same time. Women are strange beings, of mixed and powerful
emotions, truly.

Gordon entered and grasped the hand which I could not lift from
the bed.

"You're a case for an ordinary human physician now, Costigan," he
said. "Even a layman like myself can tell that. For the first time
since I've known you, the look in your eyes is entirely sane. You look
like a man who has had a complete nervous breakdown, and needs about a
year of rest and quiet. Great heavens, man, you've been through
enough, outside your dope experience, to last you a lifetime."

"Tell me first," said I, "was Kathulos killed in the explosion?"

"I don't know," answered Gordon somberly. "Apparently the entire
system of subterranean passages was destroyed. I know my last bullet--
the last bullet that was in the revolver which I wrested from one of
my attackers--found its mark in the Master's body, but whether he died
from the wound, or whether a bullet can hurt him, I do not know. And
whether in his death agonies he ignited the tons and tons of high
explosives which were stored in the corridors, or whether the Negroes
did it unintentionally, we shall never know.

"My God, Costigan, did you ever see such a honeycomb? And we know
not how many miles in either direction the passages reached. Even now
Scotland Yard men are combing the subways and basements of the town
for secret openings. All known openings, such as the one through which
we came and the one in Soho 48, were blocked by falling walls. The
office building was simply blown to atoms."

"What about the men who raided Soho 48?"

"The door in the library wall had been closed. They found the
Chinaman you killed, but searched the house without avail. Lucky for
them, too, else they had doubtless been in the tunnels when the
explosion came, and perished with the hundreds of Negroes who must
have died then."

"Every Negro in London must have been there."

"I dare say. Most of them are voodoo worshipers at heart and the
power the Master wielded was incredible. They died, but what of him?
Was he blown to atoms by the stuff which he had secretly stored, or
crushed when the stone walls crumbled and the ceilings came thundering
down?"

"There is no way to search among those subterranean ruins, I
suppose?"

"None whatever. When the walls caved in, the tons of earth upheld
by the ceilings also came crashing down, filling the corridors with
dirt and broken stone, blocking them forever. And on the surface of
the earth, the houses which the vibration shook down were heaped high
in utter ruins. What happened in those terrible corridors must remain
forever a mystery."

My tale draws to a close. The months that followed passed
uneventfully, except for the growing happiness which to me was
paradise, but which would bore you were I to relate it. But one day
Gordon and I again discussed the mysterious happenings that had had
their being under the grim hand of the Master.

"Since that day," said Gordon, "the world has been quiet. Africa
has subsided and the East seems to have returned to her ancient sleep.
There can be but one answer--living or dead, Kathulos was destroyed
that morning when his world crashed about him."

"Gordon," said I, "what is the answer to that greatest of all
mysteries?"

My friend shrugged his shoulders.

"I have come to believe that mankind eternally hovers on the
brinks of secret oceans of which it knows nothing. Races have lived
and vanished before our race rose out of the slime of the primitive,
and it is likely still others will live upon the earth after ours has
vanished. Scientists have long upheld the theory that the Atlanteans
possessed a higher civilization than our own, and on very different
lines. Certainly Kathulos himself was proof that our boasted culture
and knowledge were nothing beside that of whatever fearful
civilization produced him.

"His dealings with you alone have puzzled all the scientific
world, for none of them has been able to explain how he could remove
the hashish craving, stimulate you with a drug so infinitely more
powerful, and then produce another drug which entirely effaced the
effects of the other."

"I have him to thank for two things," I said slowly; "the
regaining of my lost manhood--and Zuleika. Kathulos, then, is dead, as
far as any mortal thing can die. But what of those others--those
'ancient masters' who still sleep in the sea?"

Gordon shuddered.

"As I said, perhaps mankind loiters on the brink of unthinkable
chasms of horror. But a fleet of gunboats is even now patrolling the
oceans unobtrusively, with orders to destroy instantly any strange
case that may be found floating--to destroy it and its contents. And
if my word has any weight with the English government and the nations
of the world, the seas will be so patrolled until doomsday shall let
down the curtain on the races of today."

"At night I dream of them, sometimes," I muttered, "sleeping in
their lacquered cases, which drip with strange seaweed, far down among
the green surges--where unholy spires and strange towers rise in the
dark ocean."

"We have been face to face with an ancient horror," said Gordon
somberly, "with a fear too dark and mysterious for the human brain to
cope with. Fortune has been with us; she may not again favor the sons
of men. It is best that we be ever on our guard. The universe was not
made for humanity alone; life takes strange phases and it is the first
instinct of nature for the different species to destroy each other. No
doubt we seemed as horrible to the Master as he did to us. We have
scarcely tapped the chest of secrets which nature has stored, and I
shudder to think of what that chest may hold for the human race."

"That's true," said I, inwardly rejoicing at the vigor which was
beginning to course through my wasted veins, "but men will meet
obstacles as they come, as men have always risen to meet them. Now, I
am beginning to know the full worth of life and love, and not all the
devils from all the abysses can hold me."

Gordon smiled.

"You have it coming to you, old comrade. The best thing is to
forget all that dark interlude, for in that course lies light and
happiness."



THE END




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