A hand shook me roughly as I emerged languidly from my latest
"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
"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
"Muster all hands on deck!" droned a sailor in a bunk. "All
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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!"