Black Light - Talbot Mundy - ebook

Black Light ebook

Talbot Mundy

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Madame Rosika Storey was one of the most celebrated fictional female private investigators during the Golden Age of the mystery (1920-40). The Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection calls her, „a stunningly beautiful young woman who describes herself as ’a practical psychologist – specializing in the feminine.” This one is the best private detective of England, but her stories are international. Her way to resolve the mystery is original and bring you in a new world. So we are introduced to the fascinating Madame Rosika Storey, fearless and intelligent, who plays cat-and-mouse with killers, goes undercover to break up criminal gangs, and unravels deadly mysteries.

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Liczba stron: 474

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Contents

CHAPTER I. “Shall I sin, to satisfy your itch for what you have no right to?”

CHAPTER II. “You are an egg that is about to hatch”

CHAPTER III. “Cut me off and set me free. I’ll be so grateful…”

CHAPTER IV. “You wish to question me?”

CHAPTER V. “Amrita is a sort of Joan of Arc.”

CHAPTER VI. “What’s the odds? She’s harmless.”

CHAPTER VII. “So you sing to them, eh?”

CHAPTER VIII. “Do I get my money?”

CHAPTER IX. “Read thou thine own book.”

CHAPTER X. India would be all right if it weren’t for rajahs.”

CHAPTER XI. “Are you drunk, Joe?”

CHAPTER XII. “Taters à la Kaiser Bill.”

CHAPTER XIII. “I am not in the world to learn cowardice, but courage.”

CHAPTER XIV. “Better watch my step!”

CHAPTER XV. “Walls have ears in India.”

CHAPTER XVI. “Funny—I don’t feel scared a dam’ bit.”

CHAPTER XVII. “A fool is a person who lives in his senses and likes it.”

CHAPTER XVIII. “Ram-Chittra Gunga, come at once; I need you.”

CHAPTER XIX. “Cradled in the destinies of thousands lies the future of your soul and mine.”

CHAPTER XX. “Imagination is the window through which the soul looks at reality.”

CHAPTER XXI. “There’s dirty work—dam’ black dirty work!”

CHAPTER XXII. “You will keep still.”

CHAPTER XXIII. “There’s rather more in this than meets the eye.”

CHAPTER XXIV. “Let judgment answer!”

CHAPTER XXV. “It is the wrong time of the year for storms.”

CHAPTER XXVI. “I have demanded judgment. If it fall on my head, let it.”

CHAPTER XXVII. “Shall not justice justify itself without your mouthings?”

CHAPTER XXVIII. “No place for a woman of refinement.”

CHAPTER XXIX. “I have delivered judgment.”

CHAPTER I

“Shall I sin, to satisfy your itch for what you have no right to?”

There was no moon yet. The ponderous temple wall loomed behind Hawkes, a huge tree breathing near him, full of the restlessness of parakeets that made the silence audible and darkness visible; its branches, high above the wall, were a formless shadow, too dense for the starlight. Hawkes’ white uniform absorbed the hue of smoke, a trifle reddened by the glow of embers.

“Come and try!” he remarked to himself, and retired again into the shadow, muttering: “I’d like to have some one try to buy me–just once.”

No purchasers appeared, and he did not appear to expect any among the bearers of lanterns, like fireflies, who came unhurrying from the city –decent enough citizens–silversmiths and sandal makers, weavers, tradesmen not so virtuous, nor yet so mean that they might not glean a little comfort at a day’s end, from the same hymn men have sung for centuries, until its words mean less than the mood it makes. They took no notice, or appeared to take none, of Joe Beddington who left his horse amid the trees three hundred yards away and strode by himself, so to speak, in the stream.

The citizens of Adana gathered in the clearing amid the trees, filled it and spread outward along the temple wall, extinguishing their lanterns because the priests, who are obstinate people, object to imported kerosene; and anyhow, there would be a full moon presently, so why waste oil? Joe Beddington, staring about him, strode through their midst and presently stood where Hawkes had been. Chandri Lal, a small lean cobra-charmer eased himself out of a shadow and laid his circular basket near Beddington’s feet, studying the dying fire, speculating whether to blow that into flame or wait until the moon should rise above the temple wall. Hymn or no hymn, business is business; Chandri Lal had heard that all Americans shed money as clouds shed rain. He hoped Hawkes would not see him. He knew, to half an ounce, the weight of Hawkes’ boot and the heft behind it.

Sergeant Hawkes came out of the shadow and saluted Joe, or rather he saluted about a hundred million dollars:

“Your mother decided not to come, sir? Just as well. She’d have got tired standing here.”

“No,” Joe answered, “mother would have tired us.”

Hawkes changed the subject: “Let me tell you about this temple.”

“You did. It dates back to a million B.C. Never been entered by any one not directly descended from somebody named in the Mahabharata. That’s nothing. You should see our American D.A.R.s. They’re going to censor the telephone book. Mother, you know, is a D. A. R. My father was more like yours –quite human–no rating, except in Bradstreet. Mother’s folk came over on the Hesperus and did the red men dirt.”

“They’re going to start the hymn,” said Hawkes.

“What are the words of it?”

“Quiet now. Tell you later. You know, sir, we’re not supposed to be here; but the high priest is a decent fellow in his own way. When I sent him word there’d be a foreign visitor to watch to-night’s ceremony he merely asked me to be here too.”

Joe Beddington believed that no more than Hawkes did.

“You don’t say.”

Hawkes evoked some truth to justify prevarication:

“Yes, sir, even natives who aren’t Hindus aren’t supposed to witness this. Mohammedans, for instance–” “I get you. Like the accounts of a corporation–keep ‘em esoteric. That’s a dandy hymn. Hello– who’s the man in vestments? Oh, my God!”

The edge of an enormous moon rose over the top of the wall and framed a robed priest in an aureole of mellow light; a platform high above the wall on which his bare feet rested had become a pool of liquid amber. An incredible star, in a purple sky, appeared to draw nearer and pause exactly over the crown of his head; subtly liquid high lights glistened on his robes and the shadows beneath him deepened into velvet mystery in which every dark hue in the spectrum brooded waiting to be born. It was exactly what the Norman stained-glass makers aimed at and almost achieved.

The confidingly plaintive minor chanting of the hymn ceased. Silence fell. One pure golden gong note–absolute A-major–stole on the night as if it were the voice of a ray of the rising moon. And then the priest’s voice. In a chant that rose and fell like the cool wet melody of tumbling streams, unhurried, flowing because Law insists, he asserted what all Night knows and Man should seek to understand. There was no argument, no vehemence, no question. He propounded no problem–pleaded with neither violable principle nor erring ignorance. Whatever he had to say, it was so absolute that Beddington, to whom the words meant nothing, recognized the beauty and interpreted the essence, so that every fiber in him thrilled to the mystic meaning. It embarrassed him, like the sight of a naked woman.

Then another gong note. Caught into a shadow as if night had reabsorbed him, the priest vanished. The enormous moon wetted the temple roof with liquid light that overflowed until the clearing amid the trees lay luminous and filled with the kneeling forms of humans sketched, as it were, with violet pastel on the amber floor. They sang their Nunc Dimittis. Dark trees stirred to a faint wind, scented with the breath of ripened grain and cows in the smoke-dimmed villages. Leaves whispered the obbligato for the hymn. A little whirl of dust arose and walked away along a moonlit path. Hawkes’ voice fell flat and out of harmony:

“They don’t come out from the temple until the moonlight reaches a mark in the central quadrangle. They’re performing a ceremony in some way connected with astrology or so I’m told.”

“I’d give my boots to go inside and see,” said Joe.

“Can’t be done, sir. Nobody’s allowed in–never. Do you see that Yogi?”

The ascending moon had bathed another section of the temple wall in soft light. Now a gate in the wall was visible and–to the right, beyond cavernous darkness where the wall turned outward sharply and a high dome cast its shadow–there was an outcrop of the curiously layered and twisted green-gray rock on which the temple foundations rested. It formed vague Titan-steps and a platform backed against the masonry. There was what looked like a giant beehive on the platform. A man sat beside it, naked except for a rag on his loins. He had gray hair falling to his shoulders and a white beard that spread on his breast.

“That man used to be the high priest of the temple. He is famous all over India for his astrology, and that’s strange, because he won’t tell fortunes; or perhaps he will, perhaps he won’t, I don’t know; he refused to tell mine.”

“How much did you offer him?”

“He won’t take money.”

“How does he live?”

“Temple people feed him. Pilgrims, all sorts of pious people, bring him little offerings of food. He gives away most of it. That Yogi would surprise you, sir. Talks good English. Traveled–France, England, the United States. Some say he can talk French and German. But there he sits day after day, and says nothing. I’ll bet you he’d say less than nothing if he knew how. Maybe he does. How old do you suppose he is? There’s records– actual official records.”

“He doesn’t look so specially old,” said Joe.

“The moonlight is a bit deceptive. The natives say he is more than two centuries old.* I’m a Christian myself. I believe the Bible all right. But I can’t persuade myself that in these days people live to be as long in the tooth as Abraham.”

[* Instances of extreme longevity are not unknown among Indian ascetics. See Mukerji’s account in the Atlantic Monthly of the Holy Man of Benares whom authentic official records certify to have been more than two centuries old. He died quite recently. ]

The moon grew less dramatic–smaller in appearance but more searching, as it rose above the temple; its mellow amber faded; masonry and men’s garments took on a grayish hue; the Yogi-astrologer sat motionless –a graven image posturing against the wall, not moving even when a woman, whose black sari was hardly darker than her skin, came forth from a shadow and bowed in the dust at his feet.

Joe Beddington strolled toward the Yogi. Chandri Lal, captain of emasculated cobras, stirred himself to seize an opportunity; he followed at a half-run, leaning forward, with his basket in both hands ready to be laid before Joe’s feet. Joe scorned him:

“Nothing doing. I’ve seen scores of snake acts.” Suddenly a foot leaped forth from darkness. The basket went in one direction, cobras in another. Hawkes’ swagger-cane descended sharply, semi-officially, as it were, without personal malice, on Chandri Lal’s naked shoulders.

“Git, you heathen! Git the hell from here! Use judgment! Showing off snakes in this place is as bad as a Punch-and-Judy show in church. Now mind, I’ve warned you! One more breach of blooming etiquette, and-–” Chandri Lal picked up his basket and followed the trail of his snakes in the dust. The woman at the Yogi’s feet implored some favor from him, elbows, forehead, belly in the dust, beseeching mercy. Joe watched. The Yogi made no response. Joe spoke at last, producing money:

“Old man, will you tell my fortune?”

The Yogi met his gaze. There was almost a minute’s silence, broken at last by a passionate outburst from the woman. Then the Yogi’s voice, calm as eternity–only startling because he used such perfect English:

“That is what she–this ayah also wants.”

“Why not tell her?”

“If it were good for her to know, she would know; there would be no need to tell her.”

“Tell mine. How much shall I pay you?”

“Do as you will with your money.”

Joe held out twenty rupees. Chandri Lal drew nearer; he could smell money as well as see it through perplexing shadow.

“Give it to that ayah,” said the Yogi.

“Why? Oh, all right–here you are, mother, your lucky evening –take ‘em.” Joe dropped the rupees in the dust before her nose and Chandri Lal pounced, but Hawkes’ boot served for a danger signal, so he backed away again. Blubbering, the ayah stowed the money in her bosom.

“Come on, tell,” said Joe. “I’m waiting.”

“You have paid the ayah,” said the Yogi. “Let her tell you.”

Joe grinned uneasily. “Stung, eh? Serves me right. I should have known you can’t tell fortunes any more than I can.”

The Yogi seemed indifferent, but in a sense Hawkes’ honor was concerned since he was acting showman:

“Hell, he can tell ‘em. They all come to him–high priest– pilgrims–bunnias–he tells some–some he doesn’t. If he tells, it comes true.”

“Bunk!” said Joe.

“Why should I tell you?” asked the Yogi suddenly. “Should I sin to satisfy your itch for what you have no right to?”

“How about the ayah, then? You told me to ask her. How if shesins?”

“Who shall say she sins? If she tells what she neither knows nor not-knows, what harm can happen? Nothing to strain Karma’s entrails. Knowledge is one thing–speech another. There is a time for speaking, and a time for silence. That which brings forth action at the wrong time is not wisdom, though it may have knowledge.”

“Half a mo’, sir, half a mo’–excuse me,” Hawkes remarked and stepped aside into a shadow. Suddenly his fist struck like a poleax and a man went reeling backward on his heels–fell–struggled to his feet, and ran, leaving his turban behind him. Hawkes pointed to the turban. “Hey, you–there’s a present for you.”

Chandri Lal pounced on the turban and thrust it into the basket with the snakes, then changed his mind and tried to sell it to the ayah.

“Bastards!” Hawkes informed the wide world, chafing his right knuckles.

“Possibly–even probably,” remarked the Yogi. “But did the blow correct the accident of birth?”

“It weren’t intended to,” Hawkes answered. “It was meant to cure that swine of sneaking in the dark where he ain’t invited. Do you call that sinful?”

“Not a big sin,” said the Yogi. “But you shall measure it at the time of payment. Who knows? It may have been a good sin–one of those by which we are instructed. Few learn, save by sinning. He–that man you struck –he may learn also.”

“I’ll learn him,” Hawkes muttered.

“You pack quite a wallop,” said Joe. “What had he done to you?”

“Nothing, sir.” Hawkes took him by the arm and led him to where the temple cast the darkest shadow. It felt like being led by a policeman across Trafalgar Square; in spite of silence and the peculiar vacancy of moonlight there was a remarkable feeling of crowds in motion–unexplainable unless as a trick of the nervous system. On the way, jerkily through the corner of his mouth, Hawkes hinted at a sort of half-embarrassment:

“The Book says turn the other cheek. But that was Jerusalem. This is India.”

“So you don’t believe in theories from books?”

“Theories, sir? They’re funny. Any of ‘em might be all right if we all believed ‘em. But a one-man theory is like a one-man army–only good if you can keep it quiet. I’m a one-man army. There’s a theory I’m a fusileer, belonging to a battalion at Nusserabad. But I’m no theorizer. So I’m here on special duty, drawing double pay and doing nothing except enjoy life.”

“Doing nothing?”

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