The Complete Works of Robert E. Howard - Robert E. Howard - ebook

The Complete Works of Robert E. Howard ebook

Robert E. Howard

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Robert Erving Howard is well known for his character Conan the Barbarian and is regarded as the father of the sword and sorcery subgenre. Howard remains a highly read author, with his best works still reprinted, and is one of the best-selling fantasy writers of all time. Howard's distinctive literary style relies on a combination of existentialism, poetic lyricism, violence, grimness, humour, burlesque, and a degree of hardboiled realism.  

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The Complete Works of Robert E. Howard

Conan the BarbarianSolomon KaneKull and others

Robert Erving Howard is well known for his character Conan the Barbarian and is regarded as the father of the sword and sorcery subgenre.

Howard remains a highly read author, with his best works still reprinted, and is one of the best-selling fantasy writers of all time.

Howard's distinctive literary style relies on a combination of existentialism, poetic lyricism, violence, grimness, humour, burlesque, and a degree of hardboiled realism.

Table of Contents
The Novels
SKULL-FACE [1]
1. THE FACE IN THE MIST
2. THE HASHISH SLAVE
3. THE MASTER OF DOOM
4. THE SPIDER AND THE FLY
5. THE MAN ON THE COUCH
6. THE DREAM GIRL
7. THE MAN OF THE SKULL
8. BLACK WISDOM
9. KATHULOS OF EGYPT
10. THE DARK HOUSE
11. FOUR THIRTY-FOUR
12. THE STROKE OF FIVE
13. THE BLIND BEGGAR WHO RODE
14. THE BLACK EMPIRE
15. THE MARK OF THE TULWAR
16. THE MUMMY WHO LAUGHED
17. THE DEAD MAN FROM THE SEA
18. THE GRIP OF THE SCORPION
19. DARK FURY
20. ANCIENT HORROR
21. THE BREAKING OF THE CHAIN
THE PEOPLE OF THE BLACK CIRCLE
1 Death Strikes a King
2 A Barbarian from the Hills
3 Khemsa Uses Magic
4 An Encounter in the Pass
5 The Black Stallion
6 The Mountain of the Black Seers
7 On to Yimsha
8 Yasmina Knows Stark Terror
9 The Castle of the Wizards
10 Yasmina and Conan
THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON
1. O Sleeper, Awake!
2. A Black Wind Blows
3. The Cliffs Reel
4. ‘From What Hell Have You Crawled?’
5. The Haunter of the Pits
6. The Thrust of a Knife
7. The Rending of the Veil
8. Dying Embers
9. ‘It is the King or His Ghost!’
10. A Coin from Acheron
11. Swords of the South
12. The Fang of the Dragon
13. ‘A Ghost Out of the Past’
14. The Black Hand of Set
15. The Return of the Corsair
16. Black-Walled Khemi
17. ‘He Has Slain the Sacred Son of Set!’
18. ‘I Am the Woman Who Never Died’
19. In the Hall of the Dead
20. Out of the Dust Shall Acheron Arise
21. Drums of Peril
22. The Road to Acheron
A GENT FROM BEAR CREEK
1. STRIPED SHIRTS AND BUSTED HEARTS
2. MOUNTAIN MAN
3. MEET CAP’N KIDD
4. GUNS OF THE MOUNTAINS
5. A GENT FROM BEAR CREEK
6. THE FEUD BUSTER
7. THE ROAD TO BEAR CREEK
8. THE SCALP HUNTER
9. CUPID FROM BEAR CREEK
10. THE HAUNTED MOUNTAIN
11. EDUCATE OR BUST
12. WAR ON BEAR CREEK
13. WHEN BEAR CREEK CAME TO CHAWED EAR
ALMURIC
FOREWORD
ESAU CAIRN’S NARRATIVE
CHAPTER 1
CHAPTER 2
CHAPTER 3
CHAPTER 4
CHAPTER 5
CHAPTER 6
CHAPTER 7
CHAPTER 8
CHAPTER 9
CHAPTER 10
CHAPTER 11
CHAPTER 12
Fantasy Stories
CONAN THE BARBARIAN [2]
THE PHOENIX ON THE SWORD [3]
THE SCARLET CITADEL [4]
THE TOWER OF THE ELEPHANT
BLACK COLOSSUS [5]
XUTHAL OF THE DUSK; OR, THE SLITHERING SHADOW
THE POOL OF THE BLACK ONE
ROGUES IN THE HOUSE
GODS OF THE NORTH; OR, THE FROST GIANT’S DAUGHTER [6]
IRON SHADOWS IN THE MOON; OR, SHADOWS IN THE MOONLIGHT
QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST
THE DEVIL IN IRON
A WITCH SHALL BE BORN
JEWELS OF GWAHLUR
BEYOND THE BLACK RIVER
MAN-EATERS OF ZAMBOULA; OR, SHADOWS IN ZAMBOULA
RED NAILS
THE GOD IN THE BOWL
THE VALE OF LOST WOMEN
THE BLACK STRANGER
KULL [7]
THE SHADOW KINGDOM
THE MIRRORS OF TUZUN THUNE [8]
KINGS OF THE NIGHT
EXILE OF ATLANTIS
THE STRIKING OF THE GONG
THE ALTAR AND THE SCORPION
BY THIS AXE I RULE!
THE CAT AND THE SKULL
THE SCREAMING SKULL OF SILENCE
SWORDS OF THE PURPLE KINGDOM
THE CURSE OF THE GOLDEN SKULL
SOLOMON KANE [9]
RED SHADOWS; OR, SOLOMON KANE
SKULLS IN THE STARS [10]
RATTLE OF BONES [11]
THE MOON OF SKULLS
THE HILLS OF THE DEAD
THE FOOTFALLS WITHIN [12]
WINGS IN THE NIGHT [13]
THE RIGHT HAND OF DOOM
THE BLUE FLAME OF VENGEANCE
HAWK OF BASTI: A FRAGMENT
THE CHILDREN OF ASSHUR: A FRAGMENT
BRAN MAK MORN
KINGS OF THE NIGHT
WORMS OF THE EARTH
THE CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT [14]
MEN OF THE SHADOWS
TURLOGH DUBH O’BRIEN
THE DARK MAN [15]
THE GODS OF BAL-SAGOTH
THE TWILIGHT OF THE GREY GODS
JAMES ALLISON
THE VALLEY OF THE WORM [16]
THE GARDEN OF FEAR [17]
OTHER FANTASY STORIES
SPEAR AND FANG [18]
THE VOICE OF EL-LIL [19]
PEOPLE OF THE DARK [20]
THE WITCH FROM HELL’S KITCHEN; OR, THE HOUSE OF ARABU [21]
THE LOST RACE [22]
GOLNOR THE APE
Boxing Stories [23]
SAILOR STEVE COSTIGAN
THE PIT OF THE SERPENT; OR, MANILA MANSLAUGHTER [24]
THE BULL-DOG BREED; OR, YOU GOT TO KILL A BULLDOG [25]
SAILOR’S GRUDGE; OR, COSTIGAN VS. KID CAMERA [26]
FIST AND FANG; OR, CANNIBAL FISTS [27]
THE IRON MAN; OR, FALL GUY; IRON MEN
WINNER TAKE ALL; OR, SUCKER FIGHT [28]
WATERFRONT FISTS; OR, STAND UP AND SLUG! [29]
CHAMP OF THE FORECASTLE; OR, CHAMP OF THE SEVEN SEAS [30]
ALLEYS OF PERIL; OR, LEATHER LIGHTNING [31]
THE TNT PUNCH; OR, WATERFRONT LAW; THE WATERFRONT WALLOP [32]
TEXAS FISTS; OR, SHANGHIED MITTS [33]
THE SIGN OF THE SNAKE [34]
BLOW THE CHINKS DOWN!; OR, THE HOUSE OF PERIL [35]
BREED OF BATTLE; OR, THE FIGHTIN’EST PAIR; SAMPSON HAD A SOFT SPOT [36]
CIRCUS FISTS; OR, SLUGGER BAIT [37]
DARK SHANGHAI; OR, ONE SHANGHAI NIGHT [38]
VIKINGS OF THE GLOVES; OR, INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN! [39]
NIGHT OF BATTLE; OR, SHORE LEAVE FOR A SLUGGER [40]
THE SLUGGER’S GAME [41]
GENERAL IRONFIST [42]
SLUGGERS OF THE BEACH [43]
SAILOR DENNIS DORGAN
ALLEYS OF DARKNESS; OR, ALLEYS OF SINGAPORE [44]
SAILOR DORGAN AND THE DESTINY GORILLA
SAILOR DORGAN AND THE JADE MONKEY
THE MANDARIN RUBY; OR, ALLEYS OF TREACHERY
SAILOR DORGAN AND THE YELLOW COBRA; OR, A KOREAN NIGHT
IN HIGH SOCIETY; OR, CULTURED CAULIFLOWERS
PLAYING JOURNALIST; OR, A NEW GAME FOR DORGAN
A KNIGHT OF THE ROUND TABLE; OR, IRON-CLAD FISTS
PLAYING SANTA CLAUS; OR, A TWO-FISTED SANTA CLAUS
SAILOR DORGAN AND THE TURKISH MENACE
OTHER BOXING STORIES
CUPID VS. POLLUX [45]
THE APPARITION IN THE PRIZE RING [46]
Western Stories
BRECKINRIDGE ELKINS
MOUNTAIN MAN [47]
GUNS OF THE MOUNTAINS [48]
THE SCALP HUNTER; OR, A STRANGER IN GRIZZLY CLAW [49]
A GENT FROM BEAR CREEK [50]
THE ROAD TO BEAR CREEK [51]
THE HAUNTED MOUNTAIN [52]
WAR ON BEAR CREEK [53]
THE FEUD BUSTER [54]
CUPID FROM BEAR CREEKK; OR, THE PEACEFUL PILGRIM [55]
THE RIOT AT COUGAR PAW [56]
THE APACHE MOUNTAIN WAR [57]
PILGRIMS TO THE PECOS; OR, WEARY PILGRIMS ON THE ROAD [58]
PISTOL POLITICS [59]
EVIL DEEDS AT RED COUGAR [60]
HIGH HORSE RAMPAGE [61]
NO COWHERDERS WANTED; OR, GENTS IN BUCKSKIN [62]
THE CONQUERIN’ HERO OF THE HUMBOLTS; OR, POLITICS AT BLUE LIZARD; POLITICS AT LONESOME LIZARD [63]
SHARP’S GUN SERENADE; OR, EDUCATE OR BUST [64]
TEXAS JOHN ALDEN; OR, A RING-TAILED TORNADO [65]
PIKE BEARFIELD
WHILE SMOKE ROLLED [66]
A GENT FROM THE PECOS: SHAVE THAT HAWG! [67]
GENTS ON THE LYNCH [68]
THE RIOT OF BUCKSNORT [69]
BUCKNER JEOPARDY GRIMES
A MAN-EATING JEOPARD [70]
KNIFE-RIVER PRODIGAL [71]
A RING-TAILED TORNADO; OR, TEXAS JOHN ALDEN [72]
OTHER WESTERN STORIES
GOLDEN HOPE CHRISTMAS [73]
DRUMS OF THE SUNSET; OR, RIDERS OF THE SUNSET
BOOT-HILL PAYOFF
VULTURES’ SANCTUARY [74]
THE VULTURES OF WHAPETON; OR, THE VULTURES; THE VULTURES OF TETON GULCH
FIRST ENDING
SECOND ENDING
Historical Stories
EL BORAK
THE DAUGHTER OF ERLIK KHAN
HAWK OF THE HILLS
BLOOD OF THE GODS
THE COUNTRY OF THE KNIFE; OR, SONS OF THE HAWK
SON OF THE WHITE WOLF
THE LOST VALLEY OF ISKANDER; OR, SWORDS OF THE HILLS [75]
SWORDS OF THE HILLS
THREE BLADED DOOM
BLOOD OF THE GODS
DARK AGNES DE CHASTILLON BLADES FOR FRANCE
SWORD WOMAN
MISTRESS OF DEATH
CORMAC FITZGEOFFREY
HAWKS OF OUTREMER [76]
THE BLOOD OF BELSHAZZAR [77]
THE SLAVE PRINCESS: A SYNOPSIS
KIRBY O’DONNELL
THE TREASURES OF TARTARY; OR, THE GOLD OF TATARY
SWORDS OF SHAHRAZAR; OR, THE TREASURE OF SHAIBAR KHAN
FRAGMENT: ORIGINAL OPENING OF STORY
THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON GOD; OR, THE TRAIL OF THE BLOOD-STAINED GOD
BLACK VULMEA
BLACK VULMEA’S VENGEANCE
SWORDS OF THE RED BROTHERHOOD
HELEN TAVREL
THE ISLE OF PIRATE’S DOOM
OTHER HISTORICAL STORIES
RED BLADES OF BLACK CATHAY
LORD OF SAMARCAND; OR, THE LAME MAN
THE SOWERS OF THE THUNDER [78]
OTHER HISTORICAL STORIES
RED BLADES OF BLACK CATHAY
LORD OF SAMARCAND; OR, THE LAME MAN
THE SOWERS OF THE THUNDER [79]
THE LION OF TIBERIAS
THE SHADOW OF THE VULTURE [80]
GATES OF EMPIRE; OR, THE ROAD OF THE MOUNTAIN LION [81]
Horror Stories [82]
JOHN KIROWAN
THE BLACK STONE [83]
THE CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT [84]
THE DWELLERS UNDER THE TOMB
THE HAUNTER OF THE RING [85]
THE FARING TOWN SAGA
SEA CURSE [86]
RESTLESS WATERS
OUT OF THE DEEP
DE MONTOUR
IN THE FOREST OF VILLEFÈRE [87]
WOLFSHEAD [88]
WEIRD WEST
THE HORROR FROM THE MOUND [89]
THE MAN ON THE GROUND [90]
OLD GARFIELD’S HEART [91]
BLACK CANAAN
THE DEAD REMEMBER [92]
PIGEONS FROM HELL
SECRET OF LOST VALLEY; OR, THE VALLEY OF THE LOST
THE SHADOW OF THE BEAST
OTHER WEIRD MENACE
BLACK TALONS; OR, TALONS IN THE DARK [93]
THE GRISLY HORROR; OR, MOON OF ZAMBEBWEI
BLACK WIND BLOWING
BLACK HOUND OF DEATH
OTHER CTHULHU MYTHOS STORIES
THE THING ON THE ROOF [94]
THE CHALLENGE FROM BEYOND [95]
THE FIRE OF ASSHURBANIPAL [96]
DIG ME NO GRAVE; OR, JOHN GRIMLAN’S DEBT [97]
USURP THE NIGHT; OR, THE HOOFED THING
THE HOUSE IN THE OAKS; OR, THE HOUSE
OTHER HORROR STORIES
THE DREAM SNAKE [98]
THE HYENA [99]
THE FEARSOME TOUCH OF DEATH [100]
THE CAIRN ON THE HEADLAND [101]
CASONETTO’S LAST SONG
DERMOD’S BANE
THE NOSELESS HORROR
SPECTRES IN THE DARK
Detective Stories [102]
STEVE HARRISON
FANGS OF GOLD; OR, PEOPLE OF THE SERPENT [103]
NAMES IN THE BLACK BOOK [104]
GRAVEYARD RATS
THE TOMB’S SECRET; OR, THE TEETH OF DOOM [105]
Spicy Stories
THE PURPLE HEART OF ERLIK
A WILD BILL CLANTON STORY [106]
SHE DEVIL
A WILD BILL CLANTON STORY [107]
THE DRAGON OF KAO TSU [108]
Comedy Stories
WEST IS WEST [109]
AHA! OR THE MYSTERY OF THE QUEEN’S NECKLACE [110]
THE SHEIK [111]
UNHAND ME, VILLAIN! [112]
HALT! WHO GOES THERE? [113]
AFTER THE GAME [114]
ACT I.
SLEEPING BEAUTY [116]
WEEKLY SHORT STORY [117]
THE THESSALIANS [118]
YE COLLEGE DAYS [121]
THE REFORMATION: A DREAM [122]
Selected Poetry
CIMMERIA
THE KING AND THE OAK [123]
SOLOMON KANE’S HOMECOMING — A POEM [124]
FUTILITY
THE BRIDE OF CUCHULAIN
ROMANY ROAD
A SONNET OF GOOD CHEER
HOPE EMPTY OF MEANING
TO A FRIEND
SHADOWS
AGE (TO THE OLD MEN)
THE VOICES WAKEN MEMORY
LINES WRITTEN IN THE REALIZATION THAT I MUST DIE
MINGLE MY DUST WITH THE BURNING BRAND
AN OUTWORN STORY
TIDES
SURRENDER
THE CHANT DEMONIAC
A CHALLENGE TO BAST
EGYPT
IVORY IN THE NIGHT
DESIRE
SCARLET AND GOLD ARE THE STARS TONIGHT
LOVE
THE SEA GIRL
OCEAN-THOUGHTS
LOVE’S YOUNG DREAM
THE MYTH
THE WEAKLING
MEN ARE TOYS ON A GODLING’S STRING
NECTAR
MOONLIGHT ON A SKULL
RECOMPENSE
THE AGES STRIDE ON GOLDEN FEET
DESERT DAWN
A RIDING SONG
DEEPS
THE SEA-WOMAN
BLACK SEAS
SURRENDER (THE ROAD TO REST)
A MAN
CRETE
EASTER ISLAND
THE ISLE OF HY-BRASIL
THE GODS I WORSHIPPED
MONARCHS
THE HEART OF THE SEA’S DESIRE
FLAMING MARBLE
LESBIA
A ROMAN LADY
NUN
PRUDE
THE CHOIR GIRL
GIRL
SAILOR
NEVER BEYOND THE BEAST
A GREAT MAN SPEAKS
REBELLION
THE ROBES OF THE RIGHTEOUS
REPENTANCE
THE OPEN WINDOW
THE WITCH
MOON MOCKERY
THE LAST WORDS HE HEARD
THE KIOWA’S TALE
A BUCCANEER SPEAKS
A DYING PIRATE SPEAKS OF TREASURE
THE DANCE WITH DEATH
THE TEMPTER
AFTER THE TRUMPS ARE SOUNDED
AMBITION
A STIRRING OF GREEN LEAVES
THE ADVENTURER
THE SKULL IN THE CLOUDS (REUBEN’S BRETHREN)
THE SKULL IN THE CLOUDS (REUBEN’S BIRTHRIGHT)
THE RIDE OF FALUME
THE RHYME OF THE THREE SLAVERS
MISER’S GOLD
ONE BLOOD STRAIN
TO THE CONTENTED
RED THUNDER
MAN AM I
SYMBOLS
MATCH A TOAD WITH A FAR-WINGED HAWK
SWORDS GLIMMERED UP THE PASS
TARANTELLA
THE ADVENTURER’S MISTRESS
THE DAY THAT I DIE
THE DRUM
LIFE
NIGHTS TO BOTH OF US KNOWN
FORBIDDEN MAGIC
SECRETS
MEMORIES
AGAINST THE BLOOD RED MOON A TOWER STANDS
REMEMBRANCE
ONE WHO COMES AT EVENTIDE
SHADOWS FROM YESTERDAY
THE SANDS OF TIME
ON WITH THE PLAY
REBEL SOULS FROM THE FALLING DARK
ROMANCE
EMPIRE’S DESTINY
A SONG OUT OF MIDIAN
FOR WHAT IS A MAID TO THE SHOUT OF KINGS
HARVEST
DREAMS OF NINEVEH
BABEL
THE PATH OF THE STRANGE WANDERERS
THE GODS OF THE JUNGLE DRUMS
NOCTURNE
THE MOUNTAINS OF CALIFORNIA
THE GRIM LAND
TWILIGHT ON STONEHENGE
A SONG OF THE LEGIONS
SHADOWS ON THE ROAD
THE CELLS OF THE COLISEUM
THE GOLD AND THE GREY
VISIONS
THE SPIDERS OF WEARINESS COME ON ME
THE GLADIATOR AND THE LADY
SKULLS AND DUST
THE GHOST KINGS
L’ENVOI
THE CALL OF PAN
EARTH-BORN
SLUMBER
AN OPEN WINDOW
SHADOW OF DREAMS
THE DAY BREAKS OVER SIMLA
A MOMENT
The Non-Fiction
The Hyborian Age: Conan’s World [125]
The Beast from the Abyss
Midnight [126]
With a Set of Rattlesnake Rattles [127]

The Novels

SKULL-FACE[1]

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.

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.

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!”

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.

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 be turned and walked swiftly though somewhat unsteadily up the street.

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.

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!

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.