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FLETCHER R. MILTON

THE FLAMING EYES

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RGL e-Book Cover 2018


Ex Libris

First published in Weird Tales, March 1925

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-01-06
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.


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Weird Tales, September 1925, with "The Flaming Eyes"


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Headpiece from "Weird Tales"


1.

THE night was black and stormy. The sharp wind which had been blowing all day had freshened toward evening, so that now at about 8 o'clock, as I returned to town after a protracted day at the neighboring cliffs, it was a terrific gale.

An archeologist by profession, I had spent the past week searching the cliffs for hidden openings, crude steps, or ancient ladder-ways, which should support my documentary evidence of the existence of an ancient cliff city in great caverns in the solid rock. The chief result of my investigations in Arizona had been the discovery of a number of carvings on stone, which when deciphered made reference to a magnificent city once existing in the cliffs near the present city of X.

Accordingly I had come with the ardent hope of making discoveries which should compare with those recently made by myself and others in the valley of the Euphrates.

X is a small city of about five thousand souls situated in the central pan of New Mexico. On account of its hot and cold springs it has earned for itself a considerable reputation as a health resort. Though it is in nowise a beautiful town, the climate is dry, the air is pure and clean and the temperature is warm, often indeed very hot. Accordingly many people have flocked into it to receive the cure promised by the magical waters of its springs and its health-giving air.

The city itself spreads all the way across a sloping ridge, which gradually rises upward until it terminates in an abrupt precipice, along whose steep sides I had been making my search. Although there is only one main business street, there are shops scattered about in various parts of the town.

On this late evening I was passing a small curio shop, in the window of which were displayed curiously carven oriental images, incense burners and so on, and as I looked into it I remembered a purchase I had so far neglected to make.

About a year before I had received by mail a fantastic oriental devil in bronze, along with a rather odd letter. The letter was from an older acquaintance of mine, then living in X, but of whom I had received no word since that time. It stated that this quite innocent-looking image was casting a curse over my friend's life, that it had a strange history which he would refrain from telling, and suggested that I use my own judgment about keeping the gift or giving it away. I did use my judgment and, as the cast figure was of hollow bronze, I conceived the idea of having it converted into an incense burner, which I did accordingly. But so far I had never thought of getting the incense, and the bronze devil stood unused on a shelf at home.

Now, quite willing to get out of the wind for a moment, I entered the shop.

As the door opened, the wind of itself almost blew me inside, and before I could close the door again behind me there had been havoc done in the shop. I saw packages, cards and papers flying from the counter, and just as I managed to get the door closed I heard a crash of a falling object.

I stepped forward with an apology on my lips.

As I did so I saw the proprietor, a tall, dark-skinned East Indian in flowing Hindoo garb, facing me with his teeth showing in an evil snarl. His teeth were yellow and long, and as he stood with his mouth half open I had a feeling that I was facing a wolf rather than a human being.

But it was his eyes which stilled my tongue and sent wild chills down my back. They were red, flaming red, and just now they were two seething pits of fire which seemed to sear my very soul. I had a moment of terrible fear. I felt the hair starting to stand straight up on my head.

Then the East Indian let his eyes fall from mine to the floor. He stooped, and as I stepped forward I saw him holding broken fragments of some object in his hand. I saw behind the counter other fragments, evidently the pieces of the article which had fallen as I entered.

While he stood contemplating a grotesquely-shaped arm and the squat body of some oriental figure, I put my hand into my pocket.

"I am sorry," I said, drawing out my purse. "I will pay for it."

"You pay?" Again his eyes blazed into my own. "You pay for this?"

"Yes," I said, taking a banknote from my purse. "The wind. My fault."

"No." His mouth closed into a grim line and the flame in his eyes seethed. "You cannot pay for this with gold! You pay for it only with—your soul!"

"My soul!" I repeated, feeling my senses numb as my eyes looked into his.

As his eyes flamed into mine I felt as if I were near an immense blazing furnace. I felt the heat on my face, felt it searing my body, felt my throat parch.

Then he was speaking again and his eyes were turned to the floor.

"It is nothing. See? I will break it again."

He raised his arm and threw the pieces of the broken figure on the floor so that they were shattered again into dozens of smaller particles. I experienced a distinct shock as the fragments struck the floor and immediately I felt the sweat breaking out on my face.

Then he was speaking in a soft, friendly voice.

"You wished something, sahib?"

"Some incense—sandalwood," I muttered, taking my handkerchief from my pocket and wiping my forehead, which was beaded with sweat.

He turned away, and when he faced me again I surveyed the man and was surprised to think that I had imagined anything unusual or uncanny about him. His eyes were brown, though with a lurking reddish tinge in their depths. He was smiling pleasantly enough and I noted that his swarthy face was almost handsome. His age was hard to determine, anywhere from thirty-five to fifty years.

"Sorry, sahib," he apologized. "No sandalwood. But I have something better. Rare incense. Would you like it?"

"Yes. Anything will be all right," I replied, anxious to be gone.

He took a small oblong package from beneath the counter, wrapped it and handed it to me. I held the banknote out to him.

"Take out for the broken article," I said.

"No," he replied. "It was nothing, sahib. A trifle. Almost worthless. Forget it."

He handed me my change and I turned and started for the door.

"The incense!" he called after me. "It is rare. Wonderful. You must try it—soon!"

Something in his voice made me turn, and for an instant I felt his eyes blazing into my own. Then the flame died and he smiled at me a pleasant smile.

Without a word I stumbled from the shop, pulled the door shut after me and fought my way onward through the storm.


2.

UPON my arrival in the town I had rented a small house, vacant for some time previous to my occupancy and distant from the curio shop about three blocks. I had three rooms and a bath, one room as a living room, one as a bedroom, and one as a study. It was in this latter room that I kept my documents and studied over them, and in fact it was here that I spent the most of my time when indoors. My meals I took out at a restaurant about a block distant. The house was equipped with an electric water-heater for my bath, and I had a woman come in and tidy up each day. All in all I was fixed very comfortably indeed.

After a late dinner at the restaurant I arrived at my house, and went immediately to my study. I drew books and papers before me and tried to interest myself in my work. But I was curiously disturbed. I was unable to shake off a feeling of restlessness. I could not fix my mind upon the matters in hand, and finally I pushed books and papers aside. For a while I sat nervously clasping and unclasping my hands, and finally I got to my feet and began to pace back and forth across the floor.

There was nothing that should have worried me. Naturally I was somewhat discouraged by my failure so far to find a hint of the cliff city, but that alone should not have depressed me, as I knew that I had not yet made more than a superficial examination of the region. Otherwise I had a good, comfortable private income and a host of friends scattered in all parts of the world. In addition I had won honors in archeology, of which I could be justly proud.

In my pacing between the study table and the door I chanced to raise my eyes and I saw the grotesque, grinning devil-incense burner on a shelf on the far wall, beyond the table and directly opposite the door leading into my living room. Immediately my heart gave a throb and I felt a thrill through my whole body.

Rare incense! The East Indian had urged me to try it soon! I would try it now!

I hurried across the room, took down the grinning devil and set it on the study table. Then I took the small oblong package from my overcoat pocket and opened it. I found it to contain six slim cigarette-like cubes of reddish-brown incense. The color was peculiar, and I felt myself wondering where I had seen it before. Then I remembered the Hindoo's eyes. The cubes of incense were exactly the color of the oriental's eyes after the flame had died in them.

I lifted the head off the devil-incense burner, thrust one of the cubes down into the hollow cavity of the bronze body and, procuring a match from a box on the table, lighted the upper end of the cube.

When the match died I found myself gazing at a red, flaming eye on the end of the cube of incense! One eye! The Hindoo had had two eyes that glowed just like that! I took another cube from the box, lighted it and thrust it into the cavity beside the other, where it glowed and seethed with a red flame.

Two eyes! Two flaming red eyes! If only there were the long yellow-teeth!

I became conscious of a pungent perfume. The odor was peculiar, intoxicating. I felt myself suddenly filled with a great elation, a sense of power.

The aromatic smoke floated upward to the ceiling. The two eyes glowed. I felt them searing deep into my own.

With an effort I lifted the grinning head and set it back on the slender shoulders. But I could still see the glow through the hollow devil-eyes, pinpoints of flaming red.

The grayish-white smoke of the burning incense poured from the mouth of the devil and trailed upward to the ceiling. It filled the whole room. My sense of power increased. I was conscious of a feeling of lightness.

The smoke grew dense. The table gradually became obliterated before my eyes. Only the grinning devil with its two glowing eyes was visible. Finally even it was obliterated.

I was light, light like air. I was floating. I had a sense of motion as of running, or of flying.

Through an immense wind-swept region, past leering gods and grinning devils, past a great belching flame that seared my body and parched my throat. Then into an intensely cold place, damp, soggy, freezing cold, so that the perspiration froze on my body. Then into pleasant warmth where was a great quiet and peace.


3.

THE room was luxuriously furnished, thick carpets on the floor, two or three upholstered chairs near the door, and a small mahogany stand in the center. Glowing electric chandeliers filled the room with bright light.

The room was small, perhaps an anteroom. I stood in the middle of the room. Before me was a curtained doorway. I was fully self-possessed, sure.

I tiptoed to the doorway, peered through it. There was intense blackness in the room beyond. I felt a flashlight in my hand and snapped it on so that a fan-like arm of light swept across the dark room.

Then I started across it, past chairs and tables to a door at the far side.

I stopped by the door, which was partly ajar. A soft, mellow light shone through the opening into the room.

I became conscious of a faint hissing noise, which seemed to rise and fall as by regular rhythm. After a prolonged hiss there would be a choking cough, then another hiss, followed by silence broken almost instantly by a hiss, and so on.

Listening, I had a sudden feeling of fear, of panic. I snapped off my flashlight and stood quavering in the darkness.

The sound was in front of me, inside of the room from which the light streamed. Something impelled me forward. I felt myself moving toward the door.

Then I stopped, while my blood froze. There was someone behind me! I heard light footfalls on the carpet! I heard quick breathing! Someone was approaching!

I crept silently away from the doorway into the darkness. In my left hand was the flashlight, while in my right I gripped the handle of a short automatic.

The intruder approached the door. I saw the opening widening. Slowly, cautiously, the door swung wide. I crouched behind a table (a billiard table it seemed to be) to hide myself from the light that spread out toward me from the open door.

From my position I could see quite clearly into the room beyond. The room was lighted by four glaring eyes of light, which glowed brilliantly from the sockets of two great bronze images, which stood with outspread arms on a raised platform opposite the doorway. The figures were stolid, but the features were commanding and with the glaring eyes made a startling picture. In front of the platform was a low altar railing, and between this and the door I could see low benches, apparently of stone. The floor was uncarpeted and of stone or concrete.

The hissing seemed to come from behind the images, and I could detect a trace of white smoke or steam rising upward over the heads of the bronze figures.

An arm appeared across the lighted doorway, a shoulder. Then a slim figure framed itself there, a form straight, graceful. Slender legs cased in white riding breeches, slender arms in well-cut riding jacket. A gray cap was pulled low over the forehead.

Cautiously the slender figure crept through the doorway into the room, toward the raised platform. I caught the gleam of a knife in the right hand of the grim stalker, and I felt that certainly there must be something living in that room as an objective.

I found myself in the midst of a terrible mental struggle. I had an overpowering impulse to run forward, to interfere in what would evidently be cold-blooded murder enacted in that hissing room. Against this impulse I felt an impelling force holding me to silence, to inaction. It seemed as if a voice were speaking in command:

"Wait until the knife strikes, till death-screams rend the air, then take aim, shoot the murderer!"

At one time I felt my arm rising, my eyes taking bead on the slender moving figure, waiting for the arm with the gleaming knife to upraise, to strike once, perhaps twice, at some unseen animated form, then to shoot.

But my brain cleared. My impulse to interfere was mastered. I thrust my automatic into my belt, my flashlight into my pocket, and got to my feet. I ran forward, swiftly, silently, through the door and upon the death-stalker.

My adversary was taken by surprise: he had not heard my approach. But he was agile and quick to struggle, though I found him no match for me in strength.

For a moment we struggled silently, without sound. Then the struggle ended as abruptly as it had started. My adversary went limp in my arms, so that I had to hold him to keep him from falling.

The instinct to flee was strong upon me. I picked up my unconscious antagonist and ran with his body in my arms, out of the lighted room into the blackness of the room beyond. There I stopped and listened. Still the regular choked hissing, and no sight or other sound of anything living in the room.

Hesitating barely an instant, I ran out of the darkness into the lighted anteroom, which I had left just a few minutes before.

Reaching the lighted room, my captive began to struggle again in my arms and squirmed free, the cap falling from his head as he did so.

Then I was amazed to see that the would-be murderer was a woman, young, beautiful, in trim, dainty riding costume. Light golden hair crowned a clear white forehead. Her blue eyes were wide as she looked into mine, her red-lipped mouth was parted in surprise, in fright.


4.

"WHO—who are you?" she gasped, drawing away from me and preparing herself for flight.

I stepped close to her and suddenly clasped my arms on her shoulders, and held her so. She made a movement as if to raise the knife which she still hold in her hand, but I held her so tightly she could not. After a moment she ceased to struggle and stood before me listless.

"Who are you?" she repeated insistently.

"I might better ask that than you," I said, shaking her roughly. "How come I to find you with a knife in your hand, creeping into that room, intent evidently upon stabbing someone whom I could not see?"

"I—I do not know. I am—afraid."

She looked at me with a great fear in her eyes.

"Who is in that room? Whom were you going to kill?" I insisted.

"I do not know," she repeated. Then, as she saw the pistol in my belt, she asked, "Why are you here, with a pistol strapped to your belt?"

I suddenly felt at a loss. My mind groped for the answer to her question. There was, there must be a good logical reason why I should he there. I looked at the pistol, which I remembered thrusting into my belt as I ran forward upon the form with the upraised knife. It was my own. It was the automatic which I always carried with me into dangerous places. I had carried it along with me today to the cliffs. And it had been gripped in my hands but a moment ago.

"Why?" she insisted, with a note of sharpness in her voice.

"Why—I—I don't know." I stammered uncertainly. "I seem to have forgotten something."

"You were going to shoot—me," she guessed.

I remembered my impulse when she was creeping into the lighted room and I knew that she was right, partly at least. And she...

"Were you not stalking me to stab me to death?" I asked, looking her squarely in the eyes. She had very beautiful eyes, deep, alluring, mysterious.

She made no reply for a moment, and I sensed that she was undergoing a mental struggle. In a moment she spoke in a voice low and musical.

"I must not, dare not tell you, anything. I am afraid to tell you. You might be... Tell me, who are you? Tell me!"

I felt an urge to hold my tongue, but I disregarded it.

"I am Andrew Bishop, archeologist, carrying on investigations which I hope will result in the discovery of an ancient cliff city. I am a man of reputation and honor, and worthy of your trust and confidence. Now, pray tell me who you are. What are you doing here? Why are you afraid?"

"I cannot tell you who I am or why I have the knife in my hand, though if I told you you would know that I have a better right to be here than you. I do not know what I am afraid of, exactly, something terrible, which is always present and hears everything, sees everything. Strange things have happened and I would not even dare to ask you for help. I have heard of you, but after all I do not know—I fear you may belong to it—the thing!"

"The thing!" I echoed.

"Yes," she whispered. "Don't you feel, almost see, near you, eyes watching, terrible eyes?"

I looked about me apprehensively. I could make out nothing tangible, but I could sense something. Certainly I was afraid.

"Yes," I whispered in reply. "I feel something. Please trust me. I will help you if I can. What can I do?"

"Nothing," she said despairingly. "I cannot escape."

"Escape?"

"No. It is impossible."

"But you can escape. I will help you."

I released her shoulders and took both of her hands in mine, feeling the knife gripped tightly in one of them. I looked into her eyes and I saw confidence and hope growing in them.

Then we heard a sound behind us, in the dark room we had just left. We stood a moment clasping each other's hands, looking at each other with a nameless fear in our eyes.

"Quick!" she whispered, breaking the spell that held us fast. "We must run quickly! Come!"

She grasped my arm and we ran through the door ahead of us, which she pulled open, and out into an intense blackness. We ran and ran, and we heard sounds of pursuit behind us. Once I looked back to see two red eyes flaming behind us out of the darkness. I felt my senses numb.

We stopped suddenly. I knew that she had stopped me.

"It is coming! It will catch us!" she whispered, clutching my arm with one band and pointing with the long-bladed knife in the other. "Run straight on, there. If we separate we may both escape."

"No!"

I felt my senses clearing a little. "I will stay and fight while you escape."

"No! You must not!" she insisted, her breath warm on my cheek. "It would kill you. Go now. Escape. I will be all right. But if you can, come tomorrow night. You have offered to help me and I must have help. I beg you to come!"

"Come? But where?" I asked breathlessly.

"Here. The way you came. Goodbye."

She pressed my hand, released it, and I heard her running.

A moment I stood while my heart pounded. Then I ran on as she had pointed, swiftly. I had a sensation of numbing senses, of bodily elation, of lightness. I was flying, floating.

A terrible cold chilled my limbs, made my lungs ache. Then I was suddenly in fire, in terrific heat which scorched me.

Still I ran, or flew, while angry, grotesque gods and devils struck at me and opened wolf-like jaws to sink yellow fangs into my flesh.

But I evaded all, felt myself being tossed, thrown, blown about like a feather. Then I felt quiet and rest.


5.

THE grotesque oriental devil stood before me on the table. No longer did smoke belch from the half-open, grinning mouth; no longer did two pinpoints of flame glow from the eyes. I lifted the head from the shoulders and saw that the incense had burned completely out. Only a faint trace of the peculiar perfume was noticeable in the room.

The lights blazed from the chandeliers. I looked about me. I stood up, tried my limbs.

I was here alive, and from the look of things I had never been out of this room!

But the vision of those other scenes was vivid in my mind. It was real. It must be real. The bright anteroom, the dark room adjoining, the choked hissing noise, the lighted room and its two images with the brilliantly glaring eyes, the silent form creeping through the lighted doorway, my own pistol upraised. Then my interference, the short struggle, my flight with a light form in my arms, the beautiful girl with her fear-stricken blue eyes, the interruption and our flight, those flaming red eyes pursuing... It was all real enough to make me catch my breath, look about me.

I thought of my pistol. I thrust my hand to my belt and found it there, but that proved nothing, as I had carried my automatic with me to the cliffs. My flashlight also was in my pocket, but I always carried that with me so that I might investigate any openings I should find. Neither pistol nor flashlight proved anything.

Could it have been a dreamt It must have been.

I thought of the girl. She had been so beautiful. She was just the type of girl that I could love. Her alluring blue eyes, her lovely red lips, her beautiful golden hair! I loved her now.

She had told me to come again, that she must have help. Must!

Oh, well. What of it? I should have to dismiss it all as a dream.

I tried to dismiss it and retired to bed. But I could not sleep well that night. I tumbled and tossed and felt myself tormented by a pair of flaming red eyes; haunted by a beautiful girl in white riding-breeches and jacket, whose eyes pleaded for help; startled by choked hissing noises coming to me in a vast endless darkness.

The morning dawned and I started about my usual schedule. After breakfasting at the restaurant I started off to the cliffs with a short pick over my shoulder for exploring into the crevices of the rocks. I spent the whole forenoon searching about and digging in the crannies of the cliff wall. I found nothing to encourage me.

I returned to town at noon and I decided not to go out that afternoon. I was restless, perturbed. I had a sense of impending danger which I tried vainly to shake off. I spent the rest of the day taking in the sights of the little city.

I had always been very much interested in the famous springs which were the chief attraction of the town. There were five springs altogether. Three of these were hot, all close together and enclosed by a high steel-wire fence to guard against small children falling into the scalding water which filled the concrete basin about them. The water did not come up as a geyser, but only bubbled a steady flow of steaming white water.

Watching the white liquid flowing out of the wide lime-encrusted mouths I reflected that somewhere beneath, and not so very far beneath, there must be hot volcanic rocks and molten beds of lava.

Though these hot springs were unusual in themselves, contrast with the other two springs made an unusual phenomenon. These two springs were distant about a block from the three first mentioned, and were also enclosed, with a separate pool of their own. But instead of being boiling hot they were as cold as if they flowed from a frozen glacier. The temperature of the water was only slightly above freezing. This phenomenon was the more unusual on account of the warm dry region. Undoubtedly the springs were fed from some reservoir deep in the earth, kept cold by geologic forces. Certainly no one would believe that there was a glacier underneath. However, there could be no doubt about there being a wide divergence in the sources of the hot and cold springs whose mouths were so close together.


IN the late afternoon I passed the curio shop. Something impelled me to step in, to see if my sensations of the previous evening would be repeated.

There was no wind this evening and I entered without mishap. There was no one visible behind the counter, or in sight anywhere. Nevertheless I was conscious of someone watching me closely. As I looked back toward the rear of the shop I saw facing me a large bronze figure, a huge idol with evil, malevolent grin. I could imagine its great eyes bent on me balefully.

The huge fists of the figure were clasped together and upraised as if to strike or to hurl anything which might be clasped between the great fingers. One leg was thrust forward, and I could imagine a gleam in the wicked black eyes—could imagine that the figure was preparing to run forward upon me.

A moment I stood facing the menacing figure, then, conquered by a nameless fear, I turned and hastily left the shop. Outside I reflected that I had been a fool to allow such uncanny thoughts to master even for a moment my usual courage. Nevertheless I was certain that the figure had not been standing in the rear of the shop on my first visit, at least not in its present striking attitude. I would certainly in that case have noticed it, as would anyone ordinarily observant.

I walked about, trying to shake off a feeling of uneasiness. I dined, and when darkness came on, which it did at that season about 7 o'clock, I returned to my house and went to my study.

The grinning bronze devil still sat on the table as I had left it the night before. My housekeeper had strict orders to disturb nothing in my study, and the orders were carefully observed. I sniffed the air for a trace of the peculiar perfume, but I could smell nothing out of the ordinary.

I sat down before the table and dropped my head in my hands. Against my will my thoughts turned to the strange phenomenon of last night, whether dream or reality I could not decide.

The girl had said she must see me "tomorrow night." That was tonight. But where should I see her? How?

She was in danger. She had asked me to help her. How?

Where was she?

I raised my head and considered the bronze devil. After a moment I lifted off the grinning head. I took out two cubes of incense from the oblong box at my right hand. I thrust them into the hollow bronze body, found a match and lighted them.

The two flaming eyes glowed and seethed. A peculiar aromatic perfume smote my nostrils.

I put the grinning head back on the shoulders. The eyes glowed with pinpoints of red. Grayish-white smoke belched from between the black evil teeth, trailed upward to the ceiling, and filled the whole room.

The smoke became dense, obscured all else. I felt myself flying through a great stillness, past jeering grotesque devils who laughed at me, into white-hot flame, through frozen space, then into comfortable warmth and quiet.


6.

I WAS in absolute darkness. I could see nothing. It was as if I were blind.

Intense stillness reigned. Only the faint heating of my own heart, the quick terrified gasping of my own breath, were audible.

I was on all fours, hands and knees resting on thick carpet. I was listening for something, some sound, some signal.

Finally I heard it: soft footfalls, a door opening behind me. I crouched in the darkness, poised to leap like a beast of prey. I waited until the footfalls sounded opposite, holding my breath, my breast pressed to the thick soft carpet to smother the beating of my own heart.

I allowed the footfall to pass by, to go on and on, away from me into the distance. After an interval I heard the opening of a door, and in a moment I heard it close again.

Then I got to my feet cautiously, silently. As if guided by a sixth sense I moved across the room to a door. I opened the door, stepped through it, and closed it behind me.

A pale subdued light filled the room I was now in, which was bare, unfurnished, uncarpeted. The same deathly silence prevailed. There was no sign of life, of motion.

Cautiously I walked across the room, exploring it. I looked upward. The light entered from overhead, through small round openings. It streamed in faintly as the light might shine into a deep well at night when there was no moon. I could make out nothing clearly, just the bare outlines of a room whose dimensions I was unable to determine.

I waited expectant.

Suddenly a door opened before me. I knew it was not the one through which I had entered. A pale white figure hesitated in the doorway. The door closed and the figure approached. It came near.

"You came!"

In the silence of the room the whisper was loud in my ears. I felt my blood stir.

"Yes," I answered, as I stepped across the room to meet the one who had just entered.

I came close. I saw it was the girl I had known it would be. She was very beautiful in the pale light. She was not now dressed in riding costume but in a long filmy white gown, which showed her arms bare and beautiful, her shoulders white and lovely. I was conscious of the deep blue of her eyes even in the subdued light, while her red-lipped mouth seemed like a pale delicate rosebud just opening to unfold its pinkish glow. She was small, slender, beautiful.

She came to me and gripped my arm; she pulled me away, led me to the door through which she had entered. We went through it together, into a room lighted by chandeliers.

This room was small but brightly furnished, gay pictures on the walls, velvet-covered chairs, a table with a few books neatly arranged upon it. One thing that I noted was the absence of windows, and as I thought of it I knew that this feature was in common with the other rooms I had seen.

Inside the room with the door closed the girl let go of my arm and stood away from me a little. She was breathing quickly as with excitement, her lips slightly parted. I found myself looking into her eyes, drinking in the blue of them, feeling refreshed, exhilarated.


7.

"I AM so glad you came," she whispered after a moment.

"I also am glad," I replied. "Now, please tell me who you are, what you fear, everything."

"I should not do that, but I must," she said. "Will you promise to do as I say after I tell you, to make no move without my permission?"

"I promise," I replied eagerly.

"Then listen carefully. My father in his youth was an explorer, traveler, adventurer. He wandered many times over the face of the globe, visited innumerable out-of-the-way places in many countries. He had many adventures, had many hair-breadth escapes. He was shot at by bandits in Spain, menaced by native spearmen in Africa, but he always escaped with his life, laughing, smiling, debonair.

"This was all before he met my mother. After he met her and married her he settled down and traveled no more, contenting himself with telling to those who would listen, the strange and thrilling adventures through which he had passed.

"But when my mother died a few years ago he became restless. There came on him a longing to have just one more round of adventures before he died. I loved him and did not like to see him go, but I could not ask him to stay and be unhappy.

"He was gone two years. When he came back he was different. He was strange. He seemed to dislike to have other people about. We left our friends and came here, a place much more barren then than it is now.

"I knew that something was preying on his mind. I begged him to tell me what was bothering him. Finally he told me a story.

"He was traveling through an unsettled region in upper India. He was alone, having left his party at a village six or seven miles back and ridden on ahead by himself. He came upon an old ruined temple.

"The temple was apparently deserted, and it awoke his curiosity. He dismounted, tied his horse, and entered. There were rough benches of stone, and at the far end a low platform and an altar-railing.

"He walked down the empty aisle, in his mind a picture of those benches once filled with worshiping natives with a native priest presiding.

"As he stood at the altar-railing looking upward he saw raised above the platform a huge, malevolently grinning god. One of its great legs was thrust forward, its arms were upraised and in the great fists was clasped a small grotesque devil, which he was in the act of dashing down to destruction.

"The whole thing was of bronze, and was symbolic probably of the destruction of forces of evil by a benevolent god. My father went up on the platform to examine the figures.

"He was particularly impressed with the grinning devil in the huge fists of the god. Upon touching this with his fingers he found that dampness and rain had loosened the cement which held it in place. Pulling a little he was able to free it entirely from the great fists.

"My father was daring and, without a thought of any possible consequences, he thrust the small image into his coat pocket. Looking about to see that he had not been observed, he hurried down from the platform and out of the temple. At the entrance he looked back, and he imagined that the face of the god had screwed itself into a look of anger, that the eyes gleamed.

"Shaken a little, and knowing how the superstitious people of the region might act toward a robber of their shrine, he lost no time in getting to his horse. Just as he was ready to mount he heard an angry shouting from the temple, and a large Hindoo in flowing priestly garb came running from the ruined doorway toward him. He was gesticulating and uttering curses in his native tongue.

"My father sprang upon his horse, and as he did so a half dozen dark-skinned natives appeared along the path by which he had come and menaced him with long glittering knives in their hands. Someone cast a spear and it struck near his horse, frightening it. But he turned the horse as it reared, plunged through the underbrush, and escaped.

"When he came back to his party he made no note of the incident or of the image, as he had taken a fancy to the bronze devil for which he had risked his life and wished to take it home with him without possible interference from the authorities. When he left the country a short time later he smuggled the image out with him.


"AS he finished telling me this story my father brought the bronze devil from a box where he kept it and showed it to me. I have never seen another image quite so fantastic as this. Its evil leering grin was so malevolent as to make one remember the evil face for many days afterwards.

"My father stated plainly that the image seemed to be exerting some strange influence over his mind and actions. After he told me this I urged him to get rid of it, but he would not hear of that.

"Soon afterwards we built a house here. He gave particular attention to fitting up the basement in an unusual style. He fitted up rooms which you would expect to find only on the upper floors, a library, a billiard room, even a bedroom for himself, for, as I have intimated, he seemed to be in great fear of something. Apparently his idea in building these basement rooms was to hide and to have a refuge in case of a possible attack.

"There was one room he fitted up which he would never allow anyone to enter, not even myself. At first he liked to have me down in the basement rooms with him, playing billiards with him or reading to him in the library. But toward the last he took to spending most of his time in this mysterious room.

"One day I was on the first floor when I heard a scream from the basement. I ran down the stairs. I ran through the lower rooms and I saw nothing of my father. I came to the door of the room which I had never been permitted to enter. It was partly open, and without hesitating I ran into it. It opened into the fantastic shrine you saw last night, which you entered to grapple with me.

"Before the altar railing beneath the two great bronze gods with their four glaring eyes my father was kneeling, a look of mortal fright on his face. I ran to him and helped him to his feet. I asked him what was the matter.

"He said that just a moment before he had felt, rather than seen, behind him a tall priest-like Hindoo standing with arms folded, gazing at him with evil, vindictive eyes. The sight of the menacing figure had been such a shock to his overwrought nerves that he had screamed, and with the scream the Hindoo form had vanished.

"I did not believe there was any foundation in fact for his story. From the evidence of the fantastic shrine my father had fitted up I felt sure that his mind was becoming unbalanced by preying over the stolen image. I think that my father suspected something of this sort himself, for when I now urged him to get rid of the bronze devil he promised at once to do so immediately. I cannot say for sure whether he did or not. for...."

The girl hesitated and stopped as if in distress.

"Yes? What was it?" I prompted gently.

"Two nights later my father was killed—stabbed in the heart in the library of those basement rooms. I found him lying on the floor in the morning with his hand clasped to the handle of a knife protruding from his breast."

There was a hint of tears in the girl's voice as she made this startling statement.

"I am sorry," I said sympathetically, involuntarily shuddering a little.


8.

After a moment the girl went on. "The police called it suicide, but I never believed so. I think that someone stabbed my father and left the dagger in his breast, and that as he died my father put his hand to the handle of the knife in an involuntary effort to withdraw it. I told the police what I thought. I also told them the story of the image and of the strange influence which it had seemed to exert, on him. I told them of the tall Hindoo form which had seemed to appear behind my father in that strange room. The room itself I did not show them, as I did not want them to think he was crazy. The bronze devil I would have showed them, but I could find it nowhere."

"Perhaps it was stolen," I suggested.

"It may have been, but I remember my father's promise. I think he either hid the image or gave it to someone to keep for him."

"That is more likely," I conceded. "But what has developed since?"

"Only this. I have been persistently haunted, hounded, by a nameless thing which has only eyes, terrible evil eyes. Two weeks after my father's death the phenomena started. I was in my room at night in bed. It was dark. The curtain was raised at my window, but there was no moon, and practically no light entered.

"I had been asleep, but I suddenly awoke as if startled. I looked toward the door and saw two eyes, glowing like red coals of fire! I was frightened.

"Then I thought of cats. I knew a cat's eyes would glow in the dark. Though I had no cat I felt sure after a startled moment that it was a cat sitting in a chair looking at me.

"There was a stand near the head of my bed with a book on it, which I had been reading before I went to sleep. I suddenly reached out a hand, seized hold of the book, and cast it with all my strength at the two glowing eyes. I hate cats. I am afraid of them.

"My aim was true, apparently, for I heard the soft thud of the book striking some yielding body. Then I heard a low growl, angry, hair-raising. A growl, you hear. Do cats growl?"

"I have not heard so," I replied with sudden apprehension, looking about me.

"Then the eyes flamed once and disappeared. After a moment I got up, found the light switch at the head of my bed, and turned on the lights. There was nothing in the room. The door was closed. I crossed over and locked it. I did not go to sleep again that night.

"Since that time there has not passed a week but that I have seen the eyes, sometimes at my door, sometimes at the windows. Locks or shutters do no good.

"The influence those eyes have exerted upon me is terrible. I have been hypnotized. I have feared nameless fears during the day, and at night felt myself doing things terrible. Upon awaking in the morning I know I have done something while my consciousness slept, something frightful, maybe, possibly crime, murder. I have a memory of two eyes driving me, ordering me. But no consciousness of anything done remains in my mind.

"Until last night when you intervened I had no knowledge of what I was doing. Then it was as if I had just awaked and remembered a dream."

"You mean," I whispered, "you mean that you were—out of your senses when you were creeping into that room with the knife in your hand?"

"Yes," she breathed. "It was you that waked me, your will that seemed to free me from a dreadful spell. But who knows what terrible things I have done before this, how many times I have raised that knife when no one intervened! Oh, it is terrible! What is it?"

"Hypnotism," I said, taking her hands in mine and looking into her face searchingly.

"I do not know," she said hopelessly. "If that were so, what could I do?"

"Something must be done," I replied. "You must let me come, watch at your door. I have a pistol. I am a good shot. Or the police...."

"Oh, the police! Don't you see? They would just say that I am crazy, that my father was crazy. Am I crazy? Do you think so?"

"No," I asserted. "You are perfectly sane. I have seen crazy people and I can see from your eyes that you arc not crazy. You must let me protect you from this fiend."

"No. I am afraid. It—the thing would kill you."

"But this can't go on. It must stop."

"Yes, I know, but—look!"

The girl suddenly clung to me and pointed to the door through which we had just entered, with a shaking hand. I looked where she pointed. I saw nothing immediately.


THEN I saw it. Two eyes glowing out of the partly opened door, the door which the girl had closed securely behind us. Two flaming eyes, terrible, menacing!

The girl pulled away. She clutched my arm.

"Come!" she cried in a low voice. "Let us run! Run!"

I took her hand. We ran out through a door which the girl pulled open before us, pulling it shut after us. Then we ran on and on, into intense blackness. The girl led me. I did not know where we were going. After a while we stopped. She held my arm, listening.

"Tell me," I whispered, "please tell me where we are, where I can find you should we become separated. Who are you?"

"I am—oh!"

She ceased speaking and I felt her body trembling against me. Confronting us, not twenty feet away, were two eyes, flaming red, live like coals of fire.

The girl tugged at my arm, tried to drag me away. But I held back.

"Run! Escape!" I cried, pushing her from me. "I will fight, kill!"

She tried to cling to my arm.

"I am afraid it will kill you," she whispered.

But I put her from me and heard her footsteps retreating.

I confronted the gleaming eyes. I felt them boring deep into my own consciousness. I felt my knees shaking. I had a nameless terror. I felt my senses reeling.

Those eyes! I must destroy them! I must master them! Though they scorch me I must extinguish them! They made me mad, those eyes! I was crazy! I would kill!

I took a step forward, my fists clenched. I would grapple with the unknown!

Then I heard a missile flying from behind me, heard it whirl over my head. I heard it strike something soft, yielding, heard it bounce to the floor and roll away like a billiard ball. I heard a low growl as of anger, pain.

Then for an instant both eyes disappeared. After a moment there appeared one red flaming eye. One eye! Only one! But it was belching, seething with a scorching fire. Then it started toward me!

Conquered by a nameless terror I fled, with the one eye pursuing. As I ran I thought that in my flight I was at least allowing the girl to escape. So I ran on and on.

I became giddy. My senses reeled. I became a floating thing without will or volition, which went tearing through frozen spaces, seething through the flames of hell, flying out through a world of hideous dragon-gods and devils, into quiet stillness, and finally to rest and peace.


9.

I SAT before my study table, the bronze devil grinning at me in the light of the chandeliers. There was nothing unusual about the room.

I stood up, felt of my limbs. My muscles functioned as usual. I was perfectly normal, sane.

Yet that other scene was vivid, real. The pursuing eyes! The girl! It was she who had thrown the missile that had struck the thing, extinguished one of the eyes.

Where was she? Had she escaped? I must return and protect her from this terrible thing! Return? Where?

I laughed. It was silly. It was idle. I was going insane, crazy. I must get my mind off this sort of thing or I would be in the asylum. I must go to bed, forget.

But I could not forget, and tossed restlessly, sleeplessly through the night, my mind a jumble of half-formed, fearful dreams.

The next day I went about my usual routine. I carried my lunch with me, as I had made up my mind to spend all the time until dark in my search of the cliffs. All morning and until late afternoon I scrambled about among the rocks, striking here and there with my pick, climbing on precarious footing along the cliff-wall.

Along toward dark, cutting away some scraggly brush from the side of the precipice, I found a small opening in the face of the rock. Digging excitedly about with my pick I widened this opening until it was large enough to permit entrance of a man crawling on hands and knees. When I had made the opening as wide as possible with the tools at hand I threw aside my pick and, getting to my knees, thrust head and shoulders into the hole. I took my flashlight from my pocket and sent a glow of light ahead of me into the intense darkness. For a short distance I could make out the walls of a passage on either side, but ahead of me the revealing light faded away into blackness without a sign of an end to the cavern. The floor seemed to be about ten feet down from the entrance, making the height of the chamber about twenty feet.

I had a great desire to explore my discovery immediately, but it was fast growing dark and I had quite a distance to make over precarious footing until I reached safe ground at the top of the cliffs. Accordingly I left further explorations to another day and started out on my return journey while I yet had sufficient light to make it in safety.

The sky had been cloudy all afternoon, and before I reached town there had come on a spattering rain. It was dark before I reached town. As I passed the lighted doorway of the Hindoo shop the thought suddenly occurred to me that I had only two cubes of incense remaining. I should have some more. Whatever the strangeness and terror of my nightly dream, I wished it to be repeated until I should either bring this beautiful dream-girl into reality or at least satisfy myself that there could be no basis in fact for her existence. However much I might laugh at myself for it, I knew that I had fallen in love—how hopelessly I was only too well aware. If she were a dream, it was only in dreaming that I could be happy, and there was no doubt in my mind that the dream was in some way the product of the burning incense.

I entered the shop rather fearfully. The proprietor was in. He faced me across the counter.

"Something, sahib?" he asked, his reddish-brown eyes pleasant enough.

"Some incense," I said. "Some of the rare kind you gave me before. You remember?"

"Yes, sahib."

He turned away and searched behind him on a shelf. While he was doing so I looked toward the rear of the shop. There was no sign of the huge idol that had confronted me the day before. There was nothing at the rear of the shop but a number of tall, innocent-looking packing-cases, but I felt the Hindoo's eyes upon me again, and I turned to face him.

"I have no more," he said; "only sandalwood."

"But I don't want sandalwood. Where can I get the other?"

"You cannot get it," he replied, his eyes stirring into a dull, smoldering flame. "Do you wish the sandalwood?"

"No," I answered shortly, and turned on my heel.

"Your soul!"

The words from behind me were low, passionate, menacing.

I whirled as if I had been struck.

"My soul!" I cried, glaring at the East Indian, who stood facing me with arms folded across his breast.

"Your soul shall pay!" he snarled.

His eyes flamed an instant into mine, then the fire in them went out.

"It is just a saying in India. It means nothing. I only said my secret thoughts aloud. Pardon, sahib."

"Oh," I said; then I whirled and left the shop hastily.


I HURRIED through the dripping rain to the restaurant, where I dined, my mind trying to analyze the peculiar effect which the oriental had upon me. It did not take much thinking to convince me that the Hindoo was a thorough rascal. I am familiar with hypnotism and I have more than once had different persons try to exercise this power over me. I have experienced the numbing clash of a powerful will with my own, have felt my own mind struggle for mastery, never once to come out other than victor. So I knew that the East Indian had tried to hypnotize me, not only on this evening, but also on the first occasion.

"Your soul shall pay!" That trinket that I had broken! Was all that had happened, the dream and all, part of his revenge? Had he created the beautiful girl in my mind just to torture me with her memory for the rest of my days? What a diabolical vengeance!

I returned to my house. I went immediately to my study. I sat down before the table and picked up the little oblong box. Tomorrow the box would be empty and then I would have it out with that evil red-eyed fellow.

I lifted the head from the bronze devil, and thrust the last two reddish-brown cubes of incense into the hollow body. I was feverish with impatience. I felt as the opium fiend must feel while he prepares his drug.

I lighted the two cubes, and for a moment two eyes gleamed. Then one cube went out and I had to light it again. It did not burn well, but I got it to going fairly.

I put the head back into position. I watched smoke belch forth from the grinning mouth. I watched the two pinpoints of red, one intensely bright, the other smoldering, dying.

As I stared at the grinning face of the bronze devil a thought occurred to me. The face, the whole figure was familiar as if I had seen it somewhere. No, I had only heard of it! If I could just think a moment I could remember all. Why must my mind wander? Oh, yes. My soul! The Hindoo would have my soul! No, he would not! My soul should run from him so fast he would not be able to catch it!

The world became full of aromatic smoke. My senses dulled. My soul ran flying out into a pelting noisy space, through the gates of hell, where long-tailed devils struck at me, into the white heat of torment, through the icy cold of despair, and then into a haven of rest and comfort.


10.

I SQUATTED before a door in the darkness. I had an automatic in my right hand. I was also conscious of something clasped in my left hand. I was waiting, watching, every sense alert.

There was someone in the room before which I waited. This I knew. I was not afraid. My arm was steady. My aim would be sure.

A half hour passed, perhaps more.

Then a scream from beyond the door. A sudden scream of fright, of mortal terror.

I was on my feet, shaking the door, which was locked. I heard the scream rise again.

I laid the object clasped in my left hand carefully down near the door. I thrust my pistol into my belt. Then I ran back a few feet, turned, and lunged forward with all my weight upon the door. Once, twice, three times. At the fourth lunge the lock broke and I went hurtling into the room.

Lights flamed from chandeliers overhead.

Facing me stood the girl in shimmering white night-clothes. Behind her was a bed just vacated, while to the right were chairs, a dressing table, articles of ladies' wearing apparel.

Her hair was disheveled, her eyes were large with fright.

"You screamed," I said, looking at her, thinking more of her great beauty than of the dangers which her cry of terror might signify.

"You!" she cried.

She came to me, clasped her arms about me, clung to me like a little child.

"Tell me! What was it?" I insisted, putting an arm about her and patting her shoulder reassuringly.

"The—the thing!" she whispered. "The eyes! I saw them at the window. I heard the window opening, saw the eyes looking in. I screamed, sprang from bed and turned on the lights. Then you came crashing at the door, came plunging in. How came you here?"

"I said I would come, would defend you," I asserted, looking into her blue eyes and searching them for a sign of an answering love in their depths.

My gaze was so ardent that the girl's eyes fell before my own. Suddenly conscious of her dress she pulled away from me, picked up a silk robe from a chair, and gathered it about her hastily.

"Where was it?" I asked, as she looked up at me again.

"There."

She pointed at the window at the foot of her bed. I started toward the window, and as I did so she put a hand on my arm and clung to me. We took half a dozen steps across the room.

Then there was sudden darkness. Intense, terrible, menacing!

"The lights!" cried the girl in my ear. "It has put out the lights! The thing! See? At the window!"

I put my arm about the girl and held to her convulsively. One flaming red eye, hot and intense as a living fire! And beside it the wavering glow of another eye, less intense, but deadly!

The eyes were moving, coming nearer!

The girl pulled out of my grasp, put both hands on my shoulders and shook me.

"Let us run! Flee!" she cried.

"I will stay! Fight!" I muttered, trying to shake her off.

But she put both hands upon my arm and forced me to run with her out of the room. Outside the door I stopped, groped in the darkness, and picked up the object I had laid down a few moments ago. Then the girl pulled me on. Swiftly along a carpeted hallway, down a broad staircase, across a wide room, stumbling past chairs and tables, through a second room whose door was wide, all in the pale light cast through windows from a cloudy sky outside.

We came to a flight of steps leading down into blackness. Down it we plunged together. I missed a step and went tumbling, rolling down the remainder of the flight. The girl came running after. She helped me to my feet, and we ran on again.

After a while we stopped. The girl was exhausted. I heard her panting. I put ray arms about her and held her. She clung to my shoulders with both hands.

"Where are we?" I asked after a moment.

"In my father's basement rooms. We are in the billiard room, I think. Ahead of us is the shrine. There is something strange in there, back of the images. Last night when you fled with the thing after you I followed a little way. I saw you run through the shrine-room, around the platform to the rear. I waited a moment but I saw nothing else enter. Then I ran after you. I came to the rear of the platform, where was a hissing, bubbling spring of hot water. Back of the spring, I saw a dark, square opening cut through the solid concrete. I looked through it. I could hear your footsteps retreating in the blackness beyond, and in my flight I was tempted to follow you. But I feared that the thing was still behind me, that it might overtake me in the darkness of that subterranean passage. What is back of that opening?"

"I do not know," I said, and told her all I knew, of the Hindoo shop, of the incense, and of my strange sensations.

"Is this a dream?" I asked. "Are you real or only fancy?"

"I am perfectly real," she replied. "But it is all so strange. Can there be some connection between the Hindoo you mention and the vindictive, priest-like form that threatened my father? May not the two be the same? That black hole behind the shrine platform may open into a passageway leading to the shop you mention. He may have entered through this passage, come upon my father and stabbed him for the image. But the eyes! What other eyes are there which glow in the dark, besides a cat's?"

"A wolf's eyes would glow in the dark," I replied, looking about me into the darkness apprehensively.

There was no sight nor sound of anything else living in the room other than ourselves.

"Come. When we get where there is light I have something to show you."

Groping about for the light switch, we came to a door, mid we passed through it. My fingers touched the knob of a switch and I turned it.

Lights flamed out at us from four eyes above our heads. We were in the shrine-room. After a moment of accustoming ourselves to the glare we smiled at each other for encouragement. To our ears came a faint hissing from the springs behind the images, but knowing what made the sound we were not afraid.

Then I held up the object I had boon carrying in my hand. It was the devil-incense burner.

"The image!" gasped the girl. "Where did you get it?"

"I received it as a gift about a year ago." I replied. "I converted it into an intense burner."

"Who gave it to you?" asked the girl breathlessly.

"Mr. James Brandt," I replied. "He was an old friend of mine."'

"It was you," she whispered. "He gave it to you! My father!"

"You are—Miss Brandt?"

"Lenore Brandt," she replied, smiling. "But we are not safe here. I do not know why I came here, except that you escaped this way before."

"Now that we are here we will investigate that passage. I am not going to let this night go by without coming to the solution of this mystery. But first I want to talk to you."

I took both of the girl's hands in my own, and then continued.

"We may become separated. I may never see you again. This is all so strange that no one can just tell what might happen. If we never should meet again, after tonight, I want you to know that I love you. It may seem strange to you that after seeing you only three times I should love you, but that can be no stranger than that I should be here with you now. I do not expect you to love me yet, but may I hope that should we meet again under more favorable circumstances you might learn to care?"

She looked up at me and I saw tenderness in her eyes. She stepped close and put her two hands on my shoulders.

"I—I do not know," she said with a little catch in her voice. "It seems as if we two might be on the brink of eternity. It does not seem strange that you should love me. Nor would it be strange if I should love you. It seems that we may have but a moment to love. I would not ask that we waste it. Put your arms about me now and hold me tightly. I wish to love and to be loved for just one moment before some terrible force destroys us, or drives us apart. One kiss for eternity."

I had her in my arms, touched her soft lips to mine. I felt her cheeks, wet with tears. She was crying quietly. A moment I held her and we clung together, then interruption.


WE heard a low click behind us and the room was plunged in darkness. Looking over the girl's shoulder I saw two eyes glowing from the darkness near the door. The girl looked almost at the same time.

We turned almost as one and ran into the darkness where we believed the raised platform to be. It was the girl's arm which guided me around the altar railing, back of the platform; it was she who stopped me.

"Here! The passage!" she whispered, drawing me down to my knees.

She crawled quickly through a narrow hole, and I after her. As I came through upon uneven stone she took my hand and helped me to my feet. Then we ran quickly out into the darkness, feeling our way as we went. Stopping occasionally, we could hear a sound as of someone, or something, running after us.

After a time we came to a point where we could hear a faint trickle of water, which grew louder as we went on. As we approached the sound, the temperature became colder, until when the trickling waters sounded beside us the coldness was so intense as to chill us to the bone. We started to run, and soon it began to grow warmer. Warmer and warmer it became, and then hot. We now heard a sound as of escaping steam. We felt the stones beneath our feet hot as if in a furnace. A sudden thought came to me.

"The springs!" I cried. "We are beneath the hot springs. We are near the lava bed at the source of them. We are so near to the channel that the hot water and steam escape into the passage. And back there, where it was so cold, were the cold springs."

As we ran on, the heat became less, and soon we came to what appeared to be the end of the passage. Feeling about, I found that there was a door and, opening it, we came out into a small basement room.

The light entered from a square opening overhead, to which I could see a ladder leading upward. About the room were a number of images of all shapes and sizes, grotesque gods, evil, grinning devils, fantastic lion-men.

We stopped but a moment, then started for the ladder together. But I heard a sound behind me, and turned to confront two red eyes peering at us from the darkness of the passage. One eye was flaming brightly, the other smoldering dully. There was not time to escape up the ladder. I must fight the thing!

I felt for my pistol and saw that I had lost it when I fell down the stairway. I doubled my fists.

The eyes came nearer. I called to the girl.

"Run up the ladder! Quick! I am going to kill it, or die!"

Then I faced the thing. It came almost to the door of the small basement room. But I was impatient. I could not wait. I leapt forward and struck with all my might at a point just between the two naming eyes.

I felt my hand strike flesh, which recoiled. It was real, then, not a ghost. So much the better. I knew how to fight real things, things which recoiled from a blow.

I still clutched the bronze devil in my left hand. I laid it aside on the floor.

The eyes still wavered before me, and about them I could make out the dim outline of a face, with the mouth open in an evil, yellow-toothed snarl.

I struck at that face again and again, and I felt myself being beaten severely. I saw the eyes flaming red, menacing, and gradually I saw their flame diminishing, the fire dying out of them. The blows struck out at me became weaker. They finally ceased, the eyes smoldered, and went out. I heard a heavy body fall. I had conquered it—the thing!

The girl! Where was she? I turned and saw her standing behind me. I ran to her, lifted her in my arms and carried her up the ladder, into the rear of a small shop.

The Hindoo curio shop! I knew it. And the proprietor? I did not fear him. I felt, I knew, that he was down below, unconscious as I had knocked him.

I set the girl on her feet and took her hand, and we fled out of the shop into a dripping rain. Her home was only a few blocks away, and she led me in that direction. We hurried to it, meeting no one, arriving there without mishap. Securing my automatic from the foot of the basement steps, I kept guard the remainder of the night while Lenore slept, or tried to do so. In my mind there was no fear, but in my heart was a great happiness.


11.

THE rest is soon told. In the morning we explored the passage, Lenore and I together. We found that a wide passage, evidently of ancient construction, led between the basement rooms of the girl's home to the small room beneath the curio shop. We found that this passage passed directly beneath the famous hot and cold springs. We also found other passages diverging from this one, leading into numerous great caverns. We followed one passage in particular for a great distance until it ended at a small opening on the face of the cliff-wall. This was the very opening I had discovered the day before.

But why go into the particulars of this wonderful subterranean city? You will find a full discussion of the cliff-dwellers of central New Mexico and their marvelous cliff-city in a recent scientific periodical, so that you may satisfy yourself with a full description at any time.

Orientals are not quick to forget or to forgive. When Lenore's father stole the bronze devil from the temple in India he became at once a marked man. Pursuit was immediate and unrelenting. Though the trail was long, it did not end for him until a dagger point had been thrust into his heart. It was probably by accident that the Hindoo stumbled upon the underground passage, and it is doubtful if Brandt ever knew of its existence.

Had I not entered the oriental's shop and broken an image, thereby earning for myself a curse, I should probably never have become implicated in the chain of vengeance. Unable to hypnotize me in the shop on my first visit, the Hindoo sold me a drug which numbed my will, making me respond to his call, obey his will while the effects of the drug lasted. What he intended to have me do, what fate he thought to mete out to me, will never be fully known. He possibly thought to have me slain by the girl, or to have her slain by me. But my mind always struggled, gave defiance to his will.

Had not Brandt sent the bronze image to me, had he left it where the Hindoo could find it, no doubt Lenore would not have been disturbed. But when the image was not to be found, the East Indian first thought the girl had hidden it, and so hypnotized her and tried to force her to lead him to it. But she did not know where it was, and so was unable to lead him. But he persisted long, and in the end was successful.

The eyes? I know that it is unusual for human eyes to glow in the dark, but I have always believed that the Hindoo was more of a wolf than a man anyway. I am sure they were his eyes. Anyway they never bother us now, and it is very seldom that we think of them, Lenore and I. We are too happy in the present to think of the past.


THE grinning bronze devil was never found. When I came to search for it in the basement of the curio shop the next day I could not find it. It was gone, and with it the curious images and the packing-cases, and with them the proprietor. I often think and wonder.

But even as I wonder I know that far away in a small temple in India a grinning bronze devil is clasped in the immense fists of a great savage god. I can imagine the god squeezing the small figure tightly, triumphantly, his eyes gleaming with the triumph of a chase well ended.

And on the platform before the great god, confronting a motley group of worshipers, I seem to see a tall Hindoo in flowing priestly garb, who looks out at his people with reddish-brown eyes, eyes which have a smolder in their depths, which often gleam as with triumph, and which can upon occasion belch forth two seething red tongues of flame.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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