Part IV. The Lair of the Scorpion
Chapter IV. The Guile of the East
 

Her beautiful face a mask of anguish, Miska cowered upon the diwan, watching the closed doors. Fo-Hi stood in the centre of the great room with his back to the entrance. Silently one of the lacquered panels slid open and Chunda Lal entered. He saluted the figure of the veiled Chinaman but never once glanced in the direction of the diwan from which Miska wildly was watching him.

Without turning his head, Fo-Hi, who seemed to detect the presence of the silent Hindu by means of some fifth sense, pointed to a bundle of long rods stacked in a corner of the room.

His brown face expressionless as that of a bronze statue, Chunda Lal crossed and took the rods from their place.

"Tum samajhte ho?" (Do you understand?) said Fo-Hi. Chunda Lal inclined his head.

"Main tumhari bat manunga" (Your orders shall be obeyed), he replied.

"Ah, God! no!" whispered Miska--"what are you going to do?"

"Your Hindustani was ever poor, Miska," said Fo-Hi.

He turned to Chunda Lal.

"Until you hear the gong," he said in English.

Miska leapt to her feet, as Chunda Lal, never once glancing at her, went out bearing the rods, and closed the door behind him. Fo-Hi turned and confronted her.

"Ta'ala hina (come hither), Miska!" he said softly. "Shall I speak to you in the soft Arab tongue? Come to me, lovely Miska. Let me feel how that sorrowful heart will leap like a captive gazelle."

But Miska shrank back from him, pale to the lips.

"Very well." His metallic voice sank to a hiss. "I employ no force. You shall yield to me your heart as a love offering. Of such motives as jealousy and revenge you know me incapable. What I do, I do with a purpose. That compassion of yours shall be a lever to cast you into my arms. Your hatred you shall conquer."

"Oh, have you no mercy? Is there nothing human in your heart? Did I say I hate you!"

"Your eyes are eloquent, Miska. I cherish two memories of those beautiful eyes. One is of their fear and loathing--of me; the other is of their sweet softness when they watched the departure of my guest. Listen! Do you hear nothing?"

In an attitude of alert and fearful attention Miska stood listening. Fo-Hi watched her through the veil with those remorseless blazing eyes.

"I will open the door," he said smoothly, "that we may more fully enjoy the protests of one for whom you 'care nothing'--of one whose lips have pressed--your hand."

He opened the door by which Chunda Lal had gone out and turned again to Miska. Her eyes looked unnaturally dark by contrast with the pallor of her face.

Chunda Lal had betrayed her. She no longer doubted it. For he had not dared to meet her glance. His fear of Fo-Hi had overcome his love for her ... and Stuart had been treacherously seized somewhere in the corridors and rendered helpless by the awful art of the thug.

"There is a brief interval," hissed the evil voice. "Chunda Lal is securing him to the frame and baring the soles of his feet for the caresses of the rod."

Suddenly, from somewhere outside the room, came the sound of dull, regular blows ... then, a smothered moan!

Miska sprang forward and threw herself upon her knees before Fo-Hi, clutching at his robe frantically.

"Ah! merciful God! he is there! Spare him! spare him! No more--no more!"

"He is there?" repeated Fo-Hi suavely. "Assuredly he is there, Miska. I know not by what trick he hoped to 'deal with' Chunda Lal. But, as I informed you, Chunda Lal was forewarned."

The sound of blows continued, followed by that of another, louder groan.

"Stop him! Stop him!" shrieked Miska.

"You 'care nothing' for this man. Why do you tremble?"

"Oh!" she wailed piteously. "I cannot bear it ... oh, I cannot bear it! Do what you like with me, but spare him. Ah! you have no mercy."

Fo-Hi handed her the hammer for striking the gong.

"It is you who have no mercy," he replied. "I have asked but one gift. The sound of the gong will end Dr. Stuart's discomfort ... and will mean that you voluntarily accept my offer. What! you hesitate?" A stifled scream rang out sharply.

"Ah, yes! yes!"

Miska ran and struck the gong, then staggered back to the diwan and fell upon it, hiding her face in her hands. The sounds of torture ceased.

Fo-Hi closed the door and stood looking at her where she lay.

"I permit you some moments of reflection," he said, "in order that you may compose yourself to receive the addresses which I shall presently have the honour, and joy, of making to you. Yes--this door is unlocked." He threw the keys on the table. "I respect your promise ... and Chunda Lal guards the outer exits."

He opened the further door, by which he had entered, and went out.

Miska, through the fingers of her shielding hands, watched him go.

When he had disappeared she sprang up, clenching her teeth, and her face was contorted with anguish. She began to move aimlessly about the room, glancing at the many strange objects on the big table and fearfully at the canopied chair beside which hung the bronze bell. Finally:

"Oh, Chunda Lal! Chunda Lal!" she moaned, and threw herself face downward on the diwan, sobbing wildly.

So she lay, her whole body quivering with the frenzy of her emotions, and as she lay there, inch by inch, cautiously, the nearer door began to open. Chunda Lal looked in.

Finding the room to be occupied only by Miska, he crossed rapidly to the diwan, bending over her with infinite pity and tenderness.

"Miska!" he whispered softly.

As though an adder had touched her, Miska sprang to her feet--and back from the Hindu. Her eyes flashed fiercely.

"Ah! you! you!" she cried at him, with a repressed savagery that spoke of the Oriental blood in her veins. "Do not speak to me--look at me! Do not come near me! I hate you! God! how I hate you!"

"Miska! Miska!" he said beseechingly--"you pierce my heart! you kill me! Can you not understand----"

"Go! go!"

She drew back from him, clenching and unclenching her jewelled fingers and glaring madly into his eyes.

"Look, Miska!" He took the gold chain and amulet from his bosom. "Your token! Can you not understand! Yah Allah! how little you trust me-- and I would die for one glance of your eyes!

"He--Stuart Sahib--has gone, gone long since!"

"Ah! Chunda Lal!"

Miska swayed dizzily and extended her hands towards him. Chunda Lal glanced fearfully about him.

"Did I not," he whispered, with an intense ardour in his soft voice,-- "did I not lay my life, my service, all I have, at your feet? Did I not vow to serve you in the name of Bhowani! He is long since gone to bring his friends--who are searching from house to house along the river. At any moment they may be here!"

Miska dropped weakly upon her knees before him and clasped his hand.

"Chunda Lal, my friend! Oh, forgive me!" Her voice broke. "Forgive ..."

Chunda Lal raised her gently.

"Not upon your knees to me, Miska. It was a little thing to do--for you. Did I not tell you that he had cast his eyes upon you? Mine was the voice you heard to cry out. Ah! you do not know; it is to gain time that I seem to serve him! Only this, Miska"--he revealed the blade of a concealed knife--"stand between Fo-Hi and--you! Had I not read it in his eyes!"

He raised his glance upward frantically.

"Jey Bhowani! give me strength, give me courage! For if I fail ..."

He glared at her passionately, clutching his bosom; then, pressing the necklet to his lips, he concealed it again, and bent, whispering urgently:

"Listen again--I reveal it to you without price or hope of reward, for I know there is no love in your heart to give, Miska; I know that it takes you out of my sight for always. But I tell you what I learn in the house of Abdul Rozan. Your life is your own, Miska! With the needle"--yet closer he bent to her ear and even softer he spoke--"he pricks your white skin--no more! The vial he sends contains a harmless cordial!"

"Chunda Lal!"

Miska swayed again dizzily, clutching at the Hindu for support.

"Quick! fly!" he said, leading her to the door. "I will see he does not pursue!"

"No, no! you shall shed no blood for me! Not even his. You come also!"

"And if he escape, and know that I was false to him, he will call me back, and I shall be dragged to those yellow eyes, though I am a thousand miles away! Inshalla! those eyes! No--I must strike swift, or he robs me of my strength."

For a long moment Miska hesitated.

"Then, I also remain, Chunda Lal, my friend! We will wait--and watch -and listen for the bells--here--that tell they are in the grounds of the house."

"Ah, Miska!" the glance of the Hindu grew fearful--"you are clever--but he is the Evil One! I fear for you. Fly now. There is yet time ..."

A faint sound attracted Miska's attention. Placing a quivering finger to her lips, she gently thrust Chunda Lal out into the corridor.

"He returns!" she whispered: "If I call--come to me, my friend. But we have not long to wait!"

She closed the door.