Part IV. The Lair of the Scorpion
Chapter VI. "Jey Bhowani!"
 

As the door closed upon Chunda Lal, Miska stepped back from it and stood, unconsciously, in a curiously rigid and statuesque attitude, her arms pressed to her sides and her hands directed outward. It was the physical expression of an intense mental effort to gain control of herself. Her heart was leaping wildly in her breast--for the future that had held only horror and a living tomb, now opened out sweetly before her. She had only to ply her native wiles for a few precious moments ... and someone would have her in his arms, to hold her safe from harm! If the will of the awful Chinaman threatened to swamp her individuality, then--there was Chunda Lal!

But because of his helpless, unselfish love, she hesitated even at the price of remaining alone again with Fo-Hi, to demand any further sacrifice of the Hindu. Furthermore--he might fail!

The lacquer door slid noiselessly open and Fo-Hi entered. He paused, watching her.

"Ah," he said, in that low-pitched voice which was so terrifying--"a gaziyeh of Ancient Egypt! How beautiful you are, Miska! You transport me to the court of golden Pharaoh. Miska! daughter of the moon-magic of Isis--Zara el-Khala! At any hour my enemies may be clamoring at my doors. But this hour is mine!"

He moved at his customary slow gait to the table, took up the keys ... and locked both doors!

Miska, perceiving in this her chance of aid from Chunda Lal utterly destroyed, sank slowly upon the diwan, her pale face expressing the utmost consternation. Suppose the police did not come!

Fo-Hi dropped the keys on the table again and approached her. She stood up, retreating before him. He inhaled sibilantly and paused.

"So your 'acceptance' was only a trick," he said. "Your loathing of my presence is as strong as ever. Well!" At the word, as a volcano leaps into life, the hidden fires which burned within this terrible man leapt up consumingly--"if the gift of the flower is withheld, at least I will grasp the Dead Sea Fruit!"

He leapt toward Miska--and she fled shrieking before him. Running around a couch which stood near the centre of the room, she sprang to the door and beat upon it madly.

"Chunda Lal!" she cried--"Chunda Lal!"

Fo-Hi was close upon her, and she turned striving to elude him.

"Oh, merciful God! Chunda Lal!"

The name burst from her lips in a long frenzied scream. Fo-Hi had seized her!

Grasping her shoulders, he twisted her about so that he could look into her eyes. A low, shuddering cry, died away, and her gaze became set, hypnotically, upon Fo-Hi. He raised one hand, fingers outstretched before her. She swayed slightly.

"Forget!" he said in a deep, guttural voice of command--"forget. I will it. We stand in an empty world, you and I; you, Miska, and I, Fo-Hi, your master."

"My master," she whispered mechanically.

"Your lover."

"My lover."

"You give me your life, to do with as I will."

"As you will."

Fo-Hi momentarily raised the blazing eyes.

"Oh, empty shell of a vanished joy!" he cried.

Then, frenziedly grasping Miska by her arms, he glared into her impassive face.

"Your heart leaps wildly in your breast!" he whispered tenderly. "Look into my eyes...."

Miska sighed and opened her eyes yet more widely. She shuddered and a slow smile appeared upon her lips.

The lacquer screen making the window was pushed open and Chunda Lal leapt in over the edge. As Fo-Hi drew the yielding, hypnotised girl towards him, Chunda Lal, a gleaming kukri held aloft, ran with a silent panther step across the floor.

He reached Fo-Hi, drew himself upright; the glittering blade quivered ... and Fo-Hi divined his presence.

Uttering a short, guttural exclamation, he thrust Miska aside. She staggered dazedly and fell prone upon the floor. The quivering blade did not descend.

Fo-Hi drew himself rigidly upright, extending his hands, palms downward, before him. He was exerting a superhuman effort. The breath whistled through his nostrils. Chunda Lal, knife upraised, endeavored to strike; but his arm seemed to have become incapable of movement and to be held, helpless, aloft.

Staring at the rigid figure before him, he began to pant like a man engaged in a wrestle for life.

Fo-Hi stretched his right arm outward, and with a gesture of hand and fingers beckoned to Chunda Lal to come before him.

And now, Miska, awakening as from a fevered dream, looked wildly about her, and then, serpentine, began to creep to the table upon which the keys were lying. Always watching the awful group of two, she rose slowly, snatched the keys and leapt across to the open window....

Chunda Lal, swollen veins standing out cord-like on his brow, his gaze set hypnotically upon the moving hand, dropped his knife and began to move in obedience to the will of Fo-Hi.

As he came finally face to face with the terrible Adept of Rache Churan, Miska disappeared into the shadow of the balcony. Fo-Hi by an imperious gesture commanded Chunda Lal to kneel and bow his head. The Hindu, gasping, obeyed.

Thereupon Fo-Hi momentarily relaxed his giant concentration and almost staggered as he glared down at the kneeling man. But never was that dreadful gaze removed from Chunda Lal. And now the veiled man drew himself rigidly upright again and stepped backward until the fallen kukri lay at his feet. He spoke, "Chunda Lal!"

The Hindu rose, gazing before him with unseeing eyes. His forehead was wet with perspiration.

Fo-Hi pointed to the knife.

Chunda Lal, without removing his sightless gaze from the veiled face, stooped, groped until he found the knife and rose with it in his hand.

Back stepped Fo-Hi, and back, until he could touch the big table. He moved a brass switch--and a trap opened in the floor behind Chunda Lal. Fo-Hi raised his right hand, having the fingers tightly closed as if grasping the hilt of a knife. With his left hand he pointed to the trap. Again he spoke.

"Tum samauhe ho?"

Mechanically Chunda La replied:

"Ah, Sahib, tumhara huken jaldi: kiya' jaega'" (Yes, I hear and obey.)

As Fo-Hi raised his clenched right hand, so did Chunda Lal raise the kukri. Fo-Hi extended his left hand rigidly towards the Hindu and seemed to force him, step by step, back towards the open trap. Almost at the brink, Chunda Lal paused, swayed, and began to utter short, agonised cries. Froth appeared upon his lips.

Raising his right hand yet further aloft, Fo-Hi swiftly brought it down, performing the gesture of stabbing himself to the heart. His ghastly reserve deserted him.

"Jey Bhowana!" he screamed--"Yah Allah!"

Chunda Lal, uttering a loud groan, stabbed himself and fell backward into the opening. Ensued a monstrous crash of broken glass.

As he fell, Fo-Hi leapt to the brink of the trap, glaring down madly into the cellar below. His yellow fingers opened and closed spasmodically.

"Lie there," he shrieked--"my 'faithful' servant! The ants shall pick your bones!"

He grasped the upstanding door of the trap and closed it. It descended with a reverberating boom. Fo-Hi raised his clenched fists and stepped to the door. Finding it locked, he stood looking toward the open screen before the window.

"Miska!" he whispered despairingly.

He crossed to the window and was about to look out, when a high-pitched electric bell began to ring in the room.

Instantly Fo-Hi closed the screen and turned, looking in the direction from whence the sound of ringing proceeded. As he did so, a second bell, in another key, began to ring--a third--a fourth.

Momentarily the veiled man exhibited evidence of indecision. Then, from beneath his robe he took a small key. Approaching an ornate cabinet set against the wall to the left of one of the lacquer doors, he inserted the key in a hidden lock, and slid the entire cabinet partly aside revealing an opening.

Fo-Hi bent, peering down into the darkness of the passage below. A muffled report came, a flash out of the blackness of the river tunnel, and a bullet passed through the end of the cabinet upon which his hand was resting, smashing an ivory statuette and shattering the glass.

Hurriedly he slid the cabinet into place again and stood with his back to it, arms outstretched.

"Miska!" he said--and a note of yet deeper despair had crept into the harsh voice.

Awhile he stood thus; then he drew himself up with dignity. The bells had ceased.

Methodically Fo-Hi began to take certain books from the shelves and to cast them into the great metal bowl which stood upon the tripod. Into the bowl he poured the contents of a large glass jar. Flames and clouds of smoke arose. He paused, listening.

Confused voices were audible, seemingly from all around him, together with a sound of vague movements.

Fo-Hi took up vials and jars and dashed them to pieces upon the tiled hearth in which the furnace rested. Test-tubes, flasks and retorts he shattered, and finally, raising the large glass case of orchids he dashed it down amid the debris of the other nameless and priceless monstrosities unknown to Western science.