The Slayer of Souls, by Robert W. Chambers

Chapter 17.

The Slayer of Souls

In that great blizzard which, on the 4th of February, struck the eastern coast of the United States from Georgia to Maine, John Recklow and his men hunted Sanang, the last of the Yezidees.

And Sanang clung like a demon to the country which he had doomed to destruction, imbedding each claw again as it was torn loose, battling for the supremacy of evil with all his dreadful psychic power, striving still to seize, cripple, and slay the bodies and souls of a hundred million Americans.

Again he scattered the uncounted myriads of germs of the Black Plague which he and his Yezidees had brought out of Mongolia a year before; and once more the plague swept over the country, and thousands on thousands died.

But now the National, State, and City governments were fighting, with physicians, nurses, and police, this gruesome epidemic which had come into the world from they knew not where. And National, State, and City governments, aroused at last, were fighting the more terrible plague of anarchy.

Nation-wide raids were made from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Gulf to the Lakes. Thousands of terrorists of all shades and stripes whose minds had been seized and poisoned by the Yezidees were being arrested. Deportations had begun; government agents were everywhere swarming to clean out the foulness that had struck deeper into the body of the Republic than any one had supposed.

And it seemed, at last, as though the Red Plague, too, was about to be stamped out along with the Black Death called Influenza.

But only a small group of Secret Service men knew that a resurgence of these horrors was inevitable unless Sanang, the Slayer of Souls, was destroyed. And they knew, too, that only one person in America could hope to destroy Sanang, the last of the Yezidees, and that was Tressa Cleves.

Only by the sudden onset of the plague in various cities of the land had Recklow any clew concerning the whereabouts of Sanang.

In Boston, then Washington, then Kansas City, and then New York the epidemic suddenly blazed up. And in these places of death the Secret Service men always found a clew, and there they hunted Sanang, the Yezidee, to kill him without mercy where they might find him.

But they never found Sanang Noïane; only the ghastly marks of his poisoned claws on the body of the sickened nation — only minds diseased by the Red Plague and bodies dying of the Black Death — civil and social centers disorganized, disrupted, depraved, dying.

When the blizzard burst upon New York, struggling in the throes of the plague, and paralysed the metropolis for a week, John Recklow sent out a special alarm, and New York swarmed with Secret Service men searching the snow-buried city for a graceful, slender, dark young man whose eyes slanted a trifle in his amber-tinted face; who dressed fashionably, lived fastidiously, and spoke English perfectly in a delightfully modulated voice.

And to New York, thrice stricken by anarchy, by plague, and now by God, hurried, from all parts of the nation, thousands of secret agents who had been hunting Sanang in distant cities or who had been raiding the traitorous and secret gatherings of his mental dupes.

Agent ZB-303, who was volunteer agent James Benton, came from Boston with his new bride who had just arrived by way of England — a young girl named Yulun, who landed swathed in sables, and stretched out both lovely little hands to Benton the instant she caught sight of him on the pier. Whereupon he took the slim figure in furs into his arms, which was interesting because they had never before met in the flesh.

So — their honeymoon scarce begun, Benton and Yulun came from Boston in answer to Recklow’s emergency call.

And all the way across from San Francisco came volunteer agent XLY-371, otherwise Alek Selden, bringing with him a girl named Sansa whom he had gone to the coast to meet, and whom he had immediately married after she had landed from the Japanese steamer Nan-yang Maru. Which, also, was remarkable, because, although they recognised each other instantly, and their hands and lips clung as they met, neither had ever before beheld the living body of the other.

The third man who came to New York at Recklow’s summons was volunteer agent 53–6-26, otherwise Victor Cleves.

His young wife, suffering from nervous shock after the deaths of Togrul Khan and of the Baroulass girl, Aoula, had been convalescing in a private sanitarium in Westchester.

Until the summons came to her husband from Recklow, she had seen him only for a few moments every day. But the call to duty seemed to have effected a miraculous cure in the slender, blue-eyed girl who had lain all day long, day after day, in her still, sunny room scarcely unclosing her eyes at all save only when her husband was permitted to enter for the few minutes allowed them every day.

The physician had just left, after admitting that Mrs. Cleves seemed to be well enough to travel if she insisted; and she and her maid had already begun to pack when her husband came into the room.

She looked around over her shoulder, then rose from her knees, flung an armful of clothing into the trunk before which she had been kneeling, and came across the room to him. Then she dismissed her maid from the room. And when the girl had gone:

“I am well, Victor,” she said in a low voice. “Why are you troubled?”

“I can’t bear to have you drawn into this horrible affair once more.”

“Who else is there to discover and overcome Sanang?” she asked calmly.

He remained silent.

So, for a few moments they stood confronting each other there in the still, sunny chamber — husband and wife who had never even exchanged the first kiss — two young creatures more vitally and intimately bound together than any two on earth — yet utterly separated body and soul from each other — two solitary spirits which had never merged; two bodies virginal and inviolate.

Tressa spoke first: “I must go. That was our bargain.”

The word made him wince as though it had been a sudden blow. Then his face flushed red.

“Bargain or no bargain,” he said, “I don’t want you to go because I’m afraid you can not endure another shock like the last one . . . And every time you have thrown your own mind and body between this Nation and destruction you have nearly died of it.”

“And if I die?” she said in a low voice.

What answer she awaited — perhaps hoped for — was not the one he made. He said: “If you die in what you believe to be your line of duty, then it will be I who have killed you.”

“That would not be true. It is you who have saved me.”

“I have not. I have done nothing except to lead you into danger of death since I first met you. If you mean spiritually, that also is untrue. You have saved yourself — if that indeed were necessary. You have redeemed yourself — if it is true you needed redemption — which I never believed —”

“Oh,” she sighed swiftly, “Sanang surprised my soul when it was free of my body — followed my soul into the Wood of the White Moth — caught it there all alone — and — slew it!”

His lips and throat had gone dry as he watched the pallid terror grow in her face.

Presently he recovered his voice: “You call that Yezidee the Slayer of Souls,” he said, “but I tell you there is no such creature, no such power!”

“I suppose I— I know what you mean — having seen what we call souls disassociated from their physical bodies — but that this Yezidee could do you any spiritual damage I do not for one instant believe. The idea is monstrous, I tell you —”

“I— I fought him — soul battling against soul —?” she stammered, breathing faster and irregularly. “I struggled with Sanang there in the Wood of the White Moth. I called on God! I called on my two great dogs, Bars and Alaga! I recited the Fatha with all my strength — fighting convulsively whenever his soul seized mine; I cried out the name of Khidr, begging for wisdom! I called on the Ten Imaums, on Ali the Lion, on the Blessed Companions. Then I tore my spirit out of the grasp of his soul — but there was no escape! — no escape,” she wailed. “For on every side I saw the cloud-topped rampart of Gog and Magog, and the woods rang with Erlik’s laughter — the dissonant mirth of hell —”

She began to shudder and sway a little, then with an effort she controlled herself in a measure.

“There never has been,” she began again with lips that quivered in spite of her —“there never has been one moment in our married lives when my soul dared to forget the Wood of the White Moth — dared seek yours . . . God lives. But so does Erlik. There are angels; but there are as many demons . . . My soul is ashamed . . . And very lonely . . . very lonely . . . but no fit companion — for yours —”

Her hands dropped listlessly beside her and her chin sank.

“So you believe that Yezidee devil caught your soul when it was wandering somewhere out of your body, and destroyed it,” he said.

She did not answer, did not even lift her eyes until he had stepped close to her — closer than he had ever come. Then she looked up at him, but closed her eyes as he swept her into his arms and crushed her face and body against his own.

Now her red lips were on his; now her face and heart and limbs and breast melted into his — her breath, her pulse, her strength flowed into his and became part of their single being and single pulse and breath. And she felt their two souls flame and fuse together, and burn together in one heavenly blaze — felt the swift conflagration mount, overwhelm, and sweep her clean of the last lingering taint; felt her soul, unafraid, clasp her husband’s spirit in its white embrace — clung to him, uplifting out of hell, rising into the blinding light of Paradise.

Far — far away she heard her own voice in singing whispers — heard her lips pronounce The Name —“Ata — Ata! Allahou —”

Her blue eyes unclosed; through a mist, in which she saw her husband’s face, grew a vast metallic clamour in her ears.

Her husband kissed her, long, silently; then, retaining her hand, he turned and lifted up the receiver from the clamouring telephone.

“Yes! Yes, this is 53–6-26. Yes, V-69 is with me . . . When? . . . To-day? . . . Very well . . . Yes, we’ll come at once . . . Yes, we can get a train in a few minutes . . . All right. Good-bye.”

He took his wife into his arms again.

“Dearest of all in the world,” he said, “Sanang is cornered in a row of houses near the East River, and Recklow has flung a cordon around the entire block. Good God! I can’t take you there!”

Then Tressa smiled, drew his head down, looked into his face till the clear blue splendour of her gaze stilled the tumult in his brain.

“I alone know how to deal with Prince Sanang,” she said quietly. “And if John Recklow, or you, or Mr. Benton or Mr. Selden should kill him with your pistols, it would only be his body you slay, not the evil thing that would escape you and return to Erlik.”

“Must you do this thing, Tressa?”

“Yes, I must do it.”

“But — if our pistols cannot kill this sorcerer, how are you going to deal with him?”

“I know how.”

“Have you the strength?”

“Yes — the bodily and the spiritual. Don’t you know that I am already part of you?”

“We shall be nearer still,” he murmured.

She flushed but met his gaze.

“Yes . . . We shall be but one being . . . Utterly . . . For already our hearts and souls are one. And we shall become of one mind and one body.”

“I am no longer afraid of Sanang Noïane!”

“No longer afraid to slay him?” he asked quietly.

A blue light flashed in her eyes and her face grew still and white and terrible.

“Death to the body? That is nothing, my lord!” she said, in a hard, sweet voice. “It is written that we belong to God and that we return to Him. All living things must die, Heart of the World! It is only the death of souls that matters. And it has arrived at a time in the history of mankind, I think, when the Slayer of Souls shall slay no more.”

She looked at him, flushed, withdrew her hand and went slowly across the room to the big bay window where potted flowers were still in bloom.

From a window-box she took a pinch of dry soil and dropped it into the bosom of her gown.

Then, facing the East, with lowered arms and palms turned outward:

“There is no god but God,” she whispered —“the merciful, the long-suffering, the compassionate, the just.

“For it is written that when the heavens are rolled together like a scroll, every soul shall know what it hath wrought.

“And the souls that are dead in Jehannum shall arise from the dead, and shall have their day in court. Nor shall Erlik stay them till all has been said.

“And on that day the soul of a girl that hath been put to death shall ask for what reason it was slain.

“Thus it has been written.”

Then Tressa dropped to her knees, touched the carpet with her forehead, straightened her lithe body and, looking over her shoulder, clapped her hands together sharply.

Her maid opened to door. “Hasten with my lord’s luggage!” she cried happily; and, still kneeling, lifted her head to her husband and laughed up into his eyes.

“You should call the porter for we are nearly ready. Shall we go to the station in a sleigh? Oh, wonderful!”

She leaped to her feet, extended her hand and caught his.

“Horses for the lord of the Yiort!” she cried, laughingly. “Kosh! Take me out into this new white world that has been born to-day of the ten purities and the ten thousand felicities! It has been made anew for you and me who also have been born this day!”

He scarcely knew this sparkling, laughing girl with her quick grace and her thousand swift little moods and gaieties.

Porters came to take his luggage from his own room; and then her trunk and bags were ready, and were taken away.

The baggage sleigh drove off. Their own jingling sleigh followed; and Tressa, buried in furs, looked out upon a dazzling, unblemished world, lying silvery white under a sky as azure as her eyes.

“Keuke Mongol–Heavenly Azure,” he whispered close to her crimsoned cheek, “do you know how I have loved you — always — always?”

“No, I did not know that,” she said.

“Nor I, in the beginning. Yet it happened, also, from the beginning when I first saw you.”

“That is a delicious thing to be told. Within me a most heavenly glow is spreading . . . Unglove your hand.”

She slipped the glove from her own white fingers and felt for his under the furs.

“Aie,” she sighed, “you are more beautiful than Ali; more wonderful than the Flaming Pearl. Out of ice and fire a new world has been made for us.”

“Heavenly Azure — my darling!”

“Oh-h,” she sighed, “your words are sweeter than the breeze of Yian! I shall be a bride to you such as there never has been since the days of the Blessed Companions — may their names be perfumed and sweet-scented! . . . Shall I truly be one with you, my lord?”

“Mind, soul, and body, one being, you and I, little Heavenly Azure.”

“Between your two hands you hold me like a burning rose, my lord.”

“Your sweetness and fire penetrate my soul.”

“We shall burn together then till the sky-carpet be rolled up. Kosh! We shall be one, and on that day I shall not be afraid.”

The sleigh came to a clashing, jingling halt; the train plowed into the depot buried in vast clouds of snowy steam.

But when they had taken the places reserved for them, and the train was moving swifter and more swiftly toward New York, fear suddenly overwhelmed Victor Cleves, and his face grew grey with the menacing tumult of his thoughts.

The girl seemed to comprehend him, too, and her own features became still and serious as she leaned forward in her chair.

“It is in God’s hands, Heart of the World,” she said in a low voice. “We are one, thou and I— or nearly so. Nothing can harm my soul.”

“No . . . But the danger — to your life —”

“I fear no Yezidee.”

“The beast will surely try to kill you. And what can I do? You say my pistol is useless.”

“Yes . . . But I want you near me.”

“Do you imagine I’d leave you for a second? Good God,” he added in a strangled voice, “isn’t there any way I can kill this wild beast? With my naked hands —”

“You must leave him to me, Victor.”

“And you believe you can slay him? Do you?”

She remained silent for a long while, bent forward in her armchair, and her hands clasped tightly on her knees.

“My husband,” she said at last, “what your astronomers have but just begun to suspect is true, and has long, long been known to the Sheiks-el-Djebel.

“For, near to this world we live in, are other worlds — planets that do not reflect light. And there is a dark world called Yrimid, close to the earth — a planet wrapped in darkness — a dark star . . . And upon it Erlik dwells . . . And it is peopled by demons . . . And from it comes sickness and evil —”

She moistened her lips; sat for a while gazing vaguely straight before her.

“From this black planet comes all evil upon earth,” she resumed in a hushed voice. “For it is very near to the earth. It is not a hundred miles away. All strange phenomena for which our scientists can not account are due to this invisible planet. — all new and sudden pestilences; all convulsions of nature; the newly noticed radio disturbances; the new, so-called inter-planetary signals — all — all have their hidden causes within that black and demon-haunted planet long known to the Yezidees, and by them called Yrimid, or Erlik’s World.

“And — it is to this black planet that I shall send Sanang, Slayer of Souls. I shall tear him from this earth, though he cling to it with every claw; and I shall fling his soul into darkness — out across the gulf — drive his soul forth — hurl it toward Erlik like a swift rocket charred and falling from the sky into endless night.

“So shall I strive to deal with Prince Sanang, Sorcerer of Mount Alamout, the last of the Assassins, Sheik-el-Djebel, and Slayer of Souls . . . May God remember him in hell.”

Already their train was rolling into the great terminal.

Recklow was awaiting them. He took Tressa’s hands in his and gazed earnestly into her face.

“Have you come to show us how to conclude this murderous business?” he asked grimly.

“I shall try,” she said calmly. “Where have you cornered Sanang?”

“Could you and Victor come at once?”

“Yes.” She turned and looked at her husband, who had become quite pale.

Recklow saw the look they exchanged. There could be no misunderstanding what had happened to these two. Their tragedy had ended. They were united at last. He understood it instantly — realised how terrible was this new and tragic situation for them both.

Yet, he knew also that the salvation of civilisation itself now depended upon this girl. She must face Sanang. There was nothing else possible.

“The streets are choked with snow,” he said, “but I have a coupé and two strong horses waiting.”

He nodded to one of his men standing near. Cleves gave him the hand luggage and checks.

“All right,” he said in a low voice to Recklow; and passed one arm through Tressa’s.

The coupé was waiting on Forty-second Street, guarded by a policeman. When they entered and were seated, two mounted policemen rode ahead of the lurching vehicle, picking a way amid the monstrous snow-drifts, and headed for the East River.

“We’ve got him somewhere in a wretched row of empty houses not far from East River Park. I’m taking you there. I’ve drawn a cordon of my men around the entire block. He can’t get away. But I dared take no chances with this Yezidee sorcerer — dared not let one of my men go in to look for him — go anywhere near him — until I could lay the situation before you, Mrs. Cleves.”

“Yes,” she said calmly, “it was the only way, Mr. Recklow. There would have been no use shooting him — no use taking him prisoner. A prisoner, he remains as deadly as ever; dead, his mind still lives and breeds evil. You are quite right; it is for me to deal with Sanang.”

Recklow shuddered in spite of himself. “Can you tear his claws from the vitals of the world, and free the sick brains of a million people from the slavery of this monster’s mind?”

The girl said seriously:

“Even Satan was stoned. It is so written. And was cast out. And dwells forever and ever in Abaddon. No star lights that Pit. None lights the Black Planet, Yrimid. It is where evil dwells. And there Sanang Noïane belongs.”

And now, beyond the dirty edges of the snow-smothered city, under an icy mist they caught sight of the river where ships lay blockaded by frozen floes.

Gulls circled over it; ghostly factory chimneys on the further shore loomed up gigantic, ranged like minarets.

The coupé, jolting along behind the mounted policemen, struggled up toward the sidewalk and stopped. The two horses stood steaming, knee deep in snow. Recklow sprang out; Tressa gave him one hand and stepped out lithely to the sidewalk. Then Cleves got out and came and took hold of his wife’s arm again.

“Well,” he said harshly to Recklow, “where is this damned Yezidee hidden?”

Recklow pointed in silence, but he and Tressa had already lifted their gaze to the stark, shabby row of abandoned three-story houses where every dirty blind was closed.

“They’re to be demolished and model tenements built,” he said briefly.

A man muffled in a fur overcoat came up and took Tressa’s hand and kissed it.

She smiled palely at Benton, spoke of Yulun, wished him happiness. While she was yet speaking Selden approached and bent over her gloved hand. She spoke to him very sweetly of Sansa, expressing pleasure at the prospect of seeing her again in the body.

“The Seldens and ourselves have adjoining apartments at the Ritz,” said Benton. “We have reserved a third suite for you and Victor.”

She inclined her lovely head, gravely, then turned to Recklow, saying that she was ready.

“It makes no difference which front door I unlock,” he said. “All these tenements are connected by human rat-holes and hidden runways leading from one house to another . . . How many men do you want?”

“I want you four men — nobody else.”

Recklow led the way up a snow-covered stoop, drew a key from his pocket, fitted it, and pulled open the door.

A musty chill struck their faces as they entered the darkened and empty hallway. Involuntarily every man drew his pistol.

“I must ask you to do exactly what I tell you to do,” she said calmly.

“Certainly,” said Recklow, caressing his white moustache and striving to pierce the gloom with his keen eyes.

Then Tressa took her husband’s hand. “Come,” she said. They mounted the stairway together; and the three others followed with pistols lifted.

There was a vague grey light on the second floor; the broken rear shutters let it in.

As though she seemed to know her way, the girl led them forward, opened a door in the wall, and disclosed a bare, dusty room in the next house.

Through this she stepped; the others crept after her with weapons ready. She opened a second door, turned to the four men.

“Wait here for me. Come only when I call,” she whispered.

“For God’s sake take me with you,” burst out Cleves.

“In God’s name stay where you are till you hear me call your name!” she turned almost breathlessly.

Then, suddenly she turned, swiftly retracing her steps; and they saw her pass through the first door and disappear into the first house they had entered.

A terrible silence fell among them. The sound of her steps on the bare boards had died away. There was not a sound in the chilly dark.

Minute after minute dragged by. One by one the men peered fearfully at Cleves. His visage was ghastly and they could see his pistol-hand trembling.

Twice Recklow looked at his wrist watch. The third time he said, unsteadily: “She has been gone three-quarters of an hour.”

Then, far away, they heard a heavy tread on the stairs. Nearer and nearer came the footsteps. Every pistol was levelled at the first door as a man’s bulky form darkened it.

“It’s one of my men,” said Recklow in a voice like a low groan. “Where on earth is Mrs. Cleves?”

“I came to tell you,” said the agent, “Mrs. Cleves came out of the first house nearly an hour ago. She got into the coupé and told the driver to go to the Ritz.”

“What!” gasped Recklow.

“She’s gone to the Ritz,” repeated the agent. “No one else has come out. And I began to worry — hearing nothing from you, Mr. Recklow. So I stepped in to see —”

“You say that Mrs. Cleves went out of the house we entered, got into the coupé and told the driver to go to the Ritz?” demanded Cleves, astounded.

“Yes, sir.”

“Where is that coupé? Did it return?”

“It had not returned when I came in here.”

“Go back and look for it. Look in the other street,” said Recklow sharply.

The agent hurried away over the creaking boards. The four men gazed at one another.

“The thing to do is to obey her and stay where we are,” said Recklow grimly. “Who know what peril we may cause her if we move from —”

His words froze on his lips as Tressa’s voice rang out from the darkness beyond the door they were guarding:

“Victor! I— I need you! Come to me, my husband!”

As Cleves sprang through the door into the darkness beyond, Benton smashed the window sash with all the force of his shoulder, and, reaching out through the shattered glass, tore the rotting blinds from their hinges, letting in a flood of sickly light.

Against the bare wall stood Tressa, both arms extended, her hands flat against the plaster, and each hand transfixed and pinned to the wall by a knife.

A white sheet lay at her feet. On it rested a third knife. And, bending on one knee to pick it up, they caught a glimpse of a slender young man in fashionable afternoon attire, who, as they entered with the crash of the shattered window in their ears, sprang to his nimble feet and stood confronting them, knife in hand.

Instantly every man fired at him and the bullets whipped the plaster to a smoke behind him, but the slender, dark-skinned young man stood motionless, looking at them out of brilliant eyes that slanted a trifle.

Again the racket of the fusillade swept him and filled the room with plaster dust.

Cleves, frantic with horror, laid hold of the knives that pinned his wife’s hands to the wall, and dragged them out.

But there was no blood, no wound to be seen on her soft palms. She took the murderous-looking blades from him, threw one terrible look at Sanang, kicked the shroud across the floor toward him, and flung both knives upon it.

The place was still dim with plaster dust and pistol fumes as she stepped forward through the acrid mist, motioning the four men aside.

“Sanang!” she cried in a clear voice, “may God remember you in hell, for my feet have spurned your shroud, and your knives, which could not scar my palms, shall never pierce my heart! Look out for yourself, Prince Sanang!”

“Tokhta!” he said, calmly. “My soul is ransom for yours!”

“That is a lie! My soul is already ransomed! My mind is the more powerful. It has already halted yours. It is conquering yours. It is seizing your mind and enslaving it. It is mastering your will, Sanang! Your mind bends before mine. You know it! You know it is bending. You feel it is breaking down!”

Sanang’s eyes began to glitter but his pale brown face had grown almost white.

“I slew you once — in the Wood of the White Moth,” he said huskily. “There is no resurrection from such a death, little Heavenly Azure. Look upon me! My soul and yours are one!”

“You are looking upon my soul,” she said.

“A lie! You are in the body!”

The girl laughed. “My body lies asleep in the Ritz upon my husband’s bed,” she said. “My body is his, my mind belongs to him, my soul is already one with his. Do you not know it, dog of a Yezidee? Look upon me, Sanang Noïane! Look upon my unwounded hands! My shroud lies at your feet. And there lie the knives that could not pierce my heart! I am thrice clean! Listen to my words, Sanang! There is no other god but God!”

The young man’s visage grew pasty and loose and horrible; his lips became flaccid like dewlaps; but out of these sagging folds of livid skin his voice burst whistling, screaming, as though wrenched from his very belly:

“May Erlik strangle you! May you rot where you stand! May your face become a writhing mass of maggots and your body a corruption of living worms!

“For what you are doing to me this day may every demon in hell torment you!

“Have a care what you are about!” he screeched. “You are slaying my mind, you sorceress! You have seized my mind and are crushing it! You are putting out its light, you Yezidee witch! — you are quenching the last spark — of reason — in — me —”

“Sanang!”

His knife fell clattering to the floor. But he stood stock still, his hands clutching his head — stood motionless, while scream on scream tore through the loose and gaping lips, blowing them into ghastly, distorted folds.

“Sanang Noïane!” she cried in her clear voice, “the Eight Towers are darkened! The Rampart of Gog and Magog is fallen! On Mount Alamout nothing is living. The minds of mankind are free again!”

She stepped forward, slowly, and stood near him chanting in a low voice the Prayers of the Dead.

She bent down and unrolled the shroud, laid it on his shoulders and drew it up and across his face, covering his dying eyes, and swathed him so, slowly, from head to foot.

Then she gathered up the three knives, cast them upward into the air. They did not fall again. They disappeared. And all the while, under her breath, the girl was chanting the Prayers for the Dead as she moved silently about her business.

Shrouded to the forehead in its white cerements, the muffled figure of Sanang stood upright, motionless as a swathed and frozen corpse.

Outside, the daylight had become greyer. It had begun to snow again, and a few flakes blew in through the shattered windows and clung to the winding sheet of Sanang.

And now Tressa drew close to the shrouded shape and stood before it, gazing intently upon the outlined features of the last of the Yezidees.

“Sanang,” she said very softly, “I hear your soul bidding your body farewell. Tokhta!”

Then, under the strained gaze of the four men gathered there, the shroud fell to the floor in a loose heap of white folds. There was nobody under it; no trace of Sanang. The human shape of the Yezidee had disappeared; but a greyish mist had filled the room, wavering up like smoke from the shroud, and, like smoke, blowing in a long streamer toward the window where the draught drew it out through the falling snow and scattered the last shred of it against the greying sky.

In the room the mist thinned swiftly; the four men could now see one another. But Tressa was no longer in the room. And in place of the white shroud a piece of filthy tattered carpet lay on the floor. And a dead rat, flattened out, dry and dusty, lay upon it.

“For God’s sake,” whispered Recklow hoarsely, “let us get out of this!”

Cleves, his pistol clutched convulsively, stared at him in terror. But Recklow took him by the arm and drew him away, muttering that Tressa was waiting for him, and might be ill, and that there was nothing further to expect in this ghastly spot.

They went with Cleves to the Ritz. At the desk the clerk said that Mrs. Cleves had the keys and was in her apartment.

The three men entered the corridor with him; watching him try the door; saw him open it; lingered a moment after it had closed; heard the key turn.

At the sound of the door closing the maid came.

“Madame is asleep in her room,” she whispered.

“When did she come in?”

“More than an hour ago, sir. I have drawn her bath, but when I opened the door a few moments ago, Madame was still asleep.”

He nodded; he was trembling when he put off his overcoat and dropped hat and gloves on the carpet.

From the little rose and ivory reception room he could see the closed door of his wife’s chamber. And for a while he stood staring at it.

Then, slowly, he crossed this room, opened the door; entered.

In her bedroom the tinted twilight was like ashes of roses. He went to the bed and looked down at her shadowy face; gazed intently; listened; then, in sudden terror, bent and laid his hand on her heart. It was beating as tranquilly as a child’s; but as she stirred, turned her head, and unclosed her eyes, under his hand her heart leaped like a wild thing caught unawares and the snowy skin glowed with an exquisite and deepening tint as she lifted her arms and clasped them around her husband’s neck, drawing his quivering face against her own.

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:29