Thursday, August 28, 2008


Durham gently raised the trap in the roof of Huang Chow's treasure-house. He was prepared for snares and pitfalls. No sane man, on the evidence which he, Durham, had been compelled to leave behind, would have neglected to fasten the skylight which so obviously afforded a means of entrance into his premises.

Therefore, he was expected to return. The devilish mechanism was set ready to receive him. But the artist within him demanded that he should unmask the mystery with his own hands.

Moreover, he doubted that an official visit, even now, would yield any results. Old Huang Chow was too cunning for that. If he was to learn how the man Cohen had died, he must follow the same path to the bitter end. But there were men on duty round the house, and he believed that he had placed them so secretly as to deceive even this master of cunning with whom he was dealing.

He repeated his exploit, dropping with a dull thud upon the cushioned divan. Then, having lain there listening awhile, he pressed the button of his torch, and, standing up, crept across the room in the direction of the stairway.

Here he paused awhile, listening intently. The image of Lala Huang arose before his mind's eye reproachfully, but he crushed the reproach, and advanced until he stood beside the lacquered coffin.

He remembered where the key was hidden, and, stooping, he fumbled for a while and then found it. He was acutely conscious of an unnameable fear. He felt that he was watched, and yet was unwilling to believe it. The musty and unpleasant smell which he had noticed before became extremely perceptible.

He quietly sought for the hidden lock, and, presently finding it, inserted the key, then paused awhile. He rested his torch upon the cushions of the divan where the light shone directly upon the coffin. Then, having his automatic in his left hand, he turned the key.

He had expected now to be able to raise the lid as he had seen Huang Chow do; but the result was far more surprising.

The lid, together with a second framework of fine netting, flew open with a resounding bang; and from the interior of the coffin uprose a most abominable stench.

Durham started back a step, and as he did so witnessed a sight which turned him sick with horror.

Out on to the edge of the coffin leapt the most gigantic spider which he had ever seen in his life! It had a body as big as a man's fist, jet black, with hairy legs like the legs of a crab and a span of a foot or more!

A moment it poised there, while he swayed, sick with horror. Then, unhesitatingly, it leapt for his face!

He groaned and fired, missed the horror, but diverted its leap, so that it fell with a sickening thud a yard behind him. He turned, staggering back towards the stair, and aware that a light had shone out from somewhere.

A door had been opened only a few yards from where he stood, and there, framed in the opening, was Lala Huang, her eyes wide with terror and her gaze set upon him across the room.

"You!" she whispered. "You!"

"Go back!" he cried hoarsely. "Go back! Close the door. You don't understand--close the door!"

Her gaze set wildly upon him, Lala staggered forward; stopped dead; looked down at her bare ankle, and then, seeing the thing which had fastened upon her, uttered a piercing shriek which rang throughout the place.

At which moment the floor slid away beneath Durham, and he found himself falling--falling--and then battling for life in evil- smelling water, amidst absolute darkness.

Police whistles were skirling around the house of Huang Chow. As the hidden men came running into the court:

"You heard the shot?" cried the sergeant in charge. "I warned him not to go alone. Don't waste time on the door. One man stay on duty there; the rest of you follow me."

In a few moments, led by the sergeant, the party came dropping heavily through the skylight into the treasure-house of Huang Chow, in which every lamp was now alight. A trap was open near the foot of the stairs, and from beneath it muffled cries proceeded. In this direction the sergeant headed. Craning over the trap:

"Hallo, Mr. Durham!" he called. "Mr. Durham!"

"Get a rope and a ladder," came a faint cry from below. "I can just touch bottom with my feet and keep my head above water, but the tide's coming in. Look to the girl, though, first. Look to the girl!"

The sergeant turned to where, stretched upon a tiger skin before a half-open door, Lala Huang lay, scantily clothed and white as death.

Upon one of her bare ankles was a discoloured mark.

As the sergeant and another of the men stooped over her a moaning sound drew their attention to the stair, and there, bent and tottering slowly down, was old Huang Chow, his eyes peering through the owl-like glasses vacantly across the room to where his daughter lay.

"My God!" whispered the sergeant, upon one knee beside her. He looked blankly into the face of the other man. "She's dead!"

Two plain-clothes men were busy knotting together tapestries and pieces of rare stuff with which to draw Durham out of the pit; but at these old Huang Chow looked not at all, but gropingly crossed the room, as if he saw imperfectly, or could not believe what he saw. At last he reached the side of the dead girl, stooped, touched her, laid a trembling yellow hand over her heart, and then stood up again, looking from face to face.

Ignoring the mingled activities about him, he crossed to the open coffin and began to fumble amongst the putrefying mass of bones and webbing which lay therein. Out from this he presently drew an iron coffer.

Carrying it across the room he opened the lid. It was full almost to the top with uncut gems of every variety--diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, topaz, amethysts, flashing greenly, redly, whitely. In handfuls he grasped them and sprinkled them upon the body of the dead girl.

"For you," he crooned brokenly in Chinese. "They were all for you!"

The extemporized rope had just been lowered to Durham, when:

"My God!" cried the sergeant, looking over Huang Chow's shoulder. "What's that?"

He had seen the giant spider, the horror from Surinam, which the Chinaman had reared and fed to guard his treasure and to gratify his lust for the strange and cruel. The insect, like everything else in that house, was unusual, almost unique. It was one of the Black Soldier spiders, by some regarded as a native myth, but actually existing in Surinam and parts of Brazil. A member of the family, Mygale, its sting was more quickly and certainly fatal than that of a rattle-snake. Its instinct was fearlessly to attack any creature, great or small, which disturbed it in its dark hiding-place.

Now, with feverish, horrible rapidity it was racing up the tapestries on the other side of the room.

"Merciful God!" groaned the sergeant.

Snatching a revolver from his pocket he fired shot after shot. The third hit the thing but did not kill it. It dropped back upon the floor and began to crawl toward the coffin. The sergeant ran across and at close quarters shot it again.

Red blood oozed out from the hideous black body and began to form a deep stain upon the carpet.

When Durham, drenched but unhurt, was hauled back into the treasure-house, he did not speak, but, scrambling into the room stood--pallid--staring dully at old Huang Chow.

Huang Chow, upon his knees beside his daughter, was engaged in sprinkling priceless jewels over her still body, and murmuring in Chinese:

"For you, for you, Lala. They were all for you."

No comments: