The Golden ScorpionSax Rohmer / Mystery & Detective
E-text prepared by Lisa Miller
THE GOLDEN SCORPION
THE COWLED MAN
I The Shadow of a Cowl II The Pilbroch of the M'Gregors III The Scorpion's Tail IV Mademoiselle Dorian V The Sealed Envelope VI The Assistant Commissioner VII Contents of the Sealed Envelope VIII The Assistant Commissioner's Theory IX The Chinese Coin X Close Your Shutters at Night XI The Blue Ray
STATEMENT OF M. GASTON MAX
I. THE DANCER OF MONTMARTRE
I Zara el-Khala II Concerning the Grand Duke III A Strange Question IV The Fight in the Cafe
II. LE BALAFRE
I I Become Charles Malet II Baiting the Trap III Disappearance of Charles Malet IV I Meet an Old Acquaintance V Conclusion of Statement
AT THE HOUSE OF AH-FANG-FU
I The Brain Thieves II The Red Circle III Miska's Story IV Miska's Story (concluded) V The Heart of Chunda Lal VI The Man with the Scar VII In the Opium Den VIII The Green-Eyed Joss
THE LAIR OF THE SCORPION
I The Sublime Order II The Living Death III The Fifth Secret of Rache Churan IV The Guile of the East V What Happened to Stuart VI Jey Bhowani! VII The Way of the Scorpion
THE COWLED MAN
THE SHADOW OF A COWL
Keppel Stuart, M.D., F. R. S., awoke with a start and discoveredhimself to be bathed in cold perspiration. The moonlight shone in athis window, but did not touch the bed, therefore his awakening couldnot be due to this cause. He lay for some time listening for anyunfamiliar noise which might account for the sudden disturbance ofhis usually sound slumbers. In the house below nothing stirred. Hiswindows were widely open and he could detect that vague drummingwhich is characteristic of midnight London; sometimes, too, theclashing of buffers upon some siding of the Brighton railway whereshunting was in progress and occasional siren notes from the Thames.Otherwise--nothing.
He glanced at the luminous disk of his watch. The hour was half-pasttwo. Dawn was not far off. The night seemed to have become almostintolerably hot, and to this heat Stuart felt disposed to ascribeboth his awakening and also a feeling of uncomfortable tension ofwhich he now became aware. He continued to listen, and, listeningand hearing nothing, recognized with anger that he was frightened.A sense of some presence oppressed him. Someone or something evilwas near him--perhaps in the room, veiled by the shadows. Thisuncanny sensation grew more and more marked.
Stuart sat up in bed, slowly and cautiously, looking all about him.He remembered to have awakened once thus in India--and to have founda great cobra coiled at his feet. His inspection revealed thepresence of nothing unfamiliar, and he stepped out on to the floor.
A faint clicking sound reached his ears. He stood quite still. Theclicking was repeated.
There is someone downstairs in my study! muttered Stuart.
He became aware that the fear which held him was such that unless heacted and acted swiftly he should become incapable of action, but heremembered that whereas the moonlight poured into the bedroom, thestaircase would be in complete darkness. He walked barefooted acrossto the dressing-table and took up an electric torch which lay there.He had not used it for some time, and he pressed the button to learnif the torch was charged. A beam of white light shone out across theroom, and at the same instant came another sound.
If it came from below or above, from the adjoining room or from
Outside in the road, Stuart knew not. But following hard upon themysterious disturbance which had aroused him it seemed to pour iceinto his veins, it added the complementary touch to his panic. Forit was a kind of low wail--a ghostly minor wail in fallingcadences--unlike any sound he had heard. It was so excessivelyhorrible that it produced a curious effect.
Discovering from the dancing of the torch-ray that his hand wastrembling, Stuart concluded that he had awakened from a nightmareand that this fiendish wailing was no more than an unusually delayedaftermath of the imaginary horrors which had bathed him in coldperspiration.
He walked resolutely to the door, threw it open and cast the beam oflight on to the staircase. Softly he began to descend. Before thestudy door he paused. There was no sound. He threw open the door,directing the torch-ray into the room.
Cutting a white lane through the blackness, it shone fully upon hiswriting-table, which was a rather fine Jacobean piece having a sortof quaint bureau superstructure containing cabinets and drawers. Hecould detect nothing unusual in the appearance of the littered table.A tobacco jar stood there, a pipe resting in the lid. Papers andbooks were scattered untidily as he had left them, surrounding a trayfull of pipe and cigarette ash. Then, suddenly, he saw something else.
One of the bureau drawers was half opened.
Stuart stood quite still, staring at the table. There was no sound inthe room. He crossed slowly, moving the light from right to left. Hispapers had been overhauled methodically. The drawers had beenreplaced, but he felt assured that all had been examined. The lightswitch was immediately beside the outer door, and Stuart walkedover to it and switched on both lamps. Turning, he surveyed thebrilliantly illuminated room. Save for himself, it was empty. Helooked out into the hallway again. There was no one there. No soundbroke the stillness. But that consciousness of some near presenceasserted itself persistently and uncannily.
My nerves are out of order! he muttered. No one has touched mypapers. I must have left the drawer open myself.
He switched off the light and walked across to the door. He hadactually passed out intending to return to his room, when he becameaware of a slight draught. He stopped.
Someone or something, evil and watchful, seemed to be very near again.Stuart turned and found himself gazing fearfully in the direction ofthe open study door. He became persuaded anew that someone was hidingthere, and snatching up an ash stick which lay upon a chair in thehall he returned to the door. One step into the room he took andpaused--palsied with a sudden fear which exceeded anything he hadknown.
A white casement curtain was drawn across the French windows ... andoutlined upon this moon-bright screen he saw a tall figure. It wasthat of a _cowled man_!
Such an apparition would have been sufficiently alarming had the cowlbeen that of a monk, but the outline of this phantom being suggestedthat of one of the Misericordia brethren or the costume worn of oldby the familiars of the Inquisition!
His heart leapt wildly, and seemed to grow still. He sought to cry outin his terror, but only emitted a dry gasping sound.
The psychology of panic is obscure and has been but imperfectlyexplored. The presence of the terrible cowled figure afforded aconfirmation of Stuart's theory that he was the victim of a speciesof waking nightmare.
Even as he looked, the shadow of the cowled man moved--and was gone.
Stuart ran across the room, jerked open the curtains and stared outacross the moon-bathed lawn, its prospect terminated by high privethedges. One of the French windows was wide open. There was no one onthe lawn; there was no sound.
Mrs. M'Gregor swears that I always forget to shut these windows atnight! he muttered.
He closed and bolted the window, stood for a moment looking out acrossthe empty lawn, then turned and went out of the room.