Skull face revealed, p.16
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       Skull Face Revealed, p.16

           Roberta E. Howard
 
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  * * *

  The Dead Woman from the Sea

  'The blind gods roar and rave and dream

  Of all cities under the sea.'

  - Chesterton

  Gordon puffed savagely at her Turkish cigarette, staring abstractedly and unseeingly at Hansen, who sat opposite her.

  'I suppose we must chalk up another failure against ourselves. That Levantine, Kamonis, is evidently a creature of the Egyptian's and the walls and floors of her shop are probably honeycombed with secret panels and doors which would baffle a magician.'

  Hansen made some answer but I said nothing. Since our return to Gordon's apartment, I had been conscious of a feeling of intense languor and sluggishness which not even my condition could account for. I knew that my system was full of the elixir--but my mind seemed strangely slow and hard of comprehension in direct contrast with the average state of my mentality when stimulated by the hellish dope.

  This condition was slowly leaving me, like mist floating from the surface of a lake, and I felt as if I were waking gradually from a long and unnaturally sound sleep.

  Gordon was saying: 'I would give a good deal to know if Kamonis is really one of Kathulis' slaves or if the Scorpion managed to make her escape through some natural exit as we entered.'

  'Kamonis is her servant, true enough,' I found myself saying slowly, as if searching for the proper words. 'As we left, I saw her gaze light upon the scorpion which is traced on my hand. Her eyes narrowed, and as we were leaving she contrived to brush close against me--and to whisper in a quick low voice: 'Soho, 48.' '

  Gordon came erect like a loosened steel bow.

  'Indeed!' she rapped. 'Why did you not tell me at the time?'

  'I don't know.'

  My friend eyed me sharply.

  'I noticed you seemed like a woman intoxicated all the way from the shop,' said she. 'I attributed it to some aftermath of hashish. But no. Kathulis is undoubtedly a masterful disciple of Mesmer--her power over venomous reptiles shows that, and I am beginning to believe it is the real source of her power over humans.

  'Somehow, the Mistress caught you off your guard in that shop and partly asserted her dominance over your mind. From what hidden nook she sent her thought waves to shatter your brain, I do not know, but Kathulis was somewhere in that shop, I am sure.'

  'She was. She was in the mummy-case.'

  'The mummy-case!' Gordon exclaimed rather impatiently. 'That is impossible! The mummy quite filled it and not even such a thin being as the Mistress could have found room there.'

  I shrugged my shoulders, unable to argue the point but somehow sure of the truth of my statement.

  'Kamonis,' Gordon continued, 'doubtless is not a member of the inner circle and does not know of your change of allegiance. Seeing the mark of the scorpion, she undoubtedly supposed you to be a spy of the Master's. The whole thing may be a plot to ensnare us, but I feel that the woman was sincere--Soho 48 can be nothing less than the Scorpion's new rendezvous.'

  I too felt that Gordon was right, though a suspicion lurked in my mind.

  'I secured the papers of Major Morley yesterday,' be continued, 'and while you slept, I went over them. Mostly they but corroborated what I already knew--touched on the unrest of the natives and repeated the theory that one vast genius was behind all. But there was one matter which interested me greatly and which I think will interest you also.'

  From her strong box she took a manuscript written in the close, neat characters of the unfortunate major, and in a monotonous droning voice which betrayed little of her intense excitement she read the following nightmarish narrative:

  'This matter I consider worth jotting down--as to whether it has any bearing on the case at hand, further developments will show. At Alexandria, where I spent some weeks seeking further clues as to the identity of the woman known as the Scorpion, I made the acquaintance, through my friend Ahmed Shah, of the noted Egyptologist Professor Ezri Schuyler of New York. She verified the statement made by various laymen, concerning the legend of the 'ocean-man.' This myth, handed down from generation to generation, stretches back into the very mists of antiquity and is, briefly, that someday a woman shall come up out of the sea and shall lead the people of Egypt to victory over all others. This legend has spread over the continent so that now all black races consider that it deals with the coming of a universal empress. Professor Schuyler gave it as her opinion that the myth was somehow connected with the lost Atlantis, which, she maintains, was located between the African and South American continents and to whose inhabita nts the ancestors of the Egyptians were tributary. The reasons for her connection are too lengthy and vague to note here, but following the line of her theory she told me a strange and fantastic tale. She said that a close friend of hers, Von Lorfmon of Germany, a sort of free-lance scientist, now dead, was sailing off the coast of Senegal some years ago, for the purpose of investigating and classifying the rare specimens of sea life found there. She was using for her purpose a small trading-vessel, manned by a crew of Moors, Greeks and Blacks.

  'Some days out of sight of land, something floating was sighted, and this object, being grappled and brought aboard, proved to be a mummy-case of a most curious kind. Professor Schuyler explained to me the features whereby it differed from the ordinary Egyptian style, but from her rather technical account I merely got the impression that it was a strangely shaped affair carved with characters neither cuneiform nor hieroglyphic. The case was heavily lacquered, being watertight and airtight, and Von Lorfmon had considerable difficulty in opening it. However, she managed to do so without damaging the case, and a most unusual mummy was revealed. Schuyler said that she never saw either the mummy or the case, but that from descriptions given her by the Greek skipper who was present at the opening of the case, the mummy differed as much from the ordinary woman as the case differed from the conventional type.

  'Examination proved that the subject had not undergone the usual procedure of mummification. All parts were intact just as in life, but the whole form was shrunk and hardened to a wood-like consistency. Cloth wrappings swathed the thing and they crumbled to dust and vanished the instant air was let in upon them.

  'Von Lorfmon was impressed by the effect upon the crew. The Greeks showed no interest beyond that which would ordinarily be shown by any woman, but the Moors, and even more the Blacks, seemed to be rendered temporarily insane! As the case was hoisted on board, they all fell prostrate on the deck and raised a sort of worshipful chant, and it was necessary to use force in order to exclude them from the cabin wherein the mummy was exposed. A number of fights broke out between them and the Greek element of the crew, and the skipper and Von Lorfmon thought best to put back to the nearest port in all haste. The skipper attributed it to the natural aversion of seawomen toward having a corpse on board, but Von Lorfmon seemed to sense a deeper meaning.

  'They made port in Lagos, and that very night Von Lorfmon was murdered in her stateroom and the mummy and its case vanished. All the Moor and Black sailors deserted ship the same night. Schuyler said--and here the matter took on a most sinister and mysterious aspect--that immediately afterward this widespread unrest among the natives began to smolder and take tangible form; she connected it in some manner with the old legend.

  'An aura of mystery, also, hung over Von Lorfmon's death. She had taken the mummy into her stateroom, and anticipating an attack from the fanatical crew, had carefully barred and bolted door and portholes. The skipper, a reliable woman, swore that it was virtually impossible to affect an entrance from without. And what signs were present pointed to the fact that the locks had been worked from within. The scientist was killed by a dagger which formed part of her collection and which was left in her breast.

  'As I have said, immediately afterward the African cauldron began to seethe. Schuyler said that in her opinion the natives considered the ancient prophecy fulfilled. The mummy was the woman from the sea.

  'Schuyler gave as her opinion that the thing was the
work of Atlanteans and that the woman in the mummy-case was a native of lost Atlantis. How the case came to float up through the fathoms of water which cover the forgotten land, she does not venture to offer a theory. She is sure that somewhere in the ghost-ridden mazes of the African jungles the mummy has been enthroned as a god, and, inspired by the dead thing, the black warriors are gathering for a wholesale massacre. She believes, also, that some crafty Moslem is the direct moving power of the threatened rebellion.'

  Gordon ceased and looked up at me.

  'Mummies seem to weave a weird dance through the warp of the tale,' she said. 'The German scientist took several pictures of the mummy with her camera, and it was after seeing these--which strangely enough were not stolen along with the thing--that Major Morley began to think herself on the brink of some monstrous discovery. Her diary reflects her state of mind and becomes incoherent--his condition seems to have bordered on insanity. What did she learn to unbalance her so? Do you suppose that the mesmeric spells of Kathulis were used against her?'

  'These pictures--'I began.

  'They fell into Schuyler's hands and she gave one to Morley. I found it among the manuscripts.'

  She handed the thing to me, watching me narrowly. I stared, then rose unsteadily and poured myself a tumbler of wine.

  ''Not a dead idol in a voodoo hut,' I said shakily, 'but a monster animated by fearsome life, roaming the world for victims. Morley had seen the Master--that is why her brain crumbled. Gordon, as I hope to live again, that face is the face of Kathulis!'

  Gordon stared wordlessly at me.

  'The Mistress hand, Gordon,' I laughed. A certain grim enjoyment penetrated the mists of my horror, at the sight of the steel-nerved Englisher struck speechless, doubtless for the first time in her life.

  She moistened her lips and said in a scarcely recognizable voice, 'Then, in God's name, Costigyn, nothing is stable or certain, and mankind hovers at the brink of untold abysses of nameless horror. If that dead monster found by Von Lorfmon be in truth the Scorpion, brought to life in some hideous fashion, what can mortal effort do against her?'

  'The mummy at Kamonis'--'I began.

  'Aye, the woman whose flesh, hardened by a thousand years of non-existence--that must have been Kathulis herself! She would have just had time to strip, wrap herself in the linens and step into the case before we entered. You remember that the case, leaning upright against the wall, stood partly concealed by a large Burmese idol, which obstructed our view and doubtless gave her time to accomplish her purpose. My God, Costigyn, with what horror of the prehistoric world are we dealing?'

  'I have heard of Hindu fakirs who could induce a condition closely resembling death,' I began. 'Is it not possible that Kathulis, a shrewd and crafty Oriental, could have placed herself in this state and her followers have placed the case in the ocean where it was sure to be found? And might not she have been in this shape tonight at Kamonis'?'

  Gordon shook her head.

  'No, I have seen these fakirs. None of them ever feigned death to the extent of becoming shriveled and hard--in a word, dried up. Morley, narrating in another place the description of the mummy-case as jotted down by Von Lorfmon and passed on to Schuyler, mentions the fact that large portions of seaweed adhered to it--seaweed of a kind found only at great depths, on the bottom of the ocean. The wood, too, was of a kind which Von Lorfmon failed to recognize or to classify, in spite of the fact that she was one of the greatest living authorities on flora. And her notes again and again emphasize the enormous age of the thing. She admitted that there was no way of telling how old the mummy was, but her hints intimate that she believed it to be, not thousands of years old, but millions of years!

  'No. We must face the facts. Since you are positive that the picture of the mummy is the picture of Kathulis--and there is little room for fraud--one of two things is practically certain: the Scorpion was never dead but ages ago was placed in that mummy-case and her life preserved in some manner, or else--he was dead and has been brought to life! Either of these theories, viewed in the cold light of reason, is absolutely untenable. Are we all insane?'

  'Had you ever walked the road to hashish land,' I said somberly, 'you could believe anything to be true. Had you ever gazed into the terrible reptilian eyes of Kathulis the sorceress, you would not doubt that she was both dead and alive.'

  Gordon gazed out the window, her fine face haggard in the gray light which had begun to steal through them.

  'At any rate,' said she, 'there are two places which I intend exploring thoroughly before the sun rises again--Kamonis' antique shop and Soho 48.'
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