The Slayer of Souls

Robert W. Chambers



When the young man named Sanang left the bed-chamber of Tressa Norne he turned to the right in the carpeted corridor outside and hurried toward the hotel elevator.  But he did not ring for the lift; instead he took the spiral iron stairway which circled it, and mounted hastily to the floor above.
          Here was his own apartment and he entered it with a key bearing the hotel tag.  A dusky-skinned powerful old man wearing a grizzled beard and a greasy broadcloth coat of old-fashioned cut known to provincials as a "Prince Albert" looked up from where he was seated cross-legged upon the sofa, sharpening a curved knife on a whetstone.
          "Gutchlug," stammered Sanang, "I am afraid of her!  What happened two years ago at the temple happened again a moment since, there in her very bedroom!  She made a yellow death-adder out of nothing and placed it upon the threshold, and mocked me with laughter.  May Thirty Thousand Calamities overtake her!  May Erlik seize her!  May her eyes rot out and her limbs fester!  May the seven score and three principal devils---?"
          "You chatter like a temple ape," said Gutchlug tranquilly.  "Does Keuke Mongol die or live?  That alone interests me."
          "Gutchlug," faltered the young man, "thou knowest that m-my heart is inclined to mercy toward this young Yezidee---?"
          "I know that it is inclined to lust," said the other bluntly.
          Sanang's pale face flamed.
          "Listen," he said.  "If I had not loved her better than life had I dared go that day to the temple to take her for my own?"
          "You love life better," said Gutchlug.  "You fled when it rained snakes on the temple steps--you and your Tchortcha horsemen!  Kai!  I also ran.  But I gave every soldier thirty blows with a stick before I slept that night.  And you should have had your thirty, also, conforming to the Yarlig, my Tougtchi."
          Sanang, still holding his hat and cane and carrying his overcoat over his left arm, looked down at the heavy, brutal features of Gutchlug Khan--at the cruel mouth with its crooked smile under the grizzled beard; at the huge hands--the powerful hands of a murderer--now deftly honing to a razor-edge the Kalmuck knife held so firmly yet lightly in his great blunt fingers. 
         "Listen attentively, Prince Sanang," growled Gutchlug, pausing in his monotonous task to test the blade's edge on his thumb--"Does the Yezidee Keuke Mongol live?  Yes or no?"
          Sanang hesitated, moistened his pallid lips.  "She dares not betray us."
          "By what pledge?"
          "That is no pledge.  You also were afraid, yet you went to the temple!"
          "She has listened to the Yarlig.  She has looked upon her shroud.  She has admitted that she desires to live.  Therein lies her pledge to us."
          "And she placed a yellow snake at your feet!" sneered Gutchlug.  "Prince Sanang, tell me, what man or what devil in all the chronicles of the past has ever tamed a Snow-Leopard?"  And he continued to hone his
          "No, she dies," said the other tranquilly.
          "Not yet!"
          "When, then?"
          "Gutchlug, thou knowest me.  Hear my pledge!  At her first gesture toward treachery--her first thought of betrayal--I myself will end it all."
          "You promise to slay this young snow-leopardess?"
          "By the four companions, I swear to kill her with my own hands!"
          Gutchlug sneered.  "Kill her--yes--with the kiss that has burned thy lips to ashes for all these months.  I know thee, Sanang.  Leave her to me.  Dead she will no longer trouble thee."
          "I hear, Prince Sanang."
          "Strike when I nod.  Not until then."
          "I hear, Tougtchi.  I understand thee, my Banneret.  I whet my knife.  Kai!"
          Sanang looked at him, put on his top-hat and overcoat, pulled on a pair of white evening gloves.
          "I go forth," he said more pleasantly.
          "I remain here to talk to my seven ancestors and sharpen my knife," remarked Gutchlug.
          "When the white world and the yellow world and the brown world and the black world finally fall before the Hassanis," said Sanang with a quick smile, "I shall bring thee to her.  Gutchlug--once--before she is
veiled, thou shalt behold what is lovelier than Eve."
          The other stolidly whetted his knife.
          Sanang pulled out a gold cigarette case, lighted a cigarette with an air.
          "I go among the Germans," he volunteered amiably.  "The huns swam across two oceans, but, like the unclean swine, it is their own throats they cut when they swim!  Well, there is only one God.  And not very many angels.  Erlik is greater.  And there are many million devils to do his bidding.  Adieu.  There is rice and there is koumiss in the frozen closet.  When I return you shall have been asleep for hours."
          When Sanang left the hotel one of the two young men seated in the hotel lobby got up and strolled out after him.
          A few minutes later the other man went to the elevator, ascended to the fourth floor, and entered an apartment next to the one occupied by Sanang.
          There was another man there, lying on the lounge and smoking a cigar.  Without a word, they both went leisurely about the matter of disrobing for the night.
          When the shorter man who had been in the apartment when the other entered, and who was dark and curly-headed, had attired himself in pyjamas, he sat down on one of the twin beds to enjoy his cigar to the bitter end.
          "Has Sanang gone out?" he inquired in a low voice.
          "Yes.  Benton went after him."
          The other man nodded.  "Cleves," he said, "I guess it looks as though this Norne girl is in it, too." 
          "What happened?"
          "As soon as she arrived, Sanang made straight for her apartment.  He remained inside for half an hour.  Then he came out in a hurry and went to his own rooms, where that surly servant of his squats all day, shining up his arsenal, and drinking koumiss."
          "Did you get their conversation?"
          "I've got a record of the gibberish.  It requires an interpreter, of course."
          "I suppose so.  I'll take the records east with me to-morrow, and by the same token I'd better notify New York that I'm leaving."
          He went, half-undressed, to the telephone, got the telegraph office, and sent the following message:

"RECKLOW, New York:
"Leaving to-morrow for N.Y. with samples.  Retain expert in Oriental fabrics.
                                        "VICTOR CLEVES."
          "Report for me, too," said the dark young man, who was still enjoying his cigar on his pillows.
          So Cleves send another telegram, directed also to
"RECKLOW, New York:
"Benton and I are watching the market.  Chinese importations fluctuate.  Recent consignment per Nan-yang Maru will be carefully inspected and details forwarded.
                                        "ALEK SELDEN."
          In the next room Gutchlug could hear the voice of Cleves at the telephone, but he merely shrugged his heavy shoulders in contempt.  For he had other things to do besides eavesdropping.
          Also, for the last hour--in fact, ever since Sanang's departure--something had been happening to him--something that happens to a Hassani only once in a lifetime.  And now this unique thing had happened to him--to him, Gutchlug Khan--to him before whose Khiounnou ancestors eight-one thousand nations had bowed the knee.
          It had come to his at last, this dread thing, unheralded, totally unexpected, a few minutes after Sanang had departed.
          And he suddenly knew he was going to die.
          And, when, presently, he comprehended it, he bent his grizzled head and listened seriously.  And, after a little silence, he heard his soul bidding him farewell.
          So the chatter of white men at a telephone in the next apartment had no longer any significance for him.  Whether or not they had been spying on him; whether they were plotting, made no difference to him now.
          He tested his knife's edge with his thumb and listened gravely to his soul bidding his farewell.
          But, for a Yezidee, there was still a little detail to attend to before his soul departed;--two matters to regulate.  One was to select his shroud.  The other was to cut the white throat of this young snow-leopardess called Keuke Mongol, the Yezidee temple girl.
          And he could steal down to her bedroom and finish that matter in five minutes.
          But first he must choose his shroud, as is the custom of the Yezidee.
          That office, however, was quickly accomplished in a country where fine white sheets of linen are to be found on every hotel bed.
          So, on his way to the door, his naked knife in his right hand, he paused to fumble under the bedcovers and draw out a white linen sheet.
          Something hurt his hand like a needle.  He moved it, felt the thing squirm under his fingers and pierce his palm again and again.  With a shriek, he tore the bedclothes from the bed.
          A little yellow snake lay coiled there.
          He got as far as the telephone, but could not use it.  And there he fell heavily, shaking the room and dragging the instrument down with him.

          There was some excitement.  Cleves and Selden in their bathrobes went in to look at the body.  The hotel physician diagnosed it as heart-trouble.  Or, possibly, poison.  Some gazed significantly at the naked knife still clutched in the dead man's hands.
          Around the wrist of the other hand was twisted a pliable gold bracelet representing a little snake.  It had real emeralds for eyes.
          It had not been there when Gutchlug died.
          But nobody except Sanang could know that.  And later when Sanang came forth and found Gutchlug very dead on the bed and a policeman sitting outside, he offered no information concerning the new bracelet shaped like a snake with real emeralds for eyes, which adorned the dead man's left wrist.
          Toward evening, however, after an autopsy had confirmed the house physician's diagnosis that heart-disease had finished Gutchlug, Sanang mustered enough courage to go to the desk in the lobby and send up his card to Miss Norne.

          It appeared, however, that Miss Norne had left for Chicago about noon.

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