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- The White Woman
- Monastery of the Shining One
- The Shining One
- All the Way from Fredericksburg
The White Woman
That face clung to Tremaine’s mind. Three hours ago, when he and his caravan had ridden into Tsagan-dhuntsa, he had seen it framed in the doorway of the low, swarth building that flew the Russian flag.
A white woman — here on the fringe of the world!
For four dreary months he had seen only the faces of brown and yellow women, had heard only their tongues; and the longing for the sight of a white woman, for the sound of a white woman’s voice, had become a terrible thirst that threatened to wither his soul; so now — after that journey through the white hell, from Urga across the North Gobi and the Tchuchun-Shan Range into Tibet — the glimpse of that pallid face in the doorway of the Russian Consulate in this desert village inspired in him a profound reverence for its owner.
A white woman. That face haunted him. She, too, haunted him, for as she paused there in the winter twilight, glancing over her shoulder, he found something pathetically young, something almost tragic about her. He wondered vaguely at her presence in the Consulate doorway, wondered, too, if she were connected in any manner with the Consul … .
He shivered involuntarily and bent lower over the argussun fire.
Since nightfall the cold of the Tibet winter had crept into the room in the Rest House where he sat wrapped in his sheepskin coat and it bit through his heavy clothing with the savageness of a fanged beast.
Following the evening meal of tsamba, talkan-cakes and tea he had retreated to his bedchamber, one of the three private rooms off the main hall of the caravanserai, the pallid face of the first white woman that he had seen in four months burning in his brain.
As he sat there, the flames painting his tanned skin a ruddy glow, he heard footsteps in the hall and a moment later the burlap in the door was thrust aside by Shagdur, his caravan-bashi.
“I have a message for you, master,” announced the high-cheeked Mongol youth, halting just within the bare, dim-lit room.
“For me?” echoed Tremaine.
“Yes, master — from the lady at the Russian Consulate.”
At his words Tremaine’s muscles grew rigid.
“You must be mistaken, Shagdur.”
The boy shook his head. “The lady called to me as I was walking along the main street, saying, ‘Go to your master and ask him if he will come to the Consulate. Tell him it is urgent.’ Who else could she mean but you — for are not you my master?”
With a word of thanks to the bashi Tremaine got up and strode rapidly out of the room, passing through the hall into the deserted courtyard.
A stiff wind was stirring. It bore with it, from the rear of the khan, the reek of a camel and yak, playing a melancholy dirge on the unseen harpstrings of the night.
An excellent view of the mountains that encircled the Tsagan-dhuntsa valley could be gained from the gate of the Rest House, and here Tremaine paused a moment, not, however, to observe the dreary landscape, but to assure himself that she, this girl of the Consulate doorway, had really sent for him.
Involuntarily his eyes rose to the giant ridges that painted themselves in huge smears of dun-color on the dark sky. Below them, the Pass opened wolfish jaws on the caravan-road, and above, near the snow-tipped peaks and crags, the faint outline of the whitewashed Lamaserie was sketched upon the rocks, a single light peering from its sullen portals into the night.
Leaving the courtyard of the caravanserai, Tremaine moved at a swift pace along the winding, dwelling-lined main street to the Consulate.
At the gate, where a lantern on one side of the doorway stuck a lurid tongue of light across the courtyard, he was halted by a huge, bearded Cossack with a Berdan rifle slung over one shoulder and a balalaika dangling from his waist.
“Are you from the Rest House, barin?” asked the Russian.
The Cossack saluted. “Then come with me.”
Across the courtyard and into the Consulate building he followed the Muscovite.
Within it was dark, but as they entered, a door opposite the one through which they had just passed, opened, admitting a shaft of light.
In the entranceway, silhouetted upon the yellow glow, Tremaine saw a slim form; heard a voice speaking to him.
“Won’t you come in?”
He advanced into the light alone, for the Cossack had retreated; passed through the door; and once within he felt that he had left Tibet behind; felt that he had shaken from him the dust of Tsagan-dhuntsa.
“It was rather bold of me to send for you in this manner,” she said in a low, sweet voice, “But desperation knows no conventions.”
What Tremaine saw made him catch his breath. Skin of lustrous white; wide set eyes of night blue; hair of reddish gold, parted in the center and twisted in a knot on the back of her pallid neck; a figure at once quaint, ethereal — yet intensely human. She wore … but he did not see what she wore — except that it was dark.
“My name is Miriam Amber,” she told him in that low, sweet voice, offering her hand.
“Mine is Tremaine,” he returned, accepting the hand which was like China silk under his callous touch; “Travis Tremaine.”
She smiled at him — and for a reason that was to him inexplicable he felt a holy dread of her, the fear of one who looks for the first time upon the face of a Madonna; felt, too, that the bonds of a new thralldom were being fastened about him.
“I will have Lotus-eye take your coat and hat,” she said, and struck a gong that rang silvern in the room — a room that was small and filled with a fragrant warmth, with shadows of deep amethyst.
A brazier at one end of a divan sent out waves of scented heat and a candle on an ebony table burned like a trembling ruby.
A moment after the sound of the gong a little Chinese girl clad in green silk slipped through a door, taking Tremaine’s coat and hat. Then she melted into the amethyst shadows.
“Won’t — won’t you sit down?” the girl faltered.
Her face seemed suddenly swept free of all color; the eyes of night-blue swam star-like in a mist of tears.
“You are ill!” he exclaimed, moving to her side.
At his words she sank on the caravan-cloth cushions of the divan, her eyes dropping to the Khotan rug at her feet.
“Yes, ill in soul,” he heard her murmur.
For a moment she was silent, then lifted her eyes to him and spoke:
“You must overlook my queer actions, for you don’t know what I’ve suffered, here in this terrible village — in the solitude, with only Lotus-eye and Yashka as companions … . It has seemed a million hours … .”
“But the Consul?” he queried, puzzled, “Surely — “
She made a gesture that expressed absolute futility.
“Gone — his secretary gone, and my brother, too — all three in the last forty days … .”
“Forty days,” he echoed; “you’ve been in this God-forsaken place for forty days?”
A shudder swept her. “Forty days — and the only white woman … living in a house with three drink-crazed men, two Cossacks and a Chinese girl. Ah, God, if you only knew!”
Very gently, with a tenderness that came to him suddenly, he took her small hands in his, looking deep into the eyes of night-blue.
“But I want to know, Miriam Amber,” he said.
She summoned a smile. “The way you said that sounded like home. I live in Richmond, Virginia.”
He, too, smiled.
“Richmond,” he repeated. “I live in Fredericksburg, so near you — yet — we came to Tibet to meet. Strange these tricks that Chance plays — or is it Chance? But you are in trouble and I want to hear about it.”
Once more she smiled. “Sit down. I’ll tell you over the tea-table … .” Again the silvern gong — again the green-clad Lotus-eye, this time bearing a tray which she placed on the little ebony table and retreated.
“I sent for you to ask you to help me,” announced Miriam Amber after they were seated. “When you rode in this afternoon I felt that aid had come, and I resolved to send for you, knowing that you could suggest some plan. Now, that you’re here, I hardly know where to begin — “
She poured his tea for him and passed it to him. He accepted it awkwardly, but she seemed not to notice this.
“My brother was a writer,” she began. “We left the United States a year ago to travel in the East. After Egypt we visited the Holy Lands, went from Damascus through Persia; across Turkestan and ancient Dsungaria into Tibet. We were to end up in China — Peking, Hong Kong — and then home … . My brother had an unfortunate habit — that of drinking — and after we left Damascus a new passion for it seized him and he drank all he could obtain — “ Clouds settled in her eyes, dimming the night-blue.
“The incidents of our journey in Tibet would make up a book of hardships. One late evening our little caravan rode into Tsagan-dhuntsa, and the Russian Consul and his secretary, the only two white men in this village of Sartang Mongols, invited us to stay at the Consulate. That very night M. Grebin, the Consul, told us the story of the Valley of Vanishing Men — rather, as the Chinese inhabitants call it, “T’sn chii ti fang’ — for that is the name by which Tsagan-dhuntsa is known to the desert tribes.”
The clouds in her eyes darkened; for a brief instant the shadow of dread lay upon her; then the fear was mastered.
“Twenty-four years ago, a Russian merchant and his wife from Kiachta, traveling toward Dsungaria, took refuge from a storm in the Lamaserie at the head of the Pass. In those days the monastery was not forbidden. The following morning the merchant’s wife was found wounded — having been attacked during the night by a vampire bat. The story goes that a week later she died — and it is believed by the Chinese and Sartang Mongols that her soul was reincarnated in the form of a ghoul — and returns to feast upon men … . It’s only a horrid tale, but” — she shuddered — “but the facts remain that once every two weeks a man of Tsagan-dhuntsa vanishes, and no trace of him is ever found … .”
She leaned across the table, looking earnestly into his face.
“Do you think I’m mad? Perhaps I am — for sometimes I believe so. But to go on with my story … . Every Consul sent here within the past five years has disappeared — and they are supposed to be victims of the ghoul-soul of the Russian woman.
“Unfortunately for my brother, Lance, M. Grebin, the late Consul, was a drinker — and so was his secretary. During our stay, which ran into many days, the three of them were often intoxicated — so intoxicated that they were unconscious. Whenever this occurred I was alone with Lotus-eye, the Consul’s servant, and the two Cossack guards, Yashka and Alexis. But they were always very kind to me.
“The second week we were here, M. Grebin’s secretary disappeared — went for a walk down by the lake and did not come back … . Then, two weeks later, M. Grebin vanished in the same manner … . After that Alexis, the Cossack, volunteered to go to Kurruk and appeal to the Consul there — and he left. Lance, my brother, did not drink any after M. Grebin disappeared. We were only remaining at the Consulate until Alexis returned from Kurruk.
“Then — then came the night when Lance went — three nights ago. It was snowing. About midnight I awakened and prompted by a peculiar psychic feeling, I got up. As I did I could have sworn that I heard someone singing, or wailing, out in the snow. I went into Lance’s room, which was next to mine, and as I entered — he sprang up from his kang — and jumped through the window!
I ran and leaned out — and as I did I heard an eerie, uncanny laugh … .
I called Yashka immediately and he searched — but it was useless, for the snow destroyed all footprints.”
As she ended he thought he saw tears glistening in the night-blue eyes.
“That is all,” she said. “Alexis, who went to Kurruk, is overdue and I am afraid he encountered Tangut robbers — or Dugpas … . Now you can understand why I sent for you. But, listen — “
Once more she leaned across the table to him.
“I think I have a solution for the mystery of the Valley of Vanishing Men … . The Lamaserie at the head of the Pass is like some few in the North Gobi — in that a living representative of the Divine is reputed to dwell therein. It is called the Monastery of The Shining One. Whether this Shining One is a man or a woman none know — except the monks. And only a comparatively few Lamas are cloistered there — a hundred or less. They say The Shining One has never tasted food but lives by Divine substance. In many of the Lamaseries of Tibet and the Gobi devilish rituals are practiced — and in some, it is rumored, human sacrifice is enacted — “
She halted significantly and their eyes met.
“Then you think — “ he began.
“I don’t know. It merely occurred to me. I told Yashka, but he believes it would be impossible to get into the Lamaserie — unless by force, and that can not be done, he said, until Alexis returns. But, oh, I am afraid to wait, for if — “
“The Lamaserie isn’t accessible?” Tremaine questioned.
“It is forbidden to all who are not of the faith. No white man has been known to enter since the death of the Russian woman.”
“And you believe your brother is there — dead or alive?”
Again she made that gesture of futility.
“God knows! Don’t you see, the idea was something tangible, and in my grief I grasped it, hoping, praying that — “ She swallowed hard.
“I understand,” he told her, “and I will try to think of a plan to get in the Lamaserie and — “
“But I couldn’t let you take that risk — the odds would be against you.”
Tremaine smiled — an expression that lighted his frank, open face and his wide gray eyes.
“There is little or no danger,” he assured her — which was not what he thought.
“But you won’t try it tonight?”
“Darkness is better — and a minute lost might mean much.”
Her hands closed over his. He felt them trembling. Her eyes, too, seemed to tremble — like deep blue stars … .
“No, I couldn’t allow you to do -that, I couldn’t! You have only known me for a few minutes and — “ “But we’re both from Virginia,” he interposed, smiling yet solemn, “and you are alone — in trouble. Perhaps your solution of the mystery is correct. And — and, you see, for four months, traveling from Urga, with forbidden Lhassa as the objective, I’ve journeyed — suffering the thirst and cold; listening to jackals and wolves by night; seeing only brown and yellow women, with never the sight of a white woman’s face — all these hardships on a gamble, to try and penetrate the secret city. I’m a gambler through and through, and now, for the sight of your face, the face of a white woman in all this loneliness and desolation, I’m willing to play another game, to do anything — to repay you for the sight of you.”
They had both risen, were standing face to face in the candle-glow and the fragrant heat from the brazier hung like a spirit-hand between them.
“I think I understand,” she returned slowly; “but isn’t that a onesided bargain?”
“But I want to pay that price — “ He bent swiftly, caught her hand and lifted it to his lips. It was an impulsive, boyish act, and afterward he felt embarrassed. His face burned.
“I — I had better go now,” he stammered.
Miriam Amber struck the gong, and when the green-clad Chinese girl appeared, instructed her to bring his coat and hat.
“Good-night, Travis Tremaine,” she said in that low, sweet voice, “I shall be waiting here — when you come back … .”
The next he knew he was taking his coat and hat from Lotus-eye, was leaving the room with the amethyst shadows, the face of Miriam Amber burning before him like a white flame.
In front of the building he encountered the huge Cossack, Yashka, standing under the lantern, smoking, the balalaika tucked under one arm.
“Looks as if one night is going to pass without snow,” observed the American, his eyes upon the moon that was creeping up from behind the ghost-like mountains.
The Cossack shrugged his big shoulders. “It may snow and it may not. Nie znayu! I don’t know!”
Tremaine moved off.
“Good night, tovarishtchi,” he said over his shoulder.
“Good night, barin,” returned the Muscovite.
The story continues … download it today and find out if Tremaine can unravel the mystery of the Valley of the Vanishing Men …
- The White Woman
- Monastery of the Shining One
- The Shining One
- All the Way from Fredericksburg