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SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL
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More Deadly Than A Viper by Harry C. Hervey, Jr.
Supernatural Adventure

More Deadly Than A Viper

by Harry C. Hervey, Jr.

Black Mask | Aug. 1920 | Vol. 1, No. 5 THE RED FILE | Mar. 26, 2017 | Vol. 2 No. 7 Casefile No: 55ccf75fb3901011515aef1d

It is believed by the Chinese and Sartang Mongols that the soul of the Russian merchants wife was reincarnated in the form of a ghoul—and returns to feast upon men in the Valley of the Vanishing Men. But the facts remain that once every two weeks, a man of Tsagan-dhuntsa vanishes …

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Table of Contents
  1. THE WHITE WOMAN
  2. MONASTERY OF THE SHINING ONE
  3. THE SHINING ONE
  4. ALL THE WAY FROM FREDERICKSBURG

Chapter 1

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.

“Yes.”

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.

~ End of Sample ~


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