Get it on Google Play
Download on the App Store

Chapter VIII

WHEN GORDON FELL through the treacherous stairs, he shot downward in utter blackness to land on solid stone. Not one man in a hundred could have survived the fall with unsmashed bones, but El Borak was all knit wires and steel springs. He landed on all fours, catlike, with bent joints absorbing the shock. Even so his whole body was numbed, and his limbs crumpled under him, letting his frame dash violently against the stone.
He lay there half stunned for a space, then pulled himself together, cursing the stinging and tingling of his hands and feet, and felt himself for broken bones.
Thankful to find himself intact, he groped for and found the scimitar which he had cast from him as he fell. Above him the trap had closed. Where he was he had no idea, but it was dark as a Stygian vault. He wondered how far he had fallen, and felt that it was farther than anyone would ever believe, supposing he escaped to tell of it. He felt about in the darkness and found that he was in a square cell of no great dimensions. The one door was locked on the outside.
His investigations took him only a matter of seconds, and it was while he was feeling the door that he heard someone fumbling at it on the other side. He drew back, believing that those who dropped him into the cell would scarcely have had time to reach it by a safer way. He believed it was someone who had heard the sound of his fall and was coming to investigate, doubtless expecting to find a corpse on the floor.
The door was cast open and light blinded him, but he cut at the vague figure which loomed in the open door. Then his eyes could see and they saw a monk lying on the floor of a narrow lamp-lighted corridor with his shaven head split to the temples. The passage was empty except for the dead man.
The floor of the corridor sloped slightly, and Gordon went down it, because to go up it would obviously be returning toward his enemies. He momentarily expected to hear them howling on his heels, but evidently they considered that his fall through the trap, riddled, as they thought, with bullets, was sufficient and were in no hurry to verify their belief. Doubtless it was the duty of the monk he had killed to finish off victims dropped through the trap on the stairs.
The corridor made a sharp turn to the right and the lamps no longer burned along the walls. Gordon took one of them and went on, finding that the pitch of the slope grew steeper until he was forced to check his descent with a hand braced against the wall. These walls were solid rock, and he knew he was in the mountain on which the temple was built.
He did not believe any of the inhabitants of Yolgan knew of these tunnels except the monks; certainly Yasmeena was ignorant of them. Thought of the girl made him wince. Heaven alone knew where she was, just then, but he could not aid her until he had escaped himself from these rat-runs.
Presently the passage turned at right angles into a broader tunnel which ran level, and he followed it hastily but cautiously, holding his lamp high. Ahead of him he saw the tunnel end at last against a rough stone wall in which a door was set in the shape of a ponderous square block. This, he discovered, was hung on a pivot, and it revolved with ease, letting him through into a cave beyond.
As Yasmeena had seen the stars among the branches not long before, Gordon now discovered them. He put out his lamp, halted an instant to let his eyes get used to the sudden darkness, and then started toward the cavern mouth.
Just as he reached it, he crouched back. Somebody was splashing through the water outside, thrashing through the willows. The man came panting up the short steep slope, and Gordon saw the evil face of Yogok in the starlight before the man became a shapeless blob of blackness as he plunged into the cavern.
The next instant El Borak sprang, bearing his man to the floor. Yogok let out one hair-raising yell, and then Gordon found his throat and crouched over him, savagely digging and twisting his fingers in the priest's neck.
"Where is Yasmeena?" he demanded.
A gurgle answered him. He relaxed his grip a trifle and repeated the question. Yogok was mad with fear of his attack in the dark, but somehow--probably by the body-scent or the lack of it--he divined that his captor was a white man.
"Are you El Borak?" he gasped.
"Who else? Where is Yasmeena?" Gordon emphasized his demand by a wrench which brought a gurgle of pain from Yogok's thin lips.
"The Englishmen have her!" he panted.
"Where are they?"
"Nay; I know not! Ahhh! Mercy, sahib! I will tell!"
Yogok's eyes glimmered white with fear in the darkness. His lean body was shaking as with an ague.
"We took her to a cave where the sahibs' servants were hidden. They were gone, with the horses. The Englishmen accused me of treachery. They said I had made away with their servants and meant to murder them. They lied. By Erlik, I know not what became of their cursed Pathans! The Englishmen attacked me, but I fled while a servant of mine fought with them."
Gordon hauled him to his feet, faced him toward the cave mouth and bound his hands behind him with his own girdle.
"We're going back," he said grimly. "One yelp out of you and I'll let out your snake's soul. Guide me as straight to Ormond's cave as you know."
"Nay; the dogs will slay me!"
"I'll kill you if you don't," Gordon assured him, pushing Yogok stumbling before him.
The priest was not a back-to-the-wall fighter. Confronted by two perils he chose the more remote. They waded the stream and on the other side Yogok turned to the right. Gordon jerked him back.
"I know where I am now," he growled. "And I know where the cave is. It's in that jut of land to the left. If there's a path through the pines, show it to me."
Yogok surrendered and hurried through the shadows, conscious of Gordon's grasp on his collar and the broad edge of Gordon's scimitar glimmering near. It was growing toward the darkness that precedes dawn as they came to the cave which loomed dark and silent among the trees.
"They are gone!" Yogok shivered.
"I didn't expect to find them here," muttered Gordon. "I came here to pick up their trail. If they thought you'd set the natives on them, they'd pull out on foot. What worries me is what they did with Yasmeena."
Yogok started convulsively as a low moan smote the air.
Gordon threw him and lashed together his hands and feet. "Not a sound out of you!" he warned, and then stole up the ramp, sword ready.
At the mouth he hesitated unwilling to show himself against the dim starlight behind him. Then he heard the moan again and knew it was not feigned. It was a human being in mortal agony.
He felt his way into the darkness and presently stumbled over something yielding, which evoked another moan. His hands told him it was a man in European clothing. Something warm and oozy smeared his hands as he groped. Feeling in the man's pockets he found a box of matches and struck one, cupping it in his hands.
A livid face with glassy eyes stared up at him.
"Pembroke!" muttered Gordon.
The sound of his name seemed to rouse the dying man. He half rose on an elbow, blood trickling from his mouth with the effort.
"Ormond!" he whispered ghastily. "Have you come back? Damn you, I'll do for you yet--"
"I'm not Ormond," growled the American. "I'm Gordon. It seems somebody has saved me the trouble of killing you. Where's Yasmeena?"
"He took her away." The Englishman's voice was scarcely intelligible, choked by the flow of blood. "Ormond, the dirty swine! We found the cave empty--knew old Yogok had betrayed us. We jumped him. He ran away. His damned monk stabbed me. Ormond took Yasmeena and the monk and went away. He's mad. He's going to try to cross the mountains on foot, with the girl, and the monk to guide him. And he left me to die, the swine, the filthy swine!"
The dying man's voice rose to a hysterical shriek; he heaved himself up, his eyes glaring; then a terrible shudder ran through his body and he was dead.
Gordon rose, struck another match and swept a glance over the cave. It was utterly bare. Not a firearm in sight. Ormond had evidently robbed his dying partner. Ormond, starting through the mountains with a captive woman, and a treacherous monk for a guide, on foot and with no provisions--surely the man must be mad.
Returning to Yogok he unbound his legs, repeating Pembroke's tale in a few words. He saw the priest's eyes gleam in the starlight.
"Good! They will all die in the mountains! Let them go!"
"We're following them," Gordon answered. "You know the way the monk will lead Ormond. Show it to me."
A restoration of confidence had wakened insolence and defiance.
"No! Let them die!"
With a searing curse Gordon caught the priest's throat and jammed his head back between his shoulders, until his eyes were glaring at the stars.
"Damn you!" he ground between his teeth, shaking the man as a dog shakes a rat. "If you try to balk me now I'll kill you the slowest way I know. Do you want me to drag you back to Yolgan and tell the people what you plotted against the daughter of Erlik Khan? They'll kill me, but they'll flay you alive!"
Yogok knew Gordon would not do that, not because the American feared death, but because to sacrifice himself would be to remove Yasmeena's last hope. But Gordon's glaring eyes made him cold with fear; he sensed the abysmal rage that gripped the white man and knew that El Borak was on the point of tearing him limb from limb. In that moment there was no bloody deed of which Gordon was not capable.
"Stay, sahib!" Yogok gasped. "I will guide you."
"And guide me right!" Gordon jerked him savagely to his feet. "They have been gone less than an hour. If we don't overtake them by sunrise, I'll know you've led me astray, and I'll tie you head down to a cliff for the vultures to eat alive."