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The Face in the Abyss

by
Abraham Merritt

1. — SUARRA

Nicholas Graydon ran into Starrett in Quito. Rather, Starrett sought him out there. Graydon had often heard of the big West Coast adventurer, but their trails had never crossed. It was with lively curiosity that he opened his door to his visitor.

Starrett came to the point at once. Graydon had heard the legend of the treasure train bringing to Pizarro the ransom of the Inca Atahualpa? And that its leaders, learning of the murder of their monarch by the butcher-boy Conquistador, had turned aside and hidden the treasure somewhere in the Andean wilderness?

Graydon had heard it, hundreds of times; had even considered hunting for it He said so. Starrett nodded.

"I know where it is," he said.

Graydon laughed.

In the end Starrett convinced him; convinced him, at least, that he had something worth looking into.

Graydon rather liked the big man. There was a bluff directness that made him overlook the hint of cruelty in eyes and jaw. There were two others with him, Starrett said, both old companions. Graydon asked why they had picked him out. Starrett bluntly told him—because they knew he could afford to pay the expenses of the expedition. They would all share equally in the treasure. If they didn't find it, Graydon was a first-class mining engineer, and the region they were going into was rich in minerals. He was practically sure of making some valuable discovery on which they could cash in.

Graydon considered. There were no calls upon him. He had just passed his thirty-fourth birthday, and since he had been graduated from the Harvard School of Mines eleven years ago he had never had a real holiday. He could well afford the cost. There would be some excitement, if nothing else.

After he had looked over Starrett's two comrades—Soames, a lanky, saturnine, hard-bitten Yankee, and Dancret, a cynical, amusing little Frenchman—they had drawn up an agreement and he had signed it.

They went down by rail to Cerro de Pasco for their outfit, that being the town of any size closest to where their trek into the wilderness would begin. A week later with eight burros and six arrieros, or packmen, they were within the welter of peaks through which, Starrett's map indicated, lay their road.

It had been the map which had persuaded Graydon. It was no parchment, but a sheet of thin gold quite as flexible. Starrett drew it out of a small golden tube of ancient workmanship, and unrolled it. Graydon examined it and was unable to see any map upon it—or anything else. Starrett held it at a peculiar angle—and the markings upon it became plain.

It was a beautiful piece of cartography. It was, in fact, less a map than a picture. Here and there were curious symbols which Starrett said were signs cut upon the rocks along the way; guiding marks for those of the old race who would set forth to recover the treasure when the Spaniards had been swept from the land.

Whether it was clue to Atahualpa's ransom hoard or to something else —Graydon did not know. Starrett said it was. But Graydon did not believe his story of how the golden sheet had come into his possession. Nevertheless, there had been purpose in the making of the map, and stranger purpose in the cunning with which the markings had been concealed. Something interesting lay at the end of that trail.

They found the signs cut in the rocks exactly as the sheet of gold had indicated. Gay, spirits high with anticipation, three of them spending in advance their share of the booty, they followed the symbols. Steadily they were led into the uncharted wilderness.

At last the arrieros began to murmur. They were approaching, they said, a region that was accursed, the Cordillera de Carabaya, where only demons dwelt Promises of more money, threats, pleadings, took them along a little further. One morning the four awakened to find the arrieros gone, and with them half the burros and the major portion of their supplies.

They pressed on. Then the signs failed them. Either they had lost the trail, or the map which had led them truthfully so far had lied at the last.

The country into which they had penetrated was a curiously lonely one. There had been no sign of Indians since more than a fortnight before, when they had stopped at a Quicha village and Starrett had gotten mad drunk on the fiery spirit the Quichas distill. Food was hard to find. There were few animals and fewer birds.

Worst of all was the change which had come over Graydon's companions. As high as they had been lifted by their certitude of success, just so deep were they in depression. Starrett kept himself at a steady level of drunkenness, alternately quarrelsome and noisy, or brooding in sullen rage.

Dancret was silent and irritable. Soames seemed to have come to the conclusion that Starrett, Graydon and Dancret had combined against him; that they had either deliberately missed the trail or had erased the signs. Only when the pair of them joined Starrett and drank with him the Quicha brew with which they had laden one of the burros did the three relax. At such times Graydon had the uneasy feeling that all were holding the failure against him, and that his life might be hanging on a thin thread.

The day that Graydon's great adventure really began, he was on his way back to the camp. He had been hunting since morning. Dancret and Soames had gone off together on another desperate search for the missing marks.

Cut off in mid-flight, the girl's cry came to him as the answer to all his apprehensions; materialization of the menace toward which his vague fears had been groping since he had left Starrett alone at the camp, hours ago. He had sensed some culminating misfortune close—and here it was! He broke into a run, stumbling up the slope to the group of gray-green algarrobas, where the tent was pitched.

He crashed through the thick undergrowth to the clearing.

Why didn't the girl cry out again, he wondered. A chuckle reached him, thick, satyr-toned.

Half crouching, Starrett was holding the girl bow fashion over one knee. A thick arm was clenched about her neck, the fingers clutching her mouth brutally, silencing her; his right hand fettered her wrists; her knees were caught in the vise of his bent right leg.

Graydon caught him by the hair, and locked his arm under his chin. He drew his head sharply back.

"Drop her!" he ordered.

Half paralyzed, Starrett relaxed—he writhed, then twisted to his feet.

"What the hell are you butting in for?"

His hand struck down toward his pistol. Graydon's fist caught him on the point of the jaw. The half-drawn gun slipped to the ground and Starrett toppled over.

The girl leaped up, and away.

Graydon did not look after her. She had gone, no doubt, to bring down upon them her people, some tribe of the fierce Aymara whom even the Incas of old had never quite conquered. And who would avenge her in ways that Graydon did not like to visualize.

He bent over Starrett. Between the blow and the drink he would probably be out for some time. Graydon picked up the pistol. He wished that Dancret and Soames would get back soon to camp. The three of them could put up a good fight at any rate... might even have a chance to escape... but they would have to get back quickly... the girl would soon return with her avengers... was probably at that moment telling them of her wrongs. He turned—

She stood there, looking at him.

Drinking in her loveliness, Graydon forgot the man at his feet— forgot all else.

Her skin was palest ivory. It gleamed through the rents of the soft amber fabric, like thickest silk, which swathed her. Her eyes were oval, a little tilted, Egyptian in the wide midnight of her pupils. Her nose was small and straight; her brows level and black, almost meeting. Her hair was cloudy, jet, misty and shadowed. A narrow fillet of gold bound her low broad forehead. In it was entwined a sable and silver feather of the caraquenque —that bird whose plumage in lost centuries was sacred to the princesses of the Incas alone.

Above her elbows were golden bracelets, reaching almost to the slender shoulders. Her little high-arched feet were shod with high buskins of deerskin. She was lithe and slender as the Willow Maid who waits on Kwannon when she passes through the World of Trees pouring into them new fire of green life.

She was no Indian... nor daughter of ancient Incas... nor was she Spanish... she was of no race that he knew. There were bruises on her cheeks —the marks of Starrett's fingers. Her long, slim hands touched them. She spoke—in the Aymara tongue.

"Is he dead?"

"No," Graydon answered.

In the depths of her eyes a small, hot flame flared; he could have sworn it was of gladness.

"That is well! I would not have him die—" her voice became meditative—"at least—not this way."

Starrett groaned. The girl again touched the bruises on her cheek.

"He is very strong," she murmured.

Graydon thought there was admiration in her whisper; wondered whether all her beauty was, after all, only a mask for primitive woman worshiping brute strength. "Who are you?" he asked.

She looked at him for a long, long moment.

"I am—Suarra," she answered, at last.

"But where do you come from? What are you?" he asked again. She did not choose to answer these questions.

"Is he your enemy?"

"No," he said. "We travel together."

"Then why—" she pointed again to the outstretched figure— "why did you do this to him? Why did you not let him have his way with me?"

Graydon flushed. The question, with all its subtle implications, cut.

"What do you think I am?" he answered, hotly. "No man lets a thing like that go on!"

She looked at him, curiously. Her face softened. She took a step closer to him. She touched once more the bruises on her cheek.

"Do you not wonder," she said, "now do you not wonder why I do not call my people to deal him the punishment he has earned?"

"I do wonder," Graydon's perplexity was frank. "I wonder indeed. Why do you not call them—if they are close enough to hear?"

"And what would you do were they to come?"

"I would not let them have him—alive," he answered. "Nor me."

"Perhaps," she said, slowly—"perhaps that is why I do not call."

Suddenly she smiled upon him. He took a swift step toward her. She thrust out a warning hand. "I am—Suarra," she said. "And I am— Death!" A chill passed through Graydon. Again he realized the alien beauty of her. Could there be truth in these legends of the haunted Cordillera? He had never doubted that there was something real behind the terror of the Indians, the desertion of the arrieros. Was she one of its spirits, one of its— demons? For an instant the fantasy seemed no fantasy. Then reason returned. This girl a demon! He laughed.

"Do not laugh," she said. "The death I mean is not such as you who live beyond the high rim of our hidden land know. Your body may live on— yet it is death and more than death, since it is changed in—dreadful —ways. And that which tenants your body, that which speaks through your lips, is changed—in ways more dreadful still!... I would not have that death come to you."

Strange as were her words, Graydon hardly heard them: certainly did not then realize their meaning, lost as he was in wonder at her beauty.

"How you came by the Messengers, I do not know. How you could have passed unseen by them, I cannot understand. Nor how you came so far into this forbidden land. Tell me—why came you here at all?"

"We came from afar," he told her, "on the track of a great treasure of gold and gems; the treasure of Atahualpa, the Inca. There were certain signs that led us. We lost them. We found that we, too, were lost. And we wandered here."

"Of Atahualpa or of Incas," the girl said, "I know nothing. Whoever they were, they could not have come to this place. And their treasure, no matter how great, would have meant nothing to us—to us of Yu-Atlanchi, where treasures are as rocks in the bed of a stream. A grain of sand it would have been, among many—" she paused, then went on, perplexedly, as though voicing her thoughts to herself—"But it is why the Messengers did not see them that I cannot understand... the Mother must know of this... I must go quickly to the Mother..."

"The Mother?" asked Graydon.

"The Snake Mother!" her gaze returned to him; she touched a bracelet on her right wrist. Graydon, drawing close, saw that this bracelet held a disk on which was carved in bas-relief a serpent with a woman's head and woman's breast and arms. It lay coiled upon what appeared to be a great bowl held high on the paws of four beasts. The shapes of these creatures did not at once register upon his consciousness, so absorbed was he in his study of that coiled figure. He stared close—and closer. And now he realized that the head reared upon the coils was not really that of a woman. No! It was reptilian.

Snake-like—yet so strongly had the artist feminized it, so great was the suggestion of womanhood modeled into every line of it, that constantly one saw it as woman, forgetting all that was of the serpent.

The eyes were of some intensely glittering purple stone. Graydon felt that those eyes were alive—that far, far away some living thing was looking at him through them. That they were, in fact, prolongations of some one's—some thing's—vision.

The girl touched one of the beasts that held up the bowl. "The Xinli," she said. Graydon's bewilderment increased. He knew what those animals were. Knowing, he also knew that he looked upon the incredible.

They were dinosaurs! The monstrous saurians that ruled earth millions upon millions of years ago, and, but for whose extinction, so he had been taught, man could never have developed.

Who in this Andean wilderness could know or could have known the dinosaurs? Who here could have carved the monsters with such life-like detail as these possessed? Why, it was only yesterday that science had learned what really were their huge bones, buried so long that the rocks had molded themselves around them in adamantine matrix. And laboriously, with every modern resource, haltingly and laboriously, science had set those bones together as a perplexed child would a picture puzzle, and put forth what it believed to be reconstructions of these long-vanished chimera of earth's nightmare youth.

Yet here, far from all science it must surely be, some; one had modeled those same monsters for a woman's; bracelet. Why then—it followed that whoever had done this must have had before him the living forms from which; to work. Or, if not, had copies of those forms set down by ancient men who had seen them. And either or both these things were incredible, Who were the people to whom she belonged? There had been a name— Yu-Atlanchi.

"Suarra," he said, "where is Yu-Atlanchi? Is it this place?"

"This?" She laughed. "No! Yu-Atlanchi is the Ancient Land. The Hidden Land where the six Lords and the Lords of Lords once ruled. And where now rules only the Snake Mother and—another. This place Yu-Atlanchi!" Again she laughed. "Now and then I hunt here with—the—" she hesitated, looking at him oddly—"So it was that he who lies there caught me. I was hunting. I had slipped away from my followers, for sometimes it pleases me to hunt alone. I came through these trees and saw your tetuane, your lodge. I came face to face with—him. And I was amazed—too amazed to strike with one of these." She pointed to a low knoll a few feet away. "Before I could conquer that amaze he had caught me. Then you came."

Graydon looked where she had pointed. Upon the ground lay three slender, shining spears. Their slim shafts were of gold; the arrow-shaped heads of two of them were of fine opal The third—the third was a single emerald, translucent and flawless, all of six inches long and three at its widest, ground to keenest point and cutting edge.

There it lay, a priceless jewel tipping a spear of gold—and a swift panic shook Graydon. He had forgotten Soames and Dancret. Suppose they should return while this girl was there. This girl with her ornaments of gold, her gem-tipped spears—and her beauty!

"Suarra," he said, "you must go, and go quickly. This man and I are not all. There are two more, and even now they may be close. Take your spears, and go quickly. Else I may not be able to save you."

"You think I am—"

"I tell you to go," he interrupted. "Whoever you are, whatever you are, go now and keep away from this place. To-morrow I will try to lead them away. If you have people to fight for you—well, let them come and fight if you so desire. But take your spears and go."

She crossed to the little knoll and picked up the spears. She held one out to him, the one that bore the emerald point.

"This," she said, "to remember—Suarra."

"No," he thrust it back. "Go!"

If the others saw that jewel, never, he knew, would he be able to start them on the back trail—if they could find it. Starrett had seen it, of course, but he might be able to convince them that Starrett's story was only a drunken dream.

The girl studied him—a quickened interest in her eyes.

She slipped the bracelets from her arms, held them out to him with the three spears.

"Will you take these—and leave your comrades?" she asked. "Here are gold and gems. They are treasure. They are what you have been seeking. Take them. Take them and go, leaving that man here. Consent—and I will show you a way out of this forbidden land."

Graydon hesitated. The emerald alone was worth a fortune. What loyalty did he owe the three, after all? And Starrett had brought this thing upon himself. Nevertheless—they were his comrades. Open-eyed he had gone into this venture with them. He had a vision of himself skulking away with the glittering booty, creeping off to safety while he left the three unwarned, unprepared, to meet—what?

He did not like that picture.

"No," he said. "These men are of my race, my comrades. Whatever is to come —I will meet it with them and help them fight it."

"Yet you would have fought them for my sake—indeed, did fight," she said. "Why then do you cling to them when you can save yourself, and go free, with treasure? And why, if you will not do this, do you let me go, knowing that if you kept me prisoner, or—killed me, I could not bring my people down upon you?"

Graydon laughed.

"I couldn't let them hurt you, of course," he said. "And I'm afraid to make you prisoner, because I might not be able to keep you free from hurt. And I won't run away. So talk no more, but go—go!"

She thrust the gleaming spears into the ground, slipped the golden bracelets back on her arms, held white hands out to him.

"Now," she whispered, "now, by the Wisdom of the Mother, I will save you —if I can."

There was the sound of a horn, far away and high in air it seemed. It was answered by others closer by; mellow, questing notes—with weirdly alien beat in them.

"They come," the girl said. "My followers. Light your fire to-night. Sleep without fear. But do not wander beyond these trees."

"Suarra—" he began.

"Quiet now," she warned. "Quiet—until I am gone."

The mellow horns sounded closer. She sprang from his side and darted away through the trees. From the ridge above the camp he heard her voice raised in one clear shout There was a tumult of the horns about her—elfin and troubling. Then silence.

Graydon stood listening. The sun touched the high snowfields of the majestic peaks toward which he faced, touched them and turned them into robes of molten gold. The amethyst shadows that draped their sides thickened, wavered and marched swiftly forward.

Still he listened, hardly breathing.

Far, far away the horns sounded again; faint echoings of the tumult that had swept about the girl—faint, faint and fairy sweet.

The sun dropped behind the peaks; the edges of their frozen mantels glittered as though sewn with diamonds; darkened into a fringe of gleaming rubies. The golden fields dulled, grew amber and then blushed forth a glowing rose. They changed to pearl and faded into a ghostly silver, shining like cloud wraiths in the highest heavens. Down upon the algarroba clump the quick Andean dusk fell.

Not till then did Graydon, shivering with sudden, inexplicable dread, realize that beyond the calling horns and the girl's clear shouting he had heard no other sound—no noise either of man or beast, no sweeping through of brush or grass, no fall of running feet.

Nothing but that mellow chorus of the horns.

2. — THE UNSEEN WATCHERS

Starrett had drifted out of the paralysis of the blow into a drunken stupor. Graydon dragged him over to the tent, thrust a knapsack under his head, and threw a blanket over him. Then he went out and built up the fire. There was a trampling through the underbrush. Soames and Dancret came up through the trees.

"Find any signs?" he asked.

"Signs? Hell—no!" snarled the New Englander. "Say, Graydon, did you hear somethin' like a lot of horns? Damned queer horns, too. They seemed to be over here."

Graydon nodded, he realized that he must tell these men what had happened so that they could prepare some defense. But how much could he tell?

Tell them of Suarra's beauty, of her golden ornaments and her gem-tipped spears of gold? Tell them what she had said of Atahualpa's treasure?

If he did, there would be no further reasoning with them. They would go berserk with greed. Yet something of it he must tell them if they were to be ready for the attack which he was certain would come with the dawn.

And of the girl they would learn soon enough from Starrett.

He heard an exclamation from Dancret who had passed on into the tent; heard him come out; stood up and faced the wiry little Frenchman.

"What's the matter wit' Starrett, eh?" Dancret snapped. "First I t'ought he's drunk. Then I see he's scratched like wildcat and wit' a lump on his jaw as big as one orange. What you do to Starrett, eh?"

Graydon had made up his mind, and was ready to answer.

"Dancret," he said, "Soames—we're in a bad box. I came in from hunting less than an hour ago, and found Starrett wrestling with a girl. That's bad medicine down here—the worst, and you two know it. I had to knock Starrett out before I could get the girl away from him. Her people will probably be after us in the morning. There's no use trying to get away. We don't know a thing about this wilderness. Here is as good as any other place to meet them. We'd better spend the night getting it ready so we can put up a good scrap, if we have to."

"A girl, eh?" said Dancret. "What she look like? Where she come from? How she get away?"

Graydon chose the last question to answer.

"I let her go," he said.

"You let her go!" snarled Soames. "What the hell did you do that for? Why didn't you tie her up? We could have held her as a hostage, Graydon— had somethin' to do some tradin' with when her damned bunch of Indians came."

"She wasn't an Indian, Soames," said Graydon, then hesitated.

"You mean she was white—Spanish?" broke in Dancret, incredulously.

"No, not Spanish either. She was white. Yes, white as any of us. I don't know what she was."

The pair stared at him, then at each other.

"There's somethin' damned funny about this," growled Soames, at last "But what I want to know is why you let her go—whatever the hell she was?"

"Because I thought we'd have a better chance if I did than if I didn't." Graydon's own wrath was rising. "I tell you that we're up against something none of us knows anything about. And we've got just one chance of getting out of the mess. If I'd kept her there, we wouldn't have even that chance."

Dancret stooped, and picked up something from the ground, something that gleamed yellow in the firelight.

"Somet'ing funny is right, Soames," he said. "Look at this!"

He handed the gleaming object over. It was a golden bracelet, and as Soames turned it over in his hand there was the green glitter of emeralds. It had been torn from Suarra's arm, undoubtedly, in her struggle with Starrett.

"What that girl give you to let her go, Graydon, eh?" Dancret spat. "What she tell you, eh?"

Soames's hand dropped to his automatic.

"She gave me nothing. I took nothing," answered Graydon.

"I t'ink you damned liar," said Dancret, viciously. "We get Starrett awake," he turned to Soames. "We get him awake quick. I t'ink he tell us more about this, oui. A girl who wears stuff like this—and he lets her go! Lets her go when he knows there must be more where this come from—eh, Soames! Damned funny is right, eh? Come now, we see what Starrett tell us."

Graydon watched them go into the tent. Soon Soames came out, went to a spring that bubbled up from among the trees; returned, with water.

Well, let them waken Starrett; let him tell them whatever he would. They would not kill him that night, of that he was sure. They believed that he knew too much. And in the morning—

What was hidden in the morning for them all?

That even now they were prisoners, Graydon was sure. Suarra's warning not to leave the camp had been explicit Since that tumult of the elfin horns, her swift vanishing and the silence that had followed, he no longer doubted that they had strayed, as she had said, within the grasp of some power as formidable as it was mysterious.

The silence? Suddenly it came to him that the night had become strangely still. There was no sound either of insect or bird, nor any stirring of the familiar after-twilight life of the wilderness.

The camp was besieged by silence!

He walked away through the algarrobas. There was a scant score of the trees. They stood like a little leafy island peak within the brush-covered savanna. They were great trees, every one of them, and set with a curious regularity; as though they had not sprung up by chance; as though indeed they had been carefully planted.

Graydon reached the last of them, rested a hand against a bole that was like myriads of tiny grubs turned to soft brown wood. He peered out. The slope that lay before him was flooded with moonlight; the yellow blooms of the chiica shrubs that pressed to the very feet of the trees shone wanly in the silver flood. The faintly aromatic fragrance of the quenuar stole around him. Movement or sign of life there was none.

And yet—

The spaces seemed filled with watchers. He felt their gaze upon him. He knew that some hidden host girdled the camp. He scanned every bush and shadow —and saw nothing. The certainty of a hidden, unseen multitude persisted. A wave of nervous irritation passed through him. He would force them, whatever they were, to show themselves.

He stepped out boldly into the full moonlight.

On the instant the silence intensified. It seemed to draw taut, to lift itself up whole octaves of stillnesses. It became alert, expectant—as though poised to spring upon him should he take one step further.

A coldness wrapped him, and he shuddered. He drew swiftly back to the shadow of the trees; stood there, his heart beating furiously. The silence lost its poignancy, drooped back upon its haunches—watchful.

What had frightened him? What was there in that tightening of the stillness that had touched him with the finger of nightmare terror? He groped back, foot by foot, afraid to turn his face from the silence. Behind him the fire flared. His fear dropped from him.

His reaction from his panic was a heady recklessness. He threw a log upon the fire and laughed as the sparks shot up among the leaves. Soames, coming out of the tent for more water, stopped as he heard that laughter and scowled at him malevolently.

"Laugh," he said. "Laugh while you can. Maybe you'll laugh on the other side of your mouth when we get Starrett up and he tells us what he knows."

"That was a sound sleep I gave him, anyway," jeered Graydon.

"There are sounder sleeps. Don't forget it," Dancret's voice, cold and menacing came from the tent.

Graydon turned his back to the tent, and deliberately faced that silence from which he had just fled. He seated himself, and after a while he dozed.

He awakened with a jump. Halfway between him and the tent Starrett was charging on him like a madman, bellowing.

Graydon leaped to his feet, but before he could defend himself the giant was upon him. The next moment he was down, overborne by sheer weight. The big adventurer crunched a knee into his arm and gripped his throat.

"Let her go, did you!" he roared. "Knocked me out and then let her go! Here's where you go, too, damn you!"

Graydon tried to break the grip on his throat. His lungs labored; there was a deafening roaring in his ears, and flecks of crimson began to dance across his vision. Starrett was strangling him. Through fast dimming sight he saw two black shadows leap through the firelight and clutch the strangling hands.

The fingers relaxed. Graydon staggered up. A dozen paces away stood Starrett. Dancret, arms around his knees, was hanging to him like a little terrier. Beside him was Soames, the barrel of his automatic pressed against his stomach.

"Why don't you let me kill him!" raved Starrett. "Didn't I tell you the girl had enough green ice on her to set us up the rest of our lives? There's more where it came from! And he let her go! Let her go, the—"

Again his curses flowed.

"Now look here, Starrett," Soames's voice was deliberate. "You be quiet, or I'll do for you. We ain't goin' to let this thing get by us, me and Dancret. We ain't goin' to let this double-crossin' louse do us, and we ain't goin' to let you spill the beans by killin' him. We've struck somethin' big. All right, we're goin' to cash in on it. We're goin' to sit down peaceable, and Mister Graydon is goin' to tell us what happened after he put you out, what dicker he made with the girl and all of that. If he won't do it peaceable, then Mister Graydon is goin' to have things done to him that'll make him give up. That's all. Danc', let go his legs. Starrett, if you kick up any more trouble until I give the word I'm goin' to shoot you. From now on I boss this crowd—me and Danc'. You get me, Starrett?"

Graydon, head once more clear, slid a cautious hand down toward the pistol holster. It was empty. Soames grinned, sardonically.

"We got it, Graydon," he said. "Yours, too, Starrett. Fair enough. Sit down everybody."

He squatted by the fire, still keeping Starrett covered. And after a moment the latter, grumbling, followed suit. Dancret dropped beside him.

"Come over here, Graydon," said Soames. "Come over here and cough up. What're you holdin' out on us? Did you make a date with her to meet you after you got rid of us? If so, where is it—because we'll all go together."

"Where'd you hide those gold spears?" growled Starrett "You never let her get away with them, that's sure."

"Shut up, Starrett," ordered Soames. "I'm holdin' this inquest. Still —there's something in that. Was that it, Graydon? Did she give you the spears and her jewelry to let her go?"

"I've told you," answered Graydon. "I asked for nothing, and took nothing. Starrett's drunken folly had put us all in jeopardy. Letting the girl go free was the first vital step toward our own safety. I thought it was the best thing to do. I still think so."

"Yeah?" sneered the lank New Englander, "is that so? Well, I'll tell you, Graydon, if she'd been an Indian maybe I'd agree with you. But not when she was the kind of lady Starrett says she was. No, sir, it ain't natural. You know damned well that if you'd been straight you'd have kept her here till Danc' and me got back. Then we could all have got together and figured what was the best thing to do. Hold her until her folks came along and paid up to get her back undamaged. Or give her the third degree until she gave up where all that gold and stuff she was carrying came from. That's what you would have done, Graydon—if you weren't a dirty, lyin', double-crossin' hound."

Graydon's anger flared up.

"All right, Soames," he said. "I'll tell you. What I've said about freeing her for our own safety is true. But outside of that I would as soon have thought of trusting a child to a bunch of hyenas as I would of trusting that girl to you three. I let her go a damned sight more for her sake than I did for our own. Does that satisfy you?"

"Aha!" jeered Dancret. "Now I see! Here is this strange lady of so much wealth and beauty. She is too pure and good for us to behold. He tell her so and bid her fly. 'My hero!' she say, 'take all I have and give up this bad company.' 'No, no,' he tell her, t'inking all the time if he play his cards right he get much more, and us out of the way so he need not divide, 'no, no,' he tell her. 'But long as these bad men stay here you will not be safe.' 'My hero,' she say. 'I will go and bring back my family and they shall dispose of your bad company. But you they shall reward, my hero, oui!' Aha, so that is what it was!"

Graydon flushed; the little Frenchman's malicious travesty had shot uncomfortably close. After all, Suarra's unasked promise to save him could be construed as Dancret had suggested. Suppose he told them he had warned her that whatever the fate in store for them he was determined to share it, and would stand by them to the last? They would not believe him.

Soames had been watching him, closely.

"By God, Danc'," he said, "I guess you hit it He changed color. He's sold us out."

He raised his automatic, held it on Graydon—then lowered it.

"No," he said, deliberately. "This is too big a thing to let slip by bein' too quick on the trigger. If your dope is right, Danc', and I guess it is, the lady was mighty grateful. All right—we ain't got her, but we have got him. As I figure it, bein' grateful, she won't want him to get killed. She'll be back. Well, we'll trade him for what they got that we want. Tie him up."

He pointed the pistol at Graydon. Unresisting, Graydon let Starrett and Dancret bind his wrists. They pushed him over to one of the trees and sat him on the ground with his back against its bole. They passed a rope under his arms and hitched it securely around the trunk; they tied his feet.

"Now," said Soames, "if her gang show up in the morning, well let 'em see you, and find out how much you're worth. They won't rush us. There's bound to be a palaver. And if they don't come to terms—well, Graydon, the first bullet out of this gun goes through your guts. That'll give you time to see what we do to her before you die."

Graydon did not answer him. He knew that nothing he might say would change them from their purpose. He made himself as comfortable as possible, and closed his eyes. Once or twice he opened them, and looked at the others. They sat beside the fire, heads dose together, talking in whispers, their faces tense, and eyes feverish with the treasure lust. After a while Graydon's head dropped forward. He slept.

3. — THE WHITE LLAMA

It was dawn when Graydon awakened.

Some one had thrown a blanket over him during the night, but he was, nevertheless, cold and stiff. He drew his legs up and down painfully, trying to start the sluggish blood. He heard the others stirring in the tent. He wondered which of them had thought of the blanket, and why he had been moved to that kindness.

Starrett lifted the tent flap, passed by him without a word and went on to the spring. He returned and busied himself, furtively, about the fire. Now and then he looked at the prisoner, but seemingly with neither anger nor resentment. He slipped at last to the tent, listened, then trod softly over to Graydon.

"Sorry about this," he muttered. "But I can't do anything with Soames and Dancret. Had a hard time persuading 'em even to let you have that blanket. Take a drink of this."

He pressed a flask to Graydon's lips. He took a liberal swallow; it warmed him.

"Sh-h," warned Starrett. "Don't bear any grudge. Drunk last night. I'll help you, if—" He broke off, abruptly; busied himself with the burning logs. Out of the tent came Soames.

"I'm goin' to give you one last chance, Graydon," he began, without preliminary. "Come through clean with us on your dicker with the girl, and we'll take you back with us, and all work together and all share together. You had the edge on us yesterday, and I don't know that I blame you. But it's three to one now and the plain truth is you can't get away with it. So why not be reasonable?"

"What's the use of going over all that again, Soames?" Graydon asked, wearily. "I've told you everything. If you're wise, you'll let me loose, give me my guns and I'll fight for you when the trouble comes. For trouble is coming, man, sure—big trouble."

"Yeah!" snarled the New Englander. "Tryin' to scare us, are you? All right —there's a nice little trick of drivin' a wedge under each of your finger nails and a-keepin' drivin' 'em in. It makes 'most anybody talk after awhile. And if it don't, there's the good old fire dodge. Rollin' your feet up to it, closer and closer and closer. Yeah, anybody'll talk when their toes begin to crisp up and toast."

Suddenly he bent over and sniffed at Graydon's lips.

"So that's it!" he faced Starrett, tense, gun leveled from his hip pocket. "Been feedin' him liquor, have you? Been talkin' to him, have you? After we'd settled it last night that I was to do all the talkin'. All right, that settles you, Starrett. Dancret! Danc'! Come here, quick!" he roared.

The Frenchman came running out of the tent.

"Tie him up," Soames nodded toward Starrett. "Another damned double- crosser in the camp. Gave him liquor. Got their heads together while we were inside. Tie him."

"But, Soames," the Frenchman hesitated, "if we have to fight, it is not well to have half of us helpless, non. Perhaps Starrett he did nothing—"

"If we have to fight, two men will do as well as three," said Soames. "I ain't goin' to let this thing slip through my fingers, Danc'. I don't think we'll have to do any fightin'. If they come, I think it's goin' to be a tradin' job. Starrett's turnin' traitor, too. Tie him, I say."

"Well, I don't like it—" began Dancret; Soames made an impatient motion with his automatic; the little Frenchman went to the tent, returned with a coil of rope, and sidled up to Starrett.

"Put up your hands," ordered Soames. Starrett swung them up. But in mid- swing they closed on Dancret, lifted him like a doll and held him between himself and the gaunt New Englander.

"Now shoot, damn you!" he cried, and bore down on Soames, meeting every move of his pistol arm with Dancret's wriggling body. His own right hand swept down to the Frenchman's belt, drew from the holster his automatic, leveled it over the twisting shoulder at Soames.

"Drop your gun. Yank," grinned Starrett, triumphantly. "Or shoot if you want. But before your bullet's half through Dancret here, by Christ, I'll have you drilled clean."

There was a momentary, sinister silence—it was broken by a sudden pealing of tiny golden bells.

Their chiming cleft through the murk of murder that had fallen on the camp; lightened it; dissolved it as the sunshine does a cloud. Soames' pistol dropped; Starrett's iron grip upon Dancret relaxed.

Through the trees, not a hundred yards away, came Suarra.

A cloak of green covered the girl from neck almost to slender feet. In her hair gleamed a twisted string of emeralds. Bandlets of gold studded with the same gems circled her wrists and ankles. Behind her a snow-white llama paced, sedately. There was a broad golden collar around its neck from which dropped strands of little golden bells. At each of its silvery sides a pannier hung, woven it seemed from shining yellow rushes.

And there was no warrior host around her. She had brought neither avengers nor executioners. At the llama's side was a single attendant. Swathed in a voluminous robe of red and yellow, the hood of which covered his face. His only weapon was a long staff, vermilion. He was bent, and he fluttered and danced as he came on, taking little steps backward and forward— movements that carried the suggestion that his robes clothed less a human being than some huge bird. They drew closer, and Graydon saw that the hand that clutched the staff was thin and white with the transparent pallor of old, old age.

He strained at his bonds, a sick horror at his heart. Why had she come back—like this? Without strong men to guard her? With none but this one ancient? And decked in jewels and gold? He had warned her; she could not be ignorant of what threatened her. It was as though she had come thus deliberately—to fan the lusts from which she had most to fear.

"Diable!" whispered Dancret—"the emeralds!"

"God—what a girl!" muttered Starrett, thick nostrils distended, a red flicker in his eyes.

Soames said nothing, perplexity and suspicion replacing the astonishment with which he had watched the approach. Nor did he speak as the girl and her attendants halted close beside him. But the doubt in his eyes grew, and he scanned the path along which they had come, searching every tree, every bush. There was no sign of movement, no sound.

"Suarra!" cried Graydon, despairingly, "Suarra, why did you return?"

She stepped over to him, and drew a dagger from beneath her cloak. She cut the thongs binding him to the tree. She slipped the blade beneath the cords that fettered his wrists and ankles; freed him. He staggered to his feet.

"Was it not well for you that I did come?" she asked, sweetly.

Before he could answer, Soames strode forward. And Graydon saw that he had come to some decision, had resolved upon some course of action. He made a low, awkward, mocking bow to the girl; then spoke to Graydon.

"All right," he said, "you can stay loose—as long as you do what I want you to. The girl's back and that's the main thing. She seems to favor you a lot, Graydon. I reckon that gives us a way to persuade her to answer our questions. Yes, sir, and you favor her. That's useful, too. I reckon you won't want to be tied up an' watch certain things happen to her, eh—" he leered at Graydon. "But there's just one thing you've got to do if you want things to go along peaceable. Don't do any talkin' to her when I ain't close by. Remember, I know the Aymara as well as you do. And I want to be right alongside listenin' in all the time, do you see? That's all."

He turned to Suarra.

"Your visit has brought great happiness, maiden," he spoke in the Aymara. "It will not be a short one, if we have our way—and I think we will have our way—" There was covert menace in the phrase, yet if she noted it she gave no heed. "You are strange to us, as we must be to you. There is much for us each to learn, one of the other."

"That is true," she answered, tranquilly. "I think though that your desire to learn of me is much greater than mine to learn of you—since, as you surely know, I have had one not too pleasant lesson." She glanced at Starrett.

"The lessons," he said, "shall be pleasant—or not pleasant, as you choose."

This time there was no mistaking the menace in the words, nor did Suarra again let it pass. Her eyes blazed sudden wrath.

"Better not to threaten!" she warned. "I, Suarra, am not used to threats —and if you will take my counsel you will keep them to yourself hereafter!"

"Yeah, is that so?" Soames took a step toward her, face grown grim and ugly. There came a dry chuckling from the hooded figure in red and yellow. Suarra started; her wrath vanished, she became friendly once more.

"I was hasty," she said to Soames. "Nevertheless, it is never wise to threaten unless you know the strength of what it is you menace. And remember —of me you know nothing. Yet I know all that you wish to learn. You wish to know how I came by this—and this—and this—" she touched her coronal, her bracelet, her anklets. "You wish to know where they came from, and if there are more of them there, and if so, how you may possess yourself of as much as you can carry away. Well, you shall know all that. I have come to tell you."

At this announcement, so frank and open, all the doubt and suspicion returned to Soames. Again his eyes narrowed and he searched the trail up which Suarra had come.

"Soames," Dancret gripped his arm, and his voice and hand were both shaking, "the baskets on the llama. They're not rushes—they're gold, pure gold, pure soft gold, woven like straw! Diable! Soames, what have we struck!"

Soames's eyes glittered.

"Better go over and watch where they came up, Danc'," he answered. "I don't quite get this. It looks too cursed easy to be right. Take your rifle and squint out from the edge of the trees while I try to get down to what's what."

"There is nothing to fear," said the girl, as though she had understood the words, "no harm will come to you from me. If there is any evil in store for you, you yourselves will summon it—not we. I have come to show you the way to treasure. Only that. Come with me and you shall see where jewels like these"—she touched the gems meshed in her hair —"grow like flowers in a garden. You shall see the gold come streaming forth, living, from—" she hesitated; then went on as though reciting some lesson—"come streaming forth like water. You may bathe in that stream, drink from it if you will, carry away all that you can bear. Or if it causes you too much sorrow to leave it, why—you may stay with it forever; nay, become a part of it, even. Men of gold."

She turned from them, and walked toward the llama.

They stared at her and at each other; on the faces of three, greed and suspicion; bewilderment on Graydon's.

"It is a long journey," she faced them, one hand on the llama's head. "You are my guests—in a sense. Therefore, I have brought something for your entertainment before we start."

She began to unbuckle the panniers. Graydon was aware that this attendant of hers was a strange servant—if servant he was. He made no move to help her. Silent he stood, and motionless, face covered.

Graydon stepped forward to help the girl. She smiled up at him, half shyly. In the depths of her eyes was a glow warmer than friendliness; his hands leaped to touch hers.

Instantly Soames stepped between them.

"Better remember what I told you," he snapped.

"Help me," said Suarra. Graydon lifted the basket and set it down beside her. She slipped a hasp, bent back the soft metal withes, and drew out a shimmering packet She shook it and it floated out on the dawn wind, a cloth of silver. It lay upon the ground like a web of gossamer spun by silver spiders.

Then from the hamper she brought forth cups of gold, and deep, boat- shaped golden dishes, two tall ewers whose handles were winged serpents, their scales made, it seemed, from molten rubies. After them small golden-withed baskets. She set the silver cloth with the dishes and the cups. She opened the little baskets. In them were unfamiliar, fragrant fruits and loaves and oddly colored cakes. All these Suarra placed upon the plates. She dropped to her knees at the head of the cloth, took up one of the ewers, snapped open its lid and from it poured into the cups clear amber wine.

She raised her eyes to them; waved a white hand, graciously.

"Sit," she said. "Eat and drink."

She beckoned to Graydon; pointed to the place beside her. Silently, gaze fixed upon the glittering hoard, Starrett and Dancret and Soames squatted before the other plates. Soames thrust out a hand, took up one and weighed it, scattering what it held upon the cloth.

"Gold!" he breathed.

Starrett laughed, crazily, and raised his wine-filled goblet to his lips.

"Wait!" Dancret caught his wrist 'Eat and drink,' she said, eh? "Eat, drink and be merry—for to-morrow we die, eh—is that it?"

Soames started, his face once more dark with suspicion.

"You think it's poisoned?" he snarled.

"Maybe no—maybe so," the little Frenchman shrugged. "Anyway I t'ink it better we say 'After you' to her."

The girl looked at them, then at Graydon, inquiringly. "They are afraid. They think it is—that you have—" Graydon stumbled. "That I have put sleep—or death in it? And you?" she asked.

For answer, Graydon raised his cup and drank.

"Yet it is natural," she turned to Soames. "Yes, it is natural that you three should fear this, since—is it not so—it is what you would do if you were we, and we were you? But you are wrong. I tell you again that what there may be to fear is only that which is in yourselves."

She poured wine into her own cup and drank it; broke off a bit of Starrett's bread and ate it; took a cake from Dancret's plate and ate that; set white teeth in one of the fruits.

"Are you satisfied?" she asked them. "Oh, be very sure that if it is in my wish to bring death to you, it is in no such shape as this."

For a moment Soames glared at her. He jumped to his feet strode over to the hooded figure and snatched aside the cowl. The uncovered face was like old ivory. It was seamed with scores of fine lines. It was a face stamped with an incredible ancientness—but the eyes were as bright and as youthful as their setting was ancient.

It stared at Soames, inscrutably. For a dozen heartbeats the gaunt New Englander stared back. Then, slowly, he let the hood drop. He returned to the silver cloth. As he passed, Graydon saw that all color had drained from his cheeks. He threw himself down at his place, and drank deep of the wine, the hand that raised the goblet shaking.

He drank, and drank again from the flagon. And soon, whatever the terror he had felt, the wine drowned it The first ewer and a second, drawn by Suarra from the llama's panniers, were emptied by the three before Soames lurched to his feet.

"You're all right, sister," he said, half-drunkenly. "Just keep on treatin' us like this, and we'll end by all bein' little pals together."

"What does he say?" asked Suarra of Graydon.

"He approves of your—entertainment," answered Graydon, dryly.

"Good," Suarra, too, arose. "Then let us be going."

"We're going, sister, never fear," grinned Soames. "Danc', you stay right here and watch things. Come on, Bill—" he slapped Starrett on the back. "Everything's just fine. Come on, Graydon—bygones is bygones."

Starrett scrambled up. He linked his arm in the New Englander's. They staggered over to the tent. Dancret, upon whom the wine seemed to have had little effect, settled down on a boulder just beyond the fire and began his watch, rifle at readiness.

Graydon lingered. Soames had forgotten him, for a time at least. He meant to make the best of that time with this strange maid whose beauty and sweetness had touched him as no other woman's ever had. He drew so close that the fragrance of her cloudy hair rocked him; so close that her touching shoulder sent a flame through him.

"Suarra—" he began. She turned, and silenced him with slender fingers on his lips.

"Not now—" she whispered. "Not now—tell me nothing now of what is in your heart—Not now—nor, it may be, ever! I promised that I would save you—if I could. Of that promise was born another—" her glance turned to the silent figure, meaningly. "So speak to me not again," she went on hurriedly, "or if you must speak—let it be of—commonplace things."

She began packing the golden cups and dishes. He set about helping her. He thought, ruefully, that this was a commonplace thing enough to satisfy her. She accepted his aid without comment, looked at him no more.

When the last shining cup was in the pannier, he turned and went toward the tent to get together his duffle, pack his burro. The voices of Starrett and Soames came to him.

"But she's not Indian, Soames," Starrett was speaking. "She's whiter than you and me. What are they? And the girl—Christ!"

"What they are we'll find out, never fear," and Soames.

"To hell with the girl—take her if you want her. But I'd go through a dozen hells to get to the place where that stuff they're carryin' samples of comes from. Man—with what we could carry out on the burros and the llama and come back for—man, we could buy the world."

"Yes—unless there's a trap somewhere," said Starrett, dubiously.

"We've got the cards in our hands," the wine was wearing off Soames. "What's against us? An old dummy and a girl. Now, I'll tell you what I think. I don't know who or what they are, but whoever or whatever, you can bet there ain't many of 'em. If there was, they'd be landing on us hard. No— they're damned anxious to get us away and they're willin' to let us get out with what we can to get us away. They want to get rid of us, quick and cheap as possible. Yeah—that's what they want. Why—because they damn well know the three of us could wipe 'em all out."

"Three of us?" echoed Starrett. "Four, you mean. There's Graydon."

"Graydon don't count—the louse! Thought he'd sold us out, didn't he? All right—we'll fix Mister Graydon when the time comes. Just now he's useful to us on account of the girl. She's stuck on him. But when the time comes to divide—there'll be only three of us. And there'll only be two of us—if you do anything like you did this morning."

"Cut it out, Soames," growled Starrett. "I told you it was the hooch. I'm through with that, now that we've seen this stuff. I'm with you to the limit Do what you want with Graydon. But—I want the girl. I'd be willing to make a bargain with you—give up a part of my share."

"Oh, hell," drawled Soames. "We've been together a good many years. Bill. There's enough and plenty for the three of us. You can have the girl for nothing."

Little flecks of red danced before Graydon's eyes. Hand stretched to tear open the tent flap, he checked himself.

That was no way to help Suarra. Unarmed, what could he do? In some way, he must get his guns. And the danger was not imminent—they would do nothing before they reached that place of treasure to which Suarra had promised to lead them.

He stole back a dozen paces, waited for a moment or two; then went noisily to the tent. He thrust aside the flap and entered.

"Been a long time comin'," snarled Soames. "Been talkin'—after what I told you?"

"Not a word," lied Graydon, cheerfully—he busied himself with his belongings. "By the way, Soames, don't you think it's time to stop this nonsense and give me back my guns?"

Soames made no answer.

"Oh, all right then," said Graydon. "I only thought that they would come in handy when the pinch comes. But if you only want me to look on while you do the scrapping—well, I don't mind."

"You'd better mind," said Soames. "You'd better mind, Graydon! If the pinch comes—we're takin' no chances of a bullet in our backs. That's why you've got no guns. And if the pinch does come—well, we'll take no chances on you, anyway. Do you get me?"

Graydon shrugged. In silence the packing was completed; the tent struck; the burros loaded.

Suarra stood awaiting them at the side of the white llama. Soames walked up to her, drew from its holster his automatic, balanced it in outstretched hand.

"You know what this is?" he asked her.

"Why, yes," she answered. "It is the death weapon of your kind."

"Right," said Soames. "And it deals death quickly, quicker than spears or arrows—" He raised his voice so there could be no doubt that her silent attendant must also hear—"Now, I and these two men here carry these and others still more deadly. This man's we have taken from him. Your words may be clearest truth. I hope they are—for your sake and this man's and his who came with you. You understand me?" he asked, and grinned like a hungry wolf.

"I understand." Suarra's eyes and face were calm. "You need fear nothing from us."

"We don't," said Soames. "But you have much to fear—from us." Another moment he regarded her, menacingly; then shoved his pistol back into his holster.

"You go first," he ordered. "Your man behind you. And then him—" he pointed to Graydon. "We three march in the rear—death-weapons ready."

In that order they passed through the giant algarrobas, and out into the oddly park-like spaces beyond.

4. — THE THING THAT FLED

They had traveled over the savanna for perhaps an hour when Suarra turned to the left, entering the forest that covered the flanks of a great mountain. The trees closed on them. Graydon could see no trail, yet she went on without pause. Another hour went by and the way began to climb, the shade to deepen. Deeper it became and deeper, until the girl was but a flitting shadow.

Once or twice Graydon had glanced at the three men behind him. The darkness was making them more and more uneasy. They walked close together, eyes and ears strained to catch the first faint stirrings of ambush. And now, as the green gloom grew denser still, Soames ordered him to join Dancret and Starrett. He hesitated, read murder in the New Englander's eyes, realized the futility of resistance and dropped back. Soames pressed forward until he was close behind the cowled figure. Dancret drew Graydon between himself and Starrett, grinning.

"Soames has changed his plan," he whispered. "If there is trouble, he shoot the old devil—quick. He keep the girl to make trade wit' her people. He keep you to make trade wit' the girl. How you like— eh?"

Graydon did not answer. When the Frenchman had pressed close to him, he had felt an automatic in his side pocket If an attack did come, he could leap upon Dancret, snatch the pistol and gain for himself a fighting chance. He would shoot Soames down as remorselessly as he knew Soames would shoot him.

Darker grew the woods until the figures in front were only a moving blur. Then the gloom began to lighten. They had been passing through some ravine, some gorge whose unseen walls had been pressing in upon them, and had now begun to retreat.

A few minutes longer, and ahead of them loomed a prodigious doorway, a cleft whose sides reached up for thousands of feet. Beyond was a flood of sunshine. Suarra stopped at the rocky threshold with a gesture of warning, peered through, and beckoned them on.

Blinking, Graydon walked through the portal. He looked out over a grass- covered plain strewn with huge, isolated rocks rising from the green like menhirs of the Druids. There were no trees. The plain was dish-shaped; an enormous oval as symmetrical as though it had been molded by the thumb of some Cyclopean potter. Straight across it, three miles or more away, the forests began again. They clothed the base of another gigantic mountain whose walls arose, perpendicularly, a mile at least in air. The smooth scarps described an arc of a tremendous circle—round as Fujiyama's sacred cone, but many times its girth.

They were on a wide ledge that bordered this vast bowl This shelf was a full hundred feet higher than the bottom of the valley whose side sloped up to it like the side of a saucer. And, again carrying out that suggestion of a huge dish, the ledge jutted out like a rim. Graydon guessed that there was a concavity under his feet, and that if one should fall over the side it would be well-nigh impossible to climb back because of the overhang. The surface was about twelve feet wide, and more like a road carefully leveled by human hands than work of nature. On one side was the curving bowl of the valley with its weird monoliths and the circular scarp of the mysterious mountain; on the other the wooded cliffs, unscalable.

They set forth along the rim-like way. Noon came, and in another ravine that opened upon the strange road they had snatched from saddle bags a hasty lunch. They did not waste time in unpacking the burros. There was a little brook singing in the pass, and from it they refilled their canteens, then watered the animals. This time Suarra did not join them.

By mid-afternoon they were nearing the northern end of the bowl. All through the day the circular mountain across the plain had unrolled its vast arc of cliff. A wind had arisen, sweeping from the distant forest and bending the tall heads of the grass far below them.

Suddenly, deep within the wind, Graydon heard a faint, far-off clamor, a shrill hissing, as of some on-rushing army of serpents. The girl halted, face turned toward the sound. It came again—and louder. Her face whitened, but when she spoke her voice was steady.

"There is danger," she said. "Deadly danger for you. It may pass and —it may not. Until we know what to expect you must hide. Take your animals and tether them in the underbrush there—" she pointed to the mountainside which here was broken enough for cover—"the four of you take trees and hide behind them. Tie the mouths of your animals so that they can make no noise."

"So!" snarled Soames. "So here's the trap, is it! All right, sister, you know what I told you. We'll go into the trees, but—you go with us where we can keep our hands on you."

"I will go with you," she answered, gravely.

Soames glared at her, then turned abruptly.

"Danc'," he ordered, "Starrett—get the burros in. And Graydon —you'll stay with the burros and see they make no noise. We'll be right close—with the guns. And we'll have the girl—don't forget that."

Again the hissing shrilled down the wind.

"Be quick," the girl commanded.

When the trees and underbrush had closed in upon them it flashed on Graydon, crouching behind the burros, that he had not seen the cloaked famulus of Suarra join the retreat and seek the shelter of the woods. He parted the bushes, and peered cautiously through them. There was no one upon the path.

A sudden gust of wind tore at the trees. It brought with it a burst of the hissing, closer and more strident, and in it an undertone that thrilled him with unfamiliar terror.

A thing of vivid scarlet streaked out from the trees which here were not more than a half a mile away. It scuttled over the plain until it reached the base of one of the monoliths. It swarmed up its side to the top. There it paused, apparently scanning the forest from which it had come. He caught the impression of some immense insect, but touched with a monstrous, an incredible suggestion of humanness.

The scarlet thing slipped down the monolith, and raced through the grasses toward him. Out of the forest burst what at first glance he took for a pack of huge hunting dogs—then realized that whatever they might be, dogs they certainly were not. They came forward leaping like kangaroos, and as they leaped they glittered green and blue in the sunlight, as though armored in mail of emeralds and sapphires. Nor did ever dogs give tongue as they did. From them came the hellish hissing.

The scarlet thing darted to right, to left, frantically; then crouched at the base of another monolith, motionless.

From the trees emerged another monstrous shape. Like the questing creatures, it glittered—but as though its body were cased in polished jet. Its bulk was that of a giant draft-horse. Its neck was long and reptilian. At the base of its neck, astride it, was a man.

Graydon cautiously raised his field glasses and focused them on the pack. Directly in his line of vision was one of the creatures which had come to gaze. It stood rigid, its side toward him, pointing like a hunting dog.

It was a dinosaur!

Dwarfed to the size of a Great Dane, still there was no mistaking it. He could see its blunt and spade-shaped tail which with its powerful, pillar-like hind legs made a tripod upon which it squatted. Its body was nearly erect Its short forelegs were muscled as powerfully as it's others. It held these forelegs half curved at its breast, as though ready to clutch. They ended in four long talons, chisel shaped. One of which thrust outward like a huge thumb.

And what he had taken for mail of sapphire and emerald were scales. They overlapped like those of the armadillo. From their burnished surfaces and edges the sun struck out the jewel glints.

The creature turned its head upon its short, bull neck. It seemed to stare straight at Graydon. He saw fiery red eyes set in a sloping, bony arch of broad forehead. Its muzzle was that of a crocodile, but smaller and blunted. The jaws were studded with yellow, pointed fangs.

The rider drew up beside it. Like the others, the creature he rode was a true dinosaur. It was black scaled and longer tailed, with serpentine neck thicker than the central coil of the giant python.

The rider was a man of Suarra's own race. There was the same ivory whiteness of skin, the more than classic regularity of feature. But his face was stamped with arrogance, indifferent cruelty. He wore a close-fitting suit of green that clung to him like a glove, and his hair was a shining golden. He sat upon a light saddle fastened at the base of the long neck of his steed. Heavy reins ran up to the jaws of the jetty dinosaur's small, snake-like head.

Graydon's glasses dropped from his shaking hand. What manner of man was this who hunted with dinosaurs for dogs and a dinosaur for steed!

He looked toward the base of the monolith where the scarlet thing had crouched. It was no longer there. He caught a gleam of scarlet in the high grass not a thousand feet away. The thing was scuttering toward the rim—

There was a shrieking clamor like a thousand hissing fumaroles. The pack had found the scent, were leaping forward like a glittering green and blue comber.

The scarlet thing jumped up out of the grasses. It swayed upon four long and stilt-like legs, its head a full twelve feet above the ground. High on these stilts of legs was its body, almost round and no bigger than a half-grown boy's. From the sides of the body stretched two sinewy arms —like human arms pulled out to twice their normal length. Body, arms and legs were covered with fine scarlet hair. Its face, turned toward its pursuers, Graydon could not see.

The pack rushed upon it. The thing hurled itself like a thunderbolt straight toward the rim.

Graydon heard beneath him a frantic scrambling and scratching. Gray hands came over the edge of the road, gripping the rock with foot-long fingers like blunt needles of bone. They clutched and drew forward. Behind them appeared spindling, scarlet-haired arms.

Over the edge peered a face, gray as the hands. Within it were two great unwinking round and golden eyes.

A man's face—and not a man's!

A face such as he had never seen upon any living creature... yet there could be no mistaking the humanness of it—the humanness which lay over the incredible visage like a veil.

He thought he saw a red rod dart out of air and touch the face—the red rod of Suarra's motley-garbed attendant Whether he saw it or not, the clutching claws opened and slid away. The gray face vanished.

Up from the hidden slope arose a wailing, agonized shriek, and a triumphant hissing. Then out into the range of his vision bounded the black dinosaur, its golden-haired rider shouting. Behind it leaped the pack. They crossed the plain like a thunder cloud pursued by emerald and sapphire lightnings. They passed into the forest, and were gone.

Suarra stepped out of the tree shadows, the three adventurers close behind her, white-faced and shaking. She stood looking where the dinosaurs had disappeared, and her face was set, and her eyes filled with loathing.

"Suarra!" gasped Graydon. "That thing—the thing that ran— what was it? God—it had the face of a man!"

"It was no man," she shook her head. "It was a—Weaver. Perhaps he had tried to escape. Or perhaps Lantlu opened a way for him that he might be tempted to escape. For Lantlu delights in hunting with the Xinli—" her voice shook with hatred—"and a Weaver will do when there is nothing better!"

"A Weaver? It had a man's face!" It was Soames, echoing Graydon.

"No," she repeated. "It was no—man. At least no man as you are. Long, long ago his ancestors were men like you—that is true. But now —he is—only a Weaver."

She turned to Graydon.

"Yu-Atlanchi by its arts fashioned him and his kind. Remember him, Graydon —when you come to our journey's end!"

She stepped out upon the path. There stood the cowled figure, waiting as tranquilly as though it had never stirred. She called to the white llama, and again took her place at the head of the little caravan. Soames touched Graydon, arousing him from the troubled thought into which her enigmatic warning had thrown him.

"Take your place, Graydon," he muttered. "We'll follow. Later I want to talk to you. Maybe you can get your guns back—if you're reasonable."

"Hurry," said Suarra, "the sun sinks, and we must go quickly. Before to- morrow's noon you shall see your garden of jewels, and the living gold streaming for you to do with it as you will—or the gold to do as it wills with you."

She looked the three over, swiftly, a shadow of mockery in her eyes. Soames' lips tightened.

"Get right along, sister," he said, sardonically. "All you have to do is show us. Then your work is done. We'll take care of the rest."

She shrugged, carelessly. They set forth once more along the rimmed path.

The plain was silent, deserted. From the far forests came no sound. Graydon strove for sane comprehension of what he had just beheld. A Weaver, Suarra had named the scarlet thing—and had said that once its ancestors had been men like themselves. He remembered what, at their first meeting, she had told him of the powers of this mysterious Yu-Atlanchi. Did she mean that her people had mastered the secrets of evolution so thoroughly that they had learned how to reverse its processes as well? Could control —devolution!

Well, why not? In man's long ascent from the primeval jelly on the shallow shores of the warm first seas, he had worn myriad shapes. And as he moved higher from one form to another, changing to vertebrate, discarding cold blood for warm, still was he kin to the fish he caught today, to the furred creatures whose pelts clothed his women, to the apes he brought from the jungles to study or to amuse him. Even the spiders that spun in his gardens, the scorpion that scuttled from the tread of his feet, were abysmally distant blood-brothers.

When St. Francis of Assisi had spoken of Brother Fly, Brother Wolf, Brother Snake, he had voiced scientific truth.

All life on earth had a common origin. Divergent now and Protean-shaped, still man and beast, fish and serpent, lizard and bird, ant and bee and spider, all had come from those once similar specks of jelly, adrift millions upon millions of years ago in the shallow littorals of the first seas. Protobion, Gregory of Edinburgh had named it—the first stuff of life from which all life was to develop.

Were the germs of all those shapes man had worn in his slow upward climb still dormant in him?

Roux, the great French scientist, had taken the eggs of frogs and, by manipulating them, had produced giant frogs and dwarfs, frogs with two heads and one body, frogs with one head and eight legs, three-headed frogs with legs numerous as centipedes'. And he had produced from these eggs, also, creatures which in no way resembled frogs at all.

Vornikoff, the Russian, and Schwartz, the German, had experimented with still higher forms of life, producing chimera, nightmare things they had been forced to slay—and quickly.

If Roux and the others had done all this—and they had done it, Graydon knew—then was it not possible for greater scientists to awaken those dormant germs in man, and similarly create—such creatures as the scarlet thing? A spider-man!

Nature, herself, had given them the hint. Nature from time to time produced such abnormalities—human monsters marked outwardly if not inwardly with the stigmata of the beast, the fish, even the crustacean. Babies with gill slits in their throats babies with tails; babies furred. The human embryo passed through all these stages, from the protoplasmic unicell up—compressing the age-long drama of evolution into less than a year.

Might it not well be, then, that in Yu-Atlanchi dwelt those to whom the crucible of birth held no secrets; who could dip within it and mold from its contents what they would?

A loom is a dead machine upon which fingers work more or less clumsily. The spider is both machine and artisan, spinning and weaving more surely, more exquisitely than can any lifeless mechanism worked by man. What man-made machine had ever approached the delicacy, the beauty of the spider's web?

Suddenly Graydon seemed to behold a whole new world of appalling grotesquerie—spider-men and spider-women spread upon huge webs and weaving with needled fingers wondrous fabrics, mole-men and mole-women burrowing, opening mazes of subterranean passages, cloacae, for those who had wrought them into being; amphibian folk busy about the waters—a phantasmagoria of humanity, monstrously twinned with Nature's perfect machine, while still plastic in the womb!

Shuddering, he thrust away that nightmare vision.

5. — THE ELFIN HORNS

The sun was halfway down the west when they came to the end of the oval plain. Here the mountain thrust out a bastion which almost touched the cliff at the right. Into the narrow cleft between the two they filed, and through the semi-gloom of this ravine they marched over a smooth rock floor, their way running always up, although at an easy grade. The sun was behind the westward peaks and dusk was falling when they emerged.

They stood at the edge of a little moor. Upon the left, the arc of the circular mountain resumed its march. The place was, indeed, less a moor than a barren. Its floor was clean white sand. It was dotted with hillocks, mounds flat-topped as though constantly swept by brooms of wind. Upon the slopes of these mounds a fall grass grew sparsely. The hillocks arose about a hundred feet apart, with a singular regularity, like tumuli, graves in a cemetery of giants. The little barren covered about five acres. Around it clustered the forest. He heard the gurgling of a brook.

Suarra led them across the sands until she reached a mound close to the center of the place.

"You will camp here," she said. "Water is close by. You may light a fire, and you can sleep without fear. By dawn we must be away."

She left them, and walked with red-and-yellow robe toward one of the neighboring knolls. The white llama followed her. Graydon had expected Soames to halt her, but he did not. Instead, his eyes flashed some message to Dancret and Starrett. It seemed to Graydon they were pleased that the girl was not to share their camp, that they welcomed the distance she had put between them.

And their manner toward him had changed. They were comradely once more.

"Mind takin' the burros over to water?" asked Soames. "Well get the fire goin', and chow ready."

Graydon nodded and led the animals over to the brook. Taking them back after they had drunk their fill, he looked over at the mound to which Suarra had gone. At its base stood a small square tent, glimmering in the twilight like silk. Tethered close to it was the white llama, placidly munching grass and grain. Its hampers of woven golden withes were still at its sides. Neither Suarra nor the hooded man was visible. They were, he supposed, within the tent.

At his own hillock a fire was crackling and supper being prepared. As he came up, Starrett jerked a thumb at the little tent.

"Took it out of the saddle-bags," he said. "Looked like a folded umbrella and went up like one. Who'd ever think to find anything like that in this wilderness!"

"Lots of things I t'ink in those saddle-bags we have not yet seen maybe," whispered Dancret.

"You bet," said Soames. "An' the loot we've already seen's enough to set us all up for life. Eh, Graydon?"

"She has promised you much more," answered Graydon, troubled by the undercurrent in the New Englander's voice.

"Yeah," said Soames, "yeah—I guess so. But—well, let's eat."

The four sat around the burning sticks, as they had for so many nights before his fight with Starrett. And, to Graydon's astonishment, they ignored the weird tragedy of the plain; avoided it, swiftly changed the subject when twice, to test them, he brought it up. Their talk was all of the treasure so close to them, and of what could be done with it when back in their own world. Piece by piece they went over the golden hoard in the white llama's packs; discussed Suarra's jewels and their worth. It was as though they were bent upon infecting him with their own avarice.

"Hell! Why, with only her emeralds none of us'd have to worry!" Starrett repeated, with variations, over and over.

Graydon listened with increasing disquiet There was something behind this studied avoidance of the destruction of the scarlet thing by the dinosaurs, this constant reference to the rich loot at hand, the reiterated emphasis upon what ease and luxuries it would bring them all.

Suddenly he realized that they were afraid, that terror of the unknown struggled with treasure-lust and that therefore they were doubly dangerous. Something was hidden in the minds of the three to whose uncovering all this talk was only the preamble.

At last Soames looked at his watch.

"Nearly eight," he said, abruptly. "Dawn breaks about five. Time to talk turkey. Graydon, come up close."

The four drew into a huddle in the shelter of the knoll. From where they crouched, Suarra's tent was hidden—as they were hidden to any watchers in that little silken pavilion looking now like a great silver moth at rest under the moonlight.

"Graydon," began the New Englander, "we've made up our minds on this thing. We're goin' to do it a little different. We're glad and willin' to let bygones be bygones. Here we are, four white men among a bunch of God knows what. White men ought to stick together. Ain't that so?"

Graydon nodded, waiting.

"All right, then," said Soames. "Now here's the situation. I don't deny that what we seen to-day gave us all a hell of a jolt. We ain't equipped to go up against anything like that pack of hissin' devils. But, an' here's the point, we can beat it out an' come back equi...

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