Chapter III. Kazmah




Mrs. Monte Irvin entered the inner room. The air was heavy with the perfume of frankincense which smouldered in a brass vessel set upon a tray. This was the audience chamber of Kazmah. In marked contrast to the overcrowded appointments, divans and cupboards of the first room, it was sparsely furnished. The floor was thickly carpeted, but save for an ornate inlaid table upon which stood the tray and incense- burner, and a long, low-cushioned seat placed immediately beneath a hanging lamp burning dimly in a globular green shade, it was devoid of decoration. The walls were draped with green curtains, so that except for the presence of the painted door, the four sides of the apartment appeared to be uniform.

Having conducted Mrs. Irvin to the seat, the Egyptian bowed and retired again through the doorway by which they had entered. The visitor found herself alone.

She moved nervously, staring across at the blank wall before her. With her little satin shoe she tapped the carpet, biting her under lip and seeming to be listening. Nothing stirred. Not even an echo of busy Bond Street penetrated to the place. Mrs. Irvin unfastened her cloak and allowed it to fall back upon the settee. Her bare shoulders looked waxen and unnatural in the weird light which shone down upon them. She was breathing rapidly.

The minutes passed by in unbroken silence. So still was the room that Mrs. Irvin could hear the faint crackling sound made by the burning charcoal in the brass vessel near her. Wisps of blue-grey smoke arose through the perforated lid and she began to watch them fascinatedly, so lithe they seemed, like wraiths of serpents creeping up the green draperies.

So she was seated, her foot still restlessly tapping, but her gaze arrested by the hypnotic movements of the smoke, when at last a sound from the outer world, penetrated to the room. A church clock struck the hour of seven, its clangor intruding upon the silence only as a muffled boom. Almost coincident with the last stroke came the sweeter note of a silver gong from somewhere close at hand.

Mrs. Irvin started, and her eyes turned instantly in the direction of the greenly draped wall before her. Her pupils had grown suddenly dilated, and she clenched her hands tightly.

The light above her head went out.

Now that the moment was come to which she had looked forward with mingled hope and terror, long pent-up emotion threatened to overcome her, and she trembled wildly.

Out of the darkness dawned a vague light and in it a shape seemed to take form. As the light increased the effect was as though part of the wall had become transparent so as to reveal the interior of an inner room where a figure was seated in a massive ebony chair. The figure was that of an oriental, richly robed and wearing a white turban. His long slim hands, of the color of old ivory, rested upon the arms of the chair, and on the first finger of the right hand gleamed a big talismanic ring. The face of the seated man was lowered, but from under heavy brows his abnormally large eyes regarded her fixedly.

So dim the light remained that it was impossible to discern the details with anything like clearness, but that the clean-shaven face of the man with those wonderful eyes was strikingly and intellectually handsome there could be no doubt.

This was Kazmah, "the dream reader," and although Mrs. Irvin had seen him before, his statuesque repose and the weirdness of his unfaltering gaze thrilled her uncannily.

Kazmah slightly raised his hand in greeting: the big ring glittered in the subdued light.

"Tell me your dream," came a curious mocking voice; "and I will read its portent."

Such was the set formula with which Kazmah opened all interviews. He spoke with a slight and not unmusical accent. He lowered his hand again. The gaze of those brilliant eyes remained fixed upon the woman's face. Moistening her lips, Mrs. Irvin spoke.

"Dreams! What I have to say does not belong to dreams, but to reality!" She laughed unmirthfully. "You know well enough why I am here."

She paused.

"Why are you here?"

"You know! You know!" Suddenly into her voice had come the unmistakable note of hysteria. "Your theatrical tricks do not impress me. I know what you are! A spy--an eavesdropper who watches--watches, and listens! But you may go too far! I am nearly desperate--do you understand?--nearly desperate. Speak! Move! Answer me!"

But Kazmah preserved his uncanny repose.

"You are distracted," he said. "I am sorry for you. But why do you come to me with your stories of desperation? You have insisted upon seeing me. I am here."

"And you play with me--taunt me!"

"The remedy is in your hands."

"For the last time, I tell you I will never do it! Never, never, never!"

"Then why do you complain? If you cannot afford to pay for your amusements, and you refuse to compromise in a simple manner, why do you approach me?"

"Oh, my God!" She moaned and swayed dizzily--"have pity on me! Who are you, what are you, that you can bring ruin on a woman because--" She uttered a choking sound, but continued hoarsely, "Raise your head. Let me see your face. As heaven is my witness, I am ruined--ruined!"

"Tomorrow--"

"I cannot wait for tomorrow--"

That quivering, hoarse cry betrayed a condition of desperate febrile excitement. Mrs. Irvin was capable of proceeding to the wildest extremities. Clearly the mysterious Egyptian recognized this to be the case, for slowly raising his hand:

"I will communicate with you," he said, and the words were spoken almost hurriedly. "Depart in peace--"; a formula wherewith he terminated every seance. He lowered his hand.

The silver gong sounded again--and the dim light began to fade.

Thereupon the unhappy woman acted; the long suppressed outburst came at last. Stepping rapidly to the green transparent veil behind which Kazmah was seated, she wrenched it asunder and leapt toward the figure in the black chair.

"You shall not trick me!" she panted. "Hear me out or I go straight to the police--now--now!" She grasped the hands of Kazmah as they rested motionless, on the chair-arms.

Complete darkness came.

Out of it rose a husky, terrified cry--a second, louder cry; and then a long, wailing scream . . . horror-laden as that of one who has touched some slumbering reptile. . . .



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