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Title: The Almedi Concession Author: Fred M White * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1200281h.html Language: English Date first posted: January 2012 Date most recently updated: January 2012 This eBook was produced by: Roy Glashan Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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"IT SEEMS to me, Sir Charles," Newton Moore remarked, "to be a very pretty case. I dare say I can manage it."
Sir Charles Morley smiled. The big Foreign Office magnate had every confidence in the famous Secret Service agent, and fully appreciated his methods.
"It is a remarkable case," he replied. "But perhaps I had better give you the chief points of the matter in question."
It was an interesting story that Sir Charles had to unfold. On the north-west frontier of India lay a large, rugged territory given over to the peaceful Almedi tribe. Time was when the Almedis—born fighters to a man—had caused considerable trouble to the Indian Government. Strategically their position was almost impregnable, but patience and pluck, to say nothing of much precious blood, had accomplished wonders, and to-day the Almedi State formed a buffer against the southern progress of Russia.
The State was peaceful enough now; it was under the suzerainty of England, although the present Prince Kalahami, the head of the Almedis, was to all practical purposes an absolute monarch, doing pretty well as he pleased so long as he remained friendly disposed to the Indian Administration.
In the course of time the ubiquitous English adventurer had thrust his way into the heart of Almedi, and made his home there. He planted tea and it flourished, he prospected for minerals and he found them. The inevitable syndicate followed, and large concessions had been obtained from Prince Kalahami in return for the sum of fifty thousand odd pounds, paid over to the dusky potentate in Bank of England notes.
This little business had taken place over a year ago; then, to the surprise of the syndicate, they learnt that Kalahami had changed his mind and pledged his mines to a Russian company. In vain the syndicate pointed to the fact that they had paid hard cash for their concessions. Kalahami blandly denied the receipt of the money. Certainly a representative of the company had called upon him, but he had made certain fresh demands which Kalahami had with pain to decline; whereupon the agent had taken himself off in dudgeon, and the head of the Almedis knew no more of the matter. On the grave of his maternal grandfather he swore it.
"As a matter of fact," Sir Charles explained, "we are perfectly certain that the agent in question, Captain Stanmore, and his companion, Mr. Rivers, were robbed of this money at the instigation of Kalahami, and basely murdered. Now Russia is pushing in the interests of her company, a matter we cannot possibly permit to come to a head for strategical and other reasons. Unless we can force the truth from Kalahami, things may become serious. If the Prince can be made to confess, Russia is powerless to carry the game further. To find the truth and to bring Kalahami to book is your business."
"My knowledge of India is nil," Moore confessed; "still, I am quite ready to undertake anything I am ordered."
Sir Charles Morley smiled.
"We value your services too highly to expose you to any unnecessary risk," he said.
"Your work will be all done in London."
"I won't pretend not to be glad of that," Moore replied; "but I don't quite see how that is to be done, Sir Charles."
"Prince Kalahami is in London."
"Indeed! Strange that I have seen no mention of it in the papers."
"There are times when the Prince is exceedingly retiring," Sir Charles said drily.
"It was only by the merest accident that we made the discovery. Of course, for a long time we have been morally certain that Captain Stanmore and Mr. Rivers were murdered at Kalahami's instigation. For months we have been waiting for some of these notes to be returned to the bank. One of them was cashed yesterday, actually bearing Kalahami's indorsement on the back."
"Is the man a fool?" Moore cried.
"Far from it, I assure you; but he is a man who drinks immoderately, as his signature on the note shows. That it is really the Prince's signature we have no doubt. The note was traced to a small tobacconist in the Euston Road, who says he obtained it from a dark gentleman with a scar on his forehead who has been a good customer of his. This description tallies with Kalahami, who we know frequently comes to London on orgies of this kind. Kalahami was educated at Eton and Oxford, and by training, at any rate, is practically an Englishman. In those days he was the second son of the ruler of Almedi. There was at Oxford a disgraceful episode in which Kalahami was the chief factor; indeed, he most probably would have been hanged for murder only his elder brother died suddenly at this time, and for diplomatic reasons we had to hush the matter up and bustle Kalahami back home."
Moore nodded gravely. He began to see his way.
"Can I make use of that episode?" he asked.
"My dear Moore, I told it you on purpose," Sir Charles replied. "Kalahami is to all practical purposes a British subject. He is domiciled here for the present, and if you or anybody else cares to look up the facts and lay an information against the Prince, he will be arrested like any malefactor I presume your idea will be to corner your man and blackmail him."
Moore smiled and nodded.
"That is what it comes to," he said. "The Foreign Office does not care to interfere for fear of complications. But a presumably private individual like myself might become disagreeable. On the other hand, I might be disposed to hold my tongue for a price—say that Concession duly signed and witnessed. But that, you will leave to me. Once this is done, we are likely to hear no more of the Russian Company."
A less exalted individual than Sir Charles Morley might have been said to wink. Anyway he smiled approval.
"That is all I ask you to do," he said.
"If I can furnish you with any further information, I shall be glad to do so."
"I want very little," Moore replied, "merely the address of the tobacconist at whose shop the note was cashed and the address of any Oxford undergraduate who was in anyway connected with the mysterious affair at Oxford. Thus armed, I feel sure I shall succeed."
Sir Charles Morley handed certain pencil notes to Moore.
"I guessed you would require these," he said, "and I feel quite certain that your mission will be successful."
MOORE had lost no time in getting to work. At the end of a week he had all the information he desired at his finger-tips. Three or four days at Oxford had produced surprising results, and all that remained now was to make the acquaintance of the man who was the cause of the mischief.
That Kalahami would sooner or later call on the Euston Road tobacconist, Moore felt certain. For three evenings he hung round the dingy little place, and on the fourth evening he coined his patience into current result.
A short, powerfully-built man came down the road. He lurched slightly, as one might after a liberal allowance of strong waters. As he passed Moore, the latter saw that he was dressed in the height of fashion—frock coat and silk hat—redolent of Bond Street. And the man was an Indian native beyond doubt. He stepped into the tobacconist's and Moore followed.
"A box of cigars, as before," the dark-skinned man demanded. He spoke as one who is accustomed to command and be obeyed. "And change this note."
Moore thrilled as he saw the note indorsed. He saw the sprawling signature he had expected. A little later on and he was following Kalahami down the road. Before the Marylcbone Music Hall Kalahami paused and entered. Moore lost no time in doing the same.
For a time Kalahami sat stolidly regarding the performance and drinking deeply. From his place Moore could study the Almedi's face at leisure. A strong, dogged face—a face hiding vice and cruelty behind a brown mask. The veneer of Western civilisation seemed washed thin by alcohol.
As Kalahami's potations got in their work, he grew noisy. His dark eyes gleamed, he struck savagely at an attendant who sought to check the wild exuberance of his spirits. Two minutes later, a yelling, kicking demon, with coat split all up the back, was being hoisted into the street none too gently. A little knot of people, a jeering gamin or two, and the electric light gleaming on a policeman's helmet, made up the picture.
"Now you just hook it quietly home," the policeman said sententiously, "else you'll have to come along with me."
Moore pressed forward.
"It's all right, officer," he said. "My friend is a trifle excited. I will see that he reaches home in safety."
The little crowd melted away, a pair of regulation police boots clanked along the asphalt. Kalahami regarded his new friend with doubt.
"Who the devil are you?" he demanded.
Moore declared his identity freely. Then he moved on.
"I have no desire to intrude on you," he said. "Out of mere politeness I did my best to get you out of an awkward scrape, and I seem to have succeeded. Good-night."
Kalahami's doubtful mood vanished. He smiled. On the whole Moore preferred the other expression of features; for, sooth to say, the Indian's smile was not so pleasant. There was something diabolically cruel and cunning in it.
"One has to be careful, you know," he muttered.
"I am aware of that," Moore said drily, "That is why I wish you good-night."
The Indian laughed outright. His moods were many and varied. Lack of humor was evidently not one of his failings. He slipped his arm through Moore's with a grip that betokened maudlin affection.
"You're a good chap," he remarked. "One of the best, don't you know. Heavens, if my people out yonder could only see me now! I'm not so bad as you think, dear boy. I've got my wits about me. I'm a Prince."
He drew himself up with a ludicrous gravity. Despite his condition there was a suggestion of blood about him. Moore could easily imagine him in native dress at the head of an army.
"May I ask your name?" Moore insinuated gently.
"Prince Kalahami," was the reply. "But I'm Jones here. Don't you give me away. I'm a funny chap, and that's a fact. Half my time I'm John Jones, of London, and the other half I'm an Indian monarch dressed out like old Solomon in all his glory and sober as a judge. Wouldn't think it, eh?"
"You won't think it in the morning," Moore said guardedly.
"Don't believe me, eh? Come and make a night of it."
Moore declined the tempting offer, and, as an alternative, proposed an adjournment to his own rooms for coffee or soda water, or restoratives of that kind. The amiable facet of Kalahami's nature being most in evidence, he consented.
A little later on he was seated in a basket chair, with a cigarette and coffee. As the narcotic fought down the fumes of the whisky Kalahami developed a certain suspicion of demeanor not unexpected by Moore. His dark eyes seemed to be searching for something he could not find. "Look here," he exclaimed, "you're not a police spy or anything of that kind?"
"No," Moore replied. "I am merely a Secret Service Agent."
Kalahami jumped to his feet with a cry half rage, half fear. That he had been lured here for some purpose, Moore's manner made perfectly plain.
"Let me out," he demanded. "I will not be detained here."
Moore's only reply was to take a framed photograph from the mantelpiece and place it on a table at Kalahami's elbow. It was the picture of a young man with clear, open eyes, and an exceedingly pleasant expression.
"I fancy you knew my friend, Oliver King," he said.
Kalahami changed from a dusky copper to a dull yellow. His lips against the chrome were ashy, so violent a contrast that Moore shuddered.
"I—I never saw him in my life," the Indian gasped.
"You murdered him," Moore said sternly.
The face of the one-time Oxford undergraduate seemed to smile approval from the table. That the victim was personally unknown to Moore it was no policy of his to disclose. He had the whole story of the crime, chapter and verse, and that was quite sufficient for his purpose.
He looked again at the face of the man he had lured here for his own ends. His features were bedabbled with moisture, his eyes were as the eyes of the cur who is being whipped in the corner, fearsome and yet afraid to bite. And yet there was a light in the vibrating pupils that told Moore of a hatred that could never be lost even in a stream of blood.
Moore lighted another cigarette and resumed his seat.
"I will not disguise the fact that I have been looking for you for some time," he said quietly. "I have been looking for you in the way of business. Your own folly betrayed your presence in England, and my own researches have done the rest. If I choose, I can have you arrested for murder to-night."
The Indian made a gurgling noise in his throat.
"Going to try the blackmailing dodge?" he demanded. "Think I've come over here with a hatful of money, I dare say."
"I think you came over with fifty thousand pounds in Bank of England notes," Moore proceeded in the same calm way. "I suppose it never occurred to you that those notes could be traced. That is the disadvantage of no business training. I could force you to disgorge that money if I liked."
"Take half," Kalahami suggested hoarsely.
"I don't intend to take a penny," Moore replied, "because you are going to pay me in quite another way. Mind you, I have seen Critchett and Denton and Manlove, also the girl Grace Denbey, and I have plenty of evidence to obtain a warrant for your arrest for murder at Oxford. The Government of that day might have chosen to hush that affair up, but if any private individual demands an investigation, no administration on earth could save your neck. Grace Denbey's evidence alone would suffice to hang you."
Kalahami listened with the moisture trickling down his face. There was the same fear in his eyes, the same murder lurking behind it.
"Why do you persecute me?" he demanded. "What can you gain by—"
"I can gain the Concession you gave to the Asian Exploration Company, and which you had removed from the body of Captain Stanmore after he had been murdered at your instigation."
"But I couldn't do it," Kalahami cried.
"I dare not do it. If Russia only knew that there was any chance of such a thing—"
He paused suddenly as if conscious that he was saying too much. He knew perfectly well that Moore was making no idle boast.
"I fancy I know what you were going to say," Moore remarked. "But for Russia, I have no need to trouble you at all. I offer you the choice of two alternatives—the scaffold or the original Concession."
"I don't carry it in my pocket," Kalahami growled.
"I didn't suppose so. The point is, is it in England? If not we can have another one drawn up and signed to-morrow. If, however, the original still exists, I should much prefer that."
The Indian bent his eyes gloomily on the floor.
"I have it in town here," he said, as if the words were dragged from him. "This means ruin to me, but I see you intend to have your way. My address is 17, Clarendon Square. Lunch with me at two to-morrow, and the document is yours."
Moore hesitated for a moment. It was just possible that some treachery was afoot. Then, as he contemplated the ghastly, sweat-bedabbled face, contempt for his own fears filled him
"I will be there," he said gravely.
SO FAR Newton Moore had been successful. The case was becoming absolutely prosaic. If Prince Kalahami only handed over the Concession without further trouble the matter was ended.
But would he? Over his cigarette, which he took in lieu of breakfast, Moore thought the matter out. A man of no imagination would have concluded the business with no more feeling than a tax collector. But Moore was not an ordinary man, and his imagination was painfully vivid.
Moreover, he had formed a fairly high estimate of the intellectual capacities of the Indian Prince. The man's eyes were evil, but a light of intelligence shone in them. He was not at all the kind of man to give way without a struggle. Whether he would dare to resort to violence was another matter.
"Anyway, I'll have to go," Moore told himself. "I can't very well back out of it now. Only I wish I had not read so many stories of the diabolical cruelty and cunning of th Oriental mind."
Moore felt restless and miserable as the hour arrived. Had he known what specific danger he had to face, he would have gone to it cheerfully. But he had a horror of unseen perils as he had a horror of death.
His imagination had stood him in good stead many a time, but the price charged was a fancy one in many senses. The price was a heavy one now. With his heart more or less in his mouth, and a fine contempt for himself surging in his breast, Moore drove to Clarendon Square. The locality half a century ago had been held to be a fashionable one: to-day it consisted of gloomy houses, aloof, unneighborly. At the gloomiest and grimiest of these the cab presently pulled up.
"Don't like it," Moore muttered; "it's the kind of place where a man might be done to death and rot for months. How lonely London can be if a man likes to make it so."
He pulled savagely at the bell, and a great brazen discord arose within. A manservant dressed in a quiet livery opened the door. He had the airs and manners of a trained footman, nevertheless his features were decidedly Oriental. He conducted Moore along a gloomy hall to a room at the back which, by contrast, was exceedingly bright and cheerful.
"The Prince will be with you directly, sir," the vanishing footman murmured.
A confidential servant, an Almedi, no doubt. Probably every servant in the house was of similar caste. Moore had no doubt of the fact a minute or two later when the door opened and Kalahami entered.
"I am rejoiced to place my poor hospitality before you," he said gravely.
Moore regarded his host with surprise. The sham European voice had disappeared, gone was the frock coat, gone was the knowing Western manner. In his stead stood a grandee of India, grave, dignified, and magnificently dressed, from his flashing jewelled turban to the pearl-embroidered slippers.
"Your Highness is most kind," Moore murmured.
The Prince smiled, his vanity had been touched.
"Sit down," he said. "There are times when I prefer to play the Prince, and this is one of them. You came here to discuss important State matters, in fact you came—"
"—to enable your Highness to fulfil a promise."
Kalahami bowed with regal grace and urbanity. Moore contemplated him vaguely. It seemed as if this man had changed his nature with his garments. As a matter of fact Prince Kalahami was his natural self. The other side of his life was merely the outbreak of inherent vice rendered ranker by long contamination with what we are pleased to call Western civilisation.
Kalahami lighted a cigarette, and passed the box to Moore.
"I have been thinking this matter over," he said gravely, "and I have come to the conclusion that I had better be perfectly frank with you. You have a certain hold over me which gives you a terrible advantage. So long as I remain in England you are in a position to reduce me to the level of a common criminal. Personally, I am quite sure you have no desire to do this."
The speaker paused, and Moore pulled himself together. Could this grave and stately Prince of blood be the drunken "bounder " of the previous night?
"I have no desire to do anything but my duty," said Moore.
"I quite understand that you have no personal feeling in the matter. Your Government does not desire to be officially cognisant of this matter, so they give you certain information and leave you to do your best. Permit me to congratulate the Foreign Office on their representative."
"Your Highness overwhelms me," murmured Moore.
"Not at all. You have discretion, tact, courage. You have forced my hand and compelled me to proclaim myself as a charlatan, a trickster, and a shedder of innocent blood. In London I am compelled to bow to the inevitable. Out yonder I should have you strangled without the least compunction. I am bound to remain in London a little longer, or you would not have found me here to-day. Do you understand the humiliating position you are placing me in as regards Russia?"
"I am acting from a sense of duty," Moore replied. "I have come here for the promised Concession. Once I obtain that, my work is finished—and my lips sealed."
"After luncheon you shall have the Concession."
Moore was pleased, yet disturbed. This was by no means the kind of man to yield a point in so calm and imperturbable a manner. There must be a raging flood behind those impenetrable floodgates.
Kalahami smote upon a silver gong, and immediately two folding doors were thrown back and an inner room was disclosed. Here an elaborate luncheon was laid out for two. There was no window beyond the inner room, nothing but a small but beautifully arranged conservatory shut off from the luncheon chamber by a pair of ornamental bronze gates. A cry of surprise and admiration broke from Moore. His artistic nature was touched.
"How exceedingly beautiful," he exclaimed. "What exquisite flowers and ferns. Those magnificent gates add greatly to the picture; possibly they have been arranged for safety as well as for artistic effect."
Kalahami smiled as he drew up to the table.
"Safety certainly," he said, "but not quite in the way you mean. The glass of the conservatory is thick enough to defy the predatory classes, but the gates were erected because at one time I kept a pair of jaguars beyond the bars. But the space was too small, and I had to dispose of them. So long as I want to live here quietly as Mr. Jones, of Clarendon Square—a thing I have done on and off for years—I have to be careful. And now let me give you a little of this stewed trout. You need not be afraid."
Moore colored slightly. The idea had flashed across his mind that the Indian Prince might have lured him here with murderous intent.
"I pay you the compliment of taking you for a clever man," the Prince resumed. "I dare say you have contrived to let somebody you can trust know where you are at this present moment. That is so, Mr. Moore?"
"That is quite correct, your Highness."
Kalahami smiled as he attacked his trout with great good humor.
"I felt quite certain of it," he said. "Therefore any design I may have upon you will not be carried out through the medium of the repast. There is champagne, or claret if you prefer it. Prince Kalahami is a total abstainer."
Nothing could have been better appointed or in better taste. The dishes were few, but they had been prepared by a master of his craft. The wines were classic, the fruit blushed, cool and fragrant. The Indian touched little beyond rice and a curry, he ignored the wines; but he consumed four large peaches and two cups of coffee. As the cigarettes came he raised his hand towards the conservatory.
"Let us go and smoke there," he suggested. "You are in no hurry?"
"I can spare an hour," Moore replied.
One of the handsome gates was thrown open, and Moore passed beyond. The atmosphere was hot and heavy, the fragrance of the flowers a trifle overpowering; but Moore had lunched well, and the languid atmosphere suited his mood. The space was small, barely sufficient for two armchairs and the various flowers and ferns, and an old-fashioned stand of drawers on the far side.
"In that third drawer is the Concession," Kalahami explained. "When you leave you shall take it out with your own hands."
Moore's fears had fallen to zero. Nothing could be more fair or open than the way in which he had been treated. He expanded over his cigarette.
"I expected to have had more trouble than this," he said.
The Indian gave him a quick, flashing glance. His eyes lighted with flame.
"I know when I am beaten," he said. "The strong man always does. Otherwise I would have had you removed without the slightest scruple. You dog, I would murder you now if I only dared! As it is—"
Kalahami paused and laughed. The passion passed like summer lightning.
"I beg your pardon," he said. "You will excuse me if I leave you for a moment. Meanwhile you can get your Concession and amuse yourself by reading it, and seeing that everything is en règle."
The Indian crept languidly away. He passed the bronze gates, and carelessly closed them behind him. Then it suddenly flashed upon Moore that he was in a luxurious cage, but a cage all the same.
For the moment Kalahami had disappeared. Moore crossed to the gates in a bound. He pressed against the brass scrolls, but they held fast. He glanced up, only to find that the bronze gates occupied the entire space where a large window had been before the conservatory had been erected. The gates were closed and fast. There was no escape that way.
One moment of deadly faintness came over Moore, and then the man was himself again. He could not nominate the danger yet, but he felt that it was terribly close at hand. It was something horribly subtle and Oriental, no doubt, something that would in no way imperil the safety of Prince Kalahami. The latter was aware of Moore's precaution. That being so, he must be wonderfully certain of his ground.
With white face and teeth set close together Moore crossed the open space to where the pile of drawers stood.
"I'll have the Concession, at any rate," he muttered. "I presume it is part of the refined cruelty of the game to place that in my hands and at the same time deprive me of the power of using it. But something may happen in my favor yet."
Moore pulled savagely at the drawer, so savagely that he wrenched the whole front out of the box, staggering back as he did so.
A paper fluttered to the ground. Moore snatched it up eagerly. He flashed his eyes over the document.
The next moment he recoiled with a cry of horror. He had gone deliberately to his own destruction. On the floor, coming from the box evidently, was a knotted, dull, slimy tangle, fighting and wriggling like great worms. The tangle dissolved into wavy ropes, a score of flat heads were raised and a faint hissing noise arose.
"God in Heaven," Moore yelled. "Cobras."
They were cobras, a good score of them. They raised their hooded heads and eyed Moore with malignant, metallic eyes. A cold sweat burst out on his face, his limbs trembled under him. Many things there were that filled Moore with horror, but nothing to the horror he had of snakes.
He knew what it meant—he knew a horrible death would be his. He could see now how that infernal Indian meant to get out of the difficulty. "Accidentally bitten by a pet cobra," that would be the verdict of the Coroner's jury.
Then Moore went mad for the moment. His sensitive, highly strung nature gave way before the terrible strain. When he came to himself again, he found he had stripped off his collar; the long silk scarf he usually wore was in his hand. He heard a low chuckle from behind the gates.
Kalahami stood there grinning like some hideous joss. All the wild, black blood in his veins was aflame, the man was transformed. He clung to the gates, he danced up and down like a monkey, he screamed aloud.
"Got the paper, got the paper," he yelled. "Are you satisfied now, you Christian dog? Ah, ah, this is something worth living for. If you only knew—fool and pig that you are—if you only knew!"
He might have been whistling to the wind for all Moore heeded. He was dimly conscious that Kalahami was raving at him. And that was all.
As for the rest he was trying, madly and despairingly, to keep the snakes at a distance. It was awful, fiendish work. Those writhing bodies seemed to be pressing all around him.
Hooded heads were raised and curving fangs swooped close to his trembling limbs.
Presently one more agile than the rest rose, darted out a venomous flat head, and struck Moore sharply on the hand.
He screamed and yelled like a madman.
The pain was not great, but instantly the hand began to swell. A dull despair took the place of the madness. Moore knew that his hour had come. The despair turned to blazing anger as Moore met the Indian's mocking eyes.
To his great surprise Kalahami burst into a roar of laughter.
"The snakes are harmless," he said. "They can use their fangs, but the poison glands have been extracted."
Moore laughed gently. Then suddenly his reason seemed to leave him. In a vague way he heard Kalahami's words, but they conveyed no meaning. Moore was seated in the center of a sun-bathed valley, and the tangled coil of cobras were ropes of live flowers in his nerveless fingers.
He knew that he ought to be happy, and yet he was weighed down with a sense of profound melancholy. It seemed to him that he had some stupendous task to perform, a task he was deliberately avoiding. Then a gigantic rose came nodding to the ground, a great, red, perfumed blossom that struck him violently on the head and brought him to his senses once more. He saw Kalahami still gleaming through the bars, and with a violent effort he was himself again.
"What was it you said to me?" he asked vaguely. "Oh, I recollect. You say that the snakes are harmless. You lie, you dog! I shall know how to face my death now. It was my too vivid imagination that robbed me of my manhood. I have beaten you. If I am not at home in an hour you will be arrested. As you suggested yourself a few moments ago, I did not come here without making my preparations."
Kalahami looked at his victim keenly and anxiously.
"You do not feel any further fear?" he asked.
"Not an atom," Moore replied. "Look at me."
His eyes were clear and bright. The man had conquered himself. Kalahami stretched his hand through the bars and touched a cobra. The reptile darted a couple of fangs at his hand. He held it up to show the puncture.
"There," he said, "that is evidence that I did not lie. Loathsome as they are, the snakes are absolutely harmless. I knew that you were an imaginative, nervous man, but I did not give you credit for such a reserve of courage. I have seen men driven hopelessly mad this way before. I hoped to serve you in similar fashion. Had I been successful, you could never have used that Concession. As it is, all the tricks are scored to you. Come out and have some brandy. You need it."
Kalahami threw back the great bronze gates and Moore crept out. He was safe now, but he feared the revulsion of feeling. He clutched at the bars for support and he fought down the rising hysteria as the sodden wretch on the verge of delirium tremens struggles with the demons crowding upon him.
The fit passed away, leaving the strong man trembling. The danger was over. Kalahami's final struggle for the mastery had failed, and he saw that he must acknowledge himself beaten. Better at once to give in with a good grace than face the terrors of the English law for murder.
* * * * *
A little later and Moore was rolling home in a cab. He was still faint and dizzy, but he was filled with a sense of elation and triumph.
"A grand idea for a story," he muttered. "Frighten a man to death or drive him out of his mind with deadly snakes that are really harmless. Prince Kalahami's pretty scheme ought to be used for a story. And I don't fancy there is any need to make a note of the plot. I'm not likely to forget it."
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