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Chapter viii
 Chapter viii
At nine o’clock that night we caught one of the gold-makers. I do not know how Barris had laid his trap; all I saw of the affair can be told in a minute or two.
We were posted on the Cardinal road about a mile below the house, Pierpont and I with drawn revolvers on one side, under a butternut tree, Barris on the other, a Winchester across his knees.
I had just asked Pierpont the hour, and he was feeling for his watch when far up the road we heard the sound of a galloping horse, nearer, nearer, clattering, thundering past. Then Barris’ rifle spat flame and the dark mass, horse and rider, crashed into the dust. Pierpont had the half-stunned horseman by the collar in a second — the horse was stone dead — and, as we lighted a pine knot to examine the fellow, Barris’ two riders galloped up and drew bridle beside us.
“Hm!” said Barris with a scowl, “it’s the ‘Shiner,’ or I’m a moonshiner.”
We crowded curiously around to see the “Shiner.” He was red-headed, fat and filthy, and his little red eyes burned in his head like the eyes of an angry pig.
Barris went through his pockets methodically while Pierpont held him and I held the torch. The Shiner was a gold mine; pockets, shirt, bootlegs, hat, even his dirty fists, clutched tight and bleeding, were bursting with lumps of soft yellow gold. Barris dropped this “moonshine gold,” as we had come to call it, into the pockets of his shooting-coat, and withdrew to question the prisoner. He came back again in a few minutes and motioned his mounted men to take the Shiner in charge. We watched them, rifle on thigh, walking their horses slowly away into the darkness, the Shiner, tightly bound, shuffling sullenly between them.
“Who is the Shiner?” asked Pierpont, slipping the revolver into his pocket again.
“A moonshiner, counterfeiter, forger, and highwayman,” said Barris, “and probably a murderer. Drummond will be glad to see him, and I think it likely he will be persuaded to confess to him what he refuses to confess to me.”
“Wouldn’t he talk?” I asked.
“Not a syllable. Pierpont, there is nothing more for you to do.”
“For me to do? Are you not coming back with us, Barris?”
“No,” said Barris.
We walked along the dark road in silence for a while, I wondering what Barris intended to do, but he said nothing more until we reached our own verandah. Here he held out his hand, first to Pierpont, then to me, saying good-bye as though he were going on a long journey.
“How soon will you be back?” I called out to him as he turned away toward the gate. He came across the lawn again and again took our hands with a quiet affection that I had never imagined him capable of.
“I am going,” he said, “to put an end to his gold-making to-night. I know that you fellows have never suspected what I was about on my little solitary evening strolls after dinner. I will tell you. Already I have unobtrusively killed four of these gold-makers — my men put them underground just below the new wash-out at the four mile stone. There are three left alive — the Shiner whom we have, another criminal named ‘Yellow,’ or ‘Yaller’ in the vernacular, and the third —”
“The third,” repeated Pierpont, excitedly.
“The third I have never yet seen. But I know who and what he is — I know; and if he is of human flesh and blood, his blood will flow to-night.”
As he spoke a slight noise across the turf attracted my attention. A mounted man was advancing silently in the starlight over the spongy meadowland. When he came nearer Barris struck a match, and we saw that he bore a corpse across his saddle bow.
“Yaller, Colonel Barris,” said the man, touching his slouched hat in salute.
This grim introduction to the corpse made me shudder, and, after a moment’s examination of the stiff, wide-eyed dead man, I drew back.
“Identified,” said Barris, “take him to the four mile post and carry his effects to Washington —— under seal, mind, Johnstone.”
Away cantered the rider with his ghastly burden, and Barris took our hands once more for the last time. Then he went away, gaily, with a jest on his lips, and Pierpont and I turned back into the house.
For an hour we sat moodily smoking in the hall before the fire, saying little until Pierpont burst out with: “I wish Barris had taken one of us with him to-night!”
The same thought had been running in my mind, but I said: “Barris knows what he’s about.”
This observation neither comforted us nor opened the lane to further conversation, and after a few minutes Pierpont said good night and called for Howlett and hot water. When he had been warmly tucked away by Howlett, I turned out all but one lamp, sent the dogs away with David and dismissed Howlett for the night.
I was not inclined to retire for I knew I could not sleep. There was a book lying open on the table beside the fire and I opened it and read a page or two, but my mind was fixed on other things.
The window shades were raised and I looked out at the star-set firmament. There was no moon that night but the sky was dusted all over with sparkling stars and a pale radiance, brighter even than moonlight, fell over meadow and wood. Far away in the forest I heard the voice of the wind, a soft warm wind that whispered a name, Ysonde.
“Listen,” sighed the voice of the wind, and “listen” echoed the swaying trees with every little leaf a-quiver. I listened.
Where the long grasses trembled with the cricket’s cadence I heard her name, Ysonde; I heard it in the rustling woodbine where grey moths hovered; I heard it in the drip, drip, drip of the dew from the porch. The silent meadow brook whispered her name, the rippling woodland streams repeated in, Ysonde, Ysonde, until all earth and sky were filled with the soft thrill, Ysonde, Ysonde, Ysonde.
A night-thrush sang in a thicket by the porch and I stole to the verandah to listen. After a while it began again, a little further on. I ventured out into the road. Again I heard it far away in the forest and I followed it, for I knew it was singing of Ysonde.
When I came to the path that leaves the main road and enters the Sweet–Fern Covert below the spinney, I hesitated; but the beauty of the night lured me on and the night-thrushes called me from every thicket. In the starry radiance, shrubs, grasses, field flowers, stood out distinctly, for there was no moon to cast shadows. Meadow and brook, grove and stream, were illuminated by the pale glow. Like great lamps lighted, the planets hung from the high-domed sky and through their mysterious rays the fixed stars, calm, serene, stared from the heavens like eyes . . . I waded on waist deep through fields of dewy golden-rod, through late clover and wild-oat wastes, through crimson-fruited sweetbrier, blueberry, and wild plum, until the low whisper of the Weir Brook warned me that the path had ended.
But I would not stop, for the night air was heavy with the perfume of water-lilies and far away, across the low wooded cliffs and the wet meadowland beyond, there was a distant gleam of silver, and I heard the murmur of sleepy waterfowl. I would go to the lake. The way was clear except for the dense young growth and the snares of the moose-bush.
The night-thrushes had ceased but I did not want for the company of living creatures. Slender, quick darting forms crossed my path at intervals, sleek mink, that fled like shadows at my step, wiry weasels and fat muskrats, hurrying onward to some tryst or killing.
I never had seen so many little woodland creatures on the move at night. I began to wonder where they all were going so fast, why they all hurried on in the same direction. Now I passed a hare hopping through the brushwood, now a rabbit scurrying by, flag hoisted. As I entered the beech second-growth two foxes glided by me; a little further on a doe crashed out of the underbrush, and close behind her stole a lynx, eyes shining like coals.
He neither paid attention to the doe nor to me, but loped away toward the north.
The lynx was in flight.
“From what?” I asked myself, wondering. There was no forest fire, no cyclone, no flood.
If Barris had passed that way could he have stirred up this sudden exodus? Impossible; even a regiment in the forest could scarcely have put to rout these frightened creatures.
“What on earth,” thought I, turning to watch the headlong flight of a fisher-cat, “what on earth has started the beasts out at this time of night?”
I looked up into the sky. The placid glow of the fixed stars comforted me and I stepped on through the narrow spruce belt that leads down to the borders of the Lake of the Stars.
Wild cranberry and moose-bush entwined my feet, dewy branches spattered me with moisture, and the thick spruce needles scraped my face as I threaded my way over mossy logs and deep spongy tussocks down to the level gravel of the lake shore.
Although there was no wind the little waves were hurrying in from the lake and I heard them splashing among the pebbles. In the pale star glow thousands of water-lilies lifted their half-closed chalices toward the sky.
I threw myself full length upon the shore, and, chin on hand, looked out across the lake.
Splash, splash, came the waves along the shore, higher, nearer, until a film of water, thin and glittering as a knife blade, crept up to my elbows. I could not understand it; the lake was rising, but there had been no rain. All along the shore the water was running up; I heard the waves among the sedge grass; the weeds at my side were awash in the ripples. The lilies rocked on the tiny waves, every wet pad rising on the swells, sinking, rising again until the whole lake was glimmering with undulating blossoms. How sweet and deep was the fragrance from the lilies.
And now the water was ebbing, slowly, and the waves receded, shrinking from the shore rim until the white pebbles appeared again, shining like froth on a brimming glass.
No animal swimming out in the dankness along the shore, no heavy salmon surging, could have set the whole shore aflood as though the wash from a great boat were rolling in. Could it have been the overflow, through the Weir Brook, of some cloud-burst far back in the forest? This was the only way I could account for it, and yet when I had crossed the Weir Brook I had not noticed that it was swollen.
And as I lay there thinking, a faint breeze sprang up and I saw the surface of the lake whiten with lifted lily pads. All around me the alders were sighing; I heard the forest behind me stir; the crossed branches rubbing softly, bark against bark. Something — it may have been an owl — sailed out of the night, dipped, soared, and was again engulfed, and far across the water I heard its faint cry, Ysonde.
Then first, for my heart was full, I cast myself down upon my face, calling on her name. My eyes were wet when I raised my head — for the spray from the shore was drifting in again — and my heart beat heavily; “No more, no more.” But my heart lied, for even as I raised my face to the calm stars, I saw her standing still, close beside me; and very gently I spoke her name, Ysonde.
She held out both hands.
“I was lonely,” she said, “and I went to the glade, but the forest is full of frightened creatures and they frightened me. Has anything happened in the woods? The deer are running toward the heights.”
Her hand still lay in mine as we moved along the shore, and the lapping of the water on rock and shallow was no lower than our voices.
“Why did you leave me without a word, there at the fountain in the glade?” she said.
“I leave you! —”
“Indeed you did, running swiftly with your dog, plunging through thickens and brush — oh —— you frightened me.”
“Did I leave you so?”
“Yes — after —”
“You had kissed me —”
Then we leaned down together and looked into the black water set with stars, just as we had bent together over the fountain in the glade.
“Do you remember?” I asked.
“Yes. See, the water is inlaid with silver stars — everywhere white lilies floating and the stars below, deep, deep down.”
“What is the flower you hold in your hand?”
“White water-lotus.”
“Tell me about Yue–Laou, Dzil–Nbu of the Kuen–Yuin,” I whispered, lifting her head so I could see her eyes.
“Would it please you to hear?”
“Yes, Ysonde.”
“All that I know is yours, now, as I am yours, all that I am. Bend closer. Is it of Yue–Laou you would know? Yue–Laou is Dzil–Nhu of the Kuen–Yuin. He lived in the Moon. He is old — very, very old, and once, before he came to rule the Kuen–Yuin, he was the old man who unites with a silken cord all predestined couples, after which nothing can prevent their union. But all that is changed since he came to rule the Kuen–Yuin. Now he has perverted the Xin — the good genii of China — and has fashioned from their warped bodies a monster which he calls the Xin. This monster is horrible, for it not only lives in its own body, but it has thousands of loathsome satellites — living creatures without mouths, blind, that move when the Xin moves, like a mandarin and his escort. They are part of the Xin although they are not attached. Yet if one of these satellites is injured the Xin writhes with agony. It is fearful — this huge living bulk and these creatures spread out like severed fingers that wriggle around a hideous hand.”
“Who told you this?”
“My step-father.”
“Do you believe it?”
“Yes. I have seen one of the Xin’s creatures.
“Where, Ysonde?”
“Here in the woods.”
“Then you believe there is a Xin here?”
“There must be — perhaps in the lake —”
“Oh, Xins inhabit lakes?”
“Yes, and the seven seas. I am not afraid here.”
“Because I wear the symbol of the Kuen–Yuin.”
“Then I am not safe,” I smiled.
“Yes you are, for I hold you in my arms. Shall I tell you more about the Xin? When the Xin is about to do to death a man, the Yeth-hounds gallop through the night —”
“What are the Yeth-hounds, Ysonde?”
“The Yeth-hounds are dogs without heads. They are the spirits of murdered children, which pass through the woods at night, making a wailing noise.”
“Do you believe this?”
“Yes, for I have worn the yellow lotus —”
“The yellow lotus —”
“Yellow is the symbol of faith —”
“In Yian,” she said faintly.
After a while I said, “Ysonde, you know there is a God?”
“God and Xangi are one.”
“Have you ever heard of Christ?”
“No,” she answered softly.
The wind began again among the tree tops. I felt her hands closing in mine.
“Ysonde,” I asked again, “do you believe in sorcerers?”
“Yes, the Kuen–Yuin are sorcerers; Yue–Laou is a sorcerer.
“Have you seen sorcery?”
“Yes, the reptile satellite of the Xin —”
“Anything else?”
“My charm — the golden ball, the symbol of the Kuen–Yuin. Have you seen it change — have you seen the reptiles writhe —?”
“Yes,” I said shortly, and then remained silent, for a sudden shiver of apprehension had seized me. Barris also had spoken gravely, ominously of the sorcerers, the Kuen–Yuin, and I had seen with my own eyes the graven reptiles turning and twisting on the glowing globe.
“Still,” said I aloud, “God lives and sorcery is but a name.”
“Ah,” murmured Ysonde, drawing closer to me, “they say, in Yian, the Kuen–Yuin live; God is but a name.”
“They lie,” I whispered fiercely.
“Be careful,” she pleaded, “they may hear you. Remember that you have the mark of the dragon’s claw on your brow.”
“What of it?” I asked, thinking also of the white mark on Barris’ arm.
“Ah don’t you know that those who are marked with the dragon’s claw are followed by Yue–Laou, for good or for evil — and the evil means death if you offend him?”
“Do you believe that!” I asked impatiently . . . “I know it,” she sighed.
“Who told you all this? Your step-father? What in Heaven’s name is he then — a Chinaman!”
“I don’t know; he is not like you.”
“Have — have you told him anything about me?”
“He knows about you — no, I have told him nothing — ah what is this — see — it is a cord, a cord of silk about your neck — and about mine!”
“Where did that come from?” I asked astonished.
“It must be — in must be Yue–Laou who binds me to you — it is as my step-father said — he said Yue–Laou would bind us —”
“Nonsense,” I said almost roughly, and seized the silken cord, but to my amazement it melted in my hand like smoke.
“What is all this damnable jugglery!” I whispered angrily, but my anger vanished as the words were spoken, and a convulsive shudder shook me to the feet. Standing on the shone of the lake, a stone’s throw away, was a figure, twisted and bent — a little old man, blowing sparks from a live coal which he held in his naked hand. The coal glowed with increasing radiance, lighting up the skull-like face above it, and threw a red glow over the sands at his feet. But the face! — the ghastly Chinese face on which the light flickered — and the snaky slitted eyes, sparkling as the coal glowed hotter. Coal! It was not a coal but a golden globe staining the night with crimson flames — it was the symbol of the Kuen–Yuin.
“See! See!” gasped Ysonde, trembling violently, “see the moon rising from between his fingers! Oh I thought it was my step-father and it is Yue–Laou the Maker of Moons — no! no! it is my step-father — ah God! they are the same!”
Frozen with terror I stumbled to my knees, groping for my revolver which bulged in my coat pocket; but something held me — something which bound me like a web in a thousand strong silky meshes. I struggled and turned but the web grew tighter; it was over us — all around us, drawing, pressing us into each other’s arms until we lay side by side, bound hand and body and foot, palpitating, panting like a pair of netted pigeons.
And the creature on the shore below! What was my horror to see a moon, huge, silvery, rise like a bubble from between his fingers, mount higher, higher into the still air and hang aloft in the midnight sky, while another moon rose from his fingers, and another and yet another until the vast span of Heaven was set with moons and the earth sparkled like a diamond in the white glare.
A great wind began to blow from the east and it bore to our ears a long mournful howl — a cry so unearthly that for a moment our hearts stopped.
“The Yeth-hounds!” sobbed Ysonde, “do you hear! — they are passing through the forest! The Xin is near!”
Then all around us in the dry sedge grasses came a rustle as if some small animals were creeping, and a damp acrid odor filled the air. I knew the smell, I saw the spidery crablike creatures swarm out around me and drag their soft yellow hairy bodies across the shrinking grasses. They passed, hundreds of them, poisoning the air, rumbling, writhing, crawling with their blind mouthless heads raised. Birds, half asleep and confused by the darkness, fluttered away before them in helpless fright, rabbits sprang from their forms, weasels glided away like flying shadows. What remained of the forest creatures rose and fled from the loathsome invasion; I heard the squeak of a terrified hare, the snort of stampeding deer, and the lumbering gallop of a bear; and all the time I was choking, half suffocated by the poisoned air.
Then, as I struggled to free myself from the silken snare about me, I cast a glance of deadly fear at the sorcerer below, and at the same moment I saw him turn in his tracks . . . “Halt!” cried a voice from the bushes.
“Barris!” I shouted, half leaping up in my agony.
I saw the sorcerer spring forward, I heard the bang! bang! bang! of a revolver, and, as the sorcerer fell on the water’s edge, I saw Barris jump out into the white glare and fire again, once, twice, three times, into the writhing figure at his feet.
Then an awful thing occurred. Up out of the black lake reared a shadow, a nameless shapeless mass, headless, sightless, gigantic, gaping from end to end.
A great wave struck Barris and he fell, another washed him up on the pebbles, another whirled him back into the water and then — and then the thing fell over him — and I fainted.
This, then, is all that I know concerning Yue–Laou and the Xin. I do not fear the ridicule of scientists or of the press for I have told the truth. Barris is gone and the thing that killed him is alive today in the Lake of the Stars while the spider-like satellites roam through the Cardinal Woods. The game has fled, the forests around the lake are empty of any living creatures save the reptiles that creep when the Xin moves in the depths of the lake.
General Drummond knows what he has lost in Barris, and we, Pierpont and I, know what we have lost also. His will we found in the drawer, the key of which he had handed me. It was wrapped in a bit of paper on which was written:
“Yue–Laou the sorcerer is here in the Cardinal Woods. I must kill him or he will kill me. He made and gave to me the woman I loved — he made her — I saw him — he made her out of a white water-lotus bud. When our child was born, he came again before me and demanded from me the woman I loved. Then, when I refused, he went away, and that night my wife and child vanished from my side, and I found upon her pillow a white lotus bud. Roy, the woman of your dream, Ysonde, may be my child. God help you if you love her for Yue–Laou will give — and take away, as though he were Xangi, which is God. I will kill Yue–Laou before I leave this forest — or he will kill me.
Now the world knows what Barris thought of the Kuen–Yuin and of Yue-Laou. I see that the newspapers are just becoming excited over the glimpses that Li–Hung-Chang has afforded them of Black Cathay and the demons of the Kuen–Yuin. The Kuen–Yuin are on the move.
Pierpont and I have dismantled the shooting box in the Cardinal Woods. We hold ourselves ready at a moment’s notice to join and lead the first Government party to drag the Lake of Stars and cleanse the forest of the crab reptiles. But it will be necessary that a large force assembles, and a well-armed force, for we never have found the body of Yue–Laou, and, living or dead, I fear him. Is he living?
Pierpont, who found Ysonde and myself lying unconscious on the lake shore, the morning after, saw no trace of corpse or blood on the sands. He may have fallen into the lake, but I fear and Ysonde fears that he is alive. We never were able to find either her dwelling place or the glade and the fountain again. The only thing that remains to her of her former life is the gold serpent in the Metropolitan Museum and her golden globe, the symbol of the Kuen–Yuin; but the latter no longer changes color.
David and the dogs are waiting for me in the count yard as I write. Pierpont is in the gun room loading shells, and Howlett brings him mug after mug of my ale from the wood. Ysonde bends over my desk — I feel her hand on my arm, and she is saying, “Don’t you think you have done enough to-day, dear? How can you write such silly nonsense without a shadow of truth or foundation?”


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