“I wouldn’t do it again for a hundred pounds!” he said hoarsely.
“You don’t have to!” snapped Smith.
Back he hauled the ladder, shouldered it, and stepping to a square opening in one corner of the rickety platform, lowered it cautiously down.
“Have you a knife with a corkscrew in it?” he demanded.
Weymouth had one, which he produced. Nayland Smith screwed it into the weather-worn frame, and by that means reclosed the trapdoor softly, then—
“Look,” he said, “there is the house of hashish!”
“THE DEMON’S SELF”
Through the glass panes of the skylight I looked down upon a scene so bizarre that my actual environment became blotted out, and I was mentally translated to Cairo—to that quarter of Cairo immediately surrounding the famous Square of the Fountain—to those indescribable streets, wherefrom arises the perfume of deathless evil, wherein, to the wailing, luresome music of the reed pipe, painted dancing-girls sway in the wild abandon of dances that were ancient when Thebes was the City of a Hundred Gates; I seemed to stand again in el Wasr.
The room below was rectangular, and around three of the walls were divans strewn with garish cushions, whilst highly colored Eastern rugs were spread about the floor. Four lamps swung on chains, two from either of the beams which traversed the apartment. They were fine examples of native perforated brasswork.
Upon the divans some eight or nine men were seated, fully half of whom were Orientals or half-castes. Before each stood a little inlaid table bearing a brass tray; and upon the trays were various boxes, some apparently containing sweetmeats, other cigarettes. One or two of the visitors smoked curious, long-stemmed pipes and sipped coffee.
Even as I leaned from the platform, surveying that incredible scene (incredible in a street of Soho), another devotee of hashish entered— a tall, distinguished-looking man, wearing a light coat over his evening dress.
“Gad!” whispered Smith, beside me—“Sir Byngham Pyne of the India Office! You see, Petrie! You see! This place is a lure. My God! ...”
He broke off, as I clutched wildly at his arm.
The last arrival having taken his seat in a corner of the divan, two heavy curtains draped before an opening at one end of the room parted, and a girl came out, carrying a tray such as already reposed before each of the other men in the room.
She wore a dress of dark lilac-colored gauze, banded about with gold tissue and embroidered with gold thread and pearls; and around her shoulders floated, so ethereally that she seemed to move in a violet cloud; a scarf of Delhi muslin. A white yashmak trimmed with gold tissue concealed the lower part of her face.
My heart throbbed wildly; I seemed to be choking. By the wonderful hair alone I must have known her, by the great, brilliant eyes, by the shape of those slim white ankles, by every movement of that exquisite form. It was Karamaneh!