I sprang madly back from the rail ... and Smith had my arm in an iron grip.
“Where are you going?” he snapped.
“Where am I going?” I cried. “Do you think—”
“What do you propose to do?” he interrupted harshly. “Do you know so little of the resources of Dr. Fu-Manchu that you would throw yourself blindly into that den? Damn it all, man! I know what you suffer!—but wait—wait. We must not act rashly; our plans must be well considered.”
He drew me back to my former post and clapped his hand on my shoulder sympathetically. Clutching the rail like a man frenzied, as indeed I was, I looked down into that infamous den again, striving hard for composure.
Karamaneh listlessly placed the tray upon the little table before Sir Byngham Pyne and withdrew without vouchsafing him a single glance in acknowledgment of his unconcealed admiration.
A moment later, above the dim clamor of London far below, there crept to my ears a sound which completed the magical quality of the scene, rendering that sky platform on a roof of Soho a magical carpet bearing me to the golden Orient. This sound was the wailing of a reed pipe.
“The company is complete,” murmured Smith. “I had expected this.”
Again the curtains parted, and a ghazeeyeh glided out into the room. She wore a white dress, clinging closely to her figure from shoulders to hips, where it was clasped by an ornate girdle, and a skirt of sky-blue gauze which clothed her as Io was clothed of old. Her arms were covered with gold bangles, and gold bands were clasped about her ankles. Her jet-black, frizzy hair was unconfined and without ornament, and she wore a sort of highly colored scarf so arranged that it effectually concealed the greater part of her face, but served to accentuated the brightness of the great flashing eyes. She had unmistakable beauty of a sort, but how different from the sweet witchery of Karamaneh!
With a bold, swinging grace she walked down the center of the room, swaying her arms from side to side and snapping her fingers.
“Zarmi!” exclaimed Smith.
But his exclamation was unnecessary, for already I had recognized the evil Eurasian who was so efficient a servant of the Chinese doctor.
The wailing of the pipes continued, and now faintly I could detect the throbbing of a darabukeh. This was el Wasr indeed. The dance commenced, its every phase followed eagerly by the motley clientele of the hashish house. Zarmi danced with an insolent nonchalance that nevertheless displayed her barbaric beauty to greatest advantage. She was lithe as a serpent, graceful as a young panther, another Lamia come to damn the souls of men with those arts denounced in a long dead age by Apolonius of Tyana.
“She seemed, at once, some penanced
Some demon’s mistress, or the demon’s self....”
Entranced against my will, I watched the Eurasian until, the barbaric dance completed, she ran from the room, and the curtains concealed her from view. How my mind was torn between hope and fear that I should see Karamaneh again! How I longed for one more glimpse of her, yet loathed the thought of her presence in that infamous house.