THE LACQUERED COFFIN
Durham gently raised the trap in the roof of Huang Chow’s treasure-house. He was prepared for snares and pitfalls. No sane man, on the evidence which he, Durham, had been compelled to leave behind, would have neglected to fasten the skylight which so obviously afforded a means of entrance into his premises.
Therefore, he was expected to return. The devilish mechanism was set ready to receive him. But the artist within him demanded that he should unmask the mystery with his own hands.
Moreover, he doubted that an official visit, even now, would yield any results. Old Huang Chow was too cunning for that. If he was to learn how the man Cohen had died, he must follow the same path to the bitter end. But there were men on duty round the house, and he believed that he had placed them so secretly as to deceive even this master of cunning with whom he was dealing.
He repeated his exploit, dropping with a dull thud upon the cushioned divan. Then, having lain there listening awhile, he pressed the button of his torch, and, standing up, crept across the room in the direction of the stairway.
Here he paused awhile, listening intently. The image of Lala Huang arose before his mind’s eye reproachfully, but he crushed the reproach, and advanced until he stood beside the lacquered coffin.
He remembered where the key was hidden, and, stooping, he fumbled for a while and then found it. He was acutely conscious of an unnameable fear. He felt that he was watched, and yet was unwilling to believe it. The musty and unpleasant smell which he had noticed before became extremely perceptible.
He quietly sought for the hidden lock, and, presently finding it, inserted the key, then paused awhile. He rested his torch upon the cushions of the divan where the light shone directly upon the coffin. Then, having his automatic in his left hand, he turned the key.
He had expected now to be able to raise the lid as he had seen Huang Chow do; but the result was far more surprising.
The lid, together with a second framework of fine netting, flew open with a resounding bang; and from the interior of the coffin uprose a most abominable stench.
Durham started back a step, and as he did so witnessed a sight which turned him sick with horror.
Out on to the edge of the coffin leapt the most gigantic spider which he had ever seen in his life! It had a body as big as a man’s fist, jet black, with hairy legs like the legs of a crab and a span of a foot or more!
A moment it poised there, while he swayed, sick with horror. Then, unhesitatingly, it leapt for his face!
He groaned and fired, missed the horror, but diverted its leap, so that it fell with a sickening thud a yard behind him. He turned, staggering back towards the stair, and aware that a light had shone out from somewhere.