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The Green Eyes of Bâst

The Green Eyes of Bâst

Author:Sax Rohmer


"Good evening, sir. A bit gusty?" "Very much so, sergeant," I replied. "I think I will step into your hut for a moment and light my pipe if I may." "Certainly, sir. Matches are too scarce nowadays to take risks with 'em. But it looks as if the storm had blown over." ...
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  "Good evening, sir. A bit gusty?"

  "Very much so, sergeant," I replied. "I think I will step into yourhut for a moment and light my pipe if I may."

  "Certainly, sir. Matches are too scarce nowadays to take risks with'em. But it looks as if the storm had blown over."

  "I'm not sorry," said I, entering the little hut like a sentry-boxwhich stands at the entrance to this old village high street foraccommodation of the officer on point duty at that spot. "I have alongish walk before me."

  "Yes. Your place is right off the beat, isn't it?" mused myacquaintance, as sheltered from the keen wind I began to load mybriar. "Very inconvenient I've always thought it for a gentleman whogets about as much as you do."

  "That's why I like it," I explained. "If I lived anywhere accessible Ishould never get a moment's peace, you see. At the same time I have tobe within an hour's journey of Fleet Street."

  I often stopped for a chat at this point and I was acquainted withmost of the men of P. division on whom the duty devolved from time totime. It was a lonely spot at night when the residents in theneighborhood had retired, so that the darkened houses seemed towithdraw yet farther into the gardens separating them from thehighroad. A relic of the days when trains and motor-buses were not,dusk restored something of an old-world atmosphere to the villagestreet, disguising the red brick and stucco which in many cases haddisplaced the half-timbered houses of the past. Yet it was possible instill weather to hear the muted bombilation of the sleepless city andwhen the wind was in the north to count the hammer-strokes of thegreat bell of St. Paul's.

  Standing in the shelter of the little hut, I listened to the raindripping from over-reaching branches and to the gurgling of a turgidlittle stream which flowed along the gutter near my feet whilst nowand again swift gusts of the expiring tempest would set tossing thebranches of the trees which lined the way.

  "It's much cooler to-night," said the sergeant.

  I nodded, being in the act of lighting my pipe. The storm hadinterrupted a spell of that tropical weather which sometimes in Julyand August brings the breath of Africa to London, and this coolnessresulting from the storm was very welcome. Then:

  "Well, good night," I said, and was about to pursue my way when thetelephone bell in the police-hut rang sharply.

  "Hullo," called the sergeant.

  I paused, idly curious concerning the message, and:

  "The Red House," continued the sergeant, "in College Road? Yes, I knowit. It's on Bolton's beat, and he is due here now. Very good; I'lltell him."

  He hung up the receiver and, turning to me, smiled and nodded his headresignedly.

  "The police get some funny jobs, sir," he confided. "Only last night agentleman rang up the station and asked them to tell me to stop ashort, stout lady with yellow hair and a big blue hat

that was theonly description

as she passed this point and to inform her that herhusband had had to go out but that he had left the door-key justinside the dog-kennel!"

  He laughed good-humoredly.

  "Now to-night," he resumed, "here's somebody just rung up to say thathe thinks, only _thinks_, mind you, that he has forgotten to lock hisgarage and will the constable on that beat see if the keys have beenleft behind. If so, will he lock the door from the inside, go outthrough the back, lock that door and leave the keys at the station oncoming off duty!"

  "Yes," I said. "There are some absent-minded people in the world. Butdo you mean the Red House in College Road?"

  "That's it," replied the sergeant, stepping out of the hut and lookingintently to the left.

  "Ah, here comes Bolton."

  He referred to a stolid, red-faced constable who at that moment cameplodding across the muddy road, and:

  "A job for you, Bolton," he cried. "Listen. You know the Red House inCollege Road?"

  Bolton removed his helmet and scratched his closely-cropped head.

  "Let me see," he mused; "it's on the right--"

  "No, no," I interrupted. "It is a house about half-way down on theleft; very secluded, with a high brick wall in front."

  "Oh! You mean the _empty_ house?" inquired the constable.

  "Just what I was about to remark, sergeant," said I, turning to myacquaintance. "To the best of my knowledge the Red House has beenvacant for twelve months or more."

  "Has it?" exclaimed the sergeant. "That's funny. Still, it's none ofmy business; besides it may have been let within the last few days.Anyway, listen, Bolton. You are to see if the garage is unlocked. Ifit is and the keys are there, go in and lock the door behind you.There's another door at the other end; go out and lock that too. Leavethe keys at the depôt when you go off. Got that fixed?"

  "Yes," replied Bolton, and he stood helmet in hand, half inaudiblymuttering the sergeant's instructions, evidently with the idea ofimpressing them upon his memory.

  "I have to pass the Red House, constable," I interrupted, "and as youseem doubtful respecting its whereabouts, I will point the place outto you."

  "Thank you, sir," said Bolton, replacing his helmet and ceasing tomutter.

  "Once more--good night, sergeant," I cried, and met by a keen gust ofwind which came sweeping down the village street, showering cascadesof water from the leaves above, I set out in step with my stolidcompanion.

  It is supposed poetically that unusual events cast their shadowsbefore them, and I am prepared to maintain the correctness of such abelief. But unless the silence of the constable who walked beside mewas due to the unseen presence of such a shadow, and not to a habitualtaciturnity, there was nothing in that march through the desertedstreets calculated to arouse me to the fact that I was entering uponthe first phase of an experience more strange and infinitely morehorrible than any of which I had ever known or even read.

  The shadow had not yet reached me.

  We talked little enough on the way, for the breeze when it came waskeen and troublesome, so that I was often engaged in clutching my hat.Except for a dejected-looking object, obviously a member of the trampfraternity, who passed us near the gate of the old chapel, we metnever a soul from the time that we left the police-box until themoment when the high brick wall guarding the Red House came into viewbeyond a line of glistening wet hedgerow.

  "This is the house, constable," I said. "The garage is beyond the mainentrance."

  We proceeded as far as the closed gates, whereupon:

  "There you are, sir," said Bolton triumphantly. "I told you it wasempty."

  An estate agent's bill faced us, setting forth the desirable featuresof the residence, the number of bedrooms and reception rooms, modernconveniences, garage, etc., together with the extent of the garden,lawn and orchard.

  A faint creaking sound drew my glance upward, and stepping back a paceI stared at a hatchet-board projecting above the wall which bore twoduplicates of the bill posted upon the gate.

  "That seems to confirm it," I declared, peering through the trees inthe direction of the house. "The place has all the appearance of beingdeserted."

  "There's some mistake," muttered Bolton.

  "Then the mistake is not ours," I replied. "See, the bills are headed'To be let or sold. The Red House, etc.'"

  "H'm," growled Bolton. "It's a funny go, this is. Suppose we have alook at the garage."

  We walked along together to where, set back in a recess, I had oftenobserved the doors of a garage evidently added to the building by somerecent occupier. Dangling from a key placed in the lock was a ring towhich another key was attached!

  "Well, I'm blowed," said Bolton, "this _is_ a funny go, this is."

  He unlocked the door and swept the interior of the place with a ray oflight cast by his lantern. There were one or two petrol cans and someodd lumber suggesting that the garage had been recently used, but nocar, and indeed nothing of sufficient value to have interested evensuch a derelict as the man whom we had passed some ten minutes before.That is if I except a large and stoutly-made packing-case whichrested only a foot or so from the entrance so as partly to block it,and which from its appearance might possibly have contained spareparts. I noticed, with vague curiosity, a device crudely representinga seated cat which was painted in green upon the case.

  "If there ever was anything here," said Bolton, "it's been pinched andwe're locking the stable door after the horse has gone. You'll bear meout, sir, if there's any complaint?"

  "Certainly," I replied. "Technically I shall be trespassing if I comein with you, so I shall say good night."

  "Good night, sir," cried the constable, and entering the empty garage,he closed the door behind him.

  I set off briskly alone towards the cottage which I had made my home.I have since thought that the motives which had induced me to choosethis secluded residence were of a peculiarly selfish order. Whilst Iliked sometimes to be among my fellowmen and whilst I rarely missed animportant first night in London, my inherent weakness for obscurestudies and another motive to which I may refer later had caused me toabandon my chambers in the Temple and to retire with my library tothis odd little backwater where my only link with Fleet Street, withthe land of theaters and clubs and noise and glitter, was thetelephone. I scarcely need add that I had sufficient private means toenable me to indulge these whims, otherwise as a working journalist Imust have been content to remain nearer to the heart of things. As itwas I followed the careless existence of the independent free-lance,and since my work was accounted above the average I was enabled topick and choose the subjects with which I should deal. Mine was not anambitious nature--or it may have been that stimulus was lacking--andall I wrote I wrote for the mere joy of writing, whilst my studies, ofwhich I shall have occasion to speak presently, were not of a naturecalculated to swell my coffers in this commercial-minded age.

  Little did I know how abruptly this chosen calm of my life was to bebroken nor how these same studies were to be turned in a new andstrange direction. But if on this night which was to witness theoverture of a horrible drama, I had not hitherto experienced anypremonition of the coming of those dark forces which were to changethe whole tenor of my existence, suddenly, now, in sight of the elmtree which stood before my cottage the _shadow_ reached me.

  Only thus can I describe a feeling otherwise unaccountable whichprompted me to check my steps and to listen. A gust of wind had justdied away, leaving the night silent save for the dripping of rain fromthe leaves and the vague and remote roar of the town. Once, faintly, Ithought I detected the howling of a dog. I had heard nothing in thenature of following footsteps, yet, turning swiftly, I did not doubtthat I should detect the presence of a follower of some kind. Thisconviction seized me suddenly and, as I have said, unaccountably. Norwas I wrong in my surmise.

  Fifty yards behind me a vaguely defined figure showed for an instantoutlined against the light of a distant lamp--ere melting into thedense shadow cast by a clump of trees near the roadside.

  Standing quite still, I stared in the direction of the patch of shadowfor several moments. It may be said that there was nothing to occasionalarm or even curiosity in the appearance of a stray pedestrian atthat hour; for it was little after midnight. Indeed thus I argued withmyself, whereby I admit that at sight of that figure I had experienceda sensation which was compounded not only of alarm and curiosity butalso of some other emotion which even now I find it hard to define.Instantly I knew that the lithe shape, glimpsed but instantaneously,was that of no chance pedestrian--was indeed that of no ordinarybeing. At the same moment I heard again, unmistakably, the howling ofa dog.

  Having said so much, why should I not admit that, turning again veryquickly, I hurried on to the gate of my cottage and heaved a greatsigh of relief when I heard the reassuring bang of the door as Iclosed it behind me? Coates, my batman, had turned in, having placed acold repast upon the table in the little dining-room; but although Irequired nothing to eat I partook of a stiff whisky and soda, idlyglancing at two or three letters which lay upon the table.

  They proved to contain nothing of very great importance, and havingsmoked a final cigarette, I turned out the light in the dining-roomand walked into the bedroom--for the cottage was of bungalowpattern--and, crossing the darkened room, stood looking out of thewindow.

  It commanded a view of a little kitchen-garden and beyond of a highhedge, with glimpses of sentinel trees lining the main road. The windhad dropped entirely, but clouds were racing across the sky at atremendous speed so that the nearly full moon alternately appeared anddisappeared, producing an ever-changing effect of light and shadow. Atone moment a moon-bathed prospect stretched before me as far as theeye could reach, in the next I might have been looking into a cavernas some angry cloud swept across the face of the moon to plunge thescene into utter darkness.

  And it was during such a dark spell and at the very moment that Iturned aside to light the lamp that I saw _the eyes_.

  From a spot ten yards removed, low down under the hedges bordering thegarden, they looked up at me--those great, glittering cat's eyes, sothat I stifled an exclamation, drawing back instinctively from thewindow. A tiger, I thought, or some kindred wild beast, must haveescaped from captivity. And so rapidly does the mind work at suchtimes that instinctively I had reviewed the several sporting pieces inmy possession and had selected a rifle which had proved serviceable inIndia ere I had taken one step towards the door.

  Before that step could be taken the light of the moon again floodedthe garden; and although there was no opening in the hedge by whicheven a small animal could have retired, no living thing was in sight!But, near and remote, dogs were howling mournfully.