Page Created 1-20-02

copyright © R. Lionel Fanthorpe

"Could the ancient legend of the haunted cavern really be true?"
        DOOLEY'S, in the Strand, is one of those pleasant little bars, where you can usually drop in at any licensed hour and find yourself in the presence of good food, good wine, and above all, good beer. It is the sort of place that enjoys a good reputation among those who know. It has not been invaded by those who think they know, and it remains the prerogative of the really knowledgeable few. It has an unprepossessing exterior, which is perhaps one of the reasons for its semi-anonymity.
        Tex Mulloy would never have given it a second glance, for Tex Mulloy was a Dallas man visiting England with the power of a human tornado. Tex had made his money from Dallas oil. He was now trying to think of ways to spend some of it, and being a good Texan he could think of very few better ways of spending money than by using it to earn more money. Being an oil man, both by nature and inclination, his thoughts had turned from Dallas to Persia. He had friends in the right kind of places, with the right kind of influence, and all sorts of delicate diplomatic problems had been dealt with by people who were more diplomatic though slightly less forceful than Tex Mulloy. But now he had a problem that had driven him from Persia to London, it had driven him from the London Airport to the offices of the "Daily Globe", and for the first time in his life, Mac, the dour old Scots editor, had met a man who could equal him in force of personality. Had there been a head on collision it is quite possible that the resultant explosion would have equalled an atomic bomb.
        Fortunately there was no collison, the two men liked one another instantaneously. Kipling once said that when strong men meet they recognise each other's power and respect one another's strength. It was so with the equal, yet opposite, personality forces of Mac, the dour old editor, and Tex Mulloy, the effervescent oil magnate. Mac was small and wiry and penetratingly keen----a wizened little monkey of a man with a brain that was as rapid as a machine gun. Mulloy was big----in fact he was very big, he went over seventeen stone. He was broad in the shoulder and broader still around the middle. He had muscles like an ox, and a bull-neck which supported his great bull-like Cretan head. He wore thick, square-cut rimless glasses and his eyes burned like blazing jets. He could talk as fast as Mac could think, in fact he was one of those men who could paralyse opposition by the sheer power and force of his words. His jaw seemed to have been replaced by a steel trap spring mechanism.
        When the two men had each adjusted to the other's personality, and had got over the initial impact which they had made upon one another, Mac had decided that Tex Mulloy was the kind of man that the world needed. Without the Tex Mulloys of the world certain jobs would not get done. Lesser men would quail pessimistically before tasks which Mulloy would take in his stride and complete before breakfast!
        The whole point of Mulloy's visit was to 'find a guy named Stearman'. All he knew about the 'guy named Stearman' was that he worked for the 'Daily Globe'. Mac had made derogatory remarks about Stearman to the effect that he only worked for the 'Daily Globe' when he wasn't busy sleeping----or disappearing to the four corners of the earth, ostensibly on business but, Mac suspected, on pleasure.
        The irrascible Scots editor had a nose for news which was the equal of the Texan's nose for oil, and in the person of Mulloy, Mac could definitely sense a budding story. Mulloy was the kind of man who made stories everywhere he went, and anywhere he went. Mulloy was the kind of man who didn't read news, he created news. The very fact that Mulloy was in town was news on its own. Mac could guarantee that in twenty-four hours there'd be a paragraph, and that within a week there'd be a front page spread! Mulloy had that kind of personality. With every appearance of being a grudging giver, Mac had finally parted with Val Stearman's address. The big Texan had literally cascaded down the stairs, grabbed the first taxi, crashed his gigantic weight into the back seat with a force that nearly broke the springs, had watched the cabby turn round to say something and regarded him with satisfaction as he turned back again having noted the width of the Texan's shoulders and the tough, rugged, crew-cut topped face of the big oil fighter.
        The taxi had taken him to Val Stearman's flat. The concierge on duty below had regretfully said that Mr. Stearman was out and had not left any message as to where he could be found in an emergency, but, suggested the concierge respectfully, Mr. Stearman would quite possibly be in one of the following five bars in the West End. The big Texan tipped the concierge liberally, scrawled down the names of the bars, pressed it in front of the taxi driver and said:
        "Git!" They got. They got to some effect. Dooley's was third on the list and Tex had some difficulty in finding it because of the quiet modesty of its doorway. He stepped inside and was pleasantly surprised by its interior. His face registered disappointment as he looked around, there was nobody, apparently, in the bar, and then, at the far end, standing unobtrusively in the shadows, he saw a tall, broad shouldered man who might have been his own build but for the absence of the enormous Mulloy stomach. Mulloy reckoned that the man he was looking at weighed around the fifteen stone mark; he had a crop of curly, iron-grey hair and a lean, ruggedly-handsome, devil-may-care face. The eyes were clear, cool, grey, penetrating, kindly, and yet at the same time powerful. They made the Texan think of the eyes that he had once seen in a picture of an English knight-Crusader. It had affected him very much when he had seen the picture as a boy, many years ago, and the phrase with which he had described the knight 'Terrible but tender' still went through his mind.
        Val Stearman's eyes were the eyes of a man who could where necessary, and in the right cause, kill without turning a hair. They were also the eyes of a man who would have the utmost compassion and pity on the weak. A man who was noble to the point of self sacrifice, and yet a man who could turn into a devastating fighting machine at a second's notice. There was a deceptively casual, lazy air about him as he leaned on the counter. But impressive as the man was, Mulloy's attention was taken by the woman. She wasn't just pretty, she was beautiful, yet pretty as well. She wasn't just beautiful, she was beautifully groomed, but there was a kind of intrinsic beauty about her that seemed to well up from deep down within. It was as though her very soul was a gleaming white light that irradiated the rest of her body.
        She was like a beautiful piece of stained glass with the sun behind it. Her hair was so black that it was almost blue-black; it was incredibly glossy, and her eyes, when she turned casually in his direction, were as black as the blackest night he had ever seen. They were two pools of sheer dark, liquid beauty. Her face was exquisite and she had a soft, warm, red mouth, and a noble, Cleopatrine beauty that is very rarely seen in the 20th century. Her whole appearance was classical. She could have been a Helen of Troy, she might have been a Greek goddess, she could have been the old Egyptian queen herself. The oil man caught his breath, hardly able to believe his luck, surely, he thought, no one in the whole metropolis could look that much like Val Stearman and the legendary La Noire, without being Val Stearman and La Noire.
        Mulloy believed in the direct approach, he walked across to the bar and crashed an enormous fist down that set everything dancing, and ordered a bottle of Scotch. Val raised one eyebrow quizzically and looked at the barman as though to say 'would you like him thrown out?' Mulloy interpreted the look and grinned broadly.
        "No thanks!" he said.
        Stearman looked slightly taken aback.
        "You a mind reader?" he asked coolly.
        "Could be," answered Mulloy, "I prefer to say I'm just a lucky guesser though, and I guess right now that I've come to the end of my search. Is your name Stearman?"
        "I am what you accuse me of," said Val with a grin.
        "I take it this good lady is your wife, the famous La Noire, if I may call you that, ma'am?"
        "What's this about a search coming to an end?" asked Stearman, "you been looking for us?"
        "I certainly have! I flew all the way from Persia looking for you!"
        "Flew all the way from Persia! You'd better begin at the beginning hadn't you?" invited La Noire.
        "Have some whisky," said Tex Mulloy.
        "I think we're all right at the moment," said Stearman who was sipping a Martini, "but we'll join you in a minute."
        "Shall we go and sit down at a table?" asked Mulloy.
        "Certainly," agreed Val, he pulled a chair back for La Noire and they sat down. The Texan was getting to work on the whisky. It seemed to have about as much effect on him as water.
        "I'm an oil man," he said, "you've probably guessed that."
        "I'd have said you were either oil, steel or cattle," returned Val Stearman, "and whatever it is, you do it damned well. You're probably a millionaire."
        "I'm a dollar millionaire," said the Texas man, "and on the way to the second one, well on the way. But I didn't come here just to boast about my finances. I got so much dough my biggest problem is keeping interested in life. I like to spend it, you know, and I reckon the best way to spend it is to go out and get some more. The best way to get more is to keep in the business you understand best, and in my case that's oil." He was talking like a machine gun. His voice was deep and powerful, but at the same time strangely staccato. It was like listening to the recording of a thunderstorm which is being played one speed too fast. Stearman's ears were ringing a little with the proxmity of the American's mighty vocal cords.
        "I went out to Persia on an oil job----"
        "That's not terribly easy," put in Val.
        "How did you manage it?" asked La Noire.
        "Oh, I got ways and means, I got friends in the right places. I don't know what you Limeys call it, but I call it 'drive', 'push', you know, I'm a go-getter!"
        "I can see that!" replied Stearman, "You haven't lost any time tracking me down. I assume that you went to the offices of the 'Globe' and that Mac, by some strange miracle, was kind enough to give you my address. From there you tipped the concierge and armed with a list of my half-dozen favourite bars----"
        "Half-a-dozen," said Tex, "Hell, I gave him an English pound and he only gave me five."
        "You were probably in too much of a hurry for his rather rusty memory to come up with the sixth," said Stearman. "However, you were lucky; is this the last on the list?"
        "No, this is number three."
        "You were very lucky; he generally puts the ones I am usually in on the bottom of the list, so that when those who are searching for me finally come across me, they are usually in a state of greater desperation than they were at the beginning; but we're wasting time; you said you wanted to get to the point. I must admit that we are extremely curious."
        "We are indeed," said La Noire.
        "Well, the point is this, out there in Persia, not far from where we're drilling, there's a cave----"
        Val Stearman raised one eyebrow quizzically, and flashed a meaningful glance at La Noire.
        "I gotta feeling you know something about this cave," said Tex Mulloy rather accusatively.
        "Just doing some inspired guessing," said Stearman. "I'd say for number one that you're having some trouble with the workers out there."
        "It's impossible to get native Persians to work near the place," said Tex, "you'd think it was full of leprosy or smallpox the amount of fuss they're making. I've never seen men so scared of anything. I offered them four times normal pay, and you can't even get 'em then."
        "I'm having another guess," went on Stearman, "is this cave known in local Persian dialect as 'The Cave of the White Demon'?"
        The American's face suddenly broke into a broad grin.
        "I was told that Val Stearman was the man I needed. I was told that Val Stearman was supposed to know more about the occult, more about strange, unwritten mysteries more about psychic adventures than any three ordinary men put together. Your reputation is pretty well world-wide, Mr. Stearman."
        "Undeservedly, I fear," said Val, "but go on----"
        "The cave certainly is known as the 'Cave of the White Demon'," said Tex Mulloy "and that means that I shan't have to bother to tell you the rest of the story."
        "Let me tell you, then," said Val. "Many centuries ago there lived in Persia a legendary warrior named Rustem. He was the son of Zal, and it was due to his many successes as a warrior that the Persian dynasty of Kaianides was established on the throne. Rustem fought against the Turanians beyond the Oxus, he also fought against the demons. During the reign of the second monarch Kai-Kaus, the king, Kau-Kaus himself, was captured by a dreadful white demon, the white demon which was reputed to live in the mountains of Tabaristan. . . ."
        "It's on the 'plain just below those mountains that I'm doing my drilling," said Tex.
        "Rustem supposedly killed or wounded the white demon," went on Val, "and in the Book of the Kings which was written by Firdusi, there is a rather horrifying picture of Rustem fighting the demon. There is a very splendid reproduction which I believe is in one of the Paris museums, a glorious piece of Indo-Persian art, dated about 1620, which depicts that self-same scene."
        "You don't believe there's anything in this white demon business, do you?" asked Tex Mulloy.
        Val grinned.
        "If you want me to help you," he returned, "you may have to open your mind to a belief in a number of things which would normally have been considered absolutely incredible. Things which are normally considered to be the domain of the science fiction writer and the realm of the producer of horror stories. You said you had heard something about me, Mr. Mulloy, tell me this, have you heard the story of the vampire in the Vosskarg Valley? Have you heard the story of how I rescued my wife here, La Noire, from a coven of Black Magicians? It's a long time ago now, but I can still remember every detail as clearly as if it had happened yesterday . . ." He slipped a hand into his jacket pocket and produced a large, heavy, Browning automatic. "You see that gun, Mr. Mulloy? It's a very expensive weapon to fire, it's loaded with silver; it's not a gimmick, either. It is loaded with silver because I sometimes find myself opposed by beings who are not in the least inconvenienced by the impact of a lead bullet."
        "So all these things I've heard about you are true?" said Mulloy, speaking more quietly than usual.
        "Most of them," replied Stearman, sighing rather wearily, "most of them. But you didn't come to hear about the exploits of Val Stearman, you came to see if I would take on a job for you? Right?"
        "Right!" concurred Mulloy.
        "I'm not exactly a special agent, you know," said Stearman, "I'm only a reporter. I'm a journalist with a nose for psychic news. The sort of thing people like to read and the kind of thing that interests me. La Noire and I carry out a sort of miniature Crusade. Some men and women go out to become missionaries. I'm not holy enough for that. Some men become doctors and fight against evil when it manifests itself in the form of disease, I'm not cut out for that kind of work." He looked at his hands, they were big, broad, muscular hands, lean and strong. "You are looking at the hands of a professional fighter, I could never be a surgeon with hands like that."
        Mulloy nodded his understanding.
        "But to put you in the picture, to let you know what it is that you're hiring, so to speak, I'm very concerned about the duellism of the universe, the battle between good and evil. Just as the doctor fights on one front and the missionary fights on another, and the teacher fights against ignorance, which is only another manifestation of evil, so I fight against something very unusual, what you might call the more direct manifestations. I fight against evil where it manifests itself in a supernatural form. I'm a direct kind of man, Mr. Mulloy and I like to fight against what I can see. I don't like to think of it in abstract terms, I don't like to fight it second hand. I like to get to grips with it."
        "Will you come and have a look at this haunted cavern, this Cavern of the White Demon, as they call it?" asked Tex.
        "I'll come at once," replied Stearman, "if you think I can do any good."
        "You're my boy," said Mulloy. "That's just what I do want.
        "Knowing the methods of the high-powered, high-pressure American business executive, particularly a Texan oil man, and in this case, a Texan-Persian oil man, you will have chartered a plane and you will want to be leaving to-night," said Stearman.
        "Well, I haven't yet, but it's a dam' good idea!" beamed Mulloy.
        "All right," said Stearman, "My car is parked outside. it'll be quicker than a taxi. You can make the necessary arrangements by phone from my flat while we're packing, and we'll be with you."
        When they arrived back at the flat the concierge grinned.
        "I 'ope I did right, tellin' 'im where to find you, sir."
        "You did fine," said Stearman, "Things look very interesting, George."
        While Val and La Noire packed, the big Texan was on to a private air charter company. It was not easy, even for a Texan oil millionaire to charter a plane at such short notice, but money talks, and Texas oil money can talk extremely loudly. When it had a personality like that of Tex Mulloy to back it up, it talked undeniably loudly. Finally, sweating profusely, Tex slammed the phone down and mopped his brow. "They'll be ready in one hour twenty minutes," he said, "I even managed to get a strip at London Airport to take off from."
        "I certainly admire the way you do things," said Stearman. "If I'm ever fortunate enough to win the Irish Sweep, or French Lotterie Nationale I'll ask you to give me some advice on investing."
        "Be delighted!" grinned Tex.
        From the airport, through the night, the flight was routine.
        At the other end the oil man had his own 140 h.p. Lincoln Zephyr waiting. It was a gigantic, streamlined thing that purred along like poetry in motion. The hours passed as the powerful Texan drove on through the Persian night, over that kind of dusty, hurriedly constructed road which can only lead to an oil field.
        "You've got an uncannily good sense of direction," commented Stearman.
        "I'm an oil man," answered Tex with a grin, as he puffed at a gargantuan cigar, "and at the other end of this road is oil. Man, I go back to that like a homing pigeon on a beam!" The car sped on. After what seemed an eternity of gliding, purring, rattling and bumping over dusty roads they stopped.
        "This is it," said Tex, "Welcome to the Hotel Mulloy." He indicated a collection of quickly erected tin and asbestos shanties.
        "Magnificent!" said Stearman. "Oriental opulence and all that sort of thing. So this is the charm of the mysterious East!"
        "Glad you like it," answered Tex.
        Val and La Noire followed him into the largest of the huts. The oil man produced a gigantic bottle of whisky.
        "Thank God it hasn't all evaporated," he said. "Here, tuck in!" He handed glasses round and looked at La Noire admiringly, as she downed the hundred per cent proof spirit with the same easy grace with which she sipped a Martini or a Highball.
        "Ma'am, I sure do admire a lady who can drink," said Tex with genuine approbation . . . . La Noire smiled.
        "That's the least of her accomplishments," said Val Stearman.
        Tex looked frankly and admiringly at the big journalist.
        "You know, Stearman," he said, "if you weren't such a big fella yourself, I'd make a pass at your wife!"
        "You're welcome to try, but she can take care of herself, you know! If I come back in here and find you running around in the shape of a small mangy, black cat with five legs I'll know you tried it!"
        "Is that a fact," said Tex with a grin, and then there was a sudden interruption. The banter and good humour went out of the Texan as though they had been drained away.
        Val and La Noire became as serious and as sober as judges. The door crashed open and a young Persian boy slumped in at their feet.
        "It's Jemshid," said Tex Mulloy, "he's my personal servant, nice kid."
        With surprising tenderness the big Texan picked the Persian youngster up in his arms with effortless ease, and laid him on his own bed.
        Looking at the boy's face, Val Stearman realised that only rarely had he seen such terror in a human countenance. Jemshid's eyes opened and he looked at Tex Mulloy.
        "I went to the cave, master. I thought it was not right that the men would not stay. I went to the cave so that I could tell them there was nothing to fear. I would have laughed them to scorn, and said that if I, a mere boy would go to the cave, surely they would dare work down here below it."
        "You did that for me, son?" said Tex, and there was a catch in his voice.
        "What happened?" asked Val.
        The boy sat up. He was obviously in a state of severe shock, and there was a long deep cut on his shoulder. otherwise he appeared to have sustained no serious injury.
        La Noire was preparing a dressing for the boy's wound.
        "Give him a drink," said Val. Tex reached across for the bottle, and gave the Persian tad a generous measure of the powerful spirit.
        "In the cave, Mr. Mulloy," said the boy, "in the cave----three times the height of a man----white as milk----horns on its head----a great club in its hand. It had a face like a demon----huge ears like the ears of a beast. . . ."
        "You mean to say you saw something in that cave?" ejaculated Tex Mulloy. "Well I've been up two or three times and there was nothing there."
        "You went in the day time, master. There is nothing there in the light." La Noire finished bandaging the boy's shoulder and they propped him up comfortably on the pillows.
        "I'm going up there," said Tex. He reached beneath his bed and pulled out a powerful .75 Express repeater, "Twice, three times the size of a man, eh? Well, I'll cut him down to size! Don't you worry kid, I'll get him!"
        "You won't stop him with that," said Stearman, there was admiration in his eyes. "You're the kind of man I like, Mr. Mulloy."
        The boy looked towards them.
        "Do not go, do not go! He is too big! Only because I ran like the wind, did I escape him. He struck at me. He has hands like claws."
        "You'll be all right," said La Noire, "I've bandaged it for you. It'll feel much better in the morning."
        Val Stearman slid the Browning automatic from his pocket.
        "There's another one in that case," he said. La Noire was already unfastening it. She handed the second pistol to Tex Mulloy. The Texan checked the clip carefully, with the efficiency of an ex-service man.
        "Are we ready now?" he asked grimly.
        "Yes, you'll find those silver bullets more effective than your rifle," said Val. "Silver is a holy metal, you know it is usually fatal to anything that is opposed to the powers of light."
        "Why is that?" asked the Texan.
        "Mainly, I would think," said Val, "because silver is a white metal. It has been associated in men's minds for centuries as the focal point of the power of light, if you see my meaning."
        "Yea, yea, I do," agreed Tex, "kind-a symbolism, isn't it?"
        "Yes," agreed Val, "a kind of symbolism."
        "Do you want me to come?" asked La Noire.
        "I think you'd better stay here with the boy, darling, unless you specially want to come. I think he needs company."
        "Please, please stay with me," pleaded Jemshid. She put her hand gently to the boy's brow.
        "I think he's going to start running a fever. It's the shock coming out. Take care of yourselves then," she said.
        "We'll do our best, darling," promised Val as he kissed her. And then he and Tex Mulloy were heading purposefully up the narrow winding track towards the mountain. Mulloy was carrying a powerful electric torch. The beams stabbed through the darkness like a white sword. Both men had the guns out ready. It was an unnerving experience, that slow, long climb up through the rocks. Higher they climbed and higher still.
        "Nearly there," said the Texan, and ahead of them in the darkness they heard a strange sound, the sound as of someone or something roaring, They followed the noise: the roaring rose and fell, changing into a strange shrieking whine. It continued to rise and fall and rise again. It was a horrible, oscillating tone.
        "That never came from a human throat," said Mulloy.
        "Have you heard it before?" asked Stearman.
        "Can't say that I have," replied the Texan.
        "Evil manifests itself in many ways," said Stearman, "evil that you can see, evil that you can hear, and evil that you can smell. Then there is the intuitive evil that you can only sense, the kind of intuitive evil that comes to you as a strange feeling that something is wrong."
        "I know exactly what you mean," said the Texan.
        "The kind of feeling you get when you're out at night alone on an empty road."
        "Coleridge puts it rather well in 'The Ancient Mariner'." said Stearman.

                "There was an ancient mariner,
                He stoppeth one in three.
                'By thy long grey beard and glittering eye
                Now wherefore stop'st thou me?"

        "Yea, I know it," said Tex, "what was the verse you were thinking of?"
        "This one," said Val,

                " 'As one upon a lonesome road
                Doth walk in fear and dread.
                And having once looked round, walks on
                And turns no more his head,
                Because he knows a fearful fiend
                Doth close behind him tread."

        "Yea, that's the feeling," agreed the Texan, "that's the feeling exactly.
        They continued moving forward in silence; every nerve was tense and taut; there was an electrical feeling in the atmosphere. Stearman could feel his heart inside his rib case pounding like a trip hammer. He felt the pulse in his neck, it was beating heavily.
        The muscles of the Texan's stomach were trying to tie themselves into knots. The nerves in his solar plexus were going for a walk. . . .
        The two men reached the entrance to a cavern. Their nostrils were assailed by a strong odour. It was a smell of great age. It was the smell that one associates with ancient leather bound volumes in a timeless reading room. The kind of smell that comes out of pyramids that have been undisturbed for millenia. The kind of smell that is to be found in prehistoric burial places. The smell of the stone age, the smell of epochs long, long dead. Val and the Texan exchanged glances but neither spoke. With cat-like tread, a surprising accomplishment considering the size of them, they crept through the entrance, and there, outlined in strange phosphorescent light, silhouetted by its own strange glow against the darker background of the cave, they saw the thing.
        The thing was pure milk white, as the boy had said, and the sight of it against the black background of the cave was like looking at a television set which is wrongly adjusted, so that the contrast plays strange tricks with the human eyes that watch. The thing saw them at the same time as they saw it, and with a reverberating roar, far louder than any sound they had yet heard it emit, it charged across the cave towards them. Val leapt to the right, and Tex Mulloy skipped nimbly to the left. Even as he watched Val couldn't help admiring the strength and the speed of a man as big as Mulloy who could move that fast. The great white thing with the hideous face and bestial ears stood uncertainly for a minute not knowing which of the two adventurers to pursue. The quick movement which Val and Tex had made instinctively had put them on opposite sides of the cave from one another, and neither dared to fire for fear of hitting his colleague.
        "We've got to get together," said Mulloy.
        "Drop!" yelled Val. The Texan reacted very swiftly. Like the trained soldier that he had been during the '39-45' war, a war during which he had won the Congressional medal of honour, Mulloy hit the deck with surprising swiftness. The burly Texan was no sooner clear of the line of fire than Val Stearman pressed the trigger of the trusty automatic three times in rapid succession. The great white thing moved with incredible swiftness. The first shot went through the air where it had been standing, and by the time the second two bullets had sped on their way, the thing was on the floor and diving at Stearman's legs. Val had never seen a thing of that size moving so fast. The strength of it! It was like being involved with an elephant stampede. The Texan glanced up swiftly, realising what had happened in a second, he charged from the opposite side of the cavern and his great, bullet-hard head hit the thing somewhere about the centre. It grunted and released its hold on Stearman's legs. Val was on his feet again in a second. Hanging on doggedly, he seized one of the claw-like hands, while the Texan locked his entire strength and weight around the other arm,
        For a few seconds the fantastic tableau writhed around the cavern. The thing must have weighed somewhere in the region of fifty or sixty stone. Its weight was more than double the combined weight of Stearman and Mulloy, yet such was the tenacity of the big English journalist and Mulloy, that the white demon was unable to dislodge them.
        "This is no good," grunted Tex, "We ain't gonna get him this way, Val."
        There was something so grimly humorous about the way the American said it that made Stearman suddenly realise that he liked Tex Mulloy very much indeed. There was something so admirable about the tough resilience of a hell rider like the Texan. The way he had said it he might have been talking about landing a fish which was fighting back angrily against the snap tackle.
        "Get clear," cried Val, "we'll try another shot." Even as he spoke the white demon flung him down like a rag doll, the mighty Texan followed.
        Val and Tex lay winded where they had fallen for a second, and, with upraised club, the thing came towards them. By some strange miracle the Texan had retained his grip on the gun. His knuckles were bleeding and grazed as a result of his grip. At the last second Mulloy rolled aside loosing off a pair of quick shots as he did so. The thing staggered, the club dropped from its nerveless claws. Stearman dived across the floor like a shot from a gun, seized his own automatic and emptied the remaining shots into the sagging abdomen of the demon. There was a strange opalescent cloud of weird white vapour. Oil man and journalist stood staring at it. In the cloud they could see something that might have been features. Features that were consumed with anger, with fury, with burning hatred, with a rage that surpassed all measure.
        Yet it was a frustrated fury, a frustrated anger, a frustrated rage; there was impotent futility as well as fury in the expression.
        "He's beat," said Tex, "we got him Val, we got him." The white vapour slowly faded and dispersed like the morning mist when the sun rises.
        At that moment a shaft of sunlight, the first ray of dawn, broke over the top of the mountains and illuminated the entrance to the cave.
        Tex and Val Stearman stepped out into that patch of sunlight, the air tasted pure and clean and fresh. The last wisp of demonaic white vapour evaporated completely.
        "I guess I'll be able to get on with my drilling now," said the Texan, "it certainly was worth the flight to London, Mr. Stearman."
        When they got back to the drillings, La Noire and Jemshid were waiting for them at the door.
        "You have triumphed," said the boy, "I knew it, look!"
        They turned around.
        "I always knew you were a good nurse," said Val to La Noire, "but I've never seen you cure anyone so quickly."
        "It's a miracle," said Tex, "there isn't a mark on his skin. There was a cut in there half an inch deep and eight or nine inches long."


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