Thursday, September 01, 2005
Dad was still writing short stories in 1940; Temple has an Oriental setting
Dad was still writing short stories in 1940; Temple has an Oriental setting
The Temple of the White Flame
by J. R. Johnston (Jackson MI, circa 1940)
The bole of the tree fairly bristled with gaudy, ocher-tinted Chinese arrows. One, more carefully aimed than the rest, had ripped across Don Cameron's left shoulder-blade as he lay on his stomach at the base of the tree, but the young American had merely grinned at the bite of the barb and promptly dropped the archer with a rifle bullet but before he could string another shaft. The shot was greeted with a howl of rage from the thickets where the other Chinese, some 60 in number, lay hidden and was immediately followed by a burst of firing from ancient firearms that drove Cameron behind the tree to escape the blast of whining slugs.
"H'm," he grinned to himself, calmly slipping a fresh clip of cartridges into his rifle, I don't believe the beggars like the way I shoot.... now what?"
The firing ceased suddenly. Something quite appeared above a patch of brush 100 yards in front of Cameron's position, and an instant later, an officer in resplendent uniform stepped into view, carrying a stick with a knotted handkerchief above his head. He strode arrogantly forward, with a manner meant to be impressive. Cameron rose to his feet, saw that the man was unarmed, and leans his rifle against the tree trunk. It was evident that the officer was no mere underling, but someone in authority.
"Liang Wu regrets deeply that the Honorable Don Cameron has been annoyed by these worthless dogs," he said suavely in liquid Mandarin, which the American understood perfectly. "It is most unfortunate that I was delayed in coming to meet you. Liang Wu begs the Honorable Cameron's forbearance because of the death of his gun-bearer."
Cameron's eyes narrowed. In spite of the man's soft phrases he recognized an undercurrent of menace. Several years in China had taught him much, and he had long since learned to tread warily when trouble seemed most remote.
"I believe enough of your ' worthless dogs' have paid for killing my servant," he said bluntly, speaking in Mandarin also. "Eight, eh?"
Liang Wu bowed slightly.
"Nine," he corrected.
Cameron smiled easily.
"Ah, yes. I forget the archer." Then, sharply: "Let's quit beating around the bush, Wu! Why was this mongrel pact sent to bar my way?"
"It was so ordered by the Honorable Lo Chang, warlord of Shen Tai. It was not meant that you should be fired upon. The Lord Lo Chang will deal harshly with the offender who began that."
"I was doing that very well myself before you interrupted," Cameron told him dryly. "Lo Chang knows my purpose, then?"
Liang Wu nodded.
"The Temple of the White flame is forbidden ground, honorable sir. The Lord of Shen Tai has so decreed, upon pain of death. Even though it is known you have the permission of the Emperor, still does the edict stand."
Cameron lighted a cigarette coolly.
"In other words, it's get out, is it?" he demanded between puffs.
Liang Wu shrugged his shoulders again.
"Let us say, rather, that the river is much safer for the Honorable Cameron than the Temple of the White flame," he suggested with a return of his suave manner. "One trail is open, the other beset by countless perils."
The American ignored the ominous tone of the last sentence. When he spoke it was thoughtfully, as if more to himself than to the waiting Chinaman.
"The ancestors of a Cameron would frown were he to leave his task unfinished," he said in polished Mandarin. "The river lies behind. Before him towers the Temple of the White Flame, beckoning."
The face of the Chinaman was inscrutable, but the eyes smoldered with murky fires. He turned abruptly on his heel and strode back to his hidden band. Cameron, a grin on his lips, stepped backward quickly scooped up his rifle and threw himself down behind the tree. But he did not stay there. Liang Wu meant business, he knew, and if he waited until his opponents worked around him he would be caught neatly in a trap.
Edging backward cautiously, shielded from view by the huge tree and kneehigh grass growing on each side of it, he withdrew down the bank of a small ravine to where the body of his Chinese gun-bearer lay, an arrow through the chest.
"At least I got that damned archer," he said aloud as he stripped the body of several bandoleers and his extra rifle, a Springfield. "Can't wait to bury you, old-timer, or I'll have to be buried with you."
You ran swiftly down the ravine, climbed the opposite bank under cover of a thicket, and set off westward, circling his former position at a respectable distance. It would be some minutes before Liang Wu discovered his absence, he was certain, for the Chinese would be exceedingly wary about approaching the spot from which he had killed nine of their number. And he would have a few more minutes before they could find his trail and determined that it led not back to the river but in the same general direction he had been heading when he found the way barred.
Half an hour later he came out of the forest and saw before him a long, treeless slope at the top of which rose a tall white tower gilded by the sun. At the base of the tower was a sort of mosque, and both were surrounded by a white stone wall eight feet high. A little-used path led up the slope to it, and Cameron wasted no time where he was.
He was halfway up the slope when a yell of discovery rang from the forest-edge. Almost immediately a bullet wind spitefully past his head. He wheeled and shot twice at flitting forms among the trees, heard a cry of pain as one bullet found its mark, and then ran on.
The bellowing of ancient firearms continued from the forest. Slugs kicked up just all around the runner. Cameron had little respect for the marksmanship of the Chinese, but he was taking no chances by staying out of in the open any longer than was absolutely necessary.
He reached the gates of the temple wall, shoved hard on it, but found it barred securely. He muttered something beneath his breath and wheeled about. The wall was not so high that he would have any difficulty in scaling it, but just now there was more important work to do, because 50 some vengeful Chinamen were rushing up the slope toward him with willful murder in their slant-eyes and deadly weapons of practically every description in their hands.
Cameron through himself down behind a boulder fifty feet in front of the wall and went into action abruptly. His Winchester spat spitefully, and with accustomed accuracy. On the left end of the wave of yellow men a huge, pock-marked fellow very what looked like a blunderbus went down heavily; in the center a swordsman collapsed in mid-stride, while on the right three well-aimed bullets brought two of a group of runners crashing to the ground and broke the shoulder of the third.
An arrow swished past Cameron's boulder and stuck quiveringly in a gate post. A heavy leaden slug struck the face of the rock, dashing discharge splinters into his cheeks, and then sang off into space with a sinister sound. The American reloaded feverishly, but without dropping a single cartridge, and opened fire again.
The foremost of the Chinese were only one hundred yards distant now, yelling fiercely to keep up their courage as much as to scare the white man, were that possible. Even a fair marksman could have scored many hits at that distance, and Don Cameron had more than once qualified as an expert rifleman on army ranges.
His first shot accounted for an under-officer brandishing sword and revolver. He fired again quickly, working lever and trigger with a deftness of long experience. From behind him came the sound of wood banging against wood, and of rusty hinges squeaking, but he did not dare turn his head. That rush had to be stopped inside of sixty feet, or his goose was cooked.
Crash! Almost in his ear a rifle roared, and a big, hulking Chinaman went down as if he had been pole-axed. Cameron pulled the trigger again, heard the hammer click hollowly on an empty shell, and glanced sidewards as he reached for a fresh handful of shells.
"For the luva Pete!" he gasped, almost dropping the cartridges in astonishment.
Beside him, cheek cuddling the stock of a Winchester 30-30, knelt a girl! She was barely 20, and a white girl at that. Her face was pale, colorless, strained, but she worked her rifle bravely, surely, making every shot tell.
"Here!" cried Cameron, reaching up and pulling her down beside him. "Haven’t you got enough sense to keep your head down? … Oh, you would, would you!"
The last question was directed at a burly Chinaman who had halted in the act of heaving a broad-plated knife. A bullet broke his wrist before the knife left his hands, and he danced around in agony, getting in the way of some of his comrades and causing no little confusion.
The girl's rifle, now fully loaded again, joined Cameron's in spreading havoc among the Chinese. So fierce was the hail of steel-jacketed bullets from the muzzles of their guns that the attackers broke at last, whirled about and fled precipitately. Cameron emptied his rifle, the whining missiles urging the Chinese to greater speed, and then leaped to his feet.
"C'mon!" he commanded, helping the girl up also. "We better get inside. Something tells me this little fracas isn't over with yet."
She smiled wanly and preceded him through the gate. He said that and dropped the heavyweight wooden bar into place before turning to phaser. For a long moment they looked at each other, silently.
"I guess that explains it," Cameron said slowly.
"What do you mean?" she queried.
"I was wondering why Liang Wu and Lo Chang were so anxious to keep me away from this temple," he told her. "I've heard Lo Chang has an eye for white women, and he must have known you were here. My name is Cameron, Don Cameron. Would you mind telling me what you're doing here?"
" Why, you see, my father was a missionary. He was the Rev. Robert Morgan. I'm Patricia Morgan. We had a little mission near here, but all our people were killed by bandits, and we were forced to flee. We took refuge in this temple -- it's supposed to be abandoned, you know. That was five days ago. The day before yesterday an old Chinaman came to see father. He was Lo Chang, and the man you call Liang Wu was with them. Chang Wu wanted to marry me! Can you imagine?"
Cameron snorted indignantly.
"Why, the old heathen! I hope I get a shot at him! Wait a minute."
He climbed upon a firing step that once had served the priests of the temple in defending it, and peered over the wall. Then he returned.
"They're getting ready for another try at it," he said. "Looks like they've got more men now. But go on. You said your father was a missionary. You mean --?"
She nodded wordlessly, a sob in her throat, and turned to point at a fresh grave in the courtyard on the opposite side of the gate, surrounded by a row of stakes and a crude headstone.
"He-he drove Lo Chang away with a revolver, and Chang told him he'd take me by force. We stood them off all day -- we had plenty of guns and ammunition with us." She tried to smile. "You see, daddy came from Arizona. He always said that he h-had faith in the Lord, but that a bullet could discourage a lot of evil. They -- they got him in the first attack, with an arrow. I buried him, and I've been fighting them alone ever since, until -- until about two hours ago, when they suddenly left. Oh, it -- it was horrible, until you came."
Cameron stared at her aghast. It was almost incredible that this slip of a girl could have successfully stood off attack after attack. Why, she seemed little more than a child in her close-fitting white dress that only served to accentuate her slenderness, but she had proven herself thoroughly capable.
"Good Lord!" He breathed. "You poor kid! I know how you must have felt, cooped up in here alone and lot of raving Chinks outside! Boy, I'm glad I wouldn't let Liang Wu scare me away! I'm after a little jade idol that's hidden here in the temple. They knew I was coming; got word somehow the emperor had given me permission to get the idol, and Liang Wu was sent to turn me back. But here I am, and I'm going to get to out of this if I have to break all the pig-tailed heads in China. Just you keep a stiff upper lip -- Pat!"
She smiled bravely, winking a solitary tear out of her eye.
"I -- I will – Don!" she assured him. "But hadn't we better see what they're doing? That Wu man is a snake, and Chang is worse!"
They climbed upon the parapet together and searched the slope with their eyes. At the edge of the forest was a milling band of Chinese around a figure in a resplendent uniform who evidently was exhorting them to attack fiercely. Cameron estimated their number as more than a hundred.
"They're coming," he said grimly, getting a quick survey of the battle field. They can only attack from in front, praise be to Allah, because of all these rocks on both sides and behind the temple. Guess we can hold out, but you'd better get inside, Pat, where you won't get hit."
"No sir!" She protested. "I want to help. I can shoot almost as good as you!"
"That's right," he agreed. "O.K., but keep your little brown head down, understand? How many guns have you here?"
She brought them to him, two rifles of the same caliber as his Winchester, a revolver, and a shotgun. The latter he took with satisfaction, observing that the shells were filled with heavy shot.
"This'll do a lot of damage at close range," he asserted. "Suppose you reload the rifles for me until they get a little nearer. No use waiting till we can see the whites of their eyes when we can just as well keep some of them from getting that close. Here goes!"
He took brief aim with the Springfield and opened fire. As soon as the weapon was empty Pat handed him a Winchester, reloading the army rifle immediately. Most of Cameron's shots told, but the wave of Chinese came on, yelling savagely and beginning to shoot before they were within good range of their old guns and bows. Cameron observed that Liang remained at the edge of the forest, urging his men on. When Pat again handed him the Springfield he set the sights swiftly for 800 yards, squinted through them at the resplendent figure and pulled the trigger. Liang Wu fell but scrambled up hastily and dove into the shelter of the trees, apparently not badly hurt.
Oh, I wish you'd got him!" The girl cried, applauding the shot. "That'll make him keep out of sight, anyhow."
The American granted and shifted the muzzle of this weapon. Three Chinamen went down in as many shots, 200 yards distant, but the last bullet missed. He reached for a Winchester and cut loose again, spraying the incoming line from one end to the other.
"Wish you'd get up in that tower, Pat," he directed not taking his eyes from his targets. "No, it isn't because I want you to keep out of the fight, so you needn't start getting a refusal all ready. I'm going to have my hands full, I can see that, and you can do a lot more good from there potting any Chinks who try to slip over the wall while I'm busy other places. Take two of the Winchesters and a revolver, and leave the rest with me.
"And listen," gravely, "if -- if they should do me in, save your last shot for -- you know. Now hurry."
She looked at him doubtfully an instant, reluctant to leave, and then obeyed like the good little soldier she was. He spared a glance to watch her run into the temple. She would be much safer there, and she really could do a lot of good from the tower, since she could command the field in any direction.
An arrow hummed ominously passed Cameron’s ear. He dropped the archer in his tracks and swung the muzzle of his rifle toward a running group of yelling Chinamen which a stream of steel-jacketed bullets broke apart as if it had been struck by a burst of shrapnel.
More arrows hummed by or stuck into the wall below Cameron. An old, large-bore gun loaded with a handful of scrap iron, apparently, belched its contents at the American from a distance of two hundred feet. A slug raked painfully along Cameron's jawbone, jerking him halfway around, but he recovered quickly and sent the bearer of the weapon plunging forward on his face with a hole through his chest.
The girl’s rifle began to crash from a tower window now, but there was no stopping that frenzied, savage rush. Fully seventy-five screeching demons converged on the gate, and Cameron's bullets took fearful toll of them before they reached their objectives. The girl, too, fired quickly, coolly, and many a shaven-polled Chinaman went to join his ancestors under her accurate shooting.
The gate shook and trembled as the assault crashed against it, but the heavy bar held firmly. Beyond that a pig-tail appeared as one of the attackers scaled the wall, armed with a gun almost as big as himself. He straightened up to take a shot at Cameron, who was busy smashing heads as fast as they appeared above the parapet near him, but Pat tumbled him back off the wall with as pretty as shot as Cameron had ever seen. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a man disappear from sight, and his fighting heart warmed to the girl in the tower. A good one to have backing him in a battle, he assured himself.
The attempt to scale the wall having proven a failure, a band of Chinamen under command of a petty officer wrenched a heavy post out of the ground in front of the gate and hurled themselves upon it with their improvised battering ram. The gate held, but Cameron knew it could not withstand many more blows like that first one had been.
Over the wall he saw the band draw back for a run at the gate. Disregarding the slugs that wind passed his head, he caught up the shotgun, leaned over the parapet and pulled both triggers. The recoil shoved him back, but not before he had seen the group torn violently apart by the chilled shot. Five of the band were down, three of them dead. Cameron reloaded the weapon feverishly and leaned out again, but there was no need of a second shot. The Chinese had had enough of fighting, for the moment, at least, and were in full flight down the slope, some limping, some clutching at wounds in an effort to stem the flow of blood, but all making good speed. Their one desire was to get away from that shambles, and they lost no time in doing it.
Pat came running out of the temple, her rifle held at the port, her face strained and anxious at sight of the wound on Cameron's jaw.
"Well, we sure held 'em, didn't we?" He said cheerily, stepping down to meet her. "This old shotgun of your dad's came in handy just at the right time."
"Oh, but you -- you're hurt!" she cried.
"Shucks, just a flesh wound," he assured her calmly, allowing her to wipe away the blood with her handkerchief. "I've got another one across my shoulder, but it's stopped bleeding. You're all right?"
"Yes. They didn't shoot at me much. They were trying to kill you so they could get over the wall. Oh, but you were glorious!"
"Here, here! You'll have my chest stuck out like a bantam roaster. You're some little scrapper yourself!"
She smiled at him and then climbed up to look over the wall.
"You can somebody with a flag of truce," she told him suddenly. Maybe they've decided to give up."
She jumped down and ran swiftly to the gate, lifting the bar. Something moved outside. Cameron flung himself forward, yelling hoarsely and clawing at his revolver. Too late! Even as his arm swept the startled girl aside the gate swung violently open before the concerted rush of four murderous-faced Chinamen who had remained hidden beneath the wall while their comrades fled.
A knife quizzed by Cameron’s head, the blade barely nipping the flesh. Cameron fired desperately, so one of them go down, and then leaped frantically aside to avoid the streaking blade of a swordsman. His left fist caught the fellow a stunning blow on the chin before the sword could be lifted again and then the two others were on him, stabbing, striking, lunging at him in a furious effort to cut him to ribbons.
Pat, grabbing at a rifle, shot the swordsman as a scrambled up and started to plunge into the affray. Cameron, escaping a fierce stab by the merest fraction of an inch, poked his revolver into the knifer's stomach and jerked the trigger. The man yelled in agony and clutched at his sole remaining companion for support. The latter shook him off viciously and leaped backward. Cameron dropped to the ground as shining steel darted at him, and then the man was gone, dashing through the open gate and down the slope.
"Let them go, Pat," the American panted, picking himself up. "Whew! This is turning out to be a regular war, isn't it? The first thing they know they'll get me mad!"
"You -- you're all right?" The girl queried earnestly. "Oh, it was all my fault! I shouldn't have opened that gate."
"Don't let that worry you," he told her, grinning. "It's all right. You couldn’t have known they hadn't all beat it. I've got a few more bruises and cuts, but outside of that I'm as sound as a dollar. Let's see what that flag bearer is going to do, now that their little trick has failed."
They went to the gate together. The man with a flag, and under officer of some kind, had stopped a hundred yards distant and was looking after the surviving member of the quartet who had last assaulted the temple defenders. Cameron called to him, and he came on, holding a flag high as if in fear of a bullet.
"Well, what do you want?" The American demanded in Chinese.
"Liang Wu sends the Honorable Don Cameron his respects," the fellow replied stumblingly, evidently none too pleased to be the one chosen to carry a message to this terrible foreign devil. "He -- he say he give you one more chance. He give you until dark to deliver up to him the Temple of the White Flame. He say you can go free, but alone."
"And if I refuse?"
"Then, he say, he will attack once more, this time with five hundred men he have sent for, and the Honorable Cameron he shall not escape."
The American turned to the girl gravely.
"Liang Wu sends an ultimatum. By dark he'll have five hundred more Chinks here. He gives me till then to surrender you and the temple to him."
She looked up at him fearfully.
"What -- what are you going to do?" She asked faintly.
His eyes twinkled.
"Do you by any chance understand Mandarin?"
She shook her head wordlessly. He grinned in satisfaction and turned to the flag bearer once more, launching into a torrent of vituperation that caused the yellow features to blanch. The man backed away uneasily, then wheeled suddenly and raced down the slope, with Cameron's taunting laugh urging him to greater effort.
"What did you tell him?" The girl questioned wonderingly.
Cameron glanced at her in amusement, the twinkled returning to his eyes.
"I told him to tell Liang Wu to go to hell -- or words to that effect."
He looked up at the sun.
"We've got about two hours to find a way out of this mess. Lots of these old temples were built with some kind of escape if the gates were forced," he said musingly. "Have you looked around much?"
"Why, yes. There's a tunnel is some kind under the temple. It goes that way," pointing north," but I've never been through it. I was going to try it some night as a last resort, but then you came."
"H'm," thoughtfully." The river is only a couple of miles north of us. I left a gasoline launch there with a couple of servants to take care of it. I'll bet that tunnel comes out somewhere near the river, and if we can reach my boat we’ll be safe. Listen, do you happen to have any string in your luggage?"
She shook her head doubtfully.
"No-o, I don't think so. But there is a clothes line our Chinese servant used before he was frightened away by Liang Wu. Will that do?"
"Is it one of those three-strand ropes? Good. You get it and unwind the strands while I gather up an armful of this artillery. We’ll fix a little surprise for Mister Liang Wu, and then while that keeps him busy tonight we’ll slip through that tunnel and get away down the river. And you might scare up some food too, Pat, because I'm getting as hungry as a couple of wolves!"
She laughed as lightheartedly as possible under the circumstances, and disappeared into the temple courtyard. Cameron could not help admiring her courage in view of the dangers confronting her.
He moved quickly among the bodies around the gate. Selecting the best of the ancient firearms he found in making sure that he obtained ammunition to fit each one. Three of them had borers large enough to accommodate a small handful of slugs, and were old-fashioned muzzle-loaders made to take a heavy charge of powder. All of them he carried into the courtyard, barring the gate behind him.
"Found just what I needed," he told the girl enthusiastically. "If Liang Wu is rash enough to lead the attack tonight, he's going to get the surprise of his life."
He loaded the guns, primed them, and then began placing them at intervals about the yard, wedging stones against them to hold them steady or fastening the lighter ones to post with pieces of the rope he decided he could spare. With the girl watching interestedly, and helping whenever she could, the next began tying ends of the rope strands to the triggers, using the rear of the trigger-guards for pulleys. That done, he tied the opposite ends to posts or rocks across the yard or to the triggers of other guns. Then he drew back and surveyed his work with satisfaction.
"Get the idea?" He queried. "When those Chinks break-in, this maze of strings will be waiting for them. They won’t be able to see them in the dark. They'll trip over the lower ones and run against the higher once in making a rush for the temple, setting off those guns. You see, some point straight for the gate to take care of those crowding in and others point across the yard to entertain those already inside when the first string is touched. With fourteen young cannons blasting at them from all sides they'll think we've sneaked an army in here. I'll help out from the door of the temple with your dad's shotgun, just so they won't be disappointed. Wouldn't want 'em to go away thinking they hadn't gotten their money's worth."
She smiled at him.
"It's ingenious, Don, and they deserve it. Oh, I don't know what I'd do if you hadn't come!"
He patted her shoulder encouragingly.
"Hold everything!" He cautioned. "We're going to get out of this all right, and then I’ll put you on a liner and ship you back to your relatives in the States. And say, when do we eat? Remember what Napoleon said about an army's stomach!"
DARKNESS CAME quickly, but found the defenders prepared and with their appetites satisfied. Cameron had explored the tunnel for some distance, returning to report that it appeared to lead straight down the slope in the rear of the temple toward the river. The entrance was in a sort of cellar, heavily curtained, and he left a candle burning near it and another at the head of the stone steps leading to it.
As the darkness grew more intense, Cameron left the girl at the door of the temple, circled the guns he had placed and climbed upon the wall. He listened carefully for a long while, and suddenly slipped down and returned.
"I think they're coming," he told her in the low tone. "I heard a lot of rustlings, so we probably won't have long to wait. Where's that shotgun?"
She handed it to them silently, together with a handful of shells. He could not see more than her silhouette in the blackness, but he knew that she wore a cartridge belt and revolver around her waist, and that she had her rifle ready for action if necessary.
"The minute the shooting starts," he commanded in a whisper, "you beat it for that tunnel, understand? I'll join you as soon as I heave a few loads of shot at them to help the cause along. Listen!"
Something moved on top of the wall close to the gate. A dark form wiggled over and dropped softly to the ground, outlined against the whiteness of the wall. It moved silently to the gate, and there came a sound of the being removed. The gate swung inward, and through the opening poured a black mass.
WHAM! Cameron's shotgun crashed thunderously as it spat its roaring load at the attackers. Yells of pain rent the air, and then the Chinese rushed on, toward the temple door. One stumbled, fell, and from both sides of the courtyard the heavy guns Cameron had placed belched flame and death as the first of the strings was hit.
But the wave came on, and more guns roared, hurling whining, biting slugs into the mass of men pushing on into the yard. Many went down and lay still. Others shrieked in agony and got in the way of their comrades. Those left on their feet fired blindly at the flashes coming from their flanks, or threw knives and swords whose blades shown momentarily in the air as the flames of the guns struck them.
Cameron, alone now in the temple entrance, fired coolly, quickly into the main body of the invaders. Under the unexpected crossfire the Chinese were thrown into confusion. Bewilderment gave way to panic, and in an instant they were fighting among themselves, stabbing, slashing, shooting in an effort to get out of that terrible place. Cameron fired his last shell, threw the shotgun into the melee, and raced back into the temple.
Pat was waiting anxiously at the tunnel mouth. She handed him his rifle, relief in her eyes.
"Guess we can go now," a grinned. "I've got them fighting among themselves out there, and the way to the river ought to be clear.
"Wait a minute! I forgot that blasted idol! I know right where it is; the priest who told me about it explained just where it's hidden. It's only a little thing, big as my hand. Be right back."
Before she could stop him he had raced up the steps, the flame of the two candles flickering in the wind of his passing, and disappeared. But in less than thirty seconds he was back again, stuffing a small jade image into his shirt.
"Got it!" he said eagerly. "All I had to do is reach into a hole and drag it out. All right, in you go into that tunnel!"
Her gaze shifted past him, up the stone steps, and her eyes widened in horror even as she screamed a warning. Cameron whirled, sweeping the girl into the tunnel mouth as he did so.
His eyes caught the gleam of spinning metal shooting straight at him. He tried to dodge, but the knife drove into the muscles of his left arm, pinning it to the wall. He plucked it out, dropped it. In the dim light from the candles he saw the evil, smirking face of Liang Wu at the top of the steps, a revolver lifting in his hand.
Cameron shot desperately from the hip, knowing he would not have time to raise his rifle. Plainly he heard the bullet strike. Liang Wu screamed, spun halfway around, and then came crashing down the stairs with his blood staining the white stone. He rolled almost to the American's feet and lay still, his slat-like, slanting eyes staring vacantly upward.
Pat called, pleadingly. Cameron answered, stepping over the dead body to dash the candle to the floor. He listened a moment as the sounds of tumult swelled in the courtyard. Then he turned, plunging into the black mouth of the tunnel and safety.