Книга Quest of the Spider. Содержание - Chapter xvii. "the gray spider is—"


SULTRY midday heat pressed upon the Castle of the Moccasin. Living steam poured up from the soggy jungle of the great morass. Even the mocking birds and the blackbird and the cardinals hung listlessly in the festering vegetation, emitting cries that were only croaks. The little lizards that usually darted up the palmettos so swiftly now set a pace that barely crawled, or hovered panting under a spiked frond.

It was as though the odious presence of the great, sinister, hidden castle of stone had contaminated and sickened the surrounding swamp.

But inside the Castle of the Moccasin there was an air of evil jubilation, awaiting good tidings.

The Gray Spider himself paced circles around his gilded throne in the room of crazy coloring. He tossed his lead-colored tarantula playfully in the air and caught the repulsive thing as it came down. He still wore his mask of silk and the snake-embroidered gown.

"What's keepin' them slowpoke swamp snipes!" he growled impatiently. "They should've had a messenger here before now, tellin' me the bronze devil and his five nosey pals have kicked the pail."

Up sailed the awful tarantula, its many legs kicking. The man in the robe and mask caught it with a flourish.

"Probably the swamp snipes were afraid to go near enough to see if they were dead," he decided. "I'll get the news before long."

He strode jauntily to the outer door.

"Go tell the guards to rush any messengers right inside," he ordered the watchman who stood at the portal.


said the watchman.

The Gray Spider went back inside.

The watchman started off on his errand. He entered the tangled swamp growth.

Suddenly he stopped. Something had hit his chest. It made a dull, mushy sound. He looked down. He saw fragments of glass clinging to his shirt front. They looked like parts of a thin-walled glass ball. It had contained some kind of liquid. He smelled a faint, strange, rather pleasant odor.

Then he went to sleep.

"Them anaesthetic balls sure work like a charm!" chuckled Monk, stepping out of the near-by jungle. He disarmed the man.

"This seems to be the last of the guards," clipped Ham. He came into view, gave his sword cane a flourish, and added: "The other three were no more trouble than this one was. Aren't we going to get the satisfaction of a fight out of this?"

"What d'you know about fighting?" Monk leered pleasantly.

"Pipe down, you guys!" suggested Doc.

Renny, Johnny, and Long Tom stood behind Doc. They looked like a giant and two skinny dwarfs back of a big bronze statue. Not that Johnny and Long Tom were runts when compared to men of ordinary stature. They were simply in big company.

"Let us see what the future holds, brothers," Doc suggested mildly.

They came out of the jungle. Before them towered the Castle of the Moccasin.

"I wonder how you get in?" Ham puzzled.

"I'll get you in!" Monk said grimly.

He drew a hand grenade, plucked the pin and threw it. The metal egg sailed against the vine-clad walls of masonry.

It hatched a devilish red sheet of flame. Solid stone turned magically into dust, smoke and a shower of fragments. The roar of the exploding nitro bumped in deep salvos across the matted swamp.

A great hole gaped in the wall of the Castle of the Moccasin.

* * *

DOC and his men charged the breach. They vaulted tumbling blocks of rocks. They doubled low and bored through acrid smoke and blinding dust.

A vast room lay before them. The color scheme was repellant. It consisted of daubs and streaks and splotches of every imaginable hue. It was an ugly room, garish, cheap. Colored lights blinked like evil eyes.

A big and flashy throne occupied the middle of the floor.

Across the room, a man in a silken mask and a robe embroidered with snakes was just dodging through a door. The panel slammed. It locked.

"There he goes!" Renny bawled in a voice that was like thunder in a barrel.

Doc and his men pursued the Gray Spider.

Halfway across the room, Monk stopped to jump with both feet on the Gray Spider's repulsive, lead-colored tarantula. The thing had been dropped by the master fiend in flight, and was scuttling circles on the floor.

"I hope that's an omen!" Monk grinned as his big feet squashed the vile thing.

They hit the door. It was of wood. Renny's machine gun made a noise like a steam riveter gone wild.

Renny was a good machine gunner. He could not have cut the lock out of the door more neatly with a keyhole saw and an hour in which to work.

The door whipped open.

"This way!" breathed Doc. His sensitive ears had picked up the Gray Spider's shuffling feet.

They went down a corridor. Stairs sloped into the innards of the earth.

Doc took the stairs with incredible leaps that covered fifteen steps at a time. He placed his feet in the mathematical center of the treads upon which he landed, as though he had been stepping down one at a time.

Monk sought to imitate Doc's feat. He met disaster. Head over heels, he flopped down the stairs—only to gain his feet no more damaged than had he been a man of rubber.

"Graceful as usual!" sneered Ham.


The deafening cackle of a machine gun drowned Monk's comeback. Bullets chiseled rock chips off the corridor sides.

Renny's rapid-firer snapped spitefully—twice. The passage went silent, except for the bang of racing feet and the snorty breath gusts of men in action.

The Gray Spider was proving fleet, now that death was blowing frosty breath down his neck.

The stairs leveled out in another passage. This one had steel-grilled doors on either side. It resembled the corridor in a penitentiary cell house.

Faces were pressed to the bars!

Doc caught a glimpse of the attractive features of Edna Danielsen. A moment later, he saw Big Eric.

Fat Horace Haas was also there, with his flashy clothes sadly bedraggled.

This was the Gray Spider's prison! Here he held the owners of the great lumber companies of the South and tortured them into doing his bidding—doing such things as signing control of their concerns over to men who were tools of the Gray Spider.

* * *

THE chase led into another room. This was fitted with a desk, calculating machines, many big sheet-metal filing cabinets.

The cloaked and masked Gray Spider was tearing at a door across the chamber. He had grasped up a handful of notebooks and papers in his flight.

He dropped the documents in his wild haste. He got through the door barely ahead of Doc's flashing bronze form. The door slammed. This one was of heavy steel. The lock tumblers rapped over.

Doc Savage scooped up the papers the Gray Spider had dropped. He ran backward.

"Lay an egg!" he clipped at Monk.

Monk hauled a hand grenade out of his capacious pockets.

"Holy cow!" choked Ham, remembering Monk's headlong fall down the stone stairs. "And your pockets were full of them things!"

Doc Savage eyed the documents he had seized. They were a find indeed!

They seemed to be a complete record of the Gray Spider's crooked transactions, as well as the roster of his organization. There was proof enough here to send every man of his vile gang fleeing from justice.

Monk's hand grenade exploded. The steel door caved like a tin can hit by a shinny stick. It appeared to float off its hinges.

Doc and his men barged through.

Unexpected resistance met them.

In a vast room, thirty or so yellowish-brown men milled. They were members of the inner circle of the Cult of the Moccasin. Every man was armed.

It was evident they had been holding some kind of a conclave. In the center of the chamber stood a box. It had large holes for ventilation. These were covered with a fine screen.

A box of the poisonous flies! Evidently the Gray Spider had more of the things on hand, in case his first batch didn't work.

The members of the inner circle must have been examining them.

A pistol rapped. The bullet stirred Doc's bronze hair—which, remarkably enough, was thus far no more ruffled than it would have been by a Waldorf banquet.

Renny's deadly machine gun burred loudly. The pistol wielder gave an imitation of a sack emptying itself.

But the fight was not going to be won with a shot or two. Several of the voodoo men were lifting machine guns.

The Gray Spider had taken shelter behind them. Suddenly his purple-veined talon whipped up. It flung a hand grenade.

The deadly blow of metal flew straight

Doc and his men seemed doomed. The sportiest gambler wouldn't have bet a slot-machine slug on their chances. They had no time to retreat. You couldn't hurl back this type of grenade. They exploded the instant they reached you. And there was enough nitro in it to reduce all five men to mangled fragments.

As on countless other occasions, it was the giant bronze man who saved the situation.

With a speed no eye could have caught, Doc's hand swept over. It plucked Renny's machine gun from his big hands. The weapon flashed through the air.

It was a perfect throw. The hurtling machine gun met the grenade.

The grenade exploded near the box which held the poisonous flies. That box was ruptured.

The deadly insects swarmed out.

* * *

"Back!" Doc's powerful voice throbbed. "Get out of here!"

He and his men turned heel and fled from the buzzing death flies. Behind them, men screamed. The famished insects were settling upon them. They were falling victim to their own murderous tool.

Of all the fiends left behind in the room of death, only the Gray Spider had the presence of mind to try to flee by the same route Doc and his men had taken.

He pounded after Doc, a score of feet to the rear.

The evil master knew the fly stings meant his finish. He screamed as the small creatures bit into his flesh; he tried to beat them off his face, tearing off the gaudy silk covering that served for a mask.

It was then that Doc and his men saw the features of this man who called himself the Gray Spider, They had reached the end of the passage, were going through the door which closed off the barred cells.

Just as they were about to step through, the screaming maniac behind them tripped on his own long robe, fell head-foremost on the floor. The bloodthirsty, poisonous flies swarmed about his distorted features, inflicting death with every thrust.

Only a moment did Doc and his men look at that agonized face; only a moment was needed to recognize the features of this master devil who plotted so skillfully, with such dire cruelty.

In that moment, Doc and his companions in adventure saw the one person whom few would suspect. It was the face of Silas Bunnywell—and the screams were the voice of Silas Bunnywell, the voice which, a short while ago, they recognized as having heard before.

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