Page:Weird Tales volume 31 number 02.djvu/10

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atmosphere it would vaporize so quickly that the force of its expansion would be equal to a dynamite explosion. I have seen it——"

"But that's fantastic," I objected. "Who would choose such an elaborate——"

"Who would choose a woman's bodkin to dispatch the learned Doctor Pavlovitch?" he countered. "It would have been much simpler to have shot him; yet—morbleu, what have we here?"

The final layer of felt had been laid back, and before us gleamed a chest of polished dark red wood, oblong in shape, with slightly rounded top with chamfered edges and a group of Chinese ideographs incised upon it. I had seen a case like that but once before, but I recognized it instantly. A friend of mine had died while traveling in Mongolia, and when they shipped his body home . . . "Why, it's a Chinese coffin!" I exclaimed.

"Précisément, un cercueil de bois chinois, but what in Satan's name does it do here? And behold, observe, my friend; it, too, is cold."

He was correct. The polished puncheon of Mongolian cedar was so cold that I could hardly bear to rest my hand upon it.

"I wonder what those characters stand for?" I mused. "If we could read them, they might give some clue——"

"I do not think so," he replied. "I can make them out: they are the customary bong for Chinese coffins, and mean cheung sang—long life."

"'Long life!'—on a coffin lid?"

"But yes. C'est drôle ça," he agreed. "It seems that the heathen in his blindness has hopes of immortality, and does not decorate his tombs with skulls and cross-bones, or with pious, gloomy verses in the Christian manner. However"—he raised his narrow shoulder's in a shrug—"we have still the puzzle of this so cold coffin to be solved. Let us be about it, but with caution."

With more care than the average dentist shows when he explores a tooth, he bored a small hole in the cedar with an auger, pausing every now and then to test the temperature of the small bit against his hand. Some thirty seconds later he leaped back. "I have struck nothingness; the bit is through—stand clear!" he cautioned, and a gentle hissing followed like an echo of his warning as a plume-like jet of feathery remex geysered upward from the coffin lid.

"Carbon dioxide snow!" we chorused; and:

"Tiens, it seems we shall not listen to the angels' songs immediately," added Jules de Grandin with a laugh.

The casket followed usual Chinese patterns. Made from a single hollowed log with top and bottom joined by dowels, it was covered with successive coats of lacquer which made it seem like an undivided whole, and it was not till we searched some time that we were able to discern the line between the lid and body. A series of small-auger holes was driven in the wood, and with these starting-points we had begun the arduous task of prizing off the heavy lid when the sudden screech of breaks before the house gave warning of a new arrival.

"Take cover!" bade de Grandin, dropping down behind the massive coffin as he drew his pistol. "If they think to carry us by storm we shall be ready for——"

"Michail—Michailovitch, has it come? Proudhon and Matrona are here; we must make haste! Where are you, man?" Rattling at the knob, kicking on the panels, someone clamored at the front door furiously, then, as we gave no sign, burst out in a torrent of