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  Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

The Screen Of Gold

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Paul Harley raised his aching head and looked wearily about him. At first, as might be expected, he thought that he was dreaming. He lay upon a low divan and could only suppose that he had been transported to India.

Slowly, painfully, memory reasserted itself and he realized that he had been rendered unconscious by the blow of a sandbag or some similar weapon while telephoning from the station master's office at Lower Claybury. How long a time had elapsed since that moment he was unable to judge, for his watch had been removed from his pocket. He stared about him with a sort of fearful interest. He lay in a small barely furnished room having white distempered walls, wholly undecorated. Its few appointments were Oriental, and the only window which it boasted was set so high as to be well out of reach. Moreover, it was iron-barred, and at the moment admitted no light, whether because it did not communicate with the outer world, or because night was fallen, he was unable to tell.

There were two doors in the room, one of very massive construction, and the other a smaller one. The place was dimly lighted by a brass lantern which hung from the ceiling. Harley stood up, staggered slightly, and then sat down again.

"My God," he groaned and raised his hand to his head.

For a few moments he remained seated, victim of a deadly nausea. Then, clenching his jaws grimly, again he stood up, and this time succeeded in reaching the heavy door.

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As he had supposed, it was firmly locked, and a glance was sufficient to show him that his unaided effort could never force it. He turned his attention to the smaller door, which opened at his touch, revealing a sleeping apartment not unlike a monk's cell, adjoining which was a tiny bathroom. Neither rooms boasted windows, both being lighted by brass lanterns.

Harley examined them and their appointments with the utmost care, and then returned again to the outer room, one feature of which, and quite the most remarkable, he had reserved for special investigation.

This was a massive screen of gilded iron scroll work, which occupied nearly the whole of one end of the room. Beyond the screen hung a violet-coloured curtain of Oriental fabric; but so closely woven was the metal design that although he could touch this curtain with his finger at certain points, it proved impossible for him to move it aside in any way.

He noted that its lower fringe did not quite touch the door. By stooping down, he could see a few feet into some room beyond. It was in darkness, however, and beyond the fact that it was carpeted with a rich Persian rug, he learned but little from his scrutiny. The gilded screen was solid and immovable.

Nodding his head grimly, Harley felt in his pockets for pipe and pouch, wondering if these, too, had been taken from him. They had not, however, and the first nausea of his awakening having passed, he filled and lighted his briar and dropped down upon the divan to consider his position.

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