Through The Dragon Glass by Abraham Merritt
First published in All-Story Weekly, November 24, 1917
Reprinted in Fantastic Novels, September 1940
HERNDON helped loot the Forbidden City when the Allies
turned the suppression of the Boxers into the most gorgeous burglar-party
since the days of Tamerlane. Six of his sailormen followed faithfully his
buccaneering fancy. A sympathetic Russian highness whom he had entertained in
New York saw to it that he got to the coast and his yacht. That is why
Herndon was able to sail through the Narrows with as much of the Son of
Heaven's treasures as the most accomplished laborer in Peking's mission
Some of the loot he gave to charming ladies who had dwelt or were still
dwelling on the sunny side of his heart. Most of it he used to fit up those
two astonishing Chinese rooms in his Fifth Avenue house. And a little of it,
following a vague religious impulse, he presented to the Metropolitan Museum.
This, somehow, seemed to put the stamp of legitimacy on his part of the
pillage—like offerings to the gods and building hospitals and peace
palaces and such things.
But the Dragon Glass, because he had never seen anything quite so
wonderful, he set up in his bedroom Where he could look at it the first thing
in the morning, and he placed shaded lights about it so that he could wake up
in the night and look at it! Wonderful? It is more than wonderful, the Dragon
Glass! Whoever made it lived when the gods walked about the earth creating
something new every day. Only a man who lived in that sort of atmosphere
could have wrought it. There was never anything like it.
I was in Hawaii when the cables told of Herndon's first disappearance.
There wasn't much to tell. His man had gone to his room to awaken him one
morning—and Herndon wasn't there. All his clothes were, though,
Everything was just as if Herndon ought to be somewhere in the house—
only he wasn't.
A man worth ten millions can't step out into thin air and vanish without
leaving behind him the probability of some commotion, naturally. The
newspapers attend to the commotion, but the columns of type boiled down to
essentials contained just two facts—that Herndon had come home the
night before, and in the morning he was undiscoverable.
I was on the high seas, homeward bound to help the search, when the
wireless told the story of his reappearance. They had found him on the floor
of his bedroom, shreds of a silken robe on him, and his body mauled as though
by a tiger. But there was no more explanation of his return than there had
been of his disappearance.
The night before he hadn't been there—and in the morning there he
was. Herndon, when he was able to talk, utterly refused to confide even in
his doctors. I went straight through to New York, and waited until the men of
medicine decided that it was better to let him see me than have him worry any
longer about not seeing me.
Herndon got up from a big invalid chair when I entered. His eyes were
clear and bright, and there was no weakness in the way he greeted me, nor in
the grip of his hand. A nurse slipped from the room.
"What was it, Jim?" I cried. "What on earth happened to you?"
"Not so sure it was on earth," he said. He pointed to what looked like a
tall easel hooded with a heavy piece of silk covered with embroidered Chinese
characters. He hesitated for a moment and then walked over to a closet. He
drew out two heavy bore guns, the very ones, I remembered, that he had used
in his last elephant hunt.
"You won't think me crazy if I ask you to keep one of these handy while I
talk, will you, Ward?" he asked rather apologetically. "This looks pretty
real, doesn't it?"
He opened his dressing gown and showed me his chest swathed in bandages.
He gripped my shoulder as I took without question one of the guns. He walked
to the easel and drew off the hood.
"There it is," said Herndon.
And then, for the first time, I saw the Dragon Glass!
There never has been anything like that thing! Never! At first all you saw
was a cool, green, glimmering translucence, like the sea when you are
swimming under water on a still summer day and look up through it. Around its
edges ran flickers of scarlet and gold, flashes of emerald, shimmers of
silver and ivory. At its base a disk of topaz rimmed with red fire shot up
dusky little vaporous yellow flames.
Afterward you were aware that the green translucence was an oval slice of
polished stone. The flashes and flickers became dragons. There were twelve of
them. Their eyes were emeralds, their fangs were ivory, their claws were
gold. There were scaled dragons, and each scale was so inlaid that the base,
green as the primeval jungle, shaded off into vivid scarlet, and the scarlet
into tip's of gold. Their wings were of silver and vermilion, and were folded
close to their bodies.
But they were alive, those dragons. There was never so much life in metal
and wood since Al-Akram, the Sculptor of ancient Ad, carved the first
crocodile, and the jealous Almighty breathed life into it for a
And last you saw that the topaz disk that sent up the little yellow flames
was the top of a metal sphere around which coiled a thirteenth dragon, thin
and red, and biting its scorpion-tipped tail.
It took your breath away, the first glimpse of the Dragon Glass. Yes, and
the second and third glimpse, too—and every other time you looked at
"Where did you get it?" I asked, a little shakily.
Herndon said evenly: "It was in a small hidden crypt in the Imperial
Palace. We broke into the crypt quite by"—he hesitated—"well,
call it accident. As soon as I saw it I knew I must have it. What do you
think of it?"
"Think!" I cried. "Think! Why, it's the most marvelous thing that the
hands of man ever made! What is that stone? Jade?"
"I'm not sure," said Herndon. "But come here. Stand just in front of
He switched out the lights in the room. He turned another switch, and on
the glass opposite me three shaded electrics threw their rays into its
"Watch!" said Herndon. "Tell me what you see!"
I looked into the glass. At first I could see nothing but the rays shining
farther, farther—back into infinite distances, it seemed. And then.
"Good God!" I cried, stiffening with horror. "Jim, what hellish thing is
"Steady, old man," came Herndon's voice. There was relief and a curious
sort of joy in it. "Steady; tell me what you see."
I said: "I seem to see through infinite distances—and yet what I see
is as close to me as though it were just on the other side of the glass. I
see a cleft that cuts through two masses of darker green. I see a claw, a
gigantic, hideous claw that stretches out through the cleft. The claw has
seven talons that open and close—open and close. Good God, such a claw,
Jim! It is like the claws that reach out from the holes in the lama's hell to
grip the blind souls as they shudder by!"
"Look, look farther, up through the cleft, above the claw. It widens. What
do you see?"
I said: "I see a peak rising enormously high and cutting the sky like a
pyramid. There are flashes of flame that dart from behind and outline it. I
see a great globe of light like a moon that moves slowly out of the flashes;
there is another moving across the breast of the peak; there is a third that
swims into the flame at the farthest edge—"
"The seven moons of Rak," whispered Herndon, as though to himself. "The
seven moons that bathe in the rose flames of Rak which are the fires of life
and that circle Lalil like a diadem. He upon whom the seven moons of Rak have
shone is bound to Lalil for this life, and for ten thousand lives."
He reached over and turned the switch again. The lights of the room sprang
"Jim," I said, "it can't be real! What is it? Some devilish illusion in
He unfastened the bandages about his chest.
"The claw you saw had seven talons," he answered quietly. "Well, look at
Across the white flesh of his breast, from left shoulder to the lower ribs
on the right, ran seven healing furrows. They looked as though they had been
made by a gigantic steel comb that had been drawn across him. They gave one
the thought they had been ploughed.
"The claw made these," he said as quietly as before.
"Ward," he went on, before I could speak, "I wanted you to see— what
you've seen. I didn't know whether you would see it. I don't know whether
you'll believe me even now. I don't suppose I would if I were in your
He walked over and threw the hood upon the Dragon Glass.
"I'm going to tell you," he said. "I'd like to go through it—
uninterrupted. That's why I cover it.
"I don't suppose," he began slowly—"I don't suppose, Ward, that
you've ever heard of Rak the Wonder-Worker, who lived somewhere back at the
beginning of things, nor how the Greatest Wonder-Worker banished him
somewhere outside the world?"
"No," I said shortly, still shaken by the sight.
"It's a big part of what I've got to tell you," he went on. "Of course
you'll think it rot, but—I came across the legend in Tibet first. Then
I ran across it again—with the names changed, of course— when I
was getting away from China.
"I take it that the gods were still fussing around close to man when Rak
was born. The story of his parentage is somewhat scandalous. When he grew
older Rak wasn't satisfied with just seeing wonderful things being done. He
wanted to do them himself, and he—well, he studied the method. After a
while the Greatest Wonder-Worker ran across some of the things Rak had made,
and he found them admirable—a little too admirable. He didn't like to
destroy the lesser wonder-worker because, so the gossip ran, he felt a sort
of responsibility. So he gave Rak a place somewhere—outside the
world—and he gave him power over every one out of so many millions of
births to lead or lure or sweep that soul into his domain so that he might
build up a people—and over his people Rak was given the high, the low,
and the middle justice.
"And outside the world Rak went. He fenced his domain about with clouds.
He raised a great mountain, and on its flank he built a city for the men and
women who were to be his. He circled the city with wonderful gardens, and he
placed in the gardens many things, some good and some very—terrible. He
set around the mountain's brow seven moons for a diadem, and he fanned behind
the mountain a fire which is the fire of life, and through which the moons
pass eternally to be born again." Herndon's voice sank to a whisper.
"Through which the moons pass," he said. "And with them the souls of the
people of Rak. They pass through the fires and are born again—and
again—for ten thousand lives. I have seen the moons of Rak and the
souls that march with them into the fires. There is no sun in the land
—only the new-born moons that shine green on the city and on the
"Jim," I cried impatiently. "What in the world are you talking about? Wake
up, man! What's all that nonsense got to do with this?"
I pointed to the hooded Dragon Glass.
"That," he said. "Why, through that lies the road to the gardens of
The heavy gun dropped from my hand as I stared at him, and from him to the
glass and back again. He smiled and pointed to his bandaged breast.
He said: "I went straight through to Peking with the Allies. I had an idea
what was coming, and I wanted to be in at the death. I was among the first to
enter the Forbidden City. I was as mad for loot as any of them. It was a
maddening sight, Ward. Soldiers with their arms full of precious stuff even
Morgan couldn't buy; soldiers with wonderful necklaces around their hairy
throats and their pockets stuffed with jewels; soldiers with their shirts
bulging treasures the Sons of Heaven had been hoarding for centuries! We were
Goths sacking imperial Rome. Alexander's hosts pillaging that ancient gemmed
courtesan of cities, royal Tyre! Thieves in the great ancient scale, a scale
so great that it raised even thievery up to something heroic.
"We reached the throne-room. There was a little passage leading off to the
left, and my men and I took it. We came into a small octagonal room. There
was nothing in it except a very extraordinary squatting figure of jade. It
squatted on the floor, its back turned toward us. One of my men stooped to
pick it up. He slipped. The figure flew from his hand and smashed into the
wall. A slab swung outward. By a—well, call it a fluke, we had struck
the secret of the little octagonal room!
"I shoved a light through the aperture. It showed a crypt shaped like a
cylinder. The circle of the floor was about ten feet in diameter. The walls
were covered with paintings, Chinese characters, queer-looking animals, and
things I can't well describe. Around the room, about seven feet up, ran a
picture. It showed a sort of island floating off into space. The clouds
lapped its edges like frozen seas full of rainbows. There was a big pyramid
of a mountain rising out of the side of it. Around its peak were seven moons,
and over the peak—a face!
"I couldn't place that face and I couldn't take my eyes off it. It wasn't
Chinese, and it wasn't of any other race I'd ever seen. It was as old as the
world and as young as tomorrow. It was benevolent and malicious, cruel and
kindly, merciful and merciless, saturnine as Satan and as joyous as Apollo.
The eyes were as yellow as buttercups, or as the sunstone on the crest of the
Feathered Serpent they worship down in the Hidden Temple of Tuloon. And they
were as wise as Fate.
"'There's something else here, sir,' said Martin—you remember
Martin, my first officer. He pointed to a shrouded thing on the side. I
entered, and took from the thing a covering that fitted over it like a hood.
It was the Dragon Glass!
"The moment I saw it I knew I had to have it—and I knew I would have
it. I felt that I did not want to get the thing away any more than the thing
itself wanted to get away. From the first I thought of the Dragon Glass as
something alive. Just as much alive as you and I are. Well, I did get it
away. I got it down to the yacht, and then the first odd thing happened.
"You remember Wu-Sing, my boat steward? You know the English Wu-Sing
talks. Atrocious! I had the Dragon Glass in my stateroom. I'd forgotten to
lock the door. I heard a whistle of sharply indrawn breath. I turned, and
there was Wu-Sing. Now, you know that Wu-Sing isn't what you'd call
intelligent-looking. Yet as he stood there something seemed to pass over his
face, and very subtly change it. The stupidity was wiped out as though a
sponge had been passed over it. He did not raise his eyes, but he said, in
perfect English, mind you; 'Has the master augustly counted the cost of his
"I simply gaped at him.
"'Perhaps,' he continued, 'the master has never heard of the illustrious
Hao-Tzan? Well, he shall hear.'"
"Ward, I couldn't move or speak. But I know now it wasn't sheer
astonishment that held me. I listened while Wu-Sing went on to tell in
polished phrase the same story that I had heard in Tibet, only there they
called him Rak instead of Hao-Tzan. But it was the same story."
"'And,' he finished, 'before he journeyed afar, the illustrious Hao-Tzan
caused a great marvel to be wrought. He called it the Gateway.' Wu-Sing waved
his hand to the Dragon Glass. 'The master has it. But what shall he who has a
Gateway do but pass through it? Is it not better to leave the Gateway behind
—unless he dare go through it?'"
"He was silent. I was silent, too. All I could do was wonder where the
fellow had so suddenly got his command of English. And then Wu-Sing
straightened. For a moment his eyes looked into mine. They were as yellow as
buttercups, Ward, and wise, wise! My mind rushed back to the little room
behind the panel. Ward—the eyes of Wu-Sing were the eyes of the face
that brooded over the peak of the moons!"
"And all in a moment, the face of Wu-Sing dropped back into its old
familiar stupid lines. The eyes he turned to me were black and clouded. I
jumped from my chair."
"'What do you mean, you yellow fraud!' I shouted. 'What do you mean by
pretending all this time that you couldn't talk English?'"
"He looked at me stupidly, as usual. He whined in his pidgin that he
didn't understand; that he hadn't spoken a word to me until then. I couldn't
get anything else out of him, although I nearly frightened his wits out. I
had to believe him. Besides, I had seen his eyes. Well, I was fair curious by
this time, and I was more anxious to get the glass home safely than
"I got it home. I set it up here, and I fixed those lights as you saw
them. I had a sort of feeling that the glass was waiting—for something.
I couldn't tell just what. But that it was going to be rather important, I
He suddenly thrust his head into his hands, and rocked to and fro.
"How long, how long," he moaned, "how long, Santhu?"
"Jim!" I cried. "Jim! What's the matter with you?"
He straightened. "In a moment you'll understand," he said.
And then, as quietly as before: "I felt that the glass was waiting. The
night I disappeared I couldn't sleep. I turned out the lights in the room;
turned them on around the glass and sat before it. I don't know how long I
sat, but all at once I jumped to my feet. The dragons seemed to be moving!
They were moving! They were crawling round and round the glass. They moved
faster and faster. The thirteenth dragon spun about the topaz globe. They
circled faster and faster until they were nothing but a halo of crimson and
gold flashes. As they spun, the glass itself grew misty, mistier, mistier
still, until it was nothing but a green haze. I stepped over to touch it. My
hand went straight on through it as though nothing were there.
"I reached in—up to the elbow, up to the shoulder. I felt my hand
grasped by warm little fingers. I stepped through—"
"Stepped through the glass?" I cried.
"Through it," he said, "and then—I felt another little hand touch my
face. I saw Santhu!
"Her eyes were as blue as the corn flowers, as blue as the big sapphire
that shines in the forehead of Vishnu, in his temple at Benares. And they
were set wide, wide apart. Her hair was blue-black, and fell in two long
braids between her little breasts. A golden dragon crowned her, and through
its paws slipped the braids. Another golden dragon girded her. She laughed
into my eyes, and drew my head down until my lips touched hers. She was lithe
and slender and yielding as the reeds that grow before the Shrine of Hathor
that stands on the edge of the Pool of Djeeba. Who Santhu is or where she
came from—how do I know? But this I know—she is lovelier than any
woman who ever lived on earth. And she is a woman!
"Her arms slipped from about my neck and she drew me forward. I looked
about me. We stood in a cleft between two great rocks. The rocks were a soft
green, like the green of the Dragon Glass. Behind us was a green mistiness.
Before us the cleft ran only a little distance. Through it I saw an enormous
peak jutting up like a pyramid, high, high into a sky of chrysoprase. A soft
rose radiance pulsed at its sides, and swimming slowly over its breast was a
huge globe of green fire. The girl pulled me towards the opening. We walked
on silently, hand in hand. Quickly it came to me—Ward, I was in the
place whose pictures had been painted in the room of the Dragon Glass!
"We came out of the cleft and into a garden. The Gardens of Many-Columned
Iram, lost in the desert because they were too beautiful, must have been like
that place. There were strange, immense trees whose branches were like
feathery plumes and whose plumes shone with fires like those that clothe the
feet of Indra's dancers. Strange flowers raised themselves along our path,
and their hearts glowed like the glow-worms that are fastened to the rainbow
bridge to Asgard. A wind sighed through the plumed trees, and luminous
shadows drifted past their trunks. I heard a girl laugh, and the voice of a
"We went on. Once there was a low wailing far in the garden, and the girl
threw herself before me, her arms outstretched. The wailing ceased, and we
went on. The mountain grew plainer. I saw another great globe of green fire
swing out of the rose flashes at the right of the peak. I saw another shining
into the glow at the left. There was a curious trail of mist behind it. It
was a mist that had tangled in it a multitude of little stars. Everything was
bathed in a soft green light—such a light as you would have if you
lived within a pale emerald.
"We turned and went along another little trail. The little trail ran up a
little hill, and on the hill was a little house. It looked as though it was
made of ivory. It was a very odd little house. It was more like the Jain
pagodas at Brahmaputra than anything else. The walls glowed as though they
were full light. The girl touched the wall, and a panel slid away. We
entered, and the panel closed after us.
"The room was filled with a whispering yellow light. I say whispering
because that is how one felt about it. It was gentle and alive. A stairway of
ivory ran up to another room above. The girl pressed me toward it. Neither of
us had uttered a word. There was a spell of silence upon me. I could not
speak. There seemed to be nothing to say. I felt a great rest and a great
peace—as though I had come home. I walked up the stairway and into the
room above. It was dark except for a bar of green light that came through the
long and narrow window. Through it I saw the mountain and its moons. On the
floor was an ivory head-rest and some silken cloths. I felt suddenly very
sleepy. I dropped to the cloths, and at once was asleep.
"When I awoke the girl with the cornflower eyes was beside me! She was
sleeping. As I watched, her eyes opened. She smiled and drew me to
"I do not know why, but a name came to me. 'Santhu!' I cried. She smiled
again, and I knew that I had called her name. It seemed to me that I
remembered her, too, out of immeasurable ages. I arose and walked to the
window. I looked toward the mountain. There were now two moons on its breast.
And then I saw the city that lay on the mountain's flank. It was such a city
as you see in dreams, or as the tale-tellers of El-Bahara fashion out of the
mirage. It was all of ivory and shining greens and flashing blues and
crimsons. I could see people walking about its streets. There came the sound
of little golden bells chiming."
"I turned toward the girl. She was sitting up, her hands clasped about her
knees, watching me. Love came, swift and compelling. She arose—I took
her in my arms—"
"Many times the moons circled the mountains, and the mist held the little,
tangled stars passing with them. I saw no one but Santhu; no thing came near
us. The trees fed us with fruits that had in them the very essences of life.
Yes, the fruit of the Tree of Life that stood in Eden must have been like the
fruit of those trees. We drank of green water that sparkled with green fires,
and tasted like the wine Osiris gives the hungry souls in Amenti to
strengthen them. We bathed in pools of carved stone that welled with water
yellow as amber. Mostly we wandered in the gardens. There were many wonderful
things in the gardens. They were very unearthly. There was no day nor night.
Only the green glow of the ever-circling moons. We never talked to each
other. I don't know why. Always there seemed nothing to say."
"Then Santhu began to sing to me. Her songs were strange songs. I could
not tell what the words were. But they built up pictures in my brain. I saw
Rak the Wonder-Worker fashioning his gardens, and filling them with things
beautiful and things—evil. I saw him raise the peak, and knew that it
was Lalil; saw him fashion the seven moons and kindle the fires that are the
fires of life. I saw him build his city, and I saw men and women pass into it
from the world through many gateways."
"Santhu sang—and I knew that the marching stars in the mist were the
souls of the people of Rak which sought rebirth. She sang, and I saw myself
ages past walking in the city of Rak with Santhu beside me. Her song wailed,
and I felt myself one of the mist-entangled stars. Her song wept, and I felt
myself a star that fought against the mist, and, fighting, break away
—a star that fled out and out through immeasurable green
"A man stood before us. He was very tall. His face was both cruel and
kind, saturnine as Satan and joyous as Apollo. He raised his eyes to us, and
they were yellow as buttercups, and wise, so wise! Ward, it was the face
above the peak in the room of the Dragon Glass! The eyes that had looked at
me out of Wu-Sing's face! He smiled on us for a moment and then—he was
"I took Santhu by the hand and began to run. Quite suddenly it came to me
that I had enough of the haunted gardens of Rak; that I wanted to get back to
my own land. But not without Santhu. I tried to remember the road to the
cleft. I felt that there lay the path back. We ran. From far behind came a
wailing. Santhu screamed—but I knew the fear in her cry was not for
herself. It was for me. None of the creatures of that place could harm her
who was herself one of its creatures. The wailing drew closer. I turned."
"Winging down through the green air was a beast, an unthinkable beast,
Ward! It was like the winged beast of the Apocalypse that is to bear the
woman arrayed in purple and scarlet. It was beautiful even in its horror. It
closed its scarlet and golden wings, and its long, gleaming body shot at me
like a monstrous spear."
"And then—just as it was about to strike—a mist threw itself
between us! It was a rainbow mist, and it was—cast. It was cast as
though a hand had held it and thrown it like a net. I heard the winged beast
shriek its disappointment, Santhu's hand gripped mine tighter. We ran through
"Before us was the cleft between the two green rocks. Time and time again
we raced for it, and time and time again that beautiful shining horror struck
at me—and each time came the thrown mist to baffle it. It was a game!
Once I heard a laugh, and then I knew who was my hunter. The master of the
beast and the caster of the mist. It was he of the yellow eyes—and he
was playing me—playing me as a child plays with a cat when he tempts it
with a piece of meat and snatches the meat away again and again from the
"The mist cleared away from its last throw, and the mouth of the cleft was
just before us. Once more the thing swooped—and this time there was no
mist. The player had tired of the game! As it struck, Santhu raised herself
before it. The beast swerved—and the claw that had been stretched to
rip me from throat to waist struck me a glancing blow. I fell —fell
through leagues and leagues of green space."
"When I awoke I was here in this bed, with the doctor men around me and
this—" He pointed to his bandaged breast again.
"That night when the nurse was asleep I got up and looked into the Dragon
Glass, and I saw—the claw, even as you did. The beast is there. It is
waiting for me!"
Herndon was silent for a moment.
"If he tires of the waiting he may send the beast through for me," he
said. "I mean the man with the yellow eyes. I've a desire to try one of these
guns on it. It's real, you know, the beast is—and these guns have
"But the man with the yellow eyes, Jim," I whispered—"who is
"He," said Herndon—"why, he's the Wonder-Worker himself!"
"You don't believe such a story as that!" I cried. "Why, it's—it's
lunacy! It's some devilish illusion in the glass. It's like the—
crystal globe that makes you hypnotize yourself and think the things your own
mind creates are real. Break it, Jim! It's devilish! Break it!"
"Break it!" he said incredulously. "Break it? Not for the ten thousand
lives that are the toll of Rak! Not real? Aren't these wounds real? Wasn't
Santhu real? Break it! Good God, man, you don't know what you say! Why, it's
my only road back to her! If that yellow-eyed devil back there were only as
wise as he looks, he would know he didn't have to keep his beast watching
there. I want to go, Ward; I want to go and bring her back with me. I've an
idea, somehow, that he hasn't—well, full control of things. I've an
idea that the Greatest Wonder-Worker wouldn't put wholly in Rak's hands the
souls that wander through the many gateways into his kingdom. There's a way
out, Ward; there's a way to escape him. I won away from him once, Ward. I'm
sure of it. But then I left Santhu behind. I have to go back for her. That's
why I found the little passage that led from the throne-room. And he knows
it, too. That's why he had to turn his beast on me."
"And I'll go through again, Ward. And I'll come back again—with
But he has not returned. It is six months now since he disappeared for the
second time. And from his bedroom, as he had done before. By the will that
they found—the will that commended that in event of his disappearing as
he had done before and not returning within a week I was to have his house
and all that was within it—I came into possession of the Dragon Glass.
The dragons had spun again for Herndon, and he had gone through the gateway
once more. I found only one of the elephant guns, and I knew that he had had
time to take the other with him.
I sit night after night before the glass, waiting for him to come back
through it—with Santhu. Sooner or later they will come. That I