MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Years
The Beast of Guagming Peak
"Wake up, Colonel Mackay, it's time for dinner," the nurse said, gently shaking the elderly, wheelchair-bound man out of a snoring sleep. The man's sunken eyes opened, and he looked up at her. A right cutey, was the first thought that passed through his mind, almost an angel--and she fancies me to boot. Mentally, Colin Mackay reckoned himself to be about thirty-eight. Physically, however, he was seventy-seven years old, and felt every day of it. At least I still have my dreams, he thought. Even a wheelchair could not slow down his dreams. He smiled at her, revealing his ten remaining teeth, and she gave him a dimpled smile back. "What did I miss, Cynthia?" he asked.
"Nothing, Colonel, but it's time for dinner, though I'm afraid we don't have meat today."
"No matter," Mackay muttered, straightening himself up in his wheelchair and wincing from the pain in his right hip, which he had broken two years earlier. "I've been through worse."
Cynthia stepped around behind the chair and pushed him into the dining room of the retirement home, where the table was already set. Nine other military pensioners were seated there, all from various wars, though none of them went as far back as the Boer conflict, which was Mackay's first taste of gunpowder. As usual, some of the men were grumbling over the failings of the menu.
"Damnable war's been over for seven years and still no meat," said Glendower, an army man, who was always complaining about something. "I just hope I live long enough to see the end of these shortages."
Rooney, late of the Royal Air Force, said, "Ah, there could be an entire corned beef in front of you, and you'd still spend so much time complaining that you'd miss it entirely!"
Some of the men laughed, one uttered, "hear, hear," and Glendower simply snorted and turned away. But the banter at the table ceased when Mackay settled behind the head of the table. "Good evening, Colonel," they each said, in recognition of the fact that he was the highest-ranking man among them.
"Good evening, lads," Mackay returned, and dinner commenced.
After the meal was finished, Mackay was the first to be moved away from the table, as always. Cynthia pushed him back into the sitting room, close to the crackling fire. It was December, and the staff of the home had begun to hang up Christmas decorations.
December 1951, the old man mused ... King George VI, the great-grandson of the sovereign who had ruled during Mackay's first twenty-eight years and who had lent her name to an age, and in whose name Mackay had first picked up a rifle and bayonet, now sat on the throne. Her great-grandson. Mackay could hardly believe it. He had been through three different wars and had escaped more bullets than any man ever had a right to. He had been in and out of more scrapes in his life than most men would have thought possible, and still he had managed to last into the start of the second half of the twentieth century. Certainly it was a bother and a burden to have lost the ability to walk, but the fact that he was here at all, when so many of his compatriots had fallen, was little short of astounding.
"Would you like the newspaper, Colonel?" Cynthia asked, handing him a copy of that day's London Times. Mackay always got first crack at the paper, which was not an elaborate courtesy, since only two or three of the other pensioners ever bothered to read it. The old man pulled out a pair of glasses from his sweater pocket and flipped through the pages, finding it hard to develop interest in what the Bank of England was forecasting for the new year economically, or what Winston Churchill had to say about the chances of the cease-fire talks in Korea. He was about to fold the section up when aphotograph on page twelve suddenly caught his eye. Reading the text underneath it, he muttered, "Crikey."
"Did you want something, Colonel?" Cynthia asked.
"My dear, could you get me closer to the light, please?" he asked, and the young nurse complied, wheeling him closer to the table and lamp, which allowed him to see the photograph more clearly.
The photo had been taken by Eric Shipton, who was mountaineering through the Himalayas alongside a chap named Michael Ward. It showed an enormous footprint, vaguely human in shape, but the length of an ax head, one of which had been placed next to the print in the photo for comparison. What struck Mackay about the print, though, was not the size but the fact that it appeared to have only four toes. "Good God," he uttered.
He reread the accompanying article, more slowly this time, his mind barely able to contain the news that was being offered: the footprint, according to the Times, was the most conclusive proof yet of the existence of the mirka, the metoh, the kang-mi, the yeti, or, as it had come to be known in the Western world, the Abominable Snowman.
As he continued to stare at the photo, the room began to turn cool. The Christmas decorations faded from view and the hardwood floors turned white and powdery. His lungs began to ache, and he seemed to have to fight for every breath. He was a young man again, a mere nineteen years old, fit as a bull, and possessing a mouthful of hard, white teeth. He walked through the freezing cold with the powerful legs of an athlete.
He was on the mountain again. On the mountain. Once more facing the danger ...
Colin Mackay could no longer feel his legs, which was not a good sign. While still a relative novice at climbing, he had nonetheless seen a number of men succumb to the suddenness of frostbite and vowed that it would not happen to him. He was not about to part with a precious limb before his twentieth birthday. But he could not deny the numbness ... no, it was not even numbness, it was the total absence of feeling, an emptiness of sensation as pronounced as the total deprivation of color that stretched as far as he could see in every direction. White ... nothing but white. Keep moving, hecommanded himself, forcing his lungs consciously to measure every cold, fire-stinging breath, and keeping his mind alert by running Gilbert and Sullivan songs forward and backward in his mind. When the point came that he was no longer able to concentrate on precisely what was meant by commissariat, Mackay would know that the mountain had won.
But he would not succumb easily, not while there was a fragment of thought in his mind or a cubic inch of oxygen in his body.
How in blazes had he managed to lose all contact with the others? How long had he been trudging through the snow and wind without the benefit of a compass, desperately hoping to find any sign that would tell him that he was in proximity to the rest of the expedition? How far away was the camp?
Far enough for your legs to lose all feeling, he thought grimly.
"No," he spoke, expelling a precious breath. There had to be a way back. He had been no more than ten minutes away from the camp when the wind had suddenly gusted, knocking him over, whiting out his vision, and covering over any tracks that he had made with blown snow. From that moment on, Mackay was effectively lost. Why had he been the one ordered to go out and track down the source of the mysterious cry they had all heard, a howl so eerie and foreboding that he could not believe Foss's judgment that it came from a lost sled dog? Why had not Foss been sent out? He was the more experienced mountaineer, after all. But it had been he, Mackay, whom the captain had sent, and the captain was in charge.
He continued on, though his steps became more labored. Finally he knelt and packed the snow around his legs, praying that, somehow, that would allow the feeling to return. He had heard other mountaineers talk about packing a frostbitten limb in ice, and could not imagine how that would work, but it was better than doing nothing.
As he sat there, quoting the fights historical from Marathon to Waterloo in order categorical, Colin Mackay suddenly had the terrible feeling that he had gone mad. How else could one explain the thin stream of black smoke that appeared out of nowhere in the distance? At first he thought it had to be his imagination, or worse, a hallucination announcing the beginnings of a seizure caused by altitude sickness. But as he watched, there was no mistaking the curl of the line of smoke. Someone, somewhere, up ahead, was burning something!
Mackay began to trot toward the line of smoke, never letting it out of his sight, refusing to succumb to a whiteout again, drinking in each breath and holding it as long as he could to prevent himself from panting and wasting oxygen. He still had no feeling in his legs, but they continued to move at his command. He would make the site of the smoke or die trying, he thought, and Colin Mackay had no desire to die trying.
He was close enough now to smell the smoke--though perhaps that was an olfactory hallucination. No ... no, it had to be real. And there was another smell now ... God in heaven, it was coffee! He refocused his entire being on that coffee, imaging the taste, the sublime bitterness, the heat in his stomach. He imagined pouring a cup of it on his legs, if that was what it took to restore the feeling.
Closer, he saw that the smoke was coming out of what looked like a cave. Sherpa? he wondered. He did not know much about the tribal people who inhabited the mountainous regions of Nepal and Tibet, but he had always heard that they were village dwellers, not cave dwellers. When he was close enough to the opening, Mackay called, "Hellooooo!" and waited. Still trotting, he was about to call again, when he saw a figure emerge from the cave.
"Hello," the figure called back. A British voice; a countryman. Mackay began to run outright now, run toward the smoke, the coffee, the figure of the tall, lean, bearded man dressed in some kind of skin-and-fur parka. And when the man and the cave opening were close enough to touch, he fell, and all went dark.
Colin Mackay's next sensation was one of warmth--warmth and a million needles in his legs, stinging him, as though he had immersed the lower half of his body in a beehive. Opening his eyes, he realized he was lying inside somewhere, out of the cold and wind, next to a fire, under a pile of blankets and furs. Leaping up, he began doing a strange sort of dance, alternately appreciating and disdaining the pinpricks in his legs.
"You were very nearly frostbitten," a voice said, and Colin turned to see the bearded man. He was inside the cave, he realized. Shadows from the fire pit danced over the jagged walls around him.
"And I'm paying for it now," Mackay said, continuing his dance. "Crikey, that stings!"
"The tingling will go away soon, Mr. Mackay."
"How do you know my name?"
"That was quite an obvious deduction. When we brought you in here I removed your coat and saw the tag inside, on which your name was stitched. Less obvious, but still discernible, were the facts that you are left-handed and that your father has recently died. Please accept my condolences."
"My father ... how could you possibly know that?"
"Upon removing your coat a watch fell out. It is a good watch, but rather old and worn. More to the point, it is inscribed with the initials 'P. MACK,' which differs just enough from the name in your coat--'c. MACKAY'--as to imply a relative, most likely a father. And the simple fact you possess the watch indicates that it was part of an inheritance, unless you are a thief, a possibility that I immediately discounted since a thief would be far more likely to sell or pawn the object he stole, not carry it up the side of a mountain."
Mackay's legs now felt more or less normal, though his mind was reeling. "All right, but how did you know my father died recently?"
"For the same reason as you are not a thief," the man said. "One does not carry a keepsake such as this on an expedition in the Himalayas unless one's personal attachment to it as an artifact is stronger than the probability that it will very likely be broken or lost in the snow, particularly when carried loose in a pocket. The kind of sentiment betrayed by that rather illogical act implies that you are still mourning your father and wanted to have something of his with you at all times, which implies that his passing must have happened quite recently, and again, my condolences."
"Thank you," Mackay muttered, "it happened three months ago." Then: "Just a second: a moment ago you said 'we'--'we brought you in here'--but I don't see anyone else in the cave. Who is with you?"
"My guide, Chatang. He is a Sherpa from the village near Rongbuk. I asked him to look outside to see if he could find the journal you have been keeping, which was not on you, but which might have told us more about you and where you came from."
"It is back at camp ... hold on, how could you possibly know I keep a journal?"
A small, satisfied smile broke through the man's thick beard, which was strangely of a reddish brown hue, in contrast to his black hair. "When I removed your gloves, I noticed a trace of graphite on the tip of the middle finger of your left hand, a sign that you have been writing with a pencil--quite sensible, since ink up here wouldfreeze. The mark is pronounced enough to indicate that you have been writing quite a lot, certainly more than simply a letter, more like daily entries in a journal. Since the smudge was on your left hand, I knew that you must be left-handed."
"Crikey," Mackay muttered. "Who are you?"
"I am called Greison," the man said, extending a hand, which looked thin and delicate, but betrayed surprising strength when Mackay shook it. "Would you care for some coffee?"
"The very thought of it is what got me here."
As Greison picked up a blackened pan filled with strong, hot liquid off the fire pit, the Sherpa Chatang returned to the cave. Greison spoke to him in what Mackay could only assume was Tibetan, and the native merely nodded and sat down by the fire. Then turning to Mackay, Greison explained, "I asked his forgiveness for sending him out into the cold needlessly, as the journal in question is back at your camp."
"You apologized to a servant?" Mackay asked, puzzled.
"I said Chatang was my guide, not my servant." Greison poured the steaming, aromatic black liquid from a battered pot into a tin cup and handed it to Mackay, who wrapped both hands around and sipped with great satisfaction.
"How is the coffee?" Greison asked.
"Absolutely terrible," Mackay answered, "and indescribably wonderful."
In the flickering light of the fire, Mackay was able to examine the man who had become his savior against the harsh, unforgiving mountain. Probably no more than forty, Greison was lean to the point of being almost skeletal, and his face showed a deep tan, not much lighter, in fact, than the Sherpa's, which implied he had been on the mountain for some time, braving the powerful sunlight that bounced off the surface of the white snow. Startlingly clear grey eyes shone out as though lit from behind.
"Are you with a party?" Mackay asked.
Greison reached a stick into the fire and used it to light a long-stemmed clay pipe. "We are on a mission to find someone," he said, "another Sherpa, who according to his family is helping to guide the expedition of a certain Sir George Lennox."
"Crikey!" Mackay cried. "Captain Lennox! That's my expedition!"
Greison eyed the young man. "Indeed? Then we are closer than I thought." Turning to Chatang, he related something in the native tongue, then turned back to Mackay. "You must know the man we are seeking, then. His name is Nimu."
"Oh, good Lord," Mackay said. "I knew Nimu, yes."
"Yes, I'm afraid he's dead."
Greison frowned, cast a glance toward his Sherpa companion, and said something softly to him. Chatang stiffened, then bowed his head, and Greison placed a hand on the Sherpa's shoulder. "What are the details of his death?" he asked Mackay.
The young man coughed and hesitated before answering. "Well, sir, it appears that he was killed by a yeti."
At the sound of the word, Chatang's eyes widened, and he turned to Greison with a look of alarm.
"Did you say a yeti?" Greison asked.
"That's what the captain said. About four days ago, Captain Lennox and Nimu set out on their own for Bei Peak, leaving Foss and me at the camp. Foss is the other member of our party. The captain told us that if they made it to the top, he would come back and lead the rest of us up, but until he knew that the summit could be reached, he considered it too dangerous to take the entire party. They made it to the top of the peak, all right, but on the way back down, the captain said that they heard an ungodly howl, then this creature appeared. The captain described it as close to seven feet tall and completely covered with yellowish hair. Since they had no weapons with them, all they could do was try to get away from it, but the thing caught Nimu and ... well, he dragged the poor bugger away while the captain watched, helpless. All he was able to bring back was one of Nimu's boots. The captain was badly shaken, I can tell you, and it takes a lot to shake Sir George Lennox. In fact, that was the reason he sent me out last night following that horrible cry. He was afraid it was the yeti coming back. I got lost looking for it."
"Hearing what happened to Nimu, how fortunate that you did not find it."
"Right." Mackay then realized the full implications of what the older mountaineer had said, and added, "Crikey, I never thought about that."
"I must tell Chatang of this incident." Turning to the Sherpa, Greison began to speak in the strange language. Mackay could make out the words Lennox, Nimu, Bei and of course yeti. Whatever else the Englishman was saying, it appeared to Mackay to upset the native guide, so much so that he began to talk back, appearing, even, to argue. Mackay had never before seen a Sherpa argue with a white man, but Greison kept talking, more soothingly now, and eventually he managed to calm the native down. Chatang cast a dark glance at Mackay, then got up and moved to a far corner of the cave.
"What was all that about?" Mackay asked.
"He is naturally upset," Greison answered. "Nimu was his brother."
"His brother? Oh, I'm sorry. Why were you looking for him in the first place?"
"Family matters in the village." Then Greison raised his head, closed his eyes and tented his fingers together into a steeple, and showed all signs of going to sleep sitting up.
"Um, good night, then," Mackay said, then finished his coffee and slipped back over to the makeshift bed Greison had made for him and slid between the blankets and fur skins, exhausted by the events of the day.
When Mackay awoke the next morning, he felt surprisingly refreshed. Greison and Chatang were already up and appeared to be preparing to venture out onto the mountain. Mackay was startled at how little gear they had between them. Crawling out from under the blankets, he walked to the mouth of the cave and saw bright sunshine and no trace of the storm that had gotten him lost.
"In one sense it was an ill wind that blew you to us, Mr. Mackay," Greison said, tapping out the bowl of his pipe, "but in another sense, it was our great fortune. When you are ready, we will set out to find your party."
"Right," Mackay said, venturing out into the cold just enough to get a handful of snow, which he rubbed onto his face, chasing away any lingering sleep that was left on him. Rushing back in to get his coat, he saw that Greison was writing something in chalk on the wall of the cave. S. Greison-Rimpoche Chatang, May 1892, it read. Mackay studied the name, then the truth dawned upon him. "Crikey, I've just realized who you are!" he cried.
The older man turned to him. "Have you indeed?"
Stepping up to the cave wall, Mackay took the chalk. "That night's sleep must have cleared my head," he said. "Look: if you rearrange the letters of S. Greison, you get this." He wrote Sigerson on the stone wall. "You're Sigerson! You're the one everybody's been talking about. They say you rescued a party of six men after they'd been trapped by an avalanche."
"If they had listened to me beforehand and taken a different route, they never would have gotten trapped in the first place," Greison answered.
"Hey, you're supposed to be Norwegian. How come you speak without an accent?"
"My dear Mackay," Greison replied, with a whisper of a smile, "when I speak with Chatang I do so without an accent as well. With the proper attention and study, any language can be mastered without an accent. As for my name, now that you have discovered it, I hope you will keep it to yourself. As you have pointed out, everyone is talking about Sigerson, and that fact infinitely complicates one's passing through camps inconspicuously." Using the sleeve of his coat, Greison rubbed the chalk word Sigerson from the cave wall.
"You're a rare one, if you don't mind my saying so," Mackay said. "Every other mountaineer is up here because we want to do something that will make the rest of the world talk about us. You sound like you're trying to avoid it."
"My dear Mackay, I am not so much trying to avoid it as ignoring it. Might I suggest that you visit one of the several lamaseries in this region. They are quite open to Western visitors. It is, in fact, my opinion that all men who wish to conquer the Himalayas should do so. It does wonders for the outlook. Now, then, are you coming with us or not?"
"Coming, coming," Mackay said, buttoning his coat and following the two out into the cold.
The view from the mouth of cave was one of unending white. Greison pulled a collapsible telescope from his pocket and scanned the wide horizon. "How long had you been walking before you came upon the cave?" he asked. "An hour? More than an hour?"
"About an hour," Mackay answered, shielding his eyes from the blinding sun, "though it was hard to tell."
"Pity you didn't use your pocket watch. During the trek, did it seem like you were going uphill or downhill?"
"It was all pretty straight and level, at least until I got close to the cave."
"Straight and level," he muttered, surveying the ocean of snow and white. "Ah! That way, if I'm not mistaken." Chatang took the lead as the three of them headed off for what to Mackay looked like an infinity of white.
Within an hour, however, the tents were sighted. "I'll be damned," Mackay said, "that's the camp, all right!"
When they had gotten within hailing distance, a Sherpa guide from the camp approached, and when he saw Mackay, he ran into the largest of the tents, emerging moments later with a large man with a thick thatch of dark blond hair that tumbled over his weathered brow and an unruly beard beginning to grey. "By God, Mackay," George Lennox's voice echoed across the glacier. "We'd given you up for lost! Get over here!"
They made their way to the tent, where Lennox greeted Mackay like a stern father. "What the devil happened to you, boy?" he demanded. "I should have sent Foss, he has a better sense of direction."
A small, rugged, bulldoggish man emerged from another tent, and when he spotted Mackay, he grinned broadly, and cried, "Well, the prodigal has returned!" He rushed up to welcome him, though not as expansively.
Eyeing Greison, Lennox said, "I imagine you are the one who found him?"
"Actually, Mr. Mackay found us. My name is Greison."
"Sir George Lennox, Mr. Greison, and this is Patrick Foss," he said, gesturing to the smaller mountaineer. Then he glanced at Chatang, standing behind. "You've brought your own pack mule, I see."
"I presume you are speaking about my traveling companion?"
"Call them what you like, they're still the best pack mules you can find. Damn things seem to produce their own oxygen from the inside"
"Speaking of inside, might we avail ourselves of a tent?" Greison asked.
"By all means, come in and have a drink. Foss, have you checked the supplies yet?"
"Not yet, Captain," Foss said. "I was about to do it."
"Be about it, then. Greison, your Sherpa can help out my mules."
"As you wish," Greison said. Then, turning to Chatang, he uttered a few words in Tibetan and watched as the man went off toward the other guides, who were presently inspecting the climbing ropes. Lennox, meanwhile, opened the heavy canvas tent flap and ushered Greison and Mackay inside. In the center of the tent was a folding table, piled with maps and papers, which were held in place by a severed and preserved red bear's paw. "Sit down," Lennox said, gesturing to the three folding stools set around the table. He picked up a small duffel from the corner and pulled from it a bottle of brandy and a ram's horn filled with cigarettes. Finding three small jars, he poured the drinks and offered the two cigarettes. "I'm eager to hear about Mackay's adventure getting lost on the mountain."
Mackay told as much of the tale as he could, explaining how he had used Gilbert and Sullivan songs to focus his concentration. When he had finished, Greison supplied the details of how he and Chatang had pulled the unconscious young man into the cave.
"By God," Lennox said, with a hearty laugh, "that is probably the only time anyone was ever saved by the Pirates of Penzance. I'll have to remember that and bone up on the scores. I was never much for theater in my youth, certainly not operettas, though I used to play a little bugle. I don't suppose that counts for much, though." He refilled Greison's and Mackay's jars and poured a third for himself, then raised it in a toast. "Here's to you, boy, the one who fought off frostbite with Gilbert and bloody Sullivan."
"Now that we have heard the boy's story," Greison said, "there is one I would very much like to hear from you, Sir George. I understand you lost a man on the mountain."
Lennox gulped his brandy. "Well, not man, exactly, just one of the blasted Sherpas. But yes, I lost him to a yeti. Now, you might say that yetis are nothing but the stuff of legend, but George Lennox will put you right, because I saw it with my own eyes. Christ, I'll never forget its cry ... a sound so terrible that you can't imagine that a flesh-and-blood creature could make it. It was like it wasn't an animal at all, but some sort of spawn of Hell. I promise you, Greison, you've never heard anything like that cry."
"Actually, I may have, once. It turned out to be a very large hound."
"This was no dog. It was a beast. I saw the hate in its yelloweyes. I saw what it did to the Sherpa. I suppose the boy here told you I sent him out when I heard the sound again last night."
"He did," Greison said, sipping the brandy. "And it was the same cry?"
"The same cry," Lennox replied. "I hope you're not going to try and convince me it was one of my sled dogs, like Foss attempted to do."
"Not at all. I understand that the incident happened on Bei Peak."
Lennox nodded and poured himself another drink. "Coming back down from the peak."
"On the north side? You did take the north route, I presume?"
"Of course. And yes, the attack happened on the north side."
"It is quite a distance from here to Bei Peak," Greison mused. "Could the creature really have come all that way?"
"Crikey, if the thing is stalking us," Mackay said, "maybe we should pack up and move somewhere else?"
"No, we'll stay here, at least for the time being," Lennox said. "We'll just keep a good watch. Besides, as close as you came to frostbite, you should probably rest a bit before your next long trek. Give your legs the chance to recover fully."
"Thank you, sir. I was quite worried for a while, when my legs lost all feeling."
"I know how that is," Lennox responded, and began unlacing his boot. As his two guests watched, he removed both the boot and his heavy wool sock, and lifted his bare left foot up for them to see. The second toe, the one nearest the big toe, was missing.
"It happened five years ago, while I was in the Arctic Circle," Lennox told them. "I came down with frostbite and didn't even know it. It's not like you're normally conscious of your tall toe, so when the feeling goes away, you don't even notice it. But then the feeling in my entire foot started to go away." George Lennox wiggled his remaining four toes and grinned conspiratorially. "Now I'll show you something I've rarely shown to anyone." He lowered his foot, reached into the pocket of his jacket, and pulled something out, which he set on the table.
"Crikey," Mackay muttered.
"A good luck charm?" Greison asked.
"More of a reminder," Lennox said, picking up the black, desiccated human toe and studying it. "It's a reminder to know my limitsand never do anything foolish while on a mountain." Then he picked up the bear's paw paperweight from the table. "At least I fared better than this fellow," he said, laughing. "I shot the owner of this some years back and kept his paw as another reminder."
"Of what?" Greison asked.
"To hold steadfast and keep courage."
The wind suddenly came up again, buffeting the tent walls as Lennox put his sock and boot back on. Chatang appeared in the doorway and motioned for Greison, who got up and quietly conversed with him for a moment, then returned to the table, as the Sherpa disappeared as quickly as he had arrived.
"In light of the wind, would it be too much of an imposition if we were to stay here for the evening?" Greison asked. "Chatang tells me that there is space in the Sherpa tent, and I am certain I could make do somewhere."
"By all means, stay here," Lennox said. "I would hate to have turned a man away during a storm, never to see him again. Perhaps you could bunk in Mackay's tent, since you're old friends now."
"Excellent," Greison said.
Mackay finished his drink, and said, "Poor Chatang seems to be taking the news of his brother's death well at any rate."
Lennox crushed the butt of his cigarette. "His brother? You mean your Sherpa is the brother of Nimu?"
"I am afraid so," Greison said. "It's a small world, isn't it?"
"Hmm. Were they close?"
"They were brothers. There is always a bond between brothers, no matter how aloof they might appear to those around them. The reason we are here on the mountain was to track down Nimu and bring him back to the village."
"Why? What did he do?"
"He did nothing," Greison said. "But I am afraid his mother has died. We were coming to get him because of that, Chatang and I."
"Crikey," Mackay said. "I know what it's like to lose a parent. But to lose your mother and your brother just like that ..."
"It is a tragedy," Greison agreed.
"How did you even know where to look for Nimu?" Lennox asked.
"Oh, that was no problem. We already knew that Nimu had signed on with your expedition. He told his brother as much beforeleaving. Then it became a question of discovering your whereabouts on the mountain. Even though we were not far away, it was fortuitous that Mackay stumbled into the cave we had been using as shelter."
Lennox lit another cigarette and took in as much smoke as his lungs would accept in the high altitude. "Did Nimu tell his brother anything else about me?"
"I have no idea," Greison replied. "What should he have told him?"
"Oh, maybe that I pay more for guides than anyone else on the mountain. I offer five rupees a day, which is twice what these Tibetan dogs will get from anyone else. I would hate for that to become common knowledge among the pack mules, because then I would be swarmed by them, all begging for guide jobs, no matter what their proficiency on a climb."
"You seem to take a dim view of the native people here, Sir George."
"They are what they are," he replied. "They have a certain amount of knowledge about climbing, and they have whatever odd mutancy it is that allows them to thrive on little oxygen, but they have neither the inclination nor the intelligence to give orders to others. You do not see a Sherpa leading an expedition, do you? No, because they cannot. They are followers. Pack mules. But I will give you this: if I can find the right one to support me, George Lennox will go down in history as the first man to stand atop Everest."
The wind was picking up, and Lennox stood. "I'd better make certain that the dogs are properly kenneled," he said. "I hope my camp will prove comfortable for you, Greison. It's not Buckingham Palace, but it's better than freezing to death."
"I am certain it will be more than sufficient."
"I have work to do," Lennox said. "Feel free to remain in here for a while if you like, but leave some of the brandy. Oh, and there's one other rule here, and that is that this is my camp and my expedition, and in my expeditions, the Sherpas don't come into the men's tents. I'll thank you to abide by that, Greison."
"I will remember."
"Right," Sir George Lennox said, and putting his fur-lined hood up over his head, he slipped through the door flap.
"Just imagine, Everest!" Mackay was saying. "I'd like to be in that party."
"I think it is highly unlikely that any man will stand atop the world's highest peak," Greison said, "at least not in my lifetime."
"Oh, I'd put my money on the captain to do it. They said Guangming Peak couldn't be conquered either, but he did it, just last year. The Queen was so impressed she knighted him for it."
"But Guangming is not Everest. Besides, there are the mountain gods to contend with. I daresay they would not like to be disturbed."
"Now you're having a go at me because I'm just an apprentice mountaineer," Mackay charged, "but I don't spook easily. And I don't believe in the local superstitions."
"My dear young friend, to paraphrase a playwright even more insightful than Gilbert and Sullivan, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
"Well, I'll stick with my philosophy for the time being."
"As you wish," Greison said, rising from the table. "As long as we are here, let us see if there is some way in which we can help out in the camp."
Throughout the day the two helped to prepare the camp against the likelihood of another powerful storm, and on several occasions, Mackay saw Greison slip over to where Chatang was and engage him in brief conversations. Shortly before the evening meal, Greison spoke with all three of the Sherpas. Mackay said nothing at the time, but later, inside their tent, after the sun had gone down, taking a break from penciling notes in his journal, he broached the subject to Greison. "You're not planning something, are you?" he asked.
The inside of the tent was illuminated only by the red glow of Greison's cigarette. "Whatever do you mean?"
"You've spent a good part of the day talking with the Sherpas. I'm not the only one who noticed. I saw the captain watching you like a bird of prey. You're not planning on ... I don't know ... inciting a revolt, or anything like that, are you?"
"Sherpas are not of a revolutionary nature, my friend. Even if I wanted to, I doubt I could spark something so dramatic as that."
"Then what are you doing?"
"I merely asked them to keep watch."
"Watch over what?"
"Over the reappearance of the yeti, of course."
"I hope I never have to face a thing like that," Mackay declared. "Hearing it was bad enough."
Greison suddenly sat up on his cot. "Since you have brought the matter up, how would you describe the sound that you heard last night, before you ventured out into the storm?"
"It was just like the captain described: eerie, almost unearthly."
"Was it something like this?" Placing one hand over his mouth, Greison began to make a startling, high-pitched cry, which echoed through the tent, prompting Mackay to leap up from his cot as though given an electric jolt. "That's it! That's it exactly! You've heard it too!"
"I have heard it, all right, but it is not a yeti. I was imitating a snow leopard. Under the right circumstances, their howl can indeed sound unearthly."
"It was nothing but a snow leopard we heard then?"
"There is no reason to sound disappointed, Mackay. A snow leopard is still a formidable threat."
"It's not that, it's just--"
His words were interrupted suddenly by the sound of a wail coming from somewhere outside. Mackay started to speak but Greison hushed him. The sound came again, the bone-chilling, pitiful howl of a beast somewhere near the camp. Another sound then rent the night: the collective panicked shouts of a half dozen men. That was followed by a scream.
Immediately, Greison and Mackay were up and threw on their coats and boots, and ran outside. Foss was already there, lighting a torch, though it was nearly too cold for fire. Then George Lennox appeared, crying, "What happened!"
"We don't know yet," said Foss.
"Check the Sherpas' tent," Greison called, and the men ran there, only to find a large, jagged rip in the canvas wall.
"Look at this, Captain!" Foss lowered his torch to the snow, revealing a trail of blood. Following it, they quickly came upon one of the Sherpas, lying facedown in the snow. "Don't touch him, he might still be alive!" Lennox said, kneeling to examine the prone figure. After a few moments, though, he looked to the others and shook his head. Then he rolled the body over. The sight of the Sherpa's face seemed to shock George Lennox. "Good God, it's Ang!"
"Aye, and look at him," Foss said, wincing.
The Sherpa's face had been slashed as though by the claws of an enormous animal.
"Is anyone else missing?" Greison asked.
Foss quickly surveyed the party and said, "The other two Sherpas are here."
"But I don't see Chatang anywhere," Mackay said.
"Maybe the blasted thing got him, too," Foss said.
"Are there any more torches here?" Greison asked.
"Aye, over there." Foss led the rest to a supply box and pulled out and lit two more torches.
"Are we to look for Chatang, then?" Mackay asked.
"Yes, but also look for footprints," Greison said.
"What kind of footprints?"
"Any that you can find. Mackay, Foss, you check over there. I will look in this direction."
The three of them set off in different directions from the camp, their torches burning holes of light in the dark frigid night. Lennox, meanwhile, was instructing the two remaining Sherpas to pull the body of Ang out and away from the camp. But they refused to touch it, which angered the expedition leader.
"Ang can't hurt you!" Lennox barked. "Move him the hell out of here, or else that thing will come back into the camp to get it, and maybe you, too!" Still they refused to touch it. "I know you dogs speak the Queen's English well enough to know what I'm saying, so what's wrong with you? Move! Move now, or I'll ..." Lennox raised his hand to strike the closest one, but at that moment Greison appeared behind him and grabbed his arm, restraining it. Lennox growled, "What the hell do you think you're doing? Let go of me!"
"Hitting them will do no good," Greison said.
"I will not have my authority challenged on this expedition, not by them, and not by you!"
"The reason they are disobeying you is because they want to say a mani over the body before moving it."
Greison let go of Lennox's arm. "A prayer."
"A prayer," Lennox repeated, "like they've got a soul? Ha! They're two-legged yaks, nothing more."
"If you want the body moved, I'm afraid you will have to let them have their way."
Casting a cold gaze from Greison to the guides and back, Lennox spat, "Be quick about it, then."
The two Sherpas nodded to Greison and began to chant something over the remains of their friend.
"What about that coolie of yours?" Lennox demanded of Greison. "Has he been found yet?"
"Not yet, though I am certain we shall see him again."
"Not if the snowman gets him first."
"It is my opinion that the snowman would be foolish to try."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Just then Mackay ran up, panting precious spouts of breath and holding his blazing torch high. "No sign of footprints," he gasped.
"Never run in this altitude, boy," Lennox said. "Haven't you learned anything from me?"
Foss appeared a moment later, with the same report. There were no fresh footprints to be found anywhere around the camp, other than those the mountaineers had made.
"That is most interesting," Greison said, tenting his gloved hands in front of his mouth.
"What's all this footprint rubbish about anyway?" Lennox asked.
"We all heard the cry of the yeti, did we not? And we have seen the effect of its presence on poor Ang?"
"We did and we have," Lennox said. "What are you getting at?"
"How strange, then, that there are no footprints," Greison said. "There should be a trail of rather sizable marks coming from some direction into the camp, and yet there appear to be none. Likewise, there are no footprints leaving the camp. Surely it did not fly in, kill its victim, then fly out again."
"Crikey, he's right!" Mackay exclaimed.
"So that means ..." Foss began.
"It means that the killer of Ang never journeyed to the camp and never left the camp. He is, and always has been, right here."
In the flickering torchlight, the men looked from one to the other.
"Are you trying to say that there is no yeti at all?" Lennox asked. "That one of us killed Ang?"
"That seems to be the most likely conclusion," Greison replied.
"Bollocks!" Lennox shouted. "I saw the thing, man! All of us heard it! What more do you want?"
Foss's expression was one of a man trying to work out a puzzle inhis mind. "We still haven't found the Sherpa that you brought with you, Greison," he said. "Maybe he killed Ang, then fled."
"Then he would have had to fly as well, since there is no trail of footprints leading away from the camp," Greison said.
"Pah!" Lennox spat. "I've taken as much of this as I'm going to. I have another guide dead, and you're worried about footprints. Greison, I'm willing to attribute your ridiculous allegations to dementia from lack of oxygen to the brain and leave it at that. Once the sun comes up, I'm sure you'll be able to find all the footprints you like. But if you want to keep looking for them in the dark, armed with nothing but torches, go right ahead. I'm going to go to my tent. Good night."
"Sleep well, Sir George," Greison said, as the man walked toward his tent. "Oh, by the way, I would not be overly concerned about Chatang's disappearance, I am certain he will turn up. He is most likely off grieving his brother's death in solitude. It turns out that he and Nimu were quite close. In fact, he told me that Nimu confided in him often, and told him all about the various expeditions he guided, including the last one of yours."
Lennox stopped and turned. "Did he offer any details?"
"Some pertinent ones, yes, but that is neither here nor there. I only bring this up to demonstrate how close the brothers were. You had asked me about that earlier, if you recall."
"I recall." Then Lennox turned around again and trudged to his tent.
Once Lennox was inside the tent Mackay said, "Did you see the look on the captain's face when he saw it was Ang? I thought he was shaken by Nimu's death, but this one's really rattled him."
"Aye," said Foss, whose face bore a troubled look. "We should turn in, too."
"I agree," Greison said. Then, in an unusually loud voice, he added, "I suggest that the two of you sleep in the same tent tonight. Foss, why don't you relocate to the tent I had been sharing with Mackay. I will take this one."
Foss was about to protest, but Greison was already dousing his torch outside the tent in question. Lifting the flap, he disappeared inside.
"That's one queer duck you brought back with you," Foss told the young man. "Who is he, anyway?"
"I don't know if I should be telling you this," Mackay said, "but you've heard of Sigerson, right?"
"Sigerson? You mean he's Sigerson?"
"For some reason he doesn't want people to know. Crikey, my lungs are burning. I need to get inside."
As Mackay and Foss retired to their tent for the evening, the Sherpa guides finished carrying the body of Ang beyond the edge of the camp, far enough away that if an animal--or beast--were to return for it, it would not venture into the tent area. Then they made their way back to their tent.
Within an hour, all was dark and silent, the only sounds being the steady whine of the wind and an occasional yip from one of the sled dogs, which were huddled together against the cold inside a lean-to. The only light came from the moon, which cast cold blue rays over the snowy mountain plateau. Nobody saw the shadow move through the camp. Nobody heard anything, not even the slow ripping of tent canvas.
It moved through the open wall of the tent and groped its way to the cot inside. Then it began slashing at the figure in the cot, striking it again and again.
It was the cry that awoke Foss and Mackay, a terrible banshee-like wail that seemed to exist only to announce a death. Leaping up, the two jumped into their coats and boots and raced out of the tent. Lennox and the Sherpa guides were already there. "Did you hear it?" Lennox cried.
"Aye," Foss answered. Then: "Where's Greison?"
"Crikey, you don't think it got him, do you?"
Just then, as though in reply, the cry sounded again, startling Lennox so much that he nearly lost his balance and fell down. "What in God's--" he shouted.
"It came from over there," Foss said.
"It's coming from your tent, Captain!" Mackay said.
As the three of them watched, a dim light appeared from inside the tent, and they could make out the silhouettes of two figures inside. Mackay and Foss started toward it, but Lennox said, "No, men, don't go in there. Don't!"
The flap of the tent opened, and Greison stepped out, a lit candle in his hand.
"No!" Lennox cried. "How could--"
"Come in before you freeze, gentlemen," Greison said.
"Who's in there with you?" Foss called.
"Only my friend, Rampoche Chatang." The previously missing Sherpa appeared in the opening of the tent.
"Rampoche?" Foss said. "Isn't that the title for a lama?"
"For the High Lama," Greison replied.
Foss and Mackay entered the tent, but Sir George Lennox stayed where he was.
"Sir George, your presence is required here as well, if you don't mind."
"I bloody well do mind," the explorer declared. "Get that damned Sherpa dog out of my tent!"
Greison sighed. "I was hoping this would not be necessary. Sangwa, Passang ..." In an instant, the two Sherpas from the expedition grabbed Lennox's arms and held him fast, while pushing him into the crowded tent. "Let me go, you mountain niggers!" he cried, but he was unable to break free of them.
"What the hell's going on here, Sigerson?" Foss demanded.
"Sigerson?" Lennox repeated, glaring at the man.
"I see Mackay has let that particular secret out of its box," Greison said. "No matter now: what is going on, my dear Foss, is murder at it's most cold-blooded--specifically, the murders of Ang and Nimu, by the hand of Sir George Lennox."
Lennox smiled thinly. "You're insane," he said.
"There is no question that you killed them, Sir George," Greison said. "And do not bother trying to break free. Passang and Sangwa now obey Rimpoche Chatang, not you."
"That's a hell of an accusation, man," Foss said. "I don't suppose you have anything in the way of proof, do you?"
"In the pocket of Lennox's coat, I believe you will find the severed paw of a bear."
"The captain's paperweight?" Mackay said.
Lennox made another attempt to break free of the Sherpas, but it was impossible. He cursed and spat as Foss walked over to him and thrust a hand in his coat pockets, pulling out his ram's horn cigarette holder and, ultimately, the bear's paw. "I'll be damned," Foss muttered.
Taking the paw from him, Greison held the candle close to it and examined the claws. "You see? A bit of Ang's blood is still visible."
"So that paw was used to kill Ang?" Foss asked.
"Oh, I doubt it. Were Ang's body to be carefully examined, I am certain that a knife wound would reveal itself. But there is no question that this paw was used to simulate the attack of a wild beast, which Sir George was hoping would be accepted as a yeti. I have no doubt whatsoever that the claws will match the slashes on his face perfectly."
"God almighty," Foss uttered. "Are you some kind of detective, Mr. Greison, or Sigerson, or whatever your name is?"
Greison's eyes remained riveted on the tense figure of Sir George Lennox. "Up until a fortnight ago, I was nothing more than a traveler in this land, like yourselves, enjoying the hospitality at Rongbuk Monastery, as I have done on several previous occasions. With the Lama's help, I have all but conquered my dreaded intolerance of boredom, as well as a few other personal problems ... but that is immaterial at present. After some time, the serenity of the place was shattered by the news that Lhamu, the mother of Nimu and Chatang, had died suddenly. The family, knowing that Nimu was away on an expedition, desired to get word of the passing to him and bring him back to the village, if possible. Chatang himself decided to go since, prior to achieving the status of rimpoche, he journeyed extensively across the mountains and knew the terrain quite well. He did, however, ask me to accompany him, feeling that I might have more success convincing Sir George to let Nimu leave the expedition, being a fellow European. At the time I thought it quite unnecessary, given Rimpoche Chatang's standing. However, having witnessed for myself the man's utter arrogance and delusion of superiority, I now understand his concern."
"To hell with you!" Lennox spat, still held fast by the Sherpas.
"What I don't understand is why?" Mackay said. "Why would someone like the captain kill those Sherpas in cold blood?"
"To protect his secret," Greison replied, setting both the paw and the candle down on the table. "You see, gentlemen, in addition to being a murderer, the famed and much heralded Sir George Lennox is also a fraud and a liar." He paused to let that sink in, then spoke again: "His expedition to Guangming Peak last year earned him a knighthood, did it not? It also made his reputation as the premiereBritish mountaineer of our time, and no doubt helped to secure funding not only for this expedition, but future ones as well. How distressing it would be if the world were to learn that it is predicated upon a falsehood--George Lennox never set foot on Guangming Peak. He never came close."
"Liar!" Lennox shouted.
"How do you know?" Foss asked.
"Exactly the way Lennox feared I knew it: Nimu, who accompanied Lennox on the climb, and who actually did reach the summit, told the truth of the situation to his brother, Rimpoche Chatang, who in turn told me. Sir George had actually become weak and incapacitated from the altitude and had to stop climbing, while Nimu, proceeding onward, reached the top. For a man so convinced of his own superiority as Sir George Lennox, the fact that a native had reached the summit, accomplishing what he himself had proven unable to do, was intolerable. So he drew every bit of information about the climb from Nimu, even questioning him about the view from the summit, and set about spreading the lie that he had, in fact, conquered the mountain. He received a knighthood and an unearned reputation, and no one was the wiser--no one, except, of course, Nimu. All this I knew even before I ever set foot in this camp, but at the time it had no particular bearing on my reason for being here, which was to find Nimu and bring him back to the village. Sir George's moral lapses were of no concern to me."
Lennox had ceased struggling and now stared madly at Greison, his face actually moist with sweat, despite the frigid temperature.
"All that changed, however, when I learned of Nimu's death and the circumstances surrounding it," Greison went on. "I asked Sir George questions about the route he had taken to Bei Peak, and his answers only confirmed the suspicions that were growing in my mind."
"I remember that," Mackay said. "You asked if he took the north route, and he said yes."
"Precisely. That, however, proved to me that he had never been on Bei Peak at all, because there is no north route to it. It is completely inaccessible from that direction. I have scaled the peak myself, so I was testing him on his knowledge of the mountain, and he failed, miserably. This time, however, his lie was not born of a desire to preserve his reputation, but rather to cover his true activities. Yousee, at first Sir George believed he had nothing to fear from Nimu, the only person on earth who could put lie to his claim. But after receiving his knighthood, and the notoriety that came with it, he realized that the stakes of the game had been raised considerably. If the knowledge Nimu carried were ever to get out, it would invalidate his knighthood and destroy him. So he had to get rid of Nimu. Sir George specifically sought him out for this expedition, all the while plotting his death. He took Nimu with him on the presumed climb to Bei Peak, making the excuse that it was too dangerous for the entire party to go. He went out far enough not to be seen, killed Nimu, hid the body, then returned to camp with the story of having survived an encounter with a yeti. And that, he thought, was the end of it. But then he learned that Nimu had a brother, and began to fear--correctly, as it turned out--that Nimu had confided in his brother the secret of the Guangming expedition."
"Why kill Ang then?" Foss interrupted. "Why not kill the Lama?"
Greison's face darkened. "That was a tragic mistake. In his haste--for he only had the most fleeing of moments to execute his attack--he killed the wrong man. It is a tragedy for which I must carry a share of the blame, and I do so heavily. I had warned Rimpoche Chatang of my suspicions and had prepared him for what might happen, but I did not properly inform the expedition guides. Had I done so, Ang might be alive today. When Lennox realized his mistake, however, he became quite agitated, as you, Mackay, mentioned at the time. I instructed Chatang to hide, and he managed to sequester himself with the sled dogs. Having fully realized how dangerous Sir George Lennox was, I knew that I had to be the one to stop him, before another innocent man--and hear me, Lennox, I said man, not yak, not dog, not mule--died. I intimated to Sir George that I, too, knew the secret that he was willing to kill to protect. Do you remember earlier this evening, I made a special point of suggesting the two of you share a tent, while I take one of my own? I did so loudly enough that Sir George would be able to hear me as well. That was my way of announcing to him where I would be sleeping, so he could come and attack me, if he were so inclined, as I believed him to be. And he did attack me--or so he thought."
Mackay rattled his head. "Or so he thought?"
"If you examine the tent that I had chosen, you will find one wall slashed through and a roll of blankets and skins ripped toshreds on the cot. I positioned those blankets in such a manner as to give a fair facsimile of a sleeping man in the darkness. Thinking they were I, fast asleep, Sir George attacked them with the bear's paw, then rushed back out before he had a chance to realize the deception. His shocked reaction upon seeing me emerge from his tent, whole and alive, moments later, I believe, spoke for itself."
"What about that cry we heard?" Foss asked.
"Hand me that ram's horn," Greison said. "Granted, I am not the experienced bugler that Sir George claims to be, however ..." Greison put the horn to his lips and blew a convincing imitation of the cry that the men had heard earlier that night.
Mackay now looked confused. "But what about that last cry we heard?" he protested. "The captain was with us that time, and I never saw him take out a horn and blow it. So how do you explain that?"
Greison smiled slightly and handed the candle and horn to Mackay. "Really, my boy, what a short memory you have. Don't you remember our conversation about a snow leopard?" Then he cupped his hands over his mouth, uttering a high, piercing cry that sounded remarkably like the ram's horn. "That is the closest I can come, but it served the purpose."
"Aye, it was close enough to fool me," Foss acknowledged. "So what's going to happen to the captain now?"
"That is not up to me," Greison said. Then he turned to Chatang and began speaking in Tibetan, after which he sank down on the cot.
Looking at the rimpoche, Sir George Lennox began to laugh. "After the load of balls I've just had to endure, you're now going to turn me over to the Sherpa?" he said. "You might as well let me go right now, because these dogs aren't going to do anything to me. It's against their nature."
Chatang waved his hands, and the two Sherpas holding Lennox released their grips. The mountaineer shook his arms, then brushed his coat sleeves as if trying to remove a bad stain from them. Rising to his full height, which was considerable, he regarded Greison with a withering stare. "There is nothing you can do to me," he said icily. "There is nothing anyone can do to me. And there is nothing you can prove. You could have stolen that bear's paw and clawed up Ang yourself, Greison, then had one of these dogs slip it in my pocketwhen they were forcing me in here. You, or your friend, the High bloody Lama. You've already proven that you can howl like a yeti, so why couldn't you have done the rest, eh? So be damned, the whole lot of you!" He turned to Chatang with hatred in his eyes. "Especially you."
Rimpoche Chatang looked back, his gaze steady, but his expression was not one of anger. Instead, it was a look of pity. He spoke one word in Tibetan, then turned away.
"What did he say?" Lennox asked.
Greison stood up. "He said, 'leave.' That is your judgment."
"Leave? That's all?"
"That is all."
Sir George Lennox smiled defiantly. "Tell the red-skinned bastard to sod off," he said. "This is my bloody expedition, and I'll leave it only when I'm ready to leave it."
"You could, of course, defy his judgment and stay," Greison said, "but if you do, I will have no compunction about binding you with rope and leaving you in that condition until I can get you back down the mountain and to the British consulate, to whose officials I will tell the entire story."
Lennox looked from man to man, and seemed to realize for the first time that he no longer had a friend in the camp. "Flee or be turned in, eh?" he said. "All right, I'll go, and I'll get to the consulate first, and I'll tell them my side of the story. Who do you think they would be more likely to believe?"
Rimpoche Chatang spoke again, softly, and Greison translated: "He said, 'You will never escape the mountains.'"
"Is that so? Mackay, help me get a pack together. I'll leave right now and be down in two days."
Mackay stood where he was.
"Mackay, snap to it, boy! Give me a hand with my pack."
"No," Mackay said.
Lennox approached Mackay and for a moment it looked like he would strike the young man, but Mackay did not flinch. "So," Lennox sneered, "I suppose you feel like a man now, eh, boy? Defying your captain? Mutiny? Is that what you think it takes to put hair down below?"
Mackay returned Lennox's gaze. "I feel like a better man than you, Sir George."
"Aye," Foss said, "and that goes for me, too. Put your own damn pack together."
"All right, I will," Lennox said. "I'll leave here, and I'll make it back to civilization and see all of you exposed as slanderous liars. But here's the question, lads: will any of you make it back to civilization at all?"
"Is that a threat, Sir George?" Greison asked, tensely.
"A threat? No. It's a statement of fact. Without me to lead you, do you really think you'll get off of this mountain? Think about that, and once you have, bugger off, the stinking lot of you!" Sir George Lennox bolted through the tent flap and spent the next quarter hour tearing through the camp, putting together the provisions he would need for the descent, including taking down one of the tents and rolling it up to carry, and grasping a pickax to use as a walking stick. Then, defying the darkness and bitter cold, he started down the mountain.
Inside the tent, no one spoke. Then Mackay broke the silence. "You know he'll die out there."
"Aye," Foss said. "If we let him face the mountain at night, we're killing him as surely as he killed Ang and Nimu."
"No," Rimpoche Chatang said in English, surprising the mountaineers. "Not die. Never die. Gods of mountains will have, will have ..." The last word he spoke in Tibetan, leaving Greison to translate it as vengeance. Then Chatang and the other Sherpas solemnly filed out of the tent.
After the last one had gone, Mackay asked, "What did he mean, vengeance?"
"It means the mountain will claim him as another victim," Foss said.
Greison seated himself on a stool. "I daresay you are right, though perhaps not in the way you are thinking," he said. "Have you ever heard the legend behind the yeti?"
Foss and Mackay shook their heads.
"According to the legend, there was once a prince of this region who believed himself to be the ruler of the entire Himalayan range. He was proud and arrogant, and he defied the gods who are believed to inhabit these mountains. Angered by his arrogance, those gods cursed him to roam the mountains forever, not as a man, but rather as a lowly beast, feared and hated by all who encountered him. As aresult, the man ... who had now become the yeti ... hid from the eyes of other men, living out his eternal existence in misery and solitude. Well, that is the story, anyway. Mackay, is that watch of yours still working?"
Pulling the battered timepiece from his pocket, he opened the lid, and announced, "It's half past ten."
"The sun will be up before you know it. Chatang and I will set off for the monastery in the morning. We should all attempt to get some sleep. And for our safety, gentlemen, I suggest that we remain together, in one tent."
"Aye," said Foss.
"Right," muttered Mackay, putting his watch back in his pocket, and pulling out instead his battered journal and a stubby pencil.
"Crikey," muttered Mackay, shaking himself out of the memory. So long ago ... a lifetime ago ... had it really happened?
"Are you all right, Colonel?" Cynthia the nurse was asking.
"Hmmm? Oh, yes, quite."
"For a moment there you looked a bit ... I don't know ... lost."
"I am fine now," he said, working up a smile. Then he stared at the newspaper photograph again.
When Sir George Lennox left camp that night in May 1892, it was the last time anyone ever saw him. His disappearance was treated as death on the mountain, and he was hailed as a hero. Mackay, Foss, the man who called himself Greison, and the Sherpas, of course, made it back to the village without incident, and in the years that followed, Mackay never attempted to contradict the heroic legend surrounding Sir George Lennox, and sensed that no one would have believed him had he tried. Neither, to his knowledge, had Foss, with whom he had remained in contact until the bulldoggish mountaineer perished while on another expedition, not long after the turn of the century.
Outside of the Sherpas, whom Mackay never saw again, only one other man knew the truth.
Quite some time after the expedition, he had learned the true identity of the man who traveled under the names Sigerson and Greison. At the time of their meeting, of course, he had assumed, like the rest of the world, that Sherlock Holmes was dead. It was notuntil after the First World War that he had screwed up the courage to write a letter to him, addressing it simply to "S. Holmes, Sussex." In the letter he reintroduced himself and happened to mention that, while he never achieved the rank of major general, he at least could tell the difference between a Mauser rifle and a javelin.
It was nearly a year before the reply came, a brief note that read:
My dear Mackay:
I am delighted to hear you are well. And now that it is no longer a matter of life and death, let me confess that I have always detested Gilbert and Sullivan.
Mackay still had the note somewhere, along with his old journal. But for now, his full attention was on the newspaper photograph. Could it be true? Could it really be true?
Of course not, it's absurd, said his rational mind, his military mind. Still ...
With shaky, aged fingers, Colin Mackay folded the newspaper around the photograph and carefully tore along the creases until he had removed the photograph from the page. He would hang on to this one. For the first time in quite some time, he actually was looking forward to waking up the next day, just so he could spend the day contemplating the mystery of the picture, this alleged yeti photograph of Shipton's that showed the monstrous print of a left foot with the second toe missing ...
Just like the foot of Sir George Lennox.
SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE HIDDEN YEARS. Copyright © 2004 by Michael Kurland. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.