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Fire-Tongue by Sax Rohmer***

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This etext was prepared by Michael Delaney of Laurel, MD.


By Sax Rohmer




Some of Paul Harley's most interesting cases were brought to his
notice in an almost accidental way. Although he closed his office
in Chancery Lane sharply at the hour of six, the hour of six by
no means marked the end of his business day. His work was
practically ceaseless. But even in times of leisure, at the club
or theatre, fate would sometimes cast in his path the first
slender thread which was ultimately to lead him into some
unsuspected labyrinth, perhaps in the underworld of London,
perhaps in a city of the Far East.

His investigation of the case of the man with the shaven skull
afforded an instance of this, and even more notable was his first
meeting with Major Jack Ragstaff of the Cavalry Club, a meeting
which took place after the office had been closed, but which led
to the unmasking of perhaps the most cunning murderer in the
annals of crime.

One summer's evening when the little clock upon his table was
rapidly approaching the much-desired hour, Harley lay back in his
chair and stared meditatively across his private office in the
direction of a large and very handsome Burmese cabinet, which
seemed strangely out of place amid the filing drawers,
bookshelves, and other usual impedimenta of a professional man. A
peculiarly uninteresting week was drawing to a close, and he was
wondering if this betokened a decreased activity in the higher
criminal circles, or whether it was merely one of those usual
quiescent periods which characterize every form of warfare.

Paul Harley, although the fact was unknown to the general public,
occupied something of the position of an unofficial field marshal
of the forces arrayed against evildoers. Throughout the war he
had undertaken confidential work of the highest importance,
especially in regard to the Near East, with which he was
intimately acquainted. A member of the English bar, and the last
court of appeal to which Home Office and Foreign Office alike
came in troubled times, the brass plate upon the door of his
unassuming premises in Chancery Lane conveyed little or nothing
to the uninitiated.

The man himself, with his tropical bronze and air of eager
vitality, must have told the most careless observer that he stood
in the presence of an extraordinary personality. He was slightly
gray at the temples in these days, but young in mind and body,
physically fit, and possessed of an intellectual keenness which
had forced recognition from two hemispheres. His office was part
of an old city residence, and his chambers adjoined his workroom,
so that now, noting that his table clock registered the hour of
six, he pressed a bell which summoned Innes, his confidential

"Well, Innes," said Harley, looking around, "another uneventful

"Very uneventful, Mr. Harley. About a month of this and you will
have to resume practice at the bar."

Paul Harley laughed.

"Not a bit likely, Innes," he replied. "No more briefs for me. I
shall retire to Norfolk and devote my declining years to

"I don't know that fishing would entirely satisfy me," said

"It would more than satisfy me," returned Harley. "But every man
to his own ambition. Well, there is no occasion to wait; you
might as well get along. But what's that you've got in your

"Well," replied Innes, laying a card upon the table, "I was just
coming in with it when you rang."

Paul Harley glanced at the card.

"Sir Charles Abingdon," he read aloud, staring reflectively at
his secretary. "That is the osteologist?"

"Yes," answered Innes, "but I fancy he has retired from

"Ah," murmured Harley, "I wonder what he wants. I suppose I had
better see him, as I fancy that he and I met casually some years
ago in India. Ask him to come in, will you?"

Innes retiring, there presently entered a distinguished-looking,
elderly gentleman upon whose florid face rested an expression not
unlike that of embarrassment.

"Mr. Harley," he began, "I feel somewhat ill at ease in
encroaching upon your time, for I am by no means sure that my
case comes within your particular province."

"Sit down, Sir Charles," said Harley with quiet geniality.
"Officially, my working day is ended; but if nothing comes of
your visit beyond a chat it will have been very welcome.
Calcutta, was it not, where we last met?"

"It was," replied Sir Charles, placing his hat and cane upon the
table and sitting down rather wearily in a big leather armchair
which Harley had pushed forward. "If I presume upon so slight an
acquaintance, I am sorry, but I must confess that only the fact
of having met you socially encouraged me to make this visit."

He raised his eyes to Harley's face and gazed at him with that
peculiarly searching look which belongs to members of his
profession; but mingled with it was an expression of almost
pathetic appeal, of appeal for understanding, for sympathy of
some kind.

"Go on, Sir Charles," said Harley. He pushed forward a box of
cigars. "Will you smoke?"

"Thanks, no," was the answer.

Slr Charles evidently was oppressed by some secret trouble, thus
Harley mused silently, as, taking out a tin of tobacco from a
cabinet beside him, he began in leisurely manner to load a briar.
In this he desired to convey that he treated the visit as that of
a friend, and also, since business was over, that Sir Charles
might without scruple speak at length and at leisure of whatever
matters had brought him there.

"Very well, then," began the surgeon; "I am painfully conscious
that the facts which I am in a position to lay before you are
very scanty and unsatisfactory."

Paul Harley nodded encouragingly.

"If this were not so," he explained, "you would have no occasion
to apply to me, Sir Charles. It is my business to look for facts.
Naturally, I do not expect my clients to supply them."

Sir Charles slowly nodded his head, and seemed in some measure to
recover confidence.

"Briefly, then," he said, "I believe my life is in danger."

"You mean that there is someone who desires your death?"

"I do."

"H'm," said Harley, replacing the tin in the cupboard and
striking a match. "Even if the facts are scanty, no doubt you
have fairly substantial grounds for such a suspicion?"

"I cannot say that they are substantial, Mr. Harley. They are
rather more circumstantial. Frankly, I have forced myself to come
here, and now that I have intruded upon your privacy, I realize
my difficulties more keenly than ever."

The expression of embarrassment upon the speaker's face had grown
intense; and now he paused, bending forward in his chair. He
seemed in his glance to appeal for patience on the part of his
hearer, and Harley, lighting his pipe, nodded in understanding
fashion. He was the last man in the world to jump to conclusions.
He had learned by bitter experience that lightly to dismiss such
cases as this of Sir Charles as coming within the province of
delusion, was sometimes tantamount to refusing aid to a man in
deadly peril.

"You are naturally anxious for the particulars," Sir Charles
presently resumed. "They bear, I regret to say, a close
resemblance to the symptoms of a well-known form of
hallucination. In short, with one exception, they may practically
all be classed under the head of surveillance."

"Surveillance," said Paul Harley. "You mean that you are more or
less constantly followed?"

"I do."

"And what is your impression of this follower?"

"A very hazy one. To-night, as I came to your office, I have
every reason to believe that someone followed me in a taxicab."

"You came in a car?"

"I did."

"And a cab followed you the whole way?"

"Practically the whole way, except that as my chauffeur turned
into Chancery Lane, the cab stopped at the corner of Fleet

"Your idea is that your pursuer followed on foot from this

"Such was my impression."

"H'm, quite impossible. And is this sort of thing constant, Sir

"It has been for some time past."

"Anything else?"

"One very notable thing, Mr. Harley. I was actually assaulted
less than a week ago within sight of my own house."

"Indeed! Tell me of this." Paul Harley became aware of an
awakening curiosity. Sir Charles Abingdon was not the type of man
who is lightly intimidated.

"I had been to visit a friend in the neighbourhood," Sir Charles
continued, "whom I am at present attending professionally,
although I am actually retired. I was returning across the
square, close to midnight, when, fortunately for myself, I
detected the sound of light, pattering footsteps immediately
behind me. The place was quite deserted at that hour, and
although I was so near home, the worst would have happened, I
fear, if my sense of hearing had been less acute. I turned in the
very instant that a man was about to spring upon me from behind.
He was holding in his hand what looked like a large silk
handkerchief. This encounter took place in the shadow of some
trees, and beyond the fact that my assailant was a small man, I
could form no impression of his identity."

"What did you do?"

"I turned and struck out with my stick."

"And then?"

"Then he made no attempt to contest the issue, but simply ran
swiftly off, always keeping in the shadows of the trees."

"Very strange," murmured Harley. "Do you think he had meant to
drug you?"

"Maybe," replied Sir Charles. "The handkerchief was perhaps
saturated with some drug, or he may even have designed to attempt
to strangle me."

"And you formed absolutely no impression of the man?"

"None whatever, Mr. Harley. When you see the spot at which the
encounter took place, if you care to do so, you will recognize
the difficulties. It is perfectly dark there after nightfall."

"H'm," mused Harley. "A very alarming occurrence, Sir Charles. It
must have shaken you very badly. But we must not overlook the
possibility that this may have been an ordinary footpad."

"His methods were scarcely those of a footpad," murmured Sir

"I quite agree," said Harley. "They were rather Oriental, if I
may say so."

Sir Charles Abingdon started. "Oriental!" he whispered. "Yes, you
are right."

"Does this suggest a train of thought?" prompted Harley.

Sir Charles Abingdon cleared his throat nervously. "It does, Mr.
Harley," he admitted, "but a very confusing train of thought. It
leads me to a point which I must mention, but which concerns a
very well-known man. Before I proceed I should like to make it
clear that I do not believe for a moment that he is responsible
for this unpleasant business."

Harley stared at him curiously. "Nevertheless," he said, "there
must be some data in your possession which suggest to your mind
that he has some connection with it."

"There are, Mr. Harley, and I should be deeply indebted if you
could visit my house this evening, when I could place this
evidence, if evidence it may be called, before you. I find myself
in so delicate a position. If you are free I should welcome your
company at dinner."

Paul Harley seemed to be reflecting.

"Of course, Sir Charles," he said, presently, "your statement is
very interesting and curious, and I shall naturally make a point
of going fully into the matter. But before proceeding further
there are two questions I should like to ask you. The first is
this: What is the name of the 'well-known' man to whom you refer?
And the second: If not he then whom do you suspect of being
behind all this?"

"The one matter is so hopelessly involved in the other," he
finally replied, "that although I came here prepared as I thought
with a full statement of the case, I should welcome a further
opportunity of rearranging the facts before imparting them to
you. One thing, however, I have omitted to mention. It is,
perhaps, of paramount importance. There was a robbery at my house
less than a week ago."

"What! A robbery! Tell me: what was stolen?"

"Nothing of the slightest value, Mr. Harley, to any one but
myself--or so I should have supposed." The speaker coughed
nervously. "The thief had gained admittance to my private study,
where there are several cases of Oriental jewellery and a number
of pieces of valuable gold and silverware, all antique. At what
hour he came, how he gained admittance, and how he retired, I
cannot imagine. All the doors were locked as usual in the morning
and nothing was disturbed."

"I don't understand, then."

"I chanced to have occasion to open my bureau which I invariably
keep locked. Immediately--immediately--I perceived that my papers
were disarranged. Close examination revealed the fact that a
short manuscript in my own hand, which had been placed in one of
the pigeonholes, was missing."

"A manuscript," murmured Harley. "Upon a technical subject?"

"Scarcely a technical subject, Mr. Harley. It was a brief account
which I had vaguely contemplated publishing in one of the
reviews, a brief account of a very extraordinary patient whom I
once attended."

"And had you written it recently?"

"No; some years ago. But I had recently added to it. I may say
that it was my purpose still further to add to it, and with this
object I had actually unlocked the bureau."

"New facts respecting this patient had come into your

"They had."

"Before the date of the attack upon you?"

"Before that date, yes."

"And before surveillance of your movements began?"

"I believe so."

"May I suggest that your patient and the 'well-known man' to whom
you referred are one and the same?"

"It is not so, Mr. Harley," returned Sir Charles in a tired
voice. "Nothing so simple. I realize more than ever that I must
arrange my facts in some sort of historical order. Therefore I
ask you again: will you dine with me to-night?"

"With pleasure," replied Harley, promptly. "I have no other

That his ready acceptance had immensely relieved the troubled
mind of Sir Charles was evident enough. His visitor stood up. "I
am not prone to sickly fancies, Mr. Harley," he said. "But a
conviction has been growing upon me for some time that I have
incurred, how I cannot imagine, but that nevertheless I have
incurred powerful enmity. I trust our evening's counsel may
enable you, with your highly specialized faculties, to detect an

And it was instructive to note how fluently he spoke now that he
found himself temporarily relieved of the necessity of confessing
the source of his mysterious fears.


Paul Harley stepped into his car in Chancery Lane. "Drive in the
direction of Hyde Park Corner," he directed the chauffeur. "Go
along the Strand."

Glancing neither right nor left, he entered the car, and
presently they were proceeding slowly with the stream of traffic
in the Strand. "Pull up at the Savoy," he said suddenly through
the tube.

The car slowed down in that little bay which contains the
entrance to the hotel, and Harley stared fixedly out of the rear
window, observing the occupants of all other cars and cabs which
were following. For three minutes or more he remained there
watching. "Go on," he directed.

Again they proceeded westward and, half-way along Piccadilly,
"Stop at the Ritz," came the order.

The car pulled up before the colonnade and Harley, stepping out,
dismissed the man and entered the hotel, walked through to the
side entrance, and directed a porter to get him a taxicab. In
this he proceeded to the house of Sir Charles Abingdon. He had
been seeking to learn whether he was followed, but in none of the
faces he had scrutinized had he detected any interest in himself,
so that his idea that whoever was watching Sir Charles in all
probability would have transferred attention to himself remained
no more than an idea. For all he had gained by his tactics, Sir
Charles's theory might be no more than a delusion after all.

The house of Sir Charles Abingdon was one of those small,
discreet establishments, the very neatness of whose appointments
inspires respect for the occupant. If anything had occurred
during the journey to suggest to Harley that Sir Charles was
indeed under observation by a hidden enemy, the suave British
security and prosperity of his residence must have destroyed the

As the cab was driven away around the corner, Harley paused for a
moment, glancing about him to right and left and up at the neatly
curtained windows. In the interval which had elapsed since Sir
Charles's departure from his office, he had had leisure to survey
the outstanding features of the story, and, discounting in his
absence the pathetic sincerity of the narrator, he had formed the
opinion that there was nothing in the account which was not
susceptible of an ordinary prosaic explanation.

Sir Charles's hesitancy in regard to two of the questions asked
had contained a hint that they might involve intimate personal
matters, and Harley was prepared to learn that the source of the
distinguished surgeon's dread lay in some unrevealed episode of
the past. Beyond the fact that Sir Charles was a widower, he knew
little or nothing of his private life; and he was far too
experienced an investigator to formulate theories until all the
facts were in his possession. Therefore it was with keen interest
that he looked forward to the interview.

Familiarity with crime, in its many complexions, East and West,
had developed in Paul Harley a sort of sixth sense. It was an
evasive, fickle thing, but was nevertheless the attribute which
had made him an investigator of genius. Often enough it failed
him entirely. It had failed him to-night--or else no one had
followed him from Chancery Lane.

It had failed him earlier in the evening when, secretly, he had
watched from the office window Sir Charles's car proceeding
toward the Strand. That odd, sudden chill, as of an abrupt
lowering of the temperature, which often advised him of the
nearness of malignant activity, had not been experienced.

Now, standing before Sir Charles's house, he "sensed" the
atmosphere keenly--seeking for the note of danger.

There had been a thunder shower just before he had set out, and
now, although rain had ceased, the sky remained blackly overcast
and a curious, dull stillness was come. The air had a welcome
freshness and the glistening pavements looked delightfully cool
after the parching heat of the day. In the quiet square, no
doubt, it was always restful in contrast with the more busy
highroads, and in the murmur of distant traffic he found
something very soothing. About him then were peace, prosperity,
and security.

Yet, as he stood there, waiting--it came to him: the note of
danger. Swiftly he looked to right and left, trying to penetrate
the premature dusk. The whole complexion of the matter changed.
Some menace intangible now, but which at any moment might become
evident--lay near him. It was sheer intuition, no doubt, but it
convinced him.

A moment later he had rung the bell; and as a man opened the
door, showing a easy and well-lighted lobby within, the fear aura
no longer touched Paul Harley. Out from the doorway came hominess
and that air of security and peace which had seemed to
characterize the house when viewed from outside. The focus of
menace, therefore, lay not inside the house of Sir Charles but
without. It was very curious. In the next instant came a possible

"Mr. Paul Harley?" said the butler tentatively.

"Yes, I am he."

"Sir Charles is expecting you, sir. He apologizes for not being
in to receive you. but he will only be absent a few minutes."

"Sir Charles has been called out?" inquired Harley as he handed
hat and coat to the man.

"Yes, sir. He is attending Mr. Chester Wilson on the other side
of the square, and Mr. Wilson's man rang up a few moments ago
requesting Sir Charles to step across."

"I see," murmured Harley, as the butler showed him into a small
but well-filled library on the left of the lobby.

Refreshments were set invitingly upon a table beside a deep
lounge chair. But Harley declined the man's request to refresh
himself while waiting and began aimlessly to wander about the
room, apparently studying the titles of the works crowding the
bookshelves. As a matter of fact, he was endeavouring to arrange
certain ideas in order, and if he had been questioned on the
subject it is improbable that he could have mentioned the title
of one book in the library.

His mental equipment was of a character too rarely met with in
the profession to which he belonged. While up to the very moment
of reaching Sir Charles's house he had doubted the reality of the
menace which hung over this man, the note of danger which he had
sensed at the very threshold had convinced him, where more
ordinary circumstantial evidence might have left him in doubt.

It was perhaps pure imagination, but experience had taught him
that it was closely allied to clairvoyance.

Now upon his musing there suddenly intruded sounds of a muffled
altercation. That is to say, the speakers, who were evidently in
the lobby beyond the library door, spoke in low tones, perhaps in
deference to the presence of a visitor. Harley was only mildly
interested, but the voices had broken his train of thought, and
when presently the door opened to admit a very neat but rather
grim-looking old lady he started, then looked across at her with
a smile.

Some of the grimness faded from the wrinkled old face, and the
housekeeper, for this her appearance proclaimed her to be, bowed
in a queer Victorian fashion which suggested that a curtsy might
follow. One did not follow, however. "I am sure I apologize,
sir," she said. "Benson did not tell me you had arrived."

"That's quite all right," said Harley, genially.

His smile held a hint of amusement, for in the comprehensive
glance which the old lady cast across the library, a glance keen
to detect disorder and from which no speck of dust could hope to
conceal itself, there remained a trace of that grimness which he
had detected at the moment of her entrance. In short, she was
still bristling from a recent encounter. So much so that
detecting something sympathetic in Harley's smile she availed
herself of the presence of a badly arranged vase of flowers to
linger and to air her grievances.

"Servants in these times," she informed him, her fingers busily
rearranging the blooms, "are not what servants were in my young

"Unfortunately, that is so," Harley agreed.

The old lady tossed her head. "I do my best," she continued, "but
that girl would not have stayed in the house for one week if I
had had my way. Miss Phil is altogether too soft-hearted. Thank
goodness, she goes to-morrow, though."

"You don't refer to Miss Phil?" said Harley, intentionally

"Gracious goodness, no!" exclaimed the house keeper, and laughed
with simple glee at the joke. "I mean Jones, the new parlourmaid.
When I say new, they are all new, for none of them stay longer
than three months."

"Indeed," smiled Harley, who perceived that the old lady was
something of a martinet.

"Indeed, they don't. Think they are ladies nowadays. Four hours
off has that girl had to-day, although she was out on Wednesday.
Then she has the impudence to allow someone to ring her up here
at the house; and finally I discover her upsetting the table
after Benson had laid it and after I had rearranged it."

She glanced indignantly in the direction of the lobby. "Perhaps
one day," she concluded, pathetically, as she walked slowly from
the room, "we shall find a parlourmaid who is a parlourmaid. Good
evening, sir,"

"Good evening," said Harley, quietly amused to be made the
recipient of these domestic confidences.

He continued to smile for some time after the door had been
closed. His former train of ideas was utterly destroyed, but for
this he was not ungrateful to the housekeeper, since the
outstanding disadvantage of that strange gift resembling
prescience was that it sometimes blunted the purely analytical
part of his mind when this should have been at its keenest. He
was now prepared to listen to what Sir Charles had to say and to
judge impartially of its evidential value.

Wandering from side to side of the library, he presently found
himself standing still before the mantelpiece and studying a
photograph in a silver frame which occupied the centre of the
shelf. It was the photograph of an unusually pretty girl; that is
to say, of a girl whose beauty was undeniable, but who belonged
to a type widely removed from that of the ordinary good-looking

The outline of her face was soft and charming, and there was a
questioning look in her eyes which was alluring and challenging.
Her naive expression was palpably a pose, and her slightly parted
lips promised laughter. She possessed delightfully wavy hair and
her neck and one shoulder, which were bare, had a Grecian purity.
Harley discovered himself to be smiling at the naive lady of the

"Presumably 'Miss Phil'," he said aloud.

He removed his gaze with reluctance from the fascinating picture,
and dropping into the big lounge chair, he lighted a cigarette.
He had just placed the match in an ash tray when he heard Sir
Charles's voice in the lobby, and a moment later Sir Charles
himself came hurrying into the library. His expression was so
peculiar that Harley started up immediately, perceiving that
something unusual had happened.

"My dear Mr. Harley," began Sir Charles, "in the first place pray
accept my apologies--"

"None are necessary," Harley interrupted. "Your excellent
housekeeper has entertained me vastly."

"Good, good," muttered Sir Charles. "I am obliged to Mrs.
Howett," and it was plainly to be seen that his thoughts were
elsewhere. "But I have to relate a most inexplicable
occurrence--inexplicable unless by some divine accident the plan
has been prevented from maturing."

"What do you mean, Sir Charles?"

"I was called ten minutes ago by someone purporting to be the
servant of Mr. Chester Wilson, that friend and neighbour whom I
have been attending."

"So your butler informed me."

"My dear sir," cried Sir Charles, and the expression in his eyes
grew almost wild, "no one in Wilson's house knew anything about
the matter!"

"What! It was a ruse?"

"Palpably a ruse to get me away from home."

Harley dropped his cigarette into the ash tray beside the match,
where, smouldering, it sent up a gray spiral into the air of the
library. Whether because of his words or because of the presence
of the man himself, the warning, intuitive finger had again
touched Paul Harley. "You saw or heard nothing on your way across
the square to suggest that any one having designs on your safety
was watching you?"

"Nothing. I searched the shadows most particularly on my return
journey, of course. For the thing cannot have been purposeless."

"I quite agree with you," said Paul Harley, quietly.

Between the promptings of that uncanny sixth sense of his and the
working of the trained deductive reasoning powers, he was
momentarily at a loss. Some fact, some episode, a memory, was
clamouring for recognition, while the intuitive, subconscious
voice whispered: "This man is in danger; protect him." What was
the meaning of it all? He felt that a clue lay somewhere outside
the reach of his intelligence, and a sort of anger possessed him
because of his impotence to grasp it.

Sir Charles was staring at him in that curiously pathetic way
which he had observed at their earlier interview in Chancery
Large. "In any event," said his host, "let us dine: for already I
have kept you waiting."

Harley merely bowed, and walking out of the library, entered the
cosy dining room. A dreadful premonition had claimed him as his
glance had met that of Sir Charles--a premonition that this man's
days were numbered. It was uncanny, unnerving; and whereas, at
first, the atmosphere of Sir Charles Abingdon's home had been
laden with prosperous security, now from every side, and even
penetrating to the warmly lighted dining room, came that chilling
note of danger.

In crossing the lobby he had not failed to note that there were
many Indian curios in the place which could not well have failed
to attract the attention of a burglar. But that the person who
had penetrated to the house was no common burglar he was now
assured and he required no further evidence upon this point.

As he took his seat at the dining table he observed that Sir
Charles's collection had overflowed even into this room. In the
warm shadows about him were pictures and ornaments, all of which
came from, or had been inspired by, the Far East.

In this Oriental environment lay an inspiration. The terror which
had come into Sir Charles's life, the invisible menace which,
swordlike, hung over him, surely belonged in its eerie quality to
the land of temple bells, of silent, subtle peoples, to the
secret land which has bred so many mysteries. Yes, he must look
into the past, into the Indian life of Sir Charles Abingdon, for
the birth of this thing which now had grown into a shadow almost

Benson attended at table, assisted by a dark-faced and very
surly-looking maid, in whom Harley thought he recognized the
housekeeper's bete noire.

When presently both servants had temporarily retired. "You see,
Mr. Harley," began Sir Charles, glancing about his own room in a
manner almost furtive, "I realized to-day at your office that the
history of this dread which has come upon me perhaps went back so
far that it was almost impossible to acquaint you with it under
the circumstances."

"I quite understand."

"I think perhaps I should inform you in the first place that I
have a daughter. Her mother has been dead for many years, and
perhaps I have not given her the attention which a motherless
girl is entitled to expect from her father. I don't mean," he
said, hastily, "that we are in any sense out of sympathy, but
latterly in some way I must confess that we have got a little out
of touch." He glanced anxiously at his guest, indeed almost
apologetically. "You will of course understand, Mr. Harley, that
this seeming preamble may prove to have a direct bearing upon
what I propose to tell you?"

"Pray tell the story in your own way, Sir Charles," said Harley
with sympathy. "I am all attention, and I shall only interrupt
you in the event of any point not being quite clear."

"Thank you," said Sir Charles. "I find it so much easier to
explain the matter now. To continue, there is a certain
distinguished Oriental gentleman "

He paused as Benson appeared to remove the soup plates.

"It is always delightful to chat with one who knows India so well
as you do," he continued, glancing significantly at his guest.

Paul Harley, who fully appreciated the purpose of this abrupt
change in the conversation, nodded in agreement. "The call of the
East," he replied, "is a very real thing. Only one who has heard
it can understand and appreciate all it means."

The butler, an excellently trained servant, went about his work
with quiet efficiency, and once Harley heard him mutter rapid
instructions to the surly parlourmaid, who hovered disdainfully
in the background. When again host and guest found themselves
alone: "I don't in any way distrust the servants," explained Sir
Charles, "but one cannot hope to prevent gossip." He raised his
serviette to his lips and almost immediately resumed: "I was
about to tell you, Mr. Harley, about my daughter's--"

He paused and cleared his throat, then, hastily pouring out a
glass of water, he drank a sip or two and Paul Harley noticed
that his hand was shaking nervously. He thought of the photograph
in the library, and now, in this reference to a distinguished
Oriental gentleman, he suddenly perceived the possible drift of
the conversation.

This was the point to which Sir Charles evidently experienced
such difficulty in coming. It was something which concerned his
daughter; and, mentally visualizing the pure oval face and
taunting eyes of the library photograph, Harley found it
impossible to believe that the evil which threatened Sir Charles
could possibly be associated in any way with Phyllis Abingdon.

Yet, if the revelation which he had to make must be held
responsible for his present condition, then truly it was a
dreadful one. No longer able to conceal his concern, Harley stood
up. "If the story distresses you so keenly, Sir Charles," he
said, "I beg--"

Sir Charles waved his hand reassuringly. "A mere nothing. It will
pass," he whispered.

"But I fear," continued Harley, "that--"

He ceased abruptly, and ran to his host's assistance, for the
latter, evidently enough, was in the throes of some sudden
illness or seizure. His fresh-coloured face was growing
positively livid, and he plucked at the edge of the table with
twitching fingers. As Harley reached his side he made a sudden
effort to stand up, throwing out his arm to grasp the other's

"Benson!" cried Harley, loudly. "Quick! Your master is ill!"

There came a sound of swift footsteps and the door was thrown

"Too late," whispered Sir Charles in a choking voice. He began to
clutch his throat as Benson hurried into the room.

"My God!" whispered Harley. "He is dying!"

Indeed, the truth was all too apparent. Sir Charles Abingdon was
almost past speech. He was glaring across the table as though he
saw some ghastly apparition there. And now with appalling
suddenness he became as a dead weight in Harley's supporting
grasp. Raspingly, as if forced in agony from his lips:

"Fire-Tongue," he said . . . "Nicol Brinn..."

Benson, white and terror-stricken, bent over him.

"Sir Charles!" he kept muttering. "Sir Charles! What is the
matter, sir?"

A stifled shriek sounded from the doorway, and in tottered Mrs.
Howett, the old housekeeper, with other servants peering over her
shoulder into that warmly lighted dining room where Sir Charles
Abingdon lay huddled in his own chair--dead.


"Had you reason to suspect any cardiac trouble, Doctor
McMurdoch?" asked Harley.

Doctor McMurdoch, a local practitioner who had been a friend of
Sir Charles Abingdon, shook his head slowly. He was a tall,
preternaturally thin Scotsman, clean-shaven, with shaggy dark
brows and a most gloomy expression in his deep-set eyes. While
the presence of his sepulchral figure seemed appropriate enough
in that stricken house, Harley could not help thinking that it
must have been far from reassuring in a sick room.

"I had never actually detected anything of the kind," replied the
physician, and his deep voice was gloomily in keeping with his
personality. "I had observed a certain breathlessness at times,
however. No doubt it is one of those cases of on suspected
endocarditis. Acute. I take it," raising his shaggy brows
interrogatively, "that nothing had occurred to excite Sir

"On the contrary," replied Harley, "he was highly distressed
about some family trouble, the nature of which he was about to
confide to me when this sudden illness seized him."

He stared hard at Doctor McMurdoch, wondering how much he might
hope to learn from him respecting the affairs of Sir Charles. It
seemed almost impertinent at that hour to seek to pry into the
dead man's private life.

To the quiet, book-lined apartment stole now and again little
significant sounds which told of the tragedy in the household.
Sometimes when a distant door was opened, it would be the sobs of
a weeping woman, for the poor old housekeeper had been quite
prostrated by the blow. Or ghostly movements would become audible
from the room immediately over the library--the room to which the
dead man had been carried; muffled footsteps, vague stirrings of
furniture; each sound laden with its own peculiar portent,
awakening the imagination which all too readily filled in the
details of the scene above. Then, to spur Harley to action, came
the thought that Sir Charles Abingdon had appealed to him for
aid. Did his need terminate with his unexpected death or would
the shadow under which he had died extend nowHarley found himself
staring across the library at the photograph of Phil Abingdon. It
was of her that Sir Charles had been speaking when that
mysterious seizure had tied his tongue. That strange, fatal
illness, mused Harley, all the more strange in the case of a man
supposedly in robust health--it almost seemed like the working of
a malignant will. For the revelation, whatever its nature, had
almost but not quite been made in Harley's office that evening.
Something, some embarrassment or mental disability, had stopped
Sir Charles from completing his statement. Tonight death had
stopped him.

"Was he consulting you professionally, Mr. Harley?" asked the

"He was," replied Harley, continuing to stare fascinatedly at the
photograph on the mantelpiece. "I am informed," said he,
abruptly, "that Miss Abingdon is out of town?"

Doctor McMurdoch nodded in his slow, gloomy fashion. "She is
staying in Devonshire with poor Abingdon's sister," he answered.
"I am wondering how we are going to break the news to her."

Perceiving that Doctor McMurdoch had clearly been intimate with
the late Sir Charles, Harley determined to make use of this
opportunity to endeavour to fathom the mystery of the late
surgeon's fears. "You will not misunderstand me, Doctor
McMurdoch," he said, "if I venture to ask you one or two rather
personal questions respecting Miss Abingdon?"

Doctor McMurdoch lowered his shaggy brows and looked gloomily at
the speaker. "Mr. Harley," he replied, "I know you by repute for
a man of integrity. But before I answer your questions will you
answer one of mine?"


"Then my question is this: Does not your interest cease with the
death of your client?"

"Doctor McMurdoch," said Harley, sternly, "you no doubt believe
yourself to be acting as a friend of this bereaved family. You
regard me, perhaps, as a Paul Pry prompted by idle curiosity. On
the contrary, I find myself in a delicate and embarrassing
situation. From Sir Charles's conversation I had gathered that he
entertained certain fears on behalf of his daughter."

"Indeed," said Doctor McMurdoch.

"If these fears were well grounded, the danger is not removed,
but merely increased by the death of Miss Abingdon's natural
protector. I regret, sir, that I approached you for information,
since you have misjudged my motive. But far from my interest
having ceased, it has now as I see the matter become a sacred
duty to learn what it was that Sir Charles apprehended. This
duty, Doctor McMurdoch, I propose to fulfil with or without your

"Oh," said Doctor McMurdoch, gloomily, "I'm afraid I've offended
you. But I meant well, Mr. Harley." A faint trace of human
emotion showed itself in his deep voice. "Charley Abingdon and I
were students together in Edinburgh," he explained. "I was mayhap
a little strange."

His apology was so evidently sincere that Harley relented at
once. "Please say no more, Doctor McMurdoch," he responded. "I
fully appreciate your feelings in the matter. At such a time a
stranger can only be an intruder; but"--he fixed his keen eyes
upon the physician--"there is more underlying all this than you
suspect or could readily believe. You will live to know that I
have spoken the truth."

"I know it now," declared the Scotsman, solemnly. "Abingdon was
always eccentric, but he didn't know the meaning of fear."

"Once that may have been true," replied Harley. "But a great fear
was upon him when he came to me, Doctor McMurdoch, and if it is
humanly possible I am going to discover its cause."

"Go ahead," said Doctor McMurdoch and, turning to the side table,
he poured out two liberal portions of whiskey. "If there's
anything I can do to help, count me at your service. You tell me
he had fears about little Phil?"

"He had," answered Harley, "and it is maddening to think that he
died before he could acquaint me with their nature. But I have
hopes that you can help me in this. For instance"--again he fixed
his gaze upon the gloomy face of the physician-"who is the
distinguished Oriental gentleman with whom Sir Charles had
recently become acquainted?"

Doctor McMurdoch's expression remained utterly blank, and he
slowly shook his head. "I haven't an idea in the world," he
declared. "A patient, perhaps?"

"Possibly," said Harley, conscious of some disappointment; "yet
from the way he spoke of him I scarcely think that he was a
patient. Surely Sir Charles, having resided so long in India,
numbered several Orientals among his acquaintances if not among
his friends?"

"None ever came to his home," replied Doctor McMurdoch. "He had
all the Anglo-Indian's prejudice against men of colour." He
rested his massive chin in his hand and stared down reflectively
at the carpet.

"Then you have no suggestion to offer in regard to this person?"

"None. Did he tell you nothing further about him?"

"Unfortunately, nothing. In the next place, Doctor McMurdoch, are
you aware of any difference of opinion which had arisen latterly
between Sir Charles and his daughter?"

"Difference of opinion!" replied Doctor McMur doch, raising his
brows ironically. "There would always be difference of opinion
between little Phil and any man who cared for her. But
out-and-out quarrel--no!"

Again Harley found himself at a deadlock, and it was with scanty
hope of success that he put his third question to the gloomy
Scot. "Was Sir Charles a friend of Mr. Nicol Brinn?" he asked.

"Nicol Brinn?" echoed the physician. He looked perplexed. "You
mean the American millionaire? I believe they were acquainted.
Abingdon knew most of the extraordinary people in London; and if
half one hears is true Nicol Brinn is as mad as a hatter. But
they were not in any sense friends as far as I know." He was
watching Harley curiously. "Why do you ask that question?"

"I will tell you in a moment," said Harley, rapidly, "but I have
one more question to put to you first. Does the term Fire-Tongue
convey anything to your mind?"

Doctor McMurdoch's eyebrows shot upward most amazingly. "I won't
insult you by supposing that you have chosen such a time for
joking," he said, dourly. "But if your third question surprised
me, I must say that your fourth sounds simply daft."

"It must," agreed Harley, and his manner was almost fierce; "but
when I tell you why I ask these two questions--and I only do so
on the understand ing that my words are to be treated in the
strictest confidence--you may regard the matter in a new light.
'Nicol Brinn' and 'Fire-Tongue' were the last words which Sir
Charles Abingdon uttered."

"What!" cried Doctor McMurdoch, displaying a sudden surprising
energy. "What?"

"I solemnly assure you," declared Harley, "that such is the case.
Benson, the butler, also overheard them."

Doctor McMurdoch relapsed once more into gloom, gazing at the
whiskey in the glass which he held in his hand and slowly shaking
his head. "Poor old Charley Abingdon," he murmured. "It's plain
to me, Mr. Harley, that his mind was wandering. May not we find
here an explanation, too, of this idea of his that some danger
overhung Phil? You didn't chance to notice, I suppose, whether he
had a temperature?"

"I did not," replied Harley, smiling slightly. But the smile
quickly left his face, which became again grim and stern.

A short silence ensued, during which Doctor McMurdoch sat staring
moodily down at the carpet and. Harley slowly paced up and down
the room; then:

"In view of the fact," he said, suddenly, "that Sir Charles
clearly apprehended an attempt upon his life, are you satisfied
professionally that death was due to natural causes?"

"Perfectly satisfied," replied the physician, looking up with a
start: "perfectly satisfied. It was unexpected, of course, but
such cases are by no means unusual. He was formerly a keen
athlete, remember. 'Tis often so. Surely you don't suspect foul
play? I understood you to mean that his apprehensions were on
behalf of Phil."

Paul Harley stood still, staring meditatively in the other's
direction. "There is not a scrap of evidence to support such a
theory," he admitted, "but if you knew of the existence of any
poisonous agent which would produce effects simulating these
familiar symptoms, I should be tempted to take certain steps."

"If you are talking about poisons," said the physician, a rather
startled look appearing upon his face, "there are several I might
mention; but the idea seems preposterous to me. Why should any
one want to harm Charley Abingdon? When could poison have been
administered and by whom?"

"When, indeed?" murmured Harley. "Yet I am not satisfied."

"You're not hinting at--suicide?"

"Emphatically no."

"What had he eaten?"

"Nothing but soup, except that he drank a portion of a glass of
water. I am wondering if he took anything at Mr. Wilson's house."
He stared hard at Doctor McMurdoch. "It may surprise you to learn
that I have already taken steps to have the remains of the soup
from Sir Charles's plate examined, as well as the water in the
glass. I now propose to call upon Mr. Wilson in order that I may
complete this line of enquiry."

"I sympathize with your suspicions, Mr. Harley," said the
physician dourly, "but you are wasting your time." A touch of the
old acidity crept back into his manner. "My certificate will be
'syncope due to unusual excitement'; and I shall stand by it."

"You are quite entitled to your own opinion," Harley conceded,
"which if I were in your place would be my own. But what do you
make of the fact that Sir Charles received a bogus telephone
message some ten minutes before my arrival, as a result of which
he visited Mr. Wilson's house?"

"But he's attending Wilson," protested the physician.

"Nevertheless, no one there had telephoned. It was a ruse. I
don't assume for a moment that this ruse was purposeless."

Doctor McMurdoch was now staring hard at the speaker.

"You may also know," Harley continued, "that there was an
attempted burglary here less than a week ago."

"I know that," admitted the other, "but it counts for little.
There have been several burglaries in the neighbourhood of late."

Harley perceived that Doctor McMurdoch was one of those
characters, not uncommon north of the Tweed, who, if slow in
forming an opinion, once having done so cling to it as tightly as
any barnacle.

"You may be right and I may be wrong," Harley admitted, "but
while your professional business with Sir Charles unfortunately
is ended, mine is only beginning. May I count upon you to advise
me of Miss Abingdon's return? I particularly wish to see her, and
I should prefer to meet her in the capacity of a friend rather
than in that of a professional investigator."

"At the earliest moment that I can decently arrange a meeting,"
replied Doctor McMurdoch, "I will communicate with you, Mr.
Harley. I am just cudgelling my brains at the moment to think how
the news is to be broken to her. Poor little Phil! He was all she

"I wish I could help you," declared Harley with sincerity, "but
in the circumstances any suggestion of mine would be mere
impertinence." He held out his hand to the doctor.

"Good-night," said the latter, gripping it heartily. "If there is
any mystery surrounding poor Abingdon's death, I believe you are
the man to clear it up. But, frankly, it was his heart. I believe
he had a touch of the sun once in India. Who knows? His idea that
some danger threatened him or threatened Phil may have been
merely--" He tapped his brow significantly.

"But in the whole of your knowledge of Sir Charles," cried
Harley, exhibiting a certain irritation, "have you ever known him
to suffer from delusions of that kind or any other?"

"Never," replied the physician, firmly; "but once a man has had
the sun one cannot tell."

"Ah!" said Harley. "Good-night, Doctor McMurdoch."

When presently he left the house, carrying a brown leather bag
which he had borrowed from the butler, he knew that rightly or
wrongly his own opinion remained unchanged in spite of the
stubborn opposition of the Scottish physician. The bogus message
remained to be explained, and the assault in the square, as did
the purpose of the burglar to whom gold and silver plate made no
appeal. More important even than these points were the dead man's
extraordinary words: "Fire-Tongue"--"Nicol Brinn." Finally and
conclusively, he had detected the note of danger outside and
inside the house; and now as he began to cross the square it
touched him again intimately.

He looked up at the darkened sky. A black cloud was moving slowly
overhead, high above the roof of the late Sir Charles Abingdon;
and as he watched its stealthy approach it seemed to Paul Harley
to be the symbol of that dread in which latterly Sir Charles's
life had lain, beneath which he had died, and which now was
stretching out, mysterious and menacing, over himself.


At about nine o'clock on the same evening, a man stood at a large
window which over looked Piccadilly and the Green Park The room
to which the window belonged was justly considered one of the
notable sights of London and doubtless would have received
suitable mention in the "Blue Guide" had the room been accessible
to the general public. It was, on the contrary, accessible only
to the personal friends of Mr. Nicol Brinn. As Mr. Nicol Brinn
had a rarely critical taste in friendship, none but a fortunate
few had seen the long room with its two large windows overlooking

The man at the window was interested in a car which, approaching
from the direction of the Circus, had slowed down immediately
opposite and now was being turned, the chauffeur's apparent
intention being to pull up at the door below. He had seen the
face of the occupant and had recognized it even from that
elevation. He was interested; and since only unusual things
aroused any semblance of interest in the man who now stood at the
window, one might have surmised that there was something unusual
about the present visitor, or in his having decided to call at
those chambers; and that such was indeed his purpose an upward
glance which he cast in the direction of the balcony sufficiently

The watcher, who had been standing in a dark recess formed by the
presence of heavy velvet curtains draped before the window, now
opened the curtains and stepped into the lighted room. He was a
tall, lean man having straight, jet-black hair, a sallow
complexion, and the features of a Sioux. A long black cigar
protruded aggressively from the left corner of his mouth. His
hands were locked behind him and his large and quite
expressionless blue eyes stared straight across the room at the
closed door with a dreamy and vacant regard. His dinner jacket
fitted him so tightly that it might have been expected at any
moment to split at the seams. As if to precipitate the
catastrophe, he wore it buttoned.

There came a rap at the door.

"In!" said the tall man.

The door opened silently and a manservant appeared. He was
spotlessly neat and wore his light hair cropped close to the
skull. His fresh-coloured face was quite as expressionless as
that of his master; his glance possessed no meaning. Crossing to
the window, he extended a small salver upon which lay a visiting

"In!" repeated the tall man, looking down at the card.

His servant silently retired, and following a short interval
rapped again upon the door, opened it, and standing just inside
the room announced: "Mr. Paul Harley."

The door being quietly closed behind him, Paul Harley stood
staring across the room at Nicol Brinn. At this moment the
contrast between the types was one to have fascinated a
psychologist. About Paul Harley, eagerly alert, there was
something essentially British. Nicol Brinn, without being
typical, was nevertheless distinctly a product of the United
States. Yet, despite the stoic mask worn by Mr. Brinn, whose
lack-lustre eyes were so unlike the bright gray eyes of his
visitor, there existed, if not a physical, a certain spiritual
affinity between the two; both were men of action.

Harley, after that one comprehensive glance, the photographic
glance of a trained observer, stepped forward impulsively, hand
outstretched. "Mr. Brinn," he said, "we have never met before,
and it was good of you to wait in for me. I hope my telephone
message has not interfered with your plans for the evening?"

Nicol Brinn, without change of pose, no line of the impassive
face altering, shot out a large, muscular hand, seized that of
Paul Harley in a tremendous grip, and almost instantly put his
hand behind his back again. "Had no plans," he replied, in a
high, monotonous voice; "I was bored stiff. Take the armchair."

Paul Harley sat down, but in the restless manner of one who has
urgent business in hand and who is impatient of delay. Mr. Brinn
stooped to a coffee table which stood upon the rug before the
large open fireplace. "I am going to offer you a cocktail," he

"I shall accept your offer," returned Harley, smiling. "The 'N.
B. cocktail' has a reputation which extends throughout the clubs
of the world."

Nicol Brinn, exhibiting the swift adroitness of that human dodo,
the New York bartender, mixed the drinks. Paul Harley watched
him, meanwhile drumming his fingers restlessly upon the chair

"Here's success," he said, "to my mission."

It was an odd toast, but Mr. Brinn merely nodded and drank in
silence. Paul Harley set his glass down and glanced about the
singular apartment of which he had often heard and which no man
could ever tire of examining.

In this room the poles met, and the most remote civilizations of
the world rubbed shoulders with modernity. Here, encased, were a
family of snow-white ermine from Alaska and a pair of black
Manchurian leopards. A flying lemur from the Pelews contemplated
swooping upon the head of a huge tigress which glared with glassy
eyes across the place at the snarling muzzle of a polar bear.
Mycenaean vases and gold death masks stood upon the same shelf as
Venetian goblets, and the mummy of an Egyptian priestess of the
thirteenth dynasty occupied a sarcophagus upon the top of which
rested a basrelief found in one of the shrines of the Syrian fish
goddess Derceto, at Ascalon.

Arrowheads of the Stone Age and medieval rapiers were ranged
alongside some of the latest examples of the gunsmith's art.
There were elephants' tusks and Mexican skulls; a stone jar of
water from the well of Zem-Zem, and an ivory crucifix which had
belonged to Torquemada. A mat of human hair from Borneo overlay a
historical and unique rug woven in Ispahan and entirely composed
of fragments of Holy Carpets from the Kaaba at Mecca.

"I take it," said Mr. Brinn, suddenly, "that you are up against a
stiff proposition."

Paul Harley, accepting a cigarette from an ebony box (once the
property of Henry VIII) which the speaker had pushed across the
coffee table in his direction, stared up curiously into the
sallow, aquiline face. "You are right. But how did you know?"

"You look that way. Also--you were followed. Somebody knows
you've come here."

Harley leaned forward, resting one hand upon the table. "I know I
was followed," he said, sternly. "I was followed because I have
entered upon the biggest case of my career." He paused and smiled
in a very grim fashion. "A suspicion begins to dawn upon my mind
that if I fail it will also be my last case. You understand me?"

"I understand absolutely," replied Nicol Brinn. "These are dull
days. It's meat and drink to me to smell big danger."

Paul Harley lighted a cigarette and watched the speaker closely
the while. His expression, as he did so, was an odd one. Two
courses were open to him, and he was mentally debating their
respective advantages.

"I have come to you to-night, Mr. Brinn," he said finally, "to
ask you a certain question. Unless the theory upon which I am
working is entirely wrong, then, supposing that you are in a
position to answer my question I am logically compelled to
suppose, also, that you stand in peril of your life."

"Good," said Mr. Brinn. "I was getting sluggish." In three long
strides he crossed the room and locked the door. "I don't doubt
Hoskins's honesty," he explained, reading the inquiry in Harley's
eyes, "but an A1 intelligence doesn't fold dress pants at

Only one very intimate with the taciturn speaker could have
perceived any evidence of interest in that imperturbable
character. But Nicol Brinn took his cheroot between his fingers,
quickly placed a cone of ash in a little silver tray (the work of
Benvenuto Cellini), and replaced the cheroot not in the left but
in the right corner of his mouth. He was excited.

"You are out after one of the big heads of the crook world," he
said. "He knows it and he's trailing you. My luck's turned. How
can I help?"

Harley stood up, facing Mr. Brinn. "He knows it, as you say," he
replied, "and I hold my life in my hands. But from your answer to
the question which I have come here to-night to ask you, I shall
conclude whether or not your danger at the moment is greater than

"Good," said Nicol Brinn.

In that unique room, at once library and museum, amid relics of a
hundred ages, spoil of the chase, the excavator, and the scholar,
these two faced each other; and despite the peaceful quiet of the
apartment up to which as a soothing murmur stole the homely
sounds of Piccadilly, each saw in the other's eyes recognition of
a deadly peril. It was a queer, memorable moment.

"My question is simple but strange," said Paul Harley. "It is
this: What do you know of 'FireTongue'?"


If Paul Harley had counted upon the word "Fire-Tongue" to have a
dramatic effect upon Nicol Brinn, he was not disappointed. It was
a word which must have conveyed little or nothing to the
multitude and which might have been pronounced without
perceptible effect at any public meeting in the land. But Mr.
Brinn, impassive though his expression remained, could not
conceal the emotion which he experienced at the sound of it. His
gaunt face seemed to grow more angular and his eyes to become
even less lustrous.

"Fire-Tongue!" he said, tensely, following a short silence. "For
God's sake, when did you hear that word?"

"I heard it," replied Harley, slowly, "to-night." He fixed his
gaze intently upon the sallow face of the American. "It was
spoken by Sir Charles Abingdon."

Closely as he watched Nicol Brinn while pronouncing this name he
could not detect the slightest change of expression in the stoic

"Sir Charles Abingdon," echoed Brinn; "and in what way is it
connected with your case?"

"In this way," answered Harley. "It was spoken by Sir Charles a
few moments before he died."

Nicol Brinn's drooping lids flickered rapidly. "Before he died!
Then Sir Charles Abingdon is dead! When did he die?"

"He died to-night and the last words that he uttered were
'Fire-Tongue'--" He paused, never for a moment removing that
fixed gaze from the other's face.

"Go on," prompted Mr. Brinn.

"And 'Nicol Brinn.'"

Nicol Brinn stood still as a carven man. Indeed, only by an added
rigidity in his pose did he reward Paul Harley's intense
scrutiny. A silence charged with drama was finally broken by the
American. "Mr. Harley," he said, "you told me that you were up
against the big proposition of your career. You are right."

With that he sat down in an armchair and, resting his chin in his
hand, gazed fixedly into the empty grate. His pose was that of a
man who is suddenly called upon to review the course of his life
and upon whose decision respecting the future that life may
depend. Paul Harley watched him in silence.

"Give me the whole story," said Mr. Brinn, "right from the
beginning." He looked up. "Do you know what you have done
to-night, Mr. Harley?"

Paul Harley shook his head. Swiftly, like the touch of an icy
finger, that warning note of danger had reached him again.

"I'll tell you," continued Brinn. "You have opened the gates of

Not another word did he speak while Paul Harley, pacing slowly up
and down before the hearth, gave him a plain account of the case,
omitting all reference to his personal suspicions and to the
measures which he had taken to confirm them.

He laid his cards upon the table deliberately. Whether Sir
Charles Abingdon had uttered the name of Nicol Brinn as that of
one whose aid should be sought or as a warning, he had yet to
learn. And by this apparent frankness he hoped to achieve his
object. That the celebrated American was in any way concerned in
the menace which had overhung Sir Charles he was not prepared to
believe. But he awaited with curiosity that explanation which
Nicol Brinn must feel called upon to offer.

"You think he was murdered?" said Brinn in his high, toneless

"I have formed no definite opinion. What is your own?"

"I may not look it," replied Brinn, "but at this present moment I
am the most hopelessly puzzled and badly frightened man in

"Frightened?" asked Harley, curiously.

"I said frightened, I also said puzzled; and I am far too puzzled
to be able to express any opinion respecting the death of Sir
Charles Abingdon. When I tell you all I know of him you will
wonder as much as I do, Mr. Harley, why my name should have been
the last to pass his lips."

He half turned in the big chair to face his visitor, who now was
standing before the fireplace staring down at him.

"One day last month," he resumed, "I got out of my car in a big
hurry at the top of the Haymarket. A fool on a motorcycle passed
between the car and the sidewalk just as I stepped down, and I
knew nothing further until I woke up in a drug store close by,
feeling very dazed and with my coat in tatters and my left arm
numbed from the elbow. A man was standing watching me, and
presently when I had pulled round he gave me his card.

"He was Sir Charles Abingdon, who had been passing at the time of
the accident. That was how I met him, and as there was nothing
seriously wrong with me I saw him no more professionally. But he
dined with me a week later and I had lunch at his club about a
fortnight ago."

He looked up at Harley. "On my solemn word of honour," he said,
"that's all I know about Sir Charles Abingdon."

Paul Harley returned the other's fixed stare. "I don't doubt your
assurance on the point, Mr. Brinn," he acknowledged. "I can well
understand that you must be badly puzzled; but I would remind you
of your statement that you were also frightened. Why?"

Nicol Brinn glanced rapidly about his own luxurious room in an
oddly apprehensive manner. "I said that," he declared, "and I
meant it."

"Then I can only suppose," resumed Harley, deliberately, "that
the cause of your fear lies in the term, 'Fire-Tongue'?"

Brinn again rested his chin in his hand, staring fixedly into the

"And possibly," went on the remorseless voice, "you can explain
the significance of that term?"

Nicol Brinn remained silent--but with one foot he was slowly
tapping the edge of the fender.

"Mr. Harley," he began, abruptly, "you have been perfectly frank
with me and in return I wish to be as frank with you as I can be.
I am face to face with a thing that has haunted me for seven
years, and every step I take from now onward has to be considered
carefully, for any step might be my last. And that's not the
worst of the matter. I will risk one of those steps here and now.
You ask me to explain the significance of Fire-Tongue" (there was
a perceptible pause before he pronounced the word, which Harley
duly noticed). "I am going to tell you that Sir Charles Abingdon,
when I lunched with him at his club, asked me precisely the same

"What! He asked you that so long as two weeks ago?"

"He did."

"And what reason did he give for his inquiry?"

Nicol Brinn began to tap the fender again with his foot. "Let me
think," he replied. "I recognize that you must regard my
reticence as peculiar, Mr. Harley, but if ever a man had reason
to look before he leaped, I am that man."

Silence fell again, and Paul Harley, staring down at Nicol Brinn,
realized that this indeed was the most hopelessly mystifying case
which fate had ever thrown in his way. This millionaire scholar
and traveller, whose figure was as familiar in remote cities of
the world as it was familiar in New York, in Paris, and in
London, could not conceivably be associated with any criminal
organization. Yet his hesitancy was indeed difficult to explain,
and because it seemed to Harley that the cloud which had stolen
out across the house of Sir Charles Abingdon now hung
threateningly over those very chambers, he merely waited and

"He referred to an experience which had befallen him in India,"
came Nicol Brinn's belated reply.

"In India? May I ask you to recount that experience?"

"Mr. Harley," replied Brinn, suddenly standing up, "I can't."

"You can't?"

"I have said so. But I'd give a lot more than you might believe
to know that Abingdon had told you the story which he told me."

"You are not helping, Mr. Brinn," said Harley, sternly. "I
believe and I think that you share my belief that Sir Charles
Abingdon did not die from natural causes. You are repressing
valuable evi dence. Allow me to remind you that if anything
should come to light necessitating a post-mortem examination of
the body, you will be forced to di vulge in a court of justice
the facts which you refuse to divulge to me."

"I know it," said Brinn, shortly.

He shot out one long arm and grasped Harley's shoulder as in a
vice. "I'm counted a wealthy man," he continued, "but I'd give
every cent I possess to see 'paid' put to the bill of a certain
person. Listen. You don't think I was in any way concerned in
the death of Sir Charles Abingdon ? It isn't thinkable. But you
do think I'm in possession of facts which would help you find
out who is. You're right."

"Good God!" cried Harley. "Yet you remain silent!"

"Not so loud--not so loud!" implored Brinn, re peating that odd,
almost furtive glance around. "Mr. Harley--you know me. You've
heard of me and now you've met me. You know my place in the
world. Do you believe me when I say that from this moment onward
I don't trust my own servants?

"What! He asked you that so long as two weeks ago?"

"He did."

"And what reason did he give for his inquiry?"

Nicol Brinn began to tap the fender again with his foot. "Let me
think," he replied. " I recognize that you must regard my
reticence as peculiar, Mr. Harley, but if ever a man had reason
to look before he leaped, I am that man."

Silence fell again, and Paul Harley, staring down at Nicol Brinn,
realized that this indeed was the most hopelessly mystifying case
which fate had ever thrown in his way. This millionaire scholar
and traveller, whose figure was as familiar in remote cities of
the world as it was familiar in New York, in Paris, and in
London, could not conceivably be associated with any criminal
organization. Yet his hesitancy was indeed difficult to explain,
and because it seemed to Harley that the cloud which had stolen
out across the house of Sir Charles Abingdon now hung
threateningly over those very chambers, he merely waited and

"He referred to an experience which had befallen him in India,"
came Nicol Brinn's belated reply.

"In India? May I ask you to recount that experience?"

"Mr. Harley," replied Brinn, suddenly standing up, "I can't."

"You can't?"

"I have said so. But I'd give a lot more than you might believe
to know that Abingdon had told you the story which he told me."

"You are not helping, Mr. Brinn," said Harley, sternly. "I
believe and I think that you share my belief that Sir Charles
Abingdon did not die from natural causes. You are repressing
valuable evidence. Allow me to remind you that if anything should
come to light necessitating a post-mortem examination of the
body, you will be forced to divulge in a court of justice the
facts which you refuse to divulge to me."

"I know it," said Brinn, shortly.

He shot out one long arm and grasped Harley's shoulder as in a
vice. "I'm counted a wealthy man," he continued, "but I'd give
every cent I possess to see 'paid' put to the bill of a certain
person. Listen. You don't think I was in any way concerned in the
death of Sir Charles Abingdon? It isn't thinkable. But you do
think I'm in possession of facts which would help you find out
who is. You're right."

"Good God!" cried Harley. "Yet you remain silent!"

"Not so loud--not so loud!" implored Brinn, repeating that odd,
almost furtive glance around. "Mr. Harley--you know me. You've
heard of me and now you've met me. You know my place in the
world. Do you believe me when I say that from this moment onward
I don't trust my own servants? Nor my own friends?" He removed
his grip from Harley's shoulder. "Inanimate things look like
enemies. That mummy over yonder may have ears!"

"I'm afraid I don't altogether understand you."

"See here!"

Nicol Brinn crossed to a bureau, unlocked it, and while Harley
watched him curiously, sought among a number of press cuttings.
Presently he found the cutting for which he was looking. "This
was said," he explained, handing the slip to Harley, "at the
Players' Club in New York, after a big dinner in pre-dry days. It
was said in confidence. But some disguised reporter had got in
and it came out in print next morning. Read it."

Paul Harley accepted the cutting and read the following:


Mr. Nicol Brinn of Cincinnati, who is at present in New York,
opened his heart to members of the Players' Club last night. Our
prominent citizen, responding to a toast, "the distinguished
visitor," said:

"I'd like to live through months of midnight frozen in among the
polar ice; I'd like to cross Africa from east to west and get
lost in the middle. I'd like to have a Montana sheriff's posse on
my heels for horse stealing, and I've prayed to be wrecked on a
desert island like Robinson Crusoe to see if I am man enough to
live it out. I want to stand my trial for murder and defend my
own case, and I want to be found by the eunuchs in the harem of
the Shah. I want to dive for pearls and scale the Matterhorn. I
want to know where the tunnel leads to--the tunnel down under the
Great Pyramid of Gizeh--and I'd love to shoot Niagara Falls in a

"It sounds characteristic," murmured Harley, laying the slip on
the coffee table.

"It's true!" declared Brinn. "I said it and I meant it. I'm a
glutton for danger, Mr. Harley, and I'm going to tell you why.
Something happened to me seven years ago--"

"In India?"

"In India. Correct. Something happened to me, sir, which just
took the sunshine out of life. At the time I didn't know all it
meant. I've learned since. For seven years I have been flirting
with death and hoping to fall!"

Harley stared at him uncomprehendingly. "More than ever I fail to

"I can only ask you to be patient, Mr. Harley. Time is a
wonderful doctor, and I don't say that in seven years the old
wound hasn't healed a bit. But to-night you have, unknowingly,
undone all that time had done. I'm a man that has been down into
hell. I bought myself out. I thought I knew where the pit was
located. I thought I was well away from it, Mr. Harley, and you
have told me something tonight which makes me think that it isn't
where I supposed at all, but hidden down here right under our
feet in London. And we're both standing on the edge!"

That Nicol Brinn was deeply moved no student of humanity could
have doubted. From beneath the stoic's cloak another than the
dare-devil millionaire whose crazy exploits were notorious had
looked out. Persistently the note of danger came to Paul Harley.
Those luxurious Piccadilly chambers were a focus upon which some
malignant will was concentrated. He became conscious of anger. It
was the anger of a just man who finds himself impotent--the rage
of Prometheus bound.

"Mr. Brinn!" he cried, "I accept unreservedly all that you have
told me. Its real significance I do not and cannot grasp. But my
theory that Sir Charles Abingdon was done to death has become a
conviction. That a like fate threatens yourself and possibly
myself I begin to believe." He looked almost fiercely into the
other's dull eyes. "My reputation east and west is that of a
white man. Mr. Brinn--I ask you for your confidence."

Nicol Brinn dropped his chin into his hand and resumed that
unseeing stare into the open grate. Paul Harley watched him

"There isn't any one I would rather confide in," confessed the
American. "We are linked by a common danger. But"--he looked
up--"I must ask you again to be patient. Give me time to think
--to make plans. For your own part--be cautious. You witnessed
the death of Sir Charles Abingdon. You don't think and perhaps I
don't think that it was natural; but whatever steps you may have
taken to confirm your theories, I dare not hope that you will
ever discover even a ghost of a clue. I simply warn you, Mr.
Harley. You may go the same way. So may I. Others have travelled
that road before poor Abingdon."

He suddenly stood up, all at once exhibiting to his watchful
visitor that tremendous nervous energy which underlay his
impassive manner. "Good God!" he said, in a cold, even voice. "To
think that it is here in London. What does it mean?"

He ceased speaking abruptly, and stood with his elbow resting on
a corner of the mantelpiece.

"You speak of it being here," prompted Harley. "Is it consistent
with your mysterious difficulties to inform me to what you

Nicol Brinn glanced aside at him. "If I informed you of that," he
answered, "you would know all you want to know. But neither you
nor I would live to use the knowledge. Give me time. Let me

Silence fell in the big room, Nicol Brinn staring down vacantly
into the empty fireplace, Paul Harley standing watching him in a
state of almost stupefied mystification. Muffled to a soothing
murmur the sounds of Piccadilly penetrated to that curtained
chamber which held so many records of the troubled past and which
seemed to be charged with shadowy portents of the future.

Something struck with a dull thud upon a windowpane--once--twice.
There followed a faint, sibilant sound.

Paul Harley started and the stoical Nicol Brinn turned rapidly
and glanced across the room.

"What was that?" asked Harley.

"I expect--it was an owl," answered Brinn. "We sometimes get them
over from the Green Park."

His high voice sounded unemotional as ever. But it seemed to Paul
Harley that his face, dimly illuminated by the upcast light from
the lamp upon the coffee table, had paled, had become gaunt.


On the following afternoon Paul Harley was restlessly pacing his
private office when Innes came in with a letter which had been
delivered by hand. Harley took it eagerly and tore open the
envelope. A look of expectancy faded from his eager face almost
in the moment that it appeared there. "No luck, Innes," he said,
gloomily. "Merton reports that there is no trace of any dangerous
foreign body in the liquids analyzed."

He dropped the analyst's report into a wastebasket and resumed
his restless promenade. Innes, who could see that his principal
wanted to talk, waited. For it was Paul Harley's custom, when the
clue to a labyrinth evaded him, to outline his difficulties to
his confidential secretary, and by the mere exercise of verbal
construction Harley would often detect the weak spot in his
reasoning. This stage come to, he would dictate a carefully
worded statement of the case to date and thus familiarize himself
with its complexities.

"You see, Innes," he began, suddenly, "Sir Charles had taken no
refreshment of any kind at Mr. Wilson's house nor before leaving
his own. Neither had he smoked. No one had approached him.
Therefore, if he was poisoned, he was poisoned at his own table.
Since he was never out of my observation from the moment of
entering the library up to that of his death, we are reduced to
the only two possible mediums--the soup or the water. He had
touched nothing else."

"No wine?"

"Wine was on the table but none had been poured out. Let us see
what evidence, capable of being put into writing, exists to
support my theory that Sir Charles was poisoned. In the first
place, he clearly went in fear of some such death. It was because
of this that he consulted me. What was the origin of his fear?
Something associated with the term Fire-Tongue. So much is clear
from Sir Charles's dying words, and his questioning Nicol Brinn
on the point some weeks earlier.

"He was afraid, then, of something or someone linked in his mind
with the word Fire-Tongue. What do we know about Fire-Tongue? One
thing only: that it had to do with some episode which took place
in India. This item we owe to Nicol Brinn.

"Very well. Sir Charles believed himself to be in danger from
some thing or person unknown, associated with India and with the
term Fire-Tongue. What else? His house was entered during the
night under circumstances suggesting that burglary was not the
object of the entrance. And next? He was assaulted, with
murderous intent. Thirdly, he believed himself to be subjected to
constant surveillance. Was this a delusion? It was not. After
failing several times I myself detected someone dogging my
movements last night at the moment I entered Nicol Brinn's
chambers. Nicol Brinn also saw this person.

"In short, Sir Charles was, beyond doubt, at the time of his
death, receiving close attention from some mysterious person or
persons the object of which he believed to be his death. Have I
gone beyond established facts, Innes, thus far?"

"No, Mr. Harley. So far you are on solid ground."

"Good. Leaving out of the question those points which we hope to
clear up when the evidence of Miss Abingdon becomes
available--how did Sir Charles learn that Nicol Brinn knew the
meaning of Fire-Tongue?"

"He may have heard something to that effect in India."

"If this were so he would scarcely have awaited a chance
encounter to prosecute his inquiries, since Nicol Brinn is a
well-known figure in London and Sir Charles had been home for
several years."

"Mr. Brinn may have said something after the accident and before
he was in full possession of his senses which gave Sir Charles a

"He did not, Innes. I called at the druggist's establishment this
morning. They recalled the incident, of course. Mr. Brinn never
uttered a word until, opening his eyes, he said: 'Hello! Am I
much damaged?'"

Innes smiled discreetly. "A remarkable character, Mr. Harley," he
said. "Your biggest difficulty at the moment is to fit Mr. Nicol
Brinn into the scheme."

"He won't fit at all, Innes! We come to the final and conclusive
item of evidence substantiating my theory of Sir Charles's
murder: Nicol Brinn believes he was murdered. Nicol Brinn has
known others, in his own words, 'to go the same way.' Yet Nicol
Brinn, a millionaire, a scholar, a sportsman, and a gentleman,
refuses to open his mouth."

"He is afraid of something."

"He is afraid of Fire-Tongue--whatever Fire-Tongue may be! I
never saw a man of proved courage more afraid in my life. He
prefers to court arrest for complicity in a murder rather than
tell what he knows!"

"It's unbelievable."

"It would be, Innes, if Nicol Brinn's fears were personal."

Paul Harley checked his steps in front of the watchful secretary
and gazed keenly into his eyes.

"Death has no terrors for Nicol Brinn," he said slowly. "All his
life he has toyed with danger. He admitted to me that during the
past seven years he had courted death. Isn't it plain enough,
Innes? If ever a man possessed all that the world had to offer,
Nicol Brinn is that man. In such a case and in such circumstances
what do we look for?"

Innes shook his head.

"We look for the woman!" snapped Paul Harley.

There came a rap at the door and Miss Smith, the typist, entered.
"Miss Phil Abingdon and Doctor McMurdoch," she said.

"Good heavens!" muttered Harley. "So soon? Why, she can only
just--" He checked himself. "Show them in, Miss Smith," he

As the typist went out, followed by Innes, Paul Harley found
himself thinking of the photograph in Sir Charles Abingdon's
library and waiting with an almost feverish expectancy for the
appearance of the original.

Almost immediately Phil Abingdon came in, accompanied by the
sepulchral Doctor McMurdoch. And Harley found himself wondering
whether her eyes were really violet-coloured or whether intense
emotion heroically repressed had temporarily lent them that

Surprise was the predominant quality of his first impression. Sir
Charles Abingdon's daughter was so exceedingly vital--petite and
slender, yet instinct with force. The seeming repose of the
photograph was misleading. That her glance could be naive he
realized--as it could also be gay--and now her eyes were sad with
a sadness so deep as to dispel the impression of lightness
created by her dainty form, her alluring, mobile lips, and the
fascinating, wavy, red-brown hair.

She did not wear mourning. He recalled that there had been no
time to procure it. She was exquisitely and fashionably dressed,
and even the pallor of grief could not rob her cheeks of the
bloom born of Devon sunshine. He had expected her to be pretty.
He was surprised to find her lovely.

Doctor McMurdoch stood silent in the doorway, saying nothing by
way of introduction. But nothing was necessary. Phil Abingdon
came forward quite naturally--and quite naturally Paul Harley
discovered her little gloved hand to lie clasped between both his
own. It was more like a reunion than a first meeting and was so
laden with perfect understanding that, even yet, speech seemed
scarcely worth while.

Thinking over that moment, in later days, Paul Harley remembered
that he had been prompted by some small inner voice to say: "So
you have come back?" It was recognition. Of the hundreds of men
and women who came into his life for a while, and ere long went
out of it again, he knew, by virtue of that sixth sense of his,
that Phil Abingdon had come to stay--whether for joy or sorrow he
could not divine.

It was really quite brief--that interval of silence--although
perhaps long enough to bridge the ages.

"How brave of you, Miss Abingdon!" said Harley. "How wonderfully
brave of you!"

"She's an Abingdon," came the deep tones of Doctor McMurdoch.
"She arrived only two hours ago and here she is."

"There can be no rest for me, Doctor," said the girl, and strove
valiantly to control her voice, "until this dreadful doubt is
removed. Mr. Harley"--she turned to him appealingly--"please
don't study my feelings in the least; I can bear anything--now;
just tell me what happened. Oh! I had to come. I felt that I had
to come."

As Paul Harley placed an armchair for his visitor, his glance met
that of Doctor McMurdoch, and in the gloomy eyes he read
admiration of this girl who could thus conquer the inherent
weakness of her sex and at such an hour and after a dreadful
ordeal set her hand to the task which fate had laid upon her.

Doctor McMurdoch sat down on a chair beside the door, setting his
silk hat upon the floor and clasping his massive chin with his

"I will endeavour to do as you wish, Miss Abingdon." said Harley,
glancing anxiously at the physician.

But Doctor McMurdoch returned only a dull stare. It was evident
that this man of stone was as clay in the hands of Phil Abingdon.
He deprecated the strain which she was imposing upon her nervous
system, already overwrought to the danger point, but he was
helpless for all his dour obstinacy. Harley, looking down at the
girl's profile, read a new meaning into the firm line of her
chin. He was conscious of an insane desire to put his arms around
this new acquaintance who seemed in some indefinable yet definite
way to belong to him and to whisper the tragic story he had to
tell, comforting her the while.

He began to relate what had taken place at the first interview,
when Sir Charles had told him of the menace which he had believed
to hang over his life. He spoke slowly, deliberately, choosing
his words with a view to sparing Phil Abingdon's feelings as far
as possible.

She made no comment throughout, but her fingers alternately
tightened and relaxed their hold upon the arms of the chair in

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