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Fire-Tongue by Sax Rohmer***

Part 3 out of 5

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The girl bit her lip.

"Answer!" shouted Harley.

"I swear, sir," cried the girl, beginning suddenly to sob, "that
I don't know! Oh, please let me go! I swear I have told you all I


Paul Harley glanced at his watch, crossed the room, and opened
the door. He turned. "You can go now," he said. "But I don't
think you will find Sidney waiting!"

It wanted only three minutes to midnight, and Innes, rather
haggard and anxious-eyed, was pacing Paul Harley's private office
when the 'phone bell rang. Eagerly he took up the receiver.

"Hullo!" came a voice. "That you, Innes?"

"Mr. Harley!"cried Innes. "Thank God you are safe! I was growing
desperately anxious!"

"I am by no means safe, Innes! I am in one of the tightest
corners of my life! Listen: Get Wessex! If he's off duty, get
Burton. Tell him to bring--"

The voice ceased.

"Hullo!--Mr. Harley!" called Innes. "Mr. Harley!"

A faint cry answered him. He distinctly heard the sound of a
fall. Then the other receiver was replaced on the hook.

"Merciful Heavens!" whispered Innes. "What has happened? Where
was he speaking from? What can I do?"


It was close upon noon, but Nicol Brinn had not yet left his
chambers. From that large window which overlooked Piccadilly he
surveyed the prospect with dull, lack-lustre eyes. His morning
attire was at least as tightly fitting as that which he favoured
in the evening, and now, hands clasped behind his back and an
unlighted cigar held firmly in the left corner of his mouth, he
gazed across the park with a dreamy and vacant regard. One very
familiar with this strange and taciturn man might have observed
that his sallow features looked even more gaunt than usual. But
for any trace of emotion in that stoic face the most expert
physiognomist must have sought in vain.

Behind the motionless figure the Alaskan ermine and Manchurian
leopards stared glassily across the room. The flying lemur
continued apparently to contemplate the idea of swooping upon the
head of the tigress where she crouched upon her near-by pedestal.
The death masks grinned; the Egyptian priestess smiled. And Nicol
Britain, expressionless, watched the traffic in Piccadilly.

There came a knock at the door.

"In," said Nicol Brinn.

Hoskins, his manservant, entered: "Detective Inspector Wessex
would like to see you, sir."

Nicol Brinn did not turn around. "In," he repeated.

Silently Hoskins retired, and, following a short interval,
ushered into the room a typical detective officer, a Scotland
Yard man of the best type. For Detective Inspector Wessex no less
an authority than Paul Harley had predicted a brilliant future,
and since he had attained to his present rank while still a
comparatively young man, the prophecy of the celebrated private
investigator was likely to be realized. Nicol Brinn turned and
bowed in the direction of a large armchair.

"Pray sit down, Inspector," he said.

The high, monotonous voice expressed neither surprise nor
welcome, nor any other sentiment whatever.

Detective Inspector Wessex returned the bow, placed his bowler
hat upon the carpet, and sat down in the armchair. Nicol Brinn
seated himself upon a settee over which was draped a very fine
piece of Persian tapestry, and stared at his visitor with eyes
which expressed nothing but a sort of philosophic stupidity, but
which, as a matter of fact, photographed the personality of the
man indelibly upon that keen brain.

Detective Inspector Wessex cleared his throat and did not appear
to be quite at ease.

"What is it?" inquired Nicol Brinn, and proceeded to light his

"Well, sir," said the detective, frankly, "it's a mighty awkward
business, and I don't know just how to approach it."

"Shortest way," drawled Nicol Brinn. "Don't study me."

"Thanks," said Wessex, "I'll do my best. It's like this"--he
stared frankly at the impassive face: "Where is Mr. Paul Harley?"

Nicol Brinn gazed at the lighted end of his cigar meditatively
for a moment and then replaced it in the right and not in the
left corner of his mouth. Even to the trained eye of the
detective inspector he seemed to be quite unmoved, but one who
knew him well would have recognized that this simple action
betokened suppressed excitement.

"He left these chambers at ten-fifteen on Wednesday night,"
replied the American. "I had never seen him before and I have
never seen him since."



"Could you swear to it before a jury?"

"You seem to doubt my word."

Detective Inspector Wessex stood up. "Mr. Brinn," he said, "I am
in an awkward corner. I know you for a man with a fine sporting
reputation, and therefore I don't doubt your word. But Mr. Paul
Harley disappeared last night."

At last Nicol Brinn was moved. A second time he took the cigar
from his mouth, gazed at the end reflectively, and then hurled
the cigar across the room into the hearth. He stood up, walked to
a window, and stared out. "Just sit quiet a minute," came the
toneless voice. "You've hit me harder than you know. I want to
think it out."

At the back of the tall, slim figure Detective Inspector Wessex
stared with a sort ef wonder. Mr. Nicol Brinn of Cincinnati was a
conundrum which he found himself unable to catalogue, although in
his gallery of queer characters were many eccentric and peculiar.
If Nicol Brinn should prove to be crooked, then automatically he
became insane. This Wessex had reasoned out even before he had
set eyes upon the celebrated American traveller. His very first
glimpse of Nicol Brinn had confirmed his reasoning, except that
the cool, calm strength of the man had done much to upset the
theory of lunacy.

Followed an interval of unbroken silence. Not even the ticking of
a clock could be heard in that long, singularly furnished
apartment. Then, as the detective continued to gaze upon the back
of Mr. Nicol Brinn, suddenly the latter turned.

"Detective Inspector Wessex," he said, "there has been a cloud
hanging over mv head for seven years. That cloud is going to
burst very soon, and it looks as if it were going to do damage."

"I don't understand you, sir," replied the detective, bluntly.
"But I have been put in charge of the most extraordinary case
that has ever come my way and I'll ask you to make yourself as
clear as possible."

"I'll do all I can," Nicol Brinn assured him. "But first tell me
something: Why have you come to me for information in respect to
Mr. Paul Harley?"

"I'll answer your question," said Wessex, and the fact did not
escape the keen observing power of Nicol Brinn that the
detective's manner had grown guarded. "He informed Mr. Innes, his
secretary, before setting out, that he was coming here to your

Nicol Brinn stared blankly at the speaker. "He told him that?


"That he was coming here?"

"He did."

Nicol Brinn sat down again upon the settee. "Detective
Inspector," said he, "I give you my word of honour as a gentleman
that I last saw Mr. Paul Harley at ten-fifteen on Wednesday
night. Since then, not only have I not seen him, but I have
received no communication from him."

The keen glance of the detective met and challenged the dull
glance of the speaker. "I accept your word, sir," said Wessex,
finally, and he sighed and scratched his chin in the manner of a
man hopelessly puzzled.

Silence fell again. The muted sounds of Piccadilly became audible
in the stillness. Cabs and cars rolled by below, their occupants
all unaware of the fact that in that long, museumlike room above
their heads lay the key to a tragedy and the clue to a mystery.

"Look here, sir," said the detective, suddenly, "the result of
Mr. Paul Harley's investigations right up to date has been placed
in my hands, together with all his notes. I wonder if you realize
the fact that, supposing Mr. Harley does not return, I am in
repossession of sufficient evidence to justify me in putting you
under arrest?"

"I see your point quite clearly," replied Nirol Brinn. "I have
seen my danger since the evening that Mr Paul Harley walked into
this room: but I'll confess I did not anticipate this particular

"To get right down to business," said Wessex, "if Mr. Paul Harley
did not come here, where, in your idea, did he go?"

Nicol Brinn considered the speaker meditatively. "If I knew
that," said he, "maybe I could help. I told him here in this very
room that the pair of us were walking on the edge of hell. I
don't like to say it, and you don't know all it means, but in my
opinion he has taken a step too far."

Detective Inspector Wessex stood up impatiently. "You have
already talked in that strain to Mr. Harley," he said, a bit
brusquely. "Mr. Innes has reported something of the conversation
to me. But I must ask you to remember that, whereas Mr. Paul
Harley is an unofficial investigator, I am an officer of the
Criminal Investigation Department, and figures of speech are of
no use to me. I want facts. I want plain speaking. I ask you for
help and you answer in parables. Now perhaps I am saying too
much, and perhaps I am not, but that Mr. Harley was right in what
he believed, the circumstances of his present disappearance go to
prove. He learned too much about something called Fire-Tongue."

Wessex spoke the word challengingly, staring straight into the
eyes of Nicol Brinn, but the latter gave no sign, and Wessex,
concealing his disappointment, continued: "You know more about
Fire-Tongue than you ever told Mr. Paul Harley. All you know I
have got to know. Mr. Harley has been kidnapped, perhaps done to

"Why do you say so?" asked Nicol Brinn, rapidly.

"Because I know it is so. It does not matter how I know."

"You are certain that his absence is not voluntary?"

"We have definite evidence to that effect."

"I don't expect you to be frank with me; Detective Inspector, but
I'll be as frank with you as I can be. I haven't the slightest
idea in the world where Mr. Harley is. But I have information
which, if I knew where he was, would quite possibly enable me to
rescue him."

"Provided he is alive!" added Wessex, angrily.

"What leads you to suppose that he is not?"

"If he is alive, he is a prisoner."

"Good God!" said Nicol Brinn in a low voice. "It has come." He
took a step toward the detective. "Mr. Wessex," he continued, "I
don't tell you to do whatever your duty indicates; I know you
will do it. But in the interests of everybody concerned I have a
request to make. Have me watched if you like--I suppose that's
automatic. But whatever happens, and wherever your suspicions
point, give me twenty-four hours. As I think you can see, I am a
man who thinks slowly, but moves with a rush. You can believe me
or not, but I am even more anxious than you are to see this thing
through. You think I know what lies back of it all, and I don't
say that you are not right. But one thing you don't know, and
that thing I can't tell you. In twenty-four hours I might be able
to tell you. Whatever happens, even if poor Harley is found dead,
don't hamper my movements between now and this time tomorrow."

Wessex, who had been watching the speaker intently, suddenly held
out his hand. "It's a bet!" he said. "It's my case, and I'll
conduct it in my own way."

"Mr. Wessex," replied Nicol Brinn, taking the extended hand, "I
think you are a clever man. There are questions you would like to
ask me, and there are questions I would like to ask you. But we
both realize the facts of the situation, and we are both silent.
One thing I'll say: You are in the deadliest peril you have ever
known. Be careful. Believe me I mean it. Be very careful."


Innes rose from the chair usually occupied by Paul Harley as
Detective Inspector Wessex, with a very blank face, walked into
the office. Innes looked haggard and exhibited unmistakable signs
of anxiety. Since he had received that dramatic telephone message
from his chief he had not spared himself for a moment. The
official machinery of Scotland Yard was at work endeavouring to
trace the missing man, but since it had proved impossible to find
out from where the message had been sent, the investigation was
handicapped at the very outset. Close inquiries at the Savoy
Hotel had shown that Harley had not been there. Wessex, who was a
thorough artist within his limitations, had satisfied himself
that none of the callers who had asked for Ormuz Khan, and no one
who had loitered about the lobbies, could possibly have been even
a disguised Paul Harley.

To Inspector Wessex the lines along which Paul Harley was
operating remained a matter of profound amazement and
mystification. His interview with Mr. Nicol Brinn had only served
to baffle him more hopelessly than ever. The nature of Paul
Harley's inquiries--inquiries which, presumably from the death of
Sir Charles Abingdon, had led him to investigate the movements of
two persons of international repute, neither apparently having
even the most remote connection with anything crooked--was a
conundrum for the answer to which the detectlve inspector sought
in vain.

"I can see you have no news," said Innes, dully.

"To be perfectly honest," replied Wessex, "I feel like a man who
is walking in his sleep. Except for the extraordinary words
uttered by the late Sir Charles Abingdon, I fail to see that
there is any possible connection between his death and Mr. Nicol
Brinn. I simply can't fathom what Mr. Harley was working upon. To
my mind there is not the slightest evidence of foul play in the
case. There is no motive; apart from which, there is absolutely
no link."

"Nevertheless," replied Innes, slowly, "you know the chief, and
therefore you know as well as I do that he would not have
instructed me to communicate with you unless he had definite
evidence in his possession. It is perfectly clear that he was
interrupted in the act of telephoning. He was literally dragged
away from the instrument."

"I agree," said Wessex. "He had got into a tight corner somewhere
right enough. But where does Nicol Brinn come in?"

"How did he receive your communication?"

"Oh, it took him fairly between the eyes. There is no denying
that. He knows something."

"What he knows," said Innes, slowly, "is what Mr. Harley learned
last night, and what he fears is what has actually befallen the

Detective Inspector Wessex stood beside the Burmese cabinet,
restlessly drumming his fingers upon its lacquered surface. "I am
grateful for one thing," he said. "The press has not got hold of
this story."

"They need never get hold of it if you are moderately careful."

"For several reasons I am going to be more than moderately
careful. Whatever Fire-Tongue may be, its other name is sudden
death! It's a devil of a business; a perfect nightmare. But--" he

"I am wondering what on earth induced Mr. Harley to send that
parcel of linen to the analyst."

"The result of the analysis may prove that the chief was not
engaged upon any wild-goose chase."

"By heavens!" Wessex sprang up, his eyes brightened, and he
reached for his hat, "that gives me an idea!"

"The message with the parcel was written upon paper bearing the
letterhead of the late Sir Charles Abingdon. So Mr. Harley
evidently made his first call there! I'm off, sir! The trail
starts from that house!"

Leaving Innes seated at the big table with an expression of
despair upon his face, Detective Inspector Wessex set out. He
blamed himself for wasting time upon the obvious, for
concentrating too closely upon the clue given by Harley's last
words to Innes before leaving the office in Chancery Lane. It was
poor workmanship. He had hoped to take a short cut, and it had
proved, as usual, to be a long one. Now, as he sat in a laggard
cab feeling that every minute wasted might be a matter of life
and death, he suddenly became conscious of personal anxiety. He
was a courageous, indeed a fearless, man, and he was
subconsciously surprised to find himself repeating the words of
Nicol Brinn: "Be careful--be very careful!" With all the ardour
of the professional, he longed to find a clue which should lead
him to the heart of the mystery.

Innes had frankly outlined the whole of Paul Harley's case to
date, and Detective Inspector Wessex, although he had not
admitted the fact, had nevertheless recognized that from start to
finish the thing did not offer one single line of inquiry which
he would have been capable of following up. That Paul Harley had
found material to work upon, had somehow picked up a definite
clue from this cloudy maze, earned the envious admiration of the
Scotland Yard man.

Arrived at his destination, he asked to see Miss Abingdon, and
was shown by the butler into a charmingly furnished little
sitting room which was deeply impressed with the personality of
its dainty owner. It was essentially and delightfully feminine.
Yet in the decorations and in the arrangement of the furniture
there was a note of independence which was almost a note of
defiance. Phyllis Abingdon, an appealingly pathetic figure in her
black dress, rose to greet the inspector.

"Don't be alarmed, Miss Abingdon," he said, kindly. "My visit
does not concern you personally in any way, but I thought perhaps
you might be able to help me trace Mr. Paul Harley."

Wessex had thus expressed himself with the best intentions, but
even before the words were fully spoken he realized with a sort
of shock that he could not well have made a worse opening. Phil
Abingdon's eyes seemed to grow alarmingly large. She stood quite
still, twisting his card between her supple fingers.

"Mr. Harley!" she whispered.

"I did not want to alarm you," said the detective, guiltily,
"but--" He stopped, at a loss for words.

"Has something happened to him?"

"I am sorry if I have alarmed you," he assured her, "but there is
some doubt respecting Mr. Harley's present whereabouts. Have you
any idea where he went when he left this house yesterday?"

"Yes, yes. I know where he went, quite well."

"Benson, the butler, told me all about it when I came in." Phil
Abingdon spoke excitedly, and took a step nearer Wessex. "He went
to call upon Jones, our late parlourmaid."

"Late parlourmaid?" echoed Wessex, uncomprehendingly.

"Yes. He seemed to think he had made a discovery of importance."

"Something to do with a parcel which he sent away from here to
the analyst?"

"Yes! I have been wondering whatever it could be. In fact, I rang
up his office this morning, but learned that he was out. It was a
serviette which he took away. Did you know that?"

"I did know it, Miss Abingdon. I called upon the analyst. I
understand you were out when Mr. Harley came. May I ask who
interviewed him?"

"He saw Benson and Mrs. Howett, the housekeeper."

"May I also see them?"

"Yes, with pleasure. But please tell me"--Phil Abingdon looked up
at him pleadingly--"do you thmk something--something dreadful has
happened to Mr. Harley?"

"Don't alarm yourself unduly," said Wessex. "I hope before the
day is over to be in touch with him."

As a matter of fact, he had no such hope. It was a lie intended
to console the girl, to whom the news of Harley's disappearance
seemed to have come as a terrible blow. More and more Wessex
found himself to be groping in the dark. And when, in response to
the ringing of the bell, Benson came in and repeated what had
taken place on the previous day, the detective's state of
mystification grew even more profound. As a matter of routine
rather than with any hope of learning anything useful, he
interviewed Mrs. Howett; but the statement of the voluble old
lady gave no clue which Wessex could perceive to possess the
slightest value.

Both witnesses having been dismissed, he turned again to Phil
Abingdon, who had been sitting watching him with a pathetic light
of hope in her eyes throughout his examination of the butler and
Mrs. Howett.

"The next step is clear enough," he said, brightly. "I am off to
South Lambeth Road. The woman Jones is the link we are looking

"But the link with what, Mr. Wessex?" asked Phil Abingdon. "What
is it all about?--what does it all mean?"

"The link with Mr. Paul Harley," replied Wessex. He moved toward
the door.

"But won't you tell me something more before you go?" said the
girl, beseechingly. "I--I--feel responsible if anything has
happened to Mr. Harley. Please be frank with me. Are you afraid
he is--in danger?"

"Well, miss," replied the detective, haltingly, "he rang up his
secretary, Mr. Innes, last night--we don't know where from--and
admitted that he was in a rather tight corner. I don't believe
for a moment that he is in actual danger, but he probably has--"
again he hesitated--"good reasons of his own for remaining absent
at present."

Phil Abingdon looked at him doubtingly. "I am almost afraid to
ask you," she said in a low voice, "but--if you hear anything,
will you ring me up?"

"I promise to do so."

Chartering a more promising-looking cab than that in which he had
come, Detective Inspector Wessex proceeded to 236 South Lambeth
Road. He had knocked several times before the door was opened by
the woman to whom the girl Jones had called on the occasion of
Harley's visit.

"I am a police officer," said the detective inspector, "and I
have called to see a woman named Jones, formerly in the employ of
Sir Charles Abingdon."

"Polly's gone," was the toneless reply.

"Gone? Gone where?"

"She went away last night to a job in the country."

"What time last night?"

"I can't remember the time. Just after a gentleman had called
here to see her."

"Someone from the police?"

"I don't know. She seemed to be very frightened."

"Were you present when he interviewed her?"


"After he had gone, what did Polly do?"

"Sat and cried for about half an hour, then Sidney came for her."


"Her boy--the latest one."

"Describe Sidney."

"A dark fellow, foreign."


"No. A sort of Indian, like."

"Indian?" snapped Wessex. "What do you mean by Indian?"

"Very dark," replied the woman without emotion, swinging a baby
she held to and fro in a methodical way which the detective found
highly irritating.

"You mean a native of India?"

"Yes, I should think so. I never noticed him much. Polly has so

"How long has she known this man?"

"Only a month or so, but she is crazy about him."

"And when he came last night she went away with him?"

"Yes. She was all ready to go before the other gentleman called.
He must have told her something which made her think it was all
off, and she was crazy with joy when Sidney turned up. She had
all her things packed, and off she went."

Experience had taught Detective Inspector Wessex to recognize the
truth when he met it, and he did not doubt the statement of the
woman with the baby. "Can you give me any idea where this man
Sidney came from?" he asked.

"I am afraid I can't," replied the listless voice. "He was in the
service of some gentleman in the country; that's all I know about

"Did Polly leave no address to which letters were to be

"No; she said she would write."

"One other point," said Wessex, and he looked hard into the
woman's face: "What do you know about Fire-Tongue?"

He was answered by a stare of blank stupidity.

"You heard me?"

"Yes, I heard you, but I don't know what you are talking about."

Quick decisions are required from every member of the Criminal
Investigation Department, and Detective Inspector Wessex came to
one now.

"That will do for the present," he said, turned, and ran down the
steps to the waiting cab.


Dusk was falling that evening. Gaily lighted cars offering
glimpses of women in elaborate toilets and of their black-coated
and white-shirted cavaliers thronged Piccadilly, bound for
theatre or restaurant. The workaday shutters were pulled down,
and the night life of London had commenced. The West End was in
possession of an army of pleasure seekers, but Nicol Brinn was
not among their ranks. Wearing his tightly-buttoned dinner
jacket, he stood, hands clasped behind him, staring out of the
window as Detective Inspector Wessex had found him at noon. Only
one who knew him very well could have detected the fact that
anxiety was written upon that Sioux-like face. His gaze seemed to
be directed, not so much upon the fading prospect of the park, as
downward, upon the moving multitude in the street below. Came a
subdued knocking at the door.

"In," said Nicol Brinn.

Hoskins, the neat manservant, entered. "A lady to see you, sir."

Nicol Brinn turned in a flash. For one fleeting instant the
dynamic force beneath the placid surface exhibited itself in
every line of his gaunt face. He was transfigured; he was a man
of monstrous energy, of tremendous enthusiasm. Then the
enthusiasm vanished. He was a creature of stone again; the
familiar and taciturn Nicol Brinn, known and puzzled over in the
club lands of the world.


"She gave none."


"No, sir, a foreign lady."


Hoskins having retired, and having silently closed the door,
Nicol Brinn did an extraordinary thing, a thing which none of his
friends in London, Paris, or New York would ever have supposed
him capable of doing. He raised his clenched hands. "Please God
she has come," he whispered. "Dare I believe it? Dare I believe

The door was opened again, and Hoskins, standing just inside,
announced: "The lady to see you, sir."

He stepped aside and bowed as a tall, slender woman entered the
room. She wore a long wrap trimmed with fur, the collar turned up
about her face. Three steps forward she took and stopped. Hoskins
withdrew and closed the door.

At that, while Nicol Brinn watched her with completely
transfigured features, the woman allowed the cloak to slip from
her shoulders, and, raising her head, extended both her hands,
uttering a subdued cry of greeting that was almost a sob. She was
dark, with the darkness of the East, but beautiful with a beauty
that was tragic. Her eyes were glorious wells of sadness, seeming
to mirror a soul that had known a hundred ages. Withal she had
the figure of a girl, slender and supple, possessing the poetic
grace and poetry of movement born only in the Orient.

"Naida!" breathed Nicol Brinn, huskily. "Naida!"

His high voice had softened, had grown tremulous. He extended his
hands with a groping movement The woman laughed shudderingly.

Her cloak lying forgotten upon the carpet, she advanced toward

She wore a robe that was distinctly Oriental without being in the
slightest degree barbaric. Her skin was strangely fair, and
jewels sparkled upon her fingers. She conjured up dreams of the
perfumed luxury of the East, and was a figure to fire the
imagination. But Nicol Brinn seemed incapable of movement; his
body was inert, but his eyes were on fire. Into the woman's face
had come anxiety that was purely feminine.

"Oh, my big American sweetheart," she whispered, and, approaching
him with a sort of timidity, laid her little hands upon his arm.
"Do you still think I am beautiful?"


No man could have recognized the voice of Nicol Brinn. Suddenly
his arms were about her like bands of iron, and with a long,
wondering sigh she lay back looking up into his face, while he
gazed hungrily into her eyes. His lips had almost met hers when
softly, almost inaudibly, she sighed: "Nicol!"

She pronounced the name queerly, giving to i the value of ee, and
almost dropping the last letter entirely.

Their lips met, and for a moment they clung together, this woman
of the East and man of the West, in utter transgression of that
law which England's poet has laid down. It was a reunion speaking
of a love so deep as to be sacred.

Lifting the woman in his arms lightly as a baby, he carried her
to the settee between the two high windows and placed her there
amid Oriental cushions, where she looked like an Eastern queen.
He knelt at her feet and, holding both her hands, looked into her
face with that wondering expression in which there was something
incredulous and something sorrowful; a look of great and selfless
tenderness. The face of Naida was lighted up, and her big eyes
filled with tears. Disengaging one of her jewelled hands, she
ruffled Nicol Brinn's hair.

"My Nicol," she said, tenderly. "Have I changed so much?"

Her accent was quaint and fascinating, but her voice was very
musical. To the man who knelt at her feet it was the sweetest
music in the world.

"Naida," he whispered. "Naida. Even yet I dare not believe that
you are here."

"You knew I would come?"

"How was I to know that you would see my message?"

She opened her closed left hand and smoothed out a scrap of torn
paper which she held there. It was from the "Agony" column of
that day's Times.

N. November 23, 1913. N. B. See Telephone Directory.

"I told you long, long ago that I would come if ever you wanted

"Long, long ago," echoed Nicol Brinn. "To me it has seemed a
century; to-night it seems a day."

He watched her with a deep and tireless content. Presently her
eyes fell. "Sit here beside me," she said. "I have not long to be
here. Put your arms round me. I have something to tell you."

He seated himself beside her on the settee, and held her close.
"My Naida!" he breathed softly.

"Ah, no, no!" she entreated. "Do you want to break my heart?"

He suddenly released her, clenched his big hands, and stared down
at the carpet. "You have broken mine."

Impulsively Naida threw her arms around his neck, coiling herself
up lithely and characteristically beside him.

"My big sweetheart," she whispered, crooningly. "Don't say
it--don't say it."

"I have said it. It is true."

Turning, fiercely he seized her. "I won't let you go!" he cried,
and there was a strange light in his eyes. "Before I was
helpless, now I am not. This time you have come to me, and you
shall stay."

She shrank away from him terrified, wild-eyed. "Oh, you forget,
you forget!"

"For seven years I have tried to forget. I have been mad, but
to-night I am sane."

"I trusted you, I trusted you!" she moaned.

Nicol Brinn clenched his teeth grimly for a moment, and then,
holding her averted face very close to his own, he began to speak
in a low, monotonous voice. "For seven years," he said, "I have
tried to die, because without you I did not care to live. I have
gone into the bad lands of the world and into the worst spots of
those bad lands. Night and day your eyes have watched me, and I
have wakened from dreams of your kisses and gone out to court
murder. I have earned the reputation of being something more than
human, but I am not. I had everything that life could give me
except you. Now I have got you, and I am going to keep you."

Naida began to weep silently. The low, even voice of Nicol Brinn
ceased. He could feel her quivering in his grasp; and, as she
sobbed, slowly, slowly the fierce light faded from his eyes.

"Naida, my Naida, forgive me," he whispered.

She raised her face, looking up to him pathetically. "I came to
you, I came to you," she moaned. "I promised long ago that I
would come. What use is it, all this? You know, you know! Kill me
if you like. How often have I asked you to kill me. It would be
sweet to die in your arms. But what use to talk so? You are in
great danger or you would not have asked me to come. If you don't
know it, I tell you--you are in great danger."

Nicol Brinn released her, stood up, and began slowly to pace
about the room. He deliberately averted his gaze from the settee.
"Something has happened," he began, "which has changed
everything. Because you are here I know that--someone else is

He was answered by a shuddering sigh, but he did not glance in
the direction of the settee.

"In India I respected what you told me. Because you were strong,
I loved you the more. Here in England I can no longer respect the
accomplice of assassins."

"Assassins? What, is this something new?"

"With a man's religion, however bloodthirsty it may be, I don't
quarrel so long as he sincerely believes in it. But for private
assassination I have no time and no sympathy." It was the old
Nicol Brinn who was speaking, coldly and incisively. "That--
something we both know about ever moved away from those Indian
hills was a possibility I had never considered. When it was
suddenly brought home to me that you, you, might be here in
London, I almost went mad. But the thing that made me realize it
was a horrible thing, a black, dastardly thing. See here."

He turned and crossed to where the woman was crouching, watching
him with wide-open, fearful eyes. He took both her hands and
looked grimly into her face. "For seven years I have walked
around with a silent tongue and a broken heart. All that is
finished. I am going to speak."

"Ah, no, no!" She was on her feet, her face a mask of tragedy.
"You swore to me, you swore to me!"

"No oath holds good in the face of murder."

"Is that why you bring me here? Is that what your message means?"

"My message means that because of--the thing you know about--I am
suspected of the murder."

"You? You?"

"Yes, I, I! Good God! when I realize what your presence here
means, I wish more than ever that I had succeeded in finding

"Please don't say it," came a soft, pleading voice. "What can I
do? What do you want me to do?"

"I want you to release me from that vow made seven years ago."

Naida uttered a stifled cry. "How is it possible? You understand
that it is not possible."

Nicol Brinn seized her by the shoulders. "Is it possible for me
to remain silent while men are murdered here in a civilized

"Oh," moaned Naida, "what can I do, what can I do?"

"Give me permission to speak and stay here. Leave the rest to

"You know I cannot stay, my Nicol," she replied, sadly.

"But," he said with deliberate slowness, "I won't let you go."

"You must let me go. Already I have been here too long."

He threw his arms around her and crushed her against him
fiercely. "Never again," he said. "Never again."

She pressed her little hands against his shoulders.

"Listen! Oh, listen!"

"I shall listen to nothing."

"But you must--you must! I want to make you understand something.
This morning I see your note in the papers. Every day, every day
for seven whole long years, wherever I have been, I have looked.
In the papers of India. Sometimes in the papers of France, of

"I never even dreamed that you left India," said Nicol Brinn,
hoarsely. "It was through the Times of India that I said I would
communicate with you."

"Once we never left India. Now we do--sometimes. But listen. I
prepared to come when--he--"

Nicol Brinn's clasp of Naida tightened cruelly.

"Oh, you hurt me!" she moaned. "Please let me speak. He gave me
your name and told me to bring you!"

"What! What!"

Nicol Brinn dropped his arms and stood, as a man amazed, watching

"Last night there was a meeting outside London."

"You don't want me to believe there are English members?"

"Yes. There are. Many. But let me go on. Somehow--somehow I don't
understand--he finds you are one--"

"My God!"

"And you are not present last night! Now, do you understand? So
he sends me to tell you that a car will be waiting at nine
o'clock to-night outside the Cavalry Club. The driver will be a
Hindu. You know what to say. Oh, my Nicol, my Nicol, go for my
sake! You know it all! You are clever. You can pretend. You can
explain you had no call. If you refuse--"

Nicol Brinn nodded grimly. "I understand! But, good God! How has
he found out? How has he found out?"

"I don't know!" moaned Naida. "Oh, I am frightened--so

A discreet rap sounded upon the door.

Nicol Brinn crossed and stood, hands clasped behind him, before
the mantelpiece. "In," he said.

Hoskins entered. "Detective Sergeant Stokes wishes to see you at
once, sir."

Brinn drew a watch from his waistcoat pocket. Attached to it was
a fob from which depended a little Chinese Buddha. He consulted
the timepiece and returned it to his pocket.

"Eight-twenty-five," he muttered, and glanced across to where
Naida, wide-eyed, watched him. "Admit Detective Sergeant Stokes
at eight-twenty. six, and then lock the door."

"Very good, sir."

Hoskins retired imperturbably.


Detective Sergeant Stokes was a big, dark, florid man, the word
"constable" written all over him. Indeed, as Wessex had
complained more than once, the mere sound of Stokes's footsteps
was a danger signal for any crook. His respect for his immediate
superior, the detective inspector, was not great. The methods of
Wessex savoured too much of the French school to appeal to one of
Stokes's temperament and outlook upon life, especially upon that
phase of life which comes within the province of the criminal

Wessex's instructions with regard to Nicol Brinn had been
succinct: "Watch Mr. Brinn's chambers, make a note of all his
visitors, but take no definite steps respecting him personally
without consulting me."

Armed with these instructions, the detective sergeant had
undertaken his duties, which had proved more or less tedious up
to the time that a fashionably attired woman of striking but
unusual appearance had inquired of the hall porter upon which
floor Mr. Nicol Brinn resided.

In her manner the detective sergeant had perceived something
furtive. There was a hunted look in her eyes, too.

When, at the end of some fifteen or twenty minutes, she failed to
reappear, he determined to take the initiative himself. By
intruding upon this prolonged conference he hoped to learn
something of value. Truth to tell, he was no master of finesse,
and had but recently been promoted from an East End district
where prompt physical action was of more value than subtlety.

As a result, then, he presently found himself in the presence of
the immovable Hoskins; and having caused his name to be
announced, he was requested to wait in the lobby for one minute.
Exactly one minute had elapsed when he was shown into that long,
lofty room, which of late had been the scene of strange

Nicol Brinn was standing before the fireplace, hands clasped
behind him, and a long cigar protruding from the left corner of
his mouth. No one else was present, so far as the detective could
see, but he glanced rapidly about the room in a way which told
the man who was watching that he had expected to find another
present. He looked into the unfathomable, light blue eyes of
Nicol Brinn, and became conscious of a certain mental confusion.

"Good evening, sir," he said, awkwardly. "I am acting in the case
concerning the disappearance of Mr. Paul Harley."

"Yes," replied Brinn.

"I have been instructed to keep an eye on these chambers."

"Yes," repeated the high voice.

"Well, sir"--again he glanced rapidly about-"I don't want to
intrude more than necessary, but a lady came in here about half
an hour ago."

"Yes," drawled Brinn. "It's possible."

"It's a fact," declared the detective sergeant. "If it isn't
troubling you too much, I should like to know that lady's name.
Also, I should like a chat with her before she leaves."

"Can't be done," declared Nicol Brinn. "She isn't here."

"Then where is she?"

"I couldn't say. She went some time ago."

Stokes stood squarely before Nicol Brinn--a big, menacing figure;
but he could not detect the slightest shadow of expression upon
the other's impassive features. He began to grow angry. He was of
that sanguine temperament which in anger acts hastily.

"Look here, sir," he said, and his dark face flushed. "You can't
play tricks on me. I've got my duty to do, and I am going to do
it. Ask your visitor to step in here, or I shall search the

Nicol Brinn replaced his cigar in the right corner of his mouth:
"Detective Sergeant Stokes, I give you my word that the lady to
whom you refer is no longer in these chambers."

Stokes glared at him angrily. "But there is no other way out," he

"I shall not deal with this matter further," declared Brinn,
coldly. "I may have vices, but I never was a liar."

"Oh," muttered the detective sergeant, taken aback by the cold
incisiveness of the speaker. "Then perhaps you will lead the way,
as I should like to take a look around."

Nicol Brinn spread his feet more widely upon the hearthrug.
"Detective Sergeant Stokes," he said, "you are not playing the
game. Inspector Wessex passed his word to me that for twenty-four
hours my movements should not be questioned or interfered with.
How is it that I find you here?"

Stokes thrust his hands in his pockets and coughed uneasily. "I
am not a machine," he replied; "and I do my own job in my own

"I doubt if Inspector Wessex would approve of your way."

"That's my business."

"Maybe, but it is no affair of yours to interfere with private
affairs of mine, Detective Sergeant. See here, there is no lady
in these chambers. Secondly, I have an appointment at nine
o'clock, and you are detaining me."

"What's more," answered Stokes, who had now quite lost his
temper, "I intend to go on detaining you until I have searched
these chambers and searched them thoroughly."

Nicol Brinn glanced at his watch. "If I leave in five minutes,
I'll be in good time," he said. "Follow me."

Crossing to the centre section of a massive bookcase, he opened
it, and it proved to be a door. So cunning was the design that
the closest scrutiny must have failed to detect any difference
between the dummy books with which it was decorated, and the
authentic works which filled the shelves to right and to left of
it. Within was a small and cosy study. In contrast with the
museum-like room out of which it opened, it was furnished in a
severely simple fashion, and one more experienced in the study of
complex humanity than Detective Sergeant Stokes must have
perceived that here the real Nicol Brinn spent his leisure hours.
Above the mantel was a life-sized oil painting of Mrs. Nicolas
Brinn; and whereas the great room overlooking Piccadilly was
exotic to a degree, the atmosphere of the study was markedly

Palpably there was no one there. Nor did the two bedrooms, the
kitchen, and the lobby afford any more satisfactory evidence.
Nicol Brinn led the way back from the lobby, through the small
study, and into the famous room where the Egyptian priestess
smiled eternally. He resumed his place upon the hearthrug.
"Are you satisfied, Detective Sergeant?"

"I am!" Stokes spoke angrily. "While you kept me talking, she
slipped out through that study, and down into the street."

"Ah," murmured Nicol Brinn.

"In fact, the whole business looks very suspicious to me,"
continued the detective.

"Sorry," drawled Brinn, again consulting his watch. "The five
minutes are up. I must be off."

"Not until I have spoken to Scotland Yard, sir."

"You wish to speak to Scotland Yard?"

"I do," said Stokes, grimly.

Nicol Brinn strode to the telephone, which stood upon a small
table almost immediately in front of the bookcase. The masked
door remained ajar.

"You are quite fixed upon detaining me?"

"Quite," said Stokes, watching him closely.

In one long stride Brinn was through the doorway, telephone in
hand! Before Stokes had time to move, the door closed violently,
in order, no doubt, to make it shut over the telephone cable
which lay under it!

Detective Sergeant Stokes fell back, gazed wildly at the false
books for a moment, and then, turning, leaped to the outer door.
It was locked!

In the meanwhile, Nicol Brinn, having secured the door which
communicated with the study, walked out into the lobby where
Hoskins was seated. Hoskins stood up.

"The lady went, Hoskins?"

"She did, sir."

Nicol Brinn withdrew the key from the door of the room in which
Detective Sergeant Stokes was confined. Stokes began banging
wildly upon the panels from within.

"That row will continue," Nicol Brinn said, coldly; "perhaps he
will shout murder from one of the windows. You have only to say
you had no key. I am going out now. The light coat, Hoskins."

Hoskins unemotionally handed coat, hat, and cane to his master
and, opening the front door, stood aside. The sound of a window
being raised became audible from within the locked room.

"Probably," added Nicol Brinn, "you will be arrested."

"Very good, sir," said Hoskins. "Good-night, sir..."


Some two hours after Paul Harley's examination of Jones, the
ex-parlourmaid, a shabby street hawker appeared in the Strand,
bearing a tray containing copies of "Old Moore's Almanac." He was
an ugly-looking fellow with a split lip, and appeared to have
neglected to shave for at least a week. Nobody appeared to be
particularly interested, and during his slow progression from
Wellington Street to the Savoy Hotel he smoked cigarettes almost
continuously. Trade was far from brisk, and the vendor of
prophecies filled in his spare time by opening car doors, for
which menial service he collected one three-penny bit and several

This commercial optimist was still haunting the courtyard of the
hotel at a time when a very handsome limousine pulled up beside
the curb and a sprucely attired Hindu stepped out. One who had
been in the apartments of Ormuz Khan must have recognized his
excellency's private secretary. Turning to the chauffeur, a
half-caste of some kind, and ignoring the presence of the prophet
who had generously opened the door, "You will return at eight
o'clock," he said, speaking perfect and cultured English, "to
take his excellency to High Claybury. Make a note, now, as I
shall be very busy, reminding me to call at Lower Claybury
station for a parcel which will be awaiting me there."

"Yes, sir," replied the chauffeur, and he touched his cap as the
Hindu walked into the hotel.

The salesman reclosed the door of the car, and spat reflectively
upon the pavement.

Limping wearily, he worked his way along in the direction of
Chancery Lane. But, before reaching Chancery Lane, he plunged
into a maze of courts with which he was evidently well
acquainted. His bookselling enterprise presently terminated, as
it had commenced, at The Chancery Agency.

Once more safe in his dressing room, the pedler rapidly
transformed himself into Paul Harley, and Paul Harley, laying his
watch upon the table before him, lighted his pipe and indulged in
half an hour's close thinking.

His again electing to focus his attention upon Ormuz Khan was
this time beyond reproach. It was the course which logic
dictated. Until he had attempted the task earlier in the day, he
could not have supposed it so difficult to trace the country
address of a well-known figure like that of the Persian.

This address he had determined to learn, and, having learned it,
was also determined to inspect the premises. But for such a
stroke of good luck as that which had befallen him at the Savoy,
he could scarcely have hoped. His course now lay clearly before
him. And presently, laying his pipe aside, he took up a telephone
which stood upon the dressing table and rang up a garage with
which he had an account.

"Hello, is that you, Mason?" he said. "Have the racer to meet me
at seven o'clock, half-way along Pall Mall."

Never for a moment did he relax his vigilance. Observing every
precaution when he left The Chancery Agency, he spent the
intervening time at one of his clubs, from which, having made an
early dinner, he set off for Pall Mall at ten minutes to seven. A
rakish-looking gray car resembling a giant torpedo was
approaching slowly from the direction of Buckingham Palace. The
driver pulled up as Paul Harley stepped into the road, and
following a brief conversation Harley set out westward,
performing a detour before heading south for Lower Claybury, a
little town with which he was only slightly acquainted. No
evidence of espionage could he detect, but the note of danger
spoke intimately to his inner consciousness; so that when, the
metropolis left behind, he found himself in the hilly Surrey
countryside, more than once he pulled up, sitting silent for a
while and listening intently. He failed, always, to detect any
sign of pursuit.

The night was tropically brilliant, hot, and still, but saving
the distant murmur of the city, and ordinary comings and goings
along the country roads, there was nothing to account for a
growing anxiety of which he became conscious.

He was in gunshot of Old Claybury church tower, when the sight of
a haystack immediately inside a meadow gate suggested a likely
hiding place for the racer; and, having run the car under cover,
Harley proceeded on foot to the little railway station. He
approached a porter who leaned in the doorway. "Could you direct
me to the house of his excellency Ormuz Khan?" he inquired.

"Yes, sir," was the reply. "If you follow the uphill road on the
other side of the station until you come to the Manor Park--you
will see the gates--and then branch off to the right, taking the
road facing the gates. Hillside--that's the name of the house--is
about a quarter of a mile along."

Dusk was beginning to fall and, although the nature of his
proposed operations demanded secrecy, he recognized that every
hour was precious. Accordingly he walked immediately back to the
spot at which he had left the car and, following the porter's
directions, drove over the line at the level crossing immediately
beyond the station, and proceeded up a tree-lined road until he
found himself skirting the railing of an extensive tract of park

Presently heavy gates appeared in view; and then, to the right,
another lane in which the growing dusk had painted many shadows.
He determined to drive on until he should find a suitable hiding
place. And at a spot, as he presently learned, not a hundred
yards from Hillside, he discovered an opening in the hedge which
divided the road from a tilled field. Into this, without
hesitation, he turned the racer, backing in, in order that he
might be ready for a flying start in case of emergency. Once more
he set out on foot.

He proceeded with caution, walking softly close to the side of
the road, and frequently pausing to listen. Advancing in this
fashion, he found himself standing ere long before an open
gateway, and gazing along a drive which presented a vista of
utter blackness. A faint sound reached his ear--the distant drone
of a powerful engine. A big car was mounting the slope from Lower
Claybury Station.



Not until Harley came within sight of the house, a low, rambling
Jacobean building, did he attempt to take cover. He scrambled up
a tree and got astride of a wall. A swift survey by his electric
torch of the ground on the other side revealed a jungle of weeds
in either direction.

He uttered an impatient exclamation. He calculated that the car
was now within a hundred yards of the end of the lane. Suddenly
came an idea that was born of emergency. Swarming up the tree to
where its dense foliage began, he perched upon a stout bough and

Three minutes later came a blaze of light through the gathering
darkness, and the car which he had last seen at the Savoy was
turned into the drive, and presently glided smoothly past him

The interior lights were extinguished, so that he was unable to
discern the occupants. The house itself was also unilluminated.
And when the car pulled up before the porch, less than ten yards
from his observation post, he could not have recognized the
persons who descended and entered Hillside.

Indeed, only by the sound of the closing door did he know that
they had gone in. But two figures were easily discernible; and he
judged them to be those of Ormuz Khan and his secretary. He
waited patiently, and ere long the limousine was turned in the
little courtyard before the porch and driven out into the lane
again. He did not fail to note that, the lane regained, the
chauffeur headed, not toward Lower Claybury, but away from it.

He retained his position until the hum of the motor grew dim in
the distance, and was about to descend when he detected the sound
of a second approaching car! Acutely conscious of danger, he
remained where he was. Almost before the hum of the retiring
limousine had become inaudible, a second car entered the lane and
turned into the drive of Hillside.

Harley peered eagerly downward, half closing his eyes in order
that he might not be dazzled by the blaze of the headlight. This
was another limousine, its most notable characteristic being that
the blinds were drawn in all the windows.

On this occasion, when the chauffeur stepped around and opened
the door, only one passenger alighted. There seemed to be some
delay before he was admitted, but Harley found it impossible to
detect any details of the scene being enacted in the shadowed

Presently the second car was driven away, pursuing the same
direction as the first. Hot upon its departure came the drone of
a third. The windows of the third car also exhibited drawn
blinds. As it passed beneath him he stifled an exclamation of
triumph. Vaguely, nebulously, the secret of this dread thing
Fire-Tongue, which had uplifted its head in England, appeared
before his mind's eye. It was only necessary for him to assure
himself that the latest visitor had been admitted to the house
before the next move became possible. Accordingly he changed his
position, settling himself more comfortably upon the bough. And
now he watched the three cars perform each two journeys to some
spot or spots unknown, and, returning, deposit their passengers
before the porch of Hillside. The limousine used by Ormuz Khan,
upon its second appearance had partaken of the same peculiarity
as the others: there were blinds drawn inside the windows.

Paul Harley believed that he understood precisely what this
signified, and when, after listening intently in the stillness of
the night, he failed to detect sounds of any other approach, he
descended to the path and stole toward the dark house.

There were French windows upon the ground floor, all of them
closely shuttered. Although he recognized that he was taking
desperate chances, he inspected each one of them closely.

Passing gently from window to window, his quest ultimately earned
its reward. Through a crack in one of the shutters a dim light
shone out. His heart was beating uncomfortably, although he had
himself well in hand; and, crawling into the recess formed by the
window, he pressed his ear against a pane and listened intently.
At first he could hear nothing, but, his investigation being
aided by the stillness of the night, he presently became aware
that a voice was speaking within the room--deliberately,
musically. The beating of his heart seemed to make his body throb
to the very finger tips. He had recognized the voice to be the
voice of Ormuz Khan!

Now, his sense of hearing becoming attuned to the muffled tones,
he began to make out syllables, words, and, finally, sentences.
Darkness wrapped him about, so that no one watching could have
seen his face. But he himself knew that under the bronze which he
never lost he had grown pale. His heartbeats grew suddenly
fainter, an eerie chill more intense than any which the note of
danger had ever occasioned caused him to draw sharply back.

"My God!" he whispered. He drew his automatic swiftly from his
pocket, and, pressed against the wall beside the window, looked
about him as a man looks who finds himself surrounded by enemies.
Not a sound disturbed the stillness of the garden except for
sibilant rustlings of the leaves, occasioned by a slight breeze.

Paul Harley retreated step by step to the bushes. He held the
pistol tightly clenched in his right hand.

He had heard his own death sentence pronounced and he knew that
it was likely to be executed.


He regained the curve of the drive without meeting any
opposition. There, slipping the pistol into his pocket, he
climbed rapidly up the tree from which he had watched the arrival
of the three cars, climbed over the wall, and dropped into the
weed jungle beyond. He crept stealthily forward to the gap where
he had concealed the racer, drawing nearer and nearer to the
bushes lining the lane. Only by a patch of greater darkness
before him did he realize that he had reached it. But when the
realization came one word only he uttered: "Gone!"

His car had disappeared!

Despair was alien to his character: A true Englishman, he never
knew when he was beaten. Beyond doubt, now, he must accept the
presence of hidden enemies surrounding him, of enemies whose
presence even his trained powers of perception had been unable to
detect. The intensity of the note of danger which he had
recognized now was fully explained. He grew icily cool, master of
his every faculty. "We shall see!" he muttered, grimly.

Feeling his way into the lane, he set out running for the
highroad, his footsteps ringing out sharply upon the dusty way.
The highroad gained, he turned, not to the left, but to the
right, ran up the bank and threw himself flatly down upon it,
lying close to the hedge and watching the entrance to the lane.
Nothing appeared; nothing stirred. He knew the silence to be
illusive; he blamed himself for having ventured upon such a quest
without acquainting himself with the geography of the

Great issues often rest upon a needle point. He had no idea of
the direction or extent of the park land adjoining the highroad.
Nevertheless, further inaction being out of the question,
creeping along the grassy bank, he began to retreat from the
entrance to the lane. Some ten yards he had progressed in this
fashion when his hidden watchers made their first mistake.

A faint sound, so faint that only a man in deadly peril could
have detected it, brought him up sharply. He crouched back
against the hedge, looking behind him. For a long time he failed
to observe anything. Then, against the comparatively high tone of
the dusty road, he saw a silhouette--the head and shoulders of
someone who peered out cautiously.

Still as the trees above him he crouched, watching, and
presently, bent forward, questing to right and left, questing in
a horribly suggestive animal fashion, the entire figure of the
man appeared in the roadway.

As Paul Harley had prayed would be the case, his pursuers
evidently believed that he had turned in the direction of Lower
Claybury. A vague, phantom figure, Harley saw the man wave his
arm, whereupon a second man joined him--a third--and, finally, a

Harley clenched his teeth grimly, and as the ominous quartet
began to move toward the left, he resumed his slow retreat to the
right--going ever farther away, of necessity, from the only
centre with which he was acquainted and from which he could hope
to summon assistance. Finally he reached a milestone resting
almost against the railings of the Manor Park.

Drawing a deep breath, he sprang upon the milestone, succeeded in
grasping the top of the high iron railings, and hauled himself up

Praying that the turf might be soft, he jumped. Fit though he
was, and hardened by physical exercise, the impact almost stunned
him. He came down like an acrobat--left foot, right foot, and
then upon his hands, but nevertheless he lay there for a moment
breathless and temporarily numbed by the shock.

In less than a minute he was on his feet again and looking
alertly about him. Striking into the park land, turning to the
left, and paralleling the highroad, he presently came out upon
the roadway, along which under shelter of a straggling hedge, he
began to double back. In sight of the road dipping down to Lower
Claybury he crossed, forcing his way through a second hedge
thickly sown with thorns.

Badly torn, but careless of such minor injuries, he plunged
heavily through a turnip field, and, bearing always to the left,
came out finally upon the road leading to the station, and only
some fifty yards from the bottom of the declivity.

A moment he paused, questioning the silence. He was unwilling to
believe that he had outwitted his pursuers. His nerves were
strung to highest tension, and his strange gift of semi-
prescience told him that danger was at least as imminent as ever,
even though he could neither see nor hear his enemies. Therefore,
pistol in hand again, he descended to the foot of the hill.

He remembered having noticed, when he had applied to the porter
for information respecting the residence of Ormuz Khan, that upon
a window adjoining the entrance had appeared the words "Station
Master." The station master's office, therefore, was upon the
distant side of the line.

Now came the hardest blow of all. The station was closed for the
night. Nor was there any light in the signal box. Evidently no
other train was due upon that branch line until some time in the
early morning. The level crossing gate was open, but before
breaking cover he paused a while to consider what he should do.
Lower Claybury was one of those stations which have no intimate
connection with any township. The nearest house, so far as Harley
could recall, was fully twenty yards from the spot at which he
stood. Furthermore, the urgency of the case had fired the soul of
the professional investigator.

He made up his mind, and, darting out into the road, he ran
across the line, turned sharply, and did not pause until he stood
before the station master's window. Then his quick wits were put
to their ultimate test.

Right, left, it seemed from all about him, came swiftly pattering
footsteps! Instantly he divined the truth. Losing his tracks upon
the highroad above, a section of his pursuers had surrounded the
station, believing that he would head for it in retreat.

Paul Harley whipped off his coat in a flash, and using it as a
ram, smashed the window. He reached up, found the catch, and
opened the sash. In ten seconds he was in the room, and a great
clatter told him that he had overturned some piece of furniture.

Disentangling his coat, he sought and found the electric torch.
He pressed the button. No light came. It was broken! He drew a
hissing breath, and began to grope about the little room. At last
his hand touched the telephone, and, taking it up:

"Hello!" he said. "Hello!"

"Yes," came the voice of the operator--"what number?"

"City 8951. Police business! Urgent!"

One, two, three seconds elapsed, four, five, six.

"Hello!" came the voice of Innes.

"That you, Innes?" said Harley. And, interrupting the other's
reply: "I am by no means safe, Innes! I am in one of the tightest
corners of my life. Listen: Get Wessex! If he's off duty, get
Burton. Tell him to bring--"

Someone leaped in at the broken window behind the speaker.
Resting the telephone upon the table, where he had found it,
Harley reached into his hip pocket and snapped out his automatic.

Dimly he could hear Innes speaking. He half-turned, raised the
pistol, and knew a sudden intense pain at the back of his skull.
A thousand lights seemed suddenly to split the darkness. He felt
himself sinking into an apparently bottomless pit.


"Any news, Wessex?" asked Innes, eagerly, starting up from his
chair as the inspector entered the office.

Wessex shook his head, and sitting down took out and lighted a

"News of a sort," he replied, slowly, "but nothing of any value,
I am afraid. My assistant, Stokes, has distinguished himself."

"In what way?" asked Innes, dully, dropping back into his chair.

These were trying days for the indefatigable secretary. Believing
that some clue of importance might come to light at any hour of
the day or night he remained at the chambers in Chancery Lane,
sleeping nightly in the spare room.

"Well," continued the inspector, "I had detailed him to watch
Nicol Brinn, but my explicit instructions were that Nicol Brinn
was not to be molested in any way."

"What happened?"

"To-night Nicol Brinn had a visitor--possibly a valuable witness.
Stokes, like an idiot, allowed her to slip through his fingers
and tried to arrest Brinn!"

"What? Arrest him!" cried Innes.

"Precisely. But I rather fancy," added the inspector, grimly,
"that Mr. Stokes will think twice before taking leaps like that
in the dark again."

"You say he tried to arrest him. What do you mean by that?"

"I mean that Nicol Brinn, leaving Stokes locked in his chambers,
went out and has completely disappeared!"

"But the woman?"

"Ah, the woman! There's the rub. If he had lain low and followed
the woman, all might have been well. But who she was, where she
came from, and where she has gone, we have no idea."

"Nicol Brinn must have been desperate to adopt such measures?"

Detective Inspector Wessex nodded.

"I quite agree with you."

"He evidently had an appointment of such urgency that he could
permit nothing to stand in his way."

"He is a very clever man, Mr. Innes. He removed the telephone
from the room in which he had locked Stokes, so that my
blundering assistant was detained for nearly fifteen
minutes--detained, in fact, until his cries from the window
attracted the attention of a passing constable!"

"Nicol Brinn's man did not release him?"

"No, he said he had no key."

"What happened?"

"Stokes wanted to detain the servant, whose name is Hoskins, but
I simply wouldn't hear of it. I am a poor man, but I would
cheerfully give fifty pounds to know where Nicol Brinn is at this

Innes stood up restlessly and began to drum his fingers upon the
table edge. Presently he looked up, and:

"There's a shadow of hope," he said. "Rector--you know
Rector?--had been detailed by the chief to cover the activities
of Nicol Brinn. He has not reported to me so far to-night."

"You mean that he may be following him?" cried Wessex.

"It is quite possible--following either Nicol Brinn or the

"My God, I hope you're right!--even though it makes the Criminal
Investigation Department look a bit silly."

"Then," continued Innes, "there is something else which you
should know. I heard to-day from a garage, with which Mr. Harley
does business, that he hired a racing car last night. He has
often used it before. It met him half-way along Pall Mall at
seven o'clock, and he drove away in it in the direction of
Trafalgar Square."


"Yes, unfortunately."

"Toward Trafalgar Square," murmured Wessex.

"Ah," said Innes, shaking his head, "that clue is of no
importance. Under the circumstances the chief would be much more
likely to head away from his objective than toward it."

"Quite," murmured Wessex. "I agree with you. But what's this?"

The telephone bell was ringing, and as Innes eagerly took up the

"Yes, yes, Mr. Innes speaking," he said, quickly. "Is that you,

The voice of Rector, one of Paul Harley's assistants, answered
him over the wire:

"I am speaking from Victoria Station, Mr. Innes."

"Yes!" said Innes. "Go ahead."

"A very odd-looking woman visited Mr. Nicol Brinn's chambers this
evening. She was beautifully dressed, but wore the collar of her
fur coat turned up about her face, so that it was difficult to
see her. But somehow I think she was an Oriental."

"An Oriental!" exclaimed Innes.

"I waited for her to come out," Rector continued. "She had
arrived in a cab, which was waiting, and I learned from the man
that he had picked her up at Victoria Station."


"She came out some time later in rather a hurry. In fact, I think
there was no doubt that she was frightened. By this time I had
another cab waiting."

"And where did she go?" asked Innes.

"Back to Victoria Station."

"Yes! Go on!"

"Unfortunately, Mr. Innes, my story does not go much further. I
wasted very little time, you may be sure. But although no train
had left from the South Eastern station, which she had entered,
there was no sign of her anywhere. So that I can only suppose she
ran through to the Brighton side, or possibly out to a car, which
may have been waiting for her somewhere."

"Is that all?" asked Innes, gloomily.

"That's all, Mr. Innes. But I thought I would report it."

"Quite right, Rector; you could do no more. Did you see anything
of Detective Sergeant Stokes before you left Piccadilly?"

"I did," replied the other. "He also was intensely interested in
Nicol Brinn's visitor. And about five minutes before she came out
he went upstairs."

"Oh, I see. She came out almost immediately after Stokes had gone


"Very well, Rector. Return to Piccadilly, and report to me as
soon as possible." Innes hung up the receiver.

"Did you follow, Wessex?" he said. "Stokes was on the right
track, but made a bad blunder. You see, his appearance led to the
woman's retreat."

"He explained that to me," returned the inspector, gloomily. "She
got out by another door as he came in. Oh! a pretty mess he has
made of it. If he and Rector had been cooperating, they could
have covered her movements perfectly."

"There is no use crying over spilt milk," returned Innes. He
glanced significantly in the inspector's direction. "Miss
Abingdon has rung up practically every hour all day," he said.

Wessex nodded his head.

"I'm a married man myself," he replied, "and happily married,
too. But if you had seen the look in her eyes when I told her
that Mr. Harley had disappeared, I believe you would have envied

"Yes," murmured Innes. "They haven't known each other long, but I
should say from what little I have seen of them that she cares
too much for her peace of mind." He stared hard at the inspector.
"I think it will break her heart if anything has happened to the
chief. The sound of her voice over the telephone brings a lump
into my throat, Wessex. She rang up an hour ago. She will ring up

"Yet I never thought he was a marrying man," muttered the

"Neither did I," returned Innes, smiling sadly. "But even he can
be forgiven for changing his mind in the case of Phil Abingdon."

"Ah," said the inspector. "I am not sorry to know that he is
human like the rest of us." His expression grew retrospective,
and: "I can't make out how the garage you were speaking about
didn't report that matter before," he added.

"Well, you see," explained Innes, "they were used to the chief
making long journeys."

"Long journeys," muttered the inspector. "Did he make a long
journey? I wonder--I wonder."


As Nicol Brinn strolled out from the door below his chambers in
Piccadilly, a hoarse voice made itself audible above his head.

"Police!" he heard over the roar of the traffic. "Help! Police!"

Detective Sergeant Stokes had come out upon the balcony. But up
to the time that Nicol Brinn turned and proceeded in leisurely
fashion in the direction of the Cavalry Club, the sergeant had
not succeeded in attracting any attention.

Nicol Brinn did not hurry. Having his hands thrust in the pockets
of his light overcoat, he sauntered along Piccadilly as an idle
man might do. He knew that he had ample time to keep his
appointment, and recognizing the vital urgency of the situation,
he was grateful for some little leisure to reject.

One who had obtained a glimpse of his face in the light of the
shop windows which he passed must have failed to discern any
evidence of anxiety. Yet Nicol Brinn knew that death was
beckoning to him. He knew that his keen wit was the only weapon
which could avail him to-night; and he knew that he must show
himself a master of fence.

A lonely man, of few but enduring friendships, he had admitted
but one love to his life, except the love of his mother. This one
love for seven years he had sought to kill. But anything forceful
enough to penetrate to the stronghold of Nicol Brinn's soul was
indestructible, even by Nicol Brinn himself.

So, now, at the end of a mighty struggle, he had philosophically
accepted this hopeless passion which Fate had thrust upon him.
Yet he whose world was a chaos outwardly remained unmoved.

Perhaps even that evil presence whose name was Fire-Tongue might
have paused, might have hesitated, might even have changed his
plans, which, in a certain part of the world, were counted
immutable, had he known the manner of man whom he had summoned to
him that night.

Just outside the Cavalry Club a limousine was waiting, driven by
a chauffeur who looked like some kind of Oriental. Nicol Brinn
walked up to the man, and bending forward:

"Fire-Tongue," he said, in a low voice.

The chauffeur immediately descended and opened the door of the
car. The interior was unlighted, but Nicol Brinn cast a
comprehensive glance around ere entering. As he settled himself
upon the cushions, the door was closed again, and he found
himself in absolute darkness.

"Ah," he muttered. "Might have foreseen it." All the windows were
curtained, or rather, as a rough investigation revealed, were
closed with aluminium shutters which were immovable.

A moment later, as the car moved off, a lamp became lighted above
him. Then he saw that several current periodicals were placed
invitingly in the rack, as well as a box of very choice Egyptian

"H'm," he murmured.

He made a close investigation upon every side, but he knew enough
of the organization with which he was dealing to be prepared for

He failed. There was no cranny through which he could look out.
Palpably, it would be impossible to learn where he was being
taken. The journey might be a direct one, or might be a detour.
He wished that he could have foreseen this device. Above all, he
wished that Detective Sergeant Stokes had been a more clever man.

It would have been good to know that he was followed. His only
hope was that someone detailed by Paul Harley might be in

Lighting a fresh cigar, Nicol Brinn drew a copy of the Sketch
from the rack, and studied the photographs of more or less pretty
actresses with apparent contentment. He had finished the Sketch,
and was perusing the Bystander, when, the car having climbed a
steep hill and swerved sharply to the right, he heard the
rustling of leaves, and divined that they were proceeding along a

He replaced the paper in the rack, and took out his watch.
Consulting it, he returned it to his pocket as the car stopped
and the light went out.

The door, which, with its fellow, Nicol Brinn had discovered to
be locked, was opened by the Oriental chauffeur, and Brinn
descended upon the steps of a shadowed porch. The house door was
open, and although there was no light within:

"Come this way," said a voice, speaking out of the darkness.

Nicol Brinn entered a hallway the atmosphere of which seemed to
be very hot.

"Allow me to take your hat and coat," continued the voice.

He was relieved of these, guided along a dark passage; and
presently, an inner door being opened, he found himself in a
small, barely furnished room where one shaded lamp burned upon a
large writing table.

His conductor, who did not enter, closed the door quietly, and
Nicol Brinn found himself looking into the smiling face of a
Hindu gentleman who sat at the table.

The room was decorated with queer-looking Indian carvings,
pictures upon silk, and other products of Eastern craftsmanship.
The table and the several chairs were Oriental in character, but
the articles upon the table were very European and businesslike
in appearance. Furthermore, the Hindu gentleman, who wore correct
evening dress, might have been the representative of an Eastern
banking house, as indeed he happened to be, amongst other things.

"Good evening," he said, speaking perfect English "won't you sit

He pointed with a pen which he was holding in the direction of a
heavily carved chair which stood near the table. Nicol Brinn sat
down, regarding the speaker with lack-lustre eyes.

"A query has arisen respecting your fraternal rights," continued
the Hindu. "Am I to understand that you claim to belong to the
Seventh Kama?"

"Certainly," replied Brinn in a toneless voice.

The Hindu drew his cuff back from a slender yellow wrist,
revealing a curious mark which appeared to be branded upon the
flesh. It was in the form of a torch or flambeau surmounted by a
tongue of flame. He raised his black brows, smiling

Nicol Brinn stood up, removing his tight dinner jacket. Then,
rolling back his sleeve from a lean, sinuous forearm, he extended
the powerful member, having his fist tightly clenched.

Upon the inside of his arm, just above the elbow, an identical
mark had been branded!

The Hindu stood up and saluted Nicol Brinn in a peculiar manner.
That is to say, he touched the second finger of his right hand
with the tip of his tongue, and then laid the finger upon his
forehead, at the same time bowing deeply.

Nicol Brinn repeated the salutation, and quietly put his coat on.

"We greet you," said the Hindu. "I am Rama Dass of the Bengal
Lodge. Have you Hindustani?"


"Where were you initiated?"

"At Moon Ali Lane."

"Ah!" exclaimed the Hindu. "I see it all. In Bombay?"

"In Bombay."

"When, and by whom, may I ask?"

"By Ruhmani, November 23, 1913."

"Strange," murmured Rama Dass. "Brother Ruhmani died in that
year; which accounts for our having lost touch with you. What is
your grade?"

"The fifth."

"You have not proceeded far, brother. How do you come to be
unacquainted with our presence in England?"

"I cannot say."

"What work has been allotted to you?"




"More and more strange," murmured the Hindu, watching Nicol Brinn
through the gold-rimmed spectacles which he wore. "I have only
known one other case. Such cases are dangerous, brother."

"No blame attaches to me," replied Nicol Brinn.

"I have not said so," returned Rama Dass. "But in the Seventh
Kama all brothers must work. A thousand lives are as nothing so
the Fire lives. We had thought our information perfect, but only
by accident did we learn of your existence."

"Indeed," murmured Nicol Brinn, coldly.

Not even this smiling Hindu gentleman, whose smile concealed so
much, could read any meaning in those lack-lustre eyes, nor
detect any emotion in that high, cool voice.

"A document was found, and in this it was recorded that you bore
upon your arm the sign of the Seventh Kama."

"'Tis Fire that moves the grains of dust," murmured Nicol Brinn,
tonelessly, "which one day make a mountain for the gods."

Rama Dass stood up at once and repeated his strange gesture of
salutation, which Nicol Brinn returned ceremoniously; and resumed
his seat at the table.

"You are advanced beyond your grade, brother," he said. "You are
worthy the next step. Do you wish to take it?"

"Every little drop swells the ocean," returned Nicol Brinn.

"You speak well," the Hindu said. "We have here your complete
record. It shall not be consulted. To do so were unnecessary. We
are satisfied. We regret only that one so happily circumstanced
to promote the coming of the Fire should have been lost sight of.
Last night there were three promotions and several rejections.
You were expected."

"But I was not summoned."

"No," murmured Rama Dass. "We had learned of you as I have said.
However, great honour results. You will be received alone. Do you
desire to advance?"

"No. Give me time."

Rama Dass again performed the strange salutation, and again Nicol
Brinn returned it.

"Wisdom is a potent wine," said the latter, gravely.

"We respect your decision."

The Hindu rang a little silver bell upon his table, and the
double doors which occupied one end of the small room opened
silently, revealing a large shadowy apartment beyond.

Rama Dass stood up, crossed the room, and standing just outside
the open doors, beckoned to Nicol Brinn to advance.

"There is no fear," he said, in a queer, chanting tone.

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