Part 2 out of 5
which she was seated. Once, at some reference to words spoken by
her father, her sensitive lips began to quiver and Harley,
watching her, paused. She held the chair arms more tightly.
"Please go on, Mr. Harley," she said.
The words were spoken in a very low voice, but the speaker looked
up bravely, and Harley, reassured, proceeded uninterruptedly to
the end of the story. Then:
"At some future time, Miss Abingdon," he coneluded, "I hope you
will allow me to call upon you. There is so much to be
Again Phil Abingdon looked up into his face. "I have forced
myself to come to see you to-day," she said, "because I realize
there is no service I can do poor dad so important as finding
"I understand," Harley interrupted, gently. "But--"
"No, no." Phil Abingdon shook her head rebelliously. "Please ask
me what you want to know. I came for that."
He met the glance of violet eyes, and understood something of
Doctor McMurdoch's helplessness. He found his thoughts again
wandering into strange, wild byways and was only recalled to the
realities by the dry, gloomy voice of the physician. "Go on, Mr.
Harley," said Doctor McMurdoch. "She has grand courage."
CHAPTER VII. CONFESSIONS
Paul Harley crossed the room and stood in front of the tall
Burmese cabinet. He experienced the utmost difficulty in adopting
a judicial attitude toward his beautiful visitor. Proximity
increased his mental confusion. Therefore he stood on the
opposite side of the office ere beginning to question her.
"In the first place, Miss Abingdon," he said, speaking very
deliberately, "do you attach any particular significance to the
Phil Abingdon glanced rapidly at Doctor McMurdoch. "None at all,
Mr. Harley," she replied. "The doctor has already told me of--"
"You know why I ask?" She inclined her head.
"And Mr. Nicol Brinn? Have you met this gentleman?"
"Never. I know that Dad had met him and was very much interested
"In what way?"
"I have no idea. He told me that he thought Mr. Brinn one of the
most singular characters he had ever known. But beyond describing
his rooms in Piccadilly, which had impressed him as
extraordinary, he said very little about Mr. Brinn. He sounded
interesting and "--she hesitated and her eyes filled with
tears--"I asked Dad to invite him home." Again she paused. This
retrospection, by making the dead seem to live again, added to
the horror of her sudden bereavement, and Harley would most
gladly have spared her more. "Dad seemed strangely disinclined to
do so," she added.
At that the keen investigator came to life within Harley. "Your
father did not appear anxious to bring Mr. Brinn to his home?" he
"Not at all anxious. This was all the more strange because Dad
invited Mr. Brinn to his club."
"He gave no reason for his refusal?"
"Oh, there was no refusal, Mr. Harley. He merely evaded the
matter. I never knew why."
"H'm," muttered Harley. "And now, Miss Abingdon, can you
enlighten me respecting the identity of the Oriental gentleman
with whom he had latterly become acquainted?"
Phil Abingdon glanced rapidly at Doctor McMurdoch and then
lowered her head. She did not answer at once. "I know to whom you
refer, Mr. Harley," she said, finally. "But it was I who had made
this gentleman's acquaintance. My father did not know him."
"Then I wonder why he mentioned him?" murmured Harley.
"That I cannot imagine. I have been wondering ever since Doctor
McMurdoch told me."
"You recognize the person to whom Sir Charles referred?"
"Yes. He could only have meant Ormuz Khan."
"Ormuz Khan--" echoed Harley. "Where have I heard that name?"
"He visits England periodically, I believe. In fact, he has a
house somewhere near London. I met him at Lady Vail's."
"Lady Vail's? His excellency moves, then, in diplomatic circles?
Odd that I cannot place him."
"I have a vague idea, Mr. Harley, that he is a financier. I seem
to have heard that he had something to do with the Imperial Bank
of Iran." She glanced naively at Harley. "Is there such a bank?"
"There is," he replied. "Am I to understand that Ormuz Khan is a
"I believe he is a Persian," said Phil Abingdon, rather
confusedly. "To be quite frank, I know very little about him."
Paul Harley gazed steadily at the speaker for a moment. "Can you
think of any reason why Sir Charles should have worried about
this gentleman?" he asked.
The girl lowered her head again. "He paid me a lot of attention,"
she finally confessed.
"This meeting at Lady Vail's, then, was the first of many?"
"Oh, no--not of many! I saw him two or three times. But he began
to send me most extravagant presents. I suppose it was his
Oriental way of paying a compliment, but Dad objected."
"Of course he would. He knew his Orient and his Oriental. I
assume, Miss Abingdon, that you were in England during the years
that your father lived in the East?"
"Yes. I was at school. I have never been in the East."
Paul Harley hesitated. He found himself upon dangerously delicate
ground and was temporarily at a loss as to how to proceed.
Unexpected aid came from the taciturn Doctor McMurdoch.
"He never breathed a word of this to me, Phil," he said,
gloomily. "The impudence of the man! Small wonder Abingdon
Phil Abingdon tilted her chin forward rebelliously.
"Ormuz Khan was merely unfamiliar with English customs," she
retorted. "There was nothing otherwise in his behaviour to which
any one could have taken exception."
"What's that!" demanded the physician. "If a man of colour paid
his heathen attentions to my daughter--"
"But you have no daughter, Doctor."
"No. But if I had--"
"If you had," echoed Phil Abingdon, and was about to carry on
this wordy warfare which, Harley divined, was of old standing
between the two, when sudden realization of the purpose of the
visit came to her. She paused, and he saw her biting her lips
desperately. Almost at random he began to speak again.
"So far as you are aware, then, Miss Abingdon, Sir Charles never
met Ormuz Khan?"
"He never even saw him, Mr. Harley, that I know of."
"It is most extraordinary that he should have given me the
impression that this man--for I can only suppose that he referred
to Ormuz Khan--was in some way associated with his fears."
"I must remind you, Mr. Harley," Doctor McMurdoch interrupted,
"that poor Abingdon was a free talker. His pride, I take it,
which was strong, had kept him silent on this matter with me, but
he welcomed an opportunity of easing his mind to one discreet and
outside the family circle. His words to you may have had no
bearing upon the thing he wished to consult you about."
"H'm," mused Harley. "That's possible. But such was not my
He turned again to Phil Abingdon. "This Ormuz Khan, I understood
you to say, actually resides in or near London?"
"He is at present living at the Savoy, I believe. He also has a
house somewhere outside London."
There were a hundred other questions Paul Harley was anxious to
ask: some that were professional but more that were personal. He
found himself resenting the intrusion of this wealthy Oriental
into the life of the girl who sat there before him. And because
he could read a kindred resentment in the gloomy eye of Doctor
McMurdoch, he was drawn spiritually closer to that dour
By virtue of his training he was a keen psychologist, and he
perceived clearly enough that Phil Abingdon was one of those
women in whom a certain latent perversity is fanned to life by
opposition. Whether she was really attracted by Ormuz Khan or
whether she suffered his attentions merely because she knew them
to be distasteful to others, he could not yet decide.
Anger threatened him--as it had threatened him when he had
realized that Nicol Brinn meant to remain silent. He combated it,
for it had no place in the judicial mind of the investigator. But
he recognized its presence with dismay. Where Phil Abingdon was
concerned he could not trust himself. In her glance, too, and in
the manner of her answers to questions concerning the Oriental,
there was a provoking femininity--a deliberate and baffling
intrusion of the eternal Eve.
He stared questioningly across at Doctor McMurdoch and perceived
a sudden look of anxiety in the physician's face. Quick as the
thought which the look inspired, he turned to Phil Abingdon.
She was sitting quite motionless in the big armchair, and her
face had grown very pale. Even as he sprang forward he saw her
"She has fainted," said Doctor McMurdoch. "I'm not surprised."
"Nor I," replied Harley. "She should not have come."
He opened the door communicating with his private apartments and
ran out. But, quick as he was, Phil Abingdon had recovered before
he returned with the water for which he had gone. Her reassuring
smile was somewhat wan. "How perfectly silly of me!" she said. "I
shall begin to despise myself."
Presently he went down to the street with his visitors.
"There must be so much more you want to know, Mr. Harley," said
Phil Abingdon. "Will you come and see me?"
He promised to do so. His sentiments were so strangely complex
that he experienced a desire for solitude in order that he might
strive to understand them. As he stood at the door watching the
car move toward the Strand he knew that to-day he could not count
upon his intuitive powers to warn him of sudden danger. But he
keenly examined the faces of passers-by and stared at the
occupants of those cabs and cars which were proceeding in the
same direction as the late Sir Charles Abingdon's limousine.
No discovery rewarded him, however, and he returned upstairs to
his office deep in thought. "I am in to nobody," he said as he
passed the desk at which Innes was at work.
"Very good, Mr. Harley."
Paul Harley walked through to the private office and, seating
himself at the big, orderly table, reached over to a cupboard
beside him and took out a tin of smoking mixture. He began very
slowly to load his pipe, gazing abstractedly across the room at
the tall Burmese cabinet.
He realized that, excepting the extraordinary behaviour and the
veiled but significant statements of Nicol Brinn, his theory that
Sir Charles Abingdon had not died from natural causes rested upon
data of the most flimsy description. From Phil Abingdon he had
learned nothing whatever. Her evidence merely tended to confuse
the case more hopelessly.
It was sheer nonsense to suppose that Ormuz Khan, who was
evidently interested in the girl, could be in any way concerned
in the death of her father. Nevertheless, as an ordinary matter
of routine, Paul Harley, having lighted his pipe, made a note on
a little block:
Cover activities of Ormuz Khan.
He smoked reflectively for a while and then added another note:
Watch Nicol Brinn.
For ten minutes or more he sat smoking and thinking, his unseeing
gaze set upon the gleaming lacquer of the cabinet; and presently,
as he smoked, he became aware of an abrupt and momentary chill.
His sixth sense was awake again. Taking up a pencil, he added a
Watch yourself. You are in danger.
CHAPTER VIII. A WREATH OF HYACINTHS
Deep in reflection and oblivious of the busy London life around
him, Paul Harley walked slowly along the Strand. Outwardly he was
still the keen-eyed investigator who could pry more deeply into a
mystery than any other in England; but to-day his mood was
introspective. He was in a brown study.
The one figure which had power to recall him to the actual world
suddenly intruded itself upon his field of vision. From dreams
which he recognized in the moment of awakening to have been of
Phil Abingdon, he was suddenly aroused to the fact that Phil
Abingdon herself was present. Perhaps, half subconsciously, he
had been looking for her.
Veiled and dressed in black, he saw her slim figure moving
through the throng. He conceived the idea that there was
something furtive in her movements. She seemed to be hurrying
along as if desirous of avoiding recognition. Every now and again
she glanced back, evidently in search of a cab, and a dormant
suspicion which had lain in Harley's mind now became animate.
Phil Abingdon was coming from the direction of the Savoy Hotel.
Was it possible that she had been to visit Ormuz Khan?
Harley crossed the Strand and paused just in front of the
hurrying, black-clad figure. "Miss Abingdon," he said, "a sort of
instinct told me that I should meet you to-day."
She stopped suddenly, and through the black veil which she wore
he saw her eyes grow larger--or such was the effect as she opened
them widely. Perhaps he misread their message. To him Phil
Abingdon's expression was that of detected guilt. More than ever
he was convinced of the truth of his suspicions. "Perhaps you
were looking for a cab?" he suggested.
Overcoming her surprise, or whatever emotion had claimed her at
the moment of this unexpected meeting, Phil Abingdon took
Harley's outstretched hand and held it for a moment before
replying. "I had almost despaired of finding one," she said, "and
I am late already."
"The porter at the Savoy would get you one."
"I have tried there and got tired of waiting," she answered quite
For a moment Harley's suspicions were almost dispelled, and,
observing an empty cab approaching, he signalled to the man to
"Where do you want to go to?" he inquired, opening the door.
"I am due at Doctor McMurdoch's," she replied, stepping in.
Paul Harley hesitated, glancing from the speaker to the driver.
"I wonder if you have time to come with me," said Phil Abingdon.
"I know the doctor wants to see you."
"I will come with pleasure," replied Harley, a statement which
was no more than true.
Accordingly he gave the necessary directions to the taxi man and
seated himself beside the girl in the cab.
"I am awfully glad of an opportunity of a chat with you, Mr.
Harley," said Phil Abingdon. "The last few days have seemed like
one long nightmare to me." She sighed pathetically. "Surely
Doctor McMurdoch is right, and all the horrible doubts which
troubled us were idle ones, after all?"
She turned to Harley, looking almost eagerly into his face. "Poor
daddy hadn't an enemy in the world, I am sure," she said. "His
extraordinary words to you no doubt have some simple explanation.
Oh, it would be such a relief to know that his end was a natural
one. At least it would dull the misery of it all a little bit."
The appeal in her eyes was of a kind which Harley found much
difficulty in resisting. It would have been happiness to offer
consolation to this sorrowing girl. But, although he could not
honestly assure her that he had abandoned his theories, he
realized that the horror of her suspicions was having a dreadful
effect upon Phil Abingdon's mind.
"You may quite possibly be right," he said, gently. "In any
event, I hope you will think as little as possible about the
morbid side of this unhappy business."
"I try to," she assured him, earnestly, "but you can imagine how
hard the task is. I know that you must have some good reason for
your idea; something, I mean, other than the mere words which
have puzzled us all so much. Won't you tell me?"
Now, Paul Harley had determined, since the girl was unacquainted
with Nicol Brinn, to conceal from her all that he had learned
from that extraordinary man. In this determination he had been
actuated, too, by the promptings of the note of danger which,
once seemingly attuned to the movements of Sir Charles Abingdon,
had, after the surgeon's death, apparently become centred upon
himself and upon Nicol Brinn. He dreaded the thought that the
cloud might stretch out over the life of this girl who sat beside
him and whom he felt so urgently called upon to protect from such
The cloud? What was this cloud, whence did it emanate, and by
whom had it been called into being? He looked into the violet
eyes, and as a while before he had moved alone through the
wilderness of London now he seemed to be alone with Phil Abingdon
on the border of a spirit world which had no existence for the
multitudes around. Psychically, he was very close to her at that
moment; and when he replied he replied evasively: "I have
absolutely no scrap of evidence, Miss Abingdon, pointing to foul
play. The circumstances were peculiar, of course, but I have
every confidence in Doctor McMurdoch's efficiency. Since he is
satisfied, it would be mere imppertinence on my part to question
Phil Abingdon repeated the weary sigh and turned her head aside,
glancing down to where with one small shoe she was restlessly
tapping the floor of the cab. They were both silent for some
"Don't you trust me?" she asked, suddenly. "Or don't you think I
am clever enough to share your confidence?"
As she spoke she looked at him challengingly, and he felt all the
force of personality which underlay her outward lightness of
"I both trust you and respect your intelligence," he answered,
quietly. "If I withhold anything from you, I am prompted by a
very different motive from the one you suggest."
"Then you are keeping something from me," she said, softly. "I
knew you were."
"Miss Abingdon," replied Harley, "when the worst trials of this
affair are over, I want to have a long talk with you. Until then,
won't you believe that I am acting for the best?"
But Phil Abingdon's glance was unrelenting.
"In your opinion it may be so, but you won't do me the honour of
Harley had half anticipated this attitude, but had hoped that she
would not adopt it. She possessed in a high degree the feminine
art of provoking a quarrel. But he found much consolation in the
fact that she had thus shifted the discussion from the abstract
to the personal. He smiled slightly, and Phil Abingdon's
expression relaxed in response and she lowered her eyes quickly.
"Why do you persistently treat me like a child?" she said.
"I don't know," replied Harley, delighted but bewildered by her
sudden change of mood. "Perhaps because I want to."
She did not answer him, but stared abstractedly out of the cab
window; and Harley did not break this silence, much as he would
have liked to do so. He was mentally reviewing his labours of the
preceding day when, in the character of a Colonial visitor with
much time on his hands, he had haunted the Savoy for hours in the
hope of obtaining a glimpse of Ormuz Khan. His vigil had been
fruitless, and on returning by a roundabout route to his office
he had bitterly charged himself with wasting valuable time upon a
side issue. Yet when, later, he had sat in his study endeavouring
to arrange his ideas in order, he had discovered many points in
his own defence.
If his ineffective surveillance of Ormuz Khan had been dictated
by interest in Phil Abingdon rather than by strictly professional
motives, it was, nevertheless, an ordinary part of the conduct of
such a case. But while he had personally undertaken the matter of
his excellency he had left the work of studying the activities of
Nicol Brinn to an assistant. He could not succeed in convincing
himself that, on the evidence available, the movements of the
Oriental gentleman were more important than those of the
"Here we are," said Phil Abingdon.
She alighted, and Harley dismissed the caLman and followed the
girl into Doctor McMurdoch's house. Here he made the acquaintance
of Mrs. McMurdoch, who, as experience had taught him to
anticipate, was as plump and merry and vivacious as her husband
was lean, gloomy, and taciturn. But she was a perfect well of
sympathy, as her treatment of the bereaved girl showed. She took
her in her arms and hugged her in a way that was good to see.
"We were waiting for you, dear," she said when the formality of
presenting Harley was over. "Are you quite sure that you want to
Phil Abingdon nodded pathetically. She had raised her veil, and
Harley could see that her eyes were full of tears. "I should like
to see the flowers," she answered.
She was staying at the McMurdoch's house, and as the object at
present in view was that of a visit to her old home, from which
the funeral of Sir Charles Abingdon was to take place on the
morrow, Harley became suddenly conscious of the fact that his
presence was inopportune.
"I believe you want to see me, Doctor McMurdoch," he said,
turning to the dour physician. "Shall I await your return or do
you expect to be detained?"
But Phil Abingdon had her own views on the matter. She stepped up
beside him and linked her arm in his.
"Please come with me, Mr. Harley," she pleaded. "I want you to."
As a result he found himself a few minutes later entering the
hall of the late Sir Charles's house. The gloved hand resting on
his arm trembled, but when he looked down solicitously into Phil
Abingdon's face she smiled bravely, and momentarily her clasp
tightened as if to reassure him.
It seemed quite natural that she should derive comfort from the
presence of this comparative stranger; and neither of the two, as
they stood there looking at the tributes to the memory of the
late Sir Charles--which overflowed from a neighbouring room into
the lobby and were even piled upon the library table--were
conscious of any strangeness in the situation.
The first thing that had struck Harley on entering the house had
been an overpowering perfume of hyacinths. Now he saw whence it
arose; for, conspicuous amid the wreaths and crosses, was an
enormous device formed of hyacinths. Its proportions dwarfed
those of all the others.
Mrs. Howett, the housekeeper, a sad-eyed little figure, appeared
now from behind the bank of flowers. Her grief could not rob her
of that Old World manner which was hers, and she saluted the
visitors with a bow which promised to develop into a curtsey.
Noting the direction of Phil Abingdon's glance, which was set
upon a card attached to the wreath of hyacinths: "It was the
first to arrive, Miss Phil," she said. "Isn't it beautiful?"
"It's wonderful," said the girl, moving forward and drawing
Harley along with her. She glanced from the card up to his face,
which was set in a rather grim expression.
"Ormuz Khan has been so good," she said. "He sent his secretary
to see if he could be of any assistance yesterday, but I
certainly had not expected this."
Her eyes filled with tears again, and, because he thought they
were tears of gratitude, Harley clenched his hand tightly so that
the muscles of his forearm became taut to Phil Abingdon's touch.
She looked up at him, smiling pathetically: "Don't you think it
was awfully kind of him?" she asked.
"Very," replied Harley.
A dry and sepulchral cough of approval came from Doctor
McMurdoch; and Harley divined with joy that when the ordeal of
the next day was over Phil Abingdon would have to face
cross-examination by the conscientious Scotsman respecting this
stranger whose attentions, if Orientally extravagant, were
instinct with such generous sympathy.
For some reason the heavy perfume of the hyacinths affected him
unpleasantly. All his old doubts and suspicions found a new life,
so that his share in the conversation which presently arose
became confined to a few laconic answers to direct questions.
He was angry, and his anger was more than half directed against
himself, because he knew that he had no shadow of right to
question this girl about her friendships or even to advise her.
He determined, however, even at the cost of incurring a rebuke,
to urge Doctor McMurdoch to employ all the influence he possessed
to terminate an acquaintanceship which could not be otherwise
than undesirable, if it was not actually dangerous.
When, presently, the party returned to the neighbouring house of
the physician, however, Harley's plans in this respect were
destroyed by the action of Doctor McMurdoch, in whose composition
tact was not a predominant factor. Almost before they were seated
in the doctor's drawing room he voiced his disapproval. "Phil,"
he said, ignoring a silent appeal from his wife, "this is,
mayhap, no time to speak of the matter, but I'm not glad to see
Phil Abingdon's chin quivered rebelliously, and, to Harley's
dismay, it was upon him that she fixed her gaze in replying.
"Perhaps you also disapprove of his excellency's kindness?" she
Harley found himself temporarily at a loss for words. She was
perfectly well aware that he disapproved, and now was taking a
cruel pleasure in reminding him of the fact that he was not
entitled to do so. Had he been capable of that calm analysis to
which ordinarily he submitted all psychological problems, he must
have found matter for rejoicing in this desire of the girl's to
hurt him. "I am afraid, Miss Abingdon," he replied, quietly,
"that the matter is not one in which I am entitled to express my
She continued to look at him challengingly, but:
"Quite right, Mr. Harley," said Doctor McMurdoch, "but if you
were, your opinion would be the same as mine."
Mrs. McMurdoch's glance became positively beseeching, but the
physician ignored it. "As your father's oldest friend," he
continued, "I feel called upon to remark that it isn't usual for
strangers to thrust their attentions upon a bereaved family."
"Oh," said Phil Abingdon with animation, "do I understand that
this is also your opinion, Mr. Harley?"
"As a man of the world," declared Doctor McMurdoch, gloomily, "it
cannot fail to be."
Tardily enough he now succumbed to the silent entreaties of his
wife. "I will speak of this later," he concluded. "Mayhap I
should not have spoken now."
Tears began to trickle down Phil Abingdon's cheeks.
"Oh, my dear, my dear!" cried little Mrs. McMurdoch, running to
But the girl sprang up, escaping from the encircling arm of the
motherly old lady. She shook her head disdainfully, as if to
banish tears and weakness, and glanced rapidly around from face
to face. "I think you are all perfectly cruel and horrible," she
said in a choking voice, turned, and ran out.
A distant door banged.
"H'm," muttered Doctor McMurdoch, "I've put my foot in it."
His wife looked at him in speechless indignation and then
followed Phil Abingdon from the room.
CHAPTER IX. TWO REPORTS
On returning to his office Paul Harley found awaiting him the
report of the man to whom he had entrusted the study of the
movements of Nicol Brinn. His mood was a disturbed one, and he
had observed none of his customary precautions in coming from
Doctor McMurdoch's house. He wondered if the surveillance which
he had once detected had ceased. Perhaps the chambers of Nicol
Brinn were the true danger zone upon which these subtle but
powerful forces now were focussed. On the other hand, he was
quite well aware that his movements might have been watched
almost uninterruptedly since the hour that Sir Charles Abingdon
had visited his office.
During the previous day, in his attempt to learn the identity of
Ormuz Khan, he had covered his tracks with his customary care. He
had sufficient faith in his knowledge of disguise, which was
extensive, to believe that those mysterious persons who were
interested in his movements remained unaware of the fact that the
simple-minded visitor from Vancouver who had spent several hours
in and about the Savoy, and Paul Harley of Chancery Lane, were
one and the same.
His brain was far too alertly engaged with troubled thoughts of
Phil Abingdon to be susceptible to the influence of those
delicate etheric waves which he had come to recognize as the note
of danger. Practically there had been no development whatever in
the investigation, and he was almost tempted to believe that the
whole thing was a mirage, when the sight of the typewritten
report translated him mentally to the luxurious chambers in
Again, almost clairvoyantly, he saw the stoical American seated
before the empty fireplace, his foot restlessly tapping the
fender. Again he heard the curious, high tones: "I'll tell you...
You have opened the gates of hell...."
The whole scene, with its tantalizing undercurrent of mystery,
was reenacted before his inner vision. He seemed to hear Nicol
Brinn, startled from his reverie, exclaim: "I think it was an
owl.... We sometimes get them over from the Green Park...."
Why should so simple an incident have produced so singular an
effect? For the face of the speaker had been ashen.
Then the pendulum swung inevitably back: "You are all perfectly
cruel and horrible...."
Paul Harley clenched his hands, frowning at the Burmese cabinet
as though he hated it.
How persistently the voice of Phil Abingdon rang in his ears! He
could not forget her lightest words. How hopelessly her
bewitching image intruded itself between his reasoning mind and
the problem upon which he sought to concentrate.
Miss Smith, the typist, had gone, for it was after six o'clock,
and Innes alone was on duty. He came in as Harley, placing his
hat and cane upon the big writing table, sat down to study the
"Inspector Wessex rang up, Mr. Harley, about an hour ago. He said
he would be at the Yard until six.
"Has he obtained any information?" asked Paul Harley, wearily,
glancing at his little table clock.
"He said he had had insufficient time to do much in the matter,
but that there were one or two outstanding facts which might
"Did he seem to be surprised?"
"He did," confessed Innes. "He said that Ormuz Khan was a
well-known figure in financial circles, and asked me in what way
you were interested in him."
"Ah!" murmured Harley. He took up the telephone. "City 400," he
said.... "Is that the Commissioner's Office, New Scotland Yard?
... Paul Harley speaking. Would you please inquire if Detective
Inspector Wessex has gone?"
While awaiting a reply he looked up at Innes. "Is there anything
else?" he asked.
"Only the letters, Mr. Harley."
"Leave the letters, then; I will see to them. You need not wait."
A moment later, as his secretary bade him good-night and went out
of the office:
"Hello," said Harley, speaking into the mouthpiece... "The
inspector has gone? Perhaps you would ask him to ring me up in
the morning." He replaced the receiver on the hook.
Resting his chin in his hands, he began to read from the
typewritten pages before him. His assistant's report was
conceived as follows:
'Re Mr. Nicol Brinn of Raleigh House, Piccadilly, W. I.
'Mr. Nicol Brinn is an American citizen, born at Cincinnati,
Ohio, February 15, 1884. He is the son of John Nicolas Brinn of
the same city, founder of the firm of J. Nicolas Brinn,
Incorporated, later reconstituted under the style of Brinn's
Universal Electric Supply Corporation.
'Nicol Brinn is a graduate of Harvard. He has travelled
extensively in nearly all parts of the world and has access to
the best society of Europe and America. He has a reputation for
eccentricity, has won numerous sporting events as a gentleman
rider; was the first airman to fly over the Rockies; took part in
the Uruguay rebellion of 1904, and held the rank of lieutenant
colonel of field artillery with the American forces during the
'He has published a work on big game and has contributed numerous
travel articles to American periodicals. On the death of Mr.
Brinn, senior, in 1914, he inherited an enormous fortune and a
preponderating influence in the B.U.E.S.C. He has never taken any
active part in conduct of the concern, but has lived a restless
and wandering life in various parts of the world.
'Mr. Nicol Brinn is a confirmed bachelor. I have been unable to
find that he has ever taken the slightest interest in any woman
other than his mother throughout his career. Mrs. J. Nicolas
Brinn is still living in Cincinnati, and there is said to be a
strong bond of affection between mother and son. His movements on
yesterday, 4th June, 1921, were as follows:
'He came out of his chambers at eight o'clock and rode for an
hour in the park, when he returned and remained indoors until
midday. He then drove to the Carlton, where he lunched with the
Foreign Secretary, with whom he remained engaged in earnest
conversation until ten minutes to three. The Rt. Hon. gentleman
proceeded to the House of Commons and Mr. Brinn to an auction at
Christie's. He bought two oil paintings. He then returned to his
chambers and did not reappear again until seven o'clock. He dined
alone at a small and unfashionable restaurant in Soho, went on to
his box at Covent Garden, where he remained for an hour, also
alone, and then went home. He had no callers throughout the day.'
Deliberately Paul Harley had read the report, only removing his
hand from his chin to turn over the pages. Now from the cabinet
at his elbow he took out his tin of tobacco and, filling and
lighting a pipe, lay back, eyes half closed, considering what he
had learned respecting Nicol Brinn.
That he was concerned in the death of Sir Charles Abingdon he did
not believe for a moment; but that this elusive case, which upon
investigation only seemed the more obscure, was nevertheless a
case of deliberate murder he was as firmly convinced as ever. Of
the identity of the murderer, of his motive, he had not the
haziest idea, but that the cloud which he had pictured as
overhanging the life of the late Sir Charles was a reality and
not a myth of the imagination he became more completely convinced
with each new failure to pick up a clue.
He found himself helplessly tied. In which direction should he
move and to what end? Inclination prompted him in one direction,
common sense held him back. As was his custom, he took a pencil
and wrote upon a little block:
Find means to force Brinn to speak.
He lay back in his chair again, deep in thought, and presently
added the note:
Obtain interview with Ormuz Khan.
Just as he replaced the pencil on the table, his telephone bell
rang. The caller proved to be his friend, Inspector Wessex.
"Hello, Mr. Harley," said the inspector. "I had occasion to
return to the Yard, and they told me you had rung up. I don't
know why you are interested in this Ormuz Khan, unless you want
to raise a loan."
Paul Harley laughed. "I gather that he is a man of extensive
means," he replied, "but hitherto he has remained outside my
radius of observation."
"And outside mine," declared the inspector. "He hasn't the most
distant connection with anything crooked. It gave me a lot of
trouble to find out what little I have found out. Briefly, all I
have to tell you is this: Ormuz Khan--who is apparently entitled
to be addressed as 'his excellency'--is a director of the
Imperial Bank of Iran, and is associated, too, with one of the
Ottoman banks. I presume his nationality is Persian, but I can't
be sure of it. He periodically turns up in the various big
capitals when international loans and that sort of thing are
being negotiated. I understand that he has a flat somewhere in
Paris, and the Service de Surete tells me that his name is good
for several million francs over there. He appears to have a
certain fondness for London during the spring and early summer
months, and I am told he has a fine place in Surrey. He is at
present living at Savoy Court. He appears to be something of a
dandy and to be very partial to the fair sex, but nevertheless
there is nothing wrong with his reputation, considering, I mean,
that the man is a sort of Eastern multimillionaire."
"Ah!" said Harley, who had been listening eagerly. "Is that the
extent of your information, Wessex?"
"That's it," replied Wessex, with a laugh. "I hope you'll find it
useful, but I doubt it. He hasn't been picking pockets or
anything, has he?"
"No," said Harley, shortly. "I don't apprehend that his
excellency will ever appear in your province, Wessex. My interest
in him is of a purely personal nature. Thanks for all the trouble
you have taken."
Paul Harley began to pace the office. From a professional point
of view the information was uninteresting enough, but from
another point of view it had awakened again that impotent anger
which he had too often experienced in these recent, strangely
At all costs he must see Ormuz Khan, although how he was to
obtain access to this man who apparently never left his private
apartments (if the day of his vigil at the Savoy had been a
typical one) he failed to imagine.
Nevertheless, pausing at the table, he again took up his pencil,
and to the note "Obtain interview with Ormuz Khan" he added the
one word, underlined:
CHAPTER X. HIS EXCELLENCY ORMUZ KHAN
The city clocks were chiming the hour of ten on the following
morning when a page from the Savoy approached the shop of Mr.
Jarvis, bootmaker, which is situated at no great distance from
the hotel. The impudent face of the small boy wore an expression
of serio-comic fright as he pushed open the door and entered the
Jarvis, the bootmaker, belonged to a rapidly disappearing class
of British tradesmen. He buckled to no one, but took an artistic
pride in his own handiwork, criticism from a layman merely
provoking a scornful anger which had lost Jarvis many good
He was engaged, at the moment of the page's entrance, in a little
fitting room at the back of his cramped premises, but through the
doorway the boy could see the red, bespectacled face with its
fringe of bristling white beard, in which he detected all the
tokens of brewing storm. He whistled softly in self-sympathy.
"Yes, sir," Jarvis was saying to an invisible patron, "it's a
welcome sight to see a real Englishman walk into my shop
nowadays. London isn't London, sir, since the war, and the Strand
will never be the Strand again." He turned to his assistant, who
stood beside him, bootjack in hand. "If he sends them back
again," he directed, "tell him to go to one of the French firms
in Regent Street who cater to dainty ladies." He positively
snorted with indignation, while the page, listening, whistled
again and looked down at the parcel which he carried.
"An unwelcome customer, Jarvis?" inquired the voice of the man in
the fitting room.
"Quite unwelcome," said Jarvis. "I don't want him. I have more
work than I know how to turn out. I wish he would go elsewhere. I
He paused. He had seen the page boy. The latter, having undone
his parcel, was holding out a pair of elegant, fawn-coloured
"Great Moses!" breathed Jarvis. "He's had the cheek to send them
"His excellency--" began the page, when Jarvis snatched the shoes
from his hand and hurled them to the other end of the shop. His
white beard positively bristled.
"Tell his excellency," he shouted, "to go to the devil, with my
So positively ferocious was his aspect that the boy, with
upraised arm, backed hastily out into the street. Safety won:
"Blimey!" exclaimed the youth. "He's the warm goods, he is!"
He paused for several moments, staring in a kind of stupefied
admiration at the closed door of Mr. Jarvis's establishment. He
whistled again, softly, and then began to run--for the formidable
Mr. Jarvis suddenly opened the door. "Hi, boy!" he called to the
page. The page hesitated, glancing back doubtfully. "Tell his
excellency that I will send round in about half an hour to
remeasure his foot."
"D'you mean it?" inquired the boy, impudently--"or is there a
catch in it?"
"I'll tan your hide, my lad!" cried the bootmaker--"and I mean
that! Take my message and keep your mouth shut."
The boy departed, grinning, and little more than half an hour
later a respectable-looking man presented himself at Savoy Court,
inquiring of the attendant near the elevator for the apartments
of "his excellency," followed by an unintelligible word which
presumably represented "Ormuz Khan." The visitor wore a
well-brushed but threadbare tweed suit, although his soft collar
was by no means clean. He had a short, reddish-brown beard, and
very thick, curling hair of the same hue protruded from beneath a
bowler hat which had seen long service.
Like Mr. Jarvis, he was bespectacled, and his teeth were much
discoloured and apparently broken in front, as is usual with
cobblers. His hands, too, were toil-stained and his nails very
black. He carried a cardboard box. He seemed to be extremely
nervous, and this nervousness palpably increased when the
impudent page, who was standing in the lobby, giggled on hearing
"He's second floor," said the youth. "Are you from Hot-Stuff
"That's right, lad," replied the visitor, speaking with a marked
Manchester accent; "from Mr. Jarvis."
"And are you really going up?" inquired the boy with mock
"I'm going up right enough. That's what I'm here for."
"Shut up, Chivers," snapped the hall porter "Ring the bell." He
glanced at the cobbler. "Second floor," he said, tersely, and
resumed his study of a newspaper which he had been reading.
The representative of Mr. Jarvis was carried up to the second
floor and the lift man, having indicated at which door he should
knock, descended again. The cobbler's nervousness thereupon
became more marked than ever, so that a waiter, seeing him
looking helplessly from door to door, took pity on him and
inquired for whom he was searching.
"His excellency," was the reply; "but I'm hanged if I can
remember the number or how to pronounce his name.
The waiter glanced at him oddly. "Ormuz Khan," he said, and rang
the bell beside a door. As he hurried away, "Good luck!" he
There was a short interval, and then the door was opened by a man
who looked like a Hindu. He wore correct morning dress and
through gold-rimmed pince-nez he stared inquiringly at the
"Is his excellency at home?" asked the latter. "I'm from Mr.
Jarvis, the bootmaker."
"Oh!" said the other, smiling slightly. "Come in. What is your
"Parker, sir. From Mr. Jarvis."
As the door closed, Parker found himself in a small lobby. Beside
an umbrella rack a high-backed chair was placed. "Sit down," he
was directed. "I will tell his excellency that you are here."
A door was opened and closed again, and Parker found himself
alone. He twirled his bowler hat, which he held in his hand, and
stared about the place vacantly. Once he began to whistle, but
checked himself and coughed nervously. Finally the Hindu
gentleman reappeared, beckoning to him to enter.
Parker stood up very quickly and advanced, hat in hand.
Then he remembered the box which he had left on the floor, and,
stooping to recover it, he dropped his hat. But at last, leaving
his hat upon the chair and carrying the box under his arm, he
entered a room which had been converted into a very businesslike
There was a typewriter upon a table near the window at which
someone had evidently been at work quite recently, and upon a
larger table in the centre of the room were dispatch boxes, neat
parcels of documents, ledgers, works of reference, and all the
evidence of keen commercial activity. Crossing the room, the
Hindu rapped upon an inner door, opened it, and standing aside,
"The man from the bootmaker," he said in a low voice.
Parker advanced, peering about him as one unfamiliar with his
surroundings. As he crossed the threshold the door was closed
behind him, and he found himself in a superheated atmosphere
heavy with the perfume of hyacinths.
The place was furnished as a sitting room, but some of its
appointments were obviously importations. Its keynote was
orientalism, not of that sensuous yet grossly masculine character
which surrounds the wealthy Eastern esthete but quite markedly
feminine. There were an extraordinary number of cushions, and
many bowls and vases containing hyacinths. What other strange
appointments were present Parker was far too nervous to observe.
He stood dumbly before a man who lolled back in a deep, cushioned
chair and whose almond-shaped eyes, black as night, were set
immovably upon him. This man was apparently young. He wore a
rich, brocaded robe, trimmed with marten, fur, and out of it his
long ivory throat rose statuesquely. His complexion was likewise
of this uniform ivory colour, and from his low smooth brow his
hair was brushed back in a series of glossy black waves.
His lips were full and very red. As a woman he might have been
considered handsome--even beautiful; in a man this beauty was
unnatural and repellent. He wore Oriental slippers, fur-lined,
and his feet rested on a small ottoman. One long, slender hand
lay upon a cushion placed on the chair arm, and a pretty girl was
busily engaged in manicuring his excellency's nails. Although the
day held every promise of being uncomfortably hot, already a huge
fire was burning in the grate.
As Parker stood before him, the languid, handsome Oriental did
not stir a muscle, merely keeping the gaze of his strange black
eyes fixed upon the nervous cobbler. The manicurist, after one
quick upward glance, continued her work. But in this moment of
distraction she had hurt the cuticle of one of those delicate,
Ormuz Khan withdrew his hand sharply from the cushion, glanced
aside at the girl, and then, extending his hand again, pushed her
away from him. Because of her half-kneeling posture, she almost
fell, but managed to recover herself by clutching at the edge of
a little table upon which the implements of her trade were
spread. The table rocked and a bowl of water fell crashing on the
carpet. His excellency spoke. His voice was very musical.
"Clumsy fool," he said. "You have hurt me. Go."
The girl became very white and began to gather up the articles
upon the table. "I am sorry," she said, "but--"
"I do not wish you to speak," continued the musical voice; "only
Hurriedly collecting the remainder of the implements and placing
them in an attache case, the manicurist hurried from the room.
Her eyes were overbright and her lips pathetically tremulous.
Ormuz Khan never glanced in her direction again, but resumed his
disconcerting survey of Parker. "Yes?" he said.
Parker bumblingly began to remove the lid of the cardboard box
which he had brought with him.
"I do not wish you to alter the shoes you have made," said his
excellency. "I instructed you to remeasure my foot in order that
you might make a pair to fit."
"Yes, sir," said Parker. "Quite so, your excellency." And he
dropped the box and the shoes upon the floor. "Just a moment,
From an inner pocket he drew out a large sheet of white paper, a
pencil, and a tape measure. "Will you place your foot upon this
sheet of paper, sir?"
Ormuz Khan raised his right foot listlessly.
"Slipper off, please, sir."
"I am waiting," replied the other, never removing his gaze from
"Oh, I beg your pardon sir, your excellency," muttered the
Dropping upon one knee, he removed the furred slipper from a
slender, arched foot, bare, of the delicate colour of ivory, and
as small as a woman's.
The ivory foot was placed upon the sheet of paper, and very
clumsily Parker drew its outline. He then took certain
measurements and made a number of notes with a stub of thick
pencil. Whenever his none too clean hands touched Ormuz Khan's
delicate skin the Oriental perceptibly shuddered.
"Of course, sir," said Parker at last, "I should really have
taken your measurement with the sock on."
"I wear only the finest silk."
"Very well, sir. As you wish."
Parker replaced paper, pencil, and measure, and, packing up the
rejected shoes, made for the door.
"Oh, bootmaker!" came the musical voice.
Parker turned. "Yes, sir?"
"They will be ready by Monday?"
"If possible, your excellency."
"Otherwise I shall not accept them."
Ormuz Khan drew a hyacinth from a vase close beside him and
languidly waved it in dismissal.
In the outer room the courteous secretary awaited Parker, and
there was apparently no one else in the place, for the Hindu
conducted him to the lobby and opened the door.
Parker said "Good morning, sir," and would have departed without
his hat had not the secretary smilingly handed it to him.
When, presently, the cobbler emerged from the elevator, below, he
paused before leaving the hotel to mop his perspiring brow with a
large, soiled handkerchief. The perfume of hyacinths seemed to
have pursued him, bringing with it a memory of the handsome,
effeminate ivory face of the man above. He was recalled to his
senses by the voice of the impudent page.
"Been kicked out, gov'nor?" the youth inquired. "You're the third
"Is that so?" answered Parker. "Who were the other two, lad?"
"The girl wot comes to do his nails. A stunnin' bird, too. She
came down cryin' a few minutes ago. Then--"
"Shut up, Chivers!" cried the hall porter. "You're asking for the
sack, and I'm the man to get it for you."
Chivers did not appear to be vastly perturbed by this prospect,
and he grinned agreeably at Parker as the latter made his way out
into the courtyard.
Any one sufficiently interested to have done so might have found
matter for surprise had he followed that conscientious bootmaker
as he left the hotel. He did not proceed to the shop of Mr.
Jarvis, but, crossing the Strand, mounted a citybound motor bus
and proceeded eastward upon it as far as the Law Courts. Here he
dismounted and plunged into that maze of tortuous lanes which
dissects the triangle formed by Chancery Lane and Holborn.
His step was leisurely, and once he stopped to light his pipe,
peering with interest into the shop window of a law stationer.
Finally he came to another little shop which had once formed part
of a private house. It was of the lock-up variety, and upon the
gauze blind which concealed the interior appeared the words: "The
Whether the Chancery Agency was a press agency, a literary or a
dramatic agency, was not specified, but Mr. Parker was evidently
well acquainted with the establishment, for he unlocked the door
with a key which he carried and, entering a tiny shop, closed and
locked the door behind him again.
The place was not more than ten yards square and the ceiling was
very low. It was barely furnished as an office, but evidently Mr.
Parker's business was not of a nature to detain him here. There
was a second door to be unlocked; and beyond it appeared a flight
of narrow stairs--at some time the servant's stair of the
partially demolished house which had occupied that site in former
days. Relocking this door in turn, Mr. Parker mounted the stair
and presently found himself in a spacious and well-furnished
This bedroom contained an extraordinary number of wardrobes, and
a big dressing table with wing mirrors lent a theatrical touch to
the apartment. This was still further enhanced by the presence of
all sorts of wigs, boxes of false hair, and other items of
make-up. At the table Mr. Parker seated himself, and when, half
an hour later, the bedroom door was opened, it was not Mr. Parker
who crossed the book-lined study within and walked through to the
private office where Innes was seated writing. It was Mr. Paul
CHAPTER XI. THE PURPLE STAIN
For more than an hour Harley sat alone, smoking, neglectful of
the routine duties which should have claimed his attention. His
face was set and grim, and his expression one of total
abstraction. In spirit he stood again in that superheated room at
the Savoy. Sometimes, as he mused, he would smoke with
unconscious vigour, surrounding himself with veritable fog banks.
An imaginary breath of hyacinths would have reached him, to
conjure up vividly the hateful, perfumed environment of Ormuz
He was savagely aware of a great mental disorderliness. He
recognized that his brain remained a mere whirlpool from which
Phyllis Abingdon, the deceased Sir Charles, Nicol Brinn, and
another, alternately arose to claim supremacy. He clenched his
teeth upon the mouthpiece of his pipe.
But after some time, although rebelliously, his thoughts began to
marshal themselves in a certain definite formation. And
outstanding, alone, removed from the ordinary, almost from the
real, was the bizarre personality of Ormuz Khan.
The data concerning the Oriental visitor, as supplied by
Inspector Wessex, had led him to expect quite a different type of
character. Inured as Paul Harley was to surprise, his first
sentiment as he had set eyes upon the man had been one of sheer
"Something of a dandy," inadequately described the repellent
sensuousness of this veritable potentate, who could contrive to
invest a sitting room in a modern hotel with the atmosphere of a
secret Eastern household. To consider Ormuz Khan in connection
with matters of international finance was wildly incongruous,
while the manicurist incident indicated an inherent cruelty only
possible in one of Oriental race.
In a mood of complete mental detachment Paul Harley found himself
looking again into those black, inscrutable eyes and trying to
analyze the elusive quality of their regard. They were unlike any
eyes that he had met with. It were folly to count their possessor
a negligible quantity. Nevertheless, it was difficult, because of
the fellow's scented effeminacy, to believe that women could find
him attractive. But Harley, wise in worldly lore, perceived that
the mystery surrounding Ormuz Khan must make a strong appeal to a
certain type of female mind. He was forced to admit that some
women, indeed many, would be as clay in the hands of the man who
possessed those long-lashed, magnetic eyes.
He thought of the pretty manicurist. Mortification he had read in
her white face, and pain; but no anger. Yes, Ormuz Khan was
In what respect was he dangerous?
"Phil Abingdon!" Harley whispered, and, in the act of breathing
the name, laughed at his own folly.
In the name of reason, he mused, what could she find to interest
her in a man of Ormuz Khan's type? He was prepared to learn that
there was a mystic side to her personality--a phase in her
character which would be responsive to the outre and romantic.
But he was loath to admit that she could have any place in her
affections for the scented devotee of hyacinths.
Thus, as always, his musings brought him back to the same point.
He suppressed a groan and, standing up, began to pace the room.
To and fro he walked, before the gleaming cabinet, and presently
his expression underwent a subtle change. His pipe had long since
gone out, but he had failed to observe the fact. His eyes had
grown unusually bright--and suddenly he stepped to the table and
stooping made a note upon the little writing block.
He rang the bell communicating with the outer office. Innes came
in. "Innes," he said, rapidly, "is there anything of really
first-rate importance with which I should deal personally?"
"Well," replied the secretary, glancing at some papers which he
carried, "there is nothing that could not wait until to-morrow at
"The pinch has come," said Harley. "I am going to interview the
two most important witnesses in the Abingdon case."
"To whom do you refer, Mr. Harley?"
Innes stared rather blankly, as he made the inquiry, whereupon:
"I have no time to explain," continued Harley. "But I have
suddenly realized the importance of a seemingly trivial incident
which I witnessed. It is these trivial incidents, Innes, which so
often contain the hidden clue."
"What! you really think you have a clue at last?"
"I do." The speaker's face grew grimly serious. "Innes, if I am
right, I shall probably proceed to one of two places: the
apartments of Ormuz Khan or the chambers of Nicol Brinn. Listen.
Remain here until I phone--whatever the hour."
"Shall I advise Wessex to stand by?"
Harley nodded. "Yes--do so. You understand, Innes, I am engaged
and not to be disturbed on any account?"
"I understand. You are going out by the private exit?"
As Innes retired, quietly closing the door, Harley took up the
telephone and called Sir Charles Abingdon's number. He was
answered by a voice which he recognized.
"This is Paul Harley speaking," he said. "Is that Benson?"
"Yes, sir," answered the butler. "Good morning, sir."
"Good morning, Benson. I have one or two questions to ask you,
and there is something I want you to do for me. Miss Abingdon is
out, I presume?"
"Yes, sir," replied Benson, sadly. "At the funeral, sir."
"Is Mrs. Howett in?"
"She is, sir."
"I shall be around in about a quarter of an hour, Benson. In the
meantime, will you be good enough to lay the dining table exactly
as it was laid on the night of Sir Charles's death?"
Benson could be heard nervously clearing his throat, then:
"Perhaps, sir," he said, diffidently, "I didn't quite understand
you. Lay the table, sir, for dinner?"
"For dinner--exactly. I want everything to be there that was
present on the night of the tragedy; everything. Naturally you
will have to place different flowers in the vases, but I want to
see the same vases. From the soup tureen to the serviette rings,
Benson, I wish you to duplicate the dinner table as I remember
it, paying particular attention to the exact position of each
article. Mrs. Howett will doubtless be able to assist you in
"Very good, sir," said Benson--but his voice betokened
bewilderment. "I will see Mrs. Howett at once, sir."
Replacing the receiver, Harley took a bunch of keys from his
pocket and, crossing the office, locked the door. He then retired
to his private apartments and also locked the communicating door.
A few moments later he came out of "The Chancery Agency" and
proceeded in the direction of the Strand. Under cover of the
wire-gauze curtain which veiled the window he had carefully
inspected the scene before emerging. But although his eyes were
keen and his sixth sense whispered "Danger-danger!" he had failed
to detect anything amiss.
This constant conflict between intuition and tangible evidence
was beginning to tell upon him. Either his sixth sense had begun
to play tricks or he was the object of the most perfectly
organized and efficient system of surveillance with which he had
ever come in contact. Once, in the past, he had found himself
pitted against the secret police of Moscow, and hitherto he had
counted their methods incomparable. Unless he was the victim of
an unpleasant hallucination, those Russian spies had their peers
As he alighted from a cab before the house of the late Sir
Charles, Benson opened the door. "We have just finished, sir," he
said, as Harley ran up the steps. "But Mrs. Howett would like to
see you, sir."
"Very good, Benson," replied Harley, handing his hat and cane to
the butler. "I will see her in the dining room, please."
Benson throwing open the door, Paul Harley walked into the room
which so often figured in his vain imaginings. The table was laid
for dinner in accordance with his directions. The chair which he
remembered to have occupied was in place and that in which Sir
Charles had died was set at the head of the table.
Brows contracted, Harley stood just inside the room, looking
slowly about him. And, as he stood so, an interrogatory cough
drew his gaze to the doorway. He turned sharply, and there was
Mrs. Howett, a pathetic little figure in black.
"Ah, Mrs. Howett," said Harley; kindly, "please try to forgive me
for this unpleasant farce with its painful memories. But I have a
good reason. I think you know this. Now, as I am naturally
anxious to have everything clear before Miss Abingdon returns,
will you be good enough to tell me if the table is at present set
exactly as on the night that Sir Charles and I came in to
"No, Mr. Harley," was the answer, "that was what I was anxious to
explain. The table is now laid as Benson left it on that dreadful
"Ah, I see. Then you, personally, made some modifications?"
"I rearranged the flowers and moved the centre vase so." The
methodical old lady illustrated her words. "I also had the
dessert spoons changed. You remember, Benson?"
Benson inclined his head. From a sideboard he took out two silver
spoons which he substituted for those already set upon the table.
"Anything else, Mrs. Howett?"
"The table is now as I left it, sir, a few minutes before your
arrival. Just after your arrival I found Jones, the
parlourmaid--a most incompetent, impudent girl--altering the
position of the serviettes. At least, such was my impression."
"Of the serviettes?" murmured Harley.
"She denied it," continued the housekeeper, speaking with great
animation; "but she could give no explanation. It was the last
straw. She took too many liberties altogether."
As Harley remained silent, the old lady ran on animatedly, but
Harley was no longer listening.
"This is not the same table linen?" he asked, suddenly.
"Why, no, sir," replied Benson. "Last week's linen will be at the
"It has not gone yet," interrupted Mrs. Howett. "I was making up
the list when you brought me Mr. Harley's message."
Paul Harley turned to her.
"May I ask you to bring the actual linen used at table on that
occasion, Mrs. Howett?" he said. "My request must appear
singular, I know, but I assure you it is no idle one."
Benson looked positively stupid, but Mrs. Howett, who had
conceived a sort of reverence for Paul Harley, hurried away
"Finally, Benson," said Harley, "what else did you bring into the
room after Sir Charles and I had entered?"
"Soup, sir. Here is the tureen, on the sideboard, and all the
soup plates of the service in use that night. Of course, sir, I
can't say which were the actual plates used."
Paul Harley inspected the plates, a set of fine old Derby ware,
and gazed meditatively at the silver ladle. "Did the maid, Jones,
handle any of these?" he asked.
"No, sir"--emphatically. "She was preparing to bring the trout
from the kitchen."
"But I saw her in the room."
"She had brought in the fish plates, a sauce boat, and two toast
racks, sir. She put them here, on the sideboard. But they were
never brought to the table."
"H'm. Has Jones left?"
"Yes, sir. She was under notice. But after her rudeness, Mrs.
Howett packed her off right away. She left the very next day
after poor Sir Charles died."
"Where has she gone?"
"To a married sister, I believe, until she finds a new job. Mrs.
Howett has the address."
At this moment Mrs. Howett entered, bearing a tablecloth and a
number of serviettes.
"This was the cloth," she said, spreading it out, "but which of
the serviettes were used I cannot say."
"Allow me to look," replied Paul Harley.
One by one he began to inspect the serviettes, opening each in
turn and examining it critically.
"What have we here!" he exclaimed, presently. "Have blackberries
been served within the week, Mrs. Howett?"
"We never had them on the table, Mr. Harley. Sir Charles--God
rest him--said they irritated the stomach. Good gracious!" She
turned to Benson. "How is it I never noticed those stains, and
what can have caused them?"
The serviette which Paul Harley held outstretched was covered all
over with dark purple spots.
CHAPTER XII. THE VEIL IS RAISED
Rising from the writing table in the library, Paul Harley crossed
to the mantelpiece and stared long and hungrily at a photograph
in a silver frame. So closely did he concentrate upon it that he
induced a sort of auto-hypnosis, so that Phil Abingdon seemed to
smile at him sadly. Then a shadow appeared to obscure the piquant
face. The soft outline changed, subtly; the lips grew more full,
became voluptuous; the eyes lengthened and grew languorous. He
found himself looking into the face of Ormuz Khan.
"Damn it!" he muttered, awakened from his trance.
He turned aside, conscious of a sudden, unaccountable chill. It
might have been caused by the mental picture which he had
conjured up, or it might be another of those mysterious warnings
of which latterly he had had so many without encountering any
positive danger. He stood quite still, listening.
Afterward he sometimes recalled that moment, and often enough
asked himself what he had expected to hear. It was from this
room, on an earlier occasion, that he had heard the ominous
movements in the apartment above. To-day he heard nothing.
"Benson," he called, opening the library door. As the man came
along the hall: "I have written a note to Mr. Innes, my
secretary," he explained. "There it is, on the table. When the
district messenger, for whom you telephoned, arrives, give him
the parcel and the note. He is to accept no other receipt than
that of Mr. Innes."
"Very good, sir."
Harley took his hat and cane, and Benson opened the front door.
"Good day, sir," said the butler.
"Good day, Benson," called Harley, hurrying out to the waiting
cab. "Number 236 South Lambeth Road," he directed the man.
Off moved the taxi, and Harley lay back upon the cushions heaving
a long sigh. The irksome period of inaction was ended. The cloud
which for a time had dulled his usually keen wits was lifted. He
was by no means sure that enlightenment had come in time, but at
least he was in hot pursuit of a tangible clue, and he must hope
that it would lead him, though tardily, to the heart of this
labyrinth which concealed--what?
Which concealed something, or someone, known and feared as
For the moment he must focus upon establishing, beyond query or
doubt, the fact that Sir Charles Abingdon had not died from
natural causes. Premonitions, intuitions, beliefs resting upon a
foundation of strange dreams--these were helpful to himself, if
properly employed, but they were not legal evidence. This first
point achieved, the motive of the crime must be sought; and
"One thing at a time," Harley finally murmured.
Turning his head, he glanced back at the traffic in the street
behind him. The action was sheerly automatic. He had ceased to
expect to detect the presence of any pursuer. Yet he was
convinced that his every movement was closely watched. It was
uncanny, unnerving, this consciousness of invisible surveillance.
Now, as he looked, he started. The invisible had become the
His cab was just on the point of turning on to the slope of
Vauxhall Bridge. And fifty yards behind, speeding along the
Embankment, was a small French car. The features of the driver he
had no time to observe. But, peering eagerly through the window,
showed the dark face of the passenger. The man's nationality it
was impossible to determine, but the keen, almost savage
interest, betrayed by the glittering black eyes, it was equally
impossible to mistake.
If the following car had turned on to the bridge, Harley, even
yet, might have entertained a certain doubt. But, mentally
putting himself in the pursuer's place, he imagined himself
detected and knew at once exactly what he should do. Since this
hypothetical course was actually pursued by the other, Harley's
belief was confirmed.
Craning his neck, he saw the little French car turn abruptly and
proceed in the direction of Victoria Station. Instantly he acted.
Leaning out of the window he thrust a ten-shilling note into the
cabman's hand. "Slow down, but don't pull up," he directed. "I am
going to jump out just as you pass that lorry ahead. Ten yards
further on stop. Get down and crank your engine, and then proceed
slowly over the bridge. I shall not want you again."
"Right-oh, sir," said the man, grinning broadly. As a result,
immediately he was afforded the necessary cover, Harley jumped
from the cab. The man reached back and closed the door,
proceeding on his leisurely way. Excepting the driver of the
lorry, no one witnessed this eccentric performance, and Harley,
stepping on to the footpath, quietly joined the stream of
pedestrians and strolled slowly along.
He presently passed the stationary cab without giving any sign of
recognition to the dismounted driver. Then, a minute later, the
cab overtook him and was soon lost in the traffic ahead. Even as
it disappeared another cab went by rapidly.
Leaning forward in order to peer through the front window was the
dark-faced man whom he had detected on the Embankment!
"Quite correct," murmured Harley, dryly. "Exactly what I should
The spy, knowing himself discovered, had abandoned his own car in
favour of a passing taxicab, and in the latter had taken up the
Paul Harley lighted a cigarette. Oddly enough, he was aware of a
feeling of great relief. In the first place, his sixth sense had
been triumphantly vindicated; and, in the second place, his
hitherto shadowy enemies, with their seemingly supernatural
methods, had been unmasked. At least they were human, almost
incredibly clever, but of no more than ordinary flesh and blood.
The contest had developed into open warfare. Harley's accurate
knowledge of London had enabled him to locate No. 236 South
Lambeth Road without recourse to a guide, and now, walking on
past the big gas works and the railway station, he turned under
the dark arches and pressed on to where a row of unprepossessing
dwellings extended in uniform ugliness from a partly demolished
building to a patch of waste ground.
That the house was being watched he did not doubt. In fact, he no
longer believed subterfuge to be of any avail. He was dealing
with dangerously accomplished criminals. How clever they were he
had yet to learn; and it was only his keen intuitive which at
this juncture enabled him to score a point over his cunning
He walked quite openly up the dilapidated steps to the door of
No. 236, and was about to seize the dirty iron knocker when the
door opened suddenly and a girl came out. She was dressed neatly
and wore a pseudo fashionable hat from which a heavy figured veil
depended so as almost to hide her features. She was carrying a
bulging cane grip secured by a brown leather strap.
Seeing Harley on the step, she paused for a moment, then,
"Ellen!" she shouted down the dim passageway revealed by the
opening of the door. "Somebody to see you."
Leaving the door open, she hurried past the visitor with averted
face. It was well done, and, thus disguised by the thick veil,
another man than Paul Harley might have failed to recognize one
of whom he had never had more than an imperfect glimpse. But if
Paul Harley's memory did not avail him greatly, his unerring
instinct never failed.
He grasped the girl's arm. "One moment, Miss Jones," he said,
quietly, "it is you I am here to see!"
The girl turned angrily, snatching her arm from his grasp.
"You've made a mistake, haven't you?" she cried, furiously. "I
don't know you and I don't want to!"
"Be good enough to step inside again. Don't make a scene. If you
behave yourself, you have nothing to fear. But I want to talk to
He extended his arm to detain her. But she thrust it aside. "My
boy's waiting round the corner!" she said, viciously. "Just see
what he'll do when I tell him!"
"Step inside," repeated Harley, quietly. "Or accompany me to
Kennington Lane Police Station--whichever you think would be the
"What d'you mean!" blustered the girl. "You can't kid me. I
haven't done anything."
"Then do as I tell you. You have got to answer my
questions--either here or at the station. Which shall it be?"
He had realized the facts of the situation from the moment when
the girl had made her sudden appearance, and he knew that his
only chance of defeating his cunning opponents was to frighten
her. Delicate measures would be wasted upon such a character. But
even as the girl, flinging herself sullenly about, returned into
the passage, he found himself admiring the resourcefulness of his
A tired-looking woman carrying a child appeared from somewhere
and stared apathetically at Harley.
Addressing the angry girl: "Another o' your flames, Polly?" she
inquired in a dull voice. "Has he made you change your mind
The girl addressed as "Polly" dropped her grip on the floor and,
banging open a door, entered a shabby little sitting room,
followed by Harley. Dropping onto a ragged couch, she stared
obstinately out of the dirty window.
"Excuse me, madam, for intruding," said Harley to the woman with
the baby, "but Polly has some information of use to the police.
Oh, don't be alarmed. She has committed no crime. I shall only
detain her for a few minutes."
He bowed to the tired-looking woman and closed the sitting-room
door. "Now, young woman," he said, sternly, adopting this
official manner of his friend, Inspector Wessex, "I am going to
give you one warning, and one only. Although I don't think you
know it, you have got mixed up with a gang of crooks. Play the
game with me, and I'll stand by you. Try any funny business and
you'll go to jail."
The official manner had its effect. Miss Jones looked sharply
across at the speaker. "I haven't done anything," she said,
Paul Harley advanced and stood over her. "What about the trick
with the serviettes at Sir Charles Abingdon's?" he asked,
speaking the words in slow and deliberate fashion.
The shaft went home, but the girl possessed a stock of obstinate
courage. "What about it?" she inquired, but her voice had
"Who made you do it?"
"What's that to you?"
Paul Harley drew out his watch, glanced at the face, and returned
the timepiece to his pocket. "I have warned you," he said. "In
exactly three minutes' time I shall put you under arrest."
The girl suddenly lifted her veil and, raising her face, looked
up at him. At last he had broken down her obstinate resistance.
Already he had noted the coarse, elemental formation of her
hands, and now, the veil removed, he saw that she belonged to a
type of character often found in Wales and closely duplicated in
certain parts of London. There was a curious flatness of feature
and prominence of upper jaw singularly reminiscent of the
primitive Briton. Withal the girl was not unprepossessing in her
coarse way. Utter stupidity and dogged courage are the
outstanding characteristics of this type. But fear of the law is
strong within them.
"Don't arrest me," she said. "I'll tell you."
"Good. In the first place, then, where were you going when I came
"To meet my boy at Vauxhall Station."
"What is his name?"
"I'm not going to tell you. What's he done?"
"He has done murder. What is his name?"
"My God !"whispered the girl, and her face blanched swiftly.
"Murder! I--I can't tell you his name--"
"You mean you won't?"
She did not answer.
"He is a very dark man," continued Harley "with black eyes. He is
The girl stared straight before her, dumbly.
"Answer me!" shouted Harley.
"Yes--yes! He is a foreigner."
"I think so."
"He was here five minutes ago?"
"Where was he going to take you?"
"I don't know. He said he could put me in a good job out of
London. We had only ten minutes to catch the train. He's gone to
get the tickets."
"Where did you meet him?"
"In the Green Park."
"About a month ago."
"Was he going to marry you?"
"What did you do to the serviettes on the night Sir Charles
"Oh, my God! I didn't do anything to hurt him --I didn't do
anything to hurt him!"
"Oh, he called himself Sidney, did he? It isn't his name. But go
"He asked me to get one of the serviettes, with the ring, and to
lend it to him."
"You did this?"
"Yes. But he brought it back."
"Before Sir Charles's death? Yes. Go on. What did he tell you to
do with this serviette?"
"It--was in a box. He said I was not to open the box until I put
the serviette on the table, and that it had to be put by Sir
Charles's plate. It had to be put there just before the meal
"I had to burn the box."
"That night I couldn't see how it was to be done. Benson had laid
the dinner table and Mrs. Howett was pottering about. Then, when
I thought I had my chance, Sir Charles sat down in the dining
room and began to read. He was still there and I had the box
hidden in the hall stand, all ready, when-Sidney--rang up."
"Rang you up?"
"Yes. We had arranged it. He said he was my brother. I had to
tell him I couldn't do it."
"He said: 'You must.' I told him Sir Charles was in the dining
room, and he said: 'I'll get him away. Directly he goes, don't
fail to do what I told you'."
"Another 'phone call came--for Sir Charles. I knew who it was,
because I had told Sidney about the case Sir Charles was
attending in the square. When Sir Charles went out I changed the
serviettes. Mrs. Howett found me in the dining room and played
hell. But afterward I managed to burn the box in the kitchen.
That's all I know. What harm was there?"
"Harm enough!" said Harley, grimly. "And now--what was it that
'Sidney' stole from Sir Charles's bureau in the study?"
The girl started and bit her lip convulsively. "It wasn't
stealing," she muttered. "It wasn't worth anything."
"Answer me. What did he take?"
"He took nothing."
"For the last time: answer."
"It wasn't Sidney who took it. I took it."
"You took what?"
"You mean that you stole Sir Charles's keys and opened his
"There was no stealing. He was out and they were lying on his
dressing table. Sidney had told me to do it the first time I got
"What had he told you to do?"
"To search through Sir Charles's papers and see if there was
anything with the word 'Fire-Tongue' in it!"
"Ah!" exclaimed Harley, a note of suppressed triumph in his
voice. "Go on."
"There was only one paper about it," continued the girl, now
speaking rapidly, "or only one that I could find. I put the
bureau straight again and took this paper to Sidney."
"But you must have read the paper?"
"Only a bit of it. When I came to the word 'Fire-Tongue,' I
didn't read any more."
"What was it about--the part you did read?"
"The beginning was all about India. I couldn't understand it. I
jumped a whole lot. I hadn't much time and I was afraid Mrs.
Howett would find me. Then, further on, I came to 'Fire-Tongue'."
"But what did it say about 'Fire-Tongue'?"
"I couldn't make it out, sir. Oh, indeed I'm telling you the
truth! It seemed to me that Fire-Tongue was some sort of mark."
"Yes--a mark Sir Charles had seen in India, and then again in
"In London! Where in London?"
"On someone's arm."
"What! Tell me the name of this person!"
"I can't remember, sir! Oh, truly I can't."
"Was the name mentioned?"
"Was it Armand?"
"Anything like Ormond?"
The girl shook her head.
"It was not Ormuz Khan?"
"No. I am sure it wasn't."
Paul Harley's expression underwent a sudden change. "Was it
Brown?" he asked.
She hesitated. "I believe it did begin with a B." she admitted.
"Was it Brunn?"
"No! I remember, sir. It was Brinn!"
"Good God!" muttered Harley. "Are you sure?"
"Do you know any one of that name?"
"And is this positively all you remember?"
"On my oath, it is."
"How often have you seen Sidney since your dismissal?"
"I saw him on the morning I left."
"And then not again until to-day?"
"Does he live in London?"
"No. He is a valet to a gentleman who lives in the country."
"How do you know?"
"He told me."
"What is the name of the place?"
"I don't know."
"Once again--what is the name of the place?"
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