Part 4 out of 5
"There is no fear," repeated Nicol Brinn.
"There is no love."
"There is no love."
"There is no death."
"There is no death."
"Fire alone is eternal."
"Fire alone is eternal."
As he pronounced those words Nicol Brinn crossed the threshold of
the dark room, and the double doors closed silently behind him.
CHAPTER XXII. FIRE-TONGUE SPEAKS
Absolute darkness surrounded Nicol Brinn. Darkness, unpleasant
heat, and a stifling odour of hyacinths. He had been well
coached, and thus far his memory had served him admirably. But
now he knew not what to expect. Therefore inwardly on fire but
outwardly composed, muscles taut and nerves strung highly, he
waited for the next development.
It took the form, first, of the tinkling of a silver bell, and
then of the coming of a dim light at the end of what was
evidently a long apartment. The light grew brighter, assuming the
form of a bluish flame burning in a little flambeau. Nicol Brinn
watched it fascinatedly.
Absolutely no sound was discernible, until a voice began to
speak, a musical voice of curiously arresting quality.
"You are welcome," said the voice. "You are of the Bombay Lodge,
although a citizen of the United States. Because of some strange
error, no work has been allotted to you hitherto. This shall be
Of the weird impressiveness of the scene there could be no doubt.
It even touched some unfamiliar chord in the soul of Nicol Brinn.
The effect of such an interview upon an imaginative, highly
strung temperament, could be well imagined. It was perhaps
theatrical, but that by such means great ends had already been
achieved he knew to his cost.
The introduction of Maskelyne illusions into an English country
house must ordinarily have touched his sense of humour, but
knowing something of the invisible presence in which he stood in
that darkened chamber, there was no laughter in the heart of
Nicol Brinn, but rather an unfamiliar coldness, the nearest
approach to fear of which this steel-nerved man was capable.
"Temporarily," the sweet voice continued, "you will be affiliated
with the London Lodge, to whom you will look for instructions.
These will reach you almost immediately. There is great work to
be done in England. It has been decided, however, that you shall
be transferred as quickly as possible in our New York Lodge. You
will await orders. Only Fire is eternal."
Again the voice ceased. But, Nicol Brinn remained silent:
"Your reply is awaited."
"Fire is life," replied Nicol Brinn.
The blue tongue of flame subsided, lower and lower, and finally
disappeared, so that the apartment became enwrapped in absolute
darkness. A faint rustling sound suggested that a heavy curtain
had been lowered, and almost immediately the doors behind Nicol
Brinn were opened again by Rama Dass.
"We congratulate you, brother," he said, extending his hand. "Yet
the ordeal was no light one, for all the force of the Fire was
focussed upon you."
Nicol Brinn reentered the room where the shaded lamp stood upon
the writing table. In the past he had moved unscathed through
peril unknown to the ordinary man. He was well acquainted with
the resources of the organization whose agents, unseen,
surrounded him in that remote country house, but that their
pretensions were extravagant his present immunity would seem to
If the speaker with the strangely arresting voice were indeed
that Fire-Tongue whose mere name was synonymous with dread in
certain parts of the East, then Fire-Tongue was an impostor. He
who claimed to read the thoughts of all men had signally failed
in the present instance, unless Nicol Brinn stared dully into the
smiling face of Rama Dass. Not yet must he congratulate himself.
Perhaps the Hindu's smile concealed as much as the mask worn by
"We congratulate you," said Rama Dass. "You are a worthy
He performed the secret salutation, which Nicol Brinn
automatically acknowledged. Then, without another word, Rama Dass
led the way to the door.
Out into the dark hallway Nicol Brinn stepped, his muscles taut,
his brain alert for instant action. But no one offered to molest
him. He was assisted into his coat, and his hat was placed in his
hands. Then, the front door being opened, he saw the headlights
of the waiting car shining on a pillar of the porch.
A minute later he was seated again in the shuttered limousine,
and as it moved off, and the lights leapt up above him, he lay
back upon the cushions and uttered a long sigh.
Already he divined that, following a night's sleep, these scenes
would seem like the episodes of a dream. Taking off his hat, he
raised his hand to his forehead, and discovered it to be slightly
"No wonder," he muttered.
Drawing out a silk handkerchief from the breast pocket of his
dinner jacket, he wiped his face and forehead deliberately. Then,
selecting a long black cigar from a case which bore the monogram
of the late Czar of Russia, he lighted it, dropped the match in
the tray, and lolling back in a corner, closed his eyes wearily.
Thus, almost unmoving, he remained throughout the drive. His only
actions were, first, to assure himself that both doors were
locked again, and then at intervals tidily to place a little cone
of ash in the tray provided for the purpose. Finally, the car
drew up and a door was unlocked by the chauffeur.
Nicol Brinn, placing his hat upon his head, stepped out before
the porch of the Cavalry Club.
The chauffeur closed the door, and returned again to the wheel.
Immediately the car moved away. At the illuminated number Nicol
Brinn scarcely troubled to glance. Common sense told him that it
was not that under which the car was registered. His interest, on
the contrary, was entirely focussed upon a beautiful Rolls Royce,
which was evidently awaiting some visitor or member of the club.
Glancing shrewdly at the chauffeur, a smart, military-looking
fellow, Nicol Brinn drew a card from his waistcoat pocket, and
resting it upon a wing in the light of one of the lamps, wrote
something rapidly upon it in pencil.
Returning the pencil to his pocket:
"Whose car, my man?" he inquired of the chauffear.
"Colonel Lord Wolverham's, sir."
"Good," said Nicol Brinn, and put the card and a ten-shilling
note into the man's hand. "Go right into the club and personally
give Colonel Lord Wolverham this card. Do you understand?"
The man understood. Used to discipline, he recognized the note of
command in the speaker's voice.
"Certainly, sir," he returned, without hesitation; and stepping
down upon the pavement he walked into the club.
Less than two minutes afterward a highly infuriated military
gentleman--who, as it chanced, had never even heard of the
distinguished American traveller--came running out hatless into
Piccadilly, holding a crumpled visiting card in his hand. The
card, which his chauffeur had given him in the midst of a
thrilling game, read as follows:
MR. NICOL BRINN
PICCADILLY, W. I.
And written in pencil beneath the name appeared the following:
Borrowed your Rolls. Urgent. Will explain tomorrow. Apologize.
CHAPTER XXIII. PHIL ABINGDON'S VISITOR
On the following morning the card of His Excellency Ormuz Khan
was brought to Phil Abingdon in the charming little room which
Mrs. McMurdoch had allotted to her for a private sanctum during
the period of her stay under this hospitable roof.
"Oh," she exclaimed, and looked at the maid in a startled way. "I
suppose I must see him. Will you ask him to come in, please?"
A few moments later Ormuz Khan entered. He wore faultless morning
dress, too faultless; so devoid of any flaw or crease as to have
lost its masculine character. In his buttonhole was a hyacinth,
and in one slender ivory hand he carried a huge bunch of pink
roses, which, bowing deeply, he presented to the embarrassed
"Dare I venture," he said in his musical voice, bending deeply
over her extended hand, "to ask you to accept these flowers? It
would honour me. Pray do not refuse."
"Your excellency is very kind," she replied, painfully conscious
of acute nervousness. "It is more than good of you."
"It is good of you to grant me so much pleasure," he returned,
sinking gracefully upon a settee, as Phil Abingdon resumed her
seat. "Condolences are meaningless. Why should I offer them to
one of your acute perceptions? But you know--" the long, magnetic
eyes regarded her fixedly--"you know what is in my heart."
Phil Abingdon bit her lip, merely nodding in reply.
"Let us then try to forget, if only for a while," said Ormuz
Khan. "I could show you so easily, if you would consent to allow
me, that those we love never leave us."
The spell of his haunting voice was beginning to have its effect.
Phil Abingdon found herself fighting against something which at
once repelled and attracted her. She had experienced this unusual
attraction before, and this was not the first time that she had
combated it. But whereas formerly she had more or less resigned
herself to the strange magic which lay in the voice and in the
eyes of Ormuz Khan, this morning there was something within her
which rebelled fiercely against the Oriental seductiveness of his
She recognized that a hot flush had covered her cheeks. For the
image of Paul Harley, bronzed, gray-eyed, and reproachful, had
appeared before her mind's eye, and she knew why her resentment
of the Persian's charm of manner had suddenly grown so intense.
Yet she was not wholly immune from it, for:
"Does Your Excellency really mean that?" she whispered.
A smile appeared upon his face, an alluring smile, but rather
that of a beautiful woman than of a man.
"As you of the West," he said, "have advanced step by step, ever
upward in the mechanical sciences, we of the East have advanced
also step by step in other and greater sciences."
"Certainly," she admitted, "you have spoken of such things
"I speak of things which I know. From that hour when you entered
upon your first Kama, back in the dawn of time, until now, those
within the ever-moving cycle which bears you on through the ages
have been beside you, at times unseen by the world, at times
unseen by you, veiled by the mist which men call death, but which
is no more than a curtain behind which we sometimes step for a
while. In the East we have learned to raise that curtain; in the
West are triflers who make like claims, but whose knowledge of
the secret of the veil is--" And he snapped his fingers
The strange personality of the man was having its effect. Phil
Abingdon's eyes were widely open, and she was hanging upon his
words. Underneath the soft effeminate exterior lay a masterful
spirit--a spirit which had known few obstacles. The world of
womanhood could have produced no more difficult subject than Phil
Abingdon. Yet she realized, and became conscious of a sense of
helplessness, that under certain conditions she would be as a
child in the hands of this Persian mystic, whose weird eyes
appeared to be watching not her body, nor even her mind, but her
soul, whose voice touched unfamiliar chords within her--chords
which had never responded to any other human voice.
It was thrilling, vaguely pleasurable, but deep terror underlay
"Your Excellency almost frightens me," she whispered. "Yet I do
not doubt that you speak of what you know."
"It is so," he returned, gravely. "At any hour, day or night, if
you care to make the request, I shall be happy to prove my words.
But," he lowered his dark lashes and then raised them again, "the
real object of my visit is concerned with more material things."
"Indeed," said Phil Abingdon, and whether because of the words of
Ormuz Khan, or because of some bond of telepathy which he had
established between them, she immediately found herself to be
thinking of Paul Harley.
"I bring you a message," he continued, "from a friend."
With eyes widely open, Phil Abingdon watched him.
"From," she began--but her lips would not frame the name.
"From Mr. Paul Harley," he said, inclining his head gravely.
"Oh! tell me, tell me!"
"I am here to tell you, Miss Abingdon. Mr. Harley feels that his
absence may have distressed you."
"Yes, yes," she said, eagerly.
"But in pursuit of a certain matter which is known to you, he has
found it necessary in the interests of his safety to remain out
of London for a while."
"Oh," Phil Abingdon heaved a great sigh. "Oh, Your Excellency,
how glad I am to hear that he is safe!"
The long, dark eyes regarded her intently, unemotionally, noting
that the flush had faded from her face, leaving it very pale, and
noting also the expression of gladness in her eyes, the quivering
of her sweet lips.
"He is my guest," continued Ormuz Khan, "my honoured guest."
"He is with you?" exclaimed Phil, almost incredulously.
"With me, at my home in Surrey. In me he found a natural ally,
since my concern was as great as his own. I do not conceal from
you, Miss Abingdon, that he is danger."
"In danger?" she whispered.
"It is true, but beneath my roof he is safe. There is a matter of
vital urgency, however, in which you can assist him."
"I?" she exclaimed.
"No one but you." Ormuz Khan raised his slender hand gracefully.
"I beg you, do not misunderstand me. In the first place, would
Mr. Harley have asked you to visit him at my home, if he had not
been well assured that you could do so with propriety? In the
second place, should I, who respect you more deeply than any
woman in the world, consent to your coming unchaperoned? Miss
Abingdon, you know me better. I beg of you in Mr. Harley's name
and in my own, prevail upon Mrs. McMurdoch to accept the
invitation which I bring to lunch with me at Hillside, my Surrey
He spoke with the deep respect of a courtier addressing his
queen. His low musical voice held a note that was almost a note
of adoration. Phil Abingdon withdrew her gaze from the handsome
ivory face, and strove for mental composure before replying.
Subtly, insidiously, the man had cast his spell upon her. Of this
she was well aware. In other words, her thoughts were not
entirely her own, but in a measure were promptings from that
Indeed, her heart was beating wildly at the mere thought that she
was to see Paul Harley again that very day. She had counted the
hours since their last meeting, and knew exactly how many had
elapsed. Because each one had seemed like twelve, she had ceased
to rebel against this sweet weakness, which, for the first time
in her life, had robbed her of some of her individuality, and had
taught her that she was a woman to whom mastery by man is
exquisite slavery. Suddenly she spoke.
"Of course I will come, Your Excellency," she said. "I will see
Mrs. McMurdoch at once, but I know she will not refuse."
"Naturally she will not refuse, Miss Abingdon," he returned In a
grave voice. "The happiness of so many people is involved."
"It is so good of you," she said, standing up. "I shall never
forget your kindness."
He rose, bowing deeply, from a European standpoint too deeply.
"Kindness is a spiritual investment," he said, "which returns us
interest tenfold. If I can be sure of Mrs. McMurdoch's
acceptance, I will request permission to take my leave now, for I
have an urgent business appointment to keep, after which I will
call for you. Can you be ready by noon?"
"Yes, we shall be ready."
Phil Abingdon held out her hand in a curiously hesitant manner.
The image of Paul Harley had become more real, more insistent.
Her mind was in a strangely chaotic state, so that when the hand
of Ormuz Khan touched her own, she repressed a start and laughed
in an embarrassed way.
She knew that her heart was singing, but under the song lay
something cold, and when Ormuz Khan had bowed himself from the
room, she found herself thinking, not of the newly departed
visitor, nor even of Paul Harley, but of her dead father. In
spite of the sunshine which flooded the room, her flesh turned
cold and she wondered if the uncanny Persian possessed some
Clearly as though he had stood beside her, she seemed to hear the
beloved voice of her father. It was imagination, of course, she
knew this; but it was uncannily real.
She thought that he was calling her, urgently, beseechingly:
CHAPTER XXIV. THE SCREEN OF GOLD
Paul Harley raised his aching head and looked wearily about him.
At first, as might be expected, he thought that he was dreaming.
He lay upon a low divan and could only suppose that he had been
transported to India.
Slowly, painfully, memory reasserted itself and he realized that
he had been rendered unconscious by the blow of a sandbag or some
similar weapon while telephoning from the station master's office
at Lower Claybury. How long a time had elapsed since that moment
he was unable to judge, for his watch had been removed from his
pocket. He stared about him with a sort of fearful interest. He
lay in a small barely furnished room having white distempered
walls, wholly undecorated. Its few appointments were Oriental,
and the only window which it boasted was set so high as to be
well out of reach. Moreover, it was iron-barred, and at the
moment admitted no light, whether because it did not communicate
with the outer world, or because night was fallen, he was unable
There were two doors in the room, one of very massive
construction, and the other a smaller one. The place was dimly
lighted by a brass lantern which hung from the ceiling. Harley
stood up, staggered slightly, and then sat down again.
"My God," he groaned and raised his hand to his head.
For a few moments he remained seated, victim of a deadly nausea.
Then, clenching his jaws grimly, again he stood up, and this time
succeeded in reaching the heavy door.
As he had supposed, it was firmly locked, and a glance was
sufficient to show him that his unaided effort could never force
it. He turned his attention to the smaller door, which opened at
his touch, revealing a sleeping apartment not unlike a monk's
cell, adjoining which was a tiny bathroom. Neither rooms boasted
windows, both being lighted by brass lanterns.
Harley examined them and their appointments with the utmost care,
and then returned again to the outer room, one feature of which,
and quite the most remarkable, he had reserved for special
This was a massive screen of gilded iron scroll work, which
occupied nearly the whole of one end of the room. Beyond the
screen hung a violet-coloured curtain of Oriental fabric; but so
closely woven was the metal design that although he could touch
this curtain with his finger at certain points, it proved
impossible for him to move it aside in any way.
He noted that its lower fringe did not quite touch the door. By
stooping down, he could see a few feet into some room beyond. It
was in darkness, however, and beyond the fact that it was
carpeted with a rich Persian rug, he learned but little from his
scrutiny. The gilded screen was solid and immovable.
Nodding his head grimly, Harley felt in his pockets for pipe and
pouch, wondering if these, too, had been taken from him. They had
not, however, and the first nausea of his awakening having
passed, he filled and lighted his briar and dropped down upon the
divan to consider his position.
That it was fairly desperate was a fact he was unable to hide
from himself, but at least he was still alive, which was a matter
at once for congratulation and surprise.
He had noticed before, in raising his hand to his head, that his
forehead felt cold and wet, and now, considering the matter
closely, he came to the conclusion that an attempt had been made
to aid his recovery, by some person or persons who must have
retired at the moment that he had shown signs of returning
His salvation, then, was not accidental but deliberate. He
wondered what awaited him and why his life had been spared.
That he had walked blindly into a trap prepared for him by that
mysterious personality known as Fire-Tongue, he no longer could
doubt. Intense anxiety and an egotistical faith in his own acumen
had led him to underestimate the cleverness of his enemies, a
vice from which ordinarily he was free.
From what hour they had taken a leading interest in his
movements, he would probably never know, but that they had
detected Paul Harley beneath the vendor of "Old Moore's Almanac"
was certain enough. What a fool he had been!
He reproached himself bitterly. Ordinary common sense should have
told him that the Hindu secretary had given those instructions to
the chauffeur in the courtyard of the Savoy Hotel for his, Paul
Harley's, special benefit. It was palpable enough now. He
wondered how he had ever fallen into such a trap, and biting
savagely upon his pipe, he strove to imagine what ordeal lay
ahead of him.
So his thoughts ran, drifting from his personal danger, which he
knew to be great, to other matters, which he dreaded to consider,
because they meant far more to him than his own life. Upon these
bitter reflections a slight sound intruded, the first which had
disturbed the stillness about him since the moment of his
Someone had entered the room beyond the gilded screen, and now a
faint light showed beneath the fringe of the curtain. Paul Harley
sat quite still, smoking and watching.
He had learned to face the inevitable with composure, and now,
apprehending the worst, he waited, puffing at his pipe. Presently
he detected the sound of someone crossing the room toward him, or
rather toward the screen. He lay back against the mattress which
formed the back of the divan, and watched the gap below the
Suddenly he perceived a pair of glossy black boots. Their wearer
was evidently standing quite near the screen, possibly listening.
Harley had an idea that some second person stood immediately
behind the first. Of this idea he presently had confirmation. He
was gripping the stem of his pipe very tightly and any one who
could have seen him sitting there must have perceived that
although his face wore an unusual pallor, he was composed and
entirely master of himself.
A voice uttered his name:
"Mr. Paul Harley."
He could not be sure, but he thought it was the voice of Ormuz
Khan's secretary. He drew his pipe from between his teeth, and:
"Yes, what do you want with me?" he asked.
"Your attention, Mr. Harley, for a few moments, if you feel
"Pray proceed," said Harley.
Of the presence of a second person beyond the screen he was now
assured, for he had detected the sound of whispered instructions;
and sinking lower and lower upon the divan, he peered
surreptitiously under the border of the curtain, believing it to
be more than probable that his movements were watched.
This led to a notable discovery. A pair of gray suede shoes
became visible a few inches behind the glossy black
boots--curiously small shoes with unusually high heels. The
identity of their wearer was beyond dispute to the man who had
measured that delicate foot.
Ormuz Khan stood behind the screen!
CHAPTER XXV. AN ENGLISHMAN'S HONOUR
"You have been guilty of a series of unfortunate mistakes, Mr.
Harley," continued the speaker. "Notably, you have relied upon
the clumsy device of disguise. To the organization in which you
have chosen to interest yourself, this has provided some mild
amusement. Your pedlar of almanacs was a clever impersonation,
but fortunately your appearance at the Savoy had been
anticipated, and no one was deceived."
Paul Harley did not reply. He concluded, quite correctly, that
the organization had failed to detect himself in the person of
the nervous cobbler. He drew courage from this deduction.
Fire-Tongue was not omniscient.
"It is possible," continued the unseen speaker, in whom Harley
had now definitely recognized Ormuz Khan's secretary, "that you
recently overheard a resolution respecting yourself. Your death,
in fact, had been determined upon. Life and death being
synonymous, the philosopher contemplates either with equanimity."
"I am contemplating the latter with equanimity at the moment,"
said Harley, dryly.
"The brave man does so," the Hindu continued, smoothly. "The
world only seems to grow older; its youth is really eternal, but
as age succeeds age, new creeds must take the place of the old
ones which are burned out. Fire, Mr. Harley, sweeps everything
from its path irresistibly. You have dared to stand in the path
of a fiery dawn; therefore, like all specks of dust which clog
the wheels of progress, you must be brushed aside."
Harley nodded grimly, watching a ring of smoke floating slowly
"It is a little thing to those who know the truth," the speaker
resumed. "To the purblind laws of the West it may seem a great
thing. We seek in Rome to do as Rome does. We judge every man as
we find him. Therefore, recognizing that your total disappearance
might compromise our movements in the near future, we have
decided to offer you an alternative. This offer is based upon the
British character. Where the oath of some men is a thing of
smoke, the word of honour of an Englishman we are prepared to
"Many thanks," murmured Harley. "On behalf of Great Britain I
accept the compliment."
"We have such faith in the completeness of our plans, and in the
nearness of the hour of triumph, that if you will pledge yourself
to silence, in writing, you will not be molested in any way. You
occupy at the moment the apartment reserved for neophytes of a
certain order. But we do not ask you to become a neophyte.
Disciples must seek us, we do not seek disciples. We only ask for
your word that you will be silent."
"It is impossible," said Harley, tersely.
"Think well of the matter. It may not seem so impossible
"I decline definitely."
"You are sustaining yourself with false hopes, Mr. Harley. You
think you have clues which will enable you to destroy a system
rooted in the remote past. Also you forget that you have lost
Paul Harley offered no further answer to the speaker concealed
behind the violet curtain.
"Do not misunderstand us," the voice continued. "We bind you to
nothing but silence."
"I refuse," said Harley, sharply. "Dismiss the matter."
"In spite of your refusal, time for consideration will be given
Faintly Paul Harley detected the sounds made by Ormuz Khan and
his secretary in withdrawing. The light beneath the curtain
For perhaps a space of two hours, Paul Harley sat smoking and
contemplating the situation from every conceivable angle. It was
certainly desperate enough, and after a time he rose with a weary
sigh, and made a second and more detailed examination of the
It availed him nothing, but one point he definitely established.
Escape was impossible, failing outside assistance. A certain
coldness in the atmosphere, which was perceptible immediately
beneath the barred window, led him to believe that this
communicated with the outer air.
He was disposed to think that his unconsciousness had lasted less
than an hour, and that it was still dark without. He was full of
distrust. He no longer believed his immediate death to have been
decided upon. For some reason it would seem that the group wished
him to live, at any rate, temporarily. But now a complete theory
touching the death of Sir Charles Abingdon had presented itself
to his mind. Knowing little, but suspecting much of the resources
of Fire-Tongue, he endeavoured to avoid contact with anything in
Night attire was provided in the sleeping chamber, but he did not
avail himself of this hospitality. Absolute silence reigned about
him. Yet so immutable are Nature's laws, that presently Paul
Harley sank back upon the mattresses, and fell asleep.
He awoke, acutely uncomfortable and ill-rested. He found a shaft
of light streaming into the room, and casting shadows of the iron
bars upon the opposite wall. The brass lantern still burned above
him, and the silence remained complete as when he had fallen
asleep. He stood up yawning and stretching himself.
At least, it was good to be still alive. He was vaguely conscious
of the fact that he had been dreaming of Phil Abingdon, and
suppressing a sigh, he clenched his teeth grimly and entered the
little bathroom. There proved to be a plentiful supply of hot and
cold water. At this he sniffed suspiciously, but at last:
"I'll risk it," he muttered.
He undressed and revelled in the joy of a hot bath, concluding
with a cold plunge. A razor and excellent toilet requisites were
set upon the dressing table, and whilst his imagination whispered
that the soap might be poisoned and the razor possess a septic
blade, he shaved, and having shaved, lighted his pipe and
redressed himself at leisure.
He had nearly completed his toilet when a slight sound in the
outer room arrested his attention. He turned sharply, stepping
through the doorway.
A low carved table, the only one which the apartment boasted,
displayed an excellent English breakfast laid upon a spotless
"Ah," he murmured, and by the sight was mentally translated to
that celebrated apartment of the palace at Versailles, where
Louis XIV and his notorious favourite once were accustomed to
dine, alone, and unsuitably dressed, the courses being served in
just this fashion.
Harley held his pipe in his hand, and contemplated the repast. It
was only logical to suppose it to be innocuous, and a keen
appetite hastened the issue. He sidetracked his suspicion, and
made an excellent breakfast. So the first day of his captivity
Growing used to the stillness about him, he presently began to
detect, as the hours wore on, distant familiar sounds.
Automobiles on the highroad, trains leaving and entering a tunnel
which he judged to be from two to three miles distant; even human
voices at long intervals.
The noises of an English countryside crept through the barred
windows. Beyond a doubt he was in the house known as Hillside.
Probably at night the lights of London could be seen from the
garden. He was within ordinary telephone call of Chancery Lane.
Yet he resumed his pipe and smiled philosophically. He had hoped
to see the table disappear beneath the floor. As evidence that he
was constantly watched, this had occurred during a brief visit
which he had made to the bedroom in quest of matches.
When he returned the table was in its former place, but the cover
had been removed. He carefully examined the floor beneath it, and
realized that there was no hope of depressing the trap from
above. Then, at an hour which he judged to be that of noon, the
same voice addressed him from beyond the gilded screen.
"Mr. Paul Harley?"
"Yes, what have you to say?"
"By this time, Mr. Harley, you must have recognized that
opposition is futile. At any moment we could visit death upon
you. Escape, on the other hand, is out of the question. We desire
you no harm. For diplomatic reasons, we should prefer you to
live. Our cause is a sacred one. Do not misjudge it by minor
incidents. A short statement and a copy of your English testament
shall be placed upon the table, if you wish."
"I do not wish," Paul Harley returned.
"Is that your last word, Mr. Harley? We warn you that the third
time of asking will be the last time."
"This is my last word."
"Your own life is not the only stake at issue."
"What do you mean?"
"You will learn what we mean, if you insist upon withholding your
consent until we next invite it."
"Nevertheless, you may regard it as withheld, definitely and
Silence fell, and Paul Harley knew himself to be once more alone.
Luncheon appeared upon the table whilst he was washing in the
bathroom. Remembering the change in the tone of the unseen
speaker's voice, he avoided touching anything.
From the divan, through half-closed eyes, he examined every inch
of the walls, seeking for the spy-hole through which he knew
himself to be watched. He detected it at last: a little grating,
like a ventilator, immediately above him where he sat. This
communicated with some room where a silent watcher was constantly
Paul Harley gave no sign that he had made this discovery. But
already his keen wits were at work upon a plan. He watched the
bar of light fading, fading, until, judging it to be dinner time,
he retired discreetly.
When he returned, he found dinner spread upon the table.
He wondered for what ordeal the neophyte was prepared in this
singular apartment. He wondered how such neophytes were chosen,
and to what tests they were submitted before being accepted as
members of the bloodthirsty order. He could not even surmise.
Evidently no neophyte had been accepted on the previous night,
unless there were other like chambers in the house. The occupants
of the shuttered cars must therefore have been more advanced
members. He spent the night in the little cell-like bedchamber,
and his second day of captivity began as the first had begun.
For his dinner he had eaten nothing but bread and fruit. For his
breakfast he ate an egg and drank water from the tap in the
bathroom. His plan was now nearing completion. Only one point
At noon the voice again addressed him from behind the gilded
"Mr. Paul Harley?"
"Your last opportunity has come. For your own future or for that
of the world you seem to care little or nothing. Are you still
determined to oppose our wishes?
"You have yet an hour. Your final decision will be demanded of
you at the end of that time."
Faint sounds of withdrawal followed these words and Harley
suddenly discovered himself to be very cold. The note of danger
had touched him. For long it had been silent. Now it clamoured
insistently. He knew beyond all doubt that he was approaching a
crisis in his life. At its nature he could not even guess.
He began to pace the room nervously, listening for he knew not
what. His mind was filled with vague imaginings; when at last
came an overture to the grim test to be imposed upon him.
A slight metallic sound drew his glance in the direction of the
gilded screen. A sliding door of thick plate glass had been
closed behind it, filling the space between the metal work and
the curtain. Then--the light in the brass lantern became
Standing rigidly, fists clenched, Paul Harley watched the
curtain. And as he watched, slowly it was drawn aside. He found
himself looking into a long room which appeared to be practically
The floor was spread with rugs and at the farther end folding
doors had been opened, so that he could see into a second room,
most elegantly appointed in Persian fashion. Here were silver
lanterns, and many silken cushions, out of which, as from a sea
of colour, arose slender pillars, the scheme possessing an air of
exotic luxury peculiarly Oriental.
Seated in a carved chair over which a leopard skin had been
thrown, and talking earnestly to some invisible companion, whose
conversation seemed wholly to enthrall her, was Phil Abingdon!
CHAPTER XXVI. THE ORCHID OF SLEEP
"My God!" cried Innes, "here is proof that the chief was right!"
Wessex nodded in silent agreement. On the table lay the report of
Merton, the analyst, concerning the stains upon the serviette
which Harley had sent from the house of the late Sir Charles
Abingdon. Briefly, it stated that the serviette had been
sprinkled with some essential oil, the exact character of which
Merton had found himself unable to determine, its perfume, if it
ever possessed any, having disappeared. And the minute quantity
obtainable from the linen rendered ordinary tests difficult to
apply. The analyst's report, however, concluded as follows:
"Mr. Harley, having foreseen these difficulties, and having
apparently suspected that the oil was of Oriental origin,
recommended me, in the note which he enclosed with the serviette,
to confer with Dr. Warwick Grey. I send a copy of a highly
interesting letter which I have received from Doctor Grey, whose
knowledge of Eastern poison is unparalleled, and to whose opinion
I attach immense importance."
It was the contents of this appended letter which had inspired
Innes's remarks. Indeed, it contained matter which triumphantly
established Paul Harley's theory that Sir Charles Abingdon had
not died from natural causes. The letter was as follows:
'No.---- Harley Street
London, W. I.
'MY DEAR MERTON:
'I am indebted to you and to Mr. Harley for an opportunity of
examining the serviette, which I return herewith. I agree that
the oil does not respond to ordinary tests, nor is any smell
perceptible. But you have noticed in your microscopic examination
of the stains that there is a peculiar crystalline formation upon
the surface. You state that this is quite unfamiliar to you,
which is not at all strange, since outside of the Himalayan
districts of Northwest India I have never met with it myself.
'Respecting the character of the oil employed, however, I am in
no doubt, and I actually possess a dried specimen of the flower
from which it is expressed. This is poetically known among the
Mangars, one of the fighting tribes or Nepal, as the Bloom or
Orchid of Sleep.
'It is found upon the lower Himalayan slopes, and bears a close
resemblance to the white odontoglossum of commerce, except that
the flower is much smaller. Its perfume attracts insects and
sometimes small animals and reptiles, although inhalation seems
to induce instant death. It may be detected in its natural state
by the presence of hundreds of dead flies and insects upon the
ground surrounding the plant. It is especially fatal to nocturnal
insects, its perfume being stronger at night.
'Preparation of the oil is an art peculiar to members of an
obscure sect established in that district, by whom it is said to
be employed for the removal of enemies.
'An article is sprinkled with it, and whilst the perfume, which
is reported to resemble that of cloves, remains perceptible, to
inhale it results in immediate syncope, although by what
physiological process I have never been enabled to determine.
'With the one exception which I have mentioned, during my stay in
Nepal and the surrounding districts I failed to obtain a specimen
of this orchid. I have twice seen the curious purple stain upon
articles of clothing worn by natives who had died suddenly and
mysteriously. The Mangars simply say, "He has offended someone.
It is the flower of sleep."
'I immediately recognized the colour of the stains upon the
enclosed serviette, and also the curious crystalline formation on
their surface. The identity of the "someone" to whom the Mangars
refer, I never established. I shall welcome any particulars
respecting the history of the serviette.
'Very truly yours,
"Sir Charles Abingdon was poisoned," said Wessex in a hushed
voice. "For the girl's sake I hate the idea, but we shall have to
get an exhumation order."
"It is impossible," returned Innes, shortly. "He was cremated."
"Good heavens," murmured Wessex, "I never knew."
"But after all," continued Inures, "it is just as well for
everyone concerned. The known facts are sufficient to establish
the murder, together with the report of Dr. Warwick Grey. But,
meanwhile, are we any nearer to learning the identity of the
"We are not! " said Wessex, grimly. "And what's more, when I get
to Scotland Yard, I have got to face the music. First Mr. Harley
goes, and now Nicol Brinn has disappeared!"
"It's almost unbelievable!"
"I took him for a white man," said the detective, earnestly. "I
accepted his parole for twenty-four hours. The twenty-four hours
expired about noon to-day, but since he played that trick on
Stokes last night and went out of his chambers, he has vanished
Innes stood up excitedly.
"Your ideas may be all wrong, Wessex!" he cried. "Don't you see
that he may have gone the same way as the chief?"
"He was mightily anxious to get out, at any rate."
"And you have no idea where he went?"
"Not the slightest. Following his performance of last night, of
course I was compelled to instal a man in the chambers, and this
morning someone rang up from the house of Lord Wolverham; he is
commanding officer of one of the Guards battalions, I believe. It
appears that Mr. Nicol Brinn not only locked up a representative
of the Criminal Investigation Department, but also stole a Rolls
Royce car from outside the Cavalry Club!"
"What!" cried Innes. "Stole a car?"
"Stole Lord Wolverham's car and calmly drove away in it. We have
failed to trace both car and man!" The detective inspector sighed
wearily. "Well, I suppose I must get along to the Yard. Stokes
has got the laugh on me this time."
Wearing a very gloomy expression, the detective inspector
proceeded on foot to New Scotland Yard, and being informed on his
arrival upstairs that the Assistant Commissioner was expecting
him, he entered the office of that great man.
The Assistant Commissioner, who had palpably seen military
service, was a big man with very tired eyes, and a quiet, almost
"Ah, Detective Inspector," he said, as Wessex entered. "I wanted
to see you about this business of Mr. Nicol Brinn."
"Yes, sir," replied Wessex; "naturally."
"Now," the Assistant Commissioner turned wearily in his chair,
and glanced up at his subordinate--"your accepting the parole of
a suspect, under the circumstances, was officially improper, but
I am not blaming you--I am not blaming you for a moment. Mr.
Nicol Brinn's well-known reputation justified your behaviour." He
laid one large hand firmly upon the table. "Mr. Nicol Brinn's
absence alters the matter entirely."
"I am well aware of it," murmured the inspector. "Although,"
continued the Assistant Commissioner, "Mr. Brinn's record leads
me to believe that he will have some suitable explanation to
offer, his behaviour, you will admit, is that of a guilty man?"
"It is, sir; it certainly is."
"The Press, fortunately, has learned nothing of this unpleasant
business, particularly unpleasant because it involves such
well-known people. You will see to it, Detective Inspector, that
all publicity is avoided if possible. Meanwhile, as a matter of
ordinary departmental routine, you will circulate Mr. Brinn's
description through the usual channels, and--" the Assistant
Commissioner raised his eyebrows slightly.
"You mean that?" asked Wessex.
"Certainly. He must be arrested by the first officer who
"Very good, sir. I will move in the matter at once."
"Do so, please." The Assistant Commissioner sighed wearily, as
one of his telephones set up a muted buzzing. "That is all for
the moment, I think. Good morning."
Detective Inspector Wessex came out, quietly closing the door
behind him. He felt that he had been let down very lightly. But
nevertheless he was unpleasantly warm, and as he walked slowly
along the corridor he whistled softly, and:
"Arrest of Mr. Nicol Brinn," he muttered. "What a headline, if
they ever get it!"
CHAPTER XXVII. AT HILLSIDE
Phil Abingdon arrived at Hillside in a state of mind which she
found herself unable to understand. Mrs. McMurdoch, who had
accepted the invitation under protest, saying that if Doctor
McMurdoch had been at home he would certainly have disapproved,
had so utterly fallen under the strange spell of Ormuz Khan, that
long before they had come to Hillside she was hanging upon his
every word in a way which was almost pathetic to watch.
On the other hand, Phil Abingdon had taken up a definite attitude
of defense; and perceiving this, because of his uncanny
intuitiveness, the Persian had exerted himself to the utmost,
more often addressing Phil than her companion, and striving to
regain that mastery of her emotions which he had formerly
achieved, at least in part.
Her feelings, however, were largely compounded of fear, and fear
strengthened her defense. The repulsive part of Ormuz Khan's
character became more apparent to her than did the fascination
which she had once experienced. She distrusted him, distrusted
him keenly. She knew at the bottom of her heart that this had
always been so, but she had suffered his attentions in much the
same spirit as that which imbues the naturalist who studies the
habits of a poisonous reptile.
She knew that she was playing with fire, and in this knowledge
lay a dangerous pleasure. She had the utmost faith in her own
common sense, and was ambitious to fence with edged tools.
When at last the car was drawn up before the porch of Hillside,
and Ormuz Khan, stepping out, assisted the ladies to alight, for
one moment Phil Abingdon hesitated, although she knew that it was
already too late to do so. They were received by Mr. Rama Dass,
his excellency's courteous secretary, whom she had already met,
and whom Ormuz Khan presented to Mrs. McMurdoch. Almost
"You have missed Mr. Harley by only a few minutes," said Rama
"What!" exclaimed Phil, her eyes opening very widely.
"Oh, there is no occasion for alarm," explained the secretary in
his urbane manner. "He has ventured as far as Lower Claybury
station. The visit was unavoidable. He particularly requested
that we should commence luncheon, but hoped to be back before we
should have finished."
Phil Abingdon glanced rapidly from the face of the speaker to
that of Ormuz Khan. But her scrutiny of those unreadable
countenances availed her nothing. She was conscious of a great
and growing uneasiness; and Mrs. McMurdoch, misunderstanding the
expression upon her face, squeezed her arm playfully.
"Cheer up, dear" she whispered; "he will be here soon!"
Phil knew that her face had flushed deeply. Partly she was glad
of her emotions, and partly ashamed. This sweet embarrassment in
which there was a sort of pain was a new experience, but one
wholly delightful. She laughed, and accepting the arm of Ormuz
Khan, walked into a very English-looking library, followed by
Rama Dass and Mrs. McMurdoch. The house, she thought, was very
silent, and she found herself wondering why no servants had
Rama Dass had taken charge of the ladies' cloaks in the hall, and
in spite of the typical English environment in which she found
herself, Phil sat very near to Mrs. McMurdoch on a settee,
scarcely listening to the conversation, and taking no part in it.
For there was a strange and disturbing air of loneliness about
Hillside. She would have welcomed the appearance of a butler or a
parlourmaid, or any representative of the white race. Yes: there
lay the root of the matter--this feeling of aloofness from all
that was occidental, a feeling which the English appointments of
the room did nothing to dispel. Then a gong sounded and the party
went in to lunch.
A white-robed Hindu waited at table, and Phil discovered his
movements to be unpleasantly silent. There was something very
unreal about it all. She found herself constantly listening for
the sound of an approaching car, of a footstep, of a voice, the
voice of Paul Harley. This waiting presently grew unendurable,
"I hope Mr. Harley is safe," she said, in a rather unnatural
tone. "Surely he should have returned by now?"
Ormuz Khan shrugged his slight shoulders and glanced at a
diamond-studded wrist watch which he wore.
"There is nothing to fear," he declared, in his soft, musical
voice. "He knows how to take care of himself. And"--with a
significant glance of his long, magnetic eyes--"I am certain he
will return as speedily as possible."
Nevertheless, luncheon terminated, and Harley had not appeared.
"You have sometimes expressed a desire," said Ormuz Khan, "to see
the interior of a Persian house. Permit me to show you the only
really characteristic room which I allow myself in my English
Endeavouring to conceal her great anxiety, Phil allowed herself
to be conducted by the Persian to an apartment which realized her
dreams of that Orient which she had never visited.
Three beautiful silver lanterns depended from a domed ceiling in
which wonderfully woven tapestry was draped. The windows were
partly obscured by carved wooden screens, and the light entered
through little panels of coloured glass. There were cushioned
divans, exquisite pottery, and a playful fountain plashing in a
Ormuz Khan conducted her to a wonderfully carven chair over which
a leopard's skin was draped and there she seated herself. She saw
through a wide doorway before her a long and apparently
unfurnished room dimly lighted. At the farther end she could
vaguely discern violet-coloured draperies. Ormuz Khan gracefully
threw himself upon a divan to the right of this open door.
"This, Miss Abingdon," he said, "is a nearly exact reproduction
of a room of a house which I have in Ispahan. I do not claim that
it is typical, but does its manner appeal to you?"
"Immensely," she replied, looking around her.
She became aware of a heavy perfume of hyacinths, and presently
observed that there were many bowls of those flowers set upon
little tables, and in niches in the wall.
"Yet its atmosphere is not truly of the Orient."
"Are such apartments uncommon, then, in Persia?" asked Phil,
striving valiantly to interest herself in the conversation.
"I do not say so," he returned, crossing one delicate foot over
the other, in languorous fashion. "But many things which are
typically of the Orient would probably disillusion you, Miss
"In what way?" she asked, wondering why Mrs. McMurdoch had not
"In many subtle ways. The real wonder and the mystery of the East
lie not upon the surface, but beneath it. And beneath the East of
to-day lies the East of yesterday."
The speaker's expression grew rapt, and he spoke in the mystic
manner which she knew and now dreaded. Her anxiety for the return
of Paui Harley grew urgent--a positive need, as, meeting the gaze
of the long, magnetic eyes, she felt again, like the touch of
cold steel, all the penetrating force of this man's will. She was
angrily aware of the fact that his gaze was holding hers
hypnotically, that she was meeting it contrary to her wish and
inclination. She wanted to look away but found herself looking
steadily into the coal-black eyes of Ormuz Khan.
"The East of yesterday"--his haunting voice seemed to reach her
from a great distance--"saw the birth of all human knowledge and
human power; and to us the East of yesterday is the East of
Phil became aware that a sort of dreamy abstraction was creeping
over her, when in upon this mood came a sound which stimulated
her weakening powers of resistance.
Dimly, for all the windows of the room were closed, she heard a
car come up and stop before the house. It aroused her from the
curious condition of lethargy into which she was falling. She
turned her head sharply aside, the physical reflection of a
mental effort to remove her gaze from the long, magnetic eyes of
Ormuz Khan. And:
"Do you think that is Mr. Harley?" she asked, and failed to
recognize her own voice.
"Possibly," returned the Persian, speaking very gently.
With one ivory hand he touched his knee for a moment, the only
expression of disappointment which he allowed himself.
"May I ask you to go and enquire?" continued Phil, now wholly
mistress of herself again. "I am wondering, too, what can have
become of Mrs. McMurdoch."
"I will find out," said Ormuz Khan.
He rose, his every movement possessing a sort of feline grace. He
bowed and walked out of the room. Phil Abingdon heard in the
distance the motor restarted and the car being driven away from
Hillside. She stood up restlessly.
Beneath the calm of the Persian's manner she had detected the
presence of dangerous fires. The silence of the house oppressed
her. She was not actually frightened yet, but intuitively she
knew that all was not well. Then came a new sound arousing active
fear at last.
Someone was rapping upon one of the long, masked windows! Phil
Abingdon started back with a smothered exclamation.
"Quick!" came a high, cool voice, "open this window. You are in
The voice was odd, peculiar, but of one thing she was certain. It
was not the voice of an Oriental. Furthermore, it held a note of
command, and something, too, which inspired trust.
She looked quickly about her to make sure that she was alone. And
then, running swiftly to the window from which the sound had
come, she moved a heavy gilded fastening which closed it, and
drew open the heavy leaves.
A narrow terrace was revealed with a shrubbery beyond; and
standing on the terrace was a tall, thin man wearing a light coat
over evening dress. He looked pale, gaunt, and unshaven, and
although the regard of his light eyes was almost dreamy, there
was something very tense in his pose.
"I am Nicol Brinn," said the stranger. "I knew your father. You
have walked into a trap. I am here to get you out of it. Can you
"Do you mean an automobile?" asked Phil, breathlessly.
"A Rolls Royce."
"Come right out."
"My furs! my hat!"
"Something bigger is at stake."
It was all wildly bizarre, almost unbelievable. Phil Abingdon had
experienced in her own person the insidious power of Ormuz Khan.
She now found herself under the spell of a personality at least
as forceful, although in a totally different way. She found
herself running through a winding path amid bushes, piloted by
this strange, unshaven man, to whom on sight she had given her
"When we reach the car," he said over his shoulder, "ask no
questions--head for home, and don't stop for anything--on two
legs or on four. That's the first thing--most important; then,
when you know you're safe, telephone Scotland Yard to send a raid
squad down by road, and do it quick."
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE CHASE
The events which led to the presence of Mr. Nicol Brinn at so
opportune a moment were--consistent with the character of that
remarkable man--of a sensational nature.
Having commandeered the Rolls Royce from the door of the Cavalry
Club, he had immediately, by a mental process which many perils
had perfected, dismissed the question of rightful ownership from
his mind. The fact that he might be intercepted by police scouts
he refused to entertain. The limousine driven by the Hindu
chauffeur was still in sight, and until Mr. Nicol Brinn had seen
it garaged, nothing else mattered, nothing else counted, and
nothing else must be permitted to interfere.
Jamming his hat tightly upon his head, he settled down at the
wheel, drawing up rather closer to the limousine as the chase lay
through crowded thoroughfares and keeping his quarry comfortably
in sight across Westminster Bridge and through the outskirts of
He had carefully timed the drive to the unknown abode of
Fire-Tongue, and unless it had been prolonged, the more
completely to deceive him, he had determined that the house lay
not more than twenty miles from Piccadilly.
When Mitcham was passed, and the limousine headed straight on
into Surrey, he decided that there had been no doubling, but that
the house to which he had been taken lay in one of these
unsuspected country backwaters, which, while they are literally
within sight of the lights of London, have nevertheless a
remoteness as complete as secrecy could desire.
It was the deserted country roads which he feared, for if the man
ahead of him should suspect pursuit, a difficult problem might
By happy chance Nicol Brinn, an enthusiastic motorist, knew the
map of Surrey as few Englishmen knew it. Indeed, there was no
beauty spot within a forty-mile radius of London to which he
could not have driven by the best and shortest route, at a
moment's notice. This knowledge aided him now.
For presently at a fork in the road he saw that the driver of the
limousine had swung to the left, taking the low road, that to the
right offering a steep gradient. The high road was the direct
road to Lower Claybury, the low road a detour to the same.
Nicol Brinn mentally reviewed the intervening countryside, and
taking a gambler's chance, took the Rolls Royce up the hill. He
knew exactly what he was about, and he knew that the powerful
engine would eat up the slope with ease.
Its behaviour exceeded his expectations, and he found himself
mounting the acclivity at racing speed. At its highest point, the
road, skirting a hilltop, offered an extensive view of the valley
below. Here Nicol Brinn pulled up and, descending, watched and
In the stillness he could plainly hear the other automobile
humming steadily along the lowland road below. He concentrated
his mind upon the latter part of that strange journey, striving
to recall any details which had marked it immediately preceding
the time when he had detected the rustling of leaves and knew
that they had entered a carriage drive.
Yes, there had been a short but steep hill; and immediately
before this the car had passed over a deeply rutted road, or--he
had a sudden inspiration--over a level crossing.
He knew of just such a hilly road immediately behind Lower
Claybury station. Indeed, it was that by which he should be
compelled to descend if he continued to pursue his present route
to the town. He could think of no large, detached house, the
Manor Park excepted, which corresponded to the one which he
sought. But that in taking the high road he had acted even more
wisely than he knew, he was now firmly convinced.
He determined to proceed as far as the park gates as speedily as
possible. Therefore, returning to the wheel, he sent the car
along the now level road at top speed, so that the railings of
the Manor Park, when presently he found himself skirting the
grounds, had the semblance of a continuous iron fence wherever
the moonlight touched them.
He passed the head of the road dipping down to Lower Claybury,
but forty yards beyond pulled up and descended. Again he stood
"Good!" he muttered.
He could hear the other car labouring up the slope. He ran along
to the corner of the lane, and, crouching close under the bushes,
waited for its appearance. As he had supposed, the chauffeur
turned the car to the right.
"Good!" muttered Nicol Brinn again.
There was a baggage-rack immediately above the number plate. Upon
this Nicol Brinn sprang with the agility of a wildcat, settling
himself upon his perilous perch before the engine had had time to
When presently the car turned into the drive of Hillside, Nicol
Brinn dropped off and dived into the bushes on the right of the
path. From this hiding place he saw the automobile driven around
the front of the house to the garage, which was built out from
the east wing. Not daring to pursue his investigations until the
chauffeur had retired, he sought a more comfortable spot near a
corner of the lawn and there, behind a bank of neglected flowers,
lay down, watching the man's shadowy figure moving about in the
Although he was some distance from the doors he could see that
there was a second car in the place--a low, torpedo-bodied racer,
painted battleship gray. This sight turned his thoughts in
Very cautiously he withdrew to the drive again, retracing his
steps to the lane, and walking back to the spot where he had left
the Rolls Royce, all the time peering about him to right and
left. He was looking for a temporary garage for the car, but one
from which, if necessary, he could depart in a hurry. The shell
of an ancient barn, roofless and desolate, presently invited
inspection and, as a result, a few minutes later Colonel Lord
Wolverham's luxurious automobile was housed for the night in
these strange quarters.
When Nicol Brinn returned to Hillside, he found the garage locked
and the lights extinguished. Standing under a moss-grown wall
which sheltered him from the house, from his case he selected a
long black cigar, lighted it with care and, having his hands
thrust in the pockets of his light overcoat and the cigar
protruding aggressively from the left corner of his mouth, he
moved along to an angle of the wall and stared reflectively at
the silent house.
A mental picture arose of a secret temple in the shadow of the
distant Himalayas. Was it credible that this quiet country house,
so typical of rural England, harboured that same dread secret
which he had believed to be locked away in those Indian hills?
Could he believe that the dark and death-dealing power which he
had seen at work in the East was now centred here, within
telephone-call of London?
The fate of Sir Charles Abingdon and of Paul Harley would seem to
indicate that such was the case. Beyond doubt, the document of
which Rama Dass had spoken was some paper in the possession of
the late Sir Charles. Much that had been mysterious was cleared
up. He wondered why it had not occurred to him from the first
that Sir Charles's inquiry, which he had mentioned to Paul
Harley, respecting Fire-Tongue, had been due to the fact that the
surgeon had seen the secret mark upon his arm after the accident
in the Haymarket. He remembered distinctly that his sleeve had
been torn upon that occasion. He could not imagine, however, what
had directed the attention of the organization to Sir Charles,
and for what reason his death had been decided upon.
He rolled his cigar from corner to corner of his mouth, staring
reflectively with lack-lustre eyes at the silent house before
him. In the moonlight it made a peaceful picture enough. A
cautious tour of the place revealed a lighted window upon the
first floor. Standing in the shadow of an old apple tree, Nicol
Brinn watched the blind of this window minute after minute,
patiently waiting for a shadow to appear upon it; and at last his
patience was rewarded.
A shadow appeared--the shadow of a woman!
Nicol Brinn dropped his cigar at his feet and set his heel upon
it. A bitter-sweet memory which had been with him for seven years
arose again in his mind. There is a kind of mountain owl in
certain parts of northern India which possesses a curiously high,
plaintive note. He wondered if he could remember and reproduce
He made the attempt, repeating the cry three times. At the third
repetition the light in the first floor window went out. He heard
the sound of the window being gently opened. Then a voice--a
voice which held the sweetest music in the world for the man who
listened below--spoke softly:
"Naida!" he called. "Come down to me. You must. Don't answer. I
will wait here."
"Promise you will let me return!"
CHAPTER XXIX. THE CATASTROPHE
The first faint spears of morning creeping through the trees
which surrounded Hillside revealed two figures upon a rustic
bench in the little orchard adjoining the house. A pair
incongruous enough--this dark-eyed Eastern woman, wrapped in a
long fur cloak, and Nicol Brinn, gaunt, unshaven, fantastic in
his evening dress, revealed now in the gray morning light.
"Look!" whispered Naida. "It is the dawn. I must go!"
Nicol Brinn clenched his teeth tightly but made no reply.
"You promised," she said, and although her voice was very tender
she strove to detach his arm, which was locked about her
He nodded grimly.
"I'll keep my word. I made a contract with hell with my eyes
open, and I'll stick to it." He stood up suddenly. "Go back,
Naida!" he said. "Go back! You have my promise, now, and I'm
helpless. But at last I see a way, and I'm going to take it."
"What do you mean?" she cried, standing up and clutching his arm.
"Never mind." His tone was cool again. "Just go back."
"You would not--" she began.
"I never broke my word in my life, and even now I'm not going to
begin. While you live I stay silent."
In the growing light Naida looked about her affrightedly. Then,
throwing her arms impulsively around Brinn, she kissed him--a
caress that was passionate but sexless; rather the kiss of a
mother who parts with a beloved son than that which a woman
bestows upon the man she loves; an act of renunciation.
He uttered a low cry and would have seized her in his arms but,
lithely evading him, she turned, stifling a sob, and darted away
through the trees toward the house.
For long he stood looking after her, fists clenched and his face
very gray in the morning light. Some small inner voice told him
that his new plan, and the others which he had built upon it,
must crumble and fall as a castle of sand. He groaned and,
turning aside, made his way through the shrubbery to the
He was become accessory to a murder; for he had learned for what
reason and by what means Sir Charles Abingdon had been
assassinated. He had even learned the identity of his assassin;
had learned that the dreaded being called Fire-Tongue in India
was known and respected throughout the civilized world as His
Excellency Ormuz Khan!
Paul Harley had learned these things also, and now at this very
hour Paul Harley lay a captive in Hillside. Naida had assured him
that Paul Harley was alive and safe. It had been decided that his
death would lead to the destruction of the movement, but pressure
was being brought upon him to ensure his silence.
Yes, he, Nicol Brinn, was bound and manacled to a gang of
assassins; and because his tongue was tied, because the woman he
loved better than anything in the world was actually a member of
the murderous group, he must pace the deserted country lanes
inactive; he must hold his hand, although he might summon the
resources of New Scotland Yard by phoning from Lower Claybury
Through life his word had been his bond, and Nicol Brinn was
incapable of compromising with his conscience. But the direct way
was barred to him. Nevertheless, no task could appal the
inflexible spirit of the man, and he had registered a silent vow
that Ormuz Khan should never leave England alive.
Not a soul was astir yet upon the country roads, and sitting down
upon a grassy bank, Nicol Brinn lighted one of his black cigars,
which in times of stress were his food and drink, upon which if
necessary he could carry-on for forty-eight hours upon end.
In connection with his plan for coercing Harley, Ormuz Khan had
gone to London by rail on the previous night, departing from
Lower Claybury station at about the time that Colonel Lord
Wolverham came out of the Cavalry Club to discover his Rolls
Royce to be missing. This same Rolls Royce was now a source of
some anxiety to Nicol Brinn, for its discovery by a passing
labourer in the deserted barn seemed highly probable.
However, he had matters of greater urgency to think about, not
the least of these being the necessity of concealing his presence
in the neighbourhood of Hillside. Perhaps his Sioux-like face
reflected a spirit allied in some respects to that of the once
great Indian tribe.
His genius for taking cover, perfected upon many a big-game
expedition, enabled him successfully to accomplish the feat; so
that, when the limousine, which he had watched go by during the
morning, returned shortly after noon, the lack-lustre eyes were
peering out through the bushes near the entrance to the drive.
Instinct told him that the pretty girl with whom Ormuz Khan was
deep in conversation could be none other than Phil Abingdon, but
the identity of her companion he could not even guess. On the
other hand, that this poisonously handsome Hindu, who bent
forward so solicitously toward his charming travelling companion,
was none other than the dreaded Fire-Tongue, he did not doubt.
He returned to a strategic position which he had discovered
during the night. In a measure he was nonplussed. That the
presence of the girl was primarily associated with the coercion
of Paul Harley, he understood; but might it not portend something
even more sinister?
When, later, the limousine departed again, at great risk of
detection he ran across a corner of the lawn to peer out into the
lane, in order that he might obtain a glimpse of its occupant.
This proved to be none other than Phil Abingdon's elderly
companion. She had apparently been taken ill, and a dignified
Hindu gentleman, wearing gold-rimmed pince-nez, was in
Nicol Brinn clenched his jaws hard. The girl had fallen into a
trap. He turned rapidly, facing the house. Only at one point did
the shrubbery approach the wall, but for that point he set out
hot foot, passing from bush to bush with Indian cleverness,
tense, alert, and cool in despite of his long vigil.
At last he came to the shallow veranda with its four sightless
windows backed by fancifully carven screens. He stepped up to the
first of these and pressed his ear against the glass.
Fate was with him, for almost immediately he detected a smooth,
musical voice speaking in the room beyond. A woman's voice
answered and, listening intently, he detected the sound of a
Thereupon he acted: with the result, as has appeared, that Phil
Abingdon, hatless, without her furs, breathless and more
frightened than she had ever been in her life, presently found
herself driving a luxurious Rolls Royce out of a roofless barn on
to the highroad, and down the slope to Claybury station.
It was at about this time, or a little later, that Paul Harley
put into execution a project which he had formed. The ventilator
above the divan, which he had determined to be the spy-hole
through which his every movement was watched, had an ornamental
framework studded with metal knobs. He had recently discovered an
electric bell-push in the centre panel of the massive door of his
Inwardly on fire, imagining a thousand and one horrors centring
about the figure of Phil Abingdon, but retaining his outward calm
by dint of a giant effort, he pressed this bell and waited.
Perhaps two minutes elapsed. Then the glass doors beyond the
gilded screen were drawn open, and the now-familiar voice spoke:
"Mr. Paul Harley?"
"Yes," he replied, "I have made my final decision."
"And that is?
"You are wise," the voice replied. "A statement will be placed
before you for signature. When you have signed it, ring the bell
again, and in a few minutes you will be free."
Vaguely he detected the speaker withdrawing. Thereupon, heaving a
loud sigh, he removed his coat, looked about him as if in quest
of some place to hang it, and finally, fixing his gaze upon the
studded grating, stood upon the divan and hung his coat over the
spy-hole! This accomplished, he turned.
The table was slowly sinking through the gap in the floor
Treading softly, he moved forward and seated himself cross-legged
upon it! It continued to descend, and he found himself in
Nicol Brinn ran on to the veranda and paused for a moment to take
breath. The window remained open, as Phil Abingdon had left it.
He stepped into the room with its elegant Persian appointments.
It was empty. But as he crossed the threshold, he paused,
arrested by the sound of a voice.
"A statement will be placed before you," said the voice, "and
when you have signed it, in a few minutes you will be free."
Nicol Brinn silently dropped flat at the back of a divan, as Rama
Dass, coming out of the room which communicated with the golden
screen, made his way toward the distant door. Having one eye
raised above the top of the cushions, Nicol Brinn watched him,
recognizing the man who had accompanied the swooning lady. She
had been deposited, then, at no great distance from the house.
He was to learn later that poor Mrs. McMurdoch, in her
artificially induced swoon, had been left in charge of a
hospitable cottager, while her solicitous Oriental escort had
sped away in quest of a physician. But at the moment matters of
even greater urgency engaged his attention.
Creeping forward to the doorway by which Rama Dass had gone out,
Nicol Brinn emerged upon a landing from which stairs both
ascended and descended. Faint sounds of footsteps below guided
him, and although from all outward seeming he appeared to saunter
casually down, his left hand was clutching the butt of a Colt
He presently found himself in a maze of basements--kitchens of
the establishment, no doubt. The sound of footsteps no longer
guided him. He walked along, and in a smaller deserted pantry
discovered the base of a lift shaft in which some sort of small
elevator worked. He was staring at this reflectively, when, for
the second time in his adventurous career, a silken cord was
slipped tightly about his throat!
He was tripped and thrown. He fought furiously, but the fatal
knee pressure came upon his spine so shrewdly as to deprive him
of the strength to raise his hands.
"My finish!" were the words that flashed through his mind, as
sounds like the waves of a great ocean beat upon his ears and
darkness began to descend.
Then, miraculously, the pressure ceased; the sound of great
waters subsided; and choking, coughmg, he fought his way back to
life, groping like a blind man and striving to regain his feet.
"Mr. Brinn!" said a vaguely familiar voice. "Mr. Brinn!"
The realities reasserted themselves. Before him, pale, wide-eyed,
and breathing heavily, stood Paul Harley; and prone upon the
floor of the pantry lay Rama Dass, still clutching one end of the
silken rope in his hand!
"Mr. Harley!" gasped Brinn. "My God, sir!" He clutched at his
bruised throat. "I have to thank you for my hfe."
He paused, looking down at the prone figure as Harley, dropping
upon his knees, turned the man over.
"I struck him behind the ear," he muttered, "and gave him every
ounce. Good heavens!"
He had slipped his hand inside Rama Dass's vest, and now he
looked up, his face very grim.
"Good enough!" said Brinn, coolly. "He asked for it; he's got it.
Take this." He thrust the Colt automatic into Harley's hand as
the latter stood up again.
"What do we do now?" asked Harley.
"Search the house," was the reply. "Everything coloured you see,
shoot, unless I say no."
"She's safe. Follow me."
Straight up two flights of stairs led Nicol Brinn, taking three
steps at a stride. Palpably enough the place was deserted. Ormuz
Khan's plans for departure were complete.
Into two rooms on the first floor they burst, to find them
stripped and bare. On the threshold of the third Brinn stopped
dead, and his gaunt face grew ashen. Then he tottered across the
room, arms outstretched.
"Naida," he whispered. "My love, my love!"
Paul Harley withdrew quietly. He had begun to walk along the
corridor when the sound of a motor brought him up sharply. A
limousine was being driven away from the side entrance! Not alone
had he heard that sound. His face deathly, and the lack-lustre
eyes dully on fire, Nicol Brinn burst out of the room and, not
heeding the presence of Harley, hurled himself down the stairs.
He was as a man demented, an avenging angel.
"There he is!" cried Harley--"heading for the Dover Road!"
Nicol Brinn, at the wheel of the racer--the same in which Harley
had made his fateful journey and which had afterward been
concealed in the garage at Hillside--scarcely nodded.
Nearer they drew to the quarry, and nearer. Once--twice--and
again, the face of Ormuz Khan peered out of the window at the
rear of the limousine.
They drew abreast; the road was deserted. And they passed
Paul Harley glanced at the granite face of his companion with an
apprehension he was unable to conceal. This was a cool madman who
drove. What did he intend to do?
Inch by inch, Nicol Brinn edged the torpedo body nearer to the
wheels of the racing limousine. The Oriental chauffeur drew in
ever closer to the ditch bordering the roadside. He shouted
hoarsely and was about to apply the brakes when the two cars
A rending crash came--a hoarse scream--and the big limousine
toppled over into the ditch.
Harley felt himself hurled through space.
"Shall I follow on to Lower Claybury, sir?" asked Inspector
Phil Abingdon's message had come through nearly an hour before,
and a party had been despatched in accordance with Brinn's
instructions. Wessex had returned to New Scotland Yard too late
to take charge, and now, before the Assistant Commissioner had
time to reply, a 'phone buzzed.
"Yes?" said the Assistant Commissioner, taking up one of the
several instruments: "What!"
Even this great man, so justly celebrated for his placid
demeanour, was unable to conceal his amazement.
"Yes," he added. "Let him come up!" He replaced the receiver and
turning to Wessex: "Mr. Nicol Brinn is here!" he informed him.
"What's that!" cried the inspector, quite startled out of his
usual deferential manner.
Footsteps sounded in the corridor. Came a rap at the door.
"Come in," said the Assistant Commissioner.
The door was thrown open and Nicol Brinn entered. One who knew
him well would have said that he had aged ten years. Even to the
eye of Wessex he looked an older man. He wore a shoddy suit and a
rough tweed cap and his left arm was bandaged.
"Gentlemen," he said, without other greeting, "I'm here to make a
statement. I desire that a shorthand-writer attend to take it
He dropped weakly into a chair which Wessex placed for him. The
Assistant Commissioner, doubtless stimulated by the manner of his
extraordinary visitor, who now extracted a cigar from the breast
pocket of his ill-fitting jacket and nonchalantly lighted it,
successfully resumed his well-known tired manner, and, pressing a
"One shall attend, Mr. Brinn," he said.
A knock came at the door and a sergeant entered.
"Send Ferris," directed the Assistant Commissioner. "Quickly."
Two minutes later a man came in carrying a note book and fountain
pen. The Assistant Commissioner motioned him to a chair, and:
"Pray proceed, Mr. Brinn," he said.
CHAPTER XXX. NICOL BRINN'S STORY OF THE CITY OF FIRE
"The statement which I have to make, gentlemen, will almost
certainly appear incredible to you. However, when it has been
transcribed I will sign it. And I am going to say here and now
that there are points in the narrative which I am in a position
to substantiate. What I can't prove you must take my word for.
But I warn you that the story is tough.
"I have a certain reputation for recklessness. I don't say it may
not be inherent; but if you care to look the matter up, you will
find that the craziest phase of my life is that covering the last
seven years. The reason why I have courted death during that
period I am now about to explain.
"Although my father was no traveller, I think I was born with the
wanderlust. I started to explore the world in my Harvard
vacations, and when college days were over I set about the
business whole-heartedly. Where I went and what I did, up to the
time that my travels led me to India, is of no interest to you or
to anybody else, be- cause in India I found heaven and hell--a
discovery enough to satisfy the most adventurous man alive.
"At this present time, gentlemen, I am not going to load you with
geographical details. The exact spot at which my life ended, in a
sense which I presently hope to make clear, can be located at
leisure by the proper authorities, to whom I will supply a
detailed map which I have in my possession. I am even prepared to
guide the expedition, if the Indian Government considers an
expedition necessary and cares to accept my services. It's good
enough for you to know that pig-sticking and tiger-hunting having
begun to pall upon me somewhat, I broke away from Anglo-Indian
hospitality, and headed up country, where the Himalayas beckoned.
I had figured on crossing at a point where no man has crossed
yet, but that project was interrupted, and I'm here to tell you
"Up there in the northwest provinces they told me I was crazy
when I outlined, one night in a mess, of which I was a guest at
the time, my scheme for heading northeast toward a tributary of
the Ganges which would bring me to the neighbourhood of
Khatmandu, right under the shadow of Everest.
"'Once you leave Khatmandu,' said the mess president, 'you are
outside the pale as far as British influence is concerned. I
suppose you understand that?'
"I told him I quite understood it.
"'You can't reach Tibet that way,' he said.
"'Never mind, sir,' I answered. 'I can try, if I feel like it.'
"Three days later I set out. I am not superstitious, and if I
take a long time to make a plan, once I've made it I generally
stick to it. But right at the very beginning of my expedition I
had a warning, if ever a man had one. The country through which
my route lay is of very curious formation. If you can imagine a
section of your own west country viewed through a giant
magnifying glass, you have some sort of picture of the territory
in which I found myself.
"Gigantic rocks stand up like monstrous tors, or towers,
sometimes offering sheer precipices of many hundreds of feet in
height. On those sides of these giant tors, however, which are
less precipitous, miniature forests are sometimes found, and
absolutely impassable jungles.
"Bordering an independent state, this territory is not at all
well known, but I had secured as a guide a man named Vadi--or
that was the name he gave me whom I knew to be a high-caste
Brahmin of good family. He had been with me for some time, and I
thought I could trust him. Therefore, once clear of British
territory, I took him into my confidence respecting the real
object of my journey.
"This was not primarily to scale a peak of the Himalayas, nor
even to visit Khatmandu, but to endeavour to obtain a glimpse of
the Temple of Fire!
"That has excited your curiosity, gentlemen. I don't suppose any
one here has ever heard of the Temple of Fire.
"By some it is regarded as a sort of native legend but it is more
than a legend. It is a fact. For seven years I have known it to
be a fact, but my tongue has been tied. Listen. Even down in
Bombay, the coming of the next great Master is awaited by certain
of the natives; and for more than ten years now it has been
whispered from end to end of India that he was about to proclaim
himself, that disciples moved secretly among the people of every
province, and that the unknown teacher in person awaited his hour
in a secret temple up near the Tibetan frontier.
"A golden key opens many doors, gentlemen, and at the time of
which I am speaking I had obtained more information respecting
this secret religion or cult than any other member of the white
races had ever collected, or so I thought at the time. I had
definite evidence to show that the existence of this man, or
demi-god--for by some he was said to possess superhuman
powers--was no myth, but an actual fact.
"The collecting of this data was extremely perilous, and one of
my informants, with whom I had come in contact while passing
through the central provinces, died mysteriously the night before
I left Nagpur. I wondered very much on my way north why I was not
molested, for I did not fail to see that the death of the man in
Nagpur was connected with the fact that he had divulged to me
some of the secrets of the religion of Fire-Tongue. Indeed, it
was from him that I first learned the name of the high priest of
the cult of Fire. Why I was not molested I learned later.
"But to return to Vadi, my Brahmin guide. We had camped for the
night in the shadow of one of those giant tors which I have
mentioned. The bearers were seated around their fire at some
little distance from us, and Vadi and I were consulting
respecting our route in the morning, when I decided to take him
into my confidence. Accordingly:
"'Vadi,' I said, 'I know for a positive fact that we are within
ten miles of the secret Temple of Fire.'
"I shall never forget the look in his eyes, with the reflection
of the firelight dancing in them; but he never moved a muscle.
"'The sahib is wise,' he replied.
"'So is Vadi,' said I. 'Therefore he knows how happy a thousand
pounds of English money would make him. It is his in return for a
sight of the Temple.'
"Still as a carven image, he squatted there watching me,
unmoving, expressionless. Then:
"'A man may die for nothing,' he returned, softly. 'Why should
the sahib pay a thousand pounds?'
"'Why should the sahib die?' said I.
"'It is forbidden for any to see the Temple, even from a
"'But if no one ever knows that I have seen it?'
"'Fire-Tongue knows everything,' he replied, and as he pronounced
the name, he performed a curious salutation, touching his
forefinger with the tip of his tongue, and then laying his hand
upon his brow, upon his lips, and upon his breast, at the same
time bowing deeply. 'His vengeance is swift and terrible. He
wills a man to die, and the man is dead. None save those who have
passed through the tests may set eyes upon his temple, nor even
speak his name.'
"This conversation took place, as I have already mentioned, in
the shadow of one of those strange stone hillocks which abounded
here, and it was at this point that I received a warning which
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