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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 prove.

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 Nicol Brinn.

"We congratulate you," said Rama Dass. "You are a worthy brother."

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 damp.

"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 chauffeur.

"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 RALEIGH HOUSE, PICCADILLY, W. I.

And written in pencil beneath the name appeared the following:

Borrowed your Rolls. Urgent. Will explain tomorrow. Apologize. N.B.



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 girl.

"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 manner.

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 before."

"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 contemptuously.

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 it.

"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
home."

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 powerful will.

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 strange power.

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:

"Phil.... Phil...."



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 to
tell.

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 investigation.

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 consciousness.

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 awakening.

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 curtain.

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 sufficiently
recovered."

"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 upward.

"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
accept."

"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 to-morrow."

"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 your freedom."

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 to you."

Faintly Paul Harley detected the sounds made by Ormuz Khan and his
secretary in withdrawing. The light beneath the curtain disappeared.

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 several
apartments.

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


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