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contact with anything in the place.

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 cover.

"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 began.

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 finally."

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 on duty!

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 remained doubtful.

At noon the voice again addressed him from behind the gilded screen:

"Mr. Paul Harley?"

"Yes?"

"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?"

"I am."

"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 extinguished.

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 unfurnished.

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 of 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,

'WARWICK GREY.'

"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 murderer?"

"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 utterly."

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 apologetic manner.

"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 recognizes
him."

"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 immediately:

"You have missed Mr. Harley by only a few minutes," said Rama Dass.

"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 appeared.

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, and:

"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 home."

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 marble pool.

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 Abingdon."

"In what way?" she asked, wondering why Mrs. McMurdoch had not joined
them.

"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 Paul
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 today."

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.


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