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"Quick!" came a high, cool voice, "open this window. You are in danger."

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 drive?"

"Do you mean an automobile?" asked Phil, breathlessly.

"A Rolls Royce."

"Yes."

"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 trust unquestioningly!

"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 London.

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 arise.

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 listened.

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 listening, and:

"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 gather speed.

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 garage.

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 another direction.

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 that note.

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:

"Nicol!"

"Naida!" he called. "Come down to me. You must. Don't answer. I will
wait here."

"Promise you will let me return!"

He hesitated.

"Promise!"

"I promise."



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 shoulders.

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 highroad.

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 station!

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 attendance.

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 closing door.

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 prison.

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?"

"I agree."

"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 beneath.

Treading softly, he moved forward and seated himself cross-legged upon
it! It continued to descend, and he found himself in absolute darkness.


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 automatic.

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, coughing, 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 life."

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."

"Miss Abingdon?"

"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 slightly
ahead.

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 touched!

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 Wessex,
excitedly.

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.


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