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She glanced indignantly in the direction of the lobby. "Perhaps one
day," she concluded, pathetically, as she walked slowly from the room,
"we shall find a parlourmaid who is a parlourmaid. Good evening, sir."

"Good evening," said Harley, quietly amused to be made the recipient of
these domestic confidences.

He continued to smile for some time after the door had been closed. His
former train of ideas was utterly destroyed, but for this he was not
ungrateful to the housekeeper, since the outstanding disadvantage of
that strange gift resembling prescience was that it sometimes blunted
the purely analytical part of his mind when this should have been at its
keenest. He was now prepared to listen to what Sir Charles had to say
and to judge impartially of its evidential value.

Wandering from side to side of the library, he presently found himself
standing still before the mantelpiece and studying a photograph in
a silver frame which occupied the centre of the shelf. It was the
photograph of an unusually pretty girl; that is to say, of a girl whose
beauty was undeniable, but who belonged to a type widely removed from
that of the ordinary good-looking Englishwoman.

The outline of her face was soft and charming, and there was a
questioning look in her eyes which was alluring and challenging. Her
naive expression was palpably a pose, and her slightly parted lips
promised laughter. She possessed delightfully wavy hair and her neck and
one shoulder, which were bare, had a Grecian purity. Harley discovered
himself to be smiling at the naive lady of the photograph.

"Presumably 'Miss Phil'," he said aloud.

He removed his gaze with reluctance from the fascinating picture, and
dropping into the big lounge chair, he lighted a cigarette. He had just
placed the match in an ash tray when he heard Sir Charles's voice in
the lobby, and a moment later Sir Charles himself came hurrying into
the library. His expression was so peculiar that Harley started up
immediately, perceiving that something unusual had happened.

"My dear Mr. Harley," began Sir Charles, "in the first place pray accept
my apologies - "

"None are necessary," Harley interrupted. "Your excellent housekeeper
has entertained me vastly."

"Good, good," muttered Sir Charles. "I am obliged to Mrs. Howett," and
it was plainly to be seen that his thoughts were elsewhere. "But I have
to relate a most inexplicable occurrence - inexplicable unless by some
divine accident the plan has been prevented from maturing."

"What do you mean, Sir Charles?"

"I was called ten minutes ago by someone purporting to be the servant
of Mr. Chester Wilson, that friend and neighbour whom I have been

"So your butler informed me."

"My dear sir," cried Sir Charles, and the expression in his eyes grew
almost wild, "no one in Wilson's house knew anything about the matter!"

"What! It was a ruse?"

"Palpably a ruse to get me away from home."

Harley dropped his cigarette into the ash tray beside the match, where,
smouldering, it sent up a gray spiral into the air of the library.
Whether because of his words or because of the presence of the man
himself, the warning, intuitive finger had again touched Paul Harley.
"You saw or heard nothing on your way across the square to suggest that
any one having designs on your safety was watching you?"

"Nothing. I searched the shadows most particularly on my return journey,
of course. For the thing cannot have been purposeless."

"I quite agree with you," said Paul Harley, quietly.

Between the promptings of that uncanny sixth sense of his and the
working of the trained deductive reasoning powers, he was momentarily
at a loss. Some fact, some episode, a memory, was clamouring for
recognition, while the intuitive, subconscious voice whispered: "This
man is in danger; protect him." What was the meaning of it all? He felt
that a clue lay somewhere outside the reach of his intelligence, and a
sort of anger possessed him because of his impotence to grasp it.

Sir Charles was staring at him in that curiously pathetic way which
he had observed at their earlier interview in Chancery Lane. "In
any event," said his host, "let us dine: for already I have kept you

Harley merely bowed, and walking out of the library, entered the cosy
dining room. A dreadful premonition had claimed him as his glance
had met that of Sir Charles - a premonition that this man's days
were numbered. It was uncanny, unnerving; and whereas, at first, the
atmosphere of Sir Charles Abingdon's home had been laden with prosperous
security, now from every side, and even penetrating to the warmly
lighted dining room, came that chilling note of danger.

In crossing the lobby he had not failed to note that there were many
Indian curios in the place which could not well have failed to attract
the attention of a burglar. But that the person who had penetrated to
the house was no common burglar he was now assured and he required no
further evidence upon this point.

As he took his seat at the dining table he observed that Sir Charles's
collection had overflowed even into this room. In the warm shadows about
him were pictures and ornaments, all of which came from, or had been
inspired by, the Far East.

In this Oriental environment lay an inspiration. The terror which had
come into Sir Charles's life, the invisible menace which, swordlike,
hung over him, surely belonged in its eerie quality to the land of
temple bells, of silent, subtle peoples, to the secret land which has
bred so many mysteries. Yes, he must look into the past, into the Indian
life of Sir Charles Abingdon, for the birth of this thing which now had
grown into a shadow almost tangible.

Benson attended at table, assisted by a dark-faced and very
surly-looking maid, in whom Harley thought he recognized the
housekeeper's bete noire.

When presently both servants had temporarily retired. "You see, Mr.
Harley," began Sir Charles, glancing about his own room in a manner
almost furtive, "I realized to-day at your office that the history of
this dread which has come upon me perhaps went back so far that it was
almost impossible to acquaint you with it under the circumstances."

"I quite understand."

"I think perhaps I should inform you in the first place that I have a
daughter. Her mother has been dead for many years, and perhaps I have
not given her the attention which a motherless girl is entitled to
expect from her father. I don't mean," he said, hastily, "that we are in
any sense out of sympathy, but latterly in some way I must confess that
we have got a little out of touch." He glanced anxiously at his guest,
indeed almost apologetically. "You will of course understand, Mr.
Harley, that this seeming preamble may prove to have a direct bearing
upon what I propose to tell you?"

"Pray tell the story in your own way, Sir Charles," said Harley with
sympathy. "I am all attention, and I shall only interrupt you in the
event of any point not being quite clear."

"Thank you," said Sir Charles. "I find it so much easier to explain
the matter now. To continue, there is a certain distinguished Oriental
gentleman - "

He paused as Benson appeared to remove the soup plates.

"It is always delightful to chat with one who knows India so well as you
do," he continued, glancing significantly at his guest.

Paul Harley, who fully appreciated the purpose of this abrupt change
in the conversation, nodded in agreement. "The call of the East," he
replied, "is a very real thing. Only one who has heard it can understand
and appreciate all it means."

The butler, an excellently trained servant, went about his work with
quiet efficiency, and once Harley heard him mutter rapid instructions to
the surly parlourmaid, who hovered disdainfully in the background.
When again host and guest found themselves alone: "I don't in any way
distrust the servants," explained Sir Charles, "but one cannot hope
to prevent gossip." He raised his serviette to his lips and almost
immediately resumed: "I was about to tell you, Mr. Harley, about my
daughter's - "

He paused and cleared his throat, then, hastily pouring out a glass of
water, he drank a sip or two and Paul Harley noticed that his hand was
shaking nervously. He thought of the photograph in the library, and now,
in this reference to a distinguished Oriental gentleman, he suddenly
perceived the possible drift of the conversation.

This was the point to which Sir Charles evidently experienced such
difficulty in coming. It was something which concerned his daughter;
and, mentally visualizing the pure oval face and taunting eyes of the
library photograph, Harley found it impossible to believe that the evil
which threatened Sir Charles could possibly be associated in any way
with Phyllis Abingdon.

Yet, if the revelation which he had to make must be held responsible for
his present condition, then truly it was a dreadful one. No longer able
to conceal his concern, Harley stood up. "If the story distresses you so
keenly, Sir Charles," he said, "I beg - "

Sir Charles waved his hand reassuringly. "A mere nothing. It will pass,"
he whispered.

"But I fear," continued Harley, "that - "

He ceased abruptly, and ran to his host's assistance, for the latter,
evidently enough, was in the throes of some sudden illness or seizure.
His fresh-coloured face was growing positively livid, and he plucked at
the edge of the table with twitching fingers. As Harley reached his side
he made a sudden effort to stand up, throwing out his arm to grasp the
other's shoulder.

"Benson!" cried Harley, loudly. "Quick! Your master is ill!"

There came a sound of swift footsteps and the door was thrown open.

"Too late," whispered Sir Charles in a choking voice. He began to clutch
his throat as Benson hurried into the room.

"My God!" whispered Harley. "He is dying!"

Indeed, the truth was all too apparent. Sir Charles Abingdon was almost
past speech. He was glaring across the table as though he saw some
ghastly apparition there. And now with appalling suddenness he became as
a dead weight in Harley's supporting grasp. Raspingly, as if forced in
agony from his lips:

"Fire-Tongue," he said... "Nicol Brinn..."

Benson, white and terror-stricken, bent over him.

"Sir Charles!" he kept muttering. "Sir Charles! What is the matter,

A stifled shriek sounded from the doorway, and in tottered Mrs. Howett,
the old housekeeper, with other servants peering over her shoulder into
that warmly lighted dining room where Sir Charles Abingdon lay huddled
in his own chair - dead.


"Had you reason to suspect any cardiac trouble, Doctor McMurdoch?" asked

Doctor McMurdoch, a local practitioner who had been a friend of Sir
Charles Abingdon, shook his head slowly. He was a tall, preternaturally
thin Scotsman, clean-shaven, with shaggy dark brows and a most gloomy
expression in his deep-set eyes. While the presence of his sepulchral
figure seemed appropriate enough in that stricken house, Harley could
not help thinking that it must have been far from reassuring in a sick

"I had never actually detected anything of the kind," replied the
physician, and his deep voice was gloomily in keeping with his
personality. "I had observed a certain breathlessness at times, however.
No doubt it is one of those cases of unsuspected endocarditis. Acute.
I take it," raising his shaggy brows interrogatively, "that nothing had
occurred to excite Sir Charles?"

"On the contrary," replied Harley, "he was highly distressed about some
family trouble, the nature of which he was about to confide to me when
this sudden illness seized him."

He stared hard at Doctor McMurdoch, wondering how much he might hope to
learn from him respecting the affairs of Sir Charles. It seemed almost
impertinent at that hour to seek to pry into the dead man's private

To the quiet, book-lined apartment stole now and again little
significant sounds which told of the tragedy in the household. Sometimes
when a distant door was opened, it would be the sobs of a weeping woman,
for the poor old housekeeper had been quite prostrated by the blow. Or
ghostly movements would become audible from the room immediately over
the library - the room to which the dead man had been carried; muffled
footsteps, vague stirrings of furniture; each sound laden with its own
peculiar portent, awakening the imagination which all too readily filled
in the details of the scene above. Then, to spur Harley to action, came
the thought that Sir Charles Abingdon had appealed to him for aid. Did
his need terminate with his unexpected death or would the shadow under
which he had died extend now? Harley found himself staring across the
library at the photograph of Phil Abingdon. It was of her that Sir
Charles had been speaking when that mysterious seizure had tied his
tongue. That strange, fatal illness, mused Harley, all the more strange
in the case of a man supposedly in robust health - it almost seemed
like the working of a malignant will. For the revelation, whatever
its nature, had almost but not quite been made in Harley's office that
evening. Something, some embarrassment or mental disability, had stopped
Sir Charles from completing his statement. Tonight death had stopped

"Was he consulting you professionally, Mr. Harley?" asked the physician.

"He was," replied Harley, continuing to stare fascinatedly at the
photograph on the mantelpiece. "I am informed," said he, abruptly, "that
Miss Abingdon is out of town?"

Doctor McMurdoch nodded in his slow, gloomy fashion. "She is staying in
Devonshire with poor Abingdon's sister," he answered. "I am wondering
how we are going to break the news to her."

Perceiving that Doctor McMurdoch had clearly been intimate with the
late Sir Charles, Harley determined to make use of this opportunity to
endeavour to fathom the mystery of the late surgeon's fears. "You will
not misunderstand me, Doctor McMurdoch," he said, "if I venture to ask
you one or two rather personal questions respecting Miss Abingdon?"

Doctor McMurdoch lowered his shaggy brows and looked gloomily at the
speaker. "Mr. Harley," he replied, "I know you by repute for a man of
integrity. But before I answer your questions will you answer one of


"Then my question is this: Does not your interest cease with the death
of your client?"

"Doctor McMurdoch," said Harley, sternly, "you no doubt believe yourself
to be acting as a friend of this bereaved family. You regard me,
perhaps, as a Paul Pry prompted by idle curiosity. On the contrary, I
find myself in a delicate and embarrassing situation. From Sir Charles's
conversation I had gathered that he entertained certain fears on behalf
of his daughter."

"Indeed," said Doctor McMurdoch.

"If these fears were well grounded, the danger is not removed, but
merely increased by the death of Miss Abingdon's natural protector.
I regret, sir, that I approached you for information, since you have
misjudged my motive. But far from my interest having ceased, it has now
as I see the matter become a sacred duty to learn what it was that Sir
Charles apprehended. This duty, Doctor McMurdoch, I propose to fulfil
with or without your assistance."

"Oh," said Doctor McMurdoch, gloomily, "I'm afraid I've offended you.
But I meant well, Mr. Harley." A faint trace of human emotion showed
itself in his deep voice. "Charley Abingdon and I were students together
in Edinburgh," he explained. "I was mayhap a little strange."

His apology was so evidently sincere that Harley relented at once.
"Please say no more, Doctor McMurdoch," he responded. "I fully
appreciate your feelings in the matter. At such a time a stranger
can only be an intruder; but" - he fixed his keen eyes upon the
physician - "there is more underlying all this than you suspect or could
readily believe. You will live to know that I have spoken the truth."

"I know it now," declared the Scotsman, solemnly. "Abingdon was always
eccentric, but he didn't know the meaning of fear."

"Once that may have been true," replied Harley. "But a great fear was
upon him when he came to me, Doctor McMurdoch, and if it is humanly
possible I am going to discover its cause."

"Go ahead," said Doctor McMurdoch and, turning to the side table, he
poured out two liberal portions of whiskey. "If there's anything I can
do to help, count me at your service. You tell me he had fears about
little Phil?"

"He had," answered Harley, "and it is maddening to think that he died
before he could acquaint me with their nature. But I have hopes that
you can help me in this. For instance" - again he fixed his gaze upon
the gloomy face of the physician - "who is the distinguished Oriental
gentleman with whom Sir Charles had recently become acquainted?"

Doctor McMurdoch's expression remained utterly blank, and he slowly
shook his head. "I haven't an idea in the world," he declared. "A
patient, perhaps?"

"Possibly," said Harley, conscious of some disappointment; "yet from the
way he spoke of him I scarcely think that he was a patient. Surely Sir
Charles, having resided so long in India, numbered several Orientals
among his acquaintances if not among his friends?"

"None ever came to his home," replied Doctor McMurdoch. "He had all the
Anglo-Indian's prejudice against men of colour." He rested his massive
chin in his hand and stared down reflectively at the carpet.

"Then you have no suggestion to offer in regard to this person?"

"None. Did he tell you nothing further about him?"

"Unfortunately, nothing. In the next place, Doctor McMurdoch, are you
aware of any difference of opinion which had arisen latterly between Sir
Charles and his daughter?"

"Difference of opinion!" replied Doctor McMurdoch, raising his brows
ironically. "There would always be difference of opinion between little
Phil and any man who cared for her. But out-and-out quarrel - no!"

Again Harley found himself at a deadlock, and it was with scanty hope
of success that he put his third question to the gloomy Scot. "Was Sir
Charles a friend of Mr. Nicol Brinn?" he asked.

"Nicol Brinn?" echoed the physician. He looked perplexed. "You mean the
American millionaire? I believe they were acquainted. Abingdon knew most
of the extraordinary people in London; and if half one hears is true
Nicol Brinn is as mad as a hatter. But they were not in any sense
friends as far as I know." He was watching Harley curiously. "Why do you
ask that question?"

"I will tell you in a moment," said Harley, rapidly, "but I have one
more question to put to you first. Does the term Fire-Tongue convey
anything to your mind?"

Doctor McMurdoch's eyebrows shot upward most amazingly. "I won't insult
you by supposing that you have chosen such a time for joking," he said,
dourly. "But if your third question surprised me, I must say that your
fourth sounds simply daft."

"It must," agreed Harley, and his manner was almost fierce; "but when
I tell you why I ask these two questions - and I only do so on the
understand ing that my words are to be treated in the strictest
confidence - you may regard the matter in a new light. 'Nicol Brinn' and
'Fire-Tongue' were the last words which Sir Charles Abingdon uttered."

"What!" cried Doctor McMurdoch, displaying a sudden surprising energy.

"I solemnly assure you," declared Harley, "that such is the case.
Benson, the butler, also overheard them."

Doctor McMurdoch relapsed once more into gloom, gazing at the whiskey in
the glass which he held in his hand and slowly shaking his head. "Poor
old Charley Abingdon," he murmured. "It's plain to me, Mr. Harley, that
his mind was wandering. May not we find here an explanation, too, of
this idea of his that some danger overhung Phil? You didn't chance to
notice, I suppose, whether he had a temperature?"

"I did not," replied Harley, smiling slightly. But the smile quickly
left his face, which became again grim and stern.

A short silence ensued, during which Doctor McMurdoch sat staring
moodily down at the carpet and Harley slowly paced up and down the room;

"In view of the fact," he said, suddenly, "that Sir Charles clearly
apprehended an attempt upon his life, are you satisfied professionally
that death was due to natural causes?"

"Perfectly satisfied," replied the physician, looking up with a start:
"perfectly satisfied. It was unexpected, of course, but such cases are
by no means unusual. He was formerly a keen athlete, remember. 'Tis
often so. Surely you don't suspect foul play? I understood you to mean
that his apprehensions were on behalf of Phil."

Paul Harley stood still, staring meditatively in the other's direction.
"There is not a scrap of evidence to support such a theory," he
admitted, "but if you knew of the existence of any poisonous agent which
would produce effects simulating these familiar symptoms, I should be
tempted to take certain steps."

"If you are talking about poisons," said the physician, a rather
startled look appearing upon his face, "there are several I might
mention; but the idea seems preposterous to me. Why should any one want
to harm Charley Abingdon? When could poison have been administered and
by whom?"

"When, indeed?" murmured Harley. "Yet I am not satisfied."

"You're not hinting at - suicide?"

"Emphatically no."

"What had he eaten?"

"Nothing but soup, except that he drank a portion of a glass of water. I
am wondering if he took anything at Mr. Wilson's house." He stared hard
at Doctor McMurdoch. "It may surprise you to learn that I have already
taken steps to have the remains of the soup from Sir Charles's plate
examined, as well as the water in the glass. I now propose to call upon
Mr. Wilson in order that I may complete this line of enquiry."

"I sympathize with your suspicions, Mr. Harley," said the physician
dourly, "but you are wasting your time." A touch of the old acidity
crept back into his manner. "My certificate will be 'syncope due to
unusual excitement'; and I shall stand by it."

"You are quite entitled to your own opinion," Harley conceded, "which if
I were in your place would be my own. But what do you make of the fact
that Sir Charles received a bogus telephone message some ten minutes
before my arrival, as a result of which he visited Mr. Wilson's house?"

"But he's attending Wilson," protested the physician.

"Nevertheless, no one there had telephoned. It was a ruse. I don't
assume for a moment that this ruse was purposeless."

Doctor McMurdoch was now staring hard at the speaker.

"You may also know," Harley continued, "that there was an attempted
burglary here less than a week ago."

"I know that," admitted the other, "but it counts for little. There have
been several burglaries in the neighbourhood of late."

Harley perceived that Doctor McMurdoch was one of those characters, not
uncommon north of the Tweed, who, if slow in forming an opinion, once
having done so cling to it as tightly as any barnacle.

"You may be right and I may be wrong," Harley admitted, "but while your
professional business with Sir Charles unfortunately is ended, mine is
only beginning. May I count upon you to advise me of Miss Abingdon's
return? I particularly wish to see her, and I should prefer to meet
her in the capacity of a friend rather than in that of a professional

"At the earliest moment that I can decently arrange a meeting," replied
Doctor McMurdoch, "I will communicate with you, Mr. Harley. I am just
cudgelling my brains at the moment to think how the news is to be broken
to her. Poor little Phil! He was all she had."

"I wish I could help you," declared Harley with sincerity, "but in the
circumstances any suggestion of mine would be mere impertinence." He
held out his hand to the doctor.

"Good-night," said the latter, gripping it heartily. "If there is any
mystery surrounding poor Abingdon's death, I believe you are the man to
clear it up. But, frankly, it was his heart. I believe he had a touch of
the sun once in India. Who knows? His idea that some danger threatened
him or threatened Phil may have been merely - " He tapped his brow

"But in the whole of your knowledge of Sir Charles," cried Harley,
exhibiting a certain irritation, "have you ever known him to suffer from
delusions of that kind or any other?"

"Never," replied the physician, firmly; "but once a man has had the sun
one cannot tell."

"Ah!" said Harley. "Good-night, Doctor McMurdoch."

When presently he left the house, carrying a brown leather bag which he

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