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had borrowed from the butler, he knew that rightly or wrongly his own
opinion remained unchanged in spite of the stubborn opposition of the
Scottish physician. The bogus message remained to be explained, and the
assault in the square, as did the purpose of the burglar to whom gold
and silver plate made no appeal. More important even than these points
were the dead man's extraordinary words: "Fire-Tongue" - "Nicol Brinn."
Finally and conclusively, he had detected the note of danger outside and
inside the house; and now as he began to cross the square it touched him
again intimately.

He looked up at the darkened sky. A black cloud was moving slowly
overhead, high above the roof of the late Sir Charles Abingdon; and
as he watched its stealthy approach it seemed to Paul Harley to be the
symbol of that dread in which latterly Sir Charles's life had lain,
beneath which he had died, and which now was stretching out, mysterious
and menacing, over himself.



CHAPTER IV. INTRODUCING MR. NICOL BRINN

At about nine o'clock on the same evening, a man stood at a large window
which overlooked Piccadilly and the Green Park. The room to which the
window belonged was justly considered one of the notable sights of
London and doubtless would have received suitable mention in the "Blue
Guide" had the room been accessible to the general public. It was,
on the contrary, accessible only to the personal friends of Mr. Nicol
Brinn. As Mr. Nicol Brinn had a rarely critical taste in friendship,
none but a fortunate few had seen the long room with its two large
windows overlooking Piccadilly.

The man at the window was interested in a car which, approaching from
the direction of the Circus, had slowed down immediately opposite and
now was being turned, the chauffeur's apparent intention being to pull
up at the door below. He had seen the face of the occupant and had
recognized it even from that elevation. He was interested; and since
only unusual things aroused any semblance of interest in the man who now
stood at the window, one might have surmised that there was something
unusual about the present visitor, or in his having decided to call at
those chambers; and that such was indeed his purpose an upward glance
which he cast in the direction of the balcony sufficiently proved.

The watcher, who had been standing in a dark recess formed by the
presence of heavy velvet curtains draped before the window, now opened
the curtains and stepped into the lighted room. He was a tall, lean man
having straight, jet-black hair, a sallow complexion, and the features
of a Sioux. A long black cigar protruded aggressively from the left
corner of his mouth. His hands were locked behind him and his large and
quite expressionless blue eyes stared straight across the room at the
closed door with a dreamy and vacant regard. His dinner jacket fitted
him so tightly that it might have been expected at any moment to split
at the seams. As if to precipitate the catastrophe, he wore it buttoned.

There came a rap at the door.

"In!" said the tall man.

The door opened silently and a manservant appeared. He was spotlessly
neat and wore his light hair cropped close to the skull. His
fresh-coloured face was quite as expressionless as that of his master;
his glance possessed no meaning. Crossing to the window, he extended a
small salver upon which lay a visiting card.

"In!" repeated the tall man, looking down at the card.

His servant silently retired, and following a short interval rapped
again upon the door, opened it, and standing just inside the room
announced: "Mr. Paul Harley."

The door being quietly closed behind him, Paul Harley stood staring
across the room at Nicol Brinn. At this moment the contrast between
the types was one to have fascinated a psychologist. About Paul Harley,
eagerly alert, there was something essentially British. Nicol Brinn,
without being typical, was nevertheless distinctly a product of the
United States. Yet, despite the stoic mask worn by Mr. Brinn, whose
lack-lustre eyes were so unlike the bright gray eyes of his visitor,
there existed, if not a physical, a certain spiritual affinity between
the two; both were men of action.

Harley, after that one comprehensive glance, the photographic glance of
a trained observer, stepped forward impulsively, hand outstretched. "Mr.
Brinn," he said, "we have never met before, and it was good of you to
wait in for me. I hope my telephone message has not interfered with your
plans for the evening?"

Nicol Brinn, without change of pose, no line of the impassive face
altering, shot out a large, muscular hand, seized that of Paul Harley
in a tremendous grip, and almost instantly put his hand behind his back
again. "Had no plans," he replied, in a high, monotonous voice; "I was
bored stiff. Take the armchair."

Paul Harley sat down, but in the restless manner of one who has urgent
business in hand and who is impatient of delay. Mr. Brinn stooped to a
coffee table which stood upon the rug before the large open fireplace.
"I am going to offer you a cocktail," he said.

"I shall accept your offer," returned Harley, smiling. "The 'N. B.
cocktail' has a reputation which extends throughout the clubs of the
world."

Nicol Brinn, exhibiting the swift adroitness of that human dodo, the
New York bartender, mixed the drinks. Paul Harley watched him, meanwhile
drumming his fingers restlessly upon the chair arm.

"Here's success," he said, "to my mission."

It was an odd toast, but Mr. Brinn merely nodded and drank in silence.
Paul Harley set his glass down and glanced about the singular apartment
of which he had often heard and which no man could ever tire of
examining.

In this room the poles met, and the most remote civilizations of the
world rubbed shoulders with modernity. Here, encased, were a family of
snow-white ermine from Alaska and a pair of black Manchurian leopards.
A flying lemur from the Pelews contemplated swooping upon the head of
a huge tigress which glared with glassy eyes across the place at the
snarling muzzle of a polar bear. Mycenaean vases and gold death masks
stood upon the same shelf as Venetian goblets, and the mummy of an
Egyptian priestess of the thirteenth dynasty occupied a sarcophagus upon
the top of which rested a basrelief found in one of the shrines of the
Syrian fish goddess Derceto, at Ascalon.

Arrowheads of the Stone Age and medieval rapiers were ranged alongside
some of the latest examples of the gunsmith's art. There were elephants'
tusks and Mexican skulls; a stone jar of water from the well of Zem-Zem,
and an ivory crucifix which had belonged to Torquemada. A mat of human
hair from Borneo overlay a historical and unique rug woven in Ispahan
and entirely composed of fragments of Holy Carpets from the Kaaba at
Mecca.

"I take it," said Mr. Brinn, suddenly, "that you are up against a stiff
proposition."

Paul Harley, accepting a cigarette from an ebony box (once the property
of Henry VIII) which the speaker had pushed across the coffee table in
his direction, stared up curiously into the sallow, aquiline face. "You
are right. But how did you know?"

"You look that way. Also - you were followed. Somebody knows you've come
here."

Harley leaned forward, resting one hand upon the table. "I know I was
followed," he said, sternly. "I was followed because I have entered
upon the biggest case of my career." He paused and smiled in a very grim
fashion. "A suspicion begins to dawn upon my mind that if I fail it will
also be my last case. You understand me?"

"I understand absolutely," replied Nicol Brinn. "These are dull days.
It's meat and drink to me to smell big danger."

Paul Harley lighted a cigarette and watched the speaker closely the
while. His expression, as he did so, was an odd one. Two courses were
open to him, and he was mentally debating their respective advantages.

"I have come to you to-night, Mr. Brinn," he said finally, "to ask you a
certain question. Unless the theory upon which I am working is entirely
wrong, then, supposing that you are in a position to answer my question
I am logically compelled to suppose, also, that you stand in peril of
your life."

"Good," said Mr. Brinn. "I was getting sluggish." In three long strides
he crossed the room and locked the door. "I don't doubt Hoskins's
honesty," he explained, reading the inquiry in Harley's eyes, "but an A1
intelligence doesn't fold dress pants at thirty-nine."

Only one very intimate with the taciturn speaker could have perceived
any evidence of interest in that imperturbable character. But Nicol
Brinn took his cheroot between his fingers, quickly placed a cone of ash
in a little silver tray (the work of Benvenuto Cellini), and replaced
the cheroot not in the left but in the right corner of his mouth. He was
excited.

"You are out after one of the big heads of the crook world," he said.
"He knows it and he's trailing you. My luck's turned. How can I help?"

Harley stood up, facing Mr. Brinn. "He knows it, as you say," he
replied, "and I hold my life in my hands. But from your answer to the
question which I have come here to-night to ask you, I shall conclude
whether or not your danger at the moment is greater than mine."

"Good," said Nicol Brinn.

In that unique room, at once library and museum, amid relics of a
hundred ages, spoil of the chase, the excavator, and the scholar, these
two faced each other; and despite the peaceful quiet of the apartment
up to which as a soothing murmur stole the homely sounds of Piccadilly,
each saw in the other's eyes recognition of a deadly peril. It was a
queer, memorable moment.

"My question is simple but strange," said Paul Harley. "It is this: What
do you know of 'Fire-Tongue'?"



CHAPTER V. THE GATES OF HELL

If Paul Harley had counted upon the word "Fire-Tongue" to have a
dramatic effect upon Nicol Brinn, he was not disappointed. It was a word
which must have conveyed little or nothing to the multitude and which
might have been pronounced without perceptible effect at any public
meeting in the land. But Mr. Brinn, impassive though his expression
remained, could not conceal the emotion which he experienced at the
sound of it. His gaunt face seemed to grow more angular and his eyes to
become even less lustrous.

"Fire-Tongue!" he said, tensely, following a short silence. "For God's
sake, when did you hear that word?"

"I heard it," replied Harley, slowly, "to-night." He fixed his gaze
intently upon the sallow face of the American. "It was spoken by Sir
Charles Abingdon."

Closely as he watched Nicol Brinn while pronouncing this name he could
not detect the slightest change of expression in the stoic features.

"Sir Charles Abingdon," echoed Brinn; "and in what way is it connected
with your case?"

"In this way," answered Harley. "It was spoken by Sir Charles a few
moments before he died."

Nicol Brinn's drooping lids flickered rapidly. "Before he died! Then Sir
Charles Abingdon is dead! When did he die?"

"He died to-night and the last words that he uttered were
'Fire-Tongue' - " He paused, never for a moment removing that fixed gaze
from the other's face.

"Go on," prompted Mr. Brinn.

"And 'Nicol Brinn.'"

Nicol Brinn stood still as a carven man. Indeed, only by an added
rigidity in his pose did he reward Paul Harley's intense scrutiny. A
silence charged with drama was finally broken by the American. "Mr.
Harley," he said, "you told me that you were up against the big
proposition of your career. You are right."

With that he sat down in an armchair and, resting his chin in his hand,
gazed fixedly into the empty grate. His pose was that of a man who is
suddenly called upon to review the course of his life and upon whose
decision respecting the future that life may depend. Paul Harley watched
him in silence.

"Give me the whole story," said Mr. Brinn, "right from the beginning."
He looked up. "Do you know what you have done to-night, Mr. Harley?"

Paul Harley shook his head. Swiftly, like the touch of an icy finger,
that warning note of danger had reached him again.

"I'll tell you," continued Brinn. "You have opened the gates of hell!"

Not another word did he speak while Paul Harley, pacing slowly up and
down before the hearth, gave him a plain account of the case, omitting
all reference to his personal suspicions and to the measures which he
had taken to confirm them.

He laid his cards upon the table deliberately. Whether Sir Charles
Abingdon had uttered the name of Nicol Brinn as that of one whose aid
should be sought or as a warning, he had yet to learn. And by this
apparent frankness he hoped to achieve his object. That the celebrated
American was in any way concerned in the menace which had overhung Sir
Charles he was not prepared to believe. But he awaited with curiosity
that explanation which Nicol Brinn must feel called upon to offer.

"You think he was murdered?" said Brinn in his high, toneless voice.

"I have formed no definite opinion. What is your own?"

"I may not look it," replied Brinn, "but at this present moment I am the
most hopelessly puzzled and badly frightened man in London."

"Frightened?" asked Harley, curiously.

"I said frightened, I also said puzzled; and I am far too puzzled to
be able to express any opinion respecting the death of Sir Charles
Abingdon. When I tell you all I know of him you will wonder as much as I
do, Mr. Harley, why my name should have been the last to pass his lips."

He half turned in the big chair to face his visitor, who now was
standing before the fireplace staring down at him.

"One day last month," he resumed, "I got out of my car in a big hurry at
the top of the Haymarket. A fool on a motorcycle passed between the
car and the sidewalk just as I stepped down, and I knew nothing further
until I woke up in a drug store close by, feeling very dazed and with
my coat in tatters and my left arm numbed from the elbow. A man was
standing watching me, and presently when I had pulled round he gave me
his card.

"He was Sir Charles Abingdon, who had been passing at the time of the
accident. That was how I met him, and as there was nothing seriously
wrong with me I saw him no more professionally. But he dined with me a
week later and I had lunch at his club about a fortnight ago."

He looked up at Harley. "On my solemn word of honour," he said, "that's
all I know about Sir Charles Abingdon."

Paul Harley returned the other's fixed stare. "I don't doubt your
assurance on the point, Mr. Brinn," he acknowledged. "I can well
understand that you must be badly puzzled; but I would remind you of
your statement that you were also frightened. Why?"

Nicol Brinn glanced rapidly about his own luxurious room in an oddly
apprehensive manner. "I said that," he declared, "and I meant it."

"Then I can only suppose," resumed Harley, deliberately, "that the cause
of your fear lies in the term, 'Fire-Tongue'?"

Brinn again rested his chin in his hand, staring fixedly into the grate.

"And possibly," went on the remorseless voice, "you can explain the
significance of that term?"

Nicol Brinn remained silent - but with one foot he was slowly tapping the
edge of the fender.

"Mr. Harley," he began, abruptly, "you have been perfectly frank with me
and in return I wish to be as frank with you as I can be. I am face to
face with a thing that has haunted me for seven years, and every step I
take from now onward has to be considered carefully, for any step might
be my last. And that's not the worst of the matter. I will risk one
of those steps here and now. You ask me to explain the significance of
Fire-Tongue" (there was a perceptible pause before he pronounced the
word, which Harley duly noticed). "I am going to tell you that Sir
Charles Abingdon, when I lunched with him at his club, asked me
precisely the same thing."

"What! He asked you that so long as two weeks ago?"

"He did."

"And what reason did he give for his inquiry?"

Nicol Brinn began to tap the fender again with his foot. "Let me think,"
he replied. "I recognize that you must regard my reticence as peculiar,
Mr. Harley, but if ever a man had reason to look before he leaped, I am
that man."

Silence fell again, and Paul Harley, staring down at Nicol Brinn,
realized that this indeed was the most hopelessly mystifying case which
fate had ever thrown in his way. This millionaire scholar and traveller,
whose figure was as familiar in remote cities of the world as it was
familiar in New York, in Paris, and in London, could not conceivably be
associated with any criminal organization. Yet his hesitancy was indeed
difficult to explain, and because it seemed to Harley that the cloud
which had stolen out across the house of Sir Charles Abingdon now hung
threateningly over those very chambers, he merely waited and wondered.

"He referred to an experience which had befallen him in India," came
Nicol Brinn's belated reply.

"In India? May I ask you to recount that experience?"

"Mr. Harley," replied Brinn, suddenly standing up, "I can't."

"You can't?"

"I have said so. But I'd give a lot more than you might believe to know
that Abingdon had told you the story which he told me."

"You are not helping, Mr. Brinn," said Harley, sternly. "I believe and
I think that you share my belief that Sir Charles Abingdon did not die
from natural causes. You are repressing valuable evidence. Allow me
to remind you that if anything should come to light necessitating a
post-mortem examination of the body, you will be forced to divulge in a
court of justice the facts which you refuse to divulge to me."

"I know it," said Brinn, shortly.

He shot out one long arm and grasped Harley's shoulder as in a vice.
"I'm counted a wealthy man," he continued, "but I'd give every cent I
possess to see 'paid' put to the bill of a certain person. Listen.
You don't think I was in any way concerned in the death of Sir Charles
Abingdon? It isn't thinkable. But you do think I'm in possession of
facts which would help you find out who is. You're right."

"Good God!" cried Harley. "Yet you remain silent!"

"Not so loud - not so loud!" implored Brinn, repeating that odd, almost
furtive glance around. "Mr. Harley - you know me. You've heard of me and
now you've met me. You know my place in the world. Do you believe me
when I say that from this moment onward I don't trust my own servants?
Nor my own friends?" He removed his grip from Harley's shoulder.
"Inanimate things look like enemies. That mummy over yonder may have
ears!"

"I'm afraid I don't altogether understand you."

"See here!"

Nicol Brinn crossed to a bureau, unlocked it, and while Harley watched
him curiously, sought among a number of press cuttings. Presently
he found the cutting for which he was looking. "This was said," he
explained, handing the slip to Harley, "at the Players' Club in New
York, after a big dinner in pre-dry days. It was said in confidence.
But some disguised reporter had got in and it came out in print next
morning. Read it."

Paul Harley accepted the cutting and read the following:

NICOL BRINN'S SECRET AMBITIONS
MILLIONAIRE SPORTSMAN WHO WANTS TO SHOOT
NIAGARA!

Mr. Nicol Brinn of Cincinnati, who is at present in New York, opened his
heart to members of the Players' Club last night. Our prominent citizen,
responding to a toast, "the distinguished visitor," said:

"I'd like to live through months of midnight frozen in among the polar
ice; I'd like to cross Africa from east to west and get lost in the
middle. I'd like to have a Montana sheriff's posse on my heels for horse
stealing, and I've prayed to be wrecked on a desert island like Robinson
Crusoe to see if I am man enough to live it out. I want to stand my
trial for murder and defend my own case, and I want to be found by the
eunuchs in the harem of the Shah. I want to dive for pearls and scale
the Matterhorn. I want to know where the tunnel leads to - the tunnel
down under the Great Pyramid of Gizeh - and I'd love to shoot Niagara
Falls in a barrel."

"It sounds characteristic," murmured Harley, laying the slip on the
coffee table.

"It's true!" declared Brinn. "I said it and I meant it. I'm a glutton
for danger, Mr. Harley, and I'm going to tell you why. Something
happened to me seven years ago - "

"In India?"

"In India. Correct. Something happened to me, sir, which just took
the sunshine out of life. At the time I didn't know all it meant. I've
learned since. For seven years I have been flirting with death and
hoping to fall!"

Harley stared at him uncomprehendingly. "More than ever I fail to
understand."

"I can only ask you to be patient, Mr. Harley. Time is a wonderful
doctor, and I don't say that in seven years the old wound hasn't healed
a bit. But to-night you have, unknowingly, undone all that time had
done. I'm a man that has been down into hell. I bought myself out. I
thought I knew where the pit was located. I thought I was well away from
it, Mr. Harley, and you have told me something tonight which makes me
think that it isn't where I supposed at all, but hidden down here right
under our feet in London. And we're both standing on the edge!"

That Nicol Brinn was deeply moved no student of humanity could have
doubted. From beneath the stoic's cloak another than the dare-devil
millionaire whose crazy exploits were notorious had looked out.
Persistently the note of danger came to Paul Harley. Those luxurious
Piccadilly chambers were a focus upon which some malignant will was
concentrated. He became conscious of anger. It was the anger of a just
man who finds himself impotent - the rage of Prometheus bound.

"Mr. Brinn!" he cried, "I accept unreservedly all that you have told me.
Its real significance I do not and cannot grasp. But my theory that Sir
Charles Abingdon was done to death has become a conviction. That a like
fate threatens yourself and possibly myself I begin to believe." He
looked almost fiercely into the other's dull eyes. "My reputation
east and west is that of a white man. Mr. Brinn - I ask you for your
confidence."

Nicol Brinn dropped his chin into his hand and resumed that unseeing
stare into the open grate. Paul Harley watched him intently.

"There isn't any one I would rather confide in," confessed the American.
"We are linked by a common danger. But" - he looked up - "I must ask you
again to be patient. Give me time to think - to make plans. For your own
part - be cautious. You witnessed the death of Sir Charles Abingdon. You
don't think and perhaps I don't think that it was natural; but whatever
steps you may have taken to confirm your theories, I dare not hope that
you will ever discover even a ghost of a clue. I simply warn you, Mr.
Harley. You may go the same way. So may I. Others have travelled that
road before poor Abingdon."

He suddenly stood up, all at once exhibiting to his watchful visitor
that tremendous nervous energy which underlay his impassive manner.
"Good God!" he said, in a cold, even voice. "To think that it is here in
London. What does it mean?"

He ceased speaking abruptly, and stood with his elbow resting on a
corner of the mantelpiece.

"You speak of it being here," prompted Harley. "Is it consistent with
your mysterious difficulties to inform me to what you refer?"

Nicol Brinn glanced aside at him. "If I informed you of that," he
answered, "you would know all you want to know. But neither you nor I
would live to use the knowledge. Give me time. Let me think."

Silence fell in the big room, Nicol Brinn staring down vacantly into the
empty fireplace, Paul Harley standing watching him in a state of almost
stupefied mystification. Muffled to a soothing murmur the sounds of
Piccadilly penetrated to that curtained chamber which held so many
records of the troubled past and which seemed to be charged with shadowy
portents of the future.

Something struck with a dull thud upon a windowpane - once - twice. There
followed a faint, sibilant sound.

Paul Harley started and the stoical Nicol Brinn turned rapidly and
glanced across the room.

"What was that?" asked Harley.

"I expect - it was an owl," answered Brinn. "We sometimes get them over
from the Green Park."

His high voice sounded unemotional as ever. But it seemed to Paul Harley
that his face, dimly illuminated by the upcast light from the lamp upon
the coffee table, had paled, had become gaunt.



CHAPTER VI. PHIL ABINGDON ARRIVES

On the following afternoon Paul Harley was restlessly pacing his private
office when Innes came in with a letter which had been delivered by
hand. Harley took it eagerly and tore open the envelope. A look of


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