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followed by an unintelligible word which presumably represented "Ormuz
Khan." The visitor wore a well-brushed but threadbare tweed suit,
although his soft collar was by no means clean. He had a short,
reddish-brown beard, and very thick, curling hair of the same hue
protruded from beneath a bowler hat which had seen long service.

Like Mr. Jarvis, he was bespectacled, and his teeth were much
discoloured and apparently broken in front, as is usual with cobblers.
His hands, too, were toil-stained and his nails very black. He carried
a cardboard box. He seemed to be extremely nervous, and this nervousness
palpably increased when the impudent page, who was standing in the
lobby, giggled on hearing his inquiry.

"He's second floor," said the youth. "Are you from Hot-Stuff Jarvis?"

"That's right, lad," replied the visitor, speaking with a marked
Manchester accent; "from Mr. Jarvis."

"And are you really going up?" inquired the boy with mock solicitude.

"I'm going up right enough. That's what I'm here for."

"Shut up, Chivers," snapped the hall porter. "Ring the bell." He glanced
at the cobbler. "Second floor," he said, tersely, and resumed his study
of a newspaper which he had been reading.

The representative of Mr. Jarvis was carried up to the second floor and
the lift man, having indicated at which door he should knock, descended
again. The cobbler's nervousness thereupon became more marked than ever,
so that a waiter, seeing him looking helplessly from door to door, took
pity on him and inquired for whom he was searching.

"His excellency," was the reply; "but I'm hanged if I can remember the
number or how to pronounce his name."

The waiter glanced at him oddly. "Ormuz Khan," he said, and rang the
bell beside a door. As he hurried away, "Good luck!" he called back.

There was a short interval, and then the door was opened by a man
who looked like a Hindu. He wore correct morning dress and through
gold-rimmed pince-nez he stared inquiringly at the caller.

"Is his excellency at home?" asked the latter. "I'm from Mr. Jarvis, the
bootmaker."

"Oh!" said the other, smiling slightly. "Come in. What is your name?"

"Parker, sir. From Mr. Jarvis."

As the door closed, Parker found himself in a small lobby. Beside
an umbrella rack a high-backed chair was placed. "Sit down," he was
directed. "I will tell his excellency that you are here."

A door was opened and closed again, and Parker found himself alone. He
twirled his bowler hat, which he held in his hand, and stared about
the place vacantly. Once he began to whistle, but checked himself and
coughed nervously. Finally the Hindu gentleman reappeared, beckoning to
him to enter.

Parker stood up very quickly and advanced, hat in hand.

Then he remembered the box which he had left on the floor, and, stooping
to recover it, he dropped his hat. But at last, leaving his hat upon the
chair and carrying the box under his arm, he entered a room which had
been converted into a very businesslike office.

There was a typewriter upon a table near the window at which someone had
evidently been at work quite recently, and upon a larger table in the
centre of the room were dispatch boxes, neat parcels of documents,
ledgers, works of reference, and all the evidence of keen commercial
activity. Crossing the room, the Hindu rapped upon an inner door, opened
it, and standing aside, "The man from the bootmaker," he said in a low
voice.

Parker advanced, peering about him as one unfamiliar with his
surroundings. As he crossed the threshold the door was closed behind
him, and he found himself in a superheated atmosphere heavy with the
perfume of hyacinths.

The place was furnished as a sitting room, but some of its appointments
were obviously importations. Its keynote was orientalism, not of that
sensuous yet grossly masculine character which surrounds the wealthy
Eastern esthete but quite markedly feminine. There were an extraordinary
number of cushions, and many bowls and vases containing hyacinths. What
other strange appointments were present Parker was far too nervous to
observe.

He stood dumbly before a man who lolled back in a deep, cushioned chair
and whose almond-shaped eyes, black as night, were set immovably upon
him. This man was apparently young. He wore a rich, brocaded robe,
trimmed with marten fur, and out of it his long ivory throat rose
statuesquely. His complexion was likewise of this uniform ivory colour,
and from his low smooth brow his hair was brushed back in a series of
glossy black waves.

His lips were full and very red. As a woman he might have been
considered handsome - even beautiful; in a man this beauty was unnatural
and repellent. He wore Oriental slippers, fur-lined, and his feet rested
on a small ottoman. One long, slender hand lay upon a cushion placed on
the chair arm, and a pretty girl was busily engaged in manicuring
his excellency's nails. Although the day held every promise of being
uncomfortably hot, already a huge fire was burning in the grate.

As Parker stood before him, the languid, handsome Oriental did not stir
a muscle, merely keeping the gaze of his strange black eyes fixed upon
the nervous cobbler. The manicurist, after one quick upward glance,
continued her work. But in this moment of distraction she had hurt the
cuticle of one of those delicate, slender fingers.

Ormuz Khan withdrew his hand sharply from the cushion, glanced aside at
the girl, and then, extending his hand again, pushed her away from him.
Because of her half-kneeling posture, she almost fell, but managed to
recover herself by clutching at the edge of a little table upon which
the implements of her trade were spread. The table rocked and a bowl of
water fell crashing on the carpet. His excellency spoke. His voice was
very musical.

"Clumsy fool," he said. "You have hurt me. Go."

The girl became very white and began to gather up the articles upon the
table. "I am sorry," she said, "but - "

"I do not wish you to speak," continued the musical voice; "only to go."

Hurriedly collecting the remainder of the implements and placing them
in an attache case, the manicurist hurried from the room. Her eyes were
overbright and her lips pathetically tremulous. Ormuz Khan never glanced
in her direction again, but resumed his disconcerting survey of Parker.
"Yes?" he said.

Parker bumblingly began to remove the lid of the cardboard box which he
had brought with him.

"I do not wish you to alter the shoes you have made," said his
excellency. "I instructed you to remeasure my foot in order that you
might make a pair to fit."

"Yes, sir," said Parker. "Quite so, your excellency." And he dropped the
box and the shoes upon the floor. "Just a moment, sir?"

From an inner pocket he drew out a large sheet of white paper, a pencil,
and a tape measure. "Will you place your foot upon this sheet of paper,
sir?"

Ormuz Khan raised his right foot listlessly.

"Slipper off, please, sir."

"I am waiting," replied the other, never removing his gaze from Parker's
face.

"Oh, I beg your pardon sir, your excellency," muttered the bootmaker.

Dropping upon one knee, he removed the furred slipper from a slender,
arched foot, bare, of the delicate colour of ivory, and as small as a
woman's.

"Now, sir."

The ivory foot was placed upon the sheet of paper, and very clumsily
Parker drew its outline. He then took certain measurements and made a
number of notes with a stub of thick pencil. Whenever his none too
clean hands touched Ormuz Khan's delicate skin the Oriental perceptibly
shuddered.

"Of course, sir," said Parker at last, "I should really have taken your
measurement with the sock on."

"I wear only the finest silk."

"Very well, sir. As you wish."

Parker replaced paper, pencil, and measure, and, packing up the rejected
shoes, made for the door.

"Oh, bootmaker!" came the musical voice.

Parker turned. "Yes, sir?"

"They will be ready by Monday?"

"If possible, your excellency."

"Otherwise I shall not accept them."

Ormuz Khan drew a hyacinth from a vase close beside him and languidly
waved it in dismissal.

In the outer room the courteous secretary awaited Parker, and there was
apparently no one else in the place, for the Hindu conducted him to the
lobby and opened the door.

Parker said "Good morning, sir," and would have departed without his hat
had not the secretary smilingly handed it to him.

When, presently, the cobbler emerged from the elevator, below, he paused
before leaving the hotel to mop his perspiring brow with a large, soiled
handkerchief. The perfume of hyacinths seemed to have pursued him,
bringing with it a memory of the handsome, effeminate ivory face of the
man above. He was recalled to his senses by the voice of the impudent
page.

"Been kicked out, gov'nor?" the youth inquired. "You're the third this
morning."

"Is that so?" answered Parker. "Who were the other two, lad?"

"The girl wot comes to do his nails. A stunnin' bird, too. She came down
cryin' a few minutes ago. Then - "

"Shut up, Chivers!" cried the hall porter. "You're asking for the sack,
and I'm the man to get it for you."

Chivers did not appear to be vastly perturbed by this prospect, and
he grinned agreeably at Parker as the latter made his way out into the
courtyard.

Any one sufficiently interested to have done so might have found matter
for surprise had he followed that conscientious bootmaker as he left the
hotel. He did not proceed to the shop of Mr. Jarvis, but, crossing the
Strand, mounted a city-bound motor bus and proceeded eastward upon it as
far as the Law Courts. Here he dismounted and plunged into that maze of
tortuous lanes which dissects the triangle formed by Chancery Lane and
Holborn.

His step was leisurely, and once he stopped to light his pipe, peering
with interest into the shop window of a law stationer. Finally he came
to another little shop which had once formed part of a private house. It
was of the lock-up variety, and upon the gauze blind which concealed the
interior appeared the words: "The Chancery Agency."

Whether the Chancery Agency was a press agency, a literary or a dramatic
agency, was not specified, but Mr. Parker was evidently well acquainted
with the establishment, for he unlocked the door with a key which he
carried and, entering a tiny shop, closed and locked the door behind him
again.

The place was not more than ten yards square and the ceiling was very
low. It was barely furnished as an office, but evidently Mr. Parker's
business was not of a nature to detain him here. There was a second door
to be unlocked; and beyond it appeared a flight of narrow stairs - at
some time the servant's stair of the partially demolished house which
had occupied that site in former days. Relocking this door in turn, Mr.
Parker mounted the stair and presently found himself in a spacious and
well-furnished bedroom.

This bedroom contained an extraordinary number of wardrobes, and a
big dressing table with wing mirrors lent a theatrical touch to the
apartment. This was still further enhanced by the presence of all sorts
of wigs, boxes of false hair, and other items of make-up. At the table
Mr. Parker seated himself, and when, half an hour later, the bedroom
door was opened, it was not Mr. Parker who crossed the book-lined study
within and walked through to the private office where Innes was seated
writing. It was Mr. Paul Harley.



CHAPTER XI. THE PURPLE STAIN

For more than an hour Harley sat alone, smoking, neglectful of the
routine duties which should have claimed his attention. His face was
set and grim, and his expression one of total abstraction. In spirit
he stood again in that superheated room at the Savoy. Sometimes, as he
mused, he would smoke with unconscious vigour, surrounding himself with
veritable fog banks. An imaginary breath of hyacinths would have reached
him, to conjure up vividly the hateful, perfumed environment of Ormuz
Khan.

He was savagely aware of a great mental disorderliness. He recognized
that his brain remained a mere whirlpool from which Phyllis Abingdon,
the deceased Sir Charles, Nicol Brinn, and another, alternately arose to
claim supremacy. He clenched his teeth upon the mouthpiece of his pipe.

But after some time, although rebelliously, his thoughts began to
marshal themselves in a certain definite formation. And outstanding,
alone, removed from the ordinary, almost from the real, was the bizarre
personality of Ormuz Khan.

The data concerning the Oriental visitor, as supplied by Inspector
Wessex, had led him to expect quite a different type of character.
Inured as Paul Harley was to surprise, his first sentiment as he had set
eyes upon the man had been one of sheer amazement.

"Something of a dandy," inadequately described the repellent
sensuousness of this veritable potentate, who could contrive to invest
a sitting room in a modern hotel with the atmosphere of a secret
Eastern household. To consider Ormuz Khan in connection with matters
of international finance was wildly incongruous, while the manicurist
incident indicated an inherent cruelty only possible in one of Oriental
race.

In a mood of complete mental detachment Paul Harley found himself
looking again into those black, inscrutable eyes and trying to analyze
the elusive quality of their regard. They were unlike any eyes that
he had met with. It were folly to count their possessor a negligible
quantity. Nevertheless, it was difficult, because of the fellow's
scented effeminacy, to believe that women could find him attractive.
But Harley, wise in worldly lore, perceived that the mystery surrounding
Ormuz Khan must make a strong appeal to a certain type of female mind.
He was forced to admit that some women, indeed many, would be as clay in
the hands of the man who possessed those long-lashed, magnetic eyes.

He thought of the pretty manicurist. Mortification he had read in her
white face, and pain; but no anger. Yes, Ormuz Khan was dangerous.

In what respect was he dangerous?

"Phil Abingdon!" Harley whispered, and, in the act of breathing the
name, laughed at his own folly.

In the name of reason, he mused, what could she find to interest her in
a man of Ormuz Khan's type? He was prepared to learn that there was a
mystic side to her personality - a phase in her character which would be
responsive to the outre and romantic. But he was loath to admit that
she could have any place in her affections for the scented devotee of
hyacinths.

Thus, as always, his musings brought him back to the same point. He
suppressed a groan and, standing up, began to pace the room. To and fro
he walked, before the gleaming cabinet, and presently his expression
underwent a subtle change. His pipe had long since gone out, but he had
failed to observe the fact. His eyes had grown unusually bright - and
suddenly he stepped to the table and stooping made a note upon the
little writing block.

He rang the bell communicating with the outer office. Innes came in.
"Innes," he said, rapidly, "is there anything of really first-rate
importance with which I should deal personally?"

"Well," replied the secretary, glancing at some papers which he carried,
"there is nothing that could not wait until to-morrow at a pinch."

"The pinch has come," said Harley. "I am going to interview the two most
important witnesses in the Abingdon case."

"To whom do you refer, Mr. Harley?"

Innes stared rather blankly, as he made the inquiry, whereupon:

"I have no time to explain," continued Harley. "But I have suddenly
realized the importance of a seemingly trivial incident which I
witnessed. It is these trivial incidents, Innes, which so often contain
the hidden clue."

"What! you really think you have a clue at last?"

"I do." The speaker's face grew grimly serious. "Innes, if I am right,
I shall probably proceed to one of two places: the apartments of
Ormuz Khan or the chambers of Nicol Brinn. Listen. Remain here until I
phone - whatever the hour."

"Shall I advise Wessex to stand by?"

Harley nodded. "Yes - do so. You understand, Innes, I am engaged and not
to be disturbed on any account?"

"I understand. You are going out by the private exit?"

"Exactly."

As Innes retired, quietly closing the door, Harley took up the telephone
and called Sir Charles Abingdon's number. He was answered by a voice
which he recognized.

"This is Paul Harley speaking," he said. "Is that Benson?"

"Yes, sir," answered the butler. "Good morning, sir."

"Good morning, Benson. I have one or two questions to ask you, and there
is something I want you to do for me. Miss Abingdon is out, I presume?"

"Yes, sir," replied Benson, sadly. "At the funeral, sir."

"Is Mrs. Howett in?"

"She is, sir."

"I shall be around in about a quarter of an hour, Benson. In the
meantime, will you be good enough to lay the dining table exactly as it
was laid on the night of Sir Charles's death?"

Benson could be heard nervously clearing his throat, then: "Perhaps,
sir," he said, diffidently, "I didn't quite understand you. Lay the
table, sir, for dinner?"

"For dinner - exactly. I want everything to be there that was present on
the night of the tragedy; everything. Naturally you will have to place
different flowers in the vases, but I want to see the same vases. From
the soup tureen to the serviette rings, Benson, I wish you to duplicate
the dinner table as I remember it, paying particular attention to the
exact position of each article. Mrs. Howett will doubtless be able to
assist you in this."

"Very good, sir," said Benson - but his voice betokened bewilderment. "I
will see Mrs. Howett at once, sir."

"Right. Good-bye."

"Good-bye, sir."

Replacing the receiver, Harley took a bunch of keys from his pocket and,
crossing the office, locked the door. He then retired to his private
apartments and also locked the communicating door. A few moments later
he came out of "The Chancery Agency" and proceeded in the direction
of the Strand. Under cover of the wire-gauze curtain which veiled
the window he had carefully inspected the scene before emerging.
But although his eyes were keen and his sixth sense whispered
"Danger - danger!" he had failed to detect anything amiss.

This constant conflict between intuition and tangible evidence was
beginning to tell upon him. Either his sixth sense had begun to
play tricks or he was the object of the most perfectly organized and
efficient system of surveillance with which he had ever come in contact.
Once, in the past, he had found himself pitted against the secret police
of Moscow, and hitherto he had counted their methods incomparable.
Unless he was the victim of an unpleasant hallucination, those Russian
spies had their peers in London.

As he alighted from a cab before the house of the late Sir Charles,
Benson opened the door. "We have just finished, sir," he said, as Harley
ran up the steps. "But Mrs. Howett would like to see you, sir."

"Very good, Benson," replied Harley, handing his hat and cane to the
butler. "I will see her in the dining room, please."

Benson throwing open the door, Paul Harley walked into the room which so
often figured in his vain imaginings. The table was laid for dinner in
accordance with his directions. The chair which he remembered to have
occupied was in place and that in which Sir Charles had died was set at
the head of the table.

Brows contracted, Harley stood just inside the room, looking slowly
about him. And, as he stood so, an interrogatory cough drew his gaze to
the doorway. He turned sharply, and there was Mrs. Howett, a pathetic
little figure in black.

"Ah, Mrs. Howett," said Harley; kindly, "please try to forgive me for
this unpleasant farce with its painful memories. But I have a good
reason. I think you know this. Now, as I am naturally anxious to have
everything clear before Miss Abingdon returns, will you be good enough
to tell me if the table is at present set exactly as on the night that
Sir Charles and I came in to dinner?"

"No, Mr. Harley," was the answer, "that was what I was anxious to
explain. The table is now laid as Benson left it on that dreadful
night."

"Ah, I see. Then you, personally, made some modifications?"

"I rearranged the flowers and moved the centre vase so." The methodical
old lady illustrated her words. "I also had the dessert spoons changed.
You remember, Benson?"

Benson inclined his head. From a sideboard he took out two silver spoons
which he substituted for those already set upon the table.

"Anything else, Mrs. Howett?"

"The table is now as I left it, sir, a few minutes before your
arrival. Just after your arrival I found Jones, the parlourmaid - a most
incompetent, impudent girl - altering the position of the serviettes. At
least, such was my impression."

"Of the serviettes?" murmured Harley.

"She denied it," continued the housekeeper, speaking with great
animation; "but she could give no explanation. It was the last straw.
She took too many liberties altogether."

As Harley remained silent, the old lady ran on animatedly, but Harley
was no longer listening.

"This is not the same table linen?" he asked, suddenly.

"Why, no, sir," replied Benson. "Last week's linen will be at the
laundry."

"It has not gone yet," interrupted Mrs. Howett. "I was making up the
list when you brought me Mr. Harley's message."

Paul Harley turned to her.

"May I ask you to bring the actual linen used at table on that occasion,
Mrs. Howett?" he said. "My request must appear singular, I know, but I
assure you it is no idle one."

Benson looked positively stupid, but Mrs. Howett, who had conceived a
sort of reverence for Paul Harley, hurried away excitedly.

"Finally, Benson," said Harley, "what else did you bring into the room
after Sir Charles and I had entered?"

"Soup, sir. Here is the tureen, on the sideboard, and all the soup
plates of the service in use that night. Of course, sir, I can't say
which were the actual plates used."

Paul Harley inspected the plates, a set of fine old Derby ware, and
gazed meditatively at the silver ladle. "Did the maid, Jones, handle any
of these?" he asked.

"No, sir" - emphatically. "She was preparing to bring the trout from the
kitchen."

"But I saw her in the room."

"She had brought in the fish plates, a sauce boat, and two toast racks,
sir. She put them here, on the sideboard. But they were never brought to
the table."

"H'm. Has Jones left?"

"Yes, sir. She was under notice. But after her rudeness, Mrs. Howett
packed her off right away. She left the very next day after poor Sir
Charles died."

"Where has she gone?"

"To a married sister, I believe, until she finds a new job. Mrs. Howett
has the address."

At this moment Mrs. Howett entered, bearing a tablecloth and a number of
serviettes.

"This was the cloth," she said, spreading it out, "but which of the
serviettes were used I cannot say."

"Allow me to look," replied Paul Harley.

One by one he began to inspect the serviettes, opening each in turn and
examining it critically.

"What have we here!" he exclaimed, presently. "Have blackberries been
served within the week, Mrs. Howett?"

"We never had them on the table, Mr. Harley. Sir Charles - God rest
him - said they irritated the stomach. Good gracious!" She turned to
Benson. "How is it I never noticed those stains, and what can have
caused them?"

The serviette which Paul Harley held outstretched was covered all over
with dark purple spots.



CHAPTER XII. THE VEIL IS RAISED

Rising from the writing table in the library, Paul Harley crossed to
the mantelpiece and stared long and hungrily at a photograph in a silver
frame. So closely did he concentrate upon it that he induced a sort of
auto-hypnosis, so that Phil Abingdon seemed to smile at him sadly. Then
a shadow appeared to obscure the piquant face. The soft outline changed,
subtly; the lips grew more full, became voluptuous; the eyes lengthened
and grew languorous. He found himself looking into the face of Ormuz
Khan.

"Damn it!" he muttered, awakened from his trance.

He turned aside, conscious of a sudden, unaccountable chill. It might
have been caused by the mental picture which he had conjured up, or it
might be another of those mysterious warnings of which latterly he had
had so many without encountering any positive danger. He stood quite
still, listening.

Afterward he sometimes recalled that moment, and often enough asked
himself what he had expected to hear. It was from this room, on an
earlier occasion, that he had heard the ominous movements in the
apartment above. To-day he heard nothing.


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