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"Benson," he called, opening the library door. As the man came along the
hall: "I have written a note to Mr. Innes, my secretary," he explained.
"There it is, on the table. When the district messenger, for whom you
telephoned, arrives, give him the parcel and the note. He is to accept
no other receipt than that of Mr. Innes."

"Very good, sir."

Harley took his hat and cane, and Benson opened the front door.

"Good day, sir," said the butler.

"Good day, Benson," called Harley, hurrying out to the waiting cab.
"Number 236 South Lambeth Road," he directed the man.

Off moved the taxi, and Harley lay back upon the cushions heaving a long
sigh. The irksome period of inaction was ended. The cloud which for a
time had dulled his usually keen wits was lifted. He was by no means
sure that enlightenment had come in time, but at least he was in hot
pursuit of a tangible clue, and he must hope that it would lead him,
though tardily, to the heart of this labyrinth which concealed - what?

Which concealed something, or someone, known and feared as Fire-Tongue.

For the moment he must focus upon establishing, beyond query or doubt,
the fact that Sir Charles Abingdon had not died from natural causes.
Premonitions, intuitions, beliefs resting upon a foundation of strange
dreams - these were helpful to himself, if properly employed, but they
were not legal evidence. This first point achieved, the motive of the
crime must be sought; and then - the criminal.

"One thing at a time," Harley finally murmured.

Turning his head, he glanced back at the traffic in the street behind
him. The action was sheerly automatic. He had ceased to expect to
detect the presence of any pursuer. Yet he was convinced that his
every movement was closely watched. It was uncanny, unnerving, this
consciousness of invisible surveillance. Now, as he looked, he started.
The invisible had become the visible.

His cab was just on the point of turning on to the slope of Vauxhall
Bridge. And fifty yards behind, speeding along the Embankment, was a
small French car. The features of the driver he had no time to observe.
But, peering eagerly through the window, showed the dark face of the
passenger. The man's nationality it was impossible to determine, but the
keen, almost savage interest, betrayed by the glittering black eyes, it
was equally impossible to mistake.

If the following car had turned on to the bridge, Harley, even yet,
might have entertained a certain doubt. But, mentally putting himself
in the pursuer's place, he imagined himself detected and knew at once
exactly what he should do. Since this hypothetical course was actually
pursued by the other, Harley's belief was confirmed.

Craning his neck, he saw the little French car turn abruptly and proceed
in the direction of Victoria Station. Instantly he acted.

Leaning out of the window he thrust a ten-shilling note into the
cabman's hand. "Slow down, but don't pull up," he directed. "I am going
to jump out just as you pass that lorry ahead. Ten yards further on
stop. Get down and crank your engine, and then proceed slowly over the
bridge. I shall not want you again."

"Right-oh, sir," said the man, grinning broadly. As a result,
immediately he was afforded the necessary cover, Harley jumped from
the cab. The man reached back and closed the door, proceeding on his
leisurely way. Excepting the driver of the lorry, no one witnessed this
eccentric performance, and Harley, stepping on to the footpath, quietly
joined the stream of pedestrians and strolled slowly along.

He presently passed the stationary cab without giving any sign of
recognition to the dismounted driver. Then, a minute later, the
cab overtook him and was soon lost in the traffic ahead. Even as it
disappeared another cab went by rapidly.

Leaning forward in order to peer through the front window was the
dark-faced man whom he had detected on the Embankment!

"Quite correct," murmured Harley, dryly. "Exactly what I should have
done."

The spy, knowing himself discovered, had abandoned his own car in favour
of a passing taxicab, and in the latter had taken up the pursuit.

Paul Harley lighted a cigarette. Oddly enough, he was aware of a
feeling of great relief. In the first place, his sixth sense had been
triumphantly vindicated; and, in the second place, his hitherto shadowy
enemies, with their seemingly supernatural methods, had been unmasked.
At least they were human, almost incredibly clever, but of no more than
ordinary flesh and blood.

The contest had developed into open warfare. Harley's accurate knowledge
of London had enabled him to locate No. 236 South Lambeth Road without
recourse to a guide, and now, walking on past the big gas works and the
railway station, he turned under the dark arches and pressed on to where
a row of unprepossessing dwellings extended in uniform ugliness from a
partly demolished building to a patch of waste ground.

That the house was being watched he did not doubt. In fact, he no longer
believed subterfuge to be of any avail. He was dealing with dangerously
accomplished criminals. How clever they were he had yet to learn; and it
was only his keen intuitive which at this juncture enabled him to score
a point over his cunning opponents.

He walked quite openly up the dilapidated steps to the door of No.
236, and was about to seize the dirty iron knocker when the door opened
suddenly and a girl came out. She was dressed neatly and wore a pseudo
fashionable hat from which a heavy figured veil depended so as almost
to hide her features. She was carrying a bulging cane grip secured by a
brown leather strap.

Seeing Harley on the step, she paused for a moment, then, recovering
herself:

"Ellen!" she shouted down the dim passageway revealed by the opening of
the door. "Somebody to see you."

Leaving the door open, she hurried past the visitor with averted face.
It was well done, and, thus disguised by the thick veil, another man
than Paul Harley might have failed to recognize one of whom he had never
had more than an imperfect glimpse. But if Paul Harley's memory did not
avail him greatly, his unerring instinct never failed.

He grasped the girl's arm. "One moment, Miss Jones," he said, quietly,
"it is you I am here to see!"

The girl turned angrily, snatching her arm from his grasp. "You've made
a mistake, haven't you?" she cried, furiously. "I don't know you and I
don't want to!"

"Be good enough to step inside again. Don't make a scene. If you behave
yourself, you have nothing to fear. But I want to talk to you."

He extended his arm to detain her. But she thrust it aside. "My boy's
waiting round the corner!" she said, viciously. "Just see what he'll do
when I tell him!"

"Step inside," repeated Harley, quietly. "Or accompany me to Kennington
Lane Police Station - whichever you think would be the more amusing."

"What d'you mean!" blustered the girl. "You can't kid me. I haven't done
anything."

"Then do as I tell you. You have got to answer my questions - either here
or at the station. Which shall it be?"

He had realized the facts of the situation from the moment when the
girl had made her sudden appearance, and he knew that his only chance of
defeating his cunning opponents was to frighten her. Delicate measures
would be wasted upon such a character. But even as the girl, flinging
herself sullenly about, returned into the passage, he found himself
admiring the resourcefulness of his unknown enemies.

A tired-looking woman carrying a child appeared from somewhere and
stared apathetically at Harley.

Addressing the angry girl: "Another o' your flames, Polly?" she inquired
in a dull voice. "Has he made you change your mind already?"

The girl addressed as "Polly" dropped her grip on the floor and, banging
open a door, entered a shabby little sitting room, followed by Harley.
Dropping onto a ragged couch, she stared obstinately out of the dirty
window.

"Excuse me, madam, for intruding," said Harley to the woman with the
baby, "but Polly has some information of use to the police. Oh, don't be
alarmed. She has committed no crime. I shall only detain her for a few
minutes."

He bowed to the tired-looking woman and closed the sitting-room door.
"Now, young woman," he said, sternly, adopting this official manner of
his friend, Inspector Wessex, "I am going to give you one warning, and
one only. Although I don't think you know it, you have got mixed up with
a gang of crooks. Play the game with me, and I'll stand by you. Try any
funny business and you'll go to jail."

The official manner had its effect. Miss Jones looked sharply across at
the speaker. "I haven't done anything," she said, sullenly.

Paul Harley advanced and stood over her. "What about the trick with the
serviettes at Sir Charles Abingdon's?" he asked, speaking the words in
slow and deliberate fashion.

The shaft went home, but the girl possessed a stock of obstinate
courage. "What about it?" she inquired, but her voice had changed.

"Who made you do it?"

"What's that to you?"

Paul Harley drew out his watch, glanced at the face, and returned the
timepiece to his pocket. "I have warned you," he said. "In exactly three
minutes' time I shall put you under arrest."

The girl suddenly lifted her veil and, raising her face, looked up at
him. At last he had broken down her obstinate resistance. Already he had
noted the coarse, elemental formation of her hands, and now, the veil
removed, he saw that she belonged to a type of character often found
in Wales and closely duplicated in certain parts of London. There was
a curious flatness of feature and prominence of upper jaw singularly
reminiscent of the primitive Briton. Withal the girl was not
unprepossessing in her coarse way. Utter stupidity and dogged courage
are the outstanding characteristics of this type. But fear of the law is
strong within them.

"Don't arrest me," she said. "I'll tell you."

"Good. In the first place, then, where were you going when I came here?"

"To meet my boy at Vauxhall Station."

"What is his name?"

"I'm not going to tell you. What's he done?"

"He has done murder. What is his name?"

"My God!" whispered the girl, and her face blanched swiftly. "Murder!
I - I can't tell you his name - "

"You mean you won't?"

She did not answer.

"He is a very dark man," continued Harley "with black eyes. He is a
Hindu."

The girl stared straight before her, dumbly.

"Answer me!" shouted Harley.

"Yes - yes! He is a foreigner."

"A Hindu?"

"I think so."

"He was here five minutes ago?"

"Yes."

"Where was he going to take you?"

"I don't know. He said he could put me in a good job out of London. We
had only ten minutes to catch the train. He's gone to get the tickets."

"Where did you meet him?"

"In the Green Park."

"When?"

"About a month ago."

"Was he going to marry you?"

"Yes."

"What did you do to the serviettes on the night Sir Charles died?"

"Oh, my God! I didn't do anything to hurt him - I didn't do anything to
hurt him!"

"Answer me."

"Sidney - "

"Oh, he called himself Sidney, did he? It isn't his name. But go on."

"He asked me to get one of the serviettes, with the ring, and to lend it
to him."

"You did this?"

"Yes. But he brought it back."

"When?"

"The afternoon - "

"Before Sir Charles's death? Yes. Go on. What did he tell you to do with
this serviette?"

"It - was in a box. He said I was not to open the box until I put the
serviette on the table, and that it had to be put by Sir Charles's
plate. It had to be put there just before the meal began."

"What else?"

"I had to burn the box."

"Well?"

"That night I couldn't see how it was to be done. Benson had laid the
dinner table and Mrs. Howett was pottering about. Then, when I thought
I had my chance, Sir Charles sat down in the dining room and began to
read. He was still there and I had the box hidden in the hall stand, all
ready, when Sidney - rang up."

"Rang you up?"

"Yes. We had arranged it. He said he was my brother. I had to tell him I
couldn't do it."

"Yes!"

"He said: 'You must.' I told him Sir Charles was in the dining room, and
he said: 'I'll get him away. Directly he goes, don't fail to do what I
told you.'"

"And then?"

"Another 'phone call came - for Sir Charles. I knew who it was, because I
had told Sidney about the case Sir Charles was attending in the square.
When Sir Charles went out I changed the serviettes. Mrs. Howett found me
in the dining room and played hell. But afterward I managed to burn the
box in the kitchen. That's all I know. What harm was there?"

"Harm enough!" said Harley, grimly. "And now - what was it that 'Sidney'
stole from Sir Charles's bureau in the study?"

The girl started and bit her lip convulsively. "It wasn't stealing," she
muttered. "It wasn't worth anything."

"Answer me. What did he take?"

"He took nothing."

"For the last time: answer."

"It wasn't Sidney who took it. I took it."

"You took what?"

"A paper."

"You mean that you stole Sir Charles's keys and opened his bureau?"

"There was no stealing. He was out and they were lying on his dressing
table. Sidney had told me to do it the first time I got a chance."

"What had he told you to do?"

"To search through Sir Charles's papers and see if there was anything
with the word 'Fire-Tongue' in it!"

"Ah!" exclaimed Harley, a note of suppressed triumph in his voice. "Go
on."

"There was only one paper about it," continued the girl, now speaking
rapidly, "or only one that I could find. I put the bureau straight again
and took this paper to Sidney."

"But you must have read the paper?"

"Only a bit of it. When I came to the word 'Fire-Tongue,' I didn't read
any more."

"What was it about - the part you did read?"

"The beginning was all about India. I couldn't understand it. I jumped
a whole lot. I hadn't much time and I was afraid Mrs. Howett would find
me. Then, further on, I came to 'Fire-Tongue'."

"But what did it say about 'Fire-Tongue'?"

"I couldn't make it out, sir. Oh, indeed I'm telling you the truth! It
seemed to me that Fire-Tongue was some sort of mark."

"Mark?"

"Yes - a mark Sir Charles had seen in India, and then again in London - "

"In London! Where in London?"

"On someone's arm."

"What! Tell me the name of this person!"

"I can't remember, sir! Oh, truly I can't."

"Was the name mentioned?"

"Yes."

"Was it Armand?"

"No."

"Ormond?"

"No."

"Anything like Ormond?"

The girl shook her head.

"It was not Ormuz Khan?"

"No. I am sure it wasn't."

Paul Harley's expression underwent a sudden change. "Was it Brown?" he
asked.

She hesitated. "I believe it did begin with a B," she admitted.

"Was it Brunn?"

"No! I remember, sir. It was Brinn!"

"Good God!" muttered Harley. "Are you sure?"

"Quite sure."

"Do you know any one of that name?"

"No, sir."

"And is this positively all you remember?"

"On my oath, it is."

"How often have you seen Sidney since your dismissal?"

"I saw him on the morning I left."

"And then not again until to-day?"

"No."

"Does he live in London?"

"No. He is a valet to a gentleman who lives in the country."

"How do you know?"

"He told me."

"What is the name of the place?"

"I don't know."

"Once again - what is the name of the place?"

The girl bit her lip.

"Answer!" shouted Harley.

"I swear, sir," cried the girl, beginning suddenly to sob, "that I don't
know! Oh, please let me go! I swear I have told you all I know!"

"Good!"

Paul Harley glanced at his watch, crossed the room, and opened the door.
He turned. "You can go now," he said. "But I don't think you will find
Sidney waiting!"

It wanted only three minutes to midnight, and Innes, rather haggard and
anxious-eyed, was pacing Paul Harley's private office when the 'phone
bell rang. Eagerly he took up the receiver.

"Hullo!" came a voice. "That you, Innes?"

"Mr. Harley!" cried Innes. "Thank God you are safe! I was growing
desperately anxious!"

"I am by no means safe, Innes! I am in one of the tightest corners of
my life! Listen: Get Wessex! If he's off duty, get Burton. Tell him to
bring - "

The voice ceased.

"Hullo! - Mr. Harley!" called Innes. "Mr. Harley!"

A faint cry answered him. He distinctly heard the sound of a fall. Then
the other receiver was replaced on the hook.

"Merciful Heavens!" whispered Innes. "What has happened? Where was he
speaking from? What can I do?"



CHAPTER XIII. NICOL BRINN HAS A VISITOR

It was close upon noon, but Nicol Brinn had not yet left his chambers.
From that large window which overlooked Piccadilly he surveyed the
prospect with dull, lack-lustre eyes. His morning attire was at least as
tightly fitting as that which he favoured in the evening, and now, hands
clasped behind his back and an unlighted cigar held firmly in the left
corner of his mouth, he gazed across the park with a dreamy and vacant
regard. One very familiar with this strange and taciturn man might have
observed that his sallow features looked even more gaunt than usual.
But for any trace of emotion in that stoic face the most expert
physiognomist must have sought in vain.

Behind the motionless figure the Alaskan ermine and Manchurian leopards
stared glassily across the room. The flying lemur continued apparently
to contemplate the idea of swooping upon the head of the tigress where
she crouched upon her near-by pedestal. The death masks grinned; the
Egyptian priestess smiled. And Nicol Brinn, expressionless, watched the
traffic in Piccadilly.

There came a knock at the door.

"In," said Nicol Brinn.

Hoskins, his manservant, entered: "Detective Inspector Wessex would like
to see you, sir."

Nicol Brinn did not turn around. "In," he repeated.

Silently Hoskins retired, and, following a short interval, ushered into
the room a typical detective officer, a Scotland Yard man of the best
type. For Detective Inspector Wessex no less an authority than Paul
Harley had predicted a brilliant future, and since he had attained to
his present rank while still a comparatively young man, the prophecy
of the celebrated private investigator was likely to be realized. Nicol
Brinn turned and bowed in the direction of a large armchair.

"Pray sit down, Inspector," he said.

The high, monotonous voice expressed neither surprise nor welcome, nor
any other sentiment whatever.

Detective Inspector Wessex returned the bow, placed his bowler hat upon
the carpet, and sat down in the armchair. Nicol Brinn seated himself
upon a settee over which was draped a very fine piece of Persian
tapestry, and stared at his visitor with eyes which expressed nothing
but a sort of philosophic stupidity, but which, as a matter of fact,
photographed the personality of the man indelibly upon that keen brain.

Detective Inspector Wessex cleared his throat and did not appear to be
quite at ease.

"What is it?" inquired Nicol Brinn, and proceeded to light his cigar.

"Well, sir," said the detective, frankly, "it's a mighty awkward
business, and I don't know just how to approach it."

"Shortest way," drawled Nicol Brinn. "Don't study me."

"Thanks," said Wessex, "I'll do my best. It's like this" - he stared
frankly at the impassive face: "Where is Mr. Paul Harley?"

Nicol Brinn gazed at the lighted end of his cigar meditatively for a
moment and then replaced it in the right and not in the left corner of
his mouth. Even to the trained eye of the detective inspector he seemed
to be quite unmoved, but one who knew him well would have recognized
that this simple action betokened suppressed excitement.

"He left these chambers at ten-fifteen on Wednesday night," replied the
American. "I had never seen him before and I have never seen him since."

"Sure?"

"Quite."

"Could you swear to it before a jury?"

"You seem to doubt my word."

Detective Inspector Wessex stood up. "Mr. Brinn," he said, "I am in an
awkward corner. I know you for a man with a fine sporting reputation,
and therefore I don't doubt your word. But Mr. Paul Harley disappeared
last night."

At last Nicol Brinn was moved. A second time he took the cigar from his
mouth, gazed at the end reflectively, and then hurled the cigar across
the room into the hearth. He stood up, walked to a window, and stared
out. "Just sit quiet a minute," came the toneless voice. "You've hit me
harder than you know. I want to think it out."

At the back of the tall, slim figure Detective Inspector Wessex stared
with a sort of wonder. Mr. Nicol Brinn of Cincinnati was a conundrum
which he found himself unable to catalogue, although in his gallery of
queer characters were many eccentric and peculiar. If Nicol Brinn should
prove to be crooked, then automatically he became insane. This Wessex
had reasoned out even before he had set eyes upon the celebrated
American traveller. His very first glimpse of Nicol Brinn had confirmed
his reasoning, except that the cool, calm strength of the man had done
much to upset the theory of lunacy.

Followed an interval of unbroken silence. Not even the ticking of a
clock could be heard in that long, singularly furnished apartment. Then,
as the detective continued to gaze upon the back of Mr. Nicol Brinn,
suddenly the latter turned.

"Detective Inspector Wessex," he said, "there has been a cloud hanging
over my head for seven years. That cloud is going to burst very soon,
and it looks as if it were going to do damage."

"I don't understand you, sir," replied the detective, bluntly. "But I
have been put in charge of the most extraordinary case that has ever
come my way and I'll ask you to make yourself as clear as possible."

"I'll do all I can," Nicol Brinn assured him. "But first tell me
something: Why have you come to me for information in respect to Mr.
Paul Harley?"

"I'll answer your question," said Wessex, and the fact did not escape
the keen observing power of Nicol Brinn that the detective's manner had
grown guarded. "He informed Mr. Innes, his secretary, before setting
out, that he was coming here to your chambers."

Nicol Brinn stared blankly at the speaker. "He told him that? When?"

"Yesterday."

"That he was coming here?"

"He did."

Nicol Brinn sat down again upon the settee. "Detective Inspector," said
he, "I give you my word of honour as a gentleman that I last saw Mr.
Paul Harley at ten-fifteen on Wednesday night. Since then, not only have
I not seen him, but I have received no communication from him."

The keen glance of the detective met and challenged the dull glance of
the speaker. "I accept your word, sir," said Wessex, finally, and he
sighed and scratched his chin in the manner of a man hopelessly puzzled.

Silence fell again. The muted sounds of Piccadilly became audible in the
stillness. Cabs and cars rolled by below, their occupants all unaware
of the fact that in that long, museum-like room above their heads lay the
key to a tragedy and the clue to a mystery.

"Look here, sir," said the detective, suddenly, "the result of Mr. Paul
Harley's investigations right up to date has been placed in my hands,
together with all his notes. I wonder if you realize the fact that,
supposing Mr. Harley does not return, I am in repossession of sufficient
evidence to justify me in putting you under arrest?"

"I see your point quite clearly," replied Nicol Brinn. "I have seen my
danger since the evening that Mr. Paul Harley walked into this room: but
I'll confess I did not anticipate this particular development."

"To get right down to business," said Wessex, "if Mr. Paul Harley did
not come here, where, in your idea, did he go?"

Nicol Brinn considered the speaker meditatively. "If I knew that," said
he, "maybe I could help. I told him here in this very room that the pair
of us were walking on the edge of hell. I don't like to say it, and you
don't know all it means, but in my opinion he has taken a step too far."

Detective Inspector Wessex stood up impatiently. "You have already
talked in that strain to Mr. Harley," he said, a bit brusquely. "Mr.
Innes has reported something of the conversation to me. But I must
ask you to remember that, whereas Mr. Paul Harley is an unofficial
investigator, I am an officer of the Criminal Investigation Department,
and figures of speech are of no use to me. I want facts. I want plain
speaking. I ask you for help and you answer in parables. Now perhaps I
am saying too much, and perhaps I am not, but that Mr. Harley was right
in what he believed, the circumstances of his present disappearance go
to prove. He learned too much about something called Fire-Tongue."


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