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Wessex spoke the word challengingly, staring straight into the eyes of
Nicol Brinn, but the latter gave no sign, and Wessex, concealing his
disappointment, continued: "You know more about Fire-Tongue than you
ever told Mr. Paul Harley. All you know I have got to know. Mr. Harley
has been kidnapped, perhaps done to death."

"Why do you say so?" asked Nicol Brinn, rapidly.

"Because I know it is so. It does not matter how I know."

"You are certain that his absence is not voluntary?"

"We have definite evidence to that effect."

"I don't expect you to be frank with me, Detective Inspector, but I'll
be as frank with you as I can be. I haven't the slightest idea in the
world where Mr. Harley is. But I have information which, if I knew where
he was, would quite possibly enable me to rescue him."

"Provided he is alive!" added Wessex, angrily.

"What leads you to suppose that he is not?"

"If he is alive, he is a prisoner."

"Good God!" said Nicol Brinn in a low voice. "It has come." He took a
step toward the detective. "Mr. Wessex," he continued, "I don't tell you
to do whatever your duty indicates; I know you will do it. But in the
interests of everybody concerned I have a request to make. Have me
watched if you like - I suppose that's automatic. But whatever happens,
and wherever your suspicions point, give me twenty-four hours. As I
think you can see, I am a man who thinks slowly, but moves with a rush.
You can believe me or not, but I am even more anxious than you are to
see this thing through. You think I know what lies back of it all, and I
don't say that you are not right. But one thing you don't know, and that
thing I can't tell you. In twenty-four hours I might be able to tell
you. Whatever happens, even if poor Harley is found dead, don't hamper
my movements between now and this time tomorrow."

Wessex, who had been watching the speaker intently, suddenly held out
his hand. "It's a bet!" he said. "It's my case, and I'll conduct it in
my own way."

"Mr. Wessex," replied Nicol Brinn, taking the extended hand, "I think
you are a clever man. There are questions you would like to ask me, and
there are questions I would like to ask you. But we both realize the
facts of the situation, and we are both silent. One thing I'll say: You
are in the deadliest peril you have ever known. Be careful. Believe me I
mean it. Be very careful."



CHAPTER XIV. WESSEX GETS BUSY

Innes rose from the chair usually occupied by Paul Harley as Detective
Inspector Wessex, with a very blank face, walked into the office. Innes
looked haggard and exhibited unmistakable signs of anxiety. Since he
had received that dramatic telephone message from his chief he had not
spared himself for a moment. The official machinery of Scotland Yard was
at work endeavouring to trace the missing man, but since it had proved
impossible to find out from where the message had been sent, the
investigation was handicapped at the very outset. Close inquiries at the
Savoy Hotel had shown that Harley had not been there. Wessex, who was a
thorough artist within his limitations, had satisfied himself that none
of the callers who had asked for Ormuz Khan, and no one who had loitered
about the lobbies, could possibly have been even a disguised Paul
Harley.

To Inspector Wessex the lines along which Paul Harley was operating
remained a matter of profound amazement and mystification. His interview
with Mr. Nicol Brinn had only served to baffle him more hopelessly than
ever. The nature of Paul Harley's inquiries - inquiries which, presumably
from the death of Sir Charles Abingdon, had led him to investigate the
movements of two persons of international repute, neither apparently
having even the most remote connection with anything crooked - was a
conundrum for the answer to which the detective inspector sought in
vain.

"I can see you have no news," said Innes, dully.

"To be perfectly honest," replied Wessex, "I feel like a man who is
walking in his sleep. Except for the extraordinary words uttered by
the late Sir Charles Abingdon, I fail to see that there is any possible
connection between his death and Mr. Nicol Brinn. I simply can't fathom
what Mr. Harley was working upon. To my mind there is not the slightest
evidence of foul play in the case. There is no motive; apart from which,
there is absolutely no link."

"Nevertheless," replied Innes, slowly, "you know the chief, and
therefore you know as well as I do that he would not have instructed
me to communicate with you unless he had definite evidence in his
possession. It is perfectly clear that he was interrupted in the act of
telephoning. He was literally dragged away from the instrument."

"I agree," said Wessex. "He had got into a tight corner somewhere right
enough. But where does Nicol Brinn come in?"

"How did he receive your communication?"

"Oh, it took him fairly between the eyes. There is no denying that. He
knows something."

"What he knows," said Innes, slowly, "is what Mr. Harley learned last
night, and what he fears is what has actually befallen the chief."

Detective Inspector Wessex stood beside the Burmese cabinet, restlessly
drumming his fingers upon its lacquered surface. "I am grateful for one
thing," he said. "The press has not got hold of this story."

"They need never get hold of it if you are moderately careful."

"For several reasons I am going to be more than moderately careful.
Whatever Fire-Tongue may be, its other name is sudden death! It's a
devil of a business; a perfect nightmare. But - " he paused -

"I am wondering what on earth induced Mr. Harley to send that parcel of
linen to the analyst."

"The result of the analysis may prove that the chief was not engaged
upon any wild-goose chase."

"By heavens!" Wessex sprang up, his eyes brightened, and he reached for
his hat, "that gives me an idea!"

"The message with the parcel was written upon paper bearing the
letterhead of the late Sir Charles Abingdon. So Mr. Harley evidently
made his first call there! I'm off, sir! The trail starts from that
house!"

Leaving Innes seated at the big table with an expression of despair
upon his face, Detective Inspector Wessex set out. He blamed himself for
wasting time upon the obvious, for concentrating too closely upon the
clue given by Harley's last words to Innes before leaving the office
in Chancery Lane. It was poor workmanship. He had hoped to take a short
cut, and it had proved, as usual, to be a long one. Now, as he sat in a
laggard cab feeling that every minute wasted might be a matter of life
and death, he suddenly became conscious of personal anxiety. He was a
courageous, indeed a fearless, man, and he was subconsciously surprised
to find himself repeating the words of Nicol Brinn: "Be careful - be very
careful!" With all the ardour of the professional, he longed to find a
clue which should lead him to the heart of the mystery.

Innes had frankly outlined the whole of Paul Harley's case to date, and
Detective Inspector Wessex, although he had not admitted the fact, had
nevertheless recognized that from start to finish the thing did not
offer one single line of inquiry which he would have been capable of
following up. That Paul Harley had found material to work upon, had
somehow picked up a definite clue from this cloudy maze, earned the
envious admiration of the Scotland Yard man.

Arrived at his destination, he asked to see Miss Abingdon, and was shown
by the butler into a charmingly furnished little sitting room which
was deeply impressed with the personality of its dainty owner. It was
essentially and delightfully feminine. Yet in the decorations and in the
arrangement of the furniture there was a note of independence which was
almost a note of defiance. Phyllis Abingdon, an appealingly pathetic
figure in her black dress, rose to greet the inspector.

"Don't be alarmed, Miss Abingdon," he said, kindly. "My visit does not
concern you personally in any way, but I thought perhaps you might be
able to help me trace Mr. Paul Harley."

Wessex had thus expressed himself with the best intentions, but even
before the words were fully spoken he realized with a sort of shock that
he could not well have made a worse opening. Phil Abingdon's eyes seemed
to grow alarmingly large. She stood quite still, twisting his card
between her supple fingers.

"Mr. Harley!" she whispered.

"I did not want to alarm you," said the detective, guiltily, "but - " He
stopped, at a loss for words.

"Has something happened to him?"

"I am sorry if I have alarmed you," he assured her, "but there is some
doubt respecting Mr. Harley's present whereabouts. Have you any idea
where he went when he left this house yesterday?"

"Yes, yes. I know where he went, quite well."

"Benson, the butler, told me all about it when I came in." Phil Abingdon
spoke excitedly, and took a step nearer Wessex. "He went to call upon
Jones, our late parlourmaid."

"Late parlourmaid?" echoed Wessex, uncomprehendingly.

"Yes. He seemed to think he had made a discovery of importance."

"Something to do with a parcel which he sent away from here to the
analyst?"

"Yes! I have been wondering whatever it could be. In fact, I rang up
his office this morning, but learned that he was out. It was a serviette
which he took away. Did you know that?"

"I did know it, Miss Abingdon. I called upon the analyst. I understand
you were out when Mr. Harley came. May I ask who interviewed him?"

"He saw Benson and Mrs. Howett, the housekeeper."

"May I also see them?"

"Yes, with pleasure. But please tell me" - Phil Abingdon looked up at him
pleadingly - "do you think something - something dreadful has happened to
Mr. Harley?"

"Don't alarm yourself unduly," said Wessex. "I hope before the day is
over to be in touch with him."

As a matter of fact, he had no such hope. It was a lie intended to
console the girl, to whom the news of Harley's disappearance seemed to
have come as a terrible blow. More and more Wessex found himself to be
groping in the dark. And when, in response to the ringing of the bell,
Benson came in and repeated what had taken place on the previous day,
the detective's state of mystification grew even more profound. As a
matter of routine rather than with any hope of learning anything useful,
he interviewed Mrs. Howett; but the statement of the voluble old lady
gave no clue which Wessex could perceive to possess the slightest value.

Both witnesses having been dismissed, he turned again to Phil Abingdon,
who had been sitting watching him with a pathetic light of hope in her
eyes throughout his examination of the butler and Mrs. Howett.

"The next step is clear enough," he said, brightly. "I am off to South
Lambeth Road. The woman Jones is the link we are looking for."

"But the link with what, Mr. Wessex?" asked Phil Abingdon. "What is it
all about? - what does it all mean?"

"The link with Mr. Paul Harley," replied Wessex. He moved toward the
door.

"But won't you tell me something more before you go?" said the girl,
beseechingly. "I - I - feel responsible if anything has happened to Mr.
Harley. Please be frank with me. Are you afraid he is - in danger?"

"Well, miss," replied the detective, haltingly, "he rang up his
secretary, Mr. Innes, last night - we don't know where from - and admitted
that he was in a rather tight corner. I don't believe for a moment that
he is in actual danger, but he probably has - " again he hesitated - "good
reasons of his own for remaining absent at present."

Phil Abingdon looked at him doubtingly. "I am almost afraid to ask you,"
she said in a low voice, "but - if you hear anything, will you ring me
up?"

"I promise to do so."

Chartering a more promising-looking cab than that in which he had come,
Detective Inspector Wessex proceeded to 236 South Lambeth Road. He had
knocked several times before the door was opened by the woman to whom
the girl Jones had called on the occasion of Harley's visit.

"I am a police officer," said the detective inspector, "and I have
called to see a woman named Jones, formerly in the employ of Sir Charles
Abingdon."

"Polly's gone," was the toneless reply.

"Gone? Gone where?"

"She went away last night to a job in the country."

"What time last night?"

"I can't remember the time. Just after a gentleman had called here to
see her."

"Someone from the police?"

"I don't know. She seemed to be very frightened."

"Were you present when he interviewed her?"

"No."

"After he had gone, what did Polly do?"

"Sat and cried for about half an hour, then Sidney came for her."

"Sidney?"

"Her boy - the latest one."

"Describe Sidney."

"A dark fellow, foreign."

"French - German?"

"No. A sort of Indian, like."

"Indian?" snapped Wessex. "What do you mean by Indian?"

"Very dark," replied the woman without emotion, swinging a baby she
held to and fro in a methodical way which the detective found highly
irritating.

"You mean a native of India?"

"Yes, I should think so. I never noticed him much. Polly has so many."

"How long has she known this man?"

"Only a month or so, but she is crazy about him."

"And when he came last night she went away with him?"

"Yes. She was all ready to go before the other gentleman called. He must
have told her something which made her think it was all off, and she was
crazy with joy when Sidney turned up. She had all her things packed, and
off she went."

Experience had taught Detective Inspector Wessex to recognize the truth
when he met it, and he did not doubt the statement of the woman with
the baby. "Can you give me any idea where this man Sidney came from?" he
asked.

"I am afraid I can't," replied the listless voice. "He was in the
service of some gentleman in the country; that's all I know about him."

"Did Polly leave no address to which letters were to be forwarded?"

"No; she said she would write."

"One other point," said Wessex, and he looked hard into the woman's
face: "What do you know about Fire-Tongue?"

He was answered by a stare of blank stupidity.

"You heard me?"

"Yes, I heard you, but I don't know what you are talking about."

Quick decisions are required from every member of the Criminal
Investigation Department, and Detective Inspector Wessex came to one
now.

"That will do for the present," he said, turned, and ran down the steps
to the waiting cab.



CHAPTER XV. NAIDA

Dusk was falling that evening. Gaily lighted cars offering glimpses of
women in elaborate toilets and of their black-coated and white-shirted
cavaliers thronged Piccadilly, bound for theatre or restaurant. The
workaday shutters were pulled down, and the night life of London
had commenced. The West End was in possession of an army of pleasure
seekers, but Nicol Brinn was not among their ranks. Wearing his
tightly-buttoned dinner jacket, he stood, hands clasped behind him,
staring out of the window as Detective Inspector Wessex had found him at
noon. Only one who knew him very well could have detected the fact that
anxiety was written upon that Sioux-like face. His gaze seemed to be
directed, not so much upon the fading prospect of the park, as downward,
upon the moving multitude in the street below. Came a subdued knocking
at the door.

"In," said Nicol Brinn.

Hoskins, the neat manservant, entered. "A lady to see you, sir."

Nicol Brinn turned in a flash. For one fleeting instant the dynamic
force beneath the placid surface exhibited itself in every line of his
gaunt face. He was transfigured; he was a man of monstrous energy, of
tremendous enthusiasm. Then the enthusiasm vanished. He was a creature
of stone again; the familiar and taciturn Nicol Brinn, known and puzzled
over in the club lands of the world.

"Name?"

"She gave none."

"English?"

"No, sir, a foreign lady."

"In."

Hoskins having retired, and having silently closed the door, Nicol Brinn
did an extraordinary thing, a thing which none of his friends in London,
Paris, or New York would ever have supposed him capable of doing. He
raised his clenched hands. "Please God she has come," he whispered.
"Dare I believe it? Dare I believe it?"

The door was opened again, and Hoskins, standing just inside, announced:
"The lady to see you, sir."

He stepped aside and bowed as a tall, slender woman entered the room.
She wore a long wrap trimmed with fur, the collar turned up about her
face. Three steps forward she took and stopped. Hoskins withdrew and
closed the door.

At that, while Nicol Brinn watched her with completely transfigured
features, the woman allowed the cloak to slip from her shoulders, and,
raising her head, extended both her hands, uttering a subdued cry of
greeting that was almost a sob. She was dark, with the darkness of
the East, but beautiful with a beauty that was tragic. Her eyes were
glorious wells of sadness, seeming to mirror a soul that had known a
hundred ages. Withal she had the figure of a girl, slender and supple,
possessing the poetic grace and poetry of movement born only in the
Orient.

"Naida!" breathed Nicol Brinn, huskily. "Naida!"

His high voice had softened, had grown tremulous. He extended his hands
with a groping movement The woman laughed shudderingly.

Her cloak lying forgotten upon the carpet, she advanced toward him.

She wore a robe that was distinctly Oriental without being in the
slightest degree barbaric. Her skin was strangely fair, and jewels
sparkled upon her fingers. She conjured up dreams of the perfumed luxury
of the East, and was a figure to fire the imagination. But Nicol Brinn
seemed incapable of movement; his body was inert, but his eyes were on
fire. Into the woman's face had come anxiety that was purely feminine.

"Oh, my big American sweetheart," she whispered, and, approaching him
with a sort of timidity, laid her little hands upon his arm. "Do you
still think I am beautiful?"

"Beautiful!"

No man could have recognized the voice of Nicol Brinn. Suddenly his arms
were about her like bands of iron, and with a long, wondering sigh she
lay back looking up into his face, while he gazed hungrily into her
eyes. His lips had almost met hers when softly, almost inaudibly, she
sighed: "Nicol!"

She pronounced the name queerly, giving to i the value of ee, and almost
dropping the last letter entirely.

Their lips met, and for a moment they clung together, this woman of
the East and man of the West, in utter transgression of that law which
England's poet has laid down. It was a reunion speaking of a love so
deep as to be sacred.

Lifting the woman in his arms lightly as a baby, he carried her to the
settee between the two high windows and placed her there amid Oriental
cushions, where she looked like an Eastern queen. He knelt at her feet
and, holding both her hands, looked into her face with that wondering
expression in which there was something incredulous and something
sorrowful; a look of great and selfless tenderness. The face of Naida
was lighted up, and her big eyes filled with tears. Disengaging one of
her jewelled hands, she ruffled Nicol Brinn's hair.

"My Nicol," she said, tenderly. "Have I changed so much?"

Her accent was quaint and fascinating, but her voice was very musical.
To the man who knelt at her feet it was the sweetest music in the world.

"Naida," he whispered. "Naida. Even yet I dare not believe that you are
here."

"You knew I would come?"

"How was I to know that you would see my message?"

She opened her closed left hand and smoothed out a scrap of torn paper
which she held there. It was from the "Agony" column of that day's
Times.

N. November 23, 1913. N. B. See Telephone Directory.

"I told you long, long ago that I would come if ever you wanted me."

"Long, long ago," echoed Nicol Brinn. "To me it has seemed a century;
to-night it seems a day."

He watched her with a deep and tireless content. Presently her eyes
fell. "Sit here beside me," she said. "I have not long to be here. Put
your arms round me. I have something to tell you."

He seated himself beside her on the settee, and held her close. "My
Naida!" he breathed softly.

"Ah, no, no!" she entreated. "Do you want to break my heart?"

He suddenly released her, clenched his big hands, and stared down at the
carpet. "You have broken mine."

Impulsively Naida threw her arms around his neck, coiling herself up
lithely and characteristically beside him.

"My big sweetheart," she whispered, crooningly. "Don't say it - don't say
it."

"I have said it. It is true."

Turning, fiercely he seized her. "I won't let you go!" he cried, and
there was a strange light in his eyes. "Before I was helpless, now I am
not. This time you have come to me, and you shall stay."

She shrank away from him terrified, wild-eyed. "Oh, you forget, you
forget!"

"For seven years I have tried to forget. I have been mad, but to-night I
am sane."

"I trusted you, I trusted you!" she moaned.

Nicol Brinn clenched his teeth grimly for a moment, and then, holding
her averted face very close to his own, he began to speak in a low,
monotonous voice. "For seven years," he said, "I have tried to die,
because without you I did not care to live. I have gone into the bad
lands of the world and into the worst spots of those bad lands. Night
and day your eyes have watched me, and I have wakened from dreams of
your kisses and gone out to court murder. I have earned the reputation
of being something more than human, but I am not. I had everything that
life could give me except you. Now I have got you, and I am going to
keep you."

Naida began to weep silently. The low, even voice of Nicol Brinn ceased.
He could feel her quivering in his grasp; and, as she sobbed, slowly,
slowly the fierce light faded from his eyes.

"Naida, my Naida, forgive me," he whispered.

She raised her face, looking up to him pathetically. "I came to you, I
came to you," she moaned. "I promised long ago that I would come. What
use is it, all this? You know, you know! Kill me if you like. How often
have I asked you to kill me. It would be sweet to die in your arms. But
what use to talk so? You are in great danger or you would not have asked
me to come. If you don't know it, I tell you - you are in great danger."

Nicol Brinn released her, stood up, and began slowly to pace about the
room. He deliberately averted his gaze from the settee. "Something has
happened," he began, "which has changed everything. Because you are here
I know that - someone else is here."

He was answered by a shuddering sigh, but he did not glance in the
direction of the settee.

"In India I respected what you told me. Because you were strong, I loved
you the more. Here in England I can no longer respect the accomplice of
assassins."

"Assassins? What, is this something new?"

"With a man's religion, however bloodthirsty it may be, I don't quarrel
so long as he sincerely believes in it. But for private assassination
I have no time and no sympathy." It was the old Nicol Brinn who was
speaking, coldly and incisively. "That - something we both know about
ever moved away from those Indian hills was a possibility I had never
considered. When it was suddenly brought home to me that you, you, might
be here in London, I almost went mad. But the thing that made me realize
it was a horrible thing, a black, dastardly thing. See here."

He turned and crossed to where the woman was crouching, watching him
with wide-open, fearful eyes. He took both her hands and looked grimly
into her face. "For seven years I have walked around with a silent
tongue and a broken heart. All that is finished. I am going to speak."

"Ah, no, no!" She was on her feet, her face a mask of tragedy. "You
swore to me, you swore to me!"

"No oath holds good in the face of murder."

"Is that why you bring me here? Is that what your message means?"

"My message means that because of - the thing you know about - I am
suspected of the murder."

"You? You?"

"Yes, I, I! Good God! when I realize what your presence here means, I
wish more than ever that I had succeeded in finding death."

"Please don't say it," came a soft, pleading voice. "What can I do? What
do you want me to do?"

"I want you to release me from that vow made seven years ago."

Naida uttered a stifled cry. "How is it possible? You understand that it
is not possible."

Nicol Brinn seized her by the shoulders. "Is it possible for me to
remain silent while men are murdered here in a civilized country?"

"Oh," moaned Naida, "what can I do, what can I do?"

"Give me permission to speak and stay here. Leave the rest to me."

"You know I cannot stay, my Nicol," she replied, sadly.


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