The first faint spears of morning
creeping through the trees which surrounded Hillside
revealed two figures upon a rustic bench in the little
orchard adjoining the house. A pair incongruous
enough this dark-eyed Eastern woman, wrapped
in a long fur cloak, and Nicol Brinn, gaunt, unshaven,
fantastic in his evening dress, revealed now in the
gray morning light.
“Look!” whispered Naida. “It
is the dawn. I must go!”
Nicol Brinn clenched his teeth tightly but made no
“You promised,” she said,
and although her voice was very tender she strove
to detach his arm, which was locked about her shoulders.
He nodded grimly.
“I’ll keep my word.
I made a contract with hell with my eyes open, and
I’ll stick to it.” He stood up suddenly.
“Go back, Naida!” he said. “Go
back! You have my promise, now, and I’m
helpless. But at last I see a way, and I’m
going to take it.”
“What do you mean?” she cried, standing
up and clutching his arm.
“Never mind.” His tone was cool again.
“Just go back.”
“You would not ” she began.
“I never broke my word in my
life, and even now I’m not going to begin.
While you live I stay silent.”
In the growing light Naida looked
about her affrightedly. Then, throwing her arms
impulsively around Brinn, she kissed him a
caress that was passionate but sexless; rather the
kiss of a mother who parts with a beloved son than
that which a woman bestows upon the man she loves;
an act of renunciation.
He uttered a low cry and would have
seized her in his arms but, lithely evading him, she
turned, stifling a sob, and darted away through the
trees toward the house.
For long he stood looking after her,
fists clenched and his face very gray in the morning
light. Some small inner voice told him that his
new plan, and the others which he had built upon it,
must crumble and fall as a castle of sand. He
groaned and, turning aside, made his way through the
shrubbery to the highroad.
He was become accessory to a murder;
for he had learned for what reason and by what means
Sir Charles Abingdon had been assassinated. He
had even learned the identity of his assassin; had
learned that the dreaded being called Fire-Tongue
in India was known and respected throughout the civilized
world as His Excellency Ormuz Khan!
Paul Harley had learned these things
also, and now at this very hour Paul Harley lay a
captive in Hillside. Naida had assured him that
Paul Harley was alive and safe. It had been decided
that his death would lead to the destruction of the
movement, but pressure was being brought upon him
to ensure his silence.
Yes, he, Nicol Brinn, was bound and
manacled to a gang of assassins; and because his tongue
was tied, because the woman he loved better than anything
in the world was actually a member of the murderous
group, he must pace the deserted country lanes inactive;
he must hold his hand, although he might summon the
resources of New Scotland Yard by phoning from Lower
Through life his word had been his
bond, and Nicol Brinn was incapable of compromising
with his conscience. But the direct way was barred
to him. Nevertheless, no task could appal the
inflexible spirit of the man, and he had registered
a silent vow that Ormuz Khan should never leave England
Not a soul was astir yet upon the
country roads, and sitting down upon a grassy bank,
Nicol Brinn lighted one of his black cigars, which
in times of stress were his food and drink, upon which
if necessary he could carry-on for forty-eight hours
In connection with his plan for coercing
Harley, Ormuz Khan had gone to London by rail on the
previous night, departing from Lower Claybury station
at about the time that Colonel Lord Wolverham came
out of the Cavalry Club to discover his Rolls Royce
to be missing. This same Rolls Royce was now
a source of some anxiety to Nicol Brinn, for its discovery
by a passing labourer in the deserted barn seemed highly
However, he had matters of greater
urgency to think about, not the least of these being
the necessity of concealing his presence in the neighbourhood
of Hillside. Perhaps his Sioux-like face reflected
a spirit allied in some respects to that of the once
great Indian tribe.
His genius for taking cover, perfected
upon many a big-game expedition, enabled him successfully
to accomplish the feat; so that, when the limousine,
which he had watched go by during the morning, returned
shortly after noon, the lack-lustre eyes were peering
out through the bushes near the entrance to the drive.
Instinct told him that the pretty
girl with whom Ormuz Khan was deep in conversation
could be none other than Phil Abingdon, but the identity
of her companion he could not even guess. On the
other hand, that this poisonously handsome Hindu,
who bent forward so solicitously toward his charming
travelling companion, was none other than the dreaded
Fire-Tongue, he did not doubt.
He returned to a strategic position
which he had discovered during the night. In
a measure he was nonplussed. That the presence
of the girl was primarily associated with the coercion
of Paul Harley, he understood; but might it not portend
something even more sinister?
When, later, the limousine departed
again, at great risk of detection he ran across a
corner of the lawn to peer out into the lane, in order
that he might obtain a glimpse of its occupant.
This proved to be none other than Phil Abingdon’s
elderly companion. She had apparently been taken
ill, and a dignified Hindu gentleman, wearing gold-rimmed
pince-nez, was in attendance.
Nicol Brinn clenched his jaws hard.
The girl had fallen into a trap. He turned rapidly,
facing the house. Only at one point did the shrubbery
approach the wall, but for that point he set out hot
foot, passing from bush to bush with Indian cleverness,
tense, alert, and cool in despite of his long vigil.
At last he came to the shallow veranda
with its four sightless windows backed by fancifully
carven screens. He stepped up to the first of
these and pressed his ear against the glass.
Fate was with him, for almost immediately
he detected a smooth, musical voice speaking in the
room beyond. A woman’s voice answered and,
listening intently, he detected the sound of a closing
Thereupon he acted: with the
result, as has appeared, that Phil Abingdon, hatless,
without her furs, breathless and more frightened than
she had ever been in her life, presently found herself
driving a luxurious Rolls Royce out of a roofless
barn on to the highroad, and down the slope to Claybury
It was at about this time, or a little
later, that Paul Harley put into execution a project
which he had formed. The ventilator above the
divan, which he had determined to be the spy-hole
through which his every movement was watched, had
an ornamental framework studded with metal knobs.
He had recently discovered an electric bell-push in
the centre panel of the massive door of his prison.
Inwardly on fire, imagining a thousand
and one horrors centring about the figure of Phil
Abingdon, but retaining his outward calm by dint of
a giant effort, he pressed this bell and waited.
Perhaps two minutes elapsed.
Then the glass doors beyond the gilded screen were
drawn open, and the now-familiar voice spoke:
“Mr. Paul Harley?”
“Yes,” he replied, “I have made
my final decision.”
“And that is?”
“You are wise,” the voice
replied. “A statement will be placed before
you for signature. When you have signed it, ring
the bell again, and in a few minutes you will be free.”
Vaguely he detected the speaker withdrawing.
Thereupon, heaving a loud sigh, he removed his coat,
looked about him as if in quest of some place to hang
it, and finally, fixing his gaze upon the studded grating,
stood upon the divan and hung his coat over the spy-hole!
This accomplished, he turned.
The table was slowly sinking through the gap in the
Treading softly, he moved forward
and seated himself cross-legged upon it! It continued
to descend, and he found himself in absolute darkness.
Nicol Brinn ran on to the veranda
and paused for a moment to take breath. The window
remained open, as Phil Abingdon had left it. He
stepped into the room with its elegant Persian appointments.
It was empty. But as he crossed the threshold,
he paused, arrested by the sound of a voice.
“A statement will be placed
before you,” said the voice, “and when
you have signed it, in a few minutes you will be free.”
Nicol Brinn silently dropped flat
at the back of a divan, as Rama Dass, coming out of
the room which communicated with the golden screen,
made his way toward the distant door. Having
one eye raised above the top of the cushions, Nicol
Brinn watched him, recognizing the man who had accompanied
the swooning lady. She had been deposited, then,
at no great distance from the house.
He was to learn later that poor Mrs.
McMurdoch, in her artificially induced swoon, had
been left in charge of a hospitable cottager, while
her solicitous Oriental escort had sped away in quest
of a physician. But at the moment matters of
even greater urgency engaged his attention.
Creeping forward to the doorway by
which Rama Dass had gone out, Nicol Brinn emerged
upon a landing from which stairs both ascended and
descended. Faint sounds of footsteps below guided
him, and although from all outward seeming he appeared
to saunter casually down, his left hand was clutching
the butt of a Colt automatic.
He presently found himself in a maze
of basements kitchens of the establishment,
no doubt. The sound of footsteps no longer guided
him. He walked along, and in a smaller deserted
pantry discovered the base of a lift shaft in which
some sort of small elevator worked. He was staring
at this reflectively, when, for the second time in
his adventurous career, a silken cord was slipped
tightly about his throat!
He was tripped and thrown. He
fought furiously, but the fatal knee pressure came
upon his spine so shrewdly as to deprive him of the
strength to raise his hands.
“My finish!” were the
words that flashed through his mind, as sounds like
the waves of a great ocean beat upon his ears and darkness
began to descend.
Then, miraculously, the pressure ceased;
the sound of great waters subsided; and choking, coughing,
he fought his way back to life, groping like a blind
man and striving to regain his feet.
“Mr. Brinn!” said a vaguely familiar voice.
The realities reasserted themselves.
Before him, pale, wide-eyed, and breathing heavily,
stood Paul Harley; and prone upon the floor of the
pantry lay Rama Dass, still clutching one end of the
silken rope in his hand!
“Mr. Harley!” gasped Brinn.
“My God, sir!” He clutched at his bruised
throat. “I have to thank you for my life.”
He paused, looking down at the prone
figure as Harley, dropping upon his knees, turned
the man over.
“I struck him behind the ear,”
he muttered, “and gave him every ounce.
He had slipped his hand inside Rama
Dass’s vest, and now he looked up, his face
“Good enough!” said Brinn,
coolly. “He asked for it; he’s got
it. Take this.” He thrust the Colt
automatic into Harley’s hand as the latter stood
“What do we do now?” asked Harley.
“Search the house,” was
the reply. “Everything coloured you see,
shoot, unless I say no.”
“She’s safe. Follow me.”
Straight up two flights of stairs
led Nicol Brinn, taking three steps at a stride.
Palpably enough the place was deserted. Ormuz
Khan’s plans for departure were complete.
Into two rooms on the first floor
they burst, to find them stripped and bare. On
the threshold of the third Brinn stopped dead, and
his gaunt face grew ashen. Then he tottered across
the room, arms outstretched.
“Naida,” he whispered. “My
love, my love!”
Paul Harley withdrew quietly.
He had begun to walk along the corridor when the sound
of a motor brought him up sharply. A limousine
was being driven away from the side entrance!
Not alone had he heard that sound. His face deathly,
and the lack-lustre eyes dully on fire, Nicol Brinn
burst out of the room and, not heeding the presence
of Harley, hurled himself down the stairs. He
was as a man demented, an avenging angel.
“There he is!” cried Harley “heading
for the Dover Road!”
Nicol Brinn, at the wheel of the racer the
same in which Harley had made his fateful journey
and which had afterward been concealed in the garage
at Hillside scarcely nodded.
Nearer they drew to the quarry, and
nearer. Once twice and again,
the face of Ormuz Khan peered out of the window at
the rear of the limousine.
They drew abreast; the road was deserted.
And they passed slightly ahead.
Paul Harley glanced at the granite
face of his companion with an apprehension he was
unable to conceal. This was a cool madman who
drove. What did he intend to do?
Inch by inch, Nicol Brinn edged the
torpedo body nearer to the wheels of the racing limousine.
The Oriental chauffeur drew in ever closer to the
ditch bordering the roadside. He shouted hoarsely
and was about to apply the brakes when the two cars
A rending crash came a
hoarse scream and the big limousine toppled
over into the ditch.
Harley felt himself hurled through space.
“Shall I follow on to Lower
Claybury, sir?” asked Inspector Wessex, excitedly.
Phil Abingdon’s message had
come through nearly an hour before, and a party had
been despatched in accordance with Brinn’s instructions.
Wessex had returned to New Scotland Yard too late to
take charge, and now, before the Assistant Commissioner
had time to reply, a ’phone buzzed.
“Yes?” said the Assistant
Commissioner, taking up one of the several instruments:
Even this great man, so justly celebrated
for his placid demeanour, was unable to conceal his
“Yes,” he added.
“Let him come up!” He replaced the receiver
and turning to Wessex: “Mr. Nicol Brinn
is here!” he informed him.
“What’s that!” cried
the inspector, quite startled out of his usual deferential
Footsteps sounded in the corridor.
Came a rap at the door.
“Come in,” said the Assistant Commissioner.
The door was thrown open and Nicol
Brinn entered. One who knew him well would have
said that he had aged ten years. Even to the eye
of Wessex he looked an older man. He wore a shoddy
suit and a rough tweed cap and his left arm was bandaged.
“Gentlemen,” he said,
without other greeting, “I’m here to make
a statement. I desire that a shorthand-writer
attend to take it down.”
He dropped weakly into a chair which
Wessex placed for him. The Assistant Commissioner,
doubtless stimulated by the manner of his extraordinary
visitor, who now extracted a cigar from the breast
pocket of his ill-fitting jacket and nonchalantly
lighted it, successfully resumed his well-known tired
manner, and, pressing a bell:
“One shall attend, Mr. Brinn,” he said.
A knock came at the door and a sergeant entered.
“Send Ferris,” directed the Assistant
Two minutes later a man came in carrying
a note book and fountain pen. The Assistant Commissioner
motioned him to a chair, and:
“Pray proceed, Mr. Brinn,” he said.