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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

An Englishman's Honour

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Harley held his pipe in his hand, and contemplated the repast. It was only logical to suppose it to be innocuous, and a keen appetite hastened the issue. He sidetracked his suspicion, and made an excellent breakfast. So the first day of his captivity began.

Growing used to the stillness about him, he presently began to detect, as the hours wore on, distant familiar sounds. Automobiles on the highroad, trains leaving and entering a tunnel which he judged to be from two to three miles distant; even human voices at long intervals.

The noises of an English countryside crept through the barred windows. Beyond a doubt he was in the house known as Hillside. Probably at night the lights of London could be seen from the garden. He was within ordinary telephone call of Chancery Lane. Yet he resumed his pipe and smiled philosophically. He had hoped to see the table disappear beneath the floor. As evidence that he was constantly watched, this had occurred during a brief visit which he had made to the bedroom in quest of matches.

When he returned the table was in its former place, but the cover had been removed. He carefully examined the floor beneath it, and realized that there was no hope of depressing the trap from above. Then, at an hour which he judged to be that of noon, the same voice addressed him from beyond the gilded screen.

"Mr. Paul Harley?"

"Yes, what have you to say?"

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"By this time, Mr. Harley, you must have recognized that opposition is futile. At any moment we could visit death upon you. Escape, on the other hand, is out of the question. We desire you no harm. For diplomatic reasons, we should prefer you to live. Our cause is a sacred one. Do not misjudge it by minor incidents. A short statement and a copy of your English testament shall be placed upon the table, if you wish."

"I do not wish," Paul Harley returned.

"Is that your last word, Mr. Harley? We warn you that the third time of asking will be the last time."

"This is my last word."

"Your own life is not the only stake at issue."

"What do you mean?"

"You will learn what we mean, if you insist upon withholding your consent until we next invite it."

"Nevertheless, you may regard it as withheld, definitely and finally."

Silence fell, and Paul Harley knew himself to be once more alone. Luncheon appeared upon the table whilst he was washing in the bathroom. Remembering the change in the tone of the unseen speaker's voice, he avoided touching anything.

From the divan, through half-closed eyes, he examined every inch of the walls, seeking for the spy-hole through which he knew himself to be watched. He detected it at last: a little grating, like a ventilator, immediately above him where he sat. This communicated with some room where a silent watcher was constantly on duty!

Paul Harley gave no sign that he had made this discovery. But already his keen wits were at work upon a plan. He watched the bar of light fading, fading, until, judging it to be dinner time, he retired discreetly.

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