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0100_005E Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

Introducing Mr. Nicol Brinn

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Harley, after that one comprehensive glance, the photographic glance of a trained observer, stepped forward impulsively, hand outstretched. "Mr. Brinn," he said, "we have never met before, and it was good of you to wait in for me. I hope my telephone message has not interfered with your plans for the evening?"

Nicol Brinn, without change of pose, no line of the impassive face altering, shot out a large, muscular hand, seized that of Paul Harley in a tremendous grip, and almost instantly put his hand behind his back again. "Had no plans," he replied, in a high, monotonous voice; "I was bored stiff. Take the armchair."

Paul Harley sat down, but in the restless manner of one who has urgent business in hand and who is impatient of delay. Mr. Brinn stooped to a coffee table which stood upon the rug before the large open fireplace. "I am going to offer you a cocktail," he said.

"I shall accept your offer," returned Harley, smiling. "The 'N. B. cocktail' has a reputation which extends throughout the clubs of the world."

Nicol Brinn, exhibiting the swift adroitness of that human dodo, the New York bartender, mixed the drinks. Paul Harley watched him, meanwhile drumming his fingers restlessly upon the chair arm.

"Here's success," he said, "to my mission."

It was an odd toast, but Mr. Brinn merely nodded and drank in silence. Paul Harley set his glass down and glanced about the singular apartment of which he had often heard and which no man could ever tire of examining.

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In this room the poles met, and the most remote civilizations of the world rubbed shoulders with modernity. Here, encased, were a family of snow-white ermine from Alaska and a pair of black Manchurian leopards. A flying lemur from the Pelews contemplated swooping upon the head of a huge tigress which glared with glassy eyes across the place at the snarling muzzle of a polar bear. Mycenaean vases and gold death masks stood upon the same shelf as Venetian goblets, and the mummy of an Egyptian priestess of the thirteenth dynasty occupied a sarcophagus upon the top of which rested a basrelief found in one of the shrines of the Syrian fish goddess Derceto, at Ascalon.

Arrowheads of the Stone Age and medieval rapiers were ranged alongside some of the latest examples of the gunsmith's art. There were elephants' tusks and Mexican skulls; a stone jar of water from the well of Zem-Zem, and an ivory crucifix which had belonged to Torquemada. A mat of human hair from Borneo overlay a historical and unique rug woven in Ispahan and entirely composed of fragments of Holy Carpets from the Kaaba at Mecca.

"I take it," said Mr. Brinn, suddenly, "that you are up against a stiff proposition."

Paul Harley, accepting a cigarette from an ebony box (once the property of Henry VIII) which the speaker had pushed across the coffee table in his direction, stared up curiously into the sallow, aquiline face. "You are right. But how did you know?"

"You look that way. Also--you were followed. Somebody knows you've come here."

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