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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

The Catastrophe

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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 reply.

"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.

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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 Claybury station!

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