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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

The Catastrophe

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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 alive.

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 upon end.

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 probable.

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.

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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.

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