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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

"The Gates Of Hell"

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If Paul Harley had counted upon the word "Fire-Tongue" to have a dramatic effect upon Nicol Brinn, he was not disappointed. It was a word which must have conveyed little or nothing to the multitude and which might have been pronounced without perceptible effect at any public meeting in the land. But Mr. Brinn, impassive though his expression remained, could not conceal the emotion which he experienced at the sound of it. His gaunt face seemed to grow more angular and his eyes to become even less lustrous.

"Fire-Tongue!" he said, tensely, following a short silence. "For God's sake, when did you hear that word?"

"I heard it," replied Harley, slowly, "to-night." He fixed his gaze intently upon the sallow face of the American. "It was spoken by Sir Charles Abingdon."

Closely as he watched Nicol Brinn while pronouncing this name he could not detect the slightest change of expression in the stoic features.

"Sir Charles Abingdon," echoed Brinn; "and in what way is it connected with your case?"

"In this way," answered Harley. "It was spoken by Sir Charles a few moments before he died."

Nicol Brinn's drooping lids flickered rapidly. "Before he died! Then Sir Charles Abingdon is dead! When did he die?"

"He died to-night and the last words that he uttered were 'Fire-Tongue'--" He paused, never for a moment removing that fixed gaze from the other's face.

"Go on," prompted Mr. Brinn.

"And 'Nicol Brinn.'"

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Nicol Brinn stood still as a carven man. Indeed, only by an added rigidity in his pose did he reward Paul Harley's intense scrutiny. A silence charged with drama was finally broken by the American. "Mr. Harley," he said, "you told me that you were up against the big proposition of your career. You are right."

With that he sat down in an armchair and, resting his chin in his hand, gazed fixedly into the empty grate. His pose was that of a man who is suddenly called upon to review the course of his life and upon whose decision respecting the future that life may depend. Paul Harley watched him in silence.

"Give me the whole story," said Mr. Brinn, "right from the beginning." He looked up. "Do you know what you have done to-night, Mr. Harley?"

Paul Harley shook his head. Swiftly, like the touch of an icy finger, that warning note of danger had reached him again.

"I'll tell you," continued Brinn. "You have opened the gates of hell!"

Not another word did he speak while Paul Harley, pacing slowly up and down before the hearth, gave him a plain account of the case, omitting all reference to his personal suspicions and to the measures which he had taken to confirm them.

He laid his cards upon the table deliberately. Whether Sir Charles Abingdon had uttered the name of Nicol Brinn as that of one whose aid should be sought or as a warning, he had yet to learn. And by this apparent frankness he hoped to achieve his object. That the celebrated American was in any way concerned in the menace which had overhung Sir Charles he was not prepared to believe. But he awaited with curiosity that explanation which Nicol Brinn must feel called upon to offer.

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