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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

"The Gates Of Hell"

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"You think he was murdered?" said Brinn in his high, toneless voice.

"I have formed no definite opinion. What is your own?"

"I may not look it," replied Brinn, "but at this present moment I am the most hopelessly puzzled and badly frightened man in London."

"Frightened?" asked Harley, curiously.

"I said frightened, I also said puzzled; and I am far too puzzled to be able to express any opinion respecting the death of Sir Charles Abingdon. When I tell you all I know of him you will wonder as much as I do, Mr. Harley, why my name should have been the last to pass his lips."

He half turned in the big chair to face his visitor, who now was standing before the fireplace staring down at him.

"One day last month," he resumed, "I got out of my car in a big hurry at the top of the Haymarket. A fool on a motorcycle passed between the car and the sidewalk just as I stepped down, and I knew nothing further until I woke up in a drug store close by, feeling very dazed and with my coat in tatters and my left arm numbed from the elbow. A man was standing watching me, and presently when I had pulled round he gave me his card.

"He was Sir Charles Abingdon, who had been passing at the time of the accident. That was how I met him, and as there was nothing seriously wrong with me I saw him no more professionally. But he dined with me a week later and I had lunch at his club about a fortnight ago."

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He looked up at Harley. "On my solemn word of honour," he said, "that's all I know about Sir Charles Abingdon."

Paul Harley returned the other's fixed stare. "I don't doubt your assurance on the point, Mr. Brinn," he acknowledged. "I can well understand that you must be badly puzzled; but I would remind you of your statement that you were also frightened. Why?"

Nicol Brinn glanced rapidly about his own luxurious room in an oddly apprehensive manner. "I said that," he declared, "and I meant it."

"Then I can only suppose," resumed Harley, deliberately, "that the cause of your fear lies in the term, 'Fire-Tongue'?"

Brinn again rested his chin in his hand, staring fixedly into the grate.

"And possibly," went on the remorseless voice, "you can explain the significance of that term?"

Nicol Brinn remained silent--but with one foot he was slowly tapping the edge of the fender.

"Mr. Harley," he began, abruptly, "you have been perfectly frank with me and in return I wish to be as frank with you as I can be. I am face to face with a thing that has haunted me for seven years, and every step I take from now onward has to be considered carefully, for any step might be my last. And that's not the worst of the matter. I will risk one of those steps here and now. You ask me to explain the significance of Fire-Tongue" (there was a perceptible pause before he pronounced the word, which Harley duly noticed). "I am going to tell you that Sir Charles Abingdon, when I lunched with him at his club, asked me precisely the same thing."

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