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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

"The Gates Of Hell"

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Nicol Brinn dropped his chin into his hand and resumed that unseeing stare into the open grate. Paul Harley watched him intently.

"There isn't any one I would rather confide in," confessed the American. "We are linked by a common danger. But"--he looked up--"I must ask you again to be patient. Give me time to think --to make plans. For your own part--be cautious. You witnessed the death of Sir Charles Abingdon. You don't think and perhaps I don't think that it was natural; but whatever steps you may have taken to confirm your theories, I dare not hope that you will ever discover even a ghost of a clue. I simply warn you, Mr. Harley. You may go the same way. So may I. Others have travelled that road before poor Abingdon."

He suddenly stood up, all at once exhibiting to his watchful visitor that tremendous nervous energy which underlay his impassive manner. "Good God!" he said, in a cold, even voice. "To think that it is here in London. What does it mean?"

He ceased speaking abruptly, and stood with his elbow resting on a corner of the mantelpiece.

"You speak of it being here," prompted Harley. "Is it consistent with your mysterious difficulties to inform me to what you refer?"

Nicol Brinn glanced aside at him. "If I informed you of that," he answered, "you would know all you want to know. But neither you nor I would live to use the knowledge. Give me time. Let me think."

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Silence fell in the big room, Nicol Brinn staring down vacantly into the empty fireplace, Paul Harley standing watching him in a state of almost stupefied mystification. Muffled to a soothing murmur the sounds of Piccadilly penetrated to that curtained chamber which held so many records of the troubled past and which seemed to be charged with shadowy portents of the future.

Something struck with a dull thud upon a windowpane--once--twice. There followed a faint, sibilant sound.

Paul Harley started and the stoical Nicol Brinn turned rapidly and glanced across the room.

"What was that?" asked Harley.

"I expect--it was an owl," answered Brinn. "We sometimes get them over from the Green Park."

His high voice sounded unemotional as ever. But it seemed to Paul Harley that his face, dimly illuminated by the upcast light from the lamp upon the coffee table, had paled, had become gaunt.

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