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  Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

The Veil Is Raised

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Rising from the writing table in the library, Paul Harley crossed to the mantelpiece and stared long and hungrily at a photograph in a silver frame. So closely did he concentrate upon it that he induced a sort of auto-hypnosis, so that Phil Abingdon seemed to smile at him sadly. Then a shadow appeared to obscure the piquant face. The soft outline changed, subtly; the lips grew more full, became voluptuous; the eyes lengthened and grew languorous. He found himself looking into the face of Ormuz Khan.

"Damn it!" he muttered, awakened from his trance.

He turned aside, conscious of a sudden, unaccountable chill. It might have been caused by the mental picture which he had conjured up, or it might be another of those mysterious warnings of which latterly he had had so many without encountering any positive danger. He stood quite still, listening.

Afterward he sometimes recalled that moment, and often enough asked himself what he had expected to hear. It was from this room, on an earlier occasion, that he had heard the ominous movements in the apartment above. To-day he heard nothing.

"Benson," he called, opening the library door. As the man came along the hall: "I have written a note to Mr. Innes, my secretary," he explained. "There it is, on the table. When the district messenger, for whom you telephoned, arrives, give him the parcel and the note. He is to accept no other receipt than that of Mr. Innes."

"Very good, sir."

Harley took his hat and cane, and Benson opened the front door.

"Good day, sir," said the butler.

"Good day, Benson," called Harley, hurrying out to the waiting cab. "Number 236 South Lambeth Road," he directed the man.

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Off moved the taxi, and Harley lay back upon the cushions heaving a long sigh. The irksome period of inaction was ended. The cloud which for a time had dulled his usually keen wits was lifted. He was by no means sure that enlightenment had come in time, but at least he was in hot pursuit of a tangible clue, and he must hope that it would lead him, though tardily, to the heart of this labyrinth which concealed--what?

Which concealed something, or someone, known and feared as Fire-Tongue.

For the moment he must focus upon establishing, beyond query or doubt, the fact that Sir Charles Abingdon had not died from natural causes. Premonitions, intuitions, beliefs resting upon a foundation of strange dreams--these were helpful to himself, if properly employed, but they were not legal evidence. This first point achieved, the motive of the crime must be sought; and then--the criminal.

"One thing at a time," Harley finally murmured.

Turning his head, he glanced back at the traffic in the street behind him. The action was sheerly automatic. He had ceased to expect to detect the presence of any pursuer. Yet he was convinced that his every movement was closely watched. It was uncanny, unnerving, this consciousness of invisible surveillance. Now, as he looked, he started. The invisible had become the visible.

His cab was just on the point of turning on to the slope of Vauxhall Bridge. And fifty yards behind, speeding along the Embankment, was a small French car. The features of the driver he had no time to observe. But, peering eagerly through the window, showed the dark face of the passenger. The man's nationality it was impossible to determine, but the keen, almost savage interest, betrayed by the glittering black eyes, it was equally impossible to mistake.

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