Chapter XXII. The Seventh Kama
 

As Nicol Brinn strolled out from the door below his chambers in Piccadilly, a hoarse voice made itself audible above his head.

"Police!" he heard over the roar of the traffic. "Help! Police!"

Detective Sergeant Stokes had come out upon the balcony. But up to the time that Nicol Brinn turned and proceeded in leisurely fashion in the direction of the Cavalry Club, the sergeant had not succeeded in attracting any attention.

Nicol Brinn did not hurry. Having his hands thrust in the pockets of his light overcoat, he sauntered along Piccadilly as an idle man might do. He knew that he had ample time to keep his appointment, and recognizing the vital urgency of the situation, he was grateful for some little leisure to reject.

One who had obtained a glimpse of his face in the light of the shop windows which he passed must have failed to discern any evidence of anxiety. Yet Nicol Brinn knew that death was beckoning to him. He knew that his keen wit was the only weapon which could avail him to-night; and he knew that he must show himself a master of fence.

A lonely man, of few but enduring friendships, he had admitted but one love to his life, except the love of his mother. This one love for seven years he had sought to kill. But anything forceful enough to penetrate to the stronghold of Nicol Brinn's soul was indestructible, even by Nicol Brinn himself.

So, now, at the end of a mighty struggle, he had philosophically accepted this hopeless passion which Fate had thrust upon him. Yet he whose world was a chaos outwardly remained unmoved.

Perhaps even that evil presence whose name was Fire-Tongue might have paused, might have hesitated, might even have changed his plans, which, in a certain part of the world, were counted immutable, had he known the manner of man whom he had summoned to him that night.

Just outside the Cavalry Club a limousine was waiting, driven by a chauffeur who looked like some kind of Oriental. Nicol Brinn walked up to the man, and bending forward:

"Fire-Tongue," he said, in a low voice.

The chauffeur immediately descended and opened the door of the car. The interior was unlighted, but Nicol Brinn cast a comprehensive glance around ere entering. As he settled himself upon the cushions, the door was closed again, and he found himself in absolute darkness.

"Ah," he muttered. "Might have foreseen it." All the windows were curtained, or rather, as a rough investigation revealed, were closed with aluminium shutters which were immovable.

A moment later, as the car moved off, a lamp became lighted above him. Then he saw that several current periodicals were placed invitingly in the rack, as well as a box of very choice Egyptian cigarettes.

"H'm," he murmured.

He made a close investigation upon every side, but he knew enough of the organization with which he was dealing to be prepared for failure.

He failed. There was no cranny through which he could look out. Palpably, it would be impossible to learn where he was being taken. The journey might be a direct one, or might be a detour. He wished that he could have foreseen this device. Above all, he wished that Detective Sergeant Stokes had been a more clever man.

It would have been good to know that he was followed. His only hope was that someone detailed by Paul Harley might be in pursuit.

Lighting a fresh cigar, Nicol Brinn drew a copy of the Sketch from the rack, and studied the photographs of more or less pretty actresses with apparent contentment. He had finished the Sketch, and was perusing the Bystander, when, the car having climbed a steep hill and swerved sharply to the right, he heard the rustling of leaves, and divined that they were proceeding along a drive.

He replaced the paper in the rack, and took out his watch. Consulting it, he returned it to his pocket as the car stopped and the light went out.

The door, which, with its fellow, Nicol Brinn had discovered to be locked, was opened by the Oriental chauffeur, and Brinn descended upon the steps of a shadowed porch. The house door was open, and although there was no light within:

"Come this way," said a voice, speaking out of the darkness.

Nicol Brinn entered a hallway the atmosphere of which seemed to be very hot.

"Allow me to take your hat and coat," continued the voice.

He was relieved of these, guided along a dark passage; and presently, an inner door being opened, he found himself in a small, barely furnished room where one shaded lamp burned upon a large writing table.

His conductor, who did not enter, closed the door quietly, and Nicol Brinn found himself looking into the smiling face of a Hindu gentleman who sat at the table.

The room was decorated with queer-looking Indian carvings, pictures upon silk, and other products of Eastern craftsmanship. The table and the several chairs were Oriental in character, but the articles upon the table were very European and businesslike in appearance. Furthermore, the Hindu gentleman, who wore correct evening dress, might have been the representative of an Eastern banking house, as indeed he happened to be, amongst other things.

"Good evening," he said, speaking perfect English "won't you sit down?"

He pointed with a pen which he was holding in the direction of a heavily carved chair which stood near the table. Nicol Brinn sat down, regarding the speaker with lack-lustre eyes.

"A query has arisen respecting your fraternal rights," continued the Hindu. "Am I to understand that you claim to belong to the Seventh Kama?"

"Certainly," replied Brinn in a toneless voice.

The Hindu drew his cuff back from a slender yellow wrist, revealing a curious mark which appeared to be branded upon the flesh. It was in the form of a torch or flambeau surmounted by a tongue of flame. He raised his black brows, smiling significantly.

Nicol Brinn stood up, removing his tight dinner jacket. Then, rolling back his sleeve from a lean, sinuous forearm, he extended the powerful member, having his fist tightly clenched.

Upon the inside of his arm, just above the elbow, an identical mark had been branded!

The Hindu stood up and saluted Nicol Brinn in a peculiar manner. That is to say, he touched the second finger of his right hand with the tip of his tongue, and then laid the finger upon his forehead, at the same time bowing deeply.

Nicol Brinn repeated the salutation, and quietly put his coat on.

"We greet you," said the Hindu. "I am Rama Dass of the Bengal Lodge. Have you Hindustani?"

"No."

"Where were you initiated?"

"At Moon Ali Lane."

"Ah!" exclaimed the Hindu. "I see it all. In Bombay?"

"In Bombay."

"When, and by whom, may I ask?"

"By Ruhmani, November 23, 1913."

"Strange," murmured Rama Dass. "Brother Ruhmani died in that year; which accounts for our having lost touch with you. What is your grade?"

"The fifth."

"You have not proceeded far, brother. How do you come to be unacquainted with our presence in England?"

"I cannot say."

"What work has been allotted to you?"

"None."

"Never?"

"Never."

"More and more strange," murmured the Hindu, watching Nicol Brinn through the gold-rimmed spectacles which he wore. "I have only known one other case. Such cases are dangerous, brother."

"No blame attaches to me," replied Nicol Brinn.

"I have not said so," returned Rama Dass. "But in the Seventh Kama all brothers must work. A thousand lives are as nothing so the Fire lives. We had thought our information perfect, but only by accident did we learn of your existence."

"Indeed," murmured Nicol Brinn, coldly.

Not even this smiling Hindu gentleman, whose smile concealed so much, could read any meaning in those lack-lustre eyes, nor detect any emotion in that high, cool voice.

"A document was found, and in this it was recorded that you bore upon your arm the sign of the Seventh Kama."

"'Tis Fire that moves the grains of dust," murmured Nicol Brinn, tonelessly, "which one day make a mountain for the gods."

Rama Dass stood up at once and repeated his strange gesture of salutation, which Nicol Brinn returned ceremoniously; and resumed his seat at the table.

"You are advanced beyond your grade, brother," he said. "You are worthy the next step. Do you wish to take it?"

"Every little drop swells the ocean," returned Nicol Brinn.

"You speak well," the Hindu said. "We have here your complete record. It shall not be consulted. To do so were unnecessary. We are satisfied. We regret only that one so happily circumstanced to promote the coming of the Fire should have been lost sight of. Last night there were three promotions and several rejections. You were expected."

"But I was not summoned."

"No," murmured Rama Dass. "We had learned of you as I have said. However, great honour results. You will be received alone. Do you desire to advance?"

"No. Give me time."

Rama Dass again performed the strange salutation, and again Nicol Brinn returned it.

"Wisdom is a potent wine," said the latter, gravely.

"We respect your decision."

The Hindu rang a little silver bell upon his table, and the double doors which occupied one end of the small room opened silently, revealing a large shadowy apartment beyond.

Rama Dass stood up, crossed the room, and standing just outside the open doors, beckoned to Nicol Brinn to advance.

"There is no fear," he said, in a queer, chanting tone.

"There is no fear," repeated Nicol Brinn.

"There is no love."

"There is no love."

"There is no death."

"There is no death."

"Fire alone is eternal."

"Fire alone is eternal."

As he pronounced those words Nicol Brinn crossed the threshold of the dark room, and the double doors closed silently behind him.