Fire-Tongue by Sax Rohmer
Chapter XXIX. The Chase
The events which led to the presence of Mr. Nicol Brinn at so opportune a moment were--consistent with the character of that remarkable man--of a sensational nature.
Having commandeered the Rolls Royce from the door of the Cavalry Club, he had immediately, by a mental process which many perils had perfected, dismissed the question of rightful ownership from his mind. The fact that he might be intercepted by police scouts he refused to entertain. The limousine driven by the Hindu chauffeur was still in sight, and until Mr. Nicol Brinn had seen it garaged, nothing else mattered, nothing else counted, and nothing else must be permitted to interfere.
Jamming his hat tightly upon his head, he settled down at the wheel, drawing up rather closer to the limousine as the chase lay through crowded thoroughfares and keeping his quarry comfortably in sight across Westminster Bridge and through the outskirts of London.
He had carefully timed the drive to the unknown abode of Fire-Tongue, and unless it had been prolonged, the more completely to deceive him, he had determined that the house lay not more than twenty miles from Piccadilly.
When Mitcham was passed, and the limousine headed straight on into Surrey, he decided that there had been no doubling, but that the house to which he had been taken lay in one of these unsuspected country backwaters, which, while they are literally within sight of the lights of London, have nevertheless a remoteness as complete as secrecy could desire.
It was the deserted country roads which he feared, for if the man ahead of him should suspect pursuit, a difficult problem might arise.
By happy chance Nicol Brinn, an enthusiastic motorist, knew the map of Surrey as few Englishmen knew it. Indeed, there was no beauty spot within a forty-mile radius of London to which he could not have driven by the best and shortest route, at a moment's notice. This knowledge aided him now.
For presently at a fork in the road he saw that the driver of the limousine had swung to the left, taking the low road, that to the right offering a steep gradient. The high road was the direct road to Lower Claybury, the low road a detour to the same.
Nicol Brinn mentally reviewed the intervening countryside, and taking a gambler's chance, took the Rolls Royce up the hill. He knew exactly what he was about, and he knew that the powerful engine would eat up the slope with ease.
Its behaviour exceeded his expectations, and he found himself mounting the acclivity at racing speed. At its highest point, the road, skirting a hilltop, offered an extensive view of the valley below. Here Nicol Brinn pulled up and, descending, watched and listened.
In the stillness he could plainly hear the other automobile humming steadily along the lowland road below. He concentrated his mind upon the latter part of that strange journey, striving to recall any details which had marked it immediately preceding the time when he had detected the rustling of leaves and knew that they had entered a carriage drive.
Yes, there had been a short but steep hill; and immediately before this the car had passed over a deeply rutted road, or--he had a sudden inspiration--over a level crossing.
He knew of just such a hilly road immediately behind Lower Claybury station. Indeed, it was that by which he should be compelled to descend if he continued to pursue his present route to the town. He could think of no large, detached house, the Manor Park excepted, which corresponded to the one which he sought. But that in taking the high road he had acted even more wisely than he knew, he was now firmly convinced.
He determined to proceed as far as the park gates as speedily as possible. Therefore, returning to the wheel, he sent the car along the now level road at top speed, so that the railings of the Manor Park, when presently he found himself skirting the grounds, had the semblance of a continuous iron fence wherever the moonlight touched them.
He passed the head of the road dipping down to Lower Claybury, but forty yards beyond pulled up and descended. Again he stood listening, and:
"Good!" he muttered.
He could hear the other car labouring up the slope. He ran along to the corner of the lane, and, crouching close under the bushes, waited for its appearance. As he had supposed, the chauffeur turned the car to the right.
"Good!" muttered Nicol Brinn again.
There was a baggage-rack immediately above the number plate. Upon this Nicol Brinn sprang with the agility of a wildcat, settling himself upon his perilous perch before the engine had had time to gather speed.
When presently the car turned into the drive of Hillside, Nicol Brinn dropped off and dived into the bushes on the right of the path. From this hiding place he saw the automobile driven around the front of the house to the garage, which was built out from the east wing. Not daring to pursue his investigations until the chauffeur had retired, he sought a more comfortable spot near a corner of the lawn and there, behind a bank of neglected flowers, lay down, watching the man's shadowy figure moving about in the garage.
Although he was some distance from the doors he could see that there was a second car in the place--a low, torpedo-bodied racer, painted battleship gray. This sight turned his thoughts in another direction.
Very cautiously he withdrew to the drive again, retracing his steps to the lane, and walking back to the spot where he had left the Rolls Royce, all the time peering about him to right and left. He was looking for a temporary garage for the car, but one from which, if necessary, he could depart in a hurry. The shell of an ancient barn, roofless and desolate, presently invited inspection and, as a result, a few minutes later Colonel Lord Wolverham's luxurious automobile was housed for the night in these strange quarters.
When Nicol Brinn returned to Hillside, he found the garage locked and the lights extinguished. Standing under a moss-grown wall which sheltered him from the house, from his case he selected a long black cigar, lighted it with care and, having his hands thrust in the pockets of his light overcoat and the cigar protruding aggressively from the left corner of his mouth, he moved along to an angle of the wall and stared reflectively at the silent house.
A mental picture arose of a secret temple in the shadow of the distant Himalayas. Was it credible that this quiet country house, so typical of rural England, harboured that same dread secret which he had believed to be locked away in those Indian hills? Could he believe that the dark and death-dealing power which he had seen at work in the East was now centred here, within telephone-call of London?
The fate of Sir Charles Abingdon and of Paul Harley would seem to indicate that such was the case. Beyond doubt, the document of which Rama Dass had spoken was some paper in the possession of the late Sir Charles. Much that had been mysterious was cleared up. He wondered why it had not occurred to him from the first that Sir Charles's inquiry, which he had mentioned to Paul Harley, respecting Fire-Tongue, had been due to the fact that the surgeon had seen the secret mark upon his arm after the accident in the Haymarket. He remembered distinctly that his sleeve had been torn upon that occasion. He could not imagine, however, what had directed the attention of the organization to Sir Charles, and for what reason his death had been decided upon.
He rolled his cigar from corner to corner of his mouth, staring reflectively with lack-lustre eyes at the silent house before him. In the moonlight it made a peaceful picture enough. A cautious tour of the place revealed a lighted window upon the first floor. Standing in the shadow of an old apple tree, Nicol Brinn watched the blind of this window minute after minute, patiently waiting for a shadow to appear upon it; and at last his patience was rewarded.
A shadow appeared--the shadow of a woman!
Nicol Brinn dropped his cigar at his feet and set his heel upon it. A bitter-sweet memory which had been with him for seven years arose again in his mind. There is a kind of mountain owl in certain parts of northern India which possesses a curiously high, plaintive note. He wondered if he could remember and reproduce that note.
He made the attempt, repeating the cry three times. At the third repetition the light in the first floor window went out. He heard the sound of the window being gently opened. Then a voice--a voice which held the sweetest music in the world for the man who listened below--spoke softly:
"Naida!" he called. "Come down to me. You must. Don't answer. I will wait here."
"Promise you will let me return!"