Read CHAPTER XVIII.  WHAT HAPPENED TO HARLEY—­CONTINUED of Fire-Tongue, free online book, by Sax Rohmer, on

Not until Harley came within sight of the house, a low, rambling Jacobean building, did he attempt to take cover.  He scrambled up a tree and got astride of a wall.  A swift survey by his electric torch of the ground on the other side revealed a jungle of weeds in either direction.

He uttered an impatient exclamation.  He calculated that the car was now within a hundred yards of the end of the lane.  Suddenly came an idea that was born of emergency.  Swarming up the tree to where its dense foliage began, he perched upon a stout bough and waited.

Three minutes later came a blaze of light through the gathering darkness, and the car which he had last seen at the Savoy was turned into the drive, and presently glided smoothly past him below.

The interior lights were extinguished, so that he was unable to discern the occupants.  The house itself was also unilluminated.  And when the car pulled up before the porch, less than ten yards from his observation post, he could not have recognized the persons who descended and entered Hillside.

Indeed, only by the sound of the closing door did he know that they had gone in.  But two figures were easily discernible; and he judged them to be those of Ormuz Khan and his secretary.  He waited patiently, and ere long the limousine was turned in the little courtyard before the porch and driven out into the lane again.  He did not fail to note that, the lane regained, the chauffeur headed, not toward Lower Claybury, but away from it.

He retained his position until the hum of the motor grew dim in the distance, and was about to descend when he detected the sound of a second approaching car!  Acutely conscious of danger, he remained where he was.  Almost before the hum of the retiring limousine had become inaudible, a second car entered the lane and turned into the drive of Hillside.

Harley peered eagerly downward, half closing his eyes in order that he might not be dazzled by the blaze of the headlight.  This was another limousine, its most notable characteristic being that the blinds were drawn in all the windows.

On this occasion, when the chauffeur stepped around and opened the door, only one passenger alighted.  There seemed to be some delay before he was admitted, but Harley found it impossible to detect any details of the scene being enacted in the shadowed porch.

Presently the second car was driven away, pursuing the same direction as the first.  Hot upon its departure came the drone of a third.  The windows of the third car also exhibited drawn blinds.  As it passed beneath him he stifled an exclamation of triumph.  Vaguely, nebulously, the secret of this dread thing Fire-Tongue, which had uplifted its head in England, appeared before his mind’s eye.  It was only necessary for him to assure himself that the latest visitor had been admitted to the house before the next move became possible.  Accordingly he changed his position, settling himself more comfortably upon the bough.  And now he watched the three cars perform each two journeys to some spot or spots unknown, and, returning, deposit their passengers before the porch of Hillside.  The limousine used by Ormuz Khan, upon its second appearance had partaken of the same peculiarity as the others:  there were blinds drawn inside the windows.

Paul Harley believed that he understood precisely what this signified, and when, after listening intently in the stillness of the night, he failed to detect sounds of any other approach, he descended to the path and stole toward the dark house.

There were French windows upon the ground floor, all of them closely shuttered.  Although he recognized that he was taking desperate chances, he inspected each one of them closely.

Passing gently from window to window, his quest ultimately earned its reward.  Through a crack in one of the shutters a dim light shone out.  His heart was beating uncomfortably, although he had himself well in hand; and, crawling into the recess formed by the window, he pressed his ear against a pane and listened intently.  At first he could hear nothing, but, his investigation being aided by the stillness of the night, he presently became aware that a voice was speaking within the room ­deliberately, musically.  The beating of his heart seemed to make his body throb to the very finger tips.  He had recognized the voice to be the voice of Ormuz Khan!

Now, his sense of hearing becoming attuned to the muffled tones, he began to make out syllables, words, and, finally, sentences.  Darkness wrapped him about, so that no one watching could have seen his face.  But he himself knew that under the bronze which he never lost he had grown pale.  His heartbeats grew suddenly fainter, an eerie chill more intense than any which the note of danger had ever occasioned caused him to draw sharply back.

“My God!” he whispered.  He drew his automatic swiftly from his pocket, and, pressed against the wall beside the window, looked about him as a man looks who finds himself surrounded by enemies.  Not a sound disturbed the stillness of the garden except for sibilant rustlings of the leaves, occasioned by a slight breeze.

Paul Harley retreated step by step to the bushes.  He held the pistol tightly clenched in his right hand.

He had heard his own death sentence pronounced and he knew that it was likely to be executed.