22. Fire-Tongue Speaks
Absolute darkness surrounded Nicol Brinn. Darkness, unpleasant heat, and a
stifling odour of hyacinths. He had been well coached, and thus far his memory
had served him admirably. But now he knew not what to expect. Therefore
inwardly on fire but outwardly composed, muscles taut and nerves strung highly,
he waited for the next development.
It took the form, first, of the tinkling of a silver bell, and then of the coming of a
dim light at the end of what was evidently a long apartment. The light grew
brighter, assuming the form of a bluish flame burning in a little flambeau. Nicol
Brinn watched it fascinatedly.
Absolutely no sound was discernible, until a voice began to speak, a musical
voice of curiously arresting quality.
"You are welcome," said the voice. "You are of the Bombay Lodge, although a
citizen of the United States. Because of some strange error, no work has been
allotted to you hitherto. This shall be remedied."
Of the weird impressiveness of the scene there could be no doubt. It even
touched some unfamiliar chord in the soul of Nicol Brinn. The effect of such an
interview upon an imaginative, highly strung temperament, could be well
imagined. It was perhaps theatrical, but that by such means great ends had
already been achieved he knew to his cost.
The introduction of Maskelyne illusions into an English country house must
ordinarily have touched his sense of humour, but knowing something of the
invisible presence in which he stood in that darkened chamber, there was no
laughter in the heart of Nicol Brinn, but rather an unfamiliar coldness, the nearest
approach to fear of which this steel-nerved man was capable.
"Temporarily," the sweet voice continued, "you will be affiliated with the London
Lodge, to whom you will look for instructions. These will reach you almost