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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

A Client For Paul Harley

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"What did you do?"

"I turned and struck out with my stick."

"And then?"

"Then he made no attempt to contest the issue, but simply ran swiftly off, always keeping in the shadows of the trees."

"Very strange," murmured Harley. "Do you think he had meant to drug you?"

"Maybe," replied Sir Charles. "The handkerchief was perhaps saturated with some drug, or he may even have designed to attempt to strangle me."

"And you formed absolutely no impression of the man?"

"None whatever, Mr. Harley. When you see the spot at which the encounter took place, if you care to do so, you will recognize the difficulties. It is perfectly dark there after nightfall."

"H'm," mused Harley. "A very alarming occurrence, Sir Charles. It must have shaken you very badly. But we must not overlook the possibility that this may have been an ordinary footpad."

"His methods were scarcely those of a footpad," murmured Sir Charles.

"I quite agree," said Harley. "They were rather Oriental, if I may say so."

Sir Charles Abingdon started. "Oriental!" he whispered. "Yes, you are right."

"Does this suggest a train of thought?" prompted Harley.

Sir Charles Abingdon cleared his throat nervously. "It does, Mr. Harley," he admitted, "but a very confusing train of thought. It leads me to a point which I must mention, but which concerns a very well-known man. Before I proceed I should like to make it clear that I do not believe for a moment that he is responsible for this unpleasant business."

Harley stared at him curiously. "Nevertheless," he said, "there must be some data in your possession which suggest to your mind that he has some connection with it."

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"There are, Mr. Harley, and I should be deeply indebted if you could visit my house this evening, when I could place this evidence, if evidence it may be called, before you. I find myself in so delicate a position. If you are free I should welcome your company at dinner."

Paul Harley seemed to be reflecting.

"Of course, Sir Charles," he said, presently, "your statement is very interesting and curious, and I shall naturally make a point of going fully into the matter. But before proceeding further there are two questions I should like to ask you. The first is this: What is the name of the 'well-known' man to whom you refer? And the second: If not he then whom do you suspect of being behind all this?"

"The one matter is so hopelessly involved in the other," he finally replied, "that although I came here prepared as I thought with a full statement of the case, I should welcome a further opportunity of rearranging the facts before imparting them to you. One thing, however, I have omitted to mention. It is, perhaps, of paramount importance. There was a robbery at my house less than a week ago."

"What! A robbery! Tell me: what was stolen?"

"Nothing of the slightest value, Mr. Harley, to any one but myself--or so I should have supposed." The speaker coughed nervously. "The thief had gained admittance to my private study, where there are several cases of Oriental jewellery and a number of pieces of valuable gold and silverware, all antique. At what hour he came, how he gained admittance, and how he retired, I cannot imagine. All the doors were locked as usual in the morning and nothing was disturbed."

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