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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer


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"Had you reason to suspect any cardiac trouble, Doctor McMurdoch?" asked Harley.

Doctor McMurdoch, a local practitioner who had been a friend of Sir Charles Abingdon, shook his head slowly. He was a tall, preternaturally thin Scotsman, clean-shaven, with shaggy dark brows and a most gloomy expression in his deep-set eyes. While the presence of his sepulchral figure seemed appropriate enough in that stricken house, Harley could not help thinking that it must have been far from reassuring in a sick room.

"I had never actually detected anything of the kind," replied the physician, and his deep voice was gloomily in keeping with his personality. "I had observed a certain breathlessness at times, however. No doubt it is one of those cases of on suspected endocarditis. Acute. I take it," raising his shaggy brows interrogatively, "that nothing had occurred to excite Sir Charles?"

"On the contrary," replied Harley, "he was highly distressed about some family trouble, the nature of which he was about to confide to me when this sudden illness seized him."

He stared hard at Doctor McMurdoch, wondering how much he might hope to learn from him respecting the affairs of Sir Charles. It seemed almost impertinent at that hour to seek to pry into the dead man's private life.

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To the quiet, book-lined apartment stole now and again little significant sounds which told of the tragedy in the household. Sometimes when a distant door was opened, it would be the sobs of a weeping woman, for the poor old housekeeper had been quite prostrated by the blow. Or ghostly movements would become audible from the room immediately over the library--the room to which the dead man had been carried; muffled footsteps, vague stirrings of furniture; each sound laden with its own peculiar portent, awakening the imagination which all too readily filled in the details of the scene above. Then, to spur Harley to action, came the thought that Sir Charles Abingdon had appealed to him for aid. Did his need terminate with his unexpected death or would the shadow under which he had died extend nowHarley found himself staring across the library at the photograph of Phil Abingdon. It was of her that Sir Charles had been speaking when that mysterious seizure had tied his tongue. That strange, fatal illness, mused Harley, all the more strange in the case of a man supposedly in robust health--it almost seemed like the working of a malignant will. For the revelation, whatever its nature, had almost but not quite been made in Harley's office that evening. Something, some embarrassment or mental disability, had stopped Sir Charles from completing his statement. Tonight death had stopped him.

"Was he consulting you professionally, Mr. Harley?" asked the physician.

"He was," replied Harley, continuing to stare fascinatedly at the photograph on the mantelpiece. "I am informed," said he, abruptly, "that Miss Abingdon is out of town?"

Doctor McMurdoch nodded in his slow, gloomy fashion. "She is staying in Devonshire with poor Abingdon's sister," he answered. "I am wondering how we are going to break the news to her."

Perceiving that Doctor McMurdoch had clearly been intimate with the late Sir Charles, Harley determined to make use of this opportunity to endeavour to fathom the mystery of the late surgeon's fears. "You will not misunderstand me, Doctor McMurdoch," he said, "if I venture to ask you one or two rather personal questions respecting Miss Abingdon?"

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