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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer


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"Perfectly satisfied," replied the physician, looking up with a start: "perfectly satisfied. It was unexpected, of course, but such cases are by no means unusual. He was formerly a keen athlete, remember. 'Tis often so. Surely you don't suspect foul play? I understood you to mean that his apprehensions were on behalf of Phil."

Paul Harley stood still, staring meditatively in the other's direction. "There is not a scrap of evidence to support such a theory," he admitted, "but if you knew of the existence of any poisonous agent which would produce effects simulating these familiar symptoms, I should be tempted to take certain steps."

"If you are talking about poisons," said the physician, a rather startled look appearing upon his face, "there are several I might mention; but the idea seems preposterous to me. Why should any one want to harm Charley Abingdon? When could poison have been administered and by whom?"

"When, indeed?" murmured Harley. "Yet I am not satisfied."

"You're not hinting at--suicide?"

"Emphatically no."

"What had he eaten?"

"Nothing but soup, except that he drank a portion of a glass of water. I am wondering if he took anything at Mr. Wilson's house." He stared hard at Doctor McMurdoch. "It may surprise you to learn that I have already taken steps to have the remains of the soup from Sir Charles's plate examined, as well as the water in the glass. I now propose to call upon Mr. Wilson in order that I may complete this line of enquiry."

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"I sympathize with your suspicions, Mr. Harley," said the physician dourly, "but you are wasting your time." A touch of the old acidity crept back into his manner. "My certificate will be 'syncope due to unusual excitement'; and I shall stand by it."

"You are quite entitled to your own opinion," Harley conceded, "which if I were in your place would be my own. But what do you make of the fact that Sir Charles received a bogus telephone message some ten minutes before my arrival, as a result of which he visited Mr. Wilson's house?"

"But he's attending Wilson," protested the physician.

"Nevertheless, no one there had telephoned. It was a ruse. I don't assume for a moment that this ruse was purposeless."

Doctor McMurdoch was now staring hard at the speaker.

"You may also know," Harley continued, "that there was an attempted burglary here less than a week ago."

"I know that," admitted the other, "but it counts for little. There have been several burglaries in the neighbourhood of late."

Harley perceived that Doctor McMurdoch was one of those characters, not uncommon north of the Tweed, who, if slow in forming an opinion, once having done so cling to it as tightly as any barnacle.

"You may be right and I may be wrong," Harley admitted, "but while your professional business with Sir Charles unfortunately is ended, mine is only beginning. May I count upon you to advise me of Miss Abingdon's return? I particularly wish to see her, and I should prefer to meet her in the capacity of a friend rather than in that of a professional investigator."

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