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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

Wessex Gets Busy

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"Has something happened to him?"

"I am sorry if I have alarmed you," he assured her, "but there is some doubt respecting Mr. Harley's present whereabouts. Have you any idea where he went when he left this house yesterday?"

"Yes, yes. I know where he went, quite well."

"Benson, the butler, told me all about it when I came in." Phil Abingdon spoke excitedly, and took a step nearer Wessex. "He went to call upon Jones, our late parlourmaid."

"Late parlourmaid?" echoed Wessex, uncomprehendingly.

"Yes. He seemed to think he had made a discovery of importance."

"Something to do with a parcel which he sent away from here to the analyst?"

"Yes! I have been wondering whatever it could be. In fact, I rang up his office this morning, but learned that he was out. It was a serviette which he took away. Did you know that?"

"I did know it, Miss Abingdon. I called upon the analyst. I understand you were out when Mr. Harley came. May I ask who interviewed him?"

"He saw Benson and Mrs. Howett, the housekeeper."

"May I also see them?"

"Yes, with pleasure. But please tell me"--Phil Abingdon looked up at him pleadingly--"do you thmk something--something dreadful has happened to Mr. Harley?"

"Don't alarm yourself unduly," said Wessex. "I hope before the day is over to be in touch with him."

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As a matter of fact, he had no such hope. It was a lie intended to console the girl, to whom the news of Harley's disappearance seemed to have come as a terrible blow. More and more Wessex found himself to be groping in the dark. And when, in response to the ringing of the bell, Benson came in and repeated what had taken place on the previous day, the detective's state of mystification grew even more profound. As a matter of routine rather than with any hope of learning anything useful, he interviewed Mrs. Howett; but the statement of the voluble old lady gave no clue which Wessex could perceive to possess the slightest value.

Both witnesses having been dismissed, he turned again to Phil Abingdon, who had been sitting watching him with a pathetic light of hope in her eyes throughout his examination of the butler and Mrs. Howett.

"The next step is clear enough," he said, brightly. "I am off to South Lambeth Road. The woman Jones is the link we are looking for."

"But the link with what, Mr. Wessex?" asked Phil Abingdon. "What is it all about?--what does it all mean?"

"The link with Mr. Paul Harley," replied Wessex. He moved toward the door.

"But won't you tell me something more before you go?" said the girl, beseechingly. "I--I--feel responsible if anything has happened to Mr. Harley. Please be frank with me. Are you afraid he is--in danger?"

"Well, miss," replied the detective, haltingly, "he rang up his secretary, Mr. Innes, last night--we don't know where from--and admitted that he was in a rather tight corner. I don't believe for a moment that he is in actual danger, but he probably has--" again he hesitated--"good reasons of his own for remaining absent at present."

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