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6. Phil Abingdon Arrives
On the following afternoon Paul Harley was restlessly pacing his private office
when Innes came in with a letter which had been delivered by hand. Harley took
it eagerly and tore open the envelope. A look of expectancy faded from his eager
face almost in the moment that it appeared there. "No luck, Innes," he said,
gloomily. "Merton reports that there is no trace of any dangerous foreign body in
the liquids analyzed."
He dropped the analyst's report into a wastebasket and resumed his restless
promenade. Innes, who could see that his principal wanted to talk, waited. For it
was Paul Harley's custom, when the clue to a labyrinth evaded him, to outline his
difficulties to his confidential secretary, and by the mere exercise of verbal
construction Harley would often detect the weak spot in his reasoning. This stage
come to, he would dictate a carefully worded statement of the case to date and
thus familiarize himself with its complexities.
"You see, Innes," he began, suddenly, "Sir Charles had taken no refreshment of
any kind at Mr. Wilson's house nor before leaving his own. Neither had he
smoked. No one had approached him. Therefore, if he was poisoned, he was
poisoned at his own table. Since he was never out of my observation from the
moment of entering the library up to that of his death, we are reduced to the only
two possible mediums--the soup or the water. He had touched nothing else."
"No wine?"
"Wine was on the table but none had been poured out. Let us see what evidence,
capable of being put into writing, exists to support my theory that Sir Charles was
poisoned. In the first place, he clearly went in fear of some such death. It was
because of this that he consulted me. What was the origin of his fear? Something
associated with the term Fire-Tongue. So much is clear from Sir Charles's dying
words, and his questioning Nicol Brinn on the point some weeks earlier.
"He was afraid, then, of something or someone linked in his mind with the word
Fire-Tongue. What do we know about Fire-Tongue? One thing only: that it had to
do with some episode which took place in India. This item we owe to Nicol Brinn.