"So, what seems to be the trouble, Miss Vane? Has he taken a turn for the worse?" Dr Weare was not sitting at his desk, as she had expected, but sitting in his office's window seat, going over a large ledger. "Forgive me – do sit down. I always like to double-check my prescriptions at the end of the day so I'll know when it's time for Miss Codrell to reorder. So tell me, to what do I owe this visit? You're not suffering from anything yourself, I hope."
Harriet looked at the doctor, sitting abstracted and half turned away, and considered again how unlikely her tale would sound. Still, she had come, and if she chose to leave now Dr Weare would undoubtedly be left with an entirely wrong idea of her dilemma. She plunged in.
"Dr Weare, I've been becoming quite concerned about these illnesses of Mr Boyes'. I know he has a history of this sort of trouble –"
"Yes, indeed," said Dr Weare, absently striking a line through something in the ledger. "I've attended him on and off for the better part of five years, and he had gastric troubles even before then. I don't believe he'll ever be entirely free of them, but with a little more rest and a light diet, he should be feeling better quite soon. These attacks are often brought on by overwork."
"But that's just what I came to talk to you about. I don't believe these attacks are like the others."
"Miss Vane, I understand that you're quite concerned for Mr Boyes, but I can assure you –"
"Please, Dr Weare, hear me out. This is the third time in three months, and all of them have been quite different from the ones he had last year. I was with him for those as well, and I remember them distinctly. After the attack last month, I thought I had better begin taking notes, and I think you should read them." She drew a notebook out of her handbag and laid it down on his desk. "All the notes for March were done from memory, since of course I had no reason to wonder very much at the time, but here, for April, I began writing it all down during the worst night. And here are the symptoms I saw when I was looking after him last week – I made sure to take notes first thing every morning and again in the evening, so I wouldn't forget, or get things mixed."
Dr Weare closed his own ledger and came back to the desk. As he scanned Harriet's notes, his expression changed. He looked up again and seemed, for the first time, to be seeing her clearly.
"Miss Vane, this is quite a dossier you've put together. Have you ever had nursing training, by any chance?"
"No, but my father was a doctor, and I looked at his books quite a lot, though he didn't usually know I was doing it. And I write books for a living – mysteries, in fact – so naturally I've had to learn how to organize my data. And I've read a great many reference books on the subject."
"I see. You do your father great credit, Miss Vane – and I must say it's refreshing to meet a mystery writer who does her reading; I just finished a book the other day which actually used an imaginary Oriental poison which had no symptoms, and it quite spoiled my evening. Let's see – pins and needles in the extremities, darkened urine … this is certainly suggestive. Of course, we mustn't jump to conclusions, certainly not, but if I may ask – have you noticed whether any of these attacks had, shall we say, circumstances in common?"
For the first time, she hesitated. It was all so preposterous – but then, hadn't she chosen to write on poisons precisely because they were so common? "Yes, they do. Each one has started a few hours after he dined with Mr – with a certain person. I shouldn't say his name just now."
"Very wise. It may be nothing, after all, and it wouldn't do to throw names around too freely at this stage. Has he any plans to dine with this person again soon?"
"No, he hasn't, but they do visit quite frequently, so very likely it will happen soon."
"Can you prevent his going?"
Harriet remembered the last time she had asked him to stay home for the evening against his wishes. "I'm not sure I could. But if you were to stop by tomorrow to examine him, and you prescribed a holiday for him, I could get him away from London for a few weeks at least."
"That would be excellent – and no doubt a great relief to you. I'll stop by tomorrow about five, if it's convenient to both of you. Excellent. In the meantime, Miss Vane, I have a favour to ask of you." He stepped over to the cabinet by the window and rummaged around in it, finally producing two small white boxes. "You may know this already, but if this has been going on for several months, there may well be signs of something – untoward – in Mr Boyes' hair, or in his nails. I don't want to concern him by asking for samples of these things –"
"I think he would wonder if you were off your head," said Harriet.
"Exactly. Since you're in a better position than I to come by these things unobtrusively, I would appreciate it very much if you could procure those samples for me and let me have them when I call tomorrow. The analysis should be complete within a week or two, so just keep him out of London until then, and we should have an answer for you."
"Thank you very much," said Harriet, tucking both the dossier and the pillboxes back into her handbag. "I do hope you won't think me too foolish when it all turns out to be entirely innocent."
"Not at all," said the doctor. "I've seen far too many patients end up in dire straits because they thought it was foolish to mention small things, and it's no different here. Good afternoon, Miss Vane. I'll see you tomorrow, and do please remember the pillboxes."
Harriet walked out into the warm May sunshine with a mingled feeling of exasperation and relief. A holiday with Phil was the precise opposite of what she wanted, and she had just sentenced herself to a minimum of two weeks, possibly longer. She would have to go with him; he was still weak, and he would want looking after. Her skin prickled at the thought – what would they do? Spend the money for separate rooms? Pretend to be married? Find a pension whose proprietors didn't ask questions? It would make her decision all the more of a surprise to him when they did return – he would make a scene, and she had learned to hate scenes during the last fifteen months.
And here in the street, with the office workers elbowing past her and the buses blaring their horns, it all seemed so unlikely. Why on earth should Norman Urquhart want to harm Phil? If he was so tired of his company, all he had to do was forbid him the house; it was hardly necessary to take such drastic measures. But no – she shook her head. It didn't do to theorize ahead of her data. Let the facts be established first, and then it would be time to wonder. She was relieved that not only had she burnt her own purchases of arsenic, but that Phil had seen her do it. And if this did turn out to be true, he would at least have to admit that detective novels were good for something after all.