(Continued from pt. 2)
Having surveyed what could be seen from this vantage, I moved to take the journal from within and uncover what it might obscure. It held a weighty sheaf of parchment, it’s original contents clearly added to at numerous points with items, many paper, glued or otherwise affixed between its bound pages, as was clear from even a casual glance at its edges. I was reticent to actually open it, not least due to the strange, oily sensation it conveyed to my fingers wherever I touched it. Upon spying a bottle labeled “Poison” beneath it, I hastily dropped the notebook and raced to wash my hands.
The reader will surmise, of course, this record is not that of one deceased in mid-examination and that, therefore, I must have survived. I did wash quite thoroughly and at length, and it was two strong cups of tea and a brisk walk about the garden later before I gave over examining my hands for signs of discoloration, my eyes for inflammation or abnormal dilation of the pupils, my teeth and gums for bleeding. I was short of breath for a time but, my perambulation being taken at a pace perhaps best fitting the description of frenetic due to the state of my nerves, I eventually accepted a lack of symptom as indication that I was in no immediate danger.
I did retrieve a set of fine pincers from my tool kit and donned a set of leather gloves so as to avoid any further direct contact with the items in question. Discretion being the better part, and all that.
Several objects within the box, now revealed by removal of the journal, had been unnoticed in my hasty departure. A shaving razor, a small metal tube approximately the size of a man’s thumb, and two keys, one for a door and one a clock, awaited my examination when I, at length, returned to my desk. Giving these but a cursory glance for the moment, I used the pincers to lift the bottle and remove it to the blotter.
Its label, by which my attentions were seized when first observing it, in addition to the clearly-printed “Poison” warning, bore the numeral three encircled, and another ideograph or character from the Far East. A tag was tied to the neck, but whatever information it had borne was far too faded and smudged to be of use to anyone. A simple bit of cork sealed the neck, preventing at least its solid contents from escaping. These small spheroids were plainly visible through its clear glass and resembled, to my untrained and unworldly eye, peppercorns.
I considered the observable facts and what I could safely surmise from them for some time before proceeding. The bottle contained no liquid; had it at one time but leaked all out into the box? The cork was dry, as were the interior of the box and the other items. If an aqueous or oily fluid had seeped from the bottle, surely the cork and papers would hold more residue than the leather hide of the journal, would they not? Further, there were no stains upon the papers, not even on the tag affixed to the bottle’s neck. The ruination of the writing thereupon bore all signs of having been written with a lead pencil and smudged while dry. All in all it seemed most likely that the contents of the bottle, however toxic they might be, had been placed there without suspension. It followed that its poisonous nature remained contained within the glass and that it presented no danger so long as it stayed there.
Nonetheless I resolved to have it conveyed to an apothecary’s for examination and identification.