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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

A Wreath Of Hyacinths

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She was staying at the McMurdoch's house, and as the object at present in view was that of a visit to her old home, from which the funeral of Sir Charles Abingdon was to take place on the morrow, Harley became suddenly conscious of the fact that his presence was inopportune.

"I believe you want to see me, Doctor McMurdoch," he said, turning to the dour physician. "Shall I await your return or do you expect to be detained?"

But Phil Abingdon had her own views on the matter. She stepped up beside him and linked her arm in his.

"Please come with me, Mr. Harley," she pleaded. "I want you to."

As a result he found himself a few minutes later entering the hall of the late Sir Charles's house. The gloved hand resting on his arm trembled, but when he looked down solicitously into Phil Abingdon's face she smiled bravely, and momentarily her clasp tightened as if to reassure him.

It seemed quite natural that she should derive comfort from the presence of this comparative stranger; and neither of the two, as they stood there looking at the tributes to the memory of the late Sir Charles--which overflowed from a neighbouring room into the lobby and were even piled upon the library table--were conscious of any strangeness in the situation.

The first thing that had struck Harley on entering the house had been an overpowering perfume of hyacinths. Now he saw whence it arose; for, conspicuous amid the wreaths and crosses, was an enormous device formed of hyacinths. Its proportions dwarfed those of all the others.

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Mrs. Howett, the housekeeper, a sad-eyed little figure, appeared now from behind the bank of flowers. Her grief could not rob her of that Old World manner which was hers, and she saluted the visitors with a bow which promised to develop into a curtsey. Noting the direction of Phil Abingdon's glance, which was set upon a card attached to the wreath of hyacinths: "It was the first to arrive, Miss Phil," she said. "Isn't it beautiful?"

"It's wonderful," said the girl, moving forward and drawing Harley along with her. She glanced from the card up to his face, which was set in a rather grim expression.

"Ormuz Khan has been so good," she said. "He sent his secretary to see if he could be of any assistance yesterday, but I certainly had not expected this."

Her eyes filled with tears again, and, because he thought they were tears of gratitude, Harley clenched his hand tightly so that the muscles of his forearm became taut to Phil Abingdon's touch. She looked up at him, smiling pathetically: "Don't you think it was awfully kind of him?" she asked.

"Very," replied Harley.

A dry and sepulchral cough of approval came from Doctor McMurdoch; and Harley divined with joy that when the ordeal of the next day was over Phil Abingdon would have to face cross-examination by the conscientious Scotsman respecting this stranger whose attentions, if Orientally extravagant, were instinct with such generous sympathy.

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