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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

A Wreath Of Hyacinths

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For some reason the heavy perfume of the hyacinths affected him unpleasantly. All his old doubts and suspicions found a new life, so that his share in the conversation which presently arose became confined to a few laconic answers to direct questions.

He was angry, and his anger was more than half directed against himself, because he knew that he had no shadow of right to question this girl about her friendships or even to advise her. He determined, however, even at the cost of incurring a rebuke, to urge Doctor McMurdoch to employ all the influence he possessed to terminate an acquaintanceship which could not be otherwise than undesirable, if it was not actually dangerous.

When, presently, the party returned to the neighbouring house of the physician, however, Harley's plans in this respect were destroyed by the action of Doctor McMurdoch, in whose composition tact was not a predominant factor. Almost before they were seated in the doctor's drawing room he voiced his disapproval. "Phil," he said, ignoring a silent appeal from his wife, "this is, mayhap, no time to speak of the matter, but I'm not glad to see the hyacinths."

Phil Abingdon's chin quivered rebelliously, and, to Harley's dismay, it was upon him that she fixed her gaze in replying. "Perhaps you also disapprove of his excellency's kindness?" she said, indignantly.

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Harley found himself temporarily at a loss for words. She was perfectly well aware that he disapproved, and now was taking a cruel pleasure in reminding him of the fact that he was not entitled to do so. Had he been capable of that calm analysis to which ordinarily he submitted all psychological problems, he must have found matter for rejoicing in this desire of the girl's to hurt him. "I am afraid, Miss Abingdon," he replied, quietly, "that the matter is not one in which I am entitled to express my opinion."

She continued to look at him challengingly, but:

"Quite right, Mr. Harley," said Doctor McMurdoch, "but if you were, your opinion would be the same as mine."

Mrs. McMurdoch's glance became positively beseeching, but the physician ignored it. "As your father's oldest friend," he continued, "I feel called upon to remark that it isn't usual for strangers to thrust their attentions upon a bereaved family."

"Oh," said Phil Abingdon with animation, "do I understand that this is also your opinion, Mr. Harley?"

"As a man of the world," declared Doctor McMurdoch, gloomily, "it cannot fail to be."

Tardily enough he now succumbed to the silent entreaties of his wife. "I will speak of this later," he concluded. "Mayhap I should not have spoken now."

Tears began to trickle down Phil Abingdon's cheeks.

"Oh, my dear, my dear!" cried little Mrs. McMurdoch, running to her side.

But the girl sprang up, escaping from the encircling arm of the motherly old lady. She shook her head disdainfully, as if to banish tears and weakness, and glanced rapidly around from face to face. "I think you are all perfectly cruel and horrible," she said in a choking voice, turned, and ran out.

A distant door banged.

"H'm," muttered Doctor McMurdoch, "I've put my foot in it."

His wife looked at him in speechless indignation and then followed Phil Abingdon from the room.

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