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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

At Hillside

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Phil Abingdon arrived at Hillside in a state of mind which she found herself unable to understand. Mrs. McMurdoch, who had accepted the invitation under protest, saying that if Doctor McMurdoch had been at home he would certainly have disapproved, had so utterly fallen under the strange spell of Ormuz Khan, that long before they had come to Hillside she was hanging upon his every word in a way which was almost pathetic to watch.

On the other hand, Phil Abingdon had taken up a definite attitude of defense; and perceiving this, because of his uncanny intuitiveness, the Persian had exerted himself to the utmost, more often addressing Phil than her companion, and striving to regain that mastery of her emotions which he had formerly achieved, at least in part.

Her feelings, however, were largely compounded of fear, and fear strengthened her defense. The repulsive part of Ormuz Khan's character became more apparent to her than did the fascination which she had once experienced. She distrusted him, distrusted him keenly. She knew at the bottom of her heart that this had always been so, but she had suffered his attentions in much the same spirit as that which imbues the naturalist who studies the habits of a poisonous reptile.

She knew that she was playing with fire, and in this knowledge lay a dangerous pleasure. She had the utmost faith in her own common sense, and was ambitious to fence with edged tools.

When at last the car was drawn up before the porch of Hillside, and Ormuz Khan, stepping out, assisted the ladies to alight, for one moment Phil Abingdon hesitated, although she knew that it was already too late to do so. They were received by Mr. Rama Dass, his excellency's courteous secretary, whom she had already met, and whom Ormuz Khan presented to Mrs. McMurdoch. Almost immediately:

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"You have missed Mr. Harley by only a few minutes," said Rama Dass.

"What!" exclaimed Phil, her eyes opening very widely.

"Oh, there is no occasion for alarm," explained the secretary in his urbane manner. "He has ventured as far as Lower Claybury station. The visit was unavoidable. He particularly requested that we should commence luncheon, but hoped to be back before we should have finished."

Phil Abingdon glanced rapidly from the face of the speaker to that of Ormuz Khan. But her scrutiny of those unreadable countenances availed her nothing. She was conscious of a great and growing uneasiness; and Mrs. McMurdoch, misunderstanding the expression upon her face, squeezed her arm playfully.

"Cheer up, dear" she whispered; "he will be here soon!"

Phil knew that her face had flushed deeply. Partly she was glad of her emotions, and partly ashamed. This sweet embarrassment in which there was a sort of pain was a new experience, but one wholly delightful. She laughed, and accepting the arm of Ormuz Khan, walked into a very English-looking library, followed by Rama Dass and Mrs. McMurdoch. The house, she thought, was very silent, and she found herself wondering why no servants had appeared.

Rama Dass had taken charge of the ladies' cloaks in the hall, and in spite of the typical English environment in which she found herself, Phil sat very near to Mrs. McMurdoch on a settee, scarcely listening to the conversation, and taking no part in it.

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