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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

At Hillside

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For there was a strange and disturbing air of loneliness about Hillside. She would have welcomed the appearance of a butler or a parlourmaid, or any representative of the white race. Yes: there lay the root of the matter--this feeling of aloofness from all that was occidental, a feeling which the English appointments of the room did nothing to dispel. Then a gong sounded and the party went in to lunch.

A white-robed Hindu waited at table, and Phil discovered his movements to be unpleasantly silent. There was something very unreal about it all. She found herself constantly listening for the sound of an approaching car, of a footstep, of a voice, the voice of Paul Harley. This waiting presently grew unendurable, and:

"I hope Mr. Harley is safe," she said, in a rather unnatural tone. "Surely he should have returned by now?"

Ormuz Khan shrugged his slight shoulders and glanced at a diamond-studded wrist watch which he wore.

"There is nothing to fear," he declared, in his soft, musical voice. "He knows how to take care of himself. And"--with a significant glance of his long, magnetic eyes--"I am certain he will return as speedily as possible."

Nevertheless, luncheon terminated, and Harley had not appeared.

"You have sometimes expressed a desire," said Ormuz Khan, "to see the interior of a Persian house. Permit me to show you the only really characteristic room which I allow myself in my English home."

Endeavouring to conceal her great anxiety, Phil allowed herself to be conducted by the Persian to an apartment which realized her dreams of that Orient which she had never visited.

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Three beautiful silver lanterns depended from a domed ceiling in which wonderfully woven tapestry was draped. The windows were partly obscured by carved wooden screens, and the light entered through little panels of coloured glass. There were cushioned divans, exquisite pottery, and a playful fountain plashing in a marble pool.

Ormuz Khan conducted her to a wonderfully carven chair over which a leopard's skin was draped and there she seated herself. She saw through a wide doorway before her a long and apparently unfurnished room dimly lighted. At the farther end she could vaguely discern violet-coloured draperies. Ormuz Khan gracefully threw himself upon a divan to the right of this open door.

"This, Miss Abingdon," he said, "is a nearly exact reproduction of a room of a house which I have in Ispahan. I do not claim that it is typical, but does its manner appeal to you?"

"Immensely," she replied, looking around her.

She became aware of a heavy perfume of hyacinths, and presently observed that there were many bowls of those flowers set upon little tables, and in niches in the wall.

"Yet its atmosphere is not truly of the Orient."

"Are such apartments uncommon, then, in Persia?" asked Phil, striving valiantly to interest herself in the conversation.

"I do not say so," he returned, crossing one delicate foot over the other, in languorous fashion. "But many things which are typically of the Orient would probably disillusion you, Miss Abingdon."

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