Chapter XXIV. Phil Abingdon's Visitor
 

On the following morning the card of His Excellency Ormuz Khan was brought to Phil Abingdon in the charming little room which Mrs. McMurdoch had allotted to her for a private sanctum during the period of her stay under this hospitable roof.

"Oh," she exclaimed, and looked at the maid in a startled way. "I suppose I must see him. Will you ask him to come in, please?"

A few moments later Ormuz Khan entered. He wore faultless morning dress, too faultless; so devoid of any flaw or crease as to have lost its masculine character. In his buttonhole was a hyacinth, and in one slender ivory hand he carried a huge bunch of pink roses, which, bowing deeply, he presented to the embarrassed girl.

"Dare I venture," he said in his musical voice, bending deeply over her extended hand, "to ask you to accept these flowers? It would honour me. Pray do not refuse."

"Your excellency is very kind," she replied, painfully conscious of acute nervousness. "It is more than good of you."

"It is good of you to grant me so much pleasure," he returned, sinking gracefully upon a settee, as Phil Abingdon resumed her seat. "Condolences are meaningless. Why should I offer them to one of your acute perceptions? But you know--" the long, magnetic eyes regarded her fixedly--"you know what is in my heart."

Phil Abingdon bit her lip, merely nodding in reply.

"Let us then try to forget, if only for a while," said Ormuz Khan. "I could show you so easily, if you would consent to allow me, that those we love never leave us."

The spell of his haunting voice was beginning to have its effect. Phil Abingdon found herself fighting against something which at once repelled and attracted her. She had experienced this unusual attraction before, and this was not the first time that she had combated it. But whereas formerly she had more or less resigned herself to the strange magic which lay in the voice and in the eyes of Ormuz Khan, this morning there was something within her which rebelled fiercely against the Oriental seductiveness of his manner.

She recognized that a hot flush had covered her cheeks. For the image of Paul Harley, bronzed, gray-eyed, and reproachful, had appeared before her mind's eye, and she knew why her resentment of the Persian's charm of manner had suddenly grown so intense. Yet she was not wholly immune from it, for:

"Does Your Excellency really mean that?" she whispered.

A smile appeared upon his face, an alluring smile, but rather that of a beautiful woman than of a man.

"As you of the West," he said, "have advanced step by step, ever upward in the mechanical sciences, we of the East have advanced also step by step in other and greater sciences."

"Certainly," she admitted, "you have spoken of such things before."

"I speak of things which I know. From that hour when you entered upon your first Kama, back in the dawn of time, until now, those within the ever-moving cycle which bears you on through the ages have been beside you, at times unseen by the world, at times unseen by you, veiled by the mist which men call death, but which is no more than a curtain behind which we sometimes step for a while. In the East we have learned to raise that curtain; in the West are triflers who make like claims, but whose knowledge of the secret of the veil is--" And he snapped his fingers contemptuously.

The strange personality of the man was having its effect. Phil Abingdon's eyes were widely open, and she was hanging upon his words. Underneath the soft effeminate exterior lay a masterful spirit--a spirit which had known few obstacles. The world of womanhood could have produced no more difficult subject than Phil Abingdon. Yet she realized, and became conscious of a sense of helplessness, that under certain conditions she would be as a child in the hands of this Persian mystic, whose weird eyes appeared to be watching not her body, nor even her mind, but her soul, whose voice touched unfamiliar chords within her--chords which had never responded to any other human voice.

It was thrilling, vaguely pleasurable, but deep terror underlay it.

"Your Excellency almost frightens me," she whispered. "Yet I do not doubt that you speak of what you know."

"It is so," he returned, gravely. "At any hour, day or night, if you care to make the request, I shall be happy to prove my words. But," he lowered his dark lashes and then raised them again, "the real object of my visit is concerned with more material things."

"Indeed," said Phil Abingdon, and whether because of the words of Ormuz Khan, or because of some bond of telepathy which he had established between them, she immediately found herself to be thinking of Paul Harley.

"I bring you a message," he continued, "from a friend."

With eyes widely open, Phil Abingdon watched him.

"From," she began--but her lips would not frame the name.

"From Mr. Paul Harley," he said, inclining his head gravely.

"Oh! tell me, tell me!"

"I am here to tell you, Miss Abingdon. Mr. Harley feels that his absence may have distressed you."

"Yes, yes," she said, eagerly.

"But in pursuit of a certain matter which is known to you, he has found it necessary in the interests of his safety to remain out of London for a while."

"Oh," Phil Abingdon heaved a great sigh. "Oh, Your Excellency, how glad I am to hear that he is safe!"

The long, dark eyes regarded her intently, unemotionally, noting that the flush had faded from her face, leaving it very pale, and noting also the expression of gladness in her eyes, the quivering of her sweet lips.

"He is my guest," continued Ormuz Khan, "my honoured guest."

"He is with you?" exclaimed Phil, almost incredulously.

"With me, at my home in Surrey. In me he found a natural ally, since my concern was as great as his own. I do not conceal from you, Miss Abingdon, that he is danger."

"In danger?" she whispered.

"It is true, but beneath my roof he is safe. There is a matter of vital urgency, however, in which you can assist him."

"I?" she exclaimed.

"No one but you." Ormuz Khan raised his slender hand gracefully. "I beg you, do not misunderstand me. In the first place, would Mr. Harley have asked you to visit him at my home, if he had not been well assured that you could do so with propriety? In the second place, should I, who respect you more deeply than any woman in the world, consent to your coming unchaperoned? Miss Abingdon, you know me better. I beg of you in Mr. Harley's name and in my own, prevail upon Mrs. McMurdoch to accept the invitation which I bring to lunch with me at Hillside, my Surrey home."

He spoke with the deep respect of a courtier addressing his queen. His low musical voice held a note that was almost a note of adoration. Phil Abingdon withdrew her gaze from the handsome ivory face, and strove for mental composure before replying.

Subtly, insidiously, the man had cast his spell upon her. Of this she was well aware. In other words, her thoughts were not entirely her own, but in a measure were promptings from that powerful will.

Indeed, her heart was beating wildly at the mere thought that she was to see Paul Harley again that very day. She had counted the hours since their last meeting, and knew exactly how many had elapsed. Because each one had seemed like twelve, she had ceased to rebel against this sweet weakness, which, for the first time in her life, had robbed her of some of her individuality, and had taught her that she was a woman to whom mastery by man is exquisite slavery. Suddenly she spoke.

"Of course I will come, Your Excellency," she said. "I will see Mrs. McMurdoch at once, but I know she will not refuse."

"Naturally she will not refuse, Miss Abingdon," he returned In a grave voice. "The happiness of so many people is involved."

"It is so good of you," she said, standing up. "I shall never forget your kindness."

He rose, bowing deeply, from a European standpoint too deeply.

"Kindness is a spiritual investment," he said, "which returns us interest tenfold. If I can be sure of Mrs. McMurdoch's acceptance, I will request permission to take my leave now, for I have an urgent business appointment to keep, after which I will call for you. Can you be ready by noon?"

"Yes, we shall be ready."

Phil Abingdon held out her hand in a curiously hesitant manner. The image of Paul Harley had become more real, more insistent. Her mind was in a strangely chaotic state, so that when the hand of Ormuz Khan touched her own, she repressed a start and laughed in an embarrassed way.

She knew that her heart was singing, but under the song lay something cold, and when Ormuz Khan had bowed himself from the room, she found herself thinking, not of the newly departed visitor, nor even of Paul Harley, but of her dead father. In spite of the sunshine which flooded the room, her flesh turned cold and she wondered if the uncanny Persian possessed some strange power.

Clearly as though he had stood beside her, she seemed to hear the beloved voice of her father. It was imagination, of course, she knew this; but it was uncannily real.

She thought that he was calling her, urgently, beseechingly:

"Phil.... Phil...."