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   Chapter 2 ON THE MOOR

The Yellow House By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 9632

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


After tea my father went to his study, for it was late in the week, and he was a most conscientious writer of sermons. I read for an hour, and then, tired alike of my book and my own company, I strolled up and down the drive. This restlessness was one of my greatest troubles. When the fit came I could neither work nor read nor think connectedly. It was a phase of incipient dissatisfaction with life, morbid, but inevitable. At the end of the drive nearest the road, I met Alice, my youngest sister, walking briskly with a book under her arm, and a quiet smile upon her homely face. I watched her coming towards me, and I almost envied her. What a comfort to be blessed with a placid disposition and an optimistic frame of mind!

"Well, you look as though you had been enjoying yourself," I remarked, placing myself in her way.

"So I have-after a fashion," she answered, good humoredly. "Are you wise to be without a hat, Kate? To look at your airy attire one would imagine that it was summer instead of autumn. Come back into the house with me."

I laughed at her in contempt. There was a difference indeed between my muslin gown and the plain black skirt and jacket, powdered with dust, which was Alice's usual costume.

"Have you ever known me to catch cold through wearing thin clothes or going without a hat?" I asked. "I am tired of being indoors. There have been people here all the afternoon. I wonder that your conscience allows you to shirk your part of the duty and leave all the tiresome entertaining to be done by me!"

She looked at me with wide-opened eyes and a concerned face. Alice was always so painfully literal.

"Why, I thought that you liked it!" she exclaimed. I was in an evil mood, and I determined to shock her. It was never a difficult task.

"So I do sometimes," I answered; "but to-day my callers have been all women, winding up with an hour and a half of Lady Naselton. One gets so tired of one's own sex! Not a single man all the afternoon. Somebody else's husband to pass the bread and butter would have been a godsend!"

Alice pursed up her lips, and turned her head away with a look of displeasure.

"I am surprised to hear you talk like that, Kate," she said, quietly. "Do you think that it is quite good taste?"

"Be off, you little goose!" I called after her as she passed on towards the house with quickened step and rigid head. The little sober figure turned the bend and disappeared without looking around. She was the perfect type of a clergyman's daughter-studiously conventional, unremittingly proper, inevitably a little priggish. She was the right person in the right place. She had the supreme good fortune to be in accord with her environment. As for me, I was a veritable black sheep. I looked after her and sighed.

I had no desire to go in; on the other hand, there was nothing to stay out for. I hesitated for a moment, and then strolled on to the end of the avenue. A change in the weather seemed imminent. A grey, murky twilight had followed the afternoon of brilliant sunshine, and a low south wind was moaning amongst the Norwegian firs. I leaned over the gate with my face turned towards the great indistinct front of Deville Court. There was nothing to look at. The trees had taken to themselves fantastic shapes, little wreaths of white mist were rising from the hollows of the park. The landscape was grey, colorless, monotonous. My whole life was like that, I thought, with a sudden despondent chill. The lives of most girls must be unless they are domestic. In our little family Alice absorbed the domesticity. There was not one shred of it in my disposition.

I realized with a start that I was becoming morbid, and turned from the gate towards the house. Suddenly I heard an unexpected sound-the sound of voices close at hand. I stopped short and half turned round. A deep voice rang out upon the still, damp air-

"Get over, Madam! Get over, Marvel!"

There was the sound of the cracking of a whip and the soft patter of dogs' feet as they came along the lane below-a narrow thoroughfare which was bounded on one side by our wall and on the other by the open stretch of park at the head of which stood Deville Court. There must have been quite twenty of them, all of the same breed-beagles-and amongst them two people were walking, a man and a woman. The man was nearest to me, and I could see him more distinctly. He was tall and very broad, with a ragged beard and long hair. He wore no collar, and there was a great rent in his shabby shooting coat. Of his features I could see nothing. He wore knickerbockers, and stockings, and thick shoes. He was by no means an ordinary looking person, but he was certainly not prepossessing. The most favorable thing about him was his carriage, which was upright and easy, but ev

en that was in a measure spoiled by a distinct suggestion of surliness. The woman by his side I could only see very indistinctly. She was slim, and wore some sort of a plain tailor gown, but she did not appear to be young. As they came nearer to me, I slipped from the drive on to the verge of the shrubbery, standing for a moment in the shadow of a tall laurel bush. I was not seen, but I could hear their voices. The woman was speaking.

"A new vicar, or curate-in-charge, here, isn't there, Bruce? I fancy I heard that one was expected."

A sullen, impatient growl came from her side.

"Ay, some fellow with a daughter, Morris was telling me. The parson was bound to come, I suppose, but what the mischief does he want with a daughter?"

A little laugh from the woman-a pleasant, musical laugh.

"Daughters, I believe-I heard some one say that there were two. What a misogynist you are getting! Why shouldn't the man have daughters if he likes? I really believe that there are two of them."

There was a contemptuous snort, and a moment's silence. They were exactly opposite to me now, but the hedge and the shadow of the laurels beneath which I was standing completely shielded me from observation. The man's huge form stood out with almost startling distinctness against the grey sky. He was lashing the thistles by the side of the road with his long whip.

"Maybe!" he growled. "I've seen but one-a pale-faced, black-haired chit."

I smothered a laugh. I was the pale-faced, black-haired chit, but it was scarcely a polite way of alluding to me, Mr. Bruce Deville. When they had gone by I leaned over the gate again, and watched them vanish amongst the shadows. The sound of their voices came to me indistinctly; but I could hear the deep bass of the man as he slung some scornful exclamation out upon the moist air. His great figure, looming unnaturally large through the misty twilight, was the last to vanish. It was my first glimpse of Mr. Bruce Deville of Deville Court.

I turned round with a terrified start. Almost at my side some heavy body had fallen to the ground with a faint groan. A single step, and I was bending over the prostrate form of a man. I caught his hand and gazed into his face with horrified eyes. It was my father. He must have been within a yard of me when he fell.

His eyes were half closed, and his hands were cold. Gathering up my skirts in my hand, I ran swiftly across the lawn into the house.

I met Alice in the hall. "Get some brandy!" I cried, breathlessly. "Father is ill-out in the garden! Quick!"

She brought it in a moment. Together we hurried back to where I had left him. He had not moved. His cheeks were ghastly pale, and his eyes were still closed. I felt his pulse and his heart, and unfastened his collar.

"There is nothing serious the matter-at least I think not," I whispered to Alice. "It is only a fainting fit."

I rubbed his hands, and we forced some brandy between his lips. Presently he opened his eyes, and raised his head a little, looking half fearfully around.

"It was her voice," he whispered, hoarsely. "It came to me through the shadows! Where is she? What have you done with her? There was a rustling of the leaves-and then I heard her speak!"

"There is no one here but Alice and myself," I said, bending over him. "You must have been fancying things. Are you better?"

"Better!" He looked up at both of us, and the light came back into his face.

"Ah! I see! I must have fainted!" he exclaimed. "I remember the study was close, and I came to get cool. Yet, I thought-I thought--"

I held out my arm, and he staggered up. He was still white and shaken, but evidently his memory was returning.

"I remember it was close in the study," he said-"very close; I was tired too. I must have walked too far. I don't like it though. I must see a doctor; I must certainly see a doctor!"

Alice bent over him full of sympathy, and he took her arm. I walked behind him in silence. A curious thought had taken possession of me. I could not get rid of the impression of my father's first words, and his white, terrified face. Was it indeed a wild fancy of his, or had he really heard this voice which had stirred him so deeply? I tried to laugh at the idea. I could not. His cry was so natural, his terror so apparent! He had heard a voice. He had been stricken with a sudden terror. Whose was the voice-whence his fear of it? I watched him leaning slightly upon Alice's arm, and walking on slowly in front of me towards the house. Already he was better. His features had reassumed their customary air of delicate and reserved strength. I looked at him with new and curious eyes. For the first time I wondered whether there might be another world, or the ashes of an old one beneath that grey, impenetrable mask.

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