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   Chapter 3 MR. BRUCE DEVILLE

The Yellow House By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 11548

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


My father's first sermon was a great success. As usual, it was polished, eloquent, and simple, and withal original. He preached without manuscript, almost without notes, and he took particular pains to keep within the comprehension of his tiny congregation. Lady Naselton, who waited for me in the aisle, whispered her warm approval.

"Whatever induced your father to come to such an out-of-the-way hole as this?" she exclaimed, as we passed through the porch into the fresh, sunlit air. "Why, he is an orator! He should preach at cathedrals! I never heard any one whose style I like better. But all the same it is a pity to think of such a sermon being preached to such a congregation. Don't you think so yourself?"

I agreed with her heartily.

"I wonder that you girls let him come here and bury himself, with his talents," she continued.

"I had not much to do with it," I reminded her. "You forget that I have lived abroad all my life; I really have only been home for about eight or nine months."

"Well, I should have thought that your sister would have been more ambitious for him," she declared. "However, it's not my business, of course. Since you are here, I shall insist, positively insist, upon coming every Sunday. My husband says that it is such a drag for the horses. Men have such ridiculous ideas where horses are concerned. I am sure that they take more care of them than they do of their wives. Come and have tea with me to-morrow, will you?"

"If I can," I promised. "It all depends upon what Providence has in store for me in the shape of callers."

"There is no one left to call," Lady Naselton declared, with her foot upon the carriage step. "I looked through your card plate the other day whilst I was waiting for you. You will be left in peace for a little while now."

"You forget our neighbor," I answered, laughing. "He has not called yet, and I mean him to."

Lady Naselton leaned back amongst the soft cushions of her barouche, and smiled a pitying smile at me.

"You need not wait for him, at any rate," she said. "If you do you will suffer for the want of fresh air."

The carriage drove off, and I skirted the church yard, and made my way round to the Vicarage gate. Away across the park I could see a huge knickerbockered figure leaning over a gate, with his back to me, smoking a pipe. It was not a graceful attitude, nor was it a particularly reputable way of spending a Sunday morning.

I was reminded of him again as I walked up the path towards the house. A few yards from our dining room window a dog was lying upon a flower bed edge. As I approached, it limped up, whining, and looked at me with piteous brown eyes. I recognized the breed at once. It was a beagle-one of Mr. Deville's without a doubt. It lay at my feet with its front paw stretched out, and when I stooped down to pat it, it wagged its tail feebly, but made no effort to rise. Evidently its leg was broken.

I fetched some lint from the house, and commenced to bind up the limb as carefully as possible. The dog lay quite still, whining and licking my hand every now and then. Just as I was finishing off the bandage I became conscious that some one was approaching the garden-a firm, heavy tread was crossing the lane. In a moment or two a gruff voice sounded almost at my elbow.

"I beg pardon, but I think one of my dogs is here."

The words were civil enough, but the tone was brusque and repellant. I looked round without removing my hands from the lint. Our neighbor's appearance was certainly not encouraging. His great frame was carelessly clad in a very old shooting suit, which once might have been of good cut and style, but was now only fit for the rag dealer. He wore a grey flannel shirt with a turn-down collar of the same material. His face, whatever its natural expression might have been, was disfigured just then with a dark, almost a ferocious, scowl. His hand was raised, as though unwillingly, to his cap, and a pair of piercing grey eyes were flashing down upon me from beneath his heavily marked eyebrows. He stood frowning down from his great height, a singularly powerful and forbidding object.

I resumed my task.

"No doubt it is your dog!" I said, calmly. "But you must wait until I have finished the bandage. You should take better care of your animals! Perhaps you don't know that its leg is broken."

He got down on his knees at once without glancing at me again. He seemed to have forgotten my very existence.

"Lawless," he exclaimed, softly-"little lady, little lady, what have you been up to? Oh, you silly little woman!"

The animal, with the rank ingratitude of its kind, wriggled frantically out of my grasp and fawned about its master in a paroxysm of delight. I was so completely forgotten that I was able to observe him at my ease. His face and voice had changed like magic. Then I saw that his features, though irregular, were powerful and not ill-shaped, and that his ugly flannel shirt was at any rate clean. He continued to ignore my presence, and, taking the dog up into his arms, tenderly examined the fracture.

"Poor little lady!" he murmured. "Poor little Lawless. One of those damned traps of Harrison's, I suppose. I shall kill that fellow some day!" he added, savagely, under his breath.

I rose to my feet and shook out my skirts. There are limits to one's tolerance.

"You are perfectly welcome," I remarked, quietly.

There was no doubt as to his having forgotten my presence. He looked up with darkened face. Lady Naselton was perfectly right. He was a very ugly man.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "I had quite forgotten that you were here. In fact, I thought that you had gone away. Thank you for attending to the dog. That will do very nicely until I get

it home," he added, touching the bandage.

"Until you get it home!" I repeated. "Thank you! Do you think that you can bandage better than that?"

I looked down with some scorn at his large, clumsy hands. After all, were they so very clumsy, though? They were large and brown, but they were not without a certain shapeliness. They looked strong, too. He bore the glance with perfect equanimity, and, taking the two ends of the line into his hands, commenced to draw them tighter.

"Well, you see, I shall set the bone properly when I get back," he said. "This is fairly done, though, for an amateur. Thank you-and good morning."

He was turning brusquely away with the dog under his arm, but I stopped him.

"Who is Harrison?" I asked, "and why does he set traps?"

He frowned, evidently annoyed at having to stay and answer questions.

"Harrison is a small tenant farmer who objects to my crossing his land."

"Objects to you crossing his land?" I repeated, vaguely.

"Yes, yes. I take these dogs after hares, you know-beagling, we call it. Sometimes I am forced to cross his farm if a hare is running, although I never go there for one. He objects, and so he sets traps."

"Is he your tenant?" I asked.

"Yes."

"Why don't you get rid of him, then? I wouldn't have a man who would set traps on my land."

He frowned, and his tone was distinctly impatient. He was evidently weary of the discussion.

"I cannot. He has a long lease. Good morning."

"Good morning, Mr. Deville."

He looked over his shoulder.

"You know my name!"

"Certainly. Don't you know mine?"

"No."

"Let me introduce myself, then. I am Miss Ffolliot-the pale-faced chit, you know!" I added, maliciously. "My father is the new vicar."

I was standing up before him with my hands clasped behind my back, and almost felt the flash of his dark, fiery eyes as they swept over me. I could not look away from him.

There was a distinct change in his whole appearance. At last he was looking at me with genuine interest. The lines of his mouth had come together sharply, and his face was as black as thunder.

"Ffolliot?" he repeated, slowly-"Ffolliot? How do you spell it?"

"Anyhow, so long as you remember the two F's!" I answered, suavely. "Generally, double F, O, double L, I, O, T. Rather a pretty name, we think, although I am afraid that you don't seem to like it. Oh! here's my father coming. Won't you stay, and make his acquaintance?"

My father, returning from the church, with his surplice under his arm, had been attracted by the sight of a strange man talking to me on the lawn, and was coming slowly over towards us. Mr. Deville turned round rather abruptly. The two men met face to face, my father dignified, correct, severe, Bruce Deville untidy, ill-clad, with sullen, darkened face, lit by the fire which flashed from his eyes. Yet there was a certain dignity about his bearing, and he met my father's eyes resolutely. The onus of speech seemed to rest with him, and he accepted it.

"I need no introduction to Mr. Ffolliot," he said, sternly. "I am afraid that I can offer you no welcome to Northshire. This is a surprise."

My father looked him up and down with stony severity.

"So far as I am concerned, sir," he said, "I desire no welcome from you. Had I known that you were to be amongst my near neighbors, I should not have taken up my abode here for however short a time."

"The sentiment," remarked Mr. Deville, "is altogether mutual. At any rate, we can see as little of each other as possible. I wish you a good morning."

He raised his cap presumably to me, although he did not glance in my direction, and went off across the lawn, taking huge strides, and crossing our flower beds with reckless unconcern. My father watched him go with a dark shadow resting upon his face. He laid his fingers upon my arm, and their touch through my thin gown was like the touch of fire. I looked into his still, calm face, and I wondered. It was marvellous that a man should wear such a mask.

"You have known him?" I murmured. "Where? Who is he?"

My father drew a long, inward breath through his clenched teeth.

"That man," he said, slowly, with his eyes still fixed upon the now distant figure, "was closely, very closely, associated with the most unhappy chapter of my life. It was all over and done with before you were old enough to understand. It is many, many years ago, but I felt in his presence as though it were but yesterday. It is many years ago-but it hurts still-like a knife it hurts."

He held his hand pressed convulsively to his side, and stood watching the grey, stalwart figure now almost out of sight. His face was white and strained-some symptoms of yesterday's faintness seemed to be suggested by those wan cheeks and over bright eyes. Even I, naturally unsympathetic and callous, was moved. I laid my hand upon his shoulders.

"It is over and finished, you say, this dark chapter," I whispered, softly. "I would not think of it."

He looked at me for a moment in silence. The grey pallor still lingered in his thin, sunken cheeks, and his eyes were like cold fires. It was a face which might well guard its own secrets. I looked into it, and felt a vague sense of trouble stirring within me. Was that chapter of his life turned over and done with forever? Was that secret at which he had hinted, and the knowledge of which lay between these two, wholly of the past, or was it a live thing? I could not tell. My father was fast becoming the enigma of my life.

"I cannot cease to think about it," he said, slowly. "I shall never cease to think about it until-until--"

"Until when?" I whispered.

"Until the end," he cried, hoarsely-"until the end, and God grant that it may not be long."

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