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The Yellow House By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 12644

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

On the Thursday following my father's departure for London Lady Naselton sent her carriage for me, and a note marked urgent. It contained only a few lines, evidently written in a hurry.

"Naselton, Thursday.

"My Dear Girl,-Put on your calling-frock, and come up to tea at once. The Romneys and a few other people are coming over, and Fred brought a most interesting man down from town this morning. I want you to know him. He is quite delightful to talk to, and is a millionaire! Come and help me entertain him.

"Yours ever,

"Amy Naselton."

I laughed as I went upstairs to change my things. Lady Naselton was famed throughout the county as an inveterate matchmaker. Without a doubt the millionaire who was delightful to talk to was already in her mind as the most suitable match for a poor country clergyman's daughter who had the misfortune to possess ambitions. I could tell by the fussy manner in which she greeted me that she considered the matter already almost settled. The room was full of people, but my particular victim was sitting alone in a recess. Evidently he had been kept back for my behoof. Lady Naselton, as though suddenly remembering his presence, brought him over and introduced him at once.

"Mr. Berdenstein," she said-"Miss Ffolliot. Will you see that Miss Ffolliot has some tea?" she added, smiling upon him blandly. "My servants all seem so stupid to-day."

I sat down and looked at him while he attended to my wants. At the first glance I disliked him. He was tall and dark, with sallow face and regular features of somewhat Jewish type. There was too much unction about his manner. He smiled continually, and showed his teeth too often. I found myself wondering whether he had made his million in a shop. I was forced to talk to him, however, and I settled myself down to be bored.

"You have not been in England long?" I asked.

"About three days," he answered.

His voice was not so bad. I looked at him again. His face was not a pleasant one, and he seemed to be scarcely at his ease, added to which something in his bearing indistinctly suggested a limited acquaintance with drawing rooms such as Lady Naselton's. Yet it was possible that he was clever. His forehead was well shaped, and his mouth determined.

"Mr. Fred Naselton was the first man I saw in London," he went on. "It was a very odd thing to run against him before I was well off the ship."

"He was an old friend of yours?" I continued, purely for the sake of keeping up the conversation.

"Not very. Oh, no! Scarcely friend at all," he disclaimed. "I did him a turn in Rio last month. Nothing to speak of, but he was grateful."

"Where?" I asked, abruptly.

"Rio," he repeated. "Rio Janeiro-you know, capital of South America."

I turned and faced him suddenly. His eyes had been fixed on my face. He had been watching me furtively. My heart beat suddenly faster. I drew a little breath, I could not trust myself to speak for a moment. After a brief pause he continued-

"I've been out there a good many years. Long enough to get jolly well sick of the place and people and everything connected with it. I'm thankful to say that I've finished with it."

"You are not going back, then," I remarked, indifferently.

"Not I," he declared. "I only went to make money, and I've made it-a good deal. Now I'm going to enjoy it, here, in the old country. Marry and settle down, and all that sort of thing, you know, Miss Ffolliot."

His keen, black eyes were fixed upon my face. I felt a slight flush of color in my cheeks. At that moment I hated Lady Naselton. She had been talking to this odious man about me, and he had been quick enough to understand her aright. I should have liked to have got up but for a certain reason. He had come from South America. He had arrived in London about the 15th. So I sat there and suffered.

"A most praiseworthy ambition," I remarked, with a sarcasm which I strove vainly to keep to myself. "I am sure I wish you every success."

"That is very good of you," he answered, slowly. "Wishes count for a good deal sometimes. I am very thankful for yours."

"Wishes cost little," I answered, coldly, "and I am afraid that mine are practically valueless. Have you been away from England long?"

"For many years," he answered, after a slight hesitation.

"It seems odd," I remarked, "that your first visit should be at the house of a comparative stranger. Have you no relations or old friends to welcome you back?"

A slight and peculiar smile hovered upon his lips.

"I have some old friends," he said, quietly; "I do not know whether they will welcome me home again. Soon I shall know. I am not far away from them."

"Do they know of your return?" I asked.

"Some of them. One of them I should say," he answered. "The one about whom I care does not know."

"You are going to surprise him?" I remarked.

"I am going to surprise her," he corrected.

There was a short silence. I had no more doubt in my mind. Chance had brought me face to face with the writer of that letter to my father, the man to find whom he was even now in London. Perhaps they had already met; I stole a glance at him; he was furtively watching me all the while.

"I have also," he said, "a sister of whom I am very fond. She lives in Paris. I have written to her to come to me-not here, of course, to London."

I turned a little in my chair and faced him.

"I wonder," I said, "if amongst those friends of whom you speak there is any one whom I know."

His lips parted, and he showed all his glistening white teeth.

"Somehow," he said, softly, under his breath, "I thought you knew. Has your father sent you here? Have you any message for me? If so, let me have it, we may be disturbed."

I shook my head.

"My father is in London," I told him. "He left the morning he had your letter."

"When is he coming back?" he asked, eagerly.

"On Friday, I believe," I answered. "I am not quite sure. At any rate, he will be here by Sunday."

An odd look flashed for a moment across the man's face. It gave me an uneasy sensation.

"Have you seen him in London?" I asked, quickly.

"Certainly not," he answered; "I have seen no one. I have only been in England for a day or two. I shall look forward," he added, "to the pleasure of seeing you

r father on Sunday."

"And Mr. Bruce Deville?" I inquired.

He looked at me suspiciously. He was wondering how much I knew.

"Mr. Bruce Deville?" he said, slowly. "I have not seen him lately; they tell me he has altered a great deal."

"I have only known him a week, and so I cannot tell," I answered.

Again he fixed his little dark eyes upon me; he was evidently completely puzzled.

"You have only known him a week, and yet you know that-that he and I are not strangers?"

"I learned it by accident," I answered.

Obviously he did not believe me; he hesitated for a moment to put his disbelief into words, and in the meantime I made a bold stroke.

"Have you seen Adelaide Fortress yet?" I asked.

His face changed. He looked at me half in wonder, half eagerly; his whole expression had softened.

"Not yet," he said; "I am waiting to know where she is; I would go to her to-day-if only I dared-if only I dared!"

His dark eyes were lit with passion; a pale shade seemed to have crept in upon the sallowness of his cheeks.

"When you talk of her," he said, speaking rapidly, and with his voice thick with some manner of agitation, "you make me forget everything! You make me forget who you are, who she is, where we are! I remember only that she exists! Oh, my God!"

I laid my hand upon his coat sleeve.

"Be careful," I whispered. "People will notice you; speak lower."

His voice sank; it was still, however, hoarse with passion.

"I shall know soon," he said, "very soon, whether the years have made her any kinder; whether the dream, the wild dream of my life, is any nearer completion. Oh, you may start!" he added, looking into my white, puzzled face; "you and your father, and Deville, and the whole world may know it. I love her still! I am going to regain her or die! There! You see it is to be no secret war; go and tell your father if you like, tell them all, bid them prepare. If they stand in my way they must suffer. Soon I am going to her. I am going to stand before her and point to my grey hairs, and say, 'Every one of them is a thought of you; every day of my life has been moulded towards the winning of you.' And when I tell her that, and point to the past, she will be mine again."

"You are very sure of her," I murmured.

His face fell.

"Alas! no," he cried, "I cannot say that; only it is my hope and my passion which are so strong. They run away with me; I picture it to myself-this blessed thing-and I forget. Listen!" he added, with sudden emphasis, "you must promise me something. I have let my tongue go too fast. I have talked to you as my other self; you must promise me one thing."

"What is it?" I asked.

"You must promise me that you will not speak of my presence here to her. In a day or two-well, we shall see. I shall go to her then; I shall risk everything. But at present, no! She must be ignorant of my return until I myself declare it. You will promise me this?"

I promised. I scarcely dared do otherwise if I wished to avoid a scene, for already the agitation and occasional excitement of his speech were attracting attention. But, having promised, I asked him a question.

"Will not Mr. Deville tell her-or my father?"

"It is just possible that Mr. Deville might," he said, with the air of one who had well considered the matter. "But I do not think it likely; there are certain reasons which would probably keep him silent."

"And my father?" I asked.

Again there was an odd look in his face. Somehow it filled me with vague alarm; I could not imagine what it meant.

"I do not think," he answered, "that your father will tell her; I am nearly sure that he will not. No, I myself shall announce my return. I shall stand face to face with her before she has learned to school her countenance. I shall see in the light or in the darkness how she holds me. It will be a test-a glorious test."

Lady Naselton came rustling up to us with beaming face. "My dear girl," she said, "I am so sorry to disturb you, you both look so interested. Whatever you have found to talk about I can't imagine. Lady Romney is going; she would so like to know you. Would you mind coming to speak to her?"

"With pleasure," I declared, rising at once to my feet; "I must be going too. Good afternoon, Mr. Berdenstein."

He held out his hand, but I had no intention of shaking hands with him. I bowed coldly, and turned to follow Lady Naselton.

"Perhaps it is best," he murmured, leaning a little forward. "We cannot possibly be friends; no doubt you hate me; we are on opposite sides. Good afternoon, Miss Ffolliot."

I followed Lady Naselton, but before we had reached the Romneys I stopped her.

"Lady Naselton, who is that man?" I asked her. "What do you know of him?"

"My dear child," she answered, "from the confidential manner in which you have been talking all this time, I should have imagined that he had told you his history from childhood. Frankly, I don't know anything about him at all. He was very good to Fred in South America, and he has made a lot of money, that is really all I know. Fred met him in town, and brought him down without notice. I hope," she added, looking at my pale face, "that he has been behaving himself properly."

"I have no fault to find with him," I answered. "I was curious, that is all."

"I am so glad, dear," she answered, smiling. "For a millionaire you know, I don't consider him at all unpresentable, do you?"

I smiled faintly. Poor Lady Naselton!

"He did not strike me as being remarkably objectionable," I answered. "He is a little awkward, and very confidential."

Lady Naselton piloted me across the room towards the Romneys, with her arm linked in mine.

"We must make a few allowances, my dear," she whispered, confidentially. "One cannot have everything nowadays. He is really not so bad, and the money is quite safe. In diamonds, or something, Fred says. It is quite a million."

I glanced back to him as I stood talking with the Romneys. He was sitting quietly where I had left him, watching me covertly. His black eyebrows were drawn together, and a certain look of anxiety seemed to have sharpened his sallow features. His eyes fell at once before mine. I felt that I would have given everything I possessed in the world to have known who he was.

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