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   Chapter 10 CANON OF BELCHESTER

The Yellow House By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 7145

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


There followed for me after these solemn words of the Bishop a phantasmagoria of human faces, and sky, and tree-tops, and a singing in my ears, now loud, now soft, in which all other sounds and movements seemed blended. I have an indistinct recollection of the walk home, and of finding myself in my own room. Then memory gradually faded away from me. Blank unconsciousness enveloped me like a cloud. The next thing I remember is waking up one morning as though after a terrible dream, a night of nightmares, and finding the room half full of medicine bottles. I looked around me faintly curious, inexpressibly bewildered; I suddenly realized that I had been ill.

I was not alone. Alice was standing over me, her round, honest little face beaming with pleasure and her underlip quivering.

"You are better," she said, softly. "I am so glad."

"How long have I been here?" I asked.

She sat down by my side.

"A week to-morrow! Just think of it."

I closed my eyes. The little scene in the churchyard had suddenly risen up again before my eyes. My head commenced to swim. I asked no more questions.

The next morning I was stronger. I sat up in bed and looked around. The first thing which I noticed was that the room was full of the most beautiful flowers; I stooped over a vase of roses and smelt them. The air was almost faint with their delicious perfume.

"Where did they all come from?" I asked Alice.

She laughed in rather an odd manner.

"From whom do you suppose?" she asked.

"How should I know?" I protested, faintly. "I have not an idea."

"From the bête noir," she exclaimed, plucking off one of the yellow blossoms and placing it upon my pillow.

I still looked blankly at her. She laughed.

"Can't you really guess?" she asked.

I shook my head. I really had no idea.

"From Mr. Deville. He has called nearly every day to ask after you."

It was surprising enough, but I said very little. I suppose I was not considered strong enough then to hear any news of importance; but several days later, when I was sitting up, Alice looked up from the book she was reading aloud to me and told me something which I know she must have had very hard work to have kept to herself for so long.

"Father is to be made a canon, Kate," she said, triumphantly. I looked up at her bewildered. I had forgotten all about Lady Naselton's plans on his behalf. The latter part of this terrible Sunday had haunted me like a nightmare, usurping all my thoughts. There had been little room for other memories.

"A canon!" I repeated, feebly. "Do you mean it, Alice?"

She nodded.

"The Bishop came here from Lady Naselton's. He said a lot of nice things to father about his sermon on-that Sunday night-you remember."

"It was a wonderful sermon," I whispered.

"So the Bishop thinks; so every one thinks," Alice declared, with enthusiasm. "I shall never forget how I felt. And he had no notes, or anything."

"It was the most realistic sermon I ever heard," I said, with a little shudder. "It was like a scene from a play. It was wonderful."

Alice looked up at me quickly. Doubtless my voice had betrayed some agitation. She laid her hand upon my arm.

"Don't think about it this evening," she begged. "I quite forgot father especially forbade my speaking of it to you. It must have been terrible for you to have been so near it all. I can't imagine what I should have done. I could see nothing from the organ screen, you know."

I leaned over and looked at her.

"Alice, I do not want to talk about it, but I want to know ho

w it ended. You must tell me that."

She hesitated for a moment.

"He was quite dead," she said, slowly. "There was an inquest, and they decided that he must have been attacked somewhere in the wood between the downs and Yellow House. There were all the marks of a struggle within a few hundred yards of the road."

"Did they bring in a verdict of murder?" I asked.

Alice nodded.

"Yes," she assented, gravely. "He was murdered. It seems that he was lately come from abroad. He had been staying at Lady Naselton's, but she knew scarcely anything about him. He was kind to her son abroad. I think they just know his name and that was all. They had no idea where to send to or if he had any near relatives alive. It was all very odd."

"Was he robbed?" I asked.

"No. His watch and money were found in his pocket undisturbed. If anything was taken from it it must have been papers only. The police are trying hard to find a clue, but they say that it is a very difficult case. No one seems to have seen him at all after he left Naselton Hall."

I caught at the side of my chair.

"No one at all?" I asked.

"Not a soul."

I was silent for a moment. The walls of my little chamber had suddenly opened. I saw again from the edge of the moor that lone figure coming down the hillside towards us, I saw that strange light flashing in my father's face, and I heard the greeting of the two men. A sick dread was in my heart.

"Was father called as a witness?" I asked.

"No. Why should he be? The man was a stranger to him. He had never seen him before."

I closed my eyes and laid back. Alice bent over me anxiously.

"I ought not to have talked about this to you," she said. "Father absolutely forbade me to, but you wanted to know the end so much. Promise not to think of it any more."

Promise not to think of it any more? Ah! if only I could have made that promise and kept it. My sister's protesting words seemed charged with the subtlest and most bitter of all irony. Already some faint premonition of the burden which I was to bear seemed dawning upon me. I remained silent and kept my eyes closed. Alice thought that I was asleep, but I knew that sleep was very far off. The white, distorted face of that dying man was before me. I saw the silent challenge and the silent duel which had passed between those two, the central figures in that marvellous little drama-one, the challenger, ghastly pale even to the tremulous lips, wild and dishevelled, my father looking down upon him with unquailing mien and proud, still face. One moment more of life, a few beats more of the pulses, and that sentence-and that sentence-what would it have grown to? I felt myself shivering as I lay there.

"Did you say that father was away now?" I asked Alice.

She nodded.

"Yes; he is staying with the Bishop for a few days. I should not be surprised if he came home to-day, though. I have written to him by every post to let him know how you are, and he was most anxious to hear directly you were well enough to talk. I have been disobeying him frightfully."

Again I closed my eyes and feigned sleep. I had heard what Alice had not, the sound of wheels below. Suddenly she laid down her work and started up. It was my father's voice bidding the cabman "Good night."

"I must go down to him, Kate," she declared, springing up; "I won't leave you alone for more than a minute or two."

But when the minute or two had elapsed and there was a knock at my door, it was not Alice who had returned. I answered in a low voice, and my father entered.

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