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   Chapter 11 THE GATHERING OF THE CLOUD

The Yellow House By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 7756

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


From my low chair I watched my father cross the room. So far as I could see there was no change in him. He came over to my side and took my hand with an air of anxious kindliness. Then he stooped down, and his lips touched my forehead.

"You are better, Kate?" he inquired, quietly.

"Quite well," I answered.

He looked at me thoughtfully, and asked a few questions about my illness, touched upon his own visit to the Bishop, and the dignity which had been offered to him. Then after a short pause, during which my heart beat fiercely, he came and sat down by my side.

"Kate! You are strong enough to listen to me while I speak just for a moment or two upon a very painful subject."

"Yes," I whispered. "Go on."

"I gather from what Alice tells me that you have already shown a very wise discretion-in a certain matter. You have already alluded to it, it seems, and she has told you all that is known. Something, of course, must have at once occurred to you-I mean the fact that I have not thought it well to disclose the fact that you and I together met that unfortunate man on the common, and that he asked me the way to the Yellow House."

"I was bewildered when I found that you had not mentioned it," I faltered. "I do not understand. Please tell me."

He looked steadily into my eyes. There was not the slightest disquietude in his still, stern face. My nervousness did not affect him at all. He seemed to feel no embarrassment.

"It is a matter," he said, slowly, "to which I gave a good deal of thought at the time. I came to the conclusion that for my own sake and for the sake of another that the fact of that meeting had better not be known. There are things concerning it which I may not tell you. I cannot offer you as I would like my whole confidence. Only I can say this, my disclosure of the fact of our having met the man could have done not one iota of good. It could not possibly have suggested to any one either a clue as to the nature of the crime or to the criminal himself, and bearing in mind other things of which you are happier to remain ignorant, silence became to me almost a solemn duty. It became at any rate an absolute necessity. For the sake of others as well as for my own sake I held my peace. Association direct or indirect with such a crime would have been harmful alike to me and to the person whom he desired to visit. So I held my peace, and I require of you, Kate, that you take my pledged word as to the necessity for this silence, and that you follow my example. I desire your solemn promise that no word of that meeting shall ever pass your lips."

I did not answer. With his eyes fixed upon my face he waited. I laid my hand upon his arm.

"Father, in the church, did you see his face? Did you hear what he was saying?"

He did not shrink from me. He looked into my white, eager face without any sign of fear or displeasure.

"Yes," he answered, gravely.

"Was it-was it-you to whom he spoke?" I cried.

There was a short silence.

"I cannot answer you that question, Kate," he said.

I grasped his hand feverishly. There was a red livid mark afterwards where my nails had dug into his wrist.

"Father, would you have me go mad?" I moaned. "You know that man. You knew who he was! You knew what he wanted-at the Yellow House."

"It is true," he answered.

"In the church I could have touched-could have touched him, he was so near to me-there was a terrible light in his face, his eyes were flaming upon you. He was like a man who suddenly understands. He called 'Judas,' and he pointed-at you."

"He was mad," my father answered, with a terrible calmness. "Every one could see that he was mad."

"Mad!" I caught at the thought. I repeated the word to myself, and forced my recollection backwards with a little shudder to those few horrible moments. After all was there any hope that t

his might be the interpretation? My father's voice broke in upon my thoughts.

"I do not wish to harp upon what must be a terribly painful subject to you, Kate. I only want your promise, you must take my word for everything else."

I looked at him long and steadily. If the faces of men are in any way an index to their lives, my father's should rank high-high indeed. His countenance was absolutely unruffled. There was not a single shadow of fear there, or passion of any sort; only a delicate thoughtfulness tempered with that quiet dignity which seemed almost an inseparable characteristic of his. I took his hands in mine and clasped them fervently.

"Father," I cried, "give me your whole confidence. I will promise all that you desire, only let me know everything. I have thought sometimes-terrible thoughts-I cannot help them. They torment me now-they will torment me always. I know so much-tell me a little more. My lips shall be sealed. I mean it! Only--"

He raised his hand softly, but the words died upon my lips.

"I have nothing to tell you, child," he said, quietly. "Put that thought away from you forever. The burden which I bear is upon my own shoulders only. God forbid that even the shadow of it should darken your young life."

"I am not afraid of any knowledge," I cried. "It is ignorance of which I am afraid. I can bear anything except these horrible, nameless fears against which I have no power. Why don't you trust me? I am old enough. I am wise enough. What you tell me shall be as sacred as God's word to me."

He shook his head without any further response. I choked back the tears from my eyes.

"There is some mystery, here," I cried. "We are all enveloped in it. What does it mean? Why did we come here?"

"We came here by pure accident," my father answered. "We came here because the curacy was offered to me; and I was glad to take anything which relieved me of my duties at Belchester."

"It was fate!-a cruel fate!" I moaned.

"It was the will of God," he answered, sternly.

Then there was a silence between us, unbroken for many minutes. My father waited by my side-waited for my answer. The despair in my heart grew deeper.

"I cannot live here," I said, "and remain ignorant."

"You must give me your promise, child," he said. "I have no power to tell you anything. You are young, and for you the terror of this thing will fade away."

I answered him then with a sinking heart.

"I promise," I said, faintly. "Only-I shall have to go away. I cannot live here. It would drive me mad."

His cold lips touched mine as he rose.

"You must do," he said, gravely, "what seems best to you. You are old enough to be the moulder of your own life. If you would be happier away, you must go. Only there is this to be remembered-I can understand that this particular place may have become distasteful to you. We are not going to live here any longer. You will find life at Eastminster larger and more absorbing. I shall be able to do more for you than I have ever done before."

"It is not that," I interrupted, wearily. "You know that it is not that. It is between us two."

He was silent. A sudden change stole into his face. His lips quivered. An inexpressible sorrow gleamed for a moment in his dark eyes. He bent his head. Was that a tear that fell? I fancied so.

I took his hand and soothed it.

"Father, you will tell me, won't you?" I whispered. "I shall not mind. I will be brave, whatever dreadful things I may have to know. Let me share the burden."

For a moment I thought that he was yielding. He covered his face with his hands and remained silent. But when he looked up I saw that the moment of weakness had passed. He rose to his feet.

"Good night, Kate," he said, quietly. "Thank you for your promise."

My heart sank. I returned his kiss coldly. He left me without another word.

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