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   Chapter 14 ADELAIDE FORTRESS’S GUEST

The Yellow House By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 8244

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


My father did not appear at breakfast time the next morning, and Alice, who took him up some tea, came down in some concern.

"Father is not getting up until this afternoon, at any rate," she announced. "He is very unwell. I wish he would let us send for a doctor. He has looked so dreadfully ill since he came back from London."

Under the circumstances I was perhaps less alarmed than I might have otherwise been. It was clear to me that he did not wish to see the girl who had called upon me yesterday. I was strongly inclined to look upon his present indisposition as somewhat exaggerated with a view to escaping a meeting with her. But I was soon to be undeceived. I went up to him after breakfast, and, gaining no answer to my knock at the door, I entered softly. He was lying quite still upon the bed, partially dressed, and at first I thought that he was asleep. I moved to his side on tiptoe, and a sudden shock of fear drove the color from my face, and set my heart beating wildly. His eyes were closed, his cheeks were pale as death. Upon his side, underneath his waistcoat, was a linen bandage, half soaked with blood. Evidently he had fainted in the act of fastening it.

I got some brandy and forced it between his lips, chafed his hands, and gradually the life seemed to return to him. He opened his eyes and looked at me.

"Don't move!" I whispered. "I will see to the bandage."

He lay quite still, groaning every now and then until I had finished. Then I drew the counterpane over him and waited for a moment or two. He opened his eyes and looked at me.

"I am going to send for a doctor," I whispered, leaning over him.

He clutched my hand.

"I forbid it," he answered, hoarsely. "Do not dare to think of it, Kate! Do you hear?"

"But this is serious!" I cried. "You will be very ill."

"It is only a flesh wound," he muttered. "I scarcely feel it; only-I drew the bandage too tightly."

"How long have you had it?" I asked.

He looked towards the door; it was closed.

"Since I was in London. It was a cowardly attack-the night before I returned. I have gone armed ever since. I am safe now-quite safe."

I was sorely perplexed. He was watching me with bright, feverish eyes.

"Promise, Kate, that you will not send for a doctor, unless I give you leave," he whispered, eagerly. "Your solemn promise, Kate; I must have it."

"On condition that you let me see to the bandages for you then," I answered, reluctantly.

"Very good! You can. They will want changing to-night. I am going to sleep now."

He closed his eyes and turned his face to the wall. I stole softly out of the room and down stairs. The sight of Alice's calm and placid features as she busied herself about the affairs of the house and the parish was a constant irritation to me. I could not sit down or settle to any work. A fit of nervous restlessness came over me. Outside was a storm of wind and rain but even that I felt at last was better than inaction; so I put on my coat and hat and walked across the soddened turf and down the drive with the fresh, stinging rain in my face. I passed out into the road, and after a moment's hesitation took the turn towards the Yellow House.

I do not know what prompted me to go and see Adelaide Fortress. It was a sudden impulse, and I yielded to it promptly. But I had scarcely taken half a dozen steps before I found myself face to face with Bruce Deville. He stopped short, and looked at me with surprise.

"You are not afraid of rough weather, Miss Ffolliot," he remarked, raising his cap, with, for him, unusual courtesy.

"I fear many things worse," I answered, looking down into the wood. "Are you going to see Mrs. Fortress?"

"Yes, presently," he assented. "In the meantime, I was rather thinking-I want a word with your father."

"What about?" I asked, abruptly.

He looked at me intently. There was a new look upon his face which I scarcely understood. Was it pity. It was almost like it. He seemed to be wondering how much I knew-or surmised.

"It is a matter of some importance," he said, gravely. "I wish I could tell you. You

look sensible, like a girl who might be told."

His words did not offend me in the least. On the contrary, I think that I was pleased.

"Mr. Deville," I said, firmly, "I agree with you. I am a girl who might be told. I only wish that my father would be open with me. There is some mystery around, some danger. I can see it all in your faces; I can feel it in the air. That man's death"-I pointed into the wood-"is concerned in it. What does it all mean? I want to know. I want you to tell me."

"Tell me who that man was, and who killed him?" I asked, firmly. "I have a right to know. I am determined to know!"

He was certainly paler underneath the dark tan of his sun and weather-burned cheeks. Yet he answered me steadily enough.

"Take my advice, Miss Ffolliot, ask no questions about it, have no thought about it. Put it away from you. I speak for your happiness, which, perhaps, I am more interested in than you would believe."

Afterwards I wondered at that moment of embarrassment, and the little break in his voice. Just then the excitement of the moment made me almost oblivious of it.

"You are telling me!" I cried.

"I am not telling you; I am not telling you because I do not know. For God's sake ask me no more questions! Come and see Adelaide Fortress. You were going there, were you not?"

"Yes, I was going there," I admitted.

"We will go together," he said. "She will be glad to see you, I am sure. Mind the mud; it's horribly slippery."

We descended the footpath together. Just as we reached the gates of the Yellow House, I turned to him.

He sighed.

"I am not the one to whom you should appeal," he said. "I have not the right to tell you anything; you may know very soon. In the meantime, will you tell me where your father is?"

"He is at home," I answered, "in bed. He is ill. I do not think that he will see you. He is not going to get up to-day."

Mr. Deville did not appear in the least disturbed or disappointed. On the contrary, his face cleared, and I think that he was relieved.

"I am glad to hear it," he answered.

"Why?"

"He is better out of the way just for the present. When does he take up his new appointment?"

"I am not sure that any definite time has been fixed," I answered. "In about a month I should think."

"I heard about it yesterday," he remarked. "Your stay here has not been a long one, has it?"

"Would to God that we had never come at all!" I exclaimed, fervently. "It has been the most miserable time in my life."

"I don't know that I can echo that wish," he said, with a faint smile. "Yet so far as you are concerned, from your point of view, I suppose your coming here must have seemed very unfortunate. It is a pity."

"Mr. Deville," I said, drawing close to his side, "I am going to ask you a question."

He looked down at me shaking his head.

"I should rather you asked me no question at all," he answered, promptly. "Can't we talk of other things?"

"No, we cannot! Listen!"

I laid my hand upon his arm, and forced him to turn towards me.

"You were speaking of going to see my father this afternoon," I said. "Can I give him any message for you?"

"Tell him that I am sorry to hear of his illness, but that I am glad that he is taking care of himself," he answered, looking down at me. "Tell him that the weather is bad, and that he will do well to take care of himself. He is better in his room just at present."

We were inside the gates of the Yellow House, and I had not time to ask him the meaning of this unusual solicitude for my father's health. I was still puzzling over it when we were shown into the drawing room. Then for a moment I forgot it, and everything else altogether. Adelaide Fortress had a visitor sitting opposite to her and talking earnestly.

The conversation ceased suddenly, and she looked up as we entered. There was no mistaking the long, sallow face and anxious eyes. She looked at me with indifference, but at the sight of my companion she jumped up and a little cry broke from her lips. Her eyes seemed to be devouring him.

"At last!" she cried. "At last!"

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