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   Chapter 16 “IT WAS MY FATHER”

The Yellow House By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 4498

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The two women were standing face to face. Bruce Deville and I had fallen back. There was a moment or two's breathless silence. Then Adelaide Fortress, with perfect composure, moved over to the girl's side, and glanced over her shoulder.

"That," she said, quietly, "is the photograph of a man who has been dead twenty years. His name was not Maltabar."

"That," repeated the girl, unshaken, "is the photograph of Philip Maltabar."

I stepped forward to look at it, but, as if divining my purpose, Adelaide Fortress touched the spring and the aperture was hidden.

"That photograph," she repeated, coldly, "is the likeness of an old and dear friend of mine who is dead. I do not feel called upon to tell you his name. It was not Maltabar."

"I do not believe you," she said, steadily. "I believe that you are all in a conspiracy against me. I am sorry I ever told you my story. I am sorry I ever sat down under your roof. I believe that Philip Maltabar lives and that he is not far away. We shall see!"

She moved to the door. Mr. Deville stood there ready to open it. She looked up at him-as a woman can look sometimes.

"You at least are not against me," she murmured. "Say that you are not! Say that you will be my friend once more!"

He bent down and said something to her very quietly, which we did not hear, and when she left the room he followed her. We heard the hall door slam. Through the window we could see them walking down the gravel path side by side. She was talking eagerly, flashing quick little glances up at him, and her fingers lay upon his coat sleeve. He was listening gravely with downcast head.

Adelaide Fortress looked from them to me with a peculiar smile. What she said seemed a little irrelevant.

"How she will bore him!"

"Oh! I don't know," I answered, with an irritation whose virulence surprised me. "Men like that sort of thing."

"Not Mr. Deville," she said. "He will hate it."

I was not sure about it. I watched them disappear. He was stooping down so as to catch every word she said. Obviously he was doing his best to adapt himself and to be properly sympathetic. I was angry with myself and ignorant of the cause of my anger.

"Never mind about them," I said, abruptly. "There is

something else-more important-Mrs. Fortress."

"Yes."

"I want to see that photograph-the photograph of the man whom she called Philip Maltabar."

She shook her head. Was it my fancy, or was she indeed a shade paler?

"Don't ask me that," she said, slowly. "I would rather not show it to any one."

"But I have asked you, and I ask again!" I exclaimed. "There are already too many things around me which I do not understand. I am not a child, and I am weary of all this mystery. I insist upon seeing that photograph."

She laid her hands upon my shoulders, and looked up into my face.

"Child," she said, slowly, "it were better for you not to see that photograph. Can't you believe me when I tell you so. It will be better for you and better for all of us. Don't ask me to show it to you."

"I would take you at your word," I answered, "only I have already some idea. I caught a fugitive glimpse of it just now, before you touched the spring. To know even the worst is better than to be continually dreading it."

She crossed the room in silence, and bending over the cabinet touched the spring. The picture smiled out upon me. It was the likeness of a young man-gay, supercilious, debonair-yet I knew it-knew it at once. The forehead and the mouth, even the pose of the head was unchanged. It was my father.

"He called himself once, then, Philip Maltabar?" I cried, hoarsely.

She nodded.

"It was long ago."

"It is for him the girl is searching. It is he who was her brother's enemy; it is--"

She held my hand and looked around her fearfully.

"Be careful," she said, softly. "The girl may have returned. It is not a thing to be even whispered about. Be silent, and keep your own counsel."

Then I covered my face with my hands, and my throat was choked with hard, dry sobs. The thing which I had most feared had come to pass. The scene in the church rose up again before my eyes. I saw the fierce gestures of a dying man, the froth on his lips, as he struggled with the words of denunciation, the partial utterance of which had killed him. With a little shiver I recognized how narrow had been my father's escape. For I could no longer have any real doubts. It was my father who had killed Stephen Berdenstein.

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