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   Chapter 17 A CONFERENCE OR TWO

The Yellow House By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 10786

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


In the wood half-way between the Yellow House and home I met Bruce Deville. I should have hurried on, but it was impossible to pass him. He had a way of standing which took up the whole path.

"Miss Ffolliot," he said, "may I walk home with you?"

"It is only a few steps," I answered. "Please don't trouble."

"It will be a pleasure," he said, sturdily.

I looked at him; such a faint, acrimonious smile.

"Haven't you been almost polite enough for one day?" I asked.

He seemed to be genuinely surprised at my ill-humor.

"You mean, I suppose, because I walked home with that girl," he answered. "I did so on your account only. I wanted to know what she was going to do."

"I did not require any explanation," I remarked.

He seemed perplexed. Men are such idiots. In the end he ignored my speech.

"I wanted to see you," he began, thoughtfully. "I have been to call at the Vicarage; your sister would not let me see your father."

"I am not surprised at that," I answered; "you do not realize how ill he is."

"Have you had a doctor to see him?" he asked.

"No; he will not let me send for one," I answered. "Yet I know he is in need of medical advice. It is very hard to know what to do for the best."

"If I may advise you," he said, slowly, "I should strongly recommend your doing exactly as your father wishes. He knows best what is well for him. Only tell him this from me. Tell him that change will be his best medicine. I heard yesterday that the Bishop wished him to go to Eastminster at once. Let him get an invalid carriage and go there to-morrow. It will be better for him and safer."

I stopped short, and laid my hand upon his wrist. I tried to make him look at me; but he kept his face turned away.

"You are not thinking of his health only," I said; "there is something else. I know a good deal, you need not fear. You can speak openly. It is that girl."

He did not deny it. He looked down at me, and his strong, harsh face was softened in a peculiar manner. I knew that he was very sorry for me, and there was a lump in my throat.

"What is she going to do?" I asked, trembling. "What does she suspect?"

"Nothing definite," he answered, quickly. "She is bewildered. She is going to stay here and watch. I am afraid that she will send for a detective. It is not that she has any suspicion as to your father. It is you whom she distrusts-you and Adelaide. She thinks that you are trying to keep your father from her. She thinks that he could tell her-what she wants to know. That is all."

"It is quite enough!" I cried, passionately. "If only we could get her to go away. I am afraid of her."

We were standing by the gate, I held out my hand to him; he grasped it warmly.

"Remember my advice to your father," he said. "I shall do my utmost to prevent the girl from taking any extreme measures. Fortunately she considers herself under some obligation to me."

"You saved her life," I remarked, thoughtfully.

"Yes, I am sorry for it," he added, curtly. "Goodbye."

He turned away and I hurried into the house. Alice was nowhere about. I went softly into my father's room. He was dozing, and as I stood over him and saw how pale and thin his face was, my heart grew sick and sorrowful. The tears stood in my eyes. After all, it was a noble face; I longed to have that barrier broken down between us, to hear the truth from his own lips, and declare myself boldly on his side-even if it were the side of the outlaw and the sinner. As I stood there, he opened his eyes. They were dull and glazed.

"You are ill, father," I said, softly, "you will get worse if you will not have advice. Let me go and bring the doctor?"

"You will do no such thing," he answered, firmly. "I am better-much better."

"You do not look it," I answered, doubtfully.

"Never mind, I am better, I feel stronger. Where is that girl? Has she gone away?"

I was glad he asked me the question outright. It was one step forward towards the more complete confidence which I so greatly desired. I shook my head.

"No, she has not gone away. She seems to have no idea of going. She has found a friend here."

"A friend?"

"Yes; she has met Mr. Deville before. He saved her life in Switzerland."

He tossed about for a moment or two with closed eyes and frowning face.

"You have seen her again, then?" he muttered.

"Yes; I met her this afternoon."

"Where?"

I hesitated. I had not wished to mention my visit to Adelaide Fortress, at any rate until he was stronger; but he saw my reluctance and forced me to answer him.

"At the Yellow House," I said, softly.

He gave a little gasp. At first I was afraid that he was going to be angry with me. As it chanced, the fact of my disobedience did not seem to occur to him.

"The Yellow House?" he repeated, quickly. "What was she doing there? What did she want?"

"I don't know what excuse she made for calling," I answered. "She seems to be going round the neighborhood making inquiries for Philip Maltabar. She has quite made up her mind that he is the man who killed her brother. She says--"

"Yes--"

"That she is quite sure that he is here-somewhere-in hiding. She is like a ferret, she will not rest until she has found him."

He struck the bedclothes vigorously with his white, clenched hand.

"It is false! She will never find him. Philip Maltabar is dead."

"I wish that we could make her believe it," I answered. "But we cannot. We shall never be able to."

"Why not?"

"Because it is not true. Philip Maltabar is not dead. She knows it."

"What do you mean?" he said hoarsely, raising himself from the pillows. "Who says that he is not dead? Who dares to say that Philip Maltabar still lives?"

"I do!" I answered, firmly. "It is you who have called yourself Philip Maltabar in days that have gone by. It is you for whom she is looking."

He did not attempt to deny it. I had spoken decisively, with the air of one who knows. He fell back and half closed his eyes. "Does she suspect it?" he whispered. "Is that why she waited? Is that why she came here?"

"I do not think so," I answered. "Yet she certainly does believe that Philip Maltabar is somewhere here in hiding. She suspects me more than any one."

"You!-how you?"

"She has an idea that he is a friend of mine-that I am shielding him and trying to keep you away from her, lest she should learn the truth from you. That is what she thinks at present."

"Cannot you persuade her that there is no such person round here as Philip Maltabar?" he murmured. "She can make her own inquiries, she can consult directories, the police, the residents. It ought not to be hard to convince her."

"It is impossible," I answered, shortly.

"Impossible! Why?"

"Because she has seen the photograph, in Adelaide Fortress's cabinet."

"What!"

The exclamation seemed to come from his parched, dry lips like a pistol shot. His burning eyes were fixed upon me incredulously. I repeated my words.

"She saw his photograph at the Yellow House. It was in the secret aperture of a cabinet. She touched the spring unwittingly, and it flew open."

My father turned over and groaned.

"When Fate works like this, the end is not far off," he cried, in a broken voice. "God help us!"

I fell on my knees by the bedside, and took one of his white hands in mine.

"Father," I said, "I have asked you many questions which you have not answered. This one you must answer. I will not live here any longer in ignorance of it. I am your daughter, and there are some things which I have a right to know. Tell me why this woman has your likeness?"

"My likeness!" he said fiercely. "Who dares say that it is my likeness?"

"It is your likeness, father," I answered. "I saw it, and there can be no mistake. She has admitted it, but she will tell me nothing."

He shook his head.

"It may happen that you will know some day," he answered, faintly, "but not from me-never from me."

I tightened my clasp upon his hands.

"Do not say that," I continued, firmly. "There is something binding you three together, yet keeping you all apart. You and Bruce Deville and Adelaide Fortress. What is it? A secret? Some common knowledge of an unhappy past? I alone am ignorant of it; I cannot bear it any longer. If you do not tell me what it is I must go away. I am not a child-I will know!"

He lay quite still and looked at me sorrowfully.

"There is a secret," he said, slowly, "but it is not mine to tell. Have patience, child, and some day you will understand. Only have patience."

"I have been patient long enough," I answered, bitterly. "I cannot be patient any longer. If I cannot be trusted with this secret now, I shall go away; Alice can take my place here. I have been at home so little, that you will not miss me. I will go back to Dresden. I have made up my mind."

He caught hold of my hands and held them with burning fingers.

"A little while," he pleaded, looking at me piteously. "Stay with me a little while longer. Very soon you may know, but not yet-not-yet--"

"Why not?"

"The secret is not mine alone. It is not for me to tell. Be patient, Kate! For God's sake, be patient!"

"I have been patient long enough," I murmured. "I shall go away. I can do no good here. I am not even trusted."

"A little longer," he pleaded. "Be patient a little longer. It is a terrible burden which has been placed on my shoulders. Help me to bear it. Stay with me."

"You have Alice--"

"Alice is good, but she is not strong. She is no help-and some day I may need help."

"I do not wish to leave you," I cried, with trembling lips. "I do not want to go away. I want to do all I can to help you-yet-imagine yourself in my place! I am groping about in the dark corners, I want the light."

He looked up at me with a faint, weary smile.

"Child," he said, "you are like your mother was. Won't you believe that I am helpless? If you really mean that you will leave me if I do not tell you, well, you must go. Even if you go straight to that woman and tell her all that you know-even then my lips are sealed. This secret is not mine to tell. When you do know, it will not be I who shall tell you. All I can say is, go if you must, but for God's sake stay!"

His face was ineffably piteous. I looked at his worn, anxious face, and my heart grew soft. A lump rose up in my throat, and my eyes were dim. I stooped down and kissed him.

"I will stay," I whispered. "I will not ask you any more questions, and I will not leave whilst you need me-whilst you are ill."

His lips touched mine, and a little sob was caught in his throat. I looked into his face through the mist of my blinding tears, and I wondered. The light on his features was almost spiritual.

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