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   Chapter 18 FRIENDS

The Yellow House By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 9160

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


When the thought first came to me I flung it away and trampled it under foot, I could almost have imagined I was going mad. I, jealous! What an ugly word! I jealous of that sallow-faced and black-eyed chit, who followed Bruce Deville about like his shadow, and seemed in a certain way to have laid claim to him as her own especial property. And above all things there was the man. What was Bruce Deville to me? What could he be to me? When the thought first crept into my mind I laughed out aloud; it was a genuine laugh of derision at first, but when I listened to its echoes I was frightened. There was something hard and unnatural about it-something which did not in any way suggest mirth. I turned upon myself with a certain fierceness. I, whose secret standard of manhood had always been so lofty, and to whom polish and culture had always seemed so absolutely essential, to think for a moment of such a man as Bruce Deville. I thrust the idea steadily and scornfully away from me, it was ridiculous-humiliating. And, apart from the absurdity of such thoughts in connection with such a man, the darkness which had fallen like a sudden cloud upon our lives was surely great and engrossing enough to outweigh every other consideration. Only last night I had made that passionate effort to learn the truth from my father and failed. Scarcely an hour ago I had been with him again renewing his bandages and secretly burning the old ones-bearing my part in that little tragedy, in whose shadows I seemed to walk blindfolded.

It was a dark, windy morning, but I was too restless to stay in the house. I threw a cape over my shoulders and walked down the drive and out into the road, breathing the fresh air with a curious sense of relief. After the close atmosphere of the house it was like a strong, sweet tonic. I clambered up the green bank on the other side of the way and found myself suddenly face to face with Bruce Deville.

He started when he saw me, and for a moment we looked at one another in silence. I realized then how completely he had changed in my thoughts during the last few days. I no longer noticed the untidiness of his dress, or the superficial roughness of his demeanor. The firm locking of his fingers around mine in the greeting which passed between us was somehow grateful to me. His brown eyes seemed soft and kindly, the harsh, cynical outlines of his features were all relaxed.

In silence he turned round and walked slowly by my side.

"Where is your friend this morning?" I asked.

His face grew moody.

"She has taken some rooms at Grant's farm," he answered. "She has gone over to the station now to get her luggage."

My heart sank. It was bad news.

"She is going to stay here, then?" I asked.

He nodded gloomily.

"She says so."

"You ought to feel flattered, at any rate," I remarked, maliciously.

He flushed an angry glance at me.

"What nonsense!" he exclaimed. "I beg your pardon, I ought not to have said that. Neither," he continued, after a moment's pause, "ought you to have said what you did."

I had stopped short at his first exclamation. I hesitated and then walked slowly on again. After all it was my fault.

"Perhaps I ought not," I answered. "At the same time I am not at all sure that she might not have given up this quest of hers if only you had not been here."

"I don't agree with you at all," he answered, firmly. "She would have given it up, I believe, if she had not seen that photograph in Adelaide's cabinet. It is that which makes her to decide to remain here."

"Has she any fresh suspicions?"

"I don't think so," he answered. "She believes that you and Adelaide Fortress are in league together. She believes that you both know where Philip Maltabar is. She also--" he continued, very slowly.

"Well?" I interrupted.

"She also seems to have an idea that you are keeping your father away from her so that she may not have an opportunity of asking him about Philip Maltabar. She has written to him, as you know, and the answer came back in a lady's handwriting. She does not believe that your father had that letter. She believes that you intercepted and answered it."

"She is stopping really, then, to see him?" I said.

"Chiefly, I am afraid."

Our eyes met for a moment, but we said nothing. I looked away through the trees to the glimmering front of the Yellow House, and asked him a question softly.

"She has not any further suspicion, then?"

"None, I am sure," he answered, confidently. "It is you whom she believes to be shielding the man. She has a st

rong idea that he is a friend of yours; strangely enough she seems to have taken a violent dislike to you too. I believe that the very fact of that dislike blinds her a little."

"I agree with you as to the dislike. But why strangely?"

His firm lips parted a little. He looked at me with a smile.

"You do not appear to me," he said, slowly, "to be a person to be disliked."

I made a mental registration of that remark. It was the nearest approach to a compliment he had ever paid me.

"I am infinitely obliged," I said. "At the same time I think I can understand her dislike."

"You women are so quick at understanding one another," he remarked.

"And men are so slow," I replied. "Do you know I have an idea that if she were to come here now she would dislike me even more."

He looked at me without embarrassment, with a genuine desire for information in his face. He was evidently puzzled.

"Why?" he asked.

I laughed outright, and it did me good. He joined in it without the least idea of what I was laughing at.

"You men are so stupid!" I exclaimed. "You either will not or cannot see things which are as simple as A B C."

"I admit it," he answered, good humoredly. "But must you go in?"

I nodded. We had made a little circuit, and had reached the road again within a few yards of our gate.

"Yes, I am going to make something for my father. He is really ill, you know."

"Why don't you let your sister do it?" he said. "She looks a great deal more used to that sort of thing than you do."

"Thanks," I answered. "At the same time you are quite wrong. It is I who am the domestic one of the family."

He looked distinctly incredulous.

"You don't give one that idea at all," he said, forcibly.

"Well, you shall see," I told him. "Some day we will ask you to luncheon and cook it between us. I know whose productions you will prefer."

"So do I," he answered, fervently.

"You don't know my sister," I remarked.

"I don't want to," he answered, bluntly.

I raised my eyebrows.

"You are very rude," I told him.

"I beg your pardon. I did not mean to be. As a rule I detest women almost as much as they detest me. I do not think that your sister would interest me."

"She does a great deal of good," I said. "She is managing the whole parish while my father is ill."

"I have no doubt she is very useful in her way," he answered, indifferently.

"She is much better tempered than I am," I added.

"I have no doubt about that," he answered, with a smile.

"But I don't think that she could have bandaged your dog's leg as well as I did," I said.

He looked at me with a sudden new thoughtfulness.

"That was the first time I spoke to you," he remarked. "It seems a long time ago."

"One measures time by events," I said.

"And that," he replied, quickly, "was a great event. I am not likely to forget it. I shall never forget it."

I laughed.

"Not such a great event after all as the coming of the heroine of your romance," I said. "How interesting it must have been to meet her again!"

"Rubbish!" he exclaimed, testily.

I shrugged my shoulders and turned towards the house.

"You are very rude," I declared. "I am going in."

He looked into my face and was reassured.

"I wish from the bottom of my heart that she had never come here," he groaned. "God knows I would send her away if I had the power."

"I only wish that you could," I answered, sadly. "She is like a bird of ill-omen. She looks at me out of those big black eyes as if she hated me. I believe I am getting to be afraid of her. Do you think that she will really stay here more than a day or two?"

He nodded his head gloomily.

"I believe so," he answered.

"You see what responsibility the rescuer of young maidens in distress incurs," I remarked, spitefully.

"I wish," he said, looking at me steadily, "that I had let that carriage go to the bottom of the precipice."

"They would have been killed!" I cried.

"Exactly," he remarked, grimly.

"You are very wicked to think of such a thing," I said.

"I am only living up to my reputation, then," he answered. "That is what my godmamma told you about me, isn't it?"

"I shall not stay with you a moment longer," I declared, ignoring the latter part of his sentence, and laying my hand upon the gate.

"Won't you-shake hands before you go?" he asked.

I hesitated. His request was gruff and his tone implied rather a command than a favor. But I looked up at him, and I saw that he was in earnest.

So I held out my hand and we parted friends.

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