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   Chapter 21 OUT OF DANGER

The Yellow House By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 17486

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

I went straight to my father's room, with only a very confused sense of what I wanted to say to him floating in my mind. But to my amazement, when I had softly opened the door and stood inside the room, he was not upon the bed, or on the couch. The room was empty. I passed through into the drawing room with the same result. Then I retraced my steps down into the hall and saw that his hat was gone from the stand and also his overcoat.

I called to Alice, and she came out to me from our little drawing room.

"Where is father?" I cried, breathlessly. "He is not upstairs!"

She drew me into the room. Her round face was very sober, and her eyes were grave.

"He left for London a quarter of an hour ago," she declared, impressively.

"Left for London!" I repeated, bewildered. "Why, he was scarcely well enough to stand. Did he dress himself?"

"He was very weak, but he seemed perfectly well able to take care of himself," she answered. "A telegram came for him about half an hour ago. I took it up to his room, and he opened and read it without remark. He asked where you were, but I could only tell him that you were out. Directly afterwards I heard him getting up, and I went to the door of his room to see if I could help him. He told me that I was to order the dog cart, and that he was going away. I was too surprised to say a word."

My first impulse was unmistakable. It was a sense of great relief. Then I began to wonder what this Berdenstein girl would think. Would she connect it with her presence here? Would she think that he had gone away to avoid her? There was that risk, but it was no greater than the risk of her coming here some day and meeting him face to face. On the whole it was good news. It was a respite at any rate.

In the morning came a letter from him, dated simply London. He had been called away, he said, on some business, the details of which would not interest us, but it was a call which it would not have been his duty to have neglected. Immediately he had concluded it, he went on to say, he proposed to take a short vacation by the sea somewhere. Accordingly he had engaged a locum tenens, who was now on his way down, and he would write us again as soon as he had definitely decided where to go.

Alice and I laid down the letter with varying thoughts. To her, ignorant of any reasons for conduct which was on the face of it somewhat eccentric, it brought some concern. With me it was different. I was at once relieved and glad. I had arrived at that acutely nervous and overwrought state when even a respite is welcome. The explanations between us were for the present necessarily postponed, and, at any rate, I could meet Olive Berdenstein now without trembling. It was the truth which I had to tell. My father was not here. I did not know where he was. She could come and search for him.

Yet that was a time of fierce disquiet with me. To settle down to any manner of work seemed impossible. Later in the day I went out into the garden, and the cool touch of the soft, damp wind upon my face tempted me past the line of trees which hemmed in our little demesne out into the muddy road and across to the broad expanse of green common which was really a part of the Deville home park. As I stood there, bareheaded, with the wind blowing through my hair and wrapping my skirts around me, I could see in the distance a man coming on horseback from the Court. I stood still and watched him. There was no mistaking man or horse-Bruce Deville on his great chestnut-though they were half a mile away. Then, as I stood there waiting for him, a sudden darkness came into the faintly sunlit air, a poisoned darkness-the poison of a hideous thought. I turned away and plunged into the plantation on my left, flying along the narrow footpath as though the thought had taken to itself the shape of some loathsome beast and was indeed pursuing me, close on my heels. In less than five minutes I was standing breathless before Adelaide Fortress. She was looking white and ill. When she came into the room she threw across at me a glance which was almost supplicatory. Her firm lips trembled a little. Her eyes were soft and full of invisible tears.

"Is it bad news?" she faltered. "You have been running. Sit down."

I shook my head.

"No. Another question, that is all. Mr. Deville?"

She looked puzzled for a moment. Then she drew herself up and stood a little away from me. Her firm, dark eyebrows resolved themselves into a frown. Some subtle instinct, quick to fly backwards and forwards between us two, had helped her towards the meaning of my words.

"Mr. Bromley Deville, Mr. Deville's father, was my father's oldest friend," she said, slowly. "Bruce and I were children together, and except that I, of course, was five years the elder, we were great friends. Mr. Bromley Deville was my father's executor, and since his death Bruce has taken his place."

A great relief had suddenly eased my heart. I drew a little breath, but she looked as if I had struck her a blow.

"How is your father?" she asked. "Is there any news?"

I nodded.

"He is better; he is gone away."

She started.

"Gone away? Where to?" she added, quickly.

"To London, and from there he is going to the sea," I told her. "He does not say where. He is sending a locum tenens. I do not think that he will return here at all. We want him to go straight to Eastminster."

She too seemed to share my relief, but my first thoughts were hers too.

"What will that girl say?"

"I cannot tell," I answered; "she may be suspicious. At any rate we have a reprieve."

"You have not spoken-to him yet."

"No; he had gone when I returned last night. I was glad of it."

We stood face to face looking at one another in silence. The faint color was coming and going in her cheeks, and her hands were nervously clasping the back of a chair. Where she stood the few days of wintry sunlight which had found their way into the room were merciless to her. They showed up the little streaks of grey in her hair and the hollows in her cheeks. The lines of acute and bitter heartpain were written into her worn face. My heart grew soft for the first time. She had suffered. Here was a broken life indeed. Her dark, weary eyes were raised eagerly to mine, yet I could not offer her what I knew so well she desired.

I was forced to speak. Her silence was charged with eloquent questioning.

"Won't you-give me a little time to realize what you have told me?" I said, hesitatingly. "I have grown so used to think that Alice's mother was mine-that she was dead-that I cannot realize this all at once. I don't want to be cruel, but one has instincts and feelings, and one can't always control them. I must wait."

So I went away, and in the Vicarage lane I met Bruce Deville walking towards me with his horse's bridle through his arm. He was carrying a fragrant bunch of violets, which he held out a little awkwardly.

"I don't know whether you will care for these," he said; "I don't know much about flowers myself. The gardener told me they were very fine, so I thought you may as well have them as--"

"As let them spoil," I laughed. "Thank you very much, Mr. Deville. They are beautiful."

He frowned for a moment, and then, meeting my eye, laughed.

"I am afraid I am awfully clumsy," he said, shortly. "Let me tell you the truth. I went all through the houses to see if I could find anything fit to bring you, and I knew you preferred violets."

"It was very nice of you," I said; "but what about Olive Berdenstein? Doesn't she like violets?"

He opened his mouth, but I held up my hand and stopped him; he had so much the look of a man who is about to make a momentary lapse into profanity.

"Don't say anything rude, please. Where is she this morning?"

"I don't know," he answered, grimly. "Somewhere about, no doubt."

"It should be a lesson to you," I remarked, smiling up at him, "not to go about indulging in romantic adventures. They generally have a tiresome ending, you know. Do you always make such easy conquests, I wonder?"

He stopped short, and looked at me with darkened face.

"Is there any necessity," he asked, "for you to go out of your way to irritate and annoy me?"

I ignored him for a moment or two.

"She is very rich," I remarked. "Have you seen her diamonds?"

He rested his hand upon his horse and sprang into the saddle. From his great height there he looked down upon me with a dark frown and angry eyes.

"I will wish you good morning, Miss Ffolliot," he said. "My company is evidently distasteful to you."

I laughed at him, and laid my hand upon his horse's bridle. "I can assure you that it isn't," I declared. "I was very g

lad to see you indeed. Please get down, you have too much an advantage of me up there."

He got down at once, but his face had not altogether cleared.

"Look here, Miss Ffolliot," he said, looking at me steadfastly out of his keen, grey eyes, "I do not wish to have you talk to me in that way about that young woman. I do not think it is quite fair. I suppose it is what girls call chaff, but you will kindly remember that I am too stupid, if you like, always to know when you are in earnest and when you are not, so please don't do it. If I am with Miss Berdenstein at all please remember that it is for your sake. I hate reminding you of it, but you make me."

"You are quite right, Mr. Deville," I said. "Please do not think that I am not grateful. Now let me tell you the news. My father has gone away."

"Gone away! Where? For how long?" he said, quickly.

"He has gone first to London," I answered; "where he was going to afterwards he did not seem absolutely sure himself. He spoke of going to the sea somewhere for a vacation. We are trying to arrange for him not to come back here at all. I should like him to go straight to Eastminster."

"It is a great relief," he said, promptly; "it was the very best thing he could do. He did not even tell you that he was going then?"

"I had no idea of it. He went quite suddenly while I was out. We had a letter from him this morning. I wonder-what she will say?"

"I do not think that she will trouble to go in search of him," he answered. "I do not think that her suspicions are really aroused in connection with your father. She is an odd, changeable sort of girl. I daresay she will give up this quest before long."

"I hope so," I answered. "It would be a great relief to have her go away."

There was a short silence between us. We were standing by the Vicarage gate, and my hand was upon the latch.

"I wonder," he said, abruptly, "whether you would not walk a little way with me. It is such a fine day, and you look a little pale."

I hesitated.

"But you are riding," I said.

"That is nothing," he answered, briskly. "Diana follows me like a lamb. We will walk along the avenue. I want you to see the elm trees at the top."

We started off at once. There was nothing very remarkable about that walk, and yet I have always thought of it as a very memorable one. It gave a distinct color to certain new ideas of mine concerning my companion. We talked all the time, and that morning confirmed my altering impressions of him. Lady Naselton had spoken of him as rough and uncultured. He was neither. His lonely life and curious brusqueness were really only developed from mannerism into something more marked by a phase of that intellectual tiredness which most men ape but few feel. He had tried life, and it had disappointed him, but there was a good deal more of the cosmopolitan than the "yokel" in him.

For me it was a delightful time. He talked of many books and countries which had interested me with a perfectly bewildering familiarity. The minutes flew along. I forgot all these troubles which had come so thick upon me as we walked side by side over the soft, spongy turf, sometimes knee deep amongst the bracken, sometimes skirting clumps of faded heather. But our walk was not to terminate altogether without incident. As we turned the corner, and came again within sight of the Vicarage gate, we found ourselves face to face with Olive Berdenstein.

She stopped short when she saw us, and her face grew dark and angry. She was a strange-looking figure as she stood there in the middle of the lane waiting for us-a little over-dressed for Sunday morning parade in the Park. For a country walk her toilette was only laughable. The white lace of her skirt was soiled, and bedraggled with mud. One of her little French shoes had been cut through with a stone, and when we came in sight she was limping painfully. Her black eyes flashed upon us with a wicked fire. Her lips trembled. The look she darted upon me was full of malice. She was in a furious temper, and she had not the wit to hide it. It was to him she spoke first.

"You said that you would call for me-that we would walk together this morning," she said to him in a low, furious tone. "I waited for you one, two hours. Why did you not come?"

He answered her gruffly.

"I think that you must be mistaken," he said. "There was no arrangement. You asked me to call; I said I would if I could. As it happened, I could not; I had something else to do."

"Something else! Oh, yes! so I see," she answered, with a short, hysterical little laugh, and a glance of positive hatred at me. "Something more pleasant! I understand; we shall see. Miss Ffolliot, you are on your way home now, I presume. I will, with your very kind permission, accompany you. I wish to see your father. I will wait in your house until he can see me. If you deny me permission to enter, I will wait for the doctor. He shall tell me whether your father is not strong enough to answer me one single question, and if the doctor, too, be in your plot, and will not answer me reasonably, I will go to a magistrate at once. Oh! it will not be difficult. I will go to a magistrate. You see I am determined. If you would like to finish your amiable conversation, I will walk behind-or in front-whichever you like. Better in front, no doubt. Ha! ha! But I will come; I am determined."

She ceased breathless, her eyes on fire, her lips curled in a malicious smile. It was I on whom she had vented her passion. It was I who answered her.

"You can come with me to the Vicarage if you like," I said, coldly; "but you will not find my father. He has gone away."

"Gone away!" she repeated, incredulously. For a moment she looked black.

"Gone away! Oh, indeed! That is good; that is very clever! You have arranged that very well. Yesterday he was too ill to see me-to answer one little question. To-day he is well enough to travel-he is gone away. Good! he has gone. I can follow."

She pursed up her lips and nodded her head at me vigorously. She was white with rage.

"You are welcome to do anything which seems reasonable to you," I answered, with at any rate a show of firmness. "Mr. Deville, I will say good afternoon. It is time I was at home."

He kept by my side with the obvious intention of seeing me to the gate; but as we passed the girl she took hold of his arm.

"No! I say no! You shall not leave me like this! You are treating me shamefully, Mr. Deville. Am I not right? That girl is hiding her father from me. She is helping him away that he may not tell me of the man who killed my brother! You will take my part; you have always said that you were sorry for me. Is every one to be my enemy? You too! It is justice that I want! That is all!"?

He threw her delicately gloved hand off roughly.

"What nonsense!" he declared. "I have been sorry for you, I am sorry for you now; but what on earth is the good of persecuting Miss Ffolliot in this manner? Her father has been ill, and of course he has not desired to be bothered by strangers. You say you wanted to ask him a question. Be reasonable; he has answered it by letter. If you saw him, he could only repeat his answer. He has only been here for a few months. I have lived here all my life, and I tell you that there is no one by the name of Maltabar in the county."

"There was the photograph in that cabinet," she persisted-"within a few yards of the spot where he was killed. I know that Philip Maltabar hated him. I know that he would have killed him if he could."

"But what has all this to do with Mr. Ffolliot?" he persisted.

"Well, I begged him to see me," she urged, doggedly. "He is the clergyman of the parish, and he certainly ought to have seen me if I wished it. I don't understand why he should not. I want advice; and there are other things I wanted to see him about. I am sure that he was kept away from me."

"You are very silly indeed," Bruce Deville said, emphatically. "Surely his health was more important than the answering a question for you which has already been answered by people in a much better position to know. As to advice, mine has always been at your service. I have been ready to do anything for you in reason."

"You have been very good," she said, with trembling lips, "but--"

"You must excuse me now," he interrupted, "I have something to say to Miss Ffolliot."

"I am going in," I answered. "Please do not come any further. Goodbye."

I nodded to him, the girl I ignored. If a glance could have killed me, I should have been a dead woman. I left them alone and went on up to the house. Somehow I did not envy her Mr. Deville's society for the next quarter of an hour.

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