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   Chapter 22 AN UNHOLY COMPACT

The Yellow House By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 10047

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


As may easily be imagined I had seen quite enough of Olive Berdenstein for one day at any rate, if not for a long time to come. But to my surprise, on that same afternoon, as I sat in our little drawing room pretending to read a stupid novel, there was a timid ring at the bell, and she was shown into the room. She entered nervously, as though uncertain as to how I should receive her. I daresay she would not have been at all surprised if I had ordered her out again. If I had followed my first impulse I should certainly have done so. Wiser counsels prevailed, however, and although I did not offer her my hand, I suppressed my surprise at her coming, and motioned her to take a seat.

She was dressed much more quietly than I had yet seen her, in a plain brown dress, beautifully made. The element of incongruity was still there, however, for she wore a large Paris hat, and the little lace scarf at her throat was fastened with a great diamond.

She sat quite still, and I could see that she was very nervous. She kept her eyes away from my face as much as possible. When she began to talk she did so rapidly, and in a low tone.

"I suppose you are very surprised to see me, Miss Ffolliot, after this morning," she commenced, tentatively.

"Rather," I answered.

"I only made up my mind to come an hour ago. It was a sudden impulse. I started at once, or I should have changed my mind. I have come to make you an offer. It will sound very oddly to you, but you must not be angry. You must hear all that I have to say. I have thought it all out; it is very reasonable."

"You need not be afraid," I answered. "I shall certainly not mind listening-so long as you do not talk as you were talking this morning. I am quite willing to forget that if you do not remind me of it."

She fixed her black eyes upon me intently.

"Miss Ffolliot, have you ever loved any one-a man, I mean?"

I could not help starting, the question was so unexpected. She was watching me very keenly. Perhaps my color was not altogether steady.

"I don't think so-not in the way you mean," I answered.

"I will make it clear. I do love some one. I did not think that you would, you are too cold, you look too proud. Now I want to tell you. There is some one whom I love desperately-with my whole life. I want to tell you about it. Do you mind?"

"Certainly not," I answered, softly. The change in her was wonderful. Her eyes were as soft as velvet; there was a faint flush in her cheeks. But for those prominent teeth and the sharp outlines of her features she was almost beautiful.

"You remember, I have told you of our accident in Switzerland, and of Mr. Deville, and how gloriously he saved us. Oh, it was wonderful! Even now when I think of it I feel excited."

I bowed my head slowly. I began to understand.

"Well, ever since that moment I have loved him," she said, simply. "I could not get him out of my mind. Oh! it was magnificent to see him struggling there for our lives with those fierce, strong horses, beating them back, mastering them little by little, and all the time quite cool and silent! But you have heard all about that, you do not want to hear the story again. Since that day I have never been able to think of any other man. I have had many offers, for I am rich, but I only laughed. The idea of marriage when he was in the world seemed wicked to me. It was because of him that I did not go back to South America. It was because he was an Englishman that I kept on coming to England and looking for him in all those places where Englishmen are mostly to be found. I have never missed a season in London since, and yet I do not care for London. It was just because of the chance of finding him there. It is three years ago now, but I have never despaired. I think that I must be something of a fatalist. I have said to myself that in the end we must meet again, and now you see although we have been living in this out-of-the-way spot, the time has come. There is something wonderful about it. Don't you think so?"

I bowed my head. The eagerness of her question demanded an affirmative.

She sighed, softly, with an air of gentle satisfaction.

"That is what I tell myself," she continued. "It is wonderful. It must have been fate. I tell myself that, and it seems to me that fate which has brought us together could not now be so cruel as to interfere between us. And I love him, I love him so much!"

She paused a moment and looked at me almost with pity.

"You," she said, thoughtfully-"you will never know the misery of it-or the happiness!"

I smiled faintly, and without mirth. Poor girl! There was something terribly pathetic in her little confession. From the bottom of my heart I pitied her.

"And Mr. Deville?" I asked, softly.

Her face fell a little. The enthusiasm died away. Still she was hopeful.

"I am not sure," she said, looking away from me into the fire. "He is kind to me, and I think that he likes me-a little. He does not care for me as I do for him,

of course," she added, sadly. "Why should he? I have done nothing for him, and he has done so much for me. It has been all on one side. I have had no chance yet; but I could help him a little. I am rich, very much richer than any one thinks, and they say that, although he has a great house and lands, that he is very poor, and that he has heavy debts. I could pay them all off," she declared, with a little note of triumph in her tone. "I have what would come in English money to nearly a million pounds. I should give it all to him, every penny. It would make him happy to pay off all his mortgages and old debts. Don't you think so?" she asked, anxiously.

"I daresay it might," I answered, gravely. "I should think it certainly would."

"And I love him so," she repeated, softly. "It would be such happiness to do this for him. Perhaps he would not love me very much just yet, but when I had him all to myself it would come little by little. I could make it come; a woman can when she has a man all to herself. I am sure of it. I should have no fear at all."

Her eyes were very soft now and very bright. One forgot her sharp features and sallow cheeks. Poor girl! Then suddenly she looked away from the fire, and, rising, came over to my side.

"You are wondering why I have come to you to tell you my secret," she said. "I will tell you. I am afraid of you. You are so handsome, and I am plain. Oh! yes, I am-I know it. Never mind, I love him. But he does not know that, and he admires you. I see him look at you, and though he is kind to me, he does not look at me like that. And you-you do not care for him. I have watched you, and I am sure of it. You do not want him, do you?"

"No, I do not want him," I answered, but without looking at her.

"I know you don't. I want to promise you something. I believe that Philip Maltabar is somewhere in this neighborhood, and I believe-no, I am sure-that in some way you are interested in him. Your father knows. That is why you have kept me from him. But never mind, I want to forget all that if you will just help me a little. I shall go away from here, presently. If I should come back again, and I should find Philip Maltabar-well-never mind. I will forgive, and I will forget. God shall judge between those two-I will bury my desire for vengeance. This I swear-if you will help me a little."

"But how?" I asked, blandly. "What can I do?"

"You can help me simply by keeping away from Mr. Deville," she went on, hastily, a certain bluntness creeping into the manner of her expression as she reached the heart of her subject. "If you are not there, then he will be content with me, I can talk to him. I can make him understand by degrees. There! I suppose you think this is very unwomanly of me. It is unwomanly, it is despicable. I should detest another woman who did it. But I don't care-I want him so much. I love him better than life," she cried, with a little burst of passion. "I shall die if he does not care for me-not as I care for him, of course, but just a little-and more afterwards."

I leaned over and rested my hand upon hers. I felt a sudden kindness toward her. I don't know what instinct made me promise-I suppose it was pity. There was something so pathetic in her intense earnestness.

"Yes, I will do what you wish," I said, softly; "but--"

"But what? Are you making conditions?"

I shook my head.

"I make no conditions. Only I wanted to say this to you. Do you think it is wise to let yourself care so much for any one who after all may not care for you at all? It is like staking one's whole happiness upon a chance. It is a terrible risk."

She smiled at me faintly, and shook her head.

"Ah," she said, "it is so easy to see that you have never loved-that you do not know what love is. When you do you will not talk about letting one's self care. You might as well talk about letting one's self die when one is struggling upon a death bed panting and gasping for life. It is the inevitable in love as in death. There is no choice."

She rose to her feet.

"Goodbye," she said. "I shall not trouble you any more. I am going to forget that such a person as Philip Maltabar ever lived."

I walked with her to the door. She looked down the dim road up the park wistfully.

"Perhaps," she said, "I may see him this afternoon. Was he coming to see you?"

"Certainly not. He does not visit here," I continued.

"Oh, he comes to see me," she said, quickly. "Perhaps it is not right-proper you call it-that he should. I do not care. I would like you to come and visit me-but-he might be there," she added, hesitatingly. "Goodbye."

I touched her hand, and she went out with a little flush still lingering in her cheeks. I saw her look wistfully up and down the road, and then she picked up her skirts and took the muddy footpath across the park towards the Court. I turned away and went upstairs to my room.

Was it pity for her I wonder that brought the tears into my eyes? After all, I was only a woman.

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