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   Chapter 23 IN THE PLANTATION

The Yellow House By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 13284

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


I was determined to keep my word with Olive Berdenstein with absolute faithfulness. For nearly a week I stayed in the house except for a short walk in the early morning. Three times Bruce Deville called, and met with the same answer. Often I saw him riding slowly by and scanning the garden and looking up towards the house with an impatient look in his eyes and a dark frown upon his strong face. Once I saw him walking with Olive Berdenstein. She seemed to have caught him up, and found him in no very pleasant temper. His shoulders were high, and he was walking so quickly that she had almost to run to keep up with him. I looked away with a sigh, and yet-what a heartless hypocrite I was. I found myself thinking with a curious satisfaction that his shoulders had been lower and his face very different when I had walked with him.

After nearly a week of solitude with only Alice's parish talk and mild speculations as to our future at Eastminster to break the intolerable monotony of it, I could bear it no longer. I put on my hat one wet and windy afternoon and went down to the Yellow House. Adelaide Fortress was alone, writing at her desk, and when I entered we looked at one another for a moment without any greeting. It seemed to me that a few more grey hairs had mingled with the black-a little more wanness had crept into the delicate, intellectual face. But she greeted me cheerfully, without any shadow of reproach in her tone, although I knew that my absence had been a trouble to her.

"It is good of you to come and see me," she said. "Have you heard from your father?"

I nodded assent.

"We heard on Wednesday. He was leaving London that afternoon for the South Coast. He wrote very cheerfully, and said he felt better already."

"I am glad," she said, softly.

Then we were silent for a few moments. There was so much that we could both have said.

"Mr. Deville has been here inquiring for you," she said. "You have been invisible, he said. Have you been unwell?"

I shook my head. I wanted much to have told her of Olive Berdenstein's visit to me, and of my compact with her. For a moment I hesitated. She noticed it, and doubtless drew her own conclusions.

"There has been nothing particular to keep me in," I said. "I simply felt that I wished to see no one. Don't you feel like that sometimes?"

"Very often," she assented. "I think the desire for solitude is common to all of us at times."

Then we were silent again. I knew quite well what she was waiting for from me, yet I was silent and troubled. Almost I wished that I had not come.

"You have thought over what I told you when you were here," she said, softly. "You have thought of it, of course."

"Yes," I answered. "How could I help it-how could I think of anything else?"

"You have remembered that you are my daughter," she added, with a little quiver in her tone.

"Yes."

I kept my eyes upon the carpet; she sighed.

"You are very hard," she said-"very hard."

"I do not think so," I answered. "I do not wish to be. It is not I who have made myself; I cannot control my instincts. I do not wish to say anything to you unless it comes from my heart."

"You are my daughter," she murmured, softly.

"It is true," I answered; "yet consider that I have only known it a few days. Do you think that I can feel-like that-towards you so soon? It is impossible. A few weeks ago we were strangers. I cannot forget that."

She winced a little at the word, but I repeated it.

"It may seem an odd thing to say, but so far at any rate as I was concerned, we were strangers. I do feel-differently towards you now of course. In time the rest will come, no doubt, but I should only be a hypocrite if I pretended more at present, you must see that; and," I continued, with a shade of bitterness in my tone, "there is the shame. One cannot forget that all at once."

She shrank back as though I had struck her a blow across the face. Unwittingly I knew that I had wounded her deeply. But how could I help it?

"The shame," she repeated in a low tone-"ay, the shame. That seems an odd word for me to hear. But it is a true one. I must learn to bear it. There is the shame! Oh, God! this is my punishment."

"You cannot deny it," I said. "How could you ever have thought of it in any other way? You deliberately chose to live with my father without marrying him. By your own admission there was not the faintest obstacle to your marriage. You had the satisfaction of living up to your theories, I have to pay the penalty."

She bowed her head.

"It is true," she said.

She covered her face with her hands and there was a long silence between us. The clock in the room seemed suddenly to commence a louder ticking; outside, the yellow leaves came fluttering to the ground, and the wet wind went sighing through the tree tops. The rain dashed against the steaming window panes. I looked away from the bowed figure before me out into the desolate road, and found my thoughts suddenly slipping away from me. I wondered where Bruce Deville was, and Olive Berdenstein. Were they together and was she succeeding in her purpose? After all what did it matter to me, a poor, nameless girl, with a shadowed past and a blank future? I sighed, and looked back into the room. The sound of her voice broke the silence, which was becoming unbearable.

"I do not wish to excuse myself," she said, softly; "nothing can excuse me. But in those days, when I was young and enthusiastic, it seemed to me that I had but to lead and the world would follow me. I thought that by the time my children were grown up-if I had children-what is called illegitimacy would be no longer a thing to fear. You see I dwelt for a little time in a fool's elysium. Believe me that I am sharing with you the punishment-nay, mine is the greater half, for I believe that my heart is broken."

I was moved to pity then and took her hands. But as yet the veil hung between us.

"I will believe that," I said, softly; "I shall try always to remember it. I will not think hardly of you in any way. The rest must come gradually I think-no, I am sure that it will come some day."

Her eyes were soft with gratitude. She held out her hands to me, and I gave her mine freely. We spoke no more upon that subject. But perhaps what I went on to say was almost as interesting to her. I had been thinking of it for some time, now it became inevitable.

"I had a purpose in coming to see you this afternoon," I said. "I want to talk to you about it. Do you mind?"

She shook her head. I continued almost immediately.

"I have come to ask for your advice," I

said. "I want presently, when this trouble has passed over and Olive Berdenstein has gone away, to leave home, to take up some work of my own. In short, I want to be independent, to take my life into my own hands and shape it myself."

She looked at me with a certain wistful thoughtfulness.

"Independent? Yes, you look like that," she said, softly.

"In any case I have no taste for a home life," I continued. "After what has passed I should find it unbearable. I want active work, and plenty of it."

"That," she said, with a sigh, "I can well understand. Yes, I know what you feel."

Not altogether, I thought to myself, with a little wan smile. She did not know everything.

"I should like to get right away from here," I continued. "I should like to go to London. I don't know exactly what work I am fitted for; I should find that out in time. I took a good degree at Heidelberg, but I should hate to be a governess. I thought perhaps you might be able to suggest something."

A sudden light had flashed into her face in the middle of my little speech. Evidently some thought had occurred to her which she hesitated to confide to me. When I had finished she looked at me half nervously, half doubtfully. She seemed to be on the point of suggesting something, yet she hesitated.

"If there is anything which has occurred to you," I begged her, "do not mind letting me hear it, at any rate. I am not afraid to work, and I shall not be very particular as to its exact nature so long as it does not altogether deprive me of my liberty."

"I was wondering," she said, looking at me keenly, and with a faint color in her cheeks-"I was wondering whether you would care to accept a post as my secretary. I am really in urgent want of one," she added, quickly; "I wrote out an advertisement to send to the Guardian last week."

"Your secretary?" I repeated, slowly.

"Yes; you would have to learn typewriting, and it would be dry work. But, on the other hand, you would have a good deal of time to yourself. You would be to a very large extent your own mistress."

I scarcely knew how to answer her, yet on the whole the idea was an attractive one to me. She saw me hesitate, but she saw also that it was by no means in displeasure. Before I could find anything to say she spoke again.

"At any rate, think of it," she suggested. "Don't decide all at once. You would live with me, of course, and I could give you sixty pounds a year. It does not seem much, but you would scarcely get more than that to start with at anything. Listen! Isn't that Mr. Deville?"

I sprang up and moved towards the door.

"I thought you told me that you were not expecting him to-day!" I exclaimed.

She looked at me in surprise.

"I was not expecting him-in fact, he told me that he was going to Mellborough. But does it matter? Don't you want to see him?"

"No!" I cried, breathlessly; "he is coming across the lawn. I am going out the other way. Goodbye."

"Why, what has poor Bruce done to offend you?" she cried, in some concern. "I thought you were getting such friends."

"He has not offended me," I answered, quickly. "Only I don't want to see him to-day. Goodbye."

I ran down the path, leaving her standing at the front door. I just saw the back of Bruce Deville's Norfolk coat as he entered the house by the French windows, and I hoped that I had escaped him. But before I was half way through the little plantation I heard firm footsteps behind me and then a voice-

"Good afternoon, Miss Ffolliot!"

"Good afternoon, Mr. Deville," I answered, without looking round.

There was only room for one in the path. He passed me, taking a huge stride through the undergrowth, and turning round blocked the way.

"What is the matter?" he asked, quietly. "What have I done? Why are you trying to avoid me, like this?"

"I do not understand you, Mr. Deville," I answered, untruthfully, and with burning cheeks. "Be so good as to let me pass."

"Not till you tell me how I have contrived to offend you," he answered, bluntly. "I called three times at the Vicarage last week. You would not see me; you were at home. I found that out, but you would not see me. The answer was the same each time, and now this afternoon you have done your best to avoid me. I want to know why."

His tone and his attitude were alike uncompromising. I looked round in vain for some means of escape. It was not possible. After all this was no breach of my compact with the girl. I felt simply powerless.

"You have not offended me-not yet, at any rate," I said, with emphasis. "If you keep me standing here against my will another minute you most certainly will though. Please let me pass, I am in a hurry to get home."

"Very well, then, I will walk with you," he declared, standing on one side.

"There is no room," I remarked.

"We will see about that," he answered. He moved from in front of me, and then, leaving me the whole path, came crashing through the underwood and bracken by my side. I walked along swiftly, and he kept pace with me. After all he seemed to have nothing to say. We had almost reached the Rectory gate before he opened his mouth.

"Then you will not tell me why you have avoided me the last few days, Miss Ffolliot. What have I done to lose your good opinion?"

There was a curious earnestness in his tone. I felt my cheeks flush. I might perhaps have answered him in a different manner, but suddenly my eyes were riveted on a moving figure coming along the road into which we had stepped. I looked at it steadily. It was Olive Berdenstein, plodding along through the thick mud with careful, mincing footsteps, her long, loose cape and waving hat, easily distinguishable even at that distance. I stepped forward hastily, and before he could stop me, he passed through the gate.

"Do not wait, please, Mr. Deville," I said, looking round at him. "There is a friend of yours coming round the lane. Go and meet her, and do not say anything about me."

He was very rude and very profane. He made use of an expression in connection with Olive Berdenstein which justified me in hurrying away.

I turned my back upon him and ran up the drive.

"Miss Ffolliot," he cried out, "one moment; I am very sorry. I apologize most abjectly."

I turned round and waved my hand. Anything to get rid of him.

"Very well! Go and meet Miss Berdenstein, please."

I am not at all sure that he did not repeat the offence. At any rate, he turned away, and a few moments later, from my bedroom window, I saw him greet her. They turned away together towards the path. I watched them with a little sigh.

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