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   Chapter 25 A PROPOSAL

The Yellow House By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 7069

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


She left me alone in the room, and I stood there for a minute or two without moving. I heard his quick step on the gravel path outside and then his summons at the door. Mechanically I rang the bell and directed that he should be shown in to me.

The door was opened and closed. Then he was ushered in, our little maid servant announcing him with a certain amount of unnecessary emphasis. She withdrew at once, and we were alone together. As he touched my hand I noticed that he was wearing a new suit of riding clothes, which became him very well, and a big bunch of violets in his buttonhole.

"So I have found you at last, have I?" he said, standing over me as though he feared I might even now try to escape. "Was it by your maid's mistake that I was allowed to come in this afternoon?"

"No," I answered; "I told her only a minute ago to show you in. I wanted to see you."

"You are extremely kind," he remarked, with a note of irony in his tone. "My patience was very nearly exhausted. I was beginning to wonder whether I should ever see you again."

"It was becoming just a question whether you would," I remarked. "We are closing the house up next week, I believe, and removing our 'Penates' to Eastminster. Alice is busy packing already, and so ought I to be."

"If that is a hint to me," he remarked, "I decline to take any notice of it. I have something to say to you. I have had to wait long enough for the opportunity."

"A little more than a week," I murmured.

"Never mind how long," he declared. "It has seemed like a year. Tell me-are you glad that you are going away?"

"I am very glad," I admitted. "I am glad that we are all going away. In any case I should not have stayed. Perhaps you have heard that I am going to London with Mrs. Fortress?"

Evidently he had not heard. He looked at me in amazement.

"With Mrs. Fortress?" he repeated. "Did you say you were going with her?"

"Yes; I am going to be her secretary. I thought that she might have told you."

He was looking rather grave; certainly not pleased.

"I do not see what you want to be any one's secretary for," he said, frowning. "You are going to leave here. Eastminster is a very pleasant place."

"I am afraid I should find it very dull," I answered. "I only admire cathedral cities from an external point of view. It would bore me horribly to have to live in one."

He stood there looking down at me in absolute silence. I raised my eyes and met his steadfast gaze. I knew then that what this girl had said was true. Then all of a sudden an unaccountable thing happened. The composure on which I prided myself deserted me. My eyes fell. I could not look at him, my cheeks were flushed; my heart commenced to beat fast; I was taken completely at a disadvantage. He seized the opportunity and commenced to speak.

"Perhaps," he said, slowly, "you have wondered what has made me so anxious to see you these last few days. I am glad to have an opportunity of telling you. I have been wanting to for some time."

I would have given a good deal to have been able to stop him, but I could not. I was powerless. I was as much embarrassed as the veriest schoolgirl. He went on-

"I want to ask you to be my wife. Miss Ffolliot. As you know," he added, with a sudden faint flash of humor, "I am not apt with my tongue. I am afraid that I have allowed myself to rust in many ways. But if you will make the best of me you will make me very happy; for I think you know that I love you very much."

"No, no," I cried softly

, "you must not say that. I did not wish any one to say that to me. I am not going to marry any one."

"Why not?" he asked, calmly.

"You ought not to ask me," I answered. "You know my story."

He laughed outright in kindly contempt. Then I knew I had made a great mistake. I should have given him some other reason. This one he would laugh to scorn. And because I had given it first he would deem it the chief one in my thoughts. Before I could stop him he had taken one of my hands and was smoothing it in his great brown palm. Somehow I forgot to draw it away.

"Did you ever seriously imagine that any such circumstance could make one iota of difference to any man who loved you?" he asked, in a mild wonder. "It is preposterous."

"It is not preposterous," I declared. "How can you say so? I am-nobody. I have not even a name."

"Will you please not talk nonsense?" he interrupted, firmly. "We both know quite well in our hearts that such a circumstance as you allude to could not make the slightest difference-if you cared for me as I care for you. All I want to know is-do you care-a little? If you will give me-if you can-just a little share of your love, the rest will come. I should not be afraid to wait. I would take my chance. I have cared for you from the moment you first came here."

I looked up at him with wet eyes, but with a faint smile.

"You managed to conceal your sentiments admirably on our first meeting," I remarked.

He laughed. He was getting absolutely confident; and all this time I was drifting with a full knowledge of the shipwreck ahead.

"I was brutal," he said. "Somehow, do you know, you irritated me that morning? You looked so calm and self-possessed, and your very daintiness made me feel rough and coarse. It was like an awakening for me. Yet I loved you all the time."

"I am very sorry," I said, slowly.

He flashed a keen glance upon me. His eyes tried to force mine to meet them. I kept them away.

"You must not be sorry," he said, impetuously; "you must be glad."

But I shook my head.

"There is nothing to be glad about," I cried, with a sob in my throat. "I do-I do-not-"

"Go on!" he pressed, relentlessly. "I do not care for you in that way," he repeated slowly. "Is that true? An hour ago I should have doubted you. But now-look at me and tell me so."

I nerved myself to a desperate effort. I looked up and met his stern, compelling gaze. My cheeks were pale. The words came slowly and with difficulty. But I told my lie well.

"I do not care for you. I could never think of marrying you."

He rose at once. The tears came to my eyes with a rush. He was very pale, and there was a look in his face which hurt me.

"Thank you," he said; "you are very explicit, and I have been a clumsy fool. But you might have stopped me before. Goodbye!"

I looked up, and the words were on my lips to call him back. For the moment I had forgotten Olive Berdenstein and my bargain with her. If he had been looking then it would have been all over. But already his back was vanishing through the door. I moved slowly to the window and watched him walk down the drive with head bent and footsteps less firm than usual. He crossed the road and took the footpath across the park which led up to the Court. In the distance, a weird little figure in her waving cloak gleaming through the faint mist, I could see Olive Berdenstein crossing the common diagonally with the evident intention of intercepting him. I turned away from the window and laughed bitterly.

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