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   Chapter 26 THE EVIDENCE OF CIRCUMSTANCES

The Yellow House By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 6647

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Two very weary days dragged themselves by. We had no news whatever from my father. We did not even know where he was. Alice and I were hard at work packing, and already the house began to look bare and comfortless. All the rooms, except two were dismantled. We began to count the days before we might be able to move into Eastminster. No one came to call upon us. I saw nothing whatever either of Olive Berdenstein or of Bruce Deville.

But on the afternoon of the third day I saw them both from the window of my room. They came from the plantation leading down to the Yellow House and turned slowly upwards from the Court. The girl was much more fittingly dressed than usual. She was wearing a dark green tailor-made gown, and even from the distance at which I stood I could see that she was walking briskly, and that there was a new vivacity in her manner and carriage. Her usually sallow cheeks were touched with a faint and very becoming tinge of pink. Bruce Deville too was leaning down towards her with a little more than his usual consideration. I watched them from the window, and there was a pain at my heart like the pain of death. Had she won already, I wondered? Was a man so easily to be deceived?

They had come from the Yellow House; he had been taking her to see Mrs. Fortress. An irresistible desire seized me. I hurried on my jacket and hat and walked down there.

The little maid-servant admitted me without hesitation. Mrs. Fortress was at home, she told me, and would no doubt see me, although she was very busy. Hearing my voice, she came out into the hall to meet me, and led me into her study.

"I am hard at work, you see," she remarked, pointing to a pile of papers littered all over her desk. "When do you think that you will be able to come into residence with me? I have had my little flat put in order, and I want to get there soon."

"I can come in about three weeks, I suppose," I said. "I shall be very glad to. We hope to move to Eastminster on Monday or Tuesday. I want to see my father again and to help them to settle down there. Afterwards I shall be quite free."

She nodded, and looked at me keenly for a moment or two.

"You are looking tired and worried," she said, sympathetically. "Has anything fresh happened?"

"Nothing."

She waited for a moment, but she did not pursue the subject. Still, I fancied that she was disappointed that I did not offer her my confidence.

"Mr. Bruce Deville has just been here, and Miss Berdenstein," she remarked.

I nodded.

"I saw them come through the plantation," I remarked. "I have not seen Miss Berdenstein for several days. Is she quite well?"

She looked at me, and commenced to sort some papers.

"Oh, yes, she is well enough. Bruce Deville rather puzzles me. He is in a very odd mood. I have never seen him more attentive to any one than he is to that girl, and yet all the time there was a sort of brutal cynicism about his behavior, and when I asked him to stay and talk to me he would not. I wonder have you--"

She looked up into my face and stopped short. There was a little pause.

"Won't you tell me about it?" she said, wistfully. "Not unless you like, of course."

"There is nothing much to tell," I answered, controlling my voice with a desperate effort. "Mr. Deville asked me something. I was

obliged to say no. He is consoling himself admirably."

She sighed, and looked at me thoughtfully. That note of bitterness in my tone had betrayed me.

"I am sorry," she said. "Bruce Deville is not exactly a woman's man, and he has many faults, but he is a fine fellow. He is a world too good anyhow to throw himself away upon that miserable chit of a girl."

That was exactly my own idea. I did not tell her so, however.

"She is very rich," I remarked. "She can free his estates and put him in his right position again."

"That is only a trifle," she declared. "Besides, he is not so poor as some people think. He could live differently now, only he is afraid that he would have to entertain and be entertained. He makes his poverty an excuse for a great many things, but as a matter of fact he is not nearly so embarrassed as people believe. The truth is he detests society."

"I do not blame him," I answered. "Society is detestable."

"At any rate, I cannot bring myself to believe that he is thinking seriously about that girl," she continued, anxiously. "I should hate to think so!"

"Men are enigmas," I remarked. "It is precisely the unexpected which one has always to expect from them."

"That is what they say about us," she said.

I nodded.

"Don't you think that most of the things that men say of women are more true about themselves? It seems so to me, at any rate."

She rose up suddenly, and came and stood over me. She held out her hands, and I gave her mine. My eyes were dim. It was strange to me to find any one who understood.

"Would you like to go away with me to-morrow-right away from here?" she asked, softly.

"Where to?" I asked, with sudden joy.

"To London. Everything is ready for us there; we only need to send a telegram. I think-perhaps-it would be good for you."

"I am sure of it," I answered, quickly. "I have a sort of fancy that if I stay here I shall go mad. The place is hateful."

"Poor child!" she said, soothingly. "You must make up your mind and come."

"I would not hesitate," I answered, "if only I could feel certain that-he would not come back here before Olive Berdenstein leaves."

"We can make sure of it," she said. "Write and tell him that it would not be safe; he ought not to come."

Our eyes met, and I felt impelled to ask her a sudden question.

"Do you believe that he killed her brother?"

She looked at me with blanched cheeks and glanced half-fearfully around. From where I sat I could see the black bending branches from that little fir plantation where he had been found.

"What else is there to believe?" she asked. "I heard him myself one awful day-it was long ago, but it seems only like yesterday-I heard him threaten to kill him if ever he found him near again. It was outside the gate there that they met, and then-in the church you remember--"

I held out my hand and stopped her. The moaning of the wind outside seemed like the last cry of that dying man. It was too horrible.

"I cannot stay here," I cried. "I will go with you whenever you are ready."

A light flashed across her face. She drew me to her and kissed my forehead.

"I am sure it would be best," she said. "I too loathe this place! I shall never live here any more. To-morrow--"

"To-morrow," I interrupted, "we will go away."

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