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   Chapter 27 A GHOST IN WHITECHAPEL

The Yellow House By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 9122

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Despite a certain amount of relief at leaving a neighborhood so full of horrible associations, those first few weeks in London were certainly not halcyon ones. My post was by no means a sinecure. Every morning I had thirty or forty letters to answer, besides which there was an immense amount of copying to be done. The subject matter of all this correspondence was by no means interesting to me, and the work itself, although I forced myself to accomplish it with at any rate apparent cheerfulness was tedious and irksome. Apart from all this, I found it unaccountably hard to concentrate my thoughts upon my secretarial labors. The sight of the closely written pages, given me to copy, continually faded away, and I saw in their stead Warren slopes with the faint outlines of the Court-in the distance Bruce Deville walking side by side with Olive Berdenstein, as I had seen them on the day before I had come away. She had now at any rate what she had so much desired-the man whom she loved with so absorbing a passion-all to herself, free to devote himself to her, if he had indeed the inclination, and with no other companionship at hand to distract his thoughts from her. I found myself wondering more than once whether she would ever succeed in making her bargain with him. The little news which we had was altogether indefinite. Alice did not mention either of them in her scanty letters. She was on the point of moving to Eastminster-in fact, she was already spending most of her time there. From Bruce Deville himself we had heard nothing, although my mother had written to him on the first day of our arrival in London. Once or twice she had remarked upon his silence, and I had listened to her surmises without remark.

I am afraid that as a secretary I was not a brilliant success in those first few unhappy weeks. But my mother made no complaint. I could see that it made her happy to have me with her. My silence she doubtless attributed to my anxiety concerning my father. I did my best to hide my unhappiness from her.

News of some sort came from Alice at last. She wrote from Eastminster saying that she had nearly finished the necessary preparations there, and was looking forward to my father's return. She had heard from him that morning, she said. He was at Ventnor, and much improved in health. She was expecting him home in a week.

But in the afternoon of that same day a strange thing happened. My mother was compelled to go to the East End of London, and at the last moment insisted upon my going with her. She was on the committee in connection with the proposed erection of some improved dwelling houses somewhere in Whitechapel, and the meeting was to be held in a school room in the Commercial Road. I was looking pale, she said, and the drive there would do me good, so I went with her, lacking energy to refuse, and sat in the carriage whilst she went in to the meeting-a proceeding which I very soon began to regret.

The surroundings and environment of the place were in every way depressing. The carriage had been drawn up at the corner of two great thoroughfares-avenues through which flows the dark tide of all that is worst and most wretched of London poverty. For a few minutes I watched the people. It was horrible, yet in a sense fascinating. But when the first novelty had worn off the whole thing suddenly sickened me. I removed my eyes from the pavement with a shudder. I would watch the people no longer. Nothing, I told myself, should induce me to look again upon that stream of brutal and unsexed men and women. I kept my eyes steadfastly fixed upon the rug at my feet. And then a strange thing happened to me. Against my will a moment came when I was forced to raise my eyes. A man hurrying past the carriage had half halted upon the pavement only a foot or two away from me. As I looked up our eyes met. He was dressed in a suit of rusty black, and he had a handkerchief tied closely around his neck in lieu of collar. He was wearing a flannel shirt and no tie. His whole appearance, so far as dress was concerned, was miserably in accord with the shabbiness of his surroundings. Yet from underneath his battered hat a pair of piercing eyes met mine, and a delicate mouth quivered for a moment with a curious and familiar emotion. I sprang from my seat and struggled frantically with the fastening of the carriage door. Disguise was all in vain, so far as I was concerned. It was my father who stood there looking at me. I pushed the carriage door open at last and sprang out upon the pavement. I was a

minute too late-already he was a vanishing figure. At the corner of a squalid little court he turned round and held out one hand threateningly towards me. I paused involuntarily. The gesture was one which it was hard to disobey. Yet I think that I most surely should have disobeyed it, but for the fact that during my momentary hesitation he had disappeared. I hurried forward a few steps. There was no sign of him anywhere. He had passed down some steps and vanished in a wilderness of small courts; to pursue him was hopeless. Already a little crowd of people were gazing at me boldly and curiously. I turned round and stepped back into the carriage.

I waited in an agony of impatience until my mother came out. Then I told her with trembling voice what had happened.

Her face grew paler as she listened, but I could see that she was inclined to doubt my story.

"It could not have been your father," she exclaimed, her voice shaking with agitation. "You must have been mistaken."

I shook my head sadly. There was no possibility of any mistake so far as I was concerned.

"It was my father. That girl has broken her word," I cried bitterly. "She has seen him and-she knows. He is hiding from her!"

We drove straight to the telegraph office. My mother wrote out a message to Mr. Deville. I, too, sent one to Olive. Then we drove back to our rooms. There was nothing to be done but wait.

It was six o'clock before the first answer came back. It was from Mr. Bruce Deville. I tore it open and read it.

"You must be mistaken. Can answer for it she has taken no steps. She is still here. Mr. Ffolliot has not returned. Impossible for them to have met."

The pink paper fluttered to the ground at our feet. I tore open the second one; it was from Olive Berdenstein--

"Do not understand you. I have no intention of breaking our compact."

We read them both over again carefully. Then we looked at one another.

"He must have taken fright needlessly," I said, in a low tone.

"You are still certain, then, that it was he?" she asked.

"Absolutely!" I answered. "If only we could find him! In a week it will be too late."

"Too late!" she repeated. "What do you mean?"

"The ceremony at Eastminster is on Sunday week. He was to have been there at least a week before. I am afraid that he will not go at all now."

"We must act at once," my mother declared, firmly. "I know exactly where you saw him. I will go there at once."

"We will go there together," I cried. "I shall be ready in a minute."

She shook her head.

"I must go alone," she said, quietly. "You would only be in the way. I know the neighborhood and the people. They will tell me more if I am alone."

She was away until midnight. When at last she returned I saw at once by her face that she had been unsuccessful.

"There is no clue, then?" I asked.

She shook her head.

"None."

We sat and looked at one another in silence.

"To-morrow," she said, "I will try again."

But to-morrow came and went, and we were still hopelessly in the dark. On the morning of the third day we were in despair. Then, as we sat over our breakfast, almost in despair, a letter was brought to me. It was from Alice, and enclosed in it was one from my father.

"You seem," she wrote, "to have been very anxious about father lately, so I thought you would like to read this letter from him. We are almost straight here now, but it has been very hard work, and I have missed you very much...."

There was more of the same sort, but I did not stop to read it. I passed it on to my mother, and eagerly read the few lines from my father. His letter was dated three days ago-the very day of my meeting with him in the Commercial Road, and the postmark was Ventnor.

"My dear child," he commenced, "I am better and shall return for certain on Monday. The air here is delightful, and I have felt myself growing stronger every day. If you see the Bishop tell him that you have heard from me. My love to Kate, if you are writing. I hope that she will be coming down for next week. There is a good deal for me to say to her.-Your affectionate father, Horace Ffolliot."

My mother read both letters, and then looked up at me with a great relief in her face.

"After all you see you must have been mistaken," she exclaimed. "There can be no doubt about it."

And I said no more, but one thing was as certain as my life itself-the man who had waved me back from following him along the pavements of the Commercial Road was most surely no other man than my father.

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