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   Chapter 28 EASTMINSTER

The Yellow House By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 13264

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The days that followed were, in a sense, like the calm before the threatened storm. As the date of my father's promised return to Eastminster drew near, every day I expected to hear from Alice that he had abandoned his purpose, and that Northshire would see him no more. But no such letter came. On the contrary, when news did come it was news which astonished me.

"You will be glad to hear," Alice wrote, "that father came back last night looking better, although rather thin. He did not seem to have understood that you were already with Mrs. Fortress, and I think he was disappointed not to see you. At the same time, considering that you have acted without consulting him in any way, and that there is certainly some room for doubt as to the wisdom of the step you have taken, I think that he takes your absence very well. He wants you to come down in a week for a day or two. No doubt you will be able to manage this. You must stay for a Sunday. Father preached last evening, and there was quite a sensation. Lady Bolton has been so kind. She says that the Bishop is continually congratulating himself upon having found father in the diocese. I have not seen either Mr. Deville or Miss Berdenstein since I left the Vicarage. As you can imagine I have been terribly busy. The house here is simply delightful. The old oak is priceless, and there are such quaint little nooks and corners everywhere. Do come at once. Ever your loving sister, Alice."

I passed the letter across to my mother, and when she had finished it she looked with a smile into my still troubled face.

"That proves finally that you were wrong," she remarked, quietly. "I suppose you have no more doubts about it?"

I shook my head. I did not commit myself to speech.

"I suppose I must have been mistaken," I said. "It was a wonderful likeness."

"He wants to see you," she continued, looking wistfully across at me. "You know what that means?"

"Yes," I answered. "I think I know what that means."

"He will try to make you leave me," she went on. "Perhaps he will be right. At any rate, he will think that he is right. It will be a struggle for you, child. He has a strong will."

"I know it," I answered; "but I have made up my mind. Nothing will induce me to change it-nothing, at any rate, that my father will be able to say. Another month like the last would kill me. Besides, I do not think that I was meant for a clergyman's daughter-I am too restless. I want a different sort of life. No, you need not fear. I shall come back to you."

"If I thought that you would not," she said, "I should be very unhappy. I have made so many plans for the future-our future."

I crossed the room to the side of her chair and threw myself down upon my knees, with my head in her lap. She passed her arms around me, and I had no need to say a single word. She understood.

I think as I walked down the little main street of Eastminster that sunny morning I knew that the crisis in these strange events was fast drawing near. The calm of the last few days had been too complete. Almost I could have persuaded myself that the events of the last month or two had been a dream. No one could possibly have imagined that the thunderclouds of tragedy were hovering over that old-fashioned, almost cloistral, dwelling house lying in the very shadows of the cathedral. My father was, beyond a doubt, perfectly at his ease, calm and dignified, and wearing his new honors with a wonderful grace and dignity. Alice was perfectly happy in the new atmosphere of a cathedral town. To all appearance they were a model father and daughter, settling down for a very happy and uneventful life. But to me there was something unnatural alike in my father's apparent freedom from all anxiety and in Alice's complacent ignorance. I could not breathe freely in the room whilst they talked with interest about their new surroundings and the increased possibilities of their new life. But what troubled me most perhaps was that my father absolutely declined to discuss with me anything connected with the past. On every occasion when I sought to lead up to it he had at once checked me peremptorily. Nor would he suffer me to allude in any way to my new life. Once, when I opened my lips to frame some suggestive sentence, I caught a light in his eyes before which I was dumb. Gradually I began to realize what it meant. By leaving him for my mother, I had virtually declared myself on her side. All that I had been before went for nothing. In his eyes I was no longer his daughter. Whatever fears he had he kept them from me. I should no longer have even those tragic glimpses into his inner life. My anxieties, indeed, were to be lessened as my knowledge was to be less. Yet that was a thought which brought me little consolation. I felt as though I had deserted a brave man.

I had come for a walk to escape from it, and at the end of the little line of shops issuing from the broad archway of the old-fashioned hotel I came face to face with Bruce Deville. He was carefully, even immaculately, dressed in riding clothes, and he was carrying himself with a new ease and dignity. Directly he saw me he stopped short and held out his hand.

"What fortune!" he exclaimed, forgetting for the moment, or appearing to forget, to release my hand. "I heard that you were down, and I was going to call. It is much pleasanter to meet you though!"

I was miserably and unaccountably nervous. Our old relative positions seemed suddenly to have become reversed.

"We will go back, then," I said; "it is only a moment's walk to the close."

He laid his hand upon the sleeve of my jacket and checked me.

"No! it is you whom I wanted to see. I may not be able to talk to you alone at your house, and, besides, your father might not allow me to enter it. Will you come for a short walk with me? There is a way through the fields a little higher up. I have something to say to you."

I suffered myself to be easily persuaded. There was something positively masterful about the firm ring of his voice, the strong touch of his fingers, the level, yet anxious glance of his keen, grey eyes. Anyhow I went with him. He appeared to know the way perfectly. Soon we were walking slowly along a country road, and Eastminster lay in the valley behind us.

"Where is Miss Berdenstein?" I asked him.

He looked at me with a gleam of something in his eyes which puzzled me. It was half kindly, half humorous. Then in an instant I understood. The girl had told him. Something decided had happened then between them. Perhaps she had told him everything.

"I believe," he an

swered, "that Miss Berdenstein has gone to London. Don't you feel that you owe me a very humble plea for forgiveness?"

I looked at him cautiously.

"Why?"

His lips relaxed a little. He was half smiling.

"Did you not make a deliberate plot against me in conjunction with Miss Berdenstein?"

"I am not sure that I understand you," I answered. "I certainly did not originate any plot against you."

"Nay, but you fell in with it. I know all about it, so you may just as well confess. Miss Berdenstein was to leave off making inconvenient inquiries about Philip Maltabar, and you were to be as rude to me as you could. Wasn't that something like the arrangement? You see I know all about it. I have had the benefit of a full confession."

"If you know," I remarked, "you do not need to ask me."

"That is quite true," he answered, opening a gate and motioning me to precede him. "But at the same time I thought that it would be rather-well, piquant to hear the details from you."

"You are very ungenerous," I said, coldly.

"I hope not," he answered. "Do you know I only discovered this diabolical affair yesterday, and--"

"Mr. Deville!"

He turned round and looked at me. I was standing in the middle of the path, and I daresay I looked as angry as I felt.

"I will tell you the truth," I said. "Afterwards, if you allude to the matter at all I shall go away at once. The girl has it in her power, as you know, to do us terrible harm. She, of her own accord, offered to forego that power forever-although she is quite ignorant of its extent-if I would not see or talk with you. She was a little fool to make the offer, of course, but I should have been more foolish still if I had not accepted it. She imagined that our relative positions were different. However, that is of no consequence, of course. I made the bargain, and I kept my part of it. I avoided you, and I left the neighborhood. You have reminded me that I am not keeping to the letter of my agreement in being here with you. I should prefer your leaving me, as I can find my way home quite well alone."

"It is unnecessary," he said. "The agreement is off. Miss Berdenstein and I have had an understanding."

"You are engaged, then?" I faltered.

"Well, no," he said, coolly, "I should perhaps have said a misunderstanding."

"Tell me the truth at once," I demanded.

"I am most anxious to do so," he answered. "She was, as you remarked, a little fool. She became sentimental, and I laughed at her. She became worse, and I put her right. That was last night. She was silly enough to get into a passion, and from her incoherencies I gathered the reason why you were so unapproachable those last few days at the Vicarage. That is why I got up at six o'clock this morning and rode into Eastminster."

"Have you come here this morning?" I asked.

"Yes, it's only thirty miles," he answered, coolly. "I wanted to see you."

I was silent for a few moments. This was news indeed. What might come of it I scarcely dared to think. A whole torrent of surmises came flooding in upon me.

"Where is she?" I asked.

"In London, I should think, by this time," he answered.

I drew a long breath of relief. To be rid of her for a time would be happiness.

"I believe," he continued, "that she intends to return to Paris."

After all it was perhaps the best thing that could happen; if she had been in earnest-and I knew that she had been in earnest-she would hate England now. At any rate she would not want to come back again just yet. My face cleared. After all it was good news.

"She has gone-out of our lives, I hope," he said, quietly, "and in her hysterics she left one little legacy behind for me-and that is hope. I know that I am not half good enough for you," he said, with an odd little tremble in his tone, "but you have only seen the worst of me. Do you think that you could care for me a little? Would you try?"

Then when I should have been strong I was pitiably weak. I struggled for words in despair. He was so calm, so strong, so confident. How was I to stand against him?

"It is impossible," I said; "you know who I am. I shall never marry."

He laughed at me scornfully.

"If that is all," he said, taking my hands suddenly into his, "you shall not leave me until you have promised."

"But-I--"

Then he was very bold, and I should have been very angry, but was not. He looked coolly round, and finding that there was no one in sight, he drew me to him and kissed me. His arms were like steel bars around me, I could not possibly escape. After that there were no words which I could say. I was amazed at myself, but I was very happy. The twilight was falling upon the city when we walked once more through the little streets, and my veil was closely drawn to hide my wet eyes.

My lover-I dared to call him that at last-was coming home with me, and for a few brief moments my footsteps seemed to be falling upon air.

I allowed myself the luxury of forgetfulness; the load of anxiety which had seemed crushing had suddenly rolled away. But at the entrance to the close a little dark figure met us face to face, and my blood ran cold in my veins, for she lifted her veil, and my dream of happiness vanished into thin air. Her face was like the face of an evil spirit, yet she would have passed me without a word, but that I held out my hand and stopped her.

"What are you doing here?" I asked. "What do you want?"

She smiled at me with the malice of a fiend.

"It was a little call," she said, "which I was paying upon your father. He was unfortunately not at home. No matter, I shall call again; I shall call again and again until I see him. I am in no hurry to leave. Eastminster is such an interesting place!"

Then my heart died away within me, and the light of my sudden happiness grew dim. She looked from one to the other of us, and her eyes were lit with a new fury. Some subtle instinct seemed to guide her to the truth.

"May I congratulate you both?" she asked, with a sneer in her tone. "A little sudden, isn't it?"

We did not answer. I had no words, and Bruce remained grimly and contemptuously silent. She gathered up her skirts, and her eyes flashed an evil light upon us.

"After all," she exclaimed, "it is an admirable arrangement! How happy you both look! Don't let me keep you! I shall call later on this evening."

She flitted away like a dark shadow and passed underneath the stone archway out of the close. I covered my face with my hands and moaned. It had come at last, then. All that I had done had been useless. I was face to face with despair.

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