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The Yellow House By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 9574

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

It was at evensong in the great cathedral that she tasted the first fruits of her triumph. During the earlier portion of the service the shadows had half enveloped the huge body of the building, and the white faces of the congregation had been only dimly visible to us from where we sat in one of the high side pews. But when my father ascended the steps into the pulpit, and stood for a minute looking downwards with the light from a little semi-circle of candles thrown upon his pale, delicate face, I caught the sound of a sharp, smothered cry from a seat close to ours. With a little shiver of dread I looked around. She had half risen from her seat, and was leaning over the front of the pew. Her eyes were riveted upon him, and her thin, sallow face was white with sudden excitement. I saw him look up, and their eyes met for one terrible moment. He did not flinch or falter. But for the slightly prolonged resting of his eyes upon her eager, strained face he took no more notice of her than of any other member of the congregation. I alone knew that her challenge had been met and answered, and it was my hard fate to sit there and suffer in silence.

There was no mark of nervousness or weakness of any sort in the sermon he preached. He seemed to be speaking with a consciousness perhaps that it might be for the last time, and with a deliberate effort that some part of those delicately chosen sentences might leave an everlasting mark behind him. Already his fame as a preacher was spreading, and many of the townspeople were there, attracted by his presence. They listened with a rare and fervid attention. As for me, it seemed that I should never altogether lose the memory of that low, musical voice, never once raised above its ordinary pitch, yet with every word penetrating softly and clearly into the furthermost corner of the great building. There was a certain wistfulness in his manner that night, a gentle, pathetic eloquence which brought glistening tears into the eyes of more than one of the little throng of listeners. For he spoke of death, and of the leaving behind of all earthly things-of death, and of spiritual death-of the ties between man and woman and man and God. It was all so different to what is generally expected from a preacher with the reputation of eloquence, so devoid of the usual arts of oratory, and yet so sweetly human, ?sthetically beautiful that when at last, with a few words, in a sense valedictory he left the pulpit, and the low strains of the organ grew louder and louder. I slipped from my seat and groped across the close with my eyes full of blinding tears. I had a passionate conviction that I had misjudged my father. Suddenly he seemed to loom before my eyes in a new light-the light of a martyr. My judgments concerning him seemed harsh and foolish. Who was I to judge such a man as that? He was as far above me as the stars, and I had refused him my sympathy. He had begged for it, and I had refused it! I had left him to carry his burden alone! It seemed to me then that never whilst I lived could I escape from the bitterness of this sudden whirlwind of regret.

Swiftly though I had walked from the cathedral, he was already in his study when I entered the house. I opened the door timidly. He was sitting in his chair leaning back with half-closed eyes like a man overcome with sudden pain. I fell on my knees by his side and took his fingers in mine.

"Father!" I cried, "I have done my best to keep her away! I have done all that I could!"

His hand pressed mine gently. Then there was a loud ringing at the bell. I sprang up white with fear.

"I will not let her come here!" I cried. "We will say that you are ill! She must go away!"

He shook his head.

"It is useless," he said, quietly; "it must come sooner or later-better now perhaps. Let us wait, I have left word that she is to be shown in here."

There was a brief silence. Then we heard steps in the hall, the rustling of a woman's gown, and the door was opened and closed. She came forward to the edge of the little circle of light thrown around us by my father's reading lamp. There she stood with a great red spot burning in her cheeks, and a fierce light in her eyes.

"At last, then, the mystery is solved," she cried, triumphantly. "I was a fool or I should have guessed it long ago! Have you forgotten me, Philip Maltabar?"

My father rose to his feet. He was serene, but grave.

"No, I have not forgotten you, Olive Berdenstein," he said, slowly. "Yours is not a name to be forgotten by me. Say what you have come to say, please, and go away."

She looked at him in surprise, and laughed shortly.

"Oh, you need not fear," she answered, "I have not come to stay. I recognized you in the cathedral, and I should have been o

n my way to the police station by now, but first I promised myself the pleasure of this visit. Your daughter and I are such friends, you know."

My father took up some writing paper and dipped his pen in the ink as though about to commence a letter.

"I think," he said, "that you had better go now. The police station closes early here, and you will have to hurry as it is-that is, if you wish to get a warrant to-night."

She looked at him fixedly. He certainly had no fear. My heart beat fast with the admiration one has always for a brave man. The girl was being cheated of her triumph.

"You are right," she said, "I must hurry; I am going to them and I shall say I know now who was my brother's murderer! It was Philip Maltabar, the man who calls himself Canon Ffolliot. But though he may be a very holy man, I can prove him to be a murderer!"

"This is rather a hard word," my father remarked, with a faint smile at the corners of his lips.

"It is a true one," she cried, fiercely. "You killed him. You cannot deny it."

"I do not deny it," he answered, quietly. "It is quite true that I killed your brother-or rather that in a struggle between us I struck him a blow from the effects of which he died."

For a long time I had felt that it must be so. Yet to hear him confess it so calmly, and without even the most ordinary emotion, was a shock to me.

"It is the same thing," she said, scornfully, "you killed him!"

"In the eyes of the law it is not the same thing," he answered; "but let that pass. I had warned your brother most solemnly that if he took a certain course I should meet him as man to man, and I should show him no mercy. Yet he persisted in that course. He came to my home! I had warned him not to come. Even then I forbore. His errand was fruitless. He had only become a horror in the eyes of the woman whom he had deceived. She would not see him, she wished never to look upon his face again. He persisted in seeking to force his way into her presence. On that day I met him. I argued and reasoned with him, but in vain. Then the first blow was struck, and only the merest chance intervened, or the situation would have been reversed. Your brother was a coward then, Olive Berdenstein, as he had been all his life. He struck at me treacherously with a knife. Look here!"

He threw open his waistcoat, and she started back with horror. There was a terrible wound underneath the bandage which he removed.

"It was a blow for a blow," he said, gravely. "From my wound I shall in all likelihood die. Your brother's knife touched my lung, and I am always in danger of internal bleeding. The blow I struck him, I struck with his knife at my heart. That is not murder."

"We shall see," she muttered between her lips.

"As soon as you will," he answered. "There is one thing more which you may as well know. My unhappy meeting with your brother on that Sunday afternoon was not our first meeting since his return to England. On the very night of his arrival I met him in London by appointment. I warned him that if he persisted in a certain course I should forget my cloth, and remember only that I was a man and that he was an enemy. He listened in silence, and when I turned to leave he made a cowardly attempt upon my life. He deliberately attempted to murder me. Nothing but an accident saved my life. But I am not telling you these things to gain your pity. Only you have found me out, and you are his sister. It is right that you should know the truth. I have told you the whole story. Will you go now?"

She looked at him, and for a moment she hesitated. Then her eyes met mine, and her face hardened.

"Yes, I will go," she declared. "I do not care whether you have told me the truth or not. I am going to let the world know who Canon Ffolliot is."

"You will do as seems best to you," my father said, quietly.

He had risen to his feet, and stood with his hand at his side, breathing heavily, in an attitude now familiar to me, although I had never fully understood its cause. His pale lips were twitching with pain, and there were dark rims under his eyes. She looked at him and laughed brutally.

"Your daughter is an excellent actress," she said, looking back over her shoulder as she moved towards the door. "I have no doubt but that the art is inherited. We shall see!"

Obeying my father's gesture, I rang the bell. We heard the front door open and close after her. Then I threw my arms around his neck in a passionate abandonment of grief.

"It is all my fault," I sobbed-"my fault! But for me she would have forgiven."

My father smiled a faint, absent smile. He was smoothing my hair gently with one hand and gazing steadfastly into the fire. His face was serene, almost happy. Yet the blow had fallen.

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