As a Man Lives - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

As a Man Lives ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Positively every one, with two unimportant exceptions, had called upon us. The Countess had driven over from Sysington Hall, twelve miles away, with two anamic-looking daughters, who had gushed over our late roses and the cedar trees which shaded the lawn. The Holgates of Holgate Brand and Lady Naselton of Naselton had presented themselves on the same afternoon. Many others had come in their train, for what these very great people did the neighborhood was bound to endorse. There was a little veiled anxiety, a few elaborately careless questions as to the spelling of our name; but when my father had mentioned the second „f,” and made a casual allusion to the Warwickshire Ffolliots–with whom we were not indeed on speaking terms, but who were certainly our cousins–a distinct breath of relief was followed by a gush of mild cordiality.

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Liczba stron: 322

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Contents

I. THE YELLOW HOUSE

II. ON THE MOOR

III. MR. BRUCE DEVILLE

IV. OUR MYSTERIOUS NEIGHBOURS

V. A SOUTH AMERICAN LETTER

VI. THE MILLIONAIRE

VII. A FRUITLESS APPEAL

VIII. THE COMING OF MR. BERDENSTEIN

IX. A TERRIBLE INTERRUPTION

X. CANON OF BELCHESTER

XI. THE GATHERING OF THE CLOUD

XII. MR. BERDENSTEIN'S SISTER

XIII. FOR VENGEANCE

XIV. ADELAIDE FORTRESS'S GUEST

XV. THE LIKENESS OF PHILIP MALTABAR

XVI. "IT WAS MY FATHER"

XVII. A CONFERENCE OF TWO

XVIII. FRIENDS

XIX. A CORNER OF THE CURTAIN

XX. I AM THE VICTIM

XXI. OUT OF DANGER

XXII. AN UNHOLY COMPACT

XXIII. IN THE PLANTATION

XXIV. MY DILEMMA

XXV. A PROPOSAL

XXVI. THE EVIDENCE OF CIRCUMSTANCES

XXVII. A GHOST IN WHITECHAPEL

XXVIII. EASTMINSTER

XXIX. THE BREAKING OF THE STORM

XXX. THE MASTER OF COLVILLE HALL

I. THE YELLOW HOUSE

POSITIVELY every one, with two unimportant exceptions, had called upon us. The Countess had driven over from Sysington Hall, twelve miles away, with two anaemic-looking daughters, who had gushed over our late roses and the cedar trees which shaded the lawn. The Holgates of Holgate Brand and Lady Naselton of Naselton had presented themselves on the same afternoon. Many others had come in their train, for what these very great people did the neighbourhood was bound to endorse. There was a little veiled anxiety, a few elaborately careless questions as to the spelling of our name; but when my father had mentioned the second “f,” and made a casual allusion to the Warwickshire Ffolliots–with whom we were not indeed on speaking terms, but who were certainly our cousins–a distinct breath of relief was followed by a gush of mild cordiality. There were wrong Ffolliots and right Ffolliots. We belonged to the latter. No one had made a mistake or compromised themselves in any way by leaving their cards upon a small country vicar and his daughters. And earlier callers went away and spread a favourable report. Those who were hesitating, hesitated no longer. Our little carriage-drive, very steep and very hard to turn in, was cut up with the wheels of many chariots. The whole county within a reasonable distance came, with two exceptions. And those two exceptions were Mr. Bruce Deville of Deville Court, on the borders of whose domain our little church and vicarage lay, and the woman who dwelt in the “Yellow House.”

I asked Lady Naselton about both of them one afternoon. Her ladyship, by the by, had been one of our earliest visitors, and had evinced from the first a strong desire to become my sponsor in Northshire society. She was middle-aged, bright, and modern–a thorough little cosmopolitan, with a marked absence in her deportment and mannerisms of anything bucolic or rural. I enjoyed talking to her, and this was her third visit. We were sitting out upon the lawn, drinking afternoon tea, and making the best of a brilliant October afternoon. A yellow gleam from the front of that oddly-shaped little house, flashing through the dark pine trees, brought it into my mind. It was only from one particular point in our garden that any part of it was visible at all. It chanced that I occupied that particular spot, and during a lull in the conversation it occurred to me to ask a question.

“By the by,” I remarked, “our nearest neighbours have not yet been to see us?”

“Your nearest neighbours!” Lady Naselton repeated. “Whom do you mean? There are a heap of us who live close together.”

“I mean the woman who lives at that little shanty through the plantation,” I answered, inclining my head towards it “It is a woman who lives there, isn’t it? I fancy that someone told me so, although I have not seen anything of her. Perhaps I was mistaken.”

Lady Naselton lifted both her hands. There was positive relish in her tone when she spoke. The symptoms were unmistakable. Why do the nicest women enjoy shocking and being shocked?

I could see that she was experiencing positive pleasure from my question.

“My dear Miss Ffolliot!” she exclaimed. “My dear girl, don’t you really know anything about her? Hasn’t anybody told you anything?”

I stifled an imaginary yawn in faint protest against her unbecoming exhilaration. I have not many weaknesses but I hate scandal and scandal-mongering. All the same I was interested, although I did not care to gratify Lady Naselton by showing it.

“Remember, that I have only been here a week or two,” I remarked; “certainly not long enough to have mastered the annals of the neighbourhood. I have not asked any one before. No one has ever mentioned her name. Is there really anything worth hearing?”

Lady Naselton looked down and brushed some crumbs from her lap with a delicately gloved hand. She was evidently an epicure in storytelling. She was trying to make it last out as long as possible.

“Well, my dear girl, I should not like to tell you all that people say,” she began, slowly. “At the same time, as you are a stranger to the neighbourhood, and, of course, know nothing about anybody, it is only my duty to put you on your guard. I do not know the particulars myself. I have never inquired. But she is not considered to be at all a proper person. There is something very dubious about her record.”

“How deliciously vague!” I remarked, with involuntary irony. “Don’t you know anything more definite?”

“I find no pleasure in inquiring into such matters,” Lady Naselton replied a little stiffly, “The opinion of those who are better able to judge is sufficient for me.”

“One must inquire, or one cannot, or should not, judge,” I said. “I suppose that there’s something which she does, or does not, do?”

“It is something connected with her past life, I believe,” Lady Naselton remarked.

“Her past life? Isn’t it supposed to be rather interesting nowadays to have a past?”

I began to doubt whether, after all, I was going to be much of a favourite with Lady Naselton. She set her teacup down, and looked at me with distinct disapproval in her face.

“Amongst a certain class of people it may be,” she answered, severely; “not”–with emphasis–“in Northshire society; not in any part of it with which I am acquainted, I am glad to say. You must allow me to add. Miss Ffolliot, that I am somewhat surprised to hear you, a clergyman’s daughter, express yourself so.”

A clergyman’s daughter. I was continually forgetting that. And, after all, it is much more comfortable to keep one’s self in accord with one’s environment. I pulled myself together, and explained with much surprise-"I only asked a question. Lady Naselton. I wasn’t expressing my own views. I think that women with a past are very horrid. One is so utterly tired of them in fiction that one does not want to meet them in real life. We won’t talk of this at all. I’m not really interested. Tell me about Mr. Deville instead.”

Now this was a little unkind of me, for I knew quite well that Lady Naselton was brimming with eagerness to tell me a good deal about this undesirable neighbour of ours. As it happened, however, my question afforded her a fresh opportunity, of which she took advantage.

“To tell you of one, unfortunately, is to tell you of the other,” she said, significantly.

I decided to humour her, and raised my eyebrows in the most approved fashion.

“How shocking!” I exclaimed.

I was received in favour again. My reception of the innuendo had been all that could be desired.

“We consider it a most flagrant case,” she continued, leaning over towards me confidentially. “I am thankful to say that of the two Bruce Deville is the least blamed.”

“Isn’t that generally the case?” I murmured. “It is the woman who has to bear the burden.”

“And it is generally the woman who deserves it,” Lady Naselton answered, promptly. “It is my experience, at any rate, and I have seen a good deal more of life than you. In the present case there can be no doubt about it The woman actually followed him down here, and took up her quarters almost at his gates whilst he was away. She was there with scarcely a stick of furniture in the house for nearly a month. When he came back, would you believe it, the house was furnished from top to bottom with things from the Court. The carts were going backwards and forwards for days. She even went up and selected some of the furniture herself. I saw it all going on with my own eyes. Oh! it was the most barefaced thing!”

“Tell me about Mr. Deville,” I interrupted hastily. “I have not seen him yet. What is he like?”

“Bruce Deville,” she murmured to herself, thoughtfully. Then she was silent for a moment. Something that was almost like a gleam of sorrow passed across her face. Her whole expression was changed.

“Bruce Deville is my godson,” she said, slowly. “I suppose that is why I feel his failure the more keenly.”

“He is a failure, then?” I asked. “Some one was talking about him yesterday, but I only heard fragments here and there. Isn’t he very quixotic, and very poor?”

“Poor!” She repeated the word with peculiar emphasis. Then she rose from her chair, and walked a step or two towards the low fence which enclosed our lawn.

“Come here, child.”

I stood by her side looking across the sunlit stretch of meadows and undulating land. A very pretty landscape it was. The farmhouses, with their grey fronts and red-tiled roofs, and snug rickyards close at hand, had a particularly prosperous and picturesque appearance. The land was mostly arable and well-cultivated; field after field of deep golden stubble, and rich, dark soil stretched away to the dim horizon. She held out her hand.

“You see!” she exclaimed. “Does that look like a poor man’s possessions?”

I shook my head.

“Every village there from east to west, every stone and acre belongs to Bruce Deville, and has belonged to the Devilles for centimes. There is no other landowner on that side of the country. He is lord of the Manor of a dozen parishes!”

I was puzzled.

“Then why do people call him so miserably poor?” I asked. “They say that the Court is virtually closed, and that he lives the life of a hermit, almost without servants even.”

“He either is or says he is as poor as Job,” Lady Naselton continued, resuming her seat. “He is a most extraordinary man. He was away from the country altogether for twelve years, wandering about, without any regular scheme of travel, all over the world. People met him or heard of him in all manner of queer and out-of-the-way places. Then he lived in London for a time, and spent a fortune–I don’t know that I ought to say anything about that to you–on Marie Leparte, the singer. One day he came back suddenly to the Court, which had been shut up all this time, and took up his quarters there in a single room with an old servant. He gave put that he was ruined, and that he desired neither to visit nor to be visited. He behaved in such an extraordinary manner to those who did go to see him, that they are not likely to repeat the attempt.”

“How long has he been living there?” I asked.

“About four years.”

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