A Lost Leader - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

A Lost Leader ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Opis

The state of the working class in the early 20th century caused significant changes in the left-wing political parties. The Liberal Party, which enjoyed the support of the working class, was threatened by the Party of Labor and trade unions that were in the forefront of the socialist and communist movement. In this novel, we are talking about a great deal of sympathy for the poorest workers who lost their jobs due to automation, recession and mass layoffs. The use of taxes on foreign trade to protect the British industry is a major political issue in this history.

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Liczba stron: 367

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Contents

BOOK I

I. RECONSTRUCTION

II. THE WOMAN WITH AN ALIAS

III. WANTED—A POLITICIAN

IV. THE DUCHESS ASKS A QUESTION

V. THE HESITATION OF MR. MANNERING

VI. SACRIFICE

VII. THE DUCHESS’S “AT HOME”

VIII. THE MANNERING MYSTERY

IX. THE PUMPING OF MRS. PHILLIMORE

X. THE MAN WITH A MOTIVE

XI. MANNERING’S ALTERNATIVE

BOOK II

I. BORROWDEAN MAKES A BARGAIN

II. “CHERCHEZ LA FEMME”

III. ONE OF THE “SUFFERERS”

IV. DEBTS OF HONOUR

V. LOVE VERSUS POLITICS

VI. THE CONSCIENCE OF A STATESMAN

VII. A BLOW FOR BORROWDEAN

VIII. A PAGE FROM THE PAST

IX. THE FALTERING OF MANNERING

X. THE END OF A DREAM

XI. BORROWDEAN SHOWS HIS “HAND”

XII. SIR LESLIE BORROWDEAN INCURS A HEAVY DEBT

XIII. THE WOMAN AND—THE OTHER WOMAN

BOOK III

I. MATRIMONY AND AN AWKWARD MEETING

II. THE SNUB FOR BORROWDEAN

III. CLOUDS—AND A CALL TO ARMS

IV. DISASTER

V. THE JOURNALIST INTERVENES

VI. TREACHERY AND A TELEGRAM

VII. MR. MANNERING, M.P.

VIII. PLAYING THE GAME

IX. THE TRAGEDY OF A KEY

X. BLANCHE FINDS A WAY OUT

I. THE PERSISTENCY OF BORROWDEAN

II. HESTER THINKS IT “A GREAT PITY”

I. SUMMONED TO WINDSOR

IV. CHECKMATE TO BORROWDEAN

V. A BRAZEN PROCEEDING

BOOK I

CHAPTER I

RECONSTRUCTION

The two men stood upon the top of a bank bordering the rough road which led to the sea. They were listening to the lark, which had risen fluttering from their feet a moment or so ago, and was circling now above their heads. Mannering, with a quiet smile, pointed upwards.

“There, my friend!” he exclaimed. “You can listen now to arguments more eloquent than any which I could ever frame. That little creature is singing the true, uncorrupted song of life. He sings of the sunshine, the buoyant air; the pure and simple joy of existence is beating in his little heart. The things which lie behind the hills will never sadden him. His kingdom is here, and he is content.”

Borrowdean’s smile was a little cynical. He was essentially of that order of men who are dwellers in cities, and even the sting of the salt breeze blowing across the marshes–marshes riven everywhere with long arms of the sea–could bring no colour to his pale cheeks.

“Your little bird–a lark, I think you called it,” he remarked, “may be a very eloquent prophet for the whole kingdom of his species, but the song of life for a bird and that for a man are surely different things!”

“Not so very different after all,” Mannering answered, still watching the bird. “The longer one lives, the more clearly one recognizes the absolute universality of life.”

Borrowdean shrugged his shoulders, with a little gesture of impatience. He had left London at a moment when he could ill be spared, and had not travelled to this out-of-the-way corner of the kingdom to exchange purposeless platitudes with a man whose present attitude towards life at any rate he heartily despised. He seated himself upon a half-broken rail, and lit a cigarette.

“Mannering,” he said, “I did not come here to simper cheap philosophies with you like a couple of schoolgirls. I have a real live errand. I want to speak to you of great things.”

Mannering moved a little uneasily. He had a very shrewd idea as to the nature of that errand.

“Of great things,” he repeated slowly. “Are you in earnest, Borrowdean?”

“Why not?”

“Because,” Mannering continued, “I have left the world of great things, as you and I used to regard them, very far behind. I am glad to see you here, of course, but I cannot think of any serious subject which it would be useful or profitable for us to discuss. You understand me, Borrowdean, I am sure!”

Borrowdean closely eyed this man who once had been his friend.

“The old sore still rankles, then, Mannering,” he said. “Has time done nothing to heal it?”

Mannering laughed easily.

“How can you think me such a child?” he exclaimed. “If Rochester himself were to come to see me he would be as welcome as you are. In fact,” he continued, more seriously, “if you could only realize, my friend, how peaceful and happy life here may be, amongst the quiet places, you would believe me at once when I assure you that I can feel nothing but gratitude towards those people and those circumstances which impelled me to seek it.”

“What should you think, then,” Borrowdean asked, watching his friend through half-closed eyes, “of those who sought to drag you from it?”

Mannering’s laugh was as free and natural as the wind itself. He had bared his head, and had turned directly seawards.

“Hatred, my dear Borrowdean,” he declared, “if I thought that they had a single chance of success. As it is–indifference.”

Borrowdean’s eyebrows were raised. He held his cigarette between his fingers, and looked at it for several moments.

“Yet I am here,” he said slowly, “for no other purpose.”

Mannering turned and faced his friend.

“All I can say is that I am sorry to hear it,” he declared. “I know the sort of man you are, Borrowdean, and I know very well that if you have come down here with something to say to me you will say it. Therefore go on. Let us have it over.”

Borrowdean stood up. His tone acquired a new earnestness. He became at once more of a man. The cynical curve of his lips had vanished.

“We are on the eve of great opportunities, Mannering,” he said. “Six months ago the result of the next General Election seemed assured. We appeared to be as far off any chance of office as a political party could be. To-day the whole thing is changed. We are on the eve of a general reconstruction. It is our one great chance of this generation. I come to you as a patriot. Rochester asks you to forget.”

Mannering held up his hand.

“Stop one moment, Borrowdean,” he said. “I want you to understand this once and for all. I have no grievance against Rochester. The old wound, if it ever amounted to that, is healed. If Rochester were here at this moment I would take his hand cheerfully. But–”

“Ah! There is a but, then,” Borrowdean interrupted.

“There is a but,” Mannering assented. “You may find it hard to understand, but here is the truth. I have lost all taste for public life. The whole thing is rotten, Borrowdean, rotten from beginning to end. I have had enough of it to last me all my days. Party policy must come before principle. A man’s individuality, his whole character, is assailed and suborned on every side. There is but one life, one measure of days, that you or I know anything of. It doesn’t last very long. The months and years have a knack of slipping away emptily enough unless we are always standing to attention. Therefore I think that it becomes our duty to consider very carefully, almost religiously, how best to use them. Come here for a moment, Borrowdean. I want to show you something.”

The two men stood side by side upon the grassy bank, Mannering broad-shouldered and vigorous, his clean, hard-cut features tanned with wind and sun, his eyes bright and vigorous with health; Leslie Borrowdean, once his greatest friend, a man of almost similar physique, but with the bent frame and listless pallor of a dweller in the crowded places of life. Without enthusiasm his tired eyes followed the sweep of Mannering’s arm.

“You see those yellow sandhills beyond the marshes there? Behind them is the sea. Do you catch that breath of wind? Take off your hat, man, and get it into your lungs. It comes from the North Sea, salt and fresh and sweet. I think that it is the purest thing on earth. You can walk here for miles and miles in the open, and the wind is like God’s own music. Borrowdean, I am going to say things to you which one says but once or twice in his life. I came to this country a soured man, cynical, a pessimist, a materialist by training and environment. To-day I speak of a God with bowed head, for I believe that somewhere behind all these beautiful things their prototype must exist. Don’t think I’ve turned ranter. I’ve never spoken like this to any one else before, and I don’t suppose I ever shall again. Here is Nature, man, the greatest force on earth, the mother, the mistress, beneficent, wonderful! You are a creature of cities. Stay with me here for a day or two, and the joy of all these things will steal into your blood. You, too, will know what peace is.”

Borrowdean, as though unconsciously, straightened himself. If no colour came to his cheeks, the light of battle was at least in his eyes. This man was speaking heresies. The words sprang to his lips.

“Peace!” he exclaimed, scornfully. “Peace is for the dead. The last reward perhaps of a breaking heart. The life effective, militant, is the only possible existence for men. Pull yourself together, Mannering, for Heaven’s sake. Yours is the faineant spirit of the decadent, masquerading in the garb of a sham primitivism. Were you born into the world, do you think, to loiter through life an idle worshipper at the altar of beauty? Who are you to dare to skulk in the quiet places, whilst the battle of life is fought by others?”

Another lark had risen almost from their feet, and, circling its way upwards, was breaking into song. And below, the full spring tide was filling the pools and creeks with the softly flowing, glimmering sea-water. The fishing boats, high and dry an hour ago, were passing now seaward along the silvery way. All these things Mannering was watching with rapt eyes, even whilst he listened to his companion.

“Dear friend,” he said, “the world can get on very well without me, and I have no need of the world. The battle that you speak of–well, I have been in the fray, as you know. The memory of it is still a nightmare to me.”

Borrowdean had the appearance of a man who sought to put a restraint upon his words. He was silent for a moment, and then he spoke very deliberately.

“Mannering,” he said, “do not think me wholly unsympathetic. There is a side of me which sympathises deeply with every word which you have said. And there is another which forces me to remind you again, and again, that we men were never born to linger in the lotos lands of the world. You do not stand for yourself alone. You exist as a unit of humanity. Think of your responsibilities. You have found for yourself a beautiful corner of the world. That is all very well for you, but how about the rest? How about the millions who are chained to the cities that they may earn their living pittance, whose wives and children fill the churchyards, the echoes of whose weary, never-ceasing cry must reach you even here? They are the people, the sufferers, fellow-links with you in the chain of humanity. You may stand aloof as you will, but you can never cut yourself wholly away from the great family of your fellows. You may hide from your responsibilities, but the burden of them will lie heavy upon your conscience, the poison will penetrate sometimes into your most jealously guarded paradise. We are of the people’s party, you and I, Mannering, and I tell you that the tocsin has sounded. We need you!”

A shadow had fallen upon Mannering’s face. Borrowdean was in earnest, and his appeal was scarcely one to be treated lightly. Nevertheless, Mannering showed no sign of faltering, though his tone was certainly graver.

“Leslie,” he said, “you speak like a prophet, but believe me, my mind is made up. I have taken root here. Such work as I can do from my study is, as it always has been, at your service. But I myself have finished with actual political life. Don’t press me too hard. I must seem churlish and ungrateful, but if I listened to you for hours the result would be the same. I have finished with actual political life.”

Borrowdean shrugged his shoulders despairingly. Such a man was hard to deal with.

“Mannering,” he protested, “you must not, you really must not, send me away like this. You speak of your written work. Don’t think that I underestimate it because I have not alluded to it before. I myself honestly believe that it was those wonderful articles of yours in the Nineteenth Century which brought back to a reasonable frame of mind thousands who were half led away by the glamour of this new campaign. You kindled the torch, my friend, and you must bear it to victory. You bring me to my last resource. If you will not serve under Rochester, come back–and Rochester will serve under you when the time comes.”

Mannering shook his head slowly.

“I wish I could convince you,” he said, “once and for all, that my refusal springs from no such reasons as you seem to imagine. I would sooner sit here, with a volume of Pater or Meredith, and this west wind blowing in my face, than I would hear myself acclaimed Prime Minister of England. Let us abandon this discussion once and for all, Borrowdean. We have arrived at a cul-de-sac, and I have spoken my last word.”

Borrowdean threw his half-finished cigarette into the ever-widening creek below. It was characteristic of the man that his face showed no sign of disappointment. Only for several moments he kept silence.

“Come,” Mannering said at last. “Let us make our way back to the house. If you are resolved to get back to town to-night, we ought to be thinking about luncheon.”

“Thank you,” Borrowdean said. “I must return.”

They started to walk inland, but they had taken only a few steps when they both, as though by a common impulse, stopped. An unfamiliar sound had broken in upon the deep silence of this quiet land. Borrowdean, who was a few paces ahead, pointed to the bend in the road below, and turned towards his companion with a little gesture of cynical amusement.

“Behold,” he exclaimed, “the invasion of modernity. Even your time-forgotten paradise, Mannering, has its civilizations, then. What an anachronism!”

With a cloud of dust behind, and with the sun flashing upon its polished metal parts, a motor car swung into sight, and came rushing towards them. Borrowdean, always a keen observer of trifles, noticed the change in Mannering’s face.

“It is a neighbour of mine,” he remarked. “She is on her way to the golf links.”

“Golf links!” Borrowdean exclaimed.

Mannering nodded.

“Behind the sandhills there,” he remarked.

There was a grinding of brakes. The car came to a standstill below. A woman, who sat alone in the back seat, raised her veil and looked upwards.

“Am I late?” she asked. “Clara has gone on–they told me!”

She had addressed Mannering, but her eyes seemed suddenly drawn to Borrowdean. As though dazzled by the sun, she dropped her veil. Borrowdean was standing as though turned to stone, perfectly rigid and motionless. His face was like a still, white mask.

“I am so sorry,” Mannering said, “but I have had a most unexpected visit from an old friend. May I introduce Sir Leslie Borrowdean–Mrs. Handsell!”

The lady in the car bent her head, and Borrowdean performed an automatic salute. Mannering continued:

“I am afraid that I must throw myself upon your mercy! Sir Leslie insists upon returning this afternoon, and I am taking him back for an early luncheon. You will find Clara and Lindsay at the golf club. May we have our foursome to-morrow?”

“Certainly! I will not keep you for a moment. I must hurry now, or the tide will be over the road.”

She motioned the driver to proceed, but Borrowdean interposed.

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