A Monk of Cruta - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

A Monk of Cruta ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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A very interesting and early novel is extremely popular in the 1920s and 1940s by the famous author E. Phillips Oppenheim. It differs from its later works, here are considered more gloomy themes and a tragic plot. This story tells of a wealthy Englishman who fell in love with the daughter of an Italian nobleman who lives on the island of Krutha in the Mediterranean Sea. The very dark influence of the Catholic Church in this period will not prevent the victory of love and happiness.

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Liczba stron: 356

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX.

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER XXXIII

CHAPTER XXXIV

CHAPTER XXXV

CHAPTER XXXVI

CHAPTER I

“THE BLACK-ROBED PHANTOM ‘DEATH’”

“Father Adrian!”

“I am here!”

“I saw the doctor talking with you aside! How long have I to live? He told you the truth! Repeat his words to me!”

The tall, gaunt young priest drew nearer to the bedside, and shook his head with a slow, pitying gesture.

“The time was short–short indeed. Yet, why should you fear? Your confession has been made! I myself have pronounced your absolution; the holy Church has granted to you her most holy sacrament.”

“Fear! Bah! I have no fear! It is a matter of calculation. Shall I see morning break?”

“You may; but you will never see the mid-day sun.”

The dying man raised himself with a slow, painful movement, and pointed to the window.

“Throw up the window.”

He was obeyed. A servant who had been sitting quietly in the shadows of the vast apartment, with his head buried in his hands, rose and did his master’s bidding.

“What hour is it?”

“Three o’clock.”

“Gomez, strain your eyes seaward. Is there no light on the horizon?”

“None! The storm has wrapped the earth in darkness. Listen!”

A torrent of rain was swept against the streaming window pane, and a gust of wind shook the frame in its sockets. The watcher turned away from the window with a mute gesture of despair. No eye could pierce that black chaos. He sank again into his seat, and looked around shuddering. The high, vaulted chamber was lit by a pair of candles only, leaving the greater part of it in gloom. Grim, fantastic shadows lurked in the corners, and lay across the bare floor. Even the tall figure of the priest, on his knees before a rude wooden crucifix, seemed weird and ghostly. The heavy, mildewed bed-hangings shook and trembled in the draughts which filled the room, and the candles flickered and burnt low in their sockets. Gomez watched them with a sort of anxious fascination. His master’s life was burning out, minute for minute, with those candles. Twenty-five years of constant companionship would be ended in a few brief hours. Gomez was not disposed to trouble much at this; but he bethought himself of a snug little abode in Piccadilly, where the discomforts now surrounding them were quite unknown. Surely, to die there would be a luxury compared with this. He began to feel personally aggrieved that his master should have chosen such an out-of-the-way hole to end his days in. Then came a rush of thought, and he was grave. He knew why! Yes! he knew why!

The dying man lay quite still, almost as though his time were already come. Once he raised himself, and the feeble light flashed across a grey, haggard face and a pair of burning eyes. But his effort was only momentary. He sank back again, and lay there with his eyes half closed, and breathing softly. He was nursing his strength.

One, two, three, four, five! The harsh clanging of a brazen clock somewhere in the building had penetrated to the chamber, followed by a deep, resonant bell. The man on the bed lifted his head.

“How goes the storm?” he asked softly.

Gomez stood up and faced the window.

“The storm dies with the night, sir,” he answered. “The wind has fallen.”

“When does day break?”

Gomez looked at his watch.

“In one hour, sir.”

“Stay by the window, Gomez, and let your eyes watch for the dawn.”

The priest frowned. “Surely the time has come when you should quit your hold on earthly things,” he said quietly. “What matters the dawn! soon you will lose yourself in an everlasting sleep, and the dawn for you will be eternity. Take this crucifix, and pray with me.”

The dying man pushed it away with a gesture almost contemptuous.

“Is there no light on the sea yet, Gomez?” he asked anxiously.

Gomez leant forward till his face touched the window pane. He strained his eyes till they ached; but the darkness was impenetrable. Yet stay,–what was that? A feeble yellow light was glimmering far away in the heart of that great gulf of darkness. He held his breath, and watched it steadily. Then he turned round.

“There is a light in the far distance, sir,” he said. “I cannot tell what it may be, but there is a light.”

A wave of excitement passed over the strong, wasted features of the man upon the bed. He half raised himself, and his voice was almost firm.

“Push my bed to the window,” he ordered.

The two men, priest and servant, bent all their strength to the task, and inch by inch they moved the great, creaking structure. When at last they had succeeded, and paused to take breath, the light in the distance had become stronger and more apparent. Together the three men watched it grow; master and servant, with breathless eagerness, the priest with a show of displeasure in his severe face. Suddenly Gomez gave a little cry.

“The dawn!” he exclaimed, pointing to the north of the light. “Morning is breaking.”

Sure enough, a grey, pallid light was stealing down upon the water. The darkness was becoming a chaos of grey and black; of towering seas and low-lying clouds, with cold white streaks of light falling through them, and piercing the curtains of night. There was no vestige of colouring–nothing but cold grey and slate white. Yet the dawn moved on, and through it the yellow light in the distance gleamed larger and larger.

“Hold me up,” ordered the man on the bed. “Prop me up with pillows!”

They did as he bade them, and for the first time his face was fully revealed in the straggling twilight. A flowing grey beard, still plentifully streaked with black, rested upon his chest; and the eyes, steadily fixed upon the window pane, were dark and undimmed. A long illness had wasted his fine features, but had detracted nothing from their strength and regularity of outline. His lips were closely set, and his expression, though painfully eager, was not otherwise displeasing. There was none of the fear of death there; nor was there anything of the passionless resignation of the man who has bidden farewell to life, and made his peace with God and man; nor, in those moments of watching, had his face any of the physical signs of approaching death.

“Ah!”

They started at the sharp, almost triumphant exclamation which had escaped from his white lips, and followed his long, quivering finger. Above that glimmering light was a faint, dim line of smoke, fading on the horizon.

“It is a steamer, indeed,” the priest said, with some interest. “She is making for the island.”

“When is the supply boat due?” Gomez asked.

“Not for a fortnight,” the priest answered; “it is not she, it is a stranger.”

There was no other word spoken. Soon the dawn, moving across the great waste of waters, pierced the dark background behind the steamer’s light. The long trail of white, curdling foam in her track gleamed like a silver cleft in a dark gulf. The dim shape of her sails stole slowly into sight, and they could see that she was carrying a great weight of canvas. Then into the grey air, a rocket shot up like a brilliant meteor, and the sound of a gun came booming over the waters.

“Can she make the bay?” Gomez asked suddenly. “Look at the surf.”

They all removed their eyes from the steamer, and fixed them nearer home. The darkness had rolled away, and the outlook, though a little uncertain in the misty morning light, was still visible. Right before the window, a little to the left, a great rocky hill, many hundreds of feet high, ran sheer down into the sea, and facing it on the right, was a lower range of rocks running out from the mainland. Inside the natural harbour thus formed, the sea was quiet enough; but at the entrance, a line of white breakers and huge ocean waves were leaping up against the base of the promontory, and dashing over the lower range of rocks. Beyond, the sea was wild and rough, and the steamer was often almost lost to sight in the hollow of the Waves.

“Ah!”

The faces of all three men underwent a sudden change. Three rockets, one after another, shot up into the sky from the top of the rocky hill, leaving a faint, violet glow overhead. The dying man set his teeth hard, and his eyes glistened.

“Three rockets,” he muttered. “What is the meaning of that signal, Father?” he asked.

The priest looked downward, pityingly. “It is a warning that the entrance to the bay is unsafe,” he answered. “Take comfort; it is the hand of God keeping from you those who would distract your dying thoughts from Heaven. Take comfort, and pray with me.”

He seemed strangely deaf to the priest’s words, and made no movement or sign in response. Only he kept his eyes the more steadfastly fixed upon the steamer, now plainly visible. His face showed no disappointment. It seemed almost as though he might have seen across the grey sea, and heard the stern orders thundered out from a slim, motionless figure on the captain’s bridge. “Right ahead, helmsman! Never mind the signal. There’s fifty pounds for every man of you if we make the bay. It’s not so bad as it looks! Back me up like brave lads, and I’ll remember it all your lives!”

Almost, too, he might have heard the answering cheer, for a faint smile parted his white lips as he saw the steamer ploughing her way heavily straight ahead, paying no heed to the warning signal.

On she came. The priest and the servant started as they saw her intention, and a sharp ejaculation of surprise escaped from the former. Side by side, they watched the labouring vessel with strained eyes. Her hull and shape were now visible in the dim morning twilight, as she rose and fell upon the waves. It was evident that she was a large, handsome pleasure yacht, daintily but strongly built.

Close up against the high, bare window the three watchers, unconsciously enough, formed a striking-looking group. The priest, tall, pale, and severe, stood in the shadow of the bed-curtains, an impressive and solemn figure in his dark, flowing robes, but with the impassibility of his features curiously disturbed. He, who had been preaching calm, was himself agitated. He had drawn a little on one side, so that the cold grey light should not fall upon his face and betray its twitching lips and quivering pallor; but if either of the men who shared his watch had thought to glance at him, the sickly candlelight would have shown at once what he was so anxious to conceal. It was little more than chance which had brought this man to die in his island monastery, and under his care; little more than chance which had revealed to him this wonderful secret. But the agony of those last few hours, and the gloomy words of the priest who leant over his bedside, had found their way in between the joints of the dying man’s armour of secrecy. Word by word, the story had been wrested from him. In the cold and comfortless hour of death, the strong, worldly man felt his physical weakness loosen the iron bands of his will, and he became for a time almost like a child in the hands of the keen, swiftly-questioning priest. He had not found much comfort in the mumbled prayers and absolution, which were all he got in exchange for his life’s secret,–and such a secret! He had not, indeed, noticed the fixed, faraway gaze in the priest’s dark eyes as he knelt by the bedside; but his prayers, his faint words of comfort, had fallen like drops of ice upon his quickened desire to be brought a little nearer to that mysterious, shadowy essence of goodness which was all his mind could conceive of a God. It had seemed like a dead form of words, lifeless, hopeless, monotonous; and all that faint striving to attain to some knowledge of the truth–if indeed truth there was–had been crushed into ashes by it. As he had lived, so must he die, he told himself with some return of that philosophic quietude which had led him, stout-hearted and brave, through many dangers. And, at that moment when he had been striving to detach his thoughts from their vain task of conjuring up useless regrets, there had come what even now seemed to be the granting of his last passionate prayer. The man whom he had longed to see once more before his eyes were closed forever upon the world, with such a longing that his heart had grown sick and weary with the burden of it, had been brought as though by a miracle almost to his side. He knew as though by some strange instinct the measure of his strength. He had no fear of dying before his heart’s dearest wish could be gratified. If only that fiercely labouring vessel succeeded in her brave struggle, he knew that there would be strength left to him to bear the shock of meeting, to bear even the shock of the tidings which could either sweeten his last few moments, or deepen the gloom of his passage into the unknown world. And so he lay there, with fixed, glazed eyes and shortened breath, watching and waiting.

The supreme moment came; the steamer had reached the dangerous point, and the waves were breaking over her with such fury that more than once she vanished altogether from sight, only to reappear in a moment or two, quivering and trembling from stern to hull like a living creature. After all, the struggle was a brief one, though it seemed long to the watchers at the window. In less than ten minutes it was over; she had passed the line of breakers, and was in the comparatively smooth water of the bay, heading fast for the shore under leeway of the great wall of towering rocks, at the foot of which she seemed dwarfed almost into the semblance of a boy’s toy vessel. Within a quarter of a mile from the shore, she anchored, and a boat was let down from her side.

A new lease of life seemed to have come to the man on the bed. The morning sun had half emerged from a bank of angry purple-coloured clouds, and its faint slanting beams lay across the white coverlet of the bed, and upon his face. His eyes were bright and eager, and the death-like pallor seemed to have passed from his features. His voice, too, was firm and distinct.

“Place my despatch-box upon the table here, Gomez,” he ordered.

Gomez left his seat by the window, and, opening a portmanteau, brought a small black box to the bedside. His master passed his hand over it, and drew it underneath the coverlet.

“I am prepared,” he murmured, half to himself. “Father, according to the physician’s reckoning, how long have I to live?”

“Barely an hour,” answered the priest, without removing his eyes from the boat, whose progress he seemed to be scanning steadfastly. “Is your eternal future of so little moment to you,” he went on in a tone of harsh severity, “that you can give your last thoughts, your last few moments, to affairs of this world? ‘Tis an unholy death! Take this cross in your hands, and listen not to those whose coming will surely estrange you from heaven. Let the world take its own course, but lift your eyes and heart in prayer! Everlasting salvation, or everlasting doom, awaits you before yonder sun be set!”

“I have no fear, Father,” was the quiet reply. “What is, is; a few frantic prayers now could alter nothing, and, besides, my work on earth is not yet over. Speak to me no more of the end! Nothing that you or I could do now would bring me one step nearer heaven. Gomez, your eyes are good! Whom do you see in the boat?”

Gomez answered without turning round from the window, “Mr. Paul is there, sir, steering!”

“Thank God!”

“There are others with him, sir!”

“Others! Who?”

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