The Betrayal - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Betrayal ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Opis

Guy Ducaine is a recent graduate of Oxford University. Through a series of unfortunate events he is penniless and starving in the rural town of Brasters. Seeking to make a few shillings, he schedules a lecture on local history. On the same time, Lord Rowchester invites the officer and explorer Colonel Mostyn Ray to the village to speak. Ducaine’s lecture fails and he returns to his small house and collapses from hunger. Found there by Ray, and Rowchesters lovely daughter, Lady Angela, they revive him and set in motion a complicated, entertaining, and devious plot. With many twists and turns Ducaine eventually works as secretary to a War Preparations Committee which is chronically leaking plans to the enemy and saves the nation!

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Liczba stron: 397

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Contents

I. THE FACE AT THE WINDOW

II. GOOD SAMARITANS

III. THE CRY IN THE NIGHT

IV. MISS MOYAT'S PROMISE

V. THE GRACIOUSNESS OF THE DUKE

VI. LADY ANGELA GIVES ME SOME ADVICE

VII. COLONEL RAY'S RING

VIII. A WONDERFUL OFFER

IX. TREACHERY

X. AN EXPRESSION OF CONFIDENCE

XI. HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS

XII. AN ACCIDENT

XIII. A BRIBE

XIV. A RELUCTANT APOLOGY

XV. TWO FAIR CALLERS

XVI. LADY ANGELA'S ENGAGEMENT

XVII. MORE TREACHERY

XVIII. IN WHICH I SPEAK OUT

XIX. MRS. SMITH-LESSING

XX. TWO TO ONE

XXI. LADY ANGELA APPROVES

XXII. MISS MOYAT MAKES A SCENE

XXIII. MOSTYN RAY EXPLAINS

XXIV. LORD BLENAVON'S SURRENDER

XXV. MY SECRET

XXVI. "NOBLESSE OBLIGE"

XXVII. FRIEND OR ENEMY?

XXVIII. A WOMAN'S TONGUE

XXIX. THE LINK IN THE CHAIN

XXX. MOSTYN RAY'S LOVE STORY

XXXI. MY FATHER'S LETTER

XXXII. A PAINFUL ENCOUNTER

XXXIII. THE DUKE'S MESSAGE

XXXIV. MYSELF AND MY STEPMOTHER

XXXV. ANGELA'S CONFESSION

XXXVI. I LOSE MY POST

XXXVII. LORD CHELSFORD'S DIPLOMACY

XXXVIII. A TERRIBLE DISCOVERY

XXXIX. THE TRAITOR

XL. THE THEORIES OF A NOVELIST

I. THE FACE AT THE WINDOW

Like a clap of thunder, the north wind, rushing seawards, seemed suddenly to threaten the ancient little building with destruction. The window sashes rattled, the beams which supported the roof creaked and groaned, the oil lamps by which alone the place was lit swung perilously in their chains. A row of maps designed for the instruction of the young–the place was a schoolhouse–commenced a devil’s dance against the wall. In the street without we heard the crash of a fallen chimneypot. My audience of four rose timorously to its feet, and I, glad of the excuse, folded my notes and stepped from the slightly raised platform on to the floor.

“I am much obliged to you for coming,” I said, “but I think that it is quite useless to continue, for I can scarcely make you hear, and I am not at all sure that the place is safe.”

I spoke hastily, my one desire being to escape from the scene of my humiliation unaccosted. One of my little audience, however, was of a different mind. Rising quickly from one of the back seats, she barred the way. Her broad comely face was full of mingled contrition and sympathy.

“I am so sorry, Mr. Ducaine,” she exclaimed. “It does seem a cruel pity, doesn’t it?–and such a beautiful lecture! I tried so hard to persuade dad and the others to come, but you know how they all love hearing anything about the war, and–”

“My dear Miss Moyat,” I interrupted, “I am only sorry that a mistaken sense of kindness should have brought you here. With one less in the audience I think I should have ventured to suggest that we all went round to hear Colonel Ray. I should like to have gone myself immensely.”

Blanche Moyat looked at me doubtfully.

“That’s all very well,” she declared, “but I think it’s jolly mean of the Duke to bring him down here the very night you were giving your lecture.”

“I do not suppose he knew anything about that,” I answered. “In any case, I can give my lecture again any time, but none of us may ever have another opportunity of hearing Colonel Ray. Allow me–”

I opened the door, and a storm of sleet and spray stung our faces. Old Pegg, who had been there to sell and collect tickets, shouted to us.

“Shut the door quick, master, or it’ll be blown to smithereens. It’s a real nor’easter, and a bad ‘un at that. Why, the missie’ll hardly stand. I’ll see to the lights and lock up, Master Ducaine. Better be getting hoam while thee can, for the creeks’ll run full to-night.”

Once out in the village street I was spared the embarrassment of conversation. We had to battle the way step by step. We were drenched with spray and the driving rain. The wind kept us breathless, mocking any attempt at speech. We passed the village hall, brilliantly lit; the shadowy forms of a closely packed crowd of people were dimly visible through the uncurtained windows. I fancied that my companion’s clutch upon my arm tightened as we hurried past.

We reached a large grey stone house fronting the street. Miss Moyat laid her hand upon the handle of the door and motioned to me to enter.

I shook my head.

“Not to-night,” I shouted. “I am drenched.”

She endeavoured to persuade me.

“For a few moments, at any rate,” she pleaded. “The others will not be home yet, and I will make you something hot. Father is expecting you to supper.”

I shook my head and staggered on. At the corner of the street I looked behind. She was holding on to the door handle, still watching me, her skirts blowing about her in strange confusion. For a moment I had half a mind to turn back. The dead loneliness before me seemed imbued with fresh horrors–the loneliness, my fireless grate and empty larder. Moyat was at least hospitable. There would be a big fire, plenty to eat and drink. Then I remembered the man’s coarse hints, his unveiled references to his daughters and his wish to see them settled in life, his superabundance of whisky and his only half-veiled tone of patronage. The man was within his rights. He was the rich man of the neighbourhood, corn dealer, farmer, and horse breeder. I was an unknown and practically destitute stranger, come from Heaven knew where, and staying on–because it took a little less to keep body and soul together here than in the town. But my nerves were all raw that night, and the thought of John Moyat with his hearty voice and slap on the shoulder was unbearable. I set my face homewards.

From the village to my cottage stretched a perfectly straight road, with dykes on either side. No sooner had I passed the last house, and set my foot upon the road, than I saw strange things. The marshland, which on the right reached to the sea, was hung here and there with sheets of mist driven along the ground like clouds before an April tempest. White flakes of spray, salt and luminous, were dashed into my face. The sea, indriven up the creeks, swept the road in many places. The cattle, trembling with fear, had left the marshland, and were coming, lowing, along the high path which bordered the dyke. And all the time an undernote of terror, the thunder of the sea rushing in upon the land, came like a deep monotonous refrain to the roaring of the wind.

Through it all I battled my way, hatless, soaked to the skin, yet finding a certain wild pleasure in the storm. By the time I had reached my little dwelling I was exhausted. My hair and clothes were in wild disorder, my boots were like pulp upon my feet. My remaining strength was expended in closing the door. The fire was out, the place struck cold. I staggered towards the easy chair, but the floor seemed suddenly to heave beneath my feet. I was conscious of the fact that for two days I had had little to eat, and that my larder was empty. My limbs were giving way, a mist was before my eyes, and the roar of the sea seemed to be in my ears, even in my brain. My hands went out like a blind man’s, and I suppose broke my fall. There was rest at least in the unconsciousness which came down like a black pall upon my senses.

It could only have been a short time before I opened my eyes. Some one was knocking at the door. Outside I could hear the low panting of a motor-car, the flashing of brilliant lamps threw a gleam of light across the floor of my room. Again there came a sharp rapping upon the door. I raised myself upon my elbow, but I made no attempt at speech. The motor was the Rowchester Daimler omnibus. What did these people want with me? I was horribly afraid of being found in such straits. I lay quite still, and prayed that they might go away.

But my visitor, whoever he was, had apparently no idea of doing anything of the sort. I heard the latch lifted, and the tall bulky form of a man filled the threshold. With him came the wind, playing havoc about my room, sending papers and ornaments flying around in wild confusion. He closed the door quickly with a little imprecation. I heard the scratching of a match, saw it carefully shielded in the hollow of the man’s hand. Then it burned clearly, and I knew that I was discovered.

The man was wrapped from head to foot in a huge ulster. He was so tall that his cap almost brushed my ceiling. I raised myself upon my elbow and looked at him, looked for the first time at Mostyn Ray. He had the blackest and the heaviest eyebrows I had ever seen, very piercing eyes, and a finely shaped mouth, firm even to cruelty. I should have known him anywhere from the pictures which were filling the newspapers and magazines. My first impression, I think, was that they had done him but scanty justice.

As for me, there is no doubt but that I was a pitiful object. Of colour I had never very much, and my fainting fit could scarcely have improved matters. My cheeks, I had noticed that morning when shaving, were hollow, and there were black rims under my eyes. With my disordered clothing and hair, I must indeed have presented a strange appearance as I struggled to gain my feet.

He looked at me, as well he might, in amazement.

“I would ask you,” he said, “to excuse my unceremonious entrance, but that it seems to have been providential. You have met with an accident, I am afraid. Allow me.”

He helped me to stagger to my feet, and pushed me gently into the easy chair. The match burnt out, and he quietly struck another and looked around the room for a candle or lamp. It was a vain search, for I had neither.

“I am afraid,” I said, “that I am out of candles–and oil. I got a little overtired walking here, and my foot slipped in the dark. Did I understand that you wished to see me?”

“I did,” he answered gravely. “My name is Mostyn Ray–but I think that we had better have some light. I am going to get one of the motor lamps.”

“If you could call–in the morning,” I began desperately, but he had already opened and closed the door. I looked around my room, and I could have sobbed with mortification. The omnibus was lit inside as well as out, and I knew very well who was there. Already he was talking with the occupants. I saw a girl lean forward and listen to him. Then my worst fears were verified. I saw her descend, and they both stood for a moment by the side of the man who was tugging at one of the huge lamps. I closed my eyes in despair.

Once more the wind swept into my room, the door was quickly opened and closed. A man-servant in his long coat, and cockaded hat tied round his head with a piece of string, set down the lamp upon my table. Behind, the girl and Mostyn Ray were talking.

“The man had better stop,” he whispered. “There is the fire to be made.”

For the first time I heard her voice, very slow and soft, almost languid, yet very pleasant to listen to.

“No!” she said firmly. “It will look so much like taking him by storm. I can assure you that I am by no means a helpless person.”

“And I,” he answered, “am a campaigner.”

“Get back as quickly as you can, Richards,” she directed, “and get the things I told you from Mrs. Brown. Jean must bring you back in the motor.”

Once more the door opened and shut. I heard the swish of her skirts as she came over towards me.

“Poor fellow!” she murmured. “I’m afraid that he is very ill.”

I opened my eyes and made an attempt to rise. She laid her hand upon my shoulder and smiled,

“Please don’t move,” she said, “and do forgive us for this intrusion. Colonel Ray wanted to call and apologize about this evening, and I am so glad that he did. We are going to take no end of liberties, but you must remember that we are neighbours, and therefore have privileges.”

What could I say in answer to such a speech as this? As a matter of fact speech of any sort was denied me; a great sob had stuck in my throat. They did what was kindest. They left me alone.

I heard them rummaging about in my back room, and soon I heard the chopping of sticks. Presently I heard the crackling of flames, and I knew that a fire had been lit. A dreamy partial unconsciousness destitute of all pain, and not in itself unpleasant, stole over me. I felt my boots cut from my feet. I was gently lifted up. Some of my outer garments were removed. Every now and then I heard their voices, I heard her shocked exclamation as she examined my larder, I heard the words “starvation,” “exhaustion,” scarcely applying them to myself. Then I heard her call to him softly. She was standing by my bookcase.

“Do you see this?” she murmured. “‘Guy Ducaine, Magdalen,’ and the college coat of arms. They must belong to him, for that is his name.”

I did not hear his answer, but directly afterwards a little exclamation escaped him.

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