The Bird of Paradise - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Bird of Paradise ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Opis

Mr. Hamer Wildburn, a young American, graduate of Harvard is wintering on the Mediterranean coast of France in his newly purchased yacht „The Bird of Paradise”, and is puzzled by the desire he finds in visitors coming aboard at different times to buy the vessel from him. One night he is awoken at 3 am by the cries of a beautiful, and wearing priceless emeralds, woman swimming alongside. She comes aboard and offers to buy the yacht for twice what he paid. The next day, the foreign minister of France also makes an offer to buy the yacht at an outrageous price. Soon a known terrorist develops a bomb to utterly destroy the boat and all it’s inhabitants. And so on, and with the material of conspiracies, French politics, love and adventure the story is woven around the yacht.

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Liczba stron: 410

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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 I

Hamer Wildburn sat suddenly up in his wide and luxurious cabin bed, with the start of the sound sleeper unexpectedly awakened. His hands clasped his pyjama clad knees. He listened intently. Through the wide open porthole opposite came the thirty seconds flash from Antibes lighthouse. From the shore road, which skirted the bay, there was the faint hoot of a belated motor car. Closer at hand the lazy murmur of the sea against the sides of his anchored yacht. Then more distinctly, he heard again the sound which had at first awakened him. This time there was no doubt about it. A human voice from the open space. A woman’s cry of appeal. The soft but purposeful splashing of a swimmer keeping herself afloat…The young man hastened out of bed, ran up the companionway, and leaned over the side. What he saw almost immediately below was enough to startle anyone. A woman was floating upon her back, a woman, not in the day-by-day scanty but sufficient bathing dress of the moment, but a woman in evening dress, with the glint even of Jewels around her neck.

“What on earth’s the matter?” he called out “Have you fallen in from anywhere?”

“Please do not ask foolish questions,” was the composed reply. “Let down your steps. I have upset my canoe, and I must come on board for a moment.”

Wildburn’s hesitation was only momentary. He unscrewed the hooks, lowered the chain, and let down the steps into the sea. The woman, with a few tired strokes, swam towards him. She showed no particular signs of weakness or panic, but she clutched almost feverishly at his hand, and the moment she reached the deck she calmly but completely collapsed. With a thrill of horror, Wildburn realised that a portion of her black chiffon gown which clung so tightly to her body bore traces of a darker stain than the discolouration of the sea. His natural stream of questions died away upon his lips, as she became a dead weight upon his arm.

There was a quivering narrow shaft of light piercing the skies eastwards when the woman opened her eyes. Wildburn gave a sigh of relief. He held a glass of brandy once more to her lips. Her fingers guided it and she sipped some feebly.

“I will give you some coffee presently,” he promised. “By an unfortunate chance, I am alone on the boat. I gave my matelot and his boy the night off.”

She fingered the blanket by which she was covered. A look of mild horror shone out of her eyes. Hanging from the ropes which supported the forward awning was a black shapeless object.

“My gown!” she gasped.

“I had to take it off,” he explained coolly. “I was not sure whether you were seriously hurt. I am glad to find that you are not. I have bound up your shoulder. You may find it stiff and a little painful at first, from the salt water, but it is not serious.”

She lay quite still. Her hands were underneath the rug. From a very damp satin bag she produced a handkerchief, and wiped her forehead.

“I suppose it was necessary for you to play lady’s maid?” she asked weakly.

“Absolutely,” he assured her. “You were still bleeding, and I could not tell how serious your wound might be I–er–exercised every precaution.”

She looked up at him earnestly. Apparently her scrutiny of his features satisfied her. Wildburn was not good looking in the ordinary sense of the word, but he had pleasant features, a freckled, sunburnt complexion, and the humourous gleam of understanding in his eyes.

“I am sure you did what you thought was best,” she said. “I ran my canoe into one of those stationary fishing boats.”

If it occurred to him to make any comment upon her journeying amongst them at an early hour in the morning, alone and in evening dress, he refrained.

“I always said that they ought to show a light,” he remarked. “I have seen your canoe. It is drifting in shorewards.”

“Give me some more brandy,” she begged. “I wish to speak to you before we are disturbed.”

“I can hear the kettle boiling now,” he told her. Wouldn’t you like coffee?”

“Coffee would be better,” she admitted. “You are being very kind to me. I thank you.”

Still somewhat dazed, Wildburn descended the steps, made the coffee, and remounted.

“I’m sorry,” he apologised, “that there will be no milk. They bring it to me from the shore at seven o’clock.”

“It smells too delicious as it is,” she declared.

“If you will swing a little round,” he advised her, “with another cushion or two behind your back you will be more comfortable. You can sit up now and, you see, I will put this rug round your knees. Directly you have had your coffee you had better go down to my cabin and take off the remainder of your wet things.”

“You have perhaps a stock of ladies clothing on board?” she asked curiously.

“If I had known of your projected visit,” he replied, “I should have provided some. As it is you will have to content yourself with a set or my pyjamas. You will find them in the bottom drawer of the wardrobe by the side of the bed.”

She looked at him meditatively. Wildburn was a trifle over six feet, and she herself, slim and elegant as she seemed, could scarcely have been more than five feet five. Furthermore, Wildburn was broad shouldered with a man’s full chest. She sighed.

“I am going to look ridiculous,” she complained.

“I should forget that for the moment,” he ventured, as he set down her empty coffee cup. “You seem to be quite warm. I wonder whether you are feeling strong enough to satisfy my curiosity before you go down below.”

“What do you want to know?” she asked.

He looked around the harbour. There were no unusual lights, no indications of any other yacht having come in during the night.

“Well, where you come from first of all. Then why you choose to paddle about the bay in the small hours of the morning in your ordinary evening clothes, and lastly, why you should choose my boat for your objective.”

She was watching that broadening shaft of light uneasily.

“What is the time?” she inquired.

“Five o’clock,” he told her. “Do you mind if I smoke a cigarette whilst you explain your adventure?”

“I will smoke one too.” she said, holding out her hand. “As to explaining my adventure, I find it difficult. You smoke good tobacco, I am glad to see. Thank you,” she added as she leaned towards his briquet.

There was a silence. As yet there were no signs of life either on the small plage or anywhere upon the sea. They were surrounded by the brooding background of the woods which fringed the inlet. The lights in the few villas had long been extinguished. The tops of a row of tall cypresses stood out like dark smudges against the coming dawn.

“Well?” he asked after a brief pause.

“After all, I find it difficult,” she admitted. “Where I came from it does not matter. I started, as you perceive, in a hurry, I am rather impulsive. There was something which had to be done.”

“Something which had to be done between three and four o’clock in the morning by a young lady still wearing valuable jewellery and dressed for the evening sounds,” he pointed out, “mysterious.”

“Life,” she told him evasively, “is mysterious.”

“You will have to be a little more definite,” he insisted, with some impatience. “I have done my best to help you under these singular circumstances, but I want to know where you came from and what you want.”

“Indeed,” she murmured, drawing the blanket more securely around her.

“Think it over for a few minutes,” he proposed. “Go down below–the hatch is open–five steps, first door to the right, and you will come to a very untidy cabin. There are plenty of clean towels on the settee. I have rubbed you as best I could. You had better try and get yourself quite dry. Put on some pyjamas and my dressing gown–which you will find there–then come up and explain yourself.”

“You will trust me in your cabin then,” she observed, struggling to her feet.

“Why shouldn’t I? You do not appear to be in distressed circumstances and I have nothing in the world worth stealing.”

She looked at him for a moment with an expression which baffled him.

“Are you as honest as you seem?” she asked abruptly.

“I think so,” he answered, mystified.

Without further comment she rose to her feet and, holding the blanket about her as though it were an ermine cape, disappeared down the stairs. Wildburn waited for what seemed to him to be an unconscionable time, then he poured out another cup of coffee, lit a fresh cigarette, and strolled round the deck. Once more in the misty twilight of dawn he satisfied himself that no strange craft had entered the bay during the night. The tiny restaurant on the plage was still closed. The beautiful château which, with its thickly growing woods, occupied the whole of the western side of the bay offered no signs of life. The windows of the few villas on the other side were still lifeless blanks…He paused before the sodden black frock flapping in the faint breeze, took it down and shook it. A fragment of the sash disclosed within the name of a world famous dressmaker. Then he turned round to find his unaccountable visitor standing by the side of him.

“Of course I know that I look ridiculous,” she admitted querulously. “I hope that your manners will stand the strain and that you will not laugh at me.”

The tell-tale lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth deepened, but if he felt any inclination towards mirth he restrained it.

“I never realised that I had such good taste in night apparel,” he assured her. “The prospect of your immediate future however, causes me–I must confess–some disquietude. Perhaps you are staying near here–at some place where I can send for clothes?”

“We will see about that presently,” she replied. “It is a matter of no great importance.”

She seemed to find the twinkle in his eyes, as he stole another look at her, unduly irritating.

“These things are all trifles,” she declared with a frown. “Where I live or who I am does not matter. What do you want to know about me?”

“Let’s get to something definite,” he begged. “What were you doing swimming round my boat at three o’clock in the morning in an evening frock from the Rue de la Paix?”

She sighed.

“So you realised that?”

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