The Curious Quest - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Curious Quest ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Edward Phillips Oppenheim (1866-1946) was an English novelist, in his lifetime a major and successful writer of genre fiction. This novel is an Oppenheim classic from 1919 about a high society villain: characteristic of Oppenheim’s typical works, with the characters living in luxury, and a very flowing and exact story. Much of Oppenheim’s work possesses a unique escapist charm, featuring protagonists who delight in Epicurean meals, surroundings of intense luxury, and the relaxed pursuit of criminal practice, on either side of the law. „The Curious Quest” is a lovely tale of a rich man having to spend a year earning his own money because he is bored and ill. Full of action and scams.

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Liczba stron: 384

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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 I

Mr. Ernest Bliss descended from the eighty-horsepower motor- car which had been the pride of a recent exhibition and languidly rang the bell of a large house in. Harley Street, which was the professional residence of Sir James Aldroyd, M.D. He was admitted almost at once by a solemn-visaged butler, and was escorted into the waiting room in which three other people were already seated. He turned to the servant with a frown.

“I wrote to Sir James for an appointment at eleven o’clock,” he said. “My name is Bliss–Mr. Ernest Bliss. Please let Sir James know I am here.”

“I am sorry, sir, but Sir James sees his patients strictly in the order of their arrival,” the man replied regretfully. “I don’t think that he will be very long this morning.”

“Do you mean that I have to wait my turn?”

“I am afraid there is no other way of seeing Sir James,” the servant confessed.

Bliss seated himself disconsolately in an easy-chair and resigned himself to wait with an ill grace which he took no particular pains to conceal. He was a very spoilt young man, and he was inclined to resent this treatment from a physician whom he was proposing to honour by his patronage. Each time the butler entered the room he half rose, expecting to hear his name called–and each time he was disappointed. It was not until his turn arrived that he was shown into the presence of the physician.

Sir James Aldroyd was seated before the writing table, making some notes in a diary concerning the patient who had just left him. Bliss crossed the room and, without waiting for an invitation, sank into the chair which he rightly conceived to be the resting place of the doctor’s patients.

“My name is Bliss,” he began. “I wrote you–”

“Wait just a moment, please,” the physician interrupted brusquely.

Bliss stared at him with his mouth still open. He was not in the habit of giving way to his emotions, but he was beginning to be conscious of a distinct sense of annoyance. He made no protest, however; the physician’s personality was, in its way, overpowering. He sat still and waited. Presently Sir James finished writing in his diary and drew an open letter towards him. He glanced it through without any marked indication of interest. His new patient’s symptoms apparently failed to move him.

“Mr. Ernest Bliss?” he remarked, swinging round on his chair and taking up a stethoscope. “You wish me to examine you? Very well. Stand up and take off your coat and waistcoat, please.”

Bliss obeyed at once and submitted himself to the usual routine. Ten minutes later, he sank back into his chair with ruffled hair and a general sense of having been subjected to many personal ignominies. He slowly buttoned up his waistcoat and watched the physician’s face.

“What made you come to me?” the latter asked.

“Can’t say, exactly,” was the listless reply. “Felt out of sorts and thought I had better see some one. I heard Dicky Senn talking about you one day.”

“Are you alluding to Mr. Richard Senn of the Shaftesbury Theatre?”

“Chap who does the ragtime dance in the second act,” the young man assented. “He was cracking you up all over the shop. Said you were the only doctor in England who combined a certain amount of skill in his profession with a reasonable leaven of common sense. Not trying to butter you up, you know, but these were Dicky’s own words, and Dicky knows things.”

Sir James Aldroyd laid down his stethoscope and, leaning back in his chair’, looked steadfastly at his visitor. His hard, clean-cut face, with its massive forehead and strenuous lips, was not in any way an expressive one, but it was obvious that he was regarding his new patient with a certain amount of disfavour. His eyes were cold and critical, his tone distant.

“Let me see, what did you say your name was?” he asked.

“Ernest Bliss.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-five.”

“What is your profession?”

“Profession? I haven’t one,” the young man replied.

“Your occupation, then,” the physician continued impatiently. “You do something, I suppose?”

Bliss shook his head and glanced toward his questioner, as though doubtful concerning the effect of his next words.

“No necessity,” he replied. “My father was Bliss, the ship owner. He left me three quarters of a million. Since then, my uncle has left me best part of another million.”

Sir James played with his pencil for a moment and looked down at the table. As a matter of self-discipline, he was anxious to keep a certain expression from his face.

“So you do nothing because you are wealthy?” he remarked. “What are your tastes? Are you a sportsman?”

“I don’t know whether I can exactly call myself that,” the young man replied; “I have done the usual grind, of course. I have eight thousand acres of shooting in Norfolk, and a grouse moor in Scotland. Then I went out to Abyssinia last year with some fellows after big game. I’ve a hunting box at Melton Mowbray. Can’t say I’m very keen about it.”

“Not one of these–er–occupations affords you any particular interest at the present moment, then?” Mr. Ernest Bliss shook his head.

“Fed up with them all,” he declared. “I do a bit of motoring, but I’m off that at present.”

“Married?”

“No.”

“You keep late hours?”

“Always. It doesn’t seem worth while getting up till dinner time. Every one’s grumpy till the evening, and there isn’t a thing to do in the daytime.”

“And you have no appetite, you say?”

“None at all,” the patient assented. “I seem to have lost all taste for ordinary food. To keep myself going at all, I have to hunt around for something outrageous. My breakfast yesterday was caviare and a brandy and soda. I dined off bacon and eggs at the Ritz, and had a kippered herring for supper at the Savoy.”

The physician leaned a little further back in his chair and regarded his visitor thoughtfully. The young man’s appearance was not altogether unprepossessing. He was short–if anything below medium height, and inclined to be thin. His fashionable clothes concealed his shoulders if he had any. His carriage was indifferent, and although his head was not ill shaped, his features were marred by a certain vagueness of outline and expression. His complexion was grey and unwholesome; the hand which rested upon the table was trembling slightly. His eyes, however, were good, and there was some suggestion of undeveloped humour about the lines of his mouth.

“You are suffering,” the physician pronounced quietly, “from dyspepsia, nervous indigestion, and from what my fashionable friend in the next street would call neurasthenia. You are suffering in the same way, from an entirely different cause, as the man who comes to me broken down with work. Of the two, yours is the more difficult case to deal with. So much for the medical side.”

“Just so,” the young man murmured. “Now for the common sense. What am I to do?”

“Your cure,” Sir James said, “is in your own hands. No one else can help you. If you wish to enjoy good health, you must completely change your manner of living for a time, and wear the sackcloth and ashes of the sanitary penitent. You have had unlimited opportunities of gratifying every whim in life, and you have used–or rather misused–them. Now you have got to pay.”

Mr. Ernest Bliss sat a little more erect in his chair. Something in his companion’s tone, perfectly controlled though it was, seemed to have roused him.

“There is nothing really the matter with me, then? I have told you what I feel like; nervous, giddy, absolutely faint sometimes in the morning. Seemed to me my heart must be dicky.”

“There’s nothing whatever the matter with your heart,” the doctor assured him. “You have a fair constitution which you are doing your best to ruin at the present moment. You are sound enough. You will have good health or not for the rest of your life according to how you treat yourself. Go on living in your present manner, and you will be a poor sort of creature in ten years’ time. Strike out a new line–drink beer instead of champagne, and water instead of beer occasionally; take real exercise, do some honest work, and you will soon lose those symptoms you were speaking of.”

“Is that all the advice you can give me?”

“I can give you a prescription, but the medicine won’t do you any good,” the physician replied. “Drugs are no good to people in your condition except to drag them down a little sooner.”

“It’s all very well,” Bliss remarked discontentedly, “but I hoped you might be able to give me more definite advice. There’s no work I can do, and beer disagrees with me horribly. I might ride in the mornings, but I’m not keen on the idea. You can’t imagine, Sir James, how bored I really am with life. Not a soul I care about, not a thing I could take any interest in doing. When I wake in the morning, I feel as though I’d just as soon be going to bed. Rotten, isn’t it?”

“Very,” Sir James replied drily. “You want more definite advice, did you say?”

“That’s what I’m here for,” Bliss admitted.

“You shall have it, then,” Sir James continued. “You say there is not a single thing in your present life which you find attractive. I gather that you have no real friends, that there is no one with whom you care to spend your time. Break away from it, then. Disappear. Let it be known amongst your acquaintances that you have gone abroad for a time. Get into the City or some country town and earn your own living. Earn a pound a week, if you can find any one who thinks you worth as much, and live on it. A very interesting experiment and one which would certainly better your physical condition.”

Mr. Ernest Bliss rose slowly to his feet.

“So that is your common sense, is it, Doctor?” he remarked.

“It is the soundest common sense you ever heard in your life,” the physician answered briskly. “Of course you won’t appreciate it. You are the fourth or fifth young man who has been to see me during the last few days, practically in your condition.”

Bliss held out his hand.

“Not at all sure,” he remarked languidly, “that I won’t take your advice some day. Good morning.”

Sir James was in a rather irritable mood, and he had conceived a most unprofessional dislike for his patient. It was seldom he gave way to his prejudices. For once in his life, he did. He looked at Bliss’ hand and, taking up his notebook, ignored it.

“Good morning,” he said shortly.

The young man’s cheeks were suddenly flushed. His outstretched hand fell back to his side. It was the first time in his life he had met with such treatment. Nevertheless, he stood his ground.

“You don’t seem to like me, Doctor,” he remarked.

“To be perfectly frank with you, I do not,” Sir James answered brusquely. “I will go a little further and tell you that you are not the sort of patient I care to encourage or waste my time over.”

“Why not?” Bliss demanded.

“Because the world is full of genuine suffering,” the physician replied, “of men and women who drift into ill health through no fault of their own, sometimes from overwork, sometimes from want of the necessaries of life, sometimes from their too great devotion to others. These are the sort of patients I desire to cultivate, to whose relief I like to dedicate my skill. As for you,” he continued, a note of contempt creeping into his voice, “you have no moral stamina. You might practise self-denial for a week–that would be about your limit. Young men of your type have not learned how to persevere. They make a half-hearted effort to do something and relapse before they know where they are into their old ways.–Will you shut the door after you as you go out, please?”

Bliss remained motionless. His lips had come together in a manner which seemed to give a new expression to his face.

“So that is what you think about me, is it?” he said, with a curious new virility in his tone. “Very well, then. Now that you have had your say, perhaps you will listen to me. Dicky Senn tells me that you used to be a bit of a sportsman at Oxford. I’ll make a bet with you. You are the boss at St. James’ Hospital, aren’t you?”

“I am chairman of the governing board of that institution,” Sir James replied stiffly.

“It was your name I saw at the bottom of a circular the other day,” Bliss continued. “You’re cadging for a new wing and general laboratory, aren’t you? It’s twenty-five thousand pounds you want, isn’t it? Now listen to me. I’ll lay that twenty-five thousand to a shake of the hand and an honest apology from you that I start out to-day with a five-pound note and live for a year on what I earn. Do you hear that?”

“I hear it,” the physician remarked, with unmoved face. “A very interesting suggestion.”

“Don’t you believe I am in earnest?” Bliss demanded.

“You may possibly be,” was the calm reply. “Your name and wealth are probably well known in certain circles. I can imagine that your bookmaker, or your wine merchant, or even your tobacconist would be very glad indeed to make use of your valuable services for twelve months at a suitable remuneration.”

The young man was thoroughly angry, and it was a state which seemed to agree with him. His eyes had lost their leaden look, and there was a distinct flush of colour in his cheeks.

“I am not such a rotter as you seem to think me,” he said excitedly. “I undertake that I will not derive the slightest benefit from my wealth, my name, or my Present position, and that if, during that time, I draw a cheque or touch my own money, it shall be one of the conditions that I personally, directly or indirectly, shall not profit by it. Don’t let’s have any mistake about this. I’ll take no post except as Bliss, the out-of-work. If my identity is discovered or even suspected while I am in any one’s employ, I will leave immediately. If I touch my own money at all any time during the next twelve months, for my own advantage, the bet is lost. Are you on?”

Sir James bowed a little sarcastically. His interest in his patient remained almost negligible.

“Certainly the hospital could do with twenty-five thousand pounds very nicely,” he murmured.

“You understand the terms of the bet?”

“Perfectly.”

Bliss, as he prepared to depart, produced an envelope from his pocket. Sir James pushed it away a little wearily.

“I cannot take money for such advice as I have given you,” he said.

“Why not?”

“Because my advice is valueless. The odds are about a thousand to one against your taking it.”

“So much the better for you if I don’t,” Bliss reminded him. “You’ll get the twenty-five thousand for your hospital.”

The physician rose to his feet impatiently and struck a bell by his side. He turned towards his visitor with an almost discourteous gesture of dismissal. For once he dropped the mask. The expression on his face was one of contemptuous disbelief.

“Perhaps,” he said.

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