The Gallows of Chance - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Gallows of Chance ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Believe it or not, here is an Oppenheim story without a single scene laid in Monte Carlo. And high time, too, for that lode, profitable as it no doubt has been, has shown signs, of petering out. The entire action of this novel takes place in England, and most of the characters, with the exception of a few detectives, belong to the upper classes. Edward Phillips Oppenheim (1866-1946) was an English novelist, in his lifetime a major and successful writer of genre fiction including thrillers. He wrote more than 100 novels between 1887 and 1943. „The Gallows of Chance” was first published in 1933.

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Liczba stron: 472

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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 I

EVEN the butler’s voice seemed to reflect the general regret at the departure from Keynsham Hall of a popular guest.

"Sir Humphrey’s car has arrived, your lordship,” he announced. “It will be round at the front in a few minutes.”

A slim, clean-shaven man of early middle-age, tall and with a slight stoop, still wearing the boots, gaiters, and heavy tweeds of a long shooting day, rose reluctantly to his feet to take leave of his fellow-guests and his host and hostess, Lord Edward Keynsham and his sister, Lady Louise. That he was well liked amongst them was evident, for they all added an obviously sincere word of regret at his departure. Louise, who kept house for her brother, was perhaps more silent than the others, but in her tone was a curious little note of disturbance. This was the most favoured of her visitors and she hated losing him.

"I do think,” she protested, looking into his face almost as though she hoped he might still change his mind, “that you could do everything that was necessary from here. We are so civilised, really, considering that we are in the heart of the country–telephone night and day, and all that sort of thing, and a racing car in the garage for you if necessary. I would drive you up myself and guarantee you sixty.”

"It is one of those matters in which we ought not to interfere, my dear,” her brother intervened firmly. “Humphrey knows the ropes better than we do, and I’m sure he knows how much we would like him to stay. He will give us another few days, I hope, when we shoot the woods.”

"We shall miss you at the high birds,” someone from the background remarked pleasantly.

"Come into the library for one moment,” Louise begged, “and I will give you that book I promised.”

"Don’t keep him long,” Lord Edward enjoined. “It is later than he planned to start already.”

"Only a minute.”

They crossed the hall. Sir Humphrey opened the door of the library, and his companion closed it firmly behind them. She looked up into his face anxiously. They were a very good-looking couple as they stood on the hearthrug in the firelight–Louise slim and willowy, with clear, ivory complexion only slightly flushed by the day in the open air, and deep blue eyes in which lurked a shade of trouble at that particular moment.

"Humphrey, dear,” she asked, “is there anything wrong I don’t know about?”

"Not a thing,” he assured her. “It’s only this wretched business which makes me hurry away.”

"But it all seems rather queer,” she went on. “Why didn’t Edward send yon up in one of our own cars?”

"He wants them for the shooting to-morrow, I expect. A hired one does just as well for me.”

"I wish I could take you myself,” she sighed.

He shook his head.

"Too rough a night, my dear,” he observed. “Don’t you worry about me. I have enjoyed my three days immensely, and I shall come again before the season’s over if Edward asks me.”

"I hope you will,” she answered. “You look strong, of course; but I think–as everyone else does–that you work too hard, and I know you sleep badly, although you won’t confess it.”

"I’m a little run down,” he admitted carelessly; “but even these three days have done me a lot of good. I’m always glad to come here, Louise. You know that.”

Her hand rested on his for a moment.

"And I am always glad to have you,” she assured him, with a slow but very attractive smile.

The door was somewhat noisily opened. Lord Edward came in.

"If you’re ready, Humphrey,” he said. “Best for you not to get up to town too late.”

Sir Humphrey bade his hostess good-bye once more. Keynsham walked with him out into the hall and waited whilst he was helped by one of the servants into his thick shooting-cape. Both men were of striking, though differing, appearance. Sir Humphrey Rossiter, for twelve years a brilliant figure at the Bar, and now a Cabinet Minister, conformed, upon the whole, almost too closely to type. There was a slightly ascetic cast to his otherwise well-shaped and very human features. His clear grey eyes, his firm mouth and jaw were all distinctly legal. His host, on the other hand, was often quoted as being the handsomest mail in London. He was six feet three in height and powerfully built. His mouth was irresistibly humorous and his fearless blue eyes seemed to challenge the whole world to be as happy and contented as he was himself. The brown hair–innocent yet of a single fleck of grey–was brushed back from his forehead, and there was just the slightest upward twist at the back of his ears. His features were absolutely of the aristocratic type, and there were no indications in his presence or expression of the commercial gifts which had enabled him to restore the fortunes of an impoverished family. He was entirely in the atmosphere as he stood upon the broad steps of his magnificent home speeding the parting guest.

"I expect they’re putting your traps in. Humphrey,” he said. “The car will be round from the back quarters directly. You will have a wild night, I’m afraid; but directly you get well away from us the roads are wonderful. You ought to get up to town in three hours.”

"I shall be up in plenty of time,” Sir Humphrey declared, pressing the tobacco down into the bowl of his pipe with long, nervous fingers. “All that is really necessary is for me to be at the other end of the telephone where I can communicate with somebody very important if the unexpected should happen. It is a sort of necessity that is not a necessity, if you know what I mean. If by any thousandth chance anything should turn up and I was away at a shooting party I should get a terrible roasting from those gentlemen in the opposition Press.”

"I suppose there is no chance,” Lord Edward asked hesitatingly, “of anything turning up?”

There was no mistaking the note of wistfulness, almost of eagerness, in his tone. His departing guest, who had been through a good deal of that kind of thing during the last few days, shook his head almost curtly.

"I can see no possibility of anything of the sort,” he confessed.

"Sorry,” Keynsham apologised. “One cannot help being interested in the poor fellow, though. The last-minute reprieve of a convicted murderer always seems to me the most dramatic incident that could possibly happen.”

"I’m afraid, in this particular case,” his companion observed, “there is no hope of anything of the sort. You people have all been very good down here not bothering me with questions, especially since I know where your sympathies are, of course, and where mine are, too, as a human being, I will admit. This is not a question, however, where sentiment can be allowed to intrude.”

"Of course, everyone understands that,” Keynsham sighed.

Sir Humphrey watched the lights of the car coming up the avenue.

"I regret it as much as any of you,” he said, “but I am afraid there is not a chance for poor Brandt. Between ourselves, his case has worried me more than any since I’ve been in office. It wasn’t only knowing the man, and his wife being a dear friend–one has to forget that sort of thing–but the whole affair seemed so unnecessary. A man lost his temper and killed another. There will have to be a new definition of manslaughter before I could send a man to the gallows cheerfully.”

"He was always a man of violent temper,” Lord Edward remarked sadly; “and, after all, Benham was such an out-and-out bounder. Clever actor, of course; but I couldn’t stand the sight of him.”

"No more could I, if it comes to that,” Sir Humphrey acquiesced; “but, after all, the law is omnipotent, and the law says ‘Thou shalt not kill.’”

The car had drawn up below and a footman, with a rug over his arm, was holding open the door.

"The beginning of the week after next we shall shoot the home woods,” Keynsham reminded his departing guest. “I’ll let you know the exact date.”

"You are very kind,” Sir Humphrey declared, blowing out the match with which he had just lighted his pipe. “If I can work it I shall be glad to have another couple of days–some time before the season is over, at any rate. We poor devils are kept pretty close at it nowadays, though. Good-bye. Many thanks for a delightful shoot. I like your new way of driving the lower woods. Seems to me you keep the birds much better in hand. My regards to Louise, and once more my regrets.”

The car drove off and Lord Edward, shivering a little, hurried back to the warm and comfortable hall. The little company all looked up at his coming.

"Did you get anything out of him at all?” one of the guests asked eagerly.

Lord Edward nodded.

"Just at the last moment,” he confided. “I daren’t ask him anything direct, of course, but I went as far as I could. He told me straight he was for it.”

Louise shivered.

"I didn’t like that man,” she admitted; “but I can’t see that killing anyone in a fight is murder.”

"These legal fellows have water in their veins, not blood,” her brother declared irritably. “Why, Rossiter confessed out there on the doorstep that he wasn’t satisfied with the present definition of manslaughter. Why the mischief can’t he or some of the other big-bugs change it, then? You heard what the Lord Chief Justice himself said the other day? He acknowledged that there were extenuating circumstances, as he called them, in the case, but they were not such as the law could take any account of.”

"We have not had a Home Secretary for years,” an elderly man asserted from the background, “who would have been so insensible. We know perfectly well that there’s nothing the King likes better than, to sign a reprieve.”

"No good now, I’m afraid,” Louise sighed. “What about tubs and a rubber before dinner?”

"Dinner!” her neighbour groaned, as he rose to his feet. “I’ve eaten a whole plateful of buttered toast.”

"My digestion is ruined,” another extraordinarily healthy-looking young man remarked, also preparing to depart. “The only time I have an appetite nowadays is for these illicit meals. I never tasted muffins like those in my life.”

"All the way from Norwich, my dear Charles, to satisfy your greed,” his hostess confided, smiling. “Never mind; I have an idea that with the help of a cocktail you will be able to glance at something to eat at half-past eight.”

"One has one’s hostess’s feelings to consider,” the young man observed, with an air of mock resignation. “Is it short coats to-night, Louise?”

"Short coats for everyone,” she announced. “You’ll be without a host, as you know. Edward has to go into Norwich on political business. And don’t be late, any of you,” she enjoined. “I had no bridge last night, and I like to play before dinner. You can keep your white ties till to-morrow, when you’ll have to dance. Au revoir, everybody.”

The pleasantly tired little crowd drifted away to their rooms. Soon the dozen bathrooms of Keynsham Hall were all in requisition, to the great content of their occupants. Everyone was feeling the pleasant glow resulting from a day in the open air with healthy and ample exercise. Even the near-by tragedies of life and death do little more than scratch the surface of other people’s day-by-day existence.  

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