The House of Whispers - William Le Queux - ebook
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No second glance was needed to realise the pitiful truth. The man seated there in his fine library, with the summer sunset slanting across the red carpet from the open French windows, was blind. Since his daughter Gabrielle had been a pretty, prattling child of nine, nursing her dolly, he had never looked upon her fair face. But he was ever as devoted to her as she to him.

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Liczba stron: 416

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Contents

I. THE LAIRD OF GLENCARDINE

II. FROM OUT THE NIGHT

III. SEALS OF DESTINY

IV. SOMETHING CONCERNING JAMES FLOCKART

V. THE MURIES OF CONNACHAN

VI. CONCERNS GABRIELLE'S SECRET

VII. CONTAINS CURIOUS CONFIDENCES

VIII. CASTING THE BAIT

IX. REVEALS A MYSTERIOUS BUSINESS

X. DECLARES A WOMAN'S LOVE

XI. CONCERNS THE WHISPERS

XII. EXPLAINS SOME CURIOUS FACTS

XIII. WHAT FLOCKART FORESAW

XIV. CONCERNS THE CURSE OF THE CARDINAL

XV. FOLLOWS FLOCKART'S FORTUNES

XVI. SHOWS A GIRL'S BONDAGE

XVII. DESCRIBES A FRENCHMAN'S VISIT

XVIII. REVEALS THE SPY

XIX. SHOWS GABRIELLE DEFIANT

XX. TELLS OF FLOCKART'S TRIUMPH

XXI. THROUGH THE MISTS

XXII. BY THE MEDITERRANEAN

XXIII. WHICH SHOWS A SHABBY FOREIGNER

XXIV. "WHEN GREEK MEETS GREEK"

XXV. SHOWS GABRIELLE IN EXILE

XXVI. THE VELVET PAW

XXVII. BETRAYS THE BOND

XXVIII. THE WHISPERS AGAIN

XXIX. CONTAINS A FURTHER MYSTERY

XXX. REVEALS SOMETHING TO HAMILTON

XXXI. DESCRIBES A CURIOUS CIRCUMSTANCE

XXXII. OUTSIDE THE WINDOW

XXXIII. IS ABOUT THE MAISON LÉNARD

XXXIV. SURPRISES MR. FLOCKART

XXXV. DISCLOSES A SECRET

XXXVI. IN WHICH GABRIELLE TELLS A STRANGE STORY

XXXVII. INCREASES THE INTEREST

XXXVIII. "THAT MAN'S VOICE!"

XXXIX. CONTAINS THE CONCLUSION

I. THE LAIRD OF GLENCARDINE

“WHY, what’s the matter, child? Tell me.”

“Nothing, dad–really nothing.”

“But you are breathing hard; your hand trembles; your pulse beats quickly. There’s something amiss–I’m sure there is. Now, what is it? Come, no secrets.”

The girl, quickly snatching away her hand, answered with a forced laugh, “How absurd you really are, dear old dad! You’re always fancying something or other.”

“Because my senses of hearing and feeling are sharper and more developed than those of other folk perhaps,” replied the grey-bearded old gentleman, as he turned his sharp-cut, grey, but expressionless countenance to the tall, sweet-faced girl standing beside his chair.

No second glance was needed to realise the pitiful truth. The man seated there in his fine library, with the summer sunset slanting across the red carpet from the open French windows, was blind.

Since his daughter Gabrielle had been a pretty, prattling child of nine, nursing her dolly, he had never looked upon her fair face. But he was ever as devoted to her as she to him.

Surely his was a sad and lonely life. Within the last fifteen years or so great wealth had come to him; but, alas! he was unable to enjoy it. Until eleven years ago he had been a prominent figure in politics and in society in London. He had sat in the House for one of the divisions of Hampshire, was a member of the Carlton, and one year he found his name among the Birthday Honours with a K.C.M.G. For him everybody predicted a brilliant future. The Press gave prominence to his speeches, and to his house in Park Street came Cabinet Ministers and most of the well-known men of his party. Indeed, it was an open secret in a certain circle that he had been promised a seat in the Cabinet in the near future.

Then, at the very moment of his popularity, a terrible tragedy had occurred. He was on the platform of the Albert Hall addressing a great meeting at which the Prime Minister was the principal speaker. His speech was a brilliant one, and the applause had been vociferous. Full of satisfaction, he drove home that night to Park Street; but next morning the report spread that his brilliant political career had ended. He had suddenly been stricken by blindness.

In political circles and in the clubs the greatest consternation was caused, and some strange gossip became rife.

It was whispered in certain quarters that the affliction was not produced by natural causes. In fact, it was a mystery, and one that had never been solved. The first oculists of Europe had peered into and tested his eyes, but all to no purpose. The sight had gone for ever.

Therefore, full of bitter regrets at being thus compelled to renounce the stress and storm of political life which he loved so well, Sir Henry Heyburn had gone into strict retirement at Glencardine, his beautiful old Perthshire home, visiting London but very seldom.

He was essentially a man of mystery. Even in the days of his universal popularity the source of his vast wealth was unknown. His father, the tenth Baronet, had been sadly impoverished by the depreciation of agricultural property in Lincolnshire, and had ended his days in the genteel quietude of the Albany. But Sir Henry, without betraying to the world his methods, had in fifteen years amassed a fortune which people guessed must be considerably over a million sterling.

From a life of strenuous activity he had, in one single hour, been doomed to one of loneliness and inactivity. His friends sympathised, as indeed the whole British public had done; but in a month the tragic affair and its attendant mysterious gossip had been forgotten, as in truth had the very name of Sir Henry Heyburn, whom the Prime Minister, though his political opponent, had one night designated in the House as “one of the most brilliant and talented young men who has ever sat upon the Opposition benches.”

In his declining years the life of this man was a pitiful tragedy, his filmy eyes sightless, his thin white fingers ever eager and nervous, his hours full of deep thought and silent immobility. To him, what was the benefit of that beautiful Perthshire castle which he had purchased from Lord Strathavon a year before his compulsory retirement? What was the use of the old ancestral manor near Caistor in Lincolnshire, or the town-house in Park Street, the snug hunting-box at Melton, or the beautiful palm-shaded, flower-embowered villa overlooking the blue southern sea at San Remo? He remembered them all. He had misty visions of their splendour and their luxury; but since his blindness he had seldom, if ever, entered them. That big library up in Scotland in which he now sat was the room he preferred; and with his daughter Gabrielle to bear him company, to smooth his brow with her soft hand, to chatter and to gossip, he wished for no other companion. His life was of the past, a meteor that had flashed and had vanished for ever.

“Tell me, child, what is troubling you?” he was asking in a calm, kind voice, as he still held the girl’s hand in his. The sweet scent of the roses from the garden beyond filled the room.

A smart footman in livery opened the door at that moment, asking, “Stokes has just returned with the car from Perth, Sir Henry, and asks if you want him further at present.”

“No,” replied his blind master. “Has he brought back her ladyship?”

“Yes, Sir Henry,” replied the man. “I believe he is taking her to the ball over at Connachan to-night.”

“Oh, yes, of course. How foolish I am! I quite forgot,” said the Baronet with a slight sigh. “Very well, Hill.”

And the clean-shaven young man, with his bright buttons bearing the chevron gules betwixt three boars’ heads erased sable, of the Heyburns, bowed and withdrew.

“I had quite forgotten the ball at Connachan, dear,” exclaimed her father, stretching out his thin white hand in search of hers again. “Of course you are going?”

“No, dad; I’m staying at home with you.”

“Staying at home!” echoed Sir Henry. “Why, my dear Gabrielle, the first year you’re out, and missing the best ball in the county! Certainly not. I’m all right. I shan’t be lonely. A little box came this morning from the Professor, didn’t it?”

“Yes, dad.”

“Then I shall be able to spend the evening very well alone. The Professor has sent me what he promised the other day.”

“I’ve decided not to go,” was the girl’s firm reply.

“I fear, dear, your mother will be very annoyed if you refuse,” he remarked.

“I shall risk that, dear old dad, and stay with you to-night. Please allow me,” she added persuasively, taking his hand in hers and bending till her red lips touched his white brow. “You have quite a lot to do, remember. A big packet of papers came from Paris this morning. I must read them over to you.”

“But your mother, my dear! Your absence will be commented upon. People will gossip, you know.”

“There is but one person I care for, dad–yourself,” laughed the girl lightly.

“Perhaps you’re disappointed over a new frock or something, eh?”

“Not at all. My frock came from town the day before yesterday. Elise declares it suits me admirably, and she’s very hard to please, you know. It’s white, trimmed with tiny roses.”

“A perfect dream, I expect,” remarked the blind man, smiling. “I wish I could see you in it, dear. I often wonder what you are like, now that you’ve grown to be a woman.”

“I’m like what I always have been, dad, I suppose,” she laughed.

“Yes, yes,” he sighed, in pretence of being troubled. “Wilful as always. And–and,” he faltered a moment later, “I often hear your dear dead mother’s voice in yours.” Then he was silent, and by the deep lines in his brow she knew that he was thinking.

Outside, in the high elms beyond the level, well-kept lawn, with its grey old sundial, the homecoming rooks were cawing prior to settling down for the night. No other sound broke the stillness of that quiet sunset hour save the solemn ticking of the long, old-fashioned clock at the farther end of the big, book-lined room, with its wide fireplace, great overmantel of carved stone with emblazoned arms, and its three long windows of old stained glass which gave it a somewhat ecclesiastical aspect.

“Tell me, child,” repeated Sir Henry at length, “what was it that upset you just now?”

“Nothing, dad–unless–well, perhaps it’s the heat. I felt rather unwell when I went out for my ride this morning,” she answered with a frantic attempt at excuse.

The blind man was well aware that her reply was but a subterfuge. Little, however, did he dream the cause. Little did he know that a dark shadow had fallen upon the young girl’s life–a shadow of evil.

“Gabrielle,” he said in a low, intense voice, “why aren’t you open and frank with me as you once used to be? Remember that you, my daughter, are my only friend!”

Slim, dainty, and small-waisted, with a sweet, dimpled face, and blue eyes large and clear like a child’s, a white throat, a well-poised head, and light-chestnut hair dressed low with a large black bow, she presented the picture of happy, careless youth, her features soft and refined, her half-bare arms well moulded, and hands delicate and white. She wore only one ornament–upon her left hand was a small signet-ring with her monogram engraved, a gift from one of her governesses when a child, and now worn upon the little finger.

That face was strikingly beautiful, it had been remarked more than once in London; but any admiration only called forth the covert sneers of Lady Heyburn.

“Why don’t you tell me?” urged the blind man. “Why don’t you tell me the truth?” he protested.

Her countenance changed when she heard his words. In her blue eyes was a look of abject fear. Her left hand was tightly clenched and her mouth set hard, as though in resolution.

“I really don’t know what you mean, dad,” she responded with a hollow laugh. “You have such strange fancies nowadays.”

“Strange fancies, child!” echoed the afflicted man, lifting his grey, expressionless face to hers. “A blind man has always vague, suspicious, and black forebodings engendered by the darkness and loneliness of his life. I am no exception,” he sighed. “I think ever of the might-have-beens.”

“No, dear,” exclaimed the girl, bending until her lips touched his white brow softly. “Forget it all, dear old dad. Surely your days here, with me, quiet and healthful in this beautiful Perthshire, are better, better by far, than if you had been a politician up in London, ever struggling, ever speaking, and ever bearing the long hours at the House and the eternal stress of Parliamentary life?”

“Yes, yes,” he said, just a trifle impatiently. “It is not that. I don’t regret that I had to retire, except–well, except for your sake perhaps, dear.”

“For my sake! How?”

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