The Kingdom of Earth - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Kingdom of Earth ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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John Peters is the dissolute Crown Prince of Bergeland. The nephew of the rapacious and immoral King. Grace Pellisier is an English American actress who meets a thoughtful, serious, hiker in the mountains of Switzerland. Bernhardt is the energetic Chief of the Secret Service, protecting the aging King, and constantly searching for „The Watcher,” the leader of the revolutionary republicans. Written during a period of intense anti-monarchy which saw the end of the Russian Tzar, Oppenheim is using the politics of Europe to imagine an alternative path to bloody revolution. And so on, and with the material of conspiracies, love and adventure the story is woven around the Prince with that peculiar polish in dialogue and fascinating coloring characteristic of the popular author.

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Liczba stron: 347

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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 XXXV

CHAPTER XXXVI

CHAPTER XXXVII

CHAPTER XXXVIII

CHAPTER XXXIX

CHAPTER XL

CHAPTER I

THEY sat side by side on one of the many seats which fringed the tiny lake high up among the mountains. The sun shone down upon them from a cloudless sky. A little band on the balcony played the liveliest of music. The people around laughed and talked and flirted. The hum of the skates upon the clear, black ice was a music in, itself. The man and the girl were perhaps the soberest couple there.

“You mean,” she asked, breaking a silence which had; lasted for several minutes, “that you are going away at once?”

“I fear so,” he answered. “Not only that, but I am going back into a different life. I wonder, can you realize what it means, when one comes to my age, to go back into a different life?”

“How old are you she asked.

“I am thirty-three,” he answered. “I feel older, I believe that I look older. I am very sure that after a few years of the life that lies before me I shall never know what it is to feel young again.”

“Is there any compulsion, then,” she asked, “about your going?”

“There is the compulsion which pulls always at a man who tries to do what he believes is right,” he answered. “For myself, I believed until a few hours ago that my life was my own, to do what I would with, to shape according to my pleasure. If I may, I will tell you this, that up here among the mountains there have come to me only lately ideas and hopes which were rapidly growing dear to me; and now all this is changed. Something has been thrust upon me which I cannot refuse to take, something which means the abnegation of many of my desires. I am called, perhaps, into a greater sphere of life than any I could reasonably have hoped to occupy, and yet–”

“And yet?” she whispered softly.

“If I could have had my own choice,” he said, “there is another and a simpler road which I would have chosen toward happiness.”

Then again there was silence between them. The girl waited, but he said no more. Then she rose and glanced toward the clock which hung from the little pavilion.

“Come,” she said, “it will be time for luncheon in half an hour, and we have had only one waltz this morning. There goes the music.”

They glided away, and the exercise soon brought back the colour to her cheeks. Every one watched them, for not only were they the most graceful performers, but they were interesting people. The girl, rich, half American, popular, and beautiful; the man, good-looking, absolutely distinguished, entirely mysterious. Only, at the hotel she was the friend of everybody, easily the most popular and sought-after person among either sex. He, on the contrary, affected reserve, lived in private rooms, and showed himself very seldom, except on his return from long skiing expeditions, or on the ice. They waltzed until the music stopped, and then stood together for a moment near the wooden steps.

“You are coming back to luncheon, at all events?” she asked.

He shook his head gravely and pointed outside, to where a sleigh with four horses, and laden with luggage, was waiting.

“I am posting to Maloya,” he said. “I want, if I can, to catch the Engadine Express. I came down here because it was my only chance of saying good-bye to you.”

She looked him full in the face. “It is to be good-bye, then?” she asked.

He answered her with the grave, uncompromising Puritanism which somehow or other she had always associated with him. “It is to be good-bye, Miss Pellisier,” he said, holding her hand for a second in his.

A few moments later she heard the tinkle of his sleigh-bells as he rode away. A small crowd of men gathered round to help her off with her skates, and afterward she walked up to the hotel, the centre of a very lively party indeed; but when she got into her room she locked the door, and she was half an hour late for luncheon!

*     *

*

“On the contrary,” the girl declared, lowering her lorgnette, and looking up toward the man who had addressed her, “I am extremely interested. I love watching a crowd of people at any time. I think that this is quite delightful!”

“If only that idiot of a waiter would bring our coffee,” her companion remarked, glancing around irritably. “We have been here nearly twenty minutes.”

“The poor man has so much to do,” the girl answered composedly. “The place is simply packed. Don’t worry about the coffee, but go on telling me who the people are–the heavy gentleman, with the pasty face and the long hair, for instance.”

Her companion readjusted his eye-glass and leaned forward in his chair. “He is a pianist from Australia,” he announced. “I have forgotten his name. The lady with him sings at the opera. The people behind are stock-brokers–very rich indeed. They have a magnificent place in Hertfordshire, and he motors up to town every day–nearly forty miles.”

“The small man with the pince-nez?”

He shook his head. “You have me this time. He is probably, by his black tie and dinner-coat, a travelling American. A Sunday-night restaurant crowd is the most cosmopolitan in the world, you must remember.”

“I know,” she answered. “That is the most delightful part of it. One can see one’s own people anywhere. It is these other types which fascinate me.”

He looked at her curiously. She represented to him an enigma which as yet he had made no progress whatever in solving. She was still a young woman–she could scarcely be more than twenty-five–an aristocrat by birth, wealthy, and astonishingly beautiful. She had read many books on abstruse subjects, the titles of which even were unknown to him, she was reported to have given large sums of money to the English labour party, and she was a member of a very advanced society of Socialists; and with it all she was a painstaking and accomplished actress at one of the best known and most exclusive of London theatres. Her desire to come here, her interest in this gathering, puzzled him. Yet it was without doubt honest. Perhaps she was going to take after her maternal grandmother, a brilliant French novelist. Some likeness to the miniatures and paintings of that wonderful old lady he seemed to be able to detect in the broad forehead, the dark, soft eyes, the small but determined mouth, of the girl who sat by his side, her eyes following always the constant stream of people who passed out from the restaurant to their seats in the lounge.

The scarlet-coated band began to play; the girl’s attention wandered for a moment to the music. Most of the people by now had found seats, and the scene was, in its way, a brilliant one. Through the glass partition which separated the restaurant from the lounge, one could catch glimpses of the late diners, seated at tables lit with shaded lamps and laden with flowers; the foyer itself was crowded now with groups of men and women, the hum of whose conversation at times almost drowned the music. The girl, with her aunt and escort, occupied seats only a few yards from the central aisle, under a huge palm-tree. They themselves were sufficiently observed. The man, Colonel Sir Gilbert Ferringhall, was known–by sight–to almost every one. He was the representative of an ancient and rich family, a popular member of the best service clubs, a great sportsman, and the intimate friend of his sovereign. The aunt was noticeable, perhaps, for nothing but a quiet and tired distinction. The girl was not only the most beautiful person in the room, but she was beautiful in a wholly singular and unusual way. Her neck was long almost to a fault, but it was white and shapely, and around it there hung simply one roughly cut, gleaming blue stone, fastened by a thin gold chain. Her dress was of the same shade of deep blue, toned down by a gossamer-like web of black. Her features were pale, but less with an actual pallor than with the ivory tint which goes with perfect health. Her teeth were whiter and her lips more scarlet than the usual English type. Her eyes were deep and soft, but she had a trick of half closing them, as though she were short-sighted. Her face, as a whole, notwithstanding its perfections, seemed to lack the animal happiness of her age and sex. The expression of the mouth, of the eyes when she looked at you, was elusive. Even Ferringhall, who during a long career of popular bachelorhood had made almost a science of his studies in femininity, felt himself unable to place her.

The stream of people on their way out from the restaurant began to thin. A hopeless family gathering was followed by a straggling line of nondescripts. The girl stifled a yawn and sipped her coffee, which had just arrived. Suddenly the animation returned to her face. She leaned a little forward in her seat and touched her companion upon the arm.

“Tell me,” she demanded eagerly, “who is that?”

Ferringhall abandoned his conversation with her aunt, and adjusting his eye-glass followed the motion of her head. A tall, well-built man had issued from the dining-room alone, and was glancing indifferently around in search of a seat. He was clean-shaven, his hair was as black as coal, and there were lines upon his face deeper than any which time alone could have engraved. His skin was dry and slightly bronzed, his eyes were bright and penetrating. He walked with a distinct military bearing; his movements, as he quietly took possession of a chair exactly opposite to them, were characterized by a certain deliberation which seemed almost temperamental. He crossed his legs, leaned back in his chair, and lighting a cigarette looked leisurely around him. His eyes met the girl’s, full of vivid and unrestrained curiosity, not unmingled with recognition. Ferringhall was bending toward her.

“I am afraid,” he said, “that as a showman I am turning out a failure. The man’s face seems familiar to me, but I cannot place him.”

“It is familiar to me, also,” the girl said. “I want to know who he is.”

Her aunt leaned a little forward. “Unless you wish him to come and speak to us,” she remarked drily, “I should look somewhere else for a few moments.”

“If I thought that my looking would bring him,” the girl answered, “I would simply go on staring.”

Ferringhall raised his eyebrows a little dubiously. “I wonder,” he said, “what there is about the man that attracts you so much?”

She smiled very slightly and turned toward him. “Look at the others,” she answered, “and look at him. Look at them!” The slight sweep of her hand seemed to gather into one conglomerate mass the whole motley crowd of chattering, laughing people. “They are of the Kingdom of the Earth–every one of them. Isn’t it there in their faces? You’ve seen them go by in streams. They were like a flock of sheep, picturesque in their way, perhaps, but there isn’t one whom you’d recognize to-morrow.”

“And our friend opposite?” Ferringhall asked.

“You do not need me to tell you that there are different things in his face,” she answered.

“He hasn’t the appearance of a saint, exactly,” Ferringhall said thoughtfully.

She shrugged her shoulders daintily. “What man has?” she declared, with emphasis.

“To what kingdom then–” he began.

She smiled a little vaguely. “You are inclined to be elementary to-night,” she remarked. “Do you want me to believe that you know of no other kingdoms than the kingdoms of heaven and earth?”

He stroked his moustache reflectively. He was beginning to realize that the position of escort to this young woman, beautiful though she was and unaccountably distinguished, had its drawbacks.

“You mean–” he commenced cautiously.

“Oh! never mind what I mean,” she interrupted, laughing. “It is so tiresome to explain.”

A flash of inspiration lent venom to his tongue.

“You think that he”–inclining his head toward the man opposite–“would have understood?”

“I am sure that he would,” she answered lightly.

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