The Mischief Maker - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Mischief Maker ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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This story takes place before WWI and follows the adventures of a disgraced English politician who hasn’t given up on his country in her hour of need. His nemesis is a suave but evil German prince who is plotting the downfall of he British empire. The only thing that stands in his way is our hero... and two beautiful women. „The Mischief-Maker” presents a fascinating picture of the political mindset of the day to go along with the twists and turns of the story. And so on, and with the material of conspiracies, politics, love and adventure the story is woven around the atmosphere of the early 20th century in London and Paris with that peculiar polish in dialogue and fascinating coloring characteristic of the popular author.

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Liczba stron: 471

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Contents

BOOK ONE

CHAPTER I. SYMPATHY AND SELFISHNESS

CHAPTER II. AN INDISCREET LETTER

CHAPTER III. A RUINED CAREER

CHAPTER IV. A BUNCH OF VIOLETS

CHAPTER V. A SENTIMENTAL EPISODE

CHAPTER VI. AT THE CAFÉ L’ATHÉNÉE

CHAPTER VII. COFFEE FOR THREE

CHAPTER VIII. IN PARIS

CHAPTER IX. MADAME CHRISTOPHOR

CHAPTER X. BETTER ACQUAINTANCE

CHAPTER XI. THE TOYMAKER FROM LEIPZIG

CHAPTER XII. AT THE RAT MORT

CHAPTER XIII. POLITICS AND PATRIOTISM

CHAPTER XIV. THE MORNING AFTER

CHAPTER XV. BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

CHAPTER XVI. “HAVE YOU EVER LOVED?”

CHAPTER XVII. KENDRICKS IS HOST

CHAPTER XVIII. A MEETING OF SOCIALISTS

CHAPTER XIX. AN OFFER

CHAPTER XX. FALKENBERG ACTS

BOOK TWO

CHAPTER I. THE FLIGHT OF LADY ANNE

CHAPTER II. “TO OUR NEW SELVES”

CHAPTER III. WORK FOR JULIEN

CHAPTER IV. A STARTLING DISCLOSURE

CHAPTER V. THE FIRST ARTICLE

CHAPTER VI. FALKENBERG FAILS

CHAPTER VII. LADY ANNE DECLINES

CHAPTER VIII. A DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

CHAPTER IX. FOOLHARDY JULIEN

CHAPTER X. THE SECOND ATTEMPT

CHAPTER XI. BY THE PRINCE’S ORDERS

CHAPTER XII. DISTRESSING NEWS

CHAPTER XIII. ESTERMEN’S DEATH-WARRANT

CHAPTER XIV. SANCTUARY

CHAPTER XV. NEARING A CRISIS

CHAPTER XVI. FALKENBERG’S LAST EFFORT

CHAPTER XVII. DEFEAT FOR FALKENBERG

CHAPTER XVIII. THE ONE WAY OUT

CHAPTER XIX. ALL ENDS WELL

BOOK ONE

CHAPTER I. SYMPATHY AND SELFISHNESS

The girl who was dying lay in an invalid chair piled up with cushions in a sheltered corner of the lawn. The woman who had come to visit her had deliberately turned away her head with a murmured word about the sunshine and the field of buttercups. Behind them was the little sanitarium, a gray stone villa built in the style of a château, overgrown with creepers, and with terraced lawns stretching down to the sunny corner to which the girl had been carried earlier in the day. There were flowers everywhere–beds of hyacinths, and borders of purple and yellow crocuses. A lilac tree was bursting into blossom, the breeze was soft and full of life. Below, beyond the yellow-starred field of which the woman had spoken, flowed the Seine, and in the distance one could see the outskirts of Paris.

“The doctor says I am better,” the girl whispered plaintively. “This morning he was quite cheerful. I suppose he knows, but it is strange that I should feel so weak–weaker even day by day. And my cough–it tears me to pieces all the time.”

The woman who was bending over her gulped something down in her throat and turned her head. Although older than the invalid whom she had come to visit, she was young and very beautiful. Her cheeks were a trifle pale, but even without the tears her eyes were almost the color of violets.

“The doctor must know, dear Lucie,” she declared. “Our own feelings so often mean nothing at all.”

The girl moved a little uneasily in her chair. She, also, had once been pretty. Her hair was still an exquisite shade of red-gold, but her cheeks were thin and pinched, her complexion had gone, her clothes fell about her. She seemed somehow shapeless.

“Yes,” she agreed, “the doctor knows–he must know. I see it in his manner every time he comes to visit me. In his heart,” she added, dropping her voice, “he must know that I am going to die.”

Her eyes seemed to have stiffened in their sockets, to have become dilated. Her lips trembled, but her eyes remained steadfast.

“Oh! madame,” she sobbed, “is it not cruel that one should die like this! I am so young. I have seen so little of life. It is not just, madame–it is not just!”

The woman who sat by her side was shaking. Her heart was torn with pity. Everywhere in the soft, sunlit air, wherever she looked, she seemed to read in letters of fire the history of this girl, the history of so many others.

“We will not talk of death, dear,” she said. “Doctors are so wonderful, nowadays. There are so few diseases which they cannot cure. They seem to snatch one back even from the grave. Besides, you are so young. One does not die at nineteen. Tell me about this man–Eugène, you called him. He has never once been to see you–not even when you were in the hospital?”

The girl began to tremble.

“Not once,” she murmured.

“You are sure that he had your letters? He knows that you are out here and alone?”

“Yes, he knows!”

There was a short silence. The woman found it hard to know what to say. Somewhere down along the white, dusty road a man was grinding the music of a threadbare waltz from an ancient barrel-organ. The girl closed her eyes.

“We used to hear that sometimes,” she whispered, “at the cafés. At one where we went often they used to know that I liked it and they always played it when we came. It is queer to hear it again–like this…. Oh, when I close my eyes,” she muttered, “I am afraid! It is like shutting out life for always.”

The woman by her side got up. Lucie caught at her skirt.

“Madame, you are not going yet?” she pleaded. “Am I selfish? Yet you have not stayed with me so long as yesterday, and I am so lonely.”

The woman’s face had hardened a little.

“I am going to find that man,” she replied. “I have his address. I want to bring him to you.”

The girl’s hold upon her skirt tightened.

“Sit down,” she begged. “Do not leave me. Indeed it is useless. He knows. He does not choose to come. Men are like that. Oh! madame, I have learned my lesson. I know now that love is a vain thing. Men do not often really feel it. They come to us when we please them, but afterwards that does not count. I suppose we were meant to be sacrificed. I have given up thinking of Eugène. He is afraid, perhaps, of the infection. I think that I would sooner go out of life as I lie here, cold and unloved, than have him come to me unwillingly.”

The woman could not hide her tears any longer. There was something so exquisitely fragile, so strangely pathetic, in that prostrate figure by her side.

“But, my dear,” she faltered,–

“Madame,” the girl interrupted, “hold my hand for a moment. That is the doctor coming. I hear his footstep. I think that I must sleep.”

Madame Christophor–she had another name, but there were few occasions on which she cared to use it–was driven back to Paris, in accordance with her murmured word of instruction, at a pace which took little heed of police regulations or even of safety. Through the peaceful lanes, across the hills into the suburbs, and into the city itself she passed, at a speed which was scarcely slackened even when she turned into the Boulevard which was her destination. Glancing at the slip of paper which she held in her hand, she pulled the checkstring before a tall block of buildings. She hurried inside, ascended two flights of stairs, and rang the bell of a door immediately opposite her. A very German-looking manservant opened it after the briefest of delays–a man with fair moustache, fat, stolid face and inquisitive eyes.

“Is your master in,” she demanded, “Monsieur Estermen?”

The man stared at her, then bowed. The appearance of Madame Christophor was, without doubt, impressive.

“I will inquire, madame,” he replied.

“I am in a hurry,” she said curtly. “Be so good as to let your master know that.”

A moment later she was ushered into a sitting-room–a man’s apartment, untidy, reeking of cigarette smoke and stale air. There were photographs and souvenirs of women everywhere. The windows were fast-closed and the curtains half-drawn. The man who stood upon the hearthrug was of medium height, dark, with close-cropped hair and a black, drooping moustache. His first glance at his visitor, as the door opened, was one of impertinent curiosity.

“Madame?” he inquired.

“You are Monsieur Estermen?”

He bowed. He was very much impressed and he endeavored to assume a manner.

“That is my name. Pray be seated.”

She waved away the chair he offered.

“My automobile is in the street below,” she said. “I wish you to come with me at once to see a poor girl who is dying.”

He looked at her in amazement.

“Are you serious, madame?”

“I am very serious indeed,” she replied. “The girl’s name is Lucie Rénault.”

For the moment he seemed perplexed. Then his eyebrows were slowly raised.

“Lucie Rénault,” he repeated. “What do you know about her?”

“Only that she is a poor child who has suffered at your hands and who is dying in a private hospital,” Madame Christophor answered. “She has been taken there out of charity. She has no friends, she is dying alone. Come with me. I will take you to her. You shall save her at least from that terror.”

It was the aim of the man with whom she spoke to be considered modern. A perfect and invincible selfishness had enabled him to reach the topmost heights of callousness, and to remain there without affectation.

“If the little girl is dying,” he said, “I am sorry, for she was pretty and companionable, although I have lost sight of her lately. But as to my going out to see her, why, that is absurd. I hate illness of all sorts.”

The woman looked at him steadfastly, looked at him as though she had come into contact with some strange creature.

“Do you understand what it is that I am saying?” she demanded. “This girl was once your little friend, is it not so? It was for your sake that she gave up the simple life she was living when you first knew her, and went upon the stage. The life was too strenuous for her. She broke down, took no care of herself, developed a cough and alas! tuberculosis.”

The man sighed. He had adopted an expression of abstract sympathy.

“A terrible disease,” he murmured.

“A terrible disease indeed,” Madame Christophor repeated. “Do you not understand what I mean when I tell you that she is dying of it? Very likely she will not live a week–perhaps not a day. She lies there alone in the garden of the hospital and she is afraid. There are none who knew her, whom she cares for, to take her into their arms and to bid her have no fear. Is it not your place to do this? You have held her in your arms in life. Don’t you see that it is your duty to cheer her a little way on this last dark journey?”

The man threw away his cigarette and moved to the mantelpiece, where he helped himself to a fresh one from the box.

“Madame,” he said, “I perceive that you are a sentimentalist.”

She did not speak–she could not. She only looked at him.

“Death,” he continued, lighting his cigarette, “is an ugly thing. If it came to me I should probably be quite as much afraid–perhaps more–than any one else. But it has not come to me just yet. It has come, you tell me, to little Lucie. Well, I am sorry, but there is nothing I can do about it. I have no intention whatever of making myself miserable. I do not wish to see her. I do not wish to look upon death, I simply wish to forget it. If it were not, madame,” he added, with a bow and a meaning glance from his dark eyes, “that you bring with you something of your own so well worth looking upon, I could almost find myself regretting your visit.”

She still regarded him fixedly. There was in her face something of that shrinking curiosity with which one looks upon an unclean and horrible thing.

“That is your answer?” she murmured.

The man had little understanding and he replied boldly.

“It is my answer, without a doubt. Lucie, if what you tell me is true, as I do not for a moment doubt, is dying from a disease the ravages of which are hideous to watch, and which many people believe, too, to be infectious. Let me advise you, madame, to learn also a little wisdom. Let me beg of you not to be led away by these efforts of sentiment, however picturesque and delightful they may seem. The only life that is worth considering is our own. The only death that we need fear is our own. We ought to live like that.”

The woman stood quite still. She was tall and she was slim. Her figure was exquisite. She was famous throughout the city for her beauty. The man’s eyes dwelt upon her and the eternal expression crept slowly into his face. He seemed to understand nothing of the shivering horror with which she was regarding him.

“If it were upon any other errand, madame,” he continued, leaning towards her, “believe, I pray you, that no one would leave this room to become your escort more willingly than I.”

She turned away.

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