The Missioner - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Missioner ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Opis

Lady Wilhemina Thorpe-Hatton lives a life of extraordinary wealth and privilege. She is visiting her extensive estate in England, which includes the town of Thorpe, and all it’s inhabitants. When Victor Macheson, a young man chock full of ideals and theories about how to make the world a better place, petitions her for the use of a barn where he can speak on these subjects, she refuses. He is dismissed and harried out of town by the son of the estate manager Stephan Hurd. But he proves to be a stubborn sort. The estate manager is murdered by a mysterious stranger, and Lady Thorpe finds herself in the throws of a disturbing emotion... love. But why is Wilhelmina so incomprehensible, so affectionate and then so distant? And will Macheson’s ideals and high thinking stand the test of such treatment by her?

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Liczba stron: 363

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Contents

BOOK I

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

BOOK II

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

BOOK I

I. MISTRESS AND AGENT

The lady of Thorpe was bored. These details as to leases and repairs were wearisome. The phrases and verbiage confused her. She felt obliged to take them in some measure for granted; to accept without question the calmly offered advice of the man who stood so respectfully at the right hand of her chair.

“This agreement with Philip Crooks,” he remarked, “is a somewhat important document. With your permission, madam, I will read it to you.”

She signified her assent, and leaned wearily back in her chair. The agent began to read. His mistress watched him through half closed eyes. His voice, notwithstanding its strong country dialect, had a sort of sing-song intonation. He read earnestly and without removing his eyes from the document. His listener made no attempt to arrive at the sense of the string of words which flowed so monotonously from his lips. She was occupied in making a study of the man. Sturdy and weather-beaten, neatly dressed in country clothes, with a somewhat old-fashioned stock, with trim grey side-whiskers, and a mouth which reminded her somehow of a well-bred foxhound’s, he represented to her, in his clearly cut personality, the changeless side of life, the side of life which she associated with the mighty oaks in her park, and the prehistoric rocks which had become engrafted with the soil of the hills beyond. As she saw him now, so had he seemed to her fifteen years ago. Only what a difference! A volume to her–a paragraph to him! She had gone out into the world–rich, intellectually inquisitive, possessing most of the subtler gifts with which her sex is endowed; and wherever the passionate current of life had flown the swiftest, she had been there, a leader always, seeking ever to satisfy the unquenchable thirst for new experiences and new joys. She had passed from girlhood to womanhood with every nerve of her body strained to catch the emotion of the moment. Always her fingers had been tearing at the cells of life–and one by one they had fallen away. This morning, in the bright sunshine which flooded the great room, she felt somehow tired–tired and withered. Her maid was a fool! The two hours spent at her toilette had been wasted! She felt that her eyes were hollow, her cheeks pale! Fifteen years, and the man had not changed a jot. She doubted whether he had ever passed the confines of her estate. She doubted whether he had even had the desire. Wind and sun had tanned his cheeks, his eyes were clear, his slight stoop was the stoop of the horseman rather than of age. He had the air of a man satisfied with life and his place in it–an attitude which puzzled her. No one of her world was like that! Was it some inborn gift, she wondered, which he possessed, some antidote to the world’s restlessness which he carried with him, or was it merely lack of intelligence?

He finished reading and folded up the pages, to find her regarding him still with that air of careful attention with which she had listened to his monotonous flow of words. He found her interest surprising. It did not occur to him to invest it with any personal element.

“The agreement upon the whole,” he remarked, “is, I believe, a fair one. You are perhaps thinking that those clauses––”

“If the agreement is satisfactory to you,” she interrupted, “I will confirm it.”

He bowed slightly and glanced through the pile of papers upon the table.

“I do not think that there is anything else with which I need trouble you, madam,” he remarked.

She nodded imperiously.

“Sit down for a moment, Mr. Hurd,” she said.

If he felt any surprise, he did not show it. He drew one of the high-backed chairs away from the table, and with that slight air of deliberation which characterized all his movements, seated himself. He was in no way disquieted to find her dark, tired eyes still studying him.

“How old are you, Mr. Hurd?” she asked.

“I am sixty-three, madam,” he answered.

Her eyebrows were gently raised. To her it seemed incredible. She thought of the men of sixty-three or thereabouts whom she knew, and her lips parted in one of those faint, rare smiles of genuine amusement, which smoothed out all the lines of her tired face. Visions of the promenade at Marienbad and Carlsbad, the Kursaal at Homburg, floated before her. She saw them all, the men whom she knew, with the story of their lives written so plainly in their faces, babbling of nerves and tonics and cures, the newest physician, the latest fad. Defaulters all of them, unwilling to pay the great debt–seeking always a way out! Here, at least, this man scored!

“You enjoy good health?” she remarked.

“I never have anything the matter with me,” he answered simply. “I suppose,” he added, as though by an afterthought, “the life is a healthy one.”

“You find it–satisfying?” she asked.

He seemed puzzled.

“I have never attempted anything else,” he answered. “It seems to be what I am suited for.”

She attempted to abandon the rôle of questioner–to give a more natural turn to the conversation.

“It is always,” she remarked, “such a relief to get down into the country at the end of the season. I wonder I don’t spend more time here. I daresay one could amuse oneself?” she added carelessly.

Mr. Hurd considered for a few moments.

“There are croquet and archery and tennis in the neighbourhood,” he remarked. “The golf course on the Park hills is supposed to be excellent. A great many people come over to play.”

She affected to be considering the question seriously. An intimate friend would not have been deceived by her air of attention. Mr. Hurd knew nothing of this. He, on his part, however, was capable of a little gentle irony.

“It might amuse you,” he remarked, “to make a tour of your estate. There are some of the outlying portions which I think that I should have the honour of showing you for the first time.”

“I might find that interesting,” she admitted. “By the bye, Mr. Hurd, what sort of a landlord am I? Am I easy, or do I exact my last pound of flesh? One likes to know these things.”

“It depends upon the tenant,” the agent answered. “There is not one of your farms upon which, if a man works, he cannot make a living. On the other hand, there is not one of them on which a man can make a living unless he works. It is upon this principle that your rents have been adjusted. The tenants of the home lands have been most carefully chosen, and Thorpe itself is spoken of everywhere as a model village.”

“It is very charming to look at,” its mistress admitted. “The flowers and thatched roofs are so picturesque. ‘Quite a pastoral idyll,’ my guests tell me. The people one sees about seem contented and respectful, too.”

“They should be, madam,” Mr. Hurd answered drily. “The villagers have had a good many privileges from your family for generations.”

The lady inclined her head thoughtfully.

“You think, then,” she remarked, “that if anything should happen in England, like the French Revolution, I should not find unexpected thoughts and discontent smouldering amongst them? You believe that they are really contented?”

Mr. Hurd knew nothing about revolutions, and he was utterly unable to follow the trend of her thoughts.

“If they were not, madam,” he declared, “they would deserve to be in the workhouse–and I should feel it my duty to assist them in getting there.”

The lady of Thorpe laughed softly to herself.

“You, too, then, Mr. Hurd,” she said, “you are content with your life? You don’t mind my being personal, do you? It is such a change down here, such a different existence ... and I like to understand everything.”

Upon Mr. Hurd the almost pathetic significance of those last words was wholly wasted. They were words of a language which he could not comprehend. He realized only their direct application–and the woman to him seemed like a child.

“If I were not content, madam,” he said, “I should deserve to lose my place. I should deserve to lose it,” he added after a moment’s pause, “notwithstanding the fact that I have done my duty faithfully for four and forty years.”

She smiled upon him brilliantly. They were so far apart that she feared lest she might have offended him.

“I have always felt myself a very fortunate woman, Mr. Hurd,” she said, “in having possessed your services.”

He rose as though about to go. It was her whim, however, to detain him.

“You lost your wife some years ago, did you not, Mr. Hurd?” she began tentatively. As a matter of fact, she was not sure of her ground.

“Seven years back, madam,” he answered, with immovable face. “She was, unfortunately, never a strong woman.”

“And your son?” she asked more confidently. “Is he back from South Africa?”

“A year ago, madam,” he answered. “He is engaged at present in the estate office. He knows the work well––”

“The best place for him, of course,” she interrupted. “We ought to do all we can for our young men who went out to the war. I should like to see your son, Mr. Hurd. Will you tell him to come up some day?”

“Certainly, madam,” he answered.

“Perhaps he would like to shoot with my guests on Thursday?” she suggested graciously.

Mr. Hurd did not seem altogether pleased.

“It has never been the custom, madam,” he remarked, “for either my son or myself to be associated with the Thorpe shooting parties.”

“Some customs,” she remarked pleasantly, “are well changed, even in Thorpe. We shall expect him.”

Mr. Hurd’s mouth reminded her for a moment of a steel trap. She could see that he disapproved, but she had no intention of giving way. He began to tie up his papers, and she watched him with some continuance of that wave of interest which he had somehow contrived to excite in her. The signature of one of the letters which he was methodically folding, caught her attention.

“What a strange name!” she remarked. “Victor Macheson! Who is he?”

Mr. Hurd unfolded the letter. The ghost of a smile flickered upon his lips.

“A preacher, apparently,” he answered. “The letter is one asking permission to give a series of what he terms religious lectures in Harrison’s large barn!”

Her eyebrows were gently raised. Her tone was one of genuine surprise.

“What, in Thorpe?” she demanded.

“In Thorpe!” Mr. Hurd acquiesced.

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