The Moving Finger - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Moving Finger ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Uncommon Oppenheim novel tells a strong story of the complicated love affairs, thrilling and mystifying revelations in the life of a young occult. Mr. Henry Rochester is an honest and honorable landowner in rural England. One evening he is walking his estate when he happens across the boy who is meditating on a hillside, and after a conversation, takes it into his head to give the boy money and see what he’ll make of himself. Unfortunately, he also tells the boy that if he fails, he’d be better off killing himself. Seven years later the boys has become Mr. Bertrand Saton, a mystical adventurer, adopted son of the Comtesse Rachael, and ravisher of female London. The two become enemies, with several women at stake in the contest. Henry’s wife, Lady Mary; his ward Lois, and his great love Pauline.

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Liczba stron: 358

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Contents

PROLOGUE

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

EPILOGUE

PROLOGUE – THE DREAMER

The boy sat with his back to a rock, his knees drawn up and clasped within fingers nervously interlocked. His eyes were fixed upon the great stretch of landscape below, shadowy now, and indistinct, like a rolling plain of patchwork woven by mysterious fingers. Gray mists were floating over the meadows and low-lying lands. Away in the distance they marked the circuitous course of the river, which only an hour ago had shone like a belt of silver in the light of the setting sun. Twilight had fallen with unexpected swiftness. Here and there a light flashed from the isolated farmhouses. On the darkening horizon, a warm glow was reflected in the clouds from the distant town.

The boy, when he had settled down to his vigil, had been alone. From over the brow of the hill, however, had come a few minutes ago a man, dressed in loose shooting clothes, and with a gun under his arm. He came to a standstill by the side of the boy, and stood there watching him for several moments, with a certain faintly amused curiosity shining out of his somewhat supercilious gray eyes. The newcomer was obviously a person of breeding and culture–the sort of person who assumes without question the title of “Gentleman.” The boy wore ready-made clothes and hobnailed boots. They remained within a few feet of one another for several moments, without speech.

“My young friend,” the newcomer said at last, “you will be late for your tea, or whatever name is given to your evening meal. Did you not hear the bell? It rang nearly half-an-hour ago.”

The boy moved his head slightly, but made no attempt to rise.

“It does not matter. I am not hungry.”

The newcomer leaned his gun against the rock, and drawing a pipe from the pocket of his shooting-coat, commenced leisurely to fill it. Every now and then he glanced at the boy, who seemed once more to have become unconscious of his presence. He struck a match and lit the tobacco, stooping down for a moment to escape the slight evening breeze. Then he threw the match away, and lounged against the lichen-covered fragment of stone.

“I wonder,” he remarked, “why, when you have the whole day in which to come and look at this magnificent view, you should choose to come just at the hour when it has practically been swallowed up.”

The boy lifted his head for the first time. His face was a little long, his features irregular but not displeasing, his deep-set eyes seemed unnaturally bright. His cheeks were sunken, his forehead unusually prominent. The whole effect of his personality was a little curious. If he had no claims to be considered good-looking, his face was at least a striking one.

“I come at this hour,” he said slowly, “because the view does not attract me so much at any other time. It is only when the twilight falls that one can see–properly.”

The newcomer took his pipe from his mouth.

“You must have marvelous eyesight, my young friend,” he remarked. “To me everything seems blurred and uncertain.”

“You don’t understand!” said the boy impatiently. “I do not come here to see the things that anyone can see at any hour of the day. There is nothing satisfying in that. I come here to look down and see the things which do not really exist. It is easy enough when one is alone,” he added, a little pointedly.

The newcomer laughed softly–there was more banter than humor in his mirth.

“So my company displeases you,” he remarked. “Do you know that I have the right to tell you to get up, and never to pass through that gate again?”

The boy shrugged his shoulders.

“One place is as good as another,” he said.

The man smoked in silence for several moments. Then he withdrew the pipe from his teeth and sighed gently.

“These are indeed democratic days,” he said. “You do not know, my young friend, that I am Henry Prestgate Rochester, Esquire, if you please, High Sheriff of this county, Magistrate and Member of Parliament, owner, by the bye, of that rock against which you are leaning, and of most of that country below, which you can or cannot see.”

“Really!” the boy answered slowly. “My name is Bertrand Saton, and I am staying at the Convalescent Home down there, a luxury which is costing me exactly eight shillings a week.”

“So I concluded,” his companion remarked. “May I ask what your occupation is, when in health?”

“It’s of no consequence,” the boy answered, a little impatiently. “Perhaps I haven’t one at all. Whatever it is, as you may imagine, it has not brought me any great success. If you wish me to go––”

“Not at all,” Rochester interrupted, with a little protesting gesture.

“I do not wish to remain here on sufferance,” the boy continued. “I understood that we were allowed to spend our time upon the hills here.”

“That is quite true, I believe,” Rochester admitted. “My bailiff sees to those things, and if it amuses you to sit here all night, you are perfectly welcome.”

“I shall probably do so.”

Rochester watched him curiously for a few seconds.

“Look here,” he said, “I will make a bargain with you. You shall have the free run of all my lands for as long as you like, and in return you shall just answer me one question.”

The boy turned his head slightly.

“The question?” he asked.

“You shall tell me the things which you see down there,” Rochester declared, holding his hand straight out in front of him, pointing downward toward the half-hidden panorama.

The boy shook his head.

“For other people they would not count,” he said. “They are for myself only. What I see would be invisible to you.”

“A matter of eyesight?” Rochester asked, with raised eyebrows.

“Of imagination,” the boy answered. “There is no necessity for you to look outside your own immediate surroundings to see beautiful things, unless you choose deliberately to make your life an ugly thing. With us it is different–with us who work for a living, who dwell in the cities, and who have no power to push back the wheels of life. If we are presumptuous enough to wish to take into our lives anything of the beautiful, anything to help us fight our daily battle against the commonplace, we have to create it for ourselves. That is why I am here just now, and why I was regretting, when I heard your footstep, that one finds it so hard to be alone.”

“So I am to be ordered off?” Rochester remarked, smiling.

The boy did not answer. The man did not move. The minutes went by, and the silence remained unbroken. Below, the twilight seemed to be passing into night with unusual rapidity. It was a shapeless world now, a world of black and gray. More lights flashed out every few seconds.

It was the boy who broke the silence at last. He seemed, in some awkward way, to be trying to atone for his former unsociability.

“This is my last night at the Convalescent Home,” he said, a little abruptly. “I am cured. To-morrow I am going back to my work in Mechester. For many days I shall see nothing except actual things. I shall know nothing of life except its dreary and material side. That is why I came here with the twilight. That is why I am going to sit here till the night comes–perhaps, even, I shall wait until the dawn. I want one last long rest. I want to carry away with me some absolute impression of life as I would have it. Down there,” he added, moving his head slowly, “down there I can see the things I want–the things which, if I could, I would take into my life. I am going to look at them, and think of them, and long for them, until they seem real. I am going to create a concrete memory, and take it away with me.”

Rochester looked more than a little puzzled. The boy’s speech seemed in no way in keeping with his attire, and the fact of his presence in a charitable home.

“Might one inquire once more,” he asked, “what your occupation in Mechester is?”

“It is of no consequence,” the boy answered shortly. “It is an occupation that does not count. It does not make for anything in life. One must do something to earn one’s daily bread.”

“You find my questioning rather a nuisance, I am afraid,” Rochester remarked, politely.

“I will not deny it,” the boy answered. “I will admit that I wish to be alone. I am hoping that very soon you will be going.”

“On the contrary,” Rochester replied, smiling, “I am much too interested in your amiable conversation. You see,” he added, knocking the ashes from his pipe, and leaning carelessly back against the rock, “I live in a world, every member of which is more or less satisfied. I will be frank with you, and I will admit that I find satisfaction in either man or woman a most reprehensible state. I find a certain relief, therefore, in talking to a person who wants something he hasn’t got, or who wants to be something that he isn’t.”

“Then you can find all the satisfaction you want in talking to me,” the boy declared, gloomily. “I am at the opposite pole of life, you see, to those friends of yours. I want everything I haven’t got. I am content with nothing that I have.”

“For instance?” Rochester asked, suggestively.

“I want freedom from the life of a slave,” the boy said. “I want money, the money that gives power. I want the right to shape my own life in my own way, and to my own ends, instead of being forced to remain a miserable, ineffective part of a useless scheme of existence.”

“Your desires are perfectly reasonable,” Rochester remarked, calmly. “Imagine, if you please–you seem to have plenty of imaginative force–that I am a fairy godfather. I may not look the part, but at least I can live up to it. I will provide the key for your escape. I will set you down in the world you are thirsting to enter. You shall take your place with the others, and run your race.”

The boy suddenly abandoned his huddled-up position, and rose to his feet. Against the background of empty air, and in the gathering darkness, he seemed thinner than ever, and smaller.

“I am going,” he said shortly. “It may seem amusing to you to make fun of me. I will not stay––”

“Don’t be a fool!” Rochester interrupted. “Haven’t you heard that I am more than half a madman? I am going to justify my character for eccentricity. You see my house down there–Beauleys, they call it? At twelve o’clock to-morrow, if you come to me, I will give you a sum of money sufficient to keep you for several years. I do not specify the amount at this moment, I shall think it over before you come.”

The boy had no words. He simply stared at his chance companion in blank astonishment.

“My offer seems to surprise you,” Rochester remarked, pleasantly. “It need not. You can go and tell the whole world of it, if you like, although, as a reputation for sanity is quite a valuable asset, nowadays, I should suggest that you keep your mouth closed. Still, if you do speak of it, no one will be in the least surprised. My friends–I haven’t many–call me the most eccentric man in Christendom. My enemies wonder how it is that I keep out of the asylum. Personally, I consider myself a perfectly reasonable mortal. I have whims, and I am not afraid to indulge them. I give you this money on one–or perhaps we had better say two conditions. The first is that you make a bonâ fide use of it. When I say that, I mean that you leave immediately your present employment, whatever it may be, and go out into the world with the steadfast purpose of finding for yourself the things which you saw a few minutes ago down in the valley there. You may not find them, but still I pledge you to the search. The second condition is that some day or other you find your way back into this part of the country, and tell me how my experiment has fared.”

The boy realized with a little gasp.

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