The Passionate Quest - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Passionate Quest ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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The Passionate Quest” is the story of Rosina, Philip and Matthew, who work in rural England in the glass factory owned by Rosina’s uncle. All three dream of a different life: Rosina wants to be an actress, Philip a poet, and Matthew hopes for a career in high finance. They all go off to London in „The Passionate Quest” for their dreams. This 1927 novel by Edward Phillips Oppenheim where problems arise in a family business. Oppenheim inherited a leather company from his father and ran it for 20 years before he became a full time author. The business of leather features in a number of his novels. He was acutely aware of class behavior and distinctions. An enjoyable read!

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Liczba stron: 462

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Contents

BOOK ONE

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

BOOK TWO

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

BOOK ONE

CHAPTER I

The electric tramcar which connects the manufacturing town of Norchester with the least unlovely of its out-lying suburbs came slowly to a standstill at its terminus, four miles from the starting point. Those who had survived the journey through smoke-hung and grey, crowded streets, the more ornate form of ugliness represented by villas and asphalt pavements, left their places and dispersed. Foremost amongst them, three–a girl and two young men, who had travelled the greater part of the distance in absolute silence–descended from the top with eager footsteps, left the main road at once, and walked steadily along a passably rural lane towards a ridge of fields, rising to a height of a hundred feet or so, and crowned on the summit by a thickly growing plantation of pine trees. They had almost the air of pilgrims, both in the absorbed quality of their silence, which continued for long after they had commenced their walk, and in the definite purpose which they evidently had in view. It was not until they had left the lane, had passed through a gate and were climbing the path which led through the last few meadows to their goal, that any of them attempted speech.

“At last!” the girl murmured, taking off her hat and carrying it. “What a week!”

“Hellish!” the tall, thin boy walking by her side agreed.

“Like all the others,” the most ordinary-looking of the three–a broad-shouldered, square-faced youth who brought up the rear–muttered.

Their efforts at conversation seemed temporarily expended–or perhaps the exertion of climbing the last hundred yards of the hill kept them a little breathless. The girl, as they drew nearer the stretch of wood towards which they were bound, moved her head from side to side as though asking for the caress of the west wind, which came to them now with a sweeter and fresher quality. Her companion paused to tear a little cluster of wild roses from the hedge. The girl accepted them, looked into the petals for a moment and then flung them to the ground.

“Smuts!” she exclaimed. “Even the flowers are blackened! One can’t escape, even here, from the filth of that hateful town.”

The young man looked down regretfully at the blossom which her foot had crushed.

“The flower itself was exquisite,” he remonstrated.

The girl, in her eager bitterness, ceased for a moment to be beautiful.

“I am unjust,” she admitted, “but that is because the smuts are settling upon me. A year or two more of this place and I shall be like those wild roses–and I hate the thought!”

They reached their destination, more breathless than ever now, but, so far as the first two were concerned, with an eagerness which seemed incomprehensible. They entered the wood through a gate and passed along a path strewn and sodden with pine needles, soft to the feet and fragrant. All around them, between the bare, straight fronts of the thickly planted trees, they caught little glimpses of the promised land beyond–a real expanse of meadows, cornfields and wooded glades. On the far horizon, it is true, stretched the scars of a smoke-hung town, and, on their left, factory chimneys here and there marred the landscape. But when they skirted the outside of the plantation and reached its westward corner, there was nothing within the range of their vision but the cornfield sloping down towards the valley, a stretch of meadowland, a steep rise, and, beyond, a rolling waste of moorland, starred with yellow gorse, faintly pink in sheltered places with the promise of the early bell heather. For the first time, all disfiguring traces of untoward industrial efforts were absent.

The girl flung herself down on the ground with something which sounded almost like a sob of relief, her arms outstretched, her eyes searching the blue skies. The younger of her two companions followed her example, sharing apparently to the full the emotion with which she welcomed this change of surroundings. The third person in the pilgrimage proceeded to make himself comfortable in more leisurely fashion. He chose a place with his back to a tree, produced a cheap briar pipe, and deliberately filled it with tobacco of unprepossessing appearance. His very performance of the action was typical. He was slow but thorough; his square-tipped, capable fingers pressed the tobacco skilfully into its appointed place; the few shreds which remained in his hand he emptied carefully back into the pouch, which he restored to his pocket. As soon as he had commenced to smoke, he broke the silence.

“Well,” he began, “now that you two have dragged me up here, let’s hear what you have to say.”

The girl by his side half opened her eyes.

“Not yet,” she murmured. “I want to listen.”

The young man withdrew his pipe from his mouth.

“Listen to what?” he asked. “I can’t hear anything particular.”

The long-limbed youth on the other side of the girl, who had been lying flat on his back in the sunshine, turned over towards his two companions and laughed.

“My dear Matthew,” he said, speaking with a natural but not unpleasant drawl, which seemed somehow out of keeping with his ready-made clothes and clumsy boots, “of course you can hear nothing particular, but that is because your ear is not attuned to the music of the world. Rosina is listening to the wind amongst the corn tops there. Can’t you hear it rustling and whispering all the way across from that cluster of poppies, and high up in the tree tops above your head, too–a more melancholy note there, perhaps, but still music?”

“Is it!” the young man named Matthew replied shortly. “I prefer a gramophone. And, anyhow, we didn’t come out here to listen–we came to talk. If Rosina wants to rest, you go ahead, Philip. Tell me what it is that you two have been putting your heads together about.”

“In a moment,” the other assented drowsily. “If sounds do not attract you, what about scents? All the week I have worked with the poisonous smell of leather and of oil in my nostrils. Just now I am perfectly sure that we are near some wild sweetbriar. Put your head down, Matthew, and smell the earth itself. There’s something rich about it, like sunwarmed herbs. There’s sap, too, bursting out from the trunk of the pine tree against which you are leaning. Not even that foul tobacco which you are smoking–thank heavens the breeze is the other way!–can poison this atmosphere.”

“It is very good tobacco,” Matthew replied stolidly. “It is strong, I know, but it is very cheap, and, being strong, one does not desire to smoke so much of it.”

“There is not the slightest doubt but that some day you will be a millionaire,” Philip declared.

“I intend to be,” was the calm rejoinder.

“Any further ambitions?” Rosina asked, opening her very beautiful hazel eyes for a moment.

“What others could there be?” Matthew demanded. “The only choice in life seems to me to be the means by which one can make money.”

Philip sighed gently.

“And this youth,” he murmured,–“I beg his pardon, I forgot that he was twenty-four to-day–has been our companion for eleven years!”

Matthew raised himself a little, sitting with his knees drawn up and his hands clasped around them. His face, with its massive chin and broad forehead, had its good points, but his eyes were too close together and his lips acquisitive. The dominant and redeeming quality of his expression was its forcefulness.

“Look here,” he said, “you two seem to think yourselves very superior because you read poetry and go to concerts whilst I learn shorthand and typewriting and attend technical schools. Yet, if either of you were to ask yourselves a plain question and answer it truthfully, you would discover that you wanted pretty well what I want out of life. Philip wants to write stories. Well, the measure of his success will be how much, if anything, they’ll pay him for them. Art has an exact and commercial value, and that value can be written down in pounds, shillings and pence. And Rosina here wants beautiful clothes, silks to drape about her body, pearls to hang upon her neck, and carte blanche at Cook’s to buy tickets for every corner of the world. What does that all mean except pounds, shillings and pence? I go the short way about it, and you two prefer the twisting paths. You’ll probably get into a maze, you won’t know where you are, you’ll confuse the end with the means, and you’ll forget what you started out for. That’s why I like my way best. I’m not out to pull any stars down from heaven, or to waste time dreaming about them. I’m out for a big banking account, and I’ll decide afterwards what I’ll do with the money, when I’ve got it.”

The girl looked for a moment distressed. Her eyes were wide open now, her forehead a little wrinkled. Something of the momentary peace which had come into her face had passed away.

“Philip and I have never thought ourselves superior,” she protested gently, “and I know that a great deal of what you say is true, although it sounds cruel. It is true that I want beautiful clothes and pearls, and that those things mean money, but I also want even more to travel, to live and move in beautiful places, to hear beautiful music when I choose, to possess the books I want, and have the people I like always near me. What do you want your wealth for, Matthew? You must have some idea.”

“Power,” he answered shortly.

“And what use would you make of that power?” Philip asked, with interest.

Matthew pressed down the tobacco in his pipe and smoked stolidly for a moment.

“I should like to fill a great place in the financial world,” he replied. “I should like to build up an immense business, sell it, buy other people’s businesses, sell them, and make money on every deal. I should like people to point to me in Lombard Street. I should like bank managers to come to me for advice and help. I should like to have it in my power to ruin whom I chose.”

“It is perfectly clear,” Philip declared, with a note of mockery in his tone so faint that neither of his companions noticed it, “that our task, Rosina, ought to be an easy one. You cannot mount many rungs of the ladder of your desire in Norchester, Matthew. We brought you out here this afternoon to tell you that Rosina and I intend to leave this place almost at once, and to ask you to join us.”

“Where are you going to?” Matthew asked.

“To London,” they answered in one breath.

“Have you told Uncle Benjamin?”

“We are going to tell him to-night,” Rosina replied. “We thought that if you decided to come too, you might help us. You seem to be able to talk to Uncle Benjamin better than we do.”

“How much money have you got?” Matthew enquired.

“Rosina has eighty-five pounds,” Philip answered, “and I have about a hundred and forty. You will have the hundred pounds that is coming to you to-night, and you have probably saved something.”

Matthew very nearly smiled. His Post-Office Savings Bank book had been his most treasured possession for the last five years.

“Nothing to speak of,” he declared shortly. “However, enough to put us on about level terms. I suppose the three of us could live together cheaper than separately. What are your plans?”

“Philip thought that he might secure a position in some publisher’s office until he can get some of his stories accepted,” Rosina explained. “Very likely, if he is a sensible publisher, he will want to publish them himself. After that, of course, it will be quite easy.”

“And you?”

“I shall eventually go on the stage,” Rosina announced, “only, as Philip thinks I am rather young just yet, I shall probably type his stories and work in an office for a little time. It is quite easy to make enough money to live on in London, if one is not extravagant.”

“Is it?” Matthew answered laconically.

There was a brief silence. Philip and Rosina watched their companion a little anxiously. In a way, although they had lived under the same roof since childhood, they were conscious of a certain aloofness between them and him. He represented different things. Yet, when it came to breaking away from such home as they had possessed, and facing the world under new and strange conditions, they felt somehow that there were certain qualities about Matthew which engendered confidence. His very self-reliance, his almost arrogant belief in himself, were infectious. They had no thought of any actual assistance from him. Their only idea was that life was likely to prove more easy, and its problems more readily faced, if he were at hand. Matthew, smoking stolidly on, and gazing with unseeing eyes towards the distant moorland, was weighing the matter slowly in his mind. Were these two likely to be an encumbrance to him? He almost smiled at the thought. He knew very well that he would never permit any one in life to become that. To break away from Norchester alone, at that moment, might have its embarrassments. Their leaving would provide him with a reasonable excuse. And then there was another thing–just a feeling–something he was never likely to give way to, or allow to come between himself and his interests, but which still, in its bald, unlovely way, existed. He turned his head and suffered himself to look at Rosina. She had relapsed for a moment into her old position, and was lying on her back, her eyes watching the slow, upward flight of a lark already high above the tree tops. She was slim, thin almost, with the immaturity of youth, but, although Matthew knew nothing of beauty, he saw the promise of her almost perfect young body. He realised that the pallor of her cheeks had nothing to do with ill health. He even found pleasure in watching the curve of her full but delicate lips, and the specks of gold which the sun seemed to find in her crumpled hair. It was a feeling, he told himself, which he would never allow to come between him and complete success. Yet one must live whilst one climbed the ladder.

“Yes,” he decided, “I will come. We will make a start together, at any rate.”

“Good fellow!” Philip exclaimed enthusiastically.

“Bless you!” Rosina murmured, smiling at him delightfully. “I can’t tell you how glad I am.”

“When did you think of telling Uncle Benjamin?” Matthew enquired.

“After supper to-night,” Rosina answered. “We don’t want to wait another day. I have been thinking of escape until I feel absolutely on fire with impatience. Fancy, both of you, no more of that horrible Norchester! No more walking through those hideous streets and working in that hateful factory! No more of those ghastly visits to the tradespeople, with Harriet grumbling at everything, trying to beat them down in price until they look as though they’d like to ask us to leave the place! No more chapel, no more prayers morning and night! Oh, I suppose it’s ungrateful, but there never was a colder house in this world than Uncle Benjamin’s. I don’t think the sun has ever shone into a single corner of it. If I stayed there much longer, I should die.”

Matthew rose slowly to his feet.

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