The Survivor - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Survivor ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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A striking romantic novel of 1913 of a young Englishman’s uphill fight. Douglas Guest is an orphan, raised by a stern, religious, and uncompromising uncle, Gideon Strong, in the North of England. His uncle orders him to marry his cousin and take up the post of cleric in their small town but he confronts his uncle, takes money which was intended for his education, and escapes to London. On the train, he meets the beautiful Countess Emily de Reuss, who takes an interest in him. Douglas has aspirations to be a writer in London but is frustrated when no publisher will buy his work. Emily has spread the word that no one should support him. Meanwhile, his uncle is found murdered, and his two cousins, Cicely and Jane, have come to London to find the murderer.

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Liczba stron: 332

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Contents

I. THE SERMON THAT WAS NEVER PREACHED

II. A STRANGE BETROTHAL

III. THE MAN WHO WAS IN A HURRY

IV. EXIT MR. DOUGLAS GUEST

V. HOW THE ADDRESS WAS LOST

VI. THE YOUNG MAN FROM THE COUNTRY HEARS SOME NEWS

VII. A NIGHT IN HELL—AND NEXT DAY

VIII. THE AUTHOR OF "NO MAN'S LAND"

IX. THE EDITOR OF THE IBEX RECEIVES A STRANGE LETTER

X. A WOMAN OF WHIMS

XI. DOUGLAS GUEST GETS HIS "CHANCE"

XII. THE MAN WHO NEARLY WENT UNDER

XIII. THE FIRST TASTE OF FAME

XIV. A VISITOR FROM SCOTLAND YARD

XV. EMILY DE REUSS TELLS A LIE

XVI. JOAN STRONG, AVENGER

XVII. A PLAIN QUESTION AND A WARNING

XVIII. THE TASTE OF THE LOTUS

XIX. A MAN WITHOUT A PAST

XX. CICELY ASKS A QUESTION

XXI. THE REBELLION OF DREXLEY

XXII. DREXLEY SPEAKS OUT

XXIII. CICELY'S SECRET

XXIV. THE COUNTESS, THE COUSIN, AND THE CRITIC

XXV. A TRAGIC INTERRUPTION

XXVI. A VISITOR FOR DOUGLAS JESSON

XXVII. FELLOW-CRIMINALS

XXVIII. THE LITTLE FIGURE IN BLACK

XXIX. JOAN STRONG FINDS HER BROTHER

XXX. DAVID AND JOAN

XXXI. DREXLEY FORESEES DANGER

XXXII. A SUPPER AT THE "MILAN," AND A MEETING

XXXIII. A MISUNDERSTANDING

XXXIV. THE WOOING OF CICELY

XXXV. THE NET OF JOAN'S VENGEANCE

XXXVI. A SCENE AT THE CLUB

XXXVII. CICELY MAKES HER CHOICE

XXXVIII. "SHE WAS A WOMAN: I WAS A COWARD!"

XXXIX. A JOURNEY—AND A WEDDING

XL. A CALL BEFORE THE CURTAIN

I. THE SERMON THAT WAS NEVER PREACHED

A little party of men and women on bicycles were pushing their machines up the steep ascent which formed the one street of Feldwick village. It was a Sunday morning, and the place was curiously empty. Their little scraps of gay conversation and laughter–they were men and women of the smart world–seemed to strike almost a pagan note in a deep Sabbatical stillness. They passed the wide open doors of a red brick chapel, and several of the worshippers within turned their heads. As the last two of the party went by, the wheezings of a harmonium ceased, and a man’s voice came travelling out to them. The lady rested her hand upon her host’s arm. “Listen,” she whispered.

Her host, Lord of the Manor, Lord Lieutenant of the County, and tenth Earl of Cumberland, paused readily enough and leaned his machine against a kerbstone. Bicycling was by no means a favourite pursuit of his, and the morning for the time of year was warm.

“Dear lady,” he murmured, “shall we go a little nearer and listen to the words of grace? Anything for a short rest.”

She leaned her own bicycle against the wall. From where she was she could catch a sideway glimpse of a tall, slight figure standing up before the handful of people.

“I should like to go inside,” she said, indifferently. “Would they think it an intrusion?”

“Certainly not,” he answered, with visions of a chair before him. “As a matter of fact, I have a special invitation to become a member of that flock–temporarily, at any rate.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“The land here” he answered, “is not entailed, and they are very anxious to buy this little bit and own their chapel. I had a letter from a worthy farmer and elder, Gideon Strong, on the matter yesterday. He wound up by expressing a wish that I might join them in their service one morning. This is their service, and here we are. Come!”

They crossed the street, and, to the obvious amazement of the little congregation, stood in the doorway. A gaunt shepherd, with weather-marked face and knotted fingers, handed them clumsily a couple of chairs. Some of the small farmers rose and made a clumsy obeisance to their temporal lord. Gideon Strong, six feet four, with great unbent shoulders, and face as hard and rugged as iron, frowned them down, and showed no signs of noticing his presence. Elsewhere he would have been one of the first, proud man though he was, to stand bareheaded before the owner of his farm and half a county, but in the house of God, humble little building though it was, he reckoned all men equal.

Praying silently before them, on the eve of his first sermon, a young man was kneeling. He had seen nothing of these newcomers, but of a sudden as he knelt there, his thoughts and sensations in strange confusion, himself half in revolt against what lay before him, there floated up the little aisle an exquisite perfume of crushed violets, and he heard the soft rustling of a gown which was surely worn by none of those who were gathered together to listen to him. He opened his eyes involuntarily, and met the steady gaze of the lady whose whim it had been to enter the place.

He had never seen her before, nor any one like her. Yet he felt that, in her presence, the task which lay before him had become immeasurably more difficult. She was a type to him of all those things, the memory of which he had been strenuously trying to put away from him, the beautiful, the worldly, the joyous. As he rose slowly to his feet, he looked half despairingly around. It was a stern religion which they loved, this handful of weatherbeaten farmers and their underlings. Their womenkind were made as unlovely as possible, with flat hair, sombre and ill-made clothes. Their surroundings were whitewashed and text-hung walls, and in their hearts was the love for narrow ways. He gave out his text slowly and with heavy heart. Then he paused, and, glancing once more round the little building, met again the soft, languid fire of those full dark eyes. This time he did not look away. He saw a faint interest, a slight pity, a background of nonchalance. His cheeks flushed, and the fire of revolt leaped through his veins. He shut up the Bible and abandoned his carefully prepared discourse, in which was a mention of hellfire and many gloomy warnings, which would have brought joy to the heart of Gideon Strong, and to each of which he would slowly and approvingly have nodded his head. He delivered instead, with many pauses, but in picturesque and even vivid language, a long and close account of the miracle with which his text was concerned. In the midst of it there came from outside the tinkling of many bicycle bells–the rest of the party had returned in search of their host and his companion. The Earl looked up with alacrity. He was nicely rested now, and wanted a cigarette.

“Shall we go?” he whispered.

She nodded and rose. At the door she turned for a moment and looked backwards. The preacher was in the midst of an elaborate and painstaking sifting of evidence as to the season of the year during which this particular miracle might be supposed to have taken place. Again their eyes met for a moment, and she went out into the sunlight with a faint smile upon her lips, for she was a woman who loved to feel herself an influence, and she was swift to understand. To her it was an episode of the morning’s ride, almost forgotten at dinner-time. To him it marked the boundary line between the old things and the new.

II. A STRANGE BETROTHAL

The room had all the chilly discomfort of the farmhouse parlour, unused, save on state occasions–a funereal gloom which no sunlight could pierce, a mustiness which savoured almost of the grave. One by one they obeyed the stern forefinger of Gideon Strong, and took their seats on comfortless chairs and the horse-hair sofa. First came John Magee, factor and agent to the Earl of Cumberland, a great man in the district, deacon of the chapel, slow and ponderous in his movements. A man of few words but much piety. After him, with some hesitation as became his lowlier station, came William Bull, six days in the week his master’s shepherd and faithful servant, but on the seventh an elder of the chapel, a person of consequence and dignity. Then followed Joan and Cicely Strong together, sisters in the flesh, but as far apart in kin and the spirit as the poles of humanity themselves. And lastly, Douglas Guest. At the head of his shining mahogany table, with a huge Bible before him on which rested the knuckle of one clenched hand, stood Gideon Strong, the master of Feldwick Hall Farm. It was at his bidding that these people had come together; they waited now for him to speak. His was no common personality. Neat in his dress, precise though local, with a curious mixture of dialects in his speech, he was feared by every man in Feldwick, whether he stood over them labouring or prayed amongst them in the little chapel, where every Sunday he took the principal place. He was well set-up for all his unusual height and seventy years, with a face as hard as the ancient rocks which jutted from the Cumberland hillside, eyes as keen and grey and merciless as though every scrap of humanity which might ever have lain behind them had long since died out. Just he reckoned himself and just he may have been, but neither man nor woman nor child had ever heard a kindly word fall from his lips. Children ran indoors as he passed, women ceased their gossiping, men slunk away from a friendly talk as though ashamed. If ever at harvest or Christmas time the spirit of good fellowship warmed the hearts of these country folk and loosened their tongues the grim presence of Gideon Strong was sufficient to check their merriment and send them silently apart. He had been known to pray that sinners might meet with the punishment they deserved, both in this world and hereafter. Such was Gideon Strong.

He cleared his throat and spoke, addressing the young man who sat on the corner of the horse-hair sofa, where the shadows of the room were darkest.

“Nephew Douglas,” he said, “to-day you ha’ come to man’s estate, and I ha’ summoned those here who will have to do wi’ your future to hear these few words. The charge of you left on my shoulders by your shiftless parents has been a heavy one, but to-day I am quit of it. The deacons of Feldwick chapel have agreed to appoint you their pastor, provided only that they be satisfied wi’ your discourse on the coming Sabbath. See to it, lad, that ‘ee preach the word as these good men and mysen have ever heard it. Let there be no new-fangled ideas in thy teachings, and be not vain of thy learning, for therein is vanity and trouble. Dost understand?”

“I understand,” the young man answered slowly, and without enthusiasm.

“Learning and godliness are little akin,” said John Magee, in his thin treble. “See to it, lad, that thou choosest the one which is of most account.”

“Ay, ay,” echoed the shepherd thickly. “Ay, ay!” Douglas Guest answered nothing. A sudden light had flashed in his dark eyes, and his lips had parted. But almost at the same moment Gideon Strong stretched out his hand.

“Nephew Douglas,” he said. “I am becoming an old man, and to-day I will release myself from the burden of your affairs once and for all. This is the woman, my daughter Joan, whom I have chosen to wife for thee. Take her hand and let thy word be pledged to her.”

If silence still reigned in that gloomy apartment, it was because there were those present whom surprise had deprived of speech. The very image of her father, Joan looked steadily into her cousin’s face without tremor or nervousness. Her features were shapely enough, but too large and severe for a woman, her wealth of black hair was brushed flatback from her forehead in uncompromising ugliness. Her figure was as straight as a dart, but without lines or curves, her gown, of homely stuff and ill-made, completed her unattractiveness. There was neither blush nor tremor, nor any sign of softening in her cold eyes. Then Douglas, in whom were already sown the seeds of a passionate discontent with the narrowing lines of his unlovely life, who on the hillside and in the sweet night solitudes had taken Shelley to his heart, had lived with Keats and had felt his pulses beat thickly to the passionate love music of Tennyson, stood silent and unresponsive. Child of charity he might be, but the burden of his servitude was fast growing too heavy for him. So he stood there whilst the old man’s eyes flashed like steel, and Joan’s face, in her silent anger, seemed to grow into the likeness of her father’s.

“Dost hear, nephew Douglas? Take her hands in thine and thank thy God who has sent thee, a pauper and a youth of ill-parentage, a daughter of mine for wife.”

Then the young man found words, though they sounded to him and to the others faint and unimpressive.

“Uncle,” he said, “there has been no word of this nor any thought of it between Joan and myself. I am not old enough to marry nor have I the inclination.”

Terrible was the look flashed down upon him from those relentless eyes–fierce, too, the words of his reply, measured and slow although they were.

“There is no need for words between thee and Joan. Choose between my bidding and the outside o’ my doors this night and for ever.”

Even then he might have won his freedom like a man. But the old dread was too deeply engrafted. The chains of servitude which he and the whole neighbourhood wore were too heavy to be thrown lightly aside. So he held out his hand, and Joan’s fingers, passive and cold, lay for a moment in his. The old man watched without any outward sign of satisfaction.

“Thou ha’ chosen well, nephew Douglas,” he said, with marvellous but quite unconscious irony. “I reckon, too, that we ha’ chosen well to elect you our pastor. Thou wilt have two pounds a week and Bailiff Morrison’s cottage. Neighbour Magee, there is a sup o’ ale and some tea in the kitchen.”

John Magee and William Bull betrayed the first signs of real interest they had exhibited in the proceedings. One by one they all filed out of the room save Douglas Guest and Joan. Cicely had flitted away with the first. They two were alone. He wondered, with a grim sense of the humour of the thing, whether she was expecting any love-making to follow upon so strange an engagement. He looked curiously at her. There was no change in her face nor any sign of softening.

“I hope you will believe, Joan,” he said, taking up a book and looking for his place, “that I knew nothing of this, and that I am not in any way responsible for it.”

Her face seemed to darken as she rose and moved towards the door.

“I am sure of that,” she said, stiffly. “I do not blame you.”

*     *

*

Up into the purer, finer air of the hills–up with a lightening heart, though still carrying a bitter burden of despondency. Night rested upon the hilltops and brooded in the valleys. Below, the shadowy landscape lay like blurred patchwork–still he climbed upwards till Feldwick lay silent and sleeping at his feet and a flavour of the sea mingled with the night wind which cooled his cheeks. Then Douglas Guest threw himself breathless amongst the bracken and gazed with eager eyes downwards.

“If she should not come,” he murmured. “I must speak to some one or I shall go mad.”

Deeper fell the darkness, until the shape of the houses below was lost, and only the lights were visible. Such a tiny little circle they seemed. He watched them with swelling heart. Was this to be the end of his dreams, then? Bailiff Morrison’s cottage, two pounds a week, and Joan for his wife? He, who had dreamed of fame, of travel in distant countries, of passing some day into the elect of those who had written their names large in the book of life. His heart swelled in passionate revolt. Even though he might be a pauper, though he owed his learning and the very clothes in which he stood to Gideon Strong, had any man the right to demand so huge a sacrifice? He had spoken his mind and his wishes only to be crushed with cold contempt. To-day his answer had been given. What was it that Gideon Strong had said? “I have fed you and clothed you and taught you; I have kept you from beggary and made you what you are. Now, as my right, I claim your future. Thus and thus shall it be. I have spoken.”

He walked restlessly to and fro upon the windy hilltop. A sense of freedom possessed him always upon these heights. The shackles of Gideon Strong fell away. Food and clothing and education, these were great things to owe, but life was surely a greater, and life he owed to no man living–only to God. Was it a thing which he dared misuse?–fritter helplessly away in this time-forgotten corner of the earth? Life surely was a precious loan to be held in trust, to be made as full and deep and fruitful a thing as a man’s energy and talent could make it. To Gideon Strong he owed much, but it was a debt which surely could be paid in other ways than this.

He stopped short. A light footstep close at hand startled, then thrilled him. It was Cicely–hatless, breathless with the climb, and very fair to see in the faint half-lights. For Cicely, though she was Gideon Strong’s daughter, was not of Feldwick or Feldwick ways, nor were her gowns simple, though they were fashioned by a village dressmaker. She had lived all her life with distant relatives near London. Douglas had never seen her till two months ago, and her coming had been a curious break in the life at the farm.

He moved quickly to meet her. For a moment their hands met. Then she drew away.

“How good of you, Cicely,” he cried. “I felt that I must talk to some one or go mad.”

She stood for a moment recovering her breath–her bosom rising and falling quickly under her dark gown, a pink flush in her cheeks. Her hair, fair and inclined to curliness, had escaped bounds a little, and she brushed it impatiently back.

“I must only stay for a moment, Douglas,” she said, gravely. “Let us go down the hill by the Beacon. We shall be on the way home.”

They walked side by side in silence. Neither of them were wholly at their ease. A new element had entered into their intercourse. The wonderfully free spirit of comradeship which had sprung up between them since her coming, and which had been so sweet a thing to him, was for the moment, at least, interrupted.

“I want you to tell me, Douglas,” she said at last, “exactly how much of a surprise to-day has been to you.”

“It is easily done,” he answered. “Last night I went to your father. I tried to thank him as well as I was able for all that he has done for me. I then told him that with every respect for his wishes I did not feel myself prepared at present to enter the ministry. I showed him my diplomas and told him of my degrees. I told him what I wished–to become a schoolmaster, for a year or two, at any rate. Well, he listened to me in fixed silence. When I had finished he asked, ‘Is that all?’ I said, ‘Yes,’ and he turned his back upon me. ‘Your future is already provided for, Douglas,’ he said. ‘I will speak to you of it to-morrow.’ Then he walked away. That is all the warning I had.”

“And what about Joan?”

His face flushed hotly.

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