The Traitors - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Traitors ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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A best-selling author of novels, short stories, magazine articles, translations, and plays, Oppenheim published over 150 books. He is considered one of the originators of the thriller genre, his novels also range from spy thrillers to romance, but all have an undertone of intrigue. The tiny kingdom of Theos is surrounded by Eastern European powers in this 1902 novel of politics, war, and romance. Russia and Turkey are plotting to take over the peaceful and rural country. A short lived Republic has been treacherously betrayed by communist elements. The country turns to its exiled King, Ughtred of Tyrnaus, a prince who has been a soldier in Britain for 20 years. The prince is convinced by Baron Nicholas of Reist to return to Theos and be crowned. Continuous action, changing alliances, loyalty and betrayal are all in play.

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Liczba stron: 400

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Contents

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

CHAPTER XXXVII

CHAPTER XXXVIII

CHAPTER XXXIX

CHAPTER XL

CHAPTER XLI

CHAPTER XLII

CHAPTER XLIII

CHAPTER XLIV

CHAPTER XLV

CHAPTER XLVI

CHAPTER XLVII

CHAPTER XLVIII

CHAPTER XLIX

CHAPTER L

CHAPTER I

“Down with the traitors! Down with the Russian spies! Down with Metzger!”

Above the roaring of the north wind rose the clamour of voices, the cries of hate and disgust, the deep groaning sobs of fierce and militant anger. The man and the woman exchanged quick glances.

“They are coming nearer,” he said.

She drew aside the heavy curtain, and stood there, looking out into the night.

“It is so,” she answered. “They are pouring into the square.”

He rose and stood beneath the great carved mantelpiece. Over his head, hewn out of the solid oak, black with age and coloured with that deep richness which is to-day as a lost art, were blazoned the arms of one of Europe’s noblest families. He, Nicholas of Reist, its sole male representative, stood deep in thought, his dark young face furrowed with anxiety. The moment was critical. It was one of a lifetime.

She dropped the curtain and came over to his side. The flush of excitement was in her cheeks. Her eyes were like shining stars. Of their close relationship there could be no manner of doubt. The same oval face and finely-cut features, the same pride of race, the same firm, graceful bearing. Only there were lines upon his face–the lines of thought and care; whilst hers remained as smooth as damask, typically and wonderfully beautiful.

Again the murmur of hoarse voices–nearer now and more clamorous.

“Down with the traitor Metzger and his accursed government! Reist! Reist! A Reist!”

Her white fingers fell upon his shoulder.

“They are calling for you, Nicholas,” she said, softly. “Listen! It is the voice of our people, and they need you. Will you go out and speak to them? Shall I open the window–yes?”

“Not yet,” he answered, swiftly. “Not yet.”

Her hands were already upon the curtains. She turned around, an impatient frown upon her face.

“You do not hesitate, my brother,” she cried. “No, it is not possible. It is our country, Nicholas, our homeland which calls for you to save it.”

“Ay, to save it–but how? Metzger has made the way difficult.”

Her eyes flashed fire upon him. She was superbly disdainful.

“Are you the first Duke of Reist who has governed Theos?” she cried. “Is there not the blood of former Kings in your veins? Holy Mother, but it is intolerable that you should hesitate! Nicholas, if you let these people call in vain you will be the first of our race who has ever shrunk from his duty. I will not call you any longer my brother. Listen!”

“Reist! Nicholas of Reist! Down with the common dogs. Down with the traitors. Down with Metzger!”

He smiled faintly. Those subtle lines about his mouth were not there in vain.

“I wonder where Metzger is hiding,” he murmured. “How good it would be to see him now. How he would quiver and shake. There is death in those voices.”

She flashed a look of impatient scorn upon him.

“You are trifling with your destiny, Nicholas,” she cried. “What matters the life or death of such as Metzger? Our people need you. Out and tell the men of Theos that once again a Reist will save his country.”

“Brave words, little sister. Brave words.”

Her eyes were ablaze with anger.

“Have I been mistaken in you all these years, Nicholas?” she cried. “Listen again. Those are the children of your city who call to you for aid. Have you no longer the heart of a man or the blood of a patriot?”

A storm of wind and rain shook the high windows. From below came the sound of a multitude thronging nearer and nearer till the square seemed filled to overflowing with a surging mob. The man raised his head as one who listens, and the smile no longer lightened his face. The woman who watched him anxiously drew a long sigh of relief. She knew then beyond a doubt that it needed no words from her to fire his resolution.

“Marie,” he said, quietly, “those are the voices which I have prayed all my life that I might hear. Only I fear that they have come too soon. Have you considered what it is that they would have from me?”

“They would make you lord of the country,” she cried. “Who better or more fitted? Have no fear, Nicholas. You come of a race of rulers. The God of our fathers will guide your destiny.”

The room, huge, unlit and darkened with tapestry hangings, seemed full of mysterious shadows. Only those two faces–the girl’s passionate, the man’s keenly thoughtful–seemed like luminous things. From below came still the murmur of voices rising every now and then to a hoarse roar. The man became suddenly explicit. His face relaxed. He came back from a far-away land of thought.

“Listen,” he said. “These people have come to put me in Metzger’s place. There would be no difficulty about that. Already I have received a message from the House of Laws. Bah! I have no stomach to sit in council with tradesmen and citizens, to have my will questioned, to rule only by a casting vote. These modern forms of government are vile. They would make me President of their Republic–I, a Reist of Theos, whose forefathers ruled the land with sword and fire. They would put me in the place of Metzger, the merchant–Metzger, who would have sold his country to the Russians. I say no!”

“What, then?” she cried. “What, then? Speak, Nicholas. There are thoughts behind. Who but I should know them?”

“When I rule Theos,” he answered, slowly, “it shall be even as the Dukes of Reist have ruled it before me, with a sceptre in their hands, and a sword upon their knees. That time is not yet, Marie, but it may come. I think that you and I will see it.”

“Why not now?” she cried. “The people would accept you on any terms. The Republic has fallen. You shall be their King.”

He shook his head.

“The time is not yet,” he repeated. “Marie, believe me, I know my people. In their blood lingers still some taint of the democratic fever. You must learn, little sister, as I have learned it, the legend on our walls and shield, the motto of our race, ‘Slowly, but ever forward.’”

“But the people,” she cried. “What will you say to them? It is you whom they want. Their throats are hoarse with shouting.”

He threw open the great windows, and a roar of welcome from below rose high above the storm.

“You shall hear what I will say to them, Marie,” he answered. “Come out by my side.”

CHAPTER II

Almost as the man stepped out on to the massive stone balcony of his house, the wind dropped, and a red flaring sun dipped behind the towering mountains which guarded the city westwards and eastwards. A roar of greeting welcomed his appearance, and while he waited for silence his eyes rested fondly upon the long line of iron-bound hills, stern and silent guardians of the city of his birth. For a moment he forgot his ambitions and the long unswerving pursuit of his great desire. The love of his country was born in the man–the better part of him was steeped in patriotic fervour. And most of all, he loved this ancient city amongst the hills, the capital of the State, where many generations of his family had lived and died. Dear to him were its squares and narrow streets, the ancient stone houses, the many picturesque records of its great age ever, as it seemed to him, frowning with a stern and magnificent serenity amongst the tawdry evidences of later days and the irresistible march of modernity. The wine-shops of a hundred years ago flourished still side by side with the more pretentious cafés, half French, half Russian, which had sprung up like mushrooms about the city. The country-made homespuns, the glassware and metal work, heritage of generations of craftsmen, survived still the hideous competition of cheap Lancashire productions and Brummagem ware. The picturesque old fought a brave battle with the tinsel and tawdriness of the new. If Nicholas of Reist could have had his way he would have built an impenetrable wall against this slow poison, the unwelcome heritage of western progress. He would have thrust the ages back a century and built bulwarks about his beloved country. He looked downwards, and his heart grew warm within him. Many of the people who shouted his name were from the country districts and wore the picturesque garb of their forefathers long extinct in the city. The sight of their eager, upturned faces was dear to him. Some day they should be his people indeed. It should be his country to rule as he thought best. He felt himself at that moment a patriot pure and simple.

So he spoke to them in that clear, sweet voice which every Reist possessed, and he spoke fluently and convincingly.

“My fellow-countrymen,” he said, “these are not days for those who love their country to waste breath in idle speech. Your Republic of which you were so proud has fallen. Metzger has proved himself a traitor. Well, I am not surprised at either of these things. I warned you, but you would not listen. Your ancient Kings must indeed have turned in their graves when you elected to be ruled by such men. You have tried them, and you have been betrayed. What would you have with me?”

“A new government,” they cried. “A Reist for President!”

He raised his hand. The roar of voices died away at once.

“You would put me,” he said, “in Metzger’s place. You would make me President of the Republic of Theos. Is that what you would have?”

“Ay! Ay!” from a thousand tongues. Then there was a breathless silence. They waited in deep anxiety for the answer of this man whom they had come to look upon as their one possible saviour.

For awhile he stood there speechless, deep in thought. After all, was he not throwing away a certainty for what might prove an empty dream? There had been Presidents who had become Dictators, and between that and Monarchy the chasm was narrow and easily bridged. It was not for long, however, that he wavered. His plans were too carefully thought out to be changed by an impulse, however powerful. His time was not yet.

“My people,” he said quietly, “I thank you, and I am sorry that what you ask may not be. It is not because I do not love my country, it is not because I would not shed my last drop of blood in her defence. But President of your Republic I never will be. No earthly power should draw my footsteps across the threshold of your brand-new Parliament.”

There arose a deep murmur of disappointment–almost of despair. They shouted questions, appeals, prayers, and Nicholas of Reist leaned far over his time-worn stone balcony and spoke to them again.

“You are questioning my patriotism,” he cried. “You do not understand. Very well, you shall know all that is in my mind. I am going to say what will sound like treason to you. Perhaps you will shout me down–it may be that you will leave me now in disgust. Nevertheless, listen. I hate your Republic. It is a rotten, corrupt thing. I hate what you have called your Parliament. There is scarcely a man in it whom I would trust. What has your new-fangled scheme of government done for you? It has made you the sport and plaything of the Powers, our independence is hourly threatened, ay, even before this year has passed away the cannon of the invader may be thundering against your walls. When that time comes I promise that you shall not call to me in vain. You shall find me amongst you sword in hand, and I pray God that I may do my duty as a patriot and a faithful son of the State. But this thing which you ask of me now I will not do. I will not take my seat at the same table with those who have helped Metzger to traffic in the freedom of this country. I will not speak with or have any dealing with them. How is it that you have dared to ask me this thing, men of Theos? Already the war beacons are built–soon they may be reddening our skies. This is what your Republic has done for you, and as God is my witness, so long as that Republic exists I will not lift my little finger to help you.”

Something of a panic seized the people, for indeed the words of the speaker had come home to them, winged with a foretelling truth. Metzger, their President, had been caught red-handed in a flagrant attempt to barter away the freedom of their country. Who else might not be implicated? They looked at one another fearfully. One feeling alone was common to all. Before them was the only man whom they could trust–one of their ancient nobility, a patriot, above suspicion. He had more to say. They would take him on his own terms. So once more the air was rent with their cries, and Nicholas of Reist raised again his hand.

“Listen,” he said. “You want my advice. You have come to me because the State is in danger, and because those who should have defended it have played you false. So be it! I speak to you as man to man, citizen of Theos to citizen of Theos. No Republic can save you. It is a King you want.”

A deep, hoarse murmur swept upwards from the packed square. The Republic had been their plaything, the caprice of an impulsive people, and they were loth to own themselves in the wrong. Nicholas of Reist read their faces like a book. Now or never must he win his way from this people, or fall forever from their regard. His pale countenance was lit with a passionate earnestness. He leaned towards them, and his voice throbbed with tremulous eloquence.

“Listen,” he cried. “You have had a Parliament and a President–Metzger. What glories has he won for you?–how has he enriched you, how much more prosperous is our country? I will tell you what he has done. He has tried to sell you and Theos for a million pounds. Oh, I am not afraid to tell you the truth, though one of you should shoot me whilst I stand here. Theos was to become a tributary state to Russia. Your country, which has defied conquest for a thousand years, was to be bartered away that one man might live in luxury on his miserable blood-money. Men of Theos, turn over the back pages of your country’s history. Think of those heroes who gave their lives that you might be free men. Think of King Rudolph, who vanquished all the hosts of Austria, or King Ughtred, who drove the Turks back across the Balkans in midwinter, and with five thousand ill-armed men routed the whole army of the Sultan. Remember Rudolph the Second, who defended this very city for twelve months against fifty thousand Turks, until for very shame England held up her hand and all Europe rang with the gallantry of our King and his little band of half-starved soldiers. Leave Republics to nations who have no past, and whose souls are steeped in commerce. What have we to do with them? We have a magnificent history, an ancient and glorious country. We have soldiers, few perhaps, but matchless throughout the world. And men of Theos, listen. Metzger has gone far in his treachery. I know nothing of your State affairs, but this I do know. The covetousness of those with whom he dealt is whetted. They are not likely to bear their disappointment quietly. Before many months have passed the storm may burst–the war beacons may be flaring round our borders. So I say to you, have no more dealings with Republics. Scatter your Parliament to the four winds of Heaven, summon back your ancient House of Laws, choose for yourselves a soldier King, one of the ancient and royal race, who shall rule you as his forefathers did in times of peace, and ride before you with drawn sword when the war clouds gather.”

The babel of many voices broke loose. Reist felt his sister’s fingers close upon his arm.

“It is you who must be their King, Nicholas.”

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