The Usurper - William J. Locke - ebook

The Usurper ebook

William J. Locke

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Opis

The Usurper is an affair with two heroes and two heroines. The double plot of love and ambition, in which fate. four intersect each other. The romance of the poet who dies young, loved by all men and women, is very cute. moving. But a greater interest in the book is to find out the life and character of Jasper Wellacot: a millionaire who is so amazingly flabbergasted in his wealth, a philanthropist who is almost ashamed of his good deeds.

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Liczba stron: 437

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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 I

It was at the opening by Royalty of the new General Hospital which his munificence had provided for the suburb of North Ham that they first met.

Jasper Vellacot’s eye caught her slender figure and kind, serene face as soon as she drove up with the Member for the borough and his wife, and he wondered who she was. In his character of host, he stood at the top of the flight of steps down which ran the conventional strip of red baize, and received his guests. Over the shoulders of the preceding arrivals he watched her approach, curiously interested. He shook hands with the Member and his wife, and was introduced to their companion. He did not catch her name, and before he could say anything intelligible, the Mayor, gorgeous in robe and chain, mounted the steps, and she passed on. After that the Royalties arrived, and henceforward he was in close attendance upon them; but at intervals his glance wandered over the well-dressed crowd and rested upon the woman, and the sight of her gave him a queer sense of relief. Once or twice he met her eyes, and fancied he read in them a reciprocal look of interest, half grave, half humorous. He began to chafe under the constraint, to wish that he could escape from the gracious compliments of the Personages and the circumambient odour of flattery, and talk quietly with her. She seemed to hold out a promise of restfulness.

Up to now he had been keenly interested in the hospital. It was to be the most perfect institution of its kind that modern science could devise. The densely populated, grimy suburb with its thousands of workmen’s dwellings, its works and gas factories, had to send its maimed and its sick whom the inadequate local infirmary could not accommodate to one of the great London hospitals, miles away. His gift, therefore, was of incalculable value. He had taken an almost childish delight in watching it grow up, brick by brick, from the great concrete-filled excavation in the midst of a ragged piece of waste ground to a noble block of buildings in a pleasant garden. He had familiarised himself with its infinite details,–the ingenious intricacies of plan; the complicated ventilation system, worked by fans in subterranean regions; the electrical installation; the shoots for soiled linen; the laundries; the operating theatres with the latest inventions in glazed-tiled walls and in antiseptic appliances; the countless new devices for saving labour or securing hygienic conditions. He had come there that day full of pride in his hospital, in the enthusiastic group of physicians and surgeons who welcomed him, in the staff of nurses in their snowy caps and aprons. He had even surmounted his repugnance to the glaring publicity of the opening ceremony. But now he felt a too familiar sense of weariness. He seemed to be moving in a world of importunate shadows, to be himself almost an unreality. It grew hateful to stand there and play the part of Philanthropist and Public Benefactor. The suave tones of Erskine, the eminent architect, explaining arrangements, as he conducted the royal party over the building, began to strike painfully on his nerves. Instinctively he looked around for the woman, saw her at the further end of the ward, and felt foolishly comforted. He speculated on her age. A little over thirty, he thought. Who was she? Sir Samuel Dykes, the Member, happened to be by his side. He put the question, and learned that she was Lady Alicia Harden, daughter of the Earl of Illingham.

The proceedings drew to a close. There were a few speeches. The title-deeds were formally handed over to the Mayor and Corporation. The hospital was declared open, and the Royalties, after graciously drinking tea, drove away with great bouquets of flowers, through the lines of humbler spectators who cheered them as they passed.

Guests and officials crowded round the donor of the hospital, offering congratulations. He spoke little; his attitude was deprecatory, and he had not the manner of one accustomed to large social gatherings. He did not seem to concern himself as to the impression he made on others. His pale blue eyes, hidden deep behind overhanging brows, looked on every newcomer with a queer timorousness, as if he were uncertain whether the hand outstretched would greet or smite him. The superficial went away saying that Jasper Vellacot was a limp creature, with no individuality. But his mouth, long and flexible and firmly pursed, and his long sensitive chin gave evidence of character, and the rugged lines on forehead and cheeks spoke of cares and past struggles. He was still a young man, scarcely forty, but he looked older. He wore the conventional frock coat and silk hat, but his clothes had an unfashionable cut. He had a Sundayfied appearance, seemed constrained in unfamiliar garments. In figure he was tall and spare, and he had a slight stoop in his shoulders. No one would have suspected him of being a man of boundless wealth and the originator of vast philanthropic schemes.

He moved, with a small knot of men with whom he was talking, from the vestibule into the Board Room, where a polite crowd scrambled for tea. And there, near the entrance, stood Lady Alicia Harden. In her eyes, as they met his, was the same half grave, half humorous look of interest. He felt irresistibly drawn to her. Overcoming a natural shyness, he turned aside from his companions.

“I hope you have had some tea?” he said enquiringly.

“Oh yes, thanks, one of your nice blue and white china nurses has been attending to me,” said the lady, with a smile. There was a noticeable pause. Then, as he remained standing in front of her pathetically helpless, the smile on her lips mounted very pleasantly to her eyes, and she continued,–

“I have been wanting to meet you for a long time, Mr. Vellacot. I am sure you did not catch my name when Sir Samuel introduced us. I am Lady Alicia Harden.”

“I didn’t hear,” said he, “but I enquired and learned afterwards.”

“I scarcely know whether you have heard of me before,” said the lady, “but my desire to meet you is quite a year old. I have never had the chance of even seeing you till now.”

He thought she had the kindest hazel eyes and the tenderest voice in the world. Her light brown hair fell in soft waves over a high forehead, thus modifying by a subtle touch her appearance of a woman of the world. For a moment the crowd vanished, the hum of talk and the clatter of china died away, and he was conscious of nothing but the sweet smiling face before him. Words formulated themselves somewhere in the back of his brain.

“She is the one woman on the earth for me,” they ran, and they repeated themselves quickly and foolishly. His eyes lost their timorousness and grew bright.

“I am a happier man than I had realised,” said he.

“Why?” she laughed. “Because you have escaped me for a year?”

“Because of your interest in me,” he rejoined quickly. “I hope you won’t lose it now that I have had the pleasure of meeting you.”

“A man in your position must have many people anxious to meet him,–people with beautiful axes they want him to help them grind. How do you know I am not one of those, Mr. Vellacot?”

He smiled, and Lady Alicia was almost startled at the change that came over the man’s face. It was like a wave of sunshine passing over a rugged bit of rock.

“I can see the axes hidden under their jackets afar off,” said he. “Every kind of animal is gifted with an instinct that warns him of the approach of his natural enemy. In your case I have been wanting to talk to you all the afternoon. I really have,” he added, with a quick return to simple earnestness.

“While you were basking in the smiles of Royalty?”

“I am not used to this sort of thing,” he replied with a vague gesture, “and I feel as if I were enjoying the smiles under false pretences. I can’t explain. I should greatly have preferred to open the hospital myself quietly,–to have come down alone and received the first patients transferred from the infirmary.”

“You can’t expect to escape from the vulgarities of the age,” said Lady Alicia. “All we can do is to try to render them less vulgar. You hate advertisement, and so do I; but we have to endure it. The whole world clamours for it, and we can’t withstand the world, can we? I see Lady Dykes signalling to me that she is going. I am so sorry. I wonder if I dare ask you to come and see me? My desire to meet you is my excuse.”

“I should be delighted,” said he.

“I will send you a card then. Where shall I address it to?”

“I live in Gower Street,” said he.

“Gower Street?” exclaimed Lady Alicia, involuntarily; then she bit her lip and flushed, realising her little breach of good manners. But it was an astounding address for the possessor of many millions.

He smiled one of his rare smiles. “I am not in lodgings there,” he said. “I do have the whole house; in fact, I have two knocked into one. It suits me. I am fond of that part of London. My friend Erskine, the architect here, once said that there was a Greek feeling all over Bloomsbury; I suppose he meant that it was restful. Besides, Gower Street is near the Underground and the omnibus routes, so it’s very convenient. Perhaps I oughtn’t to live in Gower Street, but I can’t help it.”

“You must forgive my rudeness,” said she, holding out her hand, “and come and see me in proof of pardon.”

Sir Samuel and Lady Dykes having passed out into the vestibule, the two followed them slowly. Jasper felt prouder, as he walked by her side, than he had done all day. She was more royal than any of the Personages. She had a stately way of holding her head. He noticed that her ears were very small and delicate. She had also a frank way of looking at the world.

She glanced round the spacious vestibule. Through an open door was seen one of the sunlit wards with its long vista of white beds.

“Noble work like this must make you very happy,” she said.

He regarded her wistfully.

“It’s good for a man to do what he considers to be his duty. But happiness–”

He broke off, not knowing what to say, scarcely aware of what he wanted to express. He could not tell her that these few moments had been delicious. Nor could he explain the burden of his wealth. It would have been easy to quote King Solomon, but he was far from the phase of existence in which all things are vanity.

“It is happiness to hear you praise my hospital,” he said after a pause.

“I do praise it very much,” she remarked decisively. “And now that I am going let me remind you that you have never asked why I wanted so to meet you.”

“I never thought of it.”

“Nor why I asked you on ten minutes’ acquaintance to come and see me?”

“No,” said he, simply.

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