The Way of These Women - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Way of These Women ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Opis

England has not been invited to attend a conference of European nations in the Hague. Some think war is about to break out. „The Vanished Messenger” presents the international intrigue and conspiracy of the Powers against England to separate her from her colonies. Mr. John P. Dunster, an American, is traveling to the Hague with an important document that may prevent the outbreak of war when he mysteriously disappears after a train wreck in England. Richard Hamel is asked by the British government to attempt to solve the mystery of Dunster’s disappearance and prevent the outbreak of war in Europe. Intriguing spy novel with a murder, espionage and dramatic denouement – nicely plotted and fully developed characters.

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Liczba stron: 463

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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 I

There were only three passengers who alighted at Wickombe Annerley station from the five-thirty train. Two of them were, however, in their way, people of consequence. From the first-class smoking carriage next the engine stepped Henry Aynesworth, Marquis of Lakenham, six foot two and a half, broad and burly, with features stained by the suns of tropical countries and coarsened by a career of excesses so regrettably flagrant that, notwithstanding the remains of his fortune and his ancient name, he was heard of more often in the circles of Bohemia than in the great world to which by birth he belonged. He wore a light flannel suit, and a straw hat adorned with the colors of a noted cricket club. He was smoking a large cigar, and he stood by while his servant collected his belongings, watching the proceedings with an air of prosperous arrogance wholly and objectionably British. He was forty-two years of age and he looked older. He had a ruddy brown complexion, a stiff, fair mustache and a heavy jaw. His eyes were a little watery but his carriage still retained traces of his soldier training. His voice was always raised a note or two louder than was actually necessary.

“Anything here from Annerley Court?” he asked the station-master.

A long-coated footman who was on his way to the other end of the platform paused and touched his hat.

“The motor is here, my lord,” he said. “Sir Jermyn did not expect you, I think, until the later train. We had orders to meet the half-past seven.”

“Changed my mind at the last moment,” Lord Lakenham declared. “Fact is, it was so hot in town I was glad to get away. Have you come to meet any one else?”

“A young lady, sir,” the footman replied, edging off.

“Well, there’ll be room for me, I dare say,” the Marquis remarked. “What’s Sir Jermyn doing today? Cricket, eh?”

“Sir Jermyn is playing against Yorkshire, my lord. The match should be over in good time.”

The Marquis nodded and strolled towards the exit. The footman hurried to the other end of the platform, where two young ladies were standing in front of a small pile of luggage, from which a maid was collecting their belongings. The younger one was only a child, with fair, freckled face, rather a large mouth, and a very earnest expression. Her elder sister–there was no mistaking their relationship–was exceedingly dainty and charming. Her eyes were a trifle dark for her complexion, her hair fair and wavy, her complexion pale but flawless. She was dressed in the smartest of white linen traveling gowns, with white silk stockings and black shoes. Her voice when she addressed the footman, to whom her sister had called her attention, was singularly soft.

“Are you from Annerley Court?” she inquired.

The footman touched his hat.

“Yes, miss,” he answered. “Sir Jermyn desired me to present his compliments and to say that he was exceedingly sorry he was not able to come to the station. He said that he would explain immediately upon your arrival. He hopes to be at the Court as soon as we are. There is a cart waiting for the luggage and for your maid, and a motor for you and the gentleman, miss.”

For the first time she glanced down the platform and noticed the disappearing form of her fellow passenger.

“There is some one else going to Annerley Court, then?”

The footman, who was assisting with the baggage, turned around for a moment.

“Yes, miss,” he replied. “Lord Lakenham has arrived by the same train.”

The footman was now entirely intent upon superintending the removal of the luggage, and incidentally ingratiating himself with the young lady’s maid, of whose appearance he approved. The station-master had escorted his distinguished arrival to the motorcar, the solitary porter was busy hoisting luggage to the top of the luggage cart, and the child had wandered off to admire the roses in the station-master’s garden. It was a little country station on a branch line, with a row of white palings, a single seat, a tiny shed, and on the other side of the single line of metals, a thick wood. There was no one there to witness what, in its way, was almost a tragedy. The girl, whom an entire press and a not ungenerous profession had done their best to spoil, had forgotten to act. She stood quite still, gazing at the faint line of smoke which marked the track of the departing train as though it were carrying away her last hope. All the soft, delicate girlishness of her features seemed to have vanished. Her mouth was set, her eyes distended with fear. There was no one of her admirers who would have recognized her at that moment. All the little color which she possessed seemed to have been drawn from her face, all the life and lissome grace to have passed from her limbs. As the departing train vanished around the distant curve, she gazed about her wildly, as though seeking for some way of escape. She shrank as though instinctively away from the little shed outside which the motor-car was waiting.

“The luggage is quite all right, madame,” the footman announced, turning round. “If you and the young lady will be so good as to follow me?”

The child, who had clambered up the white palings, sprang lightly down.

“Aren’t you glad it’s a car, Sybil?” she exclaimed. “It will be just lovely riding in the open air after that stuffy train. Come along.”

The young lady to whom she appealed nerved herself for an effort. She let fall her traveling veil of white gauze and with her hand in her sister’s followed the footman down the platform, through the wooden shed and out into the little circular space where a very handsome motor-car was waiting for them. Lord Lakenham, who was standing by its side, raised his hat. He was in one of his very best moods, for he threw away his cigar.

“We are to be fellow passengers to Annerley Court, I hear,” he said. “May I introduce myself? My name is Lakenham. Will you allow me?”

She stepped into the car with a slight inclination of the head. For a moment or two Lord Lakenham seemed to forget his manners. The child passed by him unaided. He stood as though turned to stone, staring at the half-concealed countenance of the young lady, who was already ensconced in a corner of the car.

“Are you not coming?” she asked calmly. “There is plenty of room.”

Lord Lakenham recovered himself with a little effort.

“Of course I am,” he answered. “I–well, I forgot where I was for a moment. Now we’re all right.”

He took the seat opposite the two girls and the car glided off. His eyes still seemed to be seeking to penetrate that closely drawn veil.

“Delicious, this is, after the train, isn’t it?” he remarked. “May I not have the privilege of knowing your name? We are to be fellow-guests at Annerley, I believe, so I shall only be anticipating a few minutes.”

“My name is Cluley,” she told him, “and this is my little sister–Mary Cluley. We are only making a very brief visit to Annerley.”

“Cluley,” he repeated, thoughtfully. “Seems a familiar name to me, somehow. I wonder why?…Ah! of course, there’s Sybil Cluley, the girl at the Imperial Theatre, who seems to have turned the heads of half the men in London.”

“My name is Sybil Cluley,” she said quietly.

Lord Lakenham slapped his knee and chuckled.

“By Jove, then, that accounts for it!” he exclaimed. “I knew I’d seen you before. Came over me for a certainty directly you got into the motor, only I couldn’t imagine where. You were mixed up with something in my mind and I couldn’t work it out. I am delighted to know you, Miss Cluley. Had the pleasure of seeing you act, of course.”

The girl inclined her head. Her sister leaned forward from her seat.

“Nearly every one, wherever we go, knows Sybil by sight,” she told Lord Lakenham confidentially. “It’s so funny sometimes when we are out in the streets together. People stop and turn round, and in the shops I can often hear them whispering and telling one another who Sybil is. Have you seen ‘The Tangled Web’?”

“Several times,” Lord Lakenham assured her. “Parts of it are a trifle too clever for me but it’s a jolly good show, all the same. Your sister’s the making of it, to my mind.”

“Sybil is ripping!” Mary declared. “Everybody says so. It’s quite her best part. The manager told me himself the other day that he didn’t think there was any one else in London who could have created it as she has done.”

Lord Lakenham smiled tolerantly.

“I should imagine he was quite right,” he agreed. “I expect you’re keen to grow up and go on the stage yourself, eh?”

The child looked across at her sister doubtfully. Sybil Cluley was lying back in her corner seat with half-closed eyes, as though anxious to escape as much as possible from the conversation. She opened them now, however, wide enough.

“Mary will never go upon the stage,” she said firmly. “I have made other plans for her.”

The child laughed gayly enough, yet with a note of regret.

“Sybil’s saving all her money,” she explained to her companion, “so that soon after I leave school we can travel together for a time and then live somewhere down in the country. I don’t believe she’s a bit fond of acting, really. Isn’t it stupid!”

Lord Lakenham stroked his stubbly moustache and gazed a little curiously at the eager-faced child who sat opposite to him.

“I have heard a good many young ladies of your sister’s age talk like that,” he declared, “especially after the first excitement of their success has worn off. It doesn’t last, though. There’s no profession in the world, they say, like the stage for holding one.”

Mary seemed doubtful.

“Sybil doesn’t often change her mind,” she told him. “In fact she’s what I should call stubborn about most things.”

“Nice character your young sister’s giving you,” Lord Lakenham said, turning to his elder companion with a smile.

Sybil shrugged her shoulders slightly. She seemed curiously anxious to remain in the background.

“Mary doesn’t know everything,” she murmured, “nor does she always mean exactly what she says.”

“The natural proclivity of her sex asserting itself in youth!” Lord Lakenham remarked, didactically. “What?”

Sybil only smiled very faintly and looked away with the air of one whom the conversation had ceased to interest. The car had climbed a hill and was rushing down now into the valley. Mary was leaning back in her seat with a keen air of enjoyment.

“Isn’t it lovely to be in the country again!” she cried. “Look at those glorious woods, Sybil! Are we anywhere near Sir Jermyn’s house, Lord Lakenham?”

“We shall turn in at the gates in a few moments,” the Marquis replied. “You can see them straight ahead there. Nice little place of its sort, Annerley Court. Have you ever been down before, Miss Cluley?” he added, turning to the girl by his side.

She shook her head.

“Never,” she answered. “Sir Jermyn has asked me once or twice but I have not been able to leave the theatre. Now I have a short vacation and we are going to read his new play together. Mine is really a business visit, you see.”

Lord Lakenham nodded with a sudden understanding. The coming of Miss Sybil Cluley to Annerley Court had been puzzling him immensely.

“Why, of course!” he exclaimed. “I read in one of the papers only this morning that Jermyn had a new play almost finished, and that you were to take the leading part. Clever chap, Jermyn, in his way. Have you known him long, Miss Cluley?”

“I have known Sir Jermyn for about a year,” she answered quietly. “He is certainly very clever, indeed. I have played in a short sketch he wrote some time ago, at the Haymarket.”

“I remember it quite well,” Lord Lakenham declared. “Dismal sort of affair it was, too! I can’t make out why Jermyn never ends up anything he writes, happily. It may be artistic, and all that, but I’m hanged if I like it!”

She raised her eyebrows very slightly.

“Do you believe, then,” she asked, “that everything in life should end happily?”

“I am afraid I am one of those obvious sort of persons who want it to in the books I read and the plays I go to see,” he admitted. “What do you say, Miss Mary? Don’t you want the fairy prince to marry the right girl, and all that sort of thing, at the end of the story, eh?”

“Of course I do,” the child answered, confidently. “So does every one.”

“Not always,” Lord Lakenham objected. “Our host doesn’t, for one.”

“Sir Jermyn is an artist,” Sybil murmured.

“Daresay he is,” Lord Lakenham assented. “All the same, I’d like to see him a little more cheerful sometimes. I don’t see the use of writing about problems that never solve themselves, or marriages that always go wrong, or lovers who never come together. Waste of time, I call it. Sort of cousin of mine, Jermyn, you know, Miss Cluley.”

She accepted the information without any great sign of interest. They had turned off the main road now, through some plain iron gates, and were crossing a park dotted here and there with dwarfed oak trees. Mary clapped her hands.

“Deer!” she cried, with enthusiasm. “Do you see, Sybil, there are actually deer! I wonder if they are very wild?”

“Not a bit of it,” Lord Lakenham assured her. “They’d be all right, anyhow, at this time of the year. Eat biscuits out of your hand, I daresay. We’ll try them to-morrow. I haven’t been here for ages,” he went on, looking around him. “Ripping little golf course one could make here. Do you play golf, Miss Cluley?”

She shook her head.

“I haven’t time for that sort of thing,” she told him. “Mary plays games for us both. I am quite contented if I can get an hour’s walk every morning.”

Some note in her tone–or was it the curve of her head as she leaned sideways to look up into the woods?–stirred in him once more that curious sense of a half-awakened memory. It was more than curiosity which he felt–it was an interest which had almost an emotional side.

“It’s a rum thing!” he exclaimed, meditatively, with his eyes fixed upon her. “Every now and then, Miss Cluley, I get a sort of an idea that I’ve seen you before, not on the stage at all.”

She did not answer him for a moment. Unseen, her right hand was gripping the leather strap by her side. She kept her eyes fixed upon the house, which had just come into sight. If only she could control her voice! If only she could check his efforts at recollection!

“I think it most unlikely, Lord Lakenham,” she said coldly. “I go out very little and I have few friends.”

“And I am quite sure that we never knew anybody who was a marquis before, did we?” Mary chimed in, with a triumphant sense of administering a coup de grbce to the subject. “Is this really the house? Oh, Sybil, isn’t it lovely!”

“Beautiful, dear,” Sybil assented.

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