The Wicked Marquis - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Wicked Marquis ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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If you haven’t discovered the joys of Oppenheim’s mysteries there is a good place to start. Wealthy playwright and playboy Jermyn Annerley is smitten by the beautiful and talented actress Sybil Cluley. She is very successful but her life is devoted to the care of her young sister who has been ill. At Jermyn’s country estate, Sybil runs into Lord Lakenham, a roguish playboy who is equally in love with her, but also knows something of her past. Jermyn proposes, much to the chagrin of his lovely cousin Lucille, who has had her eye on him for many years. Lakenham and Lucille conspire to end the engagement. Sybil is broken hearted, but puts her sister’s welfare above her own. Then Lakenham is murdered in the billiard room. A romance has become a murder mystery.

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Liczba stron: 412

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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 I

Reginald Philip Graham Thursford, Baron Travers, Marquis of Mandeleys, issued, one May morning, from the gloomy precincts of the Law Courts without haste, yet with certain evidences of a definite desire to leave the place behind him. He crossed first the pavement and then the street, piloted here and there by his somewhat obsequious companion, and turned along the Strand, westwards. Then, in that democratic thoroughfare, for the first time since the calamity had happened, his lips were unlocked in somewhat singular fashion.

“Well, I’m damned!” he exclaimed, with slow and significant emphasis.

His companion glanced up furtively in his direction. The Marquis, as Marquises should be, was very tall and slim, with high well-shaped nose, very little flesh upon his face, a mouth of uncertain shape and eyes of uncertain colour. His companion, as solicitors to the aristocracy should be, was of a smaller, more rotund and insignificant shape. He had the healthy complexion, however, of the week-end golfer, and he affected a certain unlegal rakishness of attire, much in vogue amongst members of his profession having connections in high circles. In his heart he very much admired the ease and naturalness with which his patron, in the heart of professional London, strode along by his side in a well-worn tweed suit, a collar of somewhat ancient design, and a tie which had seen better days.

“The judge’s decision was, without doubt, calamitous,” he confessed gloomily.

The Marquis turned in at the Savoy courtyard with the air of an habitué.

“I am in need of a brief rest and some refreshment,” he said. “You will accompany me, if you please, Mr. Wadham.”

The lawyer acquiesced and felt somehow that he had become the tail end of a procession, the Marquis’s entrance and progress through the grillroom towards the smoking-room bar was marked by much deference on the part of porters, cloak-room attendants and waiters, a deference acknowledged in the barest possible fashion, yet in a manner which his satellite decided to make a study of. They reached a retired corner of the smoking room, where the Marquis subsided into the only vacant easy chair, ordered for himself a glass of dry sherry, and left his companion to select his own refreshment and pay for both.

“What,” the former enquired, “is the next step?”

“There is, alas!” Mr. Wadham replied, “no next step.”

“Exactly what do you mean by that?” the Marquis demanded, knitting his brows slightly as he sipped his sherry.

“We have reached the end,” the lawyer pronounced. “The decision given by the Court to-day is final.”

The Marquis set down his glass. The thing was absurd!

“Surely,” he suggested, “the House of Lords remains?”

“Without a doubt, your lordship,” Mr. Wadham assented, “but it is of no use to us in the present instance. The judge of the Supreme Court–this is, by-the-by, our third appeal–has delivered a final decision.”

The Marquis seemed vaguely puzzled.

“The House of Lords,” he persisted, “remains surely a Court of Appeal for members of my order whose claims to consideration are not always fully recognised in the democracy of the common law court.”

“I fear,” Mr. Wadham replied, with a little cough, “that the House of Lords is supposed to have other functions.”

“Other functions?”

“In an indirect sort of fashion,” Mr. Wadham continued, “it is supposed to assist in the government of the country.”

“God bless my soul!” the Marquis exclaimed.

There was a queer, intangible silence. The lawyer was quite aware that a storm was brewing, but as his distinguished client never lost his temper or showed annoyance in any of the ordinary plebeian ways, he was conscious of some curiosity as to what might happen next.

“You mean to say, then,” the Marquis continued, “that for the rest of my days, and in the days of those who may succeed me, that edifice, that cottage which for generations has sheltered one of the family retainers, is to remain the property of–of an alien?”

“I fear that that is the decision of the court,” the lawyer admitted. “The deed of gift was exceptionally binding.”

The Marquis shook his head. The thing was incomprehensible.

“I can stand upon the roof of Mandeleys,” he said, “and I can look north, south, east and west, and in no direction can I look off my own land. Yet you mean to tell me that almost in my garden there is to remain a demesne which can be occupied by any Tom, Dick or Harry which its nominal owner chooses to place in possession?”

The lawyer signed to the waiter for their glasses to be replenished.

“It is certainly not justice, your lordship,” he admitted,–“it is not even reasonable–but it is the law.”

The Marquis produced a gold cigarette case, absently lit a cigarette, and returned the case to his pocket without offering it to his companion. He smoked meditatively and sipped his second glass of sherry.

“A state of things,” he declared, “has been revealed to me which I cannot at present grasp. I must discuss the matter with Robert–with my son-in-law, Sir Robert Lees. He is an intensely modern person, and he may be able to suggest something.”

“Sir Robert is a very clever man,” the lawyer acknowledged, “but failing an arrangement with the tenant himself, I cannot see that there is anything further to be done. We have, in short, exhausted the law.”

“A process,” the Marquis observed sympathetically, “which I fear that you must have found expensive, Mr. Wadham.”

“The various suits into which we have entered on behalf of your lordship, and the costs which we have had to pay,” the latter hastened to announce, “amount, I regret to say, to something over eighteen thousand pounds.”

“Dear me!” his companion sighed. “It seems quite a great deal of money.”

“Since we are upon the subject,” the lawyer proceeded, “my firm has suggested that I should approach your lordship with regard to some means of–pardon me–reducing the liability in question.”

So far as the face of Mr. Wadham’s client was capable of expressing anything, it expressed now a certain amount of surprise.

“It appears to me, Mr. Wadham,” he remarked, “that you are asking me to attend to your business for you.”

The lawyer knitted his brows in puzzled fashion.

“I am not sure that I quite follow your lordship,” he murmured.

“Do I employ you,” his patron continued, “to manage my estates, to control my finances, to act as agent to all my properties, and yet need to keep a perspective myself of my various assets? If eighteen thousand pounds is required, it is for your firm to decide from what quarter the money should come. Personally, as you know, I never interfere.”

Mr. Wadham coughed in somewhat embarrassed fashion.

“As a matter of fact, your lordship,” he confessed, with a most illogical sense that it was his duty to apologise for his client’s impecuniosity, “as a matter of fact, neither my partners nor I can at the present moment see where a sum of eighteen thousand pounds can be raised.”

The Marquis rose to his feet and shook the cigarette ash carefully from his coat.

“Our conversation, Mr. Wadham,” he said, “is reaching a stage which bores me. I have just remembered, too,” he added, with a glance at the clock, “that my daughter is entertaining a few friends to lunch. You must write to Merridrew. He is really a most excellent agent. He will tell you what balances are likely to be available during the next few months.”

Mr. Wadham received the suggestion without enthusiasm.

“We made an application to Mr. Merridrew some few weeks ago,” he remarked, “as we needed some ready money for the purpose of briefing the barristers. Mr. Merridrew’s reply was not encouraging.”

“Ah!” the Marquis murmured. “Merridrew is a gloomy dog sometimes. Try him again. It is astonishing how elastic he can be if he is squeezed.”

“I am afraid your lordship has done all the squeezing,” the solicitor observed ruefully.

A little trill of feminine laughter rang through the room. Two smartly attired young ladies were seated upon a divan near the door, surrounded by a little group of acquaintances. One of them leaned forward and nodded as the Marquis and his companion passed.

“How do you do, Marquis?” she said, in distinctly transatlantic accents.

The behaviour of his client, under such circumstances, remained an object lesson to Mr. Wadham for the rest of his life. The Marquis gazed with the faintest expression of surprise at, or perhaps through, the young person who had addressed him. Fumbling for a moment in his waistcoat pocket, he raised a horn-rimmed monocle to his eye, dropped it almost at once, and passed on without the flicker of an eyelid. On their way to the outside door, however, he shook his head gravely.

“What a singular exhibition,” he murmured,–“demonstration, perhaps I should say–of the crudeness of modern social intercourse! Was it my fancy, Wadham, or did the young person up there address me?”

“She certainly did,” the other assented. “She even called you by name.”

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