The World’s Great Snare - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The World’s Great Snare ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

0,0

Opis

A breathtaking tale of intrigue, romance, and revenge from one of the twentieth century’s most prolific and popular authors of suspense. „The Wicked Marquis” is a story of privilege and the attempt to keep what has been lost. Marquis will go to any length to get enough money to enjoy his title, including forcing one of his daughters to marry an unsuitable candidate with money. Although this novel was published in 1919, its setting and subject is more consistent with a pre-war period. The morality of the Marquis, and his attitude towards other people, is clearly a product of the 19th century. The „droit du seigneur” is even invoked several times in the story. There is an interesting interplay among the characters regarding the evolution of morals, the rights of women, the effect of rigid moralism, and religious inflexibility.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS
czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi
czytnikach Kindle™
(dla wybranych pakietów)
Windows
10
Windows
Phone

Liczba stron: 497

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS



Contents

BOOK I

I. TWO SLEPT, AND ONE WATCHED

II. ON THE BANKS OF THE BLUE RIVER

III. A WESTERN LOVE

IV. THE LAUGH OF MR. JAMES HAMILTON

V. A HATEFUL FIGURE FROM A HATEFUL PAST

VI. THE DESIRE OF THE WORLD

VII. A YOUNG MAN FROM THE EAST

VIII. A CORNER OF THE CURTAIN

IX. A NEW PARTNERSHIP

X. A DEBAUCH AND A TRAGEDY

XI. THE GOLDEN EGG

XII. THE VILLAINY OF MR. CHRISTOPHER SKEIN

XIII. A JURY OF SEVEN

XIV. THE TOUCH OF FIRE

XV. A ROUGH WOOING

XVI. EASTWARDS

XVII. THE NIGHT CRY

XVIII. THE PASSION IN THE DESERT

XIX. A PRINCE OF THE WEST

XX. MA THE BRUTE AND WOMAN THE ANGEL

XXI. THE OFFERING OF A SOUL

BOOK II

I. IN THE OLD WORLD

II. THE JUDGMENT OF FORTUNE

III. THE THRESHOLD OF A NEW LIFE

IV. THE SHADOW OF A MEMORY

V. A MEETING ON THE MOOR

VI. LIKE POISON LINGERING IN THE BRAIN

VII. THE EARL OF WESSEMER

VIII. THE TOTTERING OF THE BARRIER

IX. "WHO ARE YOU?"

X. LIKE BAFFLED BREAKERS AGAINST AN IRON SHORE

XI. ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GULF

XII. THE SUNLIGHT OF HOPE

XIII. THE BITTER WATERS MADE SWEET

XIV. BRYAN THE PHILOSOPHER

XV. A SILENT TOAST

XVI. A SOUL FLITTING INTO THE SUNLIGHT

BOOK III

I. THE "HILARITY" STAR

II. A SORROW'S CROWN OF SORROW

III. THE EAST AND THE WEST

IV. DEAD SEA FRUIT

V. THE PROBLEM OF TWO LIVES

VI. LORD WESSEMER'S ADVICE

VII. THE JUDGMENT OF THE EAST

VIII. THE SAVIOUR OF A SOUL

IX. A BROKEN DREAM

X. IN THE GREATER WORLD

BOOK I

I. TWO SLEPT, AND ONE WATCHED

“At last!” muttered Mr. James Hamilton, opening his eyes and sitting upright on the floor. “Get up, you chaps! D’ye hear? Get up!”

No one stirred. As a matter of fact, neither of the other two men was awake. With a final yawn the speaker stretched himself out and staggered to his feet. Then he threw himself upon a rude wooden bench, picked up the stump of a corn-cob pipe which lay upon the ground, and smoked, with his elbows resting upon the empty window-frame, and his head stretched as far as possible outside. The dull stolidity of his features was quickened for the moment into the semblance of eagerness. He was waiting to inhale the faint quivering breeze which was stealing down from the hills.

“At last!” he growled, with his eyes, dim and bloodshot, turned towards the western sky. “What a hell of a day! There she goes, and be d–d to her!”

The rim of a red, burning sun had touched at last the highest peak of a low range of pine-topped hills crawling around the base of the Sierras. All day long, the heat in the valley and across that level stretch of rocky, broken country lying eastwards, had scorched the earth, dried up the watercourses, and very nearly turned the brains of those few dwellers around the banks of the Blue River. Work had been given up as a thing impossible. Down below where, around the bed of the old river, a score or so of gold claims had been staked out by a little band of eager workers, reigned a deep, absolute stillness. Pickaxes, washers, pans, and all sorts of mining tools were lying about unused. Not a man had dared to breathe the burning heat and stifling air of the valley. Apart, they might have been borne for a brief while, at any late; together, they meant fever, deadly and virulent.

After a while, Mr. James Hamilton withdrew his head from the window-frame, and cast a grim look into the interior of the shanty. Save for its occupants, it did not afford much scope for investigation, nor was there anything in its appointments which could have offended the instincts of the most rigid ascetic. On a table constructed of a couple of broad planks from which the underneath bark had not been stripped, supported upon a barrel at either end, were scattered a dirty pack of cards, two tin mugs turned upside down, and a black bottle rolling on its side. The walls were perfectly bare, and a strong woody odour, and the tricklings of pine sap upon the rafters, showed that the shanty had only recently been put together. The whole of the floor seemed to be taken up by the two men who lay there fast asleep.

It was upon the face of the one nearest to him that Mr. James Hamilton’s attention seemed fixed. With his hands on his knees, and his pipe between his teeth, he leaned forward, watching him with a steady, expressionless scrutiny. If the sleeping man had suddenly awakened, there was nothing in the look to terrify or even surprise him. It was simply the steady, critical survey of a man who desires to impress certain features and lineaments in his memory, or compare them with some previous association.

They were all three big men, with brawny limbs and muscles hardened and distended by physical labour, but the man who slept so soundly was almost a giant. His head, massive and tawny-bearded, was propped up against the opposite wall. One huge arm, naked to the shoulder, was passed underneath it, and the other, stretched out perfectly straight, reached the doorway. One of his feet, bare and brown, rested upon an overturned bucket; the leg, extended at full length, seemed in the tiny cabin like the limb of a giant. A red flannel shirt, unbuttoned at the throat, revealed a mighty chest, curiously white. His trousers, of coarse linen, were rolled up to the knees, and although stained and discoloured, showed traces of constant efforts at cleaning.

Mr. James Hamilton, whose eyes had been noting this amongst many other things, suffered for the first time a shade to pass across his face. He gave vent to his feelings in an expressive grunt, and spat upon the floor.

After that first futile summons, he seemed in no hurry to awaken his comrades. Withdrawing his eyes at last from the man who lay stretched at his feet, he carefully stepped over his body, and lounged to the doorway. The frail structure creaked with his weight as he leaned against the side, for Mr. James Hamilton himself was a fourteen-stone man, but he made himself comfortable there and folded his arms, smoking steadily, and watching the dull red ball of sun sink behind the hills. Unconsciously he contributed one more, and a necessary figure, to the dramatic completeness of the scene.

Down from the hills stole the softly-descending darkness. There was none of the lingering twilight of an English summer. Swift shadows moved ghostlike across their bare brown sides, and hung about the valley, and the colour stole into a white moon hung in a deep blue sky. A breeze, long desired and grateful, swept through the army of pines which crowned the sheer hill behind the cabin, hanging on to its ledges and crevices, and growing out in places almost at right angles to the precipice below. Mr. James Hamilton took off his apology for a hat, and pushed his hair back from his head, to taste as much of its sweetness as he could. He even glanced over his shoulder into the cabin, and seemed to contemplate another attempt at arousing his companions. But, although he went so far as to remove his pipe from his teeth, he did not at once speak to them.

“I reckon this is the darnedest, loneliest, saddest hole I ever came across!” he muttered to himself, gazing away from the valley and the shadow-crowned hills to where a great rolling expanse of broken country surged away to the eastern horizon. Mr. Hamilton’s artistic education had been neglected, and he saw no beauty in the fantastic panorama of shadowland, the lone clumps of alder-trees and bushes the very leaves of which seemed like elegant tracing against the deep clear sky, and the faint blue haze mingling with the deeper twilight. His regretful thoughts at that moment were fixed upon a certain pine-board saloon a few hundred miles beyond that uncertain line where the rolling plain touched the sky, and the music of the quivering breeze amongst the pines fell upon dull, unappreciative cars. The fact undoubtedly was, that Mr. James Hamilton was sharing a similar sensation to that which a goodly proportion of his fellow-creatures, steeped to the finger-tips in Eastern civilization, encounter every day. He was bored! The absence of kindred spirits, the enforced temperance of hard work, and, as he expressed it, the cursed loneliness of the place, were becoming insufferable. It was possible, too, that he was a little homesick; for Mr. James Hamilton was not an American, and had not been heard to express any unbounded admiration for that country. The only thing, in fact, which had won his unqualified approval were the oaths, which he had mastered with wonderful facility, and by means of which he was able, as he remarked with constant satisfaction, to express himself as a gentleman.

Yet, although he was unaware of it, the loneliness was not quite so complete as he had imagined. Away across the broken plain, the figure of a human being was slowly limping and crawling along the rough track towards the valley; a human being in the direst and most pitiful of straits. As yet, all signs of the little settlement and the river were hidden from him. He was in a vast lonely stretch of barren country, with the great hills in front, and no sign of human life or habitation to break the deep serene silence. Every now and then a moan broke from the white parched lips, a low despairing moan of pain and deep physical exhaustion, and more than once in the short space of a hundred yards, he threw up his arms and sank down upon the ground. He was dressed in the roughest of cowboy’s clothes stained with sun and water, and torn almost to rags by the bushes of the forests. His face was worn to a shadow, and black rims were under the deep-set eyes bright with the gleam of famine. The feet were bare and stained with blood, and the hands were cut and bruised. And with it all he seemed to have the look of one utterly unused to such privations. The shape of his limbs was slender, even delicate, and the face, notwithstanding its emaciation and deadly pallor, was curiously handsome. He carried no gun or stick, but a small bundle from which the butt-end of a revolver was sticking out, and as once more his feet gave way beneath him and he sank down, his fingers closed upon it convulsively.

He lay upon his back, and looked up at the stars which were beginning to steal into the sky. For a moment his mind began to wander. Trees and sky and space seemed to be mingling in one confused chaos. Then, setting his teeth and making a great effort, he arrested his fleeting consciousness. He raised his head a little and his lips moved.

“Oh, God! if I could crawl but just a mile–just a mile or two further! I must be near the Blue River now! Yonder are the mountains–that must be the valley! Oh, if only I had the strength!”

He raised himself a little more and looked around despairingly. The deep, majestic stillness of the great pine-clad hills and brooding forests, the solemn silence of night descending slowly upon the land, seemed to stir up a sudden half-frenzied anger in the traveller. Was he to die there in agony, almost within sight of his goal? To die before the yellow light faded from that great moon, and the slow-flushing morn paled the eastern skies? Even in his growing weakness, the cruelty of it and the deep, solemn indifference of all inanimate things in the face of his misery, came vividly home to him. With a curious mixture of blasphemy and devotion, he sat up and faintly cursed the distant moonlit hills, the perfumed breeze which fanned his burning forehead, and the far-off sound of a mountain torrent which mocked his dry throat and cracked lips. Then he pulled out his revolver.

“One shot more!” he gasped. “Shall I?”

He looked into the deep barrel, and held it to his forehead, pressing it there so tightly that when his fingers relaxed there was a livid red mark upon his temple. Then he laid it down by his side, and sitting up, sobbed out loud.

“Oh, God help me! God help me!” he moaned. “I daren’t die! I’m afraid! Oh, for just a little more strength, only just a little! I must be nearly there!”

He raised himself slowly on to his knees, and leaned forward on his hands. Behind him lay the great desolate plain melting into the sky. In front were the mountains, the deep gorge, the pine-topped hills; and, at their base, though he could not see it, the little shanty where two men slept and one watched.

“I must be near there now!” he gasped. “Very near! One more effort now–one more–and if I fail–I will do it!”

He replaced the revolver in the little bundle, and pushed back the thick hair from his forehead, with a gesture of determination. Then moving, in pain and slowly, on hands and feet, he crept on with his face towards the hills, muttering softly to himself:

“I must not give up! I will–be brave! I will not faint! No! I will not, I will not! How brightly the moon shines through the dark trees, and what strange shadows lie across the plain! Down there must be the valley. Yes, yes; that is where they are. I have come so far–I will not give in! I shall find him. Yes, I shall find him! The ground seems unsteady! it is fancy, fancy! Just beyond those trees–that is where they will be. It is–very near. The breeze is fragrant with the perfume of the pines. It is–only a little further. I shall soon be there–very soon. Ah, what is that? How bright it is! Oh, God! do not mock me. It is a firefly, it must be–a firefly! I will not believe that it is a light. Oh, my head! How giddy I am! I must not give way. I will not! I will not! It is–ah!”

He sprang to his feet, and raised his hands to heaven. A sudden wild joy shook him.

“It is a light–a match!” he shrieked. “I am there!”

*     *

*

Mr. Hamilton’s pipe had gone out, and the tobacco was in his host’s possession. He turned round and kicked the body of the man nearest to him.

“Hullo!” he cried. “Are you chaps turned into logs? Get up!”

The man more directly addressed opened his eyes, gave a mighty yawn, and staggered to his feet. Then he thrust his head out of the door, and drew a long breath.

“Whew! This is good!” he exclaimed, opening his lungs and breathing in great gulps of the fragrant pine-scented breeze which was blowing softly across the gorge from the forests beyond. “Jim, you idiot, why didn’t you wake me before?

“Not my business!” Mr. Hamilton growled. “Shouldn’t have done it now, only I wanted a smoke. Hand over the baccy!”

His host produced a huge pouch from his pocket, filled his own pipe and handed it over. Mr. Hamilton, still lounging in the doorway, leisurely stuffed his corn-cob as full as he could, struck a match, and thereby, in all probability, saved the life of a fellow-creature.

Neither of the men heard the faint despairing cry of the stranger. After smoking for a few moments in silence, they were joined by the third occupant of the shanty. He was a tall, lank man, with grizzled hair, high cheekbones, and clear gray eyes. After his first uprising he stood for a brief while indulging in a succession of yawns. Then he felt for his pipe, snapped his fingers for the tobacco, and, leaning against the wall, smoked in silence.

“Say, pal, how’s the liquor?” grunted Mr. Hamilton insinuatingly, a sudden gleam of interest illuminating his classical features. “It’s a cussed dry climate!”

His host, who in the little community was generally called the Englishman, stretched out his hand and drew a bottle from a wooden box set on end, which appeared to do duty as a cupboard. He turned it upside down, and contemplated it thoughtfully, smoking all the time.

“Half a bottle,” he announced. “All we’ve got, and no supplies for a week! Guess we’d better thirst!”

“That be d–d!” growled Mr. Hamilton. “This place is as slow as hell, anyhow. Let’s share up, and have a game of poker. Chance to-morrow! I shall cut my throat if I don’t have a drink!”

The Englishman balanced the bottle thoughtfully in the palm of his hand

“What do you say, Pete?” he asked, turning to the other man.

The gentleman addressed, Mr. Peter Morrison by name, scratched his head and glanced furtively at the sullen brow and red, bloodshot eyes of the man who lounged in the doorway. The sight seemed to decide him.

“I say let’s drink! I saw Dan Cooper this morning, and he allowed there was plenty of stuff left in the store. We shan’t have a much drier day than this, anyhow.”

“D–d poor stuff that store whisky,” muttered the Englishman. “Two against one takes it, though. Down you sit, you chaps! Share up the liquor. Here goes! Jim, deal the pictures!”

The men sat down without a word. In silence they drank and smoked, dealt and shuffled, lost and won. Loquacity was not a popular quality at Blue River diggings, and conversation was a thing almost unheard-of. Only, once Mr. Hamilton brought his fist down upon the frail table, and took his pipe from his mouth.

“You chaps, I’m off next week. Gold-diggin’s a frost. D–d if I can stand it any longer. Say, are you coming, Bryan?”

The Englishman shook his head.

“Going to hold on a bit longer,” he answered. “Shouldn’t half mind it if it wasn’t so blazing hot!”

“How about you, Pete?” Mr. Hamilton inquired, turning to the other man.

“I’m in with Bryan,” was the quiet reply. “We’re pards, you know. Ain’t that so, Bryan?”

“Right for you, my man!” was the hearty answer. “Two pairs, aces up! Show your hand, Jim!”

Mr. Hamilton threw down his cards with a string of oaths which even surpassed his usual brilliancy.

“You fellows can stay and rot here,” he muttered hoarsely. “Just you wait till the rains come, and see how you like it.”

There was no further attempt at conversation. Every now and then Mr. Hamilton swore a deep oath as the cards went against him, which was not often. The Englishman and his partner won or lost without a murmur–the former with real carelessness, the latter with a studied and characteristic nonchalance. Mr. Hamilton was the only one who showed any real interest in the game, and his method of playing, which was a little peculiar, required all his attention.

Outside, the calm of evening deepened into the solemn stillness of night. The moon rose over the pine tops, and the mists floated away down the valley. The breeze dropped, and the trees in the forest were dumb. The three men played steadily on till midnight. Then the Englishman rose up and threw down his cards.

“Out you go, you chaps!” he said shortly. “I’ve had enough of this, and I’m going to turn in.”

The two men rose: Mr. Hamilton grumbling, Morrison as silent as ever. Together they all walked out into the darkness.

“Good night, and be d–d to you!” muttered Mr.

Hamilton surlily as he scrambled down the hillside, holding on to the young fir-trees, and every now and then balancing himself with difficulty. “What the devil were you thinking of when you built your shanty up in the clouds?” he shouted back as at last he reached the bottom. “I’m bruised all over. I’ll be shot if I come again.”

The Englishman laughed out lustily, and thrust his hands into his pockets.

“Good night, Jim!” he shouted, his deep bass voice awakening strange echoes as it travelled across the rocky gorge. “Don’t know what you want to swear at me for! You’ve drunk my whisky, and smoked my tobacco, and won my money, you surly beggar, you! Good night, Pete!” he added to his partner in a milder tone. “Be careful how you go, there! You’ve had as much liquor as you can carry, you have, you idiot!”

He walked a step or two further out, and watched both men gain their shanties. Then he turned round and stood for a moment or two gazing thoughtfully out into the darkness. A sudden impatience had prompted him to get rid of his rough companions, but he had no desire to sleep. The still, starlit night, the faint snowy outline of the distant mountains, the perfume of flowering shrubs, and the night odour of the pines, had quickened his senses and stirred vaguely his inherent love of beauty; so that he was forced to rid himself abruptly of his coarse surroundings and hasten out into the darkness. He leaned against the frail supports of his little dwelling, with folded arms, and dreamed–dreamed of that Eastern world which he had left, and which seemed a thing so far away from this deep majestic solitude. He turned his face towards the plains, and half closed his eyes. His had been a curious and a solitary life; a life oftenest gloomy, yet just once or twice bathed in a very bright light. It was something to think about–these brighter places so few and far between. Did he wish that he was back again where they would be once more possible? He scarcely knew! The fierce trouble and the disquiet of the days behind was no pleasant memory. He looked across, to the mist-topped hills and dark forests, and he felt that they had grown in a measure dear to him. In his heart, this great lonely man with the limbs and sinews of a giant was a poet. He was ignorant of books, and uneducated, but he loved beauty, and he loved nature, and in his way he loved solitude. He was happier here by far than he had been amongst the gilded saloons and cheap haunts of the Western cities. It was only the monotony and the apparent uselessness of his life here that oppressed him. He was a man with a purpose, a purpose which he had followed over land and sea, through cities and lonely places, with a dogged persistence characteristic of the man and of his race. In his expedition here, for the first time he had turned away from it, and the knowledge was beginning to trouble him. The hard physical labour, the glory of his surroundings, the mighty forests and hills broken up into valley, and precipice, and gorge, and all the time overshadowed by that everlasting background of the snow-capped Sierras, these things were all dear to him, and rough and uncultured though he was, they sank deeper into his being day by day, and night by night. He could not have talked about them. Nature had given him the sensibility of the poet and the artist, but education had denied him the use of words with which to express himself. As yet he scarcely appreciated all that he lost. That would conic some day.

Suddenly his dreaming was brought to an abrupt termination. His body stiffened, and his hand felt for the revolver in his belt. With the ready instinct of a man used to all sorts of emergencies, he recognized that he was no longer alone. Yonder, almost at his feet, behind that low prickly shrub, a man was lying.

“Who are you?” he asked quickly. “What do you want here? Put up your hands!”

The reply came only in a faint whisper.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.