Envoy Extraordinary - E. Phillips Oppenheim - E-Book

Envoy Extraordinary E-Book

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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  • Herausgeber: Ktoczyta.pl
  • Kategorie: Krimi
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • Veröffentlichungsjahr: 2018
Beschreibung

Ronald, Count Matsertser, was a world traveler and amateur. After several years of travel, he returns to his Norfolian estates, which deals with hunting, research and espionage in Africa and Asia. His treasures are huge, but his heart is empty. One night, a mysterious mercenary attacks him directly behind the gate of his estate.

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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 I

Through the windy darkness of the late winter evening, along a muddy country lane which was little better than a cart track with a high hedge on one side and a wood on the other, a man, half shuffling, half running, was making such progress as was possible over the sodden slippery surface. What appearance he might have presented when he had started upon his wild expedition it was impossible to say, for he was covered now with mud from head to foot, a driving rain beating in his face. His dark coat was soaked, his collar and tie simply pulp. He was hatless and his black hair, streaked with grey, was plastered about his face. He ran not as an athlete but with long, uneven strides, and he was evidently completely out of condition for such an exploit. He was breathing heavily. The drops of sweat were mingled with the rain which was pouring down his cheeks. He seemed unable to keep a straight course and he blundered from one side of the narrow way to the other, scratching his face against the hedge only to recoil and slip about in the low wire-protected ditch on the other side. His physical strength was already exhausted, but he continued to stumble on as though inspired with some desperate sense of urgency. The only parts of him which seemed still alive were his eyes, and in their fixed stare there was all the dogged fear of a man seeking to escape from something worse than death.

In the midst of the wall of darkness which he seemed to have set himself to penetrate, his staggering progress came suddenly to an end. He crashed into a gate, swayed for a moment and, recovering himself, clutched its topmost bar with both hands. His neck was strained forward. He made a gurgling little noise in his throat. In front of him, less than a mile away, was the goal towards which he was stumbling, a sinister yet somehow enthralling sight: upon the opposite hillside there stretched the outline of a house large enough to be called a mansion, a building which from end to end and along both of its spreading irregular wings, seemed flaming with lights. It was like a palace of fire blazing out of a well of black chaotic gloom.

The man began to climb the gate. In his state of over-exhaustion the effort was an act of madness. He pulled himself up to the topmost bar but his attempt to slither down on the other side was disastrous. He fell on his face into a field of roots, rolled over on his side and passed after one faint struggle into unconsciousness.

Some uneasy and convulsive gesture seemed to have crept into the spirit of that black, windy night. From the heights of the winding mountain road, flaming as it seemed from the bosom of the low drifting clouds, the far-reaching headlights of an automobile driven at a furious speed pierced with long stabs of illumination the shrouded spaces. The driver, as he swung round the last corner, passing the muddy lane along which the pedestrian had come to grief and making swaying progress towards the small harbour, was conscious, through the fury of the night, of two curious phenomena. The first was that long blazing panorama of lights from the mansion inland, the other was the rise to incredible heights and the subsequent fall to the level of the dark water of the single lamp at the masthead of some craft making gallant entrance into the tiny harbour. The quay was lined with a thin crowd of oil-skinned fishermen shouting instructions to the unseen crew. One of them, with a coil of rope around his arm, found his passage momentarily blocked by the long car with its flaming headlights. He stared at it and the dark outline of its driver in amazement.

“You’re ower near the deep water, mister,” he shouted. “There be a great tide to-night and it be still rising. You’n best back the car.”

The indistinguishable figure at the wheel was prompt to realise his danger and did as he was bidden.

“Thanks,” he called out. “Is that a boat coming in?”

“It be surely a craft of some sort, mister. She be past the beam of the lighthouse and we ain’t none of us seen her properly yet.”

The driver of the car pointed inland to the flaring windows.

“What’s the trouble there?” he asked.

“They be the lights of the Great House,” the man answered. “She might seem to be afire but she ain’t. ’Tis a whim of her ladyship’s to have them blazing on wild nights. ’Tis a landmark from the sea and a guide for they upon the road and they do say it’s to-night his lordship is expected home. Be you careful with that long car of yours when you turn up at the jetty.”

Inch by inch the man at the wheel backed his car, a swift road to eternity in the tumbled mass of black waters upon one side, a low grey wall upon the other. Arrived safely in the small cobbled square before the inn, he came to a standstill and pushed on his hand brake. He stood up deliberately, a tall, slim figure, and looked back towards the harbour. A sturdy little ketch of about fifty tons, with a few yards of canvas still taut, was making a valiant effort to enter the small inner pool. At the end of the pier one of the local fishermen was holding a lantern high above his head while he shouted advice. The light swung round and the automobilist gave vent to a sudden exclamation. Gripping the wheel, holding the ketch up against the wind with almost Herculean strength, was the huge figure of a man, bare-headed and without oilskins, with the face and figure of a Viking. The low throb of the engine and the man’s gigantic strength were pitted against the tearing wind. Inch by inch the entrance to the pool seemed to grow narrower. Suddenly there was a roar of orders from the figure at the wheel. The anchor was thrown overboard, coiled-up masses of rope were hung down on the lee side of the ketch. The fall of the anchor seemed to have been perfectly timed. The man at the wheel had triumphed. He brought her up with barely a tremor against the guardian fenders of hemp which hung from the quay. To the sound of lusty cheers she was roped in by the little crowd of willing helpers. The huge figure at the helm shouted a few last orders to them, then he leaned forward to the other side of the cockpit and the throbbing of the engine died away.

The automobilist resumed his seat at the sound of that low throaty cheering. He himself had the same impulse as had stirred the group of fishermen and villagers, yet although he was not a person of undue sensibility, he felt a sudden chill when he thought of that moment when the lantern had flashed its unexpected light upon the gigantic figure of the man who was fighting the wind and the storm, a figure for a sculptor, a magnificent representation of the triumph of brute force over the raging elements. But the face–if ever a more modern Epstein had been fired with a sudden ambition to create a new type of Satan, there was his study ready at hand–the man who had fought the storm.

The automobilist released his brakes, pushed his car into low gear and threaded his way towards the dimly visible opening in the chaos of darkness, far above which flamed the lights of the Great House.

Behind that welcoming blaze of illumination, which seemed somehow or other to offer a silent defiance to the fury of the wind-torn night, in her small boudoir, once a consecrated chapel, now the annex to a famous suite of reception rooms, Matilda, Countess of Matresser, sat in a high-backed, luxuriously cushioned chair before a huge fire of cedar and pine logs burning in an open grate. Her hands were folded in front of her, neither book nor any other form of diversion interfering in the steady effort at listening which had absorbed her for the last hour. The spell was suddenly broken. She heard at last the sound for which she had waited. She touched the jade knob of an ornamental bell which stood on the table by her side.

“His lordship has arrived,” she told the footman who entered promptly. “Please let him know that I am awaiting him here.”

The man hurried off. In the hall below there was already a small gathering of servants respectfully greeting the new arrival. The latter, a dark-complexioned, slim young man, who was being relieved of his motoring attire, nodded and turned towards the broad staircase. With his hand already upon the banisters, however, he lingered to ask just one question.

“Any unexpected visitors to-day, Burrows?” he enquired of the butler.

“No one unexpected that I have heard of, your lordship,” the man replied. “Mr. Hennerley is here with Lady Alice, and we are expecting a few people to dinner. Only a very small party.”

“I was not thinking so much about guests,” Matresser admitted. “Mr. Yates is here, I suppose?”

“Certainly, milord. He has been very busy in his room all day.”

“The messenger I was expecting would probably have reported to him.”

“No one has arrived who has asked either for your lordship or for Mr. Yates,” the butler pronounced.

Matresser nodded.

“If anyone should arrive, see that I am informed,” he said. “The weather is bad enough to stop anyone if they were coming by road.”

“I believe, your lordship,” Burrows confided, “that Humphreys would like to see you about to-morrow’s shooting for a minute or two, or he will come up after dinner if that is more convenient.”

“I will see him in the gunroom before I change,” Matresser promised. “No, you need not announce me, Burrows. I am sure her ladyship must have heard the car.”

He mounted the stairs with swift, lithe movements, passed through two very beautiful rooms, one hung with rare tapestry, the other decorated, and since untouched, by a famous Frenchman of the period of Watteau. In a few moments he passed into the Sanctuary Chamber, as it had been called for generations. With a slight gesture, half foreign, perhaps, but entirely natural, he sank on one knee by the side of the woman whose arms were out-stretched towards him and drew her into his embrace.

“Ronald!” she murmured.

“Dearest.”

There were no other words. A moment or two later, still with her fingers upon his cheeks, he leaned a little back.

“You are the most wonderful woman in the world,” he declared as he looked into her deep-set but still brilliant eyes. “Yours is the complexion of a child. You grow more beautiful with the years.”

She laughed softly.

“You will never lose your marvellous gift of flattery, dear Ronald,” she said. “Of course, I love you to say so but what do my looks matter now?”

“You have a family tradition to uphold,” he reminded her. “Every Matresser has married not only a beautiful woman but a woman who has remained beautiful.”

“When are you prepared to carry on the family record?” she asked.

He saw the slight anxiety with which she was regarding him, rose to his feet and touched a bell.

“May I?” he begged. “Just one glass of sherry together, mother, before I go to change. Am I more of a skeleton than ever? It was nothing but a touch of fever which left me long before we passed Gibraltar.”

She shook her head.

“Those lines have bitten a little deeper into your face, my son,” she told him. “Isn’t it time you left off these restless bouts of travelling? Are you not weary of shooting rare animals and discovering hidden cities?”

“Sick to death,” he assured her cheerfully.

He strolled over to the small Chippendale sideboard upon which a servant had set out decanters, a silver bowl of ice and a cocktail shaker.

“I will mix you the latest concoction in the way of apéritifs–straight from Raffles’ Bar at Singapore,” he told her. “I should have liked a lime but lemon must do. . . . There. How’s that?” he asked a moment or two later.

“Delicious. When were you at Singapore, Ronald?”

“A few months ago,” he answered carelessly, “and only for a few hours then. I must tell you all about my travels later on.”

She set down her glass for a moment.

“Do you ever tell anyone in the world all about your travels, Ronald?” she asked.

He looked at her with a faint but discerning smile.

“There are some things I am saving up, of course,” he admitted. “When I am Lord Lieutenant of the County, bobbing about opening charity bazaars, God-blessing the Boy Scouts and that sort of thing, I shall have to write a book. Then I shall have no more secrets. By the by, that reminds me, may I ask Mrs. Howard to have a room prepared for a man who is bringing me down a letter and some papers? It is just an odd job of surveying I did for the Government while I was in Africa and they seem to be rather in a hurry to report upon it. He will be here I expect to-night or to-morrow.”

“Of course,” his mother acquiesced. “He can have one of the bachelor suites, then he will have his own sitting-room. Will he join the house party? There will be only one or two of us–the Dean and his wife, and Stephen and Alice are already here.”

“He would rather shut himself up, I expect.”

Lady Matresser rose to her feet with a sigh. Her maid was standing enquiringly by the portière.

“Would your ladyship prefer that I came a little later?” the young woman suggested.

“Not one second later,” her mistress replied, glancing at the clock. “You must attend me at once, Hortense. This is my son who is just back from abroad. He is always the severest critic of my toilette so we must take care to satisfy him to-night.”

The girl curtsied very slightly.

“I shall do my best to satisfy monsieur,” she said. “With madame as subject it should not be difficult.”

Matresser nodded politely. He was tapping a cigarette against his case but he continued to look across to where the girl was standing holding the curtain back for her mistress. Her eyes drooped respectfully. Her manner was a perfect mixture of respect for the master of the house and interest in his arrival. Matresser lit his cigarette and offered his mother his arm.

“What a disobedient old dear you are,” he whispered in her ear as Hortense fell behind. “Did I not beg of you–no foreign servants?”

She indulged in a slight grimace.

“But a personal maid, my dear Ronald,” she remonstrated. “English girls are never a success. Don’t terrify me,” she continued, “you may find worse to come.”

His tone was once more light and cheerful.

“So long as you have not an Italian chauffeur and half a dozen Russian gardeners,” he murmured.

CHAPTER II

Matresser threw himself into a battered easy chair before the fire in the gunroom, lit a cigarette and reflected for a moment. A few yards away from him Humphreys, the head keeper, was standing hat in hand. It was obvious from a certain air of tension and from the man’s solemn demeanour that the story which he had just finished concerned matters more serious than the mere arrangement of the day’s sport.

“This seems a queer sort of business, Humphreys,” his master observed. “Sit down whilst I ask you a few questions.”

The man established himself on the extreme edge of a cane chair, dropped his hat into position by his side and mumbled half to himself whilst awaiting his master’s interrogation.

“Such a thing has never happened before in my recollection. ’Tis a pity that we did leave off the barbed wire from they gates. ’Tis the wire that does more than anything else in this world to keep out trespassers.”

“Was there any vehicle left lying about?” Matresser asked.

“None as I did see, milord.”

“Not even a bicycle?”

“Nowt of any sort, milord. It seemed to me from a casual glance around like as though he were trying to reach the Great House by a short cut across they turnips by the side of Farmer Reynolds’ covert. A vexing thing for him to do for we put nine to a dozen coveys of birds in before sundown and there they would have rested for sure.”

“Was he conscious when you found him?”

“His eyes were open and he mumbled summat,” the keeper acknowledged, “but what it was I couldna’ rightly say. Anyway, we put him in the game cart and took him along to the doctor’s. There he be now for all I know.”

“Sure he was not a poacher?” Matresser asked. “Some of those Norwich shoe hands who used to plague us so much always put on their Sunday clothes when they paid us a visit.”

“There’s one thing I can tell ’ee sure, milord. That ’un never snared fowl nor beast in his life nor had he worked at any of they machines which the shoe factories are chockablock with nowadays. His hands were as white as a lady’s and his shoes were made of that there patent leather that’s only worn by the gentry. He waren’t no poacher and he were a stranger to these parts. That I can tell you for sure.”

Matresser’s fingers toyed with the small closely clipped black moustache upon his upper lip.

“Yet you found this fellow lying in a field of wet roots with nothing in the world to show how he got there. Perhaps he was on his way to do a little burgling up here.”

“He didn’t look tough enough for any man’s job to me,” Humphreys pronounced. “What he did come to these parts for is right mysterious but if they birds as were lying so snug be all gone to-morrow morning it will be him as has done it. As to being a stranger there’s one thing sure, your lordship. He bain’t anyone who dwells in these parts. There’s no one who don’t know that it is our big shoot to-morrow and not even Farmer Reynolds himself would set foot in any field of roots round the coverts after me and the lads has done our walking in. He be a stranger and a damn’ nuisance.”

Matresser rose to his feet.

“You had better look in at the doctor’s to-night, Humphreys,” he directed. “Ask him to step up and see me any time after half-past nine.”

“To-night, milord?”

“Yes, to-night. I should like to have his report. I never care about strangers hanging round the place.”

The man touched his forehead.

“The doctor he do be shooting with us come to-morrow,” he ventured. “He bain’t what you might call a fine shot like your lordship and the Colonel but he do know they outsides like a book and he’s a rare ’un for guessing which way the birds will break.”

Matresser frowned very slightly but impressively. No one belonging to the lands over which Matresser had rule cared to see that frown repeated.

“I will be round along with the doctor about half-past nine, milord,” the gamekeeper announced hastily.

The Countess of Matresser greeted her only son with a welcoming smile as he entered the drawing-room. She was wearing a black dress designed by the Rue de la Paix couturière whom she visited twice every season, the two rows of famous Matresser pearls her only ornament. She sat propped up by cushions in the centre of a high-backed divan and it was understood that an invitation to sit by her side was a rarely accorded honour. She possessed the unusual distinction of having preserved her complexion as well as her figure, and Matresser’s bow was one of genuine admiration.

“You are the most wonderful woman in the world,” he declared. “I come home from my wanderings each time to find you younger.”

She smiled gaily up at him.

“You will have to keep your enthusiasms in future for another member of the family,” she told him. “You have seen Ann?”

“Not yet.”

“She will be the beauty of the family. Her picture in the Academy by that Hungarian man was the success of the season. Watch her now. She has just seen you.”

He turned round. His younger sister was coming towards him, her arms outstretched, moving with the swift, joyous speed of a young Atalanta.

“Ronald!” she cried. “At last!”

One swift glance of admiration and then a queer stoppage of all sensation. His eyes seemed to pass her, to be fastened upon the girl who had entered the room by her side but who was lingering now in the background. Of himself Matresser used always to say that he had not a pictorially retentive mind, that reminiscences with him were always of a fragmentary type. Yet in those few seconds the world seemed to fall away. The stately, exquisitely proportioned room with its carved ceilings and mantelpieces, its air of somehow Victorian comprehensiveness seemed suddenly to dissolve into the mists. He was back again in the wilder spots of the world. The perfume of the night flowers was in his nostrils, the hubbub of strange voices speaking in a strange tongue sounding in his ears, a few minutes of half-forgotten madness–and there were very few in the life of Ronald Matresser–stealing into his pulses.

“Am I a ghost, Ronnie?” his sister laughed, as she threw herself into his arms. “Why do you look through me? Have I lost substance in your eyes?”

Danger! That was what had been at the bottom of that sudden shock. A sense of danger mingled with the tinkling of music, the breathlessness, the tropical air, the sound of those faint shots in the distance and the nearer growl of an angry people. He laughed it all into the background as he embraced his sister.

“My dear Ann!” he exclaimed. “I never dreamed that you were to become the beauty of the family.”

“I’m not really,” she laughed, holding his arm tightly. “I am a whim, the result of one of those little tricks of dress or pose or something which a great artist catches up and immortalises. Lazlo himself says that it is not I whom he has painted. He has immortalised one of his own fancies and chosen me as the medium. It is very rude of him to say so and it is awfully hard to live up to.”

The girl in white was standing now only a few feet away. She was tall but not very tall, her complexion was pale but might more adequately be described as creamy, and her hair was either a very pleasant shade of light brown or golden according to the lights that played upon it. Her eyes, which at that moment were looking searchingly into his, were a curious shade of hazel–soft and promising.

“I was so excited seeing you again I quite forgot,” Ann apologised. “This is my brother, Lord Matresser–Mademoiselle Stamier.”

Matresser was himself again–the same kindly, half-cynical smile upon his lips, the same air of a man who has travelled far ahead of his years looking back down the too familiar avenues of time.

“I am very happy to welcome my sister’s friend.”

“It has been arranged,” his mother confided, “that Mademoiselle Stamier is to be Ann’s companion for a time. It was very fortunate that she was able to come to us.”

Then there was a sudden influx of the remaining guests. Alice, the elder daughter of the house, a comely woman of early middle age, married to Stephen Hennerley, a barrister and rising Member of Parliament, first made her appearance. Her husband followed with the Dean. The local doctor, a good sportsman but of the rougher type, brought up the rear. During the few minutes’ general conversation, Matresser found opportunity to carry his cocktail over to where the doctor was standing on the outside of a little circle.

“Tell me about the fellow who was picked up in the field of turnips,” he begged, after they had shaken hands. “What’s wrong with him? Who is he and how did he come to be wandering about there on foot? I didn’t know that you were dining to-night so I told Humphreys to call round and bring you up after dinner if you could manage it.”

“I can soon tell you all I know,” the doctor replied. “What he is suffering from is slight concussion and superexhaustion. I had to pump adrenalin into him before I could get him to mumble even a word. I left him asleep. He should be able to talk all right by the time I get back.”

“Is he English?”

“I really cannot tell you a thing about him,” Andrews admitted frankly. “We didn’t go through his pockets, naturally, when we took his clothes off. It didn’t seem necessary so long as we were pumping the life back into him and there seemed no complications.”

Matresser finished his cocktail and then set the glass down.

“Well,” he remarked, “I don’t think I am a person cursed with the vice of undue curiosity, but when a man who is a stranger to everyone is picked up in one of my root fields, through which there is no right of way or anything of that sort, wearing patent-leather shoes, I must confess that I feel inquisitive.”

The doctor refused to take the matter seriously.

“I expect we shall find in the morning,” he said, “that it is a case of temporary lapse of memory or something of that sort.”

“Well, don’t let him go in the morning until you have communicated with me. I shall exercise my privileges as a magistrate in any case.”

“I think you are quite right,” the doctor agreed. “I certainly won’t let him go. In any case you have the right to help yourself to his name and address. . . . You are looking wonderfully fit, Matresser. Irresponsible travel seems to agree with you.”

Matresser smiled. There was something so boyish about that smile that it might almost have been called a grin. It was followed by a few seconds of gravity.

“Yes, I am fit enough, Andrews,” he declared. “I suppose, after all, that a really lazy life with no responsibilities is the healthiest. Come on, we have to make our way in to dinner. Forty of us to-morrow, I’m told, but only ourselves to-night. I’m for the Dean’s wife. You will bring in Lady Alice, I expect. We will have our usual pipe together before you go. I may have a few more words with you about your patient.”

CHAPTER III

Matresser laid down the Times and rose to his feet as Mademoiselle Stamier came a little doubtfully into the small reception room.

I am afraid, mademoiselle, he said, that you see your doom. The Dean and his wife have engaged in a desperate struggle of bridge with my sister and brother-in-law and Anns badminton with the doctor seems to be a nightly affair. It is clearly your duty to come and talk to me.

She moved smilingly towards the divan where he had been seated.

To tell you the truth, she confided, I came to see whether I was wanted. I drove my little car into Norwich this afternoon and the wind coming back–well, you know for yourself what it was.

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollst?ndigen Ausgabe!