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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLost Leader - Book 4 - Chapter 5. A Brazen Proceeding
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Lost Leader - Book 4 - Chapter 5. A Brazen Proceeding Post by :hardieryan Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :809

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Lost Leader - Book 4 - Chapter 5. A Brazen Proceeding

BOOK IV CHAPTER V. A BRAZEN PROCEEDING

Mannering opened his eyes lazily. His companion had stopped suddenly in his reading. He appeared to be examining a certain paragraph in the paper with much interest. Mannering stretched out his hand for a match, and relit his cigarette.

"Read it out, Richard," he said. "Don't mind me."

The young man started slightly.

"I am very sorry, sir," he said. "I thought that you were asleep!"

Mannering smiled.

"What about the paragraph?" he asked.

"It is just this," Richard answered, reading. "'The Duchess of Lenchester and Miss Clara Mannering have arrived at Claridge's from the South of Italy.'"

Mannering looked at him keenly.

"I am curious to know which part of that announcement you find so interesting," he said.

"Certainly not the latter part, sir," the young man answered. "I thought perhaps you would have noticed--I meant to speak to you as soon as you were a little stronger--I have asked Hester to be my wife!"

"Then all I can say," Mannering declared, gravely, "is, that you are a remarkably sensible young man. I am quite strong enough to bear a shock of that sort."

"I'm very glad to hear you say so, sir," Richard said. "Of course I shouldn't think of taking her away until you were quite yourself again."

"The cheek of the young man!" Mannering murmured. "She wouldn't go!"

"I don't believe she would," Richard laughed. "Of course we consider that you are very nearly well now."

"You can consider what you like," Mannering answered, "but I shall remain an invalid as long as it pleases me."

Hester appeared on the upper lawn, and Richard rose up at once.

"If you don't mind, sir," he said, "I think that I should like to go and tell Hester that I have spoken to you."

Mannering nodded. He watched the two young people stroll off together towards the rose-garden, talking earnestly. He heard the little iron gate open and close. He watched them disappear behind the hedge of laurels. A puff of breeze brought the faint odour of roses to him, and with it a sudden host of memories. His eyes grew wistful. He felt something tugging at his heartstrings. Only a few years ago life here had seemed so wonderful a thing--only a few years, but with all the passions and struggles of a lifetime crowded into them. The maelstrom was there still, but he himself had crept out of it. What was there left? Peace, haunted with memories, rest, troubled by desire. He heard the sound of their voices in the rose-garden, and he turned away with a pain in his heart of which he was ashamed. These things were for the young! If youth had passed him by, still there were compensations!

Compensations, aye--but he wanted none of them! He picked up the newspaper, and with a little difficulty, for his sight was not yet good, found a certain paragraph. Then the paper slipped again from his fingers, and he heard the sweeping of a woman's dress across the smooth-shaven lawn. He gripped the sides of his chair and set his teeth hard. He struggled to rise, but she moved swiftly up to him with a gesture of remonstrance.

"Please don't move," she exclaimed, as though her coming were the most natural thing in the world. "I am going to sit down with you, if I may!"

He murmured an expression of conventional delight. She wore a dress of some soft white material, and her figure was as wonderful as ever. He recovered himself almost at once and studied her admiringly.

"Paris?" he murmured.

"Paquin!" she answered. "I remembered that you liked me in white."

"But where on earth have you come from?" he asked.

"The Farm," she answered. "I'm going to take it for three months--if you're decent to me!"

"That rascal Richard!" he muttered. "Never told me a word! Pretended to be surprised when he heard you and Clara were back."

She nodded.

"Clara is going to marry that Frenchman next month," she said, "and I shall be looking for another companion. Do you know of one?"

"I haven't another niece," he answered.

"Even if you had," she said, "I have come to the conclusion that I want something different. Will you listen to me patiently for a moment?"

"Yes."

"Will you marry me, please?" she said. "No, don't interrupt. I want there to be no misunderstandings this time. I don't care whether you are an invalid or not. I don't care whether you are going back into politics or not. I don't care whether we live here or in any other corner of the world. You can call yourself anything, from an anarchist to a Tory--or be anything. You can have all your workingmen here to dinner in flannel shirts, if you like, and I'll play bowls with their wives on the lawn. Nothing matters but this one thing, Lawrence. Will you marry me--and try to care a little?"

"This is absolutely," Mannering declared, taking her into his arms, "the most brazen proceeding!"

"It's a good deal better than the bungle we made of it before," she murmured.


(THE END)
E. Phillips Oppenheim's Novel: Lost Leader

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