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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Survivor - Chapter 26. A Visitor For Douglas Jesson
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The Survivor - Chapter 26. A Visitor For Douglas Jesson Post by :erikhj Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :2182

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The Survivor - Chapter 26. A Visitor For Douglas Jesson

CHAPTER XXVI. A VISITOR FOR DOUGLAS JESSON

There followed for Douglas a period of much anxiety, days of fretful restlessness, sleepless nights full of vague and shadowy dejection. Emily de Reuss was ill, too ill to see him or any one. All callers were denied. Daily he left flowers and messages for her--there was no response save a repetition to him always of the doctor's peremptory instructions. The Countess was to see no one, to receive no letters, to be worried by no messages. Absolute quiet was necessary. Her nerves had received a severe shock. Neither from the papers, in the fashionable columns of which he read regretful accounts of her indisposition, nor from the servants who answered his continual inquiries, was there ever the slightest reference to the tragical nature of it. It was obvious that she had recovered consciousness sufficiently to lay her commands upon those few who must have known, and that they had been faithful. Her illness was announced as due to a combination of a fashionable malady and a severe nervous breakdown. Yet the memory of that other thing was ever before him, the fierce, white face with the blazing eyes pressed against the glass, the flash, the wreath of smoke, the faint, exciting smell of gunpowder, and the spot of blood upon that alabaster shoulder. It had been murder attempted at least. No occupation could distract his thoughts from that. The horror of it seemed ever chilling his veins. He longed to share his knowledge with some one, to talk it over with her. Neither was possible. Solitude had never oppressed him more. He grew daily more nervous and hysterical.

For he was all the while tormented by fears and suspicions which stalked ever by his side, grim and ghostly phantoms. Those wan features and dark, starving eyes had kindled within him from the first, a hideous sense of familiarity--against which he fought indeed but ever vainly. Once before he had seen them, and it was at the moment when his own life had first come into touch with things tragical. Yet if his memory served him truthfully, he was surely face to face with an insoluble enigma. What had Emily de Reuss to do with such a man as this?

As the days passed by leaving the situation unchanged, he made a great effort to put all these harrowing speculations away, to devote himself once more to his work, which was beginning to weigh heavily upon him. In a measure he was successful. He was able to perform such tasks as fell to his lot during office hours with his usual exactitude, though everything he wrote was marked at this time with a certain nervous energy, which, without detracting from its literary value, was a sure indication of his own mental state. But it was after the day's work was over that his sufferings commenced in earnest. A vigorous distaste for the society of his fellows asserted itself. Night after night, his solitary dinner hastily snatched at an obscure restaurant, he spent alone in his gaunt sitting-room, his work neglected, his face turned westwards, his luminous eyes ever fascinated by the prospect which stretched from the dark street beneath to the murky horizon. Night after night his imagination peopled with shadows and spectres the great city, whose lights cast a deep glow upon the brooding clouds, and whose ceaseless roar of life seemed ever in his ears. Before him lay the unwritten pages of his novel, through the open window came the sobbing and wailing, the joy and excitement, the ever ringing chorus of life which, if only he could interpret it, must make him famous for ever. Night after night he listened, and drank it in greedily, thrilled through all his senses by this near contact with the great throbbing heart of the world. Yet his pen was idle. More than ever he realised that he had a long apprenticeship to serve. There came a time when he threw down his manuscript and wandered out into the streets. By such means alone could he gain knowledge and the power of knowledge.

Emily de Reuss was still denied to him, Cicely seemed to have passed of her own will entirely out of his life. In those days, either might easily have obtained an empire over him, for he was in a keenly impressionable stage of living, passing through one of those crises which, in men of more experience, come earlier in life. He was full of emotions struggling for expression--it seemed to him, at last, that in solitude he would never find an outlet for them. If he had known where to look he would have sought for Cicely at all risks. He even looked for her nightly at the spot of their first meeting--but always in vain. It was as though she had vanished into thin air. By chance he heard of her at last. She had sent some work to Drexley which he had decided to accept. He spoke warmly of it, but when Douglas asked for her address he shook his head. It had come to him with the proviso of anonymous publication, and his own secrecy as to her whereabouts. He was able to tell Douglas nothing, refused even when he was pressed. Douglas left him with an angry exclamation upon his lips.

His solitude became intolerable. One night he looked out his dress clothes and dined at a large cosmopolitan restaurant, where men and women of all sorts were gathered together. Then for the first time he realised something of the tawdriness of this life of pleasure, which seemed ever calling to him through the open windows of his lonely room. He had a small table to himself, ordered his dinner with care, and drank champagne to bring his spirits so far as possible into touch with the general atmosphere. There was music playing all the while, and the ripple of gay feminine voices fell constantly upon his ears. Women were all around him, gaily dressed and bejewelled, a soft, voluptuous wave of enjoyment seemed floating about the place, enfolding them all--save him. For as he watched and listened his face grew darker and his heart heavier. He felt himself out of place, outside the orbit of these people, very little in sympathy with them. He looked at the woman sitting at the next table, elegantly dressed, laden with jewels, whose laughter was incessant and speeches pointless--her companion found her interesting enough, but Douglas was conscious of nothing save her restless desire to please, her little bursts of frivolous mirth and an ugly twitch of her lips which every now and then revolted him. It was a chance, perhaps, or a mood, which made him look out upon a scene, ordinary enough and inoffensive, through dun-coloured spectacles. He paid his bill and walked thoughtfully homeward, thankful for the cool night air which fanned his forehead. He even entered his bare sitting-room and threw up the window with a positive feeling of relief.

He brought out his work, lighted a cigarette and sat there smoking thoughtfully. The match which kindled his lamp showed him a large square envelope on his mantelpiece. He tore it open and drew out a letter. It was from Emily.

He read it eagerly. Whatever its message, it seemed a relief to him just then to know that his suspense was to be ended.

"My FRIEND,--I am suffering from a slight accident--you alone know the nature of it--and from a shock, the nature of which you cannot understand. I am better, but my doctor is an old woman. He insists upon sending me away. I am going--never mind where. It may be that we shall not meet again for some time. I want you to think of me, my dear Douglas, as kindly as you can. It seems to me that I am a very unfortunate woman. Those whom I would befriend usually end by regarding me as their worst enemy. Do not you also lose faith in me. Some day I shall return, and I hope to find you famous. Work at your novel, dedicate it, if no one who has more right to such an honour has come into your life, to me, and, whatever you do, remember that I am always your friend and that your success will be as dear to me as to yourself.

"EMILY DE REUSS."

Precisely the moment when such a thought came to him, he could not say, but before he had finished reading his attention was partially distracted by a curious and instinctive conviction. He felt that he was not alone--that the solitude of his chamber, high up in the building and cut off, as it were, from the world, had been broken. He ceased reading, and although he was no coward he could feel his heart beating. He felt a strange reluctance to turn round. Then the silence was broken. Close to his left ear sounded the click of a revolver, and a man's voice came to him from out of the shadows.

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