|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.33(d)|
Read an Excerpt
A Prince of Sinners
By E. Phillips Oppenheim
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
MR. KINGSTON BROOKS, POLITICAL AGENT
ALREADY THE SWEEPERS WERE busy in the deserted hall, and the lights burned low. Of the great audience who had filled the place only half-an-hour ago not one remained. The echoes of their tumultuous cheering seemed still to linger amongst the rafters, the dust which their feet had raised hung about in a little cloud. But the long rows of benches were empty, the sweepers moved ghostlike amongst the shadows, and an old woman was throwing tealeaves here and there about the platform. In the committee-room behind a little group of men were busy with their leave-takings. The candidate, a tall, somewhat burly man, with hard, shrewd face and loosely knit figure, was shaking hands with every one. His tone and manner savoured still of the rostrum.
"Good-night, sir! Good-night, Mr. Bullsom! A most excellent introduction, yours, sir! You made my task positively easy. Good-night, Mr. Brooks. A capital meeting, and everything very well arranged. Personally I feel very much obliged to you, sir. If you carry everything through as smoothly as this affair to-night, I can see that we shall lose nothing by poor Morrison's breakdown. Good-night, gentlemen, to all of you. We will meet at the club at eleven o'clock to-morrow morning. Eleven o'clock precisely, if you please."
The candidate went out to his carriage, and the others followed in twos and threes. A young man, pale, with nervous mouth, strongly-marked features and clear dark eyes, looked up from a sheaf of letters which he was busy sorting.
"Don't wait for me, Mr. Bullsom," he said. "Reynolds will let me out, and I had better run through these letters before I leave."
Mr. Bullsom was emphatic to the verge of gruffness.
"You'll do nothing of the sort," he declared. "I tell you what it is, Brooks. We're not going to let you knock yourself up. You're tackling this job in rare style. I can tell you that Henslow is delighted."
"I'm much obliged to you for saying so, Mr. Bullsom," the young man answered. "Of course the work is strange to me, but it is very interesting, and I don't mean to make a mess of it."
"There is only one chance of your doing that," Mr. Bullsom rejoined, "and that is if you overwork yourself. You need a bit of looking after. You've got a rare head on your shoulders, and I'm proud to think that I was the one to bring your name before the committee. But I'm jolly well certain of one thing. You've done all the work a man ought to do in one day. Now listen to me. Here's my carriage waiting, and you're going straight home with me to have a bite and a glass of wine. We can't afford to lose our second agent, and I can see what's the matter with you. You're as pale as a ghost, and no wonder. You've been at it all day and never a break."
The young man called Brooks had not the energy to frame a refusal, which he knew would be resented. He took down his overcoat, and stuffed the letters into his pocket.
"You're very good," he said. "I'll come up for an hour with pleasure."
They passed out together into the street, and Mr. Bullsom opened the door of his carriage.
"In with you, young man," he exclaimed. "Home, George!"
Kingston Brooks leaned back amongst the cushions with a little sigh of relief.
"This is very restful," he remarked. "We have certainly had a very busy day. The inside of electioneering may be disenchanting, but it's jolly hard work."
Mr. Bullsom sat with clasped hands in front of him resting upon that slight protuberance which denoted the advent of a stomach. He had thrown away the cigar which he had lit in the committee-room. Mrs. Bullsom did not approve of smoking in the covered wagonette, which she frequently honoured with her presence.
"There's nothing in the world worth having that hasn't to be worked for, my boy," he declared, good-humoredly.
"By other people!" Brooks remarked, smiling.
"That's as it may be," Mr. Bullsom admitted. "To my mind that's where the art of the thing comes in. Any fool can work, but it takes a shrewd man to keep a lot of others working hard for him while he pockets the oof himself."
"I suppose," the younger man remarked, thoughtfully, "that you would consider Mr. Henslow a shrewd man?"
"Shrewd! Oh, Henslow's shrewd enough. There's no question about that!"
Mr. Bullsom hesitated. He drew his hand down his stubbly grey beard.
"Honest! Oh, yes, he's honest! You've no fault to find with him, eh?"
"None whatever," Brooks hastened to say. "You see," he continued more slowly, "I have never been really behind the scenes in this sort of thing before, and Henslow has such a very earnest manner in speaking. He talked to the working men last night as though his one desire in life was to further the different radical schemes which we have on the programme. Why, the tears were actually in his eyes when he spoke of the Old Age Pension Bill. He told them over and over again that the passing of that Bill was the one object of his political career. Then, you know, there was the luncheon to-day—and I fancied that he was a little flippant about the labour vote. It was perhaps only his way of speaking."
Mr. Bullsom smiled and rubbed the carriage window with the cuff of his coat. He was very hungry.
"Oh, well, a politician has to trim a little, you know," he remarked. "Votes he must have, and Henslow has a very good idea how to get them. Here we are, thank goodness." The carriage had turned up a short drive, and deposited them before the door of a highly ornate villa. Mr. Bullsom led the way indoors, and himself took charge of his guest's coat and hat. Then he opened the door of the drawing-room.
"Mrs. Bullsom and the girls," he remarked, urbanely, "will be delighted to see you. Come in!"CHAPTER 2
THE BULLSOM FAMILY AT HOME
THERE WERE FANS UPON the wall, and much bric-a-brac of Oriental shape but Brummagem finish, a complete suite of drawing-room furniture, incandescent lights of fierce brilliancy, and a pianola. Mrs. Peter Bullsom, stout and shiny in black silk and a chatelaine, was dozing peacefully in a chair, with the latest novel from the circulating library in her lap; whilst her two daughters, in evening blouses, which were somehow suggestive of the odd elevenpence, were engrossed in more serious occupation. Louise, the elder, whose budding resemblance to her mother was already a protection against the over-amorous youths of the town, was reading a political speech in the Times. Selina, who had sandy hair, a slight figure, and was considered by her family the essence of refinement, was struggling with a volume of Cowper, who had been recommended to her by a librarian with a sense of humour, as a poet unlikely to bring a blush into her virginal cheeks. Mr. Bullsom looked in upon his domestic circle with pardonable pride, and with a little flourish introduced his guest.
"Mrs. Bullsom," he said, "this is my young friend, Kingston Brooks. My two daughters, sir, Louise and Selina." The ladies were gracious, but had the air of being taken by surprise, which, considering Mr. Bullsom's parting words a few hours ago, seemed strange.
"We've had a great meeting," Mr. Bullsom remarked, sidling towards the hearthrug, and with his thumbs already stealing towards the armholes of his waistcoat, "a great meeting, my dears. Not that I am surprised! Oh, no! As I said to Padgett, when he insisted that I should take the chair, 'Padgett,' I said, 'mark my words, we're going to surprise the town. Mr. Henslow may not be the most popular candidate we've ever had, but he's on the right side, and those who think Radicalism has had its day in Medchester will be amazed.' And so they have been. I've dropped a few hints during my speeches at the ward meetings lately, and Mr. Brooks, though he's new at the work, did his best, and I can tell you the result was a marvel. The hall was packed—simply packed. When I rose to speak there wasn't an empty place or chair to be seen."
"Dear me!" Mrs. Bullsom remarked, affably. "Supper is quite ready, my love."
Mr. Bullsom abandoned his position precipitately, and his face expressed his lively satisfaction.
"Ah!" he exclaimed. "I was hoping that you would have a bite for me. As I said to Mr. Brooks when I asked him to drop in with me, there's sure to be something to eat. And I can tell you I'm about ready for it."
Brooks found an opportunity to speak almost for the first time. He was standing between the two Misses Bullsom, and already they had approved of him. He was distinctly of a different class from the casual visitors whom their father was in the habit of introducing into the family circle.
"Mr. Bullsom was kind enough to take pity on an unfortunate bachelor," he said, with a pleasant smile. "My landlady has few faults, but an over-love of punctuality is one of them. By this time she and her household are probably in bed. Our meeting lasted a long time."
"If you will touch the bell, Peter," Mrs. Bullsom remarked, "Ann shall dish up the supper."
The young ladies exchanged shocked glances. "Dish up." What an abominable phrase! They looked covertly at their guest, but his face was imperturbable.
"We think that we have been very considerate, Mr. Brooks," Selina remarked, with an engaging smile. "We gave up our usual dinner this evening as papa had to leave so early."
Mr. Brooks smiled as he offered his arm to Mrs. Bullsom—a courtesy which much embarrassed her.
"I think," he said, "that we shall be able to show you some practical appreciation of your thoughtfulness. I know nothing so stimulating to the appetite as politics, and to-day we have been so busy that I missed even my afternoon tea."
"I'm sure that we are quite repaid for giving up our dinner," Selina remarked, with a backward glance at the young man. "Oh, here you are at last, Mary. I didn't hear you come in."
"My niece, Miss Scott," Mr. Bullsom announced. "Now you know all the family."
A plainly-dressed girl with dark eyes and unusually pale cheeks returned his greeting quietly, and followed them into the dining-room. Mrs. Bullsom spread herself over her seat with a little sigh of relief. Brooks gazed in silent wonder at the gilt-framed oleographs which hung thick upon the walls, and Mr. Bullsom stood up to carve a joint of beef.
"Plain fare, Mr. Brooks, for plain people," he remarked, gently elevating the sirloin on his fork, and determining upon a point of attack. "We don't understand frills here, but we've a welcome for our friends, and a hearty one."
"If there is anything in the world better than roast beef," Brooks remarked, unfolding his serviette, "I haven't found it."
"There's one thing," Mr. Bullsom remarked, pausing for a moment in his labours, "I can give you a good glass of wine. Ann, I think that if you look in the right-hand drawer of the sideboard you will find a bottle of champagne. If not I'll have to go down into the cellar."
Ann, however, produced it—which, considering that Mr. Bullsom had carefully placed it there a few hours ago, was not extraordinary—and Brooks sipped the wine with inward tremors, justified by the result.
"I suppose, Mr. Brooks," Selina remarked, turning towards him in an engaging fashion, "that you are a great politician. I see your name so much in the papers."
"My political career," he answered, "dates from yesterday morning. I am taking Mr. Morrison's place, you know, as agent for Mr. Henslow. I have never done anything of the sort before, and I have scarcely any claims to be considered a politician at all."
"A very lucky change for us, Brooks," Mr. Bullsom declared, with the burly familiarity which he considered justified by his position as chairman of the Radical committee. "Poor Morrison was past the job. It was partly through his muddling that we lost the seat at the last election. I'd made up my mind to have a change this time, and so I told 'em."
Brooks was tired of politics, and he looked across the table. This pale girl with the tired eyes and self-contained manner interested him. The difference, too, between her and the rest of the family was puzzling.
"I believe, Miss Scott," he said, "that I met you at the Stuarts' dance."
"I was there," she admitted. "I don't think I danced with you, but we had supper at the same table."
"I remember it perfectly," he said. "Wasn't it supposed to be a very good dance?"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"I believe so," she answered. "There was the usual fault—too many girls. But it was very pretty to watch."
"You do not care for dancing, yourself, perhaps?" he hazarded.
"Indeed I do," she declared. "But I knew scarcely any one there. I see a good deal of Kate sometimes, but the others I scarcely know at all."
"You were in the same position as I was, then," he answered, smiling.
"Oh, you—you are different," she remarked. "I mean that you are a man, and at a dance that means everything. That is why I rather dislike dances. We are too dependent upon you. If you would only let us dance alone."
Selina smiled in a superior manner. She would have given a good deal to have been invited to the dance in question, but that was a matter which she did not think it worth while to mention.
"My dear Mary!" she said, "what an idea. I am quite sure that when you go out with us you need never have any difficulty about partners."
"Our programmes for the Liberal Club Dance and the County Cricket Ball were full before we had been in the room five minutes," Louise interposed.
Mary smiled inwardly, but said nothing, and Brooks was quite sure then that she was different. He realized too that her teeth were perfect, and her complexion, notwithstanding its pallor, was faultless. She would have been strikingly good-looking but for her mouth, and that—was it a discontented or a supercilious curl? At any rate it disappeared when she smiled.
"May I ask whether you have been attending a political meeting this evening, Miss Scott?" he asked. "You came in after us, I think."
She shook her head.
"No, I have a class on Wednesday evening."
"A class!" he repeated, doubtfully.
Mr. Bullsom, who thought he had been out of the conversation long enough, interposed.
"Mary calls herself a bit of a philanthropist, you see, Mr. Brooks," he explained. "Goes down into Medchester and teaches factory girls to play the piano on Wednesday evenings. Much good may it do them."
There was a curious gleam in the girl's eyes for a moment which checked the words on Brooks' lips, and led him to precipitately abandon the conversation. But afterwards, while Selina was pedalling at the pianola and playing havoc with the expression-stops, he crossed the room and stood for a moment by her chair.
"I should like you to tell me about your class," he said. "I have several myself—of different sorts."
She closed her magazine, but left her finger in the place.
"Oh, mine is a very unambitious undertaking," she said. "Kate Stuart and I started it for the girls in her father's factory, and we aim at nothing higher than an attempt to direct their taste in fiction. They bring their Free Library lists to us, and we mark them together. Then we all read one more serious book at the same time—history or biography—and talk about it when we meet."
"It is an excellent idea," he said, earnestly. "By the bye, something occurs to me. You know, or rather you don't know, that I give free lectures on certain books or any simple literary subject on Wednesday evenings at the Secular Hall when this electioneering isn't on. Couldn't you bring your girls one evening? I would be guided in my choice of a subject by you."
"Yes, I should like that," she answered, "and I think the girls would. It is very good of you to suggest it."
Louise, with a great book under her arm, deposited her dumpy person in a seat by his side, and looked up at him with a smile of engaging candour.
"Mr. Brooks," she said, "I am going to do a terrible thing. I am going to show you some of my sketches and ask your opinion."
Brooks turned towards her without undue enthusiasm.
"It is very good of you, Miss Bullsom," he said, doubtfully; "but I never drew a straight line in my life, and I know nothing whatever about perspective. My opinion would be worse than worthless."
Louise giggled artlessly, and turned over the first few pages.
Excerpted from A Prince of Sinners by E. Phillips Oppenheim. Copyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I had so much trouble putting this book down! The ending was amazing and joyous to me. I'm waiting for the next chapter in the lives of Brooks,Sybil, Catherine, Philip and the other special people who made this book so unputdownable!!