Devil’s Dice - William Le Queux - ebook

Devil’s Dice ebook

William Le Queux

0,0

Opis

Let me gaze down the vista of the tristful past. Ah! there are things that cannot be uttered; there are scenes that still entrance me, and incidents so unexpected and terrible that they cause me even now to hold my breath in horror. The prologue of this extraordinary drama of London life was enacted three years ago; its astounding dénouement occurred quite recently.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

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

Liczba stron: 417

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

Androidzie
iOS



Contents

I. QUEEN OF THE UNKNOWN.

II. SIN OR SECRET?

III. GHOSTS OF THE PAST.

IV. A DEEPENING MYSTERY.

V. DORA'S ENGAGEMENT.

VI. THE COUNTESS OF FYNESHADE.

VII. ON LIFE'S QUICKSANDS.

VIII. SECRET UNDERSTANDING.

IX. WHO IS HER LADYSHIP?

X. TATTLE AND TRAGEDY.

XI. THE LOCKED ROOM.

XII. IN STRICT CONFIDENCE.

XIII. BETWEEN THE DANCES.

XIV. THE DEEPER INDISCRETION.

XV. BENEATH THE ROUGE.

XVI. THE MYSTERIOUS MR MARKWICK.

XVII. ATTACK AND DEFENCE.

XVIII. A REVELATION AND ITS PRICE.

XIX. THE EARL'S SUSPICIONS.

XX. AN EVENING'S AMUSEMENT.

XXI. GRINDLAY'S TACTICS.

XXII. A HOUSE OF SHADOWS.

XXIII. IN SILENT COMPANY.

XXIV. A CONFESSION.

XXV. MOST REMARKABLE.

XXVI. THE FUGITIVE.

XXVII. MABEL'S PENITENCE.

XXVIII. A PROMISE.

XXIX. RECONCILIATION.

XXX. ONE THOUSAND POUNDS.

XXXI. THE SCENT OF VIOLETS.

XXXII. THE SECRET.

XXXIII. A FAMILY COUNCIL.

XXXIV. GUILT.

XXXV. CONCLUSION.

I. QUEEN OF THE UNKNOWN.

LET me gaze down the vista of the tristful past.

Ah! there are things that cannot be uttered; there are scenes that still entrance me, and incidents so unexpected and terrible that they cause me even now to hold my breath in horror.

The prologue of this extraordinary drama of London life was enacted three years ago; its astounding denouement occurred quite recently. During those three weary, anxious years the days have glided on as they glide even with those who suffer most, but alas! I have the sense of having trodden a veritable Via Dolorosa during a century, the tragedy of my life, with its ever-present sorrow, pressing heavily upon me perpetually. Yet my life’s journey has not always been along the barren shore of the sea of Despair. During brief moments, when, with the sweet childlike angel of my solitude, heaven and earth have seemed to glide slowly into space, I have found peace in the supreme joy of happiness. My gaze has been lost in the azure immensity of a woman’s eyes.

In this strange story, this astounding record of chastity of affection and bitter hatred, of vile scheming, of secret sins and astounding facts, I, Stuart Ridgeway, younger son of Sir Francis Ridgeway, Member for Barmouth and banker of the City of London, am compelled to speak of myself. It is indeed a relief to be able to reason out one’s misfortunes; confession is the lancet-stroke that empties the abscess. The Devil has thrown his dice and the game is up. I can now lay bare the secret of my sorrow.

Away south in the heart of the snow-capped Pyrenees, while idling away a few sunny weeks at Bagnères-de-Luchon, that quaint little spa so popular with the Cleopatras of the Boulevards, nestling in its secluded valley beneath the three great peaks of Sacrous, de Sauvegarde, and de la Mine, a woman first brought sweetness to the sadness of my melancholy days. Mine was an aimless, idle life. I had left behind me at college a reputation for recklessness. I was an arrant dunce at figures, and finance had no attraction for me. I had lived the semi-Bohemian life of a law student in London, and grown tired of it I had tried art and ignominiously failed, and, being in receipt of a generous allowance from an indulgent father, I found myself at the age of twenty-eight without profession, a mere world-weary cosmopolitan, wandering from place to place with the sole object of killing time.

Having taken up my quarters alone at the Hotel des Bains, that glaring building with its dead-white facade in the Allée d’Étigny–the magnificent view from which renders it one of the finest thoroughfares in the world–I soon became seized by ennui.

The place, filled with the haut ton of Paris, was gay enough, but somehow I met no one at the table d’hôte or elsewhere whom I cared to accept as companion. Sick of the utter loneliness amid all the mad gaiety, I was contemplating moving to Biarritz, where a maiden aunt resided, when one evening, while seated in the picturesque Casino Garden listening to the band, I saw in the crowd of chattering, laughing promenaders a woman’s face that entranced me. Only for a second in the faint light shed by the Chinese lanterns, strung from tree to tree, was I able to distinguish her features. In that brief moment, however, our eyes met, yet next second she was gone, lost in one of the gayest crowds in Europe.

The next night and the next I sat at the same little tin table taking my coffee and eagerly scanning the crowd passing and re-passing along the broad gravelled walk until once again I saw her. Then, held in fascination by her marvellous beauty, attracted as a needle by a magnet, I rose and followed her. Like myself she was alone, and a trivial accident, of which I eagerly availed myself, gave me an opportunity of introducing myself. Judge my joyful satisfaction when I found that she was English, although her dress and hat bore the unmistakable stamp of the Rue de la Paix, and her chic was that of the true Parisienne. As we walked together in the shadows beyond the public promenade, she told me that her home was in London; that on account of her father having been compelled to return suddenly, she had been left alone, and she admitted that, like myself, she had become dull and lonely.

Apparently she had no objection to my companionship, although she strove to preserve a British rigidity of manner and respect for the convenances. Yet after the reserve of the first half-hour had worn off we sat down together under a tree near the band-stand, and I gave her a card. She, however, refused to give me one.

“Call me Sybil,” she said smiling.

“Sybil!” I repeated. “A name as charming as its owner. Is your name Sybil–only Sybil?”

“My surname is of no consequence,” she answered quickly, with a slight haughtiness. “We are merely English folk thrown together in this place. To-morrow, or the next day perhaps, we shall part, never to meet again.”

“I trust not,” I said gallantly. “An acquaintanceship commenced under these strange conditions is rather romantic, to say the least.”

“Romantic,” she repeated mechanically, in a strange tone. “Yes, that is so. Every one of us, from pauper to peer, all have our little romances. But romance, after all, is synonymous with unhappiness,” and she drew a long breath as if sad thoughts oppressed her.

A moment later, however, she was as gay and bright as before, and we chatted on pleasantly until suddenly she consulted the tiny watch in her bangle and announced that it was time she returned. At her side I walked to her hotel, the Bonnemaison, and left her at the entrance.

We met frequently after that, and one morning she accompanied me on a drive through the quaint old frontier village of St Aventin and on through the wild Oo Valley as far as the Cascade.

As in the bright sunshine she lounged back in the carriage, her fair, flawless complexion a trifle heightened by the pink of her parasol, I gazed upon her as one entranced. The half lights of the Casino Garden had not been deceptive. She was twenty-two at the most, and absolutely lovely; the most bewitching woman I had ever seen. From beneath a marvel of the milliner’s art, tendrils of fair hair, soft as floss silk, strayed upon her white brow; her eyes were of that clear childlike blue that presupposes an absolute purity of soul, and in her pointed chin was a single dimple that deepened when she smiled. Hers was an adorable face, sweet, full of an exquisite beauty, and as she gazed upon me with her great eyes she seemed to read my heart. Her lithe, slim figure was admirably set off by her gown of soft material of palest green, which had all the shimmer of silk, yet moulded and defined its wearer like a Sultan’s scarf. It had tiny shaded stripes which imparted a delicious effect of myriad folds; the hem of the skirt, from under which a dainty bronze shoe appeared, had a garniture in the chromatics, as it were, of mingled rose and blue and green, and the slender waist, made long as waists may be, was girdled narrow but distinctive.

As I sat beside her, her violet-pervaded chiffons touching me, the perfume they exhaled intoxicated me with its fragrance. She was an enchantress, a well-beloved, whose beautiful face I longed to smother with kisses each time I pressed her tiny well-gloved hand.

Her frank conversation was marked by an ingenuousness that was charming. It was apparent that she moved in an exclusive circle at home, and from her allusions to notable people whom I knew in London, I was assured that her acquaintance with them was not feigned. Days passed–happy, idle, never-to-be-forgotten days. Nevertheless, try how I would, I could not induce her to tell me her name, nor could I discover it at her hotel, for the one she had given there was evidently assumed.

“Call me Sybil,” she always replied when I alluded to the subject.

“Why are you so determined to preserve the secret of your identity?” I asked, when, one evening after dinner, we were strolling beneath the trees in the Allée.

A faint shadow of displeasure fell upon her brow, and turning to me quickly she answered:

“Because–well, because it is necessary.” Then she added with a strange touch of sadness, “When we part here we shall not meet again.”

“No, don’t say that,” I protested; “I hope that in London we may see something of each other.”

She sighed, and as we passed out into the bright moonbeams that flooded the mountains and valleys, giving the snowy range the aspect of a far-off fairyland, I noticed that her habitual brightness had given place to an expression of mingled fear and sorrow. Some perpetual thought elevated her forehead and enlarged her eyes, and a little later, as we walked slowly forward into the now deserted promenade, I repeated a hope that our friendship would always remain sincere and unbroken.

“Why do you speak these words to me?” she asked suddenly, in faltering tones. “Why do you render my life more bitter than it is?”

“Because when your father returns and takes you away the light of my life will be extinguished. Don’t be cruel, Sybil; you must have seen–”

“I am not cruel,” she answered calmly, halting suddenly and looking at me with her great clear eyes. “During the past fortnight we have–well, we have amused each other, and time has passed pleasantly. I know, alas! the words I have arrested on your lips. You mistake this mild summer flirtation of ours for real love. You were about to declare that you love me–were you not?”

“True, Sybil. And I mean it. From the first moment our eyes met I have adored you,” I exclaimed with passionate tenderness. “The brightness of your face has brought light into my life. You have showed me at all times the face of an adorable woman; you have peopled my desert, you have filled me with such supreme joy that I have been lost in profound love.”

“Hush! hush!” she cried, interrupting me. “Listen, let me tell you my position.”

“I care naught for your position; I want only you, Sybil,” I continued earnestly, raising her hand to my lips and smothering it with kisses. “I have adored you in all the different forms of love. You, who have sufficed for my being; you, whose wondrous beauty filled me with all the chastity of affection. Between you and the horizon there seems a secret harmony that makes me love the stones on the very footpaths. The river yonder has your voice; the stars above us your look; everything around me smiles with your smile. I never knew until now what it was to live, but now I live because I love you. Each night when we part I long for morning; I want to see you again, to kiss your hair, to tell you I love you always–always.”

Her bosom rose and fell quickly as I spoke, and when I had finished, her little hand closed convulsively upon mine.

“No, no,” she cried hoarsely. “Let us end this interview; it is painful to both of us. I have brought this unhappiness upon you by my own reckless folly. I ought never to have broken the convenances and accepted as companion a man to whom I had not been formally introduced.”

“Ah! don’t be cruel, Sybil,” I pleaded earnestly; “cannot you see how madly I love you?”

“Yes; I think that perhaps you care more for me than I imagined,” she answered, endeavouring to preserve a calmness that was impossible. “But leave me and forget me, Stuart. I am worthless because I have fascinated you when I ought to have shunned you, knowing that our love can only bring us poignant bitterness.”

“Why? Tell me,” I gasped; then, half fearing the truth, I asked. “Are you already married?”

“No.”

“Then what barrier is there to our happiness?”

“One that is insurmountable,” she answered hoarsely, hot tears welling in her eyes. “The truth I cannot explain, as for certain reasons I am compelled to keep my secret.”

“But surely you can tell me the reason why we may not love? You cannot deny that you love me just a little,” I said.

“I do not deny it,” she answered in a low, earnest voice, raising her beautiful face to mine. “It is true, Stuart, that you are the only man I have looked upon with real affection, and I make no effort at concealment; nevertheless, our dream must end here. I have striven to stifle my passion, knowing full well the dire result that must accrue. But it is useless. Our misfortune is that we love one another; so we must part.”

“And you refuse to tell me the reason why you intend to break off our acquaintanceship,” I observed reproachfully.

“Ah, no!” she answered quickly. “You cannot understand. I dare not love you. A deadly peril threatens me. Ere six months have passed the sword which hangs, as it were, suspended over me may fall with fatal effect, but–but if it does, if I die, my last thought shall be of you, Stuart, for I feel that you are mine alone.”

I clasped her in my arms, and beneath the great tree where we were standing our lips met for the first time in a hot, passionate caress.

Then, panting, she slowly disengaged herself from my arms, saying:

“Our dream is over. After to-night we may be friends, but never lovers. To love me would bring upon you a disaster, terrible and complete; therefore strive, for my sake, Stuart, to forget.”

“I cannot,” I answered. “Tell me of your peril.”

“My peril–ah!” she exclaimed sadly. “Ever present, it haunts me like a hideous nightmare, and only your companionship has lately caused me to forget it for a few brief hours, although I have all the time been conscious of an approaching doom. It may be postponed for months, or so swiftly may it descend upon me that when to-morrow’s sun shines into my room its rays will fall upon my lifeless form; my soul and body will have parted.”

“Are you threatened by disease?”

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.