Greatheart - Ethel M. Dell - ebook

Greatheart ebook

Ethel M. Dell

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First published in 1918. Ethel M. Dell was an English writer of popular romance novels. You will find some fascinating glimpses of the period in her books, as well as a substantial dose of romance and adventure. There were two of them as unlike as two men could be. Sir Eustace, big, domineering, haughty, used to sweeping all before him with the power of his personality. The other was Stumpy, small, insignificant, quiet, with a little limp. They clashed over the greatest question that may come to men the love of a girl. This story opens in a pleasing resort in the Swiss Alps, the heroine is sweet and charmingly naive. Did she choose wisely? Is Greatheart more to be desired than great riches? The answer is the most vivid and charming story that Ethel M. Dell has written in a long time.

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Contents

PART I

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

PART II

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

PART I

CHAPTER I

THE WANDERER

Biddy Maloney stood at the window of her mistress’s bedroom, and surveyed the world with eyes of stern disapproval. There was nothing of the smart lady’s maid about Biddy. She abominated smart lady’s maids. A flyaway French cap and an apron barely reaching to the knees were to her the very essence of flighty impropriety. There was just such a creature in attendance upon Lady Grace de Vigne who occupied the best suite of rooms in the hotel, and Biddy very strongly resented her existence. In her own mind she despised her as a shameless hussy wholly devoid of all ideas of “dacency.” Her resentment was partly due to the fact that the indecent one belonged to the party in possession of the best suite, which they had occupied some three weeks before Biddy and her party had appeared on the scene.

It was all Master Scott’s fault, of course. He ought to have written to engage rooms sooner, but then to be sure the decision to migrate to this winter paradise in the Alps had been a sudden one. That had been Sir Eustace’s fault. He was always so sudden in his ways.

Biddy sighed impatiently. Sir Eustace had always been hard to manage. She had never really conquered him even in the days when she had made him stand in the corner and go without sugar in his tea. She well remembered the shocking occasion on which he had flung sugar and basin together into the fire so that the others might be made to share his enforced abstinence. She believed he was equal to committing a similar act of violence if baulked even now. But he never was baulked. At thirty-five he reigned supreme in his own world. No one ever crossed him, unless it were Master Scott, and of course no one could be seriously angry with him, poor dear young man! He was so gentle and kind. A faint, maternal smile relaxed Biddy’s grim lips. She became aware that the white world below was a-flood with sunshine.

The snowy mountains that rose against the vivid blue were dream-like in their beauty. Where the sun shone upon them, their purity was almost too dazzling to behold. It was a relief to rest the eyes upon the great patches of pine-woods that clothed some of the slopes.

“I wonder if Miss Isabel will be happy here,” mused Biddy.

That to her mind was the only thing on earth that really mattered, practically the only thing for which she ever troubled her Maker. Her own wants were all amalgamated in this one great desire of her heart–that her darling’s poor torn spirit should be made happy. She had wholly ceased to remember that she had ever wanted anything else. It was for Miss Isabel that she desired the best rooms, the best carriages, the best of everything. Even her love for Master Scott–poor dear young man!–depended largely upon the faculty he possessed for consoling and interesting Miss Isabel. Anyone who did that earned Biddy’s undying respect and gratitude. Of the rest of the world–save for a passing disapproval–she was scarcely aware. Nothing else mattered in the same way. In fact nothing else really mattered at all.

Ah! A movement from the bed at last! Her quick ears, ever on the alert, warned her on the instant. She turned from the window with such mother-love shining in her old brown face under its severe white cap as made it as beautiful in its way as the paradise without.

“Why, Miss Isabel darlint, how you’ve slept then!” she said, in the soft, crooning voice which was kept for this one beloved being alone.

Two white arms were stretched wide outside the bed. Two dark eyes, mysteriously shadowed and sunken, looked up to hers.

“Has he gone already, Biddy?” a low voice asked.

“Only a little way, darlint. He’s just round the corner,” said Biddy tenderly. “Will ye wait a minute while I give ye your tay?”

There was a spirit-kettle singing merrily in the room. She busied herself about it, her withered face intent over the task.

The white arms fell upon the blue travelling-rug that Biddy had spread with loving care outside the bed the night before to add to her mistress’s comfort. “When did he go, Biddy?” the low voice asked, and there was a furtive quality in the question as if it were designed for none but Biddy’s ears. “Did he–did he leave no message?”

“Ah, to be sure!” said Biddy, turning her face for a moment. “And the likes of me to have forgotten it! He sent ye his best love, darlint, and ye were to eat a fine breakfast before ye went out.”

The sad eyes smiled at her from the bed, half-gratified, half-incredulous, like the eyes of a lonely child who listens to a fairy-tale. “It was like him to think of that, Biddy. But–I wish he had stayed a little longer. I must get up and go and find him.”

“Hasn’t he been with ye through the night?” asked Biddy, bent again to her task.

“Nearly all night long!” The answer came on a note of triumph, yet there was also a note of challenge in it also.

“Then what more would ye have?” said Biddy wisely. “Leave him alone for a bit, darlint! Husbands are better without their wives sometimes.”

A low laugh came from the bed. “Oh, Biddy, I must tell him that! He would love your bon-mots. Did he–did he say when he would be back?”

“That he did not,” said Biddy, still absorbed over the kettle. “But there’s nothing in that at all. Ye can’t be always expecting a man to give account of himself. Now, mavourneen, I’ll give ye your tay, and ye’ll be able to get up when ye feel like it. Ah! There’s Master Scott! And would ye like him to come in and have a cup with ye?”

Three soft knocks had sounded on the door. The woman in the bed raised herself, and her hair fell in glory around her, hair that at twenty-five had been raven-black, hair that at thirty-two was white as the snow outside the window.

“Is that you, Stumpy dear? Come in! Come in!” she called.

Her voice was hollow and deep. She turned her face to the door–a beautiful, wasted face with hungry eyes that watched and waited perpetually.

The door opened very quietly and unobtrusively, and a small, insignificant man came in. He was about the size of the average schoolboy of fifteen, and he walked with a slight limp, one leg being a trifle shorter than the other. Notwithstanding this defect, his general appearance was one of extreme neatness, from his colourless but carefully trained moustache and small trim beard to his well-shod feet. His clothes–-like his beard–fitted him perfectly.

His close-cropped hair was also colourless and grew somewhat far back on his forehead. His pale grey eyes had a tired expression, as if they had looked too long or too earnestly upon the turmoil of life.

He came to the bedside and took the thin white hand outstretched to him on which a wedding ring hung loose. He walked without awkwardness; there was even dignity in his carriage.

He bent to kiss the uplifted face. “Have you slept well, dear?”

Her arms reached up and clasped his neck. “Oh, Stumpy, yes! I have had a lovely night. Basil has been with me. He has gone out now; but I am going to look for him presently.”

“Many happy returns of the day to ye, Master Scott!” put in Biddy rather pointedly.

“Ah yes. It is your birthday. I had forgotten. Forgive me, Stumpy darling! You know I wish you always the very, very best.” The clinging arms held him more closely,

“Thank you, Isabel.” Scott’s voice was as tired as his eyes, and yet it had a certain quality of strength. “Of course it’s a very important occasion. How are we going to celebrate it?”

“I have a present for you somewhere. Biddy, where is it?” Isabel’s voice had a note of impatience in it.

“It’s here, darlint! It’s here!” Biddy bustled up to the bed with a parcel.

Isabel took it from her and turned to Scott. “It’s only a silly old cigarette-case, dear, but I thought of it all myself. How old are you now, Stumpy?”

“I am thirty,” he answered, smiling. “Thank you very much, dear. It’s just the thing I wanted–only too good!”

“As if anything could be too good for you!” his sister said tenderly. “Has Eustace remembered?”

“Oh yes. Eustace has given me a saddle, but as he didn’t think I should want it here, it is to be presented when we get home again.” He sat down on the side of the bed, still inspecting the birthday offering.

“Haven’t you had anything from anyone else?” Isabel asked, after a moment.

He shook his head. “Who else is there to bother about a minnow like me?”

“You’re not a minnow, Scott. And didn’t–didn’t Basil give you anything?”

Scott’s tired eyes looked at her with a sudden fixity. He said nothing; but a piteous look came into Isabel’s face under his steady gaze, and she dropped her own as if ashamed.

“Whisht, Master Scott darlint, for the Lord’s sake, don’t ye go upsetting her!” warned Biddy in a sibilant whisper. “I had trouble enough last night. If it hadn’t been for the draught, she wouldn’t have slept at all, at all.”

Scott did not look at her. “You should have called me,” he said, and leaning forward took his sister’s hand. “Isabel, wouldn’t you like to come out and see the skaters? There is some wonderful luging going on too.”

She did not raise her eyes; her whole demeanour had changed. She seemed to droop as if all animation had gone; “I don’t know,” she said listlessly. “I think I would almost as soon stay here.”

“Have your tay, darlint!” coaxed Biddy, on her other side.

“Eustace will be coming to look for you if you don’t,” said Scott.

She started at that, and gave a quick shiver. “Oh no, I don’t want Eustace! Don’t let him come here, Stumpy, will you?”

“Shall I go and tell him you are coming then?” asked Scott, his eyes still steadily watching her.

She nodded. “Yes, yes. But I don’t want to be made. Basil never made me do things.”

Scott rose. “I will wait for you downstairs. Thank you, Biddy. Yes, I’ll drink that first. No tea in the world ever tastes like your brew.”

“Get along with your blarney, Master Scott!” protested Biddy. “And you and Sir Eustace mustn’t tire Miss Isabel out. Remember, she’s just come a long journey, and it’s not wonderful at all that she don’t feel like exerting herself.”

A red fire of resentment smouldered in the old woman’s eyes, but Scott paid no attention to it. “You’d better get some sleep yourself, Biddy, if you can,” he said. “No more, thanks. You will be out in an hour then, Isabel?”

“Perhaps,” she said.

He paused, standing beside her. “If you are not out in an hour I shall come and fetch you,” he said.

She put forth an appealing hand like a child. “I will come out, Stumpy. I will come out,” she said tremulously.

He pressed the hand for a moment. “In an hour then, I want to show you everything. There is plenty to be seen.”

He turned to the door, looked back with a parting smile, and went out.

Isabel did not see the smile. She was staring moodily downwards with eyes that only looked within.

CHAPTER II

THE LOOKER-ON

Down on the skating-rink below the hotel, a crowd of people were making merry. The ice was in splendid condition. It sparkled in the sun like a sheet of frosted glass, and over it the skaters glided with much mirth and laughter.

Scott stood on the road above and watched them. There were a good many accomplished performers among them, and there were also several beginners. But all seemed alike infected with the gaiety of the place. There was not one face that did not wear a smile.

It was an invigorating scene. From a slope of the white mountain-side beyond the rink the shouts and laughter of higers came through the crystal air. A string of luges was shooting down the run, and even as Scott caught sight of it the foremost came to grief, and a dozen people rolled ignominiously in the snow. He smiled involuntarily. He seemed to have stepped into an atmosphere of irresponsible youth. The air was full of the magic fluid. It stirred his pulses like a draught of champagne.

Then his eyes returned to the rink, and almost immediately singled out the best skater there. A man in a white sweater, dark, handsome, magnificently made, supremely sure of himself, darted with the swift grace of a swallow through the throng. His absolute confidence and splendid physique made him conspicuous. He executed elaborate figures with such perfect ease and certainty of movement that many turned to look at him in astonished admiration.

“Great Scott!” said a cracked voice at Scott’s shoulder.

He turned sharply, and met the frank regard of a rosy-faced schoolboy a little shorter than himself.

“Look at that bloomin’ swell!” said the new-comer in tones of deep disgust. “He seems to have sprouted in the night. I’ve no use for these star skaters myself. They’re all so beastly sidey.”

He addressed Scott as an equal, and as an equal Scott made reply. “P’raps when you’re a star skater yourself, you’ll change your mind about ‘em.”

The boy grinned. “Ah! P’raps! You’re a new chum, aren’t you?”

“Very new,” said Scott.

“Can you skate?” asked the lad. “But of course you can. I suppose you’re another dark horse. It’s too bad, you know; just as Dinah and I are beginning to fancy ourselves at it. We began right at the beginning too.”

“Consider yourself lucky!” said Scott rather briefly.

“What do you mean?” The boy’s eyes flashed over him intelligently, green eyes humorously alert.

Scott glanced downwards. “I mean my legs are not a pair, so I can’t even begin.”

“Oh, bad luck, sir!” The equality vanished from the boy’s voice. He became suddenly almost deferential, and Scott realized that he was no longer regarded as a comrade. “Still”–he hesitated–“you can luge, I suppose?”

“I don’t quite see myself,” said Scott, looking across once more to the merry group on the distant run.

“Any idiot can do that,” the boy protested, then turned suddenly a deep red. “Oh, lor, I didn’t mean that! Hi, Dinah!” He turned to cover his embarrassment and sent a deafening yell at the sun-bathed façade of the hotel. “Are you never coming, you cuckoo? Half the morning’s gone already!”

“Coming, Billy!” at once a clear gay voice made answer, and the merriest face that Scott had ever seen made a sudden appearance at an open window. “Darling Billy, do keep your hair on for just two minutes longer! Yvonne has been trying on my fancy dress, but she’s nearly done.”

The neck and shoulders below the laughing face were bare and a bare arm waved in a propitiatory fashion ere it vanished.

“Looks as if the fancy dress is a minus quantity,” observed Billy to his companion with a grin. “I didn’t see any of it, did you?”

Scott tried not to laugh. “Your sister?” he asked.

Billy nodded affirmation. “She ain’t a bad urchin,” he observed, “as sisters go. We’re staying here along with the de Vignes. Ever met ‘em? Lady Grace is a holy terror. Her husband is a horrible stuck-up bore of an Anglo-Indian,–thinks himself everybody, and tells the most awful howlers. Rose–that’s the daughter–is by way of being very beautiful. There she goes now; see? That golden-haired girl in red! She’s another of your beastly star skaters. I’ll bet she’ll have that big bounder cutting capers with her before the day’s out.”

“Think so?” said Scott.

Billy nodded again. “I suppose he’s a prince at least. My word, doesn’t he fancy himself? Look at that now? Side–sheer side!”

The skater under discussion had just executed a most intricate figure not far from them. Having accomplished it with that unerring and somewhat blatant confidence that so revolted Billy’s schoolboy soul, he straightened his tall figure, and darted in a straight line for the end of the rink above which they stood. His hands were in his pockets. His bearing was superb. He described a complete circle below them before he brought himself to a stand. Then he lifted his dark arrogant face. He wore a short clipped moustache which by no means hid the strength of a well-modelled though slightly sneering mouth. His eyes were somewhat deeply set, and shone extraordinarily blue under straight black brows that met. The man’s whole expression was one of dominant self-assertion. He bore himself like a king.

“Well, Stumpy,” he said, “where’s Isabel?”

Scott’s companion jumped, and beat a swift retreat. Scott smiled a little as he made reply.

“I have been up to see her. She will be out presently. Biddy had to give her a sleeping-draught last night.”

“Damn!” said the other in a fierce undertone. “Did she call you first?”

“No.”

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