The Knave of Diamonds - Ethel M. Dell - ebook

The Knave of Diamonds ebook

Ethel M. Dell

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Opis

1912. Ethel May Dell (1881-1939), British writer, began writing at a young age. Most of her stories were stories of passion and love set in India and other British colonial possessions. American Nap Errol is in love with reserved Englishwoman, Lady Anne. Lady Anne is unhappily married to an unpleasant, wealthy drunk, who is twice her age. Nap is, in his own and most other’s opinion, a knave and a bounder. Lady Anne, miserable in her situation, is honor bound to her husband and marriage vows. Nap is soon equally miserable, as Anne refuses to enter into an adulterous liason. Fast paced, involving romance written early in the Twentieth century, „The Knave of Diamonds” novel stands up well to the test of time.

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Liczba stron: 582

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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

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

PART III

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

PART I

CHAPTER I

THE MISSING HEART

There came a sudden blare of music from the great ballroom below, and the woman who stood alone at an open window on the first floor shrugged her shoulders and shivered a little. The night air blew in brisk and cold upon her uncovered neck, but except for that slight, involuntary shiver she scarcely seemed aware of it. The room behind her was brilliantly lighted but empty. Some tables had been set for cards, but the cards were untouched. Either the attractions of the ballroom had remained omnipotent, or no one had penetrated to this refuge of the bored–no one save this tall and stately woman robed in shimmering, iridescent green, who stood with her face to the night, breathing the chill air as one who had been on the verge of suffocation. It was evidently she who had flung up the window. Her gloved hands leaned upon the woodwork on each side of it. There was a certain constraint in her whole attitude, a tension that was subtly evident in every graceful line. Her head was slightly bent as though she intently watched or listened for something.

Yet nothing could have been audible where she stood above the hubbub of music, laughter, and stamping feet that rose from below. It filled the night with uproar. Nor was there anything but emptiness in the narrow side-street into which she looked.

The door of the room was ajar and gradually swinging wider in the draught. Very soon it would be wide enough for anyone passing in the passage outside to spy the slim figure that stood so motionless before the open window. It was almost wide enough now. Surely it was wide enough, for suddenly it ceased to move. The draught continued to eddy round the room, stirring the soft brown hair about the woman’s temples, but the door stood still as at the behest of an unseen hand.

For fully half a minute nothing happened; then as suddenly and silently as a picture flashed from a magic lantern slide, a man’s head came into view. A man’s eyes, dusky, fierce, with something of a stare in them, looked the motionless figure keenly up and down.

There followed another interval as though the intruder were debating with himself upon some plan of action, then, boldly but quite quietly, he pushed the door back and entered.

He was a slight, trim man, clean-shaven, with high cheek-bones that made a long jaw seem the leaner by contrast. His sleek black hair was parted in the middle above his swarthy face, giving an unmistakably foreign touch to his appearance. His tread was light and wary as a cat’s.

His eyes swept the room comprehensively as he advanced, coming back to the woman at the window as though magnetically drawn to her. But she remained quite unaware of him, and he, no whit disconcerted, calmly seated himself at one of the tables behind her and took up a pack of cards.

The dance-music in the room below was uproariously gay. Some of the dancers were singing. Now and then a man’s voice bellowed through the clamour like the blare of a bull.

Whenever this happened, the man at the table smiled to himself a faint, thin-lipped smile, and the woman at the window shivered again.

Suddenly, during a lull, he spoke. He was counting out the cards into heaps with lightning rapidity, turning up one here and there, and he did not raise his eyes from his occupation.

“I say, you know,” he said in a drawl that was slightly nasal, “you will have to tell me how old you are. Is that an obstacle?”

She wheeled round at the first deliberate syllable. The electric light flared upon her pale, proud face. She stood in dead silence, looking at him.

“You mustn’t mind,” he said persuasively, still without lifting his eyes. “I swear I’ll never tell. Come now!”

Very quietly she turned and closed the window; then with a certain stateliness she advanced to the table at which he sat, and stopped before it.

“I think you are making a mistake,” she said, in a voice that had a hint of girlish sweetness about it despite its formality.

He looked up then with a jerk, and the next instant was on his feet.

“Gad! I’m tremendously sorry! What must you take me for? I took you for Mrs. Damer. I beg you will forgive me.”

She smiled a little, and some of the severity went out of her face. For a moment that too seemed girlish.

“It is of no consequence. I saw it was a mistake.”

“An idiotic mistake!” he declared with emphasis. “And you are not a bit like Mrs. Damer either. Are you waiting for someone? Would you like me to clear out?”

“Certainly not. I am going myself.”

“Oh, but don’t!” he begged her very seriously. “I shall take it horribly to heart if you do. And really, I don’t deserve such a snub as that.”

Again she faintly smiled. “I am not feeling malicious, but you are expecting your partner. And I–”

“No, I am not,” he asserted. “My partner has basely deserted me for another fellow. I came in here merely because I was wandering about seeking distraction. Please don’t go–unless I bore you–in which case you have only to dismiss me.”

She turned her eyes questioningly upon the cards before him. “What are you doing with them? Is it a game?”

“Won’t you sit down?” he said, “and I will tell you.”

She seated herself facing him. “Well?”

He considered the cards for a little, his brows bent. Then, “It is a magician’s game,” he said. “Let me read your fortune.”

She hesitated.

Instantly he looked up. “You are not afraid?”

She met his look, a certain wistfulness in her grey eyes. “Oh, no, not afraid–only sceptical.”

“Only sceptical!” he echoed. “That is a worldwide complaint. But anyone with imagination can always pretend. You are not good at pretending?”

“Not particularly.”

His eyes challenged hers. “Perhaps you have never needed an anaesthetic?” he said coolly.

She looked slightly startled. “What do you mean?”

He leaned deliberately forward across the table. “You know what an anaesthetic does, don’t you? It cheats the senses of pain. And a little humbug does the same for the mind. Of course you don’t believe anything. I don’t myself. But you can’t stand for ever and contemplate an abyss of utter ignorance. You must weave a little romance about it for the sake of your self-respect.”

She looked straight into the challenging eyes. The wistfulness was still in her own. “Then you are offering to weave a little romance for me?” she said, with a faint involuntary sigh.

He made her a brief bow. “If you will permit me to do so.”

“To relieve your boredom?” she suggested with a smile.

“And yours,” he smiled back, taking up the cards.

She did not contradict him. She only lowered her eyes to the deft hands that were disposing the cards in mystic array upon the table.

There followed a few moments of silence; then in his careless, unmusical drawl the man spoke.

“Do you mind telling me your first name? It is essential to the game, of course, or I shouldn’t presume to ask.”

“My name is Anne,” she said.

The noise below had lessened considerably, and this fact seemed to cause her some relief. The tension had gone out of her bearing. She sat with her chin upon her hand.

Not a beautiful woman by any means, she yet possessed that indescribable charm which attracts almost in spite of itself. There was about her every movement a queenly grace that made her remarkable, and yet she was plainly not one to court attention. Her face in repose had a look of unutterable weariness.

“How old are you please?” said the magician.

“Twenty-five.”

He glanced up at her.

“Yes, twenty-five,” she repeated. “I am twenty-five to-day.”

He looked at her fixedly for a few seconds, then in silence returned to his cards.

She continued to watch him without much interest. The dance-music was quickening to the finale. The hubbub of voices had died away. Evidently a good many people had ceased to dance.

Suddenly her companion spoke. “Do you like diamonds?”

She smiled at the question. “Yes, I like them. I haven’t a passion for them.”

“No,” he said, without raising his eyes. “You haven’t a passion for anything at present. You will have soon.”

“I think it very unlikely,” she said.

“Of course you do.” He was manoeuvring the cards rapidly with one hand. “Your eyes have not been opened yet. I see an exciting time before you. You are going to have an illness first. That comes in the near future.”

“I have never been ill in my life,” she said.

“No? It will be an experience for you, then–not a very painful one, I hope. Are you getting nervous?”

“Not in the least.”

“Ah! That’s as well, because here comes the King of Diamonds. He has taken a decided fancy to you, and if you have any heart at all, which I can’t discover, you ought to end by being the Queen. No, here comes the Knave–confound his impudence!–and, by Jove, yes, followed by the missing heart. I am glad you have got one anyway, even if the King is not in it. It looks as if you will have some trouble with that Knave, so beware of him.” He glanced up at her for a moment. “Beware of him!” he repeated deliberately. “He is a dangerous scamp. The King is the man for you.”

She received his caution with that faint smile of hers that softened her face but never seemed to reach her eyes.

He continued his contemplation of the cards in silence for some seconds. “Yes,” he said finally, “I see an exciting future before you. I hope you will look out for me when you come into your own. I should value your majesty’s favour immensely.”

“I will give you a place at court as the Queen’s jester,” she said.

He glanced up again sharply, met her smile, and bowed with much ceremony. “Your majesty’s most humble servant!” he declared, “I enter upon my functions from this day forward. You will see my cap and bells in the forefront of the throng when you ride to your coronation.”

“You are sure there will be a coronation?” she asked.

“It is quite evident,” he replied with conviction.

“Even though I chance to be married already?”

He raised his brows. “That so?” he drawled. “Well, it rather complicates matters, doesn’t it? Still–“ He looked again at the cards. “It seems pretty certain. If it weren’t for that hobgoblin of a Knave I should say it was quite so. He comes between the King and the heart, you see. I shouldn’t be too intimate with him if I were you.”

She rose, still smiling. “I shall certainly keep him at a respectful distance,” she said. “Good-bye.”

“Oh, are you going? Let me escort you! Really, I’ve nothing else to do.” He swept the cards together and sprang to his feet. “Where may I take you? Would you like some refreshment?”

She accepted his proffered arm though she instantly negatived his proposal. “Shall we go down to the vestibule? No doubt you have a partner for the next dance.”

“Have you?” he questioned keenly.

“That is beside the point,” she remarked.

“Not at all. It is the centre and crux of the situation. Do say you are disengaged for the next!” His manner became almost boyishly eager. He had shed his drawl like a garment. “Say it!” he insisted.

She stood in the doorway as one halting between two opinions. “But if I am not disengaged?” she said.

He laughed. “There is a remedy for that, I fancy. And the Queen can do no wrong. Don’t be a slave to the great god Convention! He’s such a hideous bore.”

His bold dark eyes smiled freely into hers. It was evident that he wasted little time before the shrine of the deity he condemned. But for all their mastery, they held a certain persuasive charm as well. She hesitated a moment longer–and was lost.

“Well, where shall we go?”

“I know of an excellent sitting-out place if your majesty will deign to accompany me,” he said, “a corner where one can see without being seen–always an advantage, you will allow.”

“You seem to know this place rather well,” she observed, as she suffered him to lead her away in triumph.

He smiled shrewdly. “A wise general always studies his ground,” he said.

CHAPTER II

THE QUEEN’S JESTER

The chosen corner certainly had the advantage of privacy. It was an alcove at the end of one of the long narrow passages in which the ancient hostelry abounded, and the only light it boasted filtered through a square aperture in the wall which once had held a window. Through this aperture the curious could spy into the hall below, which just then was thronged with dancers who were crowding out of the ballroom and drifting towards the refreshment-room, the entrance to which was also visible.

An ancient settee had been placed in this coign of vantage, and upon this they established themselves by mutual consent.

The man was laughing a little below his breath. “I feel like a refugee,” he said.

His companion leaned her arms upon the narrow row sill and gazed downwards. “A refugee from boredom?” she suggested. “We are all that, more or less.”

“I dispute that,” he said at once. “It is only the bores who are ever bored.”

“And I dispute that,” she replied, without turning, “of necessity, in self-defence.”

He leaned forward to catch the light upon her profile. “You are bored?”

She smiled faintly in the gloom. “That is why I have engaged the services of a jester.”

“By Jove,” he said, “I’m glad you pitched on me.”

She made a slight movement of impatience. “Isn’t it rather futile to say that sort of thing?”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because you know quite well it was not a matter of choice.”

“Rather a matter of manque de mieux?” he suggested coolly.

She turned from her contemplation of the crowd below. “I am not going to contradict you,” she said, “I never foster amour propre in a man. It is always a plant of hardy growth.”

“‘Hardy’ is not the word,” he declared. “Say ‘rank,’ and you will be nearer the mark. I fully endorse your opinion. We are a race of conceited, egotistical jackanapeses, and we all think we are going to lick creation till a pretty woman comes along and makes us dance to her piping like a row of painted marionettes. But is the pretty woman any the happier, do you think, for tumbling us thus ruthlessly off our pedestals? I sometimes wonder if the sight of the sawdust doesn’t make her wish she hadn’t.”

The drawl in his voice was very apparent as he uttered the last sentence. His chin was propped upon his hands. He was obviously studying her with a deliberate criticism that observed and considered every detail.

But his scrutiny held without embarrassing her. She met it with no conscious effort.

“I can’t bear cynicism,” she told him frankly.

He shrugged his shoulders. “Cynics–real cynics–never can.”

“But I am not a cynic.”

“Are you sure of that?”

“Yes, quite sure.”

“And yet you tell me that you never take the trouble to flatter the inferior male. That’s conflicting evidence, you know. Are you a man-hater, by the way?”

She shivered as if at a sudden draught. “I’m not prepared to answer that question off-hand.” she said.

“Very prudent of you!” he commented. “Do you know I owe you an apology?”

“I shouldn’t have said so.”

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