The Lone Wolf Returns - Louis Joseph Vance - ebook

The Lone Wolf Returns ebook

Louis Joseph Vance

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Opis

This book is more a study of character than a mysterious genre by which the character is otherwise known. The book begins with the interaction of the characters with a love story, which leads to an unexpected meeting. In the end, there is a surprise involving several characters, but this should be opened by another reader.

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Liczba stron: 447

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Contents

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX

X

XI

XII

XIII

XIV

XV

XVI

XVII

XVIII

XIX

XX

XXI

XXII

XXIII

XXIV

XXV

XXVI

I

“I love you,” said Michael Lanyard.

He spoke in French; and that simple phrase, covered by the surging song of strings and woodwinds, was inaudible to other ears. Only the woman with him heard and, hearing, roused from the reverie into which she too insensibly had lapsed, turning back from the prismatic pageantry of the dance eyes whose grave regard gave never a clue to the emotions his words inspired.

Making no more acknowledgment than this, she studied him intently but kindly, touched by the wistfulness that shadowed the demeanour of unpretending dignity which she had learned to like best of all the many phases of the man their friendship had revealed.

The severity of evening dress in line and lack of colour became him well, setting off the lean, sculptured contours of his face, giving value to its even warmth of tone. Traces of silver at his temples hinted at that history, not too happy, with which she was in part acquainted. The strength with which his mouth was modelled affected her, as always, with a faint, strangely pleasant thrill of alarm, the dark, clear eyes, at once deferential and demanding, held her in a spell she had no wish to break.

“I love you,” he repeated.

Her brows took on a quaintly plaintive cast. “I know, my friend,” she replied in the same tongue and tone. “For a long time I have known... as you have known my love was all for you. And yet...” The slender shoulders lifting their fairness out of the corsage of her jetted gown sketched a shrug.

“I had to wait to tell you,” he said, “till I was sure–”

In indulgent raillery she interrupted: “Sure that you loved me?”

He smiled, but wagged his head in stubborn earnestness: “Sure of what else I must say.”

“There is more?”

“Much more.” The man leaned over the table, with an even deeper accent of sincerity in his guarded voice: “I love you so dearly, Eve, the thought of a life without you is beyond my understanding... Yet I may not ask you to be my wife.”

“May not?” Hands of consummate grace fluttered above the cloth in tragicomic impatience. “Or will not?”

“Will not because I may not.”

Eve de Montalais held a small pause of perplexity, made a small sign of frustration. “It is a riddle,” she said. “But when one speaks in riddles, one speaks playfully... as you do not. Tell me, then, my Michael! why you think you may not ask me to marry you, when between us all else has been said?”

“I love you too well–”

“Too well to make me happy?”

“Too well to let you stake your happiness on the hazards of such a life as mine.”

“You forget, if you deny me the right to share those hazards, whatever they may be, I shall have no happiness to risk.”

“You are young,” the man thoughtfully stated, “the best of your life lies before you. And you are, I think, the loveliest woman that ever lived. Many men after me will long for and love you, one of them you will find worthy...”

“Still, you forget, my heart is given.”

“Time heals all memories.”

“You believe that?” She withdrew a little, settling back in her chair, and used her fan, gazing away over its nodding plumes. “I was mistaken, then; I believed you loved me too well to hold my love the whim of a day or a month or a year. I thought you knew me too well to think my love was lightly given, or once given might be recalled.”

He winced under that reproach. “Without your help,” he pleaded, “how shall I be strong? You know what it costs me to say what I am saying, that I could not say anything to displease you if I held your happiness second to my own. It is of you alone I am thinking; you whom I love and who are not for me.”

“If you love me,” Eve de Montalais said quietly, “you will never leave me.”

“Better that; better you should learn to hold the memory of me in contempt, than I should risk your waking up too late, as some day you would surely waken, to realize you had joined your life to the life of one whom the world esteems a common thief.”

“‘The world esteems’!” Disdain touched her lips. “You are not that.”

“I was once–”

“The past is dead.”

“Or merely sleeping? Who shall say?”

“Ah no! my friend, you waste your time if you ask me to believe that.”

The music fell, and the gay rumour of voices that replaced it, as the dancers began to move back to their tables, was not enough to warrant the former sense of security from eavesdropping by inadvertence or intention. In tacit silence Madame de Montalais extended her hand, Lanyard offered his cigarette-case, then a match. But after a single inhalation the woman forgot to smoke, and permitted the tobacco to fume to waste in its jewelled holder, her attention seemingly diverted by the pomp and vanity of that sumptuous cavern wherein the folk of her world were accustomed nightly to foregather and play yet once again the time-old game whose fascination never fails, whose stake is love...

But Lanyard had eyes for his love alone.

Her beauty in his sight was like a pain in his heart, a hand at his throat. Slender and gracious and fair, with a sense, hard to define, of something more than human in that warmly human loveliness, something that made one think of a sickle of moon afloat in an azure midnight sky, of dawn-light fleeting breathlessly athwart a summer sea...

His for the asking!

He had loved before, but never as now, never with this tenderness, this all-possessing wish to serve and safeguard, this passionate self-abnegation...

“What is it?” he asked, seeing her start, with an almost imperceptible suggestion of aversion, as she sat looking away across the room.

“That man,” she replied–”that creature, rather, whom one never sees without shuddering. And one sees him everywhere.”

Even before he looked Lanyard had divined the occasion of this antipathy. It was true, what she had said: ever since this tide in their affairs had brought these two together in New York, no matter where they turned of an evening in quest of amusement, or rather for an excuse to be with each other, at some time in its course they seemed fated to cross the path of this personality, odd, compelling, and in some how forbidding.

One saw the man now, with a party of guests laying claim to a table on the far side of the floor, a table that had been conspicuously reserved and refused to others, though the Crystal Room was crowded and late-comers were importunate. A gross body, ponderous and slow of movement, with a heavy face of singularly immobile cast, resembling and for all its fleshiness as destitute of colour as a mask of papier-mâché, with a strange effect of transparency as if lighted by an inner glow akin to phosphorescence. Punctiliously mannered and at all times dressed with the nicest care as to the cut and propriety of his clothing, but unfailingly bedecked like a sultan with an incalculable wealth of jewellery in sets meticulously matched; yesterday with emeralds, today with diamonds, tomorrow with rubies, at another time it might be with fire-opals burning on fingers and watch chain, serving as cuff-links, waistcoat buttons, and studs for his shirt: a bizarre shape to meet in the haunts of fashion... And never alone, always surrounded by a little court of sycophants, seldom twice of the same composition, but as a rule including a few fragile beauties, apparently of the stage, and invariably one whom Lanyard took to be a paid clown, an undersized man with the face of a sage droll, the dress and deportment of a diplomat, and something in his fixed solemnity which suggested an ever-present expectation that his lightest word would win a gale of laughter–as, indeed, more often than not it seemed to.

The other sat, as by habit, taciturn and aloof in the heart of his noisy company. A dull man or a deep. Speaking seldom, eating little, drinking nothing, always smoking, holding one pose without stir for long minutes at a time: only the eyes beneath hood-like lids, eyes of a repellant pallor and surprising brightness, were restless, ranging from face to face, not only of his companions but of every person within his scope of vision, peering into each with a steadfast, imperturbable and penetrating curiosity...

Lanyard had more than once been resentfully conscious of that prying look. He was conscious of it now and rather hoped its author could read his lips, reckoning its impertinence ample provocation for the temper of what he was about to say.

“The Sultan of Loot,” he mused aloud, adding in answer to Eve’s mirthful glance: “my private nickname for the animal. If it does him injustice, he ought to take in his sign, don’t you think? I know him by sight, of course; but that is all. Some bucketeer or bootlegger, no doubt; Prohibition no less than Providence makes strange bedfellows, nowadays, in this mad country.”

“Strange,” the woman observed, “how people one doesn’t know sometimes seem to haunt one.”

“When it is strange.”

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