The Rocks of Valpré - Ethel M. Dell - ebook

The Rocks of Valpré ebook

Ethel M. Dell

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First published in 1913, „The Rocks of Valpré” is a novel by the British writer Ethel M. Dell. While readers adored Ethel M. Dell’s novels, critics hated them with a passion; but she did not care what the critics thought. She considered herself a good storyteller – nothing more and nothing less. Ethel M. Dell continued to write novels for a number of years. „The Rocks of Valpré” novel is set in the mid-nineteenth century when an officer wrongly imprisoned on Devil’s Island escapes and heads to Europe to rescue the love of his life from the villain. Like many of Dell’s stories and novels this harkens back to the day when marriage was a binding promise and considered both morally and legally until death. It is a touching love story that shows true love as selfless love.

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Liczba stron: 716

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Contents

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

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

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

PART III

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

PART IV

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER I

THE KNIGHT OF THE MAGIC CAVE

When Cinders began to dig a hole no power on earth, except brute force, could ever stop him till he sank exhausted. Not even the sight of a crab could divert his thoughts from this entrancing occupation, much less his mistress’s shrill whistle; and this was strange, for on all other occasions it was his custom to display the most exemplary obedience.

Of a cheerful disposition was Cinders, deeply interested in all things living, despising nothing however trivial, constantly seeking, and very often finding, treasures of supreme value in his own estimation. It was probably this passion for investigation that induced him to dig with such energy and perseverance, but he was not an interesting companion when the digging mood was upon him. It was, in fact, advisable to keep at a distance, for he created a miniature sand-storm in his immediate vicinity that spoiled the amusement of all except himself and successfully checked all intrusive sympathy.

“It really is too bad of him,” said Chris, as she sat on a rock at twelve yards’ distance and dried her feet in melancholy preoccupation. “It’s the third day running, and I’m so tired of having nobody to talk to and nothing to do–not even a crab-hunt.”

There was some pleasure to be extracted from crab-hunting under Cinders’ ardent leadership, but alone it held no fascinations. It really was just a little selfish of Cinders.

She glanced towards him, and saw that the sand-storm had temporarily abated. He was working away the heap that had collected beneath him in preparation for more extensive operations.

“Cinders!” she called, in the forlorn hope of attracting his attention. “Cinders!” Then, with a sudden spurt of animation, “Cinders darling, just come and see what I’ve found!”

But Cinders was not so easily deceived. He stood a moment with his stubby little body tensely poised, then plunged afresh with feverish eagerness to his task.

The sand-storm recommenced, and Chris turned with a sigh to contemplate the blue horizon. A large steamer was travelling slowly across it. She watched it enviously.

“Lucky people!” she said. “Lucky, lucky people!”

The wind caught her red-brown hair and blew it out like a cloak behind her. It was still damp, for she had been bathing, and when the wind had passed it settled again in long, gleaming ripples upon her shoulders. She pushed it away from her face with an impatient hand.

“Cinders,” she said, “if you don’t come soon I shall go and find the Knight of the Magic Cave all by myself.”

But even this threat did not move the enthusiastic Cinders. All that could be seen of him was a pair of sturdy hind-legs firmly planted amid a whirl of sand. Quite plainly it was nothing to him what steps his young mistress might see fit to take to relieve her boredom.

“All right!” said Chris, springing to her feet with a flourish of her towel. “Then good-bye!”

She shook the hair back from her face, slipped her bare feet into sandals, slung the towel across her shoulders, and turned her face to the cliffs.

They frowned above the rock-strewn beach to a height of two hundred feet, tunnelled here and there by the sea, scored here and there by springs, rising mass upon mass, in some places almost perpendicular, in others overhanging.

They possessed an immense fascination for Chris Wyndham, these cliffs. There was a species of dreadful romance about them that attracted even while it awed her. She longed to explore them, and yet deep in the most private recesses of her soul she was half-afraid. So many terrible stories were told of this particular corner of the rocky coast. So many ships were wrecked, so many lives were lost, so many hopes were quenched forever between the cliffs and the sea.

But these facts did not prevent her weaving romances about those wonderful caves. For instance, there was the Magic Cave, for which she was bound now, the entrance to which was only accessible at low tide. There was something particularly imposing about this entrance, something palatial, that stirred the girl’s quick fancy. She had never before quite reached it on account of the difficulty of the approach; but she had promised herself that she would do so sooner or later, when time and tide should permit.

Both chanced to be favourable on this particular afternoon, and she set forth light-footed upon the adventure, leaving Cinders to his monotonous but all-engrossing pastime. A wide line of rocks stretched between her and her goal, which was dimly discernible in the deep shadow of the cliff–a mysterious opening that had the appearance of a low Gothic archway.

“I’m sure it’s haunted,” said Chris, and fell forthwith to dreaming as she stepped along the sunlit sand.

Of course she would find an enchanted hall, peopled by crabs that were not crabs at all, but the afore-mentioned knight and his retinue, all bound by the same wicked spell. “And I shall have to find out what it is and set him free,” said Chris, with a sigh of pleasurable anticipation. “And then, I suppose, he will begin to jabber French, and I shall wish to goodness I hadn’t. I expect he will want to marry me, poor thing! And I shall have to explain–in French, ugh!–that as he is only a foreigner I couldn’t possibly, under any circumstances, entertain such a preposterous notion for a single instant. No, I am afraid that would sound rather rude. How else could I put it?”

Chris’s brow wrinkled over the problem. She had reached the outlying rocks of the belt she had to cross, and was picking her way between the pools in deep abstraction.

“I wonder!” she murmured to herself. “I wonder!”

Then suddenly her rapt expression broke into a merry smile. “I know! Of course! Absurdly easy! I shall tell him that I am under a spell too–bound beyond all chance of escape to marry an Englishman.” The sweet face dimpled over the inspiration. “That ought to settle him, unless he is very persevering; in which case of course I should have to tell him–quite kindly–that I really didn’t think I could. Fancy marrying a crab–and a French crab too!”

She began to laugh, gaily, irrepressibly, light-heartedly, and skipped on to the first weed-covered rock that obstructed her path. It was an exceedingly slippery perch. She poised herself with arms outspread, with a butterfly grace as airy as her visions.

Away in the distance Cinders, nearing exhaustion, leaned on one elbow and scratched spasmodically with his free paw.

“Good-bye, Cinders!” she called to him in her high young voice. “I’m never coming back any more.”

Lightly she waved her hand and sprang for another rock. But her feet slipped on the seaweed, and she splashed down into a pool ankle-deep.

“Bother!” she said, with vehemence. “It’s these silly sandals. I’ll leave them here till I come back.”

She scrambled out again and pulled them off. “If I really don’t come back I shan’t want them,” she reflected, with her merry little smile.

She arranged sandals and towel on the flat surface of a rock and pursued her pilgrimage unhampered.

She certainly managed better without the sandals, but even as it was she slipped and slid a good deal on the treacherous seaweed. It took her considerably longer than she had anticipated to cross that belt of rocks. It was much farther than it looked. Moreover, the pools were so full of interest that she had to stop and investigate them as she went. Anemones, green and red, clung to the shining rocks, and crabs of all sizes scuttled away at her approach.

“What a lot of retainers he must have!” said Chris.

She was nearing the Gothic archway, and her heart began to beat fast in anticipation. What she really expected to find she could not have said. But undoubtedly this particular cave was many degrees more mysterious and more eerie than any other she had ever explored. It was very lonely, and the cliff that frowned above her was very black. The afternoon sun shone genially upon all things, however, and this gave her courage.

The waves foamed among the rocks but a few yards from the jutting headland. Already the tide was turning. That meant that her time was short.

“I won’t go beyond the entrance to-day,” said Chris. “But to-morrow I’ll start earlier and go right in. P’raps Cinders will come too. It wouldn’t be so lonely with Cinders.”

The rocks all about her lay scattered like gigantic ruins. She stood upon a high boulder and peered around her. There was certainly something awe-inspiring about the place, the bright sun notwithstanding. It seemed to lie beneath a spell. She wondered if she would come across any bits of wreckage, and suppressed a shudder. The Gothic archway looked very dark and vault-like from where she stood. Should she, after all, go any nearer? Should she wait till Cinders would deign to accompany her? The tide was undoubtedly rising. In any case she would have to turn back within the next few minutes.

Slowly she pivoted round and looked again from the smiling horizon whereon no ship was visible to the Magic Cave that yawned in the face of the cliff. The next instant she jumped so violently that she missed her footing and fell from her perch in sheer amazement. Something–someone–was moving just within the deep shadow where the sunlight could not penetrate!

It was not a big drop, but she came to earth with a cry of pain among a mass of fallen stones, whereon she subsided, tightly clasping one foot between her hands. She had stumbled upon wreckage to her cost; a piece of rusty iron at her side and the blood that ran out between her locked fingers testified to that.

“Oh, dear! Oh, dear!” she wailed, rocking herself, and then glanced nervously over her shoulder, remembering the mysterious cause of the disaster.

The next moment swiftly she released the injured foot and sprang up. A man, attired in white linen, had emerged from the Magic Cave.

He stood a second looking at her, then came bounding towards her over the rocks.

Chris shrank back against her boulder. She was feeling dizzy and rather sick, and the apparition frightened her.

As he drew near she waved a desperate hand to stay his approach. “Oh, please go away!” she cried in English. “I–I don’t want any help. I’m only looking for crabs.”

He paid no attention whatever to her gesture or to her words. Only, reaching her, he bowed very low, beginning with some formality, “Mais, mademoiselle; permettez-moi, je vous prie,” and ending in tones of quick compassion, “Ah, pauvre petite! Pauvre petite!”

Before she knew his intention he was on his knees before her, and had taken the cut foot very gently into his hands.

Chris leaned back, clinging to the boulder. The sunlight danced giddily in her eyes. She felt as if she were slipping over the edge of the world.

“I can’t–stand,” she faltered weakly.

“No, no, petite! But naturally!” came the reassuring reply. “Be seated, I beg. Permit me to assist you!”

Chris, being quite incapable of doing otherwise, yielded herself to the gentle insistence of an arm that encircled her. She had an impression–fleeting at the time but returning to her later–of friendly dark eyes that looked for an instant into hers; and then, exactly how it happened she knew not, she was sitting propped against the rock, while all the world swam dizzily around her, and someone with sure, steady hands wound a bandage tightly and ever more tightly around her wounded foot.

“It hurts!” she murmured piteously.

“Have patience, mademoiselle! It will be better in a moment,” came the quick reply. “I shall not hurt you more than is necessary. It is to arrest the bleeding, this. Mademoiselle will endure the pain like a brave child, yes?”

Chris swallowed a little shudder. The dizziness was passing. She was beginning to see more clearly, and her gaze travelled with dawning criticism over the neat white figure that ministered so confidently to her need.

“I knew he’d be French,” she whispered half aloud.

“But I speak English, mademoiselle,” he returned, without raising his black head,

“Yes,” she said, with a sigh of relief. “I’m very glad of that. Must you pull it any tighter? I–I can bear it, of course, but I’d much rather you didn’t if–if you don’t mind.”

She spoke gaspingly. Her eyes were full of tears, though she kept them resolutely from falling.

“Poor little one!” he said. “But you are very brave. Once more–so–and we will not do it again. The pain is not so bad now, no?”

He looked up at her with a smile so kindly that Chris nearly broke down altogether. She made a desperate grab after her self-control, and by dint of biting her lower lip very hard just saved herself from this calamity.

It was a very pleasing face that looked into her own, olive-hued, with brows as delicate as a woman’s. A thin line of black moustache outlined a mouth that was something over-sensitive. He was certainly quite a captivating fairy prince.

Chris shook the thick hair back upon her shoulders and surveyed him with interest. “It’s getting better,” she said. “It was a horrid cut, wasn’t it? You don’t know how it hurt.”

“But I can imagine it,” he declared. “I saw immediately that it was serious. Mademoiselle cannot attempt to walk.”

“Oh, but I must indeed!” protested Chris in dismay. “I shall be drowned if I stay here.”

He shook his head. “Ah no, no! You shall not stay here. If you will accept my assistance, all will be well.”

“But you can’t–carry me!” gasped Chris.

He rose to his feet, still smiling. “And why not, little one? Because you think that I have not the strength?”

Chris looked up at him speculatively. She felt no shyness; he was not the sort of person with whom she could feel shy. He was too kindly, too protecting, too altogether charming, for that. But he was of slender build, and she could not help entertaining a very decided doubt as to his physical powers.

“I am much heavier–and much older–than you think,” she remarked at length.

He laughed boyishly, as if she had made a joke. “Mais c’est drôle, cela! Me, I have no thoughts upon the subject, mademoiselle. I believe what I see, and I assure you that I am well capable of carrying you across the rocks to Valpré. You lodge at Valpré?”

Chris nodded. “And you? No,” hastily checking herself, “don’t tell me! You live in the Magic Cave, of course. I knew you were there. It was why I came.”

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