The Swindler and Other Stories - Ethel M. Dell - ebook

The Swindler and Other Stories ebook

Ethel M. Dell

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Opis

The Swindler and Other Stories” is a collection of stories first published in 1923 by the hugely successful English writer of popular romances Ethel May Dell. „The Swindler”: As a young girl Cynthia holds a professional swindler in admiration, since he cleverly swindled her out of five hundred pounds. On a voyage she meets a private detective called West who is bent on capturing this swindler called Nat Verney. Little did Cynthia know what the favor she asked of West would lead to. What follows is a man’s lies to save the woman he loves from herself and another man’s love for Cynthia, and how far he will go to make her happy, at his own expense. The rest of the stories are love stories and have many surprises.

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Liczba stron: 494

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Contents

The Swindler

The Swindler’s Handicap

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX

X

XI

The Nonentity

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX

X

Her Hero

I. THE AMERICAN COUSIN

II. THE ROMANCE OF HER LIFE

III. THE PICNIC IN THE GLEN

IV. ON THE THRESHOLD

V. THE OPENING GATES

VI. WITHIN HER PARADISE

VII. BACK TO EARTH

VIII. HER SIMPLE DUTY

IX. THE COMING OF HER HERO

X. THE STORY OF A FRAUD

XI. THE END OF THE STORY

The Example

The Friend Who Stood By

The Right Man

I

II

III

IV

V

The Knight Errant

I. THE APPEAL

II. CONGRATULATIONS

III. THE LADY IN DISTRESS

IV. A COUNCIL OF WAR

V. THE KNIGHT ERRANT TAKES THE FIELD

VI. THE KNIGHT ERRANT'S STRATEGY

VII. HIS INSPIRATION

VIII. THE MEETING IN THE MARKET-PLACE

IX. IN FEAR OF THE ENEMY

X. THE TIGER'S PREY

XI. THE TIGER'S PUNISHMENT

XII. THE KNIGHT ERRANT PLAYS THE GAME

XIII. THE KNIGHT ERRANT VICTORIOUS

A Question of Trust

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX

Where the Heart Is

The Swindler]

“When you come to reflect that there are only a few planks between you and the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, it makes you feel sort of pensive.”

“I beg your pardon?”

The stranger, smoking his cigarette in the lee of the deck-cabins, turned his head sharply in the direction of the voice. He encountered the wide, unembarrassed gaze of a girl’s grey eyes. She had evidently just come up on deck.

“I beg yours,” she rejoined composedly. “I thought at first you were some one else.”

He shrugged his shoulders, and turned away. Quite obviously he was not disposed to be sociable upon so slender an introduction.

The girl, however, made no move to retreat. She stood thoughtfully tapping on the boards with the point of her shoe.

“Were you playing cards last night down in the saloon?” she asked presently.

“I was looking on.”

He threw the words over his shoulder, not troubling to turn.

The girl shivered. The morning air was damp and chill.

“You do a good deal of that, Mr.–Mr.–“ She paused suggestively.

But the man would not fill in the blank. He smoked on in silence.

The vessel was rolling somewhat heavily, and the splash of the drifting foam reached them occasionally where they stood. There were no other ladies in sight. Suddenly the clear, American voice broke through the man’s barrier of silence.

“I know quite well what you are, you know. You may just as well tell me your name as leave me to find it out for myself.”

He looked at her then for the first time, keenly, even critically. His clean-shaven mouth wore a very curious expression.

“My name is West,” he said, after a moment.

She nodded briskly.

“Your professional name, I suppose. You are a professional, of course?”

His eyes continued to watch her narrowly. They were blue eyes, piercingly, icily blue.

“Why ‘of course,’ if one may ask?”

She laughed a light, sweet laugh, inexpressibly gay. Cynthia Mortimer could be charmingly inconsequent when she chose.

“I don’t think you are a bit clever, you know,” she said. “I knew what you were directly I saw you standing by the gangway watching the people coming on board. You looked really professional then, just as if you didn’t care a red cent whether you caught your man or not. I knew you did care though, and I was ready to dance when I knew you hadn’t got him. Think you’ll track him down on our side?”

West turned his eyes once more upon the heaving, grey water, carelessly flicking the ash from his cigarette.

“I don’t think,” he said briefly. “I know.”

“You–know?” The wide eyes opened wider, but they gathered no information from the unresponsive profile that smoked the cigarette. “You know where Mr. Nat Verney is?” she breathed, almost in a whisper. “You don’t say! Then–then you weren’t really watching out for him at the gangway?”

He jerked up his head with an enigmatical laugh.

“My methods are not so simple as that,” he said.

Cynthia joined quite generously in his laugh, notwithstanding its hard note of ridicule. She had become keenly interested in this man, in spite of–possibly in consequence of–the rebuffs he so unsparingly administered. She was not accustomed to rebuffs, this girl with her delicate, flower-like beauty. They held for her something of the charm of novelty, and abashed her not at all.

“And you really think you’ll catch him?” she questioned, a note of honest regret in her voice.

“Don’t you want him to be caught?”

He pitched his cigarette overboard and turned to her with less of churlishness in his bearing.

She met his eyes quite frankly.

“I should just love him to get away,” she declared, with kindling eyes. “Oh, I know he’s a regular sharper, and he’s swindled heaps of people–I’m one of them, so I know a little about it. He swindled me out of five hundred dollars, and I can tell you I was mad at first. But now that he is flying from justice, I’m game enough to want him to get away. I suppose my sympathies generally lie with the hare, Mr. West. I’m sorry if it annoys you, but I was created that way.”

West was frowning, but he smiled with some cynicism over her last remarks.

“Besides,” she continued, “I couldn’t help admiring him. He has a regular genius for swindling–that man. You’ll agree with me there?”

A sudden heavy roll of the vessel pitched her forward before he could reply. He caught her round the waist, saving her from a headlong fall, and she clung to him, laughing like a child at the mishap.

“I think I’ll have to go below,” she decided regretfully. “But you’ve been good to me, and I’m glad I spoke. I’ve always been somewhat prejudiced against detectives till to-day. My cousin Archie–you saw him in the cardroom last night–vowed you were nothing half so interesting. Why is it, I wonder, that detectives always look like journalists?” She looked at him with eyes of friendly criticism. “You didn’t deceive me, you see. But then”–ingenuously–“I’m clever in some ways, much more clever than you’d think. Now you won’t cut me next time we meet, will you? Because–perhaps–I’m going to ask you to do something for me.”

“What do you want me to do?”

The man’s voice was hard, his eyes cold as steel, but his question had in it a shade–just a shade–of something warmer than mere curiosity.

She took him into her confidence without an instant’s hesitation.

“My cousin Archie–you may have noticed–you were looking on last night–he’s a very careless player, and headstrong too. But he can’t afford to lose any, and I don’t want him to come to grief. You see, I’m rather fond of him.”

“Well?”

The man’s brows were drawn down over his eyes. His expression was not encouraging.

“Well,” she proceeded, undismayed, “I saw you looking on, and you looked as if you knew a few things. So I thought you’d be a safe person to ask. I can’t look after him; and his mother–well, she’s worse than useless. But a man–a real strong man like you–is different. If I were to introduce you, couldn’t you look after him a bit–just till we get across?”

With much simplicity she made her request, but there was a tinge of anxiety in her eyes. Certainly West, staring steadily forth over the grey waste of tumbling waters, looked sufficiently forbidding.

After several seconds of silence he flung an abrupt question:

“Why don’t you ask some one else?”

“There is no one else,” she answered.

“No one else?” He made a gesture of impatient incredulity.

“No one that I can trust,” she explained.

“And you trust me?”

“Of course I do.”

“Why?” Again he looked at her with a piercing scrutiny. His eyes held a savage, almost a threatening expression.

But the girl only laughed, lightly and confidently.

“Why? Oh, just because you are trustworthy, I guess. I can’t think of any other reason.”

West’s look relaxed, became abstracted, and finally fell away from her.

“You appear to be a lady of some discernment,” he observed drily.

She proffered her hand impulsively, her eyes dancing.

“My, that’s the first pretty thing you’ve said to me!” she declared flippantly. “I just like you, Mr. West!”

West was feeling for his cigarette case. He gave her his hand without looking at her, as if her approbation did not greatly gratify him. When she was gone he moved away along the wind-swept deck with his collar up to his ears and his head bent to the gale. His conversation with the American girl had not apparently made him feel any more sociably inclined towards his fellow-passengers.

Certainly, as Cynthia had declared, young Archibald Bathurst was an exceedingly reckless player. He lacked the judgment and the cool brain essential to a good cardplayer, with the result that he lost much more often than he won. But notwithstanding this fact he had a passion for cards which no amount of defeat could abate–a passion which he never failed to indulge whenever an opportunity presented itself.

At the very moment when his cousin was making her petition on his behalf to the surly Englishman on deck, he was seated in the saloon with three or four men older than himself, playing and losing, playing and losing, with almost unvarying monotony, yet with a feverish relish that had in it something tragic.

He was only three-and-twenty, and, as he was wont to remark, ill-luck dogged him persistently at every turn. He never blamed himself when rash speculations failed, and he never profited by bitter experience. Simply, he was by nature a spendthrift, high-spirited, impulsive, weak, with little thought for the future and none at all for the past. Wherever he went he was popular. His gaiety and spontaneity won him favour. But no one took him very seriously. No one ever dreamed that his ill-luck was a cause for anything but mirth.

A good deal of money had changed hands when the party separated to dine, but, though young Bathurst was as usual a loser, he displayed no depression. Only, as he sauntered away to his cabin, he flung a laughing challenge to those who remained:

“See if I don’t turn the tables presently!”

They laughed with him, pursuing him with chaff till he was out of hearing. The boy was a game youngster, and he knew how to lose. Moreover, it was generally believed that he could afford to pay for his pleasures.

But a man who met him suddenly outside his cabin read something other than indifference upon his flushed face. He only saw him for an instant. The next, Archie had swung past and was gone, a clanging door shutting him from sight.

When the little knot of cardplayers reassembled after dinner their number was augmented. A short, broad-shouldered man, clean-shaven, with piercing blue eyes, had scraped acquaintance with one of them, and had accepted an invitation to join the play. Some surprise was felt among the rest, for this man had till then been disposed to hold aloof from his fellow-passengers, preferring a solitary cigarette to any amusements that might be going forward.

A New York man named Rudd muttered to his neighbour that the fellow might be all right, but he had the eyes of a sharper. The neighbour in response murmured the words “private detective” and Rudd was relieved.

Archie Bathurst was the last to arrive, and dropped into the place he had occupied all the afternoon. It was immediately facing the stranger, whom he favoured with a brief and somewhat disparaging stare before settling down to play.

The game was a pure gamble. They played swiftly, and in silence. West seemed to take but slight interest in the issue, but he won steadily and surely. Young Bathurst, playing feverishly, lost and lost, and lost again. The fortunes of the other four players varied. But always the newcomer won his ventures.

The evening was half over when Archie suddenly and loudly demanded higher stakes, to turn his luck, as he expressed it.

“Double them if you like,” said West.

Rudd looked at him with a distrustful eye, and said nothing. The other players were disposed to accede to the boy’s vehement request, and after a little discussion the matter was settled to his satisfaction. The game was resumed at higher points.

Some onlookers had drawn round the table scenting excitement. Archie, sitting with his back to the wall, was playing with headlong recklessness. For a while he continued to lose, and then suddenly and most unexpectedly he began to win. A most rash speculation resulted in his favour, and from that moment it seemed that his luck had turned. Once or twice he lost, but these occasions were far outbalanced by several brilliant coups. The tide had turned at last in his favour.

He played as a man possessed, swiftly and feverishly. It seemed that he and West were to divide the honours. For West’s luck scarcely varied, and Rudd continued to look at him askance.

For the greater part of an hour young Bathurst won with scarcely a break, till the spectators began to chaff him upon his outrageous success.

“You’d better stop,” one man warned him. “She’s a fickle jade, you know, Bathurst. Take too much for granted, and she’ll desert you.”

But Bathurst did not even seem to hear. He played with lowered eyes and twitching mouth, and his hands shook perceptibly. The gambler’s lust was upon him.

“He’ll go on all night,” murmured the onlookers.

But this prophecy was not to be fulfilled.

It was a very small thing that stemmed the racing current of the boy’s success–no more than a slight click audible only to a few, and the tinkle of something falling–but in an instant, swift as a thunderbolt, the wings of tragedy swept down upon the little party gathered about the table.

Young Bathurst uttered a queer, half-choked exclamation, and dived downwards. But the man next to him, an Englishman named Norton, dived also, and it was he who, after a moment, righted himself with something shining in his hand which he proceeded grimly to display to the whole assembled company. It was a small, folding mirror–little more than a toy, it looked–with a pin attached to its leathern back.

Deliberately Norton turned it over, examining it in such a way that others might examine it too. Then, having concluded his investigation of this very simple contrivance, he slapped it down upon the table with a gesture of unutterable contempt.

“The secret of success,” he observed.

Every one present looked at Archie, who had sunk back in his chair white to the lips. He seemed to be trying to say something, but nothing came of it.

And then, quite calmly, ending a silence more terrible than any tumult of words, another voice made itself heard.

“Even so, Mr. Norton.” West bent forward and with the utmost composure possessed himself of the shining thing upon the table. “This is my property. I have been rooking you fellows all the evening.”

The avowal was so astounding and made with such complete sang-froid that no one uttered a word. Only every one turned from Archie to stare at the man who thus serenely claimed his own.

He proceeded with unvarying coolness to explain himself.

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