The Knave of Diamonds
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Title: The Knave of Diamonds
Author: Ethel May Dell
Release Date: June 1, 2004 [eBook #12484]
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE KNAVE OF DIAMONDS***
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THE KNAVE OF DIAMONDS
By ETHEL M. DELL
Author of "The Way Of An Eagle"
I DEDICATE THIS BOOK TO MY FRIEND AND SISTER IN LOVING REMEMBRANCE OFHER SYMPATHY AND HELP
O Charity, all patiently
Abiding wrack and scaith!
O Faith that meets ten thousand cheats
Yet drops no jot of faith!
Devil and brute Thou dost transmute
To higher, lordlier show,
Who art in sooth that lovely Truth
The careless angels know!
To the True Romance.
I.—THE MISSING HEART
II.—THE QUEEN'S JESTER
III.—THE CHARIOT OF THE GODS
V.—THE FIRST ENCOUNTER
VI.—AT THE MEET
VIII.—THE RIDE HOME
IX.—THE HEAD OF THE HOUSE
X.—THE HAND OF A FRIEND
XI.—THE STING OF A SCORPION
XIII.—THE JESTER'S INFERNO
XIV.—A BIG THING
XVII.—THE SLAVE OF GOODNESS
XVIII.—THE DESCENT FROM OLYMPUS
XXI.—AT THE MERCY OF A DEMON
XXII.—THE CITY OF REFUGE
I.—THE JESTER'S RETURN
II.—THE KERNEL OF THE DIFFICULTY
III.—THE FIRST ORDEAL
IV.—THE FATAL STREAK
VI.—THE BURIAL OF A HATCHET
VII.—A QUESTION OF TRUST
VIII.—A SUDDEN BLOW
X.—A DAY IN PARADISE
XI.—THE RETURN TO EARTH
XII.—IN THE FACE OF THE GODS
XIII.—AN APPEAL AND ITS ANSWER
XV.—ON THE EDGE OF THE PIT
I.—THE POWER DIVINE
II.—THE WORKER OF MIRACLES
III.—THE WOMAN'S PART
V.—THE SLOUGH OF DESPOND
VI.—A VOICE THAT CALLED
VII.—THE UNINVITED GUEST
VIII.—THE HEART OF A SAVAGE
IX.—THE DIVINE SPARK
X.—THE QUEEN'S PARDON
XII.—A FRIENDLY UNDERSTANDING
XIII.—THE FINAL DEFEAT
XIV.—AT THE GATE OF DEATH
XV.—THE KING'S DECREE
XVI.—THE STRAIGHT GAME
XVII.—THE TRANSFORMING MAGIC
XVIII.—THE LAST ORDEAL
XIX.—OUT OF THE FURNACE
XX.—THE PROMOTION OF THE QUEEN'S JESTER
XXI.—THE POWER THAT CASTS OUT DEVILS
THE MISSING HEART
There came a sudden blare of music from the great ballroom below, and thewoman who stood alone at an open window on the first floor shrugged hershoulders and shivered a little. The night air blew in brisk and coldupon her uncovered neck, but except for that slight, involuntary shivershe scarcely seemed aware of it. The room behind her was brilliantlylighted but empty. Some tables had been set for cards, but the cards wereuntouched. Either the attractions of the ballroom had remainedomnipotent, or no one had penetrated to this refuge of the bored—no onesave this tall and stately woman robed in shimmering, iridescent green,who stood with her face to the night, breathing the chill air as one whohad been on the verge of suffocation. It was evidently she who had flungup the window. Her gloved hands leaned upon the woodwork on each side ofit. There was a certain constraint in her whole attitude, a tension thatwas subtly evident in every graceful line. Her head was slightly bent asthough she intently watched or listened for something.
Yet nothing could have been audible where she stood above the hubbub ofmusic, laughter, and stamping feet that rose from below. It filled thenight with uproar. Nor was there anything but emptiness in the narrowside-street into which she looked.
The door of the room was ajar and gradually swinging wider in thedraught. Very soon it would be wide enough for anyone passing in thepassage outside to spy the slim figure that stood so motionless beforethe open window. It was almost wide enough now. Surely it was wideenough, for suddenly it ceased to move. The draught continued to eddyround 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 silentlyas a picture flashed from a magic lantern slide, a man's head came intoview. 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 debatingwith himself upon some plan of action, then, boldly but quite quietly, hepushed the door back and entered.
He was a slight, trim man, clean-shaven, with high cheek-bones that madea long jaw seem the leaner by contrast. His sleek black hair was partedin the middle above his swarthy face, giving an unmistakably foreigntouch to his appearance. His tread was light and wary as a cat's.
His eyes swept the room comprehensively as he advanced, coming backto the woman at the window as though magnetically drawn to her. Butshe remained quite unaware of him, and he, no whit disconcerted,calmly seated himself at one of the tables behind her and took up apack of cards.
The dance-music in the room below was uproariously gay. Some of thedancers were singing. Now and then a man's voice bellowed through theclamour 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 intoheaps with lightning rapidity, turning up one here and there, and he didnot raise his eyes from his occupation.
"I say, you know," he said in a drawl that was slightly nasal, "you willhave to tell me how old you are. Is that an obstacle?"
She wheeled round at the first deliberate syllable. The electriclight 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 certainstateliness she advanced to the table at which he sat, and stoppedbefore it.
"I think you are making a mistake," she said, in a voice that had a hintof 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 amoment 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 bitlike Mrs. Damer either. Are you waiting for someone? Would you like me toclear out?"
"Certainly not. I am going myself."
"Oh, but don't!" he begged her very seriously. "I shall take it horriblyto 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 areexpecting your partner. And I—"
"No, I am not," he asserted. "My partner has basely deserted me foranother fellow. I came in here merely because I was wandering aboutseeking distraction. Please don't go—unless I bore you—in which caseyou have only to dismiss me."
She turned her eyes questioningly upon the cards before him. "What areyou 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 amagician's game," he said. "Let me read your fortune."
Instantly he looked up. "You are not afraid?"
She met his look, a certain wistfulness in her grey eyes. "Oh, no, notafraid—only sceptical."
"Only sceptical!" he echoed. "That is a worldwide complaint. But anyonewith imagination can always pretend. You are not good at pretending?"
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 ananaesthetic does, don't you? It cheats the senses of pain. And a littlehumbug 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 ofutter ignorance. You must weave a little romance about it for the sake ofyour self-respect."
She looked straight into the challenging eyes. The wistfulness was stillin her own. "Then you are offering to weave a little romance for me?" shesaid, 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 handsthat were disposing the cards in mystic array upon the table.
There followed a few moments of silence; then in his careless, unmusicaldrawl the man spoke.
"Do you mind telling me your first name? It is essential to the game, ofcourse, or I shouldn't presume to ask."
"My name is Anne," she said.
The noise below had lessened considerably, and this fact seemed to causeher some relief. The tension had gone out of her bearing. She sat withher chin upon her hand.
Not a beautiful woman by any means, she yet possessed that indescribablecharm which attracts almost in spite of itself. There was about herevery movement a queenly grace that made her remarkable, and yet she wasplainly not one to court attention. Her face in repose had a look ofunutterable weariness.
"How old are you please?" said the magician.
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 tohis cards.
She continued to watch him without much interest. The dance-music wasquickening to the finale. The hubbub of voices had died away. Evidentlya 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 passionfor them."
"No," he said, without raising his eyes. "You haven't a passion foranything 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, Ihope. Are you getting nervous?"
"Not in the least."
"Ah! That's as well, because here comes the King of Diamonds. He hastaken