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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knave Of Diamonds - Part 1 - Chapter 20. The Vision
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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 1 - Chapter 20. The Vision Post by :MalcolmL Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :1958

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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 1 - Chapter 20. The Vision


It was growing dusk when Anne at length came to the Manor. She was utterly weary and faint from lack of food. The servant who admitted her looked at her strangely, as if half afraid.

"Please have tea taken to my sitting-room," she said quietly, as she passed him.

And with that she went straight to her room. Standing before a mirror to remove her hat, she caught sight of something that seemed to stab her heart. The cream cloth coat she wore was all spattered with blood.

She stood rigid, not breathing, staring into the white face above it--the white face of a woman she hardly knew, with compressed lips and wild, tragic eyes. What was it those eyes held? Was it hatred? Was it madness? Was it--?

She broke away horror-stricken, and stripped the coat from her with hands like ice. Again through her mind, with feverish insistence, ran those words that had startled her earlier in the day. She found herself repeating them deliriously, under her breath: "I beheld Satan--as lightning--fall from heaven!"

Why did they haunt her so? What was it in the utterance that frightened her? What meaning did they hold for her? What hidden terror lay behind it? What had happened to her? What nightmare horror was this clawing at her heart, lacerating, devouring, destroying? It was something she had never felt before, something too terrible to face, too overwhelming to ignore.

Was she going mad, she asked herself? And like a dreadful answer to a riddle inscrutable her white lips whispered those haunting unforgettable words: "I beheld Satan--as lightning--fall from heaven."

Mechanically she bathed her face and hands and passed into her sitting-room, where her tea awaited her. A bright fire crackled there, and her favourite chair was drawn up to it. The kettle hissed merrily on a spirit-lamp.

Entering, she found, somewhat to her surprise, old Dimsdale waiting to serve her.

"Thank you," she said. "I can help myself."

"If your ladyship will allow me," he said deferentially.

She sat down, conscious of a physical weakness she could not control. And the old butler, quiet and courteous and very grave, proceeded to make the tea and wait upon her in silence.

Anne lay back in her chair with her eyes upon the fire, and accepted his ministrations without further speech. There was a very thorough understanding between herself and Dimsdale, an understanding established and maintained without words.

The tea revived her, and after a little she turned her head and looked up at him.

"Well, Dimsdale?"

Dimsdale coughed. "It was about Sir Giles that I wanted to speak to your ladyship."

"Well?" she said again.

"Sir Giles, my lady, is not himself--not at all himself," Dimsdale told her cautiously. "I was wondering just before you came in if I didn't ought to send for the doctor."

"Why, Dimsdale?" Anne looked straight up into the old man's troubled face, but her eyes had a strangely aloof expression, as though the matter scarcely touched her.

Dimsdale shook his head. "It's not the same as usual, my lady. I've never seen him like this before. There's something--I don't rightly know what--about him that fair scares me. If your ladyship will only let me send for the doctor--"

He paused. Anne's eyes had gone back to the fire. She seemed to be considering.

"I don't think the doctor would be at home," she said at last. "Wait till the morning, Dimsdale--unless he is really ill."

"My lady, it's not that," said Dimsdale. "There's nothing ails his body. But--but--" he faltered a little, and finally, "It's his mind," he said, "if I may make so bold as to say it. I don't believe as he's safe. I'm afraid he'll be doing a mischief to--someone."

His pause was not lost upon Anne. Again she raised her eyes and steadily regarded him.

"To whom, Dimsdale?" she asked.

"My lady--" the old man murmured unwillingly.

"To me?" she questioned in a quiet, unmoved voice. "Why are you afraid of that?"

Dimsdale hesitated.

"Tell me," she said. But again her eyes had sunk to the fire. She seemed as one not vitally interested, as one whose thoughts were elsewhere.

Reluctantly Dimsdale made answer: "He's been cutting your ladyship's portrait into strips and burning 'em in the study fire. It was dreadful to see him, so intent like and quiet. I saw him put his hand right into the flame once, and he didn't seem to know. And he came in in one of his black moods with his hunting-crop broken right in two. Carrying the pieces he was, and glaring like as if all the world was against him. I was afraid there would be trouble when he came home to lunch and found your ladyship not there."

He stopped, arrested by a sudden movement from Anne. She had leaned forward and covered her face with her hands. The tension of her attitude was such that Dimsdale became strongly aware that his presence was an intrusion. Yet, the matter being urgent, he stood his ground.

He waited silently, and presently Anne lifted her head. "I think you must leave the matter till the morning, Dimsdale," she said. "It could do no good to have the doctor at this hour. Besides, I doubt if he could come. And Sir Giles will be himself again after a night's rest."

"I'm very much afraid not, my lady," said Dimsdale lugubriously. "He's drinking brandy--neat brandy--all the while. I've never seen him drink like that before. It fair scares me, and that's the truth."

"You are not afraid on your own account?" Anne asked.

"Oh, no, my lady. He wouldn't interfere with me. It's your ladyship--"

"Ah, well," she said, quietly interrupting, "you need not be afraid for me either. I shall not go downstairs again to-night. He will not be expecting me."

"Very good, my lady."

Dimsdale looked somewhat relieved but not wholly satisfied. He lingered as if he longed yet did not dare to say more.

As for Anne, she sat quite motionless gazing into the fire, her hands clasped very tightly before her. She seemed to have dismissed the subject under discussion and the faithful Dimsdale simultaneously from her mind.

After a few seconds the old butler realised this, and without further ado he removed the tea-things and went quietly away.

Anne did not notice his departure. She was too deep in thought. Her brain was steadier now, and she found it possible to think. For the first time she was asking herself if she would be justified in bringing her long martyrdom to an end. She had fulfilled her part of the bargain, patiently, conscientiously, unflaggingly, throughout those seven bitter years. She had married her husband without loving him, and he had never sought to win her love. He had married her for the sake of conquering her, attracted by the very coldness with which she had tried in her girlhood to repel him. She had caught his fancy in those far-off days. Her queenliness, her grace, had captivated him. And later, with the sheer hunter's instinct, he had pursued her, and had eventually discovered a means of entrapping her. He had named his conditions and she had named hers. In the end he had dispatched the father to Canada and made the daughter his wife.

But his fancy for her had scarcely outlasted his capture. He had taken pleasure for a while in humiliating her, counting it sport if he succeeded in arousing her rare indignation. But soon even this had ceased to amuse him. He had developed into that most odious of all bullies, the domestic tyrant, and had therewith sunk back into those habits of intemperance which his marriage had scarcely interrupted. He was many years her senior. He treated her as a slave, and if now and then an uncomfortable sensation of inferiority assailed him, he took his revenge upon her in evil, glowering tempers that rendered him more of a beast than a man.

But yet she had borne with him. By neither word nor action had she ever voluntarily widened the breach between them: His growing dislike had not had any visible effect upon her. She had done her duty faithfully through all, had borne his harshness and his insults in silence, with a patience too majestic, too colossal, for his understanding.

And now for the first time she asked herself, Did he want to be rid of her? Had he invented this monstrous grievance to drive her from him? Were the days of her bondage indeed drawing at last to an end? Had she borne with him long enough? Was she free--was she free to go?

Her heart quickened at the bare thought. How gladly would she set herself to make a living when once this burden had been lifted from her!

But she would not relinquish it without his sanction. She would be faithful to the last, true to that bargain she had struck with him so long ago. Yet surely he could not refuse it. She was convinced that he hated her.

Again she felt that strange new life thrilling in her veins. Again she felt herself almost young. To be free! To be free! To choose her own friends without fear; to live her own life in peace; to know no further tumults or petty tyrannies--to be free!

The prospect dazzled her. She lifted her face and gasped for breath.

Then, hearing a sound at her door, she turned.

A white-faced servant stood on the threshold. "If you please, my lady, your coat is in a dreadful state. I was afraid there must have been an accident."

Anne stared at the woman for a few seconds with the dazed eyes of one suddenly awakened.

"Yes," she said slowly at length. "There was--an accident. Mr. Nap Errol was--hurt while skiing."

The woman looked at her with frank curiosity, but there was that about her mistress at the moment that did not encourage inquiry or comment.

She stood for a little silent; then, "What had I better do with the coat, my lady?" she asked diffidently.

Anne made an abrupt gesture. The dazed look in her eyes had given place to horror. "Take it away!" she said sharply. "Do what you like with it! I never want to see it again."

"Very good, my lady."

The woman withdrew, and Anne covered her face with her hands once more, and shuddered from head to foot.

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