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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knave Of Diamonds - Part 2 - Chapter 10. A Day In Paradise
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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 2 - Chapter 10. A Day In Paradise Post by :MalcolmL Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :600

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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 2 - Chapter 10. A Day In Paradise


It was a day in the very heart of the summer, a day of cloudless skies and wonderful, magic breezes, a day for the dreaming--and perchance for the fulfilment--of dreams. Swift and noiseless as the swoop of a monster bird the motor glided on its way; now rushing, now slackening, but never halting. Sometimes it seemed to Anne that she sat motionless while the world raced by her. She had often seen herself thus. And then with a thrill of the pulses came the exultation of rapid movement, banishing the illusion, while the very heart of her rejoiced in the knowledge thereof. For this one day--for this one day--she had left the desert behind her. She had yielded half against her judgment, but she knew no regret. On the morrow she would be back in the waste places where, during all her womanhood, she had wandered. But for this one day the roses bloomed for her and she drank deep of their fragrance. It had come to her so unexpectedly, so dazzlingly, this brief and splendid hour. She marvelled at herself that she had hesitated even for a moment to accept it.

Perhaps memories of another day came now and again to her as she leaned back on the cushions and opened her soul to the sunshine, memories of a day of sparkling winter which had begun in much the same genial atmosphere and had ended in most hideous disaster. But if they came she put them resolutely from her. There was no time to waste upon past or future. For this one day she would drink the wine of the gods; she would live.

Nap drove in almost unbroken silence. He was wearing a mask, and she had no clue to his thoughts; but she scarcely speculated about him. She did not want to talk. She only desired to give herself up to the pure pleasure of rapid movement. She had complete faith in his driving. If daring, he was never reckless, with her beside him.

The meadows were full of hay, and the scent of it lay like a spell upon the senses. The whirr of the mowing machine filled the air with a lazy droning. It was like a lullaby. And ever they sped on, through towns and villages and hamlets, through woods and lanes and open country, sure and swift and noiseless save for the cheery humming of the motor, which sang softly to itself like a spinning top.

They went through country of which Anne had no knowledge, but Nap seemed fully acquainted with it; for he never paused to ask the way, never raised his eyes to the finger-posts that marked the cross-roads. She marvelled at his confidence, but asked no questions. It was not a day for questions.

Only when they emerged at last upon a wide moor, where the early heather grew in tufts of deepest rose, she cried to him suddenly to stop.

"I must get some of it. It is the first I have seen. Look! How exquisite!"

He drew up at the side of the long white road that zigzagged over the moor, and they went together into the springy heath, wading in it after the waxen flowers.

And here Anne sat down in the blazing sunshine and lifted her clear eyes to his. "I won't thank you, because we are friends," she said. "But this is the best day I have ever had."

He pushed up his goggles and sat down beside her. "So you are not sorry you came?" he said.

"I could not be sorry to-day," she answered. "How long have you known this perfect place?"

He lay back in the heather with his arms flung wide. "I came here first one day in the spring, a day in May. The place was a blaze of gorse and broom--as if it were on fire. It suited me--for I was on fire too."

In the silence that succeeded his words he turned and leisurely scrutinised her. She was snapping a stalk of heather with minute care. A deep flush rose and spread over her face under his eyes.

"Why don't you look at me?" he said.

Very slowly her eyes came down to him. He was smiling in a secret fashion, not as if he expected her to smile in return. The sunlight beat down upon his upturned face. He blinked at her lazily and stretched every limb in succession, like a cat.

"Let me know when you begin to feel bored," he said. "I am quite ready to amuse you."

"I thought it was only the bores who were ever bored," she said.

He opened his eyes a little. "Did I say that or did you?"

She returned to her heather-pulling. "I believe you said it originally."

"I remember," he returned composedly. "It was on the night you bestowed upon me the office of court-jester, the night you dreamed I was the Knave of Diamonds, the night that--"

She interrupted very gently but very resolutely; "The night that we became friends, Nap."

"A good many things happened that night," he remarked, pulling off his cap and pitching it from him.

"Is that wise?" she said. "The sun is rather strong."

He sat up, ignoring the warning. "Anne," he said, "have you ever dreamed about me since that night?"

She was silent, all her attention concentrated upon her bunch of heather. His eyes left her face and began to study her hands.

After a moment he pulled a bit of string out of his pocket and without a word proceeded to wind it round the stalks she held. As he knotted it he spoke.

"So that is why you were afraid of me to-day. I knew there was something. I winded it the moment we met. Whenever I hold your hand in mine I can see into your soul. What was it, Anne? The Knave of Diamonds on a black mare--riding to perdition?"

He laughed at her softly as though she had been a child. He was still watching her hands. Suddenly he laid his own upon them and looked into her face.

"Or was it just a savage?" he asked her quietly.

Against her will, in spite of the blaze of sunshine, she shivered.

"Yes," he said. "But isn't it better to face him than to run away? Haven't you always found it so? You kissed him once, Anne. Do you remember? It was the greatest thing that ever happened to him."

He spoke with a gentleness that amazed her. His eyes held hers, but without compulsion. He was lulling her fear of him to rest, as he alone knew how.

She answered him with quivering lips. "I have wondered since if I did wrong."

"Then don't wonder," he said. "For I was nearer to the God you worship at that moment than I had ever been before. I never believed in Him till then, but that night I wrestled with Him--and got beaten." He dropped suddenly into his most cynical drawl, so that she wondered if, after all, he were mocking her. "It kind of made an impression on me. I thought it might interest you to know. Have you had enough of this yet? Shall we move on?"

She rose in silence. She was very far from certain, and yet she fancied there had been a ring of sincerity in his words.

As they reached the car she laid her hand for an instant on his arm. "If it did that for you, Nap," she said, "I do not regret it."

He smiled in his faint, cynical fashion. "I believe you'll turn me out a good man some day," he said. "And I wonder if you will like me any when it's done."

"I only want you to be your better self," she answered gently.

"Which is a myth," he returned, as he handed her in, "which exists only in your most gracious imagination."

And with that he pulled the mask over his face once more and turned to the wheel.

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