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قراءة كتاب The Playground of Satan

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‏اللغة: English
The Playground of Satan

The Playground of Satan

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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of Satan


"Baldwin's Kingdom," "When Summer Comes Again,"
"Their Yesterday," "The Polish Jew,"
English Translation Of Gogol's "Taras Bulba," Etc.


Copyright, 1918, BY

Janina Korsakova

Rome, 1917



Ian went into his mother's sitting-room, carrying an open telegram.

"Roman Skarbek has wired for horses to meet the express from Posen," he remarked. "He says it's important business."

As Countess Natalie looked up from her letter--she wrote hundreds a year--her hazel eyes twinkled with a mischievous thought.

"Roman and business, indeed! He's after Vanda."

Ian's brows contracted over his clear gray eyes; they were of the kind you find in outdoor men, used to gazing over long distances and watching for wild fowl to come out of the rushes at the dawn of day. Vanda was his cousin, and an orphan; she had lived at Ruvno since her babyhood.

"Give me a cigarette," said his mother, leaving her letter.

He obeyed, offered one to Minnie, who refused, and lit another for himself. The two smoked on in silence for awhile. Roman Skarbek was his cousin, too, though not Vanda's.

"I don't think so," he said.

"Why?" asked his mother.

"He's been to Monte Carlo. If he's had any luck he'll want some horses."

"He never had any luck. No. It's Vanda. She's in love."

"Vanda in love?" He laughed. "Nonsense!"

"Why not?" put in Minnie, the English girl, from her seat in the window.

He did not answer. His mother went on:

"Something has happened to Vanda lately. I don't know what, yet. When she was stopping with Aunt Eugenie she must have seen Roman every day. They rode together, too."

He walked over to the long window which opened into the rose garden. On the sward beneath it, thirty years ago, his father was shot in a famous duel with the rakish Prince Mniszek, neighbor and quondam friend.

"What will you say to him, if it is?" he asked.

The Countess considered. In her little world marriages were "arranged," thought out with the help of the Almanach de Gotha and a profound knowledge of the young couple's incomes, debts, acres and ancestors.

"Roman," she said, "is generous and chivalrous. I shouldn't mind helping him with his debts, if he'd only stop gambling."

"Does a man ever stop?"

"Not when it's got into his blood," said Minnie.

"It's in his right enough," rejoined Ian. He gambled, too, but with circumspection, unhampered by passion.

"I wonder what he sees in Vanda," the Countess mused.

"She's a charming girl," remarked Minnie.

Ian went out, his setters following him. An hour later he sought the two women with another telegram, finding them in the rose garden. The Countess walked with a stick, though she was only sixty. Her hair was perfectly white and her face much lined. Perhaps her youth, so full of interests and emotions, had faded too soon. But she looked the great lady she was, queen of herself and fit to rule Ruvno, with its traditions, its wealth and dignity.

"Here's Joseph now," he announced. "Wants to be met at the afternoon train from Warsaw."

"Which Joseph?" asked Minnie. "You know a dozen."

"Roman's brother."

"What does he want?" asked the Countess.

"Vanda," he returned, a twinkle in his eye.

They walked down the garden together, Ian and Minnie sparring gently, as often happened. But his mother was thinking of Vanda again, for she said at last:

"If I were her, I'd choose Roman. Joe is cold."

"I'm sure they're coming to see us, that's all," said Ian. "They're coming from opposite directions. I'll send a motor for Roman. He's always in such a hurry. Joe can have horses."

And again he left them.

Until August, in the year of strife nineteen hundred and fourteen, you could find no pleasanter country house than Ruvno, Poland. It stood a little way back from the high road between Warsaw and Kutno, slightly on a hill, surrounded by pines and hardy hornbeams which guarded it, like sentinels, from the gaze of passers by. It had stood thus for centuries, ever since another Ian, Lord of Ruvno, built him a great house with the spoils of war against the Turk, laying the foundation of a hard-fighting, hard-living race, good for anything on earth but trade, always ready for a row, out of sheer love for adventure and broken heads. And of adventures they had full share, both in love and war. All the hordes of Europe passed over their land during the centuries; for Poland is Europe's eastern battlefield, as Belgium is her western. And the plows were forever turning up human bones, which lay where they fell; and human treasure, which lay where it was buried, either because the owners failed to find it when peace came again or because they happened to go where neither Turk nor Swede, Russian nor Prussian, could trouble them more.

And so the domestic history of Ruvno, half fortress, half palace, filled many parchment volumes. I am not going to bore you with it; but quite recently, as Ruvno counts time, Napoleon slept there when on his luckless march to Moscow. And he supped at the large oaken table which was carved out of Ruvno oak long before the discovery of