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قراءة كتاب The Playground of Satan

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The Playground of Satan

The Playground of Satan

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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to examine his heart, free it of this new burden and go back to the old, quiet life of yesterday, of this morning even.

But he did not move. He knew he would not till Roman came back. Would he come hand-in-hand with Vanda, or alone? He would not come alone. Vanda would take him and there would be a wedding. That meant a lot of fuss. He had put off his own wedding year by year to avoid a pother, and here it came, all the same. And with the same bride, too: only the bridegroom and best man had changed places. Roman was right. Destiny played odd tricks. He would see Vanda go off with another man; give her away to an unconscious rival. Was it going to hurt?

Suddenly the door opened. Roman burst in. He was alone; he addressed Ian.

"Can I have a car, at once?" he asked. His sunburnt face was drawn, his eyes haggard. No need to ask for Vanda's answer. It was written all over him. They rose; the Countess took his hand and said something to him, Ian knew not what. A load had fallen from his heart. Vanda still cared for him. Sweet, loyal little Vanda! He might have known it, and saved himself all that worry.

"But you're not going yet?" he said.

"I am. I'll be in Warsaw to-night; and, by God, I'll never go home again. Will you order the car, old man?"

"If you must go." Ian walked towards the bell that lay on his mother's writing-table. Roman turned to Joseph.

"I put it to her, squarely," he said in hoarse tones. "You've won. She's in the library." And he strode from the room before any of them could speak.

Ian rang the bell and stood by the table, his back to the others. He had heard every word that Roman said and it burnt his brain, if not his heart. So Joseph had won! It was preposterous. Roman as a rival he could bear. But that cold, selfish prig! He could never give a woman happiness. Vanda must be saved from herself. And he would do it.

Mastering his face, he turned round, ready with passionate words to save Vanda from Joseph, to use his authority as head of the family. But the room was empty.

II

Roman tumbled into the car the moment it was ready and insisted on taking the wheel. Ian gave in, though he knew his cousin for a wild driver at the best of times.

They went off at breakneck speed. The road was clear, for it happened to be Friday night, when Jews are at rest, so that factors, omnibuses and other vehicles which belong to the children of Israel east of the Vistula did not get in the way. On they rushed through the cool, dark night, past fields of whispering corn, ready for cutting; skirting forests of tall trees, racing through little villages where savage dogs, let loose for the night, chased them, barking like the wolves with whom they shared parentage, till lack of breath held them in; past flat country, rich in soil well tilled, past rare towns where no lights shone except for here and there a candle-decked table where Jews hailed the Sabbath in squalid tenements; past a rare wagon of non-Jewish ownership, with the driver fast asleep, his team in the middle of the highway, deaf to hooting and shouting; past, in short, the various sights and sounds of the Polish country-side, where life is simpler than in England and men stick closer to mother earth. Ian loved it all; even the Jews he accepted as part of the picture, though his race was divided from theirs by a deep gulf; he loved the chilly breeze, the stately pine forests, the night birds' cry, the smell of rich earth, all the promise of revolving seasons; the very monotony of the life was dear to him.

Near Sohaczev they dashed into a drove of cattle, on its way to the capital. There was much shouting; the drovers swore by all they could think of that half their fortune was gone. However, after being able to check these statements by the help of lanterns, Ian decided that ten roubles more than covered the damage. Roman's flow of language left the others speechless; he had not opened his mouth since leaving Ruvno, and certainly made up for it when he did. They started off again. The swift, uneven motion over the ill-kept road soothed Ian. He had come partly out of sympathy for Roman, partly to avoid searching eyes at home. He must get accustomed to the new state of things, let the smart of Vanda's engagement wear off, prepare himself to meet Joseph without picking a quarrel with him. Neither could he have faced the usual evening confab with his mother without betraying himself; and he hated the idea of confession, even to her. He pondered about many things, business, politics, crops and the chase; but he always came back to Vanda. His memory rediscovered charms he had long ceased to note--her soft eyes, the dimples that came into her cheeks when she laughed, her cheerfulness, her nice ways with his mother, her good heart for the poor, her adaptability to his house and his ways. What a good wife Joseph had won! Then he remembered she was portionless. Her parents had been ruined by a combination of adverse circumstances, so that she had come to Ruvno with little more than the baby clothes she wore and a box full of toys.

He burnt with the thought of Joseph's feelings of self-righteousness at marrying a portionless maid. But he should not get the chance to crow. She should have an outfit to make her new neighbors open their eyes; jewels, sables and linen fit for Ruvno. He meant to insist on this, foresaw mild objections from his mother, who knew all about Joseph's investments. But thank God he could afford to set the girl up in such a way that her groom could not boast. And the wedding should be in keeping; the Archbishop of Warsaw, Metropolitan of Poland, must marry them; Ruvno must entertain the guests royally. More: Joseph should never be able to say he had married a penniless girl. Vanda should have a generous dowry. Here he foresaw more opposition from his mother. But he was not going to let Joe puff himself out over every check he wrote for his bride. For such was Joe's nature; he would do it with a certain refinement; but would drive the truth home all the same. Vanda did not know this, or had forgotten it, being in love. But she would suffer from it later on; and he was determined she should bear as little pain as possible.

Ian's landed property represented a rough sum of twenty million roubles; he had another million invested in sugar refineries, and in a hardware factory, recently started in Warsaw, which was already paying well. His father's debts had been legion. But he had a minority of twenty years and good guardians, and found Ruvno almost clear when he took it over. Now, there was not a rouble's worth of debt on the place. He never spent his entire income. Whenever the chance came, he used to buy up land around Ruvno, adding to its acres and its efficiency. Neighbors wondered that the son was so different from the sire, and declared he would be one of the wealthiest men in those parts before he reached middle age. Not that he cared especially for money. His one aim was to add to Ruvno and keep up its name for good farming and good horses, to entertain generously without ostentation, to have prize cattle and modern machinery. His tastes were simple; a certain fastidiousness saved him from such "affaires" as were constantly getting Roman into trouble, and from pleasures which had ruined his father. Yes: he could afford to give Vanda a handsome dowry, and the thought was like balsam.

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