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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
الصفحة رقم: 6

detained for lack of funds to take them abroad. They hailed Skarbek's coming with joy, knew all about his fantastic winnings, and set about fleecing him.

"You'd be far happier if you settled down," said Ian as they finished lunch on the day of his departure. He could not understand any full-grown man caring to live from day to day. For him, happiness lay in the even road, a steady income, regular employment and an entire absence of excitement.

"Settle down?" echoed the other. "On what?"

"You've that money you won at Monte Carlo. Bank it and let me tackle your Jews."

Roman laughed bitterly.

"Ten thousand roubles of that money is in other men's pockets," and he named two who lived upon their earnings at the green table. "They're off to Ostend this evening."

"You're a damned fool," was his cousin's verdict.

"I know it. But who would gain by my being wise?"

Ian looked him straight in the eyes. Roman noticed how clear and honest they were, with their tale of outdoor life, their gaze of the man who has found himself and keeps his house in order. Yet there was nothing priggish about him. He enjoyed life thoroughly. It was not the life of champagne suppers and high stakes; but he took his pint of Veuve Clicquot and played his game, conformed to the customs of his class. The difference was that such pleasures were incidents for him; for Roman they had become necessities.

"You know perfectly well that your Prussian government and my Russian one like to see us Poles squander our lives and money," retorted the squire.

"They do," agreed the gambler.

Ian saw his chance and followed it up, speaking earnestly, his habitual shyness undermost for the moment.

"They like to get us off the land because that is the rock bottom of national existence," he said. "Lots of people forget it. England is forgetting it. Every time I go there I see it clearer. But Prussia hasn't forgotten it for a moment these last hundred years. And she's taught the Russians something about it, too."

"I never had any land," protested Roman. "Joe got it, and has kept it. I'll say that for him."

"You can buy land."

"Not under Prussian law."

"Become a Russian subject."

"Easier said than done."

"I'll help you," Ian said eagerly. "Do you remember Kuklin?"

"That little place near Ruvno?"

"Yes. It's for sale." He did not add that the owner had ruined himself in places like the Oaza. "The land's first class. The house is a hovel. But it's only five versts from us and you can stop at Ruvno till you've built something fit to live in. I'll give you the materials and help you with the labor. The chief outbuildings are brick and in good condition. The squire is a good farmer when he remembers to stop at home. It's a bargain."

Roman was interested.

"I suppose the Jews will buy it."

"Not if I know it. I was going to buy it myself. But you take it. I'll let you have the money. Come, Roman, here's your chance."

"You mean you'd advance me the cash? Without security?"

"I'll make you a present of Kuklin."

Roman's handsome face filled with astonishment. Though not a mean man, Ian had the reputation of being exceedingly careful. He gave freely to causes which he thought furthered the prosperity of his country; but was wary of giving for the sake of giving, or for the popularity that comes to the open-handed. Roman knew him well; he realized that this offer meant more than cousinship; it meant affection and a firm belief that he would settle down and "make good." He was touched, and said so in his ardent way.

"So you're willing? That's right. I'll go to Kuklin tomorrow and wire when you can see it." The other's face clouded, so he added hastily: "You needn't come to Ruvno. I'll meet you at the station, the owner will give us something to eat and I'll motor you back here. We'll have to settle with the Jews before you actually buy, or you'll get no terms from them. I'll go to Posen with you."

"Old man, you're the best friend I ever had," cried Roman, wringing his hand. "I can't tell you how I feel about it. But..."

"What 'but'?"

"I don't believe I could bury myself in the country--now. With Vanda it would have been different. Can't you understand?"

"No, I can't." He was disappointed. He had never felt lonely in his life, never knew the yearning after hot, brightly lighted restaurants filled with men and women on excitement bent.

"You won't want to come to Warsaw," he argued. "You don't know how land draws you. You'll have to drag yourself here when you've some special business and hurry back as quick as can be."

Roman doubted it, but gave up the argument. They parted on the understanding that he should telegraph when he had made up his mind.

Though he found Joseph still at Ruvno Ian showed a cheerful face and calm exterior. He felt completely master of himself again and talked freely of the coming marriage. The Countess was full of it.

"I can't understand what Vanda sees in him," she remarked during their evening chat "He's more selfish than ever. He never does a thing she wants unless he happens to want it, too. I suppose that's why she is so devoted."

Ian observed, and found that his mother was right. Not that he saw much of the happy pair. He only met them at meals, and delegated his mother to sound Joseph about the marriage settlement. He won his argument with her about that, too. But the thing had yet to be discussed and he put it off, not wanting to see Joseph alone if he could help it. There was time for that. Meanwhile, the estate kept him busy. But the marriage date was settled for three months hence. That was his work. He would have had it earlier, but the Countess thought it looked too hasty.

Joseph was quite satisfied to wait. He wanted to do up his country house, and furnishing took time. He did not consult Vanda about the furniture. He had ideas of his own and meant to carry them out. Yet he seemed proud of the girl and pleased to have won her; the rest of the family admitted that. What annoyed them was his boundless self-satisfaction. She would be his in the same way as his beautiful estate in Eastern Prussia, as his horses, or his sound investments.

"She is his chattel," was Ian's verdict one evening when alone with his mother. She gave him a sidelong look, but said nothing for the moment. Later on she mooted matrimony to him.

"It is high time you settled down," she said. "It is a great mistake for people to put off marriage too long. They lose courage as they grow older."

"Give me another year of liberty," he pleaded, laughing. "I'm not thirty-five yet. By next year I'll have the new farm buildings finished and the new forest planted. Then you shall find me a wife."

"I've one for you already," she said, caressing his