The Jade Dragon

The Jade Dragon by Nancy Buckingham Read Free Book Online

Book: The Jade Dragon by Nancy Buckingham Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nancy Buckingham
Tags: gothic romance
out as though to ward off some dreaded thing, her eyes wide open and staring. The cats had been alarmed by her outburst and they came forward hissing at me angrily, their backs arched. I had an eerie sensation that I was encircled by a demon ring of evil.
    “Grandmama,” I cried wildly. “Please speak, please say something.”
    But she gave no answer, and I could detect no flicker of movement in her gaunt, contorted features. I was filled with a dreadful fear that she was dead.
     

Chapter 4
     
    In an agony of guilt, I waited alone in the bedroom to which I had been banished in disgrace.
    Mercifully, my grandmother had not died, as I had at first feared. But I still felt desperately worried about her, and I found this waiting well-nigh intolerable. If only someone would bring me news, I thought anxiously. If only someone would come and assure me that Dona Amalia was indeed going to recover.
    In those first few moments of panic, seeing my grandmother slip lifelessly to the floor, I think I must have screamed out. Somewhere behind me a door had opened and an elderly woman servant came hurrying in. She thrust me aside with a cry and knelt down beside her mistress, crooning to her in a lilting flood of words that I could not follow. She spared me a fleeting glance, and the look in her eyes was charged with hatred. Then in one swift movement she gathered up the frail body in her arms and carried my grandmother through to the adjoining bedroom. I followed her, attempting to help, but my assistance was contemptuously rejected. In a daze I stood watching while the woman laid Dona Amalia gently on the brocade bedcover, removed the jet brooch at her throat, and loosened the fastenings of her bodice. She found a phial of smelling salts on the marquetry side table and held it to the old lady’s nostrils. It was then that I saw the first stirrings of life, and a great wave of thankfulness flooded through me.
    The woman had reached for a corded bellpull that hung at the head of the canopied bed and tugged it vigorously. Two more servants appeared almost at once and were swiftly dispatched with orders. A minute later Carlota arrived. Ignoring me, she went quickly to the bedside and talked in whispers with the woman servant. Then she swung round to face me, her eyes blazing with fury.
    “You see what you have done, Elinor? You are fortunate not to have killed your grandmother outright.”
    “We were just talking,” I said wretchedly, “and she suddenly collapsed. At first ... at first I was afraid that she was dead. But thank God she has recovered.”
    “Before you offer thanks to God, it will be as well to wait and see what the physician has to say,” Carlota remarked grimly. “And now you had better leave us and go to your room. Josepha will show you the way.”
    “But may I not stay? There must be something I can do to help.”
    “Your presence has done quite enough harm already,” she retorted. “Kindly remove yourself, and allow us to attend to Dona Amalia in peace.”
    And so here I was, and I could scarcely have felt more a prisoner if I had been locked and bolted in the room, the windows barred with an iron grille.
    Hearing a tap on the door, I spun around quickly, but it was only a footman bringing my luggage. I gave him a nervous smile and summoned up a few words of thanks. As he withdrew, I sat gazing uncertainly at my brassbound leather trunk. I still wore the garments in which I had traveled, and I longed to change into fresh clothes. In the circumstances, though, it somehow seemed unfitting for me to unpack and make myself at home here. With a sigh I crossed to the toilet stand and poured a little water into the rose-patterned bowl.
    After washing I at least felt less untidy as I continued my anxious waiting.
    The view from the tall, balconied windows, had I been in any mood to enjoy it, would have been breathtakingly lovely. The gardens sloped gently down in a series of formal terraces, with marble statuary and

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