The Elephant Never Forgets - Ethel Lina White - ebook

The Elephant Never Forgets ebook

Ethel Lina White

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The First Time He Died is a mysterious novel written by Ethel Lina White. Charlie Baxter was successful among women and rather easily managed the money, which he inherited. However, the money began to run out. And he decided to insure himself and fake his death. The most interesting thing happens after his „"death"”.

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Liczba stron: 302

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER I

AS Anna looked through the double windows of her bedroom at the hotel, she became suddenly conscious of the passage of time. Although the port was not yet sealed, winter had gripped the small northern town almost overnight. The sky was purple-dark with snow-clouds, and the old stunted trees opposite were blown forward by the wind until they rapped the wall with knobby knuckles.

“Time I went back to England,” she told herself. “There’s nothing to stop for now.”

Time. It was curious how this element was to dominate the situation. Anna often had the impression of being imprisoned within a maze, five minutes before closing-time. Its windings were neither numerous nor complicated; but, if she lost her head and took a wrong turning in her haste, she might reach the outlet–only to find the door locked.

The weather that morning corresponded with her own bitter mood. She was feeling bleakly disillusioned as the aftermath of an unpleasant scene with Otto yesterday, when she had broken with him finally, on the score of his disloyalty.

While she had no real ground for complaint because his so-called secretary–Olga–occupied a position in his scheme which she herself had declined to fill–she was appalled by the wholesale scale of his operations in the love-market, and also by his admission that she had helped to finance his romance.

In fact, the only redeeming feature of a bad business was her ability to swear in Russian.

Notwithstanding her fluency, the final score was his, because she could not assail the logic of his defence.

“You know that here we believe in collectivisation,” he reminded her. “Since you are a monopolist, what are you doing in Russia?”

The reason was that she was a victim of glamour. Ever since she had met Otto at a debating society in the east end of London, she had been ensnared by his personality. He had not only the golden beard of a Viking and dark-blue eyes which were chill as polar seas, but he was essentially a spell-binder.

Whenever he talked, shoals of bright words bubbled up responsively in her own brain. He became her star and she followed, or rather, accompanied him to Russia, where she helped to finance his new venture–a non-political paper, confined to art, literature and science.

As long as the dream lasted, her surroundings were misted with illusion. It is doubtful whether she ever saw the dim grey northern town as it was in reality. To her, there was glamour in the tall cramped houses and the stone steps leading down to the olive water of the port; glamour in the green-grape twilight; glamour in the blaze of starlight.

Above all, there was glamour in the communal life in Otto’s newspaper-office, where violent young men and women gathered around the stove, to talk of everything–from the stratosphere above to the drains which were under the earth.

And now the dream was ended–slain by Olga and the first frost.

As she looked around her, Anna was aware, for the first time, of the dingy purple-pink wallpaper–the colour of pickled cabbage–and the shabby painted furniture of her bedroom.

“Mother would think this pretty grim,” she thought.

She was gazing pensively at the fluff under her bed, when the door opened and the middle-aged chambermaid entered, carrying a mop and pail.

She had an impoverished white skin which was dry as rice-paper, and a coronet of black hair.

Crossing to the window, she stood beside Anna and pointed to certain dark blotches on the opposite wall.

“You see those marks,” she said. “They put the Guards there and shot them down.”

Anna suppressed a shudder as she made a consciously enlightened comment.

“A bad means to a good end, comrade. But it was inevitable to progress.”

“Inevitable,” agreed the chambermaid. “If the worms are allowed to nibble the cabbage, loyal citizens would have no bortsch...In the prisons they serve grey-eyes soup. And when the tide is high, the water trickles through the gratings of the cells.”

In spite of her academic agreement that the penalties of disloyalty should be stringent, Anna changed the subject.

“Shall we play chess to-night?” she asked. “It will be my last chance to try to beat you. I’m going back to England to-morrow.”

“Why?” asked the chambermaid.

“Why not? After all, I’m English.”

“You? Anna Stephanovitch? Then why do you speak Russian so well?”

As the woman stared at her with sceptical eyes, Anna began to explain.

“Because, when I was a baby, my mother married a Russian. He was a naturalised British subject, and I’ve always been called by his name. He took the place of my own father who was killed in the War, before I was born. After he died, my mother married again. She’s good at it. And now she’s living in the Argentine...But I loved my stepfather and when I came to Russia, it was like coming home.”

The chambermaid nodded approval, for she appreciated the double obituary notice in the autobiography.

“So you have lost two fathers. And now you have lost your lover,” she remarked. “It is said that Otto is spending money on the woman Olga, who works in the newspaper office. He has bought her a fine new fur coat.”

Anna’s anger flared up again as she listened, for she guessed that, indirectly, she was the real donor of the coat.

“Otto is not my lover,” she said hotly. “And I don’t need presents.”

“Then you are rich like all the English? At home, do you have white bread, and sugar instead of a toffee apple dip?”

“Yes,” replied Anna bitterly. “At my home, there was always too much of everything, while people were starving.”

Her eyes were sombre as she gazed down at the line of wind-tormented trees. In spite of his flash of spirit in response to her every mood, her stepfather had been a gross-looking, bearded man, who was too fond of creature comforts.

“My stepfather was very stout,” she told the chambermaid. “But inside, he was thin. His mind was like a pure flame. He ate too much and he died, at dinner, from a stroke. He choked and was dead in one minute.”

“His food burst him,” declared the chambermaid.

She was enchanted with the anecdote, but Anna’s face was tragic as she thought of the Hampstead mansion–that over-stuffed nest of domestic luxury–and the extravagant meals.

At the time she was too young to understand that her mother’s lavish housekeeping was supplementary to her fundamental determination–to keep a good husband happy to the day of his death.

Filled with a sense of angry frustration at the social inequality, the girl divided society into a chronically overfed middle-class and an eternally hungry proletariat–while she used the adjective “bourgeois” to cover every insult the most fertile imagination could invent.

Her own protest took the form of rebellion, when she ran away from school and got a job in a draper’s shop.

She soon came back, but her mutiny persisted. After her stepfather’s death, her pent-up energy found relief in a series of social experiments.

“Anna’s broken out again,” her mother would confide to the expensive scented ladies who accompanied her to the cinema–which met every intellectual need. “I’m told she’s selling flowers in High Holborn. So anti-social to the other poor flower-girls, with so much competition in everything...But it amuses her, and she’s not brought home any ‘little things’ yet.”

Selling flowers in the street...Sleeping under an archway...The shop...A pickle factory...As the pictures flitted across Anna’s mind, the chambermaid caught her arm.

“Look who’s here,” she said.

With a strange thrill of excitement, Anna gazed down at a woman who was striding across the road. In a brutal and debased manner she was beautiful, with blonde colouring and vivid blue eyes. Her bobbed flaxen hair was cut in a straight fringe across her forehead and her loose lips were scarlet. She wore breeches, a sheepskin coat, and men’s boots, which made her feet appear enormous.

Anna was struck by the fact that the few pedestrians shrank away from her, as though they wished to escape her notice.

“That is Hirsch,” said the chambermaid. “She is the People’s Prosecutor.”

“I’ve not seen her before,” said Anna. “I wonder what she has come for.”

“Business.” The chambermaid lowered her voice as she added, “Business which is transacted in cellars.”

“You mean–executions?”

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