The Man Who Loved Lions - Ethel Lina White - ebook

The Man Who Loved Lions ebook

Ethel Lina White

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The Wheel Spins will make you think well. The plot revolves around Iris Carr, which takes the train to the Balkans. She managed to make friends with Miss Froy. Carr falls asleep. After she wakes up, she no longer notices Miss Froy. She starts asking the train passengers about her. However, passengers deny that she ever existed at all.

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Liczba stron: 339

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Contents

I. REUNION

II. "SULLIED SOULS"

III. A SAGACIOUS BEAST

IV. A LOST HAND

V. "TIGER BURNING BRIGHT"

VI. A MAN WHO WASN'T THERE

VII. SEEING SNAKES

VIII. AMBUSH

IX. THE MONKEY AND THE SNAKE

X. ONE CAME BACK

XI. TWELVE GOOD MEN AND TRUE

I. REUNION

I.

ANN SHERBORNE gazed at the ringed date in her pocket-diary. It was the fourteenth of November, 1941.

“After all these years,” she thought, “it has come at last. I can’t believe it. It’s to-night...”

Seven years ago, on a wild November evening, high up in a turret-room which seemed to sway in the wind, this reunion had been arranged. Richard–their host–handed to each guest a card of typed instructions, reflecting his peculiar humour which specialised in insult.

Reunion of THE SULLIED SOULS at Ganges, November the fourteenth, 1941. According to custom, the tower-door will be left open–trustfully and without prejudice to character–from eight to twelve. Bring this card for purpose of identification. In seven years we shall all be changed and inevitably for the worst. Do not fail to keep this appointment, dead or alive, but preferably if dead. You will be livelier company.”

At the time of their last meeting, Ann only anticipated a temporary separation from her companions. Within forty-eight hours, however, she was on her way to Burma, with her parents. Her father was a brilliant engineer–as well as an intermittent drunkard–so that his wife had to work overtime to keep him anywhere near dry-level.

The quiet little woman was responsible–indirectly–for some fine constructional work. When she died, she kept the contract in the family by passing on her job to Ann.

During the weeks and months spent in exile, Ann never forgot the reunion. At the beginning of each fresh year, she drew a circle round the date in her pocket-diary. She used to stare at the enchanted numeral in a passion of longing. Richard’s card of admission grew grimed and limp from being read in many a different scene and climate–high up in boulder-blocked mountains and besides sliding brown tropical rivers; above the snow-line and in the glare of the desert.

As the years passed, her first doubts began to sharpen into fear. War broke out and her father decided not to return to England. When he signed a contract with a water corporation in Florida, she gave up hope of keeping her appointment in the flesh.

“There’s only one way,” she told herself. “Get a monkey’s paw, mail it to Richard and pass out. He’ll attend to the rest.”

Near the end of October, 1941, her father died suddenly. At the time it seemed too late for her to return as all the odds were against her...But on the evening of the fourteenth, she was in a hotel in the heart of London, waiting for the minutes to pass before she set out for the place of reunion.

II.

She sat at a small table in the crowded lounge, wedged in her place by a pack of occupied seats, while a continuous procession of people streamed past in search of a vacancy. Beside her was an elderly man who had come down from Lancashire on business. A keen judge of values, he had noticed her at breakfast and was struck by the force of character evident in her steadfast eyes and resolute lips.

He was engaged in reading through his list of future engagements and he snapped the band around his book at the same moment as Ann closed her diary. Their eyes met and they smiled at the duplicated action. He had noticed previously that to her, a stranger was just another human-being and not a possible plague-contact, so he risked speaking to her.

“We both seem to be checking-up on our dates. Are you in business?”

She hesitated because the reunion was her secret; but since the shadow of the tremendous event was beginning to sag over her, she looked at his shrewd kindly face and was tempted to talk.

“My date isn’t business. I’m meeting people I’ve not seen for ages.”

“Friends?” he asked.

“No...It’s queer, but really I know nothing about their private lives. I can’t think how we ever got together. We were students at a college in London and we attended the same biology lectures.”

“Did you form a club?”

His interest was so kindly that it redeemed his questions from curiosity and Ann was encouraged to expand.

“It was more like a cult. Richard wanted devil-worship but no one would back him up. So we used to meet secretly and discuss world affairs. Richard was always planning purges and he kept a list of victims. He called us ‘THE SEVEN SULLIED SOULS.’”

“And were you sullied?” asked the Manchester man, smiling at the pompous title.

“I can only speak for myself,” Ann told him. “I was sixteen and very pure. But I kept quiet about my age and all that. As a matter of fact, I can’t believe that anything could happen to either James or Victoria. James was one of those vague people you forget and Victoria was wrapped up in her work. But John and Isabella were so glamorous that I don’t think they could stop affairs...And I could believe anything of Richard.”

Even in the heat of the lounge, she shivered at the recollection of his face–intermittently revealed in the leaping firelight–as they sat in the darkened tower-room. Deep lines gashed it from his extravagantly-arched nostrils to his mouth. She remembered too the corpse-like pallor of his skin, the shining black hair and the sinister upward slant of his brows.

“We were all of us rather afraid of Richard,” she confessed. “He was older than the rest of us and not a regular student. He was just rubbing up biology and he used to sneer at the lecturer. He thought it funny to say hurtful things.”

“Why didn’t you kick him out?”

“Because, in a way, he helped to make the thrill. He seemed a sort of distorted genius. Besides, to be honest, we wanted to meet at his house. He lived with a wealthy uncle and there were always refreshments and drinks.”

The marble pillars and gilded walls of the hotel lounge faded out as Ann thought of the last session in the tower-room. She remembered the roaring wind and the trails of ivy which tapped on the window-panes.

“We’ll hold a reunion here, seven years from to-night,” declared Richard. “By then, my old uncle should be hanged and I shall be lord of the manor. Possibly one of you may be successful, and damned, but I promise the rest of you jobs. Something in the Hercules tradition.”

“I bar elephant-stables,” said one of them. “Otherwise, count me in. Already I feel a man with a future.”

Of course it was Stephen who spoke–Stephen who was merely amused by Richard and whose laughter could extract the sting from the most envenomed remark.

III.

As Ann lapsed into silence, the Manchester man’s interest deepened into a vague sense of responsibility. The hotel was large, central, and gave excellent value. It was termed “cheap and popular,” so it attracted a mixed collection of guests, among whom were some cheap and popular gentlemen. The Manchester man had noticed that while some of these had tried to get acquainted with Ann, she seemed unaware of them, as though she were preoccupied with an exclusive interest.

“Have you kept in touch with any of ‘THE SULLIED SOULS’?” he asked.

“No,” she replied. “I’ve been abroad and lost touch. My father died at the end of October.”

“How very sad,” he said, shocked by so recent a loss.

“Not for him.” Her voice was level. “It was one of those illnesses you’re thankful to be out of...At the time, it seemed impossible to keep my date. Every one told me so. But I went on trying and haunting agencies and bribing people. And then, almost at the last moment, I got a cancellation in an air-liner. A palmist had told the man there would be a terrible accident.”

“So you’re not superstitious?”

“But I am. I was expecting the crash, all the way, but I just hoped I might be lucky.”

“Used to flying, I suppose?”

“No, it was my first trip. It was awful. Whenever we dropped, I left my stomach behind me, up in the air...But it was worth it for it was quick. I made London with time in hand.”

Again the Manchester man wondered what object had exacted such furious drive and fixity of purpose. Then he calculated the girl’s age as twenty-three while he counted the number of the “Sullied Souls.”

“You’ve mentioned five names,” he said casually. “You make six. Wasn’t there a seventh member of your club?”

“Yes. Stephen.”

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