Wax - Ethel Lina White - ebook

Wax ebook

Ethel Lina White

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Opis

The events of the story „"Wax"” take place in the town of Riverpool, where the Wax museum is located. In this museum, several people died under mysterious circumstances. Sonia Thompson is an abmicious journalist who wants to understand these riddles. Therefore, she decides to spend the night there alone. And this was not the best idea, it seems...

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Liczba stron: 305

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Contents

I. INTRUSION

II. LEGEND

III. THE ALDERMAN GOES HOME

IV. MORNING COCOA

V. THE VOICE

VI. THE BIRTH OF MURDER

VII. THE WATCHER

VIII. SONIA COVERS A STORY

IX. HIGH SOCIETY

X. GLASS HOUSES

XI. END OF AN EPISODE

XII. AT DAWN

XIII. LITERARY SUCCESS

XIV. DIAGNOSIS

XV. PURPLE VELVET

XVI. AFTERNOON TEA

XVII. THE LAST POST

XVIII. THE TRAGIC MARY

XIX. A WAX CASUALTY

XX. BLUEBEARD'S CASTLE

XXI. CONFESSION

XXII. THE MAYOR'S PARLOUR

XXIII. SOME ONE SHOULD DO SOMETHING

XXIV. THE WARNING

XXV. SUPPER FOR ONE

XXVI. A FREE LODGING

XXVII. THE EXTRA FIGURE

XXVIII. INQUEST

XXIX. POST-MORTEM

XXX. THE BLACK WIDOW

I. INTRUSION

AS the Town Hall clock struck two, the porter of the Riverpool Waxwork Gallery stirred uneasily in bed.

“What’s the matter, Ames?” asked his wife sleepily.

“Nothing,” was the reply. “Only, I remember taking a candle with me into the Horrors, and I can’t rightly say as I took it out again.”

Instantly there was an upheaval under the quilt, followed by an eruption of blankets. Then an elephantine hump, silhouetted on the reflected light of the wall, told Ames that his wife was sitting up in bed.

“That Gallery’s our bread,” she declared. “Besides, think of my poor figures trapped in a fire. You get up, Ames, and make sure the candle’s out.”

“Oh, I doubted it. I remember. Lay down again.”

But Mrs. Ames had surged out of bed and was slipping into her shoes. Having achieved his object, her husband drew the blanket over his head. Salving his conscience by repeating, “I doubted it,” he went to sleep again.

With her tweed coat buttoned over her nightdress, and her hat, adorned with an eye veil, perched on top of her curlers, Mrs. Ames went out into the night. She was not nervous of the darkness, while the Gallery was only the length of a short street away.

Directly she turned the key in the great lock and pushed open the massive mahogany doors, she felt that she was really at home. She had brought her pocket-torch, for she knew that if she switched on the light, a policeman might notice the illumination and feel it his duty to investigate. And, as she was one of those free and fearless souls who strew the grass of public parks with chocolate paper and cigarette stumps, she had an instinctive distrust of the law.

She entered the Gallery, and then stood on the threshold–aware of a change. This was not the familiar place she knew so well.

It seemed to be full of people. Seen in the light from the street lamp, which streamed in through the high window, their faces were those of men and women of character and intelligence. They stood in groups as though in conversation, or sat apart in solitary reverie.

But they neither spoke nor moved.

When she had seen them last, a few hours ago, under the dim electric globes, they had been a collection of ordinary waxworks, representing conventional historical personages and Victorian celebrities. Only a few were in really good condition, while some were ancient, with blurred features and threadbare clothes.

But now, they were all restored to health and electric with life. Napoleon frowned as he planned a new campaign. Charles II. mistook her for an orange-girl and ogled her. Henry VIII. shook with silent laughter.

Mrs. Ames felt absurdly abashed by the transformation. She knew she had only to snap on the light to shatter the illusion. Restrained by the memory of the policeman, she did her best to put the figures back in their proper places.

“Hallo, dearies,” she called. “Mother’s popped in to see you.”

Her voice echoed queerly under the domed mahogany roof. She had a vague impression that the Waxworks resented her liberty, as she hurried towards the Hall of Horrors.

A crack of light which outlined its doors told her that her husband had been too optimistic about his memory. This smaller Gallery had not been wired, for it held no lurid attractions. She rushed inside, to see a guttering candle stuck upon the floor.

Although no damage had been done, her indignation swept away imagination. But after she had blown out the flame, she became dimly afraid of her surroundings.

There was no special reason for her to feel nervous. The Hall of Horrors housed only a small number of selected murderers, whom, normally, she despised. These figures were not spectacular, like her cherished Royalties. They wore dull coats and trousers, and could easily be mistaken for nonentities such as Gladstone and Tennyson.

But, as she threw her torch over them, a pinprick of light gleamed in each glassy eye, imparting a fiction of life. They seemed to be looking at her with intent and furtive speculation, as though she were the object of a private and peculiarly personal inventory.

Suddenly she remembered that she was among a company of–poisoners.

Although she was furious with herself for her weakness, her nerve crashed. It was in vain that she reminded herself that these were, in reality, her very own Waxworks. She treated them as her children. It was true that they were a neglected family, for she was an amiable sloven; but, occasionally, she brushed their clothes and hair, or cleaned their faces with a lick of spit.

Now, however, as she hurried down the Gallery, she felt that they had grown alien and aloof. They seemed to regard her with unfriendly eyes, as though she had interrupted some secret and exciting mystery.

They resented her presence. At this hour, the gallery belonged to Them.

Mrs. Ames lost no time in taking their hint. She shuffled through the door, locked it behind her, and ran down the street in flapping shoes. Less than five minutes later, she woke up her husband, to relate her experience.

“I was never so scared in my life. They weren’t like the Waxworks I knew. All the time I was there, they were watching me, just as if it was their place, and I’d no right there...Go on, laugh. You’ve been safe and warm in bed, after trying to burn the gallery down...But you listen to me, Ames. I tell you, those figures were up to some business of their own. And I felt in my bones that it was no good business either.”

II. LEGEND

BEFORE ever she saw her, Sonia Thompson looked upon Mrs. Cuttle as a predestined victim.

She was stupid, complacent, blind. She possessed what other women coveted, but had not the wit to appraise its value, or the imagination to guard it. And she was at the mercy of unscrupulous persons.

Of course, the first suggestion was the result of idle gossip. The impression it made upon Sonia was probably due to the fact that she was both physically tired and mentally excited, and therefore, strung up to a condition of sensitised perception.

When, afterwards, she looked back on her first night at Riverpool, it always appeared intangible as the dust of a dream, so that she could not be sure of her memory. Every place seemed to be dark, and buildings rocked. There was confusion of senses, and optical illusion, in which men were transformed into waxworks and waxworks into men.

She had travelled direct from Geneva, and she still swayed with the motion of the train when she signed the register of the Golden Lion Hotel.

“Sonia Thompson.” She lingered for a moment to look at it.

“Wonder if that name will ever be famous,” she thought.

The coffee-room had a sunken floor, dark flock wallpaper, and was dimly lit. Apparently the windows were hermetically sealed, and the odours of heavy Victorian dinners–eaten long ago–were marooned on the warm still air. Directly she had gulped down a quick meal of bacon and eggs, Sonia went out to explore the town.

It was between nine and ten, when Riverpool looked especially dreary, with shuttered shops and deserted streets. A fine spit of rain was falling which slimed the cobbles of the road. She wandered rather than walked, while the Channel steamer pitched again under her feet, so that–occasionally–she reeled in a nightmare of wet heaving pavements and flickering lights.

It was in a sober and stationary moment that she found herself standing outside the Waxwork Gallery.

The place had a sinister reputation. Built in 1833, it had been unlucky almost from its beginning. The speculative builder who erected it had hanged himself in the Hall of Horrors. During the Hungry Forties a tramp had been found inside–dead from starvation. In the Naughty Nineties a painted woman of the town had been murdered in the alcove, wherein was staged–appropriately–the final tableau in the career of Vice.

Only recently, there had been a fresh link in the chain of tragedies. A stranger–a commercial traveller–had sought a free lodging in the Gallery, and had paid his bill, according to precedent. The porter discovered him in the morning, lying in Virtue’s bed; and the worthy patriarch had a corpse for a bedfellow.

The post-mortem disclosed cirrhosis of the liver. A letter, vowing ferocious vengeance, and signed, “Your loving husband,” indicated an unfaithful wife. The combined effect of rage and drink had been a fit.

Although Sonia knew nothing of its history, she felt the pull of some macabre attraction which drew her inside the Gallery. Directly she passed through its massive doors, she was further excited by its peculiar and distinctive atmosphere–sour-sweet, like the stale perfume of a soiled lace handkerchief.

The building was large and dim, panelled with mahogany and draped with tawdry black velvet, filmed with dust. One side had been built into alcoves which housed tableaux depicting scenes in the careers of Virtue and Vice. In spite of being faintly lit with a few pendant electric globes, it smelt of gas.

At first blink, Sonia thought the gallery was full of curious people. Then she realised that she was being tricked in, the usual way. She spoke to the commissionaire at the door, before she discovered that she was asking her question of a dummy.

Apart from the Waxworks, the place seemed to be empty. No other visitors inspected the collection, which was large and second-rate. She picked out Henry VIII., in a buff suit padded and slashed with scarlet; Elizabeth, in grimed ruff and blister-pearls; Mary of England, pasty as dough, but resplendent in new plum satin.

As she paused before Charles II., who had preserved his swagger and leer, although his white velvet suit had yellowed to the tint of parchment, a second trick was played upon her. Two figures seated in a shady corner suddenly came to life, and moved, swiftly and silently, towards the exit.

Sonia could see only the back of the man, who was tall and broad-shouldered. His lady, too, had the collar of her coat drawn up to the level of her eyes; but under her tilted cap was a gleam of conspicuous honey-gold hair.

They threaded their way expertly through the groups of Waxworks, and had slipped through the door almost before Sonia could realise that they were not a delusion.

She was staring in their direction when Mrs. Ames came out of the Hall of Horrors. As usual, she was doing duty for her husband, who was in bed with seasonal screws.

Sonia turned at the sound of flapping footsteps, and saw a tall stooping woman, with big regular features, large mournful eyes, and a mild sagging face. She wore a dirty smock of watercress-green, and a greasy black velvet ribbon in her grey hair, which was cut in a long Garbo bob.

In her relief at meeting someone who was definitely human, Sonia spoke to her with enthusiasm.

“What a marvellous place. It has atmosphere.”

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