Колесо крутится. Леди исчезает / The Wheel Spins. The Lady Vanishe. Этель Лина Уайт. Читать онлайн. Newlib. NEWLIB.NET

Автор: Этель Лина Уайт
Издательство: КАРО
Серия: Detective story
Жанр произведения: Классические детективы
Год издания: 0
isbn: 978-5-9925-1492-6
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the pebbles and the roots. In imagination she could almost hear the pumping of a giant heart underneath her head.

      The moment passed, for she began to think of Olga again. This time, however, she viewed her from a different standpoint, for the altitude had produced the usual illusion of superiority. She reminded herself that the valley was four thousand feet above sea-level, while she had mounted about five thousand feet.

      On the basis of this calculation she could afford to be generous, since she was nine thousand feet taller than her former friend – assuming, of course, that Olga was obliging enough as to remain at sea-level.

      She decided to wash out the memory as unworthy of further anger.

      “But never again,” she said. “After this, I’ll never help any one again.”

      Her voice had the passionate fervour of one who dedicates herself to some service. With the virtuous feeling of having profited by a lesson, for which heavy fees had been paid, she smoked a cigarette before the return journey. The air was so clear that mountains she had never seen before quivered out of invisibility and floated in the sky, in mauve transparencies. Far below she could see an arm of the lake – no longer green, but dimmed by distance to a misted blue.

      Reluctantly she rose to her feet. It was time to go.

      The descent proved not only monotonous, but painful, for the continual backward jolt of her weight threw a strain on unexercised muscles. Her calves began to ache and her toes were stubbed on the stony path.

      Growing impatient, she decided to desert the zigzag, in favour of a direct short-cut down the face of the mountain. With the lake as a guide to direction, she hurled herself down the slope.

      It was a bold venture, but almost immediately she found that the gradient was too steep. As she was going too quickly to stop, her only course was to drop down to a sitting posture and glissade over the slippery turf – trusting to luck.

      From that moment things happened quickly. Her pace increased every second, in spite of her efforts to brake with her feet. Patches of blue and green sped past her, as the valley rushed up to meet her, and smashed into the sky. Bumping over the rough ground, she steered towards a belt of trees at the bottom, in the hope that they might save her from a complete spill.

      Unfortunately they proved to be rotten from age, and she crashed through them, to land with a bump in the middle of the stony pass.

      Her fall had been partially broken, but she felt very sore and shaken as she scrambled to her feet. In spite of her injuries, she did not forget to give the forced laugh which had been drilled into her, at school, as the accompaniment to any game’s casualty.

      “Rather amusing,” she murmured, picking splinters out of her legs.

      But she was pleased to notice the shrine, a few yards farther up the track, for this was a definite tribute to her steering. As she was not far from the hotel, she clattered down the gully, thinking of the comforts which awaited her. A long cold drink, a hot bath, dinner in bed. When she caught sight of a gleam of water, at the bend of the gorge, in her eagerness she broke into a limping run.

      She rounded the corner and then stopped, staring before her in utter bewilderment. All the familiar landmarks had disappeared, as though some interfering person had passed an india-rubber over the landscape. There were no little wooden houses, no railway station, no pier, no hotel.

      With a pang of dismay she realised that she had steered by a faulty compass. This was not their familiar green lake, in which she and her friends had bathed daily. Instead of being deep and ovoid in shape, it was a winding pale-blue mere, with shallow rushy margins.

      In the circumstances, there was but one thing to do – retrace her steps back to the shrine and follow the other gully.

      It was definitely amusing and she achieved quite a creditable laugh before she began to plod slowly upwards again.

      Her mood was too bleak for her to appreciate the savage grandeur of the scenery. It was a scene of stark desolation, riven by landslips and piled high with shattered rocks. There was no crop of vegetation amid the boulders – no chirp of bird. The only sounds were the rattle of loose stones, dislodged by her feet, and the splash of a shrunken torrent, which foamed over its half-dried course, like a tangled white thread.

      Used to perpetual company, Iris began to long for faces and voices. In her loneliness, she was even reduced to the flabbiness of self-pity. She reminded herself that, when she returned to England, she would not go home, like others. She would merely go back.

      At present she was living at an hotel, for she had sublet her small luxury flat. Although her mode of living was her own choice, at such a time and such a place she felt that she had paid a high price for freedom.

      Her mood did not last, for, at the top of the pass, she was faced with a call upon her fortitude. Casting about, to pick up her bearings, she made the discovery that the shrine was different from the original landmark where she had struck the mountain zigzag.

      This time she did not laugh, for she felt that humour could be carried too far. Instead she was furious with herself. She believed that she knew these mountains, because, with the others, she had clattered up and down the gorges, like a pack of wild goats.

      But she had merely followed – while others led. Among the crowd was the inevitable leader – the youth with the map.

      Thrown on her own resources, she had not the least idea of her direction. All she could do was to follow the gorge up to its next ramification and trust to luck.

      “If I keep on walking, I must get somewhere,” she argued. “Besides, no one can get lost who has a tongue.”

      She had need of her stoicism, for she had grown desperately weary, in addition to the handicap of a sore heel. When, at last, she reached a branch which gave her a choice of roads, she was too distrustful of her own judgement to experiment. Sitting down on a boulder, she waited on the chance of hailing some passer-by.

      It was her zero-hour, when her independence appeared only the faculty to sign cheques drawn on money made by others – and her popularity, but a dividend of the same cheques.

      “I’ve been carried all my life,” she thought. “And even if some one comes, I’m the world’s worst linguist.”

      The description flattered her, for she had not the slightest claim to the title of linguist. Her ignorance of foreign languages was the result of being finished at Paris and Dresden. During the time she was at school, she mixed exclusively with other English girls, while the natives who taught her acquired excellent English accents.

      This was her rendering of the line in the National Anthem—”Send us victorious.”

      Patriotism did not help her now, for she felt slightly doubtful when a thick-set swarthy man, wearing leather shorts and dirty coloured braces, swung up the pass.

      Among Iris’ crowd was a youth who was clever at languages. From his knowledge of common roots, he had managed to use German as a kind of liaison language; but he had to draw on his imagination in order to interpret and be understood.

      Iris had a vivid recollection of how the crowd used to hoot with derision at his failures, when she called out to the man in English and asked him to direct her to the village.

      He stared at her, shrugged, and shook his head.

      Her second attempt – in a louder key – met with no better success. The peasant, who seemed in a hurry, was passing on, when Iris barred his way.

      She was acutely aware of her own impotence, as though she were some maimed creature, whose tongue had been torn out. But she had to hold his attention, to compel him to understand. Feeling that she had lapsed from the dignity of a rational being, she was forced to make pantomimic gestures, pointing to the alternative routes in turn, while she kept repeating the name of the village.

      “He must get that, unless he’s an idiot,” she thought.

      The man seemed to grasp her drift, for he nodded several times. But, instead of indicating any direction, he broke into an unfamiliar jargon.

      As Iris listened to the torrent