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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of being in Europe – she were stranded in a corner of Asia.

      Without money and without a common language, she could wander indefinitely. At that moment she might be headed away from the village and into the wilds. The gorge had many tributary branches, like the windings of an inland sea.

      As she grew afraid, the peasant’s face began to waver, like the illusion of some bad dream. She noticed that his skin glistened and that he had a slight goitre; but she was definitely conscious of his steamy goatish smell, for he was sweating from his climb.

      “I can’t understand you,” she cried hysterically. “I can’t understand one word. Stop. Oh, stop. You’ll drive me mad.”

      In his turn the man heard only a string of gibberish. He saw a girl, dressed like a man, who was unattractively skinny – according to the local standard of beauty – with cut dirty knees. She was a foreigner, although he did not know her nationality. Further, she was worked up to a pitch of excitement, and was exceptionally stupid.

      She did not seem to grasp that she was telling him less than half the name of the village, whereas three different hamlets had the same prefix. He had explained this to her, and asked for the full word.

      Iris could not have supplied it even if she had understood the man. The name of the village was such a tongue-twister that she had never tried to disentangle it, but, like the rest, had called it by its first three syllables.

      The position was stalemate. With a final grimace and shrug, the peasant went on his way, leaving Iris alone with the mountains.

      They overhung her like a concrete threat. She had bought picture postcards of them and broadcast them with the stereotyped comment—”Marvellous scenery.” Once she had even scrawled “This is my room,” and marked a peak with a derisive cross.

      Now – the mountains were having their revenge. As she cowered under the projecting cliffs, she felt they had but to shake those towering brows, to crush her to powder beneath an avalanche of boulders. They dwarfed her to insignificance. They blotted out her individuality. They extinguished her spirit.

      The spell was broken by the sound of English voices. Round the bend of the pass came the honeymoon couple, from the hotel.

      This pair of lovers was respected even by the crowd, for the completeness of their reserve and the splendour of their appearance. The man was tall, handsome, and of commanding carriage. His voice was authoritative, and he held his head at an angle which suggested excessive pride. Waiters scampered at his nod, and the innkeeper— probably on the strength of his private sitting-room – called him “Milord.”

      His wife was almost as tall, with a perfect figure and a flawless face. She wore beautiful clothes which were entirely unsuitable for the wilds; but it was obvious that she dressed thus as a matter of course, and to please only her husband.

      They set their own standard and appeared unconscious of the other visitors, who accepted them as belonging to a higher social sphere. It was suspected that the name “Todhunter,” under which they had registered, was a fiction to preserve their anonymity.

      They passed Iris almost without notice. The man raised his hat vaguely, but his glance held no recognition. His wife never removed her violet eyes from the stony track, for her heels were perilously high.

      She was speaking in a low voice, which was vehement in spite of its muffled tone.

      “No darling. Not another day. Not even for you. We’ve stayed too—”

      Iris lost the rest of the sentence. She prepared to follow them at a discreet distance, for she had become acutely aware of her own wrecked appearance.

      The arrival of the honeymoon pair had restored her sense of values. Their presence was proof that the hotel was not far away, for they never walked any distance. At the knowledge, the mountains shrank back to camera-subjects, while she was reconstructed, from a lost entity, to a London girl who was critical about the cut of her shorts.

      Very soon she recognised the original shrine, whence she had deserted the pass. Limping painfully down the track, presently she caught the gleam of the darkening lake and the lights of the hotel, shining through the green gloom.

      She began to think again of a hot bath and dinner as she remembered that she was both tired and hungry.

      But although apparently only the physical traces of her adventure remained, actually, her sense of security had been assailed – as if the experience were a threat from the future, to reveal the horror of helplessness, far away from all that was familiar.

      Chapter three. Conversation piece

      When the honeymoon pair returned to the hotel the four remaining guests were sitting outside on the gravelled square, before the veranda. They were enjoying the restful interlude of “between the lights.” It was too dark to write letters, or read – too early to dress for dinner. Empty cups and cake crumbs on one of the tables showed that they had taken afternoon tea in the open and had not moved since.

      It was typical of two of them, the Misses Flood-Porter, to settle. They were not the kind that flitted, being in the fifties and definitely set in their figures and their habits. Both had immaculately waved grey hair, which retained sufficient samples of the original tint to give them the courtesy-title of blondes. They had also, in common, excellent natural complexions and rather fierce expressions.

      The delicate skin of the elder – Miss Evelyn – was slightly shrivelled, for she was nearly sixty, while Miss Rose was only just out of the forties. The younger sister was taller and stouter; her voice was louder, her colour deeper. In an otherwise excellent character, was a streak of amiable bully, which made her inclined to scold her partner at contract.

      During their visit, they had formed a quartette with the Reverend Kenneth Barnes and his wife. They had travelled out on the same train, and they planned to return to England together. The vicar and his wife had the gift of pleasant companionship, which the Misses Flood-Porter – who were without it – attributed to mutual tastes and prejudices.

      The courtyard was furnished with iron chairs and tables, enamelled in brilliant colours, and was decorated with tubs of dusty evergreen shrubs. As Miss Flood-Porter looked round her, she thought of her own delightful home in a Cathedral city.

      According to the papers, there had been rain in England, so the garden should look its best, with vivid green grass and lush borders of asters and dahlias.

      “I’m looking forward to seeing my garden again,” she said.

      “Ours,” corrected her sister, who was John Blunt.

      “And I’m looking forward to a comfortable chair,” laughed the vicar. “Ha. Here comes the bridal pair.”

      In spite of a sympathetic interest in his fellows he did not call out a genial greeting. He had learned from his first – and final – rebuff that they had resented any intrusion on their privacy. So he leaned back, puffing at his pipe, while he watched them mount the steps of the veranda.

      “Handsome pair,” he said in an approving voice.

      “I wonder who they really are,” remarked Miss Flood-Porter. “The man’s face is familiar to me. I know I’ve seen him somewhere.”

      “On the pictures, perhaps,” suggested her sister.

      “Oh, do you go?” broke in Mrs. Barnes eagerly, hoping to claim another taste in common, for she concealed a guilty passion for the cinema.

      “Only to see George Arliss and Diana Wynyard,” explained Miss Flood-Porter.

      “That settles it,” said the vicar. “He’s certainly not George Arliss, and neither is she Diana.”

      “All the same, I feel certain there is some mystery about them,” persisted Miss Flood-Porter.

      “So do I,” agreed Mrs. Barnes. “I–I wonder if they are really married.”

      “Are you?” asked her husband quickly.

      He laughed gently when his wife flushed to her eyes.

      “Sorry to startle you,