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The Safety Curtain, and Other Stories eBook

Ethel May Dell
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 237 pages of information about The Safety Curtain, and Other Stories.

He dismissed the punkah coolie, feeling his presence to be intolerable, and threw himself down with his coat flung open.  The oppression of the atmosphere was as though a red-hot lid were being forced down upon the tortured earth.  The blackness beyond the veranda was like a solid wall.  Sleep was out of the question.  He could not smoke.  It was an effort even to breathe.  He could only lie in torment and wait—­and wait.

The flashes of lightning had become less frequent.  A kind of waking dream began to move in his brain.  A figure gradually grew upon that screen of darkness—­an elf-like thing, intangible, transparent, a quivering, shadowy image, remote as the dawn.

Wide-eyed, he watched the vision, his pulses beating with a mad longing so fierce as to be utterly beyond his own control.  It was as though he had drunk strong wine and had somehow slipped the leash of ordinary convention.  The savagery of the night, the tropical intensity of it, had got into him.  Half-naked, wholly primitive, he lay and waited—­and waited.

For a while the vision hung before him, tantalizing him, maddening him, eluding him.  Then came a flash of lightning, and it was gone.

He started up on the charpoy, every nerve tense as stretched wire.

“Come back!” he cried, hoarsely.  “Come back!”

Again the lightning streaked the darkness.

There came a burst of thunder, and suddenly, through it and above it, he heard the far-distant roar of rain.  He sprang to his feet.  It was coming.

The seconds throbbed away.  Something was moving in the compound, a subtle, awful Something.  The trees and bushes quivered before it, the cluster-roses rattled their dead leaves wildly.  But the man stood motionless in the light that fell across the veranda from the open window of his room, watching with eyes that shone with a fierce and glaring intensity for the return of his vision.

The fevered blood was hammering at his temples.  For the moment he was scarcely sane.  The fearful strain of the past few weeks that had overwhelmed less hardy men had wrought upon him in a fashion more subtle but none the less compelling.  They had been stricken down, whereas he had been strung to a pitch where bodily suffering had almost ceased to count.  He had grown used to the torment, and now in this supreme moment it tore from him his civilization, but his physical strength remained untouched.  He stood alert and ready, like a beast in a cage, waiting for whatever the gods might deign to throw him.

The tumult beyond that wall of blackness grew.  It became a swirling uproar.  The rose-vines were whipped from the veranda and flung writhing in all directions.  The trees in the compound strove like terrified creatures in the grip of a giant.  The heat of the blast was like tongues of flame blown from an immense furnace.  Merryon’s whole body seemed to be wrapped in fire.  With a fierce movement, he stripped the coat from him and flung it into the room behind him.  He was alone save for the devils that raged in that pandemonium.  What did it matter how he met them?

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