Authors: John Creasey
Tags: #The Flood
Woburn said jerkily: “No, I don’t know. I think Palfrey suspects. That’s all. When you told me how desperately upset your father was – I wondered, too. But I don’t know him. Would he usually show – show his emotions like that?”
“No,” Eve said.
“If he knew what had caused the landslide—”
“But he couldn’t have known,” Eve cried, “I can’t bring myself to believe that he could!” She stood up, very quickly; and a plate and biscuit, on her lap, slid slowly to the floor. Woburn made a grab, to try to save it; he failed, but didn’t think that Eve noticed it. “I know a way to find out,” she said flatly, and so told Woburn that at heart she believed that it was true. “I will go and accuse him.” She pressed her hands against her forehead. “I’ll go and make him tell me whether—”
She broke off.
Woburn said sharply: “No, you can’t do that.”
“I can and I will find out,” she said.
“I believe you will,” said Woburn, gently, “but not like that. Whatever part your father had in it, he’s grief-stricken now.” He let that sink in; and help her. “And if he knows nothing, the thought that you suspect him will make him feel far worse. One child dead. One ready to think that he—”
She caught her breath.
Woburn went on almost fiercely: “Isn’t there a way to find out before you speak to him? If you know for certain, it would make a lot of difference to what you said. And did.”
She just stared.
“Can’t you see that?” he insisted. “Surely—”
“Yes,” she admitted, slowly. “Yes, it—”
She broke off, but not because of her thoughts. Something was flying, by the open window. The fluttering of wings was just audible. A dark shadow flitted across the window, but when he looked round swiftly, Woburn saw only two white doves, alighting on the top of the portcullis.
Two – white – doves.
Eve was now staring at them. Her right hand was at her mouth. He could see the pressure of her teeth in the fleshy part of her forefinger. He could feel her tension. The fact that when he had first come here and when he had first met her she had been so aloof, so self-controlled, so empty of the outward signs of emotion, made the effect of this worse.
She was on the point of hysteria, because of two white doves.
She snatched her hand from her mouth.
“No,” she breathed, “it can’t be, it can’t be true.” She stared at Woburn, and looked as if she were going mad in front of his eyes.
Woburn found himself staring out of the window at the doves. They perched there without moving now, as if waiting for the sun to move and shine upon them. The emblem of purity – which had this shattering effect on Eve.
It would have been better had she burst out crying, had she screamed, or shown the outward signs of hysteria; but apart from that one outburst, she didn’t make a sound. She just stood looking out – not at the portcullis, but at the two birds.
Woburn broke a long, taut silence.
“If you’d tell me what it is,” he said, “I might be able to help.”
Slowly, she turned to face him.
“What. . . what did you say?”
“If you’ll tell me what it is,” Woburn repeated, “I might be able to help.”
“I feel as if I were going mad,” she said. “As if I cannot stand it any longer. The worry, the suspicions, the fears, the dread.” She was talking to him, but in a low-pitched whisper. “It has gone on for so long. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t dream of this. How. . . how
I dream of it?”
He said: “Tell me what’s frightening you, Eve?”
“Frightening,” she echoed. “
Yes, that’s right – it has terrified me. My father’s – illness. His oddity. His belief in. . . in himself.” She stopped, to stare out of the window towards the portcullis and those birds of peace, and then she shivered again and whispered:
He moved towards her.
“Eve!” He gripped her shoulders tightly. “You’ve got to tell me why you’re frightened. You’ve got to tell me now.”
She was shivering, and didn’t try to speak. He knew that for a while it was futile to try to make her. His arms slid from her arms to her back. She leaned against him, as if she hadn’t the strength to support herself. This woman, once so remote and aloof, remote from the world he knew, was crouched in his arms and sobbing, and he could feel the warmth of her breath and the softness of her body.
Outside, the sun moved until the doves were touched with its brightness.
Then, he heard a raucous sound, which struck some echo of memory, but one he couldn’t place. The sound was repeated. Obviously Eve heard it; he could feel her flinch. She cried less bitterly, now, but didn’t move. He didn’t want her to move. A peacefulness had come upon him, and he knew that it would go the moment he let her go. Here, was a kind of sanctuary. He knew that they were like two human ostriches, with heads in the sand; but that didn’t matter.
The raucous sound—
He remembered! Peacocks, calling. There had been the two outside.
Two peacocks, one with magnificent plumage, the other with the drab feathers of the female.
Woburn almost shouted the word, almost thrust Eve away from him, because the shock was so savage and so complete. Two white doves, two peacocks, and an idea so bizarre, so unbelievable that he could feel the single word rising up inside him, coming from his vitals.
Eve Davos moved, slowly, and then looked up at him. She was still in his arms, as if equally reluctant to break the spell of the illusion. Her eyes were wet, her cheeks were smeared, she had a little-girl look, with her ruffled hair and the shiny patches, even the smeared lipstick.
She didn’t speak, just freed herself, and turned to her chair. She picked up her handbag, and opened it; took out a compact, and looked at herself. She did all this slowly, more automatically than with purposefulness. She dabbed at the wet marks with a lace handkerchief; then dabbed powder; then ran a comb lightly through her hair. Now and again she glanced at Woburn.
“Will you. . . will you come with me?” she asked in a husky voice; it had no strength in it. “I want to show you something else.”
“All right,” Woburn said. “Is it far?”
“Shall we meet anyone?”
“We might meet servants,” she said, “and we might meet Dr. Faversham.” She made no further comment, but turned towards the door.
No one was in this hall.
She didn’t lead the way to the staircase, with its great steps widening towards the hall, but to a doorway; he had assumed that it led to another room. She opened the door to a small lift, large enough for three people at most.
“Which button?” Woburn asked.
There were five buttons in all: ‘basement’ the lowest, ‘the tower’ the highest. He pressed. The door closed automatically and they went up slowly and without a sound. They had to stand very close together. A few minutes ago she had been in his arms; now, she looked as if she were a million miles away.
The lift stopped.
Woburn opened the door, and they stepped into a small room, surrounded by windows. ‘Room’ was hardly the right word, it was so small. Two small easy chairs, a small table and a vase of roses were there, with several magazines in a stand. The parquet flooring wasn’t covered, but polished; Woburn felt himself slip.
The windows, six in all, seemed high above the rest of the Castle, as remote as Eve was now from him. At first, nothing was in sight but the great mountains, the rocks, and the clear blue sky; all trace of mist had gone. Eve took a step towards the nearer window, and as he followed, he could see buildings, all in keeping with the Castle, and just beyond it, in the mouth of the glen. Stone walls, heavy slate roofs, massive doorways, small windows – all these built against the high outer wall itself. There was a vegetable garden; peaches and vines on one of the walls; a small private maze; a rose garden which must have occupied half an acre, and blazed with more colour than Woburn had ever seen.
Near this glorious patch, visible from up here but not from lower down, was the beast.
Then, Woburn knew that he was right; and she was, also.
Beyond the Castle wall was another which enclosed an area of several square miles. Placed against one section of this outer wall were dozens of steel cages, as one would see at a zoo. Some animals were roaming, some were in the cages. Beyond the outer wall, deep in the glen, were other animals. Woburn could see wild beasts: monkeys, gorillas, lions, tigers, panthers – animals almost beyond number. There were sheep, buck, zebra; gazelles, small animals he didn’t recognise – not one or two, but in hundreds. Most were sleeping in the shade, or lying still, but a few grazed, and others strode up and down with ceaseless prowling. None seemed to make a sound.
Among all these were men walking about quite freely, and apparently unafraid.
There were the aviaries near the wall. The sun shone on the plumage of rare birds; on beauty almost as great as the colours of the rose garden. The colours moved as the birds darted about in their cages.
None of these seemed to make any sound; there was no sound at all from the outside; just that of Woburn’s own breathing, and of Eve’s. She was less calm, now. Her breast was rising and falling as she fought for serenity, but the thing which had frightened her before was coming back; a kind of horror which he could understand only too well.
In a corner, were two baby elephants.
Near them were giraffes which could not be more than two or three months old, ungainly, and still without their markings.
Woburn felt Eve close to him, drawn by that dread, by the sense of horror shared.
There was the lion and the lioness; the leopard and the leopardess.
Here were beast and bird, male and female, in this great valley, two by two.
Eve didn’t move away from Woburn, but her hand closed about his arm.
She said: “You see?”
Woburn said painfully: “Everything.”
“Everything,” she agreed. She gripped his arm more tightly. “He’s been collecting these for. . . years. Two of what he regards as the noblest, the most beautiful, the strongest or the most rare – of all animals and birds which can live here. Just his hobby. We went hunting big game. We went deep sea fishing. We travelled the world. We had a crew of naturalists with us. We had Professors. We collected birds and beasts and fish, and insects and reptiles, but – no snakes.”
Her grip hurt.
she repeated, with a catch in her breath.
“Savage beasts, even reptiles, but – none of them – poisonous. He breeds sheep here, to feed his creatures. There is a compound for rabbits, too, he has walled off the whole glen to make it a great animal reserve, and I thought it was just an idea for a grandiose zoo.”
Woburn said: “I think I can see. All these beasts living together, the finest of their kind. A world without. . . poison,” he finished, and the word nearly choked him. “Clean.”
He asked: “Are they all tame?”
She didn’t answer, but asked: “What time is it?” and looked at the watch on her wrist. “I broke it yesterday,” she said, “it caught in a bramble. What time. . .
His wrist-watch sparkled in the sun.
“Five to eleven.”
“We’ll wait for five minutes,” Eve said. She released his hand, and stood still and erect for a moment, then moved towards a chair. He saw a beading of sweat on her smooth, pale forehead, and on her upper lip. She was almost chalk white, and he longed to ease her distress.
She stood up at last. This time, she leaned against the wall. He stood just behind her. They hadn’t been at the window for a moment before a clock began to strike, and as it struck, a man appeared near the rose garden. He walked briskly to the door in the wall which led to the animals, and as the clock finished striking, he unlocked the door.
Looked at from this height, he seemed rather short and stocky. He wore a navy blue suit and a peaked hat, rather like the keepers at the London Zoo – and like the men in the glen. When he closed the gate behind him, Woburn could see his face more clearly; he seemed to be whistling.
He went towards a spot where the harmless animals grazed, and seemed to hesitate in front of the two sheep.
Eve said: “My father usually watches this.”
Her breathing was coming more gustily now; hysteria would never be far away while she stayed here. Woburn moved a little closer, with the feeling that she would want to turn her head away. He could see that she was trembling, and clenching and unclenching her hands.
The keeper bent down, and picked the sheep up. It made a white furry bundle, and didn’t wriggle; obviously it was used to this. He turned away, and now he faced the couple in the tower. He was whistling, although Woburn could still hear no sound; just then, he didn’t give that a second thought. He couldn’t take his gaze away from the keeper, from the peaceful scene.
The keeper went straight to the lion’s cage. He opened the door with a key, an indication that it wasn’t chained, and put the sheep inside. Then he closed the door, leaving the lion and the lamb in there.
The lion and the lamb were there together.
Woburn felt himself sweating; in spite of the peacefulness of the scene out there, he was touched with the cold hand of unknown things. Now, the absence of any kind of sound wore at his nerves. He wanted Eve to speak. He wanted to know how often this happened. He wanted to see what would come next. Was this all? Or would other wild animals be given companions for the hour?
The lamb lay down, and the lion stirred, but did not take much notice. It yawned, and crossed to its mate, who had certainly taken no notice at all of this.
Eve turned round, shivering.
“Please,” she said in a jerky voice, “tell me that I’m going mad. It’s only a big game reserve, that’s all. He’s always been fascinated by wild animals, he’s always loved animals, he’s always said that the wildest could be bred into tame-ness.” Now, she gripped Woburn’s hands. “
Tell me it can’t be true,”
she whispered. “He can’t see himself as—”
She couldn’t force the words out.
Woburn said stiffly: “Another Noah.”
The keeper down below moved about among the animals in the open pasture, and seemed to be talking to them, as if they could understand. He was an elderly man, and a fringe of grey hair that was almost white showed beneath his peaked cap. After five minutes, he turned towards the cages, and Woburn felt his tension rising again.
The man opened the leopards’ cage, and male and female, near the door, stalked out and then began to roam about the pasture, taking no notice of the lesser birds or beasts.
Eve said in that dry, husky voice: “I tell you that the truth didn’t even occur to me. He is so wealthy, he has his fads and fancies, he loves animals, he wanted to experiment with them. Some of these he’s been breeding for years. For years! Why” – she caught her breath – “some of these animals are as old as I. Some were caught recently, only a year ago, and he’s tamed them.”
“Your father himself?”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “He’ll go in and out of the cages without hesitation. I’ve often begged him not to, but he’s only laughed. He. . . he was
sure that they wouldn’t harm him.”
Woburn said in a strangled voice: “And they didn’t?”
He turned his back on the window, because he could not bear the sight of it any longer; and it was the vision in his mental eye which frightened him most. Even though he had used the name, he still boggled at it, and thoughts would not run into a coherent pattern. Gradually he disciplined them; now, he had to put them into words. When it was clearly said, he believed that Eve would find it easier to think about.
“It begins to make a kind of sense, doesn’t it?” he said slowly. “All the animals, two-by-two, bred so that the ferocity and the savagery is taken out of them, and taught to live with each other without fear.” His words came clearly, he had the picture firm, and was quite sure in his own mind that this was the simple truth. “He plans to make the conditions of another Garden of Eden—”
He broke off.
Her name seemed to burst into flames in front of his eyes.
He simply couldn’t go on. The picture had gone misty and vague, all the outlines were lost in three letters.
Eve, Eve, Eve.
Adam and Eve in a Garden of Eden. Noah with his animals, Noah with his
to flood the world, to start afresh.