The Unconquerable (34)

By: Helen MacInnes
February 21, 2015

macinnes

HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize Helen MacInnes’s 1944 novel The Unconquerable (later reissued as While We Still Live), an espionage adventure that pits an innocent English woman against both Nazis and resistance fighters in occupied Poland. MacInnes, it’s worth noting, was married to a British intelligence agent, which may explain what one hears is the amazing accuracy of her story’s details. Under the editorship of HILOBROW’s Joshua Glenn, the Save the Adventure book club will reissue The Unconquerable as an e-book for the first time ever. Enjoy!

ALL INSTALLMENTS SO FAR

***

Chapter 34: The Stranger

Madame Aleksander was asleep. Sheila raised herself slowly, carefully. She lifted Madame Aleksander’s hand gently away from her arm and slipped her feet over the edge of the high bed. The warmth of the room was stifling her. After the forest the small room seemed over-furnished, over-heated. Its small comforts irritated her. She opened the shutters more widely. Outside there was silence, the grey shapes of trees and houses, air which was crisp and cold and clean. She thought of the forest and the men who waited there.

Her feet began to freeze. She turned back to the bed and searched for her shoes. She watched Madame Aleksander for a moment. The calm, gentle voice still haunted her. “Don’t leave him without seeing him first, Sheila.” Sheila’s mouth was in a tight, unpleasant smile as she buttoned the instep strap of one shoe. “He isn’t a regular soldier any more. His fighting isn’t governed by rules.” Sheila forced the other hard round button through its tight hole. “Michal doesn’t know him as I do. He lived beside us, often with us. I knew him as a child and a boy, so I know him better as a man than all the Michals in the world.” Sheila lifted the gun from under the pillow and secured it once more under her blouse. She reached for the shawl lying on the bench. “If he believes Michal is right he will accept this. If he doesn’t he will become morose, bitter, sullen. He will take wild chances.” Sheila walked over to the stove. Stefan’s head had slipped off the pillow on to the floor. She eased the boy’s strained neck back on to the pillow, tried to straighten the wrinkled blanket with which his mother had covered him last night when he had fallen asleep on the floor. “Adam’s greatest asset was his directness. He was always honest with himself. He never pretended, never compromised. Michal has been too quick to decide.” The ashes inside the stove’s little door seemed dead, and yet when the fresh wood was added their heat would kindle flame. She wanted to laugh at her weak symbolism. It was the result of five o’clock in the morning, no sleep, and a gentle voice telling her the things she wanted to hear, the things which made her still more unhappy.

She walked to the door. The restlessness which hadn’t let her sleep, which made it impossible to lie on that bed, now urged her on. Behind her the still figures didn’t move. She stepped quickly into the corridor, closed the door carefully, so that the latch slipping into position would not awaken them. In the long hall’s darkness she felt her way with her hands pressed against the rough wall. There was heavy snoring from one of the closed doors which she passed. The smell of sour cabbage seemed stronger. Still the haunting voice said sadly, “Sheila, you were too honest to please me by marrying Andrew. You were too honest to go away with Steve on false pretences. Keep that honesty. It’s the only thing that matters. Don’t do what you think is noble or clever. Do what you know is right.” In the front room the half-opened door showed Peter and another man asleep over the large wooden table. The light was too dim — the shutter had been opened, but the sun had not yet rise n— to let her see the other man clearly. Perhaps it was the man Ryng. No, he was going to sleep in the barn. It was probably the villager Zak, who had never got home to his own bed after last night’s celebrations. It didn’t matter, anyway. Every one was asleep.

She opened the door of the house carefully after fumbling for some time to find how its catch worked. The dim light from the front room helped her solve that problem. The quiet village greeted her as she closed the door equally carefully behind her. She might have one half-hour of peace before the smoke from the chimneys thickened, the window-shutters were opened, and the people started another day of work and worry. She moved towards the back of the house. It seemed more sheltered. There, in this mixture of garden and field, she could walk and think. The hedge of bushes, now stripped of fruit and leaves, would protect her not only from the early morning wind which froze the dewdrops on the thin brown branches, but from other houses. She wanted no eyes to invade her loneliness.

She halted beside one of the larger trees. Over the inn and its side-buildings, over the rest of the village, over the forest two miles to the south, was nothing but silence. In spite of the dreary light, half night, half dawn, she felt suddenly happy. The forest was still safe. Surely if the Germans had heard that shot, there would have been at least a patrol out by this time. Surely the forest and its secret were safe. Perhaps it was the need for this reassurance which had brought her out of doors. Certainly she felt calm again.

She pulled the shawl more closely round her shoulders. She was thinking more clearly now. By the end of ten minutes she had given herself an answer. Both Mr Olszak and Madame Aleksander were wrong. One had made the decision for her, the other wanted her to make the decision for Adam Wisniewski. And both were wrong. Adam alone could decide. He knew what he had to do, how best he could do it. The decision was his. And the tragedy was that she would be gone from this village before he knew there was a decision to make.

It wasn’t even real tragedy — death would have been that — it was merely frustration. And then she thought, What if Adam knew there was a decision to make, what if he had decided even before Olszak had come to the camp? What if he had been deciding all these last days, while he had watched her and she had avoided him? Then the frustration would be twice as bitter.

A movement from the door of the barn as it opened caught her attention. Weeks of caution made her shrink naturally back against the tree. It was probably the man Ryng, but it was just as well that he shouldn’t see her. The less anyone knew about Jadwiga’s guests, the better. She had drawn too far back against the tree to be able to see the barn doorway clearly; all she had seen for a moment was a man, his head turned away from her as he looked at the silent houses. Perhaps he had decided to leave. Perhaps he was restless as she had been. Those who travelled secretly would always be restless, always worrying about what was happening outside the house that sheltered them. She waited for a minute and then looked again. The door of the barn was closed. No one was in sight. She felt a sudden pity for the lonely figure she had seen. Had he begun to realize his search was hopeless, and yet didn’t want to admit it?

She shivered, and realized she was chilled. She left the tree and went back quickly to the house. The village would soon be stirring. Perhaps Madame Aleksander had awakened and was anxious.

Quickly she entered the inn and shut the door carefully behind her. She was left in complete darkness. That warned her. Some one had closed the door of the front room and its shaft of weak light into the hall was gone. That and a sudden feeling of fear warned her. She drew back against the wall and waited, staring along the blackness of the corridor. The house seemed still asleep. She moved one foot forward cautiously, stretched out a hand to guide her along the wall. She heard a movement, as careful as her own, and she froze. Some one was beside her, touching her. A man’s hand blundered along her outstretched arm and then gripped it. For a moment they stood facing each other in the darkness.

“Who is it?” the man asked quietly. “Who is it?” he repeated. It wasn’t Zygmunt or Peter. It was the voice of the man Ryng. Last night she had thought the voice was familiar. Now she knew that it was. But whose voice, whose voice? She said nothing. The grip on her arm, the hand reaching towards her head warned her. Here was danger, she told herself. Here was danger. He was forcing her towards the door. He was going to open it, he was going to see her clearly. He was trying to feel the shape of her head, of her face. The large hand touched her straining cheek, brushed against her mouth. She bit savagely, heard him curse, wrenched the other arm free as she struck sharply with the heel of her fist against his wrist. She ran along the corridor. His footsteps hesitated. One of the room doors was thrown open, and Kati was there, half dressed, her fingers weaving the plait of hair which fell over her shoulder.

“What’s going on here?” she demanded loudly. She looked at the desperation in Sheila’s face and then stepped into the hall, placing her body between Sheila and Ryng, who still hesitated near the main entrance.

“Came to see if it was time for breakfast,” Ryng said. “Found some one sneaking about. Thought it was a spy.”

“It isn’t time for breakfast. And that’s my cousin Magda, who comes to help clean the bar every morning. What did you do to her?”

“Nothing. She bit my hand.”

“She doesn’t like men, scared of them. You shouldn’t have put a finger on her.” Then Kati called over her shoulder gently. “It’s all right, Magda. Don’t worry. He won’t hurt you.”

Sheila stood quite still. She wished she could turn round and see the man’s face, but she daren’t risk that. Perhaps he might be able to see her more clearly than she thought. So she stood still, and leaned against the wall with her head bowed, and was a terrified Magda. Actually she wasn’t terrified.

Kati’s voice was abrupt. “Get back to the barn. I’ll bring you something to eat when it’s ready — what there is of it. Lucky for you that Magda wasn’t a spy.”

To Sheila she said crossly, “Don’t be a fool, Magda. Men don’t eat you.”

The front door closed behind Ryng’s slow footsteps. Sheila turned to face Kati at last. The girl finished plaiting her hair and said softly, as she coiled the braids round her head, “Hope he believed me.”

Sheila nodded. Her heart was still beating too insistently. There was sweat on her brow.

“Better get back to your room. You are shivering with cold. I’ll come and show you how to feed the fire.” Kati, still in her striped petticoat and white linen chemise with its pink ribbon slotted through the embroidered lace round its wide neck-line, took Sheila’s arm and led her towards the end of the corridor.

“Orders are that no stranger is to learn about visitors from the camp. That’s why I had to make up that story. But what did he do to you?”

“Just tried to see who I was.” Sheila shivered. “I hate people pawing me,” she said fiercely.

“What? Every one?” Kati asked with mock relief.

Sheila smiled, too. “Now I begin to feel I behaved like a fool. I should have answered him when he asked who I was. I should have made up a story like yours. Then there would have been no fuss. And yet, somehow I couldn’t answer him. I really was quite dumb with fear. Kati, I’ve met that man… Part of me recognized him in the darkness, but the rest of me isn’t clever enough…”

Kati was looking at her with mild tolerance. Zygmunt had told her about this girl. She was the Chief’s girl. She was leaving him for no reason Zygmunt or Kati could guess. Sometimes that turned a girl’s brain, sometimes that…

“What’s wrong now?” she asked patiently.

“The door of our room. I shut it firmly this morning.”

“Well, it isn’t shut properly now.” It certainly wasn’t. The slight draught from the window had been sufficient to draw the door, improperly closed, a long inch away from its frame. “The old lady has been up looking for you,” Kati suggested, and then watched Sheila closing the door once more, testing the hasp. She shut it the way she had closed it this morning, cautiously, slowly. The door stayed firm.

“Ryng has looked into this room. He probably looked through every room in this corridor,” Sheila said. She had got rid of that mad fit, Kati thought; her face was cold and hard now.

“They’d have heard him,” Kati said, nodding towards the sleeping Aleksanders.

“They haven’t heard us.”

Kati shrugged her fine shoulders, but before she could answer Sheila had crossed quickly over to the open window and pushed the shutters closer. Some one was outside, loitering. Ryng, no doubt. Loitering to see the dawn break, perhaps, just as he had loitered round this house looking for the food pantry. He made no pretence of silence now; he must have heard her footsteps. He was walking carelessly, kicking a stone along his path as he went. He was whistling softly to himself. Sheila tried to see out through the shutter’s hinge, but there was nothing to be recognized from that angle. All she could do was listen to the careless kicking of the stone, to the soft whistling as it faded.

The practical Kati was attending to the stove. Madame Aleksander stirred restlessly and woke. “Thought I heard something,” she said sleepily, and Kati laughed. But Sheila didn’t laugh. If I can just let my mind lie fallow, just for two minutes, just think of nothing, perhaps I’ll remember, she was saying to herself. For there was something to remember. The coarse voice in the hall with its touch of dialect… it held something of a voice she had heard once before.

Kati pointed a poker at Sheila and said to Madame Aleksander, “She thinks something is wrong. She’s been hearing things, too.”

Madame Aleksander had the good sense to keep quiet. She looked at Sheila, and then she sat up in bed. She began to fasten her corsets, button her dress, smooth her hair into its usual neat pattern.

Sheila walked over to the stove. She stood watching the new flames, leaping greedily inside their little cave. The stove door had been left open to increase the draught. She warmed her hands and looked at the charcoal’s orange glow.

Kati was worried about the continued silence. “What’s wrong, anyway?” she said. “He was a man searching for food. What’s wrong about that?”

“A man searching for something,” Sheila said slowly.

“Aye. For his wife and her young brother. Zygmunt got bored to sleep with his story last night!”

Sheila bit her lip. “Zygmunt. Get Zygmunt. And Peter,” she said suddenly.

“Zygmunt? He’s still asleep. When he’s asleep he stays asleep.”

“Get him, Kati.”

The girl shrugged her shoulders. “Well, don’t blame me for his language,” she said.

Madame Aleksander was wakening Stefan gently. “Please, Stefan. We may have to leave.” Her eyes watched Sheila’s face anxiously.

There were other signs of life in the house now. A woman’s voice, strong and confident, was giving orders. That would be Jadwiga — Kati’s mother. Doors opened noisily. Shutters creaked. There was a sound of dishes, of a stiff broom sweeping a hard floor. Peter and the man Zak stumbled out of the front room, and Jadwiga’s voice followed them. Sheila heard the hiss of water, as the two men wakened their heavy heads under the cold stream from the pump. A man whistling softly… whistling the same little tune she had heard that morning…. What has he to be happy about?

“God…” Sheila said. “Oh, God.”

“What is it, Sheila?” Madame Aleksander came over quickly. Kati and Zygmunt, with wild hair and his half-opened shirt wet with water, stood at the door.

“Kati,” Sheila said very quietly. “Ryng is not a Pole. He is a German. His real name is Dittmar.”

Her denunciation ended in anticlimax. They all stared at her unbelievingly. Zygmunt’s face was still half drugged by sleep.

“What’s that?” he said slowly.

“He’s a spy. I first met him as Henryk, a Polish concierge at Professor Korytowski’s flat. When the war came he changed to an official in the German Auslands-Organisation, working closely with the Gestapo. He arrested and questioned you after my disappearance, Madame Aleksander.”

Every one turned to the older woman. She shook her head nervously, blankly.

“The name means nothing…. I didn’t catch any of their names when they questioned me. They were just… faces.”

Sheila said, “A tall man of about forty, powerful shoulders, round white face, small grey eyes, straight mouth with thin lips, short nose, long upper lip, short, bristling fair hair growing over a once-shaved head?”

Madame Aleksander looked amazed. “Yes, there was one with very short hair, almost shaven head. And grey eyes, small and hard….”

Kati was staring too. “That’s Ryng all right. You’ve got him pat.”

Stefan suddenly broke his attentive silence. 4That was the man who was at Zorawno yesterday morning when I went there to warn its Jadwiga about the shot.”

Kati looked at Zygmunt in alarm. “It’s the camp, Zygmunt. That’s what he’s after.”

Stefan said, “Mother, perhaps he followed you after all. Perhaps that dog…”

“No,” Sheila said, “he came for none of those things, but he may have found out about them. Zygmunt, did he describe his wife to you? How she might be travelling?”

Zygmunt was very much awake now. His face still looked tired, but his eyes were alert. “She was a blonde, quite young, with pretty fair hair to her shoulders. She had delicate hands, but the left one had been scarred by a pot of boiling soup. The brother was young, just a boy. They were travelling south, trying to hide from patrols. There was an older man with them at one time. A big fellow. Ryng seemed jealous about that man. Didn’t know whether he was the reason his wife had disappeared, or whether it was the Germans. I felt rather sorry for him; he was evidently worried.”

Sheila looked at her left hand, and so did Stefan.

“You and Jan and me,” he tried to say. Sheila nodded.

“Devil take his pock-marked soul! Bloody fool that I’ve been,” Zygmunt said.

“You were out on a raid when we arrived in camp, Zygmunt. You didn’t know that Jan and Stefan and I arrived together, or that my hair was longer then. But at least we know that Dittmar came here looking for me. Not for the camp. But he traced us to this district, and then we vanished into thin air. Now he has seen Madame Aleksander here, knows she evaded the men who followed her from Warsaw, knows she must have friends here to help her. Yesterday he heard a shot from the forest, although the villagers had told him the forest was a dead place with all its paths blocked by undergrowth. When he adds up all these things the answer will be that refugees are hidden in the forest.”

“But how did he know we came south towards the forest?” Stefan asked.

“He found out that we were travelling south. After that it was only a matter of searching. He probably examined all reports from patrols, and what he didn’t learn from the Germans he learned from the Poles who believed his story.”

“But why should he follow you? What are you to him?” Zygmunt asked bluntly.

“Because I could tell him about so many things.”

“You wouldn’t, Sheila,” Stefan said.

“I’d try not to. But they might take a long time to kill me.”

“Sheila!”

Sheila shrugged her shoulders. “There’s no use pretending to be heroic in the face of torture. No one knows how he will behave until he is actually being taken apart, bit by bit.”

“Sheila!” Again it was Madame Aleksander. The others were silent.

Then, “What about the camp?” Kati asked.

“If he really knew about it he would now be travelling to the nearest German garrison to give the alarm. His guess about the forest will only be that it’s a refuge for hunted people.”

“But even that is dangerous,” Madame Aleksander said. “That could lead him to the camp.”

Again there was that silence.

“We had better take care of him,” Zygmunt said. “You are sure about him?”

“Yes,” Sheila said, and then thought how strange it was to condemn a man like this. “I didn’t see him this morning. But I’m sure.”

Zygmunt limped towards the window and pushed back the shutters. “Dawn’s here,” he announced. “Stefan, take your mother eastward to the line of trees there. Wait. When it’s evening move towards the forest. You can guide her that way?”

“Of course.”

“First you go east, to the line of trees. Then when light fades you travel south to the forest, then west until you reach the path by which you came last night. The patrol will see you coming. Got that?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” A grin spread strangely over Zygmunt’s dark face. “No telephone from here — the line’s been down since that last big thunderstorm. And the line’s down in Zorawno where he heard the shot. He knows a lot, but he can’t get any information out. He will have to leave before he can let the Germans know. And he can’t leave. He’s got to watch us!” Zygmunt began to laugh, a deep, low laugh which brought a smile to all the anxious faces.

“Must we go now?” Madame Aleksander asked, and the smiles faded.

Zygmunt nodded, and Kati moved towards the door. “I’ll warn my mother and Peter and Zak,” she said as she left the room.

Madame Aleksander crossed over to a corner of the room and picked up a small bundle. “My worldly possessions,” she said, half sadly, half defiantly.

“Couldn’t we go straight to the forest now?” Stefan asked impatiently.

“If they knew they weren’t seen?” Sheila asked in support. She didn’t like the idea of Madame Aleksander waiting out in the open country all day. It seemed so dangerous, so vulnerable.

If they knew. But it’s a big if,” Zygmunt answered slowly. He didn’t favour the idea, obviously.

Stefan shrugged his shoulders. “And you?” he asked.

“I’ll come on later.” Zygmunt looked at his hands. “I’ve business to do,” he said.

Kati returned with the news that her mother was taking the German some food to keep him quiet, that Zak was with her mother and was going to stay in the barn with the man. Peter was already outside, waiting for the boy and his mother to leave. He was to guard their going.

Madame Aleksander gave Sheila a long embrace. They had still much to say and yet could say nothing. Stefan’s grasp on Sheila’s hand tightened.

“Well meet again,” Madame Aleksander said at last. “Some time. We will.”

Sheila kissed the wet cheeks.

“Dear Sheila,” Madame Aleksander said softly.

Zygmunt was leading them out of the room. Kati pretended to fasten the blouse and skirt which she had added to her costume. Then she threw more wood on the fire and closed the oven door. She picked up Stefan’s pillow, began pounding the bed’s mattress, and arranging the quilted cover. She avoided looking at Sheila, and Sheila was grateful.

“I liked her,” Kati said suddenly. “Before the war all of us here used to talk about people like her. We used to say, ‘Those others with the big houses and fine clothes, they are really soft and weak. We may be poor, but we are strong.’ In the last month I’ve seen all kinds of people coming through this village. There were cowards among them, and brave men among them. But never did the cowards all belong to one class, nor did all the brave men.”

“Yes,” Sheila said. It was a relief to talk about something impersonal. “Yes, we are a mixed lot. All classes have their brave men, and all have their shirkers. That’s what my uncle used to say. He used to say the only true classes in a country were the first-rate men and the second-raters, and it didn’t matter how much or how little they possessed.”

“Was he a Communist, this uncle?”

Sheila smiled, remembering Uncle Matthews and his contempt for revolution. (“Too many first-rate men get killed off because they aren’t workers; too many second-raters among the workers are honoured just because they have the right password,” was what he had once said. “Revolution’s wasteful.”)

“No,” Sheila said, “I wouldn’t call him that. He believes that there are good men in all classes of society, and that they should be preserved and encouraged. If anyone has to be liquidated or strung up to a lamp-post, then it should be those who just won’t do any job well, whoever or whatever they are. Only, I don’t think he would believe in having them liquidated. Just openly scorned and despised would be enough for his sense of justice.”

Kati looked puzzled. “But he doesn’t believe’ in classes, then. That’s communism.”

“He doesn’t believe in one class dominating. He believes in the best men of all classes being the leaders. He doesn’t divide people into horizontal levels. He divides them vertically: good citizens, bad citizens. He believes there’s a natural aristocracy among people: an aristocracy of courage and brains and human decency.”

“But those who have much, they think they are the best.”

“In some countries, yes. In others, those who have little think they are the best. Both are snobs.”

“What?”

“That’s my expurgated version of my uncle’s beliefs.”

“I should like to meet this uncle,” Kati said with a smile.

“I think he would like to meet you and Zygmunt and 
Madame Aleksander and ——”

“What does he call this political party?”

Sheila was smiling again. “The Weed-killers,” she said. Kati looked at her disbelievingly, and then she was laughing, too.

“Zak must talk with you,” she said. “He’s always discussing such things. He loves to argue.” She paused and listened. “Zygmunt’s a long time away.” And then with an effort, as if she were trying to keep from worrying, “We Poles talk a lot. It was the only thing we could do in the captivity. Our fathers could only meet in secret, and talk and talk and talk. We got the habit then, I suppose.”

“Who is Zak?” Sheila asked. This waiting seemed interminable. Had something gone wrong after all? What was happening outside?

“The Elder of our village. We elect him…. A sort of mayor. We’ve elected him for many years. He is wise.”

“Don’t you ever want a change?”

“We couldn’t get a better man. We might get a worse one.”

The bed was neat, the room tidied. There was nothing else to do except wait. Talk was no longer an escape from worry.

*

And then Zygmunt came, quite oblivious of the anxiety which he had caused.

“Well away,” he said, his ugly and yet somehow not un-pleasing face relaxed in a broad grin. “I stood and watched them go. No German patrol in sight. Peter went with them to the end of the village.”

A small thin woman followed Zygmunt. She carried a plate of food. “I’ve brought you something to eat,” she said in her deep, strong voice, and handed Sheila a slab of dry bread and sausage. “Don’t wolf it,” she said sharply to Zygmunt. “It’s all you can get. The Szwaby have marked down every pig we own, every blade of rye. It’s been a job, I can tell you, getting these supplies for the camp smuggled out of sight.”

“We know, Mother,” Zygmunt said, with his mouth shamelessly full. He patted the woman’s wrinkled cheek and finished his portion of bread and sausage in three bites. “But I prefer to have a good taste of my food.” He pointed to Sheila. “See! She’s wasting it. She doesn’t even get one good mouthful.”

They were laughing, partly at Zygmunt’s good humour, partly in relief that all was going so well, when Peter entered the room.

“All well?” Zygmunt asked quickly.

“Aye.” Every one relaxed again, and smiles were easy. “They reached the line of trees. No German patrol in sight.”

“Good. Now, while the mice are nibbling at their food, we’ll discuss our plans.” Zygmunt settled himself comfortably on the bench along the wall, his arm round Kati. Her mother, whom Sheila only knew as “Jadwiga,” sat beside Sheila near the stove. Peter leaned his tall body against a heavily carved table.

Zygmunt spoke again. “Zak is with the German. In the barn. Talking. I’m going there now to take the German for a walk. Out of the village. I’ll come back alone. What do you say to that, Mother?”

Jadwiga nodded. “Out of the village,” she said. “Keep the village safe, and that keeps the forest safe.” She nodded again. Her blue eyes were strangely young against the fine network of wrinkles over her brown cheeks. She fingered the empty plate on her lap with her broad, large-knuckled fingers. “And then?”

“The girl leaves to-night with Peter. Keep her hidden in here. The less known about her the better.”

“Aye. Now, if you can let go my daughter’s waist, get on with your dead German.”

Zygmunt rose, grinning. “It isn’t your daughter’s waist which keeps me here. It’s your beautiful bright blue eyes, my darling.”

Jadwiga’s hard, anxious face relaxed for a moment. “Get on with you,” she said.

Zygmunt limped towards the door. He turned to say 
something to Sheila. “You’re sure about ——”

And then the door opened. An unpleasantly businesslike revolver pointed at them. Behind it was Dittmar, tight-eyed, tight-mouthed.

“Back against the wall, all of you. Hands high!” he commanded. “And drop that plate. Quick!”

The plate crashed on the floor.

His eyes travelled round them slowly, rested on Sheila.

“So all the birds haven’t flown,” he said. And a smile, which contained much satisfaction and little charm, spread slowly across his face.

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RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION: “Radium Age” is HILOBROW’s name for the 1904–33 era, which saw the discovery of radioactivity, the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. This era also saw the publication of genre-shattering writing by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sax Rohmer, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Jack London, Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, Olaf Stapledon, Karel Čapek, H.P. Lovecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Philip Gordon Wylie, and other pioneers of post-Verne/Wells, pre-Golden Age “science fiction.” More info here.

READ GORGEOUS PAPERBACKS: HiLoBooks has reissued the following 10 obscure but amazing Radium Age science fiction novels in beautiful print editions: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”), Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt, H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook, Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins, William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, J.D. Beresford’s Goslings, E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man, Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage, and Muriel Jaeger’s The Man with Six Senses. For more information, visit the HiLoBooks homepage.

SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable | Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire”.

ORIGINAL FICTION: HILOBROW has serialized three novels: James Parker’s The Ballad of Cocky The Fox (“a proof-of-concept that serialization can work on the Internet” — The Atlantic); Karinne Keithley Syers’s Linda Linda Linda (which includes original music); and Robert Waldron’s roman à clef The School on the Fens. We also publish original stories and comics. These include: Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these later appeared in the collection The Sovereignties of Invention | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Flourish Klink’s Star Trek fanfic “Conference Comms” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | Charlie Mitchell’s “Sentinels” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | John Holbo’s graphic novel On Beyond Zarathustra (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”

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