With apologies to Richard Connell.
“Off to the right–somewhere–is a large island,” said Whitney. “It’s rather a mystery–”
“What island is it?” Renee asked.
“The old charts call it `Authoress Island,”‘ Whitney replied.” A suggestive name, isn’t it? Sailors have a curious dread of the place. I don’t know why. Some superstition–”
“Can’t see it,” remarked Renee, trying to peer through the dank tropical night that was palpable as it pressed its thick warm blackness in upon the yacht.
“It will be light enough in Rio,” promised Whitney. “We should make it in a few days. I hope the jaguar guns have come from Purdey’s. We should have some good hunting up the Amazon. Great sport, hunting.”
“The best sport in the world,” agreed Renee.
“For the hunter,” amended Whitney. “Not for the jaguar.”
“Don’t talk rot, Whitney,” said Renee. “You’re a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?”
“Perhaps the jaguar does,” observed Whitney.
“Bah! They’ve no understanding.”
“Even so, I rather think they understand one thing–fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death.”
“Nonsense,” laughed Renee. “The hot weather is making you soft, Whitney. Be a realist. The world is made up of two classes–the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are hunters. Do you think we’ve passed that island yet?”
“I can’t tell in the dark. I hope so.”
An abrupt sound startled her – off to the right she heard it, and her ears, expert in such matters, could not be mistaken. Again she heard the sound, and again. Somewhere in the darkness, someone had fired a gun three times.
Renee sprang up and moved to the rail. She strained her eyes in the direction from which the reports had come, but it was like trying to see through a blanket. She leaped upon the rail and balanced herself there, but realized she had reached too far and lost her balance. The cry that came from her lips was pinched short as the blood-warm waters of the sea closed over her head.
When she opened her eyes she was sprawled across a harsh and forbidding shore. She knew from the position of the sun that it was late in the afternoon. She was not yet frightened.
“Where there are pistol shots, there are people,” she thought. But what kind of people in so strange a place? An unbroken front of snarled and ragged jungle fringed the shore. She picked her aching body up and heading down the coastline, but not far from her resting-place she stopped.
Some wounded thing–by the evidence, a large animal–had thrashed about in the underbrush; the jungle weeds were crushed down and the moss was lacerated; one patch of weeds was stained crimson. A small, glittering object not far away caught Renee’s eye and she picked it up. It was an empty cartridge.
Renee came upon the lights as she turned a corner in the coastline. An enormous building with pointed towers plunged upward into the gloom. Her eyes made out the shadowy outlines of a palatial chateau; it was set on a high bluff, and on three sides of it cliffs dived down to where the sea licked greedy lips in the shadows.
The stone steps were real enough; the massive door with a leering gargoyle for a knocker was real enough; yet above it all hung an air of unreality.
Renee lifted the heavy knocker, and let it fall. The door opened then–opened as suddenly as if it were on a spring–and Renee stood blinking in the river of glaring gold light that poured out. The first thing Renee’s eyes discerned was the tallest woman Renee had ever seen–a gigantic creature, solidly made and with hair unbound to the waist. In her hand the woman held a long-barreled revolver, and she was pointing it straight at Renee’s heart.
Two bright and brilliant eyes regarded Renee.
“Don’t be alarmed,” said Renee, with a smile which she hoped was disarming. “I’m no robber. I fell off a yacht. My name is Renee Sanger – of New York City.”
The menacing look in the eyes did not change. The revolver pointing as rigidly as if the giant were a statue. She gave no sign that she understood Renee’s words, or that she had even heard them. She was dressed in uniform–a black uniform trimmed with gray astrakhan.
“I’m Renee Sanger of New York,” Renee began again. “I’m sorry if I’ve troubled you, but I’ve fallen off my yacht and can’t -”
The woman’s only answer was to raise with her thumb the hammer of her revolver. Then Renee saw the woman’s free hand go to her forehead in a military salute, and she saw her click her heels together and stand at attention. Another woman was coming down the broad marble steps, an erect, slender woman in evening clothes. She advanced to Renee and held out her hand.
In a cultivated voice marked by a slight accent that gave it added precision and deliberateness, she said, “It is a very great pleasure and honor to welcome Ms. Renee Sanger, the celebrated hunter, to my home.”
Automatically Renee shook the woman’s hand.
“I’ve read your book about hunting snow leopards in Tibet, you see,” explained the woman. “I am J.K. Rowling – but you may call me the General.”
Renee’s first impression was that the woman was singularly lovely; her second was that there was an original, almost bizarre quality about the woman’s face. She was a tall woman past middle age, and her eyes were black and very bright. She had high cheekbones, a sharp-cut nose, a spare, dark face–the face of a woman used to giving orders, the face of an aristocrat. Turning to the giant in uniform, the general made a sign. The giant put away her pistol, saluted, withdrew.
“Stephenie Meyer is an incredibly strong woman,” remarked the general, “but she has the misfortune to be deaf and dumb. A simple woman, but, I’m afraid, like all her race, a bit of a savage.”
“Is she Russian?”
“She is a Cossack,” said the general, and her smile showed red lips and pointed teeth. “So am I.”
“Come,” she said, “we shouldn’t be chatting here. We can talk later. Now you want clothes, food, rest. You shall have them. This is a most restful spot.”