Authors: Jean S. MacLeod
THE SILVER DRAGON
Jean S. MacLeod
“Why won’t you believe me?”
Her name stitched into her parka and an address on a piece of paper identified the pretty young amnesia victim—and led her to the man who was her husband.
Dixon Cabot was anything but happy to see her. What had she done to make him so cold and unbelieving, she wondered. In the haze that blanketed her mind, Adele Cabot was sure of only one thing—her husband did not love her.
The mountain rescue team
had been alerted shortly after dawn. Within minutes Sion had been left behind and the tiny Piper Cub was flying low over the narrow Val d’Heremence, searching among the vicious peaks of the Valais on its errand of mercy.
Four climbers had left Napoleon’s little hotel at Bourg-St. Pierre the day before to attack the Grand Combin, the massive isolated peak lying midway between the cupola of Mont Blanc and the eastern Pennines. They had reached the Cabane de Valsorey, where they had spent the night, but since leaving the hut all trace of them had been lost. They had been due to return by Fionnay to Orsieres. When they had not put in an appearance at their hotel after a reasonable time had elapsed and there had been rumors of avalanches in the district, Sion had been contacted and the plane had gone out.
As he flew low over the eternal snows on the north side of the peak, the pilot’s keen blue eyes searched the deep valleys and vast snow slopes leading to the Col du Meiten, but there was no sign of life in all that white wilderness, no movement but the black shadow of the plane traveling slowly across the snowfields now that the sun was up above the distant pinnacles of the Dent Blanche.
The ghost of the moon hung in the brilliant sky above Mont Blanc, but the pilot’s gaze was now fixed on the great rock steps of the Valsorey Arete. The
mighty ridge glinted with the treacherous sheen of ice and the whole Combin was garlanded in windblown snow.
The keen blue eyes swept along the traverse to the Combin proper, still without result, and then, dramatically, they narrowed to pinpoints of concentration as the plane lifted over the lip of the col into the basin formed by the head of the Glacier de Corbassiere.
Here, at the edge of the arrested river of ice, could be seen a tiny red speck crouched in the snow, a motionless thing on which death might already have set his icy seal.
With the caution of experience the Piper Cub circled and banked, searching for the nearest place where a landing could be made with safety, running up a slight incline that would effectively break its speed.
Almost before the plane had come to a standstill, the pilot was out and running across the snow toward the figure at the glacier’s edge. With a profound sense of shock he realized that the exhausted climber was a woman, but there was relief in his eyes when he saw her move.
She was on her feet before he could reach her, covering her eyes with her hand for a moment, as if she could not quite believe that help had come to her from out of the skies. When he came up to her he saw that she was both in shock and chilled, and that around her waist hung the severed end of a rope. When she looked at him her eyes were full of fear.
He spoke to her slowly, as he would have spoken to a bewildered child.
“You were with a party,
he asked. “Two men and another woman who joined you at Martigny in the hotel there. When you did not return, the hotel sent out word to the mountain rescue team.” He looked intently into her pale face, seeing something he did not like in the remote gray eyes. “The others of your party,
Can you tell me what happened?” He glanced from the severed rope around her waist and her
parka to the harsh face of the rock wall behind them. “You have had an accident?”
The girl continued to stare at him without speaking, and then she looked down at the rope. A violent shiver ran through her, yet he guessed unerringly that she had no immediate memory of what had happened. He had seen that dazed look in the eyes of the mountain’s victims many times, and always it had spelled tragedy. When they were able to speak, at last, they could tell of nothing but death and despair. He knew, even without looking at the severed rope again, that there was no point in searching farther.
Suddenly the girl groped forward in an effort to cling to some steadying object and would have fallen if he had not caught her. He saw then that she was injured. Under the ripped hood of her parka her thick auburn hair was disheveled and matted with blood.
She was no weight as he carried her across the intervening space toward the plane, and once again he wondered what took women on these hazardous adventures into the heart of the Alps.
This one did not look like the usual type, however. Certainly she had the taut wiry body essential to the climber, with no superfluous flesh anywhere, but there was nothing masculine about her. She was slim and petite, with wide gray eyes fringed by thick dark lashes and she had an exquisitely boned face, rounded off by a small determined chin. She had given him a brief fleeting smile of gratitude when he had approached her, exposing small, even white teeth, and he had felt that somewhere, tucked away behind the fear in the gray eyes, lay a ready sense of humor which had failed her only in the face of tragedy.
He had no doubt that her companions were dead.
he broken rope spoke volumes, although he would return and search until there was no longer any more hope.
His first task, however, was to get her to the nearest hospital.
Trained in first aid, he did what he could for her when he had got her settled into the restricted space in the plane’s fuselage, but he felt that there was little time to lose.
When they were finally in the air he glanced back at her from time to time, but she did not move. Unconsciousness had wrapped her in a blissful oblivion to pain and her present surroundings, and it kept her there until she was finally at the clinic.
It was three o’clock in the afternoon before she finally opened her eyes to the realization that she was lying in a small white room on a narrow hospital bed between cool white sheets. The westering sun traced a lacy pattern on the ceiling through the curtains drawn across the window.
The room was very still. The whole world, she thought listlessly, was as still as death.
Swiftly she closed her eyes in an effort to shut out some vaguely remembered scene—the image of a snow-imprisoned valley and a tiny red and silver plane with the white cross of Switzerland on a red shield on its tail fin.
There was more to remember, and two thin pencil lines of concentration were drawn between her eyebrows as Dr. John Ordley bent over the bed,
“Ah, good!” said the voice she was to come to know so well. “I think we will let you sit up a little.”
A nurse came, propping a pillow at her back. Not an ordinary nurse, for she wore the white habit of a nun. Again the dark lines pressed close between the finely arched brows.
“Where am I?” She put a hand up to her head, feeling the bandages. “What happened to me? I can’t remember
The last three words brought the doctor swiftly to her side again. He had crossed to the window, drawing a heavier curtain halfway across it to shut out some of the last piercing rays of the setting sun, and now he was looking at her more intently, searching her eyes for the truth.
“I am going to go over the last three days bit by bit,” he told her almost casually, “as we have pieced them together from the information we have been able to collect here. I want you to try to follow me.”
He was not insistent, and she felt glad because she did not want to be bullied into answering questions. She would not be able to bear that, for she could not remember. Her mind was a blank, a gray, foggy, terrifying wilderness of uncertainty into which she could not look.
t, I can
something kept crying within her. Something she could not trace because it lay buried deep in her subconscious mind.
Yes, that must be it!
But she felt guiltily that she could not remember because she did not
to recall the past at all. She was pushing away something she feared.
“Must we try?” she asked wearily, turning haunted gray eyes up to the doctor’s shrewd brown ones. “Must we
quite so soon?”
He took her hand in a firm warm grip.
“I think we must,” he said.
She was aware, then, that his eyes were kind, with a maze of laughter lines at their corners, as if he had always enjoyed life. He was young, she thought irrelevantly, not quite thirty perhaps, and he was English.
The thought pleased her and she allowed her mind to stray from the necessity of question and answer to the contemplation of his square honest-looking face surmounted by a thick crop of fair hair that, with the sun on it, held just a tint of red.
“Let me help you,” he suggested, motioning to the white-habited figure at the foot of the bed, which silently withdrew. “When you were picked up by the mountain rescue plane you were wearing this.” The nun had returned, holding a red parka. “We found your name sewn inside the hood—Adele Cabot.”
He paused, waiting for her reaction and the recognition that should come. It was her first vital contact with the past, the first link in the chain of remembering, but it produced nothing. There was no response on the face on the pillows, no suggestion in the gray eyes that the name was familiar. The girl, however, was prepared to accept it without question, a fact that was more than a little disappointing to the young doctor. It meant that he had come up against the blank wall of complete amnesia.
He could not abandon his efforts there, of course. The ethics of his profession demanded that he must persevere, and besides, he was conscious of an odd, personal interest in the case. At first he had thought his patient English, like himself, and there was still the possibility that she might be, although the surname was French. She certainly looked like the Anglo-Saxon type, with her reddish hair and gray eyes, but he could not confuse her with questions that were not absolutely pertinent in the present circumstances.
“We’ve made inquiries at the hotel in Martigny where you stayed,” he went on slowly, as she fingered the
parka in a commendable effort to concentrate her thoughts. “You arrived there on the fourteenth, in the morning, accompanied by three other people—two men and a woman. You had lunch at the same table and afterward set out for Orsieres and Bourg-St. Pierre, where you proposed to climb in the Grand Combin region, returning by Fionnay and Sembrancher. The suitcase you left in the hotel has been picked up and brought here,” he added slowly. “When you feel up to the task I would like you to go through it. Quite often an association of articles and events can produce the result we want.”
She had been following each word with grave concentration, her gray eyes enormous in her pale face.
“Apart from the injury to my head,” she asked after a moment, “is there anything else?”
“No,” he said, rising to walk to a small white cabinet and standing with his back to her. “Physically there is no reason why you should remain where you are for more than a day or two.”
“And ... this head wound?” She touched the bandages.
“You took a pretty severe crack, possibly from a falling rock.” He came back with a hypodermic syringe in his hand, measuring the amount of the drug that it contained against the light. “Let’s face it,” he said, “you’ve had a miraculous escape. The avalanche carried away half the hillside with it. It was no small affair.”
Her face crumpled in an odd sort of helplessness.
“If only I could remember,” she whispered, “but I can’t! I can’t!” She covered her face with her hands. “Why is it like this?” she demanded. “Why should my brain be perfectly clear about everything that happened afterward?”
John Ordley hesitated. Hysterical amnesia was a difficult thing to explain to the victim.