Thursday, March 16, 2017

Forgotten Book: The Third Eye by Ethel Lina White (1937)

In 2012, Curtis Evans reviewed Ethel Lina White's 1937 novel The Third Eye, very-very favourably (read his review here). As I had liked all the books that I had read of White till then it immediately went on my wish-list. But it is  only now that Project Gutenberg, Australia has made it available (along with a host of other books by White) that I have been able to read it.





Young, spirited Caroline Watts feels (quite mistakenly) that she is becoming bothersome to her sister Lesley and brother-in-law Professor Freeman and wants to take up a job and move out of their home. Without any  professional degrees, she applies for the job of a sports-teacher at Abbey school. Professor Freemason is not happy about it but the two women (the 'practical sex' as White puts it) convince him that he is worrying about nothing.

However, Caroline too feels the same misgivings when she reaches the school on a dark, drizzling night. On inquiring about the Principal Mrs. Nash, she is told that the lady was with Mrs. Yaxley-Moore, the matron, and wasn't to be disturbed at any cost.:

"That is Mrs. Nash's private suite,.. She is with Miss Yaxley-Moore. So she must not be disturbed."

The peculiar note in her voice corresponded with the man-servant's flickering smile. It created an atmosphere of insinuation which was distasteful to Caroline.

I doesn't help matters when she is told that the previous sports-teacher had died suddenly in the same bed which she has been given:

She slept badly on her first night. Besides being homesick, she was full of nervous fancies which made her shrink from occupying a bed where some one might have died recently. For some time she lay awake, starting at every creaking board before she drifted into a semi-unconscious state in which she could still hear the rustle of the rain while her brain played the strange pranks of dreams.

She thought that she was awake, but was unable to stir, because of a heavy fear of something stirring inside the bed, which paralysed every muscle and locked every joint. She did not know how long it endured, but at last her fingers flexed again and she switched on the light.


As she sat up, she realised that she was really awake, and in a strange but commonplace room. In spite of her relief, she could not shake off the impression of her dream immediately. That sudden drainage of power in the moment of peril appeared to her the more horrible because of her own confidence in her strength and agility.

"Is it a warning dream?" she wondered with a flicker of prescience.





From the next morning, Caroline realises that there is something rotten in the school, especially in the kind of insidious hold that Yaxley-Moore has over Mrs. Nash with her claims to have a third-eye and the gift of communicating with the dead. Caroline wants to prove her  a fraud but doesn't have any conclusive proof. Then finally before the school breaks-up for the winter holidays, Caroline realises that Yaxley-Moore has been guilty of negligence towards an asthmatic girl. And now she has solid proof - in the form of two unopened bottles of medicine - which the matron should have given to the sick girl. Threatening exposure, she asks the matron not to rejoin in the next term.

However, Yaxley-Moore is not one to give up easily and along with her half-sister, Miss Bat, plans to stop Caroline from reaching the school after the break. And this is when the novel really takes off. As Caroline boards the bus on another rain-drenched evening, the nightmare begins.

She was only just entering the labyrinth, when she could not distinguish true from false—friend from foe—or know which move led to salvation or death. The poor Professor, who had preserved a touch of Celtic vision in spite of the grind of routine, had been smitten with presentiment at his last sight of Caroline's face, drowning in the fog.

Who is to be trusted, who is to be not? Who is the young wife of a naval officer? Who is the lady in brown? Who is the commercial traveller? And who is that figure in front - a man or a woman??? Are they all in league against Caroline?

By now the poison of the anonymous letters had spread through her system, numbing her sense of proportion. As she looked around her she began to suspect every one in the bus. From that moment, Someone who was her enemy was travelling with her in the Streamline Coach. Yet, because it was impossible to credit any particular person with sinister qualities, "Someone" became an abstraction of horror, rather than an actual human being.

It was this anonymous element which gradually wore away her nerve, until lethal squares seemed to crowd the board.

And what  about the aristocratic lady in fur:

"Shirley Temple in disguise," suggested the bony man, making his bid as humorist. "She wants to escape her fans, so don't ask for her 
autograph."

[This reminded me that England's captain Douglas Jardine had sent two Shirley Temple dolls to the daughters of Australian cricketer Bre Oldfield when the latter had been felled by a Harold Larwood bomb. We are definitely in the thirties.]





But to get back to Caroline's dilemma: Should she accept the invitation of a man who claims to be the professor's friend? What about the car-driver who so eagerly offers her lift? Should she stay on the bus or get down? Will she ever reach her destination?

The coach continued to roll through the forest, which stretched for miles. On either side of her were walls of dark, funereal trees—pines, Scotch firs, yews—all weeping with moisture. The ray from the lamps picked out details: the rusty stain on a rubbed trunk, like dried blood; the moonlight-blue tips of black-green shoots; the scar of a lopped branch, which glimmered whitely like a magnified eye.


Read John's comment about the dagger:)



A totally terrific ride. Hop on NOW.

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Besides Curt, John @ Pretty Sinister Books also rates this book very highly. His review can be read over here.

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Submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books @ Pattinase and Crimes of the Century @ Past Offences.

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First Line: FROM THE first, Professor Freeman was reluctant to let his young sister-in-law—Caroline—accept the post of games mistress at the Abbey School.

Source: Project Gutenberg Australia.

Other books read of the same author: (Among others) The Wheel Spins




8 comments:

  1. Glad you liked this one - I've only read one of her so far or maybe two ...

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    1. Thanks Sergio. I hope you will one day read it too.

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  2. This does sound like a deliciously creepy story, Neeru. I can see why you enjoyed the ride.

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    1. Oh the ride was electrifying, Margot:)

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  3. This is one of her best, IMO. Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did. The bus ride sequence was my favorite part. Yaxley-Moore is a vile creation, isn't she? Thanks for the link, too!

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    1. The bus-sequence was where the novel really took off and actually I can't decide who was more vile: Miss Bat or Yaxley-Moore. Pleasure to provide your link.

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  4. I've read two other books by White - one I liked: FEAR STALKS THE VILLAGE and one I didn't like: THE LADY VANISHES (though I love the movie). However you make this one sound really good, Neer. So I'm adding it to my TBR list.

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    1. Oh I hope you enjoy this Yvette. I'd love to read your takeon it. And I liked The Wheel Spins but not Fear Stalks the Village:)

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