Summer readingCreated by svandrine on June 7, 2011
In the Skin of a Lion is a love story and an irresistible mystery set in the turbulent, muscular new world of Toronto in the 20s and 30s. Michael Ondaatje entwines adventure, romance and history, real and invented, enmeshing us in the lives of the immigrants who built the city and those who dreamed it into being: the politically powerful, the anarc …
An April night in 1917. Harris and Pomphrey were on the bridge, in the dark wind. Pomphrey had turned west and was suddenly stilled. His hand reached out to touch Harris on the shoulder, a gesture he had never made before.
Walking on the bridge were five nuns.
Past the Dominion Steel castings wind attacked the body directly. The nuns were walking past the first group of workers at the fire. The bus, Harris thought, must have dropped them off near Castle Frank and the nuns had, with some confusion at that hour, walked the wrong way in the darkness.
They had passed the black car under the trees and talking cheerfully stepped past the barrier into a landscape they did not know existed -- onto a tentative carpet over the piers, among the night labourers. They saw the fire and the men. A few tried to wave them back. There was a mule attached to a wagon. The hiss and jump of machines made the ground under them lurch. A smell of creosote. One man was washing his face in a barrel of water.
The nuns were moving towards a thirty-yard point on the bridge when the wind began to scatter them. They were thrown against the cement mixers and steam shovels, careering from side to side, in danger of going over the edge.
Some of the men grabbed and enclosed them, pulling leather straps over their shoulders, but two were still loose. Harris and Pomphrey at the far end looked on helplessly as one nun was lifted up and flung against the compressors. She stood up shakily and then the wind jerked her sideways, scraping her along the concrete and right off the edge of the bridge. She disappeared into the night by the third abutment, into the long depth of air which held nothing, only sometimes a rivet or a dropped hammer during the day.
Then there was no longer any fear on the bridge. The worst, the incredible had happened. A nun had fallen off the Prince Edward Viaduct before it was even finished. The men covered in wood shavings or granite dust held the women against them. And Commissioner Harris at the far end stared along the mad pathway. This was his first child and it had already become a murderer.
“The dearest and most moving and delightful child of fiction since the immortal Alice.” Mark Twain
Eleven-year-old Anne Shirley has never known a real home. So when she is sent to live with Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert at Green Gables farm, she thinks she’s found one at last. Green Gables is the most beautiful place Anne has ever seen and she …
Daring was the fashionable amusement among the Avonlea small fry just then. It had begun among the boys, but soon spread to the girls, and all the silly things that were done in Avonlea that summer because the doers thereof were “dared” to do them would fill a book by themselves. . . .
Now, to “walk” board fences requires more skill and steadiness of head and heel than one might suppose who has never tried it. But Josie Pye, if deficient in some qualities that make for popularity, had at least a natural and inborn gift, duly cultivated, for walking board fences. Josie walked the Barry fence with an airy unconcern which seemed to imply that a little thing like that wasn’t worth a “dare.” Reluctant admiration greeted her exploit, for most of the other girls could appreciate it, having suffered many things themselves in their efforts to walk fences. Josie descended from her perch, flushed with victory, and darted a defiant glance at Anne.
Anne tossed her red braids.
“I don’t think it’s such a very wonderful thing to walk a little, low, board fence,” she said. “I knew a girl in Marysville who could walk the ridge-pole of a roof.”
“I don’t believe it,” said Josie flatly. “I don’t believe anybody could walk a ridge-pole. You couldn’t, anyhow.”
“Couldn’t I?” cried Anne rashly.
“Then I dare you to do it,” said Josie defiantly. “I dare you to climb up there and walk the ridge-pole of Mr. Barry’s kitchen roof.”
Anne turned pale, but there was clearly only one thing to be done. She walked towards the house, where a ladder was leaning against the kitchen roof. All the fifth-class girls said, “Oh!” partly in excitement, partly in dismay.
“Don’t you do it, Anne,” entreated Diana. “You’ll fall off and be killed. Never mind Josie Pye. It isn’t fair to dare anybody to do anything so dangerous.”
“I must do it. My honour is at stake,” said Anne solemnly. “I shall walk that ridge-pole, Diana, or perish in the attempt. If I am killed you are to have my pearl bead ring.”
Anne climbed the ladder amid breathless silence, gained the ridge-pole, balanced herself uprightly on that precarious footing, and started to walk along it, dizzily conscious that she was uncomfortably high up in the world and that walking ridge-poles was not a thing in which your imagination helped you out much. Nevertheless, she managed to take several steps before the catastrophe came. Then she swayed, lost her balance, stumbled, staggered and fell, sliding down over the sun-baked roof and crashing off it through the tangle of Virginia creeper beneath — all before the dismayed circle below could give a simultaneous, terrified shriek.
If Anne had tumbled off the roof on the side up which she ascended Diana would probably have fallen heir to the pearl bead ring then and there. Fortunately she fell on the other side, where the roof extended down over the porch so nearly to the ground that a fall therefrom was a much less serious thing.
Nevertheless, when Diana and the other girls had rushed frantically around the house — except Ruby Gillis, who remained as if rooted to the ground and went into hysterics — they found Anne lying all white and limp among the wreck and ruin of the Virginia creeper.
“Anne, are you killed?” shrieked Diana, throwing herself on her knees beside her friend. “Oh, Anne, dear Anne, speak just one word to me and tell me if you’re killed.”
To the immense relief of all the girls, and especially of Josie Pye, who, in spite of lack of imagination, had been seized with horrible visions of a future branded as the girl who was the cause of Anne Shirley’s early and tragic death, Anne sat dizzily up and answered uncertainly:
“No, Diana, I am not killed, but I think I am rendered unconscious.”