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English officer and gentleman Harry Feversham has wealth, social position, a beautiful fiancée, Ethne Eustace, and a brotherly bond with three close friends. But he also harbors a dark secret. Though he is expected to continue his family’s proud tradition of military service, he cannot forget the shameful stories he heard as a child: tales of men who shirked their duty and disgraced themselves in battle. Fearing he too will flee from combat, Harry resigns his commission when his regiment is ordered to the war-torn Sudan. Following this decision, he receives a white feather—symbolizing cowardice—from each of his friends, and a fourth from Ethne. To redeem himself in their eyes, and his own, he embarks on an epic quest, traveling alone to Africa disguised as an Arab. As Harry endures desert heat, raging enemies, and the hellish prison known as the House of Stone, his heroic exploits become the stuff of legend. Originally published in 1902, The Four Feathers, A. E. W. Mason’s best-known novel of adventure and romance, explores a plethora of complex moral issues within a framework of exotic intrigue and breakneck action. What is courage? What is cowardice? What is loyalty? And how do we balance the conflicting demands of country, family, friends, lovers, and one’s own ideals?
It was the evening on which MM. Debienne and Poligny, the managers of the Opera, were giving a last gala performance to mark their retirement. Suddenly the dressing–room of La Sorelli, one of the principal dancers, was invaded by half–a–dozen young ladies of the ballet, who had come up from the stage after “dancing” Polyeucte. They rushed in amid great confusion, some giving vent to forced and unnatural laughter, others to cries of terror. Sorelli, who wished to be alone for a moment to “run through” the speech which she was to make to the resigning managers, looked around angrily at the mad and tumultuous crowd. It was little Jammes—the girl with the tip–tilted nose, the forget–me–not eyes, the rose–red cheeks and the lily–white neck and shoulders—who gave the explanation in a trembling voice:
“It’s the ghost!” And she locked the door.
Sorelli’s dressing–room was fitted up with official, commonplace elegance. A pier–glass, a sofa, a dressing–table and a cupboard or two provided the necessary furniture. On the walls hung a few engravings, relics of the mother, who had known the glories of the old Opera in the Rue le Peletier; portraits of Vestris, Gardel, Dupont, Bigottini. But the room seemed a palace to the brats of the corps de ballet, who were lodged in common dressing–rooms where they spent their time singing, quarreling, smacking the dressers and hair–dressers and buying one another glasses of cassis, beer, or even rhum, until the call–boy’s bell rang.