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Chapter Seventeen

Just before midnight Scarabaes betrothed came downstairs, She looked like a bride in Hell, in her dress of blood and the veil like melon-heart, wing-spread from its little coronet, and with two scarlet roses in her hand.

Rachaelas watch had ascertained the time, but really it was only night, the last summer lightness compressed from the sky, the house doors open.

Lighted candles everywhere, beaded ranks of fire giving off a dense and wavering heat.

The old people had gathered in their dinner clothes, their dust and spangles. Only Rachaela in her skirt and T-shirt did not fit. She stood apart, she was only the witness.

Ruths made-up face looked totally contained, but she shone with electricity. She was the glowing centre of the fires.

Another room had been opened up, cleaned by the servants and filled with candles and red roses on tall wooden stands.

At the far end was a table draped in red velvet, and on it a huge old book lying open. Behind the table stood Dorian in his dinner clothes and starched shirt.

In front of the table was Adamus.

To her horror, Rachaela saw that he too wore a tuxedo, a white shirt and black bow tie. He too had dressed himself as a figment of the farce. His face showed nothing and the eyes were as she recalled, dull lacquer pools without light or depth. But it was true, he was their puppet.

The Scarabae had made an aisle and Ruth walked down it and into the room.

The Scarabae moved in after her, taking up their places behind the betrothal pair, the man and the small woman-child.

Rachaela stood at the back of the room, looking across the heads of strong wire hair, and one helmed head, for Uncle Camillo had come in his armour. She and Adamus were the tallest in the room, which added to the sense of ridiculous beastliness.

Dorian unseamed his withered mouth.

The house has come together on this night, to oversee the promising of its two children, Adamus and Ruth, to one another. This is done in the spirit of an old tradition. It is done in pledge for the house of Scarabae, in the hope that it may continue and flourish with generations.

Rachaelas eyes dazzled from the candles. She could not follow what Dorian said, it was too distorted and nonsensical. And now he spoke in a foreign language, and after that in what was perhaps Latin.

Then Dorian put Ruths hand into the hand of Adamus and tied them together with a white silk ribbon, an old ribbon stained along its clarity with age.

Remember now, whatever comes, you are promised to each other before witnesses. You may take no other to you, but must keep faith until the hour of marriage and union. So are you bound.

Ruth looked up into Adamuss face.

She smiled, cunningly.

You must say now whether you are agreeable and will remain true to this binding. Ruth, answer first.

I am agreeable and will remain true, said Ruth.

And Adamus.

I am agreeable, Adamus said, and will remain true.

Dorian untied the white stained ribbon.

Though the tie is undone, the vow is not undone. Let all here witness this.

I witness it, Rachaela thought, they will stay bound to one another. She will be taller when she marries him. It wont look so perverse then. Or worse perhaps.

She thought: What is he thinking? Is his mind a blank?

Adamus bent and kissed Ruth on the lips, lightly. She did not close her eyes, she kept them open and drank him in.

Cheta came forward in her brooch. She carried a small cake on a plate. Adamus broke it in half and Ruth ate one half and he the other.

Michael came up with a glass of red wine. They each took a mouthful from the glass.

Write your names in the book.

Adamus dipped the pen and wrote, Ruth took the pen and wrote after him.

Has she put Ruth Day from force of habit?

But Dorian did not query the entry.

Adamus and Ruth, hand in hand, turned away from the table. Ruth gave Adamus the second rose; he put it in his buttonhole.

How terrifying they looked, like erroneous models on a wedding cake, the cold sheer bridegroom and his tiny sprite of a scarlet bride.

Anna stepped up to Ruth and gave her a small package.

Adamus released Ruths hand.

She undid the gift in her usual neat, greedy way.

A rhinestone locketit surely could not be diamonds. Ruth held out the locket to Adamus, and he fastened it around her throat.

The others approached Ruth. They gave her gifts: earrings, and books, and lengths of material, ornaments and objects of coloured glass.

Only I have nothing to give. Rachaela imagined herself as the thirteenth fairy godmother, stepping forward to present the gift of death.

Did she want Ruth dead in this moment? Was it really so bad, this idiotic ceremony and the little girl dressed like a bride?

The little girl piled the table with her trophies. Now and then she showed them to Adamus, the best trophy of all. He gravely assented.

Now Camillo was going forward. His present too was wrapped. Ruth tore off the wrapping eagerly. She was acquisitive. She ignored his figure in its armour.

Out of the wrapping came a strange metal-and-wood contraption.

Adamus said, Be careful, and leaning forward took the thing away from her. It was a mousetrap.

Camillo giggled.

Anna said clearly, Uncle Camillo is very naughty, Ruth. Dont mind him.

Uncle Camillo, said Ruth.

She looked at him with her jet stone eyes. Her face was pinched a little. He had tried to spoil the betrothal.

Anita came to Ruth and gave her an embroidered cushion of red flowers.

When the presentation was over, the Scarabae and their betrothed went into the dining room.

There had been no dinner earlier, now the table was laden like a medieval feast, with pies and roasts, chickens and joints gained no doubt from the supermarket in the village.

The candles filled this room too, and the roses fumed.

Ruth sat at one end of the table, Adamus at the other. Rachaela found herself seated between Stephan and Dorian. A place had been laid for Camillo, but he had absented himself. There were more women than men, and they filled Adamuss end of the table.

Selections were taken from the ready-carved joints and from the pies and dishes of vegetables.

The Scarabae ate with good appetite. Rachaela glanced to see what Adamus did, but he was eating too. She had never seen the phenomenon before. He ate slowly and indifferently, yet the food vanished from his plate. And Ruth ate carnally.

Repelled, Rachaela picked at her dish. She would not celebrate by eating.

Would there be speeches and an old champagne? Wine was served, and no one got up to speak. Yet it was the betrothal banquet. What did Ruth expect as its end? Now and then her eyes would go to Adamus. Her eyes were gluttonous. She anticipated something, and there would be nothing. Perhaps it had not been made clear to her. This was the climax of the night.

When Adamus rose, Ruth looked up expectantly.

Good night, Adamus said. Good night, Anna. Good night, Ruth.

Must you go so early? Anna said.

Ive stayed two hours, he said.

Anna bowed her head, and Adamus left the table of the fairytale feast and walked out of the room.

Ruth half got to her feet.

Shall I

No, Ruth. Stay and finish your supper.

Ruth sank back with a peculiar glimmer in her eyes. She forked up her chicken, but some of the vibrancy had gone from her.

The meal went on for a long time.

Rachaela was heartily sick of it, longing to escape as he had, but knowing she must stay, to watch.

Finally the fruits and sweetmeats had been picked bare to stones and crusts. The company rose.

Ruth poised like a scarlet mayfly.

Am I to go up now?

No, said Anna. Its very late. Im sure that soon youll want to sleep.

Ruths face was heavy, shadows under the eyes.

No.

You dont feel it yet, but you will. After all this excitement.

And the dress, said Alice, the dress must be taken off and put back on its dummy.

I want to keep the dress, said Ruth. I want to wear it.

Oh no, no. Whoever heard of such a thing? Such dresses are kept only for the special day, You wouldnt want to spoil the lovely dress? AUce fluttered in astonishment.

Ruth looked at Alice and abruptly radiated a beam of pure hatred.

Of course, she had been baulked. No Adamus, and now no dress. They were stripping her role from her. Another child would have thrown a tantrum, but this child had learned early that to make a fuss gained nothing.

Whatever else, Alice cringed before Ruths eyes. She turned to Peter and besought him, Its always been done. She doesnt know. Do you remember when Jessica tore her dress and it had to be stitched as she wore it, sewn on around her, and then cut again to get it off.

Peter nodded.

Ruth said, Its only an old dress.

She shocked them. They were used to seeing her as a child but receiving the replies of a responsive adult. They did not know what to do.

Rachaela said, All good things come to an end.

Ruth glanced at Rachaela. She had never looked for anything good from Rachaela, and so did not hate her for providing nothing good.

Everyone left the table, and some of the old women took Ruth away to denude her of her finery.

It was three in the morning.

In the drawing room Rachaela approached Anna.

You should have reassured Ruth. Shell see him tomorrow, for the usual piano lesson.

Anna embroidered a peacock.

But she wont, Rachaela. He wont be teaching her any more. Jack has repaired and re-tuned the piano in the music room. Ruth can practise there.

So hes tired of the novelty already, said Rachaela. A warm pain lit up the centre of her body.

He doesnt communicate easily, said Anna, as she had once said before. The last weeks have been something of a strain for him.

You used him to seduce her, Rachaela said, not literally perhaps, but fundamentally all the same.

Ruth will have to be patient.

For three years? Ruth is eleven. Three years will seem a very long time.

Ruth is Scarabae.

So you keep saying.

It is a fact.

Rachaela turned and went out of the room. The first thread had been pulled from the scarlet tracery. Now all the rotten fabric might come undone.

Rachaela the witness watched Ruth the betrothed.

The days grew very hot and the shut house was like an oven, burning colours coming in from its windows, an airless bath of dyes.

The Scarabae went to ground in their dyed rooms, lying in their chairs, hunted by their enemy the sun.

Ruth was on the heath a lot, and sometimes down by the sea, for she had at some moment discovered the steps to the beach. Rachaela watched her gathering treasures from the waters edge, paddling in the waves, or seated under the standing stone drawing intently. Once or twice the great black cat was with her, sleeping by her side. Ruth showed a passion for the cat, predictable and unique. On one occasion she had garlanded its neck with daisies. She was like a lost maenad. The troop of bacchantes had moved on and left her behind.

At night, occasionally, Ruth played the piano in the music room.

She played angrily and with a quantity of wrong notes.

On most evenings after dinner she deserted those Scarabae in the drawing room, and went away to her bedroom presumably to paint or read. Did Anna give her books? She had left all her own behind.

The tempo of Ruths life was wrong. She had been accustomed to a routine which she herself might break, in truancy. But now there was no routine but idleness, and nowhere to play truant from or to.

The house had perhaps been enough at first, but then she had had Adamus. Now Adamus was denied her, and the house, not seen through his gleam, palled.

Rachaela watched this happen, she watched Ruth change. A stillness was coming over her. She was growing bored.

One night Ruth said to Anna, Can I go to the town?

The town? Oh, its a very long way.

Familiar conversation.

This time Stephan interposed. Theres nothing in the town.

Shops, said Ruth.

There are shops now in the village.

She can go with Cheta and Carlo.

The walks too long, said Ruth. She was a child of buses and streets. She did not appear to want the wilds of the heath, empty of gravestones, burger bars and Woolworths.

Can I go to the cinema? said Ruth.

Rachaela had sometimes taken her, and sometimes perhaps she had got in by herself.

Its too far, Ruth, said Anna, too far for you to go-

Ruth looked at Rachaela, but Rachaela did not help her.

Theres nothing to do here, said Ruth.

You have your drawing and your music, said Anna, and Alice was teaching you how to knit.

Ruth was silent. She stared at Anna a long time, but Anna went on placidly with her embroidering, and Stephan stared into the space where the fire had been in winter.

Rachaela could suggest to Anna that she and Ruth take a hire car into the town, but Anna would refuse that, predicting that Rachaela would kidnap the child.

At some time some plan would have to be made, for Ruth was turning now, away from them. After all Ruth might have to make the night-walk across the heath.

How long before all the new toys paled? Surely already.

And the Scarabae had altered too. They no longer came to dinner in droves, but only in ones or twos, or only Anna and Stephan came. They no longer gazed on Ruth so intently. To the Scarabae-mind, Ruth had been fixed. She was safe and sound. The betrothal had set her in the precious mould, and now, although she was the apple of their eye, they were free to forget her. They looked at her, when they troubled to, in a fond pleased manner. But she was no longer the star about which they grouped.

Ruth had lost her princess status, now she was only a child in a house.

And the prince, he was gone too.

Had Ruth tried the tower door? Had she located the second door below the annexe and tried that too, to no avail? Had she written him some childish note and torn it up?

Rachaela followed Ruth.

She followed her along the winding corridors, past the furnaces of windows which did not open and which boiled the heat with ruby panes and scalding blue, so that to have their reflected lights touch one was to be scorched.

She waited at doorways, while Ruth moved around black burning rooms, thick with the honey-like smell of heated damp.

She observed Ruth try to force, as she had done, the locked doors. And watched her enter the room-worlds of the Scarabae: Alice in her sitting chamber; Eric carving a mask in a chamber whose garnet-petal window was screened by a milky blind. And Ruth held wool for Alice, and she attended while Eric carved. And later she came upon Peter and Dorian in the morning room under the vineyard Jezebel; even the green looked volcanic, and they were playing chess.

Ruth said, Will you teach me to play?

Dorian, who had betrothed her to the dark prince, said presently, Perhaps sometime. Not now. Were busy now. And Peter added, vaguely, Theres a good girl.

Rachaela heard Ruth listen to the tiresome sounds of the house, which worried at the ears like crickets. The clicks and rasps and shifts, the rising and falling of the sea that seemed to infiltrate the skull, turning it to one huge shell.

She pursued Ruth down into the kitchen, and in the cabbage-leaf gloom where it was so hot it was hard to breathe, three rabbits lay in their fur and stank.

Ruth looked at the rabbits. Perhaps for the first time she equated meat with a living animal. There was blood.

Does the cat catch them?

The cat doesnt catch anything now, said Cheta. Carlo pots them with a catapult. One flick and the necks broken. Do you want to make the pie with me?

No, thank you, said Ruth.

She minded the blood, evidently. It was not human.

Outside, Ruth tried to draw Adamus. This was clear from her struggles, the pages she tore up or crumpled. She could not capture him.

Rachaela watched Ruth lying in her blood-red bed, her agile hands playing her own body, the notes of its young and partly incoherent desire. In imagination what did Ruth see? Her father-lover sweeping her up, a night-ride, formlessfor she did not know enoughconsolidated by dreams and images from books, brought to a mad completion in the dark, for her body knew.

Her body was ready. And her body would have to wait. Ruth would have to wait. Three years, four. Anna had explained.

All this Rachaela saw, following Ruth in her mind by day and by night.

Did mother and daughter work upon themselves jointly, each reaching the pitch of orgasm, the silent scream, to fall backwards into morbid loneliness, as one?

Maybe Ruth lay chastely in her bed.

Maybe Dorian was teaching her to play chess, or Stephan, or George.

Maybe she still made pies in the kitchen.

Rachaela had found only one drawing of Adamus blowing on the heath. The face bore a likeness but the body had not been able to form. The body had defeated Ruth.

Below on the beach, Camillo was cavorting, his white hair flopping like a flag. He was like a dog, running at the sea, and away.

Further off, above, Rachaela could see Ruth and the black cat. The cat rushed from place to place, perhaps chasing butterflies. From here it looked young and sleek, and Ruth ran after it to and fro in her 1910 dress, now and then clapping her hands.

Looking back, Rachaela saw Camillo was climbing up from the shore.

She watched him manage the perilous steps without a slip.

He glanced up and winked at her.

He came on to the heath. He saw Ruth.

Ugh, said Camillo. He spat on the grass. That child thing.

Why did you give her a mousetrap?

To catch a rat, said Camillo. Did I?

Ruth is the hope of the family, said Rachaela. But shes no longer their darling. She wont wait for years.

Sugar for the horse, said Camillo. Poor horse. All those miles and not even an apple.

Rachaela stared away at Ruth. The cat had lain down among the gorse tangles. Ruth kneeled there, stroking it.

She looks like a normal little girl with her pet, said Rachaela. From here.

Vixen, said Camillo, the Devils beast. Do you know what shes done?

No, Camillo. What?

She has a hammer. She went to the room with the dresses and broke the lock. She took out her red dress. She keeps it in her red room. I saw.

Rachaela thought of the hammer missing from the attic, the hammer with which she had tried to break the window of Adamuss tower.

She likes dressing up, said Rachaela.

The betrothal dress, said Camillo.

Ruth sat by the cat. She seemed to be talking to it, animatedly, as she had talked to Emma when she was... a child.

The cauldrons boiling, said Camillo.

Rachaela gazed at him.

What will happen?

Poor horsey and no sugar.

What country were you in? she asked. The horse, the woods and the snow, the burning town.

Russia, he said.

I thought it might be. What was the year?

1703.

Now you tell me the truth, she said, and I believe you.

Thats not the truth, said Camillo, only an answer. Better learn the difference.

1703, she said, so now you would be almost three hundred years old.

Unbearable, he said. I remember my childhood and my youth. But all the rest of it is nothing.

Will Ruth, she said, live as long as you?

If you believe it. Longer.

No I was wrong, she said, I dont believe it at all.

Anna had come to dine, no one else, besides Rachaela and Ruth.

Cheta cut and served the pie.

Ruth began to eat. Suddenly she spat the mouthful back on to her plateRachaela was reminded of Camillo spitting on the grassand threw down her knife and fork.

Its bad, said Ruth. Its horrible.

Rachaela, not eating, watched.

Anna hesitated.

Cheta, she said, when was the rabbit caught?

Yesterday morning, Miss Anna.

Theres no reason the meat should go off in that time. Its better for a little waiting.

Its bad, repeated Ruth savagely.

Dont be a silly girl, said Anna. Do you think I would allow you to eat anything that was tainted? See, Im eating it.

Youd eat anything, said Ruth.

Anna said, reasonably, Of course I would not, Ruth.

Yes you would. You drink blood. You go out in the twilight and catch things and drink their blood.

Anna looked startled, offended.

Whatever put such a foolish idea

Youre vampires. All the Scarabae.

Nonsense, Ruth. You dont know what youre saying.

You drink blood, Ruth said again, obstinately, almost proudly.

Anna was like something in a net. Her usual composure had deserted her as it had momentarily when Rachaela had spoken of sexual things. Obviously the drinking of blood was sexual, it had nothing to do with food. Probably Anna had never done such a thing. Adamus was the one in whom the sorcerous gene had surfaced.

You dont know what youre saying, said Anna. I would never have expected such behaviour of you.

You drain the rabbits in the kitchen! Old Dorian chews the bones! Alice knits with bones! sang Ruth, standing up in a sort of frenzy, Livia makes bone necklaces. Jack has brown stains on his hands, theyre old blood-stains, and George rinses his teeth in blood.

Ruth. Thats enough

Miriam and Unice drink blood in teacups and pretend its tea. Stephan drinks blood before dinner. When you die youll all go to hell.

Ruth! Annas voice rose with a cold and hard authority, and Ruths skittishness faltered. You are a naughty and ignorant little girl. You may leave your dinner, since you dont like it, and go up to your room.

I want to see Adamus! shouted Ruth. In her voice there was a raw shrill edge. Never had Rachaela heard a refusal bring Ruth so near hysteria, but then never had Rachaela refused Ruth anything she so much wanted.

When Adamus is ready, he will see you, said Anna, but I doubt he would want to see such a nasty, foul-tongued little brat.

Yes he would, Ruth said. He likes me. He wants to marry me.

Forget about that, said Anna, I have told you, youre too young for marriage and must wait. Tonights outburst has proved it.

Youre bad, said Ruth, as she had said of the rabbit. Her face, like Annas, was steely now. You stop him from seeing me.

He doesnt want to see you. He has his own affairs to attend to. You are a child, Ruth, and must act as one. Go to your room as I told you to.

Ruth moved away from the table. She glanced once, without any emotion, at Rachaela. Rachaela might have been another furnishing. Ruth said, Ill go to my room, but youre still bad. Youre wicked and youll go to hell.

Anna rose like ice and darkness.

Ruth went out of the room.

Anna sat down and sipped from her water glass. She said to Rachaela, You have never curbed her.

Yes, said Rachaela, but not her spirit. Its that youll have to fight now.

I shall have to fight no one. Shell see sense.

There is no sense, Rachaela said. She wants her father, her lover-husband. Youll have to produce him for her or youll have trouble.

Im not his keeper.

Oh, but you are. You and Scarabae. You can make Adamus do what you want. But not Ruth.

We shall see.

Rachaela shrugged. She did not touch the rabbit-pie.

Anna ate in silence.

Should Rachaela take the opportunity, go to the blood bedroom and confront Ruth now? No, for Ruth was not yet ripe. Things were grim but not yet grim enough. Ruth must come to hate Adamus before Rachaela could get a grip on her, subtract her, whisk her away.

***

In the morning Rachaela woke with a strange tension in her body, as if she had lain all night like a coiled spring, awaiting some event.

She bathed and dressed, and went down without breakfast, through the empty drawing room and dining room and out through the conservatory, bursting with huge yellow and maroon flowers, into the garden. In the morning light the dark yew tree was sprinkled with lemon tufts, the green poplar glittered. The cedar looked blue, and on fire with the climbing roses. The oaks were closed with greenness. Rachaela heard the insistence of the sea, too loud now to be a voice in the head.

By the moon dial, the black cat was lying curled on the grass and Ruth knelt beside it. She did not touch the cat. Hearing Rachaelas step, the girl raised her head.

He wont wake up, she said.

Rachaela looked at the cat. There was no looseness of relaxation in its posture, it appeared hard and stiff. A low hot wind went by, and lifted the long fur like a fringe.

She walked over to the cat and touched its head and back. The body was vacant.

Im sorry, Ruth. I think its dead.

Ruth said, No.

Im sorry. I think it was very old. I remember it when I was here before. Its died in its sleep, very gently.

I dont want it to be dead.

No, I know. It was a lovely cat.

I dont want it, said Ruth. She began to stroke the cat roughly, fiercely. Wake up.

Rachaela left her, and went in search of Carlo. She found him out of doors in his mufflers and sunglasses, not far off, weeding around the perimeter of the grass. Perhaps he had been keeping an eye on them, Ruth and she together.

Carlo, Ruths found the cat and Im afraid its dead.

Carlo straightened up.

He left his hoe and trowel and went across the lawn and around the trees to Ruth. Rachaela followed. She remembered him coming like that, unspeaking, for Sylvian.

Carlo bent over the cat and prodded it carefully.

Hes asleep, said Ruth. Carlo did not speak, but he picked the cat up by the scruff of its neck, then let the head fall again. Dont, said Ruth.

Rachaela said, He cant feel it now. She added, They may burn the body. The Scarabae burn their dead.

Ruth flung herself over the cat.

No! No! Dont you dare burn him.

Rachaela said to the unspeaking Carlo, Will you bury the cat, Carlo, please.

Not yet, cried Ruth.

Its very hot, said Rachaela. Hes been lying here all night. She said, despising herself, the euphemisms, Hes not here now, Ruth. He must have got so tired and sore, just sleeping all the time, but now hes free.

Where is he? said Ruth harshly.

I dont know.

At school they said everything that dies goes to heaven.

Maybe hes there, then. Rachaela loathed herself.

Except wicked things. They go to hell. Goats go to hell. He was their cat. Hell go to hell.

Maybe hell isnt so bad after all, said Rachaela, rather facetiously.

Carlo had gone off, possibly to get a spade.

Ruth stood up. He mustnt do it till I come back. Make him wait, Mummy.

All right.

Ruth sprang away.

She returned in the red dress of her betrothal, and Carlo, kept waiting by Rachaela, buried the cat beneath the funeral yew. Ruth stood at the graveside in her scarlet, crying. Rachaela had not seen her cry since babyhood. They were intensely physical, agonized tears, ending in thick hiccups of pain. Rachaela could not console her, there was no mechanism left for it. At last the spade had covered up the cat, and Carlo went away, and Ruth stood weeping at the graveside, twisting the antique red skirt in her hands, uncomforted and desolate, a figure from Greek tragedy.


Chapter Sixteen | Dark Dance | Chapter Eighteen