During the afternoon, Rachaela lay on her bed under the mosaic of the window. She was so hot she could not bear to move. She wondered if Ruth had gone to the lunch served in the dining room, as she usually did. Rachaela herself could not fancy food in the heat, though once she had rung for Cheta, and Michael had come, and presently brought her a glass of water. They did not keep orange juice, not even for Ruth, let alone the soft fizzy drinks that had cluttered Rachaela’s fridge.
The sight of Ruth sobbing by the grave of the dead cat stayed in her mind.
Something would happen now.
Perhaps Ruth would even come to the room. ‘Mummy, I don’t like it here any more.’
Rachaela made plans for the journey, the flight, as she had before. Her thoughts did not go past the moment when she should get Ruth on to the London train.
In London something would have to be done.
She did not want Ruth or the burden of Ruth, but she did not want Ruth to usurp her place with Adamus. If she took Ruth away, she would owe her something, and how would she pay it? A sort of different panic lay in London.
She would consider it when they got there, when they were out of this madness and had merely their own to contend with.
The afternoon sweltered and dragged.
Something would happen at dinner, if not before.
They ate very late now, waiting out the going of the summer sun.
If only she could shield herself from the blazing window. The serpent in his armour on her body like burning bricks, his hand holding the apple flaming at her groin. And here she had lain with the Devil... Don’t think of it. She thrust it from her mind.
The clocks ticked. She drowsed.
Would the door open on Ruth?
It did not.
What was Ruth doing?
The broiling afternoon was almost over when she roused. The window had sunk to leaden shades, its whites yellowed like ivory, Her head throbbed. She took a couple of paracetamol and went out to run herself a cool bath.
In the passage an odd new shadow fell upon her. She looked up. The window of Cain and Abel, softening in the westered light, had an addition of blackness. Across the lower panes, over the grapes and wheat below the altar, a black cross had been painted.
Which of the Scarabae had done it? What new process of obscuration was afoot?
She went into the bathroom and ran cold water in the bath, the cross hanging over her mind like a cloud.
After she had soaked herself in coolness for half an hour she dressed reluctantly and returned to the bedroom, and the cross threw down its black diagonals on to the carpet as she passed.
Before all daylight had died something made her go out again, along the corridor, and back, turning into other highways. There were crosses elsewhere drawn on the window panes regardless, over the faces of figures, always low down.
She went to the landing, and above the stairs the prince at the wedding was undisturbed, but this window was placed high up. The urns above the door were similarly untouched.
When the light had gone and she heard Michael come to see to the lamp in the passage, she went out.
‘Michael, have you seen the windows?’
‘Yes, Miss Rachaela.’
But Michael evinced nothing. What the Scarabae did, they did, as with Sylvian and the library. On impulse, Rachaela went to the library then. A lamp burned on the table by the globe, nothing seemed changed. Rachaela moved to the north wall and took out a book. It was pristine and legible.
Rachaela turned. A book lay on the table, face up and open.
Two lines had been ruled exactly across each page, in the shapes of two crosses.
All the previous pages had been crossed, The ebony ruler lay ready, and the pen had been wet, had left a drop of ink on the table.
Rachaela felt a curious excited fear.
She came out of the library, retraced her steps and went down to the hall.
No Scarabae were about. How quiet the house was, and how loud the sea.
The lights shone in the drawing room.
Rachaela went towards the room slowly. Probably only Anna had come down. Anna the matriarch, Adamus’s mother almost certainly, the mouthpiece of the Scarabae.
Rachaela was reluctant to enter the drawing room.
She hung back, looking for Cheta, Maria... but they had been there perhaps half an hour before, to see to the lights. Michael would come soon to serve the drinks. Was Stephan in the room... and Ruth... Ruth would not be there.
Rachaela walked into the drawing room.
She looked at the room carefully. The fine furniture in its extra years of dust, the glowing oases of polished tables, the chess game, still going on, the sofas and chairs drawn to the white marble fireplace of pillars and shields.
Anna lay on the carpet before the fireplace.
She seemed to have fallen from a chair, for her embroidery was scattered on it, the coloured silks bleeding over.
Anna lay very decorously, her dark skirts arranged and her hands by her sides. Her head was turned a little to her right and on her forehead was a vivid mark like a splash of red and purple paint.
Something protruded from her left breast.
Rachaela moved forward and stared at this thing nonsensically, until all at once it dawned upon her that it was the rounded head of a steel knitting needle.
It had been struck home with such force that only the floor at Anna’s back had stopped it.
Anna’s face was stupefied, almost tranquil, but her mouth had come open in the way that Sylvian’s had done.
Rachaela heard a little soft noise behind her, and then a violent crash of breaking glass. A wild animal wail broke forth, like that of something caught in a trap.
She turned and saw Maria, who had dropped the silver tray of decanters and bottles, breaking most of them. The wreckage lay bloody on the floor. Maria howled, but only once, then she ran from the room.
Rachaela felt sick. The walls tilted and righted themselves. Anna was dead. Anna had been killed.
And all Rachaela could do was stand here, perhaps guiltily, looking over and over at the stigma of a blow on Anna’s forehead and the needle sticking up from her breast.
The others came in quietly. They shuffled in from their nooks and crevices. The Scarabae. No one else screamed. Once or twice there was a muffled little cry. Rachaela did not turn round to see. She felt herself transfixed. Was it just that she was like them?
Finally someone came past her, and it was Stephan, who went and stood over Anna, looking down at her and making strange aimless motions with his hands, as if smoothing out waves of air.
Then Carlo came and lifted Anna and put her on a sofa.
There was no blood on the carpet. The needle had plugged the wound it made, the mark on the forehead had scarcely bled.
The Scarabae pressed round Anna on the sofa, moving past Rachaela as if she were a chair. They did not suspect her, then.
She found herself counting them, toting up their names, Livia, Anita, Unice, Miriam, Jack, Eric, George and Teresa, Sasha, Miranda, and Stephan. And there Cheta and Maria like blind ghosts, and Carlo and Michael. And Anna.
Stephan said, ‘Must have struck her first, and then when she fell, done it then.’
‘Alice’s needle,’ said Miranda. ‘Size five.’
‘How?’ said George.
‘Struck her with the hammer. Drove it home with the hammer,’ said Jack.
Thought out,’ said Miriam.
Sasha said, ‘Walked towards her with the needle in one hand and the hammer hidden in the other.’
‘In that red dress,’ said Unice, ‘the betrothal dress. And Anna would have said, You mustn’t wear that dress.’
‘And then she struck her,’ said Miranda.
‘Look how direct the blow is,’ said Teresa. ‘She knew what she did.’
‘Do you remember Uncle Camillo,’ said Miranda in a high and quavering voice, ‘how he struck her down with his fist that night and drank all her blood?’
‘Hush,’ said the old voices.
‘This is bad enough,’ said George.
‘Let the past lie,’ said Stephan. And then, ‘Anna, Anna.’
‘Is she quite dead?’ asked Miranda.
‘Dead,’ said Stephan.
His eyes came up and met Rachaela’s. Stephan, but not his eyes, was dazed. The eyes peeled layers from Rachaela’s face.
‘Your daughter,’ said Stephan, ‘did this to Anna.’
‘You don’t know that,’ Rachaela said. She knew, herself. ‘Any one of us could have done it.’
‘But none of us would have done it. Even you would not. Murder is there in us but comes out only in a few.’
‘Like Camillo,’ said Rachaela. ‘You talked about Camillo. He’s killed before? Why not now?’
‘This isn’t Camillo. Camillo doesn’t care enough to kill any more. But she is young and wilful.’
‘We must find her,’ Sasha said.
And they grouped together like Anna’s hidden blood gathering.
‘She’ll hide,’ said Unice.
‘But the house is ours,’ said Jack. ‘Where can she hide that we won’t find her?’
‘We must tell Adamus.’
It was Miriam who said this. The others raised their heads like night creatures snuffing prey or a foe, ‘Yes... Adamus,’ said Stephan. He turned and looked at Michael. ‘Go into the tower. Tell him.’
Michael took a lamp, and moved at once away through the room, out under the archway.
Rachaela found that she followed Michael.
Something in her tried to hold her back, but did not succeed. None of the others had eyes for her.
As she would have expected, Michael climbed the stairs, and turned into the corridor with the Salome annexe. Rachaela walked a few paces behind him. He did not say anything to her, or even act as if she were there.
They passed below the gory window, the Baptist’s danced-with head now black, descended the steps and went down the passage to the door.
Michael produced a key and unlocked the door.
He went up the stair inside the tower, and Rachaela went after him.
Her heart drummed.
In the upper room Adamus was standing beside the piano, as if waiting for them, for Michael.
Perhaps, through the intervening walls, he had heard Maria’s scream, and this had primed him. Had Anna made no outcry?
He wore black in readiness for Anna’s death.
‘Mr Adamus,’ said Michael, ‘something—’
‘Anna’s been murdered,’ Rachaela said. She struck home with the words like Ruth with her hammer and needle.
Adamus did not react. Then his whole face seemed to melt and come together again.
‘Michael,’ he said.
‘Yes, Mr Adamus, Miss Anna’s been killed.’
‘They say it’s your child,’ said Rachaela. ‘Ruth.’
‘How?’ he said, just as George had done.
Michael bowed his head.
Rachaela said, ‘She hit her with a hammer and then staked her through the breast. It’s the way she’s been taught that you kill a vampire.’
Adamus turned and walked to the fireplace. He had turned his back to them.
‘Thank you, Michael,’ he said.
Michael moved about and left the room. His blindman’s eyes showed nothing.
Adamus said softly, ‘And is it Ruth?’
‘Probably. They seem to think so.’
He shouted: ‘She’s yours!’
‘And you’re her father,’ she said coldly.
He swung round from the mantelpiece and his whole person had changed. He burned with a white fury that was quite terrifying, banked, controlled, lethal.
‘Anna was your mother,’ Rachaela said.
‘It doesn’t matter to you.’
He came forward and she threw herself out of his way. He went by her and down the stair.
When the noiseless radioactive thunder of his passing had stilled, Rachaela ran after him, through the door and down the stair.
So the Scarabae hunted Ruth through the house.
Upstairs, downstairs, and in my lady’s chamber...
Cheta had brought keys, and where a door was locked they unlocked it.
They did not find Ruth.
They found paintings smeared with red crosses.
They found Alice.
She was in a pale bedroom behind the pale sitting room. She lay on the pale bed in a pastel afternoon dress with another of the needles, size five, implanted in the left side of her bosom. No other blow had been necessary, perhaps Alice had been asleep. Her eyes had opened however, they were full of wonder.
Adamus shut Alice’s eyes.
Later, in the room with the angel window of blue and yellow, they found Dorian and Peter.
The blow to Peter’s head was from behind, there was a great deal of blood. Dorian had been struck between the eyes. Both were rolled on the floor, side by side, beneath their chess game, decorously, and the steel needles pinned them to the carpet.
Dorian had not, it seemed, died immediately. His left arm was outslung and his face constricted. She must have been very quick and unexpected, her blows one, two, like that. Who knew how strong they were, these ancient men? But then Ruth was strong, too. She was Scarabae.
They searched the house like a pack of silent dogs. Almost silent.
Miranda said, ‘Where did Uncle Camillo hide?’
Jack said, ‘He didn’t hide. He came out and told us. What he’d done.’
‘No,’ said George.
Adamus said clearly, ‘Ruth isn’t Camillo.’
There were no other dead ones to find, for now they had all been accounted for. Save Camillo.
Rachaela moved behind them.
She was numb, afraid. She had known that Alice, Dorian and Peter, missing from below, were also dead.
Through the long hot afternoon, this was what Ruth had been doing, in her blood-red dress. And in the evening, after the lighting of the lamps, Anna.
She could have killed me, too. But Rachaela was nothing to Ruth; Rachaela was not a vampire.
Their glamour had turned rotten for Ruth. Ruth was no longer the vampire princess, but the vampire hunter. Each time she struck them down, she proved that they were real— The blue rooms and the brown rooms, the yellow room like an autumn leaf—they did not find Camillo. To Ruth’s bedroom they went, Adamus leading the way. With lamps and candles. But Ruth was not found.
Why did they think she was hiding in the house? Because they themselves would have gone to earth here. They knew Ruth. Even what she had done. Themselves in a distorting mirror.
Had they ostracized Camillo all these years, these hundreds of years, for his obscure and disgusting crime. Rachaela had said to him: You believed you were vampires because someone told you that too.
She knew Ruth had not gone near Camillo.
She knew. Did she then know where Ruth was hiding?
Rachaela knew and perhaps all of them knew, this search being only some ritual they performed among the black windows Ruth had smeared with crosses, and under the carvings, the paintings and painted mirrors which had lipstick crosses like blood.
And now they were here, and Cheta took out the key, and put it away again, for the lock of the door had been broken.
Adamus flung the door wide.
And there again, in the prancing lamplight and candle flash was the mildewy paper of bats, and the countless red gowns upon their stands.
The Scarabae stood in the doorway, muted, and put their old dry hands up to their lips and throats and on each other’s shoulders.
It was as if they could not enter.
But Adamus went in.
As if he knew it all, had been told of the scene, as perhaps he had, the bird hiding in the skirt of the gown.
He strode forward, and as he passed the dresses he thrust at them and sent them spinning. He was the centre of a red whirlwind, and as they thudded down their gauzes shattered and crimson smoulders and sprays of beads burst up from them. He the wind and they the red sea, parting.
The Scarabae women gave tiny cries, as some of them had done on finding Anna and Alice, Peter and Dorian. It was another sort of death.
But Adamus came to the dress in the corner, a dress with a full skirt, a train.
He did not push the dress over.
He reached out and delicately pleated up the material, ounces of rose satin that crushed together in his hand.
And there at the heart of the dress, like a child in a flower in a fairy tale, was Ruth.
She was crouched very small in her garment of blood, darker and richer than her hiding place. Her black hair spilled round her. There was no blood on her that was visible and her hands were empty.
She turned her head like a snake, looked up and saw Adamus standing above her. And then she smiled, the sweetest smile Rachaela had ever seen upon her face. And the face, always that of a hobgoblin, broke into beauty like a star.
‘I hoped it would be you,’ Ruth said. ‘I thought it would be. Adam,’ she said, ‘they tried to keep us apart.’ Like a heroine in some third-rate book.
Very gently, almost daintily, he reached further into the dress, and with both hands he lifted her out.
And Ruth, seeing only him, put up the star of her face to be kissed.
Adamus transferred her to his left hand. He held her by a grip upon the waist of her dress, up in the air.
And then he struck her with his right hand, across the face and neck, a blow that should have smashed her in pieces.
His own blow tore her out of his grip and the bodice of the red dress ripped and came away and Ruth flew backwards to fall upon the floor.
She lay there, partly stunned, and the torn away bodice had left bare her breasts, which were white and perfect with buds for nipples, and now a tiny thread of scarlet spilled there, not from the dress but from the corner of her mouth. And for a moment Ruth looked, as she lay there, the flawless image of the media vampire, before her pale face turned puce on one side and began to swell.
‘Get up,’ Adamus said.
‘No,’ Ruth said through her thickening lips. ‘You’ll only do it again.’
‘Get up,’ he said, ‘and face them.’
So then Ruth got up, and holding one arm across her breasts, she stared at the Scarabae.
She stared and they stared back at her.
They did not ask her if she had done it, or why. She did not deny anything or boast of anything. All their faces were the faces of icons. Something was conveyed between them perhaps, without look or word.
The silence was very long.
When Rachaela looked at Adamus, his face too had become like theirs. He left Ruth where she stood and came towards the doorway. And all of them parted to let him by.
Only Rachaela caught at his arm.
‘No, Adamus. You can’t go—what will they do?’
‘Take your hand off me,’ he said. ‘Don’t force me to make you do it.’
Her hand fell and he went by her and away into the dark of the corridor.
She said to the Scarabae loudly, ‘What will you do?’ And she was frightened, but it seemed for herself not Ruth. ‘Stephan—what will you do?’
Stephan said, ‘We must confine her. That was what was always done.’
Miranda said, Tn the attic.’
‘Locked in the attic out of harm’s way,’ said Miriam.
Sasha said, ‘For many years.’
‘You’re crazy,’ Rachaela said, only a repetition. ‘She’s just a child. A sick child. She needs help.’
‘Locked away,’ said Stephan. ‘Carlo,’ he said.
And Carlo went forward to Ruth, and as he did so he took off his jacket, and when he came to her he offered it.
But Ruth spumed the jacket, only keeping her arm firmly across her naked breasts.
Carlo put one hand on Ruth’s shoulder, arresting her.
She put up her head arrogantly, and let herself be propelled towards the doorway. And as she passed through the Scarabae, or perhaps as she saw Rachaela, Ruth smiled again. But now it was the smile of a clown, lopsided from the damage of the blow. With difficulty she enunciated: ‘You deserved it.’ And was taken away to the attic above in the dark.
* * *
‘Stephan,’ she said, ‘you don’t understand.’
Stephan sat staring at the hearth, where the fire had been in winter.
Rachaela sat down facing him. ‘Stephan, what Ruth did was terrible. Can’t you see that she’s psychotic? To lock her up in your attic will solve nothing.’ Stephan watched the phantom of the fire. ‘She needs attention. She needs a hospital.’
‘Anna,’ Stephan said.
‘Anna can’t be helped. Let me help Ruth.’
‘We have our own ways.’
‘Ruth isn’t yours. She’s mine.’
‘Ruth is ours.’
The bodies lay in their bedrooms, Peter and Dorian together on one bed. Soon, when the tide turned, they would be taken to the beach. Burned. So much Stephan had told her.
‘You must listen to me, Stephan.’
‘Oh, Anna,’ he said.
Rachaela got up and went to her room.
She sat listening to the sea, trying to hear the moment when it changed.
It had happened.
Ruth would hate Adamus now. And he was finished with Ruth. So much passion between them. More than there had been between Adamus and herself.
But she must get Ruth away. Now it was possible. Only the locked attic door to prevent it.
Why? Why must she rescue Ruth?
Ruth was the demon Rachaela had always envisaged.
Better to wash her hands of Ruth and all that blood.
But something would not let her.
After all there was some bond between them. Like the umbilical cord, unsevered. No love, never that. But... something.
She could not leave Ruth to the Scarabae.
The tide, surely the tide had turned now.
She listened, no longer for the tide, but for the minute noises of the Scarabae as they went down to the cremation of their dead. Like beetles in the woodwork, creeping. She heard them go, or did she imagine it.
Finally she went out, and from the landing she saw them, filing into the lower rooms, in their summer clothes, as if to a midnight garden-party.
What a bonfire there would be on the beach.
Had Adamus gone with them?
Rachaela turned and went into the left-hand corridor.
When she reached the foot of the stairs she expected one of them after all left on guard, but no one was there.
She climbed to the attic door. It was firmly closed. The lock must be more hardy than that to the room of gowns or they would not have trusted it.
She tried the door. It shook and did not give.
Rachaela stood there at a loss.
What should she say, to an eleven-year-old murderess who had killed four times over?
‘Ruth—Ruth? It’s me. Ruth, answer me.’
A bell of silence formed, in which Rachaela seemed to hear dim bat-like squeaks, the rush of sparks in a great fire miles away.
A voice answered from beyond the door.
It was calm and still, the voice, muffled by the swollen lips, and very young. It was a child’s voice.
‘Ruth. Are you afraid?’
‘No,’ said the voice. And then, solemnly, ‘Yes.’
‘Did they leave you a light?’
‘Oh yes. They left me candles.’
‘Be very careful with them,’ said Rachaela.
‘I’ll make them let you out. Then we’ll go back to London. I don’t know how long it will take.’
‘They won’t let me out,’ said Ruth. ‘They didn’t let out Uncle Camillo for twenty years. That was in another house. Sasha told me.’
‘Sasha meant to scare you. Did they hurt you?’
‘No, just my face. I cut my mouth on a tooth.’
‘Are your teeth all right?’
‘Yes,’ said Ruth. ‘But my eye’s swollen up.’
‘He might have killed you,’ said Rachaela.
‘He was angry.’ There was a second silence. Ruth said, ‘I didn’t mean to do it. It was like the book. They were bad and I wanted to punish them.’
‘Don’t talk about it now,’ said Rachaela. ‘We’ll find you a doctor. You can talk to him.’
‘Yes, Mummy,’ said Ruth. After a moment she said, ‘They brought my clothes, and my drawing book and paints. There’s a stuffed bird. All this wine Uncle Camillo made. I drank some. It made me feel funny.’
‘Don’t drink it,’ said Rachaela.
‘I can see Adam’s tower from the window. The lamp’s burning. I can see the yellow lion.’
‘Does the window open?’ Rachaela asked quickly.
‘No. They locked the window too. They brought me dinner on a tray. It was a piece of old fish. But the jelly was nice.’
Rachaela thought, incongruously, I haven’t eaten all day.
‘Ruth, try to trust me. I promise I’ll get you out.’
‘All right,’ said Ruth.
The third silence formed.
Rachaela thought of Ruth at the grave of the cat, weeping.
Blinding, searing tears filled Rachaela’s eyes, sliding through like razor blades.
‘Don’t be afraid, Ruth,’ she said. ‘There’s nothing to be afraid of.’
And now I am the liar after all.
‘Will he forgive me?’ said Ruth.
‘No, Ruth, he won’t.’
‘No,’ said Ruth. She said, ‘I did it to make them sorry. But I didn’t really mean it.’
‘Yes, I understand.’
‘I’m sorry, Mummy.’
When she went out, the sky was bright with fire.
When she looked over at the steps, it seemed to be touching heaven.
There was nothing left to see of them, Anna and Alice, Peter and Dorian. They had gone up in smoke.
Without a prayer or a song, like old clothes or refuse, so they cremated their dead at the rim of the water.
Far out, the sea made white flounces.
The Scarabae, those who were left, stood in their erratic circle, like old kiddies at a Guy Fawkes party.
She looked from her height and saw them all, Teresa and Anita, Unice and Miriam, Sasha, Miranda and Livia, George, Stephan, Jack and Eric. And to the side the humble retainers, the not-quite Scarabae, Maria, Cheta, Michael and Carlo.
Adamus was not with them. And Camillo was not.
The fire burned on and on like all the fires of the world.