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Chapter Nineteen

Both doors to the tower were locked.

The woman stood before each of them in her skirt and blouse and deluge of black primeval hair. Then she went back to her green-and-blue room.

Rachaela stood looking at herself in the winged mirror, breast-high amid the hedge of lilies, the rayed sun and swallows.

Who am I?

She did not know. She saw herself as a stranger, beautiful and far away. In looking at the faces of others, she had forgotten her own.

It would be easy to go. To leave them all to each other.

But they would travel with her.

She could not leave Ruth, poor insane little animal, snared in their rites and ceremonies where even murder was accorded a kind of ritual place.

Rachaela went down to the kitchen.

Cheta and Maria were scouring pots; Michael sat at the table, cleaning silver methodically.

Michael, I need to see Adamus. You must let me into the tower.

When Mr Adamus locks the doors he wishes to see no one.

I realize that. But this is important. And you have a key.

I take his meals, Miss Rachaela.

If you wont let me in, Ill come with you.

He could not refuse her. She was Miss Rachaela. And Anna was not there to countermand the order.

She waited until lunch-time, in the kitchen.

When the tray was ready with cold, supermarket chicken and salad, biscuits and cheese, the glass of wine, she followed Michael, as she had followed him before.

They went via the Salome annexe, down the stair and along the passage, to the door.

If you will wait, Miss Rachaela, I shall tell him

No. Im coming in with you.

Michael did not argue.

She went after him, into the tower and up the steps.

The room, burning from its window, tawny, gold, amber, was empty.

Michael put down the tray on a table.

Ill stay, Rachaela said, firmly.

Michael left her in possession.

Half an hour passed in the golden syrup of the room.

She examined books in a bookcase, there was nothing she recognized. No music stood on the piano. There were no ornaments in the room. On the mantelpiece the clock whirled backwards. Overhead the beams were like old toffee, sticky with webs, and with hooks in them for vanished lamps.

Rachaela left the upper room and walked down the stairs to the two closed doors beneath. She knocked and tried one, and found a white bathroom with a seahorse window. Hesitating, she knocked and tried the other door. It opened on a small bedroom, very dark, for the window showed a tower in a storm, like something from the tarot pack. The bed was ordinary, without posts. Adamus lay on it, looking at her.

You know why Im here, she said.

No.

Of course you do. Because of Ruth.

Why because of Ruth. It was too flat to be a question.

Adamus, I have to take her to London, to some hospital.

Why?

Shes deranged. I must get her help.

Again, why? Theyll care for her and keep her locked away. What more do you think your doctors will do for her?

Theres a chance she can becured

No chance at all.

Rachaela said, I treated her like a sort of monster, so maybe its my fault if she is one.

Dont you think, he said, that were all monsters.

Perhaps youre right, she said. If I say that the Scarabae drove Ruth to do what she did, I suppose youll disagree.

I dont care why she did it, he said.

Im surprised you take it so hard. You spend no time with them.

Rachaela, he said, she took a steel knitting needle and hammered it through Annas breast. After she had practised on Alice, Dorian and Peter.

Yes, I know. Which is why I say she needs help. Theyve locked her in the attic as if this were some old B horror movie.

Instead of a nice hygienic padded cell. Do you think, he said, that Ruth would let you put her into some institution?

Ruths frightened by what shes done. She knows she needs

Ruth knows nothing. Ruth is a collection of instincts and primal talents. You let her grow like a weed. Plenty of callousness to make her strong, and no guidance, to make her a law to herself.

Then it is my fault.

Probably.

Let me shoulder it. Give Ruth to me.

He sat up. In the storm light of the window he was white and hard as marble.

If it had been left to me, Id have broken her neck.

Shes your child, too.

I know.

How long will they keep her in a cage? What will happen when they release her? The Scarabae arent able to deal with this.

Theyve dealt with plenty of things like this, and worse.

That story about Camillo

The story is true. He was married in the family tradition to a girl, and he savaged her on the wedding night. She bled to death.

It isnt relevant.

No. Probably what Camillo did was an accident.

Ruth didnt know what she was doing.

He stood up. He came towards Rachaela and stood over her. She did not let herself draw aside.

Please help me, Adamus. Help me get her out. Ill take her away. You can forget her.

Its unforgettable, he said.

Then you cant want her to remain.

I dont care, he said, any more.

All the more reason

About Ruth, or the house, about them. What does any of it mean? Nothing.

She took after all an involuntary step backward, and he reached out in an instant and gripped her arms.

And you, he said, the brave mother battling for her child. You would have had her cut out of you like a cancer.

And you, she said, you served me like a bull does a cow. And then you were done with it. You would have done the same for Ruth.

He held her so she could not move away, and he grinned at her with dead black eyes.

Nothing means anything, he said again, but I know why youre here. All right, then.

He swung her round before she could struggle and thrust her on to the bed.

She tried to writhe away but he dropped on top of her. His weight crushed her. Every forward surface of her body was covered by his. What she had feared was happening.

Rachaela freed her right hand and struck the side of his head as hard as she was able. He caught her hand and pinned it down. She attempted to bring up her knees but he was too heavy on her.

His face was a blank but he frowned slightly with concentration. His eyes were flat as jetsRuths eyes.

As he bowed his head towards her she sank her teeth into his neck. She bit hard and thought she tasted his blood.

A terrible thrill uncoiled in her like a serpent.

He jerked back from her and she hit him across the face with her left hand.

She seized his body and as he let go of her right wrist she grasped the fall of black hair. She struck him and pulled on him, filling her fingers with his spare hard body, as if she climbed a mountain. She wrapped him with her legs, splitting her skirt along the seam.

She screamed his name again and again.

At the last moment she buried her face in his neck, her open mouth against his skin. Erupting shudders ran the length of her, she was molten, clinging, tossed and flung backward. The delirium deserted her and she fell down into the bed.

When she opened her eyes he had left her. He stood against the occult window.

So much for that, he said.

A sort of shame ran over her. She got up, shaking and dizzy, her kkirt absurdly flapping open.

On his neck was the mark of her teeth. She had not drawn blood.

What had happened had robbed her of speech, but she said, Ill never bother you again.

I believe that.

There was never anything between us, she said, Ruth was a mistake.

He watched her, waiting for her to go.

A hundred sentences filled her head, none able to be spoken.

She went out of the room and going to the outer door, moved on into the passageway.

A fearful light was in it, red and dying like the sunset of some diseased planet.

I got what I went for.

It was as if she had made love with a corpse.

***

Rachaela stood watching the sea. It drove in long green breakers to the cliffs, and broke and was sucked away.

The repetition of the sea was like life. The endless, fruitless attempts, the failures and fallings back. Even when the sea claimed the beach, the tide turned and the water was thrust away again.

Their bones were in the waves.

She could not think what else to do. A deep apathy was settling on her. But if she wanted to take Ruth away from them, she must fight.

She walked along the shore. The heat of the day was merciless, and she thought of the attic up under the roof with its locked window. Chastisement as well as confinement. And in winter, how could one keep warm? Perhaps they would let her freeze, for what she had done.

She pictured Adamus, and sent the picture from her mind.

Rachaela turned and went back towards the house. And as she approached it, she thought how curious it looked, so grey and untended, its lines leaning, and the ranks of windows with their glims of red and emerald.

Camillo was sitting on the floor outside Rachaelas door.

Here I am, he said.

There you are.

No horse, he said, I am without the horse.

Yes.

But Ive brought you something.

Rachaela stayed still. Camillo blocked off the door from her, sitting cross-legged like a tailor. Under the black cross on the window.

Thats very kind of you.

Yes. The boy wouldnt help you, would he? Adamus. You and he, the same. Dark horses. Camillo got up. It should have been you, not that child.

Should it?

I tried to pretend once I was like Adamus is. I slit her neck with a table knife. But the gene didnt come out in me.

Im not a vampire, Rachaela said. None of you is. Not even Adamus. Its something he does. A sickness. And Ruth caught the sickness.

Nasty, Camillo said. Take her away. Shell cause trouble, up in the attic. The attic was mine. But she hasnt got the rocking-horse.

I want to take her away, said Rachaela.

Good. Then heres the key.

He held out something to her that shone dully in the window glare bisected by the black-paint cross.

The key, she said, the key to the attic?

One of them. It works.

Rachaela reached out slowly and took the key.

Thank you, Camillo.

Take her away, he said.

Twill.

Camillo went down the passage. He said, Dont suppose it will do any good.

Rachaelas hand clasped convulsively on the key.

Steady now. It would take all her care.

***

Rachaela entered the dining room and no one was there, no one had come to dine but herself.

All afternoon she had seen no Scarabae. They had slipped into compartments of the house, perhaps hiding themselves.

Cheta served Rachaela. It was lamb cutlets, from the supermarket, carrots, peas and new potatoes.

Rachaela ate hungrily. She would need the food. Michael had not appeared and she had asked Cheta for a glass of wine.

After the lamb there was an apricot jelly, perhaps the remains of yesterdays meal.

Cheta served her tea in the drawing room.

It was strange, not to see Anna sitting there, or her embroidery. Her death had not sunk in. Once before she had been absent.

Rachaela stayed Cheta as she was leaving the room. Has Ruth been fed?

Oh, yes, Miss Rachaela. Carlo took up Miss Ruths tray an hour ago.

They would not clear the tray until the morning, when breakfast was taken to the voracious incarcerated child.

Rachaela hoped Ruth had been able, with her battered face, to eat her dinner. She too would need it.

Rachaela was leisurely over her tea. She left the room when her watch told her it was almost ten-thirty.

She went up to her bedroom. She waited another half hour, hearing no Scarabae, having seen none beyond Cheta.

At five past eleven she went out, and made her way up to the attic.

The key turned easily in the lock.

She went in slowly, prepared almost for anything. But the room was as she recalled it from her last visit, and brightly lit by candles standing in holders on the chests.

Ruth sat in the rocking-chair, and behind her was the black-night window, reflecting candles.

Ruth had a distorted clowns face, and one of the brown bottles in her lap.

I told you not to drink that, said Rachaela, alarmed.

Ruth stared at her.

Did they let you come?

No, Ruth. I got a key. How much have you drunk?

Only a little. It tastes foul.

Good. Rachaela shut the door. Im taking you away tonight.

Ruth nodded. She stood up.

She wore the 1910 dress, but she could walk in it, and everyone wore anything nowadays, particularly the young. The wounded face might draw some comment.

Im sorry, youll have to leave your things behind.

Thats all right, said Ruth carelessly. I dont want anything.

I dont want you to go to your bedroom. If theres anything light up here, I can carry it.

Nothing, said Ruth.

Well have to walk across the heath. Its a long walk I know, but its the only way.

Ruth looked sulky for a moment. Then she said, I dont mind.

It should be easy to get a car from the village now, once the shops open. Ruth took another drink out of the brown bottle. No, Ruth.

Its only wine.

Dont drink it. I want to take you down now to my room. Be very quiet. If we meet any of them, hide, if theres time. If not, well, well see. I dont think it will happen.

Rachaela remembered her own night of going, and how they had all of them gathered in the hall, but given before her, followed her, without protest, knowing. Would they give up Ruth the criminal so strengthlessly? Yes. Why else the key, the vast silence of the house? They wanted to be rid of Ruth, whatever they might have done or said.

Rachaela moved out of the attic and Ruth came after her. Rachaela locked the door again, when they were on the outside.

They descended the stair, went through the annexe and came out into the corridor. Nothing else moved. The Scarabae had cleared the ways.

They negotiated the corridor, came along the landing, went into the other passage, to Rachaelas door.

The house might have been vacant.

Ruth looked round at the blue-and-green bedchamber.

Its nice. Whats the window of?

The temptation of Eve.

On the bed, packed, sat Rachaelas bag. Her boots stood by the hearth, for walking.

Ruth still wore her shoes from school. That was a blessing.

Ruth said, It will be nice to go home.

Rachaela saw the flat, Ruths area dismantled, and all her things in boxes. At least nothing had been given away, not even the clothes for Oxfam.

Shes trying to keep on my fine side, Rachaela thought. She doesnt think of the flat as home. Perhaps not anywhere. She thought, Christ, what will become of her? And she visualized Ruth borne screaming into a tiled tunnel by men in white coats.

Ruth, you must stay here now. Dont go out of the room. Do you need the bathroom?

No, Mummy.

How in Gods name had they managed that, in the attic?

Im going to go down and see if anyones about on the ground floor. I wont be more than ten or fifteen minutes. And then, were leaving.

Yes, said Ruth. She sat down in the chair, where once Adamus had sat.

Be ready, Ruth.

Ruth nodded, and swung her legs. They did not quite reach the floor.

Rachaela went out again. She walked along the corridor softly. She felt a peculiar buoyancy.

On the landing she paused. All was quiet. The house murmured, muttered to itself. The sea sounded.

In their nests the Scarabae kept close.

Down in the hall all the lamps burned, the ruby lamp, the lights of the drawing room.

Rachaela went into the drawing room, the dining room.

She opened wide the door to the conservatory, and so the door to the garden.

The air was full of scent, roses and jasmine and the salt of the ocean. She experienced a sudden tearing in her, nostalgia for something soon to be past. She had never truly understood what she felt for this house.

The yew was very black. The cat lay beneath, morphing itself into putrescence and bone. And out there, Anna and Dorian and Peter, Alice and Sylvian, rocked in the tide.

And behind her in the tower, Adamus.

Adamus.

Her feet on the lawn, she turned and stared towards the cone of the towers roof, and in that second a great chord of sound was struck, as if upon her own body, shivering up from her soles into her spleen, her heart and cranium.

It was like a metaphysical note, like the breaking string in The Cherry Orchard. Did it likewise portend some loss, some irreversible cruelty of fate Rachaela threw off the cloak of sensation which had settled bat-like upon her.

She ran back into the house, across the rooms, the hall, and quickly climbed the stair.

On the landing she paused again. Again she heard only the silence of faint noises.

She walked to her door and opened it and Ruth was gone.

There was only one place that Ruth would go. Into the tower. To Adamus.

To Ruth it had not counted, his revulsion and his violence. They were irrelevant. Only seeing him mattered.

Rachaela tried to control her galloping pulse, her terror. After all, Ruth would be with him now. What, what would happen, between them?

She had run to the room, now she flew, along the landing, through the annexe, down the stair. Had the door been locked, and Ruth left waiting at the door? But Ruth was not there. And the doorstood ajar.

Rachaela entered. There was light in the room above.

She climbed sluggishly now, as if a boulder were on her back.

She came to the door, and into the doorway, and looked through.

Ruth was crouching in the middle of the room, by a table with a stand of candles that lit her as if purposely. She was quite still, her hands drawn up under her chin, and her black hair falling to the floor. She did not turn to look at Rachaela. All her attention was caught.

From a beam above the piano something dark was hanging, moving slightly to and fro. It seemed to have no form, but as it moved, there was a pale shape, a sort of face, unrecognizable, dangling off the neck from a short black cord.

His feet had struck the piano as the stool went over. That had been the sound Rachaela heard.

He hung there formlessly, like a cocoon, swinging slightly, but all the time more heavily and more slowly.

Ruth moved. She stood up.

Ts he dead? she said in a high thin voice.

Rachaela tried to speak. And no words came.

I think hes dead, said Ruth.

And she hiccuped loudly, and covered her mouth in fear.

Rachaela tried to go forward, but she could not take a step.

Adam, said Ruth. She picked up the candle-branch and went closer to the hanging, swinging thing. She lifted the candles up to see. Then she screamed. She screamed continuously, and the horrible spiked soprano bleats went through Rachaelas brain. She must make Ruth stop screaming. She took a step forward, and Ruth lifted the candles and touched them to the hanged man, and rivulets of light ran over him. He was alive with fire.

No Rachaela floundered in the slough of poisoned air, and Ruth turned to her the face of a demon.

We burn our dead, said Ruth.

And she flung the candles round the room like flaming flowers.

The curtains went up in a fountain of fire, the chairs beside the hearth began to burn.

Ruth still had one candle. She darted at Rachaela and Rachaela cowered aside.

Ruth burst past her, the burning candle in her hand, pressing it to the doorway and the wall as she went. The door blazed up.

Rachaela stood in a room of fire.

The house was burning.

It was like a forest. Things scuttled underfoot, the fleeing mice. Ceilings broke with a great crack. Wooden objects fell, alight, and broke like blossoms.

There was so much light, like sunlight, scalding.

Rachaela ran down a burning stairway, between walls of flame.

She did not know where she was, she had lost track of direction. The fire ran and sprinted before her. RuthRuth was the fire.

Ruth must be stopped, but Ruth was unstoppable.

The rooms burned. It spread so fast. The house, summer-dry in its mummy dusts, the old curtains catching like pergolas of flame, the floorboards snapping.

Was this the annexe? A huge window, its leading melting. A fissure spread across the glass like a green lightning.

Rachaela ran.

The fire bit at her arms, there were splinters of flame in her hairshe beat them out.

Out of the furnace and on to the landing. She could still recognize the landing although fire hopped along the balustrade, and below the nymph was burning, her dead lamp lit up with fire.

Rachaela turned, she looked about her, but she was no longer herself. She was only terrified. She ran down the stairs over the carpet bobbing with little crackling lights, out on to the chequerboard of the floor, all as reflective now as a lake, a lake of fire.

The drawing room was burning too, the arch was filled by flames and something burst there with a great hiss and sigh.

She saw Scarabae at the dinner table, and the flames on their plates, the flames unstitching them, and their clothes burned off their bodies, which were like medieval paintings of the dead before the flame consumed them.

Rachaela shrieked. She ran across the fiery floor and out of the first and second doors of the lobby, into the night.

She stumbled through the trees of the garden. Her body was blistered, her hair was burning again, she swept it out. Her hands were burned, and her legs had been needled by fire. She coughed and wept, the black water running from her eyes and nose.

She saw Uncle Camillo riding his horse across the flames, waving his sword, as he burned.

She saw them in their boxes of beds, burned up like papers.

Rachaela sank on her knees among the oaks, crying and blind, while the house blazed like a festival, in a coronet of golden light.

Mice ran like a flow of ink from the well of fire into the sheltering darkness.

The house fell in at about three in the morning.

It gave like a well-laid hearth, centre crumbling, the roofs descending with a whoosh of smoke and sparks. Windows exploded like fireworks.

By then the ones who had survived were out on the heath.

Rachaela, from her distance, counted them and named them.

Miriam and Sasha, Miranda and Eric, Michael and Cheta. No others came from the pyre.

No others except, of course, Ruth. But Ruth had come and gone long since, scuttling over the darkness like an imp. No longer with a lighted candle, her work accomplished. She fled towards the heathland, towards the dragon parts, and vanished.

What would she do in those wild places, that demon child, without streets and shops, without Woolworths and the graveyard?

Rachaela, seated on the ground, her back against a tree, could only watch, the witness, as now she watched the Scarabae.

Her body was a medley of pains and she wept from pain, but the Scarabae, with half their garments scorched off them, only stood in a little loose group above the house, and watched it flame and watched it fall, as perhaps they had watched other fires and fallings.

Rachaela, in her agonized exhaustion, did not go near them, did not consider them. Did not care.

Yet at her wrist her watch ticked on.

The darkness was on the land like mourning, but in an hour it would be dawn. The sun would rise.

What then?


Chapter Eighteen | Dark Dance | About the Author