They were dressed just as she had foreseen, in long coats and boots, scarves about their necks, gloves on their hands. He wore a battered old hat and she a head-square unsuitably brightly coloured. Both wore sunglasses with thick rims. Clad for the Swiss Alps. They poised in attitudes of wonderment.
Rachaela had cornered them in their kitchen, alerted by Anna the previous evening: ‘Tomorrow Cheta and Carlo will be going to the cottages. Do you have your list? They will leave early.’
Rather than hand the list to Cheta, Rachaela presented herself in person at eight o’clock in the kitchen, whose whereabouts she had located by watching them head along a narrow passage which led from the hall.
Carlo she had glimpsed in the garden meanwhile, tugging at the winter weeds. The garden was prolific and unruly, regardless of the time of year. He was a big, muscular old man, like a gypsy—but, too, like all the rest of them. The same face, the fixed and dusty eyes of Michael, Cheta and Maria.
‘You’re going to the village. I’ll come with you,’ said Rachaela.
‘It’s a long walk, Miss Rachaela.’
‘Yes I know. Nine miles, or ten.’
Cheta glanced at Carlo. How could they refuse her if she insisted.
For a week she had been training her body, walking long distances each day beside the cliffs, across the heath. She had walked as far as the farther hills, and back, a trek which her watch, now rewound, and set according to her presumed waking time of seven-thirty, informed her had taken three hours. She could cope with Cheta and Carlo’s long walk.
The kitchen was large, full of sinks, shelves and pans, a black range which was perhaps not used, for to one side there lurked an elderly gas cooker. Gas had come to the house and stayed, but only here and in the Ascots of the bathrooms.
The kitchen floor was stone and the wooden table scrubbed. There were mouse-holes clearly visible. She imagined the forays of the mice by night and the night cat leaping on them. A pantry opened out of the kitchen. The eldritch Scarabae who had not dined would come to raid it in the dark, like the mice. She pictured Uncle Camillo stuffing himself with cold seagull. There were jars of pickled fish and preserves, dark brown and mauve. On the table lay two purple-green cabbages and a great knife. The opaque white windows contained leaves of cabbage-coloured glass, and oil lamps waited ready to light the preparation of food. A weird subaqueous kitchen.
And here the two venturers stood hesitating in their Alpine garments and black goggles.
‘A fine morning,’ said Rachaela, opening the door. Outside was a tiled passage, and a second door, of course. ‘Let’s go, shall we?’
They followed her like reluctant dogs, slinking out through the second door into the animosity of the pale sunlight.
After the storm, the weather had been fair all week.
The storm, anyway, maybe had not happened with the violence she had supposed. The dream had been folded away with the storm. In the morning, waking and remembering it, she had lain a long while, trying it over.
There could be no doubt it was a dream, the thunderclap and bleach of lightning, the man who sat in her room.
Later she got up and examined the chair, as if some-psychic impression might have been made on it. But really, she knew it for a dream at once. They had come in waking dreams before, the tall dark man and the meeting in the tempest. Naturally she would have such dreams, here. Naturally too she would create her father from the limbs and body of the house. He was the fantasy monster of her youth, the bad black wolf who blew into her mother’s life the unwanted seed.
Reason with it as she would, however, the realness of the dream had tinged the days which succeeded it. Lying down at night she had wondered if he would appear again.
But her dreams were only the usual nonsense things. She dreamed of the bookshop and Mr Gerard inserting biscuits into the shelves, or of the flats bulldozed to the ground and swarms of bats flying up with the debris.
Outside the house the path ran along the cliff and back into the woods, towards the heath.
Cheta took the lead along the path.
Carlo went after her, and Rachaela after Carlo.
Three daring explorers in the cold bright morning.
They walked for an hour and a quarter along the half-familiar terrain, then tinned inland, down into scrubby stands of pine and barbed-wire entrenchments of gorse.
Cheta and Carlo did not speak to each other or to Rachaela. She did not want them to.
Birds sang in thickets. Gulls wheeled overhead. The landscape was bare and desolate away from the grandeur of the sea. Rocks with gaps in them might conceal strange creatures. It was a place for a knight to come to fight with dragons.
Half an hour later a road, barely more than a lane, appeared, searing aimlessly across the country. Cheta and Carlo got on to it and walked in the middle of the highway. They feared no sudden traffic, and none came.
Leafless hedges shielded the road, and strips of wild meadow, once fields, ran occasionally behind them. Trees rose in isolation, bent by winds. Rooks exploded from a barren-looking copse and the gaunt wadis of a gutted farmhouse went by.
An hour more and the road spilled down into a valley, and there was the village.
Rachaela was not tired, which was as well, she had the walk back to contend with, almost three hours in itself. Anna had not perhaps lied about the distance.
The village was disheartening.
Grey stone houses cluttered both sides of the novice road. Dark winter fields stretched up the hills, one with a rusting broken tractor in it. There were groups of abandoned cars, their roofs caved in, and ink-black crows cawing on their bonnets.
They walked down into the street and passed an umber little pub with a creaky board: The Armitage.
There was open ground inside the village and there, already drawn up and ready for business, was the large blue van. No one else was out to buy. The denizens of the drear village must have made their purchases already and gone back inside their bleak stone houses. A phone box poked up beyond the van. From some way off, Rachaela saw the receiver depending useless on its cord. Wires sprouted. She felt a start of unsurprised but actual fear. The phone box, out in this remote nowhere, had been vandalized.
Presumably the houses concealed phones, some of them at least.
She visualized walking the miles to this stone village and knocking on house after house door, and not one opening, and the crows coughing in the ruined cars.
They went to the back of the van and a fat man in an anorak rose up, and a skinny woman with a red nose and chilblained knuckles on her bluish hands.
‘Here you are,’ said the man, with fake cheeriness to Carlo and Cheta, obviously accustomed to them. ‘What can we do you for today?’
He had an accent of London, the city Rachaela had left.
Cheta handed him up a list.
‘Just the usual,’ said the man.
‘The lady will want some things,’ said Cheta.
The van man looked at Rachaela, cunning, and she felt the familiar old shame of childhood at having to ask him for intimate items, but there the jolly boxes of Tampax were, blatantly displayed among the soap and bread.
The woman began to pack flour and butter, sugar and toilet paper into the canvas bags Cheta had produced out of her coat and handed up. The man hauled out two huge cans of oil and set them by for Carlo.
Rachaela had believed she would have to carry her own items and had been discreet. But Carlo took up the plastic carrier. He was the servant of the Scarabae.
Cheta said, ‘Can you bring some of the brandy next time? Two bottles.’
‘If they can get it, I will.’ The man totted up the load of goods and read off a price.
Cheta paid from a roll of brown notes.
From where, oh from where, did the Scarabae take their money?
Rachaela was not invited to pay. She was relieved, but not astonished.
At once Cheta and Carlo, now burdened like RSPCA posters of cruelty to donkeys, turned from the van.
There was to be no respite, no pause. Let alone any social chat.
The fat man and the chilblained woman drew away as they walked back over the road.
Rachaela could guess their conversation. ‘Well that was a turn-up.’ ‘Who was she?’ ‘A young one.’ ‘No sunglasses.’
The adventure of the village of the vandalized phone was over. Now there was only the three-hour walk to the house.
A wave of exhaustion overcame Rachaela.
What would they do if she lagged behind, sat down on a rock.
Why, wait patiently for her under their loads.
She was not sorry to leave the village.
It was depressing and a disappointment.
The crows laughed among the dead cars.
Defeated by abstract random things, Rachaela found herself disgorged by the heath, back at the house of the Scarabae, dog-tired, her stamina used up.
In her absence her bed had been scrupulously made, as she herself never troubled to make it, only tossing it together, straightening the pillows for the Devil’s face to reflect on.
She ran a bath and lay there, listening to Mozart on her radio for which batteries were now assured. The piece was a piano concerto. It seemed to her she had dreamed of piano music in this house...
Her watch, assiduously wound, showed her it was three-thirty.
At four-thirty she left the bath and went into her room. She changed her clothes and lay on the bed, now only in a bath of music. She thought seriously about the house.
She had left it alone during her week of external walking, only trying the iron-bound door of the tower from time to time, indolently, knowing it would be locked.
In the passage from her room she had noticed the paintings more, how in places a top layer of paint had flaked off from them to reveal other scenes beneath. She recalled the goat’s head thrust from the woman’s belly.
And she had found the kitchen with the gas cooker and mouse-holes.
She thought of the storm, and the dream of the man.
She had begun to imagine, very often, that something followed her through the house. On the heath she had been free of this feeling. It was a sort of hysteria, she now believed; for the very mad, very old, old man had not pursued her, not popped out or been abruptly encountered. Perhaps he had lost interest in her.
Rachaela began to go to sleep. Well, she could rest until the dinner with Anna and Stephan. She did not mean to miss that. She wanted now to speak to them, to Anna.
It would be simple just to doze and walk and idle the time away here, as if this were all that was asked of her. But she knew it was not. Something was expected. It must be. She was like the sacrificial lamb, kept and fattened against the day of its ritual death. Was it so far-fetched to think the purpose of the Scarabae any different? It was easy to credit them with it, the keeping of her, her ritual slaughter at some preordained phase of the moon. Dragging her screaming at midnight across the heath, strong Carlo and Cheta, their grip merciless; Sylvian with the huge knife from the cabbages held daintily as the ebony ruler. One more word to erase: Rachaela.
The room faded. She was standing at a crossroads on the heath, naked but for her blowing hair. She waited, and no one came but the blue van and the fat man, who pulled up and called cheerily, ‘Want a lift? Hop in.’
Stephan did not come to ‘dine’, only Anna came, in her long charcoal frock, her embroidery in one hand.
Michael served her her thimble of garnet and Rachaela her glass of white wine.
It was another rabbit-pie. Rachaela recalled the rabbits she had seen feeding on the heath. There were countless numbers of them, a larder to the Scarabae. Probably it was Carlo who took them. Yet she had never heard the crack of a gun.
They sat before the drawing-room fire.
On the walls were mirrors obscura, paintings upon other paintings, drawn curtains behind which jostled stained glass images. The figures on the chessboard were in disarray, someone had lost their temper at them; the queen lay on her face. The candles burned and the yellow lamps. Was it cosy by the fire or macabre?
‘Anna, I really must talk to you. I mean, I should like answers.’
‘Whatever I can do, Rachaela.’ Anna was, as always, gracious.
‘I went to the village with Cheta and Carlo.’
‘You’re very brave. But I can see the walk tired you.’
The village looked quite dead. And the public telephone was vandalized.’
‘Oh, dear,’ said Anna, embroidering placidly.
‘Suppose,’ said Rachaela, ‘that you needed the phone. Is it sensible not to have one?’
‘All that bother of having a telephone installed,’ said Anna. ‘I’m afraid we’re set in our ways. We hate intrusion.’
‘But I have intruded.’
‘You? Rachaela, you’re one of our own.’
‘Suppose,’ Rachaela tried again, ‘one of you fell ill.’
‘We are never ill,’ said Anna. ‘Only old.’
‘Then that alone—’
‘No, Rachaela. The case would never arise. We care for ourselves.’
‘And me,’ said Rachaela, ‘if I wanted to phone anyone.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Anna. But she looked up. Her sharp eyes said, You are alone. You have no one.
Rachaela said, ‘It disconcerts me. The way you live here. And if I stay, the way I must live with you.’
‘Forgive me,’ said Anna, ‘but we know something about you, Rachaela. Your lack of social contacts, your own way of living. Rather like a hermitess.’
‘I had a choice.’
‘Did you? Haven’t you besides made a choice now to be with us?’
‘No,’ said Rachaela. ‘I’ll be honest. The choice of coming here was forced on me. And you hunted me, didn’t you.’
‘Oh yes,’ said Anna, ‘we will admit to that.’
‘I asked you before, and I must ask you again. Why?’
‘You belong here, with us.’
‘I don’t agree,’ Rachaela lied. Anna smiled a little. To lie was useless. ‘I have no responsibilities. No autonomy here. I’m some kind of puppet. I sense this. That I’m being kept for something.’
‘For yourself,’ said Anna. ‘Don’t you understand your worth? We prize tradition. We value the ideal of the family. And you are the last of us. The very last flower on our tree.’
Rachaela thought of his words, in the dream: The last, but for you.
She felt a constriction in her throat and spoke through it, crisply.
‘And the last before me was my father.’
‘Why,’ said Rachaela, ‘isn’t he with you?’
Anna said, ‘But Rachaela, he is. Of course he is.’
Rachaela thought of the old men of the house. Something sank inside her. Her mother had spoken of him as young.
‘Here,’ she said. ‘Then I’ve met him.’
‘Your father is a hermit, Rachaela. As you are a hermitess. He lives here, but not readily among us.’ Anna let her embroidery lie. ‘When he was younger, your age, he ran away. He ran out into the world, and we let him go. It was the time for it. He made you, out in the world. Then he came back to us.’
‘No, not willingly, but with resignation. There was nowhere else for him to go. You chafe at the confines of the house, the two of you. Yet you hate the open places of the outer world, the cities, the people. They offend you. Life offends you. You are Scarabae. Here, you’re safe.’
‘Where,’ said Rachaela, and her hands had clasped one another, ‘where is he?’
‘You’ve tried the locked door of the tower several times. There. I’m afraid you will have to leave it to your father, the hour of your meeting. You must be eager, perhaps angry.’
That is something you must resolve with him. You and he are not like the rest of us. You and he are alike. He will come to you.’
‘Tell me his name,’ said Rachaela. Her mother had never named her father. He was only faceless darkness, rage.
‘Adamus,’ said Anna. ‘Adamus is his name. It’s very old. Traditional to the family.’
Rachaela did not accept the name. It rang on in her head like music in another room.
‘And he lives in the tower. Does he prowl the house in the darkness?’
‘What a perceptive question. Once he did. He is more rested now.’
Rachaela stared into the fire.
Had it been a dream, then? Had it been real? Or could it be—some vision, precognition, of the facts. The man in the dream was too young. Her father had ‘made her in the world’ when he was her age now. He would be almost sixty. Touched by age, by the markers of Stephan and Sylvian, Peter and Camillo.
Rachaela felt unable to ask anything more. The flurry of defiance had gone dead. The new flame burned in her. Adamus. The name of some saint or demon in a mystery play.
Walled up in the locked dark tower.
‘I’ll go to bed, Anna,’ Rachaela said.
Anna smiled again, and picking up her embroidery stitched in a flower like drops of blood.
In the night, Rachaela sat in the chair, where he had sat, sat in reality not dream. Her thoughts would not keep still. She saw him over and over. He was her father.
There was so much she wanted to say to him, cry out at him. She would in his presence be dumb, surely, gagged by all these sentences and accusations.
Her fire burned low and she put more wood on to it from the brass scuttle. All day long Scarabae’s servants came in and out of this room, dusting it so the dust flew up off one surface and resettled on another, seeing to the bed, the lamps and candles, the fire, the supply of little logs.
But at night he had come and used a key, for the door was locked.
If she had not woken would he only have sat here a while, watching her? She would never have realized he had been in the room. Had he come back and she not known?
The far-away clock struck. Rachaela looked at the black clock on the mantel. Two—it was one in the morning.
Rachaela stood up. She took the oil lamp with the green base, and opened her door.
As she had foreseen it would be, the lamp in the passage was extinguished. The corridor was black and her own light swung across it, startling things, the pictures, the carved wood of grapes and apples, into glimpsing life.
The Scarabae patrolled the house after midnight, she had heard them often enough.
And he too, despite Anna’s denial, for Anna’s denials sometimes meant the truth had been hit upon.
The lamp shook a little in her hand. She steadied it. After all, he was what she had feared all along. Not the house, the family, but him.
Where to start... why not at the tower door, where he himself would emerge.
She went down the passage, and came to the head of the stair. For a moment she was daunted, the entire area of the hall was in blackness. Then she made out a faint soft nothing-light from the drawing room—a lamp or candles there, alight.
She began to descend the stairs carefully, letting her light fall on the treads. How red the carpet looked under the pool of the lamp.
The nymph sprang out, holding up her empty lantern.
As Rachaela reached the level floor of the lobby, the light in the adjacent room went out suddenly, A last candle left burning, now guttered. No one there, for she heard no shuffling or clicking step, no rustle of a dress or scrape of a sleeve.
In the black the hall about her seemed enormous, pouring away from her light to infinity.
But any watchers, crouching unseen in the shadows, could see Rachaela clearly in her spotlight.
It was not unlikely there were watchers.
Rachaela’s imagination tried to vault the bounds of her mind. The hall was peopled by things, formless yet sentient, the spirits of the house, hungry as the Scarabae.
And then something came from the corridor and out into the blackness of the hall. It came unseen and noiseless, yet she felt it there. The little hairs of her body lifted erect. This was not imagination.
. Rachaela raised her lamp and a wing of the hall appeared, tilted. Two flat green eyes gleamed on nothingness.
A cat. Too high up to be a cat’s eyes.
Rachaela heard a soft and slipping step, like a feather brushing the floor.
She went cold and thrust the lamp the length of her arm.
A creature stood with her in the hall. It had the form of a cat, but it was the height of a labrador. Its hair was long, bushy and black, glittering at the light on darkness. Its great cat-shaped head was turned to her, and the eyes shone topaz now, thoughtless and intent and terrible.
Rachaela did not move. She did not dare. Such a thing was not possible, but there it stood, seeing her, so still that its springing would be too swift for her brain to take in. She would merely find herself beneath it, the wide paws planted on her, talons tearing, its teeth at her throat.
‘Don’t be afraid of him, he won’t hurt you.’
The madness of the voice came disembodied, from nowhere.
She did not dare to speak or move.
‘He knows you,’ said the voice. And then a man walked from the black, bringing blackness with him. He placed his pale hand on the head of the enormous cat, scratching it gently between the ears. The cat made no sound but its eyes half closed. It suffered the attention.
The man was Adamus, her father. He must have come from the tower door, or else from the corridor which led to the kitchen, the direction from which the cat had come.
He wore black trousers, a black pullover, ordinary contemporary garments. No rings on the long hands. The blackness came in about his head, the hair a rim on the wide forehead, outlining the bones of the face.
‘He catches your supper, didn’t you know?’ he asked idly. ‘The Scarabae let him hunt for them, only then he hunts for himself. He disdains the mice. He kills them for a hobby.’
Rachaela’s body involuntarily relaxed, gave way. She almost dropped the lamp.
‘Careful,’ he said.
He left the cat and came across to her, and the flickering light cast giant shadows from his tall spare body. He took the lamp from her hand.
‘And I thought,’ he said, ‘you would accept all the surprises here with equanimity.’
The cat watched them, then it turned and padded noiselessly through into the drawing room.
Rachaela remembered all the opened doors. She saw the cat going in and out. She saw it leap upon the gull, the rabbits feeding in the twilight of dawn.
‘And you can’t speak,’ he said.
She said, ‘What am I supposed to say?’
‘Whatever you like.’
The lamp blazed on his face. The two black eyes were alive and burning, not like the eyes of the Scarabae, nor as she had seen them last, those leaden tarns in the white structure of face. Now she could see the roughness of the male jaw: the mark of normal masculine shaving; the hair-fine lines about the eyes and lips; the individual black strokes of the heavy brows; the lashes beaded by light. The face was thirty years old, no more.
‘Who are you?’ she said.
‘But I told you, Rachaela.’
‘And I told you. Too young.’
‘The family tends to look younger than it is. How old do you think Anna is? Stephan? Add another hundred years, you might be right.’
‘This is ridiculous,’ she said. She believed him. Anna, one hundred and eighty years. And Sylvian, older. ‘But,’ she said, ‘there’s still a discrepancy. If you are sixty years old and the rest of them two hundred, why the gap between you?’
‘There were others,’ he said, ‘they failed. They died.’
‘Leaving only you.’
‘And now you,’ he said. He put a hand on her arm. Her nerves jumped violently at his touch. ‘Shall we go into the room there,’ he said.
She let him guide her.
In the drawing room a dull red lay dormant in the fireplace. He set her lamp on a table. They sat down facing each other in this oasis, the black all around no longer counting for anything. He was here. And the cat, like his symbol, had passed on into the night.
He threw a log into the grate with the careless vehemence of a young man. And as he turned his head she saw that his hair was not very short but only scraped back from his face, caught at the base of his skull, and falling from there in a coarse black silk rope down his back. A young man’s hair.
‘Perhaps you’ll tell me,’ she said, ‘why I’m wanted here. Was it you who typed the letter?’
A drift of amusement changed his face, was gone. ‘They fear the typewriter. A useful machine.’
Rachaela said, ‘Then you wanted to bring me here.’
‘It was the time for it.’
‘Anna talks like that. The time.’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Anna’s very crafty. You’ve no idea how beautiful she used to be. I must show you the photographs. Almost as good as you.’
A freezing heat went through her when he said this.
‘Strange,’ she said,’ a compliment from you.’
‘I don’t bother with compliments, Rachaela. A fact. The family is noted for its looks. At times it has been notorious for them.’
‘So you subscribe to it too, this tribal mystique.’
‘Mad people and eccentrics, reckoning yourselves special.’
He said, ‘What did your mother tell you about me?’
Rachaela looked at the fire. Was she to betray her mother now, that bitter and frowning, heavy-handed woman.
‘Very little. You gave her little enough.’
‘Yes, little enough. I don’t know if she told you, Rachaela, I was only with her for three nights. Just three. Two in the beginning. One night three months later, when she was carrying you.’
‘Why did you go back?’
‘To see if she was pregnant, why else.’
‘And she was, and you left her.’
‘It was done. That was all there was to do.’
‘I think you’re saying,’ Rachaela stated, ‘that they let you go, your precious family, to sow your seed. And when you had, they summoned you back again.’
‘I came back. I could see by then the futility of anything else. This house is my prison, but I need it. The rest is rubbish. Haven’t you found it so?’
‘No,’ she lied again. ‘Actually I valued my freedom.’
He smiled. It was a cold and repellent smile, so that she wished she had not spoken. He intimidated her, but that was absurd. He was one with the Scarabae, a creature of the farce. Was there nothing she wanted to say, did she not want to tell him to be damned? But it was not feasible to think of him as her father. No, she did not credit it. This was some joke they played on her.
She was magnetized by his presence. She could not leave the fireside while he was there. She had never before confronted such an externalization of herself, terrifying and apt.
‘I agree,’ she said, ‘that the house is a sort of prison.’
‘Where,’ he said, ‘do you want to go instead? Who has prevented you? You’ve only to pack your bags and leave.’
‘Easier said than done. There’s no transport. The only telephone for miles is broken.’
‘I see,’ he said. ‘They do mean you to stay.’
His face had drawn inward. The eyes were as she had seen them first, still and shadowed.
‘Didn’t you know?’ she said.
‘Oh, I expect I guessed. You’ve no choice then. You’ll have to remain.’
‘For what?’ she said quickly.
‘For whatever happens next.’
‘Don’t spy on me again,’ she said. ‘You have no right.’
‘Oh,’ he said, ‘rights.’ He said, ‘Put a chair under the doorknob if it worries you.’
‘Would that keep you out?’
‘I’ve seen you now,’ he said. ‘I’m satisfied.’
‘That the family line goes on.’
‘You’re mine,’ he said. ‘A natural curiosity.’
‘I’m not yours. How dare you say something so inappropriate. I’m nothing to you. My mother was nothing to you.’
‘There you are correct.’
‘Then you can’t make any claims.’
‘I don’t,’ he said. ‘No claims at all. You’re still mine. I created you.’
‘Fucking nonsense,’ she said stonily. ‘You dropped me like a lost coin. Less than that.’
‘I meant to make you,’ he said. ‘I tried with many women. The Scarabae seed is reluctant. It inbreeds better. But your stupid and soulless mother had, surprisingly, the correct ingredients to accommodate me. I knew she would. When I went back to her that night I knew what I’d find.’
‘All her life,’ said Rachaela, hearing the false desperation in her voice, ‘she hated you and what you’d done. It was a constant struggle. She made me pay for you.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, without expression. ‘But it’s over now, isn’t it?’
‘Why didn’t you leave me in peace?’
‘You’d had your peace long enough.’
‘You bastard,’ she said. But he was not her father. He was a man out of the night who held her there, not touching her, and the fire climbing the log, gilded both their faces. She could not leave. She rose. ‘I might as well go to bed.’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Sleep well, Rachaela.’
To her consternation tears scorched into her eyes. He spoke without tenderness, and he was nothing to her, and yet it was as if, across the twenty-nine years of her life, this simple and insincere wish had lain in waiting, gathering true sentiment.
She had no reply.
She took the lamp, and left him in the firelight, while the great cat hunted somewhere through the pitch-black night.
Through the lilies and the sunburst, she regarded herself in the winged mirror.
She was naked, framed in black hair.
Her white body, creamed of all its down, only the sable fleece at her groin. Long and slender, like something carved from a bone, but full-breasted, the little sweets of the nipples dilute-rose. A blue-green shadow reflected on the whiteness, something undersea.
She stared at her body, what she could make out of it portioned by the mirror, trying to know it as her own.
Rachaela had never seen her mother’s nakedness. Her sagging defeated frame had stayed swathed in zippered day clothes, and nighties and tent-like dressing-gowns. And once the knock on the bathroom door and her mother’s harsh frightened voice, ‘You can’t come in.’ Her mother had been scandalized that Rachaela slept naked. In the same way she had been scandalized at the frequent hair washing, and Rachaela’s habitual lateness at her places of work. All the same, all condemned.
Her daughter was a being from Venus.
She had bought Rachaela sensible nightdresses and marked the shampoo bottle and set the alarm clock in her own bedroom to wake her so that she might come in and shake Rachaela awake. ‘They won’t stand for it. Do you know you used almost the whole bottle when you washed your hair? Why don’t you get it cut and set?’
A lily stood up against Rachaela’s navel, its green glass stem bisecting her pubic fleece.
She turned from the mirror and got naked into the bed.
She had placed a chair under the doorknob.
This was foolish. He had seen her.
She did not sleep for a long time, and twice muted steps went through the passageway, and she thought of the great cat slipping past, brushing the door with its flank, something dead in its mouth.
Rachaela was standing at the base of the tower.
There was no light, but glass lilies grew between the treads of the stair, which was scarlet, moist, littered with feathers.
He stretched down his hand to her.
She would not take his hand.
She climbed up and up the tower. The ascent was endless. All the while some terror was tight in her throat. She meant to reach him and was afraid to do so.
At last she came into a wide round room under the cone of the roof. To her amazement there were windows of clear glass. They showed the woods, the cliff and the sea.
Adamus, if so she must call him, was not there. The room was vacant. And Rachaela began to cry.
* * *
The picture in the corridor window was a dreadful one, a lion slaughtering a sheep, and its vivid colours were strewn everywhere by the excluded sunlight.
Rachaela was searching the house aimlessly.
The corridor was very long and it seemed to her it led to the library, but she could not recall for certain. Sylvian would be busy in the library, crossing out the words, or Alice would be there, scratching with a hat pin at the globe.
She saw the Scarabae hounded over the face of the globe. Burning houses glowed behind them as they fled in the snow, and the snow was red from firelight.
Someone was following her.
Was it the cat? How would she deal with the cat, alone? She would not dare to touch it.
The corridor was so very long. She had passed so many doors, some of which she tried, and they were locked.
What was behind the locked doors of the Scarabae?
She heard a rusty panting behind her, a giggling like that of a naughty child.
Was this a cause for relief? Lost in the byways of the house with a madman snuffling behind her. Did he have the sword?
The corridor turned, and rounding the turn, Rachaela saw it ended in a door.
The door was bound in black iron. Could it be another way into the tower? Locked also then.
At that moment Camillo’s steps became pronounced, flapping down on the carpet behind her. He was running. Running, this mad old man, to catch her up.
Rachaela shrank against the wall and naughty insane Uncle Camillo sprinted by. He giggled as he passed her, and ran up against the door.
He had a key, and with it he unlocked the door, and an oblong of blackness appeared, night in day.
Camillo bowed, holding open the door for Rachaela on the oblong of night.
She lifted her eyelids and saw her room in the frenzy of the window of the temptation. She had only been dreaming again. Uncle Camillo had not opened the way into the tower. But she had not dreamed her encounter with Adamus. He stood out as solidly as a lighthouse in the sea of nightmares. Sleep well, he had said.