In the library, Sylvian was busy.
He did not glance up from his work. Rachaela stood and watched him, placing the ebony ruler precisely, dipping the pen into the ink. Drawing a neat thin line. Another phrase gone. Another thought obliterated.
Rachaela went up to the table and, pulling out the chair, sat down opposite to him.
‘I wish I could make you stop.’
‘No, Rachaela. I can’t stop. This is necessary.’
She sat watching him. A desire to scream rose in her. She damped it down. Only another mad old man, Elsewhere these books thrived and were read. But perhaps not. Some of them were decayed and ancient. The only copies left in the house of the Scarabae and Sylvian ruling them through.
‘Why am I here, Sylvian?’
‘You belong here,’ he said, not stopping even now, but just a flash of the spiked eyes.
‘Where should I look to find Camillo?’ she asked.
‘Uncle Camillo goes here, there and everywhere. A will-o’-the-wisp.’
‘Uncle,’ she said. ‘Is he your uncle, Sylvian?’
‘The previous generation.’ Like Anna, Sylvian said. ‘He’s very old.’
Two hundred, three hundred,’ she hazarded lightly, her heart beating in her side.
‘More, more,’ said Sylvian absently. ‘Uncle Camillo remembers the flight from the last city. Another country. Long ago. I don’t recall the date. I was a baby then.’
As in the dream, Rachaela saw in her mind’s eye a burning house. A mob shouted and smashed the coloured windows with stones.
‘Tell me your age, Sylvian.’
‘Oh I forget.’
‘How old is Adamus?’
Sylvian ruled through a sentence, lovingly. Seen across the table the face of the page had assumed a beautiful matrix quality from the carefully spaced lines.
‘Adamus is your father,’ Sylvian said.
‘So he tells me. How old?’
‘You must ask him. I forget these things. Time drags on, yet it goes so quickly. A year passes like a month. A day becomes a year.’
‘And you won’t tell me about Camillo.’
‘He moves about the house. He followed you.’
‘Not any more. He’s lost interest.’
‘Anna may know,’ said Sylvian.
‘I never see Anna in the daytime. Hardly any of you, apart from your servants. What are they? Some lesser branch of the family?’
Sylvian had ruled over the final page. He put the book aside and drew another towards him.
Rachaela could no longer watch.
She asked them, those Scarabae she came on, where Camillo was. She believed in the augury of the dream. Camillo would show her the way into the tower. She could then break in on him as he had done on her. Beyond that point she did not venture. It was only that she did not like her powerlessness, the sense of which was growing on her.
Then again, the dream might be and probably was a wild illusion. She misled herself. But she did not know what else to do.
She went down to the kitchen. She meant to make her inquiries of Cheta, Carlo, Michael, Maria. None of them was there. They too had vanished.
She guessed at their whereabouts, the caverns of unlocated bedrooms, or narrow cells where they stood upright in the dark, propped on the walls.
The house was the tomb. These day-fearing things did not need to creep into a box. The double doors and sugar windows contained them.
She re-found the corridor with the drowning baby in the reeds and the stuffed horse. Camillo had left no traces, not even the armour.
She passed the painted mirror again. More hills had appeared. And the goat in the woman’s belly was indeed the result of one picture beneath another.
In the room of the dusty piano and unstrung harp someone had rested on a peg a yellow guitar. The window in the music room, which she had not looked at before, revealed an orchestra of beasts: tigers which played flutes; an elephant in charge of an organ; a crocodile with a viola. Perhaps meant to induce laughter, the window seemed decidedly frightful, like an hallucination in infancy. Somewhere else there had been a Noah’s Ark awash on the flood and two golden unicorns left behind. But the lion and the sheep were a product of the dream. Unless it was some clue her sleeping brain had provided.
Maybe Uncle Camillo did not know the way into the tower, had forgotten, or would not say.
A lion devouring a sheep ... the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb... the young lion and the fatling together.... It would be like them to have such a window. And a little child shall lead them.
A child. Where would a child go?
Rachaela raised her head. The naughty child Camillo—playing overhead in the playroom of an attic.
There was sure to be one. Dust and cobwebs and antique toys of the Scarabae when they had been young, centuries before.
She had seen no evidence of a way into an attic. She did not want to go there. If Uncle Camillo was there with his games and keys to the house, to the tower, he must stay undisturbed.
Rachaela waited in her room until she judged by the clocks the hour of luncheon had arrived. Then she went down to the dining room.
Somehow she had known and was not amazed on opening the door. The table was full. Not ten places but surely sixteen. She stood in the doorway and counted them aloud. They raised their old heads of silver and white wire, glanced once with their gunshot eyes.
Rachaela went to the head of the table, which was empty, stood there, and said off all their names that she had heard of, could call to mind, randomly, yet like a schoolteacher checking attendance: ‘Anna, Stephan, Peter, Dorian, Sylvian, Alice, Unice, Miriam, Sasha, Eric, George, Miranda, Livia—’
And when she ceased, like good children, the three she had missed spoke up shrilly: Teresa.’
About the room were the other four, Michael and Cheta, Carlo and Maria. The two women were serving cheese omelettes, Carlo saw to the fire, Michael laid down salad.
Their behaviour was insectoid. They had gravitated to this spot like running water. Only Camillo had not come, the one she wanted. Camillo and Adamus, age and youth—for to them Adamus was a boy, and she—she was a baby.
Maria was beside her and began to set extra eating utensils for Rachaela, where she stood at the table’s head.
Rachaela sat down in silence, and ate what was offered her.
And the Scarabae began to chatter. They twittered and chirruped amongst themselves like a nest of small, harsh dangerous birds with razor beaks.
She heard odd words only, the hubbub was so great—lace, omelette, chesspiece.
And Anna, the usual spokeswoman, was talkative, and once or twice she directed at Rachaela a pitiless smile. You see how we can be, it said. Do you like this better?
On the edge of insanity the room crackled and vibrated.
Rachaela sat mesmerized, in a shrinking fascination. It was like being in a demented music-box. A twist of a key would silence them. But which key was it?
When the plates were polished clean, the fruit had gone round and been demolished in its turn, the teapots came, three this time.
Rachaela sat on in the aviary of noise. She drank tea.
Alice and Sasha were the first to rise.
Rachaela rose also and went up to them.
She had recognized Alice, who wore a plum-red knitted cardigan, a long string of crimson beads.
‘Alice, tell me about the attic.’
‘Oh, the attic,’ Alice said at once, like clockwork. ‘Full of trifles. A dress of my mother’s—’weird notion, this one had had a mother‘—on a dummy. And the old rocking-horse, do you remember, Sasha?’
‘How does one get into the attic?’ said Rachaela.
‘A stair,’ said Alice. ‘We’ll show you.’
The others watched as they went from the room. The noise did not subside.
They walked up to the landing and turned to the left. The corridor curved like a worm, branched. Alice chose left again. They passed through an annexe with a window of Salome dancing with the head of John-or so Rachaela interpreted the saffron and cerise glass. There were bare floorboards beyond, closed doors, a narrow stair going downwards and another up, uncarpeted. Rachaela had never come this way. It was gloomy, sulkily lit by glimmers of Salome, old reds of dying sunfall on a peeling wall.
‘Up there,’ said Alice. ‘Now you know.’
Sasha said, ‘Watch out for Uncle Camillo. He stores wine in the attic.’
‘Oh, yes,’ said Alice, ‘he made ever such a lot. Quite horrible it was, very sour and add. Undrinkable. But he said he liked to do it, make the wine. In the kitchen the corks kept popping. So now he stores it up there.’
As Rachaela stepped on to the stair, Alice waved to her, ‘Goodbye, goodbye,’ as if seeing her off on an epic train journey.
The attic door was free of webs, in use. There was a lock, but it stood ajar. She pushed it. The two women had gone.
The attic ran long and high. It was crammed with things. She saw chests, old wardrobes, stuffed birds, indeed a dummy with a scarlet musty dress, the rocking-horse in blood and snow suspended in a shaft of light. A window pierced the end wall, round and spoked like a wheel. The glass, dusty, greenish, was clear. A dream window in the wrong place. By its shining illumination she gradually saw the ranks of brown bottles standing up everywhere, and at last Uncle Camillo seated in a rocking-chair he had perhaps mistaken for the horse.
He was out of the shaft of light, yet the attic was sprinkled by it. It touched white sparks on his clasped and wiry hands, three rings, and lit the long hood of albescent hair. His eyes were shut, but as she stared at him, he opened them.
‘Giddy-up,’ he said to the rocking chair, and made it go. The creaks were like emanations of his etiolate body.
‘The light,’ said Rachaela.
‘You’ll have to put up with it,’ he answered. ‘Avoid the direct beam.’
‘It doesn’t worry me.’
‘And you,’ she said, ‘aren’t afraid of the light.’
‘Too old,’ said Uncle Camillo, rocking. ‘Do you want to go down to the sea?’
‘No,’ she said. ‘Is there a way into the tower?’
‘Adamus locks the door,’ said Camillo. ‘Adamus ran away. Into the outside world, alone. Then he came back.’
‘You know the way into the tower,’ said Rachaela.
‘Easy,’ he said. ‘Over the roof.’
He pointed at the window. Rachaela walked into the full glare of the murky glass. There was a catch, the window might be opened. Outside lay a flat roof with a parapet of stone. One of the weather-vanes balanced at a crazy angle, it was a dragon. Beyond the flat roof was another, and then the cone of the tower. Under the lid of the cone a tall dark window, dyed glass and leading. It looked inaccessible.
‘Have some wine,’ said Uncle Camillo.
He did not sound as mad as she had thought him. He did mad things perhaps to camouflage an awful misfit sanity.
‘No, thank you.’ She opened the window. It was quite possible to climb through. She surveyed the roofs, the window beneath the cone. He might close and secure the window when she was outside, stranding her. He rocked, placidly. She did not think he would. He would, as he had advised her, avoid the direct beam of the light. ‘I’ll need to come back,’ she said. She did not believe she could get into the tower this way. She did not think that, even if the tower window might be opened, the man Adamus would open it.
She got through the window and stood out on the open roof.
Other roofs of the house spread below, hints of walls, and then the tawny ground, the trees of the garden and the wood. The sea gaped to one side, green today and restless. A thin drizzle fell.
She crossed the roof, stepped over on to the second.
As she approached the tower, she heard a piano playing, coarse brilliant strokes, a line of angry melody that matched the writhing of the sea, the boom of the foam.
She thought of a radio or record player in the tower. He was like her, he wanted music, and allowed modern machines to bring it to him. In there too the typewriter had clicked.
She reached the window. Following the heavy leading, she saw the shape of a lion standing over not a sheep but a warrior in armour. The dense colours were not to be made out. There was no apparent means of entry.
Rachaela rapped harshly on the window. Then drew back her fist, alarmed at what she had done.
But the piano music continued. Nothing moved in the tower to indicate she had been heard.
Rachaela went back through the rain. The attic window leaned open, Camillo was still rocking.
She climbed in more awkwardly.
‘Yes, I’ll have some wine.’
‘You’re welcome. Help yourself.’
‘I can’t open the bottles.’
‘Then you will have to go without.’
Rachaela said, ‘You have a key to the tower door.’
Camillo said, ‘Was he playing the piano? There’s a way in. Did you knock? Perhaps he didn’t hear you.’
She sat down on a low chest in the dust. Camillo rocked. He said, ‘I’m the oldest of them.’
‘They told me.’
‘Like to hear my age?’
‘Can’t. Can’t remember. Giddy-up,’ he said to the chair, and closed his eyes again. Then he said, ‘I know a way down to the beach. Walk by the sea.’
To humour him, she said, ‘All right. I’ll go with you.’
She expected another rebuff. Instead he got instantly out of the chair. He ducked with a skittish agility beneath the ray of light. A pile of armour glinted in the corner, a sword. He had taken the mouse out of the big cat’s mouth.
‘Come along then,’ he said, ‘Rachaela.’
Beyond the place where the path turned back into the wood, bushes overhung and obscured a flight of steps cut into the cliff. They were slippery and dangerous, and Rachaela descended with caution. But Camillo went down them like a ferret, fearless and coordinated. Beneath there was a high stranded beach, a cove, while either side the sea came in and cast itself against the obdurate skirts of the rocks.
‘At low tide,’ said Camillo, with the kind of air of one giving desired information, ‘Carlo catches fish.’
‘I thought the cat caught all the food.’
‘Gulls, rabbits,’ said Camillo. ‘Once it caught a robin and let it go. I saw.’
‘Mice,’ said Rachaela.
‘Did you like the mouse? It was perfect.’
‘Yes it was. Someone cleared it away, Cheta or Michael.’
‘Probably put it in the stew,’ said Camillo. He gave his high pitched madman’s giggle, as if he had left it too long.
They were in the daylight. Camillo did not bother with it any more than he bothered with the fine rain. His skin was like thin paper, the bones like a framework of hard sticks. He did not look frail.
‘Why does the family avoid daylight?’ said Rachaela.
‘It doesn’t agree with them.’
‘Nothing agrees with me. I like the colours by day. Once I couldn’t bear them. I remember a night ride that ended in the dawn and I hid my head and wept.’
‘Somewhere else,’ she said.
‘Far away.’ He spoke very fast in another language. It might have been Russian or some Serbian tongue. He cackled. He said, ‘Shan’t tell you the family history. It’s all muddled up in my head. I remember a cathedral on Christmas Eve and a dunghill and two hundred women and all the dogs, but I forget where or when. Why should I care? I’m not interested. Not even in you. Just a brief glimmer at first. But you’re so predictable, girl. Exactly what I would have guessed. Wandering about in your black clothes and your white skin. You’ll run away too, but you’ll come back. You’re the one. Like him.’
‘Is he my father?’
‘If he says so,’ said Camillo. He crouched on a rock like a gargoyle and his long white hair fluttered in the wet wind. The sea burst and sank, like hopeless anger.
‘Why am I important?’
‘A gene,’ said Camillo. ‘We all carry it. It comes out in some. Adamus. You.’
‘What do you mean?’ She felt a stab of fear.
‘There were others,’ he said, ‘but they died. Only the two of you left. The rest of us would have liked to have had it. Glamorous and wicked. At first the family drove out the black sheep. Then it harboured them. The family revels in its differences.’
Suddenly Camillo sprang up. He executed a little gallop round and round on the strand. He used a whip. He neighed and the cove echoed with the equine human sound. The madness was his garment but he had put it on so often it claimed him. The mask had become the skin.
Rachaela frowned impatiently, waiting for the horse dance to end. But part of her wanted to gallop with him, make believe. She had never had a childhood. At eleven years the one doll she had had, a hard ungiving model child, was taken from her and deposited at a local charity shop. There Rachaela saw her in the window for a week; then someone bought her.
Camillo the sea horse rested.
‘He has to come to you,’ he panted, ‘or you go to him. It’s a pattern, unavoidable. And so you want to go to him, break in on his mystery.’
‘He watched me asleep,’ said Rachaela.
‘Unforgivable,’ said Camillo. Then, ‘I’ll show you the way into the tower. Any of them could have done it, but they love a game. Cheta or Maria or Michael would have taken you.’
‘I dreamed you have a key,’ she said.
‘A young woman dreams of me. I’m flattered.’
They went back up the treacherous steps. Rachaela slipped and saw the cliff and the sea whirl. She completed the climb nearly on all fours, in terror.
But Camillo did not fear death, darted straight up and did not slip once.
They went back into the house by the side door Camillo had used on leaving. It led via a passage into the morning room where Peter and Dorian breakfasted, and now sat post-luncheon, both slumbering in chairs before a fire. In sleep they looked dead. Camillo paid them no attention. The morning-room window showed a queen picking green grapes in a vineyard—Jezebel?
Camillo did not take her back to the attic. He took her as far as the annexe with the Salome, and there pointed down the descending narrow stair.
‘Leads to a corridor, which ends in a door. Open the door and go into Adamus’s tower. Knock first.’
‘He didn’t knock when he spied on me.’
‘Don’t knock then.’ Camillo hopped upstairs.
Rachaela hesitated and then went down.
The corridor was unlit save by the stairwell, a pink sauterne Salome light.
She passed shut doors, webby, which she did not want to open. The corridor bent round, and the light faded into a depressing eerie darkness. The ultimate door appeared, as in the dream straight ahead.
Rachaela reached it. She listened. The piano still played, something of Brahms, it seemed to her, a piano concerto without the orchestra.
She was not ready.
She turned away and hurried back into the light.
Rachaela put on her pale blue dress and a brooch of twisted silver she had once found lying in the rain outside the flats.
She went down to the drawing room and stood by the white fireplace, waiting for Anna and Stephan. She was used to eating with them by now in the evenings. They did not come.
Michael entered belatedly with the tray of bottles and decanters.
‘I don’t know, Miss Rachaela.’
Just as they had been unexpectedly at the cheeping lunch, now they would not appear.
Rachaela dined alone on a fish casserole and gooseberry tart.
The fire cracked and flared in little spurts as heavy rain came down the chimney.
After dinner Rachaela found her way back to the unlit morning room. No one was there, the hearth black.
Rachaela sat for an hour before the dining-room fire. No one entered. She spent ten minutes in the drawing room, where the golden clock kept silence. It had no hands.
No one entered any of the rooms. It seemed to Rachaela that through the dregs of the afternoon no one had passed along the passage outside her door.
Michael, who alone had served her at dinner, had now vanished.
The house mewed and tossed like a tree in the rain and rising wind. It might now have been empty, but for herself.
Rachaela returned upstairs. She went to the bathroom and prepared herself for bed. In the bedroom, she sat in one of the nightdresses before the fire. Outside the unruly weather sounded like a storm at sea. She heard the ocean itself rolling in on the land.
Rachaela took a book and tried to read.
She read the same paragraph over and over.
The clock with the angels told her it was one o’clock: it was midnight.
Rachaela got into bed.
For an hour she tried to sleep.
Beyond the wall and the window the storm of wind increased. The corners of the house shrieked and the glass was lashed by metal splinters of rain.
If the lightning began it would be impossible to sleep. A pallid flash, the picture of Eve and Lucifer and the viridian tree imprinted themselves on the room.
On such a night...
Rachaela left the bed, She lit the lamp, dressed, powdered her face and crayoned in her eyes. Her black lashes cast shadows on her face, her mouth had a red ripe colour in the lamplight. It was the time for it.
As before, she carried the lamp out with her, and as before the passage was in darkness and all the carvings of fruit dipped and swerved. She was afraid of meeting the abnormal cat, but this nervousness did not dissuade her.
She went to the left and followed the corridor to its branch, went left again and found Salome leaden in the dark.
Spiders clung on the narrow stair down, catching the light in their filigree webs.
In the lower corridor the lamp glowed steadily, the ranked doors passed, and the other door manifested like a black oblong. Was this, too, locked?
She came to it and without pausing tried the doorknob, which turned obligingly.
As in the dream, inside was only blackness.
Was he asleep, the one who lived here, lying in the sea of black while the storm roared about him? That would be justice, coming on him like Psyche on the monster in the legend, letting fall the scalding drop of oil from the lamp. But Rachaela would not be so careless. If she found him sleeping perhaps that would put the balance right.
The light found a stair inside the tower, and Rachaela mounted it slowly.
There was a faint reddish film above, the shade of a low-burning fire.
She came up into a room. The lamp described the dark interior of the lion window she had seen from outside, and across it the black levels of a piano with dim paleness on the keys. He then, not any machine, had made the music which she heard.
She turned away and let the lamp slide over the beams of the ceiling, the furniture of the room, to the hearth.
The great cat lay there, watching her from half-moon eyes.
Then a second light struck against her own.
Three candles on the mantelpiece had come to life. She saw Adamus standing there in his black clothes, and the match quivered down into the fire.
‘I couldn’t sleep,’ she said, as if taking up again their previous conversation.
He looked the same, as if always he must look the same. He leaned to ruffle the big cat’s ebony head, and lights streamered over his nonconformist face before shadow dippered it. He sat in a chair before the fire. His face was a stranger’s that she knew.
‘Come here then,’ he said, ‘sit down and say whatever you have to.’
She walked forward and set her lamp upon the mantel. There was a mirror there covered by iron-black scrolls; a white clock which, she saw, was quickly running backwards.
‘I don’t have anything to say,’ she told him.
‘Then why are you here?’
‘I’m interested,’ she mimicked, ‘I’ve had to wait nearly thirty years, to see my father.’
He observed her as she sat in the chair opposite to his own. The form of the cat lay between them, a living rug, head lowered now to paws. It was simple after all to accept the domesticity of the cat. Not his.
On the edge of the hearth, on the tiles there, was set a bottle of red wine. There were two glasses, one full one empty. He leaned down and filled the second glass from the bottle. He handed it to her. She took it. He had been expecting someone, presumably her.
‘You knew I’d come here. You spoke to Camillo.’
‘I rarely speak to any of them. Camillo especially avoids me. He finds my—youth offensive.’
‘Anna and Stephan didn’t eat dinner with me. They always have. Yet at lunch they were all there. Even the servants. They chattered, tweeted. The noise was peculiar.’
‘Another game,’ he said. ‘They’re playing with both of us. You’d better understand.’
‘But you,’ she said, ‘typed the letter to me.’
‘Anna asked me,’ he said. ‘Anna can be very winsome, persuasive. She dictated the words.’
‘Who signed it?’ Rachaela asked.
She said, ‘You have a very melodramatic name. What did my mother think of it?’
‘She believed I was called Adam. In a way I am.’
‘Man,’ said Rachaela.
He shrugged. Each of them, perhaps not meaning to, sipped from their glass at the same moment. The wine was rich, a deep metallic taste.
‘So here you are,’ he said after a while.
‘Yes. I thought I’d return your call. And Camillo told me the other way into the tower.’
‘It’s usually locked.’
‘I knew you would come.’
‘I don’t know,’ he said.
‘I don’t believe you.’
‘Then that’s your problem, Rachaela.’
‘Why,’ she said, ‘do you say my name that way?’
‘I enjoy your name. It’s a family name that I offered your mother as a title for you. She naturally originally rejected it with scorn and repulsion. She thought I’d come back to make an honest woman of her.’
‘Yes, she’d have preferred to be married. But I think she’d have settled for your support. For your being there.’
‘I couldn’t be there,’ he said. ‘I had no interest in any of it. It was something the family had brainwashed me into thinking I must do. I spent two years out of my prison and I hated them. I got you, and that was that. I needed to go back to earth, here.’
‘And you had no interest in me.’
‘No. As a child you were nothing to me. Something I’d accomplished.’
Rachaela swallowed with the copper wine the bitterness of her mother, the twenty-five years of being with that warped and irate woman. There had been only those magics stumbled on by accident—classical music, books, the things her mother despised. So often the radio switched to the pop channel to cancel her dreams, or the book was snatched away: ‘You can wash those dishcloths through if you want something to do.’ ou left me,’ Rachaela said, ‘in a desert.’ She thought of a childhood where a tall dark man led her by the hand through a park, swans on water, bread for the ducks. She thought of a man’s voice reading to her. A shadow playing a piano. And the daggers of tears were in her eyes. She blazed with sudden pain. ‘But it would have bored you. A child.’
‘I must try to find you now,’ he said.
‘You’re too late. I don’t want you now. I don’t need you now. You’ve wasted it. I won’t let you in.’
‘But you’re here.’
‘Like you, I’m curious. To see who it was that abandoned me twenty-nine years ago when I was blind and dumb.’
‘Don’t, Rachaela,’ he said.
And in his face she saw too an answering pain, his young man’s eyes and lips drawn with it.
‘It’s a lie, anyway,’ she said. ‘I still don’t believe you’re my father.’
‘There it is.’
They sat in silence, and the cat rose up between them, stretching, its glorious coat rosy from the dying fire.
‘He wants the night,’ said Adamus. ‘I must let him out. Come on,’ he said quietly to the cat, which followed him from the room and down the stair, presumably to the lower door.
Rachaela stared round her at the unequally lighted chamber, the blackness beyond the radius of the lamp and candles, where things sorcerously caught the red glint of the fire, the green umbra of the glass of the lamp, like eyes or thoughts.
A taste of salt now in the wine.
It was foolish for emotion to crowd in on her. She had not expected that, for surely it was all a sham, this interview with a pretend father.
She supposed it was possible, if the Scarabae lived as long as they declared. But even that was probably a lie, some senile device between the wishes to amuse and to alarm.
The darkness howled beyond the window. The lightning had died.
She did not hear him come back. He appeared out of the air, the light not properly reaching him. A tall shadow.
Instead of coming towards her, he went instead across the room. He seated himself at the piano.
Unable to prevent herself, Rachaela held her breath.
And in the dark he began to play.
The music drifted up in long chords above the gunfire rattle of the rain. The sombre lower register fit with the white rivets of the higher notes. She did not know the composer of this melody racing across octaves. The storm of music covered the tempest furling round the tower.
Rachaela shut her eyes.
She sat in the chair, floating on the tide of sound, the glass of fire held loosely in one hand. Against her will she felt herself surrender to what he made.
At last the tide drew out, separated in retreating rills. Ended.
Not opening her eyes, she said, ‘Play again.’
He said nothing. But after a moment the fast stanzas of a Chopin Prelude flighted into the room.
What would she have been if she had had this in her childhood?
The tears ran slowly down her face. She let them, drowning in the music.
‘You were asleep.’
He stood before the hearth. The fire was dead. The lamp shone crimson in the glass of wine as he drank. The length of his bound-back hair astonished.
‘I heard it all.’
‘I know. You only slept when I stopped playing.’
So soothed. The pain had left her in a flood. The petty anger and the greater anger, these too.
‘You have to let me come back,’ she said. ‘I want to hear you play again.’
Like a child she pushed the hair from her face.
The clock whirled from half past four to three o’clock and on towards two. It must be late into the early hours of morning.
She did not want to leave but she was cold, and all at once afraid. How close to him she had come. And close to what? She did not know him, what he was, or who. He could see in the dark like the cat.
He leaned forward and took her hand, and helped her lift herself to her feet. His hand was new. Male and warm. She marvelled at it—it was gone. She stood alone, exhausted.
‘Which door?’ she said.
‘Whichever the lady prefers.’
The idea of walking to her room weighed on her tiredness. She must be quick and run away. She did not know what she was thinking.
‘This will do.’
He walked with her back across the room, carrying her lamp.
He handed it to her politely at the stair head. She took it and stepped through and down the stairs to the upper doorway, and into the overpowering close darkness of the corridor beyond.
The door shut behind her, she listened for the scrape of a key, but did not hear it.
Rachaela dreamed of her mother cooking a Sunday dinner which every six months or so she had done. There was always great business. Rachaela stood at the sink peeling endless sprouts, marking each one as instructed with a cross against Satan. Her hands ached.
From the kitchen door, blurred in the dream, he called her.
‘No,’ said her mother. ‘You finish those sprouts.’
But Rachaela left the sprouts in the bowl.
At the door the man waited with outstretched hand.
‘You’re not to,’ said her mother. ‘You keep away from him.’
But Adamus picked her up, although she was adult height, he picked her up and bore her away.
Rachaela woke with this dream behind her eyes, very real, disconcerted.
The tower clock said twelve-thirty-five. Ten, she supposed. She had slept late.
She went to run a bath and found outside the door an exquisite thing lying on the carpet, a necklace of small shells, pale fawn and rose and ivory.
Another gift from Camillo perhaps, out of the treasure trove of the attic.
She stood with the shells in her hand, then set them on the dressing-table.
When she came back from the bath, drugged rather than revived, she dressed and brushed her hair lethargically and the shells lay there.
On impulse she took them up and held them, one by one, though they were too small, to her ear.
Her mother had told her of this trick when she was a child, but at first it had not seemed to work. It was at a stall somewhere at the seaside, where they had gone for the day. It had drizzled and the wind from the sea was sharp. Rachaela fell over on the sands and cut her knee on a piece of glass. In the mother’s fish tea was a large bone, about which she had been incensed.
There was of course no voice of the sea from the shells. The sea voice was already faintly in the room.
Yet when Rachaela took the shells from her ear, a wave, a sound came.
She heard her name on a whispered roar, as if the room, the stones of the walls, had spoken it out.
A stupid illusion. It startled her.
She put the shells down again. She thought of the stick of rock she had wanted because other children had them, and which the mother grudgingly bought her. ‘You’ll break your teeth.’ She thought of her mother, squashed into the wrong shape, lying in the coffin, dead as a door nail and patched with rouge.
The tears came out of her eyes again, as on the night before. She wept wildly for a few minutes, and ceased. That was goodbye then. To something.