Now that she knew a way to the beach, she sometimes nerved herself to the slippy steps, and got down. She explored the limited cove, which at high tide the sea covered, leaving behind seaweeds, driftwood, a dead jelly fish, flotsam she could not identify.
Otherwise she kept up her arduous walks along the heath, tracking through the gorse and dry bracken, the rabbits fleeing before her and the gulls screeching overhead. She made herself walk, for sanity’s sake. She had nothing to do. It was all one long hypnotized holiday.
She walked the house too, trying to fix its angles and parabolas into some coherent plan, but it stayed a labyrinth, even where she could find her way through knowledge. She had begun to try the doors again, and once or twice found Scarabae under these stones: old Anita knitting at a red and violet window, the funeral of a king, Miriam and Unice sorting through huge albums of photographs, beneath a jade window—perhaps Jonah riding on the whale.
Miriam and Unice had drawn her in and shown her hundreds of the photographs until she was numbed. They revealed beautiful waxworks of men and women in bygone clothes, posed before scenery and palms in urns. There were no recent shots, nothing in colour. Rachaela found herself surprised the photographs had been able to catch the figures at all, for surely they must be as invisible as ghosts to the eye of a camera, just as, presumably, they did not reflect in their multi-ornamented mirrors.
One morning she breakfasted with Peter and Dorian in the morning room. They did not speak.
Once she met Alice flying through the house in a shawl like the mad White Queen, her quest unexplained.
She avoided Sylvian in the library, re-reading her own books.
She listened to her radio. There was a phase of opera she did not like. The human voice intruded on the music.
At night Anna and Stephan had reappeared in the drawing room. They behaved as if nothing were different, yet Anna especially bore the look of a cream-fed cat. They were pleased with her. Their whole manner was congratulatory. She asked them nothing.
Camillo she did not see. The others only briefly, as they flitted about.
After seven days and nights she went one afternoon to the tower door by way of the backstairs and ominous corridor. The door was locked. She rapped and no one answered. An almost violent rage overtook her; she had been diffident, nearly ashamed.
On the eighth evening, after dinner, she found the enormous cat in the hall, scratching at the lower tower door. A bright spurt shot through her. She went to the cat, and smoothed its head. The fur was savage and full of electricity, but the cat did not show displeasure.
‘Shut out,’ she said, but she tried the door. Always previously fastened against the house, now it gave. The cat snaked through, and Rachaela followed. Two closed doors flanked the stairwell, which she had not the extra temerity to touch. She ascended to the landing where the second door was placed, and so up into the wide upper room of the piano. The lion window rose dark and barren, but a lamp burned now on the piano’s top, another on the mantelpiece. The fire was high, and there on the table lay the remains of an eaten dinner. Adamus had left all this evidence but was himself absent.
The cat stalked to the fireside and lay down familiarly.
Rachaela sat at the piano and walked her fingers gingerly over its keys.
Adamus did not come into the room and after perhaps an hour, Rachaela vacated it. The cat slept by the fire.
She did not see Adamus for fifteen days and nights. She tried both doors on three further occasions, to find them locked.
It occurred to her that he was as afraid of her as she of him.
She wanted never to go near him again, but was drawn as if by a golden rope.
One morning brought a typewritten envelope under her door. She had been addressed as Ms R. Smith. This tone of lightness made her bristle, as if he mocked her. At first she did not open the letter, the only mail she was likely to receive in the house of the Scarabae. Finally she did so.
‘Rachaela—I smelled your scent in the room. One long black curling hair was on the piano. Something from your mother after all, the slight curl in your hair. A visit, and I wasn’t there. Come today in the afternoon. What would you like? Chopin? Prokofiev? Ravel? I’ll expect you.’
This time he had signed himself ‘Adam’. The letter was false, but inviting.
She was like a schoolgirl who had played truant from school—sickly excited, her heart beating.
Well then, she would not go. To punish her greed.
She put on the green frock and the glass necklace. She never wore perfume. Her scent... it could only have been the scent of her skin and hair, alien in his tower.
She went when the black clock said four-fifteen, about a quarter past three in the afternoon, as if for an appointment. Which it was.
She used the secretive backstairs door, and found it unlocked.
The coloured window, the fulvous lion and rusty warrior, stabbed through the air of the room, transfiguring it. The ceiling beams were edged in yellow. He stood before the fire, reading from a book, old and mildewed black like the derelicts of Mr Gerard’s shop, As she entered he put the book down, not marking his place.
‘Here you are.’
She was shy and awkward at his long hair and his youth. Her dreams had come between their last meeting and this. She wished he had been old like the book, or that she had not agreed to see him.
‘Come to the fire,’ he said, so she advanced.
As she reached him, he moved away.
He’s afraid. He was afraid of her, awkward as she was. Their one area of ground, the music.
‘Will you play Prokofiev?’ she said, grudgingly to assist him.
‘Whatever you like.’
‘You know so many pieces?’
‘Some days, some nights, all I’ve done is play the piano.’
She thought of him in the dark tower, the sea-brushed air furious with notes, harmonies.
The cat was absent. She had come to associate the cat with him.
She sat in the chair she had taken on the last occasion. Did the lines of his body relax a little? He went to the piano and the music began at once.
It was as if he spoke to her. Soft cadences, a stormy undertow, a resolution in swift chords. The development wandering across the black and white plain.
She turned in the chair to watch him.
His hands moved in possession, quicker and slower. The muscles fanned across his back beneath the dark shirt, and the long jet of hair shifted and spread.
She seemed to see his aura. It was cold and pale as steel, the essence of his darkness.
What would it be like to stand behind him, to touch his shoulders lightly, and the back of his neck, beneath the tempest of hair? To feel that power of the hands and the body vibrating through his skin to hers?
‘Adamus,’ she said under her breath.
The piece concluded or became another. The harmonies were acidulous, the tempo raged. Her heart beat so quickly it seemed to hurt her.
Who was he?
Glimpses of his profile, the features turning with the waves of the melody. His face intent and fixed, the eye of the profile burning and the lips now and then moving. Anger in the face, and desperation. Only once had such a face been before her, not pure, not handsome like this one, but in a lighted room at two in the morning: a maddened face blind to everything, every plea or threat, until it had been pointless to do anything but lie still and think of when it would be over. Tom and bruised beneath the ugly forcing of that face. And this face so unlike and yet reminding her, the face of a rider in the night.
She stood up in sudden terror.
He lifted his hands instantly from the keyboard. He did not look about. The air thrummed.
‘What is it?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘You know,’ he said. With his back to her and face half averted, he said, ‘Tell me.’
‘It—frightens me,’ she said, before she could prevent herself.
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘The music leads to a brink,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to go over.’
‘It’s the only choice we have, To fall.’
She clenched her hands, and he got up from the piano. He came towards her. He seemed to blot out all the light from the window. She was in a lake of gold and honey and brown and this blackness swinging down on her. She could not see his face, only the two eyes, both burning now, black fire.
‘No,’ she said. And stepped backward.
The hearth was behind her, raw heat. Between the Devil and the deep red flame.
He reached forward and the blackness swept in on her. His hands were two blazing circlets on her arms as he held her back from the flame.
‘You said it was the only chance,’ she said.
‘Rachaela, stop struggling. You’ll hurt yourself.’
‘You’ll hurt me,’ she said. ‘You will.’
‘Let me go.’
He drew her forward. Her breasts came into contact with him, the hard flat masculine front of him like a plate of fleshly armour. Where their bodies met the flame was, now. The room spun slowly. She drowned in the lake and only he could save her, only he could hold her up— She struck at him with her fist.
They had separated.
There were six feet between them.
‘And what now?’ he said.
‘Nothing now,’ she said, ‘what did you expect, Daddy?’
‘But you don’t believe that.’
‘I don’t know what I believe. Anything may be likely, here.’
‘That’s true,’ he said.
His face was blank. As in all the dreams, he was nearly faceless. The eyes dull pools of paint. The lips compressed and puritanical.
‘I’ll go,’ she said. ‘I’ll go and I won’t see you again. I’ll put the chair against my door. If you get in I’ll fight you. I’ll kill you.’
‘I won’t come into your room. Poor Rachaela,’ he said, ‘where else do you have to hide?’
She turned and walked over the room with carefully placed steps, and down the stair. Outside the door the horrible passageway seemed filled by some miasma. She walked on steadily, back into the light of the Salome window. That was her flight.
An old figurehead had been washed up on the beach.
It was a merman, with green and orange paint still stuck to it. Its tuna-coloured torso ended in a post of tail. It carried a trident, bent and buckled out of shape.
Camillo would like the figurehead, she thought. It leaned against the cliff, waiting for him.
She sat in the cove, watching the sea. The sea had no answers, even its flotsam was a sort of jeer.
What she should do now was to pack her cases and walk to the village, find a house with a phone. Then a hired car would come to take her somewhere. But where? And more practically, how could she carry the heavy bags so far? She would have to jettison everything in order to escape.
Doubtless, he would now leave her alone. If she did not go to him, invited nothing. It was her fault. Not like the rape, which had been inflicted on her. She had encouraged this man, not knowing what she did. That must be it.
Another inch, another minute, and she would have dropped over the brink.
She wanted to get away.
Ironically Cheta, bringing her breakfast, had told Rachaela that in a day or so Carlo and she would be making the trek to meet the van.
She could not persuade Carlo and Cheta to carry her cases. They too were in on the peculiar plot to keep her here. They could not make a fuss, but they would evade helping her. She was the family’s.
Last night how cream-fed Anna had been. Stephan had executed several moves against himself on the chessboard. Anna especially represented the Scarabae. Her smile of approval was the beneficence of the tribe.
They’re playing with both of us. You’d better understand. So he had said to her. Was she to think him also caught up, helpless in their net?
The sea charged the cliffs and shattered.
Rachaela rose, and made her way back up the precarious stairway. What would happen if she slipped? An end to their schemes of familial continuance.
She reached the top.
A curlew cried over the heath. She could not see it.
She returned into the house by way of the conservatory. Carlo was there, bending to a tub of mauve flowers, muffled.
No Scarabae in the dining or drawing rooms. A clock striking somewhere, thirteen times.
She came up into the hall and found eight Scarabae standing in a group, quite motionless: Eric, she thought, Peter and Dorian, Unice, Livia, Miranda, George and Jack.
Something was happening. What?
There was an omission of light where the coloured windows shone into the chequered floor. At first she could not make it out. Then she saw it was an old man in a mossy jacket lying face down, his thin old limbs in a bundle, his hands like screwed-up paper.
Miranda turned to Rachaela. She said slowly, ‘He just fell down.’
‘I saw it,’ said Unice. ‘He came down the stairs and fell over. Just like that.’
‘He’s ill,’ said Rachaela, nonplussed. Their fragility of cast iron was after all flawed.
‘No, not ill,’ said Jack across the hall. ‘He’s quite dead. I felt him.’
‘We’re sure,’ said Miranda, ‘quite sure.’
This is the way,’ said Livia.
‘All at once,’ said Miranda.
‘But—’ said Rachaela.
‘It happens like that, with us,’ said George. He put his hand on the shoulder of Jack. ‘Better fetch Carlo.’
‘He’s in the conservatory,’ said Rachaela. ‘Shall I—’
‘Yes, yes,’ said Miranda, ‘you go, my dear.’
Rachaela turned in a daze and left them all there, standing like models of shocked old people, with calm withered faces and dense black eyes.
In the conservatory Carlo moved among the ferns like an ape with a mister-spray.
‘Carlo. Sylvian’s fallen in the hall.’
Carlo put down the mister and came without a word. His face was expressionless. She followed him back into the hall.
Three more had arrived and poised on the stairs, Anita, Sasha and Alice. The same faces. Even as Rachaela looked, another one, Miriam, appeared on the landing above. Up the passage from the kitchen came Cheta with an apron over her dark dress, and Michael and Maria like an echo.
Without a sound or cry, they knew and gathered.
Carlo went to Sylvian and picked him up at once.
It would be useless to warn them of care. They spumed medicine, doctors, any reasonable treatment. Sylvian was dead, according to them. And probably they were correct. Rachaela remembered his neat wire hands in the library, ruling through the books. Had the books of the north wall then been spared?
Carlo mounted the stairs. The Scarabae went unhurriedly after him in a procession.
Rachaela followed, daunted.
Down a right-hand corridor, Carlo negotiated a door, presumably that of Sylvian’s bedroom. Sylvian was borne in, the rest trooped after. They made no noise apart from a faint shuffling of their garments, slippers and shoes.
Sylvian was placed on a bed. The window reared above it, some sort of battle, horses and plumes on a cochineal sky. The room was winey from the light, and there Sylvian lay on the big, grey four-poster bed, his shoes on the coverlet and carven head on the pillows. Carlo arranged his hands in relaxation at his sides.
‘No, no, Carlo,’ said Miriam, ‘put the hands over his body. It will be easier later.’
Carlo obeyed this odd, sinister injunction.
Only Anna and Stephan, and Camillo, had not come.
The crowd gathered round the bed.
They looked hard at Sylvian, as if to be sure after all.
It was certainly a dead face, the whites of the eyes just showing, and the mouth agape. Almost like an old man asleep, but not breathing. Perhaps they had tested for the beat of the heart, or not needed to. Was this how they all anticipated their ancient ends? After so many hundred years, between one step and another, a clotting of the breath, great silence and utter darkness, this undignified dignity left behind.
‘I’ll close Sylvian’s eyes,’ said Alice.
She went forward and did so briskly. She tried to shut his mouth too, but obstinately it dropped open again.
‘Better leave it,’ said Jack.
Alice left it, stepped away.
One by one, two by two, the Scarabae began to retreat, to go out of the room.
Rachaela watched this egress, puzzled and at a loss.
They were all gone before she could think of what to say to them.
She was alone with dead Sylvian, and outside the corridor was empty.
She caught up with Cheta on the landing.
‘Cheta, what will happen now?’
‘Happen, Miss Rachaela?’
‘About Sylvian, obviously.’
‘Miss Anna and Mr Stephan will see to it.’
Cheta moved off and went down the stairs.
There was so much to be done. A death certificate, a burial to be arranged—Rachaela recalled the several duties of the living at a death.
The remote house would be breached, disturbed. She visualized them all in some rustic graveyard, twenty-one black crows about the grave. It did not seem conceivable.
Rachaela went to her room, and switched on her radio. The music pushed out of it to fill the space, but the music did not help and the window intruded.
Their lack of fear was uncanny. This symbol of cessation: They did not seem to care. She was offended at seeing her own reaction to her mother’s death—her disinterest, perhaps even her relief—acted out by the Scarabae, who should have wailed and trembled.
‘Are you there, Camillo?’
The attic window was blue with dusk, a blind of stained air. The rocking-horse rose like a double hill against the dying light. The bottles winked.
The rocking-chair was empty.
She saw the form of Camillo seated on a cushion on the floor, working upon something.
‘Come to tell me, have you?’ he said. ‘I know.’
One of the others had climbed up and given him the news.
‘Sylvian,’ she said.
‘Despoiler of books.’
There was no sign of compassion or fright, either, in Camillo. She had not expected them. She had expected something.
‘None of you feel anything,’ she said. ‘It’s nothing special. I thought you were all part of a whole.’
‘Yes,’ said Camillo. ‘A flower head. One petal drops.’
She defined in the half-light that he had Sylvian’s ruler in front of him. White on black, he scratched something on the ebony.
‘And the burial,’ Rachaela said.
‘You’ll look forward to that.’ Camillo tapped the rocking-horse. It tipped into a rolling static gallop. ‘Hope you enjoy it.’
‘Am I likely to?’
‘Horsey, go like the wind.’
She found she wanted to speak to him of Adamus, but what could she say?
‘Why are the Scarabae the way they are, Camillo?’
‘Are they? What way is that?’
‘Not even a doctor when a man dies.’
‘Old as crumbs,’ Camillo said, ‘tucked down the side of the armchair of life. Mouldy. But not so old as me. Like to know my age?’
‘You can’t remember.’
‘Sometimes I can.’
‘But not today,’ she said.
He cackled. ‘Not today.’
‘What will they do about Sylvian?’
She faltered. She said, ‘Will Adamus come out of hiding to see to it?’
‘I don’t think so,’ said Camillo. ‘When Adamus was a child, Sylvian started crossing out the books. Adamus tried to stop him. There was a scene in the library. A child shouting and an old man. Anna intervened. She was sometimes about in the daytime then.’
‘Adamus cared about the books.’
‘What does he care for now?’ She shuddered.
But Camillo only said, ‘Ask him.’
‘I intend to avoid him.’
‘Avoid him then.’
He was scratching a skeleton on the ruler.
‘You won’t tell me anything useful.’
‘Go, horse, go.’
‘Is that Sylvian you’re drawing?’
‘Anyone,’ said Camillo. ‘Touch your face and feel the skull beneath the skin.’
‘I know,’ she said.
‘You’re all right then.’
‘No, Camillo. Camillo...’
‘Horsey, gee up.’
Rachaela left him, and went back to her green and blue chamber.
She looked at the temptation of Eve. What was so alluring in an apple?
When Anna and Stephan came into the room Rachaela tensed, to see if all the others would come after them, as they had gathered for the weird lunch. But no one else appeared. It was a night like any other.
Michael served the drinks and went away.
‘Anna,’ said Rachaela, ‘what are you going to do? Will Cheta go to the village, find a phone?’
‘You mustn’t worry about this,’ Anna said.
‘It will be taken care of,’ Stephan added.
‘But you’ll need a doctor for the certificate of death. When will Cheta go? Tomorrow?’
‘Cheta will go tomorrow to the cottages. The van will be there.’
‘And she’ll phone for a doctor?’
‘Rachaela,’ said Anna, ‘don’t concern yourself. Everything will be seen to. You must understand. This has happened before and will happen again. We are old. We die.’
Anna’s face was serene, her voice coaxing. Winsome and persuasive, Adamus had said. She smiled, consoling a peevish infant.
‘No,’ Rachaela said, ‘I don’t follow you. This utter indifference—’
‘He’s gone,’ said Anna.
‘He’s gone,’ said Stephan.
‘He’s upstairs,’ said Rachaela, ‘in the grey bedroom with the violent window. Something has to be done about him.’
‘Of course, of course. Why such vehemence? We’re used to seeing to such things.’ Anna sighed. ‘Can you even imagine how many we’ve lost? And young ones too.’
‘The young are the worst. A waste,’ said Stephan, drinking his black drink. He looked into the fire.
‘But Sylvian had lived a long, full life,’ said Anna.
‘And so you don’t grieve,’ said Rachaela, stung by their equanimity, wanting to see them show her something which made sense, and was not like herself.
‘Grief is superfluous,’ said Anna. ‘It is over.’
She got up and she and Stephan walked into the dining room.
Rachaela saw. No extra places were laid, only the habitual three.
Anna and Stephan took their seats.
Rachaela too sat down.
And Cheta and Maria came with a tureen of cabbage soup.
They ate in silence. Some emotion inside Rachaela scratched and gurned, the anguish and alarm she had felt since yesterday, when she had fled him, given a focus now.
‘And the funeral,’ she said, ‘where will the Scarabae bury Sylvian?’
Anna looked at her. The eyes of these people were no longer predominantly hungry. The famishment had settled to something else. It was credible to see the likeness between his eyes and the eyes of Anna. Pools of deep black liquid. Tams of eyes.
‘Don’t let what’s happened distress you, Rachaela. Nothing need trouble you. We have our own ways, older than the house. You must let us deal with our dead.’
Anna said, ‘As we see fit.’
Winsome, persuasive, hard as cold flint. There was no method of getting past her. She spoke for them all.
The soup was cleared.
Michael brought a fish-pie.
Anna and Stephan began to talk of the excellence of the winter vegetables, the cleverness of Carlo and Michael in growing things out of season.
Rachaela listened. She felt the sense of depression and fearfulness which they, they should have felt. Above, the dead one lay on his bed. The house reeked as if with smoke.
She was excluded. She had no place in these rites. They would not invite her to the funeral. For death had nothing to do with her; she, like Adamus, was the new life. The sinful incestuous bloom they had nurtured with their smiles and creepings by.
Rachaela began to be angry. But that too was pointless. Not only was she their pawn, she was their adored afterthought. If grief were superfluous here, then so was she.
Stephan and Anna ate portions of the pie. Rachaela picked at the food.
Stewed fruit was served.
Rachaela said nothing else, and when she had finished toying with her plate, she left the two of them, and went upstairs.
What could she do but sit in her room and play her radio for comfort, pretend this was some cosy house at which she lodged, the fire and lamps some lovely old-fashioned niceness, and nothing dark anywhere, no shadows, the window clear and ready to let in the coming day.
A sombre symphony of Mahler’s added to her gloom. She turned, as she rarely did, to a station of speech, to hear a normal human voice.
Men and women talked knowledgeably about politics. Rachaela sat mesmerized. Out there, the world, dangerous and real. She could not believe in it, and clung to the talkers in an effort to credit them. In how many ordinary places did those leading normal lives attend to these words which now to her were like snow swirling past a precipice. She had never learned the strategic points of maps. Tonight other countries were like dreams, the capital city an illusion.
There was only now, and this.
At midnight she heard them moving in the house like water in a pipe.
She patrolled the room back and forth before the hearth. She knew they were seeing to Sylvian, some ceremony of their own, having nothing to do with doctors, ministers, the church.
She opened the wardrobe on instinct and took out her coat.
She went out of her door and stood in the passage, listening. She could barely hear them now, and then a little burst like bats squeaking. They were on the stairs, on the red Persian carpet, going down. And Carlo must be there, strong Carlo the porter, with his load.
Rachaela walked firmly to the landing. She saw them below her in the hall. They were all there except for Camillo. Camillo and Adamus—too old, too young, to be a part of this.
Would they send her back? Entreat or threaten?
As she descended, the iron head of Livia turned; Miriam and Jack lit her with their bright rat eyes. But not a word was said.
She was family. Not included, but not to be shut out. A witness.
They went across the lobby, into the drawing room. The fires were dead. Already the rooms were cold. Into the airlock of the conservatory. Carlo was ahead of them. He carried something Rachaela did not need to see to identify. They brushed by the towering plants. This time petals did fall. Rachaela recalled what Camillo had said to her, the flower head...
Outside the night was frigidly cold, achingly still, but for the rush of the sea.
The tide was out, the moon up. Perhaps they had been waiting for both these phenomena, as much as for the coming of the night.
She watched them file ahead of her along the path where the unseasonal wild flowers grew.
She kept a little distance between herself and the last of them, who now was Miriam.
They sidled round the cliff, went beyond the path, beside the wood, slanting back to the sea. They were going to the slippery steps. Easy is the descent to Avernus— Those ancient brittle bodies on those stairs of slime. She caught her breath for them, but they did not hesitate, they crowded to the edge.
And now Carlo bowed to some task. She saw a length of rope slide out, and something bumped drily on the face of the cliff.
They had tied up the body of Sylvian, and were lowering it ahead of them, it grazed against the rock again and again, and Rachaela heard it with a chill of the blood.
She pictured dragging her mother’s corpse behind her, out to the dustbins, and gall filled her throat.
But they were lowering Sylvian to the beach, to the sea. What would they do with him there? Give him to the ocean like a Viking?
The old men and women began to descend the cliff.
They moved with care, but not with extreme caution. They did not stumble or slip but felt their steady way like worms.
None of them had dressed for a funeral. In the blue-white light of the moon their coats were patchwork, they were draped and tailed with scarves. Alice with velvet violets in her hat and Miriam with a toque of white fur.
Coming behind them, it was Rachaela who knew fear. She took her own unsure paces down the rock, clutching at hand-holds, skinning her palms, tearing a nail, frightened.
They were already spooling out upon the beach when she was half-way down.
She stopped, and stared at them.
She forced herself on, downwards.
Their witch-like voices came up to her abruptly, and she paused again, gripping the cliff, her feet at angles.
What were they doing?
For a moment the scene swayed and bloomed out like a sail in the wind.
Rachaela held the cliff and drew in three long breaths.
She could go down no further. She opened her eyes and saw the small figures moving busily like ants in sugar.
On the rocks of the cove the drunken figurehead of the merman leaned, waiting for Camillo. Carlo and Michael climbed towards it.
The body of Sylvian lay directly below, flat on the strip of sand as it had lain on the chequered floor. The Scarabae came in to it and went away, bringing it things from the shore.
She must get nearer.
Rachaela tried four more steps and froze once more. The moon had made the stair more slippery, like a dousing of water. She would after all, have to get up again, ahead of them.
She eased her body over and managed to find some respite from the cliff. Her whole frame shook and her mouth was dry.
She could see and hear them, but they were small and foreshortened and no words came clear.
Round Sylvian now the offerings were piled. Cheta, Jack and George were placing things from a sack, and by the side of it a black rectangle stood upright with a smear of the moon on its top.
Meanwhile Carlo and Michael had reached the merman. They crawled about it, took a grasp on it. Like workmen or loggers they began to manhandle it down towards the beach. They could not quite manage. Rachaela heard Carlo give a warning shout.
The merman tumbled and rolled over the rocks, bouncing down as Sylvian’s corpse had done, on to the beach.
Carlo leapt after it, and Michael hurried at his back.
The figurehead came to rest on the beach. The two men came up with it and began to drag it on towards the corpse. They hauled it level with the body, laying it out beside Sylvian.
Would they tie Sylvian to the trunk of the merman, set them afloat together at the lip of the sea, to attend on the returning tide?
The Scarabae pleated in again.
She anticipated some quavering chant, some hymn of wildness to rise from them, but there was no sound.
Far out the sea made white flounces.
A tangerine flower budded in Carlo’s hands. It was a match. The soft moist wind guttered it out.
Rachaela saw Michael lift up the black rectangle, unscrew its cap and pour the libation over Sylvian and all the driftwood they had packed about him, and the little logs.
‘They’re going to burn him,’ she said aloud.
Without a prayer or a song, like old clothes or refuse, so they would cremate their dead at the rim of the sea.
A second flare woke in Carlo’s hands. It flew down upon the pyre. For a few moments, nothing, and then a great wash of blue and fulvous flame going up from the petrol.
Some of the Scarabae stepped back a little way. Some stretched out cold hands to the fire. Warmed by death.
Rachaela smelled the true smoke, and with it the awful smell of burning human flesh. She turned her face into the cliff and gagged. But the wind blew the smell away. It was too cold for it to linger in the nostrils.
One of them, Eric, had gone off a few steps, and came back now with another gift. Heavy and white, a dead gull hung from his hand, picked up from the shore.
He cast it down into Sylvian’s bonfire. A rage of sparks sprighted up. And then some of the feathers, caught in a whirlwind of the heat, fluttered up on fire into the air. Quill pens for the crossing out of the books of flame and night.
When the fire had consumed him, they would come away, and leave the slender bones of Sylvian for the tide to take. The ocean would have them, polishing them for ever, changing them to corals...
The merman cracked and the fire gouted from his tail and belly.
She must go back up the rock.
Rachaela stood against the cliff, the bonfire of the dead reflecting neon yellow in her eyes.